Society and the State

ANARCHISTS MAKE A CLEAR distinction between society and the State. While they value society as a sum of voluntary associations, they reject the State as a particular body intended to maintain a compulsory scheme of legal order) Most anarchists have depicted the State as an extraneous burden placed on society which can be thrown off, although more recently some, like Gustav Landauer, have stressed that the State is a certain relationship between human beings and overlaps society.


Society for anarchists is, as Thomas Paine wrote, invariably ‘a blessing’, the repository of all what is good in humanity: co-operation, mutual aid, sympathy, solidarity, initiative, and spontaneity.’ It is therefore quite misleading, as Daniel Guerin has done, to suggest that the anarchist ‘rejects society as a whole’.3 Only the extreme individualist Stirner attacks society as well as the State, and even he calls for an association or ‘union of egoists’ so that people can achieve their ends together. Godwin may have considered society only as an ‘aggregate of individuals’, but he speaks on behalf of most anarchists when he asserts that The most desirable condition of the human species, is a state of society.’4 Anarchists argue that the State is a recent development in human social and political organization, and that for most of history human beings have organized themselves in society without government and law in a peaceful and productive way. Indeed, in many societies social order exists in inverse proportion to the development of the State. Pure anarchy in the sense of a society with no concentrafion of force and no social controls has probably never existed. Stateless societies and peasant societies employ sanctions of approval and disapproval, the offer of reciprocity and the threat of its withdrawal, as instruments of social control. But modern anthropology confirms that in organic or ‘primitive’ societies there is a limited concentration of force. If authority exists, it is delegated and rarely imposed, and in many societies no relation of command and obedience is in force. Ever since man emerged as homo sapiens, he has been living in stateless communities which fall roughly into three groups: acephalous societies, in which there is scarcely any political specialization and no formal leadership (though some individuals have prestige); chiefdoms, in which the chief has no control of concentrated force and whose hereditary prestige is largely dependent on generosity; and big-man systems, in which the charismatic big man collects his dues for the benefit of society. Anthropologists have described many different types of indigenous anarchies. They vary from gardeners to pastoralists, small groups like pygmies and Inuits in marginal areas to vast tribes like the Tiv in Nigeria or the Santals in East India.’ But while human beings have been living in such communities for forty or fifty thousand years, they have nearly all been absorbed or destroyed by states in the last couple of centuries. Many of these organic societies are quite libertarian but some are characterized by ageism and sexism. They often have strong collective moral and religious systems which make people conform. Powerful moral and social pressures as well as supernatural sanctions are brought to bear on any anti-social behaviour. Yet for all their limitations, they show that the Hobbesian nightmare of universal war in a ‘state of nature’ is a myth. A society without hierarchy in the form of rulers and leaders is not a utopian dream but an integral part of collective human experience. Anarchists wish to combine the ancient patterns of co-operation and mutual aid of these organic societies with a modern sense of individuality and personal autonomy. Apart from extreme individualists, anarchists thus see society as the natural condition of human beings which brings out the best in them. They consider society to be a self-regulating order which develops best when least interfered with. When asked what would replace government, numerous anarchists have answered ‘What do you replace cancer with?’ Proudhon was more specific and replied ‘Nothing’: Society is eternal motion; it does not have to be wound up; and it is not necessary to beat time for it. It carries its own pendulum and its everwound-up spring within it. An organized society needs laws as little as legislators. Laws are to society what cobwebs are to a bechive; they only serve to catch the bees.6 Anarchists thus believe that existing religious and political institutions are for the most part irrational and unnatural. and prevent an orderly social life. Left to its own devices, society will find its own beneficial and creative course. Social order can prevail in the fundamental sense of providing security of persons and property. This fundamental distinction between society and the State is held by liberal as well as anarchist thinkers. Locke depicted men in a state of nature as free and equal and regulated by the law of nature from which natural rights are derived. His notion of natural order existing independently of the State provides the theoretical grounds for the classic liberal defence of laissez-faire. He only differed from the anarchists in thinking that life in a state of nature could be uncertain and inconvenient without known laws and a limited government to protect the natural rights to life, liberty and property. Anarchists agree with Locke that humanity has always lived in society but argue that government simply exasperates potential social conflict rather than offering a cure for it. Anarchists therefore believe that people can live together in peace and freedom and trust. The social anarchists look towards natural solidarity to encourage voluntary co-operation, while the individualists consider it possible to regulate affairs through voluntary contracts based on rational selfinterest. Even those few anarchists like Sdbastien Faure who see a struggle for survival in the state of nature believe that without laws, masters and repression, the ‘horrible struggle for life’ can be replaced by ‘fertile agreement’? There is therefore simply no need for the nightwatchman State of the liberal, let alone for the roaring Leviathan of authoritarian communists and fascists. Natural order can spontaneously prevail.

