1920s >> 1924 >> no-241-september-1924

The Conflict between Anarchism and Socialism

Idealism and Materialism.

The confusion in people’s minds about anarchism and Socialism continually calls for a discussion of the subject. Whilst to many capitalists they are identical, to others Anarchism is the noblest ideal ever inspiring the minds of men, and Socialism is considered as “the coming slavery.” Many so-called Socialists styling themselves “advanced,” say that Anarchism is the highest expression of Socialism. They say that we are on the same road. That is true. But we are travelling in opposite directions. The Socialist is going forward along the road on which the human race has evolved. The Anarchist goes backward to individualism and petty enterprise. Is that clear?

Socialism is not the result of schemes and dreams. It is but a convenient name for the stage in social evolution made possible and inevitable by the economic tendencies of our time. It is not built up out of vain yearnings and longings for liberty, equality and fraternity. It seeks to adapt the methods of owning and enjoying wealth to the co-operative system of production already reached by economic advance.

It is hard to define Anarchism. Each Anarchist claims to be a law unto himself. The essential feature, however, is the demand for absolute liberty: (See Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread.) Anarchists claim that the State, Law and Authority were invented by the rich to rob the poor. They believe in free agreement by groups to live in their own way. They denounce majority rule, representation, voting, and many other methods which the human race evolved in their upward march and struggle for existence. Anarchists criticise the present system and also Socialism from the standpoint of a Utopian dreaming of a perfect society. In their wild tirades against Law and State they ignore the place these institutions have in social development.

The Lessons of Evolution.

Free agreement amongst a number, of people is useful, but absolute individual liberty is impossible. To reject the necessity for majority rule under all conditions is ridiculous.

Humanity has to live. The necessaries of life must be continuously produced or we starve. Anarchist ideas of waiting till men and women in local groups come to a complete agreement about production and distribution will cause, starvation and misery in the meantime.

The hopes of Anarchists, sincere and high though they may be, ignore the past results and present trend of economic life. Society advanced out of the primitive condition of savage man by combination; by association in their contest with nature and animal. From a tool-less animal man progressed step by step until the power to control natural forces gave him a larger, wider vision and impelled him to discover institutions to regulate and harmonise social life. The steady improvement in tools and association gave men the power to feed, clothe and house vast societies. Earlier, simpler, localised methods could not do this. Association in working the huge machinery and operating large factories, running railroads and sailing ships inevitably increased the wealth of the world. Modern machinery and centralised production is an advance. Let Anarchists deny it. Whilst this cooperatively worked industry is under individual and class ownership it breeds poverty among plenty. Socialists, therefore, seek to commonly own and democratically control that which the workers commonly produce. Is that plain?

The Great Divide.

Anarchists reject democratic control of the instruments of wealth. Some of them believe in individual ownership, others hold to common possession. They all demand, nevertheless, that the individual should control. How can die instruments of production commonly owned be individually controlled? Anarchists are silent on this point. Free agreement and absolute individual liberty cannot provide for the unceasing daily necessities of an international population, always growing.

Socialists study history and find that the material conditions, the forces used in social production, the natural and social surroundings of the population, form the foundation for the life of the people. Methods of ownership, exchange and distribution, depend upon the kind of material conditions existing. Ways of government, states of law, and all the political and civil regulations of humanity follow from the industrial habits and economic institutions of men. To denounce the State, the Law, and the social institutions because they do not fit in with some ideal principle is good—for the poet. But it does not help to change society.

The Socialist knows that many things called “bad,” and most institutions called “evil,” once served society as methods of advance. Anarchists from Stirner to Goldman indict the entire past of the human race as wrong, forgetful of the truth of evolution that what is “bad” and useless now was “good ” and useful at some previous time. The materialistic explanation of history involves the truth that a given system of production leads to a definite and corresponding method of distribution and ownership. Hence, the common ownership of the resources of life cannot be controlled by varying and conflicting individuals at their own sweet will, but must be democratically controlled by and in the interest of the whole working population. In social and therefore important matters the majority must decide if all do not agree.

The Philosophy of Destruction.

Such a Utopian ideal as Anarchism leads to peculiar results. If majority rule is wrong in principle, the overthrow of the few (the owners) by the majority (the workers) is also wrong. So we are condemned to wait till the whole society, parasites and producers alike, can reach a common mutual agreement. What an Anarchist farce! The sweet and beautiful expressions of freedom running through the pages of idealists sway the sentimental man and woman. Sentiment is a fine thing. But it is no substitute for knowledge. Sentiment by itself is a fine ally of our masters, for it does not need education and study. And it is used by the so-called patriots and clergy to chain us to the slavery of to-day.

