“Every State is a dictatorship.” — Antonio Gramsci
(Part Two of an Ongoing Series: The Four Fundamental Freedoms of Libertarian Socialism) [Part 1]
Historically speaking, there have been two ideological tendencies that have been consistent within the socialist movement ever since the initial conception of socialism as a political philosophy onto itself. In terms of the two ideological tendencies in question here, there is the imposition of socialism through utilizing the state apparatus as a means to an end in order to achieve the revolutionary overthrew of capitalism as to be replaced with a socialist model. The other notable tendency here is the implementation of socialism without the usage of the state apparatus, in which the populace themselves reject the state as being either partially, if not entirely, ineffective to achieve the demise of the capitalist structure. These two differing ideological premises are indeed responsible for dedicating the class struggle to the complete abolition of capitalism as an economic model, yet it ought to be indicated that there is a staunch difference of what does and what does not constitute the socialist society that would emerge following the destruction of capitalism. Arguably, this ideological divergence is one of the most important philosophical divergences between these two schools of political thought and it just goes to indicate the profound political consistencies and inconsistencies of the model of socialism advocating for the achievement of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism from the top on down and of the model of socialism advocating for the achievement of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism from the bottom on up.
Within this particular series of various articles concerning socialism, we are going to explore how the inherent principle of libertarian socialist model is predicated primarily on the basis of freedom. Now, freedom in accordance to the definition of how a libertarian socialist-society would describe such is not constructed upon the premise of falsified freedom allocated to a specified portion of the populace under a capitalist structure in order to ensure that the portion of the population in question prove to be quintessential in reinforcing the current structure of society, but rather freedom as utilized by libertarian socialists manifests itself within four significant manners: freedom from capitalism, freedom from the state, freedom from socioeconomic oppression, and freedom from the abuses of power. In the previous article we were exploring the controversial concept of the freedom of the people to no longer inhabit a capitalist society. For the purposes of the article, we will be exploring the concept of one of the most significant institutions within our society in its totality — the state apparatus.
Now before we begin to discuss what it is that can be done to achieve freedom from the state apparatus, there needs to be an established definition of what does and does not constitute a state apparatus. Now throughout the course of human history, there has been an extensive catalogue of nation-states that have arisen in which the evident authoritarian tendencies operating in conjunction with the glaringly obvious totalitarian principles of a society. Such has been exposed to the respective populations inhabiting nations all throughout the world as to be a terrifying exposé on what can be achieved whenever power is to be concentrated in the palms of a distinct individual or a collection of individuals. Yet — what is arguably more terrifying is onto how there is this indirect subversion of the populace to be accepting of the premise of justifiable hierarchies considered to be quintessential to the continuation of society as to achieve even an unnoticeable modicum of progress. Such subversion has made it so that a significant majority is responsible for facilitating the transmission of state-centric dichotomies that ensures that the authoritative jurisdiction of the state apparatus is ensure not by the usage of brute force, but rather through inducing a collective delusion into the populace itself for the people to begin to accept their submission without comprehending what will come about as a direct and indirect result of such allegiance. Now in terms of the historical conception of the state apparatus, the Black Rose Anarchist Federation indicates that the,
“…modern capitalist state as we know it co-developed with capitalism in Western Europe and has spread to nearly everywhere across the globe, and in almost all instances sided with economic power against the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Today, the state itself is one of the largest actors in a capitalist market. While the state expresses the interests of those controlling it, that does not mean that the ruling class is always unified. We see as various figures and groupings have taken the reigns of state apparatuses they have used the state to develop and transform some sectors of the economy often against the interests of other segments of capital and use the state as a vehicle to align and compete with other state actors. The ideologies and rhetoric that have accompanied these efforts have often had disorienting…debilitating effects on revolutionary and working class movements as well…[b]ut what should be clear is that both struggles within the ruling class, a[s well as] the need for perpetual reformist cooptation to contain threats from struggles from below make the state a shifting…contested site of power. The ruling class and the state are therefore not identical.” (The State, Black Rose Anarchist Federation).
After establishing the inherent intricacies of the state apparatus, ranging from its monopoly of violence yet with its preference for utilizing a form of collective delusion to ensure the submissiveness of the populace without question to its incredible significance within the capitalist mode of production (both within the historic moment and in the modern moment) with its inherent incongruity of being unable to establish a genuine consensus onto the position of the state in relation to capitalism itself, we now need to reference back to the two differing ideologies onto how to achieve socialism once capitalism is overthrown.
In terms of the notion of the imposition of socialism from the top on down, state-centric socialists tend to universally gravitate towards the ideal that the revolution necessary for the demise of capitalism will come byway of various administrative advances implemented by a distinct bureaucracy inhabiting the political class rather than the spontaneous transformation of society by the populace from the bottom on up. Such perspective concerning socialism arguably goes about compartmentalizing and essentializing socialism to be confined to a scientific process that requires a professional, administrative, bureaucratic system as a necessity for the proper implementation of socialist ideology. In terms of historical examination, this perspective has manifested itself in the form of the vanguard, a contingent of professional revolutionary intellectuals that are endowed with the jurisdiction to seize control of the capitalist mode of production to be in favor, or in behalf, of the masses throughout the usage of electoral or militaristic means.
Such in done for the purposes of administrating the demise of capitalism through legislating socialism into existent through the usage of the preexisting political mechanisms endowed into specific institutions, for the purposes of ensuring that the major sources of economic power are to be concentrated under the authoritative dictates of the state apparatus rather than securing the communal control of the economic sphere of the populace organized in a manner of worker self-management that is completely independent of any external variables influencing such management. Yet — there are countless inherent issues that are going to be omnipresent throughout this particular iteration of socialism, regardless of the specific political philosophies that are encompassed by this particular collection of ideologies, namely that therein lies this profound inability to recognize that the replacement of the capitalist class once in power by the self-proclaimed “socialist” class in the position of power is merely an elaborate coup d’etat rather than a genuine socioeconomic revolution of the masses, by the masses, for the masses.
There is this concept of state socialism that has been widely perpetuated ever since concerning how socialism is to be achieved, yet one ought to argue that any such iteration of state-centric socialism is inherently oxymoronic, contradictory, and hypocritical given how one of the primary ideological tenets of socialism is to ensure the demise of any economic structure in which the labour of the individual is utilized for the purposes of profit by another individual. Such is one of the most widely cited differences concerning the capitalist mode of production with the socialist mode of production and so by replacing the concept of how the labour of the individual is utilized for the purposes of accumulating capital by another individual with the concept of how the labor of the individual is utilize for the purposes of perpetuating the politico-economic power of the state, state-sanctioned socialism becomes indistinguishable from state-sanctioned capitalism.
Ultimately, state-sanctioned socialism ought not even be referred to as socialism at all given how the socialist concept of collective, voluntary self-management is violated if socialism were to ever occur byway of the state maintaining its monopoly of violence in utilizing its capacity to ensure socialism by the barrel of a rifle. It is incredibly insightful onto how countless state-centric socialists have utilized the philosophies of Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels or Leon Trotsky or Vladimir Lenin to provide intellectual justification for their various exploitative practices, especially when done ironically considering how Karl Marx himself indicated that, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves,” with Leon Trotsky later referencing such sentiment by stating that, “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.” No such philosophy can be a derivative of the populace itself unless such philosophy were to be upheld by the populace in question, meaning that to impose socialism onto the people through the usage of the legislature is to depart from the most quintessential elements of socialism to effectively ensure that the creation of a stateless, classless society does not occur, but rather to directly (and indirectly) facilitate the centralization of power to the point in which the supposedly “socialist” society that is created arguably becomes even more of an oppressive system then the the society that predated the system beforehand.
Take for example the philosophical principle of the vanguard, which in terms of a historical basis, was the logical byproduct of a combination of various political philosophies inspired by Marxist principles, the failure of the Russian Revolution of 1905 to ensure long-term significant adjustment, as well as involving the instigation of the Russian Revolution of 1917 which would effectively become one of the dominating principles of the Bolsheviks when state power was seized following the events of the revolution. Now for the purposes of being historically accurate here, there was indeed a legitimate revolution of various socialist tendencies that organically emerged as a direct result of the horrendous conditions of Russia under the monarchical authority of the Tsar which was facilitated by the democratic workers councils alongside the various agricultural communes that were operated by the Russian populace themselves. However, these two organized institutions in questioned were co-opted by the supposedly “socialist” upheaval directed by the Bolsheviks until such proved to be no longer necessary for directing the progression of the purportedly socialist revolution, with these two models being dismantled entirely or otherwise becoming directly under the jurisdiction of state apparatus itself. In what would become a circumstances rife with cruel irony, the fervent excitement of the working class themselves demanding that there be, “all power to the councils,” was met with the authoritative dictates of the state apparatus supposedly meant to represent the populace with a response that indicated that the, “revolution demands…that the masses unquestionably obey the singular will of the leaders.”
We need not even observe the blatant forms of totalitarianism that would occur under the presiding jurisdiction of Joseph Stalin over the U.S.S.R, because even in the immediate aftermath of the revolution there was this profound desire to organize the society that would emerge following the overthrow of the initial ruling class in a manner meant to be beneficial to all those apart of the state apparatus itself. Be it under the guise of Marxist-Leninism, be it under the guise of Trotskyism, be it under the guise of Maoism, or be it under the guise of an ideology reminiscent of the vanguard perspective readily apparent throughout the various revolutionary socialist movements of the twentieth century, the historical content concerned with socialism has become marred with the disdainful legacy of socialism imposed from the top on down even through the usage of authoritarianism as means to an end.
When regarding the implementation of any variant of socialist philosophy reminiscent of libertarian socialism, in which the state apparatus is considered to be inherently antithetical to the socialist premise onto how the economic sphere will be operated through the democratic, collective self-management of the populace themselves. Individuals and institutions within this particular school of political thought have extensively argued that contrary to popular conception, the state as an institution has never been neutral considering how such is to be a mere instrument of class oppression meant to preserve the monopoly of violence upheld by a distinct political minority. Such as proven itself to be the truth in the various manifestations of power ranging from state-sanctioned law enforcement to incarceration systems to unnecessary borders that have become increasingly militarized to rampant warfare to incessant imperial endeavors to countless colonial expansion and to the centralization of political power in a distinct legislative authority endowed with this power purely on the basis of arbitration.
