Monday, September 29, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter VII

Chapter VII (pages 164-185), “Science and Art Under Socialism”

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

Socialism might provide sufficient income and leisure time to allow everyone to contribute to societal advance – though most comfortably-off people in current society do not do so. For material progress to be of real use to society, “it must be made a means to the advancement of those higher goods that belong to the life of the mind [p. 166].” But the life of the mind must itself be connected with community life to avoid sterility and preciousness.

Russell asserts the higher social value of people who are capable of creating beauty or extending knowledge. “A social system which would render them unproductive would stand condemned, whatever other merits it might have [p. 167].” He claims that the best of creative activity cannot be brought about via monetary inducements. (Here Russell forgets or ignores Shakespeare, of whom Pope noted, “For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight, / And grew immortal in his own despite.”) What is needed is “circumstances which keep the [creative] impulse alive and afford scope for the activities which it inspires [p. 168].”

To promote mental creativity, social systems can provide: (1) technical training; (2) liberty to pursue one’s Muse; and (3) the potential for public approbation (if only that of a small public). Some forms of Socialism would surely be worse than the current system at fostering scientific and artistic development.

Who receives the requisite technical training now? Those whose parents are sufficiently wealthy and interested, and those who show such promise when young that they attract a scholarship. The first category would essentially disappear under socialism – but the wealthy are only a small proportion of society, anyway. The scholarship system suffers from inducing the wrong type of competition, leading to glibness and overwork in the young – and a compensatory dilatoriness later. State Socialists might universalize scholarship exams, which would be disastrous. The bureaucrats in charge would want only to subsidize those who can do the most for society, and let the others wallow.

Russell proposes instead that education be free to whoever wants it up to the age of 21. Most students will quit at an earlier age, but those with the strongest inclinations – not necessarily the most talent – towards learning will continue. (Russell notes, page 172, that the desire to become a painter is not limited to folks who can paint.) Subsidizing some students who lack talent is a small price to pay for making sure that those with talent have the opportunity to develop it. This sort of free education could be provided under Socialism or Anarchism; indeed, in theoretical terms, it is even consistent with capitalism, though it flies in the face of the typical spirit of capitalism.

Under current circumstances, the freedom to follow your Muse without regard to expert or commercial opinion is only effectively available to the wealthy and to those who can earn their living in a manner which still leaves them with the time and energy to undertake their creative endeavors. Private means have been available in the past to only a few, but those few include many who have made important contributions, such as Keats and Darwin. “If Darwin had been a university teacher, he would of course have been dismissed from his post by the influence of the clerics on account of his scandalous theories [p. 173].” [Russell himself had already (at the time he wrote Proposed Roads to Freedom) been dismissed from Trinity College for his anti-war activism, and later would lose a position he had secured at City College of New York because of other unpopular opinions.] Socialism will undermine the “private means” route to creative freedom, so it must compensate by broadening the opportunities available to those without private means. But even today, most creative work is done by those who support themselves in some less-than-fully-consuming occupation – including the research undertaken by those who teach in a related area.

State Socialism is likely to result in a bureaucratic mechanism, whereby a panel of people considered eminent in their field would license the products of those young people whom they find most promising. “In such a world all that makes life tolerable to the lover of beauty would perish [p. 175].” Art requires an anarchic spirit, one profoundly at odds with the bureaucratic mindset. “Better Anarchism, with all its risks, than a State Socialism that subjects to rule what must be spontaneous and free if it is to have any value [p. 175].” Fortunately, not all forms of Socialism require this bureaucratization of art.

Art could remain free under Socialism if artists choose to work only a few hours a day (at their non-art occupation), with commensurately less pay, and devote the remainder of their working time to art. The artist’s right to sell his products at freely negotiated prices must complement this system. (Many young artists currently do limit their paid work, but they live less well than they would under the Socialist arrangement.) Or, a small but sustaining guaranteed income could be made available to all, without a work requirement. Russell thinks that having vagabonds who choose to accept this wage and do no paid work would enliven the community, as long as they were not too numerous. Either of the approaches that Russell outlines to artistic freedom under Socialism would produce “far more complete freedom, and far more widespread, than any that now exists except for the possessors of capital [p. 178].”

But who will decide what books to publish? If it is the state or a literary guild, censorship will be rife. Kropotkin’s suggestion is to eschew specialization and have authors also layout and bind books – but whose books? (Russell notes that “it would be a waste of time for them [authors] to leave the work they understand in order to do badly work which others could do far better and more quickly [p. 179].”) Authors whose own books are rejected are not likely to do a good job publishing the books of others. Books critical of the existing system (such as Kropotkin’s books!) will not be published. Russell claims that the only solution is to allow authors to pay for the publication of their books if the state or guild apparatus rejects them. The payment might take the form of a labor contribution, but it needn’t be bookbinding. (Perhaps the admirers of an author could contribute, too.) No book could be rejected if the offer of payment at a set rate is made.

At least twice in this chapter Russell notes the utility of placing some barrier or inconvenience in the way of artistic production. For instance, the discomfort associated with the servitude bartered for book publishing “would give an automatic means of eliminating those whose writing was not the result of any very profound impulse and would be by no means wholly an evil [p. 180].” Some suffering for the sake of art is not particularly objectionable.

For art to flourish, artists have to know that art is respected (even if specific artists are not). Too much solemnity, perhaps brought on by overwork, undermines the environment for art, which needs “a capacity for direct enjoyment without thought of tomorrow’s problems and difficulties [p. 182].” An environment conducive to art also requires “a diffused sense of freedom,” one that a bureaucratic State Socialism is unlikely to foster.

A general progress also helps to spur creativity, and this will require ongoing technological improvements. But will there be enough innovation under Socialism? Workers should be allowed to keep some of the fruits of better methods in their industry, to provide an incentive to innovate.

Russell concludes that the three conditions needed to promote science and art – training, freedom, and public appreciation – are unlikely to exist under State Socialism, but could be maintained under Guild Socialism or Syndicalism, with better results than what capitalism affords. The key is liberty. “In this as in nearly everything else, the road to all that is best is the road of freedom [p. 185].”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter VI

Chapter VI (pages 139-163), “International Relations”

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

Socialists and Anarchists maintain, incorrectly, that all modern wars can be traced to capitalism. It is true that capitalists like to expand globally, and this can create friction. Capitalist owners of newspapers can whip up a war hysteria. (These two drivers towards international conflict might be reduced under non-capitalist conditions – page 148.) Successful capitalists have nurtured the habit of pugnacity and command, and hence they view any thwarting of their will as due to evil that must be subdued. But this last point would be true in any system that gives substantial power to small numbers of people – and it may not be possible to avoid a system where a few people have substantial power. The concentration of power causes wars, and wars lead to the concentration of power. Quick decisions are needed in dangerous situations.

Human nature seems to predispose us towards war, too, irrespective of the governmental system. People credit information that supports their instincts, and are quite skeptical of information that does not confirm their predispositions. The instinct towards pugnacity will out, “unless education and environment were so changed as enormously to diminish the strength of the competitive instinct [p. 147].” Global revolution by the proletariat might for awhile reduce international tensions, as the working classes direct their ire against the bourgeoisie, and not against other countries. But this too would pass, and national rivalries would likely re-emerge. “There is no alchemy by which a universal harmony can be produced out of hatred [p. 149].” So whipping up a class war is not likely to result in global peace.

The idea that working men in developed countries are brothers in arms with those of the developing world is untrue. In part, the English working class is prosperous because of the exploitation of the developing world, and many English workers have significant stakes – even corporate shares – in the capitalist order. Their new access to power has increased their nationalism.

Nevertheless, Russell confesses that he believes “that the abolition of private ownership of land and capital is a necessary step toward any world in which the nations are to live at peace with one another [pp. 150-1]” – necessary, but not sufficient. Race hatred, for instance, is likely to remain, and it can combine with labor competition to incite war. Global Socialism will not change such factors. “Ants are as completely Socialistic as any community can possibly be, yet they put to death any ant which strays among them by mistake from a neighboring ant-heap. Men do not differ much from ants, as regards their instincts in this respect…[p. 152].”

Russell has some hope that a League of Nations, which would credibly remove the perceived rationality of war by ensuring that military aggressors are punished, could make some headway in peaceful times or in the wake of a great war. But more is needed, including disarmament, though nations generally don’t trust that others are truly disarming. Institutions can help sustain cooperation, but they cannot create the goodwill that is necessary to initiate cooperation. Domestic political revolutions can be helpful, by quickly sweeping away the prejudices that are the main barrier to international cooperation: “great possibilities do arise in times of crisis [p. 155].”

Africa presents a nearly intractable problem, in that it will almost surely continue to “be governed and exploited by Europeans [p. 156].” How to govern Africa would be a tricky question even for an Anarchist or Socialist government. Such a government would not necessarily be any less exploitative of Africa, unless serious precautions are taken. Russell uses some charged language (“uncivilized”) when discussing Africa and Africans (including a hint (p. 158) of a “lack of intelligence,” as opposed to the population of Asia), but foresees that “even the populations of Central Africa may become capable of democratic self-government, provided Europeans bend their energies to this purpose [p. 158].” In discussing India, Russell sounds a knell for multiculturalism: “for it is not by a dead uniformity that the world as a whole is most enriched [p. 159].”

Problems in international relations fundamentally arise from psychological causes, chiefly “competitiveness, love of power, and envy… The evils arising from these three causes can be removed by a better education and a better economic and political system [p. 160].” Russell notes the importance of competitiveness in spurring effort, but identifies (somewhat too broadly) what economists might call rent seeking, too: “It [competitiveness] is only harmful when it aims at the acquisition of goods which are limited in amount, so that what one man possesses he holds at the expense of another [p. 160].” The hope is that a more just social system, one that includes communal ownership of land and capital, would reduce the harmful type of competition without interfering with the beneficial type. In turn, human nature would be improved, “for human nature, as it exists in adult men and women, is by no means a fixed datum, but a product of circumstances, education and opportunity operating upon a highly malleable native disposition [pp. 160-1].” Russell also argues that love of power and envy can be channeled into more constructive pathways through societal reforms.

Russell endorses, for international affairs, the same federalist approach that he endorses for national affairs: “self-determination for every group in regard to matters which concern it much more vitally than they concern others, and government by a neutral authority embracing rival groups in all matters in which conflicting interests of groups come into play; but always with the fixed principle that the functions of government are to be reduced to the bare minimum compatible with justice and the prevention of private violence [p. 161].”

Russell concludes Chapter VI with this cri de coeur: “A world full of happiness is not beyond human power to create; the obstacles imposed by inanimate nature are not insuperable. The real obstacles lie in the heart of man, and the cure for these is a firm hope, informed and fortified by thought [p. 163].”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Halftime

The obvious intermission in reading Proposed Roads to Freedom is at the break that Russell provides between Part I (“Historical”) and Part II (“Problems of the Future”), but I so enjoyed the delayed intermission in Unpopular Essays that I am trying to recapture the experience. The largest surprise for me in this first “half” of Proposed Roads to Freedom is Russell’s fairly positive take on Anarchism, and his prescience with respect to the tyranny lurking in State Socialism. Russell’s view that large increases in productivity were within grasp also has been borne out in the 90 years that have elapsed since Proposed Roads to Freedom was written. Russell’s argument that pure Anarchism cannot form a stable equilibrium seems sound to me, too.

Russell is endorsing a system in which people are guaranteed a minimal income (the “vagabond’s wage”) without any work requirement, along with a minimal government. Further, guilds play a serious role in governance, setting wages, output and prices, it seems. (Incidentally, though Russell does not reference Emile Durkheim, the guild part of Russell’s vision seems consonant with the ideas laid out by Durkheim in the Preface to the Second Edition of Division of Labour in Society.)

The first Russellian tenet, that of a guaranteed income, largely came to pass, though guild governance and a minimal State did not. I feel as if Russell neglects what proved to be an almost impenetrable issue for socialist economic planners, how to determine where to put new investments, how to decide what goods to make. (Russell, later in the book, discusses innovation with respect to art and science, and recognizes that incentives will have to be provided, but the socialist-style restriction on individual investment and entrepreneurship would, I believe, lead to a Russellian society ultimately falling behind a more capitalist one in terms of living standards.)

One of the reasons that Russell believes that any of the three alternatives (Socialism, Anarchism, and Syndicalism) could, in the right form, be an improvement over the status quo is that he recognizes a good deal of un-freedom in the status quo. Some of this lack of freedom is tied to the British class system – Russell believes that the working class are barred from high-paying professions by their poor education, and that they do not have the resources to support any type of intellectual, scientific, or artistic investment that does not offer an immediate payoff. Give them a vagabond’s wage, then, and watch the flourishing as the majority of people, for the first time, are free to pursue their dreams. I guess I believe that this vision has come to pass in part, too, though surely it is still the case that poor education limits the progress of many children.

Two mini-points made by Russell will stay with me, I think. The first is in the Introduction, when he offers an explanation of how people who fundamentally are empathic and loving nevertheless end up appearing to the rest of the world as being consumed by hate. The second is Russell’s argument against seizing power via violent tactics. Russell says that if the Syndicalists could actually seize and hold power via violent means, then they could do so using non-violent means. (Essentially, he is arguing that holding power requires substantial public support.) I am more intrigued than convinced by this argument, however: many regimes that come to power via violence are able to maintain their position for a long time, despite public disapproval. (Oh, one more mini-point, Russell’s note that labelling was one of the tactics of the Syndicalists was news to me; here’s a brief history of labelling. Two weeks from now [the first edition of this post was made on September 16, 2008], the US will require country-of-origin labelling on many meat products -- this particular labelling requirement might not reflect and appeal to our best instincts.)

Finally, Russell’s arguments in Chapter V about how liberty cannot be foisted upon or be maintained by an uninterested population form a lesson that largely remains unlearned.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter V

Chapter V (pages 111-138), “Government and Law”

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

Even accepting that “freedom is the supreme aim of a good social system [p. 111],” the Anarchist program is unlikely to be desirable. The lack of state-imposed constraints upon individual behavior does not imply that liberty will prevail; rather, the strong will impose their will upon the weak, or the majority upon the minority. This still will be the case in a world where the possible accumulation of power (which builds its own appetite) would not be as great as in current circumstances. “It would seem, therefore, that, while human nature remains as it is, there will be more liberty for all in a community where some acts of tyranny by individuals are forbidden, than in a community where the law leaves each individual free to follow his every impulse [p. 113].” Coercion by private individuals, then, suggests a role for the state, but not for anything beyond that limited role which maximizes overall liberty by restraining private tyranny.

Marx’s approach to the state seems muddled. He wants the state to have significant power, but claims that the state, or at least its class nature, will disappear after socialism is established.

Guild Socialists present a sort of compromise between Socialists, who are really believers in a strong state, and Syndicalists, who take from Marx the class war theme but eschew working through the state. Guild Socialists maintain a state to represent consumers, but offset its power in part with the guilds, which represent producer interests and also will have coercive authority.

Anarchists maintain that all collective coercion is unnecessary -- a view that is far from absurd. As Kropotkin notes, there are many coordination-type problems in which unanimous consent already has occurred, such as issues that arise in international express rail traffic. Anarchists think that once the current system of property relations is abolished, more issues will be of this coordinating type in which unanimity is feasible. Russell finds this view to be a species of wishful thinking. There will still be violent crime, some stemming from lunacy, some from jealousy, even if equality eliminates acquisitive crime. There would be further threats to an Anarchist equilibrium. “Is it to be supposed, for example, that Napoleon, if he had been born into such a community as Kropotkin advocates, would have acquiesced tamely in a world where his genius could find no scope [p. 120]?” People who love power can only be contained “by means of the organized force of the community [p. 121].”

So Russell concludes that a system of Anarchism cannot form a stable equilibrium. At a minimum, coercion must be aimed against (1) theft, (2) violent crime, and (3) armed insurrections. How can criminal law be applied in such a way as to maximize freedom? The current approach, which is based on the infliction of pain, tends to brutalize the criminal. “He must emerge from such a treatment either defiant and hostile, or submissive and cringing, with a broken spirit and loss of self-respect. Neither of these results is anything but evil [p. 125].” It would be better to treat criminals more like carriers of infection, who also must be removed from society, but who are not considered to be guilty of anything. Any suffering imposed upon convicts should be viewed as a regrettable cost, not as the point of the exercise.

Russell continues by detailing how the treatment of prisoners is almost sure to make them less enamored of society, and he mentions that warders “often become brutalized by their occupation [p. 127].” This sentence is accompanied by a remarkable footnote, which reflects the fact that Proposed Roads to Freedom was completed just before Russell was imprisoned for six months in connection with his vocal opposition to World War I. The footnote reads: “This was written before the author had any personal experience of the prison system. He personally met with nothing but kindness at the hands of the prison officials [p. 127n].”

“At present a very large part of the criminal law is concerned in safeguarding the rights of property, that is to say – as things are now – the unjust privileges of the rich [p. 127].” The actions that some men take to become rich are more harmful to society than the petty crimes of poor men, and the law should reflect the seriousness of the crime. Law that is attuned to socially harmful acts, and treats crime more like disease than sin, would be better than the Anarchist vision of a world without law.

The state derives power not just from the criminal law but also from economic regulation and bureaucracy. This is where the State Socialists take a misstep, because they underestimate the power that bureaucrats would have in their preferred system, and the tyranny that would result. “The only changes they [the bureaucrats] will desire will be changes in the direction of further regulations as to how the people are to enjoy the good things kindly granted to them by their benevolent despots [p. 129].” Democratic representative institutions have not proven themselves adept at preventing the state from repressing a progressive minority. But for all the shortcomings of democracy on this score, it is not clear that the Anarchists or Syndicalists offer a workable alternative. They point out that industrial workers can grind things to a halt via a strike – for instance, by controlling a power station – but this is just an “appeal to force”. “The attempt to thrust liberty by force upon those who do not desire what we consider liberty must always prove a failure…[p. 131].” That is, the means that the Syndicalists appeal to are ultimately ineffective and illegitimate.

What of Syndicalist aims, however? Would a Guild Congress, representing producer interests, matched against the parliamentary institutions representing consumer interests, be an improvement over the status quo? Russell fears that a powerful Guild Congress would soon ally itself with Parliament, and prove a tyrant to a Guild that dissented from its strictures. To secure liberty, society needs not just good institutions “but also a diffused respect for liberty, and an absence of submissiveness to government both in theory and practice [p. 136].”

Russell recapitulates his argument. A state with some coercive powers is necessary. (Russell cites, among other functions, the need to restrict the trade in opium!) This state should have minimal powers, only what is necessary to accomplish its highly circumscribed role. Limits on state power require groups that are “jealous of their privileges [p. 137],” even to the point of dissenting from oppressive laws. “The glorification of the State, and the doctrine that it is every citizen’s duty to serve the State, are radically against progress and against liberty [p. 138].” Serving humanity is not the same as serving the State: “the free growth of the individual must be the supreme end of a political system which is to re-fashion the world [p. 138].” This paean to individual freedom, which concludes Chapter V, is yet another Russellian trope that would fit seamlessly into John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty -- an essay which ends as follows:
A government cannot have too much of the kind of activity which does not impede, but aids and stimulates, individual exertion and development. The mischief begins when, instead of calling forth the activity and powers of individuals and bodies, it substitutes its own activity for theirs; when, instead of informing, advising, and upon occasion denouncing, it makes them work in fetters or bids them stand aside and does their work instead of them. The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of administrative skill or that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State, which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to banish.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter IV

Chapter IV (pages 86-110), “Work and Pay ”

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

With Chapter IV, we move from Part I of the book (“Historical”) to Part II (“Problems of the Future”).

The standard of living is constrained both by natural forces that are independent of social institutions as well as by limits associated with those social institutions. Among the possible natural constraints are Malthusian population considerations and the requirement that most men engage in long, arduous toil, with little time for leisure, in order to produce a level of output that significantly exceeds subsistence for the whole population. But Russell thinks that neither of these potential natural constraints are currently real constraints, nor are they likely to become actual limitations for a long time – improvements in the technology of production allow for tremendous growth in output. Kropotkin himself is very convincing on the possibility, using known techniques, of raising agricultural output considerably. Malthusian pressures already do not apply to the advanced countries, which, since the time that Malthus wrote, have seen large declines in birthrates and large increases in living standards. Still higher living standards could be achieved if fewer people were engaged in war-making.

Kropotkin suggests that most agricultural work “could be carried on by people whose main occupations are sedentary, and with only such a number of hours as would serve to keep them in health and produce a pleasant diversification [p. 91].” Kropotkin promotes such diversification, where a single laborer undertakes both mental and physical tasks, and works in agriculture as well as in industry. Industrial output is perhaps even less likely to be constrained by decreasing returns than is agriculture, as manufacturing frequently is more efficient when undertaken at a larger scale. [Recall Marx in The German Ideology: " communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."]

What about human as opposed to technical constraints? Many reformers want to abolish the wage system, but their opponents point out that people might not be willing to work hard unless arduous work were rewarded more liberally than leisure or easy tasks. Would the adoption of Socialism or Anarchism require a decline in living standards? Of course, Socialism and Anarchism are different. Many strands of Socialism would allow wages to reflect productivity, and impose an obligation to work upon the able-bodied. Anarchism aims at letting people have as much consumption of ordinary goods as they want, without requiring work in compensation. (For rare, scarce goods, equal division would be the rule. Russell later (pages 97-8) points out that prices of sorts would have to be placed on these goods to allow individuals to choose only those luxuries that most appeal to them.)

“Socialism with inequality of income would not differ greatly as regards the economic stimulus to work from the society in which we live [p. 94].” The differences that do exist are favorable to Socialism – the idle affluence that arises through inheritance, for instance, would disappear, along with the huge returns available in fields like finance that have little connection to their social utility. In the current system, highly paid jobs generally are available only to those with costly schooling, so children of the middle class are excluded from highly paid professions. And loyal, hard workers can become destitute through no fault of their own. “Such destitution is a constant fear, and when it occurs it produces undeserved suffering, and often deterioration in the social value of the sufferer [p. 95].” [This quick mention of the “social value” of people is reminiscent of Russell’s (later?) dalliance with eugenics.]

I [RBR] found the passage on undeserved suffering to be reminiscent of Friedrich Engels; consider this extract from Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England:
True, it is only individuals who starve, but what security has the working-man that it may not be his turn tomorrow? Who assures him employment, who vouches for it that, if for any reason or no reason his lord and master discharges him tomorrow, he can struggle along with those dependent upon him, until he may find some one else "to give him bread"? Who guarantees that willingness to work shall suffice to obtain work, that uprightness, industry, thrift, and the rest of the virtues recommended by the bourgeoisie, are really his road to happiness? No one. He knows that he has something today and that it does not depend upon himself whether he shall have something tomorrow. He knows that every breeze that blows, every whim of his employer, every bad turn of trade may hurl him back into the fierce whirlpool from which he has temporarily saved himself, and in which it is hard and often impossible to keep his head above water. He knows that, though he may have the means of living today, it is very uncertain whether he shall tomorrow.
Russell argues that the abolition of the wage and price system is not fantastical. The rich already have no effective budgetary limitation on the amount of bread that they eat, but they consume little more than the poor. Most people have access to free water, but they do not leave the tap running. Free access could be extended to all the necessities of life, and even to education (including higher education). The Anarchist idea of free distribution of basic goods is technically feasible.

