So you might have seen that last week I posted my review of Noam Chomsky’s On Anarchism. I was underwhelmed by his unwillingness to engage with how the principles he was outlining might actually work in practice. So dear readers, I was wondering if any of you can succeed where he failed and give me a sense for how anarchism would actually work.
What I did get from Chomsky was he that he thought that he thought that enterprises should be owned by their workers. So presumably you’d wind up with an economy of John Lewis’s. He also seems to like the model of a kibbutz as a way of running a local community and to believe in “dismantling state power.” However, these three suggestions and their interplay raised more questions for me than they answered.
Below are the questions I think are most pressing. I, of course, realise that different anarchists are likely to have different answers to these questions. So am more than happy to hear personal views or your sense of where the weight of opinion within the movement is.
1) How would resources be allocated between enterprises?
Having worked for Waitrose, I have a pretty good mental picture of how resources would likely be allocated within a co-operative. However, I’m unclear how resources would be divided between them. Would they continue to trade in a competitive market with the less efficient co-operative losing market share and potentially going out of business? Or would the allocation happen by some alternative mechanism?
2) Would resources be redistributed from wealthier enterprises and kibbutzes to their poorer counterparts? If so how?
I accept that like socialists, anarchists think the community has a responsibility to care for its members. However, they do seem to operationalise it as something rather smaller. I can see, for example, that if you lost your job then the people you live with on your kibbutz might step in to help you out. But is also true that sometimes whole areas fall on hard times. How do they get help? Will that simply be a matter for private charity or will it be formalised in some way?
Similarly, it seem that even if an investment bank and a cleaning contractor are turned into co-operatives, the people at the former will still be a lot wealthier than the later. Would there be redistribution between them?*
3) In this new era of decentralisation how will individuals be protected from abuses by their community?
Presumably many communities will continue to have some rather oppressive instincts. So wouldn’t dismantling the state leave say a Catholic in Castlereagh or a women in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan?
4) How are public goods that cross boundaries of localities going to be provided?
I don’t see how HS2 would ever happen in an anarchist society. Wouldn’t the kibbutzes that covered rural Buckinghamshire veto the idea regardless of the benefits to other parts of the country?
5) How do disputes between kibutzhes and enterprises get resolved?
4) is essentially a subset of this question. Clearly from time to time there are going to want different things or will have grievances with each other. How do they get resolved with a central state?
6) What have co-operatives and kibutzhes got to do with curtailing state power?
Tito’s Yugoslavia was a pioneer of Worker’s Self-Management yet was still a Communist dictatorship. Israel has plenty of kibutzhes yet its state still oppresses the Palestinians. Is there any link in practice between these principles?
7) What if any functions would the state retain?
There’s an episode of Family Guy where under the influence of the Tea Party, the residents of Quahog abolish their city government. Predictably the city promptly descends into chaos. The mess is only sorted out when Peter Griffin persuades his fellow Quahogians to try “this crazy new thing” whereby they elect a group of representatives “who will decide the rules we all live by” and take part of each person’s salary each year to hire people “to provide us with social order and basic services.” Once order has been restored, Peter proudly proclaims “and we did it all without government!”
As you might have detected by now my underlying scepticism about anarchism is that it would wind up following a similar trajectory to Quahog. The state’s ability to instigate, to mediate and to redistribute make it too important for achieving the ends that anarchists are seeking that if they don’t retain it, then they will have to reinvent it.
*I appreciate that in an anarchist society there might well not be investment banks. However, I think you’ll see the point I am trying to illustrate.