In this day and age when political centrists are falsely accused of being socialists, it becomes vital to explicitly describe the nature of various ideologies such as anarchism, socialism, and communism and place them into their proper practical context in order to have a public discussion based on truth.
For the past two years the American people have been besieged by a barrage of accusations leveled at the present government. One of the most prevalent accusations, and one of the most patently false, is the idea that the Obama administration is socialist. If one were to just look at the policies advocated by the president both during his election campaign and while in office, citizens would see that clearly the administration is nowhere near a socialist government. Wall Street and corporations have nothing to fear from the economic approach of the president or his advisors, most of whom come from financial or corporate backgrounds. The bank bailout, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the insurance mandate as the center of the healthcare law, and the use of Cap And Trade to make money for energy corporations rather than reduce carbon levels are all policies that would never be considered, much less proposed, by a socialist government. These examples each serve the interests of big corporations rather than empower the people or shift the ownership of the means of production to workers. Simply through direct experience, voters can tell that there is no overt or hidden radicalism in the government, to such a degree that many true socialists and other leftists are calling this “Bush’s third term”. However, this direct experience is being distorted by rightwing ideology where lie after lie is promulgated to such a wide degree that everyday people are unable to see what is directly in front of them. That is the inherent power of ideology as a structuring of meaning, specifically for conservative political purposes. If a public discussion is based on lies, then it becomes next to impossible for true leftists to articulate a real alternative to the status quo, an alternative that reveals how president Obama is a servant to the status quo through his many compromises and appeals to centrism. In this case, centrism acts as a tool for the rightwing to shift the overall debate toward their agenda, marginalizing any other viewpoint. At this time there is a great need to have other viewpoints that represent the interests of the marginalized.
The first step that must be taken is to distinguish what has been said about anarchism, socialism, and communism and how they have existed in real life. All three movements emerged in the middle of the 1800’s and each one has lived side-by-side with some overlap. But they are distinct in the way they have been applied, much more than their original purpose. They all have in common the empowerment of those who have had no power in traditional political and economic hierarchies. For the history of the development of socialism and communism especially, one will see that the methods to achieve power has obscured their original purpose or goal. The important matter is not so much what each ideology originally stated, but how they were actualized as concrete fact. By looking at their actualization, one will find that anarchism does not mean absolute chaos, nor does socialism mean an automatic dictatorship, and that communism may lead to dictatorship not through its goals but through its methods.
Each method to implement socialism, communism, or anarchism has been defined by either reform, revolution, or prefiguration. Socialism has usually emerged in democracies through reform and winning elections. Communism has emerged in the lack of democracy through violent revolution that would overthrow a preexisting autocratic regime. Anarchism has emerged within both democracies and societies that had a lack of democracy through prefiguration, which can be described as the process of creating the new social institutions within the shell of the old society. Socialist governments came to power through elections, in Western Europe and the Americas for example, and because of this electoral process would take on the mission of reform rather than sudden and abrupt change. The goal of workers owning the means of production existed in the far future, and for the time being social welfare and worker’s rights were important issues for socialist governments. Communist governments, however, seized power through revolution because there was no political space for reform and no elections to compete within. The absence of democracy influenced the fact that most outright communist governments became dictatorships in their own way, copying the regime they overthrew. This speaks greatly about the nature of revolution as compared to prefiguration or reform. Revolution can either be a vertical system or a horizontal system. As a vertical system, revolution will only structurally reproduce the state as an apparatus of control. If there is a revolutionary vanguard leading the fight, and the revolution is organized like a military operation, then the revolution is vertical in its structure. On the other hand, as a horizontal system revolution can be the creation of novelty within a community. The untenable characteristics of the original dictatorship require empowering change, so if new social, political, and economic structures are built then change can be sudden. In comparison, prefiguration is this hidden potential of revolution as the subsumption of vertical systems by horizontal systems. The creation of a new society can cause the old regime to implode without the need for an undemocratic organization of revolutionary force. Unfortunately, most revolutions are vertically organized, and therefore the horizontal aspects of revolution can be better applied through prefiguration as the method mostly used by anarchists.
The fact of revolution reveals a gap between its theory and its practice. The theory of revolution promotes a decentralization of power, but the practice of revolution can result in a centralization of power. Prefiguration can cure this gap through an immediate convergence of theory and practice, where the theory of the new society is expressed as working models for that society. These new structures amplify the inherent contradictions that may exist in the enveloping state and economy, contradictions that perpetuate hierarchies and inequalities of power. The creation of new social relationships and institutions within the old order can reach a tipping point where change is introduced to the situation of things. This does not require the military discipline of revolutionaries or the elitism of a vanguard that has plagued revolutions. For the power of the state is the appearance of constituted power that obscures constituent power. Constituent power is the ability of the people to create social and political systems to serve their needs, but constituted power is the authority of those created social and political systems. The tension between the two, between human freedom and institutional authority, is the biggest obstacle to the change sought by socialists, communists, and anarchists. The
reform sought by socialists is a particular change in constituted power, and the revolution sought by communists is a general change in constituted power. Both are concerned with working with the state model of governance. The prefiguration of anarchism is unique in that it is a change of constituted power by constituent power. While socialists are limited by the state, and communists inadvertently replicate the state, anarchists go back to the original creative power of the people as individuals or communities to start over in terms of social and political systems. This process is possible because of the nature of anarchism. Anarchism is a direct opposition toward hierarchy, whether that hierarchy is found in the state or the economy. In order to develop an equality of power that breaks up hierarchies, anarchism practices a democracy of the event as opposed to a democracy of the structure. Democracy of the event is the democratic processes that can exist outside of the state, while the state is itself the democracy of the structure. The democracy of the event has the ability to use democracy for the organization of collective action and for the widest possible choices, including the structure of the society that can determine other choices. The democracy of the structure, since it is internal to the state, limits democratic choices to the degree that the state can reproduce itself without interference from the collective will of the people. The actions that result from the democracy of the event can change reality, but actions of the democracy of the structure must at the end of the day serve the state and its perseverance. Socialist governments have been constrained by the democracy of the structure, while communist governments have recognized the limitation of the democracy of the structure but have failed to replace it with the democracy of the event.
Another way to look at the characteristics of reform, revolution, and prefiguration is through the phenomenon of structural deterritorialization and reterritorialization. Deterritorialization is a structural rupture where systems are taken apart, and reterritorialization is when a new structure is formed and the disparate parts are reassembled differently. In this case, the relationships in question are political and economic systems while the parts are human beings. Both reform and vertical revolution can be seen as a local deterritorialization and a global reterritorialization, which means that there is a change of parts yet a stability of relationships at the same time. Minor changes can be made, but the overall structure remains intact. On the other hand, prefiguration and horizontal revolution can be a global deterritorialization and a local reterritorialization. Global deterritorialization and local reterritorialization means that there is a change of relationships and a stability of parts. As the overall structure is taken apart, there is an open field in which particular social and political systems emerge and are always under the democratic control of the people who create them. The expansion of democracy is also the externalization of people from the structures that used to contain and regulate them, yet were not accountable to a total democracy. The sudden change that can occur is the event which can completely invert the relationship people have with the state and the economy. The event, sought by revolution but achieved by prefiguration, is the structural rupture that is the space of opportunity for free agency. Therefore, the event is the spirit of revolution through the action of prefiguration.
Looking at the various manifestations of socialism, from the governments of Great Britain or France or even the city government of Milwaukee, one will see that socialism does not mean dictatorship. Communism, because of its revolutionary method of formation, will always have the tendency to be undemocratic and to replicate the previous regime in its authoritarian nature. Anarchism, in contrast, has the best match between its ends and its means where it can avoid reformist compromise or revolutionary absolutism. In all cases, each political perspective is shaped by how they come into the world as a political structure. A true discussion of what they mean will clear away the fog of lies that currently permeate the atmosphere in American society. In the long-term, there is also the hope to learn from the mistakes of socialism and communism to fully realize the purpose of anarchism as a world devoid of hierarchy where the new world is created in the shell of the old.