Will people work without direct payment? Given the way tasks are currently organized, the worst of these jobs would find few takers. But if society had to entice people to work, instead of using the threat of starvation to drive them to work, society would find ways to make work more pleasant. Already, much highly paid work is pleasant, and people who engage in this work are better off than they would be with the same income, but without the work. “A certain amount of effort, and something in the nature of a continuous career, are necessary to vigorous men if they are to preserve their mental health and their zest for life. A considerable amount of work is done without pay [p. 101].” Much work is disagreeable only because of long hours, and these are not necessary, especially with better organization. Nevertheless, truly onerous or monotonous work like coal mining will undoubtedly require special inducements for the (otherwise) Anarchist system to function. If a few folks prefer idleness, that is OK, so long as it is only a few. In the current system, many potentially talented writers or poets, for instance, cannot indulge their talents due to the insufficiency of means that accompanies the lack of popular appeal. Under an Anarchist system, these people could produce works that now are economically unsupported.

The Anarchist-style free distribution of goods can be introduced gradually, and it would be easy to reverse if it did not work. The Anarchist notion that most people would work in the absence of compulsion or reward is not likely to work in practice, however, despite Russell's earlier argumentation. The Socialists would provide compulsion to labor, but surely they will not permit any type of labor to count: writing anti-government tracts will not be countenanced, nor would unfamiliar artistic styles or ideas not congenial to the censors receive official imprimatur. Socialists don’t recognize this problem, because they think that those future bureaucrats will be broad-minded individuals like themselves – but they won’t be.

“Anarchism has the advantage as regards liberty, Socialism as regards inducements to work [p. 108].” A combination might be better than either of the pure forms. One such combination would be to distribute necessities freely to all. Only luxuries would be rationed. Most people would work to acquire luxuries, but some people, who needed time for their artistic creation, say, would choose to forgo luxuries. The plan Russell advocates, then, provides a small, unconditional income to everyone, while those who work can achieve much larger incomes. A system based on such a plan “combines freedom with justice, and avoids those dangers to the community which we have found to lurk both in the proposals of the Anarchists and in those of orthodox Socialists [p. 110].”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter III

Chapter III (pages 56-85), “The Syndicalist Revolt”

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

Socialist parties evolved in various ways throughout Europe. In Germany, a revisionist socialism is quite popular, though favoring neither revolution nor industrial action. In England, Marxian socialism has never been popular, but Fabian-style, non-revolutionary socialism helped to inspire the Labour Party, which also encompasses the Trade Unions. [Russell himself, it seems, at one time was affiliated with the Fabian Society.] The Labour Party, however, is not Syndicalist, in that it prefers political to industrial action. It was in France where Syndicalism grew out of the existing institution of the Trade Unions. Mainstream French socialism had in part been undercut by the co-option of some leading socialists into the ruling party; these socialists then began to act in unsocialist ways. As a result, radicals sensed the futility of political action, so the industrial activity of Syndicalists won their sympathies by default.

“Syndicalism stands essentially for the point of view of the producer as opposed to that of the consumer; it is concerned with reforming actual work, and the organization of industry, not merely with securing greater rewards for work [p. 62].” In France, local trade unions are affiliated with other trade unions in their region, and are associated with the other trade unions in their industry throughout the nation. The idea is that the local ties can help overcome a too-parochial interest in their industry, and the national ties can prevent a too-parochial interest in their locality. Politics are supposed to be kept out of the unions.

