Recently I have written about how the greatest threat we all face is the interminable conflict generated from political and economic hierarchies. States are always having to fight against other states because of both the insecurity condition and because this is what the economic hierarchies need in order to maintain themselves. This competition for wealth between the dominant economic classes within nations has escalated into a World War twice. If humanity wishes to avoid a third, we need to band together and rid ourselves of these hierarchies that perpetuate themselves through violence and destruction. In that spirit, let’s examine the alternatives to the status quo.
What about U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders whose talk of a political revolution has galvanized the youth of the Democratic Party? Well, Sanders may identify as a “democratic socialist” but other socialists don’t consider him legit, as we see in Molly Ball’s interview with Vice-Presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Eugene Puryear:
“But as it happens, the real socialists…are strikingly ungrateful. Puryear’s party, the PSL, issued a statement last August, when Sanders began to gain traction, tartly rejecting his campaign. “His program is not socialist,” it noted. “He does not call for nationalizing the corporations and banks, without which the reorganization of the economy to meet people’s needs rather than maximizing the profits of capitalist investors could not take place … He is clearly seeking to reform the existing capitalist system.” … Sanders himself never sought to identify as a socialist: Only when his enemies started accusing him of being one did he, in characteristically pugnacious fashion, reappropriate the insult as a badge of pride. Some critics have pointed out that it would be more accurate to call him a social democrat, rather than a democratic socialist. After all, Sanders has said he defines democratic socialism as something akin to the systems in Denmark or Finland—countries with high taxes and a capacious welfare state, but relatively free markets. “The ideology of the Scandinavian governments is really just a more fair capitalist society,” Puryear told me. True socialism as Marx and Engels envisioned it, by contrast, was intended as a way station on the road to full-fledged communism. “We refer to ourselves as socialists because what we’re trying to promote is the move from capitalism to socialism,” he said. But the ultimate goal is not Finland. It is a fully classless society in which the state has withered away to nothing.”
Sanders’ New Deal liberalism should have made it obvious that he is not a radical alternative but what will come as a shock to most people is that, upon closer inspection, neither are those who are commonly considered to be “real socialists”—i.e. those who, like Puryear and the PSL, advocate the state seizing the means of production. The state cannot be used to create a “fully classless society” because it is not merely a lifeless, neutral tool which any group can easily wield for its own ends–as Marxists and other proponents of “socialism from above” think–but, in actuality, constitutes a class itself. The state, being a centralized hierarchical organization, develops a class status because, as Peter Kropotkin explains, “a highly complex state machine…leads to the formation of a class especially concerned with state management, which, using its acquired experience, begins to deceive the rest for its personal advantage.” Kropotkin, having studied the origins of the state, found that it is in essence “a society for mutual insurance between the landlord, the military commander, the judge, the priest, and later on the capitalist, in order to support each other’s authority over the people, and for exploiting the poverty of the masses and getting rich themselves.”
Luigi Fabbri similarly deduced that the state is more than “the guardian of capital” but “has a vitality of its own” and is “a veritable social class apart from other classes…and this class has its own particular parasitical and usurious interests,” adding that “The State, being the depository of society’s greatest physical and material force, has too much power in its hands to resign itself to being no more than the capitalists’ guard dog.” Errico Malatesta echoed Fabbri, arguing that although “a special class (government) which, provided with the necessary means of repression, exists to legalise and protect the owning class from the demands of the workers … it uses the powers at its disposal to create privileges for itself and to subject, if it can, the owning class itself as well.” Voline also agrees that the state has the ability to be plenty exploitative on its own and he goes into more detail as to why trying to employ the state’s power for socialistic ends results in inescapable failure:
“All political power inevitably creates a privileged situation for the men who exercise it. Thus it violates, from the beginning, the equalitarian principle and strikes at the heart of the Social Revolution … [It] inevitably becomes a source of other privileges, even if it does not depend on the bourgeoisie. Having taken over the Revolution, having mastered it, and bridled it, power is compelled to create a bureaucratic apparatus, indispensable to all authority which wants to maintain itself, to command, to order—in a word, ‘to govern’. Rapidly, it attracts around itself all sorts of elements eager to dominate and exploit. Thus it forms a new privileged caste, at first politically and later economically … It sows everywhere the seed of inequality and soon infects the whole social organism.”
That state socialists have never made any attempts to work towards a stateless, classless society once they were in power and went on to crush all efforts by the working class itself to do so proves all these observations about the nature of the state are true. In every nation where a political party took Marxism as their lodestar, the state wound up becoming the ruling class which then reorganizied the economy in a way that wasn’t socialist but state capitalist—it ended up being, as Kropotkin put it, “a mere substitution… of the State as the universal capitalist for the present capitalists.”
Sanders’ “political revolution” and state socialism are non-starters for revolutionary change so where does that leave us? The answer is in the political philosophy espoused by those who wrote those anti-state quotes that I cited—that is, in anarchism. Anarchism, in short, is stateless socialism where society is organized from the bottom up and workers control the means of production. As the name implies, anarchism seeks to eliminate all hierarchy which is perfect for those who yearn for a world where the primary sources of international and intra-national discord—the latter being in the form of class war–are no more.