Free times are on the way; If you and I agree; To share the world and all it holds. A sane society.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Colin Ward - Anarchist (August 14, 1924 - February 11, 2010)

‘You may think in describing anarchism as a theory of organisation I am propounding a deliberate paradox: ‘anarchy’ you may consider to be, by definition, the opposite of organisation. In fact, however, ‘anarchy’ means the absence of government, the absence of authority. Can there be social organisation without authority, without government? The anarchists claim that there can be, and they also claim that it is desirable that there should be. They claim that, at the basis of our social problems is the principle of government. It is, after all, governments which prepare for war and wage war, even though you are obliged to fight in them and pay for them; the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense. It is, after all, governments which make and enforce the laws which enable the 'haves' to retain control over social assets rather than share them with the 'have-nots'. It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood.

I have struggled to find a decent obituary of Colin. This from Next left (Fabian Society) Sunday, 14 February 2010 is at least a sympathetic one:

Colin Ward, the leading (sic) anarchist thinker and writer of post-war Britain, died on February 11.

For many people the word 'anarchist' is a barrier to understanding and engagement. If it is not the cloak and dagger and smoking bomb image of anarchism from the late 19th century, then it is the mainstream media image of young people in black masks lobbing things at the police, which shapes how many people respond to the word.

Colin certainly believed - as anyone on the left must - that there are times and places when you have to stand up against the state. But these images are particularly misleading so far as his anarchism was concerned. For his was an anarchism that was at once constructive, creative and immensely practical. It drew critical, but sympathetic attention from many outside the anarchist movement. It still holds many lessons for the left.

Born in 1924 in London, Colin gravitated to the anarchist movement while serving in the army during WW2. Towards the end of the war, the anarchist newspaper Freedom (or War Commentary as it was then) published an article which called on British solidiers to hold on to their guns (implication: so we can make a revolution...) The editors were prosecuted and Colin was called as a witness, testifying that although he had received the newspaper in question, it had not dissuaded him from his duty as a soldier. (One suspects that Colin had already determined for himself what the limits of his duty were.) This didn't stop most of the editors being sent to prison. Maria Luisa Berneri escaped prison only because she was the wife of one of the other editors and, as such, could not in sexist law be guilty of a charge of 'conspiracy'.

Following the war, Colin moved closer to the Freedom group, becoming a regular contributor to the weekly newspaper. Some of his earliest journalism covered the squatters' movement in 1940s Britain. Much to the consternation of the Labour government, many thousands of working-class people responded to acute housing shortage by taking over and adapting disused military bases. While his comrades in the anarchist movement struggled to see the point, Colin saw this as an example of what he would later call 'anarchy in action': direct and cooperative self-help.

From 1961-70, Colin edited Anarchy, easily the most interesting anarchist theoretical journal published in the UK and one of the most interesting of any political stripe in that interesting decade. Through the journal, Colin laid out the ideas that would culminate in his 1973 book, Anarchy in Action.

All societies, Colin argued, are pluralistic. They solve problems, meet needs, using a variety of mechanisms. They use commercial, market-based techniques. They use authority and directive and bureaucratic techniques. And they also use techniques of mutuality: techniques of mutual aid and cooperative self-help.

'Anarchy', for Colin, is simply any social space in which the techniques of mutuality predominate. It is a social space which people enter (and leave) freely; relate as equals; and do something creative, to solve a problem, meet a need, or just enjoy creativity for its own sake. And the aim of anarchism is to try to push and shove society in the direction of greater anarchy in this sense.

Thus, Colin emphasised that anarchy is, in fact, already very much part of our social world. Anarchy is there in the meeting of a 12-step group, whose members grapple together with a shared problem of addiction. It is there in the adventure playground, the Friendly Society, the RNLI, and in thousands upon thousands of other free, egalitarian and cooperative social spaces. And his propaganda - not a word he was ashamed of - was frequently aimed at showing how some outstanding social problem could be better addressed by techniques of free, cooperative self-help.

In one respect, this made Colin a formidible and dedicated opponent of what is often understood as the Fabian tradition. This comes across very clearly in his work on housing where he was always highly critical of state-heavy efforts, led by middle-class housing professionals, to provide housing for the working-classes. In this context, he argued for the alternative left tradition of cooperative self-help in the form of tenant cooperatives, self-build projects and squatting. He pointed repeatedly to the illogicality of local governments - often Labour-controlled - who would rather destroy unused council housing stock than allow it to be occupied by squatters. As a recent report at OurKingdom shows, this illogic remains very much with us today.

On the other hand, there are at least two senses in which Colin's anarchism had a certain Fabian quality. First, he was strongly opposed to anarchist perfectionism, the view that anarchy should be 'all or nothing at all'. His conception of anarchy and anarchism enabled him to present anarchy not as 'all or nothing' but in terms of 'more or less'. This opened up a more incrementalist take on anarchy and anarchism.

Second, Colin was always deeply interested, and concerned to ground his own work, in empirical social science. The availability of anarchist techniques for tackling social problems was, for Colin, a working hypothesis. But it could not be just asserted as a dogma. It had to be tested by looking to, and doing, relevant research.

His own research gradually took on an increasingly historical character as he sought to document and explore the way ordinary people have made 'unofficial' uses of their environment. As well as a history of squatting, he co-wrote a wonderful social history of that great social institution - at once anarchistic and social democratic - the allotment. Perhaps his most influential, widely-read book is The Child in the City, which lovingly explores the way children make their own creative uses of the urban environments they are confronted with. (I have a particular fondness for this book because the original photography by Ann Golzen for the Penguin edition was done in the mid-1970s, and consequently takes me right back to my own childhood, shaping little worlds of my own in the nooks and crannies of Bedworth's Miners' Welfare Park and its environs.)

Colin really stood at the confluence of two traditions (as did the post-war Freedom group more generally). On the one hand, he was of course shaped profoundly by the theoretical tradition of anarchism. He knew his anarchist classics - especially Kropotkin's Fields, Factories and Workshops - and he drew on them. On the other, Colin was also animated by the diffuse traditions of working-class and popular self-help - resolutely practical traditions concerned to get things done, to make the world better in some simple but important and measurable way, and which have little time for theoretical niceties. He sought to bring the traditions into dialogue, for their mutual benefit.

The idea of mutualism has undergone a revival of late, on left and right. Some in Labour claim it as a key theme for the future. Red Toryism also seeks to occupy some of this terrain. All those interested in this topic, who want to understand what mutualism really entails, would do well to engage with Colin's work. Not least, as an anarchist, Colin reminds us that if we want mutualism we don't have to wait for benign politicians to legislate it. In certain respects, we can enact it now just by (in the words of Colin's hero, Gustav Landauer) 'contracting other relationships'.

It is now almost fifty years since Colin first wrote about prospects for the mutualization of state welfare provision in the pages of Anarchy. And I am sure there is still a huge amount for us to learn from the work of this remarkable man.

Colin is survived by his wife, Harriet, and I am sure all readers of Next Left would wish to join me in expressing condolencies and in wishing her, and Colin's and Harriet's children and grandchildren, the very best wishes at this time.

Of all Colin Ward's work I found Anarchism as a Theory of Organization and Anarchy in Action well worth a read.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Money Illusion.

U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion

(From The Onion February 16, 2010 | Issue 46•07)

WASHINGTON—The U.S. economy ceased to function this week after unexpected existential remarks by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke shocked Americans into realizing that money is, in fact, just a meaningless and intangible social construct.

What began as a routine report before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday ended with Bernanke passionately disavowing the entire concept of currency, and negating in an instant the very foundation of the world's largest economy.

"Though raising interest rates is unlikely at the moment, the Fed will of course act appropriately if we…if we…" said Bernanke, who then paused for a moment, looked down at his prepared statement, and shook his head in utter disbelief. "You know what? It doesn't matter. None of this—this so-called 'money'—really matters at all."

"It's just an illusion," a wide-eyed Bernanke added as he removed bills from his wallet and slowly spread them out before him. "Just look at it: Meaningless pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. Worthless."

According to witnesses, Finance Committee members sat in thunderstruck silence for several moments until Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) finally shouted out, "Oh my God, he's right. It's all a mirage. All of it—the money, our whole economy—it's all a lie!"

Screams then filled the Senate Chamber as lawmakers and members of the press ran for the exits, leaving in their wake aisles littered with the remains of torn currency.

As news of the nation's collectively held delusion spread, the economy ground to a halt, with dumbfounded citizens everywhere walking out on their jobs as they contemplated the little green drawings of buildings and dead white men they once used to measure their adequacy and importance as human beings.

At the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday morning's opening bell echoed across a silent floor as the few traders who arrived for work out of habit looked up blankly at the meaningless scrolling numbers on the flashing screens above.

"I've spent 25 years in this room yelling 'Buy, buy! Sell, sell!' and for what?" longtime trader Michael Palermo said. "All I've done is move arbitrary designations of wealth from one column to another, wasting my life chasing this unattainable hallucination of wealth."

"What a cruel cosmic joke," he added. "I'm going home to hug my daughter."

Sources at the White House said President Obama was "still trying to get his head around all this" and was in seclusion with his coin collection, muttering "it's just metal, it's just metal" over and over again.

"The president will be making a statement very soon," press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. "At the moment, though, his mind is just too blown to comment."

A few U.S. banks have remained open, though most teller windows are unmanned due to a lack of interest in transactions involving mere scraps of paper or, worse, decimal points and computer data signifying mere scraps of paper. At a Bank of America branch in Spokane, WA, curious former customers wandered aimlessly through a large empty vault, while several would-be robbers of a Chase bank in Columbus, OH reportedly put their guns down and exited the building hand in hand with security guards, laughing over the inherent absurdity of the idea of $100 bills.

Likewise, the real estate industry has all but vanished, with mortgage lenders seeing no reason to stop people from reclaiming their foreclosed-upon homes.

"I don't even know what we were thinking in the first place," said former banker Nathan Collins of Brandon, MS, as he jimmyed open a door to allow a single mother and her five children to move back into their house. "A bunch of people sign a bunch of papers, and now this family has no place to live? That's just plain ludicrous."

The realization that money is nothing more than an elaborate head game seems to have penetrated the entire country: In Wilmington, DE, for instance, a collection agent reportedly broke down in joyful sobs when he informed a woman on the other end of the phone that he had absolutely no reason to harass her anymore, as her Discover Card debt was no longer comprehensible.

For some Americans, the fog of disbelief surrounding the nation's epiphany has begun to lift, with many building new lives free from the illusion of money.

"It's back to basics for me," Bernard Polk of Waverly, OH said. "I'm going to till the soil for my own sustenance and get anything else I need by bartering. If I want milk, I'll pay for it in tomatoes. If need a new hoe, I'll pay for it in lettuce."

When asked, hypothetically, how he would pay for complicated life-saving surgery for a loved one, Polk seemed uncertain.

"That's a lot of vegetables, isn't it?" he said.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"The Clangers : Treasure" by Oliver Postgate

"After all, what would clangers do with real money? You can't eat it, can you?"

In this episode Tiny Clanger goes fishing in the music boat and lands a bag of gold coins. This brilliant film exposes the clangers' complete ignorance of Hayek's and von Mises' economic calculation argument. Will their social system survive the resultant upheaval?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Seduced by an agent of the US National Security Agency by sex, money and power John Perkins became an economic hit man. In an interview of two parts John reveals the fascinating story of his involvement in profit-driven economic strong-arm tactics in countries across the globe and the part he played in building the "American Empire":

Part 1

Part 2

Thanks to Z3 from world socialist movement forum for the link.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Capitalism And Other Kids Stuff

This is a thought-provoking education into the world we live in, it explains how the world's economic system operates in terms of a crazy and very unfair game that children are playing, and so it captures the imagination of its viewers. A fantastic movie to help understand the politics and economics of our global society, with an aim to establishing an alternative society based on meeting needs, on cooperation rather than competition, and on democratic forms of decision-making intead of top-down hierarchies. This is a movie on the forefront of those who wish to save this planet from worsening global warming, incessant wars, and either widespread physical poverty or profound feelings of spiritual poverty despite our rapacious consumerism. Its alternative is a very realizable future ready for the taking, not a hodge-podge dream.

Here it is then in five bite-size chunks:

V-Radio (Zeitgeist Movement) Interview The Man From "Socialism Or Your Money Back"

Paddy Shannon (one of those behind "Capitalism and Other Kids Stuff") talks to the Zeitgeist Movement's V-Radio about the today's profit-driven system, a post-scarcity, moneyless future and how to get from here to there.

The Love Police - Everything is ok

Who would have thought that exercising your right to free speech could cause such a stir?
Entertaining. Thought provoking. At just over ten minutes it's well worth a view.

Thanks to Robbo203 at WorldinCommon for the link

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Abolition of Work by Bob Black

No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost all the evil you'd care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn't mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic revolution. By "play" I mean also festivity, creativity, conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child's play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn't passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us [will] want [to] act. Oblomovism and Stakhanovism are two sides of same debased coin.

The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality. So much the worse for "reality," the gravity hole that sucks the vitality from the little in life that still distinguishes it from mere survival. Curiously—maybe not—all the old ideologies are conservative because they believe in work. Some of them, like Marxism and most brands of anarchism, believe in work all the more fiercely because they believe in so little else.

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx's wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists—except that I'm not kidding—I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work—and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs—they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They'll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don't care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.

You may be wondering if I'm joking or serious. I'm joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn't have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn't triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I'd like life to be a game - but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

The alternative to work isn't just idleness. To be ludic is not to be quaaludic. As much as I treasure the pleasure of torpor, it's never more rewarding than when it punctuates other pleasures and pastimes. Nor am I promoting the managed time-disciplined safety-valve called "leisure"; far from it. Leisure is non-work for the sake of work. Leisure is the time spent recovering from work, and in the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work many people return from vacations so beat that they look forward to returning to work so they can rest up. The main difference between work and leisure is that at work at least you get paid for your alienation and enervation.

I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimun definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it's done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or "communist," work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.

Usually—and this is even more true in "communist" than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee—work is employment, i.e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or Nicaragua or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions—Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey—temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.

But modern work has worse implications. People don't just work, they have "jobs." One person does one productive task all the time on an or-else basis. Even if the task has a quantum of intrinsic interest (as increasingly many jobs don't) the monotony of its obligatory exclusivity drains its ludic potential. A "job" that might engage the energies of some people, for a reasonably limited time, for the fun of it, is just a burden on those who have to do it for forty hours a week with no say in how it should be done, for the profit of owners who contribute nothing to the project, and with no opportunity for sharing tasks or spreading the work among those who actually have to do it. This is the real world of work: a world of bureaucratic blundering, of sexual harassment and discrimination, of bonehead bosses exploiting and scapegoating their subordinates who—by any rational-technical criteria - should be calling the shots. But capitalism in the real world subordinates the rational maximization of productivity and profit to the exigencies of organizational control.

The degradation which most workers experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as "discipline." Foucault has complexified this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace—surveillance, rotework, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching-in and -out, etc. Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic tators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions they just didn't have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity.

Such is "work." Play is just the opposite. Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it's forced. This is axiomatic. Bernie de Koven has defined play as the "suspension of consequences." This is unacceptable if it implies that play is inconsequential. The point is not that play is without consequences. Playing and giving are closely related, they are the behavioral and transactional facets of the same impulse, the play-instinct. They share an aristocratic disdain for results. The player gets something out of playing; that's why he plays. But the core reward is the experience of the activity itself (whatever it is). Some otherwise attentive students of play, like Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens) define it as game-playing or following rules. I respect Huizinga's erudition but emphatically reject his constraints. There are many good games (chess, baseball, Monopoly, bridge) which are rule-govemed but there is much more to play than game-playing. Conversation, sex, dancing, travel—these practices aren't rule-governed but they are surely play if anything is. And rules can be played with at least as readily as anything else.

Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren't free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to the higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.

And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other's control techniques. A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors; he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called "insubordination," just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. Without necessarily endorsing it for them either, it is noteworthy that children at home and in school receive much the same treatment, justified in their case by their supposed immaturity. What does this say about their parents and teachers who work?

The demeaning system of domination I've described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it's not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or—better still—industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are "free" is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they'll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in everything. They're used to it.

If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.

No one should ever work.

Workers of the world. . . relax!

I've only reproduced about one third of The Abolition of Work. You can read the whole piece on Money-Free It's well worth a look.