In Defense of Anarchism: Imagine

In Defense of Anarchism: Imagine

(A version of this article was published in Blogcritics on February, 2011)

I

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

There you go, the entire lyrics to John Lennon’s classic (except for the third stanza, a refrain). So simple in concept, so powerful in execution. 

II

Interestingly, Lennon’s message reverberated with far greater resonance among his contemporaries than it does today. Apart from the Vietnam debacle and the age-old gripe against the Establishment, the two-prong thrust by the then-radical Left — an ideology which has virtually defined, if not driven, Lennon’s political agenda and put the idea of the counterculture on the map — America was still the land of opportunity, or so everyone thought. And there weren’t any signs in the offing it would ever cease. 

The cultural revolution of the sixties was a unique byproduct of the American brand of idealism, fueled by higher than average education and upper-middle-class upbringing and comfort. The hippies, the flower children of the Haight-Ashbury, the free speech revolutionaries from Columbia to Berkeley, the faculties of major American universities, all shared in the same socioeconomic background and characteristics; all were children of privilege. 

III

Why not today, one may ask when times are tough, the American middle class as good as nonexistent, and the American dream, the emblem of the New World and the beacon, all but shattered? Why not today when governments the world over and the respective nation-states, their proper charge, are under relentless pressure both from without and within nearly-global economic crisis and embarrassing disclosures of their duplicitous dealings and machinations?

IV

For starters, let’s just say that the relationship between prosperity (or the lack thereof) and apathy, especially in the context of the American experience, is a complex one. We’ve seen that with the right conditions in place, a great many are moved by the idealistic impulse. What’s perturbing is the complacency of our rapidly disappearing middle class. Instead of becoming enraged, it plays the patsy, the role of the working stiff. The harder the times, the more intent it seems on begging for scraps, a mere pittance, ever ready to sell its soul to the company store. 

But this, I contend, results from a false sense of confidence and a false sense of values. The American fat cat had been spoiled rotten, so spoiled in fact, that the only thing it’s capable of is to dream of past glories and of recapturing the glorious past. There’s not an iota of sympathy in there, no sense of solidarity, no empathy or compassion, only a sense of the overinflated self. Even the America’s poor, surely an oxymoron when you think of it, are infected with the same sense of hollow values, always envious of their “betters,” always wishing to be like them. 

V

Whether the welfare state is to blame or the natural erosion of human dignity due to overexposure to toxic capitalism, it’s hard to say. American ethos — sugarcoated, to be sure, by the attendant set of lofty ideals espousing liberty and individual self-determination, the pride of liberal democracies — is hardly the stuff from which revolutions are made. The truly suffering people of Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen put us to bloody shame.

So don’t count on America’s disenfranchised masses — the modern-day lumpenproletariat — to further the cause of the revolution aiming at overthrowing the increasingly burdensome and dysfunctional institution known as “the state” and bringing us closer to John Lennon’s dream of a stateless society, if not the world at large! The American fat cat may have to undergo an extreme starvation diet, coupled with massive deprivation, both physical and psychological before the reality finally sinks in and hopefully reignites it with a spark of revolutionary consciousness.

VI

Likewise with the oppressed peoples of the People’s Republic of China or those of India, which nation-states, under the pretense of a “socialist market system (a cleverly coined phrase by the masters of Chinese doublespeak) or some other such guise, boast of their phenomenal successes amidst nearly global economic crisis as their socialist-run economies undergo a period of unprecedented boom. 

VII

These are serious obstacles to attaining the desirable state of affairs. I alluded, however, to the already existing geopolitical configurations, which, however infinitesimally, represent a movement in the general direction and serve, as it were, the first step.  

I consider the EU, comprising what’s otherwise known as the Eurozone, as one such example and source of inspiration. Granted, it’s still in its experimental stages, not certain to survive the onslaught from both the internal and external global economic pressures. However, it still stands, and for better or worse, aside from serving as a new paradigm, it offers interesting insights. 

Let’s, therefore, examine it more closely.

VIII

The first thing to notice is the instauration of an administrative body overseeing some of the operations and functions that have always been regarded as the natural preserve of independent nation-states under normal circumstances. 

A “board of directors” is as good a term as any. And the activities under its watchful eye include such diverse aspects of governance as administering a monetary policy and the criminal justice system. 

Lest you pooh-pooh the example for the inadequate scope of operations, think again. We’re already experiencing a (however slight) shift by way of (foreign relations between member states. The conditions imposed on Greece and Ireland, for example, as part of securing the EU-administered bailouts speak for themselves. Years ago, when the EU was but a figment of somebody’s imagination, an inkblot on the map, any such scenario would have been unthinkable.

IX

Imagine one state dictating its terms to another and the disadvantaged party just buckling under the demands!   

In more cases than not, and that’s despite the no-nonsense principle of Realpolitik, we would have witnessed open hostilities, if not war, to resolve the conflict. Today, however, the spirit of cooperation and adherence to prior arrangements specified in the charter is less of an exception than the rule. 

Say what you will, but the member states no longer relate to one another as independent nation-states; they’re bound instead by an agreement, a precondition that calls for a measure of compliance. And if that’s not shedding some of their sovereignty and authority, then I don’t know what is.

Also, notice that the primary locus of the structural change, even though the sphere of activities affected thereby is mostly economic, is “the political.” It’s the political relations between member states that have undergone however slight an alteration — though again, the theater of action has been restricted thus far to matters economic. 

X

It’s a significant insight, especially because in the EU’s instance at least, it was mainly economic forces and conditions, not political, which paved the way for and served as a stimulus to the European Union’s eventual formation.

 The categorical imperative to become and remain competitive with the economic powerhouses of North America and Asia surely figured in as consideration of the first order and captured the underlying motivation, end of story! And as to the rest — instituting a uniform currency, easing restrictions on travel to facilitate a fluid labor market, etc. — it was but the icing on the cake, all designed with the singular purpose in mind of making good on the original objective. 

Hence the inevitable conclusion. It’s in the political that any kind of social change is most likely to register and make itself known, and that’s regardless of what has led to it. And no, I’m not discounting the importance of the economic factors in spearheading the change!

XI

There’s a perfect reason for this. A political institution through and through, the state can’t be expected to dabble in what works. Quite the contrary, it’s only going to support the economic system in place, jumpstart it if and when need be, use whatever means necessary to preserve it against all opposition to the contrary and whatever injustices it may bring in its wake. And that’s regardless of what harm or evil may come as a result of it. Why? In the interest of its survival. Simply put, the economic order only reinforces the political order, so don’t expect the state to cut its own throat.

Couple this now with the fact that whatever internal contradictions may or may not exist within capitalism proper — a moot point, I should think, since they’re most likely to be glossed over if not perpetuated to no end by the instrumentality of the State! — and one is left with an inescapable conclusion. Only the state is vulnerable to erosion both from without and within, and that’s for the simple reason that whatever contradictions may plague this overarching political concept in theory and practice, there’s nothing whatever to intervene on the state’s behalf simply because there is none above it. 

In short, there’s no substitute for retaliating against the Hydra monster and cutting its many heads, no other remedy except to strike at the source. Consequently, if the state must fall, it will fall of its own accord, case closed. 

If this thesis runs contrary to Marx’s, so be it. Marx hadn’t paid sufficient attention to the political, his greatest oversight, I believe.

XII

In closing, let me reiterate: the EU experiment is a far cry from the kind of world John Lennon had envisaged. Still, it’s a pattern of things to come, a sign of the times, a step in the right direction, an experiment that’s likely to be replicated over and over again until it meets with ever greater success. 

I’ll leave it up to you to imagine a myriad of semi-autonomous, anarchistic communities. All are political, to be sure, but political only in the truest and most meaningful sense, all coexisting under the umbrella of an essentially benign administrative body whose purpose is to ensure a modicum of order within their domain. 

The catch is that unless you believe in aliens posing a threat from outer space, making it necessary to strike new alliances to present a united front against a common enemy, there is no enemy. And there’s no competition or conflict either — only humanity living in unison!

I could think of a far worse scenario.

XIII

“No countries, no possessions, only a brotherhood of man.” What’s so hard to understand? 

John Lennon was a prophet.

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