From email@example.com Thu Dec 12 07:30:15 2002
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 00:32:10 -0600 (CST)
Organization: The Soylent Green Party
From: Dan Clore <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [smygo] Is Anarchism Suitable for Complex Societies?
News for Anarchists & Activists:
The charge has often been made that the anarchist economic model is
ill suited for complex societies. The multi-faceted nature of advanced
industrial economies; their scope of operation and breadth of
distribution; the extensive refinement in their division of labor -
all these and more are held up as examples of the labyrinth of
problems that nothing as
simplistic as anarchism could ever
hope to address. Anarchism, according to many modern critics, could
only hope to work in limited, small-scale economies. And even then,
The primitivist sect of the American anarchist movement actually seems
to agree with this, and advocates destroying what they call the
industrial mega-machine, thereby returning to small, localized,
autonomous villages. This is completely at odds with what the
anarchist movement has fought for traditionally.
American anarchist Sam Dolgoff stated that, far from being ill suited
complex societies necessitate it. In
Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society, he delved into the
subject by reaffirming that
the classical anarchists always
rejected the kind of 'simplicity' which camouflages
regimentation in favor of the natural complexity which reflects the
many faceted richness and diversity of social and individual life.
Interestingly, in the introduction to Daniel Guerin's Anarchism,
Noam Chomsky states:
[S]kepticism is in order when we hear that
'human nature' or 'the demands of efficiency' or
'the complexity of modern life' require this or that form of
oppression or autocratic rule.
Gabriel Jackson, award-winning historian and author of The Spanish Revolution and the Civil War, posits that the anarchists ruined Spain in 1936, allowing fascism to triumph in that country in the late 1930's. This was because the anarchist model could not survive in a complex economy, he says.
[T]he revolutionary tide began to ebb in Catalonia [after]
accumulating food and supply problems, and the experience of
administering villages, frontier posts, and public utilities, had
rapidly shown the anarchists the unsuspected complexity of modern
Complexity comes to the fore and foils the anarchists, it seems, allowing Franco to sweep into power.
But Noam Chomsky, in his essay
Objectivity and Liberal
Scholarship (one of his most anarchist writings), writes,
fact, 'the revolutionary tide began to ebb in Catalonia' under
the middle-class attack led by the Communist party, not because of a
recognition of the 'complexity of modern society.'
Whereas Jackson attributes the ebbing of the
revolutionary tide to the discovery of the unsuspected complexity of
modern society, Orwell's firsthand observations [in Homage to
Catalonia], like those of Borkenau, suggest a far simpler explanation
[namely, Communist suppression]. Chomsky continues,
complexities of modern society that baffled and confounded the
unsuspecting anarchist workers of Barcelona seem not to exist; in
[t]he available records do not indicate that the problems of
administering villages or public utilities were either
'unsuspected' or too complex for the Catalonian workers - a
remarkable and unsuspected development.
Indeed, Augustin Souchy, who, like Orwell, was eye witness to the
collectivization process, wrote that
The collectivisation of the
textile industry shatters once and for all the legend that the workers
are incapable of administrating a great and complex corporation.
This observation was recorded in The Anarchist Collectives, edited by
Sam Dolgoff. Note that Souchy refers to collectivization in the
textile industry, which was an advanced manufacturing industry, and
not a rural or small-scale operation. This answers the claim that
anarchist administration can be successful only in small-scale
industry or non-industrial operations.
The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society, Dolgoff
elaborates the point further by citing Kropoktin's observation of
English and Scottish workers:
[P]roduction and exchange represented an undertaking so complicated
that no government (without establishing a cumbersome, inefficient,
bureaucratic dictatorship) would be able to organize production if the
workers themselves, through their unions, did not do it in each branch
of industry; for, in all production there arises daily thousands of
difficulties that...no government can hope to foresee.... Only the
efforts of thousands of intelligences working on problems can
cooperate in the developement of the new social system and find
solutions for the thousands of local needs.
Federalism, the coordination of voluntary bodies of producers over vast regional or even global spaces, was a principal aim of struggle for the Spanish workers as well as other activists in other countries.
A counter-question, however, is this: Is the current free market system suitable for the complexities of modern society?
In fact, the market system has itself created much of the
complexity of modern society. For example, 30 different types
of SUVs, many with parts particular to each one, made by differing
plants, each requiring their own skilled production and repair, adds a
great deal to the complexity of life. Do the benefits of this kind of
complexity outweigh the harm it causes? By contrast,
complexities of human need - health care, housing, food, education,
etc. - are not adequately addressed by the market system. In this
sense, the state-subsidized market system of our era is extremely ill
suited to the complexity of not just modern society, but of human