Has capitalism paved the way for anarchism?

Few words stir strong opinions as two words: Anarchism and Capitalism. The baggage associated with each term

You may be a hardcore anti-capitalist, but there’s little arguing that capitalism has been important in our development as a species. In some ways, I think it has led to pretty important increases in our quality of life (particularly with the help of fossil fuels). Expanding availability of power has given millions/billions access to an incredible weath of knowledge (and sometimes lolcats). Robots increasingly free up humans for more human tasks. So far, I think these advances have been squandered.

I think it’s fair to estimate that millions of Americans work in jobs they hate or are overqualified for. Millions more are unemployed or underemployed and while many others are overemployed (I have a few engineer friends that work 80+ hours a week, similarly I know doctors that work 65+ hours/week). In these overemployed groups, the workload could be eased if corporate profits were not the primary rubric for success in our economy. Thousands of kids grow up playing doctor and get to med school where they realize the only way to pay off their student loan debt is through jobs that have little face time with patients (radiology) or have little medical benefit (cosmetic surgeons). Profit-driven insurance companies set prices and drive costs for both patients and doctors while bullying both with threats. Without corporate influence, (independent) primary care physicians could once again make a living wage and work a standard work week. Both problems (under/overemployment) beg for a simple elegant solution. I like the ideas in the Dispossessed: a computer (called Divlab) that helps figure out how to optimize “from each according to their gifts, to each according to their needs.”

In a just economy, everyone’s needs could be met pretty easily. More food is produced per person than ever before in history. Doing this sustainably would likely require re-employment of lots of people, but that just solves another (slightly smaller) problem, young energetic farmers with little access to land.

In many ways I think anarchism is more possible now than ever in history. Technology was instrumental in liberation movements that swept the Arab world early this year. Similar technology could possibly help us. Americans of dramatically different backgrounds are fed up with a system that represents them poorly at best and an economic system of crony capitalism #bailout and environmental disaster #horizonoilspill. Socialism might offer some help, but few resounding successes pop into my mind in spite of the diet socialism that has been attempted across almost every European country. These efforts result in a their own growing bureaucracy which has contributed to the impending Eurozone collapse. Also, Americans would fight tooth and nail against anything that could be easily branded as pinko commie bullshit. Occupy & libertarian socialism are harder to pigeonhole because they are so dedicatedly independent and individualistic.

I’d also like to once again bring up Thomas Jefferson whose ideal version of the new republic would have involved the city-state model and direct democracies of ancient Greece. I believe these ideas played a substantial role in the development of American anarchism and are an important olive branch to other branches of libertarianism.


David Graeber for Al Jazeera: Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist roots.

It certainly is an exciting time to be an American anarchist. I never dreamed that direct action would involve (tens of?) thousands of Americans and capture the attention of the media for more than a month.

To whet your appetite:

“How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what’s with all this anarchist nonsense – the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don’t you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You’re never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!”

If one were compiling a scrapbook of worst advice ever given, this sort of thing might well merit an honourable place. After all, since the financial crash of 2007, there have been dozens of attempts to kick-off a national movement against the depredations of the United States’ financial elites taking the approach such journalists recommended. All failed. It was only on August 2, when a small group of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians showed up at a meeting called by one such group and effectively wooed everyone away from the planned march and rally to create a genuine democratic assembly, on basically anarchist principles, that the stage was set for a movement that¬†Americans from Portland to Tuscaloosa were willing to embrace.

That said, I think winter is a great time to head home, hunker down and organize locally. Building local economies is a hugely important if this movement is to be successful. It’s also essential to recruit EVERYONE, including cops, religious groups and the “1%” as we try to build a society that doesn’t need “armies, prisons [or] police.” Extend the olive branch to EVERYONE, but let NO ONE take the reins.

Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.

Graeber goes on to explain how none of the Founding Fathers believed true democracy could work in America, taking notes from Hobbes’ Leviathan:

According to the official version, of course, “democracy” is a system created by the Founding Fathers, based on checks and balances between president, congress and judiciary. In fact, nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution does it say anything about the US being a “democracy”. The authors of those documents, almost to a man, defined “democracy” as a matter of collective self-governance by popular assemblies, and as such they were dead-set against it.

This is one area I slightly disagree with Graeber. Jefferson and the Anti-federalists were in favor of a much more democratic model than the one we ended up with. From what I remember about my course in American Political Thought,  TJ envisioned a landscape like Greece made up of hundreds of free city states, most of which allowed more-or-less direct democracy for most of the land-holding white males. I think OWS builds on that idea. I also think that mentioning TJ early and often can really help us start a conversation with right leaning Americans who might look on OWS with disdain.

To read the rest of David Graeber’s article click here: