Saturday, November 7, 2015

What is Anarchism? (1967)

From the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the difficulties in explaining the Socialist attitude to anarchism is that there are many different varieties of anarchism, some involving violence, some non-violence; some are anti-religious, some religious. Some anarchists are influenced by Freud; others by different schools of psychology. Some favour the setting up of anarchist communities now, as a transitional step. Others are individualistic, being mainly unconcerned about society's problems. Most envisage the abolition of money, yet some are interested in monetary reforms. The list is endless. Each would have to be examined separately. The best procedure now would be to take a school of anarchism that appears to be close to our standpoint and discuss this.

Basically this form of anarchism envisages the abolition of the state, of buying and selling, of international trade, of frontiers and the like. Its aim would be a consciously regulated society where production would be to satisfy human need; where the workers in particular industries and plants are loosely associated with others in co-operating federations. The adherents of this school argue that the only way in which this state of affairs could be brought about would be by the growth of a majority sufficiently independent-minded to see the need for this kind of world and to begin to organise for it. This would mean withdrawing support from all political activity (parties, voting, etc.) and ultimately destroying the state and all related institutions, and building the nuclei of the new society within the old.

Our basic arguments against the anarchist attitude are these. Any movement concerned with the problems of society (and of the working class in particular) must have certain unified theoretical conceptions. It must have a theory embracing coherently the past and the present, the dynamics of social change, the nature of human behaviour and so on. Without such a unified theory it is not possible to take consistent action on a rational basis, or to modify it meaningfully in the light of experience. We argue that anarchists lack such a theoretical system. In fact the views of even a limited segment of anarchists such as that under discussion involve a wide variety of theories. Such eclecticism preludes the possibility of sound theory and therefore the possibility of sustained correct action. Of course, we are not suggesting that one should not examine and re-examine all relevant theories.

With regard to the attempt to establish a libertarian society by direct action without the ballot-box a number of points can be made.

Anarchists, in their criticism, tend to argue that all "parliamentary" parties, within which they include the Socialist Party of Great Britain, have in the past, and in the present, betrayed the working class; that Parliament is not the real seat of power (a "power-house") but a "talking-shop" or "gas-house"; that the Socialist Party contests elections, aims at parliamentary majorities and so on; and that therefore it is and will be no different from all other parties. Also, the SPGB participates in all the activities which perpetuate what anarchists see as harmful illusions about law, the state and parliamentary democracy.

Our reply is that these anarchists fail to distinguish between the different content of the term "parliamentary" as applied to orthodox parties and to the Socialist Party. They do not see, or perhaps do not want to see, that we insist on the necessity of majority understanding behind Socialist delegates with a mandate for Socialism, merely using the state and parliament for one revolutionary act, after which the Socialist Party has no further existence, subsequent action being the responsibility of society.

We hold it to be absolutely essential that the transformation to a new society be started by formal democratic methods—that is, by persuasion and the secret ballot. For there is no other way of ascertaining accurately the views of the population. The result of a properly conducted ballot will make it clear, in the event of an overwhelming Socialist vote, to any minority that they are the minority and that any attempt to oppose the desires of the majority by violence would be futile. An attempt to establish an anarchist society by ignoring the democratic process thereby gives any recalcitrant minority, possibly violent, the excuse for anti-libertarian direct action itself. They could claim that the assumed majority did not in fact exist or that the assumed majority was not likely to be a consistent or decisive one. In any event there would be no secure justification for a radical change. There might well be unnecessary setbacks and disruptions of the revolutionary movement—possibly involving hardship or loss of life among the working class.

In general, the denigration in a sweeping fashion of Parliament and so on makes it easier for authoritarian movements of all kinds to lay the blame for social problems on democratic institutions instead of on capitalism—as, for instance, did the Nazis and so-called Communists in the Weimar Republic.

The anarchists propose to ignore the state saying, paradoxically, that it does not reflect real social power and that in the desired transformation of society its controllers would be corrupted. Socialists argue that it does reflect real social power and consciousness; that a majority of society comprising class-conscious Socialists would effectively control its mandated delegates who, having free access to things, would have no need of power (individually or as a group). Finally, the anarchist proposal to ignore the state is short-sighted in so far as the formal establishment of the Socialist majority's control of the state does avoid the possibility of effective use of its forces against the revolutionary movement.

Anarchists also tend to refer to the regimes in Russia, Eastern Europe and Cuba as Marxist or Communist, saying that all the antisocial aspects of these systems arise directly or indirectly as a result of the ideas of Marx. In so doing, of course, they do a disservice to the truth.
J.

Nation or class? (1998)

Editorial from the August 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationalism has always been one of the biggest poisons for the working class. It has served to divide workers into different nation states not only literally but ideologically. Today it is probably fair to say that a majority of workers—to one extent or another—align themselves to their domestic ruling class. After all, the ideology of nationalism ultimately means that workers and capitalists living in a particular geographical area must have a common interest.

As with most myths there is an element of truth in this. Normally, a common language is shared and on a superficial level at least, a common "culture" can be defined, e.g. "the British way of life". However, if one probes slightly deeper such an analysis fails to stand up. Socialists argue that world society can he broken into two great classes of capitalists and workers. Despite many workers finding it difficult to communicate with and understand each other because of language or cultural barriers this does not alter the fact that they are all part of one globalised exploited mass with more in common with each other than with their indigenous bosses.

One popular myth about nationalism is that it's synonymous with fascism. This is a dangerous illusion. Fascism is the most degenerate form of nationalism but any kind of patriotism however soft or innocuous can only be defined as anti—working class. This ranges from the Conservative Party through to the Trotskyists who feel obliged to defend small nations, i.e. Iraq against powerful ones like the US.

All of which leads nicely to the World Cup. Many socialists play and watch football but it's a shame that nationalism (however hard or soft) has to taint what should be a wonderful event. Indeed "athletic nationalism" is of tremendous value to the capitalist class as it makes supporting your country" socially acceptable. It not only diverts workers minds away from the problems that surround them, it allows politicians to reap the rewards of any "feel good" factor that springs forth from a good set of results.

As President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin fight it out for their share of the spoils in France, it is well to remember that French workers have far more in common with their fellow workers this side of the Channel than they can ever have, fundamentally, with their exploiters at home and those who represent them.

Mixed Media: Pier Paolo Pasolini (2015)

The Mixed Media Column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-75) was murdered forty years ago on 2 November 1975. He was a heterodox Marxist, a poet, novelist, and film director of exquisite poetic cinema where he showed a natural sympathy for the sub-proletariat and peasantry.
Pasolini was a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). His 1948 novel Il sogno di una cosa (The Dream of Something) derived its title from Marx's letter to Ruge in September 1843; 'It will then become evident that the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality'. Because of a homosexual scandal, Pasolini was expelled from the PCI in October 1949 'for moral unworthiness.' He retorted 'I am and will remain a Communist', and in every election Pasolini declared his support for the PCI. Enzo Siciliano writes 'to be a Communist was for Pasolini almost a fact of nature ... he believed with the strength of faith, that it was in communism that the instinct of self-preservation and the will to survive took form. For him ... communism had to do with love, and also making love.'

His formative ideological influence was Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), a founder of the PCI, whose Quadermi dal carcere (Prison Notebooks) were published in 1948. Pasolini's poem Le ceneri di Gramsci (The Ashes of Gramsci) written in 1954 'outlining the ideal that illuminates', is also a paean to Gramsci's 'rigour.' Like Gramsci, Pasolini believed in the idea of unifying consciousness through history. His poem is also a demand for a new morality whereby the individual would be salvaged in his entirety, in his specificity, and the pressing need for economic justice. Maurizio Viano in The Left According to the Ashes of Gramsci writes 'what attracted Pasolini was Gramsci's idea that intellectuals must engage in a pendular motion across the vertical spectrum of a class society, the duty of suturing high and low, mind and body.' This is what Pasolini aimed for in his first two films, Accatone (1961), and Mamma Roma (1962). They are naturalistic studies of dispossessed Roman sub-proletarian lives in slums using authenticity, and uncompromising raw poetry, depicting pimps, prostitutes, petty thieves, and the illusion of petit-bourgeois redemption.
Teorema released in 1968 demolishes bourgeois ideals, showing the aridity of the modern bourgeoisie where sexual repression and taboos hold the family and the capitalist social structure together. Teorema portrays a stranger who seduces the members of a bourgeois family; the maid, the son, the daughter, the mother, and the father. The father appears to be jealous but it is not clear if he is, as in the Oedipal scenario, jealous of the son, or whether he is jealous of the stranger for being able to do to the son what he, as the boy's father, incestuously desires. With seduction of the father, the whole patriarchal and capitalist structure collapses. The father is stripped of his illusion, and strips himself of his property handing over his factory to the workers.
Pasolini shared Gramsci's faith in the revolutionary potential of the Italian peasantry. Gramsci wrote in L'Ordine Nuovo of 2 August 1919 that 'the peasant has always lived outside the rule of law, he has never had a juridical personality, nor a moral individuality. He lives on as an anarchic element, an independent atom in a chaotic tumult'. In his Prison Notebooks of 1935, Gramsci wrote 'folklore should be studied as a 'conception of the world and life' implicit to a large extent in determinate strata of society and in opposition to 'official' conceptions of the world.' Pasolini's 1970-74 Trilogy of Life which includes Il DecameronI Racconti di Canterbury (Canterbury Tales), and Il fiore delle mille e una notte (Arabian Nights) portray his delight and celebration of demotic folk tales and peasant life of pre-capitalist worlds. The Trilogy depicts a lost world of prelapsarian sexuality with no Freudian or religious guilt. Arabian Nights are dreamlike stories of love, potions and betrayal, filmed in Eritrea, Iran, Nepal, and Yemen. Here, Pasolini strips away Islamic proscriptive ideology to show a relaxed and euphoric delight in the act of love, appreciation of the human body, scenes of carnality smothered in the sounds of laughter in a magic universe watched over by 'Qada' or fate.
In 1975 Pasolini went from joy and vitality to deep mourning when he made Salòo Le centoventi giornate di Sodoma ( Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom) which transposed the Marquis de Sade's ‘psychopathia sexualis' to Mussolini's Fascist state of Salò in Northern Italy of 1943-45. Pasolini links Fascism with sadism, sexual licence and oppression, portraying the sadistic impulses of the bourgeoisie. A banker, a duke, a bishop and a judge inflict upon imprisoned teenagers in a series of Danteesque circles of hell - increasingly cruel sexual tortures ending in executions using four modes of current judicial killing - hanging, shooting, the garrotte, and the electric chair. Salò is transgressive cinema, full of brutality and despair.
Shortly before his murder, Pasolini wrote, 'never has Marx's statement that capitalism transforms human dignity into exchange goods made more sense than today'.
Steve Clayton