Radio Anarchy - Audio Anarchy

The original broadcasts by the anarchist group Audio Anarchy on a range of topics from the history or property to criticism of technology and democracy and hitchhiking across the USA.

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Audio Anarchy Radio is an offshoot of the Audio Anarchy project. In addition to audio books, we wanted a place where we could also produce our own content in a more dynamic way. And this is it.
These broadcasts should come more frequently, and can also be heard on Pirate Cat Radio (87.9 FM) in San Francisco on Monday nights from 6pm - 7pm.

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A Hitchhikers Audio Tour of the United States

"Ever since I caught my first ride, hitchhiking has been a love of mine. Although I believe in the strength of community, sometimes it can also act as a cultural sink-hole. Since community is almost always based on similar interest, I sometimes find myself drowning in a chorus of predictably similar thoughts. As an escape from that life growing stale, hitchhiking is a great way to brighten my eyes." A Hitchhiker's Audio Tour Of The United States is a hitchhiker's story, complete with the recorded thoughts, theories, and life philosophies of everyone he met along the way.

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An Introduction to a Critique of Technology

In this piece, Javier Francisco talks about technology and some of its implications. He moves beyond questions of whether technologies shape social institutions or social institutions shape technologies, to explore the ways in which they are intimately tied together. This is done by looking at perspectives about technology throughout history, examining several myths about technology today, and exploring the ways that technology affects our social relationships.


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Hello, this is Audio Anarchy Radio, we’re starting off with a series that introduces a few different concepts from anarchist perspectives. And today we’re going to be talking about technology. The idea isn’t to give you a line about what is right and what is wrong, but to explore some of the aspects and critiques of technology that might not be regularly discussed. We have Javier here, who is going to talk over some of the things that he has been thinking about.

So, Javier, let me start by asking how you define technology. “Well a dictionary definition of technology is the general term for processes that which human beings fashion tools and machines to increase their control and understanding of the material environment. The term comes from the Greek words techne which refers to an art or craft and lochia meaning an area of study. So it means the study or science of crafting. For me I use it to refer to all the tools and machines that humans use to shape, modify, or understand their environment.”

And do you make a distinction between certain types of technologies, or consider technology to be socially neutral?

“Well I think each technology, each tool, or each machine should be considered separately. I think each individual technology has different social consequences, that I definitely don’t think they should be considered neutral for society. But I also don’t make too many distinctions or aggrupation’s in like, oh good technology, bad technology or things like that. I just think that we should take into consideration each technology individually, notice what characteristics it has, and how it shapes the social institutions and deal with those questions. “

And what do you think some of the most prevalent popular or interesting analyses of technology have been throughout history?

“yeah well, the one that comes to mind first of all is Marx. He uses the term `means of production` vaguely to what I would refer to as technology. And it’s a very central concern for him, however his analysis of the way in which technology affects social institutions is limited to who controls the technologies, or the means of production. And he does a class analysis based on this where the bourgeoisie control the technology or means of production then you have a class society. If the Proletariat controls the means of productions there will be a classless society. Stuff like that, I think that Marxists -most Marxists- follow this analysis, I also think a lot of other people do. Anarcho-syndicalists are very influenced by this kind of thought, but others have been a lot more sceptical about this kind of simplistic view of technology. There’s been for example the appropriate technology movement, and more drastically the anarcho-primitivists, definitely think that there’s a lot more to technologies than just who controls it.”

And what do you think are popular perceptions or critiques of technology today?

“Ok, well I think today, some environmentalists do have certain critiques of technology which is you know they question technologies themselves and who controls it. Their critique or analysis is based purely on environmental aspects and not social that much and those I think in general today people take technology kind of for granted. And they refuse to question it because they think it’s kind of like a natural thing for humans to have. Theirs I think a couple of myths that really kind of inhibit our analysis of technology. For example I would say the myth of progress is a very basic myth, well it basically states that humans have never lived in a better situation than today. And that throughout history continually progressing towards a better state, things are pretty much getting better. It also demonstrates that progress is inevitable and we can never go back because of where we try to do something like that and we will eventually advance again, back to the way we are now. This myth is really annoying to me because it kind of served the purpose of justifying our current institutions and makes it kind of impossible to criticise technology or a lot of other things that are considered progressive. I can’t say there isn’t some truth to that, but whether progress has made things better or not is just a matter of personal preference. I think of an important thing to point out though is that humanity did not get to its present state of technological or social development by a process of you know continual progress. It was not a process of like consensus, democracy or any other kind of libertarian philosophy or any you know practice that really respected individual freedom. I mean a great amount of cultures were forced to accept specific kinds of agriculture. You know through imperialism they were forced to for example massively harvest coffee or other products for Europeans. And even some cultures were forced to take on agriculture when they were hunter-gatherers. Other than in the Industrial revolution people were taken off their lands and in a lot of cases chained to machines in order to have the industrial revolution really work. So these things that are usually seen as advancements were not so much a product of human ingenuity but in a lot of ways a product of tyranny and oppression. To say that humans naturally developed industrialism and that we can never, that we would always inevitably develop it again if we go back, if we abolish industrialism is to say that authoritarian institutions are a part of our nature, I think.

Another myth that a lot of people take it as truth is that progress and technological progress has a consequence that we have more leisure. Most anthropologists agree that almost every society that has less advanced technology has more leisure time. So even hunting and gathering provides for more leisure time than farming. However its easy to see why some people think that more or more advanced technology leads to more leisure. I mean a superficial analysis would conclude that you know pushing a button is easier than doing manual labour. The problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t take two things into consideration; what goes into building the machine that allows for you to just push the button so the machine does the work for you. For example its less intensive, less labour intensive to drive a car than to walk, but if you take into consideration the labour involved in manufacturing the car from extracting the raw materials, extracting the oil for it to run, to run the factories that build it, extracting the metals to build the car, rubber to build the tires etc, you know that’s a lot more labour intensive than just walking. The thing is that traditionally I think the distribution of leisure and labour has you know favoured the ruling classes. It hasn’t really been distributed equally. Some people have to do a lot of labour and pretty much finance the leisure of the ruling class. That’s why some people have to work really hard and don’t have any cars and some people just go to an office building and have the most luxurious cars. So you know that way you can see that it doesn’t provide for more leisure to have more technology, at least not necessarily.”

And so, what are some of your thoughts about technology and how it affects the environment today?

“Well definitely I think this is perhaps the most, or these are the most obvious consequences and people you know talk about it continually how cars pollute and stuff like that. I think its useful however to try to find some general characteristics of technologies that tend to intensify the environmental impact. I’ll try to mention a few that I think are not as commonly discussed. One of them, one of these general observations, I would say that technologies that are labour intensive are usually more or have a bigger impact on the environment. This is because changing the environment is something that requires labour, so the greater impact usually is because there’s more labour involved and required to do it. Also centralisation is something that generally increases environmental impact, and this is because it concentrates the impact in a small area, making it harder for natural mechanisms to repair the damage. I mean most environmentalists are aware of this. The environment can modify itself to make impact not as damaging if its done in a scattered way and not concentrated in one place. Also technologies that require homogeneous persistent human activity increases the impact because they make it harder for nature to slowly adapt, so I mean for example assembly lines come to mind where you know what is done is continually done it’s like massively done, and this doesn’t allow for the environment to adapt to allow to small changes.

So, an important thing to notice about all these implications is that these kinds of activities and technologies are almost exclusively found in authoritarian societies. You know the observations that I made that recognises that are labour intensive, centralised and homogenised human activity. You know people when they are free from many authoritarian institutions they tend to preform tasks that involve the least amount of labour to achieve, they make decisions in a pretty sporadic manner, and decentralise and also they like usually to engage in a variety of diverse activities. There’s only one coherens where people engage in dangerous and unpleasant labour intensive activities like mining, these activities are the ones that have such a great environmental impact. So I think realising this, leads to a very different approach to a problem of environmental destruction than the one I think most people argue for right now. I think most people now argue for more centralised control, you know the government regulating factories, regulating emissions, you know more rules or you know everything that we do because we can’t seem to manage ourselves without causing environmental problems. But this analysis actually states kind of to the contrary; it states that humans when free of authoritarian institutions produced the least amount of environmental impact.

So I think, I mean as an Anarchist I think this is the analysis that you know that’s more useful, from my perspective. Yeah, another useful thing to notice is that advanced technologies tend to have a high environmental impact. What I mean by this is that when I use the term advanced technology I mean that technology that depends on previous technologies to function, so therefore its total impact becomes not only the impact that the specific technology has but the added impact of all the technologies that are required for the specific technology. You know like the examples are I think pretty easy to see like you know electrical appliances need energy supply or power supply and so the power supply has I mean you know like maybe a little electrical appliance doesn’t have that much environmental impact but the whole electrical infrastructure that is needed to power it does. And you know different technologies like that, I think what this analysis leads to is that it doesn’t make much sense to make more advanced technology that is supposedly going to be more environmentally friendly.”

So, what are some of your thoughts about the social implications about technology throughout history and today?

“Okay, and this I think is something that is not usually talked about, so I think its important to consider. Okay, so technology claims to provide society with the tools to achieve its goals. Society however is not like a monolithic entity formed of homogeneous individuals with identical goals. Different individuals in society have different goals and the technologies used will inevitably provide society with the tools to achieve the goals of some and not all members. And it also, I mean also technologies not spread like equally amongst all members of society. It will provide some members of society something while maybe refusing something else to others. So, taking this in mind that considers some of the implications of technology in society. First of all, organisation, different technologies require for their application different social settings, in terms of centralisation or spreading social activity, technologies can have several implications. If a technology requires for its use many individuals, social activity is centralised around the technology. If the technology allows for only one or a small number of individuals it promotes decentralisation. So centralisation implies that a form of decision making where a single consensus has to be reached by the group, not allowing for individuals to reach different decisions and be autonomous. In big groups this phenomenon usually leads to representation or other forms of mediation for the individual to make his or her decisions. So there are you know an individuals ability to make their decision is taken further and further away from them. To put an example, a factory can be well it can be owned by a single boss that has authority over many individuals who work there, or it can be cooperatively owned by the workers. In any case each individual will have to adapt his or her schedule to the factories, they will have to preform the job that the factory assigns and they will have to receive from their work what the factory decides. They will have to produce what the factory decides when it decides and how it decides. Obviously cooperative ownership offers the individual worker more of a say in the decisions of the factory than the owner model, but the individuals will never be able to reach a decision that’s different from the one assigned by the factory. The individual is alienated from the decision-making process, in the case of the capitalist process the alienation is pretty complete, like you don’t have absolutely any input into the decision making; in the case of the worker run factory this alienation is mediated by a process that can be you know in different ways it can range from consensus to some kind of representative democracy. Or you know the level of let’s say authoritarianism that you can have is can vary, but autonomous decision making is pretty impossible in the context of a factory. Whereas other technologies allow for individuals to make their own decisions.

Okay another interesting aspect is the distribution of technology. Proportionately to the energy and labour required for its production technology becomes a scarcity. The more labour is used to produce a machine the less the number of machines society can produce. In class societies this usually implies that the members of the ruling class have access to the technology and the others don’t. This causes a widening in the power gap between the classes, the ruling classes are provided with more tools to control their environment and society and the rest loses control in the same measure.

Another aspect is the shaping of human resources. It’s obvious that technology has a profound impact on the educational system of a society, you know whether the goal of the educational system is to modify the individual so that he can better serve society. Or just to provide him and her with the knowledge and skills needed to preform the social roles, to provide for themselves, it would always take into consideration that society uses. If the technology is very complex and complicated the educational process will be long. If the technology requires monotonous centrally organised work, skills like discipline and obedience will be encouraged in the educational process. A point may be reached where the society needs for its survival to produce a certain kind of individual, this will very likely tend to make its educational institutions coercive rather than voluntary.

Another point is specialisation. Certain technologies demand that the division of labour in society that tend to produce specialisations. This means that certain individuals are required preform a socioeconomic role and others are obliged to preform these tasks through this class of specialised individuals. So individuals cannot perform or individuals that are not specialists cannot preform these tasks by themselves. Our current society has many examples; individuals need lawyers to legally defend themselves, cops to physically protect themselves, media to be aware of things that influence our lives, architects to build houses etc. It is important to know how specialisation is not simply an individual having an extraordinary ability, it is the assigning of an individual or individuals to perform a social role and excluding others from performing it. To put an example of a specialist which is I think a useful example and perhaps the oldest example is the priest. In certain societies it is assumed that the only person or class of persons that can communicate with the deities is a priest. Other individuals are forced to perform only through the priests. In this way the class of priests effectively control the spiritual aspect of the society, and often this is used to also control other aspects like the moral standards and other taboos and customs of the society. So that obviously has like enormous power of consequences on the power relationships of the society. There’s different ways in which specialised roles are imposed or assigned for some you know to perform certain things you need a diploma, a certificate or some kind of authorisation from an appropriate authority to perform it. Technology works in a different way to assign these roles increasing in complexity, technologies become impossible to be wholly understood by an individual and individuals have to specialise in a particular aspect of the technology and depend on others to specialise in the rest and you know when this happens everybody loses their autonomy and their ability to perform jobs by themselves.

Another important consequence- social consequence of technology is the creation of environments. Every technology as we have said before is essentially a modification of the environment, from an environmental point of view the implications you know have obvious consequences, but its also very relevant from a social point of view. Some relevant questions are you know who gets to modify the environment for others or whose environment do they modify? And how do these modifications impact the lives of the individuals who live there? To me the issue of empowering versus disempowering environments is noteworthy. Certain environments provide each individual with the means for his or her subsistence in a quite egalitarian way. If each individual is able to access the resources they need to survive in an autonomous way then this is an empowering environment. But other environments do quite the opposite, for example modern urban environments pretty much eliminate all of the resources from our environment and the ability to access the resources that we need to survive is pretty much denied. So you know the modern urban environment pretty much puts the resources in the hands of the few people and then all the rest of the people has to acquire these resources through monetary exchanges. The individual is forced to participate in socioeconomic and political institutions set before her to be able to have access to the resources needed to survive. With the impossibility of directly accessing resources one has to acquire money which is the modern socially imposed means to access resources in order to survive. And then those who control the money; have most of it, effectively control both resources and the individuals who want access to those resources. In Ivanovitch’s words “modernised poverty deprives those affected by it of their freedom and power to act autonomously, to live creatively. It confines them to a survival through being plugged into market relations, the opportunity to experience political and social satisfaction outside the market is thus destroyed. I am poor for instance, when the use value of my feet is lost because I live in Los Angeles or live in the 35th floor .”

Mediation and autonomy. Direct action is a commonly used word in radical circles, it is usually considered an anarchist value. The reasoning goes that if to achieve our goals we must go through others then we’re not in direct control of our lives, we’re not in direct control of the consequences of our actions. And so mediated action is the opposite of direct action, autonomy increases as mediation decreases. Technology is always a medium through which we interact with our environment, a medium through which we accomplish our goals and access our resources. So the same reasoning applies here, to increase autonomy we must decrease mediation. This is especially true when technology also implies a social mediation, when the technologies we use and the technology we need to preform our activities are controlled by others. Then our actions are not only mediated by material objects but they’re also mediated by social institutions, which we might not like and which in effect can become quite controlling of our actions.

So as a conclusion I would say that the implications of technology has, goes well beyond its stated purposes. By this I mean that you know like if a technology says that it will just transport people like cars for example, well yes the consequences are that it transports cars but also that we need streets, that it also implies that not everybody’s going to have access to cars because they are very labour intensive and so therefore a class of people can own cars will exist and one that doesn’t have access to cars is etc. an important thing to note is that all the implications that I found are inherent in the technology itself and do not depend on who controls or uses the technology. Only by being aware of all the implications the technologies have will we be able to make those decisions that will help us to achieve the society we desire".

That’s it for todays introduction to a critique of technology. Check out Audio Anarchy on the web

An Introduction to Anarchist Thoughts on Property

This piece explores some historical thoughts on the origin and nature of private property. By examining the texts of John Locke, PJ Proudhon, and Peter Kropotkin, we encounter questions of where private property came from, how it became an accepted standard, and what its philosophical justifications are. All of these historical thoughts echo loudly into the world of today.

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Hello this is Audio Anarchy Radio, continuing with our series that introduces various concepts from anarchist perspectives. Today we are going to be talking about property. When speaking of property a good place to begin is with John Locke the 17th century English philosopher.

John Locke

Locke was one of the first political philosophers to think about the nature of property. He struggled with the concept of private property, given that he believed God gave the earth to mankind, not certain individuals. In his words quote

“God gave the world to man in common but since he gave it to them for their benefit, and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it. It cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational and labour was to be his title to it, not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious he that had his good left for his improvement as was already taken up needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another’s labour. If he did, it is plain he desired the benefit of another’s pains which he had no right to. And not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labour on and whereof there was as good left as that already possessed and more than he know what to do with or his industry could reach to”

, end quote.

So it is not the land that God has given us than an individual as laying claim to, but rather the product of an individual’s labour. By claiming property we are claiming individual entitlement to the product of the work that we do, not the common gift of God. By his logic a ploughed field has value because of the labour that one invested in ploughing it and that is why one would claim it as his or her own.

Locke makes it clear that this is based on the assumption that there is always quote “good left” in his words quote

“nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land by improving it any prejudice to any other man since there was still enough and as good left and more than the yet unprovided could use, so that in effect there was nevertheless left for others because of his enclosure for himself. For he that leaves as much as another can make use of does as good as take nothing at all. Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draw, who had a whole river of the same water left to quench his thirst. And the case of land and water where there is enough is perfectly the same.”

End quote.

He continues to add that the process of enclosure actually helps to preserve the state of abundance. He claims that a man can live on ten acres of cultivated land where he most likely require a hundred acres of uncultivated land in order to maintain the same level of sustenance. Hence when one encloses ten acres of common land, one is not taking ten acres but giving ninety. Of course at this point we’re only talking about the means that one uses to sustain oneself. In his words quote,

“Before the appropriation of land he gathered as much of the wild fruit, killed, caught or tamed as many of the beasts as he could. He that so employed his pains about any of a spontaneous products of nature as any way to alter them from the state which nature put them in by placing any of his labour on them did they thereby acquire a propriety in them. But if they perished in his possession without their new use, if the fruits rotted, or the venison putrefied before he could spend it, he offended against the common law of nature. And was liable to be punished. He invaded his neighbours share for he had no right farther than his use called for any of them. And they might serve to afford him convivences of life. The same measures covered the possession of land too. Whatsoever he tilde and reaped, laid up and made use of before it spoiled, that was his peculiar right. Whatsoever he enclosed and could feed and make use of; the cattle and product was also his. But if either the grass of his enclosure rotted on the ground or the fruit of his planting perished without gathering and laying up; this part of the earth not standing his enclosure was still to be looked on as waste, and might be the possession of any other.”

End quote.

So did you hear that? This bourgeois thinker who influenced the very foundations of the United States and all subsequent property law, asserts that all those companies who are filling their dumpsters with unsold produce every night, as well as the United States government itself which subsidizes agriculture by buying up surplus grain and letting it rot away in silo’s is stealing from us. Even from Locke’s bourgeois perspective he’s calling us to the barricades right now.

Locke admits that the introduction of money into society changed the shape of property. Using money it becomes possible for one to freeze one’s labour into a durable form represented by precious metals or in the case of today currency. Once this possibility was introduced the potential size of an individual’s enclosure is no longer limited by fruits, vegetables or livestock will rot away in time. Whereas before if I used a thousand acres to grow fruit that would rot away before I could eat it all, I was stealing from the common gift of God. If on the other hand I trade all my surplus fruit for precious metals which are durable and will not rot away I have wasted nothing. Locke imagines a large island where there is an incredible abundance of resources, but nothing that is so scarce or durable that it could be used as a form of money. On this island Locke realises; there would never be any incentive for an individual to use more land than one would require for one’s personal needs. Because there would be no way to crystalize any extra labour preformed into a more durable format. So here Locke is admitting that the emergence of money and trade threw a crimp into his logic on property. But he continues to rationalise his justifications by claiming that since gold and silver have no inherent value beyond what we’ve bestowed on them; all of us have voluntarily consented to this expansion of property by agreeing to accept the value of currency.

In his words quote

“but since gold and silver being little useful to the life of men in proportion to food, raiment, and carriage has its value only from the consent of men. Where labour yet makes the great part the measure it is plain that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having by a tacit and voluntary consent found out a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of; by receiving in exchange for the over plus gold and silver which may be hoarded up without injury to anyone. These metals not spoiling or decaying in the hands of the possessor.”

End quote.
So, this is about as far as Locke can take us.

Pierre Joseph- Proudhon

Pierre Joseph Proudhon, was a nineteenth century thinker who questioned the bourgeois foundations of property. He was the first person to call himself an Anarchist, claiming that anarchy is order. He was referring to what he called the natural order of true unity from below, rather than a false unity brought about by constraint. The phrase Anarchy is order is thought to be the origin of the circle A. He is well know for exclaiming that “property is theft!” and starts his book What is Property? By saying

“If I were asked to answer the following question `what is slavery?` and I should answer it in one word `it is murder` my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality is a power of life and death. And that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why then to this other question `what is property?` may I not likewise answer it is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood? The second proposition being no more than a transformation of the first.”

End quote.

Proudhon’s thoughts on property depend on a distinction between property and possession. For him property is ownership by a landowner or a capitalist that is derived from conquest or exploitation and is maintained through the state property laws and an army. On the other hand possession, is ownership of a home, land to cultivate, our tools of a trade that excludes control over the lands and lives of others. In his words quote

“There are different kinds of property, first property pure and simple; the dominant and senioral power over a thing, or as they term it naked property. Second, possession, the tenant, the farmer, the usufructuary, or possessors. The owner who lets and lends for use, the heir who is to come into possession on the death of an usufructuary or proprietors. If I may venture a comparison, a lover is a possessor, a husband a proprietor. This double definition of property domain and possession is of the highest importance and it must be clearly understood in order to comprehend what is to follow.”

End quote.

Proudhon wonders how property became an accepted natural right when categorised along with natural rights like life and liberty; property doesn’t seem to fit in. Or he sees things like life and liberty as inherent immutable components of humanity, he sees something like property as a specific creation of proprietors. He investigates the basis for property as a natural right, starting with Locke’s justification on the basis of labour. To this he asks, quote

“why is not this principal universal? Why is the benefit of this pretended law confined to a few and denied to the mass of labourers? Why does the tenant no longer acquire through his labour the land which was formerly acquired by the labour of the proprietor? I prove that those that do not possess today are proprietors by the same title as those that do possess. But instead of inferring their form that property should be shared by all, I demand its entire abolition.”

End quote.

In response to a justification of property such as quote

“some labourers are employed in draining marshes and cutting down trees and brushwood in a word and cleaning up the soil they increase the value, they make the amount of property larger, they are paid for the value which they add in the form of food and daily wages. It then becomes the property of the capitalist.”

End quote.

Proudhon responds, quote

“the price is not sufficient, the labour of the workers has created a value, now this value is their property. But they have neither sold nor exchanged it, and you capitalists, you have not earned it. That you should have a partial right to the whole in return for the materials that you have furnished and the provisions that you have supplied is perfectly just. You contribute to the production, you ought to share in the enjoyment; but your right does not annihilate that of the labourers, who in spite of you have been your colleagues in the work of production. Why do you talk of wages? The money with which you pay the wages of the labourers remunerates them for only a few years of the perpetual possession which they have abandoned to you. Wages is the cost of the daily maintenance and refreshment of the labourer, you are wrong in calling it the price of a sale. The working man has sold nothing, he knows neither his right nor the extent of the concession which he has made to you. Nor the meaning of the contract which you pretend to have made with him. On his side utter ignorance, on yours error and surprise, not to say deceit and fraud. In this century of bourgeois morality, in which I have had the honour to be born; the moral sense is so debased that I should not be surprised if I were asked by many a worthy proprietor what I see in this that is unjust and illegitimate. Debased creature, galvanised corpse, how can I expect to convince you if you cannot tell robbery when I show it to you? Under the pretext that he has paid his labourers that he owes them nothing more, that he has nothing to gain by putting himself at the service of others while his own occupations claim his attention he refuses to acknowledge his own justification for property. And when in the impotence of their isolation, these poor labourers are compelled to sell their birth right, he this ungrateful proprietor, this knavish upstart stands ready to put the finishing touch to their deprivation and their ruin. And you think that just? Take care.”

End quote.

Finally in response to Locke’s justifications Proudhon exclaims

“God gave the earth to the human race, why then have I received none? He has put all thins under my feet and I have not were to lay my head. Multiplied he tells us that is as easy as to do as to say. But you must give moss to the bird for its nest.”

End quote.

Proudhon goes on to examine the justifications of property, based on the concept of original occupancy. At this he exclaims “Property was the first of rights, just as submission to authority was the most holy of duties”. When a contemporary of Proudhon attempted to justify property through original occupancy, by claiming quote

“my liberty needs for its objective action material to work upon. In other words, property or a thing, this thing or property naturally participates then in volubility of my person. For instance I take possession of an object that has become necessary and useful in the outward manifestation of my liberty. I say this object is mine since it belongs to no one else, consequently I possess it legitimately. So the legitimacy of possession rests on two conditions; first, I possess only as a free being. Supress free activity, you destroy my power to labour. Now it is only by labour that I can use this property or thing and it is only by using it that I possess. Free activity is then the principle of the right of property but that alone does not legitimate possession. All men are free, all men can use property by labour, does that mean that all men have a right to all property? Not at all. To possess legitimately I must not only labour and produce in my capacity of a free being but I must also be the first to occupy the property, in short if labour and production are the principle of the right of property the fact of first occupancy is its indispensable condition.”

End quote.

To this Proudhon responds

“Well is it not true from this point of view that if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals that if it needs property for its objective action, that is for its life, the appropriation of materials is equally necessary for all. That if I wish to be respected in my right of appropriation I must respect others and theirs, and consequently that though in the sphere of the infinite a person’s power of appropriation is limited only by himself, in the sphere of the finite the same power is limited by the mathematical relation between the numbers of persons and a space which the occupy. Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another, his fellow man from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own no more can he prevent individuals yet to come. Because while individuality passes away universality persists and the eternal laws cannot be determined by a partial view of their manifestations. Must we not conclude therefore that whenever a person is born the others must crowd closer together and by reciprocity of their obligation that if the newcomer is afterwards to become an heir the right of succession does not give him the right of accumulation but only the right of choice. If the right of life is equal the right of labour is equal and so is the right of occupancy. Would it not be criminal were some islanders to repulse in the name of property the unfortunate victims of shipwreck struggling to reach the shore. The very idea of such cruelty sickens the imagination, the proprietor like Robinson Crusoe on his island wards off with pike and musket the proletariat washed overboard by the waves of civilisation and seeking to gain a foothold on the rocks of property. `Give me work!` cries he with all his might to proprietor, `don’t drive me away, I will work for you at any price.` `I do not need your services` replies the proprietor showing the end of his pike or the barrel of his gun. `Lower my rent at least, I need my income to live upon. How can I pay you when I can get no work?` `That is your business` then the unfortunate proletariat abandons himself to the waves or if he attempts to land upon the shore of property the proprietor takes aim and kills him. The right of property provided it can have a cause can have but one. I can possess by several titles, I can become proprietor only by one, the field which I have cleared, which I cultivate, on which I built my house, which supports myself, my family and my livestock, I can possess. First as the original occupant, second as a labourer, third by virtue of the social contract which assigns it to me as my share. But none of these titles confer upon me the right of property, for if I attempt to base it upon occupancy society can reply `I am the original occupant.` If I appeal to my labour it will say `it is only on that condition that you possess.` If I speak of agreements it will respond `these agreements establish only your right of use.` Such however are the only titles which proprietors advance, they never have been able to discover any others. Indeed every supposes a producing cause and the person who enjoys it. But in man who lives and dies in the sun of earth who passes away like a shadow there exists with respect to external things only titles of possession, not one title of property. Why then has society recognised a right injurious to itself? Where there is no producing cause. Why in according possession it has also conceded property? Why has the law sanctioned this abuse of power?”

end quote.

There is of course a major distinction between what Proudhon was advocating and the likes of the state socialists, as he said

“instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all I demand its entire abolition.” Proudhon considered the state socialists of the time to be the worst proprietors, seeing state ownership is the most degenerative case of capitalist exploitation. In his words quote “ I see in it a barrier to liberty, the free disposition of the soil taken away from him who cultivates it and this precious sovereignty forbidden to the citizen and reserved for that fictious being without intelligence, without passion, without morality that we call the state. By this arrangement the occupant has less to do with the soil than before. The clod of earth seems to stand up and say to him `you are only a slave of the taxes, I do not know you`.

End quote.

Proudhon was also opposed to libertarian notions of collectivism, he only favoured association where association was necessary, as the organic combination of forces. Operations that required specialisation and many different workers preforming their individual tasks to complete a unified product required association. This is because the workers would inherently be dependent on each other and without association the workers are related as subordinate and superior, master and wage slave. Proudhon considered this to be free association and did not favour what he called the cult of association which would require everyone to collectivise for the sake of collectivisation. He felt that operations which could be preformed by an individual such as the artisan or peasant without the help of specialised workers did not require association. This is the origin of his saying that “property is freedom” where here he is referring to property as possession.

Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin was one of the first proponents of anarchist communism. He looked at the world of individual autonomy and personal possession that Proudhon had imagined and further questioned its basis. He noted that all of society’s labour was intimately tied together in a myriad of ways and that even apparently isolated groups were not functioning as autonomously as they seemed. He pointed out that even the peasant farmer or isolated artisan was dependent on roads and the bridges made in common. The swamps drained in common toil and the communal pastures enclosed by hedges which were kept and repaired by each and all. If the looms for weaving or the dyes for colouring fabrics were improved all profited. So even in those days a peasant family could not live alone, but was dependent in a thousand ways on the village or the commune.
He continued that in the industrialising world these connections are even more complicated and tightknit. Kropotkin felt that this demonstrated the instruments of labour to be a common inheritance. And that this was in direct contradiction to wages or even collectivist remuneration. He felt that the common instruments of labour must necessarily bring with it the enjoyment in common of the fruits of common labour. He saw enough for everyone and proposed that those currently in control of property were resting on a centuries old foundation of appropriated common labour. He thought that the amount of work necessary to track people’s ongoing labour was less efficient than just having a fully communitarian society where everything was freely available to everyone.

So contrary to Proudhon, Kropotkin did not feel that one was entitled to the product of one’s labour, but rather to whatever one’s needs may be. Kropotkin advocated a gift economy where everything would be available to anyone. He often pointed out that in situations of crisis people regularly banded together to help each other and lend services without thought of remuneration. Often with amazing and beautiful results. He imagined a world where everyone was always united by such a common cause.

In conclusion, there’s a long history of anarchist thought on the nature of property and possession. Proudhon has interesting ideas about property existing both as an act of theft and a liberating force. Kropotkin has interesting ideas about the interconnectedness of it all and of the potentials for a beautiful communitarian world. To me even the writings of Locke are interesting, because at least this bourgeois philosopher was even thinking about the origins and rights of private property. This is a far cry from today’s world where large social questions are no longer discussed. There are no more promises, no more ideas, people are not continuing to work because they have been promised the hope of an eventual better life by and large those living in America today have accepted the conditions and parameters of their lives, and are operating within that framework. The politicians don’t even have to lie about promises of alternatives, the questions they do ask are meaningless because the method is false. If asked for a justification of private property those of the established order would not speak of a basis in equality, liberty or justice, they would simply reply that private property is necessary for capitalism, and that would be sufficient.

Because nobody is imagining anything else.

An Anarchist Critique of Democracy

In this piece, Moxie Marlinspike and Windy Hart present an anarchist critique of Democracy. Their critique extends to democracy in all of its various forms, and covers alienation, the logic of decontextualized decision making, the reduction of ideas to opinions, and the near-universal acceptance of "majority rule." Also included is a discussion of why democracy is so good at reproducing itself, and how that plays out into our lives.


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This recording has a transcript.


We decided to compile this critique of democracy because we recognize an inherent tension between democracy and the freedom of individuals to create their own lives as they see fit. Some of the problems we find with democracy have been acknowledged by defenders of democracy as well, but have only led to the development of amended types of democracies (as various thinkers tried to prune the concept into an acceptable shape). By contrast, our analysis has led us to abandon the concept altogether, because we find some fundamental faults with the idea itself that can not be reconciled by new modifications or reforms. Our critique is of democracy in all its various forms, whether representative or direct. We are not echoing confused cries for more democracy, we are calling for its entire abolition.

In this show, we’ll investigate the concept of alienation and how democracy promotes it. We’ll question the logic of decontextualized decision making, the reduction of ideas to opinions, and the near-universal acceptance of “majority rule.” We’ll also go over a few immanent critiques of democracy involving demagoguery, lobbying, and corruption that are more readily accepted even by defenders of democracy, and then we’ll talk about why democracy is so good at maintaining and reproducing itself.

Definition Of Democracy

To start, we offer a definition of what we are critiquing. Democracy is a theory of government where the law reflects the will of the majority as determined by direct vote or elected representatives. Typically, the legitimacy of a democracy begins with the adoption of a constitution, which establishes the fundamental rules, principles, duties, and powers of the government and some set of rights for individuals against those of the government. The enumeration of rights attempts to protect individuals from the whims of a democratic majority, a concept developed as republicanism during the overthrow of monarchism.


First, alienation. To begin our critique of democracy, we start by talking about the more general anarchist critique of alienation.

Anarchists distinguish themselves by asserting a direct and unobstructed link between thought and action, between desires and their free fulfillment. We reject all societal processes that break that link—such as private property, exchange relations, division of labor, and democracy. We call that broken link alienation.
Passions and desires can only be a delight when they are real and definite forces in our lives. In this condition of alienation, however, they are inevitably muted by the knowledge that the conditions of our existence are not under our control. In this context, dreams are only for dreamers, because our desires are constantly faced with the impossibility of action. In this sinister way, when we lose our connection with the desires and passions that drive us forward, it is impossible to wrest back control of our lives and we are left to linger in a condition of passivity. Even the desire to change the material and societal conditions that function on alienation is met with this passivity and hopelessness, essentially leaving them intact.

Society thus ends up divided into the alienated, whose capacity to create their lives as they see fit has been taken from them, and those in control of these processes, who benefit from this separation by accumulating and controlling alienated energy in order to reproduce the current society and their own role as its rulers. Most of us fall into the former category, while people like landlords, bosses, and politicians compose the latter.
So at heart, we are against democracy because its very existence maintains this division that we’re seeking to abolish. Democracy does nothing but maintain the existence of alienated power, since it requires that our desires be separate from our power to act, and any attempts to engage in that system will only serve to reproduce it. Democracies of any type make decisions via elections, the very essence of which transfers one’s will, thought, autonomy, and freedom to an outside power. It makes no difference whether one transfers that power to an elected representative or to an elusive majority. The point is that it’s no longer your own. Democracy has given it to the majority. You have been alienated from your capacity to determine the conditions of your existence in free cooperation with those around you.

There is an important distinction here. Parties are political in their claim to represent the interests of others. This is a claim to alienated power, because when someone takes power with a claim to represent me, I am separated from my own freedom to act. In this sense, anarchists are anti-political. We are not interested in a different claim to alienated power, in a different leadership, in another form of representation, in a regime change, or in anything that merely shuffles around the makeup of alienated power. Any time someone claims to represent you or to be your liberatory force, that should be a definite red flag. We are anti-political because we are interested in the self-organization of the power of individuals. This tension towards self-organization is completely orthogonal to democracy in any of its various forms.

Decontextualization As A Form Of Alienation

Second, decontextualization. Our critique of alienation is connected to problems with decontextualization, because in democracies, decisions are also alienated from the contexts in which they arise. Democracies require that laws, rules, and decisions be made separate from the circumstances that people find themselves in—thus forcing individuals into predetermined and reactive roles, rather than allowing for free-thinking individuals or groups of individuals to make decisions in various contexts at various times as they see fit.

To organize for a vote, the complexities of an issue, its causes and effects, and its possible resolutions get reduced to yes or no, either or, for or against. The questions are meaningless if the method is false: the process of reducing the issue at hand to that dichotomy isn’t democratic, and how could it be? By a pre-vote vote? That’s tried in some places, like the party primaries in the US or in run-off elections elsewhere, but even then the process functions to narrow the range of choices incrementally, as each round eliminates another candidate or option.


Third, the opinion.

Democracy also demands the singular importance of “opinions.” Voters become spectators in a process where they are presented with opinions to choose from, while in reality those who create the agendas are really in control. We’ve all seen the sloganeering and reductionism that occur when representatives or speakers reduce ideas down to sound-bite opinions to be chosen from.

The reduction of ideas to opinions for selection has a polarizing effect on those involved. When “selection” is the only method available, and there’s nothing to do but choose from ‘A’ or ‘B’, the parties on either side of an issue push themselves apart and strengthen their mutual certainty of “rightness”—rather than acknowledging the complexity of issues, coming together for compromise, or seeking to find a common solution.

Voting strongly resembles the capitalist economic system that always accompanies democracy. There are producers who dictate the agenda, and there are consumers who spend most of their time in the role of spectator—choosing opinions from the marketplace of ideas. These choices also become a competitive game, and every decision will end with “winners” and “losers.” It seems likely that this is part of the polarization that occurs with decision making in democracy—people solidify their positions and argue fiercely in part because their ideas have become contaminated with the desire to be seen as “right” or “winners” even if compromise or mutual agreement could have been possible.


Fourth, majorities. Beyond questions of alienation, the creation of opinions, or the decontextualization of decisions, democracies have other real problems as well.

The concept of the “majority” is particularly troubling. By always accepting the will of the majority, democracy allows for majorities to have an absolute tyranny over everyone else. This means that in the winner-take-all context of democracy, minorities have no influence over decisions that are made. This is even worse than it seems, since the “majority” in any given situation is usually not even the majority of a population, but actually just the largest group of many minorities.

For a stable and consistent minority, this ever-present scenario means that democracies provide no more freedom than that of despotism or dictatorship.

By providing the illusion of participation for everyone, democracy allows majorities to justify their actions, no matter how oppressive. Since democracy makes the claim that everyone can participate in the political process, there is no harm in providing suffrage for groups with minority opinions, since their losing votes will only justify the contrary actions of a majority. Likewise, if individuals choose not to participate in a vote, their actions are still interpreted as a consent of the majority opinion, since they could have voted against it if they’d wanted to. There is no escape.

Also, the one-person-one-vote model of democracy can not account for the strength of individual preference. Two voters who are casually interested in doing something against my dire opposition to it will win.
In this way, majorities offer very little opportunity to break from the status quo. In the words of Enrico Malatesta, a 19th century Italian anarchist: “The fact of having the majority on one’s side does not in any way prove that one must be right. Indeed, humanity has always advanced through the initiative and efforts of individuals and minorities, whereas the majority, by its very nature, is slow, conservative, submissive to superior force and to established privileges.”

Immanent Critiques

Fifth, immanent critiques.

We share a few more widely acknowledged immanent critiques of democracy as well. These include susceptibility of democracies to demagoguery, lobbying, and corruption.
Demagoguery refers to a political strategy of obtaining a desired outcome or power by using rhetoric and propaganda to appeal to the prejudiced and reactionary impulses of the population. All forms of democracy fall prey to demagogues eager to seize any opportunity to advance their own aims by manufacturing consent from the momentary fear, hope, anger, and confusion of the general public.

On top of this, representational democracy has a special vulnerability to lobbying. Special interest groups send extremely well-paid people after elected representatives to persuade, threaten, barter or bribe them into delivering legislation, government funding, or other favors for their group. Because elected officials frequently come from industries, business sectors, religions and the upper class, they thus have many vested interests beyond the will of the people when they take office. Lobbyists can be quite successful in getting what they want.

These are also symptoms of problems that arise when individuals are turned into passive spectators in a decision making process, or when individual involvement in creating one’s own environment is reduced to mere opinion-choosing. Unlike others who have identified problems with demagoguery and lobbying in democracies, we don’t advocate for changes to democracy which would allow us to become better demagogues or lobbyists. Issues like campaign finance reform or subsidized media time are not interesting to us, because in recognizing the tyranny of political manipulation, we do not then seek to change things such that we can make this tyranny our own. Democracy only offers the choice of relieving yourself of oppression by becoming the oppressor—freedom lies in the entire institution’s abolition.

And of course, this whole process is open to out-and-out corruption. In the words of Stalin, “those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”

The Reproduction of Democracy

Democracy is seen as the only legitimate form of expression or decision-making power with very little explanation of how or why that came to be. Humans today live in democracies or in countries under economic and militaristic dominion of democratic countries. Given these two options, it seems reasonable to conclude democracy means freedom and happiness. Here in the United States, democratic indoctrination begins with grade school elections, morning flag adoration, and sing-song pledges. However, the existence of one status quo does not negate the past or future existence of other conditions, and we should apply our critical thinking the ways democracy posits itself as the necessary first condition of freedom.

