Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Left-Wing Anarchism: A Critique

What exactly is anarchism? According to conventional wisdom, anarchy is one and the same with complete chaos and disorder. This conception of anarchism has to be rejected because it is a baseless assumption that has nothing to do with the philosophy in question. It makes an apriori assumption that the lack of a central authority would lead to complete wrecklessness on the part of every individual (and, of course, is puts forth no rational arguement as to why a central authority is the only way to create any real order). It also appears nonsensical because we clearly see that chaos and disorder still pervades despite the fact that we live in a world controlled by governments. If we accept the conventional definition of anarchy, then we would have to consider various atmospheres in which governmental authority exists to be "anarchism". Another common definition of anarchism assumes that it means "anyone can do whatever they want under any circumstance". In actual fact, not one single anarchist, no matter how dim-witted, has ever suggested such a thing.

A much better definition of anarchism would be a state of affairs in which there is no central monopolistic authority, I.E. no government. Surprisingly, however, there is only one branch of anarchism that truly fits this definition without delving into a host of other "requirements", and that branch is known as anarcho-capitalism, which is merely the most radical application of libertarianism (the point of this work, however, is not to make a defense of anarcho-capitalism, but to critisize non-capitalist anarchism). The bulk of anarchist ideology, however, consists of something entirely different from anarcho-capitalism. Indeed, one finds that most anarchist groups do not necessarily hold the abolition of government as their main goal. These anarchist groups's resistance to government is not so much their main pillar, but rather only one application of their resistance to something else. Such anarchists do not necessarily see government as the greatest exploitive institution in society, rather it is only one of a host of institutions which they consider to be exploitive; and many of them consider other institutions to be even more exploitive than government.

Indeed, the majority of the anarchist movement consists of left-wing anarchists of varying sorts. And by left-wing we do not mean the comparitively "moderate" modern liberal movement, but rather the "far-left-wing", as far left as one can possibly go. The central object of this group's opposition is not government, but "heirarchy" (what they percieve to be heirarchy, that is) or indeed any institution in which each individual member is not completely equal (of course, left-wing anarchists consider any such arrangement to be a heirarchy). The only reason that such groups advocate the abolition of government is because it is a heirarchal institution. If government were a completely equalitarian institution (which obviously is not the case), they would be forced to support it fully.

In the abstract, left-wing anarchists argue that they oppose all "exploitation". This contention in itself has no problems - who, anarchist or not, doesn't oppose what they consider to be exploitation? However, what exactly do our left-anarchist friends consider to constitute "exploitation"? Here, we get to the crux of their ideology: any institutional arrangement in which any individual has higher status or power than anyone else is considered to be exploitive. If we are to take this seriously, every single institution ever in existance must be considered exploitive, because there is no such thing as an institution in which everyone is completely equal (this is a utopian impossibility). Indeed, under this strange definition, the institution of the family itself must be exploitation (an idea Karl Marx supported), since the parents exercise authority over their children. The institution of employment must also be considered as inherent exploitation under this definition, since the worker's status are never equal to eachother, and never equal to their employers (and of course, employer's statuses are never equal to eachother either).

It thus becomes apparent to us that, in order to be true to their own ideology, a left-wing anarchist must oppose all institutions of whatever kind. Indeed, to take this ideology to heart would mean that property ownership as a whole must be viewed as nothing but exploitive, since it is never equal with respect to everyone. We therefore find ourselves confronted with the fact that the left-wing anarchist's main passion is the abolition of private property. This is very interesting, because this is the main passion of communism. It is the same rationale used by communists to argue for abolishing religious institutions. Indeed, Karl Marx himself, in his early stage, could be considered an anarchist. It was Marx himself, afterall, who thought that under communism the state would "wither away". Of course, this opposition to the state is only an afterthought that is supposed to be an enevitable consequence of the main agenda: the abolition of private property. The main reason why the left-wing anarchist opposes government is because they accept the communist contention that private property is entirely the creation of government (an absurd notion).

Of course, these notions are absurd. It should be clearly evident that the only way to even approach the abolition of private property is through governmental force. It should therefore be clear that the left-wing anarchist, in practical reality, faces the fact that the only way for them to abolish "exploitation A" (private institutions) is to rely on "exploitation B" (governmental institutions). In short, the left-wing anarchist is faced with the contradiction that while they consider government to be heirarchal, they must support that heirarchal institution when it makes any moves to hamper other institutions that are considered heirarchal (private property, family, etc.).

The entire notion of anarcho-communism is absurd in that it requires a government to enforce such collectivization. Even if they were to achieve collectivization of property, what they are left with in reality is an all-powerful government that owns all property. This government itself, of course, would be no less "heirarchal" than any other. In short, the real-life application of the left-wing anarchist's ideas would lead to, ironically, a communist and totalitarian government, because there is no way to completely abolish private institutions such as buisinesses and churches without governmental action. The left-wing anarchist may indeed cheer on government collectivization of property under the false impression that the government will then dissapear once private property has been eradicated.

The falliciousness of the left-wing anarchist's assumptions are rather obvious. For one, they assume that private property (I.E. capitalism) is inherently a heirarchy. In actual fact, this is not the case. A heirarchy is an institution with a pure pyramid-type of structure, in which groups are fixed in various positions of authority. Further, a heirarchy inherently must be static, that is, there cannot be any real mobility in authority within it. But the market is not an institution in which there is no upward or downward mobility in authority. It is precisely defined by it's unstatic nature. In capitalism, there is no one person at the top who can command every single person below them, as a king can in a heirarchal government. To be sure, there is economic inequality, but inequality in itself is not heirarchy. In a heirarchy, those at the bottom stay there, and those at the top stay there. In capitalism, those at the bottom have the oppurtunity to rise upwards, and those at the top also face the possibility of sloping back downwards.

The actual fact of the matter is that capitalism is neither a heirarchy or a state of total equality. It is an unstatic and relatively spontanous distribution. There are ups and downs, but these ups and downs do not form a pyramid. There is not one group at the top who dictates to everyone else. "The rich" do not form a cabal and dictate the economic conditions of everyone else. In a heirarchy, each position is fixed into a uniform one. This is not the case with capitalism. There are people who make 30,000 dollars in a year, and there are people who makes 60,000 dollars in a year. There are also people who make 30,100 dollars in a year, and 60,100 dollars in a year. There is an invitable variance even within the groups that we tend to generalize into entire economic classes. Let's take "the middle class" for example.

I would generalize the middle class to constitute those who make between 40,000 and 100,000 dollars in a year. It is essentially a fact that the majority of the American population make somewhere between these two figures in a year (admittedly towards the lower end), and inherently this means that there is no heirarchy, because if there were a heirarchy there would be a retrogressive "slope" that wouldn't allow the majority of people to make it into this category. As an example, if there were a heirarchy, we would end up with something roughly as follows: 200,000 people make 20,000 a year, 100,000 people make 40,000 a year, 50,000 people make 80,000 a year, and so on. The actual statistics in America are quite different from this: the vast majority of people are middle class, a small percentage are rich, and a comparitively small percentage are poor.

The much decried "gap between rich and poor" is filled by the majority! Obviously, the rich certainly constitute a minority in comparison to the overall population, but the idea that the majority can be the rich is nonsensical (there wouldn't be enough capital to make this happen). Where is the heirarchy in all of this? Nowhere to be found: all that can be found is inequality, not heirarchy. If it were an actual heirarchy, the majority who constitute the middle class would instead be the poor. In other words, if capitalism was a heirarchy, there would be more poor people than middle class people under it. This is not the case. Capitalism is precisely what allowed us to break the chains of the preciding heirarchal systems, by allowing a "middle class" to form in the first place through the fruits of people's labor. A true heirarchy can only be formed if people are denied the fruits of their labor to the extent of forming a pyramid.

The idea that private property ownership or exchange of such property is inherently an exploitation at the expense of others is quite mystifying. The idea that owning something in itself requires the exploitation of others to make you own it is nonsensical. It doesn't require the exploitation of others for me to enjoy the private property of groceries. To obtain the groceries, I engaged in a voluntary exchange with the grocery store. Both me and the grocery store benefited - I got the groceries because I valued them more then the money, and the grocery store got my money because they valued it more then keeping the groceries. It is a mutually beneficial exchange. Further, the workers who produced the groceries also engaged in a mutually beneficial exchange - they got payed money (in the form of wages) to produce the product, and their employer got the produced product in exchange for their payment.

In order for any of this to constitute exploitation, one group or individual would have to expropriate from the other against their will, and only one party would gain something. In all of these cases, both parties gained something, and both parties valued what they gained more then what they gave. If it were the case that everyone was completely indifferent, then noone would be able to take any action at all. Action requires a judgement of preferance on the part of individuals. Even the person who has accepted less than they initially desired has still demonstrated a preferance: something over nothing. Something can only constitute exploitation if it is against any preferance at all on the part of the individual, that is, if it is a coerced engagement (such as theft and fraud). All of our examples have been, on the contrary, voluntary engagements in which individuals have clearly made judgements of preferance.

The contention that all private property derives from government is a strange one, considering that private property precedes government in reality. The analogy of Crusoe demonstrates this very easily. Crusoe lands on an island, and builds himself a home out of wood. This is an establishment of private property that naturally arose as a result of homesteading. To claim that there is no way that Crusoe can establish this property without government is nonsensical. This example works with more than just land and homes. If Crusoe finds some clay, and uses that clay to form it into a sculpture, he has established the sculpture as his private property. If Crusoe farms the previously unused land outside his home to produce crops, those crops are his private property. If Crusoe voluntarily exchanges these crops for gold, the gold becomes his private property.

Moreover, Crusoe is his own property property - I.E. he owns himself. The most fundamental private property right is that over your own body. Private property is an inevitable result of human activity in itself. It arises as a consequence of the fact that we live in a finite world with scarce resources. Private property results from (1) the initial homesteading and transformation of the resources the earth makes available to us and (2) the ensueing voluntary exchange of those resources once they have already been homesteaded and transformed.

We again return to the inevitable fact that it is impossible to have any institution that is purely egalitarian in nature; that is, no institution can have 100% equality among it's counterparts. For example, let us take the institution of employment. Inherently, the employer and employee cannot function in 100% equal ways, because their functions are entirely different. The employee's function is to work to produce in order to get paid, while the employer's function is to hire and pay people in order for them to produce. And we find the same thing is true among employees themselves - it is impossible to pay ever employee in the entire world the exact same paycheck, it is impossible to have them all work the same hours, it is impossible for them to all enjoy the same working conditions, and it is impossible for them to all perform the same kind of job.

The same method applies to religious institutions. Inherently, the congregation and religious authorities (preachers, priests, rabbis, etc.) cannot function in 100% equaly ways, because their functions are entirely different. The priest's function is to preside over the religious ceremonies, while the congregation's function is to engage in the ceremonies. It is impossible for the entire congregation to take on the role of the rabbi or priest. It is impossible for everyone to share the same religious beliefs and support (or oppose) the same religious institutions. It would be impossible for any religious institution to function at all without any individuals with the status and authority to run them.

The absurdity of this egalitarianism goes further. It is impossible for a buisiness owner and their customers to function in 100% equal ways, because their functions are entirely different. The buissiness owner's function is to run the buisiness and react to the consumers, and the consumer's function is to buy goods and services from the buisiness. It is impossible for the consumer to take on the function of the buisiness owner, and it is impossible for the buisiness owner to take on the function as the consumer. It is impossible for all buisiness owners to present all consumers with the exact same thing, and it is impossible for all consumers to desire and obtain the exact same thing.

Of course, our left-wing anarchist friends are likely to claim that the buisiness owner has absolute authority over the consumer. This is, of course, contrary to the most obvious of economics. It is the consumer, afterall, who the buisiness produces for, and without the consumer's voluntary purchases there would be no way for a buisiness to make any money. The consumer, in fact, exercises authority over the buisiness by choosing to buy or not buy their products. Further, this choice on the part of the consumer (which constitutes "demand") forces the buisiness owner to make adaptations. If the consumers simply stop buying their product, they will go out of buisiness if they do not find a way to appease what the consumers want in some way. And if the consumers engage in a mass-consumption spree, therefore greatly diminishing the available supply, this also forces the buisiness to make certain adaptations.

We also must face the fact that people themselves are inherently unequal. People vary in their mental and physical attributes. For example, someone may possess the attribute of enhanced physical strength. In exercising this physical strength to make a living, or as a demonstration in a contest (which they won), our left-wing anarchists friends would have to consider this an unjust exercise of "authority", since noone is allowed to have any more power then anyone else. But the obvious fact of the matter is that people can be said to indeed have more power than others by virtue of their own abilities as individuals. Someone who possesses considerably enhanced intellect (what we would call a genuis) inherently does have more mental power than most others. To consider one exercising their own abilities in a way that is better than others as an inherent abuse of authority over others is nonsense.

If we are to take this seriously, then the basketball team who wins the match has excersized "exploitive authority" over the losing team. They must have "exploited" the losing team. Steven Hawking certainly has much more authority and status in science than an elementary school science student does. Does this mean that Mr. Hawking must be exploiting science students? Could it be that people can naturally exceed more than others without exploiting them? Just because someone achieves more status, authority or money than others does not inherently mean that others take a "loss" because of it. This concept seems impossible to our left-anarchist friends. To them, the only way for someone to achieve any more authority or status then anyone else is to exploit others. But the idea that any inequality in status, functionality and results within an institution inevitably must be the consequence of exploitation is ridiculous.

In short, all institutional arrangements have an inequality (and therefore a diversity) between their counterparts. All institutions have different functions for different people acting within them. The left-wing anarchist view is rather childish. It seeks to get rid of all authority of any kind. They fail to understand not only that some kind of authority is necessary to have any social order at all, but that it is impossible to get rid of all authority. They also fail to recognize the difference between inequality itself and an imposed heirarchy. They seek an absurd utopia in which noone has any authority over anyone else and noone has any more than anyone else. The core of their ideology does not consist of a hatred for government, but a hatred for all institutions in general, due to their hatred for any inequality between people. They fail to understand that people are inherently unequal with respect to eachother, and as a consequence they seek to abolish all inequalities since they consider them all to be artificially manufactured. At the heart of the matter is their inability to properly distinguish government from other institutions. In many ways, this ideology is the most radical one that there can possibly be, because it more or less calls for the abolition of social organization itself.

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