Natural Order

A fundamental assumption of anarchism is that nature flourishes best if left to itself. A Taoist allegory goes:
Horses live on dry land, eat grass and drink. When pleased, they rub their necks together. When angry, they turn round and kick up their heels at each other. Thus far only do their natural dispositions carry them. But bridled and bitted, with a plate of metal on their foreheads, they learn to cast vicious looks, to turn the head to bite, to resist, to get the bit out of the mouth, or the bridle into it. And thus their natures become depraved.8
The same might be said of human beings. It is interfering, dominating rulers who upset the natural harmony and balance of things. It is only when they try to work against the grain, to block the natural flow of energy, that trouble emerges in society. The anarchist confidence in the advantages of freedom, of letting alone, is thus grounded in a kind of cosmic optimism. Without the interference of human beings, natural laws will ensure that spontaneous order will emerge. In their concept of nature, anarchists tend to see the natural ground of society not in a historical sense of ‘things as they now are or have become’, natura naturata, but in a philosophical sense of ‘things as they may become’, Society and the State is natura naturans. Like Heraclitus, they do not regard nature as a fixed state but more as a dynamic process: you never put your foot in the same river twice. Where conservative thinkers believe that nature is best expressed inthings as they are’, that is, what history has produced so far, progressive thinkers look to nature to fulfil its potential. Most anarchists believe that the best way to bring about improvement is to let nature pursue its own beneficent course. This confidence in the beneficence of nature first emerges amongst the Taoists in ancient China. The early Greeks, especially the Stoics, also felt that if human beings lived in conformity with nature, all would be well. By the time of the Middle Ages, nature came to be perceived in terms of a Great Chain of Being, composed of an infinite number of continuous links ranging in hierarchical order from the lowest form of being to the highest form — the Absolute Being or God. Woodcock has suggested that in their view of man’s place in the world, anarchists believed in a modified version of the Great Chain of Being.9 In fact, the conception of the universe as a Chain of Being, and the principles which underline this conception — plenitude, continuity, and gradation — were deeply conservative. Moreover, the hierarchical cosmogony of the Chain of Being, with its gradations from beast to angels with man in the middle, reflected the social hierarchy of the period. In the eighteenth century, it led to the belief that there could be no improvement in the organization of society and to Pope’s conclusion that whatever is, is right’.10 Indeed, it was only towards the end of the eighteenth century when the static notion of a Chain of Being was temporalized and replaced by a more evolutionary view of nature that progressive thinkers began to appeal to nature as a touchstone to illustrate the shortcomings of modern civilization. The primitivist Rousseau reacted against the artificiality of European civilization by suggesting that we should develop a more natural way of living. The natural goodness of man had been depraved by government and political institutions; it was therefore necessarily to create them anew in order to let the natural man flourish. There is undoubtedly a strong strand of primitivism in anarchist thought. It takes both a chronological form, in the belief that the best period of history was before the foundation of the State, and a cultural -form, in the idea that the acquisitions of modern civilization are evil. These beliefs can combine in a celebration of the simplicity and gentleness of what is imagined to be the primitive life. Most anarchists however do not look back to some alleged lost golden age, but forward to a new era of selfconscious freedom. They are therefore both primitivist and progressive, drawing inspiration from a happier way of life in the past and anticipating anew and better one in the future.

This comes clearly through in the work of Godwin, the first to give a clear statement of anarchist principles at the end of the eighteenth century. He saw nature in terms of natura naturans, things as they may become. He never lost his confidence in the possibility of moral and social progress. Even when an atheist, he believed that truth is omnipotent and universal. In his old age, he began to talk of some mysterious and beneficent power which sustains and gives harmony to the whole universe. Proudhon also believed in universal natural law and felt that there was an immanent sense of justice deep within man: ‘he carries within himself the principles of a moral code that goes beyond the individual . . . They constitute his essence and the essence of society itself. They are the characteristic mould of the human soul, daily refined and perfected through social relations.'” Bakunin looked at nature and society in a more dialectical way and saw change occurring through the reconciliation of opposites: ‘the harmony of natural forces appears only as the result of a continual struggle, which is the real condition of life and of movement. In nature, as in society as well, order without struggle is death.’ Nature itself only acts in an unconscious way according to natural laws. Nevertheless, universal order exists in nature and society. Even man with his powers of reasoning is ‘the material product of the union and action of natural forces’.’ Kropotkin not only felt, like Proudhon, that the moral sense is innate but that nature evolves principally through mutual aid to higher and more complex forms. Malatesta questioned Kropotkin’s excessive optimism and suggested that anarchy is ‘the struggle, in human society, against the disharmonies of Nature’. But even though he felt that ‘natural man is in a continuous state of conflict with his fellows’, he believed social solidarity and harmony were possible.I3 Modern theorists like Murray Bookchin and John Clark follow Kropotkin’s lead in trying to link anarchism with ecology, and to show that the ecological principles of unity in diversity and of harmony through complexity apply to a free society. All anarchists thus believe that without the artificial restrictions of the State and government, without the coercion of imposed authority, a harmony of interests amongst human beings will emerge. Even the most ardent of individualists are confident that if people follow their own interests in a clear-sighted way they would be able to form unions to minimize conflict. Anarchists, whatever their persuasion, believe in spontaneous order. Given common needs, they are confident that human beings can organize themselves and create a social order which will prove far more effective and beneficial than any imposed by authority.” Liberty, as Proudhon observed, is the mother, not the daughter of order. But while all anarchists call for the dissolution of the State and believe that social order will eventually prevail, they base their confidence on
Society and the State 17 different premisses and models.’ Individualists like Stirner and Tucker developed Adam Smith’s economic vision in which a hidden hand will translate private interest into general good and promote a coincidence of interests. Since economic activity involves countless decisions and operations it cannot be successfully regulated or directed by one individual or a group of individuals. It should therefore be left to itself and a system of self-regulating economic harmony would result. In Saint-Simon’s celebrated phrase, the ‘administration of things’ would eventually replace ‘the government of men’. Godwin based his model of a harmonious free society on the reign of reason in accordance with universal moral laws. Through education and enlightenment, people would become more rational and recognize universal truth and their common interests and act accordingly. All would listen to the voice of truth. Proudhon felt that people were necessarily dependent on each other and would gain from co-ordinating voluntarily their economic interests. Bakunin believed that conscience and reason were sufficient to govern humanity, although he was enough of a Hegelian to depict human consciousness and society developing through history in a dialectical way. Only popular spontaneous organizations could meet the growing diversity of needs and interests. Both Kropotkin and Tolstoy based their vision of social harmony on their observations of tribal organizations and peasant villages. They were impressed by the way in which such communities arranged their lives without law and government according to custom and voluntary agreement. At the same time, Kropotkin tried to ground anarchism in the scientific study of society and natural history and to demonstrate that it was a rational philosophy which sought to live in accordance with natural and social laws. Human beings, he argued, had evolved natural instincts of sympathy and co-operation which were repressed or distorted in authoritarian and capitalist States. In the spontaneous order of a free society, they would re-emerge and be strengthened.

