This article could be seen as a follow up to my previous article, Without Adjectives. In further discussion with a few people, talking about the extra-anarchistic aspects of various forms of social justice, I said “Anarchism is necessary, but not sufficient, to create a just society.” It seemed like a statement that warranted a bit of expansion, so here we go.
Anarchism is necessary, we can say, to create a just society. As far as I can tell, the best definition of anarchism is “the belief that no one has any special authority to do anything that anyone else doesn’t have.” Anarchy, then, is a society in which this principle is widespread enough to be a truism. If one group of people can arrogate special authority to themselves to rule over others, this alone is a vast injustice in and of itself. But it also creates a cascade of further injustices.
Under statism, the overall socioeconomic system tends to divide into classes, some more privileged than others. This allows people in the more privileged classes to use their power to bully others or manipulate them, even without direct coercion. An example of this is “survival prostitution”. There are people who are so abject and miserably poor that they are willing to do anything for enough money to survive until tomorrow. They do not have the option to say “no”, if they want to live, they must say yes. Wage slavery in the modern corporate capitalist world is, for many people, merely a more extended version of this.
Now yes, the state can and does sometimes offer marginalized groups protection from some of the worst effects of their marginalization, but it is the state which put them in the position of needing that protection in the first place. It is the state which makes people economically dependent. It is the state which destroys the wealth of the lower middle class and poor. It is the state which shifts the supply/demand balance of the labor market so workers are chasing jobs, rather than the other way around. And though everything in our world is not economic, in the sense of being about trade and production, economic freedom gives people more space to carve out social freedom. It is difficult if not impossible to wield social power if you’re barely subsisting.
Also, the state even at best is a double edged sword. If you’re an LGBT person in the USA you know what I’m talking about. Laws against sodomy, laws against gay marriage, indecent exposure and attempted solicitation laws being applied unjustly against MTF trans people, and much, much more. Let’s not forget schools. Public schools under statism are state schools. If a pressure group can take over the school board, they can impose their will on the curriculum, as they have in Texas. This pattern applies to just about anything in a statist society. The immigration laws in Arizona are a good example. Even though there are plenty of nice, non-racist people in Arizona, they aren’t the ones in control over the state, and they still have to live under those laws, or dare to defy them. And even when the state passes a law that most people believe will bring about “justice”, some innocent people are going to get fucked over by it. There’s no getting around that, because justice is situational and fluid. There is no centralized legal code that can avoid fucking people over.
And then there are the ethical implications of statism itself. Statism tends to favor the social manipulators, the bullies and the ass-kissers of the world. It rewards the fraudulent and the corrupt, and creates a myth of elitism that is not removable as long as there is a state. The primary view of humanity that the state espouses is Neo-Hobbesian. That humans left to their own devices are inherently self destructive and deplorable, but that there is an elite group of people, such that if they are in charge of the world, they can uplift the rest of us, or at least force us all to live relatively peacefully with one another.
Over and beyond all that you have the problem of selective enforcement. When the rubber meets the road, the state means cops. This means that the law gets enforced when the cops want it to. Every state in history has eventually reached a point where the sheer volume and overlap of contradictory laws allows the police to act as local dictators of a sort. Most people of color will know just what I’m talking about. Anecdotes abound about getting pulled over for DWB: Driving While Black. Arrest to Conviction ratios clearly seem to show a pattern of racial and class bias. And this is not likely to change as long as there is a state. Sure, some places might be better than others, but no matter how fluid, the state holds a territorial monopoly over law enforcement, and so there will always be a certain scale of injustice built into the system. There aren’t many, if any statist societies I’ve seen in which “resisting arrest” isn’t a crime, for example.
Under anarchism, people at least have a fighting chance to achieve widespread justice. However, anarchism alone is not enough. There might still be racists and homophobes under anarchism, there might still be sociopaths and liars. Without a statist economy, and a centralized code of laws, it will be much harder to get away with unjust acts on a large scale, over a long period of time, however.
But the question of selective enforcement and/or selective defense will still exist. Transgendered people, for instance, make up a very small fraction of the overall population. Even accounting for the fact that transgenderism is vastly underreported due to the current social milieu, it will still most likely be a tiny fraction of the human race. It would not be impossible for systematic crimes against transgendered people to go largely unpunished, even in anarchy.
And the question of population distribution also matters. A pocket of black people who live surrounded by white people who are determined to make life difficult for them will have a hard time fighting back even without a state imposing on them.
In the thinnest of thin anarchisms, in which there is no state, but nothing develops in the vacuum left behind, packs of extremely clever sociopaths could roam the land, draining community after community of their resources and good will, like a vampire gang.
So there will still be a need for social awareness and ethical debate even after the concept of “the state” has been destroyed. The arguments between the ancaps, ansocs, and the rest of us anarchists about how a valid anarchic society deals with money, contracts, property, ownership and various torts will go on after the state has become a ridiculous fiction in the mind of most people.
The good news is that a stateless society synergizes with all these other things. The amount of energy that your cause puts into getting the state to protect you from some other aspect of statist society will do much, much more good in direct action without the state getting in your way. And the amount of solidarity you’ve seen from other people is a fraction of what you’d see if people weren’t crushed under the heel of the state. A person who is slaving away to keep themselves going does not have the time or energy to help other people very much, even if they are sympathetic. And the “I gave at the congress” mentality prevails. In a statist world, where people expect the state to provide for them, even kind and sympathetic folks will expect the state to provide justice, as rough and unjust as it may turn out to be.
In an anarchist world where people feel like the buck stops with them, they’ll be more able and willing to help each other.
And there is one other factor to consider. Over time, people in an anarchist society will tend to begin to develop their own quirky interests. That thing you’ve always been into, but never had the time or money to pursue, well you will now. This unleashing of the inner weirdo that lurks within us all will tend to make people more tolerant of differences in general.
Under anarchism, if you have an idea you share with other people, you can put it into practice NOW. You don’t need permission; you don’t have to force other people to agree with you, you can just start doing it. Then you will find out what it’s like in practice.
As Allan Thornton said, “What will happen under anarchism? EVERYTHING.”
Now sure, some people are sociopaths or psychologically crippled by irrational hate and fear. And those people are always a threat. They might get together and form a small pocket of hell. But in a sense, they’ve imprisoned themselves. On that note, I can imagine anarchist “extraction teams” developing who extract people from communities in which they are being held against their will.
Again though, a lot of this psychological corruption comes from living in a state which imposes its values on you. Not only are the state’s values inherently corrupt because of the built-in elitism and hero worship and hatred of the “masses”, but those who resist this early indoctrination are tortured and torture often makes people psychotically hateful and sadistic. A world in which most children grow up without forceful indoctrination, will yield a much healthier, more positive group of people.
There is another aspect of things that I have hinted at before, but I think hasn’t really been totally understood or accepted. I believe that large scale, widespread economic injustice is impossible under anarchism. This is at the heart of the matter. I believe that economic anarchy is its own economic system, apart from what most people think of as either “capitalism” or “socialism”. It will have aspects of both, in the best sense of each of them. But it will also be much fuzzier and less rigid than either of those systems in their statist form. Public will no longer equal “owned by the state” and Private will no longer equal “owned by a small elite (who happen to run the state)”. Basically, to put it crudely, an anarchist doesn’t let a corporation or a syndicate or a commune tell them jack shit. Things like property rights and debts and contracts will be much more nebulous than they are in a system where they are predefined by a strict centralized law code enforced by cops, but more tangible and solid than they are in a system where an elite group can willy-nilly revoke them at will.
It will be much harder to hold onto capital in some places, but much easier in other places. A lot of it may depend on good will. Likely, any sort of currency, no matter what it’s backed by ostensibly, will practically function much like “obs” in E.F. Russell’s wonderful “And then there were none”. The economy will be situational, fluid and creative, like we will be. There will be trial, and there will be error, but there will be change, and we will learn how to “do it right”. Because we will be able to.