In this section we will examine some modern trends which we regard as being potential openings for anarchists to organise and which point in an anarchist direction. These trends are of a general nature, partly as a product of social struggle, partly as a response to economic and social crisis, partly involving people's attitudes to big government and big business, partly in relation to the communications revolution we are currently living through, and so on.
Of course, looking at modern society we see multiple influences, changes which have certain positive aspects in some directions but negative ones in others. For example, the business-inspired attempts to decentralise or reduce (certain) functions of governments should in the abstract be welcomed by anarchists for they lead to the reduction of government. In practice such a conclusion is deeply suspect simply because these developments are being pursued to increase the power and influence of capital as well as to increase wage-labour to, and exploitation by, the economic master class and to undermine working class power and autonomy. As such, they are as anti-libertarian as the status quo (as Proudhon stressed, anarchism is "the denial of Government and of Property." [Property is Theft!, p. 559]). Similarly, increases in self-employment can be seen, in the abstract, as reducing wage slavery. However, if, in practice, this increase is due to corporations encouraging "independent" contractors in order to cut wages and worsen working conditions, increase job insecurity and undermine paying for health and other employee packages then it is hardly a positive sign. Obviously increases in self-employment would be different if it were the result of an increase in the number of co-operatives, for example.
Thus few anarchists celebrate many apparently "libertarian" developments as they are not the product of social movements and activism, but are the product of elite lobbying for private profit and power. Decreasing the power of the state in (certain) areas while leaving (or increasing) the power of capital is a retrograde step in most, if not all, ways. Needless to say, this "rolling back" of the state does not bring into question its role as defender of property and the interests of the capitalist class -- nor could it, as it is the ruling class who introduces and supports these developments.
In this section, we aim to discuss tendencies from below, not above -- tendencies which can truly "roll back" the state rather than reduce its functions purely to that of the armed thug of property. The tendencies we discuss here are not the be all nor end all of anarchist activism or tendencies. We discuss many of the more traditionally anarchist "openings" in section J.5 (such as industrial and community unionism, mutual credit, co-operatives, modern schools and so on) and so will not do so here. However, it is important to stress here that such "traditional" openings are not being downplayed -- indeed, much of what we discuss here can only become fully libertarian in combination with these more "traditional" forms of "anarchy in action."
For a lengthy discussion of anarchistic trends in society, we recommend Colin Ward's classic book Anarchy in Action. Ward covers many areas in which anarchistic tendencies have been expressed, far more than we can cover here. The libertarian tendencies in society are many. No single work could hope to do them justice.
Simply because it shows that people are unhappy with the existing society and, more importantly, are trying to change at least some part of it. It suggests that certain parts of the population have reflected on their situation and, potentially at least, seen that by their own actions they can influence and change it for the better.
Given that the ruling minority draws its strength by the acceptance and acquiescence of the majority, the fact that a part of that majority no longer accepts and acquiesces is a positive sign. After all, if the majority did not accept the status quo and acted to change it, the class and state system could not survive. Any hierarchical society survives because those at the bottom follow the orders of those above it. Social struggle suggests that some people are considering their own interests, thinking for themselves and saying "no" and this, by its very nature, is an important, indeed, the most important, tendency towards anarchism. It suggests that people are rejecting the old ideas which hold the system up, acting upon this rejection and creating new ways of doing things.
"Our social institutions," argued Alexander Berkman, "are founded on certain ideas; as long as the latter are generally believed, the institutions built upon them are safe. Government remains strong because people think political authority and legal compulsion necessary. Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just. The weakening of the ideas which support the evil and oppressive present-day conditions means the ultimate breakdown of government and capitalism." [What is Anarchism?, p. xii]
Social struggle is the most obvious sign of this change of perspective, this change in ideas, this progress towards freedom.
Social struggle is expressed by direct action. We have discussed both social struggle (section J.1) and direct action (section J.2) before and some readers may wonder why we are covering this again here. We do so as we are discussing what trends in society help anarchist activity, it would be wrong not to highlight social struggle and direct action here. This is because these factors are key tendencies towards anarchism as social struggle is the means by which people create the new world in the shell of the old, transforming themselves and society.
So social struggle is a good sign as it suggests that people are thinking for themselves, considering their own interests and working together collectively to change things for the better. As the French syndicalist Emile Pouget argued:
"Direct action . . . means that the working class, forever bridling at the existing state of affairs, expects nothing from outside people, powers or forces, but rather creates its own conditions of struggle and looks to itself for its methodology . . . Direct Action thus implies that the working class subscribes to notions of freedom and autonomy instead of genuflecting before the principle of authority. Now, it is thanks to this authority principle, the pivot of the modern world -- democracy being its latest incarnation -- that the human being, tied down by a thousand ropes, moral as well as material, is bereft of any opportunity to display will and initiative." [Direct Action, p. 1]
Social struggle means that people come into opposition with the boss and other authorities such as the state and the dominant morality. This challenge to existing authorities generates two related processes: the tendency of those involved to begin taking over the direction of their own activities and the development of solidarity with each other. Firstly, in the course of a struggle, such as a strike, occupation, boycott, and so on, the ordinary life of people, in which they act under the constant direction of the bosses or state, ceases, and they have to think, act and co-ordinate their actions for themselves. This reinforces the expression towards autonomy that the initial refusal that led to the struggle indicates. Secondly, in the process of struggle those involved learn the importance of solidarity, of working with others in a similar situation, in order to win. This means the building of links of support, of common interests, of organisation. The practical need for solidarity to help win the struggle is the basis for the solidarity required for a free society to be viable.
Therefore the real issue in social struggle is that it is an attempt by people to wrestle at least part of the power over their own lives away from the managers, state officials and so on who currently have it and exercise it themselves. This is, by its very nature, anarchistic and libertarian. Thus we find politicians, managers and property owners denouncing strikes and other forms of direct action. This is logical. As direct action challenges the real power-holders in society and because, if carried to its logical conclusion, it would remove them, social struggle and direct action can be considered in essence a revolutionary process.
Moreover, the very act of using direct action suggests a transformation within the people using it. "Direct action's very powers to fertilise," argued Pouget, "reside in such exercises in imbuing the individual with a sense of his own worth and in extolling such worth. It marshals human resourcefulness, tempers characters and focuses energies. It teaches self-confidence! And self-reliance! And self-mastery! And shifting for oneself!" Moreover, "direct action has an unmatched educational value: It teaches people to reflect, to make decisions and to act. It is characterised by a culture of autonomy, an exaltation of individuality and is a fillip to initiative, to which it is the leaven. And this superabundance of vitality and burgeoning of 'self' in no way conflicts with the economic fellowship that binds the workers one with another and far from being at odds with their common interests, it reconciles and bolsters these: the individual's independence and activity can only erupt into splendour and intensity by sending its roots deep into the fertile soil of common agreement." [Op. Cit., p. 2 and p. 5]
Social struggle is the beginning of a transformation of the people involved and their relationships to each other. While its external expression lies in contesting the power of existing authorities, its inner expression is the transformation of people from passive and isolated competitors into empowered, self-directing, self-governing co-operators. Moreover, this process widens considerably what people think is "possible." Through struggle, by collective action, the fact people can change things is driven home, that they have the power to govern themselves and the society they live in. Thus struggle can change people's conception of "what is possible" and encourage them to try and create a better world. As Kropotkin argued:
"since the times of the [first] International Working Men's Association, the anarchists have always advised taking an active part in those workers' organisations which carry on the direct struggle of labour against capital and its protector -- the State.
"Such a struggle . . . permits the worker to obtain some temporary improvements . . ., while it opens his [or her] eyes to the evil that is done by capitalism and the State . . . , and wakes up his [or her] thoughts concerning the possibility of organising consumption, production, and exchange without the intervention of the capitalist and the State." [Anarchism, p. 171]
In other words, social struggle has a radicalising and politicising effect, an effect which brings into a new light existing society and the possibilities of a better world (direct action, in Pouget's words, "develops the feeling for human personality as well as the spirit of initiative . . . it shakes people out of their torpor and steers them to consciousness." [Op. Cit., p. 5]). The practical need to unite and resist the boss also helps break down divisions within the working class. Those in struggle start to realise that they need each other to give them the power necessary to get improvements, to change things. Thus solidarity spreads and overcomes divisions between black and white, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, trades, industries, nationalities and so on. The real need for solidarity to win the fight helps to undermine artificial divisions and show that there are only two groups in society, the oppressed and the oppressors. Moreover, struggle as well as transforming those involved is also the basis for transforming society as a whole simply because, as well as producing transformed individuals, it also produces new forms of organisation, organisations created to co-ordinate their struggle and which can, potentially at least, become the framework of a libertarian socialist society (see section I.2.3).
Thus anarchists argue that social struggle opens the eyes of those involved to self-esteem and a sense of their own strength, and the groupings it forms at its prompting are living, vibrant associations where libertarian principles usually come to the fore. We find almost all struggles developing new forms of organisation, forms which are often based on direct democracy, federalism and decentralisation. If we look at every major revolution, we find people creating mass organisations such as workers' councils, factory committees, neighbourhood assemblies and so on as a means of taking back the power to govern their own lives, communities and workplaces. In this way social struggle and direct action lay the foundations for the future. By actively taking part in social life, people are drawn into creating new forms of organisation, new ways of doing things. In this way they educate themselves in participation, in self-government, in initiative and in asserting themselves. They begin to realise that the only alternative to management by others is self-management and organise to achieve it.
Given that remaking society has to begin at the bottom, this finds its expression in direct action, individuals taking the initiative and using the power they have just generated by collective action and organisation to change things by their own efforts. Social struggle is therefore a two way transformation -- the external transformation of society by the creation of new organisations and the changing of the power relations within it and the internal transformation of those who take part in the struggle. This is key:
"Whatever may be the practical results of the struggle for immediate gains, the greatest value lies in the struggle itself. For thereby workers learn that the bosses interests are opposed to theirs and that they cannot improve their conditions, and much less emancipate themselves, except by uniting and becoming stronger than the bosses. If they succeed in getting what they demand, they will be better off . . . and immediately make greater demands and have greater needs. If they do not succeed they will be led to study the causes of their failure and recognise the need for closer unity and greater activism and they will in the end understand that to make their victory secure and definitive, it is necessary to destroy capitalism. The revolutionary cause, the cause of the moral elevation and emancipation of the workers must benefit by the fact that workers unite and struggle for their interests." [Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 191]
Hence Nestor Makhno's comment that "[i]n fact, it is only through that struggle for freedom, equality and solidarity that you reach an understanding of anarchism." [The Struggle Against the State and other Essays, p. 71] The creation of an anarchist society is a process and social struggle is the key anarchistic tendency within society which anarchists look for, encourage and support. Its radicalising and transforming nature is the key to the growth of anarchist ideas, the creation of libertarian structures and alternatives within capitalism (structures which may, one day, replace it) and the creation of anarchists and those sympathetic to anarchist ideas. Its importance cannot be underestimated!
It is often argued that social struggle, resisting the powerful and the wealthy, will just do more harm than good. Employers often use this approach in anti-union propaganda, for example, arguing that creating a union will force the company to close and move to less "militant" areas.
There is some truth in this. Yes, social struggle can lead to bosses moving to more compliant workforces -- but this also happens in periods lacking social struggle too! If we look at the down-sizing mania that gripped the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s, we see companies firing tens of thousands of people during a period when unions were weak, workers scared about losing their jobs and class struggle basically becoming mostly informal, atomised and "underground." Moreover, this argument actually indicates the need for anarchism. It is a damning indictment of any social system that it requires people to kow-tow to their masters otherwise they will suffer economic hardship. It boils down to the argument "do what you are told, otherwise you will regret it." Any system based on that maxim is an affront to human dignity!
It would, in a similar fashion, be easy to "prove" that slave rebellions are against the long term interests of the slaves. After all, by rebelling the slaves will face the anger of their masters. Only by submitting without question can they avoid this fate and, perhaps, be rewarded by better conditions. Of course, the evil of slavery would continue but by submitting to it they can ensure their life can become better. Needless to say, any thinking and feeling person would quickly dismiss this reasoning as missing the point and being little more than apologetics for an evil social system that treated human beings as things. The same can be said for the argument that social struggles within capitalism do more harm than good. It betrays a slave mentality unfitting for human beings (although fitting for those who desire to live off the backs of workers or desire to serve those who do).
Moreover, this kind of argument ignores a few key points.
Firstly, by resistance the conditions of the oppressed can be maintained or even improved. If the boss knows that their decisions will be resisted they may be less inclined to impose speed-ups, longer hours and so on. If, on the other hand, they know that their employees will agree to anything then there is every reason to expect them to impose all kinds of oppressions, just as a state will impose draconian laws if it knows that it can get away with it. History is full of examples of non-resistance producing greater evils in the long term and of resistance producing numerous important reforms and improvements (such as higher wages, shorter hours, the right to vote for working class people and women, freedom of speech, the end of slavery, trade union rights and so on).
So social struggle has been proven time and time again to gain successful reforms. For example, before the 8 hour day movement of 1886 in America most companies argued they could not introduce that reform without going bust. However, after displaying a militant mood and conducting an extensive strike campaign, hundreds of thousands of workers discovered that their bosses had been lying and they got shorter hours. Indeed, the history of the labour movement shows what bosses say they can afford and the reforms workers can get via struggle are somewhat at odds. Given the asymmetry of information between workers and bosses, this is unsurprising as workers can only guess at what is available and bosses like to keep their actual finances hidden. Even the threat of labour struggle can be enough to gain improvements. For example, Henry Ford's $5 day is often used as an example of capitalism rewarding good workers. However, this substantial pay increase was largely motivated by the unionisation drive by the Industrial Workers of the World among Ford workers in the summer of 1913. [Harry Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capitalism, p. 144] More recently, it was the mass non-payment campaign against the poll-tax in Britain during the late 1980s and early 1990s which helped ensure its defeat. In the 1990s, France also saw the usefulness of direct action. Two successive prime ministers (Edouard Balladur and Alain Juppe) tried to impose large scale neo-liberal "reform" programmes that swiftly provoked mass demonstrations and general strikes amongst students, workers, farmers and others. Confronted by crippling disruptions, both governments gave in.
Secondly, and in some ways more importantly, the radicalising effect of social struggle can open new doors for those involved, liberate their minds, empower them and create the potential for deep social change. Without resistance to existing forms of authority a free society cannot be created as people adjust themselves to authoritarian structures and accept "what is" as the only possibility. By resisting, people transform and empower themselves as well as transforming society. New possibilities can be seen (possibilities before dismissed as "utopian") and, via the organisation and action required to win reforms, the framework for these possibilities (i.e. of a new, libertarian, society) created. The transforming and empowering effect of social struggle is expressed well by the Nick DiGaetano, a one-time Wobbly who had joined during the 1912 Lawrence strike and then became a UAW-CIO shop floor militant:
"the workers of my generation from the early days up to now  had what you might call a labour insurrection in changing from a plain, humble, submissive creature into a man. The union made a man out of him . . . I am not talking about the benefits . . . I am talking about the working conditions and how they affected the men in the plant . . . Before they were submissive. Today they are men." [quoted by David Brody, "Workplace Contractualism in comparative perspective", pp. 176-205, Helson Lichtenstein and Howell John Harris (eds.), Industrial Democracy in America, p. 204]
Other labour historians note the same radicalising process elsewhere (modern day activists could give more examples!):
"The contest [over wages and conditions] so pervaded social life that the ideology of acquisitive individualism, which explained and justified a society regulated by market mechanisms and propelled by the accumulation of capital, was challenged by an ideology of mutualism, rooted in working-class bondings and struggles . . . Contests over pennies on or off existing piece rates had ignited controversies over the nature and purpose of the American republic itself." [David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labour, p. 171]
This radicalising effect is far more dangerous to authoritarian structures than better pay, more liberal laws and so on as they need submissiveness to work. Little wonder that direct action is usually denounced as pointless or harmful by those in power or their spokespersons for direct action will, taken to its logical conclusion, put them out of a job! Struggle, therefore, holds the possibility of a free society as well as of improvements in the here and now. It also changes the perspectives of those involved, creating new ideas and values to replace the ones of capitalism.
Thirdly, it ignores the fact that such arguments do not imply the end of social struggle and working class resistance and organisation, but rather its extension. If, for example, your boss argues that they will move to Mexico if you do not "shut up and put up" then the obvious solution is to make sure the workers in Mexico are also organised! Bakunin argued this basic point over one hundred years ago, and it is still true: "in the long run the relatively tolerable position of workers in one country can be maintained only on condition that it be more or less the same in other countries." The "conditions of labour cannot get worse or better in any particular industry without immediately affecting the workers in other industries, and that workers of all trades are inter-linked with real and indissoluble ties of solidarity." Ultimately, "in those countries the workers work longer hours for less pay; and the employers there can sell their products cheaper, successfully competing against conditions where workers working less earn more, and thus force the employers in the latter countries to cut wages and increase the hours of their workers." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, pp. 306-7] Bakunin's solution was to organise internationally, to stop this undercutting of conditions by solidarity between workers. As history shows, his argument was correct. Thus it is not social struggle or militancy which perhaps could have negative results, just isolated militancy, struggle which ignores the ties of solidarity required to win, extend and keep reforms and improvements. In other words, our resistance must be as transnational as capitalism is.
The idea that social struggle and working class organisation are harmful was expressed constantly in the 1970s and 80s. With the post-war Keynesian consensus crumbling, the "New Right" argued that trade unions (and strikes) hampered growth and that wealth redistribution (i.e. welfare schemes which returned some of the surplus value workers produced back into our own hands) hindered "wealth creation" (i.e. economic growth). Do not struggle over income, they argued, let the market decide and everyone will be better off.
This argument was dressed up in populist clothes. Thus we find the right-wing guru F.A. von Hayek arguing that, in the case of Britain, the "legalised powers of the unions have become the biggest obstacle to raising the standards of the working class as a whole. They are the chief cause of the unnecessarily big differences between the best- and worse-paid workers." He maintained that "the elite of the British working class . . . derive their relative advantages by keeping workers who are worse off from improving their position." Moreover, he "predict[ed] that the average worker's income would rise fastest in a country where relative wages are flexible, and where the exploitation of workers by monopolistic trade union organisations of specialised workers are effectively outlawed." [1980s Unemployment and the Unions, p. 107, p. 108 and p. 110]
Now, if von Hayek's claims were true we could expect that in the aftermath of Thatcher government's trade union reforms we would have seen: a rise in economic growth (usually considered as the means to improve living standards for workers by the right); that this growth would be more equally distributed; a decrease in the differences between high and low paid workers; a reduction in the percentage of low paid workers as they improved their positions when freed from union "exploitation"; and that wages rise fastest in countries with the highest wage flexibility. Unfortunately for von Hayek, the actual trajectory of the British economy exposed his claims as nonsense.
Looking at each of his claims in turn we discover that rather than "exploit" other workers, trade unions are an essential means to shift income from capital to labour (which is why capital fights labour organisers tooth and nail). And, equally important, labour militancy aids all workers by providing a floor under which wages cannot drop (non-unionised firms have to offer similar programs to prevent unionisation and be able to hire workers) and by maintaining aggregate demand. This positive role of unions in aiding all workers can be seen by comparing Britain before and after Thatcher's von Hayek inspired trade union and labour market reforms.
There has been a steady fall in growth in the UK since the trade union "reforms". In the "bad old days" of the 1970s, with its strikes and "militant unions" growth was 2.4% in Britain. It fell to 2% in the 1980s and fell again to 1.2% in the 1990s. A similar pattern of slowing growth as wage flexibility and market reform has increased can be seen in the US economy (it was 4.4% in the 1960s, 3.2% in the 1970s, 2.8% in the 1980s and 1.9% in the first half of the 1990s). [Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson, The Age of Insecurity, p. 236] Given that the free-market right proclaims higher economic growth is the only way to make workers better off, growth rates have steadily fallen internationally since the domination of their ideology. Thus growth of output per head in the USA, Europe, Japan and the OECD countries between 1979 to 1990 was lower than in 1973-9, and 1990-2004 lower still. The deregulation, privatisation, anti-union laws and other neo-liberal policies have "failed to bring an increase in the growth rate." [Andrew Glyn, Capitalism Unleashed, p. 131] What growth spurts there have been were associated with speculative bubbles (in the American economy, dot.com stocks in the late 1990s and housing in the 2000s) which burst with disastrous consequences.
