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An Anarchist FAQ - B.1 Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?
PDF version of Section B.
B.1 Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?
First, it is necessary to indicate what kind of authority anarchism challenges. While it is customary for some opponents of anarchism to assert that anarchists oppose all kinds of authority, the reality of the situation is more complex. While anarchists have, on occasion, stated their opposition to "all authority" a closer reading quickly shows that anarchists reject only one specific form of authority, what we tend to call hierarchy (see section H.4 for more details). This can be seen when Bakunin stated that "the principle of authority" was the "eminently theological, metaphysical and political idea that the masses, always incapable of governing themselves, must submit at all times to the benevolent yoke of a wisdom and a justice, which in one way or another, is imposed from above." [Marxism, Freedom and the State, p. 33]
Other forms of authority are more acceptable to anarchists, it depends whether the authority in question becomes a source of power over others or not. That is the key to understanding the anarchist position on authority -- if it is hierarchical authority, then anarchists are against it. . The reason is simple:
"[n]o one should be entrusted with power, inasmuch as anyone invested with authority must . . . became an oppressor and exploiter of society." [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 249]
This distinction between forms of authority is important. As Erich Fromm pointed out, "authority" is "a broad term with two entirely different meanings: it can be either 'rational' or 'irrational' authority. Rational authority is based on competence, and it helps the person who leans on it to grow. Irrational authority is based on power and serves to exploit the person subjected to it." [To Have or To Be, pp. 44-45] The same point was made by Bakunin over 100 years earlier when he indicated the difference between authority and "natural influence." For Bakunin, individual freedom "results from th[e] great number of material, intellectual, and moral influences which every individual around him [or her] and which society . . . continually exercise . . . To abolish this mutual influence would be to die." Consequently, "when we reclaim the freedom of the masses, we hardly wish to abolish the effect of any individual's or any group of individual's natural influence upon the masses. What we wish is to abolish artificial, privileged, legal, and official influences." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 140 and p. 141]
It is, in other words, the difference between taking part in a decision and listening to alternative viewpoints and experts ("natural influence") before making your mind up and having a decision made for you by a separate group of individuals (who may or may not be elected) because that is their role in an organisation or society. In the former, the individual exercises their judgement and freedom (i.e. is based on rational authority). In the latter, they are subjected to the wills of others, to hierarchical authority (i.e. is based on irrational authority). This is because rational authority "not only permits but requires constant scrutiny and criticism . . . it is always temporary, its acceptance depending on its performance." The source of irrational authority, on the other hand, "is always power over people . . . Power on the one side, fear on the other, are always the buttresses on which irrational authority is built." Thus former is based upon "equality" while the latter "is by its very nature based upon inequality." [Erich Fromm, Man for Himself, pp. 9-10]
This crucial point is expressed in the difference between having authority and being an authority. Being an authority just means that a given person is generally recognised as competent for a given task, based on his or her individual skills and knowledge. Put differently, it is socially acknowledged expertise. In contrast, having authority is a social relationship based on status and power derived from a hierarchical position, not on individual ability. Obviously this does not mean that competence is not an element for obtaining a hierarchical position; it just means that the real or alleged initial competence is transferred to the title or position of the authority and so becomes independent of individuals, i.e. institutionalised (or what Bakunin termed "official").
This difference is important because the way people behave is more a product of the institutions in which we are raised than of any inherent nature. In other words, social relationships shape the individuals involved. This means that the various groups individuals create have traits, behaviours and outcomes that cannot be understood by reducing them to the individuals within them. That is, groups consist not only of individuals, but also relationships between individuals and these relationships will affect those subject to them. For example, obviously "the exercise of power by some disempowers others" and so through a "combination of physical intimidation, economic domination and dependency, and psychological limitations, social institutions and practices affect the way everyone sees the world and her or his place in it." This, as we discuss in the next section, impacts on those involved in such authoritarian social relationships as "the exercise of power in any institutionalised form -- whether economic, political or sexual -- brutalises both the wielder of power and the one over whom it is exercised." [Martha A. Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, p. 41]
Authoritarian social relationships means dividing society into (the few) order givers and (the many) order takers, impoverishing the individuals involved (mentally, emotionally and physically) and society as a whole. Human relationships, in all parts of life, are stamped by authority, not liberty. And as freedom can only be created by freedom, authoritarian social relationships (and the obedience they require) do not and cannot educate a person in freedom -- only participation (self-management) in all areas of life can do that. "In a society based on exploitation and servitude," in Kropotkin's words, "human nature itself is degraded" and it is only "as servitude disappears" shall we "regain our rights." [Anarchism, p. 104]
Of course, it will be pointed out that in any collective undertaking there is a need for co-operation and co-ordination and this need to "subordinate" the individual to group activities is a form of authority. Therefore, it is claimed, a democratically managed group is just as "authoritarian" as one based on hierarchical authority. Anarchists are not impressed by such arguments. Yes, we reply, of course in any group undertaking there is a need make and stick by agreements but anarchists argue that to use the word "authority" to describe two fundamentally different ways of making decisions is playing with words. It obscures the fundamental difference between free association and hierarchical imposition and confuses co-operation with command (as we note in section H.4, Marxists are particularly fond of this fallacy). Simply put, there are two different ways of co-ordinating individual activity within groups -- either by authoritarian means or by libertarian means. Proudhon, in relation to workplaces, makes the difference clear:
"either the workman. . . will be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he will participate. . . [and] have a voice in the council, in a word he will become an associate.
"In the first case the workman is subordinated, exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience. . . In the second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen. . . he forms part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the slave; as, in the town, he forms part of the sovereign power, of which he was before but the subject . . . we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two . . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society." [General Idea of the Revolution, pp. 215-216]
In other words, associations can be based upon a form of rational authority, based upon natural influence and so reflect freedom, the ability of individuals to think, act and feel and manage their own time and activity. Otherwise, we include elements of slavery into our relationships with others, elements that poison the whole and shape us in negative ways (see section B.1.1). Only the reorganisation of society in a libertarian way (and, we may add, the mental transformation such a change requires and would create) will allow the individual to "achieve more or less complete blossoming, whilst continuing to develop" and banish "that spirit of submission that has been artificially thrust upon him [or her]" [Nestor Makhno, The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays, p. 62]
So, anarchists "ask nothing better than to see [others]. . . exercise over us a natural and legitimate influence, freely accepted, and never imposed . . . We accept all natural authorities and all influences of fact, but none of right." [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 255] Anarchist support for free association within directly democratic groups is based upon such organisational forms increasing influence and reducing irrational authority in our lives. Members of such organisations can create and present their own ideas and suggestions, critically evaluate the proposals and suggestions from their fellows, accept those that they agree with or become convinced by and have the option of leaving the association if they are unhappy with its direction. Hence the influence of individuals and their free interaction determine the nature of the decisions reached, and no one has the right to impose their ideas on another. As Bakunin argued, in such organisations "no function remains fixed and it will not remain permanently and irrevocably attached to one person. Hierarchical order and promotion do not exist. . . In such a system, power, properly speaking, no longer exists. Power is diffused to the collectivity and becomes the true expression of the liberty of everyone." [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 415]
Therefore, anarchists are opposed to irrational (e.g., illegitimate) authority, in other words, hierarchy -- hierarchy being the institutionalisation of authority within a society. Hierarchical social institutions include the state (see section B.2), private property and the class systems it produces (see section B.3) and, therefore, capitalism (see section B.4). Due to their hierarchical nature, anarchists oppose these with passion. "Every institution, social or civil," argued Voltairine de Cleyre, "that stands between man [or woman] and his [or her] right; every tie that renders one a master, another a serf; every law, every statue, every be-it-enacted that represents tyranny" anarchists seek to destroy. However, hierarchy exists beyond these institutions. For example, hierarchical social relationships include sexism, racism and homophobia (see section B.1.4), and anarchists oppose, and fight, them all. Thus, as well as fighting capitalism as being hierarchical (for workers "slave in a factory," albeit "the slavery ends with the working hours") de Cleyre also opposed patriarchal social relationships which produce a "home that rests on slavery" because of a "marriage that represents the sale and transfer of the individuality of one of its parties to the other!" [The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, p. 72, p. 17 and p. 72]
Needless to say, while we discuss different forms of hierarchy in different sections this does not imply that anarchists think they, and their negative effects, are somehow independent or can be easily compartmentalised. For example, the modern state and capitalism are intimately interrelated and cannot be considered as independent of each other. Similarly, social hierarchies like sexism and racism are used by other hierarchies to maintain themselves (for example, bosses will use racism to divide and so rule their workers). From this it follows that abolishing one or some of these hierarchies, while desirable, would not be sufficient. Abolishing capitalism while maintaining the state would not lead to a free society (and vice versa) -- if it were possible. As Murray Bookchin notes:
"there can be a decidedly classless, even a non-exploitative society in the economic sense that still preserves hierarchical rule and domination in the social sense -- whether they take the form of the patriarchal family, domination by age and ethnic groups, bureaucratic institutions, ideological manipulation or a pyramidal division of labour . . . classless or not, society would be riddles by domination and, with domination, a general condition of command and obedience, of unfreedom and humiliation, and perhaps most decisively, an abortion of each individual's potentiality for consciousness, reason, selfhood, creativity, and the right to assert full control over her or his daily live." [Toward an Ecological Society, pp. 14-5]
This clearly implies that anarchists "challenge not only class formations but hierarchies, not only material exploitation but domination in every form." [Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 15] Hence the anarchist stress on opposing hierarchy rather than just, say, the state (as some falsely assert) or simply economic class and exploitation (as, say, many Marxists do). As noted earlier (in section A.2.8), anarchists consider all hierarchies to be not only harmful but unnecessary, and think that there are alternative, more egalitarian ways to organise social life. In fact, we argue that hierarchical authority creates the conditions it is presumably designed to combat, and thus tends to be self-perpetuating. Thus hierarchical organisations erode the ability of those at the bottom to manage their own affairs directly so requiring hierarchy and some people in positions to give orders and the rest to follow them. Rather than prevent disorder, governments are among its primary causes while its bureaucracies ostensibly set up to fight poverty wind up perpetuating it, because without poverty, the high-salaried top administrators would be out of work. The same applies to agencies intended to eliminate drug abuse, fight crime, etc. In other words, the power and privileges deriving from top hierarchical positions constitute a strong incentive for those who hold them not to solve the problems they are supposed to solve. (For further discussion see Marilyn French, Beyond Power: On Women, Men, and Morals, Summit Books, 1985.)
Hierarchical authority is inextricably connected with the marginalisation and disempowerment of those without authority. This has negative effects on those over whom authority is exercised, since "[t]hose who have these symbols of authority and those who benefit from them must dull their subject people's realistic, i.e. critical, thinking and make them believe the fiction [that irrational authority is rational and necessary], . . . [so] the mind is lulled into submission by cliches . . . [and] people are made dumb because they become dependent and lose their capacity to trust their eyes and judgement." [Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be?, p. 47]
Or, in the words of Bakunin, "the principle of authority, applied to men who have surpassed or attained their majority, becomes a monstrosity, a source of slavery and intellectual and moral depravity." [God and the State, p. 41]
This is echoed by the syndicalist miners who wrote the classic The Miners' Next Step when they indicate the nature of authoritarian organisations and their effect on those involved. Leadership (i.e. hierarchical authority) "implies power held by the leader. Without power the leader is inept. The possession of power inevitably leads to corruption. . . in spite of. . . good intentions . . . [Leadership means] power of initiative, this sense of responsibility, the self-respect which comes from expressed manhood [sic!], is taken from the men, and consolidated in the leader. The sum of their initiative, their responsibility, their self-respect becomes his . . . [and the] order and system he maintains is based upon the suppression of the men, from being independent thinkers into being 'the men' . . . In a word, he is compelled to become an autocrat and a foe to democracy." Indeed, for the "leader," such marginalisation can be beneficial, for a leader "sees no need for any high level of intelligence in the rank and file, except to applaud his actions. Indeed such intelligence from his point of view, by breeding criticism and opposition, is an obstacle and causes confusion." [The Miners' Next Step, pp. 16-17 and p. 15]
Anarchists argue that hierarchical social relationships will have a negative effect on those subject to them, who can no longer exercise their critical, creative and mental abilities freely. As Colin Ward argues, people "do go from womb to tomb without realising their human potential, precisely because the power to initiate, to participate in innovating, choosing, judging, and deciding is reserved for the top men" (and it usually is men!) [Anarchy in Action, p, 42]. Anarchism is based on the insight that there is an interrelationship between the authority structures of institutions and the psychological qualities and attitudes of individuals. Following orders all day hardly builds an independent, empowered, creative personality ("authority and servility walk ever hand in hand." [Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism, p. 81]). As Emma Goldman made clear, if a person's "inclination and judgement are subordinated to the will of a master" (such as a boss, as most people have to sell their labour under capitalism) then little wonder such an authoritarian relationship "condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 50]
As the human brain is a bodily organ, it needs to be used regularly in order to be at its fittest. Authority concentrates decision-making in the hands of those at the top, meaning that most people are turned into executants, following the orders of others. If muscle is not used, it turns to fat; if the brain is not used, creativity, critical thought and mental abilities become blunted and side-tracked onto marginal issues, like sports and fashion. This can only have a negative impact:
"Hierarchical institutions foster alienated and exploitative relationships among those who participate in them, disempowering people and distancing them from their own reality. Hierarchies make some people dependent on others, blame the dependent for their dependency, and then use that dependency as a justification for further exercise of authority. . . . Those in positions of relative dominance tend to define the very characteristics of those subordinate to them . . . Anarchists argue that to be always in a position of being acted upon and never to be allowed to act is to be doomed to a state of dependence and resignation. Those who are constantly ordered about and prevented from thinking for themselves soon come to doubt their own capacities . . . [and have] difficulty acting on [their] sense of self in opposition to societal norms, standards and expectations." [Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, pp. 40-1]
And so, in the words of Colin Ward, the "system makes its morons, then despises them for their ineptitude, and rewards its 'gifted few' for their rarity." [Op. Cit., p. 43]
This negative impact of hierarchy is, of course, not limited to those subject to it. Those in power are affected by it, but in different ways. As we noted in section A.2.15, power corrupts those who have it as well as those subjected to it. The Spanish Libertarian Youth put it this way in the 1930s:
"Against the principle of authority because this implies erosion of the human personality when some men submit to the will of others, arousing in these instincts which predispose them to cruelty and indifference in the face of the suffering of their fellows." [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 2, p. 76]
Hierarchy impoverishes the human spirit. "A hierarchical mentality," notes Bookchin, "fosters the renunciation of the pleasures of life. It justifies toil, guilt, and sacrifice by the 'inferiors,' and pleasure and the indulgent gratification of virtually every caprice by their 'superiors.' The objective history of the social structure becomes internalised as a subjective history of the psychic structure." In other words, being subject to hierarchy fosters the internalisation of oppression -- and the denial of individuality necessary to accept it. "Hierarchy, class, and ultimately the State," he stresses, "penetrate the very integument of the human psyche and establish within it unreflective internal powers of coercion and constraint . . . By using guilt and self-blame, the inner State can control behaviour long before fear of the coercive powers of the State have to be invoked." [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 72 and p. 189]
In a nutshell, "[h]ierarchies, classes, and states warp the creative powers of humanity." However, that is not all. Hierarchy, anarchists argue, also twists our relationships with the environment. Indeed, "all our notions of dominating nature stem from the very real domination of human by human . . . And it is not until we eliminate domination in all its forms . . . that we will really create a rational, ecological society." For "the conflicts within a divided humanity, structured around domination, inevitably leads to conflicts with nature. The ecological crisis with its embattled division between humanity and nature stems, above all, from divisions between human and human." While the "rise of capitalism, with a law of life based on competition, capital accumulation, and limitless growth, brought these problems -- ecological and social -- to an acute point," anarchists "emphasise that major ecological problems have their roots in social problems -- problems that go back to the very beginnings of patricentric culture itself." [Murray Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 72, p. 44, p. 72 and pp. 154-5]
Thus, anarchists argue, hierarchy impacts not only on us but also our surroundings. The environmental crisis we face is a result of the hierarchical power structures at the heart of our society, structures which damage the planet's ecology at least as much as they damage humans. The problems within society, the economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face. The way human beings deal with each other as social beings is crucial to addressing the ecological crisis. Ultimately, ecological destruction is rooted in the organisation of our society for a degraded humanity can only yield a degraded nature (as capitalism and our hierarchical history have sadly shown).
This is unsurprising as we, as a species, shape our environment and, consequently, whatever shapes us will impact how we do so. This means that the individuals produced by the hierarchy (and the authoritarian mentality it produces) will shape the planet in specific, harmful, ways. This is to be expected as humans act upon their environment deliberately, creating what is most suitable for their mode of existence. If that mode of living is riddled with hierarchies, classes, states and the oppression, exploitation and domination they create then our relations with the natural world will hardly be any better. In other words, social hierarchy and class legitimises our domination of the environment, planting the seeds for the believe that nature exists, like other people, to be dominated and used as required.
Which brings us to another key reason why anarchists reject hierarchy. In addition to these negative psychological effects from the denial of liberty, authoritarian social relationships also produce social inequality. This is because an individual subject to the authority of another has to obey the orders of those above them in the social hierarchy. In capitalism this means that workers have to follow the orders of their boss (see next section), orders that are designed to make the boss richer. And richer they have become, with the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of big firms earning 212 times what the average US worker did in 1995 (up from a mere 44 times 30 years earlier). Indeed, from 1994 to 1995 alone, CEO compensation in the USA rose 16 percent, compared to 2.8 percent for workers, which did not even keep pace with inflation, and whose stagnating wages cannot be blamed on corporate profits, which rose a healthy 14.8 percent for that year.
Needless to say, inequality in terms of power will translate itself into inequality in terms of wealth (and vice versa). The effects of such social inequality are wide-reaching. For example, health is affected significantly by inequality. Poor people are more likely to be sick and die at an earlier age, compared to rich people. Simply put, "the lower the class, the worse the health. Going beyond such static measures, even interruptions in income of the sort caused by unemployment have adverse health effects." Indeed, the sustained economic hardship associated with a low place in the social hierarchy leads to poorer physical, psychological and cognitive functioning ("with consequences that last a decade or more"). "Low incomes, unpleasant occupations and sustained discrimination," notes Doug Henwood, "may result in apparently physical symptoms that confuse even sophisticated biomedical scientists . . . Higher incomes are also associated with lower frequency of psychiatric disorders, as are higher levels of asset ownership." [After the New Economy, pp. 81-2]
Moreover, the degree of inequality is important (i.e. the size of the gap between rich and poor). According to an editorial in the British Medical Journal "what matters in determining mortality and health in a society is less the overall wealth of that society and more how evenly wealth is distributed. The more equally wealth is distributed the better the health of that society." [vol. 312, April 20, 1996, p. 985]
Research in the USA found overwhelming evidence of this. George Kaplan and his colleagues measured inequality in the 50 US states and compared it to the age-adjusted death rate for all causes of death, and a pattern emerged: the more unequal the distribution of income, the greater the death rate. In other words, it is the gap between rich and poor, and not the average income in each state, that best predicts the death rate in each state. ["Inequality in income and mortality in the United States: analysis of mortality and potential pathways," British Medical Journal, vol. 312, April 20, 1996, pp. 999-1003]
This measure of income inequality was also tested against other social conditions besides health. States with greater inequality in the distribution of income also had higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of incarceration, a higher percentage of people receiving income assistance and food stamps, a greater percentage of people without medical insurance, greater proportion of babies born with low birth weight, higher murder rates, higher rates of violent crime, higher costs per-person for medical care, and higher costs per person for police protection. Moreover states with greater inequality of income distribution also spent less per person on education, had fewer books per person in the schools, and had poorer educational performance, including worse reading skills, worse mathematics skills, and lower rates of completion of high school.
As the gap grows between rich and poor (indicating an increase in social hierarchy within and outwith of workplaces) the health of a people deteriorates and the social fabric unravels. The psychological hardship of being low down on the social ladder has detrimental effects on people, beyond whatever effects are produced by the substandard housing, nutrition, air quality, recreational opportunities, and medical care enjoyed by the poor (see George Davey Smith, "Income inequality and mortality: why are they related?" British Medical Journal, Vol. 312, April 20, 1996, pp. 987-988).
So wealth does not determine health. What does is the gap between the rich and the poor. The larger the gap, the sicker the society. Countries with a greater degree of socioeconomic inequality show greater inequality in health status; also, that middle-income groups in relatively unequal societies have worse health than comparable, or even poorer, groups in more equal societies. Unsurprisingly, this is also reflected over time. The widening income differentials in both the USA and the UK since 1980 have coincided with a slowing down of improvements in life-expectancy, for example.
Inequality, in short, is bad for our health: the health of a population depends not just on the size of the economic pie, but on how the pie is shared.
This is not all. As well as inequalities in wealth, inequalities in freedom also play a large role in overall human well-being. According to Michael Marmot's The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity, as you move up any kind of hierarchy your health status improves. Autonomy and position in a hierarchy are related (i.e. the higher you are in a hierarchy, the more autonomy you have). Thus the implication of this empirical work is that autonomy is a source of good health, that the more control you have over your work environment and your life in general, the less likely you are to suffer the classic stress-related illnesses, such as heart disease. As public-Health scholars Jeffrey Johnson and Ellen Hall have noted, the "potential to control one's own environment is differentially distributed along class lines." [quoted by Robert Kuttner, Everything for Sale, p. 153]
As would be expected from the very nature of hierarchy, to "be in a life situation where one experiences relentless demands by others, over which one has relatively little control, is to be at risk of poor health, physically as well as mentally." Looking at heart disease, the people with greatest risk "tended to be in occupations with high demands, low control, and low social support. People in demanding positions but with great autonomy were at lower risk." Under capitalism, "a relatively small elite demands and gets empowerment, self-actualisation, autonomy, and other work satisfaction that partially compensate for long hours" while "epidemiological data confirm that lower-paid, lower-status workers are more likely to experience the most clinically damaging forms of stress, in part because they have less control over their work." [Kuttner, Op. Cit., p. 153 and p. 154]
In other words, the inequality of autonomy and social participation produced by hierarchy is itself a cause of poor health. There would be positive feedback on the total amount of health -- and thus of social welfare -- if social inequality was reduced, not only in terms of wealth but also, crucially, in power. This is strong evidence in support of anarchist visions of egalitarianism. Some social structures give more people more autonomy than others and acting to promote social justice along these lines is a key step toward improving our health. This means that promoting libertarian, i.e. self-managed, social organisations would increase not only liberty but also people's health and well-being, both physical and mental. Which is, as we argued above, to be expected as hierarchy, by its very nature, impacts negatively on those subject to it.
This dovetails into anarchist support for workers' control. Industrial psychologists have found that satisfaction in work depends on the "span of autonomy" works have. Unsurprisingly, those workers who are continually making decisions for themselves are happier and live longer. It is the power to control all aspects of your life -- work particularly -- that wealth and status tend to confer that is the key determinant of health. Men who have low job control face a 50% higher risk of new illness: heart attacks, stroke, diabetes or merely ordinary infections. Women are at slightly lower risk but low job control was still a factor in whether they fell ill or not.
So it is the fact that the boss is a boss that makes the employment relationship so troublesome for health issues (and genuine libertarians). The more bossy the boss, the worse, as a rule is the job. So part of autonomy is not being bossed around, but that is only part of the story. And, of course, hierarchy (inequality of power) and exploitation (the source of material inequality) are related. As we indicate in the next section, capitalism is based on wage labour. The worker sell their liberty to the boss for a given period of time, i.e. they loose their autonomy. This allows the possibility of exploitation, as the worker can produce more wealth than they receive back in wages. As the boss pockets the difference, lack of autonomy produces increases in social inequality which, in turn, impacts negatively on your well-being.
Then there is the waste associated with hierarchy. While the proponents of authority like to stress its "efficiency," the reality is different. As Colin Ward points out, being in authority "derives from your rank in some chain of command . . . But knowledge and wisdom are not distributed in order of rank, and they are no one person's monopoly in any undertaking. The fantastic inefficiency of any hierarchical organisation -- any factory, office, university, warehouse or hospital -- is the outcome of two almost invariable characteristics. One is that the knowledge and wisdom of the people at the bottom of the pyramid finds no place in the decision-making leadership hierarchy of the institution. Frequently it is devoted to making the institution work in spite of the formal leadership structure, or alternatively to sabotaging the ostensible function of the institution, because it is none of their choosing. The other is that they would rather not be there anyway: they are there through economic necessity rather than through identification with a common task which throws up its own shifting and functional leadership." [Op. Cit., p. 41]
Hierarchy, in other words, blocks the flow of information and knowledge. Rulers, as Malatesta argued, "can only make use of the forces that exist in society -- except for those great forces" their action "paralyses and destroys, and those rebel forces, and all that is wasted through conflicts; inevitable tremendous losses in such an artificial system." And so as well as individuals being prevented from developing to their fullest, wasting their unfulfilled potentialities, hierarchy also harms society as a whole by reducing efficiency and creativity. This is because input into decisions are limited "only to those individuals who form the government [of a hierarchical organisation] or who by reason of their position can influence the[ir] policy." Obviously this means "that far from resulting in an increase in the productive, organising and protective forces in society," hierarchy "greatly reduce[s] them, limiting initiative to a few, and giving them the right to do everything without, of course, being able to provide them with the gift of being all-knowing." [Anarchy, p. 38 and p. 39]
Large scale hierarchical organisations, like the state, are also marked by bureaucracy. This becomes a necessity in order to gather the necessary information it needs to make decisions (and, obviously, to control those under it). However, soon this bureaucracy becomes the real source of power due to its permanence and control of information and resources. Thus hierarchy cannot "survive without creating around itself a new privileged class" as well as being a "privileged class and cut off from the people" itself. [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 37 and p. 36] This means that those at the top of an institution rarely know the facts on the ground, making decisions in relative ignorance of their impact or the actual needs of the situation or people involved. As economist Joseph Stiglitz concluded from his own experiences in the World Bank, "immense time and effort are required to effect change even from the inside, in an international bureaucracy. Such organisations are opaque rather than transparent, and not only does far too little information radiate from inside to the outside world, perhaps even less information from outside is able to penetrate the organisation. The opaqueness also means that it is hard for information from the bottom of the organisation to percolate to the top." [Globalisation and its Discontents, p. 33] The same can be said of any hierarchical organisation, whether a nation state or capitalist business.
Moreover, as Ward and Malatesta indicate, hierarchy provokes a struggle between those at the bottom and at the top. This struggle is also a source of waste as it diverts resources and energy from more fruitful activity into fighting it. Ironically, as we discuss in section H.4.4, one weapon forged in that struggle is the "work to rule," namely workers bringing their workplace to a grinding halt by following the dictates of the boss to the letter. This is clear evidence that a workplace only operates because workers exercise their autonomy during working hours, an autonomy which authoritarian structures stifle and waste. A participatory workplace, therefore, would be more efficient and less wasteful than the hierarchical one associated with capitalism. As we discuss in section J.5.12, hierarchy and the struggle it creates always acts as a barrier stopping the increased efficiency associated with workers' participation undermining the autocratic workplace of capitalism.
All this is not to suggest that those at the bottom of hierarchies are victims nor that those at the top of hierarchies only gain benefits -- far from it. As Ward and Malatesta indicated, hierarchy by its very nature creates resistance to it from those subjected to it and, in the process, the potential for ending it (see section B.1.6 for more discussion). Conversely, at the summit of the pyramid, we also see the evils of hierarchy.
If we look at those at the top of the system, yes, indeed they often do very well in terms of material goods and access to education, leisure, health and so on but they lose their humanity and individuality. As Bakunin pointed out, "power and authority corrupt those who exercise them as much as those who are compelled to submit to them." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 249] Power operates destructively, even on those who have it, reducing their individuality as it "renders them stupid and brutal, even when they were originally endowed with the best of talents. One who is constantly striving to force everything into a mechanical order at last becomes a machine himself and loses all human feeling." [Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, pp. 17-8]
When it boils down to it, hierarchy is self-defeating, for if "wealth is other people," then by treating others as less than yourself, restricting their growth, you lose all the potential insights and abilities these individuals have, so impoverishing your own life and restricting your own growth. Unfortunately in these days material wealth (a particularly narrow form of "self-interest") has replaced concern for developing the whole person and leading a fulfilling and creative life (a broad self-interest, which places the individual within society, one that recognises that relationships with others shape and develop all individuals). In a hierarchical, class based society everyone loses to some degree, even those at the "top."
Looking at the environment, the self-defeating nature of hierarchy also becomes clear. The destiny of human life goes hand-in-hand with the destiny of the non-human world. While being rich and powerful may mitigate the impact of the ecological destruction produced by hierarchies and capitalism, it will not stop them and will, eventually, impact on the elite as well as the many.
Little wonder, then, that "anarchism . . . works to destroy authority in all its aspects . . . [and] refuses all hierarchical organisation." [Kropotkin, Anarchism, p. 137]
Yes. Under capitalism workers do not exchange the products of their labour they exchange the labour itself for money. They sell themselves for a given period of time, and in return for wages, promise to obey their paymasters. Those who pay and give the orders -- owners and managers -- are at the top of the hierarchy, those who obey at the bottom. This means that capitalism, by its very nature, is hierarchical.
As Carole Pateman argues:
"Capacities or labour power cannot be used without the worker using his will, his understanding and experience, to put them into effect. The use of labour power requires the presence of its 'owner,' and it remains mere potential until he acts in the manner necessary to put it into use, or agrees or is compelled so to act; that is, the worker must labour. To contract for the use of labour power is a waste of resources unless it can be used in the way in which the new owner requires. The fiction 'labour power' cannot be used; what is required is that the worker labours as demanded. The employment contract must, therefore, create a relationship of command and obedience between employer and worker . . . In short, the contract in which the worker allegedly sells his labour power is a contract in which, since he cannot be separated from his capacities, he sells command over the use of his body and himself. To obtain the right to use another is to be a (civil) master." [The Sexual Contract, pp. 150-1]
You need only compare this to Proudhon's comments quoted in section B.1 to see that anarchists have long recognised that capitalism is, by its very nature, hierarchical. The worker is subjected to the authority of the boss during working hours (sometimes outside work too). As Noam Chomsky summarises, "a corporation, factory of business is the economic equivalent of fascism: decisions and control are strictly top-down." [Letters from Lexington, p. 127] The worker's choices are extremely limited, for most people it amount to renting themselves out to a series of different masters (for a lucky few, the option of being a master is available). And master is the right word for, as David Ellerman reminds us, "[s]ociety seems to have 'covered up' in the popular consciousness the fact that the traditional name [for employer and employee] is 'master and servant.'" [Property and Contract in Economics, p. 103]
This hierarchical control of wage labour has the effect of alienating workers from their own work, and so from themselves. Workers no longer govern themselves during work hours and so are no longer free. And so, due to capitalism, there is "an oppression in the land," a "form of slavery" rooted in current "property institutions" which produces "a social war, inevitable so long as present legal-social conditions endure." [Voltairine de Cleyre, Op. Cit., pp. 54-5]
Some defenders of capitalism are aware of the contradiction between the rhetoric of the system and its reality for those subject to it. Most utilise the argument that workers consent to this form of hierarchy. Ignoring the economic conditions which force people to sell their liberty on the labour market (see section B.4.3), the issue instantly arises of whether consent is enough in itself to justify the alienation/selling of a person's liberty. For example, there have been arguments for slavery and monarchy (i.e. dictatorship) rooted in consent. Do we really want to say that the only thing wrong with fascism or slavery is that people do not consent to it? Sadly, some right-wing "libertarians" come to that conclusion (see section B.4).
Some try to redefine the reality of the command-and-obey of wage labour. "To speak of managing, directing, or assigning workers to various tasks is a deceptive way of noting that the employer continually is involved in re-negotiation of contracts on terms that must be acceptable to both parties," argue two right-wing economists. [Arman Alchian and Harold Demsetz, quoted by Ellerman, Op. Cit., p. 170] So the employer-employee (or, to use the old, more correct, terminology, master-servant) contract is thus a series of unspoken contracts.
However, if an oral contract is not worth the paper it is written on, how valuable is an unspoken one? And what does this "re-negotiation of contracts" amount to? The employee decides whether to obey the command or leave and the boss decides whether the employee is obedient and productive enough to remain in under his or her control. Hardly a relationship based on freedom between equal partners! As such, this capitalist defence of wage labour "is a deceptive way of noting" that the employee is paid to obey. The contract between them is simply that of obedience on one side and power on the other. That both sides may break the contract does not alter this fact. Thus the capitalist workplace "is not democratic in spite of the 'consent of the governed' to the employment contract . . . In the employment contract, the workers alienate and transfer their legal rights to the employer to govern their activities 'within the scope of the employment' to the employer." [David Ellerman, The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm, p. 50]
Ultimately, there is one right that cannot be ceded or abandoned, namely the right to personality. If a person gave up their personality they would cease to be a person yet this is what the employment contract imposes. To maintain and develop their personality is a basic right of humanity and it cannot be transferred to another, permanently or temporarily. To argue otherwise would be to admit that under certain circumstances and for certain periods of time a person is not a person but rather a thing to be used by others. Yet this is precisely what capitalism does due to its hierarchical nature.
This is not all. Capitalism, by treating labour as analogous to all other commodities denies the key distinction between labour and other "resources" - that is to say its inseparability from its bearer - labour, unlike other "property," is endowed with will and agency. Thus when one speaks of selling labour there is a necessary subjugation of will (hierarchy). As Karl Polanyi writes:
"Labour is only another name for human activity which goes with life itself, which is in turn not produced for sale but for entirely different reasons, nor can that activity be detached from the rest of life itself, be stored or mobilised . . . To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment . . . would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity 'labour power' cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting also the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this peculiar commodity. In disposing of a man's labour power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity 'man' attached to that tag." [The Great Transformation, p. 72]
In other words, labour is much more than the commodity to which capitalism tries to reduce it. Creative, self-managed work is a source of pride and joy and part of what it means to be fully human. Wrenching control of work from the hands of the worker profoundly harms his or her mental and physical health. Indeed, Proudhon went so far as to argue that capitalist companies "plunder the bodies and souls of the wage-workers" and were an "outrage upon human dignity and personality." [Op. Cit., p. 219] This is because wage labour turns productive activity and the person who does it into a commodity. People "are not human beings so much as human resources. To the morally blind corporation, they are tool to generate as much profit as possible. And 'the tool can be treated just like a piece of metal -- you use it if you want, you throw it away if you don't want it,' says Noam Chomsky. 'If you can get human beings to become tool like that, it's more efficient by some measure of efficiency . . . a measure which is based on dehumanisation. You have to dehumanise it. That's part of the system.'" [Joel Bakan, The Corporation, p. 69]
Separating labour from other activities of life and subjecting it to the laws of the market means to annihilate its natural, organic form of existence -- a form that evolved with the human race through tens of thousands of years of co-operative economic activity based on sharing and mutual aid -- and replacing it with an atomistic and individualistic one based on contract and competition. Unsurprisingly, this relationship is a very recent development and, moreover, the product of substantial state action and coercion (see section F.8 for some discussion of this). Simply put, "the early labourer . . . abhorred the factory, where he [or she] felt degraded and tortured." While the state ensured a steady pool of landless workers by enforcing private property rights, the early manufacturers also utilised the state to ensure low wages, primarily for social reasons -- only an overworked and downtrodden labourer with no other options would agree to do whatever their master required of them. "Legal compulsion and parish serfdom as in England," noted Polanyi, "the rigors of an absolutist labour police as on the Continent, indented labour as in the early Americas were the prerequisites of the 'willing worker.'" [Op. Cit., pp. 164-5]
Ignoring its origins in state action, the social relationship of wage labour is then claimed by capitalists to be a source of "freedom," whereas in fact it is a form of (in)voluntary servitude (see sections B.4 and A.2.14 for more discussion). Therefore a libertarian who did not support economic liberty (i.e. self-government in industry, libertarian socialism) would be no libertarian at all, and no believer in liberty. Capitalism is based upon hierarchy and the denial of liberty. To present it otherwise denies the nature of wage labour. However, supporters of capitalism try to but -- as Karl Polanyi points out -- the idea that wage labour is based upon some kind of "natural" liberty is false:
"To represent this principle [wage labour] as one of non-interference [with freedom], as economic liberals were wont to do, was merely the expression of an ingrained prejudice in favour of a definite kind of interference, namely, such as would destroy non-contractual relations between individuals and prevent their spontaneous re-formation." [Op. Cit., p.163]
As noted above, capitalism itself was created by state violence and the destruction of traditional ways of life and social interaction was part of that task. From the start, bosses spent considerable time and energy combating attempts of working people to join together to resist the hierarchy they were subjected to and reassert human values. Such forms of free association between equals (such as trade unions) were combated, just as attempts to regulate the worse excesses of the system by democratic governments. Indeed, capitalists prefer centralised, elitist and/or authoritarian regimes precisely because they are sure to be outside of popular control (see section B.2.5). They are the only way that contractual relations based on market power could be enforced on an unwilling population. Capitalism was born under such states and as well as backing fascist movements, they made high profits in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Today many corporations "regularly do business with totalitarian and authoritarian regimes -- again, because it is profitable to do so." Indeed, there is a "trend by US corporations to invest in" such countries. [Joel Bakan, Op. Cit., p. 89 and p. 185] Perhaps unsurprisingly, as such regimes are best able to enforce the necessary conditions to commodify labour fully.
Anarchists argue that capitalism can only have a negative impact on ethical behaviour. This flows from its hierarchical nature. We think that hierarchy must, by its very nature, always impact negatively on morality.
As we argued in section A.2.19, ethics is dependent on both individual liberty and equality between individuals. Hierarchy violates both and so the "great sources of moral depravity" are "capitalism, religion, justice, government." In "the domain of economy, coercion has lead us to industrial servitude; in the domain of politics to the State . . . [where] the nation . . . becomes nothing but a mass of obedient subjects to a central authority." This has "contributed and powerfully aided to create all the present economic, political, and social evils" and "has given proof of its absolute impotence to raise the moral level of societies; it has not even been able to maintain it at the level it had already reached." This is unsurprising, as society developed "authoritarian prejudices" and "men become more and more divided into governors and governed, exploiters and exploited, the moral level fell . . . and the spirit of the age declined." By violating equality, by rejecting social co-operation between equals in favour of top-down, authoritarian, social relationships which turn some into the tools of others, capitalism, like the state, could not help but erode ethical standards as the "moral level" of society is "debased by the practice of authority." [Kropotkin, Anarchism, pp. 137-8, p. 106 and p. 139]
However, as we as promoting general unethical behaviour, capitalism produces a specific perverted hierarchy of values -- one that places humanity below property. As Erich Fromm argues:
"The use [i.e. exploitation] of man by man is expressive of the system of values underlying the capitalistic system. Capital, the dead past, employs labour -- the living vitality and power of the present. In the capitalistic hierarchy of values, capital stands higher than labour, amassed things higher than the manifestations of life. Capital employs labour, and not labour capital. The person who owns capital commands the person who 'only' owns his life, human skill, vitality and creative productivity. 'Things' are higher than man. The conflict between capital and labour is much more than the conflict between two classes, more than their fight for a greater share of the social product. It is the conflict between two principles of value: that between the world of things, and their amassment, and the world of life and its productivity." [The Sane Society, pp. 94-95]
Capitalism only values a person as representing a certain amount of the commodity called "labour power," in other words, as a thing. Instead of being valued as an individual -- a unique human being with intrinsic moral and spiritual worth -- only one's price tag counts. This replacement of human relationships by economic ones soon results in the replacement of human values by economic ones, giving us an "ethics" of the account book, in which people are valued by how much they earn. It also leads, as Murray Bookchin argues, to a debasement of human values:
"So deeply rooted is the market economy in our minds that its grubby language has replaced our most hallowed moral and spiritual expressions. We now 'invest' in our children, marriages, and personal relationships, a term that is equated with words like 'love' and 'care.' We live in a world of 'trade-offs' and we ask for the 'bottom line' of any emotional 'transaction.' We use the terminology of contracts rather than that of loyalties and spiritual affinities." [The Modern Crisis, p. 79]
With human values replaced by the ethics of calculation, and with only the laws of market and state "binding" people together, social breakdown is inevitable. Little wonder modern capitalism has seen a massive increase in crime and dehumanisation under the freer markets established by "conservative" governments, such as those of Thatcher and Reagan and their transnational corporate masters. We now live in a society where people live in self-constructed fortresses, "free" behind their walls and defences (both emotional and physical).
Of course, some people like the "ethics" of mathematics. But this is mostly because -- like all gods -- it gives the worshipper an easy rule book to follow. "Five is greater than four, therefore five is better" is pretty simple to understand. John Steinbeck noticed this when he wrote:
"Some of them [the owners] hated the mathematics that drove them [to kick the farmers off their land], and some were afraid, and some worshipped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling." [The Grapes of Wrath, p. 34]
The debasement of the individual in the workplace, where so much time is spent, necessarily affects a person's self-image, which in turn carries over into the way he or she acts in other areas of life. If one is regarded as a commodity at work, one comes to regard oneself and others in that way also. Thus all social relationships -- and so, ultimately, all individuals -- are commodified. In capitalism, literally nothing is sacred -- "everything has its price" -- be it dignity, self-worth, pride, honour -- all become commodities up for grabs. Such debasement produces a number of social pathologies. "Consumerism" is one example which can be traced directly to the commodification of the individual under capitalism. To quote Fromm again, "Things have no self, and men who have become things [i.e. commodities on the labour market] can have no self." [Op. Cit., p. 143]
However, people still feel the need for selfhood, and so try to fill the emptiness by consuming. The illusion of happiness, that one's life will be complete if one gets a new commodity, drives people to consume. Unfortunately, since commodities are yet more things, they provide no substitute for selfhood, and so the consuming must begin anew. This process is, of course, encouraged by the advertising industry, which tries to convince us to buy what we don't need because it will make us popular/sexy/happy/free/etc. (delete as appropriate!). But consuming cannot really satisfy the needs that the commodities are bought to satisfy. Those needs can only be satisfied by social interaction based on truly human values and by creative, self-directed work.
This does not mean, of course, that anarchists are against higher living standards or material goods. To the contrary, they recognise that liberty and a good life are only possible when one does not have to worry about having enough food, decent housing, and so forth. Freedom and 16 hours of work a day do not go together, nor do equality and poverty or solidarity and hunger. However, anarchists consider consumerism to be a distortion of consumption caused by the alienating and inhuman "account book" ethics of capitalism, which crushes the individual and his or her sense of identity, dignity and selfhood.
Since racism, sexism and homophobia (hatred/fear of homosexuals) are institutionalised throughout society, sexual, racial and gay oppression are commonplace. The primary cause of these three evil attitudes is the need for ideologies that justify domination and exploitation, which are inherent in hierarchy -- in other words, "theories" that "justify" and "explain" oppression and injustice. As Tacitus said, "We hate those whom we injure." Those who oppress others always find reasons to regard their victims as "inferior" and hence deserving of their fate. Elites need some way to justify their superior social and economic positions. Since the social system is obviously unfair and elitist, attention must be distracted to other, less inconvenient, "facts," such as alleged superiority based on biology or "nature." Therefore, doctrines of sexual, racial, and ethnic superiority are inevitable in hierarchical, class-stratified societies.
We will take each form of bigotry in turn.
>From an economic standpoint, racism is associated with the exploitation of cheap labour at home and imperialism abroad. Indeed, early capitalist development in both America and Europe was strengthened by the bondage of people, particularly those of African descent. In the Americas, Australia and other parts of the world the slaughter of the original inhabitants and the expropriation of their land was also a key aspect in the growth of capitalism. As the subordination of foreign nations proceeds by force, it appears to the dominant nation that it owes its mastery to its special natural qualities, in other words to its "racial" characteristics. Thus imperialists have frequently appealed to the Darwinian doctrine of "Survival of the Fittest" to give their racism a basis in "nature."
In Europe, one of the first theories of racial superiority was proposed by Gobineau in the 1850s to establish the natural right of the aristocracy to rule over France. He argued that the French aristocracy was originally of Germanic origin while the "masses" were Gallic or Celtic, and that since the Germanic race was "superior", the aristocracy had a natural right to rule. Although the French "masses" didn't find this theory particularly persuasive, it was later taken up by proponents of German expansion and became the origin of German racial ideology, used to justify Nazi oppression of Jews and other "non-Aryan" types. Notions of the "white man's burden" and "Manifest Destiny" developed at about the same time in England and to a lesser extent in America, and were used to rationalise Anglo-Saxon conquest and world domination on a "humanitarian" basis.
Racism and authoritarianism at home and abroad has gone hand in hand. As Rudolf Rocker argued, "[a]ll advocates of the race doctrine have been and are the associates and defenders of every political and social reaction, advocates of the power principle in its most brutal form . . . He who thinks that he sees in all political and social antagonisms merely blood-determined manifestations of race, denies all conciliatory influence of ideas, all community of ethical feeling, and must at every crisis take refuge in brute force. In fact, race theory is only the cult of power." Racism aids the consolidation of elite power for by attacking "all the achievements . . . in the direction of personal freedom" and the idea of equality "[n]o better moral justification could be produced for the industrial bondage which our holders of industrial power keep before them as a picture of the future." [Nationalism and Culture, pp. 337-8]
The idea of racial superiority was also found to have great domestic utility. As Paul Sweezy points out, "[t]he intensification of social conflict within the advanced capitalist countries. . . has to be directed as far as possible into innocuous channels -- innocuous, that is to say, from the standpoint of capitalist class rule. The stirring up of antagonisms along racial lines is a convenient method of directing attention away from class struggle," which of course is dangerous to ruling-class interests. [Theory of Capitalist Development, p. 311] Indeed, employers have often deliberately fostered divisions among workers on racial lines as part of a strategy of "divide and rule" (in other contexts, like Northern Ireland or Scotland, the employers have used religion in the same way instead).
Employers and politicians have often deliberately fostered divisions among workers on racial lines as part of a strategy of "divide and rule." In other contexts, like Tzarist Russia, Northern Ireland or Scotland, the employers have used religion in the same way. In others, immigrants and native born is the dividing line. The net effect is the same, social oppressions which range from the extreme violence anarchists like Emma Goldman denounced in the American South ("the atrocities rampant in the South, of negroes lynched, tortured and burned by infuriated crowds without a hand being raised or a word said for their protection" [Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, vol. 1, p. 386]) or the pogroms against Jews in Tsarist Russia to discrimination in where people can live, what jobs people can get, less pay and so on.
For those in power, this makes perfect sense as racism (like other forms of bigotry) can be used to split and divide the working class by getting people to blame others of their class for the conditions they all suffer. In this way, the anger people feel about the problems they face are turned away from their real causes onto scapegoats. Thus white workers are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) encouraged, for example, to blame unemployment, poverty and crime on blacks or Hispanics instead of capitalism and the (white, male) elites who run it and who directly benefit from low wages and high profits. Discrimination against racial minorities and women makes sense for capitalism, for in this way profits are enlarged directly and indirectly. As jobs and investment opportunities are denied to the disadvantaged groups, their wages can be depressed below prevailing levels and profits, correspondingly, increased. Indirectly, discrimination adds capitalist profits and power by increasing unemployment and setting workers against each other. Such factors ensure that capitalism will never "compete" discrimination way as some free-market capitalist economists argue.
In other words, capitalism has benefited and will continue to benefit from its racist heritage. Racism has provided pools of cheap labour for capitalists to draw upon and permitted a section of the population to be subjected to worse treatment, so increasing profits by reducing working conditions and other non-pay related costs. In America, blacks still get paid less than whites for the same work (around 10% less than white workers with the same education, work experience, occupation and other relevent demographic variables). This is transferred into wealth inequalities. In 1998, black incomes were 54% of white incomes while black net worth (including residential) was 12% and nonresidential net worth just 3% of white. For Hispanics, the picture was similar with incomes just 62% of whites, net worth, 4% and nonresidential net worth 0%. While just under 15% of white households had zero or negative net worth, 27% of black households and 36% Hispanic were in the same situation. Even at similar levels of income, black households were significantly less wealthy than white ones. [Doug Henwood, After the New Economy, p. 99 and pp. 125-6]
All this means that racial minorities are "subjected to oppression and exploitation on the dual grounds of race and class, and thus have to fight the extra battles against racism and discrimination." [Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, Anarchism and the Black Revolution, p. 126]
Sexism only required a "justification" once women started to act for themselves and demand equal rights. Before that point, sexual oppression did not need to be "justified" -- it was "natural" (saying that, of course, equality between the sexes was stronger before the rise of Christianity as a state religion and capitalism so the "place" of women in society has fallen over the last few hundred years before rising again thanks to the women's movement).
The nature of sexual oppression can be seen from marriage. Emma Goldman pointed out that marriage "stands for the sovereignty of the man over the women," with her "complete submission" to the husbands "whims and commands." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 164] As Carole Pateman notes, until "the late nineteenth century the legal and civil position of a wife resembled that of a slave. . . A slave had no independent legal existence apart from his master, and husband and wife became 'one person,' the person of the husband." Indeed, the law "was based on the assumption that a wife was (like) property" and only the marriage contract "includes the explicit commitment to obey." [The Sexual Contract, p. 119, p. 122 and p. 181]
However, when women started to question the assumptions of male domination, numerous theories were developed to explain why women's oppression and domination by men was "natural." Because men enforced their rule over women by force, men's "superiority" was argued to be a "natural" product of their gender, which is associated with greater physical strength (on the premise that "might makes right"). In the 17th century, it was argued that women were more like animals than men, thus "proving" that women had as much right to equality with men as sheep did. More recently, elites have embraced socio-biology in response to the growing women's movement. By "explaining" women's oppression on biological grounds, a social system run by men and for men could be ignored.
Women's subservient role also has economic value for capitalism (we should note that Goldman considered capitalism to be another "paternal arrangement" like marriage, both of which robbed people of their "birthright," "stunts" their growth, "poisons" their bodies and keeps people in "ignorance, in poverty and dependence." [Op. Cit., p. 210]). Women often provide necessary (and unpaid) labour which keeps the (usually) male worker in good condition; and it is primarily women who raise the next generation of wage-slaves (again without pay) for capitalist owners to exploit. Moreover, women's subordination gives working-class men someone to look down upon and, sometimes, a convenient target on whom they can take out their frustrations (instead of stirring up trouble at work). As Lucy Parsons pointed out, a working class woman is "a slave to a slave."
Sexism, like all forms of bigotry, is reflected in relative incomes and wealth levels. In the US women, on average, were being paid 57% the amount men were in 2001 (an improvement than the 39% 20 years earlier). Part of this is due to fewer women working than men, but for those who do work outside the home their incomes were 66% than of men's (up from 47% in 1980 and 38% in 1970). Those who work full time, their incomes 76% of men's, up from the 60% average through most of the 1970s. However, as with the black-white gap, this is due in part to the stagnant income of male workers (in 1998 men's real incomes were just 1% above 1989 levels while women's were 14% above). So rather than the increase in income being purely the result of women entering high-paying and largely male occupations and them closing the gender gap, it has also been the result of the intense attacks on the working class since the 1980s which has de-unionised and de-industrialised America. This has resulted in a lot of high-paying male jobs have been lost and more and more women have entered the job market to make sure their families make ends. [Henwood, Op. Cit., p. 91-2]
Turning away from averages, we discover that sexism results in women being paid about 12% less than men during the same job, with the same relative variables (like work experience, education and so forth). Needless to say, as with racism, such "relevant variables" are themselves shaped by discrimination. Women, like blacks, are less likely to get job interviews and jobs. Sexism even affects types of jobs, for example, "caring" professions pay less than non-caring ones because they are seen as feminine and involve the kinds of tasks which women do at home without pay. In general, female dominated industries pay less. In 1998, occupations that were over 90% male had a median wage almost 10% above average while those over 90% female, almost 25% below. One study found that a 30% increase in women in an occupation translated into a 10% decline in average pay. Needless to say, having children is bad economic news for most women (women with children earn 10 to 15% less than women without children while for men the opposite is the case). Having maternity level, incidentally, have a far smaller motherhood penalty. [Henwood, Op. Cit., p. 95-7]
The oppression of lesbians, gays and bisexuals is inextricably linked with sexism. A patriarchal, capitalist society cannot see homosexual practices as the normal human variations they are because they blur that society's rigid gender roles and sexist stereotypes. Most young gay people keep their sexuality to themselves for fear of being kicked out of home and all gays have the fear that some "straights" will try to kick their sexuality out of them if they express their sexuality freely. As with those subject to other forms of bigotry, gays are also discriminated against economically (gay men earning about 4-7% less than the average straight man [Henwood, Op. Cit., p. 100]). Thus the social oppression which result in having an alternative sexuality are experienced on many different levels, from extreme violence to less pay for doing the same work.
Gays are not oppressed on a whim but because of the specific need of capitalism for the nuclear family. The nuclear family, as the primary - and inexpensive - creator of submissive people (growing up within the authoritarian family gets children used to, and "respectful" of, hierarchy and subordination - see section B.1.5) as well as provider and carer for the workforce fulfils an important need for capitalism. Alternative sexualities represent a threat to the family model because they provide a different role model for people. This means that gays are going to be in the front line of attack whenever capitalism wants to reinforce "family values" (i.e. submission to authority, "tradition", "morality" and so on). The introduction of Clause 28 in Britain is a good example of this, with the government making it illegal for public bodies to promote gay sexuality (i.e. to present it as anything other than a perversion). In American, the right is also seeking to demonise homosexuality as part of their campaign to reinforce the values of the patriarchal family unit and submission to "traditional" authority. Therefore, the oppression of people based on their sexuality is unlikely to end until sexism is eliminated.
This is not all. As well as adversely affecting those subject to them, sexism, racism and homophobia are harmful to those who practice them (and in some way benefit from them) within the working class itself. Why this should be the case is obvious, once you think about it. All three divide the working class, which means that whites, males and heterosexuals hurt themselves by maintaining a pool of low-paid competing labour, ensuring low wages for their own wives, daughters, mothers, relatives and friends. Such divisions create inferior conditions and wages for all as capitalists gain a competitive advantage using this pool of cheap labour, forcing all capitalists to cut conditions and wages to survive in the market (in addition, such social hierarchies, by undermining solidarity against the employer on the job and the state possibly create a group of excluded workers who could become scabs during strikes). Also, "privileged" sections of the working class lose out because their wages and conditions are less than those which unity could have won them. Only the boss really wins.
This can be seen from research into this subject. The researcher Al Szymanski sought to systematically and scientifically test the proposition that white workers gain from racism ["Racial Discrimination and White Gain", in American Sociological Review, vol. 41, no. 3, June 1976, pp. 403-414]. He compared the situation of "white" and "non-white" (i.e. black, Native American, Asian and Hispanic) workers in United States and found several key things:
(2) the more "non-white" people in the population of a given American State, the more inequality there was between whites. In other words, the existence of a poor, oppressed group of workers reduced the wages of white workers, although it did not affect the earnings of non-working class whites very much ("the greater the discrimination against [non-white] people, the greater the inequality among whites" [p. 410]). So white workers clearly lost economically from this discrimination.
(3) He also found that "the more intense racial discrimination is, the lower are the white earnings because of . . . [its effect on] working-class solidarity." [p. 412] In other words, racism economically disadvantages white workers because it undermines the solidarity between black and white workers and weakens trade union organisation.
(1) the narrower the gap between white and black wages in an American state, the higher white earnings were relative to white earnings elsewhere. This means that "whites do not benefit economically by economic discrimination. White workers especially appear to benefit economically from the absence of economic discrimination. . . both in the absolute level of their earnings and in relative equality among whites." [p. 413] In other words, the less wage discrimination there was against black workers, the better were the wages that white workers received.
So overall, these white workers receive some apparent privileges from racism, but are in fact screwed by it. Thus racism and other forms of hierarchy actually works against the interests of those working class people who practice it -- and, by weakening workplace and social unity, benefits the ruling class:
"As long as discrimination exists and racial or ethnic minorities are oppressed, the entire working class is weakened. This is so because the Capitalist class is able to use racism to drive down the wages of individual segments of the working class by inciting racial antagonism and forcing a fight for jobs and services. This division is a development that ultimately undercuts the living standards of all workers. Moreover, by pitting Whites against Blacks and other oppressed nationalities, the Capitalist class is able to prevent workers from uniting against their common enemy. As long as workers are fighting each other, the Capitalist class is secure." [Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, Op. Cit., pp. 12-3]
In addition, a wealth of alternative viewpoints, insights, experiences, cultures, thoughts and so on are denied the racist, sexist or homophobe. Their minds are trapped in a cage, stagnating within a mono-culture -- and stagnation is death for the personality. Such forms of oppression are dehumanising for those who practice them, for the oppressor lives as a role, not as a person, and so are restricted by it and cannot express their individuality freely (and so do so in very limited ways). This warps the personality of the oppressor and impoverishes their own life and personality. Homophobia and sexism also limits the flexibility of all people, gay or straight, to choose the sexual expressions and relationships that are right for them. The sexual repression of the sexist and homophobe will hardly be good for their mental health, their relationships or general development.
>From the anarchist standpoint, oppression based on race, sex or sexuality will remain forever intractable under capitalism or, indeed, under any economic or political system based on domination and exploitation. While individual members of "minorities" may prosper, racism as a justification for inequality is too useful a tool for elites to discard. By using the results of racism (e.g. poverty) as a justification for racist ideology, criticism of the status quo can, yet again, be replaced by nonsense about "nature" and "biology." Similarly with sexism or discrimination against gays.
The long-term solution is obvious: dismantle capitalism and the hierarchical, economically class-stratified society with which it is bound up. By getting rid of capitalist oppression and exploitation and its consequent imperialism and poverty, we will also eliminate the need for ideologies of racial or sexual superiority used to justify the oppression of one group by another or to divide and weaken the working class. However, struggles against bigotry cannot be left until after a revolution. If they were two things are likely: one, such a revolution would be unlikely to happen and, two, if it were then these problems would more than likely remain in the new society created by it. Therefore the negative impacts of inequality can and must be fought in the here and now, like any form of hierarchy. Indeed, as we discuss in more detail section B.1.6 by doing so we make life a bit better in the here and now as well as bringing the time when such inequalities are finally ended nearer. Only this can ensure that we can all live as free and equal individuals in a world without the blights of sexism, racism, homophobia or religious hatred.
Needless to say, anarchists totally reject the kind of "equality" that accepts other kinds of hierarchy, that accepts the dominant priorities of capitalism and the state and accedes to the devaluation of relationships and individuality in name of power and wealth. There is a kind of "equality" in having "equal opportunities," in having black, gay or women bosses and politicians, but one that misses the point. Saying "Me too!" instead of "What a mess!" does not suggest real liberation, just different bosses and new forms of oppression. We need to look at the way society is organised, not at the sex, colour, nationality or sexuality of who is giving the orders!
We noted in section A.3.6 that hierarchical, authoritarian institutions tend to be self-perpetuating, because growing up under their influence creates submissive/authoritarian personalities -- people who both "respect" authority (based on fear of punishment) and desire to exercise it themselves on subordinates. Individuals with such a character structure do not really want to dismantle hierarchies, because they are afraid of the responsibility entailed by genuine freedom. It seems "natural" and "right" to them that society's institutions, from the authoritarian factory to the patriarchal family, should be pyramidal, with an elite at the top giving orders while those below them merely obey. Thus we have the spectacle of so-called "Libertarians" and "anarcho" capitalists bleating about "liberty" while at the same time advocating factory fascism and privatised states. In short, authoritarian civilisation reproduces itself with each generation because, through an intricate system of conditioning that permeates every aspect of society, it creates masses of people who support the status quo.
Wilhelm Reich has given one of the most thorough analyses of the psychological processes involved in the reproduction of authoritarian civilisation. Reich based his analysis on four of Freud's most solidly grounded discoveries, namely, (1) that there exists an unconscious part of the mind which has a powerful though irrational influence on behaviour; (2) that even the small child develops a lively "genital" sexuality, i.e. a desire for sexual pleasure which has nothing to do with procreation; (3) that childhood sexuality along with the Oedipal conflicts that arise in parent-child relations under monogamy and patriarchy are usually repressed through fear of punishment or disapproval for sexual acts and thoughts; (4) that this blocking of the child's natural sexual activity and extinguishing it from memory does not weaken its force in the unconscious, but actually intensifies it and enables it to manifest itself in various pathological disturbances and anti-social drives; and (5) that, far from being of divine origin, human moral codes are derived from the educational measures used by the parents and parental surrogates in earliest childhood, the most effective of these being the ones opposed to childhood sexuality.
By studying Bronislaw Malinowsli's research on the Trobriand Islanders, a woman-centred (matricentric) society in which children's sexual behaviour was not repressed and in which neuroses and perversions as well as authoritarian institutions and values were almost non-existent, Reich came to the conclusion that patriarchy and authoritarianism originally developed when tribal chieftains began to get economic advantages from a certain type of marriage ("cross-cousin marriages") entered into by their sons. In such marriages, the brothers of the son's wife were obliged to pay a dowry to her in the form of continuous tribute, thus enriching her husband's clan (i.e. the chief's). By arranging many such marriages for his sons (which were usually numerous due to the chief's privilege of polygamy), the chief's clan could accumulate wealth. Thus society began to be stratified into ruling and subordinate clans based on wealth.
To secure the permanence of these "good" marriages, strict monogamy was required. However, it was found that monogamy was impossible to maintain without the repression of childhood sexuality, since, as statistics show, children who are allowed free expression of sexuality often do not adapt successfully to life-long monogamy. Therefore, along with class stratification and private property, authoritarian child-rearing methods were developed to inculcate the repressive sexual morality on which the new patriarchal system depended for its reproduction. Thus there is a historical correlation between, on the one hand, pre-patriarchal society, primitive libertarian communism (or "work democracy," to use Reich's expression), economic equality, and sexual freedom, and on the other, patriarchal society, a private-property economy, economic class stratification, and sexual repression. As Reich puts it:
"Every tribe that developed from a [matricentric] to a patriarchal organisation had to change the sexual structure of its members to produce a sexuality in keeping with its new form of life. This was a necessary change because the shifting of power and of wealth from the democratic gens [maternal clans] to the authoritarian family of the chief was mainly implemented with the help of the suppression of the sexual strivings of the people. It was in this way that sexual suppression became an essential factor in the division of society into classes.
"Marriage, and the lawful dowry it entailed, became the axis of the transformation of the one organisation into the other. In view of the fact that the marriage tribute of the wife's gens to the man's family strengthened the male's, especially the chief's, position of power, the male members of the higher ranking gens and families developed a keen interest in making the nuptial ties permanent. At this stage, in other words, only the man had an interest in marriage. In this way natural work-democracy's simple alliance, which could be easily dissolved at any time, was transformed into the permanent and monogamous marital relationship of patriarchy. The permanent monogamous marriage became the basic institution of patriarchal society -- which it still is today. To safeguard these marriages, however, it was necessary to impose greater and greater restrictions upon and to depreciate natural genital strivings." [The Mass Psychology of Fascism, p. 90]
The suppression of natural sexuality involved in this transformation from matricentric to patriarchal society created various anti-social drives (sadism, destructive impulses, rape fantasies, etc.), which then also had to be suppressed through the imposition of a compulsive morality, which took the place the natural self-regulation that one finds in pre-patriarchal societies. In this way, sex began to be regarded as "dirty," "diabolical," "wicked," etc. -- which it had indeed become through the creation of secondary drives. Thus:
"The patriarchal- authoritarian sexual order that resulted from the revolutionary processes of latter-day [matricentrism] (economic independence of the chief's family from the maternal gens, a growing exchange of goods between the tribes, development of the means of production, etc.) becomes the primary basis of authoritarian ideology by depriving the women, children, and adolescents of their sexual freedom, making a commodity of sex and placing sexual interests in the service of economic subjugation. From now on, sexuality is indeed distorted; it becomes diabolical and demonic and has to be curbed." [Reich, Op. Cit., p. 88]
Once the beginnings of patriarchy are in place, the creation of a fully authoritarian society based on the psychological crippling of its members through sexual suppression follows:
"The moral inhibition of the child's natural sexuality, the last stage of which is the severe impairment of the child's genital sexuality, makes the child afraid, shy, fearful of authority, obedient, 'good,' and 'docile' in the authoritarian sense of the words. It has a crippling effect on man's rebellious forces because every vital life-impulse is now burdened with severe fear; and since sex is a forbidden subject, thought in general and man's critical faculty also become inhibited. In short, morality's aim is to produce acquiescent subjects who, despite distress and humiliation, are adjusted to the authoritarian order. Thus, the family is the authoritarian state in miniature, to which the child must learn to adapt himself as a preparation for the general social adjustment required of him later. Man's authoritarian structure -- this must be clearly established -- is basically produced by the embedding of sexual inhibitions and fear." [Reich, Op. Cit., p. 30]
In this way, by damaging the individual's power to rebel and think for him/herself, the inhibition of childhood sexuality -- and indeed other forms of free, natural expression of bioenergy (e.g. shouting, crying, running, jumping, etc.) -- becomes the most important weapon in creating reactionary personalities. This is why every reactionary politician puts such an emphasis on "strengthening the family" and promoting "family values" (i.e. patriarchy, compulsive monogamy, premarital chastity, corporal punishment, etc.). In the words of Reich:
"Since authoritarian society reproduces itself in the individual structures of the masses with the help of the authoritarian family, it follows that political reaction has to regard and defend the authoritarian family as the basis of the 'state, culture, and civilisation. . . .' [It is] political reaction's germ cell, the most important centre for the production of reactionary men and women. Originating and developing from definite social processes, it becomes the most essential institution for the preservation of the authoritarian system that shapes it." [Op. Cit., pp. 104-105]
The family is the most essential institution for this purpose because children are most vulnerable to psychological maiming in their first few years, from the time of birth to about six years of age, during which time they are mostly in the charge of their parents. The schools and churches then continue the process of conditioning once the children are old enough to be away from their parents, but they are generally unsuccessful if the proper foundation has not been laid very early in life by the parents. Thus A.S. Neill observes that "the nursery training is very like the kennel training. The whipped child, like the whipped puppy, grows into an obedient, inferior adult. And as we train our dogs to suit our own purposes, so we train our children. In that kennel, the nursery, the human dogs must be clean; they must feed when we think it convenient for them to feed. I saw a hundred thousand obedient, fawning dogs wag their tails in the Templehof, Berlin, when in 1935, the great trainer Hitler whistled his commands." [Summerhill: a Radical Approach to Child Rearing, p. 100]
The family is also the main agency of repression during adolescence, when sexual energy reaches its peak. This is because the vast majority of parents provide no private space for adolescents to pursue undisturbed sexual relationships with their partners, but in fact actively discourage such behaviour, often (as in fundamentalist Christian families) demanding complete abstinence -- at the very time when abstinence is most impossible! Moreover, since teenagers are economically dependent on their parents under capitalism, with no societal provision of housing or dormitories allowing for sexual freedom, young people have no alternative but to submit to irrational parental demands for abstention from premarital sex. This in turn forces them to engage in furtive sex in the back seats of cars or other out-of-the-way places where they cannot relax or obtain full sexual satisfaction. As Reich found, when sexuality is repressed and laden with anxiety, the result is always some degree of what he terms "orgastic impotence": the inability to fully surrender to the flow of energy discharged during orgasm. Hence there is an incomplete release of sexual tension, which results in a state of chronic bioenergetic stasis. Such a condition, Reich found, is the breeding ground for neuroses and reactionary attitudes. (For further details see the section J.6).
In this connection it is interesting to note that "primitive" societies, such as the Trobriand Islanders, prior to their developing patriarchal-authoritarian institutions, provided special community houses where teenagers could go with their partners to enjoy undisturbed sexual relationships -- and this with society's full approval. Such an institution would be taken for granted in an anarchist society, as it is implied by the concept of freedom. (For more on adolescent sexual liberation, see section J.6.8.)
Nationalistic feelings can also be traced to the authoritarian family. A child's attachment to its mother is, of course, natural and is the basis of all family ties. Subjectively, the emotional core of the concepts of homeland and nation are mother and family, since the mother is the homeland of the child, just as the family is the "nation in miniature." According to Reich, who carefully studied the mass appeal of Hitler's "National Socialism," nationalistic sentiments are a direct continuation of the family tie and are rooted in a fixated tie to the mother. As Reich points out, although infantile attachment to the mother is natural, fixated attachment is not, but is a social product. In puberty, the tie to the mother would make room for other attachments, i.e., natural sexual relations, if the unnatural sexual restrictions imposed on adolescents did not cause it to be eternalised. It is in the form of this socially conditioned externalisation that fixation on the mother becomes the basis of nationalist feelings in the adult; and it is only at this stage that it becomes a reactionary social force.
Later writers who have followed Reich in analysing the process of creating reactionary character structures have broadened the scope of his analysis to include other important inhibitions, besides sexual ones, that are imposed on children and adolescents. Rianne Eisler, for example, in her book Sacred Pleasure, stresses that it is not just a sex-negative attitude but a pleasure-negative attitude that creates the kinds of personalities in question. Denial of the value of pleasurable sensations permeates our unconscious, as reflected, for example, in the common idea that to enjoy the pleasures of the body is the "animalistic" (and hence "bad") side of human nature, as contrasted with the "higher" pleasures of the mind and "spirit." By such dualism, which denies a spiritual aspect to the body, people are made to feel guilty about enjoying any pleasurable sensations -- a conditioning that does, however, prepare them for lives based on the sacrifice of pleasure (or indeed, even of life itself) under capitalism and statism, with their requirements of mass submission to alienated labour, exploitation, military service to protect ruling-class interests, and so on. And at the same time, authoritarian ideology emphasises the value of suffering, as for example through the glorification of the tough, insensitive warrior hero, who suffers (and inflicts "necessary" suffering on others ) for the sake of some pitiless ideal.
Eisler also points out that there is "ample evidence that people who grow up in families where rigid hierarchies and painful punishments are the norm learn to suppress anger toward their parents. There is also ample evidence that this anger is then often deflected against traditionally disempowered groups (such as minorities, children, and women)." [Sacred Pleasure, p. 187] This repressed anger then becomes fertile ground for reactionary politicians, whose mass appeal usually rests in part on scapegoating minorities for society's problems.
As the psychologist Else Frenkel-Brunswick documents in The Authoritarian Personality, people who have been conditioned through childhood abuse to surrender their will to the requirements of feared authoritarian parents, also tend to be very susceptible as adults to surrender their will and minds to authoritarian leaders. "In other words," Frenkel-Brunswick summarises, "at the same time that they learn to deflect their repressed rage against those they perceive as weak, they also learn to submit to autocratic or 'strong-man' rule. Moreover, having been severely punished for any hint of rebellion (even 'talking back' about being treated unfairly), they gradually also learn to deny to themselves that there was anything wrong with what was done to them as children -- and to do it in turn to their own children." [The Authoritarian Personality, p. 187]
These are just some of the mechanisms that perpetuate the status quo by creating the kinds of personalities who worship authority and fear freedom. Consequently, anarchists are generally opposed to traditional child-rearing practices, the patriarchal-authoritarian family (and its "values"), the suppression of adolescent sexuality, and the pleasure-denying, pain-affirming attitudes taught by the Church and in most schools. In place of these, anarchists favour non-authoritarian, non-repressive child-rearing practices and educational methods (see sections J.6 and secJ.5.13, respectively) whose purpose is to prevent, or at least minimise, the psychological crippling of individuals, allowing them instead to develop natural self-regulation and self-motivated learning. This, we believe, is the only way to for people to grow up into happy, creative, and truly freedom-loving individuals who will provide the psychological ground where anarchist economic and political institutions can flourish.
Faced with the fact that hierarchy, in its many distinctive forms, has been with us such a long time and so negatively shapes those subject to it, some may conclude that the anarchist hope of ending it, or even reducing it, is little more than a utopian dream. Surely, it will be argued, as anarchists acknowledge that those subject to a hierarchy adapt to it this automatically excludes the creation of people able to free themselves from it?
Anarchists disagree. Hierarchy can be ended, both in specific forms and in general. A quick look at the history of the human species shows that this is the case. People who have been subject to monarchy have ended it, creating republics where before absolutism reigned. Slavery and serfdom have been abolished. Alexander Berkman simply stated the obvious when he pointed out that "many ideas, once held to be true, have come to be regarded as wrong and evil. Thus the ideas of divine right of kings, of slavery and serfdom. There was a time when the whole world believed those institutions to be right, just, and unchangeable." However, they became "discredited and lost their hold upon the people, and finally the institutions that incorporated those ideas were abolished" as "they were useful only to the master class" and "were done away with by popular uprisings and revolutions." [What is Anarchism?, p. 178] It is unlikely, therefore, that current forms of hierarchy are exceptions to this process.
Today, we can see that this is the case. Malatesta's comments of over one hundred years ago are still valid: "the oppressed masses . . . have never completely resigned themselves to oppression and poverty . . . [and] show themselves thirsting for justice, freedom and wellbeing." [Anarchy, p. 33] Those at the bottom are constantly resisting both hierarchy and its the negative effects and, equally important, creating non-hierarchical ways of living and fighting. This constant process of self-activity and self-liberation can be seen from the labour, women's and other movements -- in which, to some degree, people create their own alternatives based upon their own dreams and hopes. Anarchism is based upon, and grew out of, this process of resistance, hope and direct action. In other words, the libertarian elements that the oppressed continually produce in their struggles within and against hierarchical systems are extrapolated and generalised into what is called anarchism. It is these struggles and the anarchistic elements they produce which make the end of all forms of hierarchy not only desirable, but possible.
So while the negative impact of hierarchy is not surprising, neither is the resistance to it. This is because the individual "is not a blank sheet of paper on which culture can write its text; he [or she] is an entity charged with energy and structured in specific ways, which, while adapting itself, reacts in specific and ascertainable ways to external conditions." In this "process of adaptation," people develop "definite mental and emotional reactions which follow from specific properties" of our nature. [Eric Fromm, Man for Himself, p. 23 and p. 22] For example:
"Man can adapt himself to slavery, but he reacts to it by lowering his intellectual and moral qualities . . . Man can adapt himself to cultural conditions which demand the repression of sexual strivings, but in achieving this adaptation he develops . . . neurotic symptoms. He can adapt to almost any culture pattern, but in so far as these are contradictory to his nature he develops mental and emotional disturbances which force him eventually change these conditions since he cannot change his nature. . . . If . . . man could adapt himself to all conditions without fighting those which are against his nature, he would have no history. Human evolution is rooted in man's adaptability and in certain indestructible qualities of his nature which compel him to search for conditions better adjusted to his intrinsic needs." [Op. Cit., pp. 22-23]
So as well as adaptation to hierarchy, there is resistance. This means that modern society (capitalism), like any hierarchical society, faces a direct contradiction. On the one hand, such systems divide society into a narrow stratum of order givers and the vast majority of the population who are (officially) excluded from decision making, who are reduced to carrying out (executing) the decisions made by the few. As a result, most people suffer feelings of alienation and unhappiness. However, in practice, people try and overcome this position of powerlessness and so hierarchy produces a struggle against itself by those subjected to it. This process goes on all the time, to a greater or lesser degree, and is an essential aspect in creating the possibility of political consciousness, social change and revolution. People refuse to be treated like objects (as required by hierarchical society) and by so doing hierarchy creates the possibility for its own destruction.
For the inequality in wealth and power produced by hierarchies, between the powerful and the powerless, between the rich and the poor, has not been ordained by god, nature or some other superhuman force. It has been created by a specific social system, its institutions and workings -- a system based upon authoritarian social relationships which effect us both physically and mentally. So there is hope. Just as authoritarian traits are learned, so can they be unlearned. As Carole Pateman summarises, the evidence supports the argument "that we do learn to participate by participating" and that a participatory environment "might also be effective in diminishing tendencies toward non-democratic attitudes in the individual." [Participaton and Democratic Theory, p. 105] So oppression reproduces resistance and the seeds of its own destruction.
It is for this reason anarchists stress the importance of self-liberation (see section A.2.7) and "support all struggles for partial freedom, because we are convinced that one learns through struggle, and that once one begins to enjoy a little freedom one ends by wanting it all." [Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 195] By means of direct action (see section J.2), people exert themselves and stand up for themselves. This breaks the conditioning of hierarchy, breaks the submissiveness which hierarchical social relationships both need and produce. Thus the daily struggles against oppression "serve as a training camp to develop" a person's "understanding of [their] proper role in life, to cultivate [their] self-reliance and independence, teach him [or her] mutual help and co-operation, and make him [or her] conscious of [their] responsibility. [They] will learn to decide and act on [their] own behalf, not leaving it to leaders or politicians to attend to [their] affairs and look out for [their] welfare. It will be [them] who will determine, together with [their] fellows . . . , what they want and what methods will best serve their aims." [Berkman, Op. Cit., p. 206]
In other words, struggle encourages all the traits hierarchy erodes and, consequently, develop the abilities not only to question and resist authority but, ultimately, end it once and for all. This means that any struggle changes those who take part in it, politicising them and transforming their personalities by shaking off the servile traits produced and required by hierarchy. As an example, after the sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan, in 1937 one eye-witness saw how "the auto worker became a different human being. The women that had participated actively became a different type of women . . . They carried themselves with a different walk, their heads were high, and they had confidence in themselves." [Genora (Johnson) Dollinger, contained in Voices of a People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove (eds.), p. 349] Such changes happen in all struggles (also see section J.4.2). Anarchists are not surprised for, as discussed in section J.1 and J.2.1, we have long recognised the liberating aspects of social struggle and the key role it plays in creating free people and the other preconditions for needed for an anarchist society (like the initial social structure -- see section I.2.3).
Needless to say, a hierarchical system like capitalism cannot survive with a non-submissive working class and the bosses spend a considerable amount of time, energy and resources trying to break the spirits of the working class so they will submit to authority (either unwillingly, by fear of being fired, or willingly, by fooling them into believing that hierarchy is natural or by rewarding subservient behaviour). Unsurprisingly, this never completely succeeds and so capitalism is marked by constant struggles between the oppressed and oppressor. Some of these struggles succeed, some do not. Some are defensive, some are not. Some, like strikes, are visible, other less so (such a working slowly and less efficiently than management desires). And these struggles are waged by both sides of the hierarchical divide. Those subject to hierarchy fight to limit it and increase their autonomy and those who exercise authority fight to increase their power over others. Who wins varies. The 1960s and 1970s saw a marked increase in victories for the oppressed all throughout capitalism but, unfortunately, since the 1980s, as we discuss in section C.8.3, there has been a relentless class war conducted by the powerful which has succeeded in inflicting a series of defeats on working class people. Unsurprisingly, the rich have got richer and more powerful since.
So anarchists take part in the on-going social struggle in society in an attempt to end it in the only way possible, the victory of the oppressed. A key part of this is to fight for partial freedoms, for minor or major reforms, as this strengthens the spirit of revolt and starts the process towards the final end of hierarchy. In such struggles we stress the autonomy of those involved and see them not only as the means of getting more justice and freedom in the current unfree system but also as a means of ending the hierarchies they are fighting once and for all. Thus, for example, in the class struggle we argue for "[o]rganisation from the bottom up, beginning with the shop and factory, on the foundation of the joint interests of the workers everywhere, irrespective of trade, race, or country." [Alexander Berkman, Op. Cit., p. 207] Such an organisation, as we discuss in section J.5.2, would be run via workplace assemblies and would be the ideal means of replacing capitalist hierarchy in industry by genuine economic freedom, i.e. worker's self-management of production (see section I.3). Similarly, in the community we argue for popular assemblies (see section J.5.1) as a means of not only combating the power of the state but also replaced it with by free, self-managed, communities (see section I.5).
Thus the current struggle itself creates the bridge between what is and what could be:
"Assembly and community must arise from within the revolutionary process itself; indeed, the revolutionary process must be the formation of assembly and community, and with it, the destruction of power. Assembly and community must become 'fighting words,' not distant panaceas. They must be created as modes of struggle against the existing society, not as theoretical or programmatic abstractions." [Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 104]
This is not all. As well as fighting the state and capitalism, we also need fight all other forms of oppression. This means that anarchists argue that we need to combat social hierarchies like racism and sexism as well as workplace hierarchy and economic class, that we need to oppose homophobia and religious hatred as well as the political state. Such oppressions and struggles are not diversions from the struggle against class oppression or capitalism but part and parcel of the struggle for human freedom and cannot be ignored without fatally harming it.
As part of that process, anarchists encourage and support all sections of the population to stand up for their humanity and individuality by resisting racist, sexist and anti-gay activity and challenging such views in their everyday lives, everywhere (as Carole Pateman points out, "sexual domination structures the workplace as well as the conjugal home" [The Sexual Contract, p. 142]). It means a struggle of all working class people against the internal and external tyrannies we face -- we must fight against own our prejudices while supporting those in struggle against our common enemies, no matter their sex, skin colour or sexuality. Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin words on fighting racism are applicable to all forms of oppression:
"Racism must be fought vigorously wherever it is found, even if in our own ranks, and even in ones own breast. Accordingly, we must end the system of white skin privilege which the bosses use to split the class, and subject racially oppressed workers to super-exploitation. White workers, especially those in the Western world, must resist the attempt to use one section of the working class to help them advance, while holding back the gains of another segment based on race or nationality. This kind of class opportunism and capitulationism on the part of white labour must be directly challenged and defeated. There can be no workers unity until the system of super-exploitation and world White Supremacy is brought to an end." [Anarchism and the Black Revolution, p. 128]
Progress towards equality can and has been made. While it is still true that (in the words of Emma Goldman) "[n]owhere is woman treated according to the merit of her work, but rather as a sex" [Red Emma Speaks, p. 177] and that education is still patriarchal, with young women still often steered away from traditionally "male" courses of study and work (which teaches children that men and women are assigned different roles in society and sets them up to accept these limitations as they grow up) it is also true that the position of women, like that of blacks and gays, has improved. This is due to the various self-organised, self-liberation movements that have continually developed throughout history and these are the key to fighting oppression in the short term (and creating the potential for the long term solution of dismantling capitalism and the state).
Emma Goldman argued that emancipation begins "in [a] woman's soul." Only by a process of internal emancipation, in which the oppressed get to know their own value, respect themselves and their culture, can they be in a position to effectively combat (and overcome) external oppression and attitudes. Only when you respect yourself can you be in a position to get others to respect you. Those men, whites and heterosexuals who are opposed to bigotry, inequality and injustice, must support oppressed groups and refuse to condone racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes and actions by others or themselves. For anarchists, "not a single member of the Labour movement may with impunity be discriminated against, suppressed or ignored. . . Labour [and other] organisations must be built on the principle of equal liberty of all its members. This equality means that only if each worker is a free and independent unit, co-operating with the others from his or her mutual interests, can the whole labour organisation work successfully and become powerful." [Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin, Op. Cit., pp. 127-8]
We must all treat people as equals, while at the same time respecting their differences. Diversity is a strength and a source of joy, and anarchists reject the idea that equality means conformity. By these methods, of internal self-liberation and solidarity against external oppression, we can fight against bigotry. Racism, sexism and homophobia can be reduced, perhaps almost eliminated, before a social revolution has occurred by those subject to them organising themselves, fighting back autonomously and refusing to be subjected to racial, sexual or anti-gay abuse or to allowing others to get away with it (which plays an essential role in making others aware of their own attitudes and actions, attitudes they may even be blind to!).
The example of the Mujeres Libres (Free Women) in Spain during the 1930s shows what is possible. Women anarchists involved in the C.N.T. and F.A.I. organised themselves autonomously to raise the issue of sexism in the wider libertarian movement, to increase women's involvement in libertarian organisations and help the process of women's self-liberation against male oppression. Along the way they also had to combat the (all too common) sexist attitudes of their "revolutionary" male fellow anarchists. Martha A. Ackelsberg's book Free Women of Spain is an excellent account of this movement and the issues it raises for all people concerned about freedom. Decades latter, the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s did much the same thing, aiming to challenge the traditional sexism and patriarchy of capitalist society. They, too, formed their own organisations to fight for their own needs as a group. Individuals worked together and drew strength for their own personal battles in the home and in wider society.
Another essential part of this process is for such autonomous groups to actively support others in struggle (including members of the dominant race/sex/sexuality). Such practical solidarity and communication can, when combined with the radicalising effects of the struggle itself on those involved, help break down prejudice and bigotry, undermining the social hierarchies that oppress us all. For example, gay and lesbian groups supporting the 1984/5 UK miners' strike resulted in such groups being given pride of place in many miners' marches. Another example is the great strike by Jewish immigrant workers in 1912 in London which occurred at the same time as a big London Dock Strike. "The common struggle brought Jewish and non-Jewish workers together. Joint strike meetings were held, and the same speakers spoke at huge joint demonstrations." The Jewish strike was a success, dealing a "death-blow to the sweatshop system. The English workers looked at the Jewish workers with quite different eyes after this victory." Yet the London dock strike continued and many dockers' families were suffering real wants. The successful Jewish strikers started a campaign "to take some of the dockers' children into their homes." This practical support "did a great deal to strengthen the friendship between Jewish and non-Jewish workers." [Rudolf Rocker, London Years, p. 129 and p. 131] This solidarity was repaid in October 1936, when the dockers were at the forefront in stopping Mosley's fascist blackshirts marching through Jewish areas (the famous battle of Cable street).
For whites, males and heterosexuals, the only anarchistic approach is to support others in struggle, refuse to tolerate bigotry in others and to root out their own fears and prejudices (while refusing to be uncritical of self-liberation struggles -- solidarity does not imply switching your brain off!). This obviously involves taking the issue of social oppression into all working class organisations and activity, ensuring that no oppressed group is marginalised within them.
Only in this way can the hold of these social diseases be weakened and a better, non-hierarchical system be created. An injury to one is an injury to all.
Anarchist FAQ Index
Table of Contents
Section A - What is anarchism?
Section B - Why do anarchists oppose the current system?
Section C - What are the myths of capitalist economics?
Section D - How do statism and capitalism affect society?
Section E - What do anarchists think causes ecological problems?
Section F - Is "anarcho"-capitalism a type of anarchism?
Section G - Is individualist anarchism capitalistic?
Section H - Why do anarchists oppose state socialism?
Section I - What would an anarchist society look like?
Section J - What do anarchists do?
Appendix - Anarchism and "Anarcho"-capitalism
Appendix - The Symbols of Anarchy
Appendix - Anarchism and Marxism
Appendix - The Russian Revolution