Responding to Michael Albert’s Response Regarding Possible Disagreements

The first topic of mine which you focus on is that of decentralization. You reject my idea that “regions and even communities” should “try to produce as much as possible of what they need on a local level,” and write, “I am not sure why you think [this].” This is an important issue, since decentralism is one of the central ideas of anarchism; it distinguishes anarchists from most other tendencies, even from libertarian Marxism. We refer to “human scale,” “community,” and “face-to-face democracy.” (For a thorough presentation of every possible argument for decentralism, see Kirpatrick Sale’s Human Scale.)


Briefly then: Humans are best able to control their collective lives when they meet face-to-face to decide on issues which are connected to their daily lives and of which they have a clear understanding. The more faraway and complex issues are, the more difficult to have direct democracy decide them. If our community and/or workers’ council has to negotiate iteratively with zillions of councils all over North America, then this will cause a great many exchanges and complexities which will be hard for everyone to think about. But if our local council is only involved in exchanging information and making decisions with a few other locals in the region, then it will be easier for everyone to keep track and make informed decisions. So decentralization in production and consumption makes it easier to have real democracy and economic planning-from-below.


Right now the national and world economies are extremely centralized. This is not due to the technological needs of productivity, but to the financial control needs of semi-monopoly capital. For example, U.S. corporations do not have clothes sewn in Bangla Desh because U.S. workers cannot sew! They do it because the Bangaladeshi women workers will work for much less than U.S. workers.


Back in the 30s, the decentralist howesteader Ralph Borsodi demonstrated that, while big-factory mass production could often produce things cheaper, costs of distribution went up the more things had to be packaged, stored, and transported, over longer distances. Balancing these together (this was even before we understood much about ecological side costs), only about a 1/3 of products were more efficiently made nationally, while 2/3 were more efficiently produced on community farms with small power tools (even if we postulated payment for labor). Of course technology has changed a great deal, and this would have to be recalculated. But E.F. Shumacher and his alternate technology co-workers have demonstrated the possibility of efficient small-scale production using modern science and engineering.

Local production and consumption also produce smaller amounts of waste, which are easier to be reabsorbed by the natural ecology. Small amounts of waste are also easier to collect and re-use.


Still, this is not all-or-nothing. Of course some things are best done centrally, and there will be a long-term, international, need to help the so-called Third World industrialize. And of course, this is all within the context of a post-revolutionary, collectivized, classless economy.


You take me to task for not realizing that “a precondition for democratizing technology [is] a change in class power, or even classlessness, rather than the reverse.” But I had already written, “In place of the capitalist economy…anarchism would institute classless socialism. Production would be collective and cooperative [and]… for use, It would be coordinated by democratic planning-from-below.” You even quote me as saying that democratizing technology would take place after a revolution! Clearly I am speaking about technological and production changes within the context of a libertarian socialist society. These factors are reciprocal, interacting with each other to support or undermine each other: the way technology is used, the process of production, and the question of class power (evolving toward classlessness).


When I refer to the old Soviet Union as having been “state capitalist,” I mean that (even without stocks and bonds) the workers’ relation to the bosses in the process of production is the same as under traditional capitalism and that the bosses are the agents of capital accumulation, as is the bourgeoisie in traditional capitalism. However this is beyond the limits of our current discussion.


On the abolition of the state, you write, “If you think that having legislation, adjudication, and shared implementation by a polity must be eliminated – it would concern me.” But I say exactly the opposite. It is not these political functions which have to be abolished. What needs to be abolished, I wrote, is the existence of a socially-alienated political machine standing above and against the rest of society. I believe that the necessary functions of rule-making, adjudication, defense against antisocial actors, etc., can be carried out by a federation of councils, including all the population, but not a state.


If we want a stateless society, we have to get rid of broad layers of bureaucratized, specialized, experts in the use of force against other people. Practically, there is a question of whether being a cop is like being an airplane pilot, or whether it is more like being a citizen in a democracy, where everyone is supposed to be able to function, or as a soldier in a big war, where many or even most young adults are expected to be able to learn the basic tasks. Obviously, I think it is more like being a citizen or a rank-and-file solider. I assume that you think that police tasks should be “balanced job complexes”, as must other jobs, which could also make them less a special layer. More decentralized communities will also make it easier to maintain personal protection without authoritarian institutions.


You write, “Experiments are desirable, but having one region use markets, and another use cooperative negotiation, would be incoherent, including the former tending to imperially replace the latter.” I did not and do not advocate the use of markets, as do many right-greens or others who want market economies with competing producer coops. On the other hand, I would not invade a region which tried this, or not unless it did try to imperially replace our system (I do not care about incoherence). I would expect that a cooperative, democratically planned, society would tend to perform better than the other system, not worse.


We need to present a vision of a better, freer society, with different ways of human beings living, working, and relating to each other. But I doubt that most people will be won over by detailed expositions of what a new society would look like. I think most people will come over when faced with a collapsing capitalism (which is developing apace) plus our raising realistic-sounding proposals which could be fought for here and now. (I have not yet read your Raising Hope, but will. Have you read my book, The Abolition of the State?)


“You say we must explain the limits of current relations… I think most people pretty much know.” In some ways yes, but people also have a great many illusions in the system. “You say we must warn workers that we know that owners and police will seek to militarily crush us with fascist bands.” Actually what I wrote was, “the rulers will not allow the working class and oppressed to gradually organize and take over society. At some point, they will come down hard on us. When they feel it necessary….” At some point, when they feel it is necessary.


Are attempts at fascism, etc., “inevitable?” I do not regard anything as inevitable. If the big majority of workers (80% of the population) was united for revolution, with the support of the big majority of the military ranks, plus there had already been successful revolutions in Europe and elsewhere, then I can imagine a demoralized U.S. bourgeoisie permitting a peaceful revolution. But this is unlikely. Given the splits in the U.S. working class, the degree of right-wing ideology, and the violent, vicious, nature of the U.S. ruling class, I expect a violent clash. Even now, the government has become more and more authoritarian.


“When talking to someone about the desirability of ending the war in Iraq or raising wages, do you really point out that that pursuit will rain down fascism on them?” I explain that capitalism will always engage in imperialist wars and will always attack the standard of living of working people. While organizing antiwar demonstrations and unions, I advocate a working class (etc.) revolution, and (if there is time) explain that the capitalist class will not allow the majority to peacefully and legally change society without a fight.


“Do you really mean that you have to advocate a mass strike even when there is no basis for it?” You do not seem to distinguish between an immediate call for a general strike and an educational, propagandistic, approach to preparing people for when this becomes more immediately practical (as it will). You ask, “Do you fight neighborhood fascists?” Yes, members of my organization (and previous organizations), have directly fought fascists, and a good thing too. “Do you see yourself effectively fighting against a SWAT team or the U.S. army?” Not under present conditions, no. But if the day should come when the majority of the working class and oppressed want a new, more democratic, society, and the bourgeoisie uses the army and police to try to stop it (as in Allende’s Chile, for example), then yes (including an effort to win over the ranks of the military).


You write, sarcastically, “…Telling working people they shouldn’t cast a vote but should instead prepare for a general strike [does not make] …even a tiny bit of sense. Would you stand outside a voting place this November and urge people to leave, rather than vote?” You obviously regard anti-electoralism as pretty foolish. Instead you propose, “we ought to decry our electoral system and the state behind it and offer alternatives even while we sometimes hold our noses and root for or even work for a lesser evil.” I assume that “work[ing] for a lesser evil” means urging people to vote for Obama and the Democratic Party.


As I noted in an earlier exchange, I do not try to get individual liberals to not vote. As supporters of capitalism, they naturally plan to vote for a pro-capitalist. I do try to persuade them that Obama is a lesser evil, and therefore an evil (!), and that they should recognize this even if they feel they have to vote for him. I am more unhappy with individuals who call themselves socialists, anarchists, and revolutionaries (and pareconists), who are not supporters of capitalism but who nevertheless urge others to vote for the imperialist aggressor Obama.


The issue, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is not what individual voters do. One vote does not mean much either way. The issue is what organizations and communities do: the unions, the Black community, environmental organizations, feminist organizations, etc. These give a lot of money and many volunteers to support the Democrats—the class enemy. Revolutionaries should urge that mass organizations not give money and personnel to their enemy, but work for nonelectoral methods (unionization, demonstrations, the general strike).


Again, this is educational propaganda which at present may, at most, reach a few people. But we are at moment of historical change where capitalism is being discredited. There is the beginning of a vast turn to the left by a large section of the population. Today’s propaganda may be tomorrow’s immediate agitation, and we need to prepare for it today.

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