On Communism and Anarchy

How I decided they were the same, and how I also know they are incompatible, and why this matters.

As I see it, comparing two societal models can be done at many levels, each equally valid. However, if our aim is to decide if they are the same or not, there is only one logical order for comparison to help us achieve this.

What does their ideal society look like?

Consider a society rooted in these features… does it sound like anarchism or communism or both?

Statelessness: there are no governments, laws, or nations any more.
Classlessness: all social classes disappear, everyone works for everyone else.
Propertylessness: there is no money or private property, all goods are free to be consumed by anyone who needs them.

As I see it, despite a few sticking points, fundamentally this describes the vision of both philosophies.

The major sticking point is the idea of “everyone working for everyone else”. Anarchism values the individual above all else, and at face value this may appear to encroach upon the rights of the individual, leading to beliefs like this:

How could libertarian communism be brought about? It could be by means of absolute conformism to the industrial-machinist society that man has already achieved. This would reduce all to a mechanical equality, feeling, thinking, and acting identically — in this way making control and repression by the State unnecessary. Then there would be a standardized anarchy. (source)

While this might be a way of achieving classlessness, I do not believe that this is how even Marx envisioned it:

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class. In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. (source)

It is easy, when considering and comparing the ideals of communism and anarchism, to be too reductionist. The attempted realisation of communism in modern European history is a grim sight. It is tempting to cite this as why communism is essentially wrong, just as it is to dismiss it as an imaginary ogre of the capitalist propaganda machine. Of course, there are truths in both, but regardless the core point to keep in mind is that Soviet Russia was not even close to an example of pure communism in action, it failed long before it came close to realising this goal.

Which brings me to my next point. If we can accept that the ideals of communism and anarchism are compatible even if we cannot agree that they are essentially identical, we must move to the next level of comparison.

How is the ideal society attained?

The Soviet Union was never communist because communism is not the direct result of a proletariat revolution, but the result of a period of socialism. Socialism is the method by which communism is attained, and it is a method which is perhaps insurmountably at odds to the methods of anarchism.

Communism signifies a social condition in which the means of production and all material goods belong to the mass of the people who identify themselves with the totality or majority of society. Everyone has their goods disposed of according to the way decided by those who govern and whose law all must obey. (source)

It is challenging to separate the methodological premises of socialism from the actual events in the Soviet Union. However, it is perhaps easiest to assume for the purposes of brevity that the methodology of socialism and the methodology of anarchism are clearly incompatible in many ways, so we must ask ourselves why two essentially similar dogmas have chosen such different methods in order to achieve a very similar end point.

Why does it matter that their ideology is compatible but their methodology is incompatible?

To understand this, first we ask why the two methodological standpoints differ, I came up with the following points after just a few minutes thought.

Could it be because there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal?

Could it be because they are theories produced in different times and in different places by different people? As in because one or both are culturally relative theories not universally applicable?

Could it be because they are methods which have been chosen due to differences in ideology rather than selection based on credibility?

Could it be because these two philosophies have a fundamentally different idea of what people are like?

In my opinion, it could be any of these in isolation or combination, it is probably also due to other factors that I have not considered.

At first glance, it would seem that a differing view of the human condition is the primary cause of this incompatibility. To an anarchist, the majority is enslaved to the capitalist regime because they are blindfolded and shackled into servitude, break these chains and the spontaneous awakening of individuals will lead to a fair and free equilibrium. To a communist, this enslavement is not so easily surmounted, to follow the analogy through perhaps we are dealing with a majority that has had their eyes put out and their limbs smashed in order to achieve their servitude. The post-revolution society is “in every respect still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges” (source).

Yet despite the communist acknowledgement of the need for an indeterminable length of socialist period in order for the old ways to fall away and a pure communist society to spontaneously form, we need only look to history to see that even they perhaps underestimated the attachment to the old ways, and anarchists would do well to listen to this warning echoing down through the years. If we let it, greed and lust, money and power, these things will topple even the finest of ideologies. These things are why communist attempts have failed, and why capitalism persists and multiplies.

I for one find it easier to envision a sci-fi vision of a future in which a “socialist” phase can be implemented and controlled entirely by machines that I can one in which humanity manages to successfully implement either a national (let alone a global) anarchic or communist society.

But that’s just me, and fortunately we are not all such pessimists.

So what’s next?

It seems to be of the utmost importance that both anarchists and communists develop and share an understanding of why their methodologies are so different. We are teetering on the edge of change, and we must all understand what it is we are doing and why.

Firstly, if all those with compatible ideologies can unite methodologically against capitalism then that can only be of benefit to the united cause.

Uniting as a façade without uniting methodologically is ultimately farcical and counter-productive.

Surely, gaining this understanding would help both sides determine what is wrong and what is right about their own methods. If successful change is what we want, pointing fingers and bickering is not going to help anyone achieve that.

Unless there are multiple ways to achieve an ideal society (i.e. unless communism and anarchism can be both incompatible and potentially correct from a methodological perspective), it is critical that we understand to the utmost best of our ability which methods will be effective in getting us there, because success must be our primary motivation.

We must be able to admit that we are wrong, and to change our methods, without seeing this as an attack on our ideologies or on ourselves. No more labelling, no more hate, no more rejection of anything which could contribute to a better society simply because it is perceived to belong to the doctrine of an out-group.

To do this we must consider the examples set by communism, capitalism in anarchism throughout history with greater weight given to this information which is grounded in reality than the temptation to primarily rely on those methods which seem most compatible with our personal standpoints. We need to hear from economists, sociologists, psychologists, political scientists and many others, and somehow draw that into a coherent message.

This is a monumental task, but perhaps it is really the only important one. We stand at the brink of being able to make decisions of previously unimaginable complexity and magnitude, if we fail to step up to this then we fail ourselves; and perhaps also the aeons of human existence which stretch out behind and ahead of us.

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