Saturday, October 13, 2012

Anarchism and human nature, the Bolsheviks and the subversion of direct democracy

--> One thing, I think, is clear, and that is that in any future society we have to be prepared not simply for the best that human nature has to offer but the worst as well. Which is not to say that anarchist ideals should be thrown over board and something authoritarian put in its place, but instead to suggest that in whatever future society comes to be guards and rules are put together that prevent abuses from happening.

 On the one hand, in the most positive position in anarchism, you have the idea that if we just free people from all oppressive hierarchies that they will automatically act in a good and pure way, will demonstrate complete honesty in their dealings with others, and will never abuse the system in place. There will be no need for compulsion of any sort and society will freely organize itself and flow on its own accord.

On the other hand, there's the sort of counter argument found mostly during the time of Enlightenment Europe, which has not really been present in the United States, that says that human beings are uniquely flawed due to original sin, tainted to be bad from the start, and that because of this there need to be exterior institutions that organize society and keep it in line so that this inherent evil doesn't get out of hand. Traditionally, the institutions proposed have been the Church and Monarchy of some sort, with the Church over looking the moral and ethical life of the people, as well as the spiritual, and the King or Prince organizing and keeping discipline with the more practical aspects of life, like work. In this scenario, the King or Prince is the literal pater familias of the country, who possesses by extension powers over the individual similar to those of a father in a patriarchal situation, i.e. the power to compel people to obey.

Such a thoroughly hierarchical society as this implies would be oppressive in the extreme, and leave very little room for human freedom to exist, freedom allowing the chance for a bad deviation from the prescribed way of acting.

If some sorts of mechanisms of accountability are necessary, if not everything can successfully run of its own accord, these mechanisms should be decided from the ground up and staffed from the ground up, instead of descending from on high, in a representative manner.

Such mechanisms would ideally stop abuses from structurelessness from happening without being oppressive in and of themselves. Authority can be vested collectively in the group.

An example of what can happen if there's too much structurelessness is actually the actions of the Bolshevik Party in starting and then trying to assume the leading role in the Russian Revolution.  What most people don't know is that although Russia was called the Soviet Union, the Soviets, or councils, were not a Bolshevik invention. They were the product of a previous layer of populist and socialist agitation that saw dual decision making bodies develop in many towns and cities. The people who started them were a diverse crowd, that included a strong presence from the Socialist Revolutionary Party, a populist semi-Marxist movement that was the biggest competitor to the Bolsheviks in Russia.

The Russian Revolution was started during the national congress of Soviets in St. Petersburg. There had been a revolution in February that had installed a constitutional government, and now the Soviets from all over Russia were meeting to decided what to do next, with two of the main options being help write a new constitution for Russia or have a revolution.

Many political parties participated in the Soviets, but because the Bolsheviks were centralized and highly disciplined, they were able to work in concert and manipulate things to undermine the democratic nature of the Soviets themselves. While not pure direct democracy, the Soviets were substantially closer to it than parliamentary democracy ever is, and this tendency towards non-organization and openness what exactly what the Bolsheviks exploited for their own ends.

What ended up happening was that the Bolsheviks put forward the idea that although they didn't have absolute support for a revolution, that because they had the majority of delegates from industrial towns and businesses, the majority of working class people as they defined it, that the votes of these folks were more equal than that of others. Workers were supposedly the motor of history, and surely if you have their support you don't need a majority of people to go along with you. Instead, you can impose your will on everyone else, because some animals are more equal than others, to use a phrase from Orwell.  Special pleading, in other words. The Bolsheviks voted on it, decided for revolution, then started it.  The actual Russian Revolution, which broke out after people heard that revolution had started in St. Petersburg, was carried out by a diverse crowd of people who all wanted a revolution, but the Bolsheviks, in organizing it initially, seizing the organs of the State, and having a presence in a lot of places, eventually were able to consolidate control over what was happening.

So the Bolsheviks in part were able to put their regime forward because of a flaw in the more direct democracy of the Soviets, which, much like Occupy in certain cities, were able to be manipulated by organized special interest groups who wanted to impose their own agenda on the whole. Their voices supposedly mattered more than others, like the Bolshevik voices mattered more than the Anarchists, or the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, or any number of other parties. If a more democratically organized society is going to be created, we need to put mechanisms in place to make sure that things like this never happen, and that instead the true will of the whole is respected, and not subverted.

No comments: