Letter to an Anarchist
I don't blame you for being an anarchist. After all, I was once one myself. I also read the famous anarchists – Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, Thoreau, etc. I don't remember much of what they wrote, but I do remember that they were convincing. Also you, having been born in Argentina and living all your life here, have witnessed the stupidity, inefficiency and corruption of governments, of police, some of whom besides being corrupt and brutal, are more criminal than the criminals they lackadaisically pursue. And Argentina is not alone in this respect.
So it is understandable that you blame the institution of government itself; who needs it? We'd be better off without it. Democracy is a sham because the powerful interests easily manipulate it.
But, I say, anarchism sounds good on paper but it wouldn't work; there'd be chaos.
How do you know that, the anarchist rejoins, if it's never been tried?
However, even Karl Marx was an anarchist at heart. For him communism's Dictatorship of the Proletariat was only a temporary inconvenience: as long as it takes for humanity to become so fraternal that political states are no longer necessary and are supposed to “wither away”. Marx was probably the most influential philosopher since Plato and Aristoteles, and he got a lot right about capitalism. He prophesied that as capital increased in the hands of the bigger companies in a particular industry, they would be able to ingest the smaller ones, that this would go on until there is only one gigantic capitalistic enterprise controlling the whole economy.
I saw something similar happen, at least partially, in the airline industry where I worked for many years. Before the 1970s international air transportation was controlled by the airlines' trade organization IATA (International Air Transport Association), which was given authority by the United Nations (ICAO), and anti-trust immunity was granted by all governments that had such anti-trust laws.
How could that be? you might ask. Was it corruption, big business paying bureaucrats to let them do as they please?
Not at all. In fact most airlines were owned by nation-states (with the notable exception of the U.S. carriers and Swissair), and each country had its own “flag carrier”, of which they were quite proud. That most also lost money was unfortunate, but was not thought to be a serious objection to the system because air transportation was still considered to be a public service first and a business second. That has changed.
The change was fueled by right-wing ideology, which goes something like this: If there is a free market there will be more competition, prices will fall and the public will benefit. However, in real life, after “open skies”, there is less competition because there are fewer competitors, prices rose, service declined (except for the “upper” classes) and the public is screwed. Free market in this context means a one-sided free market for the producers. Freedom from state control may be positive in theory, but if the state is deleted from the formula with its puny controls – who is left? Nobody! So who could take its place?
In reality there are three players in the economic process (once the state is deleted): Producers, consumers and distributors (wholesale and retail) – but only the first group has real power. They say: “Not true, the consumers dictate via their wishes.” Come on, fellas, everyone knows that consumers' wishes are manipulated by propaganda and what is offered. But let's assume that the state no longer takes part in the economic process and a substitute is found. What could it be? How about associations of producers, distributors and consumers – the three groups which really and actively participate in the process. In the airline industry, it would look like this:
The airlines, producers of air transportation, would want higher prices; the passengers (and cargo shippers) would want lowers prices; the travel agents, knowing that higher prices would increase their commissions, but at the same time realizing that lower prices would increase their sales, thereby also increasing their profits, would be neutral and would tend to assume the mediator's role on the question of fares. The passengers would assume the mediating role in such questions as agency commissions and productivity norms, and the airlines would take it over when such problems as inclusive tour services, credit arrangements, cargo agents' disbursement fees, etc., are discussed. The only role the state would play is passing a law making such economic associations obligatory for all industries.
Something any passengers’ representative would demand is wider seats and more leg room (pitch) in economy class, which has been somewhat exaggeratedly described as similar to a cattle car. This would mean fewer seats and therefore higher prices, the airlines would object. Okay, how much higher? If it’s reasonable the passengers will accept it. No one wants the airlines to be bankrupt. (By the way, airline executives don’t travel in economy class.)
The cultural or social sphere
Here the state is not present, for the catchword is freedom. Religion, art, opinion, journalism and, of most importance, education would be free of political control. Today, unfortunately, education is considered to be a function of the state. As a result “public”, meaning state controlled education, has been a failure the world over, whether in poor countries where too little is spent on education or in rich ones where money flows but performance is debilitated by bureaucracy, inefficiency and, in some cases, brainwashing, a.k.a. patriotism.
Many tomes have been written by “experts” on how education can be improved. But these masters of theory never spent a day in the classroom with real children so cannot know their real needs nor how to stimulate their interest. In general, private schools do better, but they are only for those who can afford them, even if they receive subsidies.
But some, many, almost all may protest: if the state doesn’t run the schools, who would? Easy: the teachers, those who are directly involved in the educational process and who know the children as real people and not as statistics.
But the state finances the schools! Actually, the state is merely the intermediary between the taxpayers and the schools. The people finance the schools through the state, so in democratic countries they could change this by founding independent non-political associations of schools which could determine their own needs. And, by law, the state would be required to acquiesce to their demands.
So, my dear anarchist, the state is still required – but one which is reduced in size and power to its intrinsic, justifiable function: guarantor and protector of human and civil rights. We can’t wait for all of humanity to be good and rational for the state to no longer be necessary and “wither away”, something it will never do if left to its own devices.
To conclude: We are talking about a tripartite society in which one sector, culture, would be free to unfold its own talents and manage its own institutions. In which the representatives of producers and consumers together with distributors would manage the economic process. And in which the political state would be reduced to its only area of legitimacy: human and civil rights. Each sector would be relatively autonomous.
This is not anarchy, but it is as close to it as can be approached in the real world.
Frank Thomas Smith, Editor
The concept of a tripartite society was originally presented by Rudolf Steiner in Germany shortly after the First World War. His seminal book on the subject, Towards Social Renewal – Basic Issues of the Social Question, is available here as a pdf document free of charge. Much has changed since it was written, but the basic principle is still valid.