State and Government

The State did not appear until about 5500 years ago in Egypt. While great empires like those of the Chinese and Romans ebbed and flowed, with no clear boundaries on their outer limits, most of the world’s population continued to live in clans or tribes. Their conduct was regulated by customs and taboos; they had no laws, political administration, courts, or police to maintain order and cohesion. The State emerged with economic inequality. It was only when a society was able to produce a surplus which could be appropriated by a few that private property and class relations developed. When the rich called on the support of the shaman and the warrior, the State as an association claiming supreme authority in a given area began to emerge. Laws were made to protect private property and enforced by a special group of armed men. The State was thus founded on social conflict, not, as Locke imagined, by rational men of goodwill who made a social contract in order to set up a government to make life more certain and convenient. Kropotkin in his study of the origins of the State argues that the Roman Empire was a State, but that the Greek cities and the medieval city republics were not. In European nations, he argues, the State barely dates from the sixteenth century when it took over the free towns and their federations. It resulted from a ‘Triple-Alliance’ of lords, lawyers and priests who dominated society.’6 They were later joined by the capitalists who continued to strengthen and centralize the State and crush free initiative. The people in the mean time were persuaded to co-operate with the process and grew accustomed to voluntary servitude. Most anarchists would accept this version of history in general terms. While society is invariably a blessing, they accept that the State is an artificial superstructure separate from society. It is an instrument of oppression, and one of the principal causes of social evil. They therefore reject the idealist view put forward by Rousseau that the State can express the General Will of the people. They will have none of the Hegelian mysticism which tries to see the State as the expression of the spirit of a nation. They do not believe that it forms a moral being or a body politic which is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. They look through its mystifying ceremony and ritual which veil its naked power. They question its appeals to patriotism and democracy to justify the rule of the ruling minority. They do not even accept the liberal contention that the State can be considered a centre of sympathy and co-operation in certain areas. On the other hand, anarchists have no trouble in accepting Max Weber’s definition of the State as a body which claims the monopoly of legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. It uses its monopoly of force, through the army and police, to defend itself against foreign invasion and internal dissension. As the supreme authority within a given territory, it claims the sole legitimate right to command its citizens and to be obeyed. Anarchists also agree with socialists that the State is invariably controlled by the rich and powerful and that its legislation is inevitably made in the interests of the dominant elite. Godwin saw, like Marx, that the rich are always ‘directly or indirectly the legislators of the state’ and that government perpetuated the economic inequality in society. Kropotkin argued that the State has always been both in ancient and modern history the instrument for establishing monopolies in favour of ruling minorities’.” With the abolition of the State, anarchists assume that greater equality will eventually be achieved but they propose widely different economic systems, ranging from laissez-faire based on private property to voluntary communism.

There is of course a difference between the State and government. Within a given territory, the State remains while governments come and go. The government is that body within the State which claims legitimate authority to make laws; it also directs and controls the State apparatus. It follows certain procedures for obtaining and using power, based in a constitution or on custom. Tucker defined the State as a ‘monopoly of government’ in a particular area,- and government as an ‘invasion of the individual’s private sphere’. 18 Most anarchists however use the terms State and government loosely as if they were synonymous for the repository of political authority in society. While all anarchists are opposed to the State, a few are ready to allow government in an attenuated form in a transitional period. Godwin, at a time when Nation-States in Europe were beginning to take on their modern form, wrote mainly about the evils of government. He argued that men associated at first for the sake of mutual assistance, but the ‘errors and the perverseness of the few’ led to the need for restraint in the form of government. But while government was intended to suppress injustice, its effect had been to perpetuate it by concentrating the force of the community and aggravating the inequality of property. Once established, governments impede the dynamic creativity and spontaneity of the people:
They lay their hand on the spring there is in society, and put a stop to its motion’. Their tendency is to perpetuate abuse. Whatever was once thought right and useful they undertake to entail to the latest posterity. They reverse the general propensities of man, and instead of suffering us to proceed, teach us to look backward for perfection. They prompt us to seek the public welfare, not in alteration and improvement, but in a timid reverence for the decisions of our ancestors, as if it were the nature of the human mind always to degenerate, and never to advance. 19
The individualist Stirner, on the other hand, focused on the State as the cause of evil. ‘Every State is a despotism, be the despot one or many.” Its one purpose is to limit, control and subordinate the individual. Not all anarchists are as consistent as Godwin and Stirner. Proudhon asserted that the government of man by man is servitude, but he paradoxically defined anarchy as the absence of a ruler or a sovereign as a ‘form of government’. In a late work on federalism, he even saw a positive role for
the State as a prime mover and overall director’ in society.21

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that ‘anarchical government’ is a contradiction in terms and left one of the most damning descriptions of government and bureaucracy ever made: To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded; all by creatures that have neither the right, nor wisdom, nor virtue … To be governed means that at every move, operation, or transaction one is noted, registered, entered in a census, taxed, stamped, priced, assessed, patented, licensed, authorized, recommended, admonished, prevented, reformed, set right, corrected. Government means to be subjected to tribute, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, pressured, mystified, robbed; all in the name of public utility and the general good. Then, at the first sign of resistance or word of complaint, one is repressed, fined, despised, vexed, pursued, hustled, beaten up, garroted, imprisoned, shot, machine-gunned, judged, sentenced, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to cap it all, ridiculed, mocked, outraged, and dishonoured. That is government, that is its justice and its morality!22

Bakunin reserved some his finest rhetoric for his condemnation of the State for crushing the spontaneous life of society. But he too was not always consistent. In the First International, Bakunin and his supporters allowed the terms ‘regenerate State’, ‘new and revolutionary State’, or even ‘socialist State’ to stand as synonyms for ‘social collective’. But aware of the ambiguity which could be exploited by the authoritarian socialists and Marxists, they went on to propose federation or solidarisation of communes as a more accurate description of what they wanted to see to replace the existing State. In his speech at the Basel Congress of 1869, Bakunin thus made clear that he was voting for the collectivization of social wealth by which he meantthe expropriation of all who are now proprietors, by the abolition of the juridical and political State which is the sanction and sole guarantor of property as it now is’. As to the subsequent form of organization, he favoured the solidarisation of communes because such solidarisation entails the ‘organization of society from the bottom up’. 23 The practice amongst some anarchists to confuse the government and the State appears most clearly in Malatesta. In his pamphlet Anarchy (1891), he defined the State as the sum total of political, legislative, judiciary, military and financial institutions through which the management of their affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility for their personal
Society and the State 21 safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the powers to make the laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force.
But he added that in this sense the word State means government, or to put it another way, it is ‘the impersonal, abstract expression of that state of affairs personified by government’. Since the word State is often used to describe a particular human collectivity gathered in a particular territory, and to mean the supreme administration of a country, he preferred to replace the expression ‘abolition of the State’ with the ‘clearer and more concrete term abolition of government’ .24 Kropotkin was concerned about abolishing both the government and the State. He defined anarchism as the ‘No government system of socialism’ and as ‘a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government’.25 In his work on the origins of The State (1897), Kropotkin distinguished between the State and government. He does not consider all governments to be equally bad for he praises the medieval cities and their governmental institutions, with their assemblies, elected judges, and military force subordinate to the civil authority. But when the State emerged it not only included the existence of a power situated above society like the government but also a ‘territorial concentration and a concentration of many or even all functions of society in the hands of a few’. It implies some new relationships between members of society which did not exist before the formation of the State. It had been the historical mission of the State ‘to prevent the direct association among men, to shackle the development of local and individual initiative, to crush existing liberties, to prevent their new blossoming — all this in order to subject the masses to the will of minorities’ 2L This century the anarchist critique of the State has become more sophisticated. Gustav Landauer has suggested that ‘the State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently’. Only when people make the existing connection between them a bond in an organic community can the legal order of the State be made obsolete.22 More recently, Murray Bookchin has argued persuasively that the State is not merely a constellation of bureaucratic and coercive institutions but also a state of mind, ‘an instilled mentality for ordering reality’. In liberal democracies this century, its capacity for brute force has been limited, but it continues to have a powerful psychological influence by creating a sense of awe and powerlessness in its subjects. Indeed, it has become increasingly difficult to fix its boundaries and the line between the State and society has become so blurred that now ‘the State is a hybridization of political with social institutions, of coercive with distributive functions, of highly punitive with regulatory procedures, and finally of class with administrative needs’. 28

Liberal Democracy

It is on the issue of the State that anarchists part company with their liberal and socialist allies. Liberals maintain that a State as a compulsory legal order is necessary to protect civil liberties and rights, to deal with disputes and conflicts in society with an unfettered economy. As the liberal thinker L. T. Hobhouse wrote:
The function of State coercion is to override individual coercion, and, of course, coercion exercised by any association of individuals within the State. It is by this means that it maintains liberty of expression, security of person and property, genuine freedom of contract, the rights of public meeting and association, and finally its own power to carry out common objects undefeated by the recalcitrance of individual members.”
Anarchists argue, on the other hand, that even the most minimal ‘nightwatchman’ State advocated by modern libertarians would be controlled by the rich and powerful and be used to defend their interests and privileges. However much it claims to protect individual rights, the government will always become ‘an instrument in the hands of the ruling classes to maintain power over the people’.3° Rather than providing healthy stability, it prevents positive change; instead of imposing order, it creates conflict; where it tries to foster enterprise, it destroys initiative. It claims to bring about security, but it only increases anxiety. Although anarchists feel that representative democracy is preferable to monarchy, aristocracy or despotism, they still consider it to be essentially oppressive. They rebut the twin pillars of the democratic theory of the State — representation and majority rule. In the first place, no one can truly represent anyone else and it is impossible to delegate one’s authority. Secondly, the majority has no more right to dictate to the minority, even a minority of one, than the minority to the majority. To decide upon truth by the casting up of votes, Godwin wrote, is a ‘flagrant insult to all reason and justice”‘ The idea that the government can control the individual and his property simply because it reflects the will of the majority is therefore plainly unjust. Anarchists also reject the liberal theory of a social contract beloved by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. No government, in their view, can have power over any individual who refuses his consent and it is absurd to expect someone to give his consent individually to all the laws.

The American individualist Lysander Spooner exploded the contractual theory of the State by analysing the US Constitution. He could find no evidence of anyone ever making a contract to set up a government, and argued that it was absurd to look to the practice of voting or paying taxes as evidence of tacit consent. ‘It is plain’, he concluded, ‘that on the general principles of law and reason . . . the Constitution is no contract; that it binds nobody, and never did anybody; and that all those who pretend to act by its authority . . . are mere usurpers, and that every body not only has the right, but is morally bound, to treat them as such.'” Not all anarchists share the same view of contracts amongst individuals. Godwin rejected all forms of contract since they usually result in past folly governing future wisdom. If an action is right, it should be performed; if not, avoided. There is no need for the additional obligation of a contract. On the other hand, both Proudhon and Kropotkin looked to contracts in the form of voluntary agreements to regulate affairs between people in an anarchist society without the State. But since such contracts are not legally enforceable and carry no sanctions, they are more like declarations of intent than binding contracts in the conventional sense. The only reason why people would keep them is the pragmatic one that if an individual habitually broke his contracts, he would soon find few people to enter into agreement with him. Anarchists have few illusions about the nature of liberal democracy and representative government. When Proudhon entered briefly the National Assembly during the 1848 Revolution, it confirmed what he had long suspected: ‘As soon as I set foot in the parliamentary Sinai, I ceased to be in touch with the masses. Fear of the people is the sickness of all those who belong to authority; the people, for those in power, are the enemy.’33 Henceforth he declared ‘Universal Suffrage is the Counter-Revolution’ and insisted that the struggle should take place in the economic and not the political arena. Bakunin never entered-a parliament as a representative or joined a political party. From the beginning he was well aware that ‘Whoever talks of political power, talks of domination’ and insisted that ‘All political organization is destined to end in the negation of freedom.’34 Although during the Spanish Civil War anarchists did participate for a short while in the republican government in order to fight Franco’s rebels, the historic anarchist movement has consistently preached abstention from conventional politics. Hence the popular slogans: ‘Whoever you vote for, the government always gets in’, or better still, ‘If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal’. As a result of the social struggles of the last two centuries, the modern liberal State has of course been obliged to provide welfare and education for its citizens. Some anarchists like Nicolas Walter have suggested that not all State institutions are wholly bad since they can have a useful function when they challenge the use of authority by other institutions and when they promote certain desirable social activities: ‘Thus we have the liberatory state and the welfare state, the state working for freedom and the state working for equality:33 Nevertheless, the principal role of the State has always been to limit freedom and maintain inequality. Although it may have a benevolent face, the Welfare State can be restrictive by intensifying its grip on the lives of its subjects through registration, regulation and supervision. It creates a surly and overblown bureaucracy. It can, as George Woodcock has argued, become ‘just as ingenious a means of repression and regimentation as any more overtly totalitarian system’.36 It singularly fails to make people happy, and by offering a spurious security it undermines the practice of mutual aid. It tends to be wasteful by not directing resources to those most in need. Instead of paying taxes to the State which then decides who is in need, anarchists prefer to help directly the disadvantaged by voluntary acts of giving or by participating in community organizations. The same arguments against the liberal State apply to the socialist State, only more so. Anarchists reject the claim made by democratic socialists that the State is the best means of redistributing wealth and providing welfare. In practice, the socialist State tends to spawn a vast bureaucracy which stifles the life of the community. It creates a new elite of bureaucrats who often administer in their own interest rather than in the interest of those they are meant to serve. It encourages dependency and conformity by threatening to withdraw its aid or by rewarding those its favours. By undermining voluntary associations and the practice of mutual aid, it eventually turns society into a lonely crowd buttressed by the social worker and policeman. Only if social democrats adopt a libertarian and decentralized form of socialism can anarchists join them in their endeavours and encourage them to adopt the principles of voluntary federation and association.

The Marxist State

At first sight, anarchists and Marxists would seem to have much in common. Both criticize existing States as protecting the interests of the privileged and wealthy. Both share a common vision of a free and equal society as the ultimate ideal. But it is with Marxist-Leninists that anarchists have encountered the greatest disagreement over the role of the State in society. The issue led to the great dispute between Marx and Bakunin in the nineteenth century which eventually led to the demise of the First International Working Men’s Association.

In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), Engels argued like Kropotkin that the State had emerged recently in human history as an apparatus of rule separate from society: ‘The state, then, has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state and state power.’It had developed only with the division of society into classes and became a coercive machine for maintaining the rule of one class over another. The capitalist State provided liberty only for those who owned property and subjection for the rest — workers and peasants. Engels however was confident that his generation was approaching a stage in the development of production when classes and the State would inevitably fall. When that time comes Society, which will reorganise production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will put the whole machinery of the state where it will then belong: into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning-wheel and the bronze axe.37 Although Marx and Engels felt it was necessary for the proletariat to take over the State to hold down their adversaries and to reorganize production, they both looked forward to a time when the proletariat would abolish its supremacy as a class and society would become ‘an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’.38 It was Engels’s contention in his Anti-Diihring that the interference of the State becomes superfluous in one sphere after another so that the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things. In the process, ‘The state is not “abolished”, it withers away.'” Engels however still insisted on the need for a State in a transitional period of socialism before communist society could be established. While Bakunin and the anarchists claimed the direct democracy of the Paris Commune provided a model of a free society, Engels argued that
The anarchists put the thing upside down. They declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organization of the state . . . But to destroy it at such a moment would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious proletariat can assert its newly conquered power, hold down its capitalist adversaries, and carry out that economic revolution of society …40
Lenin developed Marx’s and Engels’s view of the State. As a general principle, he declared that ‘we Marxists are opposed to all and every kind of State’.41 In his pamphlet The State and Revolution, written in August 1917 on the eve of the Bolshevik seizure of power, Lenin gave ‘the most idyllic, semi-anarchist account’ of the proletarian revolution, describing how the State could begin to wither away immediately after its victory. 42 Indeed, Lenin considered the issue of the State to be of the utmost importance in the coming revolution. In his commentary on Plekhanov’s pamphlet Anarchism and Socialism (t894), he criticizes Plekhanov for contriving completely to ignore ‘the most urgent, burning, and politically most essential issue in the struggle against anarchism, viz., the relation of the revolution to the state, and the question of the state in general!’ 43 He further differed from Engels who believed that a factory is necessarily authoritarian in its organization, by maintaining that it would be possible under communism to operate modern industrialized society without the need for compulsion or narrow specialization. But Marxists and anarchists disagree profoundly over the means of realizing this desirable state of affairs. Marx suggested the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat’ in a transitional socialist period and it has since become a central part of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy. Yet the difference between anarchists and Marxists is more than simply a question of tactics. It also involves substantial theoretical differences. Marx’s dispute with Bakunin did have an important historical dimension, but it was fired by theoretical considerations as well. He attacked Stirner in The German Ideology and Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy for their failure to appreciate dialectical materialism. Where Marx tried to reverse Hegel’s position and give primacy to the capitalist economy over the bourgeois State, many anarchists persisted in seeing the State as a determining influence over the economy. Rather than recognizing the need to wait for economic conditions to develop before abolishing the State, some placed their confidence in the creative power of revolutionary will. Marx also opposed the anarchists’ rejection of imposed authority; he was keen to alter the form of authority in a communist society but did not seek to abolish the principle of authority altogether. He thought it was not only necessary to seize State power in order to defend the revolution but also to develop new kinds of social control of the productive forces. The anarchists failed in Marx’s eyes to develop a coherent class analysis, either by taking an individualist position like Stirner, by adopting a ‘pettybourgeois’ approach like Proudhon in his defence of the peasantry, or by having an ‘opportunist’ and ‘voluntarist’ faith like Bakunin, in the creative energies of the undefined ‘people’ and the lumpen proletariat’.

