Monday, October 11, 2010

What are anarchist politics?

CLR James, Every Cook Can Govern:

In strict politics the great strength of the [Greek] system was that the masses of the people were paid for the political work that they did. Politics, therefore, was not the activity of your spare time, nor the activity of experts paid specially to do it. And there is no question that in the socialist society the politics, for example, of the workers’ organizations and the politics of the state will be looked upon as the Greeks looked upon it, a necessary and important part of work, a part of the working day. A simple change like that would revolutionize contemporary politics overnight.

The next time someone asks about your political views, feel free to tell them that you don't believe in politicians. Politicians, after all, are people paid to run our affairs so that we don't have to. Do you want someone else to make the rules you live by, or do you want to make those rules yourself?

Most people will prove sympathetic to this view: nobody, or very few people, think of themselves as "believing" or "having faith" in politicians to do the right thing; we think of politicians in a negative light, at least in principle.

This is a very easy way to explain anarchism, without getting into a complicated conversation about government. Government can mean "the state," a hierarchy of rule-making, rule-enforcing administrators; but for many people government simply means some form of necessary social organization -- in which case anarchism endorses a non-hierarchical form.

Getting rid of politicians, and doing the necessary work of society ourselves, as opposed to the unnecessary work of making wealthy interests more wealthy, is a straightforward way of explaining what "anarchist governance" would look like.

To paraphrase the syndicalist Rudolf Rocker, anarchism is the popular administration of things, not the unpopular rule over people.


Anonymous said...

Me likee.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

There is a tendency — I think, at least among the established — to have a hearty chuckle when polls reveal that Americans BOTH "hate" their government and like social programs like the medicare or the social security or whatever people "like"...

The false dilemma — "we need the awkwardly ambitious (politicians) to run the show, make the rules OR we'll soon be raped by marauding bands of unsavory folk" (us) — is both powerful and hilarious.

As always, thanks for your wisdom.

d.mantis said...

brilliant post

Tee Vee,
I often find it incredibly odd that people cannot seperate 'the government' from social programs. Its as if those programs were the direct output of Washington and not administered by low to middle class americans dealing with middle to lower/lowest class americans.

Of course, if that was the only output 'the goverment' executed, politicians would actually be doing something worthwhile.

I would enjoy yelling at Joe Biden because the address was incorrect on my fucking unemployment check.

Rachel said...

nobody, or very few people, think of themselves as "believing" or "having faith" in politicians to do the right thing; we think of politicians in a negative light, at least in principle.

After several extremely enlightening arguments with people I used to think more or less thought the way I did, I am not so certain this is correct. Or at least, they trust them far more than they do the people at large.

Anonymous said...

Rachel, your comment confuses me, and I don't mean that as criticism because I want to agree with what I think you're saying, but then at the same time I'm not sure you're saying something I agree with.

I would suggest that most politically engaged Americans (people who have some form of passion for following politics, whether they consider themselves "activists" or not) have a very naive view toward politicians and party politics, verging on an equivalent of religious faith.

The % of Americans who are politically active and sufficiently detached, and possibly mercenary in conscious fact, who just do what they do to make money, and do not give a flying fork about who wins --outside the way it affects their pay, I mean-- this would be an even smaller % of Americans. In this group I see people like Jim Carville, Mary Matalin, Chris Matthews, Diane Sawyer, Rahm Emanuel, William Kristol. These people make their living arguing or working for particular partisan views, but I'd wager they're not as philosophically invested in their arguments as, for example, the people commenting in this thread.

They play a partisan game because it pays well.

Most who have extensive experience working within the system have the ability to see that it matters little whether Dems or Repubs are in power, the same corporate benefactors thrive, the same wealthy individuals do well and continue to enjoy access to federal power's perks & privileges. The playing field is getting more uneven, more like two shores separated by a massive chasm. If you're in the privileged shore's populace, this disparity is meaningless. If you're in the pauper populace, it's pretty fucking significant.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

"two shore separated by a massive chasm"

That's some effective fun-time imagery, Sir Cluster-Fuck. I misread it as two "whores", which doubled the fun.

Anonymous said...

I try to bring The Cluster to every Fuggle I encounter.

JRB said...


Yes, that is also true: in practice, we put our faith in a leadership caste, not each other. Is that what you mean? It would be interesting to hear more about your experience in talking with others.