The Syrian State vs. Syrian Society

MSNBC reports that Syrian government troops have killed at least 15 people in an attack on a central town today (June 2), “bringing the total killed there to 72 since the onslaught began.” Earlier this year, revolutions around the Arab world prompted calls for reform in Syria that in turn led to widespread opposition to the rule of President Bashar Assad.

Assad is the successor to his father, Hafez Assad, who ruled the country for nearly 30 years, imposing a draconian military rule characterized by frequent human rights violations. The MSNBC story goes on to note that, “according to activists and human rights groups,” “[t]he regime has killed more than 1,100 people and detained 10,000 since the uprising began in mid-March.”

The Syrian state’s indiscriminate murders have recently included almost 30 children, and the government has gone so far as to jail a teenager for blogging. As awareness of the Assad family’s illegitimacy has grown, the illegitimate acts themselves have escalated with it.

Violence is, by definition, at the heart of everything the state does. The very existence of the institution depends on precluding, through the use of coercive force, competition in the sphere of defending the rights of individuals. It is important to make known of market anarchists that we do not advocate or wish for a society in which chaos, lawlessness or mob rule would prevail, that statelessness means only the lack of arbitrary aggression, hierarchy and monopoly.

Rather than the thuggish state of things obtaining under the state, market anarchism proposes a return to the natural order of cooperation and trade. Although they are often confused or conflated, the state and society are not of the same kind, and are not even reconcilable. Market anarchists conceive of “society” as the sum total of all of the organization, association and exchange that unimpeded people voluntarily undertake to improve their own lives and those of the members of their communities.

Market anarchists would not tear asunder the fabric of this kind of society, but would allow it to flourish free from the exploitative constraints of a small power elite. Syria is an apposite example of the kind of corruption, venality and barbarism that defines all states, institutions that were never intended to do anything but enslave.

Unapologetically authoritarian and nepotistic, the Syrian state allows a handful of government courtiers to dominate the economy while martial law keeps average, working people in line. Now that Syrians have awakened to the abuses of their government in large enough numbers to threaten its power, it has resorted to the basest, most ruthless manifestations of political violence. Whether or not Syria’s current ruling class survives, no longer will they enjoy even the thinnest assumption that their rule is anything but completely illegitimate.

It is our willingness to give credence to the odd, ahistorical notion of the state as caretaker and guardian of the weak that sustains and protects its debauched and unnatural systems. Anarchists are often asked how and why — if indeed the state is so contrary to the natural order — it manages to prevail as the dominant form of social arrangement.

Few of us, though, would deny that rape and murder are unnatural and inhuman, even though these crimes continue in existence; that some, small group of people does commit them doesn’t, to the vast majority of us, seem to suggest that they are somehow to be recognized as perfectly consonant with the natural, humane interactions of ordinary people.

And the same principle is true of the state, which has for millennia allowed a ruling class to benefit from economic limitations superimposed on real free markets — which has stamped out resistance and protest at every turn. Events in Syria are a microcosm of events that go on unabated, at varying orders of magnitude, in every corner of the world.

While states continue to suppress the functioning of peaceful, consensual society, we all remain as Syrians are today — subjects of oppression and arbitrary brutality. “Every state organization … ,” wrote Rudolph Rocker, “is an artificial mechanism imposed on men from above by some ruler.” These, Rocker explained, stand in contrast to the “natural formations” that society creates spontaneously out of “common needs and mutual agreement.”

Market anarchism represents the liberation of society, and its method of genuine free markets, from the state. Syria embodies that struggle. The Assads are fundamentally no different from the ruling class at large, and the sooner all rulers are gone, the sooner society can thrive.


Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory