Monday, May 19, 2014

The Deadly Anarchism

Many people can be against the same thing, yet be for very different things as their preferred solution.  This is why the revolution is successful far more often than the aftermath.  I see examples of this in many on-line discussions and writings. For example: How many people complain about central banking, only to call for some other centralizing or non-market solution?

Charles Burris posted an interview / dialogue at the LRC blog: The Prime Directive. 

In the above edition of the Roundtable, James Corbett, Sibel Edmonds and Peter B. Collins welcome Andrew Gavin Marshall for a discussion of his recent podcast on ‘Anarchy, Socialism and Free Markets.’

This dialogue offers an interesting example of the point made in my opening sentence.  Marshall, apparently often good on power-elite analysis – and describing himself as an anarchist – in this discussion focusses on expanding upon his vision of anarchy.  We see similar causes of the problems in this world (at least superficially); we both use the term “anarchy” to describe at least some portion of our vision for a better world.  Yet, we might as well be speaking in two different languages.  Let me explain.

I listened to about 50 minutes of the 77 minute discussion; I offer my thoughts as these occurred to me while listening.  By the time I get through this, perhaps you will understand why I didn’t listen to the rest.

Marshall began the discussion speaking quite a bit about anarchy.  Yet, even 15 minutes in, it wasn’t completely clear to me just what he meant by the term (I am not terribly familiar with his work) – or maybe I initially just wasn’t taking him at his word (perhaps I was a little fooled by the fact that the interview was posted at LRC, albeit for a different purpose as suggested by Burris).

He spoke of society with no hierarchy of any kind; he referenced Bakunin as one of the great thinkers on anarchy. 

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin; (30 May [O.S. 18 May] 1814 – 1 July 1876) was a Russian revolutionary anarchist, and founder of collectivist anarchism. He is considered among the most influential figures of anarchism, and one of the principal founders of the "social anarchist" tradition.

Bakunin's socialism was known as "collectivist anarchism", where "socially: it seeks the confirmation of political equality by economic equality. This is not the removal of natural individual differences, but equality in the social rights of every individual from birth; in particular, equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, boy or girl, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by his own labor."

Collectivist anarchism advocates the abolition of both the state and private ownership of the means of production. It instead envisions the means of production being owned collectively and controlled and managed by the producers themselves.

Knowing what I know about Bakunin (not a lot, but enough), I might have stopped listening at this point. 

Marshall offered as an example the “anarchy” that helped provide many solutions during disasters like Hurricane Katrina (although even such voluntary efforts required some form of order and hierarchy and private ownership of property).

When asked by Sibel Edmonds for successful longer term examples, Marshall pointed to the Spanish Civil War and the success of the anarchists in organizing life in the area of Barcelona.  I cannot imagine a more revealing answer.

The anarchists during the Spanish Civil War were murderers, as were the communists with whom they were aligned and the fascists against whom they fought.  The anarchists and communists took great pleasure in killing the clergy and nuns, and destroying and looting the physical structures of the church; they hunted and killed anyone who was a business owner, banker, or entrepreneur.  They also had a hierarchy (big surprise, I know).

I have written about this war before, via what has been described to me as the most authoritative and accurate set of books on the subject – accurate if one wants to capture the drama, emotion and pain of the time.  This story is to be found in a set of three novels by Jose Maria Gironella.  It is centered on a family in Gerona, within the governing region of Barcelona – the exact location of Marshall’s so-called anarchist success. 

The first book of the trilogy is entitled “The Cypresses Believe in God”; from my review:

Gironella paints a picture of the chaos, turmoil, and terror when one is faced with a situation from which there is no escape – when no avenue offers safety, when no side can be chosen because all sides are violent and repressive, and choosing the wrong (losing) side is just as likely as choosing the right (winning) side; and the “right” and “wrong” sides can change claim to the seat of power, at times even day-to-day.

An example of the fate awaiting the priests (as well as anyone deemed an enemy of the Spanish anarchists) is offered through the life of César:

Unfortunately and initially undetected, César the seminarian leaves the house, never to be seen by the family again.  He was one who was rounded up in the jail, and later marched out at night to meet his fate:

A volley rang out, and César felt something gently pierce his skin.

Moments later he heard a voice saying: “I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” a voice coming nearer and repeating: “I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  And he also heard groans.  He opened his eyes for a moment.  He saw a militiaman kneeling and taking tiny communion wafers from his wrist watch and putting them into the mouths of his fallen neighbors.  In the militiaman he recognized Mosén Francisco.  César’s eyes closed.  He felt a kiss on his forehead.  Then his heart closed.

César the saint, who previously sensed his fate, met it quietly.

This was the success of the Spanish anarchists in Barcelona.

In my reading, I have found many examples of significantly decentralized societies.  One of the longer term and more successful examples can be found in the Germanic tradition of the Middle Ages.  I have written extensively about this time.  There are also examples to be found of people who purposely chose to live outside of the state, when such an alternative was available.

I have never, not once, found an example of a successful social order that had no hierarchy of any kind.  Not one.  Marshall’s pointing to the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War offers evidence that I need not waste any time looking for such a success story.  It must not exist if this is the best example that can be offered.

I still listened: there was one specific question I wanted answered.  I hoped that one of the other three participants would ask it.

Marshall (paraphrased, min 26): Imagine where we had a construct where the daily necessities of life were not a concern.

Now we are getting somewhere – the language of a communist.  No wonder he considers Bakunin (and not Rothbard) as the leader in anarchist thought.

Sibel Edmonds asks the money question thirty-six minutes in, the question I have been waiting for: what if voluntary hierarchies are formed, and even desired? Andrew’s answer: I have no idea….ultimately, I have no answer to this question.

But this gets to the root – why can’t people voluntarily choose such a circumstance?  Why can’t Andrew’s answer be – “if they choose this, they choose this”?  His inability to mutter these simple words erases all doubt as to where he stands. 

He can’t answer it because he does not want to say that he will use force – even deadly force – to crush it, just as his heroes did in Spain.  A murdering anarchist; the kind of anarchist that gives peaceful anarchists like me a bad name. 

Now, I don’t suggest that Marshall himself will be the one pulling the trigger – he seems like a nice enough guy.  But ideas have consequences, and the teachers of such ideas also bear guilt.  We can see first-hand the consequences of Marshall’s ideas – he even told us where to look; the Spanish Civil War!

Again I return to Gironella and the Marshall’s utopian world of Spanish anarchism, this time through the second book of the trilogy, “One Million Dead.”  Ignacio, the brother of the murdered seminarian César, confronts David and Olga – socialist teachers that have taken up sides with the communists and therefore anarchists.  He lays the blame of the murders ravaging the city and region at their feet:

“You’ve spent years laying down the rules in the district and almost throughout the city.  Your attitudes are the law to many; they were to me in the past.  So that if Olga strikes a nun in the Rambla, then poor Santi, and with him all the poor Santis in Gerona – and they are legion – automatically discovers not only that nuns can be slapped, but that it must be healthy to do it, a sign of security.  And so the chain begins…”

Ideas have consequences.  Marx cannot disclaim Stalin.

By this point, it is close to the 50 minute mark; it is enough.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, so they say.  In war, in life and death situations, this may be appropriate.  The anarchists and communists of Spain knew this – in war they could be allies, but if they won (they did not, of course), they knew that they would have to turn on each other.  What they had in common was the desire to tear down the existing power structure (more accurately, to turn the existing power structure to their desired ends).  If successful, they each had their own version of hell to offer humanity. 

Both claimed no hierarchy within their respective philosophies, yet – if victorious – each wanted to sit on top.  Imagine that.

Too often, the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy.  Marshall and I may both look at power elite analysis as a useful tool; we may both describe our view as anarchist.  But in the end he is just another enemy.


  1. Dear BM,
    I had very much the same reaction to the discussion that you describe. I also have followed your description of the Middle Ages as perhaps the best example of a libertarian society. I wrote a piece for LRC where I called this kind of thinking "Reactionary Libertarianism" ( Or more precisely, I called myself a reactionary libertarian. It did not catch on but does try to label those of us who have no problem with voluntary hierarchy. I will be looking for the books by Gironella.


    1. Thank you for the comment and also your link. These open many windows; I will touch on two:

      First, for a society to survive and thrive requires much more than the non-aggression principle. Of course, as you can tell from some of my writing, this does not mean that we broaden the requirements of libertarianism. Instead, it points to the need for having something that holds society together, something to believe in, some way of keeping order.

      Second: Thank you for pointing to the writing of Sabine Barnhart. I will read some of her work. That you mention her in reference to “the case of traditional village life in Germany” is what interests me. I find it interesting in Germany: every village is fully livable, almost self-contained. Yes, I exaggerate a bit, but only a little. I also find in Germany no Paris, no London. It is a country of small towns and not very large cities.

      I speculate that this is due to the extended time under which Germany remained very decentralized, and even before this when the Germanic regions remained without a monarch (as opposed to France and England).

      It makes for a very pleasant country to visit.

  2. Well done, Bionic.

    I have no idea why Bakunin should be promoted at LRC nor the Spanish Civil War

    So too the veneration of the commie "Lincoln Brigade" doesn't sit well with me.

    Does anyone have any background about Chossudovsky? His site posts a lot of good stuff, but the overall feel is leftist.

    Thus is public discourse always...and I mean always...nudged leftward.
    Thanks for speaking out.

  3. @BM
    Thanks for replying on my blog. Notice that Martin immediately began name-calling when he found the facts were not on his side.
    He did not refute one point. He simply asserted and vilified.
    Too bad.
    It might have been an interesting thread.

    1. I finally decided to reply at EPJ. It is awaiting moderation.