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Strange Matters – Socialism with an Anarchist Squint

The Anarchist Library

2022 04 06

Author: Strange Matters
Title: Socialism with an Anarchist Squint
Subtitle: Authoritarian creep, libertarian socialism, & democratic planning
Date: 2022
Source: Retrieved on 2022-04-07 from strangematters.coop/libertarian-socialism-economic-planning-anarchist-supply-chains

Socialism isn’t when the government does things or owns things. It’s not a form of tyranny that tries to force everyone at gunpoint to become identical worker drones and follow the commands of some bureaucrat’s central plan. It’s not even the tepid, watered-down welfarist reforms your city councilperson with a rose emoji next to their name is trying and failing to pass, bless their heart, though certainly they’re an improvement upon the former. Rather, socialism was and remains a vision of a world where ordinary working people are in charge of the production and investment decisions that affect them — in their workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, and beyond — and manage the economy democratically to meet everyone’s needs. While some socialist movements have fallen into the traps we mention above, there has always been another socialism that’s stayed true to the core vision of a better world. It has built institutions, changed cultures, fought alongside the most oppressed people before anybody else, led revolutions, been defeated or stabbed in the back, gone into periods of dormancy, occasionally recovered its strength, and bit by bit moved the world in a more humane direction. This other socialism has no consistent name, only many labels, and often the labels come eventually to mean something else. Sometimes, it’s gone by the name of anarchism.

But today, anarchism is in crisis. We don’t mean that in a cute way. It isn’t in reference to that dose of chaotic energy which liberation always requires. It’s not about anarchy thriving due to the crisis of the system. It can’t be addressed with some cliché about growing pains — “the movement’s changing, but that’s fine because movements always change!” What we mean is very simple: the anti-authoritarian left wing of the socialist movement is at a fork in the road. So depending on what we do, or fail to do, in the next few years, we’ll either find our footing and make a road to the future, or we’ll march contentedly right off a cliff.

Neo-Anarchism at the Turn of the Century

Roughly, the arc of our recent history is as follows.

The collapse of most of the Leninist states at the end of the last century, and the full transition of China into a state capitalist regime by the start of this one, was a shattering blow to Marxism of both the social-democratic and communist varieties. The result was a brutally counterrevolutionary era, where the capitalists of the industrialized Global North, powered by the enormous military might of the United States, universally enforced neoliberal economic structures across the globe. The old USSR was liquidated, its assets pawned off in a fire-sale to the financiers, mobsters, and warlords who now head the nationalist dictatorships in power across most of Eastern Europe. Countries across Latin America, Africa, and Asia were reduced to debt-peonage. Multinational corporations established sweatshops and conflict mines in poor countries to produce, under hellish conditions, the cheap commodities that fueled the prosperity of the rich countries. The states of the world converged on a shared menu of oppressive methods (centralized mass media, militarized police, mass-surveillance systems), often purchasing these from the leading military powers. And even the rich countries saw their social-democratic welfare states, that concession to the classical workers’ movement which alone had guaranteed a minimally decent standard of living to the working classes, systematically dismantled.[1]

Though for a long time this fact was masked in the statistics by China’s meteoric rise as a result of its successful economic planning,[2] the truth is that neoliberalism sabotaged the international industrial economy. It led to stagnating growth in most developing countries, the collapse of living standards in many rich ones, and an explosion of inequality across the world.[3] A dark era of false prosperity buttressed by lies and enforced at the barrel of a gun, this global consensus from the turn of the century laid the groundwork for the tangle of catastrophes we in our time have been forced to face: the structural malaise of most economies since the 2008 crash, the threat of new inter-imperial rivalries and geopolitical conflicts, and above all the ecological crisis which threatens to destroy the material foundation of all our societies.

But if that era closed many doors, it also opened up new ones. For the anti-authoritarian Left, it presented enormous opportunities. The Zapatista Rebellion of 1994 in Mexico inaugurated a new era of socialist struggles around the world that explicitly defined themselves in opposition not only to capitalism but the state.[4] These self-organized into what is often called the global justice movement or anti-globalization movement. The latter is something of a misnomer: in fact, what was at issue was the demand for an alternative form of globalization by a broad coalition against the neoliberal order that coordinated across countries to organize large-scale direct actions and conferences. This movement was most active across Eurasia, North America, and Latin America, and it won a number of important victories: the stalling of most global trade deals after the 1999 Battle of Seattle, the popularization of the critique of neoliberalism by intellectuals such as Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, and the resulting political opening which made IMF debt forgiveness on a massive scale possible, especially in Latin America. Even when the movement faded after 9/11, the international networks and tendencies it brought forth continued to flourish. In Argentina, the mid-00s economic crash produced widespread direct-democratic movements that expropriated shuttered factories and ran them as workers’ democracies, along bottom-up principles they referred to as horizontalism. Eco-anarchists in international organizations like London Greenpeace and EarthFirst! were the earliest and most militant opponents of the capitalists leading us towards ecological disaster, long before climate change was a mainstream issue (indeed, they’re largely responsible for its becoming one).[5]