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B.2 Pourquoi les anarchistes sont contre l'état?

Sommaire

Comme on l'a déjà noté (voir la section B.1), les anarchistes s'opposent à toutes les formes d'autorité hiérarchique. Historiquement, cependant, ils ont passé le plus clair de leur temps et de leur énergie à s'opposer en particulier à deux formes principales. Le premier est le capitalisme, l'autre, l'État. Ces deux formes d'autorité ont une relation de symbiose et ne peuvent pas être facilement séparées. Dans cette section, tout en expliquant pourquoi les anarchistes s'opposent à l'état, on devra nécessairement analyser la relation entre l'etat et le capitalisme.

Alors qu'est ce que l'etat ? Comme l'a dit Malatesta, les anarchistes "ont utilisé le mot État... pour désigner la somme totale des institutions politiques, législatives, judiciaires, militaires et financières à travers lequel la gestion de leurs propres affaires, le contrôle de leur comportement personnel, la responsabilité de leur sécurité personnelle, sont prises en dehors du peuple et confiée à d'autres qui, par usurpation ou par délégation, sont investis du pouvoir de faire des lois pour chacun et tout le monde, et à obliger les gens à les observer, et le cas échéant, par l'utilisation de la force de l'ordre"[1].

Il continue :

"Pour nous, les gouvernements [ou l'État] sont composés de tous les gouverneurs... Ceux qui ont le pouvoir de faire des lois réglementant les relations inter-humaines et de voir qu'ils sont mis en ½uvre... [Et] qui ont le pouvoir, à un plus ou moindre degré, de tirer parti du pouvoir social, qui est le pouvoir physique, intellectuel et économique de l'ensemble de la communauté, afin d'obliger tout le monde à réaliser leurs désirs"[2].

Cela signifie que beaucoup, sinon la plupart, des anarchistes sont d'accord avec Randolph Bourne sur la caractérisation de l'état que la domination politico-militaire d'un certain territoire géographique par une élite au pouvoir (voir son « Fragment Inachevé sur l'État », dans Untimely Papers). A ce sujet Murray Bookchin écrit:

"Au minimum, l'État est un système professionnel de contrainte sociale... Ce n'est que lorsque la contrainte est institutionnalisée dans une forme professionnelle, systématique et organisée de contrôle social -... Avec le soutien d'un monopole de la violence - que nous pouvons correctement parler d'un État"[3].

Par conséquent, nous pouvons dire que, pour les anarchistes, l'État est marquée par trois choses:

1) Un "monopole de la violence" dans un territoire donné;
2) Cette violence ayant un nature institutionnelle, «professionnelle», et
3) Une nature hiérarchique, une centralisation du pouvoir et de l'initiative entre les mains de quelques-uns.

Sur ces trois aspects, la dernière (sa nature centralisée, hiérarchique) est la plus importante, simplement parce que la concentration du pouvoir entre les mains de quelques-uns assure une division de la société en gouvernants et gouvernés (ce qui nécessite la création d'un organisme professionnel pour appliquer cette division). Sans cette division, nous n'aurions pas besoin d'un monopole de la violence et ca serait tout simplement une association d'égal à égal, non marqués par le pouvoir et la hiérarchie (comme c'est le cas dans de nombreuses tribues "primitifs" sans état).

Certains types d'états, par exemple Communistes et sociaux-démocrates, sont directement impliqués non seulement dans la domination politico-militaire, mais aussi dans la domination économique de la propriété par l'Etat des moyens de production, et que dans les États capitalistes des démocraties libérale, cette propriété est entre les mains de particuliers. Dans les États démocratiques libéraux, cependant, les mécanismes de domination politico-militaire sont contrôlés par et pour des élites d'entreprises, et donc les grandes firmes sont souvent considérés comme appartenant à un "état complexe" plus large.

Comme l'État est la délégation du pouvoir entre les mains de quelques-uns, cela est bien sûr basé sur la hiérarchie. Cette délégation de pouvoir résulte que les gens élus deviennent isolés de la masse des personnes qui les ont élus et hors de leur contrôle. En outre, comme les élus ont un pouvoir sur toute une série de questions et sont là pour décider sur elles, une bureaucratie se développe rapidement autour d'eux pour aider à leur prise de décision. Toutefois, cette bureaucratie, en raison de son contrôle de l'information et de sa permanence, a bientôt plus de pouvoir que les élus. Cela signifie que ceux qui servent les (soi-disant) agents du peuple ont plus de pouvoir que ceux qu'ils servent, tout comme l'homme politique a plus de pouvoir que ceux qui les élisent. Toutes les formes organisationnelles quasi étatiques (c'est-à-dire hiérarchique) inévitablement engendrent une bureaucratie autour d'elles. Cette bureaucratie devient rapidement de fait le point focal du pouvoir dans la structure, quel que soit le règlement officiel.

