Power In A Society



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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Mikhail Bakunin once said “[...] men can only feel and recognize themselves free - and consequently, can only realize their liberty - among other men. To be free, I have to be circled by, and recognized like that, by free men.” In his popular essay 'Power Corrupts The Best (1867)', he argues against power in a  society based on a societal contract, a binding between people in power and the masses. In these few paragraphs, he gives a very important argument - a rise of a new class amidst a so called classless society-  of pure communism.



Authoritarian communism's final transition is based on a classless society, but non-state socialists have argued on the validity of this inclusive concept,  through emergence of power centres,  which are of various kinds. There is the power centre of the trade unions, the power centre of the legislation, the power centre of universities, the economic power centre and so on. 

According to traditional Marxism, all these powers are offshoots of socialism, where the state provides a role as a primal entity to emancipate people. All these institutions are domains of the state. But all these sectors of a Marxist society are related by anarchists to power and its implementation. 

The responsible use of power defines pure socialism (a power for the society), and its irresponsible use has been identified as totalitarianism. That's how the role of power is defined in the society. But anarchists, contrarily, believe in a totally free association without any emergence of  concentrations of power in any form. For them, power simply corrupts. It is through these opposing contradictions, academia debate the role of power in the society.




'In Critique Of The Gotha Program (1875)', Marx believes in a period of revolutionary transformation from capitalism to a communist society, where a state can be a force of the working class. We have seen these arguments developed through his writings put forward as  'The Dictatorship of The Proletariat' and 'Internationalisation Of The Working Class.' But why such a dictatorship where equality for all and equity in justice is not achieved by such a working class? This argument is there to remind the states their role in the society, and the debate for the need of a centralised power, as posited in the Marxist-Leninist philosophy. For Bakunin, 'scientific socialism', the term adopted by state socialists was seen as a mere dictatorship of intellectuals, thoroughly aristocratic and despotic of all regimes. 




When we talk of the role of power in a state, the power rests in the hands of the few. Let's assume it is a state of the working class. They maybe in that position through their qualifications, their intelligence or class. But in order to have a free association between workers, and collective modes of production, all people need to have same amount of knowledge and same class conscience. Only then any kind of free association or collectivism can exist between individuals who are committed to construct a society that guarantees freedom and justice to all. Therefore, when we analyse the role of power in the society, we come to know that egalitarianism cannot be achieved when we have a class of people who take socialism as a mere instrument to achieve state power.




In history, anarchism was taken as a derogatory epithet, an ideology of terrorists, violence and a utopian myth. Yet, the rebellions against regimes of venality, in the times today, are hailed by the watchers of justice. Aren't these moral developments part of revolutions through anarchism which propagates abolition of such a state? For a resolute French libertarian socialist like Joseph Proudhon, anarchism was a rational, intellectually appeasing, non-violent and a non-utopian idea. 

After the French revolution, he wrote about political and economic co-ordination between individuals, and importantly, the need for an 'equal bargaining power,' a view present in Proudhon's 'Idee Generale De La Revolution Au XIXe Siecle', (The General Idea Of Revolution).  In the fourth study of this book, regarding the principle of authority, he compares ruling authorities as crude appointed kings. He further postulates 'honourableness in work', 'sovereignty of reason', and 'universality of comfort.'  In anarchism, powerful rulers of any kind are seen as people who increase permanence of wars and advocate inequality in happiness and fortunes. Therefore, authority is looked as an evasion from ethics.




Instead of relying on the state, Proudhon urged worker associations to emancipate people. He believed that his vision of a society was morally pure than a purely capitalist one. Proudhon's form of anarchism also propagated equality of values and property. He also developed the concept of direct legislation, with free contracts replacing governmental laws. One distinguishing feature of his Left Libertarianism was the need for competition in the society. 




An eminent philosopher in this tradition, Noam Chomsky,  argues that anarchism relates very closely to Council Communism, of the Luxembourgian tradition, where Marxist theorists such as Anton Pannekoek developed the theory of worker councils in the industry. Therefore, it seriously creates the need for an effective worker participation in the world democracy,  for equal power sharing structures in our society.




In the editorial,  Notas sobre o Anarquismo, 'Libertarian Socialism Dilemmas (2004)', Chomsky further states, "[...] representative democracy is criticised basically for two reasons: in the first place, because the centralisation of the decisions of the State, that performs the monopoly of power; in the second place, because of the fact that representative democracy concerns only the political sphere and does not extend itself to other spheres. Creating political parties is not the best way to attain people’s desires, and it does not even guarantee any adequate means."




Adam Smith on the other hand, was an antagonist to a state that powered against individual freedom. He was a critic of  labour division as well. Interestingly, these problems are well grounded in anarchist writings. But any revolution through libertarian socialism is possible only through enlightened workers, and organised communes that have the scope to nurture equality through liberation in every form.   

That's how the need for power absolutism is forsaken, when power is equally shared in a society. But when such a society is degraded in maladies of ignorance and zealotry, such application of unbridled power would prove as an outlawing force for a truly liberated society - a place which is promised as a paradise on this face of the earth. 












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