There is of course some substance to this criticism. Unlike Marxists, anarchists do not have a specific class base. They recognize the differences in power and wealth between the rich and poor, and align themselves with the ‘people’, and stress the role of different classes at different times. Proudhon started his career mainly concerned with the peasantry only to finish up considering favourably the political capacity of the working class. Bakunin sometimes used the rhetoric of the ‘working class’ and the ‘proletariat’ but when he specified who the revolutionary workers were, they turned out to be the less-educated urban proletarians and the peasants. Although he felt, like Marx, that the proletarians would lead the revolution, he went out of his way to stress the revolutionary potential of the peasantry. In addition, he looked to the dispossessed and disinherited to rise up since they had nothing to lose but their chains.

Above all, Marx criticized the anarchists for struggling on the economic and cultural level only and failing to grasp the need for the working class to conquer political power. Politics even in its parliamentary form could be progressive for Marx; he even entertained the view that it was possible to use political means in order to go beyond conventional politics. In hisInstructions’ to the Geneva Congress of the International, he argued against the Proudhonists that the working class could win reforms through general laws, enforced by the power of the state’ and ‘in enforcing such laws, the working class do not fortify government power. On the contrary, they transform that power, now used against them, into their own agency’.” Referring to Bakunin, he declared contemptuously : ‘this ass cannot even understand that any class movement, as such, is necessarily and always has been, a political movement’.45 In particular, he condemned Bakunin for believing that The will, and not economic conditions, is the foundation of social revolution:44 In his dealings with Stirner, Proudhon and Bakunin, Marx certainly emerges ‘at his least appealing and at his most hectoring and heavyhanded’.47 He not only revealed the authoritarian tendency of his own social and political thought, but also the authoritarian nature of his own personality. Moreover, his anti-anarchist manoeuvres which led to the demise of the First International ensured that future Internationals in the control of Marxists would become rigid and monolithic and that Marxism itself would harden into a dogmatic creed which brooked no dissent.

Lenin more than any one else helped contribute to this process. He took issue with the anarchists primarily on the role of the State in the revolution. He argued that they went wrong not in wanting to abolish the State, but in wanting to abolish it overnight. Lenin felt it was essential tosmash’ the inherited bureaucratic military State machine. But this did not mean doing away with State power altogether since it was necessary for the proletariat to use it during its dictatorship in a transitional period. Like Marx, Lenin believed in ‘democratic centralism’; it was therefore necessary to strengthen and centralize the State power in order to oppose counterrevolutionary forces and ‘to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie’. 48 Lenin has been accused of hypocrisy in his call for the withering away of the State immediately before his seizure of power in Russia.” Certainly after the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, he proceeded to undermine the power of the Soviets and establish a hierarchical and centralized structure of command by the ‘vanguard’ Communist Party. In his work ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, An Infantile Disorder (Ivo), he proceeded to castigate anarchists and socialist revolutionaries for their immature opportunism’ in wanting to abolish the State immediately on the morrow o the revolution. He narrated how Bolshevism became ‘steeled’ in its struggle against ‘petty-bourgeois revolutionism which smacks of, or borrows something from, anarchism’ and which easily goes to revolutionary extremes but is ‘incapable of perseverance, organization, discipline and steadfastness’. Indeed, he declared that anarchism was ‘not infrequently a sort of punishment for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement’. He found to his dismay that certain sections of the Industrial Workers of the World and anarcho-syndicalist trends in Russia continued to uphold the ‘errors of Left-Wing Communism’ for all their admiration of the Soviet system.”)

Yet despite his centralizing and strengthening of the State and his liquidation of the anarchist opposition, Lenin still firmly believed that the withering away of the State was the final goal of communism. In a lecture on the State, he insisted that while it was necessary to place the machine (orbludgeon’) of the State in the hands of the class that is to overthrow the power of capital, he looked to a time when they ‘shall consign this machine to the scrap heap. Then there will be no state and no exploitation’. 5I

Whatever Lenin’s ultimate ideal, his reliance on a vanguard Communist Party to steer the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ led eventually not only to the dictatorship of the Party but also to the dictatorship of one man — Stalin — in the Soviet Union. Moreover, in the other major Marxist-Leninist revolutions this century, in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, ‘democratic centralism’ has resulted in practice in highly hierarchical and authoritarian States controlled by an elitist party. The dire warnings of Bakunin that a ‘Workers’ State’ would lead to a new ‘red bourgeoisie’ have been tragically confirmed. The Communist States that have emerged this century amply demonstrate the anarchists’ fear that a ‘People’s State’ or ‘Revolutionary Government’ would not only perpetuate but extend tyranny.