Cette marginalisation et cette impuissance des gens ordinaires (et donc l'autonomisation de la bureaucratie) est la principale raison de l'opposition anarchiste à l'État. Un tel arrangement garantit que la personne est marginalisé, soumise à la bureaucratie, à un régime autoritaire qui réduit la personne à un objet ou à un numéro, pas un individu unique avec des espoirs, des rêves, des pensées et des sentiments. Comme Proudhon l'a fait valoir avec force:

"Être gouverné, c'est être gardé à vue, inspecté, espionné, dirigé, légiféré, réglementé, parqué, endoctriné, prêché, contrôlé, estimé, apprécié, censuré, commandé, par des êtres qui n'ont ni le titre, ni la science, ni la vertu. Être gouverné, c'est être, à chaque opération, à chaque transaction, à chaque mouvement, noté, enregistré, recensé, tarifé, timbré, toisé, cotisé, patenté, licencié, autorisé, apostillé, admonesté, empêché, réformé, redressé, corrigé. C'est, sous prétexte d'utilité publique, et au nom de l'intérêt général, être mis à contribution, exercé, rançonné, exploité, monopolisé, concussionné, pressuré, mystifié, volé; puis, à la moindre résistance, au premier mot de plainte, réprimé, amendé, vilipendé, vexé, traqué, houspillé, assommé, désarmé, garrotté, emprisonné, fusillé, mitraillé, jugé, condamné, déporté, sacrifié, vendu, trahi, et pour comble, joué, berné, outragé, déshonoré. Voilà le gouvernement, voilà sa justice, voilà sa morale !"[4].

Les anarchistes voient l'état, avec son vaste champ d'application et de contrôle de la force meurtrière, comme "ultime" structure hiérarchique, souffrant de toutes les caractéristiques négatives associées à l'autorité décrite dans la dernière section. "Toute logique et simple théorie de l'État", fait valoir Bakounine, "est essentiellement fondée sur le principe d'autorité, qui est éminemment théologique, métaphysique et politique avec l'idée que les masses, toujours incapables de se gouverner, doivent à tout moment se présenter à la bienfaisante du joug d'une sagesse et d'une justice qui leur est imposé, d'une manière ou d'une autre, d'en haut"[5]. Un tel système de pouvoir ne peut s'empêcher dans sa nature d'être centralisé, hiérarchique et bureaucratique. Et en raison de sa nature centralisé, hiérarchique, et bureaucratique, l'État exerce un grand poids sur la société, limitant sa croissance et son développement et faisant du contrôle populaire une impossibilité. Comme le dit Bakounine :

"les soi-disant intérêts généraux de la société prétendument représentée par l'État... [sont] dans la réalité... la générale et permanente négation des intérêts positifs des régions, des communes et des associations, et du grand nombre de personnes subordonnées à l'État... [dans lequel] toutes les meilleurs aspirations, toutes les forces vives d'un pays, sont sanctifiés immolés et enterrés"[6].

Dans le reste de cette section, nous allons discuter de l'état, son rôle, son impact sur la liberté d'une société et de qui bénéficie de son existence. l'essai classique de Kropotkine, "l'Etat: son rôle historique" est recommandé pour en savoir plus sur ce sujet.

B.2.1 What is main function of the state?

The main function of the state is to enable the ruling elite to exploit lower social strata, i.e. derive an economic surplus from them. The state, to use Malatesta's words, is basically "the property owners' gendarme" [Anarchy, p. 19] (compare to the maxim of the Founding Fathers of American "democracy" -- "the people who own the country ought to govern it" (John Jay)). Those in the upper-middle levels of the social pyramid also frequently use the state to obtain income without working, as from investments, but the elite gain by far the most economic advantages, which is why in the US, one percent of the population controls over 40 percent of total wealth. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the state is the extractive apparatus of society's parasites.

The state ensures the exploitative privileges of its ruling elite by protecting certain economic monopolies from which its members derive their wealth (see section B.3.2). This service is referred to as "protecting private property" and is said to be one of the two main functions of the state, the other being to ensure that individuals are "secure in their persons." However, although this second aim is professed, in reality most state laws and institutions are concerned with the protection of property (for the anarchist definition of "property" see section B.3.1.).

From this fact we may infer that references to the "security of persons," "crime prevention," etc. are mostly rationalisations of the state's existence and smokescreens for its perpetuation of elite power and privileges. Moreover, even though the state does take a secondary interest in protecting the security of persons (particularly elite persons), the vast majority of crimes against persons are motivated by poverty and alienation due to state-supported exploitation and also by the desensitisation to violence created by the state's own violent methods of protecting private property.

Hence, anarchists maintain that without the state and the crime-engendering conditions to which it gives rise, it would be possible for decentralised, voluntary community associations to deal compassionately (not punitively) with the few incorrigibly violent people who might remain (see section I.5.8).

It is clear that the state represents the essential coercive mechanisms by which capitalism and the authority relations associated with private property are sustained. The protection of property is fundamentally the means of assuring the social domination of owners over non-owners, both in society as a whole and in the particular case of a specific boss over a specific group of workers. Class domination is the authority of property owners over those who use that property and it is the primary function of the state to uphold that domination (and the social relationships that generate it). In Kropotkin's words, "the rich perfectly well know that if the machinery of the State ceased to protect them, their power over the labouring classes would be gone immediately." [Evolution and Environment, p. 98]

In other words, protecting private property and upholding class domination are the same thing. Yet this primary function of the state is disguised by the "democratic" facade of the representative electoral system, through which it is made to appear that the people rule themselves. Thus Bakunin writes that the modern state "unites in itself the two conditions necessary for the prosperity of the capitalistic economy: State centralisation and the actual subjection of . . . the people . . . to the minority allegedly representing it but actually governing it." [Op. Cit., p. 210]

The historian Charles Beard makes a similar point:

"Inasmuch as the primary object of a government, beyond mere repression of physical violence, is the making of the rules which determine the property relations of members of society, the dominant classes whose rights are thus to be protected must perforce obtain from the government such rules as are consonant with the larger interests necessary to the continuance of their economic processes, or they must themselves control the organs of government" [An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, quoted by Howard Zinn, Op. Cit., p. 89].

This role of the state -- to protect capitalism and the property, power and authority of the property owner -- was also noticed by Adam Smith:

"[T]he inequality of fortune . . . introduces among men a degree of authority and subordination which could not possibly exist before. It thereby introduces some degree of that civil government which is indispensably necessary for its own preservation . . . [and] to maintain and secure that authority and subordination. The rich, in particular, are necessarily interested to support that order of things which can alone secure them in the possession of their own advantages. Men of inferior wealth combine to defend those of superior wealth in the possession of their property, in order that men of superior wealth may combine to defend them in the possession of theirs . . . [T]he maintenance of their lesser authority depends upon that of his greater authority, and that upon their subordination to him depends his power of keeping their inferiors in subordination to them. They constitute a sort of little nobility, who feel themselves interested to defend the property and to support the authority of their own little sovereign in order that he may be able to defend their property and to support their authority. Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all." [Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, book 5]

In a nutshell, the state is the means by which the ruling class rules. Hence Bakunin:

"the State is the organised authority, domination and power of the possessing classes over the masses." [quoted by David Deleon, Reinventing Anarchy, p. 71]

However, while recognising that the state protects the power and position of the economically dominant class within a society anarchists also argue that the state has, due to its hierarchical nature, interests of its own. Thus it cannot be considered as simply the tool of the economically dominant class in society. States have their own dynamics, due to their structure, which generate their own classes and class interests and privileges (and which allows them to escape from the control of the economic ruling class and pursue their own interests, to a greater or lesser degree). As Malatesta put it "the government, though springing from the bourgeoisie and its servant and protector, tends, as with every servant and every protector, to achieve its own emancipation and to dominate whoever it protects." [Anarchy, p. 22]

This means that the state machine (and structure), while its modern form is intrinsically linked to capitalism, cannot be seen as being a tool usable by the majority. This is because the "State, any State -- even when it dresses-up in the most liberal and democratic form -- is essentially based on domination, and upon violence, that is upon despotism -- a concealed but no less dangerous despotism." The State "denotes force, authority, predominance; it presupposes inequality in fact." [The Political Philosophy of Michael Bakunin, p. 211 and p. 223]

This is due to its hierarchical and centralised nature, which empowers the few who control the state machine -- "[e]very state power, every government, by its nature places itself outside and over the people and inevitably subordinates them to an organisation and to aims which are foreign to and opposed to the real needs and aspirations of the people." [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 328] If "the whole proletariat . . . [are] members of the government . . . there will be no government, no state, but, if there is to be a state there will be those who are ruled and those who are slaves." [Op. Cit., p. 330]

In other words, the state bureaucracy is itself directly an oppressor and can exist independently of an economically dominant class. In Bakunin's prophetic words:

"What have we seen throughout history? The State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class: the sacerdotal class, the nobility, the bourgeoisie -- and finally, when all other classes have exhausted themselves, the class of the bureaucracy enters the stage and then the State falls, or rises, if you please, to the position of a machine." [The Political Philosophy of Michael Bakunin, p. 208]

The experience of Soviet Russian indicates the validity of his analysis (the working class was exploited and dominated by the state bureaucracy rather than by an economic class).

Thus the role of the state is to repress the individual and the working class as a whole in the interests of the capitalist class and in its own interests. This means that "the State organisation . . . [is] the force to which minorities resorted for establishing and organising their power over the masses." Little wonder, then, that Kropotkin argued that "[i]n the struggle between the individual and the State, anarchism . . . takes the side of the individual as against the State, of society against the authority which oppresses it." While the state is a "superstructure in the interests of capitalism," it is a "power which was created for the purpose of welding together the interests of the landlord, the judge, the warrior, and the priest" and, we must add, cannot be considered purely as being a tool for the capitalist/landlord class. The state structure ("the judge, the warrior" etc.) has interests of its own. [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 170 and pp. 192-3]

B.2.2 Does the state have subsidiary functions?

Besides its primary function of protecting private property, the state operates in other ways as an economic instrument of the ruling class.

First, the state intervenes in the modern economy to solve problems that arise in the course of capitalist development. These interventions have taken different forms in different times and include state funding for industry (e.g. military spending); the creation of social infrastructure too expensive for private capital to provide (railways, motorways); tariffs to protect developing industries from more efficient international competition (the key to successful industrialisation as it allows capitalists to rip-off consumers, making them rich and increasing funds available for investment); imperialist ventures to create colonies (or protect citizen's capital invested abroad) in order to create markets or get access to raw materials and cheap labour; government spending to stimulate consumer demand in the face of underconsumption and stagnation; maintaining a "natural" level of unemployment that can be used to discipline the working class, so ensuring they produce more, for less; manipulating the interest rate in order to try and reduce the effects of the business cycle and undermine workers' gains in the class struggle.

Second, because of the inordinate political power deriving from wealth (see next section), capitalists use the state directly to benefit their class, as from subsidies, tax breaks, government contracts, protective tariffs, bailouts of corporations judged by state bureaucrats as too important to let fail, and so on.

And third, the state may be used to grant concessions to the working class in cases where not doing so would threaten the integrity of the system as a whole.

Hence David Deleon:

"Above all, the state remains an institution for the continuance of dominant socioeconomic relations, whether through such agencies as the military, the courts, politics or the police . . . Contemporary states have acquired . . . less primitive means to reinforce their property systems [than state violence -- which is always the means of last, often first, resort]. States can regulate, moderate or resolve tensions in the economy by preventing the bankruptcies of key corporations, manipulating the economy through interest rates, supporting hierarchical ideology through tax benefits for churches and schools, and other tactics. In essence, it is not a neutral institution; it is powerfully for the status quo. The capitalist state, for example, is virtually a gyroscope centred in capital, balancing the system. If one sector of the economy earns a level of profit, let us say, that harms the rest of the system -- such as oil producers' causing public resentment and increased manufacturing costs -- the state may redistribute some of that profit through taxation, or offer encouragement to competitors." [Reinventing Anarchy, pp. 71-72]

The example of state legislation to set the length of the working day is an example of both the first and third functions enumerated above. In the early period of capitalist development, a shortage of labour power led to the state's ignoring the lengthening working day, thus allowing capitalists to appropriate more surplus value from workers and increase the rate of profit without interference. Later, however, after workers began to organise, reducing the length of the working day became a key demand around which revolutionary socialist fervour was developing. Hence, in order to defuse this threat (and socialist revolution is the worst-case scenario for the capitalist), the state passed legislation to reduce the length of the working day (which, once workers' struggle calmed down, were happily ignored and became "dead laws"). Initially, the state was functioning purely as the protector of the capitalist class, using its powers to solve problems that arise in the course of capitalist development (namely repressing the labour movement to allow the capitalists to do as they liked). In the second it was granting concessions to the working class to eliminate a threat to the integrity of the system as a whole.

It should be noted that none of these three subsidiary functions implies that capitalism can be changed through a series of piecemeal reforms into a benevolent system that primarily serves working class interests. To the contrary, these functions grow out of, and supplement, the basic role of the state as the protector of capitalist property and the social relations they generate -- i.e. the foundation of the capitalist's ability to exploit. Therefore reforms may modify the functioning of capitalism but they can never threaten its basis. As Malatesta argued:

"The basic function of government . . . is always that of oppressing and exploiting the masses, of defending the oppressors and the exploiters . . . It is true that to these basic functions . . . other functions have been added in the course of history . . . hardly ever has a government existed . . . which did not combine with its oppressive and plundering activities others which were useful . . . to social life. But this does not detract from the fact that government is by nature oppressive . . . and that it is in origin and by its attitude, inevitably inclined to defend and strengthen the dominant class; indeed it confirms and aggravates the position . . . [I]t is enough to understand how and why it carries out these functions to find the practical evidence that whatever governments do is always motivated by the desire to dominate, and is always geared to defending, extending and perpetuating its privileges and those of the class of which it is both the representative and defender.

"A government cannot maintain itself for long without hiding its true nature behind a pretence of general usefulness; it cannot impose respect for the lives of the privileged if it does not appear to demand respect for all human life; it cannot impose acceptance of the privileges of the few if it does not pretend to be the guardian of the rights of all." [Op. Cit., pp. 20-1]

Ultimately, what the state concedes, it can also take back (as was the case of the laws limiting the working day). Thus the rise and fall of the welfare state -- granted to stop more revolutionary change (see section D.1.3), it did not fundamentally challenge the existence of wage labour and was useful as a means of regulating capitalism but was "reformed" (i.e. made worse, rather than better) when its existence conflicted with the needs of the capitalist economy.

In other words, the state acts to protect the long-term interests of the capitalist class as a whole (and ensure its own survival) by protecting the system. This role can and does clash with the interests of particular capitalists or even whole sections of the ruling class (see next section). But this conflict does not change the role of the state as the property owners' policeman. Indeed, the state can be considered as a means for settling (in a peaceful and apparently independent manner) upper-class disputes over what to do to keep the system going.

B.2.3 How does the ruling class maintain control of the state?

For simplicity, let's just consider the capitalist state, whose main purpose is to protect the exploitative monopolies described below. Because their economic monopolies are protected by the state, the elites whose incomes are derived from them -- namely, finance capitalists, industrial capitalists, and landlords -- are able to accumulate vast wealth from those whom they exploit. This stratifies society into a hierarchy of economic classes, with a huge disparity of wealth between the small property-owning elite at the top and the non-property-owning majority at the bottom.

Then, because it takes enormous wealth to win elections and lobby or bribe legislators, the propertied elite are able to control the political process -- and hence the state -- through the "power of the purse." For example, it costs well over $20 million to run for President of the USA. In other words, elite control of politics through huge wealth disparities insures the continuation of such disparities and thus the continuation of elite control. In this way the crucial political decisions of those at the top are insulated from significant influence by those at the bottom.

Moreover, the ability of capital to disinvest (capital flight) and otherwise adversely impact the economy is a powerful weapon to keep the state as its servant. As Noam Chomsky notes:

"In capitalist democracy, the interests that must be satisfied are those of capitalists; otherwise, there is no investment, no production, no work, no resources to be devoted, however marginally, to the needs of the general population" [Turning the Tide, p. 233]

Hence, even allegedly "democratic" capitalist states are in effect dictatorships of the propertariat. Errico Malatesta put it this way:

"Even with universal suffrage - we could well say even more so with universal suffrage - the government remained the bourgeoisie's servant and gendarme. For were it to be otherwise with the government hinting that it might take up a hostile attitude, or that democracy could ever be anything but a pretence to deceive the people, the bourgeoisie, feeling its interests threatened, would by quick to react, and would use all the influence and force at its disposal, by reason of its wealth, to recall the government to its proper place as the bourgeoisie's gendarme." [Anarchy, p. 20]

The existence of a state bureaucracy is a key feature in ensuring that the state remains the ruling class's "policeman" and will be discussed in greater detail in section J.2.2 (Why do anarchists reject voting as a means for change?). As far as economic forces go, we see their power implied when the news report that changes in government, policies and law have been "welcomed by the markets." As the richest 1% of households in America (about 2 million adults) owned 35% of the stock owned by individuals in 1992 - with the top 10% owning over 81% - we can see that the "opinion" of the markets actually means the power of the richest 1-5% of a countries population (and their finance experts), power derived from their control over investment and production. Given that the bottom 90% of the US population has a smaller share (23%) of all kinds of investable capital that the richest 1/2% (who own 29%), with stock ownership being even more concentrated (the top 5% holding 95% of all shares), its obvious why Doug Henwood (author of Wall Street) argues that stock markets are "a way for the very rich as a class to own an economy's productive capital stock as a whole," are a source of "political power" and a way to have influence over government policy (see section D.2). [Wall Street: Class Racket]

Of course, this does not mean that the state and the capitalist class always see "eye to eye." Top politicians, for example, are part of the ruling elite, but they are in competition with other parts of it. In addition, different sectors of the capitalist class are competing against each other for profits, political influence, privileges, etc. The bourgeoisie, argued Malatesta, "are always at war among themselves . . . and . . . the government, though springing from the bourgeoisie and its protector, tends . . . to dominate whoever it protects. Thus the games of the swings, the manoeuvres, the concessions and withdrawals, the attempts to find allies among the people against the conservatives, and among the conservatives against the people." [Op. Cit., p. 22] As such, the state is often in conflict with sections of the capitalist class, just as sections of that class use the state to advance their own interests within the general framework of protecting the capitalist system (i.e. the interests of the ruling class as a class). Such conflicts sometimes give the impression of the state being a "neutral" body, but this is an illusion -- it exists to defend class power and privilege, and to resolve disputes within that class peacefully via the "democratic" process (within which we get the chance of picking the representatives of the elite who will oppress us least).

Nevertheless, without the tax money from successful businesses, the state would be weakened. Hence the role of the state is to ensure the best conditions for capital as a whole, which means that, when necessary, it can and does work against the interests of certain parts of the capitalist class. This is what can give the state the appearance of independence and can fool people into thinking that it represents the interests of society as a whole. (For more on the ruling elite and its relation to the state, see C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite [Oxford, 1956]; cf. Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society [Basic Books, 1969] and Divided Societies [Oxford, 1989]; G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America? [Prentice Hall, 1967]; Who Rules America Now? A View for the '80s [Touchstone, 1983] and Toxic Sludge is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton [Common Courage Press, 1995]).

B.2.4 How does state centralisation affect freedom?

It's a common but false idea that voting every four or so years to elect the public face of a highly centralised and bureaucratic machine means that ordinary people control the state. Obviously, to say that this idea is false does not imply that there is no difference between a liberal republic and a fascistic or monarchical state. Far from it.

The vote is an important victory wrested from the powers that be. It is one small step on the road to libertarian socialism. Nevertheless, all forms of hierarchy, even those in which the top officers are elected are marked by authoritarianism and centralism. Power is concentrated in the centre (or at the "top"), which means that society becomes "a heap of dust animated from without by a subordinating, centralist idea." [P.J. Proudhon, quoted by Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia, p. 29] For, once elected, top officers can do as they please, and in all political bureaucracies, many important decisions are made by non-elected staff.

The nature of centralisation places power into the hands of the few. Representative democracy is based on this delegation of power, with voters electing others to govern them. This cannot help but create a situation in which freedom is endangered -- universal suffrage "does not prevent the formation of a body of politicians, privileged in fact though not in law, who, devoting themselves exclusively to the administration of the nation's public affairs, end by becoming a sort of political aristocracy or oligarchy." [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 240]

Centralism makes democracy meaningless, as political decision-making is given over to professional politicians in remote capitals. Lacking local autonomy, people are isolated from each other (atomised) by having no political forum where they can come together to discuss, debate, and decide among themselves the issues they consider important. Elections are not based on natural, decentralised groupings and thus cease to be relevant. The individual is just another "voter" in the mass, a political "constituent" and nothing more. The amorphous basis of modern, statist elections "aims at nothing less than to abolish political life in towns, communes and departments, and through this destruction of all municipal and regional autonomy to arrest the development of universal suffrage" [Proudhon, Ibid.] Thus people are disempowered by the very structures that claim to allow them to express themselves. To quote Proudhon again, in the centralised state "the citizen divests himself of sovereignty, the town and the Department and province above it, absorbed by central authority, are no longer anything but agencies under direct ministerial control." He continues:

"The Consequences soon make themselves felt: the citizen and the town are deprived of all dignity, the state's depredations multiply, and the burden on the taxpayer increases in proportion. It is no longer the government that is made for the people; it is the people who are made for the government. Power invades everything, dominates everything, absorbs everything. . ." [The Principle of Federation, p. 59]

As intended, isolated people are no threat to the powers that be. This process of marginalisation can be seen from American history, for example, when town meetings were replaced by elected bodies, with the citizens being placed in passive, spectator roles as mere "voters" (see section B.5 "Is capitalism empowering and based on human action?"). Being an atomised voter is hardly an ideal notion of "freedom," despite the rhetoric of politicians about the virtues of a "free society" and "The Free World" -- as if voting once every four or five years could ever be classed as "liberty" or even "democracy."

In this way, social concern and power are taken away from ordinary citizens and centralised in the hands of the few. Marginalisation of the people is the key control mechanism in the state and authoritarian organisations in general. Considering the European Community (EC), for example, we find that the "mechanism for decision-making between EC states leaves power in the hands of officials (from Interior ministries, police, immigration, customs and security services) through a myriad of working groups. Senior officials . . . play a critical role in ensuring agreements between the different state officials. The EC Summit meetings, comprising the 12 Prime Ministers, simply rubber-stamp the conclusions agreed by the Interior and Justice Ministers. It is only then, in this intergovernmental process, that parliaments and people are informed (and them only with the barest details)." [Tony Bunyon, Statewatching the New Europe, p. 39]

As well as economic pressures from elites, governments also face pressures within the state itself due to the bureaucracy that comes with centralism. There is a difference between the state and government. The state is the permanent collection of institutions that have entrenched power structures and interests. The government is made up of various politicians. It's the institutions that have power in the state due to their permanence, not the representatives who come and go. As Clive Ponting (an ex-civil servant himself) indicates, "the function of a political system in any country... is to regulate, but not to alter radically, the existing economic structure and its linked power relationships. The great illusion of politics is that politicians have the ability to make whatever changes they like . . ." [quoted in Alternatives, no.5, p. 19].

Therefore, as well as marginalising the people, the state also ends up marginalising "our" representatives. As power rests not in the elected bodies, but in a bureaucracy, popular control becomes increasingly meaningless. As Bakunin pointed out, "liberty can be valid only when . . . [popular] control [of the state] is valid. On the contrary, where such control is fictitious, this freedom of the people likewise becomes a mere fiction" [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 212].

This means that state centralism can become a serious source of danger to the liberty and well-being of most of the people under it. However, some people do benefit from state centralisation, namely those with power who desire to be "left alone" to use it: that is, the two sections of the ruling elite, bureaucrats of capital and state (as will be discussed further in the next section).

B.2.5 Who benefits from centralisation?

No social system would exist unless it benefited someone or some group. Centralisation, be it in the state or the company, is no different. In all cases, centralisation directly benefits those at the top, because it shelters them from those who are below, allowing the latter to be controlled and governed more effectively. Therefore, it is in the direct interests of bureaucrats and politicians to support centralism.

Under capitalism, however, various sections of the business class also support state centralism. This is the symbiotic relationship between capital and the state. As will be discussed later, (in section F.8) the state played an important role in "nationalising" the market, i.e. forcing the "free market" onto society. By centralising power in the hands of representatives and so creating a state bureaucracy, ordinary people were disempowered and thus became less likely to interfere with the interests of the wealthy. "In a republic," writes Bakunin, "the so-called people, the legal people, allegedly represented by the State, stifle and will keep on stifling the actual and living people" by "the bureaucratic world" for "the greater benefit of the privileged propertied classes as well as for its own benefit" [Op. Cit., p. 211].

Examples of increased political centralisation being promoted by wealthy business interests by can be seen throughout the history of capitalism. "In revolutionary America, 'the nature of city government came in for heated discussion,' observes Merril Jensen . . . Town meetings . . .' had been a focal point of revolutionary activity'. The anti-democratic reaction that set in after the American revolution was marked by efforts to do away with town meeting government . . . Attempts by conservative elements were made to establish a 'corporate form (of municipal government) whereby the towns would be governed by mayors and councils' elected from urban wards . . .[T]he merchants 'backed incorporation consistently in their efforts to escape town meetings' . . ." [Murray Bookchin, Towards an Ecological Society, p. 182]

Here we see local policy making being taken out of the hands of the many and centralised in the hands of the few (who are always the wealthy). France provides another example:

"The Government found . . . the folkmotes [of all households] 'too noisy', too disobedient, and in 1787, elected councils, composed of a mayor and three to six syndics, chosen among the wealthier peasants, were introduced instead" [Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, pp. 185-186].

This was part of a general movement to disempower the working class by centralising decision making power into the hands of the few (as in the American revolution). Kropotkin indicates the process at work:

"[T]he middle classes, who had until then had sought the support of the people, in order to obtain constitutional laws and to dominate the higher nobility, were going, now that they had seen and felt the strength of the people, to do all they could to dominate the people, to disarm them and to drive them back into subjection.

[. . .]

"[T]hey made haste to legislate in such a way that the political power which was slipping out of the hand of the Court should not fall into the hands of the people. Thus . . . [it was] proposed . . . to divide the French into two classes, of which one only, the active citizens, should take part in the government, whilst the other, comprising the great mass of the people under the name of passive citizens, should be deprived of all political rights . . . [T]he [National] Assembly divided France into departments . . . always maintaining the principle of excluding the poorer classes from the Government . . . [T]hey excluded from the primary assemblies the mass of the people . . . who could no longer take part in the primary assemblies, and accordingly had no right to nominate the electors [who chose representatives to the National Assembly], or the municipality, or any of the local authorities . . .

"And finally, the permanence of the electoral assemblies was interdicted. Once the middle-class governors were appointed, these assemblies were not to meet again. Once the middle-class governors were appointed, they must not be controlled too strictly. Soon the right even of petitioning and of passing resolutions was taken away -- 'Vote and hold your tongue!' "As to the villages . . . the general assembly of the inhabitants . . . [to which] belonged the administration of the affairs of the commune . . . were forbidden by the . . . law. Henceforth only the well-to-do peasants, the active citizens, had the right to meet, once a year, to nominate the mayor and the municipality, composed of three or four middle-class men of the village.

"A similar municipal organisation was given to the towns. . .

"[Thus] the middle classes surrounded themselves with every precaution in order to keep the municipal power in the hands of the well-to-do members of the community." [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, pp. 179-186]

Thus centralisation aimed to take power away from the mass of the people and give it to the wealthy. The power of the people rested in popular assemblies, such as the "Sections" and "Districts" of Paris (expressing, in Kropotkin's words, "the principles of anarchism" and "practising . . . Direct Self-Government" [Op. Cit., p. 204 and p. 203]) and village assemblies. However, the National Assembly "tried all it could to lessen the power of the districts . . . [and] put an end to those hotbeds of Revolution . . . [by allowing] active citizens only . . . to take part in the electoral and administrative assemblies." [Op. Cit., p. 211] Thus the "central government was steadily endeavouring to subject the sections to its authority" with the state "seeking to centralise everything in its own hands . . . [I]ts depriving the popular organisations . . . all . . . administrative functions . . . its subjecting them to its bureaucracy in police matters, meant the death of the sections." [Op. Cit., vol. 2, p. 549 and p. 552]

As can be seen, in both the French and American revolutions saw a similar process by which the wealthy centralised power into their own hands. This ensured that working class people (i.e. the majority) were excluded from the decision making process and subject to the laws and power of others. Which, of course, benefits the minority class whose representatives have that power. (Volume one of Murray Bookchin's The Third Revolution discusses the French and American revolutions in some detail).

On the federal and state levels in the US after the Revolution, centralisation of power was encouraged, since "most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government . . . there was . . . a positive need for strong central government to protect the large economic interests." [Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, p. 90] In particular, state centralisation was essential to mould US society into one dominated by capitalism:

"In the thirty years leading up to the Civil War, the law was increasingly interpreted in the courts to suit capitalist development. Studying this, Morton Horwitz (The Transformation of American Law) points out that the English common-law was no longer holy when it stood in the way of business growth . . . Judgements for damages against businessmen were taken out of the hands of juries, which were unpredictable, and given to judges . . . The ancient idea of a fair price for goods gave way in the courts to the idea of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) . . . contract law was intended to discriminate against working people and for business . . . The pretence of the law was that a worker and a railroad made a contract with equal bargaining power . . . 'The circle was completed; the law had come simply to ratify those forms of inequality that the market system had produced.'" [Op. Cit., p. 234]

The US state was created on elitist liberal doctrine and actively aimed to reduce democratic tendencies (in the name of "individual liberty"). What happened in practice (unsurprisingly enough) was that the wealthy elite used the state to undermine popular culture and common right in favour of protecting and extending their own interests and power. In the process, US society was reformed in their own image:

"By the middle of the nineteenth century the legal system had been reshaped to the advantage of men of commerce and industry at the expense of farmers, workers, consumers, and other less powerful groups in society . . . it actively promoted a legal distribution of wealth against the weakest groups in society." [Horwitz, quoted by Zinn, Op. Cit., p. 235]

In more modern times, state centralisation and expansion has gone hand in glove with rapid industrialisation and the growth of business. As Edward Herman points out, "[t]o a great extent, it was the growth in business size and power that elicited the countervailing emergence of unions and the growth of government. Bigness beyond business was to a large extent a response to bigness in business." [Corporate Control, Corporate Power, p. 188 -- see also, Stephen Skowronek, Building A New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920] State centralisation was required to produce bigger, well-defined markets and was supported by business when it acted in their interests (i.e. as markets expanded, so did the state in order to standardise and enforce property laws and so on). On the other hand, this development towards "big government" created an environment in which big business could grow (often encouraged by the state by subsidies and protectionism - as would be expected when the state is run by the wealthy) as well as further removing state power from influence by the masses and placing it more firmly in the hands of the wealthy. It is little wonder we see such developments, for "[s]tructures of governance tend to coalesce around domestic power, in the last few centuries, economic power." [Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New, p. 178]

State centralisation makes it easier for business to control government, ensuring that it remains their puppet and to influence the political process. For example, the European Round Table (ERT) "an elite lobby group of. . .chairmen or chief executives of large multi-nationals based mainly in the EU... [with] 11 of the 20 largest European companies [with] combined sales [in 1991] . . . exceeding $500 billion, . . . approximately 60 per cent of EU industrial production," makes much use of the EU. As two researchers who have studied this body note, the ERT "is adept at lobbying . . . so that many ERT proposals and 'visions' are mysteriously regurgitated in Commission summit documents." The ERT "claims that the labour market should be more 'flexible,' arguing for more flexible hours, seasonal contracts, job sharing and part time work. In December 1993, seven years after the ERT made its suggestions [and after most states had agreed to the Maastricht Treaty and its "social chapter"], the European Commission published a white paper . . . [proposing] making labour markets in Europe more flexible." [Doherty and Hoedeman, "Knights of the Road," New Statesman, 4/11/94, p. 27]

The current talk of globalisation, NAFTA, and the Single European Market indicates an underlying transformation in which state growth follows the path cut by economic growth. Simply put, with the growth of transnational corporations and global finance markets, the bounds of the nation-state have been made economically redundant. As companies have expanded into multi-nationals, so the pressure has mounted for states to follow suit and rationalise their markets across "nations" by creating multi-state agreements and unions.

As Noam Chomsky notes, G7, the IMF, the World Bank and so forth are a "de facto world government," and "the institutions of the transnational state largely serve other masters [than the people], as state power typically does; in this case the rising transnational corporations in the domains of finance and other services, manufacturing, media and communications." [Op. Cit., p. 179]

As multi-nationals grow and develop, breaking through national boundaries, a corresponding growth in statism is required. Moreover, a "particularly valuable feature of the rising de facto governing institutions is their immunity from popular influence, even awareness. They operate in secret, creating a world subordinated to the needs of investors, with the public 'put in its place', the threat of democracy reduced." [Chomsky, Op. Cit., p. 178]

This does not mean that capitalists desire state centralisation for everything. Often, particularly for social issues, relative decentralisation is often preferred (i.e. power is given to local bureaucrats) in order to increase business control over them. By devolving control to local areas, the power which large corporations, investment firms and the like have over the local government increases proportionally. In addition, even middle-sized enterprise can join in and influence, constrain or directly control local policies and set one workforce against another. Private power can ensure that "freedom" is safe, their freedom.

No matter which set of bureaucrats are selected, the need to centralise social power, thus marginalising the population, is of prime importance to the business class. It is also important to remember that capitalist opposition to "big government" is often financial, as the state feeds off the available social surplus, so reducing the amount left for the market to distribute to the various capitals in competition.

In reality, what capitalists object to about "big government" is its spending on social programs designed to benefit the poor and working class, an "illegitimate" function which "wastes" part of the surplus that might go to capital (and also makes people less desperate and so less willing to work cheaply). Hence the constant push to reduce the state to its "classical" role as protector of private property and the system, and little else. Other than their specious quarrel with the welfare state, capitalists are the staunchest supports of government (and the "correct" form of state intervention, such as defence spending), as evidenced by the fact that funds can always be found to build more prisons and send troops abroad to advance ruling-class interests, even as politicians are crying that there is "no money" in the treasury for scholarships, national health care, or welfare for the poor.

Notes et references

  1. Anarchy, p. 13
  2. Op. Cit., Pp. 15-16 - voir auss i Kropotkine sur l'État: son rôle historique, p. 10
  3. Remaking Society, p. 66
  4. General Idea of the Revolution, p. 294
  5. Bakounine sur Anarchisme, p. 14 2
  6. The Political Philosophy of Bak unin, p. 207

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