A young and clever George Orwell knew the significance of a beautiful idea. He left his wife and career in England to fight in the Spanish Civil War in December of 1936, siding with the Anarchists who opposed Hitler-backed Nationalist, Francisco Franco. The upsurge of fascism so frightened the fresh faced idealist that he was willing to die to end it. Orwell recognized the elegance of the Spanish Anarchists’ radically different way of administrating their affairs. As a result of the war, his affection for the new society was inverse to his disgust for totalitarianism, a position that informed his future classics Animal Farm and the prescient 1984.
A society like the Anarchist collectives had never before or since existed, an entirely autonomous community divested of centralized rule. But how would a modern Anarchist system operate? Could there be roads, bridges or sanitation? Who would defend the masses from oppression? If it were sustainable back then would it be more so today?
The Principles of Anarchy: An Introduction
An Anarchist is against all categories of authority. The most obvious being government, but in a free society corporations and organized religion would also be relinquished. Modified versions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. would be acceptable as long as they were personal expressions of faith and not a component of a larger hierarchic structure such as the Catholic Church. These institutions constrict the freedom of their adherents. It is impossible to move unencumbered while under the thumb of any system which asserts control from aloft. Today’s dominant attitudes of helplessness and disenchantment can be linked to this cultural feature. People elect Representatives to govern while citizens play no direct part in legislation. As bureaucracies grow (because that’s what Capitalism does – it expands) they monopolize the lion’s share of wealth and power. It is the goal of Anarchism to bridge this chasm and place people in charge of themselves.
Under Anarchism all property serves as a public resource, therefore it is false to assume nothing is owned in Anarchistic communities. On the contrary, the public owns everything. This is why it is believed, as proprietors, individuals are more inclined to be dutiful stewards of what belongs to them. A timeless example of this principle in action can be taken from the book of Nehemiah. In it Nehemiah must rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after a vicious attack. He assigns laborers to work on restoring, not the sections of the wall farthest from where they live, but sections of the wall nearest to each worker, ensuring a quick and meritorious result.
The story of Nehemiah and the wall of Jerusalem illustrates the underpinnings of the Anarchist’s view of human nature. Everyone is an egotist at heart, selfish and individualistic. But most people are social animals as well capable of compassion and sympathetic toward sufferers. This is why the laborers Nehemiah placed in charge of the construction of the wall cooperated with each other. They wanted protection. Anarchist collectives would work for the same reason. The members of the collective value nourishment, social relationships and creative expression, and would enter into a social contract without the supervision of government. Unfortunately, there is one fatal flaw in this story. To any self-respecting Anarchist Nehemiah must go.
There’s no business like no business
From the perspective of the Anarchist, Capitalism degrades human potential when greed becomes the engine of society. Profits justify all beastly pursuits: theft, murder, deceit. The only unpardonable sin is losing money. Cities, for example, serve as a surplus of available labor for corporations. The design of a city centers around the needs of businesses, clustering employees and their families around factories, providing the employees with food, clothing and entertainment along with modes of control. The aim of Anarchists would be to abolish these inhibiting conditions.
After wresting authority away from their corporate handlers the workers would go on to erect “syndicates”. Each syndicate would be devoted to a specific aspect of production necessary for the continuance of the community. One syndicate would specialize in chairs another in toilets and another in ceiling fans and so on and so forth. The workers in a particular syndicate would have dominion over the policies in their workplace. Each worker has an equal vote in the direction of their co-operative. For the day-to-day decisions required to run a complex syndicate workers would divide the collective into administrative branches through popular vote. At this point it is up to an individual to persuade their fellow workers of their education and skills in order to be placed in the proper administrative branch.
In keeping with the spirit of self-management the community also deserves a say in how their syndicates operate. That is why all the syndicates would be owned by everyone in a commune. A collection of syndicates is called a confederation. Just how workers determine the best methods of how their syndicate produces, the members of the confederation decide what is produced and how much.
