Responding to Revolutionary Class-Struggle Anarchism

The following is offered as basis for an exploration/debate with Wayne Price a member of the the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC).



Of course we agree on much, but this is to explore possible differences.


You say "regions and even communities" should "try to produce as much as possible of what they need on a local level," but I am not sure why you think producing for self, rather than producing what is most desirable even if it is not for self, is a good idea.


Sometimes the costs of exchange between areas, regions, or countries, outweigh the benefits, other times the costs are way less than the benefits. The task is to determine which, not to prejudge, isn’t it?


You offer as a reason for self sufficiency that it "benefits ecological balance, and makes it easier to have bottom-up democratic economic planning." But why do you think these things? Regarding ecological balance, sometimes local production will replicate harshly polluting means over and over, doing immense harm, where more centralized production followed by transport can actually diminish ecological costs. No?


And second, why must we be as locally self sufficient as we can possibly be to have "democratic planning." I would agree that if we atomize, so to speak, each atom could enter less cooperative negotiation with other atoms, but why is this positive? The extreme is a hermit who is self managing but certainly not exemplary. A self-sufficient community – like a self sufficient individual – why is that desirable in a classless society? Isn’t interconnectivity our value? Why isn’t enhancing mutual aid and solidarity to permit greater fulfillment and development desirable, rather than reducing connections?


You say a revolution would alter technology to eliminate workplace hierarchies. But class division is not rooted in technology, but social relations, isn’t it? Yes, we want to alter technology to make work more pleasant in ways that also benefit ecology, etc. But isn’t what pits order givers against order takers not technology, but property relations and the corporate division of labor?


In fact, isn’t a precondition for democratizing technology a change in class power, or even classlessness, rather than the reverse? Shouldn’t we therefore address class division by replacing private ownership and also the corporate division of labor and market competition with new relations that specifically eliminate classes? And by the way, in light of your regard for self sufficiency, isn’t it also the case that while sometimes local small scale work will allow more fulfilling technology to be used, other times the reverse will be true, so the choice isn’t via principle, but case by case evaluation?


When you talk about a "state capitalist" ruling class, do you have the Soviet case in mind? Doesn’t it obscure Bolshevik social relations to call them capitalist – when private ownership was eliminated? Ruling economic power in such cases came not from property, as in capitalism, but from position… and it elevated what I call the coordinator class, fully 20% of the population in most instances, not a slightly altered 2% capitalist class, didn’t it?


You say, "the state would be abolished," meaning, you explain, a "specialized, bureaucratized, socially-alienated, institution above the rest of society." I am not sure what you mean to include in this. If you think that having legislation, adjudication, and shared implementation by a polity must be eliminated – it would concern me. I think that would be like saying we should eliminate production, consumption, and allocation, instead of saying we should eliminate the currently horrible ways of accomplishing those ends.


When you say that "the layers of specialized police and military would be replaced by the armed people" it makes no more sense to me than if you were to say specialized airplane pilots, or teachers, or cooks would be replaced by having all people fly, teach, or cook. There are special skills to be learned and continually refined in each job, and it would be incredibly wasteful for the entire population to learn any one job, only to do it a minuscule part of their lives.


Does your neighbor intervene if a drunk becomes homicidal? Do you chase a speeding culprit, instead of someone well trained? I worry there may be a defeatism of sorts in the view that to not have bad policing requires having everyone policing, or that to have self management requires that we reduce mutual relations, or that to eliminate workplace hierarchy requires technology forcing that outcome on us.


You say a future desirable society will embody many flexible approaches. I agree. On the other hand, you also want classlessness, and I agree on that too. But to me classlessness, though permitting remarkable diversity, also requires certain attributes while ruling out certain others, and we should think through very carefully what those are. 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.


Yes, in transition diverse competing possibilities will be experimented with and tested. Some will be ruled out and others elevated, even while incredible variety remains. Saying to someone who doesn’t believe a better world is possible that, well, yes it is possible – and it will come in endless forms – isn’t enough. A revolutionary shouldn’t want to explain every nook and cranny, but we do need to explain defining features showing how they would be both viable and worthy.


Your discussions of gender and race point to the need for more, rather than providing a compelling case as they stand. I offered even less – so again perhaps we agree. I’d be interested in your reactions to the book Realizing Hope, which goes further into those matters and others, too.


You say you favor reforms, but also fighting for them in ways that propel a more revolutionary perspective. I agree where "revolutionary perspective" includes anti capitalism, anti patriarchy, anti racism, and anti authoritarianism.


When you say we must explain the limits of current relations, I again agree, though I think most people pretty much know. But when you say we must warn workers that we know that owners and police will seek to militarily crush us with fascist bands, I am befuddled. Could they in some scenarios try that? Yes. Is it inevitable? No. In either event, 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? 


You next say we can forestall fascistic violence by winning over the ranks of the military – which implies the war of fascism against us isn’t inevitable. So maybe we do agree.


You say, "even now, reforms are best won when the people are most… nearly revolutionary." I would say lots of variables enter the equation, but, yes, elites’ fears that not meeting our demands will spur us to challenge more of their advantages and finally their whole system certainly facilitates winning.


But then you say "and even now revolutionaries should prepare the workers by advocating mass strikes… we need to organize people to fight back against fascists in our neighborhoods. We should oppose gun control laws," and I am again befuddled. Do you really mean that you have to advocate a mass strike even when there is no basis for it? Do you really mean people should search for folks in their neighborhoods who you would label fascists, and fight them? And mostly, do you really think owning handguns to fight with the military has something to do with winning change? Do you fight neighborhood fascists, or own a gun? Do you see yourself effectively fighting against a SWAT team or the U.S. army? I suspect we agree more than disagree here, and the problem is one of communication, not commitment.


You propose an organizational formation of anarchists "that is not a party or prospective ruling elite," because it says it doesn’t aspire to be that. I agree on the need for those seeking a new society to have organization – but wouldn’t you agree that what can prevent an organization from becoming dominant in a new society is that it is carefully constructed to melt into the popular and self-managing forms being sought, and that there are structural, not just personal or rhetorical, safeguards?


As to the current moment, telling working people they shouldn’t cast a vote but should instead prepare for a general strike, well, I wish the times were such that that made even a tiny bit of sense. Would you stand outside a voting place this November and urge people to leave, rather than vote? If not, would you go to their house the day before and do so? If not, then phrases like this don’t mean what they say, but something far less, that I might even agree with, such as, 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.

1 comment

  1. Dana Garrett April 15, 2018 2:08 pm 

    “You say a revolution would alter technology to eliminate workplace hierarchies. But class division is not rooted in technology, but social relations, isn’t it? Yes, we want to alter technology to make work more pleasant in ways that also benefit ecology, etc. But isn’t what pits order givers against order takers not technology, but property relations and the corporate division of labor?”

    You’re correct that class division isn’t rooted I technology, but it doesn’t follow that class division can’t be sublimated in technology. Consider jobs that are particularly taxing and demeaning. Simply changing the social and property relations of these tasks won’t transform their stigma and degree of satisfaction in performing them. To be demeaned is to be alienated. Democratizing or sharing these tasks can only mitigate them.

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