Socialism and the essentials of Anarchism
Another correspondent’s letter and our reply.
The Editor, Socialist Standard,
Socialist Party of Great Britain,
17, Mount Pleasant, W.C.l.
I have followed with interest the discussion which has been conducted in recent issues of your journal with Mr. Beer, of Deptford. It has prompted me to pen the following observations, which I trust you will publish together with a reply in your next issue.
A statement from you upon the theoretical differences which you assume exist between Socialism and Anarchism would be welcome. You must recognise that criticism of the activities of exponents of a creed is not criticism of the creed itself. The essential feature of Anarchist philosophy is the recognition, in the words of Herbert Spencer “that each man possesses the right to do that which he wills in fulfilling the demands of his own life, in so far as he infringes not the equal right of every other man.” Or, in other words, that he possesses rights as an individual. Anarchism asserts further that individuals when confronted with alternatives of action, choose that which is conducive to self-interest. Private property society tends to confine this self-interest within the narrow zone of immediate economic advantage, thus placing a premium upon petty cunning and scheming. It stifles the development and increasing differentiation of individuality and insists upon conformity to type. Mankind, however, is struggling, for the most part, unconsciously, toward a society in which the liberty of the individual, and the interest of the community will be synonymous terms. Recognising the essentially egoistic motivation of human behaviour, Anarchism asserts that only by fulfilling his obligations to himself in developing his individuality, can Man act in the communal interest. For individuality implies a logical self-completeness. The individual is a self-contained universe, the peculiar product of heredity and environment to whom no other individual is exactly similar. Consequently, no one but himself can legislate for himself, and therefore Anarchism is only realisable in a community of persons who have freely associated for mutual benefit. The antithesis of Anarchy is coercion. Moral values in such a free society would be based upon equity, and a mutual respect which is foreign tQ our present social structure.
The opinion is often expressed that Anarchists lack a policy, a suggestion with which I will now deal.
A blind evolution operates in the social, as in the organic and cosmic spheres, oblivious to human desires. Revolutions occur when the appropriate stage of evolution has been attained. They are the culmination of processes operating unnoticed over a lengthy period. Recognising this to be so, and also that man, in common with all matter, is the creature of the environmental stimuli amongst which he exists, Anarchists can only hope to convert humanity to an outlook diametrically opposed to that which its social surroundings induces, by the presentment of a clearly defined revolutionary gospel. That is the Anarchist policy, as I understand it. Persistent propaganda, characterised by clarity of thinking and consistent adherence to established principles. I used the term “Humanity,” above, intentionally. For the whole of mankind are the victims of social shortcoming, a logical deduction from acceptance of economic determinism which can scarcely be refuted, but is apt to be forgotten. The class conflict is the blind struggle of two camps, both of whom suffer from the same disease, which it is the role of the socially subservient to cure.
This is a brief sketch of my conception of Anarchist philosophy and policy. Trusting for a reply in the “ S.S.,” I am,
This letter is printed as a further example of the difficulty in obtaining a statement of the Anarchist attitude upon social questions. The writer sets out bv upholding Herbert Spencer’s individualistic dictum which followed from Spencer’s defence of private property in the means of life. In the very next sentence, our Anarchist rejects Spencer and opposes private property society. The argument that the individual possesses rights has been answered by other Anarchists that might is right, and the only right. The fundamental fallacy of the natural rights theory was completely refuted by Spencer himself in his “Study of Sociology” in his masterly statement of the organic nature of society.
Our correspondent is another Anarchist who ignores the fundamental conflict in Socialist and Anarchist ideas.
He claims that mankind are going towards a society in which individual and communal interest will be harmonious. What will be the basis of that society? Our Anarchist does not say. Our position is briefly that economic evolution has made common ownership of the means of life the inevitable next step in social progress owing to the form taken by the modern instruments of production. They cannot be individually owned except by a class of exploiters with the resulting poverty and insecurity of today. The economic pressure upon working-class life will compel the workers to seek knowledge to change the system in accord with the social necessities of production—social ownership. Further, that as the manner of ownership determines the manner of control, common ownership decrees democratic control by the wealth-producers.
Our correspondent offers no alternative to the Socialist position. He does not even deal with it. If he was a supporter of private ownership, his individualistic theories might be logical. If he agrees with common ownership, he must appreciate the necessity of social control.
The basis of social as well as individual life is food, clothing and shelter—the material requirements of life. How will they be produced and distributed in our Anarchist’s future society? We are not told. We are told that mankind is struggling unconsciously towards individual and social harmony. But our correspondent also says that Anarchism can only be realised by a body of persons who have freely associated for mutual benefit.
Which of his two positions he really favours we do not know. Economic necessity being the driving force, the workers will be compelled to carry on production for themselves. That economic necessity will not wait until the fruition of our correspondent’s dream of everybody freely agreeing to the terms of association. The common welfare decides, and therefore in matters of social necessity, such as the operation of the great means of production and distribution—the majority will count. Mr. Adamson and individuals who resolutely object to all forms of coercion will find that economic evolution is a great coercing force. In the production of every day’s means of living, all the producers must share upon a commonly agreed plan—democratically decided—not a plan that makes our everyday wants wait upon a whole series of groups of individuals debating and arguing until the last waverer is won to the others’ point of view. These matters of social evolution and economic development are forgotten bv our correspondent, who evidently does not see that the means of production demands co-operative working.
We are offered statements such as : “the individual is a self-contained universe,” and that “no one but himself can legislate for himself.” These are completely refuted bv our Anarchist himself when he claims that mankind are struggling towards a society in which the individual and the communal interests will be synonymous. If the individual is a self-contained universe, why our correspondent’s desire for a community of persons for mutual benefit? Why the need for propaganda amongst others? The insistence of self-interest as a guiding motive by our correspondent ignores the facts pointed out by the Socialist, namely, that a common interest existing among the working-class, it is to their interest to act together as a class to establish a sociey which promotes the self-interests of the workers : Socialism.
We have frequently, in these columns, stated the attitude of Socialism to Anarchism, and do not feel that it is worth while to go into the whole matter once more at present, especially as each Anarchist who writes has an anarchism all of his own, each one apparently being a law unto himself, if not ”a self-contained universe.”
(Socialist Standard, September 1926)