Porous Borders of Anarchist Vision and Strategy
By Michael Albert at Sep 10, 2009
This is a Draft of an essay that will appear in the book Anarchist Economics edited by
This is a Draft of an essay that will appear in the book Anarchist Economics edited byJohn Asimakopoulos, Anthony J. Nocella, II, and Deric Shannon, to be published by AK Press this Winter. I will try to incorporate ideas bloggers offer in the final version, but this must occur quite soon - my apologies for that, as deadline time is upon me!
Any distinctive political perspective will strongly favor particular shared claims about vision and strategy while people of contrary perspectives will reject or at least largely doubt those claims.
Ialso want to argue, however, that anarchists sensibly sharing strategy is a much more complex and delicate undertaking than their sensibly sharing vision.
Finally, I will highlight two themes central to anarchism: (1) the need to strategically plant the seeds of the future in the present, and (2) the at first seemingly somewhat contrary need to recognize that future people should freely and diversely decide their own future lives rather than today’s activists arrogantly and intrusively deciding future peoples’ lives for them.
Anarchism is about reducing to a minimum fixed hierarchies that institutionally systematically privilege some people over others. Men should not enjoy advantages as compared to women, nor heterosexuals as compared to homosexuals, nor members of any one racial, ethnic, or cultural community as compared to members of some other, nor members of any political party or group as compared to members of some other political party or group, nor members of any one class in the economy as compared to members of some other class in the economy.
Anarchism doesn’t require that we all do the same things, which would be a ludicrously unattainable and boring condition, or even that we all enjoy the same levels of happiness, which would be an impossibly intrusive and repressive condition. But Anarchism does mean that society should not systematically privilege some people materially or socially over others.
In an anarchist society, people should freely fulfill themselves and those they love without being systematically subordinate to or systematically superior to other people. Indeed, people should act in mutual aid with other people where all citizens should enjoy the same structural opportunities where each person gains from the gains other people enjoy.
Simultaneously, however, anarchism also favors future people deciding their own future lives, and this makes many anarchists reject the idea of anarchist institutional vision. In this view, anarchists should seek classlessness, solidarity, equity, justice, diversity, self-management, and other broad and general values – but anarchists shouldn’t seek any specific institutional arrangements as being essential to attaining those values. Rather than seeking specific institutional goals, anarchists should see that all institutional choices are contextual emphasizing that institutional choices are for future citizens to decide in a myriad of ways that future people themselves determine.
Some anarchists, employing the above logic, say they believe in a “values yes, institutions no,” approach to vision. These anarchists urge that there should be no specific institutional aims required to be part of a new society if that society is to be deemed anarchist. Instead, these anarchists think anarchists should only advocate that future citizens, by whatever means they choose, themselves diversely implement the values that all anarchists favor.
I believe that while this view is of course well motivated and in considerable degree insightful, nonetheless a “values yes, institutions no,” stance goes too far.
First, anarchism is not “anything goes.” The freedom of anarchism, and of future citizens, should not include the freedom to own slaves or the freedom to hire wage slaves, as but two of countless conditions we can likely easily agree anarchism must rule out.
But second, must anarchism rule anything in? Are there social components or features that a future society must incorporate if it is to be deemed anarchist?
In other words, even as we want to immediately advocate and aggressively seek only the most minimal array of future features lest we trample the freedom of future citizens to make their own choices, are there some centrally important visionary features we must unrelentingly seek right from the outset - some centrally important features that are not merely contextual, but unavoidably central?
We shouldn’t say, for example, that in the future people must eat these foods, wear these clothes, or solve various problems as we now deem they ought to be solved, such as deciding the size of workplaces or what products to produce in what balance as we prescribe – because for us to make such determinations now would merely manifest our current tastes, current preferences, and current thinking as developed in conditions we are currently familiar with but that will not pertain in the future – and because such choices of course would rarely be, as best we can judge, intrinsically and unavoidably essential to attaining the values of anarchism.
But while we can all rightly agree that blueprinting the future would be an inappropriate overreach, I do believe that precisely because we seek for future citizens to freely, diversely, creatively, and knowledgeably decide their own social lives, we should realize that to advocate an anarchist future requires some institutional vision. We can now know based on history’s accumulated experience and knowledge, that future people will operate with at least some social relations that we can predict now in place or that they will not operate freely. More, because of their necessity to freedom, we should ourselves now begin seeking these particular social relations so that indeed future people will be able to freely experiment with and make diverse choices about all other options, adapting these as they choose, as well.
In other words, to be very clear about this, current anarchist institutional vision should be limited to precisely those relatively few positive institutional commitments we are confident future people must have in place if they are to have the information, circumstances, inclinations, opportunity, and even the responsibility to creatively and knowledgeably self manage their own situations. Positive institutional vision should not extend further than that minimum, but nor should it be stop short of that minimum.
Putting the same point more positively, we need to strongly advocate and tirelessly seek the minimum necessary institutional vision to overcome cynicism, to inspire hope and creativity, and to inform strategy as well as to be sure we will establish the basis for future self managed outcomes - without, however, over extending our claims and actions into settling domains that we can’t know reliably or that transcend our right to currently decide.
As an example, consider the economy.
When I say in many talks, essays, etc., that I think participatory economics (or parecon for short) is an anarchist economic vision, I mean I think parecon includes the minimum economic attributes a future economy must embody if future economic actors are to equitably self manage their own lives, fulfill their own desires, mutually aid one another, etc.
Pareconish self-management, for example, is the idea that people should have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree those decisions affect them. This is an ideal, of course, since no social accounting can be numerically precise, and in specific moments and cases there will and even should be temporary divergences.
The larger point is that there should be no systematic and snowballing divergences. There should be no condition of some people enjoying more than proportionate say and of others suffering less, as a fixed or even steadily worsening condition, and thus of some people repeatedly and systematically dominating other people’s life choices and conditions.
Over time, therefore, we should each and all have a proportionate say over social choices that affect us, which doesn’t mean we should all always get our way, which would be obviously impossible given the diversity of human interests, but does mean that we should all always have a just and fair say.
Equity, a second central value of parecon, is the idea that citizens should have a claim on society’s economic product that increases if they do socially valued work longer or more intensely or at worse conditions. We should not receive income for property or bargaining power or even output, but we should receive income only for the intensity, duration, and onerousness of our socially valued labor.
This remunerative norm accords with anarchism’s respect for human rights and responsibilities and with anarchism’s conception of solidarity, while it also operates as a desirable incentive system engendering work that meets real needs while attaining socially optimal levels of labor and leisure.
Solidarity, Parecon’s third central value, is the idea that people should care about one another’s well being – rather than each of us trampling the rest or at the very least turning the other cheek to others’ difficulties.
Instead of “nice guys finishing last” because society’s institutions guarantee that economics is a war of each against where callousness is a prerequisite for success, in a good economy each of us succeeding should require that we each also aid others. Our own gains and other people’s gains should be mutually supporting not mutually exclusive.
Diversity, a fourth central Parecon value, is the idea that people should have a wide range of options available and that when making choices diverse paths forward should be kept available or even experimented with. This is desirable both to enjoy unexpected benefits from paths we might otherwise have arrogantly ignored, and also to have insurance against unexpected difficulties on paths we wrongly thought would be optimal.
Finally, as the fifth and sixth parecon values, beyond the obvious need for sustainability, environmental husbandry is the idea that humans and the rest of the environment ultimately constitute an entwined community in which humans have to take responsibility for the impact of our choices on ourselves but also on the rest of nature’s domain – and, in turn, efficiency is the related idea that economic activity should produce what people seek for fulfillment and development without wasting assets we value but also while furthering rather than obstructing self management, equity, solidarity, diversity, and husbandry.
Okay, why can’t anarchist economic vision be that list of values - however modified, augmented, or refined - without proposing any specific institutions? The answer is twofold.
First, worthy economic values are essential but not alone convincing. People don’t doubt the possibility of an alternative economic arrangement mainly because they doubt the morality of left values, but mainly because they doubt that those values can be implemented. Thus, we can fully dispel people’s skepticism not only by asserting worthy values, but only if we also describe institutions consistent with those preferred values.
And second, worthy values alone do not provide needed orientation for strategy and tactics. The distance between worthy values and well conceived demands that we can productively struggle for as well as organizational structures we can usefully build, is very large. Demands and organization are conceived in light of institutional aims, as well. Insights that move us toward effective strategic choices need to be shared and built upon, rather than having each actor have to repeatedly start over as if no one had thought matters through before.
In light of the above, parecon proposes a minimalist institutional vision for establishing economic conditions that will permit future people to self manage their own economic lives.
For example, if future people are to self manage the economy, then workers and consumers will need venues where they can meet, discuss, and finally decide their preferences and actions. This is workers and consumers councils or assemblies, in turn federated at diverse levels, and all using self-managing procedures. Such self-managing councils can and should be part of our economic vision.
However, the detailed arrangement of such councils and of their daily internal relations and their specific methods of dispersing and discussing information and tallying preferences in different situations will be up to their participants and will take many forms in light of different contexts and desires. We certainly don’t know enough to have strong attitudes about all those details, nor is it our right to decide such details for future folks in any case, nor, for that matter, is there only one right or acceptable or optimal way to settle on details.
The details of future implementations of self-managing councils are for those who are affected to contextually decide in the future. On the other hand, that we must generate self-managing councils in a new society if that new society is to be anarchist is a bare bones essential aim.
Okay, let’s assume we develop worthy councils with self managed decision making procedures. Nonetheless, disparities in income and wealth could easily disrupt council members’ having a fair say over decisions affecting their lives. Given that possibility, we cannot have people earn income for their property, their bargaining power, or even for their output, since each of these means of earning income would introduce wide disparities in wealth which would in turn disrupt equitable power relations. Instead, so that both moral and material conditions of freedom will exist, parecon proposes that remuneration will need to be for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work, with allowance for those who cannot work, of course.
But how would we arrnange equitable remuneration from industry to industry, given each industry’s unique characteristics, and even from one workplace to the next, given different worker preferences? We can make some guesses about various ways this might occur, but we don’t and can’t know, now, which patterns will prevail. Indeed, the details of future diverse implementations of equitable remuneration are relevant to us today at most insofar as we describe some possible choices future people could make in order to demonstrate that equitable remuneration can indeed be achieved. Knowledge arising from future experimentation plus emerging and as yet unknowable preferences and circumstances of future people in different countries, industries, and even different firms within industries, will of course inform the choices of future people on how they wish to implement the equity norm, including, for example how closely they will want to measure variables like duration and intensity, or what indices they want to collect and consult data about, and so on. However, when we say that the future is diverse, still, the diversity we have in mind doesn’t include remuneration for property, power, or output – and it does include remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor.
Continuing, if pareconish self management and equity are to persist in a new economy, thereby preserving the conditions of freedom and participation for all actors, it can’t be that some actors are consistently and greatly empowered by their daily economic activities while other actors are consistently exhausted and disempowered by theirs, as is typical of corporate divisions of labor. The reason we can’t have this disparity in the average and overall empowerment effects of work on workers is because if the disparity exists then the set of people who have a kind of monopoly on knowledge, skills, confidence and energy for decision making will dominate the people who will lack all those prerequisites of participation. To have freedom means we can’t have that sort of class hierarchy, but in that case, what must we seek in place of familiar corporate divisions of labor?
Consider a workplace. Suppose its workers institute democratic and even self managed decision-making via a workers council and associated teams and divisions that they define in their workplace. Also suppose its workers institute equitable remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work in a manner they choose as compatible with the technical and social character of their workplace. However, along with those innovations, as typically occurs in many coops and occupied factories, suppose also that these workers also retain the old corporate division of labor in their workplace so that about one fifth of the employees do all the empowering work, and the other four fifths of employees do only the rote, repetitive, and in any event disempowering work.
In that case, despite their self-managing and equitable intentions, the predictable, inexorable outcome of their choices, seen over and over in history as well as easily comprehensible by our knowledge of social relations, is that in time the group doing all the empowering work (who I call the coordinator class) will set council meeting agendas, dominate council discussions and debate, overwhelmingly set workplace policies, in time even deciding to pay themselves more and allot themselves better conditions.
In short, their position in the old corporate division of labor will propel what I call coordinator class members to dominate disempowered employees – which is to say, the working class. The point of the observation is that the minimum conditions necessary for all future workers to be freely able to collectively diversely determine their own lives includes solving the problem that a persistent corporate division of labor will inexorably destroy such potentials.
So what alternative can workers adopt in place of an old corporate division of labor in order to engender real participation and self-management? What minimalist structure regarding work apportionment can ensure freedom for future citizens without impinging on future citizens’ rights to experiment and diversely decide their own social relations?
Parecon says the answer is “balanced job complexes” which means dividing up work so that each actor has a mix of overall tasks and responsibilities comparably empowering to the mix each other actor has.
But how does any particular workplace arrive at these new job complexes? We can usefully talk about some ways it can be done, or some ways it has been done in some instances, to show both possibility and implications, but actually choosing among specific options of how best to generate balanced job complexes in specific circumstances is a task for future people facing those circumstances. What can’t be left to the future, however, if the future is to be classless, is deciding that we want to eliminate the old division of labor and deciding we want job complexes balanced for empowerment. The details are contextual, but the basic need is prerequisite to classlessness.
Parecon therefore claims that advocating and working to institute balanced job complexes, like advocating and working to institute self-managing councils or equitable remuneration, is essential to attaining the preconditions for full freedom. More, the claim isn’t premised only on thinking about the social relationships – though there is nothing wrong with applying our imaginations to complex problems. Rather, we also know from extensive practical experience of co-ops and twentieth century socialist endeavors just how deadly to self-management and equity the old division of labor is.
Now let’s go one more step and suppose a future workplace institutes pareconish self managed workers councils, equitable remuneration, and also balanced job complexes. Is that the essence of desirable and anarchistic economics? Is the rest of what will constitute desirable economics a matter for future choice and not a matter of current advocacy? Or is there still another economic aspect that is so essential for future freedom and future classlessness that we must advocate it now, as part of our current vision, and that we must work to attain it, starting now, lest not attaining it prevent freedom from ever being attained?
Parecon says yes, there is another essential feature, called participatory planning. But why does parecon think we must choose participatory planning for economic allocation rather than just saying that allocation will be decided by future citizens, with some people opting for one way of allocating, and other people diversely opting for other ways of allocating?
The first reason why this isn’t an option is technical. You can’t usefully or even sensibly have an economy in which there are significantly different methods of settling on relative values and associated levels of output, duration of work, etc. If there are two, three, or more different methods for allocating, then the same items to be produced and consumed in the economy will have different and conflicting relative prices depending which method of allocation is consulted, and there will be different and conflicting logics and associated implications for behavior operating as well, and the contradictions will be highly likely to disrupt viable operations.
However, the more interesting and informative second reason why multiple modes of allocation aren’t an option is social. The social as compared to technical argument is that both markets and central planning, which are the prevalently preferred options for allocation, each destroy self management, equity, solidarity, diversity, and husbandry and each impose, albeit in different ways, the old division of labor and thus the familiar coordinator/worker class division and hierarchy. The derivative conclusion is that if we self consciously or even just inadvertently include either markets or central planning or any combination of the two as our means of allocation in a future economy, these structures will subvert our other libertarian values and aspirations, just like including corporate divisions of labor would subvert our agendas, or including top down rule would subvert our agendas, or including remuneration for property would subvert our agendas. An anarchist stance regarding the economy we want in the future, due to being for freedom and against class rule, has to reject market and centrally planned allocation.
It would take more time than we have here to make the full case about markets and central planning, much less demonstrating the worthiness and viability of their replacement, but parecon says what is needed if workers and consumers are to self manage economic life is a mode of allocation that: (a) conveys relevant social, material, and environmental information to confident and knowledgeable workers and consumers, (b) gives workers and consumers the means to express their own desires and to learn other people’s views and desires and then together cooperatively adapt their desires into mutual accord, and (c) achieves all this in a way that properly accounts for the full social, material, and environmental costs and benefits of choices even while conveying to each actor self managing say and smoothly arriving at implementable and in the sense we mentioned earlier, efficient, choices.
Parecon makes a case that participatory planning, which is just parecon’s name for cooperative negotiation of economic inputs and outputs by nested, self-managing workers and consumers councils, is what can and will accomplish these aims.
Do parecon advocates – or anarchists who adopt parecon as an economic vision - have to describe this new mode of allocation fully, delving into its many details to the third or fourth or tenth decimal place of accuracy? Far from it. All that is necessary is to describe participatory planning’s core elements sufficiently to demonstrate its viability, worthiness, including for orienting strategic choices.
For that matter, will the information exchange, cooperative negotiation, and tallying of decisions of participatory planning have different specific local operational features in different countries and even in different industries in one country and in different workplaces in one industry, and will its many diverse features also vary as people develop new understandings through their experiences as well as due to enjoying new technical possibilities? Of course.
To demonstrate the possibility and virtues of participatory planning we can and should talk about some of possible specific structures for its implementation, but we should do so flexibly and always remembering that the full contours of this new mode of allocation will only emerge from real practice. Still, to have participatory planning as part of our goal, says the pareconist, even if we only broadly and flexibly specify its features, is essential if we are to dispel cynicism about there being a worthy alternative to markets and central planning, and if we are to sensibly orient our strategic choices.
So as we conceive it so far, parecon is a proposed economic vision for attaining classlessness via workers and consumers self managing councils, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning. It is minimalist in the sense of trying to broadly and loosely pinpoint only the defining institutional features we must attain to establish the conditions of freedom necessary for future people to diversely determine the rest of economic life.
Of course, however, life is not just about economics and the same broad approach to vision can be usefully undertaken regarding other dimensions of life as well. For example, what are the values we aspire to for political adjudication, legislation, and collective implementation; for cultural identification and celebration of communities and their interrelations; for birthing, nurturing and raising the next generation and conducting daily household and sexual relations; or for other domains of life? And then, given our values for polity, culture, kinship, etc. – what are the minimum institutional structures that we must attain to establish conditions permitting future people to live however they choose in those domains, by way of mutuality and self management, and consistent with the sought values?
When activists cautiously answer those questions without over extending but also without saying too little to dispel cynicism or guide desirable strategy, we will have a flexible, continually updateable, institutional vision to define our political and social commitments. I think, at that point, recognizing that new insights might yield new commitments, anarchist could say part of what being anarchist means is favoring this vision.
Now comes the hard part, in which ironically, the anarchist attitude of eschewing visionary detail reverses itself at precisely the moment it ought not do so. That is, whereas some anarchists in my view wrongly doubt the desirability of adopting even a minimalist institutional vision as part of what it means to be anarchist - many anarchists do think it makes sense to deem a rather sharp and strong set of strategic attachments critical to being anarchist. That is, some anarchists reject having a strong stance about elements of vision, where I think it makes sense to actually have such a stance, but then do have very strong views they think are unbridgeably defining for strategy, where I believe having such a stance is far more problematic.
Of course sharing strategic insights is generally good – and I am not questioning that. What I worry about, rather, is the extent to which some anarchists, like many people of other political stances, tend to think that momentary strategic commitments are matters of unbridgeable principle.
What can a strategic commitment mean?
Well, it could mean something like that I think democratic centralism is essential as an organizing approach all the time. Or it could mean I think democratic centralism is very likely to be essential, so there is a high burden of proof on not using it. Or it could mean I think democratic centralism has horrible implications so it is very likely to be counter productive and there is a high burden of proof on using it. Or it could mean that I think democratic centralism is despicable and should never be used, period.
My view is that the first and fourth type of stance are both ill conceived because there is virtually no such thing as a strategic commitment, positive or negative, that is a principled touchstone and therefore unbridgeable. Rather, the most we can say about strategic commitments will almost always take the form of a burden of proof formulation – and in the above case, I might note that I like the third view.
To clarify, let’s take a few examples that might arise for anarchists. For example, some anarchists will say presidential electoral campaigning is not just suspect, entailing a high burden of proof to justify emphasizing such activity, say, which I would agree with, but that presidential politics is actually verboten for anarchists. They tend to argue that the downside of such activity is ubiquitous, immense, and unavoidable. If you are for an electoral focus, they deduce that you are not really anarchist. There is no situation, they say, warranting a presidential electoral focus by an anarchist.
To me, unlike saying, say, that an anarchist vision must reject markets and include some type of cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs and must reject a corporate division of labor and include some type of balanced job complexes, or, if not, then it isn’t anarchist because it won’t yield classless relations - a comparable pronouncement saying that an anarchist must totally reject all presidential electoral involvement by erecting a binding stop sign saying it is simply and always anti anarchist to prioritize such activity, makes no sense.
Yes, it certainly does make sense to point out the likely or possible debits of electoral work – of which there are many – and it also makes sense to have an understanding of those debits as part of the shared conceptual strategic agreement of anarchists.
But then, even having that broad understanding, it nonetheless makes sense and is in fact necessary to consider any specific proposal for electoral focus to see if there aren’t in its case mitigating factors which make it desirable even for an anarchist agenda. To say it can never make anarchist sense to be involved in presidential electoral politics is not just inflexible and sectarian, it is also wrong.
For example, suppose that winning a presidential election would clearly create a context vastly more welcoming to and productive for all kinds of local and national anarchist activity, whereas losing the same election would curtail all that activism. Or imagine an even more peculiar – to an anarchist – situation. That is, imagine a national candidate for president who stands far to the anarchist side of the political spectrum and who is clearly incredibly eager to use the presidency to propel the population toward consciousness and activism that will enhance popular power and participation, foster council formation and prioritization, overcome old local and state governmental structures, and finally also overcome even old national political structures. Could electing this person be problematic? Yes, maybe – one might claim all those allegiences are lies, or that despite them the person will have no wiggle room, or that the process will subvert the sincere desires, etc. But does someone thinking that such a campaign could be a positive and even high priority part of anarchist social change despite those worries, due to thinking they can be surmounted, automatically mark that person as not anarchist, or not radical, or even a supporter of the status quo? Of course not.
It is this ability to realize that people can sincerely differ about centrally important strategic matters without it indicating that one or the other of the disputants has sold out or otherwise lost their libratory sense that I worry about some anarchists losing to the detriment of the whole anarchist project. The truth is that people often disagree due to honest differences over complex circumstances and not solely due to one or the other being an enemy of change and an agent of reaction.
As another example, take implementing workers control in workplaces. An anarchist might reasonably say, and I would agree, that this is a very high priority goal. The anarchist might then add, however, going a step beyond what I would urge, that as a result whenever instituting self management can be done, it ought to be done, forthrightly and rapidly, and that there can be no exception to this injunction. To waffle about implementing workers self-management, this anarchist might say, is always anti anarchist.
If course, there is no doubt it could be true in a particular situation that waffling about implementing workers self management demonstrates anti anarchist leanings. But the more interesting question is could there be a situation in which opposing self management isn’t anti anarchist at all, and in which, instead, pursuing workers self management in some particular plant or industry would impede an overall anarchist agenda?
Oddly, the answer is yes. For example, consider a situation where in the early stages of a transition process seeking self management throughout society, the easiest place to initiate massive rapid innovations is in a very large and wealthy oil industry, where the workers in that oil industry, however, are already by far the best paid and most comfortable workers in the country, and where oil industry surpluses finance the country’s innovations for other sectors and communities, and where oil workers self managing their industry could lead to their taking more of the oil surplus for themselves at the expense of others. Oddly, in such a situation, if the oil workers’ consciousness was not yet very advanced, enacting self-management in the largest industry in the country, oil, could actually set back the overall project of attaining self-management throughout the whole society. Thus seeking self-management whenever and wherever you can proves itself, in this case, potentially counter productive rather than absolutely essential.
Let’s take an even more peculiar and ironic situation. Suppose a country is in a massive project to transform, with the federal government and various grass-roots movements strongly on the side of change, but many old mayors and governors, and many old owners and media moguls as well as many local police forces still opposing, obstructing, and sabotaging efforts at change. Suppose, in fact, that in the case of those old police forces they are largely corrupt and are by their theft and violence creating a climate of fear that is in turn seriously impeding federal efforts to facilitate local creation of people’s participatory communes and people’s popular power. What should be done about the police?
Can you imagine an anarchist saying, in this unusual context, well, since the army is steadfastly in favor of the revolutionary process, how about if we use the army to discipline and if need be to replace the police, thus removing the latter as an obstacle to change, eliminating the climate of fear the police produce, and proceeding with transition protected, all by the army and accomplished as quickly and with as little violence as possible, due to using the army? Of course, says the approach’s anarchist advocate, I realize using the army domestically is a very dangerous choice for diverse reasons, but, that said, letting the police persist in their corruption and violence risks total disaster. More, given the work that has been done throughout the army to date, and the very serious community and organizational controls we can impose on the proposed military efforts, I think we can make this work.
My point is I can imagine an anarchist proposing that. In fact I can imagine me suggesting such a path as a possibility in Venezuela, say, where the described conditions do indeed persist – just as the conditions of the prior examples exist there as well - and clearly my doing so, whether wise or not would not mean I had thrown in with state power, or had abdicated my belief in grassroots self management, or had disavowed self management, etc., but, instead, it would mean only that in a rather unusual context, this approach seemed to me most likely to have the positive consequences that any anarchist or other advocate of real freedom would want to achieve, whereas other approaches would accomplish at best, less, with even more risk.
The point of these strange examples, and many more that the reader can no doubt conceive, is first that in sum they are not in fact all that strange. Actual social struggle is very complex and diverse with specific features arising that often make kneejerk application of political beliefs very dangerous. All the above could plausibly exist in broadly similar form in other countries than Venezuela, too. But second, for the same reasons, one thing we can certainly know is that there is no strategic injunction that is universally binding in all times, places, and situations.
Indeed, whereas I think it does make sense to say about a particular perspective such as anarchism that some view is essential to it regarding vision so that anarchism has a particular broadly conceived visionary goal and to forswear this goal is to reject anarchism – I think it does not make sense to say about a particular perspective such as anarchism that it has a particular strategic commitment and if a person ever does anything that appears contrary to that commitment, the person has left behind anarchism.
Finally, let me give a reverse example. Anarchists typically reject democratic centralism as a means of making decisions in a revolutionary project. This could mean: (1) that anarchists think democratic centralism should never be employed and that to employ it is always a sign that one is a non anarchist or even an anti anarchist – or it could mean (2) that anarchists think democratic centralism typically has horrible by products and a debilitating internal logic that together tend to subvert anarchist aims so that there is a very high burden of proof on utilizing such decision procedures.
To me, unless one nuances it tremendously, stance (1) is insupportable. Suppose, for example, that anarchists are having a demonstration that is going to feature a big rally and speeches, and then a march that spins off from the rally, and then a major building occupation, say, that spins off from the march. The target for the occupation is secret and, in fact, the wrong target has been leaked so that the police will occupy that building with all their and attention, while the march ignores that destination and instead goes unobstructed to its real target. There is a need for flexibility as well as secrecy. So the movement chooses/elects a tactical leadership committee that is empowered to unilaterally decide as the march unfolds what actual target makes most sense to occupy, when to run for it, etc.
Well, this is a democratic centralist approach – but it is one which could in context further the anarchist agenda, and which, given that the tactical committee forms, acts, and then disbands, would have little in the way of negative lasting repercussions, though, yes, the mindset involved is of concern and if the same people were always the tactical leaders, whenever such a committee was needed, that would be a serious risk. So, would advocating this use of secret flexible leadership make one an anti-anarchist? Did making similar choices make Bakunin, among others, an anti-anarchist? Of course not.
So what’s my point?
I think and hope that with further investigation anarchists will overwhelmingly agree that parecon/parsoc provide an economic vision and an emerging but as yet far from full social vision, each of which are compatible with and indeed also fulfill the aspirations of the long heritage called anarchism, but each of which also avoid over specifying a future that we can’t yet know and which, in any event, it is for future people and not us to determine.
I also think there are many strategic insights that anarchists can very reasonably share as part of their overall perspective such as the need to plant seeds of the future – such as balanced job complexes and self managed decision making – in the present, the need to have demands, language, and organizational structure and procedures that not only meet current needs on behalf of suffering constituencies but also propel escalating desires leading toward preferred goals, the need to win currently sought reforms in ways that simultaneously develop means of winning still more gains in the future, the need to measure success by assessing consciousness gains, organizational gains, and gains in circumstances and fulfillment, the high burden of proof on employing violence or on employing any top down structures and methods such as democratic centralism, and the criticality of overcoming not only capitalist but also coordinator mentalities and structures in our own projects and in society writ large.
But more, to avoid sectarianism, arrogance, and kneejerk calculations, as well as to be on track toward the better world we all desire – I think it is key to realize that having a minimalist but compelling and inspiring anarchist institutional vision is essential, whereas regarding strategy we need to prioritize understanding that there is no single virtuous or effective anarchist strategy such that one size fits all and there is a need for sincere and well meaning debate and disagreement, even about pivotal issues and possibilities, undertaken without casting aspersions on motives and values.