“The State and Government must be immediately abolished,” Anarchists say. They accuse Socialists of believing in these institutions. Socialists are directly opposed to every agency of privilege and every office of domination. But unlike the Anarchists we realise that a central authority arose when the division of labour took place and it filled a useful function in the life of primitive but progressing society. The administration of affairs and the regulation of civil life was its chief function. Private property and class division gave rise to a State machine controlled by each ruling section in turn—chattel slave owner, patriarchal lord, feudal baron, or industrial capitalist. Knowing how these institutions have grown out of and adapted themselves to each period of society, we do not demand their instant abolition. They are part of the existing society and to remove them we must change the economic and social system as a whole. The uprising of Anarchists supported by Madame Breshkovsky, Peter Kropotkin, and others in Russia, demanded the abolition of government—at a time when centralised control and nationwide action could alone save the suffering workers from starvation and slaughter by the advancing bourgeoisie. Anarchists being Utopians and idealists believe they can cut off parts of this system as they think fit. They do not realise that the modern State, Law, Authority, Police and Punishment are but the results of class rule and are integral parts of a rotten system. Rotten because it is over-ripe economically.

Anarchism and Democracy.

Anarchists pour their bitter venom upon every form of representation, voting, delegation, etc. Blind to the fact (as Morgan shows of the Iroquois tribes) that it took ages for the human race to progress to these surer, safer, and advanced methods of conducting social life. They had a function and have one yet. Anarchists say an individual should be the master of his life and no one can represent him. This is nonsense. Only little, loose groups could live in this way, and even they would soon expediently forget their principles. A great population cannot carry on a society by the whole population meeting together to argue and discuss until everybody agrees. In the meantime men must live. Representation is therefore a good servant.

Democracy is not what Anarchists and capitalists imagine. It means more than holding up hands or saying “Aye!” To open all channels of knowledge and information, to give everyone leisure and a chance to understand and learn of the facts of life, to offer to all the advancement modern “democracy” keeps for a‘few— this is the social and political expression of democracy. When men vote and discuss and delegate their opinions under these conditions they will know what they are doing. And then, if all do not agree, social matters can be decided by majorities until the minority convinces the majority.

The Intellectuals.

Emma Goldman in her book on “Anarchism and Other Essays” says the majority is always wrong. The Anarchists, therefore, will either rule with a minority or be wrong if they become a majority. She further states the great mass of the people never were and never will be the ones to progress. Just the intellectual few. Such views mean that the great body of the people will depend upon the kindness and wisdom of the Anarchist intellectuals to guide and mother us. All Anarchists hold to that opinion. Socialists, however, understand that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself. Unless we can convince and convert the majority of workers, Socialism is an idle dream. If you bring about a revolution with an ignorant, uninformed or hostile working class, defeat sooner or later faces you. Judge, too, the value of these self-styled intellectuals by their gymnastics on the war.

Kropotkin in Russia, Herve and Benj. R. Tucker in France, Clarence Darrow in America, Owen in England, are examples of the ease with which critics of the common herd join with it to become popular.

Anarchism Kills Organisation.

These reactionary ideas follow from their conception of the all-importance of individuals. They believe society is just a collection of individuals, not an organic whole as Socialists and all scientists understand. Many Anarchists reason from this that the removal of certain individuals will change conditions. Propaganda by deed follows from their false sociology.

The absolute liberty of the individual and supremacy of the ego kills the spirit of organisation. The workers cannot be organised unless the give-and-take, policy of democracy is used. The individual will must express itself through the common will. Anarchists, therefore, have never attempted to organise the working-class. They shout general strike and insurrection without teaching the masses the economics and history of the system. The fallacy of the general strike rests upon the fact of the workers being propertyless and faced with starvation if they all leave work and the tools in the masters’ hands. Their objection to political organisation is based upon the. supposed failure of political action in the past.

But the toilers have never used the power of politics in their own interest The chief reason why men become Anarchists is the sickening fraud and failure of those compromising and reforming parties which pose as Socialist. The real science and policy of the teachings of Marx and Engels have never been answered by Anarchists. They waste their time fighting shadows and attacking effects, not causes. Anarchism appeals to sentiment and needs little thought or study to succumb to its plausible appeal.

Adolph Kohn