It’s People

No, this is not some riff on Soylent Green. At the end of each year, like Janus, I tend to reflect to then look ahead to the next year. My interest at this juncture is anarchism. This is not a new interest. As I’ve written, I consider myself to be an anarcho-syndicalist or anarcho-communist, save for a few fundamental problems, each of which might just distil down to the same root cause.

My issue with syndicalism is that it centres on the worker. And whilst some workers remain relevant and pivotal to the system, it seems that workers may become less and less critical in the operation of the economy and of the society at large. As I work in a place where I can witness the immaturity and incompetency that sees this further in the future than some, I can still interpolate some speculative future where the vast majority of humans are no longer necessary cogs in the machine. This obviates anarcho-syndicalism in favour of anarcho-socialism.

Whilst anarcho-syndicalism centres on the worker, anarcho-communism is focused on the person without regard to their state of employment. This sounds even more equitable. So what’s my problem? It’s people.

These days, many people whitter on about democracy. Many are disappointed by republican apparatus and seek something closer to direct democracy. This is not the exclusive flavours we’ve witnessed in history—where the landed gentry get a vote. It’s a full-on participative democratic free-for-all—save for children and animals and non-sentient beings, it goes without saying.

The core problem is the same, whether archy or anarchy: people are the weak link. Arguments have been made that bringing decisions close to the source of the problem yields a better solution, if one defines better are more equitable, but this doesn’t translate into something universally or categorically better outside of this particular dimension. If equity is your sole goal—and I’m neither sure that it’s the right goal to optimise nor a particularly interesting goal in the first place, as it feels that this is merely a local solution to a global challenge; so equitably distributing deck chairs on the sinking titanic or sharing the wealth as the climate tips well beyond any hope of recovery.

Moreover, if each social unit—however that’s defined—is sovereign and autonomous, then this might operate OK on an intrasocial level, but how are intersocial conflicts resolved? What if a predacious 100-count society encounters a 50-count society over access to some local finite resource? It seems that numbers will prevail—the tyranny of the majority.

The other challenge I have with democracy and anarchy is that political interests will coalesce and power systems will emerge. To prevent such eventualities could be considered fascistic or authoritarian, so how is this resolved. Returning to the 100- versus 50-count societies, what if the 100-count wished to install a leader, so they vote for their leader to rule over the 150? This seems all but an inevitability.

I don’t have an answer. And though I am familiar with governmental and societal structures as well as with anarchy, I’ve not seen this addressed beyond hopes and wishes, attempting to move an ought to an is.

What wrong with anarcho-syndicalism?

What’s an anarcho-syndicalist supposed to do in the advent of artificial intelligence, process automation, and robots?

Wikipedia relates anarcho-Syndicalism as follows:

Anarcho-syndicalism (also referred to as revolutionary syndicalism)[1] is a theory of anarchism that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are solidaritydirect action (action undertaken without the intervention of third parties such as politicians, bureaucrats and arbitrators) and direct democracy, or workers’ self-management. The end goal of syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory therefore generally focuses on the labour movement.[2]

Anarcho-syndicalists view the primary purpose of the state as being the defense of private property, and therefore of economic, social and political privilege, denying most of its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy that springs from it.[3] Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism is centred on the idea that power corrupts and that any hierarchy that cannot be ethically justified must either be dismantled or replaced by decentralized egalitarian control.[3]

As a matter of preference, I’ve leaned toward anarcho-syndicalism. I don’t have a lot of faith in humans or humanity to govern or self-govern. The arguments for this, whether monarchies, democracies, plutocracies, or even anarchies are each rife with its own sets of problems. Still, I favour a system where there is no class of governors, though I am more of a fan of Proudhon over Marx.

Mind you, I don’t think humans make very good judgements and are as bad in groups as individuals but for different reasons—and especially where complexity or too many choices are available. That we’ve survived this long is, quite frankly, a miracle.

This said, it isn’t my problem. My contention is with the syndicalist aspect. If all of this human as worker displacement occurs as some are forecasting, there will be precious few workers. I am not saying that this is inevitable or will ever happen. My concern is merely conditional. If this were to happen, the idea of a worker-centric system is daft.

Do we just defer to people categorically, where we arrive at simple anarchism? Without delving, there are different flavours of, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to debate, for example, the merits of anarco-capitalism (an oxymoron if there ever was one) versus anarcho-communism or anarcho-transhumanism for that matter.

Although, I like how Kant identified four kinds of government…

  • Law and freedom without force (anarchy)
  • Law and force without freedom (despotism)
  • Force without freedom and law (barbarism)
  • Force with freedom and law (republic)

…the whole notion of freedom is another weasel word, and laws without force are unenforceable—pun intended. At least the syndicalism felt like it was intentional or purposeful. I understand why Plato despised the rabble, but as with the sorites paradox in the heap-hill distinction, where to the rabble distil down to something meaningful?