A pox on all their houses [or, how lockdown makes clear (to those who have not been paying attention) the substantive content of divisions in ownership of and access to property]

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a great many of the inadequacies of our present systemic model to those who had previously refused to properly engage with them, or been in a state of cognitive dissonance regarding our capacity to address them. Perhaps foremost amongst these issues is that of shelter, given that the demand that all be confined to their houses necessarily draws attention to the disparities in housing wrought embedded in the property relations established through the capitalist system. Simply put, the palatial splendour inhabited by the privileged few in opposition to the squalid tenement flat is a contradiction far less easily sustained when under house arrest. While the fortunate few are able to take a walk around their vast estates and lounge by their opulent swimming pools, the disenfranchised are denied the opportunity to spend time occupying the few public spaces that remain available for common use in typical circumstances, and perhaps even deprived of sunlight if they are not fortunate enough to have a window that faces the outside world. The inherent unfairness in this distinction, obscured when not in a state of exception, is now laid bare for all to see who endure it, even if they would usually accept it as part of the normal order of things, even if they would normally consider themselves amongst the upwardly mobile, aspirational types who shall one day occupy the grand mansions they covet while trawling social media fabrications of ideal lives. In the “american dream” inflects the thinking of the entire world, seducing us with its distorted image of what constitutes happiness. The distinction between haves and have-nots is brought into even sharper definition when we not only consider the difference within the beneficiary nations, but also remember the kinds of shelter in which huge swathes of humanity dwell. Shacks of rusting metal or rotting wood propped against each other form the only kind of shelter available to those confined to shanty towns by the misfortune of the circumstances of their birth. For the billions of the exploited, the word ‘housing’ is scarcely sufficient to describe the makeshift structures under which they lay their heads. And what of those who have fallen between the cracks, for whom both networks of familial and communal solidarity have failed? Those dispossessed who have nothing more than cardboard boxes with which to fashion a shelter. Those whose plight has not been a priority until now, whose numbers have grown exponentially since the 2008 financial crash. Well, in the wealthier nations at least, solutions have mysteriously materialised. It is has suddenly become apparent that the resources do exist to deal with homelessness in this moment of crisis. An awareness of their innate human right to enjoy the basic necessities has materialised it seems, but from where? Out of the good conscience of the political classes, finally coming to their senses, excavating some minute amount of common human decency? Of course not. The need to put a roof over the head over the homeless has emerged only as they represent serious potential vectors of infection. Such are the times in which we live. This is not only a matter of spatial difference however, as the problem of security of one’s shelter is equally fundamental. Those whose lives are precarious, who live hand-to-mouth or paycheck to paycheck, with nothing left over to save and no resources to fall back on, suddenly find that enforced confinement prevents them from obtaining the money they need to ensure their material circumstances. Landlords continue to demand rent even from those who have en masse been deprived of their means to pay it. These times radicalise even those who failed to understand that such collective concerns are and were always their own. The entire logic of property relations that constitute political and social common sense must be challenged as this crisis continues to wreak havoc, or else we shall find ourselves in even greater precarity in its wake.

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An inevitable reckoning

This crisis feels apposite, as if it is long overdue. Something about it happening in this moment just feels right, horrifying as it is. The global order has just about held together this past decade and a bit. The impact of the 2008 financial crisis had immediate consequences, and yet its deeper effects have unfolded slowly, its full significance gradually seeping into the wider consciousness. The promise that each generation will enjoy a better standard of life than its parents has been broken, the prophets of capitalist optimism receded into memory. And as living standards have deteriorated for an ever greater number, the existential threat caused by our determination to maintain our way of life with all of its waste and decadence has become apparent. But of course, this is only the view from the developed* world, whose prosperity over the past half century has been taken for granted. We have been fortunate: through accident of birth we have lived in something of a bubble, shielded from the dystopic realities of many parts of the underdeveloped† world. Nations gripped by war or economic shocks that have descended into chaos: blackouts, water shortages, scarce food resources, etc. Meanwhile, we mercifully outside of it all have simply looked on at such devastation on the news, our collective response amounting little more to an en masse exclamation of “oh dear” before returning to our quotidian concerns of how long it might take us to get on the property ladder or whether we can afford to run a second family car. The covid-19 threatens to overturn all this and give us a taste on what we have been missing out on. What is certain is that things cannot and will not return to the way they were before the virus swept across the world. What is uncertain is the shape the world will take after it has passed…………. *More accurately, those nations who have profited from the trajectory set off on by the European colonial project four centuries ago. † More accurately, those who have been on the receiving end, the overexploited.

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Days of plague

This is written from a city under siege, in a state of war against an invisible enemy. A government lockdown is in force, people are only allowed to leave their places of residence in a limited set of circumstances, buying food or medicine. Even then, these activities are to be conducted alone, and completed in as brief a time as possible. This social isolation is mandated to stem the spread of the virus Covid-19, the only issue of relevance in 2020. Austerity, poverty, disparities of wealth, climate change, struggles for recognition of identity (personal, national, ethnic, religious), gender inequality, automation/technological change and its effect on labour, democratic deficits – all have been swept aside. And yet all of these issues and more besides are pertinent to the present crisis. The nature of present global society, built up over centuries, is called into question by this pandemic. Fundamental questions are posed: how ought we to live? how should we organise ourselves? what minimum floor must we ensure no human being falls below? All of these questions are in play in ways they have not been for a prolonged period of time, if ever. It is clear that society will never return to the exact state it was in prior to Covid-19. What follows this crisis is unwritten. Should the emancipatory impulse lose out, what follows may be even more abhorrent than what proceeded. Be under no illusions about intentions of those on top of the hierarchy. Their goal will be to increase their wealth and power. Neofeudalism is what awaits us if we do not organise collectively and find points where leverage can be applied. Only through contestation can a new society better than this one be brought about. No moment in living memory offered such opportunity to bring about radical change. It must be seized.

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THE ILLUSORY CENTRE

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the horrors of (bureaucratic totalitarian state capitalist) ‘actually existing socialism’, free market fundamentalist ideologues sought to paint a picture of never-ending contentment and prosperity for all. ‘There is no alternative’ was the statement, first used by Thatcher prior to these events, but now even harder to refute as economic liberalism took hold across the world. Repeated iterations of the statement littered the discourse, used to stifle all debate of what (untried) alternatives might look like. Hand in hand with the end of history refrain that posited liberal democracy and free market economics as the final destination of all human societal development, TINA was a cold and calculated attempt on the part of establishment orthodoxy to straightjacket any and all efforts to conceptualise other forms of societal organisation. It has, on one level, been wildly successful. The mainstream media has propagated its assertions relentlessly, and chided anyone who sought to escape it as infantile. However, with the passing of time the ‘no alternative’ doctrine has encountered a significant obstacle: reality. As human knowledge has spiraled upwards, simplistic narratives like TINA have found their position under intense scrutiny by those determined to disassemble them as mere fallacies.

It has been necessary for the proponents of free market fundamentalism to portray themselves as profoundly non-ideological. Under a mask of economic and social common sense, they have had no qualms in embracing challenges against past orthodoxies of gender, racial, sexual and so on, with personal freedom stripped of social justice brought into alignment with their economic creed. Equating both radical, transformative and emancipatory anti-capitalist projects and nationalist, racist right-wing perspectives as two sides of the same coin, neoliberal capitalists are able to occupy a illusory centre ground of their own definition, an ideally suited discursive arrangement given that the terminology is belongs to them and them alone. Presenting themselves as heralds of rationality, they are able to grandstand about the futility of attempts to bring about change to a system that represents the best humanity can possibly achieve, and engender acceptance of the present state of things among all. In recent years, the necessity of austerity has been erected as a monolithic steady state, an inarguable fact that is only rejected by extremists.

It is a deliberate falsification, and no amount of posturing on the part of the free market fundamentalists can conceal the subversive truth: there are alternatives. Articulating what they are is problematic, because our minds are conditioned to see the present order of things as the natural order of things. All in all, a cognitive restructuring has taken place that has seemingly shifted the political centre rightwards. However, cracks are beginning to appear in the edifice. The appetite of the multitude to live a life not marked by hopelessness and despair offers possibilities. We are in unchartered territory, and attempts to try and asphyxiate debate and impose metaphorical blinkers will inevitably fail as technology allows the communication of subjugated knowledge. At the present time alternatives to austerity and neoliberalism are a form of subjugated knowledge for many, but for how long will this remain the case?

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THE RHETORIC OF NOVELTY

With its self-aggrandizing terminology of capital flows, derivatives and liquidity, capital shrouds itself in a glossy veneer of hypermodernity. Complex language is employed to reinforce the notion that neoliberal capitalism is the most advanced, forward thinking model of societal organisation available to us today. Conversely, explicitly anticapitalist ideologies are ridiculed as retrograde and regressive, depicted as belonging to naïve idealistic past, completely incompatible with the needs and demands of modern society. In line with this, anyone who dares to raise their head above the parapet and voice opposition to austerity is depicted as backwards and utopian. Anticapitalist discourses have to operate with an awareness of the state of play, and draw certain conclusions about the ways in which to frame our arguments given the prevailing attitudes of the majority.

It seems to me that anticapitalists are failing to understand the terrain of contestation in which they find themselves. Expending excessive amounts of energy in trying to illuminate people as to the inequalities that capitalism propagates is largely futile, it is in essence preaching to the converted. Those who are already ideologically opposed to capitalism will respond with fury to detailed outlines of the ways in which capital entrenches the divide between haves and have-nots, but for the majority this has little effect. This is not because people are unaware of the inequalities, in fact their everyday existence is permeated by such an awareness. The problem is that such rhetoric produces only a stock response of shrugs and sighs – “Yes, the world is unfair, but it has been ever thus…” and “Certainly it isn’t perfect, but would you rather have the tyranny of Stalin?”. Trying to explain that the possibilities for alternative forms of societal organisation don’t necessarily orientate towards authoritarian state control with power invested in the hands of a small cabal of bureaucrats generally falls upon deaf ears. As such, we arrive at something of an impasse.

How could we recalibrate our arguments to attack the central notion that neoliberal capitalism represents the cutting edge of modernity? A case needs to be made that the 21st century is one of contestation between different perspectives. The one propagated by neoliberalism’s adherents forms the primary orthodoxy of our times, and mocks all alternatives as belonging to an earlier era in which they were not able to gain the necessary political and social capital in which to radically transform society. Its antithesis should be grounded in the assertion that, in fact, it is capital ITSELF that is impeding our advancement, that its ideas are no more than a turbo-charged version of nineteenth century liberal capitalist doctrines, and that true novelty resides in the radical projects of democratic autonomy. Our argument should challenge the smug capitalist consensus of condescension that posits itself as the herald of change. We should, in effect, address capital as antiquated and outmoded, unfit for purpose for our present age and the challenges it will bring. Too much respect is given to the ideologues of capital, they should be ridiculed as dinosaurs unable to conceptualise the ways in which our burgeoning knowledge has outstripped them, and robbed them of all legitimacy.

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AUSTERITY

Across Europe we are seeing politicians preach the necessity of austerity today so that we might someday experience a better tomorrow, so that our children are not saddled with insurmountable debt. This is falsehood is the crowning glory of a strategy whose ultimate goal that goes far beyond mere debt reduction. Austerity is not a temporary discomfort to be endured, but rather a permanent state of affairs to be ushered into place. The concessions made in the middle part of the twentieth century were an attempt to placate an ever more radical and educated proletariat, who understood that the then-current state of affairs was inherently exploitative. In order to avoid a revolutionary scenario of social tumult, the elite decided that it was necessary to toss a few crumbs from the table. Ergo, the construction of the welfare state, the apparatus of social security designed to provide a degree of protection to the unwashed masses, and thus limit the most radical tendencies of their thought. Everyday people were given a superficial stake in society, they were inculcated into the notion that is overall wealth served their best interests, and not only the interests of the highest strata of society. In Britain, the Attlee government enshrined the welfare state in the national consciousness so deeply that a consensus was formed that was adhered to for over three decades. This occurred concurrently to similar developments in Europe, and even the arch-capitalist United States acclimatised to the prevailing trends, with laissez faire capitalism on the back burner whilst the Keynesian New Deal policies of Roosevelt firmly took hold. Full employment was seen as a desirable goal, real wages increased significantly over a period of more than twenty years. Avowedly anti-capitalist ideologies did not wither and die immediately, in fact in some perverse ways they gained strength in terms of the improved bargaining power of the proletariat in relation to its supposed betters. However, the burning sense of injustice that had in the preceding century given birth to such movements was no longer as potent a factor as it had been in the industrialised Western world. The grievances which had led to a mushrooming of resentment and thus a determination to create a better society could now by countered by pointing to rising living standards for the many (albeit a many consisting actually of a relative few, in global terms). Furthermore, the increased affluence of Western workers who would have previously had nothing to lose now meant they had a stake in the system, and as such were less likely to rock the boat and risk everything upon a revolution whose ultimate results could not be predicted. The counter example of the Soviet Union, whose totalitarian tendencies were acknowledged even by averred anti-capitalists, allowed for a straightforward dichotomy to be employed rhetorically: would you rather live here, or there? This binary opposition in place, straightjacketing attempts to think more imaginatively about the kind of systems that could be trialled, the scene was set for the next stage. A new, mutated form of laissez faire gained began its rise to prominence: neoliberalism. Decrying the limitations which the state placed upon capital, the advocates of neoliberalism saw the welfare state as an obstacle to their goal of a truly free market. The past three decades have seen their strategy to eradicate the consensus established after the Second World War reap great dividends. The ultimate goal is simply an entrenchment of what we have witnessed occurring at each stage: the rich becoming richer. As individuals who see the state as inhibiting, we are presented with a quandary. The prevailing ideology seeks to destroy all aspects of the state that support people in need, leaving only its police and military apparatus in order to maintain a vice-like grip over the masses and put down any social movements that attempt to bring about genuine change. How are we to oppose this ideology, whilst simultaneously opposing the concept of the state itself? Millions are set to suffer as a result of the policies adopted by pro-austerity governments. The ultimate objective is an entrenched feudalism, a solidification and stratification of the position of the elite and everyone else, perhaps even an insidious plan for plausibly deniable depopulation. There exists a real danger of falling between two stools: by removing ourselves from any attempt to combat this strategy we remain on the margins and unable to influence proceedings by detailing why we oppose the state as an institution so vociferously, in effect confining ourselves to an anti-authoritarian ghetto and effectively abandon society to its fate. Conversely, by participating we invitation co-optation and the dilution of our ideas that castigate the state as equally reprehensible as capital itself. Either path is fraught with catastrophic risk, but surely an attempt has to be made to unite with those who share our ultimate common interests whilst doing everything possible to preserve the particular nature of our critique of the state and representative democracy as it stands. At all times it must be remembered that politics doesn’t begin and end at the ballot box. A society worthy of the name has to be won on the streets.

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PROPERTY, PART 1

Once, when I was an adolescent, I was walking a dog around the neighbourhood. It was a cousin’s dog, they had gone away and left it to us to look after in the meantime. It was dusk, and I enjoyed the stroll around the block as it gave me time to think, even if the neighbourhood wasn’t much more than a hotchpotch of run down red brick terraces in rows and mundane semis. Sink estates like this were dotted around the periphery of the city, the air was equal parts menace and tedium. Some houses were completely derelict, the windows and doors covered by sheets of MDF plywood or corrugated iron frames. There was the odd small front garden with a few flowers in it, although it was far more common to see tufts of overgrown grass and weeds. Some decorated the space in front of their houses with a rusted washing machine. It was not much to look at. I was chewing some gum as I often did, and as I expended its utility the time came to dispose of it. Rather than simply throw it down on the ground as was the custom there, I thought I might make a show of civic pride and put it in a bin. It was the night before collection, so lines of wheelie bins sat on the pavement all along the streets. Seeing nothing more suited as I walked along, I disposed of my gum in a random bin, kept walking and thought little of it, for about ten seconds at least. At this point I heard a voice behind me.

Him: “Eh!!! Did you just use me bin?!”

Me: [stopping, turning around] “Er, yeah, what of it?”

Him: “That is my bin!!”

Me: “It’s a bin”

Him: “It’s my property!!”

Me: [walking on]“It’s a fucking bin!”

Then, as I carried on walking again as he blathered away to himself, I thought about this incident. Why was this man so apoplectic over someone using his bin. It was nothing more than a waste receptacle, his only relation to it was periodically disposing of his rubbish in it before the council sent people to collect it. What difference did it make if it contained a piece of chewing gum that he had not himself chewed? It was this that got me thinking seriously about property. What is property? Its basis in law appeared self-evident. Everywhere one looked, one saw evidence of how enshrined it was. Houses, cars, the aforementioned rusting washing machines. Everything with its designated owner, the conditions of ownership of inscribed in law, agreed upon and defended by all.

For those who devoutly believe in unfettered private property, it seems perfectly logical that everything ought to be owned by someone (as opposed to everyone), generally with the exceptions of the police and the military (to ensure that this state of affairs goes on uninterrupted). In their atomised reality, this is simply the natural of order of things, there will always be those who enjoy the benefits of ownership, and it is their right to so to the detriment of others. These people would make it sound like those who saw limits of private ownership as necessary were intent on collectivising children’s toys on night raids, or requisitioning family heirlooms for storage in a People’s Sentimental Objects Depot.

But personal belongings are of no relevance to the management and composition of society in terms of the allocation and distribution of material resources. It is a spurious argument to try and equate the ownership of a water treatment plant that ensures the availability of potable water to a necklace passed on by three generations of women. Opposition to any form of personal belongings is an attempt to demonise opposition to privately owned enterprises as the opinions of people intent on creating a 1984-esque dystopia in which no individuality is permitted. This is utterly facetious and on par with the ‘politics of envy’/’champagne socialists’ dichotomy used to respond to systemic criticism whether from the less fortunate or the more fortunate.

Nevertheless, all too often the more dominant strands of anti-capitalist ideologies have acquiesced to the framing of the debate as one between free enterprise and private ownership versus planned economies and state ownership. This is also a red herring designed to induce the stagnation of the imagination. These are not the only options available to us. It is possible to conceive of forms of collective ownership that do not entail state supervision, oversight or control.

Take for example the disused washing machine sat rusting in the rain out in front of the house. Is it economical for a neighbourhood of 1000 families to have roughly the same number of washing machines? Would it not be a better use of the resources of society to have a communally owned launderette, in which there are a sufficient number of machines for the community to be able to utilise a machine whenever necessary? Could the machines not be maintained en masse, so that repairs would be streamlined (of course, in such an imagined society planned obsolescence would no longer be a factor, further reducing the burden) by virtue of a single location where all the machines were contained?

This is just to consider one example of how a communalist-collectivist idea might manifest in a fashion that makes better use of the limited resources of our environment. One of the great challenges to emancipatory and liberatory modes of thinking that reject the state as an entity which can bring about freedom, autonomy and equity is the question of how vast and complex operations like hospitals and electricity production can be administered. It is not my contention that centralised control is essential, but the kinds of structure and organisation that could guarantee provision need to be trialled out. It is quite possible that different regions will require different approaches and different structures based upon their set of conditions.

But to insist that private property is the condition of freedom looks increasing ridiculous in the face of the deprivation endured by billions of people around the world, whilst others reside in enclaves of opulent luxury. This state of affairs in not sustainable, and must be challenged. Successful counter examples are the only viable way in which people can be made aware of other ways of operating, and that the idea that they are what they own is nothing more than divisive psychological manipulation designed to ensure consent and conformity.

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THE STATE

When we speak of ideological opposition to the state, what do we mean exactly?

It is useful to focus on the two primary definitions which are of relevance to us. The first pertains to a condition (as in, ‘X is in a state of shock’) whereas the second refers to a polity (as in, ‘the French state’). Considering the interconnectivity of these two definitions is illuminating. It is instructive that in a number of languages, both share the same word. To what extent does the notion of a state of being or state of affairs overlap with the state as an institution or combination of institutions that define a set of relations (political, social, economic and so on) which then codifies these relations into a legal framework. While the sense of the term state as a set of applicable circumstances conjures an image of the present condition of a situation, living or abstract thing, and so everything can be said to be in some sort of state at all times (what would constitute a non-state of being, surely only the absence of anything, ergo nothingness), the notion of the state as an entity is temporal, and in the grand scheme of things ephemeral. We can survey history and see a great many examples of states who have ceased to exist, where the territory (spatial, psychosocial, judicial, etc.) administered by the polity now belongs to a different entity. In this way, discord exists between the two formulations: while one can speak of a state of the earth during the first billion years of the earth’s existence, we cannot talk about this period as it relates to a political polity, as this is a purely human construct.

Can we achieve a state of being in which society is stateless? How can we go about achieving this ambition?

Our struggle is composed of different levels. Ideological opposition to the state on an abstract and theoretical level needs to matched against articulations of how relations between individuals could be structured in a stateless world. Furthermore, we have to operate in the knowledge of the type of society we now inhabit, the society in which we have all grown up within, to which our character is fundamentally tied. Could a radically different human condition emerge overnight? How can we act collectively to ensure that the world that we desire will embody all we wish to see in it – freedom, autonomy, and absence of want? What kind of principles would underlie relations between free and autonomous individuals? This is a debate that needs to be had and it is imperative that all human beings are engaged in it, since it effects all. This is not to say a uniform solution must be found that suits all. In fact, this would be practically impossible. However, those of an emancipatory and liberatory perspective must strive to ensure that no repressive arrangements are allowed to predominate.

Is skepticism towards statism prevalent among the masses, or rather is it the case that a feeling of discontentment with the oppressive dynamics of the state is felt by many but is unable to be articulated in a way that can generate momentum on a significant scale. It is hard to gauge, as for many people living on the planet the modern form of the nation state as conceived according to liberal democratic principles is all they have ever known. They have rarely if ever been given cause to question the need for any sort of state whatsoever. The propaganda of the machine serves to reinforce the notion that a society without a state is mere chaos, where all are engaged in a war against all, and the strongest and most able impose their will on all others. I would question the distance between the above described state of affairs, and how life exists today for the great majority of humans living on this planet. The primary difference lies in how the need for the exertion of direct physical force, as could be imagined in the above chaotic scenario, is tempered by the dynamics governing the set of relations themselves.

Nevertheless, we wish to avoid dogmatism, even if this means dogmatic adherence to a certain conception of anti-statism. This entails trying to fully grapple with the complexities of modern life. For example, while one can expound upon the great and varied negative facets of the state, the present picture is more problematic. What of the British National Health Service, where care is provided free at the point of use? We can theoretically deconstruct such institutions, acknowledging their existence as concessions of the ruling elite and arguing how a stateless society could replicate the benefits of access to medicine and healthcare through mutual aid and cooperation grounded in communities. But what of the reality? Such systems provide essential care, millions owe their lives to these institutions, were they to disappear overnight the death toll would be huge.

There is a certain naivety in advocating merely ripping up such systems, absolute and immediate smashing of all institutions no matter what the consequences are. What level of organization and cooperation is required to ensure that medical care is readily available for all human beings? Could voluntary and self-organised medical centres function in a so sophisticated a fashion that the present level of care could be maintained (or even improved)? This feeds back into the question of how a stateless society could employ technology in a non-hierarchical fashion, for the benefit of all that live in it. For us, promoting a course of action that necessarily leads to the loss of lives on a mass scale is difficult, even if the present set of affairs is already producing such results. It comes back to a dilemma of means and ends.

Of course, this is not the situation we find ourselves in in the present. Such systems represent an insignificant number of people in terms of the global population: the vast majority of humans are not in a position to benefit from these services as they were not fortunate enough to be born into the countries where such institutions exist. Furthermore, exploitation of the poorest parts of the world is an enabling factor that allows a few modern developed nations to sustain such systems, and we are not interesting in preserving the privilege that the more fortunate few enjoy whilst condemning those less fortunate to suffer. This is also not a solution we can condone. Forming a hierarchy of the oppressed in terms of needs, and neglecting one group for another seems counterproductive to us. The objective should be that all human beings have free access to the medical technologies we have developed, without discrimination according to any basis. The real issue is how we go about this.

We should not forget that the welfare state emerged as a form of concession on the part of the ruling elite, who were aghast at the prospect of social insurrection that could place their heads on the block. No doubt there were also liberal elements amongst the establishment who intuited that civilization could not legitimately title itself thus if so many human beings living under its auspices lived in utter destitution. But for the most part, the establishment and implementation of a welfare state system was designed to stabilize capital, and counter what was at the time (in the decades following the Wall Street Crash and subsequent Great Depression) popularly perceived as the most egregious tendencies of capitalism, that being its periodic cycles of growth and destruction that effected the worst off disproportionately, leading to the potential for radicalization, organization and revolt.
We would take issue not only with the state, but also the issue of “welfare” as disenabling. It contrasts sharply with the notion of collectivity and mutual aid, whereby individuals participate freely and equally, without a dualism of provider of/provided for. To emphasise these principles it is imperative to establish the beginnings of a new world within the one we already inhabit. Only by demonstrating how society could operate in a stateless state can we demonstrate the claims of the necessity of the state to be futile.

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(NON-)VIOLENCE

If it were possible to achieve an equitable society in which the individual was able to act autonomously, engaged in voluntary mutual co-operation without any sort of coercion, without the use of violence, who would oppose this idea?

In an ideal world, a principled struggle that was entirely non-violent would be highly desirable. We are aghast at the thought of harm inflicted against other human beings, the deaths of individuals especially those whose actions are entirely neutral. However, this is happening all around us – this is not an ideal world.

The historical record illustrates over and over how a diversity of tactics have been required to bring about systemic change. Die hard pacifists will point to the examples of the movements led by Gandhi against British colonialism in India, and the African-American Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King as its figurehead as examples of successful struggles against an unjust state of affairs. However, in each case this is an oversimplification. To an extent we are in accord with the sentiments of Orwell, who surmised that the tactics and strategy employed by Gandhi were effective against a regime that perceived itself in the fashion that the British Empire did, but would not work against a brutal totalitarian state. It is often forgot just how much of the British exit from India was not solely the product of non-violent civil disobedience. Behind Gandhi and his followers, many other Indians adopted far more militant methods to expel the British from the country.

Regarding the fight to achieve civil rights in America, it is pertinent to consider how the non-violent approach taken by Martin Luther King and the SCLC would have fared had it not been backed by the militant doctrine espoused by the likes of Malcolm X. Given the choice of negotiating with more or less militant factions, it is natural that the establishment will gravitate towards those who are more ‘reasonable’. However, would they even decide to negotiate in the first place without the serious threat unrest mushrooming to the point that the economic livelihood of capitalism is threatened with serious disruption?

By asserting one facet of a struggle over the other, and attempting to frame it according to moralistic discourse, one fails to perceive how each feeds into the other, and change emerges holistically through an intertwined set of processes. The object of this stratagy is to create divisions that emerge within a resistance that ultimately leads to its failure.

If one is attacking by forces that are determined to maintain inequality and the status quo, what does it achieve to project a front of dignified acceptance. Surely self-defence must be considered as noble endeavour, that safeguards the wellbeing of one’s comrades against the enemy. We would not go along with Gandhian principles to the extent that we agree with absorbing the blows of the oppressor in the hope that the sheer nobility of one’s actions will lead the oppressor to see the wrongs in his own behavior (eventually). For us this appears a very naïve take upon the human condition, especially as it manifests itself today.

Great things can be achieved through peaceful action. But to relegate oneself to it, to deny the capacity for self-defence, this has its limits. There are times we must fight for our ideals, when no other alternative is available to us. In these circumstances we must act.

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GOVERNANCE

Why does the idea persist that the average person is in need of an outside authority to structure and direct her life?

This paternalistic notion presupposes that the vast majority of human beings are incapable of organising themselves, that the typical human cannot be trusted to manage herself. She needs to be guarded against her own incapacity to function without governance from above. Bereft of the guidance of her superiors, she is doomed to come to harm, to be subjugated by those stronger than herself in a war of all against all. Furthermore, collectively humans are only prevented from indulging their basest tendencies by the presence and pressure of the Big Other. We not only require an apparatus of authority to oversee our lives that is grounded in the manifestation of tangible and present physical force ensuring compliance (in the words of Max Weber, the state alone has a monopoly on the use of ‘legitimate’ physical force – no act demonstrates this more clearly than a thwack from a police officer’s truncheon), but also must internalize authority. All means of manufacturing consent work to engender a state of total acquiescence on the part of both the individual and society as a whole.

Governance implies rule from above. Government is the network of institutional power through which this rule is executed. While governments are subject to change, governance remains enshrined, an article of allegiance in our present systemic order. We trade off our agency and autonomy to a higher power in exchange for order and security. Few are given to questioning the need for governance. The thought that people might govern themselves, which is no more than the assertion of the will and sense of the individual tempered by his compassion, solidarity and consideration for others, is unpalatable.

How could a community can organize in such a way that no ruling group can dictate to others how to act, and all decisions are made through consensus as a manifestation of the collective will? We are led to believe such thoughts are nothing more than naive dreams, unrealisable in the face of a harsh reality. In fact anthropology suggests many hunter-gatherer societies operated in this way, and thus an integral part of human development was marked by the presence of collective self-management within communities. If this possibility is conceded, nevertheless we are told that these kinds of relations between autonomous individuals could not work in the present day. We are conditioned by the projection of fear onto our lives, the elevation of threat levels to the point at which our unease propels us to concede control to a greater force that claims the ability to protect us against all of the world’s ills.

Governance entails authority. Since we will not submit to any authority, necessarily we must work to erode the hegemonic position of the concept of governance as an essential facet of everyday life. Only with examples that counteract this logic can we illuminate and define the other types of organisation which might enrich our lived experience and empower both the individual and the collective.

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