SOCIALISM AND ANARCHISM BY WILL DURANT (1914) – Part 6

VI.
It dawns upon me that having defined liberty
it might be well to define, to say just what we
mean by, anarchism. It is easier to praise definition
making than to make praise-worthy definitions;
and there are a hundred and one ways of defining
anarchism wrongly. Perhaps best of all definitions
of anarchism is that of the Englishman, Herbert:
“Anarchism is the rule of each man over himself.”
Briefly, then, it is self-government,-a definition
which makes it clear that men will achieve anarchism
only when they have achieved self-control –the
full ability of each man to govern himself. But
I like Herbert’s definition, aside from this implication
of self-control as essential to a workable
anarchism, because it expresses positively that
which is usually expressed negatively,-as when
anarchism is defined as the absence of government.
Now whether or not this absence of government is
a realizable, or even a desirable, ideal, depends,
obviously, on the meaning of that troublesome word
“government.” When Proudhon says, “Government
of men by men, under whatever form, is servitude,”
I think he meets assent from most socialists
whose socialism is not state-socialism (stale
socialism, one is tempted to call it). All the bad
things which our common comrade Kropotkin says
against the state as it has appeared in history are
deserved by the state-as it has appeared in history.
When Nietzsche makes Zarathustra say,
“The State is the coldest of all monsters. And its
lies are cold; and this lie creeps out of its mouth:
I, the State, am the people,“-here, too, I think, we
most of us give our assent. Every socialist student
knows that Marx and ‘Engels took a very similar
stand. I hesitate to quote them-they have been
quoted almost to death; but briefly: “The existence
of the state and of slavery,” says Marx, “are inseparable”
(Paris Vorwarts, 1844) ; and
Engels : “The essential principle of the state is
the coercive power in the hands of a ruling class.
. . . State interference in social relations becomes
in one domain after another superfluous, and then
dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced
by the administration of things, and by the
conduct of the processes of production. The state
is not abolished. It dies out.” (“Socialism
Utopian and Scientific,” p. 76)
Implicit in these quotations from Kropotkin,
Nietzsche, Marx and Engels, is the idea which appears
explicitly in Proudhon: the “state” which they
are thinking of is a “government of men by men.”
That kind of state will die a natural death, as Engels
puts it, when men shall have shown themselves able
to dispense with it. Or as Thoreau expresses it:
“I heartily accept the motto, ‘That government is
best which governs least,’ and I should like to see
it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.
Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also
believe : ‘That government is best which governs not
at all’; and when men are prepared for it that is the
kind of government which they will have.”
It would appear from these quotations that
orthodox socialists, as well as more or less orthodox
anarchists, believe in an administration of things
and deprecate a government of men. Unfortunately,
that does not settle the matter. Doubts enter one’s
mind ,-what if the distinction does not distinguish?
To administer things you must have power, you
must have authority; and though these be freely
conferred upon you by the people, they are authority
and power none the less. Now suppose that in
virtue of this authority you decide that the working-day
for stenographers shall be five hours long, and
that the working-day for street-diggers and ironworkers
shall be three hours long. Will this ad-
ministration of stenography, of street-digging and of
iron-work be also a government of stenographers,
street-diggers and iron-workers?
But, you ask, must there be an assignment of
hours?
Let us see.
How shall the work of our ideal commonwealth
be done? The anarchist answers, by voluntary
cooperation; the socialist answers, by voluntary cooperation,
as far as possible. Socialist and anarchist
alike oppose the state-socialistic idea of a government
ordering its citizens about as our present government
orders about its civil service employees,
-telling Jones to go here and do this; telling Smith
to go there and do that, and telling each of them
just when he may strike (if at all), and when he
must submit or “be hanged by the neck till he die.”
That, I think we are agreed, would differ from our
present condition only in being a more scientific
slavery. John Stuart Mill, writing half a century
ago, drew a happier picture: “The form of association
which, if mankind continue to improve, must
be expected in the end to predominate, is not that
which can exist between a capitalist as chief and
work-people without a voice in the management,
but the association of the laborers themselves on
terms of equality, collectively owning the capital
with which they carry on their operations, and
working under managers selected and removable
by themselves.” That, I think, is a sketch of the
broad outlines of our desires, with which we can
nearly all agree; but it leaves us plentiful room for
fight about details.
It says nothing, for instance, about the performance
of disagreeable work.
No matter how far the invention of machinery
may be carried in the future, the various occupations
in which human brain or muscle will be required
must always remain, some of them more
agreeable and attractive, others of them comparatively
less so. Indeed, the extension of mechanism
must itself bring, in certain fields, an extension of
disagreeable work; the monotony of “feeding” or
otherwise attending to a machine detracts so much
from the interest of the worker in his work that men
like William Morris have doubted whether the extension
of machinery, even with the shortening of
hours which it ought to entail, will be so great a
boon as most of us suppose. But granting that
machinery will do for us in the future much of
the unpleasant work which now falls to human
hands to do, the fact remains that even then there
will be a difference in the degree of pleasantness
attaching to the various occupations: some will be
comparatively agreeable and attractive, others will
be comparatively disagreeable and unsatisfactory.
Now if there should be no supply of human labor
to meet the demands of the various and variously
attractive occupations, chaos could be averted only
on the supposition that the personal preferences of
every worker would direct him precisely to that
industry which should happen to require his services.
And I think we can most of us agree that
that is not a supposition to bank on. Not only is it
highly probable that more men would want to work
in the agreeable, and less in the comparatively disagreeable,
occupations, than would be needed, but
it is highly probable, too, that not all who should
choose a certain occupation should be so fit for it
as to give their labor its maximum value for the
community. Hence the two problems to be met
by any theory of absolute freedom in industrial
organization: the conflict between personal preferences
and personal capacities, and the conflict between
personal preferences and industrial needs.
The up-to-date thing to do in this emergency, it
seems, is to forget the difficulties, take “absolute
freedom” “ on faith,” and preach it to the working
class a la Georges Sorel. But if I am to
preach “myths” to the working class I had rather
go back to Mother Church and preach them for a
hundred dollars a week; if one must be a villain
one should make it pay. And after all, one must
meet these difficulties if only for the sake of one’s
peace of mind.
To my mind these difficulties point relentlessly
to some system of regulation. The community
would have to appoint some group of men and
women to adjust the supply of human labor to the
various demands for it by setting up either a wage
system or an hour system. The disagreeable work
which should require more men than would offer
themselves would have to be made more attractive
by arranging that the working-day in that particular
field should be less, or the wages higher, than in
more agreeable occupations. And whether the hour
system or the wage-system should be established,
the worker whose natural preferences and capacities
should bring him into the more attractive industries
would be bound to his longer hours or his
lower wages either by the threat of boycott, or by
some other form of moral compulsion. Unless we
are to suppose that in the cooperative commonwealth
all minds will think alike (a rather dreary
Utopia!) it is entirely reasonable to ask what Mr.
Brown, whose natural preferences and capacities
incline him to bookkeeping, could do in case he
disagreed with the community or its “administrative”
group, as to the fitness of the working period
prescribed for those in his line of work. He
might pass to other work, but, by hypothesis,
this other work would be unsuited to his
preferences; and here, too, he would be dissatisfied.
Could he strike? If he did not, he
would be constrained by feaa of certain consequences
; if he did strike, he would incur those consequences-
exile or boycott. But aside from the fact
that exile is one’s high privilege even under present
governments, such banishment would merely change
the geography of the difficulty; another community
would be burdened with his problem,-a community
which might even then be sending similar exiles into
community number one. And suppose Brown refuses
to be exiled; shall we use physical compulsion
with him? No; I am answered; boycott him. But
that is government. For to govern anyone is to
compel him to do one’s will; and we saw a while
back that this compulsion may be-is now-moral
as well as physical: boycott may be as effective,
and as terrible, a means of compulsion as a squad of
policemen. You may tell me that the number of
such heretics as Brown in our ideal commonwealth
would be so small that the community would find
it possible to feed them, clothe them, etc., while
they should be on strike; but you will permit me to
doubt if workers taught to expect the “full product
of labor” would be willing to subtract from that full
product for the maintenance of healthy non-workers.
I see no way out of the quandary but
by admitting into our kingdom of heaven some form
of compulsion,- the compulsion of fear or the compulsion
of boycott-either for workers refusing to
work, or for individuals elsewise refusing to abide
by the rulings of the “administrative” group. I
am told by my anarchist friends that in so picking
flaws in their Utopia I am failing to see the sun
for its spots; but I am convinced that these difficulties
are very real difficulties, arising out of the
vital differences of men; and if there are spots on
the sun I think we had better be honest about them.
The sun is brilliant enough despite its spots, no
doubt; and I am willing to admit that the ideal of
absolute freedom is a good goal to drive towards,
even if we do not believe that we shall ever realize
every smallest fraction of our desire. But the daily
tragedy of the matter is that it is their differences
about these spots on the sun that keep anarchists
and socialists at each other’s throats, and so mar
the effectiveness of their war against their common
foe.

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