A year ago, I started this website, almost gave up on it immediately, and was pretty sure I didn’t want anyone except a close friend or two to know about it. Now, it’s been a whole year, I’ve obviously kept going with it, and while I hate doing so out of fear of pushing my own writing, I have no real issues telling people about it if the topic is relevant. Recently I was asked a simple question: why anarchism? The answer seems just as simple: it makes sense.
I’ve oft quoted Noam Chomsky, a respected linguist and political commentator/activist, and a self-proclaimed anarcho-syndicalist. He says that, at its core, anarchism is about questioning the legitimacy of authority, placing the burden of justification on those in power. Power in itself is not self-justifying, and if the burden of proof cannot be met then the power structure in place ought to be dismantled and replaced with a more just system. Some structures, like parents over their children for example (with respect to the rights of the child being met, obviously), can be justified in certain scenarios, but generally the burden cannot be met at all.
What form this ideal system will take is not something we can necessarily predict, and some even believe that opposition to authority doesn’t have an end but is in fact something we must always strive for. Continuing the liberation of all peoples is something that no one can disagree with as a concept, and anarchism, as I have come to understand it, applies this practically in every sphere.
But I fell into this quite quickly and easily. In 2015, as I was graduating high school, I was only just beginning to form a greater interest in political matters and hardly had any idea what socialism was, let alone anarchism. Socialism was a buzzword a lot of people spoke negatively about, and I wasn’t aware of anarchism until… I want to say late 2017, but my timeline may be off.
So how did I come to start a blog site with anarchist in the name? For most people, there is usually a combination of factors that go into how they reached a conclusion. A family member is politically active or informed; you ended up in a group, either online or in person, that has a similar mindset; those darn leftist universities brainwashed you with their ‘liberal’ propaganda.
For me, it was none of those. Other than one who keeps informed by reading the news, my family has very little interest in political matters, and nor do most of my friends. By nature, I am a shy and rather secluded person, so the chances of me (at this time) being actively involved in any particular group is unlikely. And so far my university has put me in debt for the honour of learning things I could very well have learned myself or is just common sense – and almost all of it is about profits and networking. Even my current internship, whilst fascinating, is in the corporate sector (that is nothing against the role or company, but to say universities today are, as a whole, hubs for ‘leftist’ thought is maddeningly false).
No, for me it was much simpler. I read, I thought, and I concluded. Even before I knew what anarchism was, the basic concept of questioning the legitimacy of power structures and institutions was my default position. An obvious and easy example to explain this is my history with church, having grown up in a (rather relaxed) Christian household. LGBT+ issues, abortion, Israel-Palestine, etc. were never contentious topics at home, but both online and with members of the congregation I found myself at odds with the views of the Church.
On what authority does the Church, ‘correct’ in their beliefs or not, think it has the right to dictate the rights and limitations of others? Even at thirteen years of age, I knew that the Church as an institution did not legitimately have that power, and therefore it should not have possessed it, or continue to believe they do – we see New South Wales’ Parliament reeling over the abortion bill that recently passed, and I can only offer the poor oppressors of women a few spare thoughts and prayers.
At fifteen I was pressured into being baptised by the youth pastor at the time and a few others, something I don’t necessarily regret doing but feel I would not have done of my own intuition. I’m at peace with the matter, but it was, in my view, an abuse of power. The man who baptised me, an otherwise pleasant elderly man who taught me at Sunday school for years, later cut all contact with me (bar one occasion he sent, after finding out my stance on Israel, a bunch of random ‘Biblical archaeology’ videos via email) when I told him I voted yes in the same sex marriage plebiscite and that my mind would not be changed on the matter.
The ideas and discourse that governed the Church was entirely opposed to my natural inclination to liberation, a concept that all religions, historically and currently, have had a hand in crushing in various ways. That is not to say, of course, that those who wish to practice religion are not allowed to do so, or that they are not allowed to think and believe whatever they wish – or, most importantly, that all members have the same beliefs on these matters. However, just as we are not able to dictate their beliefs, it stands that that same right be given to all, and that the power of the Church does not extend beyond those who choose to belong to it.
There are two other arenas where I have misgivings over the power structures – the workplace and the State. Here in Australia, we are under the illusion that we have autonomy and choice in both, but we quite clearly do not for a number of reasons. The next example I can give is the shutting down of my former workplace, something I have written about previously to an extent.
“Those who work the factories ought to own them.”
That’s a quote that has been around since the industrial era of the 1800’s, and an idea that has significant popularity among workers of all sorts. Now in the 21st Century, factories still exist, but more so in third world or developing nations where labour can be (oft times violently) exploited. In the West, where such practices are present but to a lesser degree and with (to an extent) less abuse, the ‘factory’ is replaced by the corporation. The concept is still the same, however – democratisation of the workplace.
By virtue of being a member of a workplace, investing time and labour into it, a worker should have more control over the work that they carry out. There are many nuances to this, and I do not claim to have the answers to every scenario, but there are some simple analogies with the State that can be made. An example.
Ten carpenters walk into work and are given a list of things they must have completed by that night, are paid an hourly wage for doing so, and the owner, a businessman who is above them, is the beneficiary of much of the profits; the workers are just another expense. Their creations aren’t based on any needs or creative expression, they are just made. Imagine that in the context of the State – we wouldn’t accept that. Unelected officials giving orders, contributing little labour themselves, yet receiving much of the benefit their people produce. We usually call that authoritarian, but not in the workplace.
In the workplace, this distortion of power is very much alive, and very much abused.
My workplace was shut down to make way for a new (and from what I can tell, rather failed) fast food venture. That decision was made by people I have never met or even heard of, earning way more than I did off the back of the labour I and my colleagues gave towards the store. We were all offered the opportunity to work at the new place, or (only those of us who are part-time or full time) redundancy packages as compensation. In the system we currently have, I must admit I cannot complain – it was more generous than many expected, and I bear no negative thoughts about the business as a whole.
But what if things were entirely different? What if we, the workers at the store, had a chance to vote and decide for ourselves whether to close down and build a new franchise? What if we weren’t owned by another company at all and were in fact a business of our own, with the franchise being a collective with elected representatives to connect the stores? And all workers had the same stake in the business by virtue of working there, with management being undertaken by all?
In that scenario, the 8% profit that our store made would have been huge. In a corporate setting, none of us had any control whatsoever over the earnings of the company, the profits of our labour – because if we had that choice, we probably would not consent to some rich board members patting themselves on the back with exorbitant salaries and bonuses. No, we, if we all had an interest and a stake in the business, would invest it in the business and each other.
Rather than the work being a chore, something that must be done to earn money whilst having no ownership or control over that work, people would have been free to undertake whatever work they wished whenever they wished. As a lone venture, the store I worked at would have been immensely successful, and with the incentive of ownership and shared control, I know many of the people who worked there would have enjoyed their job so much more than they did.
Alas, such a thing is only a fantasy. The store shut down, was torn down to make way for the new franchise that offered higher profit margins, and now – regrettably – the place is usually pretty barren. Their gamble to gain higher profits appears to have backfired, and I can only solemnly look back at what the old place could have been.
Every workplace will have different ways to approach this kind of breakdown of authority. Amazon, to pick the most profitable business in the world with the owner being the richest man ever, if it were to evenly distribute its trillion-dollar wealth (not to mention Bezos’ own obscene wealth), every single one of them would be a millionaire. Am I saying that that should be how it’s run? Not necessarily, but I imagine the workers who are paid abysmal wages, are forced to meet insane efficiency standards, and rely on food stamps to survive (paid for by taxes Amazon surely avoids as much as possible) would prefer to have more control of their lives.
For starters, I doubt any of them believe Bezos’ billions is fair, and the idea of that money going towards space travel even less so. I’m sure if the workers had control over the capital they helped create, they would take the humbler step of not being drowned in poverty first.
And finally, the State. What control do we have there? Every few years we get to vote in various arseholes from various trash political parties with awful policies, and if the person we want doesn’t get in we just have to deal with it. Yeah, I feel so represented in this farce we call democracy. The interests of the people are put aside for the interests of donors and political actors, including the politicians themselves. The corporate concept is also completely flipped on its head for the benefit of the parasites.
We, the public, are the supposed “employers” – we elect them to work for us. If that were true, then we should have the right to cast out whoever we wish whenever we wish. Good luck trying to convince anyone to the right of the social democratic Greens of that radical concept.
Many accuse the ‘left’ of supporting a dominating State presence, but if you keep going, you’d find that there are many who also believe the State should be abolished. US style libertarians would say this is good for capitalism, but that would undoubtedly harken a corporate monopoly and dictatorship, led by a market of short-term interests that has crashed multiple times since the 70’s.
The State can be a powerful tool if it were properly run as a democracy, i.e. by the people for the people, but that is never the case. Neither State nor corporate power should have more sway than the other – they should both be collapsed for a fairer distribution of power. For example, what if we allocated doctors, nurses, midwives, etc. – those who work in hospitals and medical research – to bring forward the needs and policies of the healthcare sector? Instead of private health locking people out of their human rights, or a screwed over public system run by mindless politicians, we could let the adults play their role.
Same could be said of every industry – school and university staff should be allocated control over education; welfare services (because there will always be people who require some form of care or safety net) should be carried out by the appropriate staff, etc. Just take a look at any sector of government, any corporate venture, any organisation or institution.
Almost every single one exists with an inherent flaw, some form of unjustifiable authority. As an anarchist, with my understanding of the word, my core and default position is to stand opposed to that authority. Do I know answers to everything? No. Do I know how to implement what I believe in every situation? No. And it is entirely likely no one ever will. A year after having started this site, the only thing I know for certain is that I have so much to learn; we all do, really. All we can do is strive to make all aspects of human life fairer, freer, and more inclusive for everyone.
One step at a time.
Here’s to another year.