Friday, April 2, 2021

Socialism and Anarchism - Part 2 (1942)

From the April 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Syndicalist writings are obscure regarding the economic implications of Syndicalism. It is not always clear whether it is understood to involve the abolition of the wages system, or what such abolition means even when it is advocated by the Syndicalists. Other aspects of Syndicalist teaching are just as obscure. The following quotation from War Commentary (mid-March), an Anarchist journal, illustrated the point. The writer asks, “Can we do without capital?” and answers: —
  It depends largely on what is meant by capital. What should be clear to all is that to make or produce anything at all, only human energy plus nature is required. Therefore it is true to say that the worker produces everything. That being true, there is no need for a master at all. Who will do the “thinking out” and the organisation? That question is easy. It will be done by the workers, the very people who do it now.
It is true, of course, that things can only be produced by the application of human energy to nature given material; that, economically, the workers produce everything; and that there is no need “for a master at all.” But recognition of these simple fundamentals does not make the Socialist, if there is an absence of scientific deduction from them. To put it mildly, it is not clear from the subsequent development of his argument what the writer’s deductions are. However, for the moment should be noted his own answer to the question, “Can we do without capital?” Notice the answer: “It depends largely what is meant by capital.” Risking the charge of carping criticism it might be suggested that those who oppose the capitalist system of production ought to know what capital is. We will restate what has been defined many thousands of times. Capital is wealth used to produce further wealth for profit. When, in Socialist society, things are produced for use alone the means and instruments of production will have ceased to function as capital. This is no mere word jugglery. Uncertainty or unsoundneses concerning the nature of the capitalist world we live in leads to false conclusions and reformism and makes revolutionary phrases mere jargon. The writer concludes his article with the following four points which he suggests should be should be kept present in workers’ minds: —
  1. That before the workers can be free, the boss must go.
  2. That the boss will go when the workers organise to take from him the fields, mines, factories, transport, etc.
  3. That these things can be taken by organisation at the point of production and “locking out the boss” from all industry.
  4. That in order to keep a workers’ delegate within the ranks of the workers, see to it that the wages he is paid do not exceed the wage he would draw while at work in industry and that every delegate be subject to 24 hours’ notice, must have worked in industry for 12 months preceding his appointment, to come up for re-election every 12 months, and in no circumstances hold office for more than three years in succession. Such ruling will encourage workers to become fit for the work of delegate because so many will be required and none will decay ‘into permanent officialdom. ”
It is perhaps not surprising that the fourth point indicates the continuance of the wages system. If this is not what is meant then it means nothing. The four points contain two proposals dear to the heart of the Syndicalist: “locking out the boss,” and workers’ control. It does not strike the Syndicalist as curious that the workers, who are quick to learn from experience, to sense the weaknesses of capitalism and exploit them to their advantage, have not learned how simple is it to “lock out the boss” and take over the control of industry for themselves. They have not learned because experience has taught the workers what the Syndicalists choose (or pretend) to ignore, the enormous power of the State machine. If State power had never existed (a fantastic assumption !) the workers would have discovered the consequent weakness of the position of the capitalist class long before the Syndicalists appeared to tell them about it. The idea that workers can “take and hold” industry by ignoring State power, or in defiance of it, is basically a hoary Anarchist doctrine. It is fantastic, dangerous, and nonsense. An example of the “take and hold” principle by the Anarchists and Syndicalists occurred, it is claimed, during the Spanish Civil War. The real point to remember in this connection is that whatever success the Syndicalists had was whilst the State machine was controlled by the Republican Government, who had need of the support of the Anarchists. When the control of the State machine passed to Franco the take and holders passed out despite their claim to have millions of followers. The factories were not held against the State. The party holding State power decided the fate of the Anarchists and Syndicalists. This was true in Spain. It would be even more true in countries like Great Britain and the U.S.A., where the State power and the administrative machinery is much more highly centralised and where there is a clearer recognition of that power among the workers. It is not accidental that Anarchism has arisen where there exist semi-mediaeval conditions. Indeed, in a country like Spain where conditions parallel an historical phase through which most developed capitalist countries have passed, Anarchism could (and did) have a particular appeal. Where “kicking out the boss” and “take and hold” means eliminating the large secular and clerical landowner and the sharing of the land among the peasants, the abolition of feudal obligations to the landowning class and other burdens suffered by the peasantry, it appears to promise an immediate solution for the social problems of the peasant: a promise which is entirely lost on the industrial worker in the more advanced capitalist countries because of the different social and economic conditions in which he lives.

Anarchism is a philosophy bred in the days of working class immaturity. Its horizon has never shown any real understanding of the nature of man’s relationship to society or of capitalism to history. The extent of its economic proposals whenever it spared the time from its fervent propaganda for “freedom,” “justice,” etc., never went beyond property for all and “fair prices” and fair exchange (Proudhon—still the “father of Anarchists” even to the modern Anarchists). The modern Anarchist movement seems to have learned nothing in the past half-century, and the Syndicalist movement but little. Rudolf Rocker (a well-informed living Anarchist), in his book, “Anarcho-Syndicalism,” does not attempt to refute any of the older doctrines of Anarchism, nor does he indicate that he does anything but accept them. In it he informs his reader that Proudhon was “no Communist,” and that he condemned property as merely the privilege of exploitation, but he recognised the ownership of the instruments of labour by all . . .” (p. 15). Rocker also claims (p. 23): “Anarchism has in common with Liberalism the idea that the happiness and prosperity of the individual must be the standard in all social matters. And, in common with the great representatives of Liberal thought, it has also the idea of limiting the functions of government to a minimum” (!). It is true that “Liberal thought” had a traditional antipathy to the State. But the “freedom” which assumed so large an aspect in its philosophy would deceive no informed worker. It meant no more than a resentment against State interference (when children of tender years worked in the factories and mines) and the freedom to exploit workers without interference. Such are the superficialities of Anarchist philosophy. According to The Word (March, 1942) Rudolph Rocker is now writing in defence of the British Empire. He follows Kropotkin, who supported Czarist Russia in its war against Germany, 1914/18. Knowing the basic unsoundness of Anarchism these inconsistencies do not shock the Socialist. Many less experienced workers, however, are likely to be misled by the “revolutionary” jargon and the high-moral language of Anarchist writings. A little careful thought will save subsequent and painful disillusionment.

The fervour and fury of Anarchist propaganda signifies nothing. Little different could be said of the Anarchists to-day than Plechanoff said of Stirner’s “League of Egoists” yesterday—”the Utopia of a petty bourgeois in revolt.”

Socialism and Anarchism have nothing in common.
Harry Waite

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Hat tip to ALB for originally scanning this in.

I'd totally forgotten that I'd scanned in the first part of this article in October 2019. My bad.