When democracy frames our discussion and forces us to argue in its terms, all actions to change the socio-political environment must happen via its means and achieve only those ends it will sanction. For these reasons, democracy reproduces itself with little special effort from the ruling class. A democratic system of “majority rule” encourages the alienated and exploited class to feel like they have control while it actually remains safely in the hands of the alienating and exploiting class. Even the most obvious contradictions get overlooked because the system has equated its existence with freedom and so places its existence outside the realm of contestable ideas. By claiming itself as a priori or the first principle of individual and social liberty, democracy appears like a tolerant and pliable source of the public good beyond all scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the very notions of one man—one vote or “majority rule” imply that We the People have the power no matter how much evidence accumulates to the contrary. It follows logically that when The People don’t affect changes in our system, we must not want to change it. Hypothetically, we believe in justice, freedom, etc. or we would not have formed a democracy. Since we freedom-loving, democratic people would naturally act to end oppression as soon as we found it out, it follows that if a policy, law or practice does not change then it must not truly oppress people. Clearly, this train of thought has not, does not and will never transport us to a genuinely free and equal society.

Yet rejecting this logic without adopting a more general critique of democracy leads us to another suspicious conclusion often voiced by progressive, liberal factions in the United States. It sounds to the tune of, our government fails us because we the people are too apathetic, or too unaware, or too stupid, or too anything at all to yield our immense power as we ought. If we progressives could only mobilize, inform, or educate the public, then everything would work out beautifully. And so one sees presumably intelligent people tieing themselves in knots, trying to reform a system that in its best and most functional form can only hope to oppress everyone, equally, an equal percentage of the time. Again, the ruling class can rest easy as long as we place blame on ourselves and not them for our alienated position in modern society and that will continue until we realize the intrinsic flaws in the concept of democracy itself and refuse to reproduce it.

We reproduce democracy by supporting it with our vote and our daily subservience to the outcome of elections. If you understand that democracy will never let you act outside its narrow parameters and you accept our critique of majority rule, then voting and elections merely serve to reaffirm and legitimate state power no matter how one votes. In voting, you might initiate or overrule any policy, practice, or person except the system itself. For that reason the ruling class of a democratic government as whole finds no real threat in suffrage, even though individual politicians might suffer public disfavor.

Many political historians have pointed out that government extended suffrage to disenfranchised groups during periods when it needed mass support to accomplish some end, usually militaristic, rather than during periods when the public demanded it most vocally. It’s the classic, if ya wanna get a little, ya gotta give a little strategy. Furthermore, providing suffrage enabled the government to channel the energies of mass movements that might have posed a real challenge to state power into a safe form of action—voting—that reduced the speed and magnitude of the desired changes while simultaneous reproducing democracy. The major suffrage movements in the United States only succeeded in making races and women “free” from official marginalization to engage in a system of marginalization. As a result of their efforts, all United States citizens have an equal right to participate in an oppressive system and hope it works out in their favor. In fact, an astute observer would see any public debate about who can or cannot vote as a red herring. The government uses voting to mitigate minority demands and sap the energy building around direct action. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s suffrage, there’s motivated marginalization.

When we swallow the government’s bait by voting, we give them the power to reel in our potential to take control over own lives in their full breadth and scope. Elections tend to put people in passive mode, to offer salvation through belief in majority wisdom rather than through self-directed action. A division between leaders and followers develops where voters stand aside as spectators of their own government, not agents in their own right. Political systems of all types exclude the opportunity for direct action, but democracy’s insidious ability to reproduce itself as a restrictive system while continuously incorporating more people into its “let freedom ring” rhetoric makes it especially sneaky.

Democracy Is Only A Single Component Of Our Lives

Formal political organization addresses only certain aspects of material reality, and so democracy does not wholly determine our right to self-determination. For instance, whatever freedoms one feels one has under a democratic government on the street do not extend into the workplace. Minimum wages, maximum hours, safety conditions and other regulatory conditions enacted via the government under pressure from direct action and grassroots campaigns might improve work conditions and prohibit specific abuses. Nevertheless, the employer and employee do not interact as two democratic equals. One has the role of boss, the other worker, and both pay with their lives in a sense for those roles—but another election will not change that.

Democracy only exists as a part of our total experience. When accompanied by capitalism as an economic system, we come face to face with another set of difficulties as well. We have already pointed out how democracy mediates the actions of individuals, but the resulting action of state managers or referenda can fail in similar ways. Because in truth, the ruling class of capitalists controls the processes of democracy with certain pressures that are not overtly acknowledged as being a part of the democratic process, and which are certainly “undemocratic.” This makes so-called “progressive” legislation very difficult, because progressive actions are usually hostile to the capitalist class, and will provoke very specific responses in the economic sector. This has happened time and time again in all major democratic states, and most significantly in South America and the United Kingdom. In the words of Jaques Camatte, “The specialist has become a bird of prey, the bureaucrat a miserable boot-licker.”

Direct Democracy Isn’t Anarchy, You Fucks

We hope that we have proved that majoritarianism of any sort means the repression of individual liberties and the curtailment of direct action in favor of deferred decision-making. For that reason, the number of websites and amount of material which proclaim that anarchists desire direct democracy came as some surprise to us while researching this critique. Anarchists believe in unmediated relations between free individuals, the absence of any coercive or alienating forces in societies, and an unquestionable, universal right to self-determination. Those beliefs lead to many different visions of the world, but when genuinely held they will never lead to democracy. Even “direct democracy” demands surrender to the status quo that produces a hierarchy of group over individual, thus separating us from our desires and our desires from their unfettered realization in direct action. Any who would give up these principles should also give up the name “anarchist”—perhaps in favor of “libertarian.”


In conclusion, it is easy to see that in its promotion of alienation, its reduction of ideas to opinions, its demand of decontextualized decision making, its basis of “majority rule,” its necessity to reproduce itself as a system, and its susceptibility to demagoguery, democracy has very serious problems and falls far short of the freedom that it claims to represent. These are not problems with various ways that democracy is implemented, but are endemic to the democratic process itself.

Unlike political parties, it is easy to see why anarchists (who are not interested in leveraging these shortcomings for our own advantage) reject democracy entirely.

Next week on audio anarchy radio, we’ll continue with these thoughts by exploring some ideas that anarchists are interested in, such as direct action and informal organization.

We decided to compile this critique of democracy because we recognize an inherent tension between democracy and the freedom of individuals to create their own lives as they see fit.
Moxie Marlinspike