Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Free Society

In my last post I mentioned "staying up all night and reading Conquest of Bread twice". I want to elaborate on that comment and think a little bit more about what it means to dream of the future free society - why do we do it? What can we say about it? The previous post was very practical and strategic, this is hopefully a bit lighter and more energising for people who don't know much about our movement.

Kropotkin's book 'Conquest of Bread' is a classic statement of what an anarchist society of the future would actually be like; how society would be organised and why all the problems that people imagine would come up in a stateless, classless society really wouldn't be problems at all.

Rojava in northern Syria
Whilst an obsessive fascination with how a free society could or should operate in great detail is pointless (as no one can know the particularities yet), protest without offering any kind of alternative vision for what society could be like will almost certainly fail to inspire the masses. So it's necessary sometimes, for the purposes of inspiration and trying to attract more people to our cause to just talk a little bit about the kind of world we do want to see:

What do we want?

Anarchists claim that society is currently organised along authoritarian grounds. I split these into 3 main areas - political authority, economic authority and social authority. We will transform these 3 areas of life:

Instead of government we will have communal ways of making decisions. Issues that effect a group of people will be decided on together but issues that mainly just affect an individual will be left up to that individual - and this will be maximised. As far as possible communal decisions will be decided on by consensus - but direct democracy by majority vote on some issues will probably have a place too. There will be no more feeling like you're powerless, insignificant and passive.

Zapatistas in Mexico
Instead of having bosses and shareholders and bankers and CEOs setting the agenda and running businesses on the basis of how much profit, interest or rent it can line their pockets with, production will be geared towards the needs and wants of the community. Necessary work will be reduced to 3 or 4 hours per day and will be varied and collectively self-managed. Beyond this people will be able to free there free time with art, music, science, leisure... whatever their interests. We're not looking to wind the clock back or have everyone work on communal farms or go back to hunting and gathering. We think that with a new anarchist basis for technology we could do so much more. We aim for long, healthy, happy and comfortable lives for everyone on the planet - not like now.

Instead of having a social hierarchy where people's life outcomes can be predicted based on their race or gender or sexuality or other categories that are part of the established hierarchy we will have social equality and freedom for everyone.

The Paris commune
These general ideas are shared as a rough end goal by most people on the far left, particularly anarchists and Marxists. Other individual thinkers may also have dreamed up ideal sounding societies a bit like this too but anarchists and Marxists have been repeatedly calling for this for the last 150 years and have been trying to organise a movement to achieve these things - with some successes.

It's important to note that this is not just a product of some great thinker having tried to dream up the coolest way for a society to work that we've all decided we like the sound of. These are a summary of what tens of thousands of people have sought to express through books, pamphlets speeches or just over a drink with their friends. These are relevant goals that attempt to sum up what most of us are yearning for - not to be bossed around, to have more free time, to have security, more fulfilment and the chance to dedicate ourselves to something we feel is meaningful and make a real contribution to society, to be taken seriously and treated equally to others. This is absolutely crucial because none of this would work if these goals had to be preached to people and imposed on them as some kind of external doctrine. Of course this won't appeal to the people who run society now, who have all the authority and all the money and privileges, they're going to use everything they've got to hold on to it, but that struggle is what we always talk about. This post is about reflecting on why we do any of this in the first place.

Anarchists in the Spanish revolution

It's about working together to get the good things in life, the things we're currently expected to have to strive for alone, the things that most people will live an die and never experience precisely because they're alone and powerless and poor. As part of a mass movement we're not striving on our own and we're not trying to grab the good things at anyone else's expense.

Note the pictures. All of them are photographs of the times when we've actually glimpsed some of the goals that we're talking about working out in practice. All of them show evidence that they are still engaged in a struggle but there is also an element of celebration, colour, smiling faces. It's not going to be shit you know.