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#UK territory: The Meaning of #Anarchism – Events in #Nottingham on January 28 and February 4

Before giving the details of my forthcoming talks I need to mention a few things. First off, I should mention that I have posted write-ups of my previous two talks in Nottingham – Peter Kropotkin: Science and Syndicalism and The 1848 Revolutions: An Anarchist Perspective – along with an article Propertarianism and Fascism. As noted in the introduction to both the talks, neither are exactly what I said on the day but rather what I had hoped to cover. I’ll leave it to those there to say whether I active that goal or not!

Originally published by Anarchist Writers. Written by Anarcho.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

The article is based on a previous blog, and driven in part as a result of my work on A Libertarian Reader. For those who are unaware, propertarianism is what we should call right-wing “libertarianism” – or, as they would have it, “libertarianism.” The Wikipedia entry covers it reasonably well, although it is clearly a bit of a mess given the right-wing appropriation of the word libertarian to describe something the exact opposite of its original usage. I will return to this below, after the meeting details.

The Kropotkin talk was based on one given earlier in the year in Edinburgh (I have not written up my Glasgow talk yet, but I will) and gives a basic overview of both Kropotkin’s contributions to science and anarchist theory. Hopefully that will help combat a few myths as well as make people read Direct Struggle Against Capital and Modern Science and Anarchy.

The second is something I had hoped to do for some time. I had the idea of a collection of some of my articles entitled Anarchy in the Age of Revolution, which would cover the Paris Commune, Russia in 1905 and 1917, Spain, France 1968, Argentina and so on. One revolution which was noticeable in its absence was 1848. Given the impact it had on anarchist theory due to Proudhon’s active participation in it, I knew it had to be covered. So when the Sparrow’s Nest comrades asked me to cover the events as part of their anniversary talks, I jumped at the chance.

I soon discovered that little or nothing had been written on it from an anarchist perspective – basically an essay by George Woodcock from 1948 and the second volume of Murray Bookchin’s The Third Revolution (written as he was breaking from anarchism, it was less useful than you would think – his account of Proudhon is shockingly bad, for example). Bakunin and Kropotkin obviously mention it, but mostly in passing, while Proudhon’s Confessions of a Revolutionary has not been completely translated (some chapters are in Property is Theft!). So I had to hit the books to see what popular organisations developed and indicate their potential, to draw conclusions for today – and that is the point, we study the past to inform our activity today (and to avoid mistakes).

Talking of Proudhon, I should mention that I’ve posted more extracts from Property is Theft! along with a new, complete translation of the final chapter of System of Economic Contradictions. More details – and links – can be found in this blog: David Harvey on Proudhon.

So having mentioned Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin I should give details of the two public meetings next year before giving an update on two of my current projects:

The Meaning of Anarchism, via twelve libertarians

Five Leaves Bookshop, 14a Long Row, Nottingham NG1 2DH

Anarchism is a much misunderstood and much misrepresented theory. Rejecting the chaos of capitalism and statism, it seeks to create the order of libertarian socialism, a free society of free associates. To discover more, please join Iain McKay (author of An Anarchist FAQ) for an exploration of libertarian ideas by means of six male and six female anarchist thinkers and activists.

Over two nights, the lives and ideas of the founding fathers and mothers of anarchism – including Michael Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Louise Michel and Emma Goldman – will be discussed and their continuing relevance highlighted.

Week one — Monday, 28th January: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Founding Fathers, 1840 to 1940: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; Joseph Dejacques;  Michael Bakunin; Errico Malatesta; Peter Kropotkin; Rudolf Rocker

Week two – Monday, 4th February: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Founding Mothers, 1840 to 1940; André Léo; Louise Michel; Lucy Parsons; Emma Goldman; Voltairine de Cleyre; Marie-Louis Berneri

£3.00 on the door, including refreshments.

Obviously, others will be mentioned along with various organisations and revolts, but these are the people being talked about in order to give a framework to the talk. And I should state that this topic was not my choice, but rather the bookshop’s. We will see if it works as a format!

With that done, time for updates.

First off, Freedom Press has indicated that they should be printing my collection of works by George Barrett in May next year (2019). Barrett was a key founder of one incarnation of the Glasgow Anarchist Group (I am an ex-member of subsequent groupings), Glasgow being one of the perennial strongholds of anarchism in Britain. He was also a mainstay of the British anarchist movement, writing for Freedom and other papers – he was offered the editorship, but declined in favour of editing the second incarnation of The Voice of Labour, having previously edited the Glasgow-based The Anarchist for around a year. He caught TB while on an outdoor public speaking tour and died at a far too early an age in 1917.

I have been a fan of his writing since reading a collection of three of his pamphlets – The Anarchist RevolutionObjections to Anarchism and The Last War – in the early 1990s. When I was on strike early this year, I went through the Freedom archives and tracked down his articles from the early 1910s (by happy coincidence, these were available on-line). All are very interesting and covered two main areas – general anarchist articles and reports on the movement. The latter are of note, as they show how things often do not change that much over the decades. So the book is in three sections – pamphlets, articles and reports – plus an introduction by me and an appendix containing the 1915 International Anarchist Manifesto against the war, of which he was a signatory. It will probably be entitled The Anarchist Revolution and other writings, but we will see…

Anyway, it has not been completely confirmed yet, so more details will be forthcoming when I get it.

The other project is A Libertarian Reader, which is in two volumes now. The first covers 1857 to 1956 and the texts have been gathered and now in need of further selection. The introduction is around 80% complete. I have to say, it is very enjoyable reading all these texts – the libertarian tradition is such a rich one and many of these writers and texts should be better known.

Of note is Joshua King Ingalls, whose article Work and Wealthis a late addition. I found it of particular interest for his consistent application of the “occupancy and use” position on land ownership. As I noted in An Anarchist FAQ (G.4.2 Why do social anarchists think individualism is inconsistent anarchism?), there is a massive contradiction in Tucker’s support for a non-exploitative form of wage-labour (if such a thing could exist – spoiler, it could not!). As discussed in AFAQ in more detail, wage-labour violates opposition to government (as the wage-worker is obviously under the control of their boss) and “occupancy and use” (the capitalist cannot, by definition, use the workplace by themselves – hence the need for wage-slaves). I was happy to see that Ingalls also drew the obvious logical conclusion, namely: “As a principle of law,—the partnership of all concerned in the production of wealth requiring division of labor.” I have added a footnote on this:

Ingalls expanded on this in a later book: “Now, since labour and the land are inseparable in any industrial or economic problem, and since ‘the earth is the natural inheritance of mankind,’ it follows that the joining of labour to land in all production requiring more than one man is a partnership. It must also follow that all production under such combination of effort is the property of the partners so engaged. […] it is a community of rights and of goods […] Where two or more are engaged in any productive labour, they necessarily become partners. […] Both in law and equity they would be partners and entitled to share in division, proportionally to the work done. […] Our laws, however, regarding property, and which, under the domination of capitalism, are made without any direct reference to labour, in defining partnerships, joint-stock companies, and co-operative societies, ignore labour as an element in production, or, rather, in the division, and make each partner’s or stockholder’s share of the dividend to depend upon the amount of money or other value invested. But the silence of the civil law in regard to labour does not make the claim of labour any the less valid. […] The necessity of co-operation in any field of industrial enterprise is too apparent to require proof. The very demand for labour is sufficient. If a man could do everything by himself, he would seek no helpers. Now, helpers are necessarily co-partners in production […] making every worker in an establishment a partner, and to have a voice in the management of the affairs of the co-partnership. […] To make our large corporations and industrial enterprises, as they exist today, truly co-operative, it is only necessary to stop the leakage due to rent, interest, and profits, and infuse a modicum of honesty into the system of dividing the products resulting from the labours of the co-operators by striking an equation between services and compensations.” (Chapter XII, “Partnership and Co-operation,” Social Wealth: The Sole Factors and Exact Ratios in its Acquirement and Apportionment [New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1885], 194-203)

This position has obvious links to Proudhon’s ideas on socialisation and association. As I argued in section G.4, Tucker’s position was an inconsistent anarchism but it could become consistent anarchism by applying the “occupancy and use” logically. It is nice to get confirmation that the person who seems to have coined the “occupancy and use” expression which was popularised by Tucker and others, was logical and consistent. Tucker, for all his merits, did unfortunately narrow individualist anarchism and bring it closer to classical liberalism – although propertarians ignore or dismiss precisely those radical elements which keeps Tucker and his system in the ranks of socialism (even if we conclude they are limited in scope and unable to achieve even these promises). Just look at Ingalls on the following shibboleths of “classical liberalism”:

“It is of the utmost importance to any exact solution of the problem of labor, and its equitable award, that we divest ourselves of all those prejudices and superstitions in regard to property and the sacredness of contracts in which capitalism has entrenched itself, making itself, and not labor, appear as the giver of work and the creator of wealth. At this point labor must take its stand without compromise, or else surrender at discretion. […] It is true the worker may exchange his share of the product after the division is made, or agree beforehand upon the division, and so accept a payment in the form of wages; but to give such transaction a show of equity, he must be at liberty to employ himself, because, if he be denied his natural opportunity to labor, free access to the soil, he contracts under duress, and the payment of such wages does not conclude him. It is not a free, but a compulsory exchange. His claim for settlement still remains good to his share of the product of the partnership work, less what has been paid him, and it is the difference between such share and such payment which constitutes the profits and accumulations of CAPITALISM.” (J. K. Ingalls, Social Wealth, 201.


“CAPITALISM. — That system of social or industrial institutions by which an exploiteur is enabled to appropriate to himself the increase resulting from industry, which belongs, and which would otherwise go, to the laborer, or be returned to the land. An abnormal relation of labor to commerce, which subjects labor to the control of an owner of the land, or of any property or goods for which the land will exchange.” (Ingalls, Social Wealth, 313)

I should note that Ezra Heywood’s article in The Radical Review on the 1877 railway strike is also well-worth a read. It was later revised and issued as pamphlet – The Great Strike: Its relations to labor, property, and government (Princeton, Mass., Co-operative Publishing Co., 1878) and on its first page states the work “announces and defends the ethical principles which, more and more, will inspire resistance to the world-wide warfare of capital on labor. It is high time that working people knew their rights, and how to make those rights respected.” I would except much gnashing of  teeth and denunciations of “Marxism” if any propertarian today read such words…

Which just reinforces how awful the propertarian appropriation of “libertarian” is – even if you take their arguments against the state at face-value (and you should definitely not), their defence of liberty is impoverished. It completely ignores what genuine libertarians knew, namely that liberty is threatened by forces other than the state – not least, property and the authoritarian social relations and economic power it generates. As Kropotkin put it as regards “classical liberal” Herbert Spencer:

“The modern Individualism initiated by Herbert Spencer is, like the critical theory of Proudhon, a powerful indictment against the dangers and wrongs of government, but its practical solution of the social problem is miserable – so miserable as to lead us to inquire if the talk of ‘No force’ be merely an excuse for supporting landlord and capitalist domination.” (Act For Yourselves: articles from Freedom 1886-1907 [London: Freedom Press, 1988], 98)

We can answer that rhetorical question with a resounding “yes.” Which brings me back to my article, Propertarianism and Fascismwhich discusses the support Ludwig von Mises gave to fascism in the 1920s and 1930s along with how even fascism could not prove his solution for the Great Depression (smashing organised labour, cutting wages, eliminating even limited State welfare) as viable. Which places Kropotkin’s comments from Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles in a clear light:

“When a workman sells his labour to an employer […] it is a mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy – Adam Smith – was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. As long as three-quarters of humanity are compelled to enter into agreements of that description, force is, of course, necessary, both to enforce the supposed agreements and to maintain such a state of things. Force – and a good deal of force – is necessary to prevent the labourers from taking possession of what they consider unjustly appropriated by the few […] The Spencerian party perfectly well understand that; and while they advocate no force for changing the existing conditions, they advocate still more force than is now used for maintaining them. As to Anarchy, it is obviously as incompatible with plutocracy as with any other kind of –cracy.” (Anarchism and Anarchist Communism [London: Freedom Press, 1987], 52-53)

Kropotkin’s words were prophetic, as shown by von Mises’s support for fascism (as a “quick-fix”) in the 1920s and 1930s. As part of my writing of the introduction of A Libertarian Reader, I decided to go into the well-funded think-tanks aspect of the appropriation of “libertarian” by the right in more details. This involved looking at the Koch brothers and how they got their fortune. It is, in a nutshell, a classic example of propertarian hypocrisy:

After being subject to law-suit for patent infringement, their father, Fred Koch (1900–1967), moved to the Soviet Union — did not recognise intellectual property rights — in 1929 to help build petroleum distillation plants. For the next two years he helped Stalin’s regime set up fifteen modern oil refineries. The company also built the third-largest oil refinery in the Third Reich, a project which was personally approved by Hitler. In short, the Koch business was built using labour with no means of challenging management or seeking higher wages. Returning to America, he became a leading anti-Communist (he was one of the 11 original members of the John Birch Society) and helped amend the constitution of the state of Kansas in 1958 to make it a right-to-work state. In short, like Stalin and Hitler, he used the State to weaken organised labour – by violating the sacred right of free contract by outlawing agreements between companies and unions to ensure that all who benefit from union contracts contribute to the costs of union representation. That this bolstered his company’s profits by weakening his workforce’s bargaining power was, we can be sure, merely a coincidence, as was Koch seeking to create in America the same lack of independent unions he had benefited from under Stalin and Hitler.

It should go without saying that the beneficiaries of past aggression would wholeheartedly support a “non-aggression” principle now, for the monopolisers of social wealth have an interest in maintaining their social position, property and power.

Given the praise of von Mises for fascism in the 1920s, perhaps it should also come as no surprise that Fred Koch likewise saw its benefits:

“Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard. The laboring people in these countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.” (quoted by Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right [New York: Anchor Books, 2017], 37-8)

Koch seemed oblivious that he himself had enriched himself by “feeding at the public trough” and by “dependence on government,” albeit Stalin’s and Hitler’s governments rather than that of a democratically elected one. Likewise, labouring people had little choice in “working hard” under the three fascist regimes – Germany, Italy, and Japan – he praised, but it is doubtful they were “much better off” than in a regime which let them organise is unlikely to say the least (likewise, the anti-union neo-liberalism of the past few decades which the Koch brothers helped along saw productivity and profits rise while wages stagnated, labour’s share fall while inequality rose).

Of course, the Koch brothers cannot be blamed for their father’s politics and actions – but, surely, as good propertarians they must realise that their fortune is the product of aggression? It is the stolen labour of workers toiling in slave-states, but they seem not to be keen on returning it to those – or their descendants – who suffered producing it. This is hardly a unique position on the propertarian right, although occasionally some propertarians sometimes pay lip-service to this (F.8 What role did the state take in the creation of capitalism?), but in practice even these are quick to leave things as they are (it all happened a long time ago, seems to be the best of the defences).

Still, it is like the far-right’s appropriation of “libertarian” – the position seems to be that they stole it fair and square, so tough luck. Yet the irony of propertarians using the fruits of state-coercion to oppose current coercion should not be over-stated – as noted, it makes perfect sense for thieves to proclaim thieving is bad from now on

In short, seeking to maintain and expand their managerial authority and profits may explain the Koch brothers’ following in their father’s anti-union politics than belief in the individual freedom of those whom they deny freedom of speech, assembly and organisation within their plants (as a result of private government). Likewise, Koch industries numerous environmental and safety fines over the years may explain their opposition to governmental regulation far better than a desire for individual freedom, as a strong commitment to individual rights would mean opposing the imposition of externalities on others. Similarly, being billionaires may shape their opposition to taxation for social spending far more than an ideological commitment to freedom.

But enough of stating what should be obvious, until I blog again… be seeing you!

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