Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter II

Chapter II (pages 32-55), “Bakunin and Anarchism”

[An e-version of Chapter II is available here.]

Anarchists have a reputation among the public for being bomb throwers. But not all Anarchists favor violence, and virtually all political creeds favor certain types of bomb throwing. Governments kill millions more people with bombs than do Anarchists. Violence “is neither essential nor peculiar to those who adopt the Anarchist position [p. 33].”

Anarchists are devoted to individual liberty, and hence reject a coercive state, even a democratic one. “Such government as Anarchism can tolerate must be free government, not merely in the sense that it is that of a majority, but in the sense that it is that assented to by all [p. 33].” A doctrine akin to Anarchism existed in China as long ago as 300 B.C. Most modern Anarchism is of the communistic variety, envisioning communal ownership of land and capital. While Socialists tend to believe that the evils of private property in capital will be overcome if the state becomes the sole owner, Anarchists fear “that in that case the State might merely inherit the tyrannical propensities of the private capitalist [p. 36].” So Anarchists want to maximally reduce state powers, too, and in the limit, abolish the state.

Modern Anarchism flows from Bakunin, but he did not produce “a finished and systematic body of doctrine [p. 36],” though strides in that direction were made by Kropotkin. Russell provides (approximately pp. 37-47) a short biography of Bakunin, including his differences with Marx. “Michel Bakunin was born in 1814 of a Russian aristocratic family [p. 37].” After a short military career, Bakunin, like Marx, studied philosophy, and for a time was a Hegelian. By 1842 he was a revolutionary, and he lived in Paris during 1843-7, where he spent considerable time with Marx. They fell out by 1849 and remained rivals thereafter. Following the revolutionary uprisings of 1848-9, Bakunin was arrested and spent years in prison, having had death sentences commuted in both Prussia and Austria. Russia was his chief locale of confinement, but his situation was eased by an exile to Siberia in 1857. Bakunin eventually escaped and made his way to London; later he lived in Italy and Switzerland. Bakunin’s anarchist faction participated in, but was eventually sidelined from, the international socialist movement spearheaded by Marx. Bakunin died in 1876. He was always sympathetic to rebellion against authority, but his writings, crafted quickly amidst some ongoing crisis, are “chaotic”. “There is something of Anarchism in his lack of literary order [p. 48].” One looks in vain for a description of the type of society Bakunin envisioned, or an argument that such a society could be stable. Kropotkin and other followers help to fill this void, however.

Kropotkin believes that a more scientific organization of production would allow high living standards to be universal, without long hours, onerous conditions, or an obligation to work. Wages would be abolished and goods would be distributed equally. Work would be pleasant enough that most people would choose to work. There would be no coercive government, and such policies that would be adopted would be done by universal agreement. Russell postpones until a later chapter (Chapter V, it turns out) his views on the extent to which Kropotkin’s system is tenable.

What about the violence associated with Anarchism? The “general tone of the Anarchist press and public is bitter to a degree that seems scarcely sane, and the appeal…is rather to envy of the fortunate than to pity for the unfortunate [p. 52].” A person who revolts against law seems to have a hard time adhering to the standard moral rules. Anarchists and their sympathizers have made martyrs out of some people who were condemned to death for heinous crimes: “…Anarchism attracts to itself much that lies on the borderland of insanity and common crime [p. 53, footnote omitted].” Thus it can be understood why the denunciations by authorities and the public do not distinguish between the criminal elements and the heroic intellects behind Anarchism. Fortunately, the terrorist version of Anarchism has been on the wane, and the “better sort” is reflected in the advocates of Revolutionary Socialism within the Trade Union movement.

Again, Anarchists differ from other Socialists in that the Socialists generally allow for a government reflecting the will of the majority to undertake coercive policies. “It is undeniable that the rule of a majority may be almost as hostile to freedom as the rule of a minority: the divine right of majorities is a dogma as little possessed of absolute truth as any other [p. 54].” The argument against parliamentary routes to reform has largely been the purview of the Syndicalist form of Anarchism.

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