La FAQ Anarchiste (francophone)

Section D – Comment l’étatisme et le capitalisme affectent la société?

Introduction

This section of the FAQ indicates how both statism and capitalism affect the society they exist in. It is a continuation of sections B (Why do anarchists oppose the current system?) and C (What are the myths of capitalist economics?) and it discusses the impact of the underlying social and power relationships within the current system on society.  🔗

Cette section est importante car les institutions et les relations sociales que l’étatisme et le capitalisme engendrent n’existent pas dans un vide social, ils ont un grand impact sur notre vie quotidienne. Ces effets nous dépassent en tant qu’individus (par exemple, les effets négatifs de la hiérarchie sur notre individualité) et ont un effet sur la façon dont les institutions politiques fonctionnent, dont la technologie se développe, dont les médias opèrent, etc. De ce fait, il n’est pas inutile de montrer comment (et pourquoi) l’étatisme et le capitalisme influencent la société dans son ensemble, bien en dehors des limites de la politique et de l’économie. 🔗

So here we sketch some of the impact concentrations of political and economic power have upon society. While many people attack the results of these processes (like specific forms of state intervention, ecological destruction, imperialism, etc.) they usually ignore their causes. This means that the struggle against social evils will be never-ending, like a doctor fighting the symptoms of a disease without treating the disease itself or the conditions which create it in the first place. We have indicated the roots of the problems we face in earlier sections; now we discuss how these impact on other aspects of our society. This section of the FAQ explores the interactions of the causes and results and draws out how the authoritarian and exploitative nature of capitalism and the state affects the world we live in.  🔗

It is important to remember that most supporters of capitalism refuse to do this. Yes, some of them point out some flaws and problems within society but they never relate them to the system as such. As Noam Chomsky points out, they « ignor[e] the catastrophes of capitalism or, on the rare occasions when some problem is noticed, attribut[e] them to any cause other than the system that consistently brings them about1 ». Thus we have people, say, attacking imperialist adventures while, at the same time, supporting the capitalist system which drives it. Or opposing state intervention in the name of « freedom » while supporting an economic system which by its working forces the state to intervene simply to keep it going and society together. The contradictions multiple, simply because the symptoms are addressed, never the roots of the problems.  🔗

That the system and its effects are interwoven can best be seen from the fact that while right-wing parties have been elected to office promising to reduce the role of the state in society, the actual size and activity of the state has not been reduced, indeed it has usually increased in scope (both in size and in terms of power and centralisation). This is unsurprising, as « free market » implies strong (and centralised) state — the « freedom » of management to manage means that the freedom of workers to resist authoritarian management structures must be weakened by state action. Thus, ironically, state intervention within society will continue to be needed in order to ensure that society survives the rigours of market forces and that elite power and privilege are protected from the masses.  🔗

The thing to remember is that the political and economic spheres are not independent. They interact in many ways, with economic forces prompting political reactions and changes, and vice versa. Overall, as Kropotkin stressed, there are « intimate links […] between the political regime and the economic regime2 ». These means that it is impossible to talk of, say, capitalism as if it could exist without shaping and being shaped by the state and society. Equally, to think that the state could intervene as it pleased in the economy fails to take into account the influence economic institutions and forces have on it. This has always been the case, as the state « is a hybridisation of political and social institutions, of coercive with distributive functions, of highly punitive with regulatory procedures, and finally of class with administrative needs — this melding process has produced very real ideological and practical paradoxes that persist as major issues today3 ». These paradoxes can only be solved, anarchists argue, by abolishing the state and the social hierarchies it either creates (the state bureaucracy) or defends (the economically dominant class). Until then, reforms of the system will be incomplete, be subject to reversals and have unintended consequences.  🔗

These links and interaction between statism and capitalism are to be expected due to their similar nature. As anarchists have long argued, at root they are based on the same hierarchical principle. Proudhon, for example, regarded « the capitalist principle » and « the governmental principle » as « one and the same principle […] abolition of the exploitation of man by man and the abolition of the government of man by man, are one and the same formula4 ». This means that anarchists reject the notion that political reforms are enough in themselves and instead stress that they must be linked to (or, at least, take into account) economic change. This means, for example, while we oppose specific imperialist wars and occupation, we recognise that they will reoccur until such time as the economic forces which generate them are abolished. Similarly, we do not automatically think all attempts to reduce state intervention should be supported simply because they appear to reduce the state. Instead, we consider who is introducing the reforms, why they are doing so and what the results will be. If the « reforms » are simply a case of politicians redirecting state intervention away from the welfare state to bolster capitalist power and profits, we would not support the change. Anarchist opposition to neo-liberalism flows from our awareness of the existence of economic and social power and inequality and its impact on society and the political structure.  🔗

In some ways, this section discusses class struggle from above, i.e. the attacks on the working class conducted by the ruling class by means of its state. While it appears that every generation has someone insisting that the « class war » is dead and/or obsolete (Tony Blair did just that in the late 1990s), what they mean is that class struggle from below is dead (or, at least, they wish it so). What is ignored is that the class struggle from above continues even if class struggle from the below appears to have disappeared (until it reappears in yet another form). This should be unsurprising as any ruling class will be seeking to extend its profits, powers and privileges, a task aided immensely by the reduced pressure from below associated with periods of apparent social calm (Blair’s activities in office being a striking confirmation of this). Ultimately, while you may seek to ignore capitalism and the state, neither will ignore you. That this produces resistance should be obvious, as is the fact that demise of struggle from below have always been proven wrong.  🔗

By necessity, this section will not (indeed, cannot) cover all aspects of how statism and capitalism interact to shape both the society we live in and ourselves as individuals. We will simply sketch the forces at work in certain important aspects of the current system and how anarchists view them. Thus our discussion of imperialism, for example, will not get into the details of specific wars and interventions but rather give a broad picture of why they happen and why they have changed over the years. However, we hope to present enough detail for further investigation as well as an understanding of how anarchists analyse the current system based on our anti-authoritarian principles and how the political and economic aspects of capitalism interact.  🔗

Notes
  1. Deterring Democracy, p.232.
  2. Words of a Rebel, p.118.
  3. Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p.196.
  4. Cité par Wayne Thorpe, The Workers Themselves, p.279.

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