“The essential doctrine of Syndicalism is the class-war, to be conducted by industrial rather than political methods. The chief industrial methods advocated are the strike, the boycott, the label and sabotage [pages 65-6].” Methods of sabotage vary from the unobjectionable – such as revealing the true quality of goods to consumers or working to the rules – to the morally unacceptable – such as causing railway accidents. While capitalists decry sabotage, they are quick to engage in it when it advances their interests. ("The label" refers to the placement of a label on goods certifying that they are made by union workers.)

Normal strikes, for Syndicalists, are but a prelude to what they really want, which is a General Strike that will destroy the current wage and employment system.

“Syndicalist aims are somewhat less definite than Syndicalist methods [p. 68].” They want to destroy the state, which is a capitalist lapdog. Syndicalists, unlike Socialists, do not think the institution of the state would be much improved by worker control. In keeping with their low regard for the state, Syndicalists tend to be anti-militarist. Each industry can govern itself under worker control, with some means required (but often not spelled out) to coordinate among industries. Syndicalists adopt an internationalist perspective.

Anarchists are sympathetic to Syndicalism, but place little hope in the General Strike as a way to effect change: anarchists generally embrace more violent direct actions. Russell notes that labor movements that can win by violence, and sustain their victory, could generally do so without the violence – a strong argument against Anarchist tactics.

Syndicalism is a form of industrial unionism: workers are clumped together based on the industry in which they work. This is as opposed to craft unionism, in which all electricians, for instance, would be in the same union, irrespective of what industry they plied their skills in. “Industrial unionism is a product of America…[p. 74],” and is reflected in the Industrial Workers of the World. This grouping is sensible when the goal being sought is revolution, as opposed to, say, better working conditions, and the IWW favors the abolition of the wage system.

American labor is far from homogeneous. Unskilled workers in the IWW or the Western Federation of Miners frequently are of foreign origin and lack the right to vote. Skilled native workers in America form a sort of “aristocracy of labor [p. 76],” with interests separate from those of the unskilled workers. These workers are organized around craft lines, in the American Federation of Labor.

Labor strife in the US tends to be much more violent (on both sides) than in Europe. “The employers have armies of their own and are able to call upon the Militia and even, in a crisis, upon the United States Army [p. 78].” (So the socialists are correct, the state really is an institution serving the interests of capitalists in the US. Incidentally, it was advocacy for a British lack of cooperation with the US Army -- because the Army suppressed labor -- that led to Russell being sent to prison as Proposed Roads to Freedom was being completed.) The labor movement in the US can be expected to become less violent when the proportion of recent immigrants diminishes.

Russell believes that revolutionary changes require industrial unionism, as that organizational structure sharpens the class war (p. 80). Nevertheless, in Great Britain, it is the more moderate type of Guild Socialism that has a better chance to succeed in effecting change. “Guild Socialists aim at autonomy in industry, with consequent curtailment, but not abolition, of the power of the State [pages 81-2].” Russell finds their proposal to be the best among the contenders, offering the prospect of liberty without the violence attached to Anarchism.

Under Guild Socialism, each factory, directed by elected managers, arranges its own affairs. Factories within the same industry are part of a National Guild, which tackles industry-level issues. While the Guilds manage production and the distribution of resources among Guild members, the state, on behalf of the community, owns the factories. (But the Guilds, not the state, are the employers.) A joint committee of producers and consumers would have the ultimate authority to settle disputes, and would fix taxes and prices. The state in essence looks after the interests of consumers, while the Guilds look after the interests of producers. Guild Socialism aims both to improve wages and to make work more fulfilling.

Russell concludes the chapter with a recitation of some of the virtues of the Syndicalist Revolt: virtues that more than offset its shortcomings. Syndicalism has promoted the interests of producers, while focusing more on liberty than on material wealth. Whatever its future prospects, Syndicalism has reminded us of the need for radical change, not a piecemeal approach that leaves the current system intact.