So the rate of "wealth creation" (economic growth) has steadily fallen as unions were "reformed" in line with von Hayek's ideology (and lower growth means that the living standards of the working class as a whole do not rise as fast as they did under the "exploitation" of the "monopolistic" trade unions).
If we look at the differences between the highest and lowest paid workers, we find that rather than decrease, they have in fact shown "a dramatic widening out of the distribution with the best-workers doing much better" since Thatcher was elected in 1979 [Andrew Glyn and David Miliband (eds.), Paying for Inequality, p. 100] This is important, as average figures can hide how badly those in the bottom (80%!) are doing. In an unequal society, the gains of growth are monopolised by the few and we would expect rising inequality over time alongside average growth. In America inequality has dramatically increased since the 1970s, with income and wealth growth in the 1980s going predominately to the top 20% (and, in fact, mostly to the top 1% of the population). The bottom 80% of the population saw their wealth grow by 1.2% and their income by 23.7% in the 1980s, while for the top 20% the respective figures were 98.2% and 66.3% (the figures for the top 1% were 61.6% and 38.9%, respectively). [Edward N. Wolff, "How the Pie is Sliced", The American Prospect, no. 22, Summer 1995] There has been a "fanning out of the pay distribution" with the gap between the top 10% of wage-earners increasing compared to those in the middle and bottom 10%. Significantly, in the neo-liberal countries the rise in inequality is "considerably higher" than in European ones. In America, for example, "real wages at the top grew by 27.2% between 1979 and 2003 as compared to 10.2% in the middle" while real wages for the bottom 10% "did not grow at all between 1979 and 2003." In fact, most of the gains in the top 10% "occurred amongst the top 5%, and two-thirds of it within the top 1%." Unsurprising, the neo-liberal countries of the UK, USA and New Zealand saw the largest increases in inequality. [Glyn, Op. Cit., pp. 116-8 and p. 168]
Given that inequality has increased, the condition of the average worker must have suffered. For example, Ian Gilmore states that "[i]n the 1980s, for the first time for fifty years . . . the poorer half of the population saw its share of total national income shirk." [Dancing with Dogma, p. 113] According to Noam Chomsky, "[d]uring the Thatcher decade, the income share of the bottom half of the population fell from one-third to one-fourth" and the between 1979 and 1992, the share of total income of the top 20% grew from 35% to 40% while that of the bottom 20% fell from 10% to 5%. In addition, the number of UK employees with weekly pay below the Council of Europe's "decency threshold" increased from 28.3% in 1979 to 37% in 1994. [World Orders, Old and New, p. 144 and p. 145] Moreover, "[b]ack in the early 1960s, the heaviest concentration of incomes fell at 80-90 per cent of the mean . . . But by the early 1990s there had been a dramatic change, with the peak of the distribution falling at just 40-50 per cent of the mean. One-quarter of the population had incomes below half the average by the early 1990s as against 7 per cent in 1977 and 11 per cent in 1961." [Elliot and Atkinson, Op. Cit., p. 235] "Overall," notes Takis Fotopoulos, "average incomes increased by 36 per cent during this period [1979-1991/2], but 70 per cent of the population had a below average increase in their income." [Towards an Inclusive Democracy, p. 113]
The reason for this rising inequality is not difficult to determine. When workers organise and strike, they can keep more of what they produce in their own hands. The benefits of productivity growth, therefore, can be spread. With unions weakened, such gains will accumulate in fewer hands and flood upwards. This is precisely what happened. Before (approximately) 1980 and the neo-liberal assault on unions, productivity and wages rose hand-in-hand in America, afterward productivity continued to rise while wages flattened. In fact, the value of the output of an average worker "has risen almost 50 percent since 1973. Yet the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small minority had proceeded so rapidly that we're not sure whether the typical American has gained anything from rising productivity." Rather than "trickle down" "the lion's share of economic growth in America over the past thirty years has gone to a small, wealthy minority." In short: "The big winners . . . have been members of a very narrow elite: the top 1 percent or less of the population." [Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal, p. 124, p. 244 and p. 8]
Looking at America, after the Second World War the real income of the typical family ("exploited" by "monopolistic" trade unions) grew by 2.7% per year, with "incomes all through the income distribution grew at about the same rate." Since 1980 (i.e., after working people were freed from the tyranny of unions), "medium family income has risen only about 0.7 percent a year" Median household income "grew modestly" from 1973 to 2005, the total gain was about 16%. Yet this "modest gain" may "overstate" how well American families were doing, as it was achieved in part through longer working hours. For example, "a gain in family income that occurs because a spouse goes to work isn't the same thing as a wage increase. In particular it may carry hidden costs that offset some of the gains in money." This stagnation is, of course, being denied by the right. Yet, as Krugman memorably puts it: "Modern economists debate whether American median income has risen or fallen since the early 1970s. What's really telling is the fact that we're even having this debate." So while the average values may have gone up, because of "rising inequality, good performance in overall numbers like GDP hasn't translated into gains for ordinary workers." [Op. Cit., p. 55, pp. 126-7, p. 124 and p. 201]
Luckily for American capitalism a poll in 2000 found that 39% of Americans believe they are either in the wealthiest 1% or will be there "soon"! [Glyn, Op. Cit., p. 179] In fact, as we discussed in section B.7.2, social mobility has fallen under neo-liberalism -- perhaps unsurprisingly as it is easier to climb a hill than a mountain. This is just as important as the explosion in inequality as the “free-market” right argue that dynamic social mobility makes up for wealth and income inequality. As Krugman notes, Americans "may believe that anyone can succeed through hard work and determination, but the facts say otherwise." In reality, mobility is "highest in the Scandinavian countries, and most results suggest that mobility is lower in the United States than it is in France, Canada, and maybe even in Britain. Not only don't Americans have equal opportunity, opportunity is less equal here than elsewhere in the West." Without the blinkers of free market capitalist ideology this should be unsurprising: "A society with highly unequal results is, more or less inevitably, a society with highly unequal opportunity, too." [Op. Cit., p. 247 and p. 249]
Looking at the claim that trade union members gained their "relative advantage by keeping workers who are worse off from improving their position" it would be fair to ask whether the percentage of workers in low-paid jobs decreased in Britain after the trade union reforms. In fact, the percentage of workers below the Low Pay Unit's definition of low pay (namely two-thirds of men's median earnings) increased -- from 16.8% in 1984 to 26.2% in 1991 for men, 44.8% to 44.9% for women. For manual workers it rose by 15% to 38.4%, and for women by 7.7% to 80.7% (for non-manual workers the figures were 5.4% rise to 13.7% for men and a 0.5% rise to 36.6%). [Andrew Glyn and David Miliband (eds.), Op. Cit., p.102] If unions were gaining at the expense of the worse off, you would expect a decrease in the number in low pay, not an increase. An OECD study concluded that "[t]ypically, countries with high rates of collective bargaining and trade unionisation tend to have low incidence of low paid employment." [OECD Employment Outlook, 1996, p. 94] Within America, we also discover that higher union density is associated with fewer workers earning around the minimum wage and that "right-to-work" states (i.e., those that pass anti-union laws) "tend to have lower wages, lower standard of living, and more workers earning around the minimum wage." It is hard not to conclude that states "passed laws aimed at making unionisation more difficult would imply that they sought to maintain the monopoly power of employers at the expense of workers." [Oren M. Levin-Waldman, "The Minimum Wage and Regional Wage Structure: Implications for Income Distribution", pp. 635-57, Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, p. 639 and p. 655]
As far as von Hayek's prediction on wage flexibility leading to the "average worker's income" rising fastest in a country where relative wages are flexible, it has been proved totally wrong. Between 1967 and 1971, real wages grew (on average) by 2.95% per year in the UK (nominal wages grew by 8.94%) [P. Armstrong, A. Glyn and J. Harrison, Capitalism Since World War II, p. 272]. In comparison, real household disposable income grew by just 0.5 percent between June 2006 and 2007. Average weekly earnings rose 2.9% between April 2006 and 2007 while inflation rose by 3.6% (Retail Prices Index) and 2.8% (Consumer Prices Index). [Elliot and Atkinson, The Gods That Failed, p. 163] This is part of a general pattern, with UK Real Wages per employee being an average 3.17% per year between 1960 and 1974, falling to 1.8% between 1980 and 1999. In America, the equivalent figures are 2.37% and 1.02%. [Eckhard Hein and Thorsten Schulten, Unemployment, Wages and Collective Bargaining in the European Union, p. 9] Looking at the wider picture, during the early 1970s when strikes and union membership increased, "real wage increases rose steadily to reach over 4% per year" in the West. However, after von Hayek's anti-union views were imposed, "real wages have grown very slowly." In anti-union America, the median wage was $13.62 in 2003 compared to $12.36 in 1979 (reckoned in 2003 prices). In Europe and Japan "average wages have done only a little better, having grown around 1% per year." [Glyn, Op. Cit., p. 5 and p. 116] It gets worse as these are average figures. Given that inequality soared during this period the limited gains of the neo-liberal era were not distributed as evenly as before (in the UK, for example, wage growth was concentrated at the top end of society. [Elliot and Atkinson, Fantasy Island, p. 99]).
Nor can it be said that breaking the unions and lower real wages translated into lower unemployment in the UK as the average unemployment rate between 1996 and 1997 was 7.1% compared to 4.5% between 1975 and 1979 (the year Thatcher took power). The average between 1960 and 1974 was 1.87% compared to 8.7% over the whole Thatcherite period of 1980 to 1999. Perhaps this is not too surprising, given that (capitalist economic theology aside) unemployment "systematically weakens the bargaining power of trade unions." In short: "Neither on the theoretical nor empirical level can a strictly inverse relation between the real wage rate and the level of unemployment be derived." [Hein and Schulten, Op. Cit., p. 9, p. 3 and p. 2] As we discussed in section C.1.5 this should come as no surprise to anyone with awareness of the real nature of unemployment and the labour market. So unemployment did not fall after the trade union reforms, quite the reverse: "By the time Blair came to power [in 1997], unemployment in Britain was falling, although it still remained higher than it had been when the [last Labour Government of] Callaghan left office in May 1979." [Elliot and Atkinson, Age of Insecurity, p. 258] To be fair, von Hayek did argue that falls in unemployment would be "a slow process" but nearly 20 years of far higher unemployment is moving backwards!
So we have a stark contrast between the assertions of the right and the reality their ideology helped create. The reason for this difference is not hard to discover. As economist Paul Krugman correctly argues unions "raise average wages for their membership; they also, indirectly and to a lesser extent, raise wages for similar workers . . . as nonunionised employers try to diminish the appeal of union drives to their workers . . . unions tend to narrow income gaps among blue-collar workers, by negotiating bigger wage increases for their worse-paid members . . . And nonunion employers, seeking to forestall union organisers, tend to echo this effect." He argues that "if there's a single reason blue-collar workers did so much better in the fifties than they had in the twenties, it was the rise of unions" and that unions "were once an important factor limiting income inequality, both because of their direct effect in raising their members’ wages and because the union pattern of wage settlements . . . was . . . reflected in the labour market as a whole." With the smashing of the unions came rising inequality, with the "sharpest increases in wage inequality in the Western world have taken place in the United States and in Britain, both of which experience sharp declines in union membership." Unions restrict inequality because "they act as a countervailing force to management." [Op. Cit., p. 51, p. 49, p. 149 and p. 263]
So under the neo-liberal regime instigated by Thatcher and Reagan the power, influence and size of the unions were reduced considerably and real wage growth fell considerably -- which is the exact opposite of von Hayek's predictions. Flexible wages and weaker unions have harmed the position of all workers (Proudhon: "Contrary to all expectation! It takes an economist not to expect these things" [System of Economical Contradictions, p. 203]). So comparing the claims of von Hayek to what actually happened after trade union "reform" and the reduction of class struggle suggests that claims that social struggle is self-defeating are false (and self-serving, considering it is usually bosses, employer supported parties and economists who make these claims). A lack of social struggle has been correlated with low economic growth and often stagnant (even declining) wages. So while social struggle may make capital flee and other problems, lack of it is no guarantee of prosperity (quite the reverse, if the last quarter of the 20th century is anything to go by). Indeed, a lack of social struggle will make bosses be more likely to cut wages, worsen working conditions and so on -- after all, they feel they can get away with it! Which brings home the fact that to make reforms last it is necessary to destroy capitalism.
Of course, no one can know that struggle will make things better. It is a guess; no one can predict the future. Not all struggles are successful and many can be very difficult. If the "military is a role model for the business world" (in the words of an ex-CEO of Hill & Knowlton Public Relations), and it is, then any struggle against it and other concentrations of power may, and often is, difficult and dangerous at times. [quoted by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton in Toxic Sludge Is Good For You!, p. 47] But, as Zapata once said, "better to die on your feet than live on your knees!" All we can say is that social struggle can and does improve things and, in terms of its successes and transforming effect on those involved, well worth the potential difficulties it can create. Moreover, without struggle there is little chance of creating a free society, dependent as it is on individuals who refuse to bow to authority and have the ability and desire to govern themselves. In addition, social struggle is always essential, not only to win improvements, but to keep them as well. In order to fully secure improvements you have to abolish capitalism and the state. Not to do so means that any reforms can and will be taken away (and if social struggle does not exist, they will be taken away sooner rather than later). Ultimately, most anarchists would argue that social struggle is not an option -- we either do it or we put up with the all the petty (and not so petty) impositions of authority. If we do not say "no" then the powers that be will walk all over us.
As the history of neo-liberalism shows, a lack of social struggle is fully compatible with worsening conditions. Ultimately, if you want to be treated as a human being you have to stand up for your dignity -- and that means thinking and rebelling. As Bakunin argued in God and the State, human freedom and development is based on these. Without rebellion, without social struggle, humanity would stagnate beneath authority forever and never be in a position to be free. So anarchists agree wholeheartedly with the Abolitionist Frederick Douglass:
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
"This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." [The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, vol. 2, p. 437]
Of course, being utterly wrong has not dented von Hayek's reputation with the right nor stopped him being quoted in arguments in favour of flexibility and free market reforms (what can we expect? The right still quote Milton Friedman whose track-record was equally impressive). Still, why let the actual development of the economies influenced by von Hayek's ideology get in the way? Perhaps it is fortunate that he once argued that economic theories can "never be verified or falsified by reference to facts. All that we can and must verify is the presence of our assumptions in the particular case." [Individualism and Economic Order, p. 73] With such a position all is saved -- the obvious problem is that capitalism is still not pure enough and the "reforms" must not only continue but be made deeper... As Kropotkin stressed, "economists who continue to consider economic forces alone . . . without taking into account the ideology of the State, or the forces that each State necessarily places at the service of the rich . . . remain completely outside the realities of the economic and social world." [quoted by Ruth Kinna, "Fields of Vision: Kropotkin and Revolutionary Change", pp. 67-86, SubStance, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 72-3]
And, needless to say, while three decades of successful capitalist class war goes without mention in polite circles, documenting its results gets you denounced as advocating "class war"! It is more than pass the time when working class people should wage a class war -- particularly given the results of not doing so.
When assessing the revolutionary potential of our own era, we must note again that modern civilisation is under constant pressure from the potential catastrophes of social breakdown, ecological destruction, and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. These crises have drawn attention as never before to the inherently counter-evolutionary nature of the authoritarian paradigm, making more and more people aware that the human race is headed for extinction if it persists in outmoded forms of thought and behaviour. This awareness produces a favourable climate for the reception of new ideas, and thus an opening for radical educational efforts aimed at creating the mass transformation of consciousness which must take place alongside the creation of new liberatory institutions.
This receptiveness to new ideas has led to a number of new social movements in recent years. From the point of view of anarchism, the four most important of these are perhaps the feminist, ecology, peace, and social justice movements. Each of these movements contain a great deal of anarchist content, particularly insofar as they imply the need for decentralisation and direct democracy. Since we have already commented on the anarchist aspects of the ecology and feminist movements, here we will limit our remarks to the peace and social justice movements.
It is clear to many members of the peace movement that international disarmament, like the liberation of women, saving the planet's ecosystem, and preventing social breakdown, can never be attained without a shift of mass consciousness involving widespread rejection of hierarchy, which is based on the authoritarian principles of domination and exploitation. As C. George Bennello argued: "Since peace involves the positive process of replacing violence by other means of settling conflict . . . it can be argued that some sort of institutional change is necessary. For if insurgency is satisfied with specific reform goals, and does not seek to transform the institutional structure of society by getting at its centralised make-up, the war system will probably not go away. This is really what we should mean by decentralising: making institutions serve human ends again by getting humans to be responsible at every level within them." [From the Ground Up, p. 31]
When pursued along gender, class, racial, ethnic, or national lines, domination and exploitation are the primary causes of resentment, hatred, anger, and hostility, which often explode into individual or organised violence. Given this, both domestic and international peace depend on decentralisation, i.e. dismantling hierarchies, thus replacing domination and exploitation by the anarchist principles of co-operation and mutual aid.
Direct democracy is the other side of decentralisation. In order for an organisation to spread power horizontally rather than concentrating it at the apex of a hierarchy, all of its members have to have an equal voice in making the decisions that affect them. Hence decentralisation implies self-management. So, anarchists argue, the peace movement implies anarchism because world peace is impossible without both decentralisation and direct democracy ("a federated people would be a people organised for peace; what would they do with armies?" [Proudhon, Property is Theft!, p. 719]). As Benello correctly argued, the "anarchist perspective has an unparalleled relevance today because prevailing nuclear policies can be considered as an ultimate stage in the divergence between the interests of governments and their peoples . . . the implications when revealed serve to raise fundamental questions regarding the advisability of entrusting governments with questions of life and death . . . There is thus a pressing impetus to re-think the role, scale, and structure of national governments." Moreover, "[s]o long as profits are tied to defence production, speaking truth to the elites involved is not likely to get very far" as "it is only within the boundaries of the profit system that the corporate elites would have any space to move." [Op. Cit., p. 138 and p. 34] Thus the peace movement implicitly contains a libertarian critique of both forms of the power system -- the political and economical.
In addition, certain of the practical aspects of the peace movement also suggest anarchistic elements. The use of non-violent direct action to protest against the war machine can only be viewed as a positive development by anarchists. Not only does it use effective, anarchistic methods of struggle it also radicalises those involved, making them more receptive to anarchist ideas and analysis.
If we look at the implications of "nuclear free zones" we can detect anarchistic tendencies within them. A nuclear free zone involves a town or region declaring an end of its association with the nuclear military industrial complex. They prohibit the research, production, transportation and deployment of nuclear weapons as well as renouncing the right to be defended by nuclear power. This movement was popular in the 1980s, with many areas in Europe and the Pacific Basin declaring that they were nuclear free zones. As Benello pointed out, "[t]he development of campaigns for nuclear free zones suggests a strategy which can educate and radicalise local communities. Indeed, by extending the logic of the nuclear free zone idea, we can begin to flesh out a libertarian municipalist perspective which can help move our communities several steps towards autonomy from both the central government and the existing corporate system." While the later development of these initiatives did not have the radicalising effects that Benello hoped for, they did "represent a local initiative that does not depend on the federal government for action. Thus it is a step toward local empowerment . . . Steps that increase local autonomy change the power relations between the centre and its colonies . . . The nuclear free zone movement has a thrust which is clearly congruent with anarchist ideas . . . The same motives which go into the declaration of a nuclear free zone would dictate that in other areas where the state and the corporate systems services are dysfunctional and involve excessive costs, they should be dispensed with." [Op. Cit., p. 137 and pp. 140-1]
The social justice movement is composed of people seeking fair and compassionate solutions to problems such as poverty, unemployment, economic exploitation, discrimination, poor housing, lack of health insurance, wealth and income inequalities, and the like. In the aftermath of decades of especially single-minded pursuit of enriching the few by impoverishing the many by neo-liberal administrations, the United States, for example, is reaping the grim harvest: wages stagnate, personal debt soars, homelessness stalks the streets; social welfare budgets are slashed to the bone while poverty, unemployment, and underemployment grow; sweatshops mushrooming in the large cities; millions of Americans without any health insurance while others face rocketing costs; obscene wealth inequalities and falling social mobility; and so on. Britain under the neo-liberal policies of Thatcher, Major and Blair experienced a social deterioration similar to that in the US.
It is not difficult to show that the major problems concerning the social justice movement can all be traced back to hierarchy and domination. For, given the purpose of hierarchy, the highest priority of the elites who control the state is necessarily to maintain their own power and privileges, regardless of the suffering involved for subordinate classes.
In short, social injustice is inherent in the exploitative functions of the state, which are made possible by the authoritarian form of state institutions. Similarly, the authoritarian structure of capitalist companies gives rise to social injustice due to exploitation producing massive income differentials and wealth disparity between owners/management and labour. Hence the success of the social justice movement, like that of the feminist, ecology, and peace movements, depends on dismantling hierarchies. This means not only that these movements all imply anarchism but that they are related in such a way that it is impossible to conceive one of them achieving its goals in isolation from any of the others. To take just one example, let us consider the relationship between social justice and peace, which can be seen by examining a specific social justice issue: labour rights.
The production of advanced weapons systems is highly profitable for capitalists, which is why more technologically complex and precise weapons keep getting built with government help (with the public paying the tab by way of taxes). Now, we may reasonably argue that it is a fundamental human right to be able to choose freely whether or not one will personally contribute to the production of technologies that could lead to the extinction of the human race. Yet because of the authoritarian form of the capitalist corporation, rank-and-file workers have virtually no say in whether the companies for which they work will produce such technologies. (To the objection that workers can always quit if they don't like company policy, the reply is that they may not be able to find other work and therefore that the choice is not genuinely free). Hence the only way that ordinary workers can obtain the right to be consulted on life-or-death company policies is to control the production process themselves, through self-management as production for need and use will never come from the employer. The owners of production in a capitalist society will never begin to take social priorities into account in the production process. The pursuit of ever greater profits is not compatible with social justice and responsibility.
For these reasons, the peace and social justice movements are fundamentally linked through their shared need for a worker-controlled economy. Moreover, extreme poverty makes military service one of the few legal options open for many individuals to improve their social situation. These considerations illustrate further links between the peace and social justice movements -- and between those movements and anarchism, which is the conceptual "glue" that can potentially unite all the new social movements in a single anti-authoritarian coalition.
There is an ongoing structural crisis in the global capitalist economy. Compared to the post-war "Golden Age" of 1950 to 1973, the period from 1974 has seen a continual worsening in economic performance in the West and for Japan. For example, growth is lower, unemployment is far higher, labour productivity lower as is investment. Average rates of unemployment in the major industrialised countries have risen sharply since 1973, especially after 1979. Unemployment "in the advanced capitalist countries . . . increased by 56 per cent between 1973 and 1980 (from an average 3.4 per cent to 5.3 per cent of the labour force) and by another 50 per cent since then (from 5.3 per cent of the labour force in 1980 to 8.0 per cent in 1994)." Job insecurity has increased with, for example, the USA, having the worse job insecurity since the depression of the 1930s. [Takis Fotopoulos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy, p. 35 and p. 141] In addition, the world economy has become far less stable with regular financial crises sweeping the world of de-regulated capitalism every few years or so.
This crisis is not confined to the economy. It extends into the ecological and the social, with the quality of life and well-being decreasing as GDP grows (as we noted in section C.10, economic factors cannot, and do not, indicate human happiness). However, here we discuss economic factors. This does not imply that the social and ecological crises are unimportant or are reducible to the economy. Far from it. We concentrate on the economic factor simply because this is the factor usually stressed by the establishment and it is useful to indicate the divergence of reality and hype we are currently being subjected to.
Ironically enough, as Marxist Robert Brenner points out, "as the neo-classical medicine has been administered in even stronger doses, the economy has performed steadily less well. The 1970s were worse than the 1960s, the 1980s worse than the 1970s, and the 1990s have been worse than the 1980s." ["The Economics of Global Turbulence", New Left Review, no. 229, p. 236] This is ironic because during the crisis of Keynesianism in the 1970s the right argued that too much equality and democracy harmed the economy, and so made us all worse-off in the long run (due to lower growth, sluggish investment and so on). However, after decades of pro-capitalist governments, rising inequality, increased freedom for capital and its owners and managers, the weakening of trade unions and so on, economic growth has become worse!
If we look at the USA in the 1990s (usually presented as an economy that "got it right") we find that the "cyclical upturn of the 1990s has, in terms of the main macro-economic indicators of growth -- output, investment, productivity, and real compensation -- has been even less dynamic than its relatively weak predecessors of the 1980s and the 1970s (not to mention those of the 1950s and 1960s)." [Brenner, Op. Cit., p. 5] Of course, the economy is presented as a success -- inequality is growing, the rich are getting richer and wealth is concentrating into fewer and fewer hands and so for the rich and finance capital, it can be considered a "Golden Age" and so is presented as such by the media. As economist Paul Krugman summarises, in America while the bulk of the population are working longer and harder to make ends meet "the really big gains went to the really, really rich." In fact, “only the top 1 percent has done better since the 1970s than it did in the generation after World War II. Once you get way up the scale, however, the gains have been spectacular -- the top tenth of a percent saw its income rise fivefold, and the top .01 percent of American is seven times richer than they were in 1973." Significantly, the top 0.1% of Americans, a class with a minimum income of about $1.3 million and an average of about $3.5 million, receives more than 7 percent of all income -- up from just 2.2 percent in 1979." [The Conscience of a Liberal, p. 129 and p. 259]
So it is for this reason that it may be wrong to term this slow rot a "crisis" as it is hardly one for the ruling elite as their share in social wealth, power and income has steadily increased over this period. However, for the majority it is undoubtedly a crisis (the term "silent depression" has been accurately used to describe this). Unsurprisingly, when the chickens came home to roost under the Bush Junta and the elite faced economic collapse, the state bailed them out.
The only countries which saw substantial and dynamic growth after 1973 where those which used state intervention to violate the eternal "laws" of neo-classical economics, namely the South East Asian countries (in this they followed the example of Japan which had used state intervention to grow at massive rates after the war). Of course, before the economic crisis of 1997, capitalist ideologues argued that these countries were classic examples of "free market" economies. Right-wing icon F.A von Hayek asserted that "South Korea and other newcomers" had "discovered the benefits of free markets." [1980s Unemployment and the Unions, p. 113] In 1995, the Heritage Foundation (a right-wing think-tank) released its index of economic freedom. Four of the top seven countries were Asian, including Japan and Taiwan. All the Asian countries struggling just a few years later qualified as "free." Yet, as mentioned in section C.10.1, such claims were manifestly false: "it was not laissez-faire policies that induced their spectacular growth. As a number of studies have shown, the expansion of the Asian Tigers was based on massive state intervention that boosted their export sectors, by public policies involving not only heavy protectionism but even deliberate distortion of market prices to stimulate investment and trade." [Fotopoulos, Op. Cit., p. 115] Moreover, for a long period these countries also banned unions and protest, but then for the right "free markets" always seem compatible with lack of freedom for workers to organise.
Needless to say, after the crisis of the late 1990s, the free-marketeers discovered the statism that had always been there and danced happily on the grave of what used to be called "the Asian miracle". It was perverse to see the supporters of "free-market" capitalism concluding that history was rendering its verdict on the Asian model of capitalism while placing into the Memory Hole the awkward fact that until the crisis they themselves had taken great pains to deny that such a model existed! Such hypocrisy is not only truly sickening, it also undermines their own case for the wonders of "the market." For until the crisis appeared, the world's investors -- which is to say "the market" -- saw nothing but golden opportunities ahead for these "free" economies. They showed their faith by shoving billions into Asian equity markets, while foreign banks contentedly handed out billions in loans. If Asia's problems were systemic and the result of these countries' statist policies, then investors' failure to recognise this earlier is a blow against the market, not for it.
So, as can be seen, the global economy has been marked by an increasing stagnation, the slowing down of growth, weak (and jobless) recoveries, speculative bubbles driving what growth there is and increasing financial instability producing regular and deepening crisis. This is despite (or, more likely, because of) the free market reforms imposed and the deregulation of finance capital (we say "because of" simply because neo-classical economics argue that pro-market reforms would increase growth and improve the economy, but as we noted in section C.1 such economics has little basis in reality and so their recommendations are hardly going to produce positive results). Of course as the ruling class have been doing well this underlying slowdown has been ignored and obviously claims of crisis are only raised when economic distress reach the elite.
Crisis (particularly financial crisis) has become increasingly visible, reflecting the underlying weakness of the global economy (rising inequality, lack of investment in producing real goods in favour of speculation in finance, etc.). This underlying weakness has been hidden by large rises in the world's stock markets, which, ironically enough, has helped create that weakness to begin with! As one expert on Wall Street argues, "Bond markets . . . hate economic strength . . . Stocks generally behave badly just as the real economy is at its strongest . . . Stocks thrive on a cool economy, and wither in a hot one." In other words, real economic weakness is reflected in financial strength. Unsurprisingly, then, "[w]hat might be called the rentier share of the corporate surplus -- dividends plus interest as a percentage of pre-tax profits and interest -- has risen sharply, from 20-30% in the 1950s to 60% in the 1990s." [Doug Henwood, Wall Street, p. 124 and p. 73]
This helps explain the stagnation which has afflicted the economies of the west. The rich have been placing more of their ever-expanding wealth in stocks, allowing this market to rise in the face of general economic torpor. Rather than being used for investment, surplus is being funnelled into the finance market (retained earnings in the US have decreased as interest and dividend payments have increased [Brenner, Op. Cit., p. 210]). However, such markets do concentrate wealth very successfully even if "the US financial system performs dismally at its advertised task, that of efficiently directing society's savings towards their optimal investment pursuits. The system is stupefyingly expensive, gives terrible signals for the allocation of capital, and has surprisingly little to do with real investment." [Henwood, Op. Cit., p. 3] As most investment comes from internal funds, the rise in the rentiers share of the surplus has meant less investment and so the stagnation of the economy. The weakening economy has increased financial strength, which in turn leads to a weakening in the real economy. A vicious circle, and one reflected in the slowing of economic growth over the last 30 years.
The increasing dominance of finance capital has, in effect, created a market for government policies. As finance capital has become increasingly global in nature governments must secure, protect and expand the field of profit-making for financial capital and transnational corporations, otherwise they will be punished by dis-investment by global markets (i.e. finance capital). These policies have been at the expense of the underlying economy in general, and of the working class in particular:
"Rentier power was directed at labour, both organised and unorganised ranks of wage earners, because it regarded rising wages as a principal threat to the stable order. For obvious reasons, this goal was never stated very clearly, but financial markets understood the centrality of the struggle: protecting the value of their capital required the suppression of labour incomes." [William Greider, One World, Ready or Not, p. 302]
For example, "the practical effect of finance capital's hegemony was to lock the advanced economies and their governments in a malignant spiral, restricting them to bad choices. Like bondholders in general, the new governing consensus explicitly assumed that faster economic growth was dangerous -- threatening to the stable financial order -- so nations were effectively blocked from measures that might reduce permanent unemployment or ameliorate the decline in wages . . . The reality of slow growth, in turn, drove the governments into their deepening indebtedness, since the disappointing growth inevitably undermined tax revenues while it expanded the public welfare costs. The rentier regime repeatedly instructed governments to reform their spending priorities -- that is, withdraw benefits from dependent citizens." [Greider, Op. Cit., pp. 297-8]
Of course, industrial capital also hates labour, so there is a basis of an alliance between the two sides of capital, even if they do disagree over the specifics of the economic policies implemented. Given that a key aspect of the neo-liberal reforms was the transformation of the labour market from a post-war sellers' market to a nineteenth century buyers' market with its related effects on workplace discipline, wage claims and proneness to strike, industrial capital could not but be happy even if its members quibbled over details. Doug Henwood correctly argues that "Liberals and populists often search for potential allies among industrialists, reasoning that even if financial interests suffer in a boom, firms that trade in real, rather than fictitious, products would thrive when growth is strong. In general, industrialists are less sympathetic to these arguments. Employers in any industry like slack in the labour market; it makes for a pliant workforce, one unlikely to make demands or resist speedups." In addition, "many non-financial corporations have heavy financial interests." [Op. Cit., p. 123 and p. 135]
Thus the general stagnation afflicting much of the world, a stagnation which regularly develop into open crisis as the needs of finance undermine the real economy which, ultimately, it is dependent upon. The contradiction between short term profits and long term survival inherent in capitalism strikes again.
Crisis, as we have noted above, has appeared in areas previously considered as strong economies and it has been spreading. An important aspect of this crisis is the tendency for productive capacity to outstrip effective demand, which arises in large part from the imbalance between capitalists' need for a high rate of profit and their simultaneous need to ensure that workers have enough wealth and income so that they can keep buying the products on which those profits depend. Inequality has been increasing particularly in neo-liberal countries like the UK and USA, which means that the economy faces as realisation crisis (see section C.7), a crisis which was avoided in the short-term by deepening debt for working people (debt levels more than doubled between the 1950s to the 1990s, from 25% to over 60%). In 2007, the chickens came hole to roost with a global credit crunch much worse than the previous finance crises of the neo-liberal era.
Over-investment has been magnified due to the East-Asian Tigers and China which, thanks to their intervention in the market (and repressive regimes against labour), ensured they were a more profitable place to invest than elsewhere. Capital flooded into the area, ensuring a relative over-investment was inevitable. As we argued in section C.7.2, crisis is possible simply due to the lack of information provided by the price mechanism -- economic agents can react in such a way that the collective result of individually rational decisions is irrational. Thus the desire to reap profits in the Tiger economies resulted in a squeeze in profits as the aggregate investment decisions resulted in over-investment, and so over-production and falling profits.
In effect, the South East Asian economies suffered from the "fallacy of composition." When you are the first Asian export-driven economy, you are competing with high-cost Western producers and so your cheap workers, low taxes and lax environmental laws allow you to under-cut your competitors and make profits. However, as more tigers joined into the market, they end up competing against each other and so their profit margins would decrease towards their actual cost price rather than that of Western firms. With the decrease in profits, the capital that flowed into the region flowed back out, thus creating a crisis (and proving, incidentally, that free markets are destabilising and do not secure the best of all possible outcomes). Thus, the rentier regime, after weakening the Western economies, helped destabilise the Eastern ones too.
So, in the short-run, many large corporations and financial companies solved their profit problems by expanding production into "underdeveloped" countries so as to take advantage of the cheap labour there (and the state repression which ensured that cheapness) along with weaker environmental laws and lower taxes. Yet gradually they are running out of third-world populations to exploit. For the very process of "development" stimulated by the presence of Transnational Corporations in third-world nations increases competition and so, potentially, over-investment and, even more importantly, produces resistance in the form of unions, rebellions and so on, which tend to exert a downward pressure on the level of exploitation and profits.
This process reflects, in many ways, the rise of finance capital in the 1970s. In the 1950s and 1960s, existing industrialised nations experienced increased competition from Japan and Germany. As these nations re-industrialised, they placed increased pressure on the USA and other nations, reducing the global "degree of monopoly" and forcing them to compete with lower cost producers. In addition, full employment produced increasing resistance on the shop floor and in society as a whole (see section C.7.1), squeezing profits even more. Thus a combination of class struggle and global over-capacity resulted in the 1970s crisis. With the inability of the real economy, especially the manufacturing sector, to provide an adequate return, capital shifted into finance. In effect, it ran away from the success of working people asserting their rights at the point of production and elsewhere. This, combined with increased international competition, ensured the rise of finance capital which in return ensured the current stagnationist tendencies in the economy (tendencies made worse by the rise of the Asian Tiger economies in the 1980s).
From the contradictions between finance capital and the real economy, between capitalists' need for profit and human needs, between over-capacity and demand, and others, there has emerged what appears to be a long-term trend toward permanent stagnation of the capitalist economy with what growth spurts which do exist being fuelled by speculative bubbles as well as its benefits being monopolised by the few (so refuting the notion of "trickle down" economics). This trend has been apparent for several decades, as evidenced by the continuous upward adjustment of the rate of unemployment officially considered to be "normal" or "acceptable" during those decades, and by other symptoms as well such as falling growth, lower rates of profit and so on.
This stagnation has became even more obvious by the development of deep crisis in many countries at the end of the 2000s. This caused central banks to intervene in order to try and revive the real economies that have suffered under their rentier inspired policies since the 1970s. Such action may just ensure continued stagnation and reflated bubbles rather than a real up-turn. One thing is true, however, and that is the working class will pay the price of any "solution" -- unless they organise and get rid of capitalism and the state. Ultimately, capitalism need profits to survive and such profits came from the fact that workers do not have economic liberty. Thus any "solution" within a capitalist framework means the increased oppression and exploitation of working class people.
The "economic structural crisis" we out-lined in the last section has certain implications for anarchists and social struggle. Essentially, as C. George Benello argued, "[i]f economic conditions worsen . . . then we are likely to find an openness to alternatives which have not been thought of since the depression of the 1930s . . . It is important to plan for a possible economic crisis, since it is not only practical, but also can serve as a method of mobilising a community in creative ways." [From the Ground Up, p. 149]
In the face of economic stagnation and depression, attempts to generate more profits (i.e., increase exploitation) by increasing the authority of the boss grow. In addition, more people find it harder to make ends meet, run up debts to survive, face homelessness if they are made unemployed, and so on. This makes exploitation ever more visible and tends to push oppressed strata together in movements that seek to mitigate, and even remove, their oppression. As the capitalist era has worn on, these strata have become increasingly able to rebel and gain substantial political and economic improvements, which have, in addition, lead to an increasing willingness to do so because of rising expectations (about what is possible) and frustration (about what actually is). It is true that libertarians, the left and labour have suffered setbacks since the 1970s, but with increasing misery of the working class due to neo-liberal policies (and the "economic structural crisis" they create), it is only a matter of time before there is a resurgence of radicalism.
Anarchists will be in the forefront of this resurgence. For, with the discrediting and eventual fall of authoritarian state capitalism ("Communism") in Eastern Europe, the anti-authoritarian faction of the left will increasingly be seen as its only credible one. Thus the ongoing structural crisis of the global capitalist economy, combined with the other developments springing from what Takis Fotopoulos calls (in his book Towards an Inclusive Democracy) a "multidimensional crisis" (which includes economic, political, social, ecological and ideological aspects), could (potentially) lead to a new international anti-authoritarian alliance linking together the new (and not so new) social movements in the West (feminism, the Green movement, rank-and-file labour militancy, etc.) with non-authoritarian liberation movements in the Third World and new movements in formerly Stalinist countries. However, this is only likely to happen if anarchists take the lead in promoting alternatives and working with the mass of the population. Ways in which anarchists can do this are discussed in some detail in section J.5.
Thus the "economic structural crisis" can aid social struggle by placing the contrast of "what is" with what "could be" in a clear light. Any crisis brings forth the contradictions in capitalism, between the production of use values (things people need) and of exchange value (capitalist profits), between capitalism's claims of being based on liberty and the authoritarianism associated with wage labour ("The general evidence of repression poses an ancient contradiction for capitalism: while it claims to promote human freedom, it profits concretely from the denial of freedom, most especially freedom for the workers employed by capitalist enterprise." [William Greider, One World, Ready or Not, p. 388]) and so on. It shakes to the bone popular faith in capitalism's ability to "deliver the goods" and gets more and more people thinking about alternatives to a system that places profit above and before people and planet. The crisis also, by its very nature, encourages workers and other oppressed sections of the population to resist and fight back, which in turn generates collective organisation (such as unions or workplace-based assemblies and councils), solidarity and direct action -- in other words, collective self-help and the awareness that the problems of working class people can only be solved by ourselves, by our own actions and organisations. The 1930s in the USA is a classic example of this process, with very militant struggles taking place in very difficult situations (see Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States or Jeremy Brecher's Strike! for details).
In other words, the "economic structural crisis" gives radicals a lot potential to get their message across, even if the overall environment may make success seem difficult at times!
As well as encouraging workplace organisation due to the intensification of exploitation and authority provoked by the economic stagnation/depression, the "economic structural crisis" can encourage other forms of libertarian alternatives. For example, the "economic structural crisis" has resulted in the erosion of the welfare state (at least for the working class, for the elite state aid is never far away). This development has potential libertarian possibilities. "The decline of the state," argues L. Gambone, "makes necessary a revitalisation of the notions of direct action and mutual aid. Without Mama State to do it for us, we must create our own social services through mutual aid societies." [Syndicalism in Myth and Reality, p. 12] As we argue in more depth in section J.5.16, such a movement of mutual aid has a long history in the working class and, as it is under our control, it cannot be withdrawn from us to enrich and empower the ruling class as state run systems have been. Thus the decline of state run social services could, potentially, see the rise of a network of self-managed, working class alternatives (equally, of course, it could see the end of all services to the weakest sections of our society -- which possibility comes about depends on what we do in the here and now. See section J.5.15 for an anarchist analysis of the welfare state).
Food Not Bombs! (FNB) is an excellent example of practical libertarian alternatives being generated by the economic crisis we are facing. FNB is a community-based group which helps the homeless through the direct action of its members. It also involves the homeless in helping themselves. It serves free food in public places to expose the plight of the homeless, the callousness of the system and our capacity to solve social problems through our own actions without government or capitalism. The constant harassment of FNB by the police, middle classes and the government illustrates their callousness to the plight of the poor and the failure of their institutions to build a society which cares for people more than money and property (and the police and prisons to protect them). The fact is that in the US many working and unemployed people have no feeling that they are entitled to basic human needs such as medicine, clothes, shelter, and food. FNB encourages poor people to make these demands, provides a space in which these demands can be voiced, and helps to breakdown the wall between hungry and not-hungry. The repression directed towards FNB by local police forces and governments also demonstrates the effectiveness of their activity and the possibility that it may radicalise those who get involved with the organisation. Charity is obviously one thing, mutual aid is something else. FNB is a politicised movement from below, based on solidarity, not charity as, in Kropotkin's words, charity "bears a character of inspiration from above, and, accordingly, implies a certain superiority of the giver upon the receiver." [Mutual Aid, p. 222]
The last example of how economic stagnation can generate libertarian tendencies can be seen from the fact that, "[h]istorically, at times of severe inflation or capital shortages, communities have been forced to rely on their own resources. During the Great Depression, many cities printed their own currency; this works to the extent that a community is able to maintain a viable internal economy which provides the necessities of life, independent of transactions with the outside." [Benello, Op. Cit., p. 150]
These local currencies could be the basis of a mutual bank (see section J.5.5), providing interest-free loans to workers to form co-operatives and so build libertarian alternatives to capitalist firms, so eliminating the profits of capitalists by allowing workers to exchange the product of their labour with other workers. Moreover, "local exchange systems strength local communities by increasing their self-reliance, empowering community members, and helping to protect them from the excesses of the global market." [Frank Lindenfield, "Economics for Anarchists," Social Anarchism, no. 23, p. 24] In this way self-managing communes could be created, communes that replace hierarchical, top-down, government with collective decision making of community affairs based on directly democratic community assemblies. These self-governing communities and economies could federate together to co-operate on a wider scale and so create a counter-power to that of state and capitalism.
This confederal system of self-managing communities could also protect jobs as the "globalisation of capital threatens local industries. A way has to be found to keep capital at home and so preserve the jobs and the communities that depend upon them. Protectionism is both undesirable and unworkable. But worker-ownership or workers' co-operatives are alternatives." [Gambone, Op. Cit., pp. 12-13] Local communities could provide the necessary support structures which could protect co-operatives from the corrupting effects of working in the capitalist market (see section J.5.11). They could also demand that rather than nationalise or bailout failing companies (or, for that matter, privatise state services or public works), they should be turned over (as Proudhon constantly argued) to workers co-operatives by aiding "the Labour Unions to enter into a temporary possession of the industrial concerns", anarchists would provide "an effective means to check the State Nationalisation" in the period before a social revolution when "State phases which we are traversing now seems to be unavoidable." [quoted by Ruth Kinna, "Fields of Vision: Kropotkin and Revolutionary Change", pp. 67-86, SubStance, Vol. 36, No. 2, p. 77] In this way, economic liberty (self-management) could replace capitalism (wage slavery) and show that anarchism is a practical alternative to the chaos and authoritarianism of capitalism, even if these examples are initially fragmentally and limited in nature.
However, these developments should not be taken in isolation of collective struggle in the workplace or community. It is in the class struggle that the real potential for anarchy is created. The work of such organisations as Food Not Bombs! and the creation of local currencies and co-operatives are supplementary to the important task of creating workplace and community organisations that can create effective resistance to both state and capitalists, resistance that can overthrow both (see sections J.5.2 and J.5.1 respectively). "Volunteer and service credit systems and alternative currencies by themselves may not be enough to replace the corporate capitalist system. Nevertheless, they can help build the economic strength of local currencies, empower local residents, and mitigate some of the consequences of poverty and unemployment . . . By the time a majority [of a community are involved it] will be well on its way to becoming a living embodiment of many anarchist ideals." [Lindenfield, Op. Cit., p. 28] And such a community would be a great aid in any strike or other social struggle which is going on!
The general economic crisis which we are facing has implications for social struggle and anarchist activism. It could be the basis of libertarian alternatives in our workplaces and communities, alternatives based on direct action, solidarity and self-management. These alternatives could include workplace and community unionism, co-operatives, mutual banks and other forms of anarchistic resistance to capitalism and the state.
Finally, we must stress that we are not arguing that working class people need an economic crisis to force them into struggle. Such "objectivism" (i.e. the placing of tendencies towards socialism in the development of capitalism, of objective factors, rather than in the class struggle, i.e. subjective factors) is best left to orthodox Marxists and Leninists as it has authoritarian implications. Rather we are aware that the class struggle, the subjective pressure on capitalism, is not independent of the conditions within which it takes place (and helps to create, we must add). Subjective revolt is always present under capitalism and, in the case of the 1970s, played a role in creating crisis. Faced with an economic crisis we are indicating what we can do in response to it and how it could, potentially, generate libertarian tendencies within society. Economic crisis could, in other words, provoke social struggle, collective action and generate anarchic tendencies in society. Equally, it could cause apathy, rejection of collective struggle and, perhaps, the embracing of false "solutions" such as right-wing populism, Leninism, or Fascism. We cannot predict how the future will develop, but it is true that if we do nothing then, obviously, libertarian tendencies will not grow and develop.
Public opinion polls show increasing feelings of disappointment and lack of confidence in governments and big business.
Some of the feelings of disappointment with government can be blamed on the anti-big-government rhetoric of conservatives and right-wing populists. Of course the Right would never dream of really dismantling the state, as is evident from the fact that government was as bureaucratic and expensive under "conservative" administrations. So this "decentralist" element of right-wing rhetoric is a con (and quickly jettisoned as required by the capitalist class). The "anti-Government" rhetoric is combined with the pro-business, pro-private tyranny, racist, anti-feminist, and homophobic hogwash disseminated by right-wing radio and TV propagandists and the business-backed media which shows that capitalism is not genuinely anti-authoritarian (nor could it ever be), as a social system based on liberty must entail.
When a right-wing politician, economist or business "leader" argues that the government is too big, they are rarely thinking of the same government functions you are. You may be thinking of subsidies for tobacco farmers or defence firms; they are thinking about pollution controls. You may be thinking of reforming welfare for the better; their idea is to dismantle the welfare state (for working class people). Moreover, with their support for "family values", "wholesome" television, bans on abortion and so on, their victory would see an increased level of government intrusion in many personal spheres as well as increased state support for the power of the boss over the worker and the landlord over the tenant.
If you look at what the Right has done and is doing, rather than what it is saying, you quickly see the ridiculousness of claims of right-wing "libertarianism" (as well as who is really in charge). Obstructing pollution and health regulations; defunding product safety laws; opening national parks to logging and mining, or closing them entirely; reducing taxes for the rich; eliminating the capital gains tax; allowing companies to fire striking workers; making it easier for big telecommunications companies to dominate the media; limiting companies' liability for unsafe products -- the objective here is obviously to help big business and the wealthy do what they want without government interference, helping the rich get richer and increasing "freedom" for private power combined with a state whose sole role is to protect that "liberty."
Such right-wing tendencies do not have anarchistic elements. The "anti-government" propaganda of big business is hardly anarchistic. What anarchists try to do is point out the hypocritical and contradictory nature of such rhetoric. The arguments against big government are equally applicable to business. If people are capable of making their own decisions, then why should this capability be denied in the workplace? As Noam Chomsky points out, while there is a "leave it alone" and "do your own thing" current within society, it in fact "tells you that the propaganda system is working full-time, because there is no such ideology in the US. Business, for example, doesn't believe it. It has always insisted upon a powerful interventionist state to support its interests -- still does and always has -- back to the origins of American society. There's nothing individualistic about corporations. Those are big conglomerate institutions, essentially totalitarian in character, but hardly individualistic. Within them you're a cog in a big machine. There are few institutions in human society that have such strict hierarchy and top-down control as a business organisation. Nothing there about 'Don't tread on me.' You're being tread on all the time. The point of the ideology is to try to get other people, outside of the sectors of co-ordinated power, to fail to associate and enter into decision-making in the political arena themselves. The point is to atomise everyone else while leaving powerful sectors integrated and highly organised and of course dominating resources." He goes on to note that there is "a streak of independence and individuality in American culture which I think is a very good thing. This 'Don't tread on me' feeling is in many respects a healthy one. It's healthy up to the point where it atomises and keeps you from working together with other people. So it's got its healthy side and its negative side. It's the negative side that's emphasised naturally in the propaganda and indoctrination." [Keeping the Rabble in Line, pp. 279-80]
As opinion polls show, most people direct their dislike and distrust of institutions equally to Big Business, which shows that people are not stupid. Unfortunately, as Goebbels was well aware, tell a lie often enough and people start to believe it. Given the funds available to big business, its influence in the media, its backing of "think-tanks," the use of Public Relations companies, the support of economic "science," its extensive advertising and so on, it says a lot for the common sense of people that so many see big business for what it is. You simply cannot fool all the people all of the time!
However, these feelings can easily be turned into cynicism as well as a hopelessness that things can change for the better and that you cannot help change society. Or, even worse, they can be twisted into support for right, authoritarian, populism. The job for anarchists is to combat this and help point the healthy distrust people have for government and business towards a real solution to society's problems, namely a decentralised, self-managed anarchist society.
Another important factor working in favour of anarchists is the existence of a sophisticated global communications network and a high degree of education and literacy among the populations of the core industrialised nations. Together these two developments make possible nearly instantaneous sharing and public dissemination of information by members of various progressive and radical movements all over the globe -- a phenomenon that tends to reduce the effectiveness of repression by central authorities. The electronic-media and personal-computer revolutions also make it more difficult for elitist groups to maintain their previous monopolies of knowledge. Copy-left software and text, user-generated and shared content, file-sharing, all show that information, and its users, reaches its full potential when it is free. In short, the advent of the Information Age is potentially extremely subversive.
The very existence of the Internet provides anarchists with a powerful argument that decentralised structures can function effectively in a highly complex world. For the net has no centralised headquarters and is not subject to regulation by any centralised regulatory agency, yet it still manages to function effectively. Moreover, the net is also an effective way for anarchists and other radicals to communicate their ideas to others, share knowledge, work on common projects and co-ordinate activities and social struggle. By using the Internet, radicals can make their ideas accessible to people who otherwise would not come across anarchist ideas. In addition, and far more important than anarchists putting their ideas across, the fact is that the net allows everyone with access to express themselves freely, to communicate with others and get access (by visiting webpages and joining mailing lists and newsgroups) and give access (by creating webpages and joining in with on-line arguments) to new ideas and viewpoints. This is very anarchistic as it allows people to express themselves and start to consider new ideas, ideas which may change how they think and act.
Obviously we are aware that the vast majority of people in the world do not have access to telephones, never mind computers, but computer access is increasing in many countries, making it available, via work, libraries, schools, universities, and so on to more and more working class people.
Of course there is no denying that the implications of improved communications and information technology are ambiguous, implying Big Brother as well the ability of progressive and radical movements to organise. However, the point is only that the information revolution in combination with the other social developments could (but will not necessarily) contribute to a social paradigm shift. Obviously such a shift will not happen automatically. Indeed, it will not happen at all unless there is strong resistance to governmental and corporate attempts to limit public access to information, technology (e.g. encryption programs), censor peoples' communications and use of electronic media and track them on-line.
This use of the Internet and computers to spread the anarchist message is ironic. The rapid improvement in price-performance ratios of computers, software, and other technology today is often used to validate the faith in free market capitalism but that requires a monumental failure of historical memory as not just the Internet but also the computer represents a spectacular success of public investment. As late as the 1970s and early 1980s, according to Kenneth Flamm's Creating the Computer, the federal government was paying for 40 percent of all computer-related research and 60 to 75 percent of basic research. Even such modern-seeming gadgets as video terminals, the light pen, the drawing tablet, and the mouse evolved from Pentagon-sponsored research in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Even software was not without state influence, with databases having their root in US Air Force and Atomic Energy Commission projects, artificial intelligence in military contracts back in the 1950s and airline reservation systems in 1950s air-defence systems. More than half of IBM's Research and Development budget came from government contracts in the 1950s and 1960s.
The motivation was national security, but the result has been the creation of comparative advantage in information technology for the United States that private firms have happily exploited and extended. When the returns were uncertain and difficult to capture, private firms were unwilling to invest, and government played the decisive role. And not for want of trying, for key players in the military first tried to convince businesses and investment bankers that a new and potentially profitable business opportunity was presenting itself, but they did not succeed and it was only when the market expanded and the returns were more definite that the government receded. While the risks and development costs were socialised, the gains were privatised. All of which make claims that the market would have done it anyway highly unlikely.
Looking beyond state aid to the computer industry we discover a "do-it-yourself" (and so self-managed) culture which was essential to its development. The first personal computer, for example, was invented by amateurs who wanted their own cheap machines. The existence of a "gift" economy among these amateurs and hobbyists was a necessary precondition for the development of PCs. Without this free sharing of information and knowledge, the development of computers would have been hindered and so socialistic relations between developers and within the working environment created the necessary conditions for the computer revolution. If this community had been marked by commercial relations, the chances are the necessary breakthroughs and knowledge would have remained monopolised by a few companies or individuals, so hindering the industry as a whole.
Encouragingly, this socialistic "gift economy" is still at the heart of computer/software development and the Internet. For example, the Free Software Foundation has developed the General Public Licence (GPL). GPL, also known as "copyleft", uses copyright to ensure that software remains free. Copyleft ensures that a piece of software is made available to everyone to use and modify as they desire. The only restriction is that any used or modified copyleft material must remain under copyleft, ensuring that others have the same rights as you did when you used the original code. It creates a commons which anyone may add to, but no one may subtract from. Placing software under GPL means that every contributor is assured that she, and all other users, will be able to run, modify and redistribute the code indefinitely. Unlike commercial software, copyleft code ensures an increasing knowledge base from which individuals can draw from and, equally as important, contribute to. In this way everyone benefits as code can be improved by everyone, unlike commercial code.
Many will think that this essentially anarchistic system would be a failure. In fact, code developed in this way is far more reliable and sturdy than commercial software. Linux, for example, is a far superior operating system than DOS precisely because it draws on the collective experience, skill and knowledge of thousands of developers. Apache, the most popular web-server, is another freeware product and is acknowledged as the best available. The same can be said of other key web-technologies (most obviously PHP) and projects (Wikipedia springs to mind, although that project while based on co-operative and free activity is owned by a few people who have ultimate control). While non-anarchists may be surprised, anarchists are not. Mutual aid and co-operation are beneficial in the evolution of life, why not in the evolution of software? For anarchists, this "gift economy" at the heart of the communications revolution is an important development. It shows both the superiority of common development as well as the walls built against innovation and decent products by property systems. We hope that such an economy will spread increasingly into the "real" world.
Another example of co-operation being aided by new technologies is Netwar. This refers to the use of the Internet by autonomous groups and social movements to co-ordinate action to influence and change society and fight government or business policy. This use of the Internet has steadily grown over the years, with a Rand corporation researcher, David Ronfeldt, arguing that this has become an important and powerful force (Rand is, and has been since its creation in 1948, a private appendage of the military industrial complex). In other words, activism and activists' power and influence has been fuelled by the advent of the information revolution. Through computer and communication networks, especially via the Internet, grassroots campaigns have flourished, and most importantly, government elites have taken notice.
Ronfeldt specialises in issues of national security, especially in the areas of Latin American and the impact of new informational technologies. Ronfeldt and another colleague coined the term "netwar" in a Rand document entitled "Cyberwar is Coming!". Ronfeldt's work became a source of discussion on the Internet in mid-March 1995 when Pacific News Service correspondent Joel Simon wrote an article about Ronfeldt's opinions on the influence of netwars on the political situation in Mexico after the Zapatista uprising. According to Simon, Ronfeldt holds that the work of social activists on the Internet has had a large influence -- helping to co-ordinate the large demonstrations in Mexico City in support of the Zapatistas and the proliferation of EZLN communiqués across the world via computer networks. These actions, Ronfeldt argues, have allowed a network of groups that oppose the Mexican Government to muster an international response, often within hours of actions by it. In effect, this has forced the Mexican government to maintain the facade of negotiations with the EZLN and has on many occasions, actually stopped the army from just going in to Chiapas and brutally massacring the Zapatistas.
Given that Ronfeldt was an employee of the Rand Corporation his comments indicate that the U.S. government and its military and intelligence wings are very interested in what the Left is doing on the Internet. Given that they would not be interested in this if it were not effective, we can say that this use of the "Information Super-Highway" is a positive example of the use of technology in ways un-planned of by those who initially developed it (let us not forget that the Internet was originally funded by the U.S. government and military). While the internet is being hyped as the next big marketplace, it is being subverted by activists -- an example of anarchistic trends within society worrying the powers that be.
A good example of this powerful tool is the incredible speed and range at which information travels the Internet about events concerning Mexico and the Zapatistas. When Alexander Cockburn wrote an article exposing a Chase Manhattan Bank memo about Chiapas and the Zapatistas in Counterpunch, only a small number of people read it because it is only a newsletter with a limited readership. The memo, written by Riordan Roett, argued that "the [Mexican] government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy". In other words, if the Mexican government wants investment from Chase, it would have to crush the Zapatistas. This information was relatively ineffective when just confined to print but when it was uploaded to the Internet, it suddenly reached a very large number of people. These people in turn co-ordinated protests against the U.S and Mexican governments and especially Chase Manhattan. Chase was eventually forced to attempt to distance itself from the Roett memo that it commissioned. Since then net-activism has grown.
Ronfeldt's research and opinion should be flattering for the Left. He is basically arguing that the efforts of activists on computers not only has been very effective (or at least has that potential), but more importantly, argues that the only way to counter this work is to follow the lead of social activists. Activists should understand the important implications of Ronfeldt's work: government elites are not only watching these actions (big surprise) but are also attempting to work against them. Thus Netwars and copyleft are good examples of anarchistic trends within society, using communications technology as a means of co-ordinating activity across the world in a libertarian fashion for libertarian goals.