It is important to keep in mind that this is the formula of choice when it comes to any Anarchist commune. Hospitals, schools and the military are all organized in this fashion. The reason for this is simple. When a syndicate’s course is no longer navigated by the workers, but by a tiny elite, it reverts back into a corporation.
A worthy aside, the word “labor” has a different meaning in a free society. Within the current system people compliment machines in an assembly line mentality, but self-facilitating communes would use technology to eliminate dangerous, tedious and undesirable work. The result would be an abundance of leisure time with a few hours of intermittent labor resembling art more than drudgery. Those assembly lines would run themselves leaving the workers to decorate the products at the end. And even in cases like the construction of roads and bridges, the hazardous aspects will be automated and workers, free from bosses and arbitrary deadlines, will take pride in what they produce because it will be for their benefit.
When workers manage themselves it is unlikely they would pollute their streams and sky or maintain an unsafe working environment. Today’s corporations have made these practices apart of their culture. Consumption and competition animates Capitalism but in tomorrow’s society producers and consumers will be one in the same.
Welcome to the neighborhood
For all the praise in reference to “the people” it could be wrongfully assumed Anarchists romanticize the masses. Untrue. Anarchists make no illusions about the gullibility of massive groups of people. It is the multitude who allowed the minority, the wealthy oligarchy of policy-makers, to enslave them in the first place. The answer is to transform the majority into well-educated cells.
Communes are structured in exactly this way. While they will communicate with other communes it is important to reach a balance so as not to become bloated with a large population. When free people are taught outside the restrictions of a repressive society it is difficult to imagine this being a problem. Work in an Anarchist society is voluntary so if someone wants to leave a syndicate, or even a commune, he or she may. The end result being a vibrant culture in a constant state of flux.
But even with each individual expressing him or herself freely without the deterrence of laws a few basic needs will remain. Health care will be just as vital as ever. Hospitals would function in the same way as syndicates. The doctors and nurses would organize, split into administrative branches based on their training and abilities, and be available for public use at any time. Doctors would visit the homes of the handicapped and the elderly who cannot care for themselves. The treatment people receive under this system, it could be said, would be superior because they would be cared for as patients and not customers. Additionally, those who entered into the health care profession would not do so for material gain but because of their passion for the work.
Some criminal element could be expected to dwell inside any commune. Plenty of crime would have been extinguished after the socialization of a community’s resources. Still a fraction of criminals would linger. Prisons have never been a popular solution and embodies everything Anarchists abhor about authoritarian rule. Instead the treatment of a criminal would be based upon their specific crime. He or she may be ostracized from the commune through popular vote or, depending upon the crime, given an opportunity to observe the destructive effects they had on the community. Popular opinion also would be used to pressure an injurious individual. A court system, constructed by the people of the commune and served in by everyone via lottery, would determine the guilt or innocence of an individual as well as his or her punishment. For those who need to be removed from society altogether, such as rapists, child molesters and sociopaths, asylums would be built in order to treat the offender without harm to others.
As for protection, a police force could be built if a commune desired. However, it would not patrol neighborhoods in the traditional sense, instead it would be an on-call service, much like a fire department, for anyone who wished to utilize it. And just like any other syndicate in the commune, the people hold sway over the policies of the police force. So if somebody abuses his or her power they can be immediately dismissed.
Anarchy made easy?
Because there have been so few examples of functional Anarchist societies in history these suggestions cannot be seen as gospel truth. Many of these ideas are taken either from noteworthy Anarchist thinkers or from the Spanish Civil War where they were put into practice. Freedom requires massive amounts of education on a large scale. It took the people of Spain seventy years to prepare for their revolution all the while overcoming illiteracy and a civil war, but with the internet and relative peace (at least here in the United States) the conditions are markedly better to annunciate the message. Isn’t it time to start thinking like George Orwell and recognize the significance of this beautiful idea?