The achievement of socialism from the bottom on up, or rather the achievement of socialism without being reliant on the state apparatus to ensure the implementation of “socialism” for the populace, what would need to occur if for every individual who has been disavowed by the capitalist system needs to be able to come together in order to unify in a collective manner (while simultaneously preserving the unique characteristics that can only be attributed to the individual) to empower ourselves through organization for our fight for individual emancipation and for collective liberation. Such is a necessary prerequisite for organizing, because it will only be through empowering ourselves as well as all the countless individuals around us to independently in terms of work, in terms of education, in terms of living, in terms of our relationships through the creation of popular organizations meant solely for the purpose of providing a democratic structure that is directly comprised of the people themselves.
Be it by a rank-and-file labour movement within the economic sphere, be it by a system of housing organized by the tenants themselves, be it by popular assemblies of individuals to direct the progression of their respective communities, and be it by mass community organizations to control the daily operations of the communities in question will we the people begin to possess the collective power necessary to combat the various inherent issues within our society that have gone about to affect us all while simultaneously ensuring that any institution remaining will be directly under own control. If the movement in question, where workers will asserting their demand for control of the workplace from their respective bosses to tenants asserting their demand for control the housing system from their respective landlords to oppressed communities asserting their demand to overthrow any such hierarchical institution predicated upon the principle of oppression on arbitrary divisions, were ever to be sufficiently organized to the point in which these multiple revolutionary movements were to ever become unified with one another then the isolated acts of dissidence, performed against the oppressive system we collectively have to endure in order to merely inhabit with a wretched existence, will become the instrumental basis for the creation of an entirely new society constructed upon the premise of self-determination in all spheres of life. Ultimately, to refer back to the Black Rose Anarchist Federation,
“Such structures should be based on the principle of direct democracy, in which people directly participate in the decisions which affect their lives. Rather than simply electing our own rulers ([also known as] “representative democracy”), direct democracy empowers people to collectively govern themselves.” (Socialism Will Be Free, Or Not At All!, Black Rose Anarchist Federation).
We the people cannot be unwavering in the principles in which we proclaim to uphold, for the principles of freedom and solidarity and democracy will never be achieved in the entirety of these respective principles should we submit ourselves to any hierarchical institution that is sustained through the continued usage of exploitative practices meant solely for the purposes of oppression.
To conclude, what is it that we so desire in relation to the previous information provided concerning the two schools of thought concerning the implementation of socialism? Suffice to say, it will not be through the imposition of socialism from above will our individual emancipation and our collective liberation will occur, but rather through socialism from below as to be directed by the populace who will have to directly endure the repercussions of their respective actions. To once again refer back to the Black Rose Anarchist Federation here,
“We seek a social revolution that will overthrow the state and capitalism. Yet a society-wide transformation cannot happen overnight, since we have seen that the state is inside us as well. Without an internal transformation, we will continue to reproduce the dominating and exploitative relations of the state and capital daily. It is only through the process of collective struggle that we can both draw out the potential for change and sow the seed of its realization. To organize a revolutionary society, we must have working class institutions that replace the necessary functions which the state and capital distorted and monopolized. Historically these have taken form in horizontally organized councils in the workplace and in communities. Rather than a coercive professional institution of class rule, we see the future of humanity in institutions of direct democracy organized without classes or institutionalized hierarchies. We think these forms have value, but we believe that the working class, being a creative and dynamic entity, will likely create new and innovative forms of self-activity and self-management. While defending ourselves in revolution and achieving greater stability, the reorganization of society for human needs and desires rather than the profit-driven production of capitalism will increasingly become our task. Although we support struggles for improvements in our situation, how changes are fought for makes a difference. We oppose a strategy for social change centered on elections and lobbying because it focuses on political leaders making decisions through the state rather than building mass movements, solidarity, and collective direct action. Because the state is an institution built to serve [a] dominating, exploiting class, there is no hope for the liberation of the working class through the capture of the state or making new states.” (The State, Black Rose Anarchist Federation).
Let us go forward from here with the historical memories of the anarchist movement in revolutionary Spain during the Spanish Civil War of the twentieth century to the Zapatista movement alongside the Rojava revolution of the twenty-first century in mind, in order to ensure that socialism will be achieved not through the legalized usage of the state apparatus a mode of facilitating change but rather through our own collective desire for our humanity to be first and foremost.
W.R. Zammichiéli is a freelance writer with a B.A. and M.A. in Political Science and International Relations located in the Boston area, currently in graduate school to earn his law certification. He is currently in the middle of writing a novel concerning anarchism as a political philosophy, Another World Is Possible: On the Promise of Libertarian Socialism.
Previously published at Red & Black Politics, July 26, 2020
From the archives: