JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Conservative Corporate Welfare State v the Anarchists
by Johnny Reb (Revised February, 2012)
Note: The symbol * indicates a footnote which follows the paragraph within which it is inserted.
Anytime there's civil disobedience such as the Vancouver Canuck playoff riots or the G-20 Summit protests in Toronto the corporate media and conservative establishment trot out their standard bogeyman. Since the breakup the Soviet Union and the unravelling of the cold war, their scapegoat can no longer be "left wing loons" and "commies". But they've managed to concoct a new target for the ills of society. It's called "anarchism". This, despite the fact that none of those who invoke this demon, have even the foggiest idea what anarchism entails. It's the most misunderstood concept in modern political philosophy, even ahead of "communism", "socialism", "liberalism" and "democracy". The concept has been so distorted and stripped of substance by conservatives both within the political hierarchy and corporate media that it has wrongly become synonymous with chaos and nihilism.
From my experience, very few, even those who deem themselves educated, have read either Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto or Michael Bakunin's God and the State or any other philosophical tract by any notable communist or anarchist. For a contemporary anarchist thinker I highly recommend a short tract called Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology by the Yale anthropologist David Graeber*. But the fear mongering works essentially because the gullible masses are equally ignorant about anarchism and believe the propaganda they read and hear. Moreover, it's even more disconcerting that so many working class people have been convinced by the laughable assertion by conservative politicians that they care about their class interests. They never have and never will. Their devious ploys detract from the real problem, which is systemic, the Conservative Corporate Welfare State itself.
*Charlie Rose interviewed Graeber in 2006. It can be viewed here:
The history of philosophical anarchism is by no means monolithic since anarchist philosophers have often debated the merits of its many nuances and strategies. Anarchism has a very rich philosophical and intellectual tradition from Michael Bakunin, to Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Leo Tolstoy, Peter Kropotkin*, Emma Goldman, Paul Goodman, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, David Graeber and our own home grown Canadian anarchist, the late George Woodcock**. Rather than blindly accepting the propaganda of conservative power elites, read the works of these great minds, think for yourself and make your own judgements.
*Kropotkin was referred to by scores of people who knew him in all walks of life as "the noblest man" they ever knew. Oscar Wilde called him one of the two really contented joyful men he had ever met. In the anarchist movement he was held in the deepest affection by thousands; French workers referred to him affectionately as "our Pierre". Like all good anarchists, he had contempt for hierarchical social and political associations, never assumed a position of leadership, but nevertheless led by the moral force of his integrity, personality and range of his intellect. He combined in extraordinary measure high qualities of character with an acute mind and passionate social sentiment. His life made a deep impression on a great range of classes - the scientific community, the Russian revolutionary movement, the radical movements of all progressive schools and in the literary world which cared little or nothing for science or revolution. (See Roger Baldwin, 1927).
In his article on Anarchy in the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica Kropotkin defines anarchism as “given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government—harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being."
To uninformed North Americans anarchism is regarded as a socio-economic system lacking morality, law and an orderly society. But to Kropotkin anarchist societies do not lack order; order arises from rules designed by those who feel their impact rather than by those who desire to control others, rules that encourage humanly scaled cooperative rather than competitive production systems that maximize individual freedom and social cohesion.
** Woodcock has written many volumes on anarchism and biographies of famous anarchist thinkers, taught at UBC for years and was a good friend of George Orwell, writing an excellent biography of him called The Crystal Spirit.
Perhaps worse than the ignorance, distortions and lies of our right wing historians and corporate media, is that even many who call themselves "anarchists" don't understand the meaning of the concept. At the 2010 G-20 Summit in Toronto the "Black Bloc" were incorrectly referred to as anarchists. But the Black Bloc is more aligned to the egoism and narcissism of a Max Stirner than any of the aforementioned anarchist philosophers. Anyone who has read, for example, Bakunin's God and the State or Kropotkin's Mutual Aid would never confuse the behaviour of Black Bloc hooligans with mainstream anarchism. It's a classical straw man argument to refer to them as "anarchists" and is right out of the standard conservative corporate media play book. Ghandi for example garnered most of his pacifist anarchism from Leo Tolstoy, referring to his ideal society as "ordered anarchy". When the late historian Howard Zinn was once asked about "violent anarchists", he laughed, noting that the number of deaths that can be attributed to anarchists amounts to a drop in the ocean compared to virtually every other political philosophy. When Noam Chomsky was asked the same question, he said that "part of it is ignorance, and part of it is intentional", explaining that since anarchist philosophy is the most hostile to the convictions of the ruling class, they are the most demonized of all political groups.
At this point, without excusing the alleged vandalism of the Black Bloc, I would like to point out an important distinction some may not have considered. Notwithstanding the fact that there's compelling video evidence that many Black Bloc members are provocateurs* (undercover police operatives), breaking windows and igniting unoccupied police cars are not violence in the same manner as police cracking skulls with truncheons and beating up demonstrators or Washington/Ottawa/Wall Street/Bay Street corruption, are violence. Instead of recoiling in fear when a few windows are broken and some commodities stolen, it would be more useful to emphasize the difference between breaking windows and the abuses of power committed by the state, multinational corporations and big business in general; these abuses have destroyed and continue to destroy millions of lives and the natural environment in which they live. By not focusing on this contrast, one is ceding ground to the reactionary voices of our conservative media and their servants in politics and implying that minor property damage is equivalent to widespread corruption and oppression among those same aforementioned conservatives. That's a dubious equivocation and weak arguing position. But alas, many people these days value their I-Phones and I-Pads more than they do freedom and even life itself. Communication technology has replaced face to face dialogue and have become forms of mental masturbation (At a restaurant the other day my wife and I were shocked at the family in the booth behind us who were all playing with their I-phones during the entire 45 minutes of their lunch with not a single word spoken). Until that changes, were going to continue to be mired in a rapid descent toward a moral, intellectual and financial vacuum.
*Toronto G-20 in 2010: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=19928
Generally, confused anarchists fall into two classes. The first, as the great Italian anarchist Luigi Fabbri pointed out nearly a century ago, consists of those who are drawn to the lies of power elites and their dupes in the mass media. By and large, these people are simply looking for a philosophical underpinning for their anger or selfish, antisocial behaviour. Fortunately for the genuine anarchist movements, most of these faux anarchists move on and abandon what they come to realize is not what they thought. The bad news is that while they've filtered into the movement, they have contributed to the myth of anarchism promulgated by those in power.
Anarchy literally means "without ruler(s)"; thus, it's understandable that those in power aren't fond of anarchists. Anarchy is often used as a synonym for chaos, but anarchist philosophy is basically just anti-authoritarianism. An anarchist at a very basic philosophical level is someone who questions all power and authority or any top down hierarchical social or economic system. The goal is to create a society as horizontal and non-hierarchical as possible, or, as Chomsky puts it, "as close as you can get to real direct democracy". Anarchists are alone amongst political groups in their insistence that society be run on an unequivocal democratic basis. Not by alleged top down "representatives"* as in liberal parliamentary or republican constitutional democracies and not by a Marxist "dictatorship of the proletariat", but by the "common man" - decentralized assemblies federated horizontally. Such an egalitarian arrangement would do away with the "need" for the state or any ruling class of any sort. Is any mystery why the ruling classes despise anarchism?
*No one can truly represent your interests, which is why representative governments do not work for a genuine bottom-up democracy. It reminds me of the following "joke":
Q: How many voters does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None - because voters never change anything.
Like the claims that by politicians that a certain "policy" is in the "national interest", the notion of “policy” presumes a state or governing apparatus which exists to impose its will on others. “Policy” in a real democracy is the negation of politics; policy is by definition something formulated by conservative power elites, which presume they knows better than others how their affairs are to be conducted. And, as history has demonstrated, the rules and laws imposed by them of course do not apply to themselves, but only to the bewildered rabble. By participating in policy debates the very best one can achieve is to limit the damage, since the parameters of the debate are closely controlled. The very premise of "policy" (policing) is inimical to the idea of free thought and people managing their own affairs in an uninhibited intellectual environment..
There have been brief periods in history where anarchists engaged in what we now call terrorism. "The propaganda of the deed" period during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a campaign of terrorism against political elites, undertaken in the belief that it would incite the masses to revolution. During the civil rights era and its aftermath some quasi-anarchists engaged in similar activities such as the Black Panthers in the United States and Baader Meinhoff group in Germany.
The association of anarchists with violence might have something to do with the fact that they have traditionally targeted the upper class, whereas other political philosophies, namely conservative, have had the by-product of killing the working classes - by the millions. The history of bottom up revolutions such as the labour movement, the civil rights and women's movements are a testament to that.
There is also the problem of identity. Then, as now, we don't actually know how many of these bombings, assassinations, etc. were actually committed by anarchists vs. agent provocateurs and other corporate/state entities. In the excellent BBC documentary on Operation Gladio, it was revealed that Baader Meinhoff was completely infiltrated by the CIA, who in turn supplied them with most of their guns and explosives. The goal was to create a "strategy of tension" and encourage the election of right wing governments. This has been a common ploy in the last century. Anyone who has seen the award winning 1969 French movie "Z" based on the prelude to the military takeover of Greece will understand how this ruse by right wing power factions works.
Indeed, you can go back to the 19th Century and find a fictitious anarchist group in Spain known as "The Black Hand", which carried out what we would now term "false flag operations". The Haymarket Affair (1886) in the United States is one of many examples of "anarchist" frame-ups, though it still remains unknown who threw the bomb that incited the atrocities.
Concerning the Black Bloc, there have been several documented examples of police provocateurs dressed up in black lounging pyjamas attempting to instigate a riot. The police in Montebello, Quebec, were caught red-handed; and Greek television showed footage of a "black bloc anarchist" commiserating with police. You can see the footage in the short film "Police State Canada". You can watch it at: http://vimeo.com/13097041. At the G20 Summit in Toronto, the "Black Bloc anarchists" were wearing Nike track pants.
At anti-globalization*demonstrations in Seattle and Genoa, the anarchist Starhawk noted in his book Web of Power, "we encountered a carefully orchestrated political campaign of state terrorism. The campaign included disinformation, the use of infiltrators and provocateurs, collusion with avowed Fascist groups . . . , the deliberate targeting of non-violent groups for tear gas and beating, endemic police brutality, the torture of prisoners, the political persecution of organizers . . . They did all those openly, in a way that indicates they had no fear of repercussions and expected political protection from the highest sources."
* Anarchists are not against globalization, only the sham version that has been forced upon us by a corporatized world. The so-called free trade agreements were devised to offer a blank cheque to big business to facilitate ventures into any foreign country, circumvent local sovereignty and exploit resources and labour with impunity. Consequently for workers it's been disastrous. The anarchist position on globalization is what ought to be obvious to anyone: the dismantling of nation-states and the consequential elimination of national borders. This is genuine globalization. Anything else is just a facade. But for the time being, there are all sorts of viable suggestions on how the situation can be improved right now, without falling back on state protectionist approaches. David Graeber offers his personal experience and proposal:
"Once during the protests before the World Economic Forum, a kind of junket of tycoons, corporate flacks and politicians, networking and sharing cocktails at the Waldorf Astoria, pretended to be discussing ways to alleviate global poverty. I was invited to engage in a radio debate with one of their representatives. As it happened the task went to another activist but I did get far enough to prepare a three-point program that I think would have taken care of the problem nicely:
• an immediate amnesty on international debt (An amnesty on personal debt might not be a bad idea either but it’s a different issue.)
• an immediate cancellation of all patents and other intellectual property rights related to technology more than one year old
• the elimination of all restrictions on global freedom of travel or residence
The rest would pretty much take care of itself. The moment the average resident of Tanzania, or Laos, was no longer forbidden to relocate to Minneapolis or Rotterdam, the government of every rich and powerful country in the world would certainly decide nothing was more important than finding a way to make sure people in Tanzania and Laos preferred to stay there. Do you really think they couldn’t come up with something?
The point is that despite the endless rhetoric about “complex, subtle, intractable issues” (justifying decades of expensive research by the rich and their well-paid flunkies), the anarchist program would probably have resolved most of them in five or six years. But, you will say, these demands are entirely unrealistic! True enough. But why are they unrealistic? Mainly, because those rich guys meeting in the Waldorf would never stand for any of it. This is why we say they are themselves the problem."
What all of this means, in short, is that it is grossly irresponsible to castigate "black bloc anarchists" or "violent anarchists" without at least qualifying one's statements. Presumably there are some misguided youth who think breaking a window is a revolutionary act, but they should be not be held up as representatives of anarchist philosophy and strategy.
Occupy Wall Street itself was actually started by a group of anarchists, and its horizontal, directly democratic organizational structure is anarchistic to the bone. Anarchists are not the "cancer" inside the movement, they are its heart and soul.
After a long onerous intellectual path of intensive reading and reflection, I've reached the point of warming up to the philosophy of anarchism. I abhor violence and war, but despite my frustration and disdain for the present political environment, I have never in my wildest dreams ever considered resorting to tossing a bomb into the House of Commons. Contrary to the horse crap of contemporary mythology, that's not what anarchists do. I've written about my personal philosophical transformation is an essay called "Confessions of a Reluctant Anarchist". Most people who demonize socialism and communism have never read a single volume by Karl Marx or, I might add, any other leftist philosopher. The misconceptions and misunderstandings about anarchism are even more acute. In fact most people I know who call themselves capitalists (or that misnomer "free-enterprisers ") have never read Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Hayek, Friedman or any other free market thinker. And neither have most Christians I know read the Bible.
The anarchist scare never really dies out. It's a convenient hook to hang blame for any popular discontent. Examine any mass protest like the OWS: If a million people turn out to express dissent toward some government action, the establishment media intently focuses on a few masked window-breakers and hangers-on to discredit the whole affair, dubbing them "anarchists" whether they are or not. In fact during demonstrations of the 2010 G-8 meetings in Toronto, it's been revealed that it was police who incited violence by masquerading as whom the press called "anarchists". They even set fire to their own squad cars. This has been a not uncommon gambit by power elites during protests and labour disputes to discredit the wild and uncontrollable herd.
And when things begin to get really bad - when multiple governments find themselves flirting with default on "national debt," fighting and losing numerous wars of imperialist aggression around the globe, and visibly losing their grip on putative "consent of the governed,"- they break that masked, bomb-throwing stereotype out of the excuse locker and parade the convenient anarchist fall guy around the block. This facile smoke screen is usually sufficient to dissuade the masses from looking for the real root causes of their own predicament. The "national interest" is an opaque expression that is often employed by those who hold power to justify militarization, war and denial of liberty and human rights as if the interests of the rich and powerful and the same as the masses. They rarely are.
The unacceptable alternative to such theatre would be for politicians to accept full responsibility for the consequences of their own actions, and the next time we see that happening will be the first time. So, prepare for the next anarchist shock treatment.
But why pick on anarchists? Why do conservative and many liberal politicians think you'll find them a threat? It's because they actually do find them frightening - with good reason!
The state, including the facade of state capitalism and representative democracy belongs to the past. The Conservative Corporate Welfare State has been exposed as a sham, a virtual plutocracy. Anarchism and it's innate skepticism of all authoritarian and hierarchical regimes and their espousal of genuine direct democracy is hopefully the future.
Both the church and the state have brought you oppression, wars and the slaughter of hundreds of millions in the last century, and is now leaving you with the butcher's tab. And now that the banks and financial oligarchs have become synonymous with the state, they have pulled off the most obscene looting of public wealth in history with their scams and taxpayer bailouts. European banks are now, as of the spring of 2012, being bailed out for the second time and have installed financial thugs to replace democratically elected officials in both Greece and Italy. Soon these insatiable thieves in the 1% will have it all. The draconian austerity being imposed on the working classes throughout Europe not something forced upon them by the financial elite by just past boondoggles or bad luck, but rather the latest stage in a plan to transform the European economy by destroying the welfare state and removing any real powers over the economy from parliamentary democratic institutions and thus from the people. It's been the plan of neo-conservative politicians since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher - bankrupt the state so everything can be shifted into the private hands of their supporters and enablers in the corporate world and wealthy investor class. Working people, and this includes small businesses, need to reject an economic political order that is so systemically unjust, corrupt and criminal, it's beyond redemption. And that means the brand of the neo- conservative xenophobes on the far right who are the kind of heartless self-serving sociopaths that former British Labour leader Aneurin Bevan referred to as "lower than vermin."
The euro zone's raison d'être was not to facilitate the creation of a Europe of a cross border love fest of peace, harmony, egalitarianism, increased trade and economic efficiency, but to attack the economic, social and political gains of working people, accumulated over two centuries during the most bitter labor struggles. What is happening in country after country, starkest of all in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, but also – just as visibly to anyone who is paying attention - in Britain and the United States - is nothing less than the opening salvoes of a new, more intense and more dangerous phase of class warfare. As Warren Buffet rightly stated, "there's been a class war going on for some time now and our side has won."
In any given month, a typical state kills more of its own citizens pro rata than al Qaeda killed in the United States on September 11th, 2001. Some of these died openly, a bullet through the head of a dissident, some through the suffocating effects of regulation, prohibition and neglect - while extorting from those same citizens a double-digit percentage of their earnings for "protection" from the likes of another bogeyman like Osama bin Laden. Like so many other political enemies of the US, bin Laden was murdered in Pakistan by the US military and his corpse tossed into the ocean by helicopter. And the biggest self-slaughter of them all throughout history, the tens of millions of young working class men who fight and die "fighting for our freedoms" in the colonial and imperialistic wars of their conservative masters.
By any standard of human decency and well-being, the state's performance constitutes not just massive failure but a monstrous negation of all that is fair, right and good. Throughout recorded history, the church and the state, regardless of what label is attached to them, have always been dominated by a small conservative self-selected minority who has controlled the masses for their own self-aggrandizement and enrichment. Our so-called representative "democracies" are no exception.
While anarchists cannot reasonably pledge to end murder and theft, we can and do offer an end to the institutionalization and legitimization of mass murder and theft in the name of "government"; in other words, an end to power politics and gross inequalities. From my personal experience, almost anyone you talk to in Canada knows that the world we have is unjust, violent and corrupt. And since one cannot know that a far better world is not possible, are we not betraying ourselves by insisting on continuing to justify and reproduce the chaotic mess of gross inequality and injustice we presently live with? And anyway, even if we’re wrong, we might well get a little closer. Since no one is going to be able to produce an example of an anarchist state - that would be a contradiction in terms - what we’re really being asked for is an example of a modern nation state with the government somehow plucked away: a situation in which the government of Canada, for example, has been overthrown, or for some reason abolished itself, and no new one has taken its place but instead all former Canadian citizens begin to organize themselves into libertarian enclaves. Obviously this would never be allowed to happen. In the past, whenever it even looked like it might - the Paris Commune and Spanish Civil War are excellent examples - the politicians running pretty much every state in the locality have been willing to put their differences on hold until those trying to bring such a situation about had been rounded up and sent to the firing squad. Much the same has happened with left wing people's revolutions that have either been brutally crushed or sabotaged by the powerful capitalist countries. The Cuban Revolution, for example, was destined to fail after the United States unleashed it's devastating embargoes and continual clandestine military excursions into the country. One can only speculate as to what Canada would look like today if exposed to such policies.
Anarchists do not call for an end to morality and law, which existed before the state and will exist long after the state is mere bitter historical memory. All societies prohibit murder, rape, incest, assault and robbery, and if societies vary in their effectiveness at suppressing those activities, none has failed so spectacularly or expensively as the state. There has always been a "law" for the privileged elites and a law for the rest of us. This has become patently clear in the recent criminality of financial institutions that have demolished the global economy and exploited innocent people with impunity while enriching themselves beyond belief. Not one person within the Wall Street financial aristocracy has been held accountable or prosecuted, save for Bernie Madoff who made the egregious error of bilking the rich. Now these Wall Street parasites are after your pensions and social security. And, as the late George Carlin has proclaimed in one of his brilliants skits, they'll get it if we continue with our complacency by supporting the traditional corporatist political parties.
Nor do they call for an end to common defence, a notion the state turns on its head and into a one-stop shop for aggressive capability in its service and at the expense of that capability's own providers. Local watchmen and constables, and citizen militias, are transformed by the state into occupying, militarized police forces and standing armies whose chief purpose is to tyrannize the very people they have pledged to "defend" while at the same time in their home countries exist to "serve and protect" the conservative elites who pay their salaries.
During the long decades of labour disputes over civilized working conditions and liveable wages, it was the state that defended the oppression and exploitation of corporations as against workers. Workers were beaten and often killed by company thugs, police and military with automatic weapons as they were at the Estevan, Saskatchewan Miners strike of 1931, witnessed by a young Pastor Tommy Douglas. He had travelled north by car from Weyburn with a collection for the destitute miners from his church and was outraged by a scene of RCMP on horseback opening fire on innocent unarmed strikers who happened to be peaceably marching down the main street of town. Douglas also witnessed the Winnipeg General strike of 1919 from the top of a building when he was an impressionable 15 years old, where he was shocked by the sight of strikers being clubbed to death and shot by local police and hired company goons. These are experiences he never forgot and were instrumental in the formation of his political views. It was the horror of the Estevan Strike that moved Tommy Douglas from the pulpit and into politics.
Global capitalism now is the all-encompassing world view that controls every part of the world. Capitalism has been able to adapt exceedingly well to every right wing political ideology including fascism and totalitarianism. And ironically it now operates at optimal efficiency in a Communist state, namely China. For the past five centuries a toxic combination of Capitalism and Christianity has been the source and foundation of gross Western conceit and sense of superiority. The historical critique is at root a moral argument, an attack on that Western arrogance and ethnocentrism and, as such is extremely important. The only problem with it, in moral terms, is that it sometimes confuses means and inclination. That is, it rests on the assumption that Western historians were right to assume that whatever it was that made it possible for Europeans to dispossess, abduct, enslave, and exterminate millions of other human beings, it was a mark of superiority and that therefore, whatever it was, it would be insulting to non-Europeans to suggest they didn’t have it too. It seems to me that it is far more insulting to suggest anyone would ever have behaved like Europeans during the period from 1492 to the latter part of the nineteenth century, for example, depopulating large portions of the North, South and Central America by working tens of millions of native people to death in the gold mines, or kidnapping a significant chunk of the population of Africa to work to death on sugar plantations - unless one has some actual evidence to suggest they were so inclined to genocide. In fact there appear to have been plenty of examples of people in a position to wreak similar havoc on a world scale - say, the Ming dynasty in the fifteenth century - but who didn’t, not so much because they had misgivings, but rather because it would never have occurred to them to act this way to begin with. To justify their thievery and genocide, Western European Christians referred to the non-Christian indigenous people they massacred by the millions as "savages", lacking in basic humanity, mere vermin to be systematically eradicated. But who were the real savages?
Of course conservatives today continue to invariably espouse their standard apologist arguments about the superiority of their elitist world view and the "realities" of human nature to justify very particular, and usually, exceptionally nasty oppressive and exploitive social institutions such as colonialism, so-called free trade, imperialism, rape, war, torture, capital punishment, unfettered free market capitalism and so on. These are specious arguments and the vastness of the subject matter defies any agreement or consensus. Who really has the means, in discussing, say, conceptions of desire, or imagination, or the self, or sovereignty, to consider for example, everything Chinese or Indian or Islamic thinkers have had to say on the matter in addition to the Western canon, let alone folk conceptions prevalent in hundreds of Oceanic or Native American societies as well?
In the end I suppose the debate all turns, oddly enough, on how one chooses to define capitalism. Most Western philosophers and historians tend to see capitalism as yet another accomplishment which Westerners arrogantly assume they invented themselves, and therefore define it as capitalists do today as largely a matter of commerce and financial instruments. But the willingness to put considerations of profit above any human concern which drove Europeans to depopulate and exploit whole regions of the world in order to place the maximum amount of gold, silver or sugar on the market was certainly something else. It seems to me it deserves a name of its own. For this reason it seems better to me to continue to define capitalism as its opponents prefer, as founded on the connection between a wage system and a principle of the never-ending pursuit of profit as an end in itself. This in turn makes it possible to argue that this was a strange perversion of standard commercial logic which happened to take hold in one, previously rather barbarous, corner of the world and encouraged the inhabitants to engage in what might otherwise have been considered unspeakable forms of behaviour. Again, all this does not necessarily mean that one has to agree with the premise that once capitalism came into existence, it instantly became a totalizing system and that from that moment, everything else that happened can only be understood in relation to it. But it suggests one of the axes on which one can begin to think about what really is different today.
The IWW (International Workers of the World - The Wobblies as they were often called) were more or less an anarchist organization, but they didn't declare themselves anti-capitalist, although that's what they were too; they rather got right to the point and said they were “against the wage system.” The earliest wage labour contracts we have on record appear to be really about the rental of slaves. What about a model of capitalism that proceeds from that? Where anthropologists like Jonathan Friedman argue that ancient slavery was really just an older version of capitalism, we could just as easily - actually, a lot more easily - argue that modern capitalism is really just a newer version of slavery. Instead of people selling us or renting us out we rent out ourselves. But it’s basically the same sort of arrangement.
But by stretching the definition, we still like to delude ourselves into thinking we live in a "democracy", despite the fact there's always a man with a big stick or gun ready to serve and protect his real bosses. The anarchist anthropologist David Graeber puts it this way:
"If you see a hungry woman standing several yards away from a huge pile of food - a daily occurrence for most of us who live in cities - there is a reason you can’t just take some from the local supermarket and give it to her. A man with a big stick or firearm will come and very likely do you harm. Anarchists, in contrast, have always delighted in reminding us of him. Residents of the squatter community of Christiana, Denmark, for example, have a Christmastide ritual where they dress in Santa suits, take toys from department stores and distribute them to children on the street, partly just so everyone can relish the images of the cops beating down Santa and snatching the toys back from crying children."
The theoretical approach we have been considering opens the way to a theory of the relation of power not with knowledge as Michel Foucault would have it, but with ignorance and stupidity. This is because violence, particularly structural violence, where all the power is on one side, creates ignorance. If you have the power to hit people over the head anytime with impunity, you don’t have to concern yourself too much figuring out what they think is going on, and therefore, generally speaking, you don’t. Hence the sure-fire way to simplify social arrangements, to ignore the incredibly complex play of perspectives, passions, insights, desires, and mutual understandings that human life is really made of, is to make a rule and threaten to attack anyone who breaks it. This is why violence has always been the favoured recourse of the stupid: it is the one form of stupidity to which it is almost impossible to come up with an intelligent response. It is also of course the basis of the state.
Contrary to popular belief, bureaucracies do not create stupidity. They are ways of managing situations that are already inherently stupid because they are, ultimately, based on the arbitrariness of power and force.
Ultimately this should lead to a theory of the relation of violence and the imagination. Why is it that the people on the bottom of the economic pyramid (the victims of structural violence) are always imagining what it must be like for the folks on top (the beneficiaries of structural violence), but it almost never occurs to the folks on top to wonder what it might be like to be on the bottom? The prospect of someone at the bottom being able to join those at the top is essentially what defines the "American Dream". But this is, for the most part, a delusion or as George Carlin once said, "it's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. Humans, being the sympathetic creatures that they are, this tends to become one of the main bastions of any system of inequality - the downtrodden actually care about their oppressors, at least, far more than their oppressors care about them - but this seems itself to be an upshot of structural violence.
Thomas Hobbes got it all wrong: The social contract with the power of the state offers not an end to "the war of all against all"... and a life that is "solitary, nasty, brutish and short" but rather endless escalation of that war, so that it can loot the dead and rob the dying in perpetuity.