Socialism and the fundamentals of Anarchism
We have received the following letter in criticism of our article on Socialism and Parliamentary Action which appeared in the March issue. Our answer to Mr. Beer follows his letter.
Concerning your reply to an article (Socialism and Parliamentary Action) for March last, while complimenting the S.S. for being the only paper to which we can refer for a clear exposition of the fundamentals of Socialism, I contend that you are exceedingly biassed in so far as Anarchism is concerned. You mislead your readers into thinking that the Leninists, together with the admirers of G. A. Aldred and other such like gentry are Anarchists because they may happen to advocate violence. Do not these people also advocate the Dictatorship of the Proletariat? And is this not Parliamentarism in its most despotic form? Have you never read literature by Socialists who have also advocated violence? And would you call them Anarchists because they have done so? Certainly not. It is simply their opinion of a method whereby they can accomplish their objective. I have often noticed statements to the effect in the S.S. that the time is ripe for Socialism, but the reason we have not got it is because the people neither understand or want it; but when the people do want it they will have it, and not until then. This is just what applies to Anarchism. You say that we have no alternative to Parliamentary action. Our alternative is simply to make our own contracts instead of other people making them for us; and to resist taxation because we object to paying the salaries of the officials by whom, and the machinery by which we are ground to powder. As far as our method is concerned, for now it is sufficient for us to advocate Anarchism. When a sufficient number of people understand, it is they who will determine their method, as conditions and circumstances are continually changing. Come, let’s straiten ourselves out. Why not, instead of attacking methods of individuals, start discussing the fundamentals of the Philosophy of Anarchism?
(1) Has Society any more right to dominate the Individual than the Individual has to dominate Society?
(2) Does Society know better than me how I prefer to enjoy myself?
(3) Does not Socialism imply two classes : the Governing and the Governed?
(4) To whom does the product of a man’s labour belong?
To the above question I may add that if you answer it as a Socialist it is due to the fact that you fail to understand the exchange of equivalents.
(5) Has Society any more right to exploit the Individual than the Individual, or a set of Individuals, have to exploit Society ?
(6) Does not Socialism, Communism, Toryism, Trade Unionism, etc., stand for the subordination of the Individual to Society ?
(7) Can there be freedom in Society whilst not even one man in Society has the liberty to think, speak, and act in accordance with his own desires, so long as he does not infringe upon the liberty of another?
(8) Is not the goal of human happiness, Liberty ?
P.S.—I regret lack of space. I hope you will publish this in full. If you are prepared to go deeper into this matter, say so in your reply. If it is not published, you need not make any explanation, as I shall know.
Yours for Liberty,
A. E. BEER.
The reference to violence in the above letter is no answer to our position. Violence has been advocated and used by defenders of capitalism of all types, conservative and reformist. That is true. The special kinds of violence advocated and used by Anarchists we have shown to be not only useless but thoroughly dangerous to a working class struggling for emancipation. The advocacy of barricades by our March correspondent showed the futility of the opponents of political action, and the above letter offers no alternative to the policy of the conquest of political power. The opposition to political action is an Anarchist attitude, whatever the Anti-Politicals may call themselves.
Our correspondent’s objection to paying for the cost of governments “to grind us to powder,” is not a working-class objection. As our March article showed, the working class do not pay for the cost of government. The workers receive on the average just enough to live on, and the capitalists therefore must pay (out of the surplus extracted from the workers) for the cost of government and officialdom. Hence their cry of “economy.”
The numbered questions asked by Mr. Beer are answered under the same number :—
(1) Rights depend upon power to enforce them. Society is compelled to act against the individual whose actions interfere with the well-being of the mass. But the class-divided society of to-day involves the mass being subjected by the few. A Socialist society means that the population will have interests in common, and the opportunity of dominating will have passed with the passing of property and class rule.
(2) Mr. Beer quite possibly knows best how he prefers to enjoy himself, but, in doing so, as an individualist, he may quite possibly make it impossible for others to enjoy themselves. The capitalist enjoying himself in his own way spells misery for millions.
(3) To ask such a question as whether Socialism implies two classes, governed and governing—implies complete ignorance of Socialism. Socialism means common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution, and, therefore, the abolition of classes. Full and real democratic control under Socialism also implies the absence of classes.
(4) Asking to whom does the product of a man’s labour belong implies that we are living in an economic world where an individual produces something by himself. Modern industry is co-operative, and any article is the result of the combined and cooperative labours of many workers. Today the product of the workers’ labour belongs legally to the employer; in a Socialist society the product will be used and enjoyed by the wealth producers alone, as there will be no owning or employing class to exploit the workers.
(5) This question ignores social evolution altogether. Exploitation depends upon suitable economic conditions, and until they have arisen it is not possible. The words right and rights are used by our critic, but never defined. “The right” to exploit is useless unless the power to exploit is supplied by the existence of an owning and non-owning class side by side, so that those without property are compelled to produce for the owners and to the owner’s advantage. Exploitation was once necessary to the evolution of society, but it has carried us so far that it has now become a hindrance and a menace to the further evolution of society.
(6) Society, embracing all the individuals within it as an organic whole, is obviously paramount in those affairs that concern society as a whole as against the individual. A class-divided society does not involve questions of the individual versus society, but members of one class versus members of the other. A society of common interests like Socialism would be paramount in those affairs that concerned the social body. The affairs that are purely personal and do not involve social relations would be the concern of the individual alone.
(7) Freedom of speech and action are obviously limited under Capitalism in order to maintain Capitalist Class rule. They fear the spread of revolutionary knowledge. A Socialist system in its very nature would make for the free expression of the individual in his thoughts and actions as long as the individual did not become a danger to the lives and liberties of his fellows.
(8) Is Liberty the goal of human happiness? The use of sentimental expressions in common use and misuse may mean a thousand and one things. Anarchists and other dodgers of economic evolution like to talk in these phrases, as it sounds well and idealistic. But what do they mean? You might reverse the question and ask : Is happiness the goal of liberty? Happiness and liberty are both conditioned on economic life, and the economic evolution has made possible (although not actual) happiness for all. Liberty for the mass is certainly impossible in a slave society such as chattel slavery, feudalism or capitalism. Abstract liberty means nothing. Economic freedom is the key to the situation, and until it is won by the workers all political and other so-called liberties remain merely the privileges granted to slaves, privileges arising out of economic development. When economic freedom is won by the coming of Socialism, the other liberties will follow. But absolute liberty, such as Kropotkin talks of, for the individual is impossible outside of a desert island, where it becomes liberty to go insane or die. Social freedom made possible for the worker by social growth and economic development will be a freedom invested with meaning by the possibilities that an advanced social world will usher in for each and all. In conclusion, we would say that these questions are suitable to an age of individualist thought, and apparently the questioner never thinks of what is made necessary by evolution, but simply disregards the needs of the situation and the possibilities at hand. He seems to think it is sufficient to think out some abstract principles of “right” and “justice,” and to concern himself with the individual, forgetting the inter-dependence of each worker resulting from social production.
(Socialist Standard, April 1926)