Is Anarchy a Possible Solution for the New Century?
At present, the whole of humanity, especially the western world, stands at a crossroads. The “old world” (more aptly titled the ‘previous world’) was forged sometime before the turn of the twentieth century. This turn was realized in the fall of the last bits of old European feudal power during and after the First World War.
The successor, a combination of global corporate, banking and industrial entities, worked to change the world in ways that had never been seen before. Likewise, cultures around the world were greatly affected by the changes that took place. Karl Marx (1818 –1883), who lived his whole life in the nineteenth century, had thoughts about the scope of change that the society he lived in would go through.
The purpose of this article is to evaluate the thought of Karl Marx. Specifically, his ideas on the ‘dialectic‘ and the ‘progressive’ nature of societies are vital in any discussion of human history over the course of the past two centuries, and in talking about the possibilities that a modern reading of Marx can give to people as they work to move history forward.
Throughout his writings, Marx talks about a “five-fold” vision for the growth of societies. His “stages” are worth noting, as they give the would-be historian a unique way to think about the point that mankind finds itself at today. At the most basic stage, individuals and small groups decided to band together for mutual benefit. At this point in time, man is pretty much “free”. This stage, which certain groups still exist in today, is tribal and greatly connected to family ties. Human life in this stage is simple and only really concerned with finding food, shelter, and having children.
As the tribal stage moves along Marx’s line, conflicts break out, battles are won, slaves are taken, and slowly civilizations are built through conquest. This is the slave-holding stage. Both ancient Greece and Rome grew from slave-holding roots. These societies have a surplus of unskilled (and in some cases very skilled) labor from which to draw when it is needed.
At this point, it is probably necessary to note that the Greek and Roman idea of slavery was very different from the “chattel” type of slavery that was brought about by European powers and later continued in The United States. As slave-holding societies change and grow, pressure is pushed inward from many different places, moving power to local centers. This is the birth of the feudal era, as shown by the slow and painful fall of the Roman Empire.
Many institutions survived from the slave-holding societies: writing systems, the Catholic church (a Roman system which still exists today), roads, buildings, etc. The feudal era, in the form of still-living royal lines (almost all of which are related to each other in some way), also remains to this day, even though most of their power has been taken by the people.
It was the rise of industrial capitalism, the force which Karl Marx himself said was the greatest man would ever create, that would finally take center stage in the twentieth century. A more solid capital system turned the “lower classes” into wage-slaves. Suddenly, the only means for them get day-to-day items was a wage.
The society created out of this great economic shift is one that, today, can be seen as badly-prepared to address the new problems facing the world. Capitalist society is one where the illusions of voluntary association and choice are everywhere. One may spend one’s wages on any items one wants, however, the wage remains necessary.
The last stage in Marx’s thinking is that of the perfect “communist” society, where the old property relationships of the capitalist age would be erased, and the “material capital” (factories, railroads, etc.) of capitalism would be used for the benefit of its own wage-earners, the former ‘lower classes’. This ideal has not, as yet, been realized. The concept of “anarchy” as an end goal, however, is very interesting.
The economic changes created and fueled by global capitalism in the last century have transformed life for a huge portion of the world’s population, and they seem ready to continue into the future. As this system evolves, so, too will the massive framework built around it. Today, many of the economic and cultural “paradigms” (‘thought patterns’) which have remained solid for centuries are beginning to show their irrelevance to the modern world.
The “ideals” of democracy and freedom quickly changed themselves a long time ago to fit into which ever boxes became necessary. From a historical point of view, this is very common; seldom are the high-flying goals of revolutionary movements, however well-intentioned, fully and effectively joined with the greater system.
This entity must copy only the most important bits of which ever philosophy most pleases the masses and fuels the illusion. To this end, however, the old world is leaving us. Mankind is on a growth curve that keeps getting faster, making the observation of big changes in ‘material culture’ much easier.
Many technologies, which only exist in (what will eventually be called) their childhoods today, are set to completely revolutionize the ways that humans do everything in the future. Social media, a colossus by any previous standard, has only begun to tap into its seemingly endless possible future ability. The capability for the expansion of human culture in this age is not comparable to any other time period in history.
The production of everyday goods may one day be operated, from the top of the supply chain down, by computer. Lastly, the system of currency that exists in the world today, although it has shown its past shocks and crashes, will continue to remain, for better or worse, in place until a good enough alternative is reached or until ‘material’ (global politics, war, resource competition) realities force a change to occur.
These changes could have a big impact on the existing job ‘paradigm’ (one has a job and a wage and is used to living this way), hurting many people who would have kept living and working inside the ‘old’ system. In the timeline thought up by Marx, one could say that this shift, which would change the construction of our culture, is a useful tool when trying to come up with possible answers to some of today’s largest questions.
Karl Marx uses the concept of ‘dialectic’, generally connected to the thought of philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831), in a “material” sense (meaning that a ‘human dialectic’ is in the world), formulating his idea of “historical materialism”. This idea is shown by the ways that individuals in a ‘material system’ use available resources in interaction with that system for food, water and having children, and the societies that are built around the lives of the single actors.
Freedom from this system, according to Marx, can occur only when the system can become the opposite of itself, or its ‘negation’. That ‘negation’ is the essence of anarchy and revolution; it resists wholeheartedly the oppressive capital/wage-slave system and all parts of culture which have their root in it.
These pieces can be incredibly varied, the state, organized religion, taxation, etc. are concepts that were not created by the Capitalist system, yet they have taken on new forms through adaptation. The goal of the anarchist is to push the ‘dialectic’ in the direction of a voluntary society, one in which the compensation for one’s labour is efficiently scaled to the output that one produces and the initiation of force (police included) is culturally disdained so as to occur as infrequently as possible.
The process of culture-creation is a slow one, and all humans are a part. Freedom of thought and freedom from undue hindrance are to become the new achievements sought in this century. To finish this struggle victoriously, a systematic effort must be made to alter the dialectic as the material systems of the world change around us.
The anarchist utopia may, as many have argued, exist only in the realm of theory. It is true that, with a few certain exceptions, the anarchist point of view, in many global arenas, has not proven itself to be an efficient means of organizing groups of individuals over time. One could argue that this is because the natural, Marxist, historical progression has not advanced far enough; that the dialectic has not yet reached the stage at which it may, socially speaking, make room for a system (or lack of system) where entirely voluntary association can exist for all people.
Whether or not this perspective causes anxiety in those stuck within the current ‘paradigm’ is of little importance. Rather, this line of thought must be used to start a new surge of cultural creation, of building the ‘dialectic’ as humanity advances technologically at a rapid rate. The question remains: How will the individuals, the revolutionaries, of this era shape the dialectic? The final sinews of the old system are quickly disappearing, what is still to be seen, however, is what form the new system will take. This is in large part up to us, the humans of a new age.