Alright then, Continuing on from where we last left-off…..



 Having gone through a quick glance at what I don’t mean by “anarchism” -so that we can eventually try to answer what the anarchists have accomplished lately– I want to follow by expanding a bit (quite a bit, actually) on some of the ideas of what I do mean.  I started to do that a bit last time, and now I want to  put more detail into it.  This is hugely important.  If we’re going to be able to identify what we’ve succeeded at, we most certainly need to know what we’re trying to accomplish and why.  This will have to look at both the short and the long-term, because we all know (or eventually, some of us hopefully learn!) that our long-term, bigger picture goals always rest on the back of our more immediate, short-term victories.  Which is a great lead-in to the first “slogan” that I have here to look at:

We want bread and roses”   This term comes out of the early Twentieth Century labor movement.  It speaks to the anarchist’s work on short-term, “bread and butter issues” like better pay, health care, on the job safety standards, overtime pay, ending wars, winning equal rights for minorities, and on and on.  It is the demand, from the working class to the ruling elite, that we deserve far more than daily sustenance (bread) in exchange for our time and labor; we are human beings, and as such we require not only the material necessities for mere survival but also the finer niceties with which to nourish our hearts and our imaginations.  We want roses.  Human existence is more than food, water, shelter, warmth.  It is the chance -the choice to be able to have- art, poetry, a quite moment through the woods… hopes, dreams, impossible dreams.  Human life requires meaning, and genuine love.  In demanding “bread and roses” we set-out immediately to improve our lot by increasing our material standing through organizing around our social and economic class in opposition to those to currently hold the power to hand us a few more crumbs off their table; but simultaneously we acknowledge that the only true freedom and equality that exists comes not from getting more from those in power, but by doing away with the system -with the mindset- that gave those people more power in the first place.  This slogan speaks to the important idea that, while we may find it necessary to focus on our immediate plight and demand reformist concessions, we know that ultimately this is not our goal and we remain aware and focused that there is more to be done.

I have a couple more slogans I want to look at here, because I believe each of these statements reveals a part of the underlying thing that we’re getting to here: 

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”  Yes, enter Karl Marx into this ramble.  There is a shit-load that has been written about the differences between Marxism and anarchism, both historically and presently.  I will not try my hand at that here (besides, other people more knowledgeable than me have already said much more than I could).  If that debate interests you, some of the links I have from this site (Anarkismo, Libcom, Infoshop) have tons of stuff for you to read.  But any good radical needs at least a cursory understanding of Marx, his life, his ideas, and exactly how important they were when he first articulated them.  I find that the most intelligent radicals are not the ones who take some kind of “party-line” stance about the shortcomings in Marx’ theories and their flaws, but who take from Marx his good points, and expand on them to overcome his mistakes.  What I like about this slogan is the manner in which it articulates the reality of our human experience: we are a social species.  As such, we work together to provide for the greater good of our community, including those who through no fault of their own are able to contribute less than others.  This is true “compassion” – not whatever it is the conservatives mean by invoking that word.  It also takes a dig at the greed and vanity inherent in a person or system which is content allowing anyone to suffer without while some have far more than they could ever need.  This leads us into deeper waters, with the slogan:

All property is theft”  (La propriete, c’est le vol) comes to us from the French thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the man generally acknowledged as the “founder” of anarchist thought in Europe (although there are many people and movements in earlier history that certainly articulated the concept before him; check out Libcom’s biographies page for some great examples).  From his seminal 1840 work What is Property, or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government:

If I were asked to answer the following question: what is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder!, my meaning would be understood at once.  No extended argument would be required… Why, then, to this other question: What is property? may I not likewise answer, It is robbery!, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

Now, this one is usually pretty good for losing the liberals, reformists, or most other “non-revolutionaries”.  Unfortunately, it is also used to justify some ridiculous lifestyle anarchist dogma that is just pure crap.  Gutter punks, hippies, and the like use this notion within the context of a capitalist world to justify a lot of selfish, self-absorbed, self-serving, contradictory B.S. that has no place in the life of a moral person.  But if you’re in disagreement with Proudhon here, or don’t fully think you know what his meaning is, really take a moment with the above passage.  I mean it.  The first time I read it I didn’t quite understand his analogy.  But this is a central tenant of the anarchists’ logic.  The “Right” to Property exists in contrast to the rights of liberty, equality, and security.  I’ll let Proudhon himself do the honors:

The liberty and security of the rich do not suffer from the liberty and security of the poor; far from that, they mutually strengthen and  sustain each other.  The rich man’s right of property, on the contrary, has to be continually defended against the poor man’s desire for property.

And the Right of Property contradicts these other rights:

Then if we are associated for the sake of liberty, equality, and security, we are not associated for the sake of property; then if property is a natural right, this natural right is not social, but anti-social.  Property and society are utterly irreconcilable institutions.

Now, a usual misunderstanding (and point of debate among various anarchist schools of thought) revolves around what is really meant by “property”.  For the libertarian-socialist, there is usually a distinction made between “private property” and “personal property”.  We don’t envision a world in which anyone can walk into “your” house and grab a few apples from the kitchen, a good book from the shelf, and maybe change into some clean underwear and be on their way.  Even moreso, we don’t advocate that this is how people should go about things right now, within the context of a society with entirely different values (this is more or less what I meant earlier about the ways the lifestyle anarchists make a mockery of Proudhon’s idea).  The means of survival (in the present era, not in a primitivist sense) should be guaranteed for all; including whatever is appropriate for a home, transportation, clothing, leisure, etc.  “Private Property” here is meant to be in reference to capital.  For the libertarian-socialist, beyond property of “personal possession” resources should be collectively managed, not singularly owned.   In Proudhon’s slogan then, we should understand “Property” ownership to be mostly synonymous with the idea of capital (i.e., workplaces, machinery, natural resources).  

By itself, capital (like money) produces nothing.  Only through the labor process, when workers use capital, does it become productive and produce something of value.  The autrocity comes not only from the exploitive relationship between owner and worker, but in the profit that is created when we add the laborer into this equation.  This is because under capitalism, workers don’t only create products (goods and services) of value which maintains existing capital, but in fact produces a surplus value (i.e., more than enough).  This surplus takes the form not only of obscene personal collections of wealth for the owning classes, but also as an excess of commodities (as in, there’s more stuff out there to be purchased than could be bought back by the worker’s through their wages).  Proudhon points out the final irony that this brings about:

The working man cannot… repurchase that which he has produced for his master.  It is thus with all trades whatsoever… since, producing for a master who in one form or another makes a profit, they are obliged to pay more for their own labour than they get for it. 

 A free society then must be one which is not run by an economy of exploitation, coercion and inequality, but of mutual aid, compassion and cooperation.  From here, JD, we could detour to the question you posed over at GMD about “smart growth” and “sustainable economics”.  But I won’t do that now.  Maybe later…

The passion for destruction is also a creative passion” OK, now we have Russian Mikhail Bakunin causing all sorts of problems for anarchists.  Beyond any other idea ever put forth, this quote just may take the cake for the amount of confusion and misunderstanding it has brought, as well as for giving the anarchist’s enemy’s so much ammunition against their cause.  I am a huge Bakunin fan though.  I highly recommend the biography of him by Mark Leier (that I briefly reviewed in an early post).  This is a quote that really took me a while to understand and fully agree with.  Not that I’m a pacifist (though at one time years ago I was), but I really wanted to know what someone who claimed to desire a completely free, harmonious world would mean by such a statement.  Just like Proudhon above, there is a much deeper complexity than the surface of this statement shows.  Precisely because of this, Bakunin’s idea here was expanded upon by many subsequent radicals to the deadly idea of “propaganda by deed”, which while vague and ultimately meaningless, was pushed by many anarchists (especially at the turn of the last Century) as an intellectual justification for bombings, assassinations, and the general use of violence against one’s political enemies (all in the name of “revolution”).  This, in turn, led the State and the ruling elite to justify the violent suppression of anarchists and their ideas as a means of defending their “free society” against the terroristic violence of the radicals.  It didn’t take too long for other thinkers, like “Prince” Peter Kropotkin, to try and untangle the confusion among revolutionaries, (rightly) insisting “It is an illusion to believe that a few kilos of dynamite will be enough to win against the coalition of exploiters.” 

But Bakunin made this famous statement within a context.  It first appeared in his 1840’s article, The Reaction in Germany: A Fragment from a French-man (don’t get confused, Bakunin was not French, but was a refugee without haven throughout Europe and published the article, with it’s mis-leading title, under the pseudonym Jules Elysard).  From Leier’s 2007 biography of Bakunin:

(Bakunin) did not mean that the political was pyrotechnical.  No one accused the poet E.E. Cummings of advocating a holocaust when he wrote, “To destroy is always the first step in any creation.”  So too must Bakunin’s phrase be understood not as a simple desire for destruction but as an analysis of the power and necessity of revolutionary change. (emphasis added).

I’ll let Leier go on a bit here, because not only does he explain the beauty of Bakunin’s ultimate intentions with this statement, but we even get a glimpse of the ways in which he helped to re-define Hegel’s works within a progressive, revolutionary frame:

If Hegel’s process view was essentially triadic, or three-part, simply put as “thesis-antithesis-synthesis”, Bakunin proposed a dyadic, or two-part dialectic, where the negative did not merge with the positive but destroyed it and created a new positive that owed nothing to the old… the “positive and the negative are once and for all incompatible.”


For all the talk of “annihilation” and “destruction” of the positive (which specifically he’s talking of reformism in the original article- wdh3), it is clear this was about overturning and overcoming the old world order, not the apocalyptic obliteration that Bakunin is usually accused of desiring.  In The Reaction in Germany he firmly rejected the argument that the revolution was justified in using any and all means to its end.  While reactionaries believed “every means is permitted” to maintain their rule, revolutionaries could not “repay them with the same coin” for that “would be unworthy of us and of the great cause whose agents we are.”

For revolutionaries (are to be) “justified only through our principle,” the principle of “freedom of which the one true expression is justice and love.”  Ironically, this meant that it was the revolutionaries, accused by their enemies of atheism, and not the reactionaries who claimed ‘God was on their side’, who had “really to exercise love, this highest commandment of Christ and this only way of true Christianity.”

Side note, especially for you JD: Bakunin, like most anarchists, was fervently against the Church; here he was making the argument that it was his ideas which were in line with Christ, not the capitalists, purely in a sarcastic and de-legitimizing fashion.  I’m tossing around the idea of including a bit on the anarchist relationship with religion and spirituality in this elongated response to your question, but we’ll see if I get to it.

One of the things that I really am drawn to by this quote is the way it connects (at least by association, if not in his original meaning) the revolutionary movement with human creativity.  This is an important aspect for me: most people I talk to who outright reject the possibility of society organized “better” or “more fair” than liberal capitalism provides strike me as lacking in imagination, in creativity.  I’m not talking about even believing such a different society to be accomplishable within a hundred or two years; I’m talking about imagining the mere possibility of a more fair, equal, and free society.  What could that look like? what would the values be, or how would they be different than today?  As Bakunin’s quote suggests, in whatever ways our creativity imagines the new, we begin deconstructing the old.

Most importantly, all of the above slogans point to the anarchists’ metaphysical values.  It is not just a material revolution that is sought, and which will prove our “success”.  There is a deeper, underlying philosophy about human nature, society, and “the Good life”.  The anarchist isn’t solely about a physical goal which is reached and measured, but ultimately about a way of living that expresses the fullest of our human potential, the the oportunity for such a life for every person who inhabits the earth.  I’ll let Bakunin close things out for us:

I am a fantastic lover of liberty, considering it as the unique condition under which intelligence, dignity and human happiness can develop and grow; not the purely formal liberty conceded, measured out and regulated by the State, an eternal lie which in reality represents nothing more than the privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest; not the individualistic, egoistic, shabby, and fictitious liberty extolled by the schools of bourgeois liberalism… No, I mean the only kind of liberty that is worthy of the name, liberty that consists in the full development of all the material, intellectual and moral powers that are latent in each person; liberty that recognizes no restrictions other than those determined by the laws of our own nature, which cannot properly be regarded as restrictions since these laws are not imposed by any outside legislator beside or above us, but are immanent and inherent, forming the very basis of our material, intellectual and moral being- they do not limit us but are the real and immediate conditions of our freedom.

(La Commune de Paris et al notion de l’etat, reprinted in Chomsky, For Reasons of State)