For a while now, my political position has been within the domain of libertarian socialism. Libertarian socialist ideologies are anti-State, anti-capitalist center-left (in absolute terms, not in terms of political parties, which are mostly all right-wing), and they center around self-management and federated structures.
Fundamentally, politics is about the distribution and organization of power (and who gets to distribute and organize it, and who benefits from the distribution and organization). Statist ideologies mainly differ in the concentration of power they will allow the State, and other institutions, to abuse. Much of the disagreements between them lie in the balance of power they think is ideal for society.
Anarchists in general distinguish themselves from all those ideologies because they believe that power should be dispersed amongst the population, not concentrated in a few powerful institutions. This is a radical difference, which is seldom understood. Many ideologies have sought to bring about egalitarianism through concentrating power into a benevolent institution (like the Soviet State). No matter how well-intentioned, such institutions must fail because of the incentive systems which necessarily follow concentrations of power. Hierarchies seek to perpetuate themselves and power is an easy, addictive method to do so. And inevitably enemies of the regime will use that to their own advantage, as well.
It is not that power is an inherently bad thing. As Anarchists have identified, it is power in the form of hierarchies which creates the biggest problems, because hierarchies magnify the use of that power by their manpower and credibility. As St. Augustine said in the famous Pirates and Emperors story, “because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.” Private criminals are not one hundredth of the problem that corporate crimes and State crimes are.
We recognize the necessity of having some power around, if only to stop people from inflicting (physical) harm on each other or from generally impeding social autonomy (by destroying or diverting vital resources, for example). However, concentrating this power, whether in a State or some other institution, is a generally bad idea. Concentrating the power to determine what is legal and what is illegal is an even worse idea.
As a general principle, power should be kept in check by strictly delimited roles, direct accountability and, most importantly, task rotation. Keeping power in the hands of the same people year after year creates a group of people with interests that slowly diverge from those of the rest of the population, eventually creating a ruling class. The same is true of a State or a corporation.
Democracy is said to provide the accountability and task rotation. But this is a naive sort of statement. Democracy is a tool of the ruling class designed to provide the illusion of accountability and task rotation, while keeping power within the same class of people and not giving the population any real alternative which would erode their class interests. The only time egalitarian measures are implemented is when the more centrists amongst the power elite fear retribution.
What would replace democracy in a libertarian socialist system? All workplaces and cities would be self-managed, meaning that decision-making power about something would rest in the hands of those who use it, whether it’s a piece of machinery, a bridge, or a neighborhood. Each group would elect a representative or representatives to speak for them at a higher level, and on all the way up to the world level. While some decisions may have to be taken at the world level or the industry level, most decisions, I think, would be handled at the local level. The general rule is that decisions should be left to the lowest level possible.
With self-management being put in place and corporations replaced with work collectives, capitalism is necessarily done for, since it is predicated on the distinction between labor and capital. This does not mean that all work collectives would automatically start acting in the interests of the general population. However, from all the examples of self-managed workplaces I know, this tends to be the case. Workers generally live in the cities where they work, and have no intention of shafting their neighbors and friends, or attracting the ire of the population. This is partially because, in our capitalist systems, they often need material, legal, or political support from the public in order to flourish, since the States are never happy to concede anything to self-managed workplaces.
The main positive accomplishment of capitalism has been to link the world with flows of production. However, this positive accomplishment has come at a very heavy price, as neo-liberalism has amply demonstrated. In general, these flows drain valuable resources from the Third World for the consumption of the Western world. Self-management at a world level would reverse this, if only because these neo-liberalist resource drains do not benefit the population of the Third World countries that are targeted: they only benefit the power elite, that is to say, the business owners and politicians (the people who support so-called “free trade,” which really means: “free movement of capital”).
The same general principles apply to law and justice: the administration of justice and the construction of law must come directly from the people. I am not talking here about the conceit of jury duty, which is not administrated correctly anyhow. In our current system, the purpose of jury duty serves the same general purpose as democracy: to rubberstamp the condemnation of people who can be credibly condemned, whether they are really guilty or not. A true justice system serves the interests of the people, not the State. It does not imprison millions of people for the crime of being considered second-class citizens, for example.
Furthermore, as I don’t believe in blame, I don’t believe in the punitive function of justice. The courts should not exist to exact revenge on the guilty but to do what serves the needs of the people: restitution, i.e. trying to leave society in as good a shape as it was before the crime. Courts should not be adversarial but should seek to find the truth. But by far the most important element of any Anarchist justice system is the reduction of the incentives of crime. The end of the State and State police, economic equality, the elimination of sexism and racism, the end of the family being an all-important social unit, would all contribute to a dramatic reduction in crime. The fewer crimes there are, the easier it is to have a fair and timely system.
The construction of the laws themselves would follow federated lines: those who are affected by a law are responsible for its construction and maintenance. So for example the workers in a self-managed industry would make laws regarding their workplaces, consumers would make laws regulating products, women would make laws regarding VAW, abortion, and other women’s issues, and so on. Discrimination and prejudice would be countered, not by sporadic generosity from the power elite, not by the almighty “free market,” but by the equal power of those discriminated to assert their own humanity.
Here are some basic political principles I believe in:
1. The Chomsky Principle: We should in principle reject any hierarchical relation or structure unless it’s proven to be justified in some way. Since hierarchies are not a priori necessary for anything, we have no reason to accept them passively. The statement that a hierarchical relation or structure should continue needs to be be tested using the same standards of evidence that we would use to test any other statement of fact. Question with boldness the validity of any hierarchy, because the individual and social costs associated with any hierarchy demand a justification.
2. Egalitarianism: We should always assume that all human beings are equal, and to treat them as equals, unless we have contrary evidence. For example, we may measure two individuals’ “intelligence” as being different, but this does not mean we should treat one as superior over the other. Every instance where we treat people differently from each other needs to be justified, and we should also not keep pretending there is equality where there demonstrably is not (but that this does not automatically mean that some people should be treated as inferiors, unless THAT can be justified as well). This is basically just an extension of point 1.
3. Determinism: There is no such thing as individual choice, and no one can be blamed for their actions. Any institution or ideology which is based on the notion that people should be blamed, punished, or on vengeance, cannot exist in a rational society. The prison system is based on the belief that criminals must be punished. The capitalist economic system is based on the belief that poor people are to blame for being poor. Neither of these beliefs are rational.
4. Power should be broken down and distributed equitably amongst the population as much as possible.
5. The emphasis of any political change should be on changing our social systems to adapt to people, not the other way around. Nothing should be a more important consideration than people: not profits, not “law and order,” not power.