It’s entitled A New Society: The Anarchist Alternative and I found this copy in the State Library of Victoria.
Politically it’s an odd pamphlet – for example the words “working” and “class” are absent – I wonder how much that’s a product of it’s intended audience, or a true reflection of the politics of the groups that printed it. Where it does critique the hippy movement, it does so weakly. A laundry list of “escapist forms” is presented, but they are not thoroughly or convincingly critiqued. I think given the shape of anarchism in Australia thirty years later (where “escapist forms” are commonly what passes for anarchism), this was a significant oversight by the authors.
A New Society: The Anarchist Alternative
Libertarian Socialist Organisation
In conjunction with:
Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society
The “alternative society” movement is a large collection of individuals and organisations all seeking to effect a change for the better both in people and in society. It’s supporters are from many backgrounds and their opinions and lifestyles are equally varied. All wish for a new age where the world’s problems and inequalities would vanish and be replaced by a human society.
The Down to Earth Movement is part of this phenomena.
“We, the people gathered at the Down to Earth Sharing at the Cotter river are practicing, or are in the process of developing, the alternative ways of living, feel that the time has come to renounce a society where possession, success in competitive striving, self-assertion against others, unlimited material growth and ecological imbalance are considered elementary human needs. We feel that the time has come to put an end to the state of anxiety and alienation produced in each individual, to expose the abnormal, divisive and destructive character of the accompanying value system, and reject the current ideology designed to pronounce this inhuman state as natural.
We are dedicated to the survival or earth and all upon it convinced that if human kind is to overcome the crisis of today ALL PEOPLE MUST BE ALLOWED TO DEVELOP IN FREEDOM. They must get back to their real needs, to themselves, to one another and the earth which supports them.
We feel particularly concerned about an economic system whose aim is unlimited consumption, whose reality is excessive waste and unequal distribution, about the power structure where a few rule over the many; about the abuse of the media by means of which the many are subtly brainwashed into an uncritical acceptance of their state.
THERE IS NO OTHER WAY THAN THIS ONE – the old ways in which we were trained have failed. Alternative means: ‘of different birth’. We are determined to assist in the birth of a different society and a new awareness, realising that we ourselves will each need to be reborn in order to bring it to life.”
The idealism behind this manifesto is noble but it is neither new nor unique. Throughout history movements have been recorded which had similar aspirations and sentiments. The realisation that this is not the best of all possible worlds is not new and nor is the desire to produce change that will improve the world and its people. Libertarian socialists share this idealism.
In the past, the aspiration for a just society in which men and women would be happy has fired the imaginations of millions of people. The knowledge that previous movements of liberation have existed and been defeated is something we cannot afford to ignore. We find lessons of success and failure in the past.
People are not always self-centered. The continued re-emergence of communitarian movements is as much a promise as a lesson. A society based on collectives, co-operation and equality is possible.
In 1936 the Republican government of Spain was attacked by the fascist forces of General Franco. The state bureaucracy collapsed. The workers and peasants who had a history of struggle against oppression and hated fascism were quick to rise to the situation and in large areas of Spain they repulsed the fascists and took control themselves. The capitalists and aristocrats, many of them fascist supporters, fled. During the years 1936-1939 much of Spain was under the control of collectives which merged the normally privately owned assets of the country and the city and placed them under common ownership. The old relationships of power and property were dissolved and experiments in egalitarian relationships took place. A society aiming at a free federation of free associations of agricultural and industrial workers was attempted by the people. In many ways they realised the ideal of a free society.
Their success was hindered by the re-emerging republican bureaucracy and party politics with their representatives, officials, and of course, police, to enforce the republican ideal of law; law based in privatisation. The old values re-emerged slowly in the non-fascist areas of Spain and the collectives that had allowed people to attain the libertarian ideal of equal decision-making did not vanish until the fascists finally achieved the military occupation of all Spain.
“Better the fascists than the anarchists” said Winston Churchill, and he was not alone. Governments all over the world ignored, misrepresented or opposed the collectivist movement. The very existence of a large communitarian movement was a threat to ruling forces of the day and, as with all such threats, it was attacked while its existence was covered up by false propaganda. Alternatives based on freedom and equality have and will be opposed by those in privileged positions because such alternatives threaten their power. Wherever power and privilege are disputed, political struggles occur. Those who seek to effect change must understand and be prepared for such struggles. Unfortunately many people in the alternative movement adopt escapist, apolitical positions. Because they are unprepared for struggle, their desire for freedom does not lead to appropriate actions and they remain trapped and ineffective.
ESCAPISM AS MASS MOVEMENTS
“In spite of all revolutionary claims, the movement was fundamentally escapist. What purported to be revolt against the dullness and dreariness of the burgeois
world was at the bottom, a retreat into a special state of mind not seeking to change the world, but despising it. As the protest against society was confined to a turning away from society it denied itself and devalued itself into acts of lonely self-gratification. Significantly the movement, although its members were undoubtedly the country’s elite, evolved no theories or concepts of social criticism and left only intoxicated protestations of its youthfulness just as its whole reproach against society began not from concrete social phenomena but from its own malaise, and remained stuck at its starting point. Always “what dwells beyond the mountains” seemed to this movement more important than what was happening in the factories, the centres of power, or the scientific laboratories. Its inability to articulate clearly, demonstrated in a plethora of proclamations was merely the expression of its technological, political and social apathy, which a high-minded and impetuous, but at the same time self satisfied idealism could not counter balance…”
This statement is not from a chronicler writing about the hippies of five to ten years ago (although as such it would seem perfectly accurate). It is a description of the Wandervogel movement in Germany in Joachim C. Fest’s book “The Face of the Third Reich”. This movement was a large youth protest movement which deliberately cultivated a stance of political naivety which was propped up by its anti-rationalism, its mysticism and its ahistorical ingenuousness. Fest pointed out, the whole Wandervogel movement helped prepare the way for the triumph of Nazism in Germany because of its fundamentally false romantic attitude to reality, which left youth incapable of asserting themselves intellectually or morally in the confusion of its times. Because they failed to understand the reality of other people’s lives they stayed outside of normal social reality and made no consistent attempt to understand or communicate with the vast mass of people. Fascism grew up around them like a strangling vine and finally, in destroying Germany, destroyed them.
Whilst the Wandervogel movement was engrossed in utopian fantasies, the disaster overwhelmed them. By 1934 the only youth movement tolerated in Germany was the Hitler Youth.
During the 19th Century America was dotted with utopian communes. Productive, often large and well established by isolated and they all faded or vanished as America became a capitalist power. Escapism with its apolitical attitude is a form of political behaviour albeit a rather naïve and suicidal form.
There are at least five common escapist forms which are used by some people in the alternative society movements.
(i) THE SEARCH FOR THE MAGIC HELPER
Instead of relying on their own powers to solve their problems some individuals rely on something miraculous outside of them to save them. They put their faith in leaders, in gurus, in drugs, in magic. When people believe that their fate is controlled by the stars, I Ching ideograms or tarot cards it is because they cannot imagine their own integrated powers as being an effective force in controlling the course of their lives. These people refuse or are unable to accept self-determination as a solution to their powerlessness. An end result of being subject to hierarchical social relationships from the moment of birth is that, even when it is realised that needs and desires are being frustrated, some people wait expectantly for someone (or something) outside to change them. Eventually such people are incapable of deciding what is real and what is fiction.
(ii) REGRESSION – TO BE LIKE A CHILD
This device uses the mythology of admiration for the world of the child, a world which is without the hassles of individual responsibility. Alienated youth movements like the romantics, the Wandervogel and the hippies also built up a cult of childhood in opposition to the barrenness of adult life.
Sepp the radical Wandervogal mystic in Robert Musels novel “A Man Without Qualities” had as his motto: “We aught to be like children”. In a similar way he defines his ideal community as “the community of those perfect in the renumciation of ego”. There is a passage in “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test” where Richard Alcort sits on the floor with a baby which is dribbling and going. Alcort however, begins to argue that the baby is more perfect than the people watching because he is responding to the uniqueness, the individuality of each object, rather than seeing it through categories and his experience. The child sees with fresh eyes. “You can’t use categories and put labels on reality and thus limit the uniqueness of the object because you then lose the reality in worlds”.
The world of the child is seen as a world of freshness, of the uniqueness of each sensation of discovery, of newness. It is the world of Adam in the Garden of Eden before the fall in the Christian myth.
The error of this view is that the baby state is seen as perfect and therefore experience of this sordid , imperfect world can only bring about a fall from grace. In fact the baby state is an unfinished state and one which must grow and develop through experiencing this world, even when it has imperialistic wars, naked exploitation, pollution, boring world, madness, starvation, state capitalism (as in Marxist-Lenninist countries) and self-interested capitalism (as in Australia and America).
In the final analysis this attempt to be like a child is a refusal to grow up – the fear of freedom syndrome – and the opposite of human growth and development.
This is the belief that our problems which become conscious to us through thinking are actually caused by thinking. Instead of action coming from thought and solving problems, the quietism response is to give up thinking and instead practice neurotic unawareness. Examples are found in the soul supermarket that exists today where religious and mystical systems are prompted by a belief wherein people are told to stop thinking and open their mind. But problems don’t go away just because you’re unaware of them. The guru Maharaji’s theme “Peace is an experience not an aspiration” seems irrelevant, even immoral, in a world where human annihilation is a distinct possibility.
Because living in this society retards people’s growth and frustrates their reaching true potential, individuals who believe they are powerless to change the world often retreat from it. One common response is to retreat into the private, narcissistic world of the self, while denigrating the coarse, materialistic world outside. Others find escape by retreating into the countryside where they deliberately isolate themselves from society.
This is the stance of resigned acceptance of one’s powerlessness in the world and what happens to your life is not determined by your own or others’ actions. Everything that happens is conceived as being part of some great cosmic plan outside the human (and especially one’s own) control. This outside controlling mechanism can be called God, fate, nature or whatever. Fatalism protects people from any inner demand to do something, whether the response is pessimistic (“nothing can be done”) or optimistic (“nothing need be done”). Fatalistic reasoning is false. The truth is that while people, like all other creatures are subject to forces that mould and determine them, we are more than this. In spite of handicaps, people try to make sense out of life, to transform themselves into beings with some purpose – people take an active role in their own creation. Because we have been endowed with reason, we are capable of understanding the forces that determine and mould us and because of our passions, we are able to take an active part in shaping our fate. WE ARE NOT HELPLESS VICTIMS OF CIRCUMSTANCES. Indeed we are able to change and influence forces both inside and outside ourselves and thus extricate ourselves from the fatal web of circumstance.
Culture is based in the social relations that individuals accept. It is based in people’s values. Capitalist culture resists individual human uniqueness through controlling human expression in hierarchical social relations. It keeps individuals passive, afraid of their real passions and abilities. It is a culture oriented to maintaining neurotic and restricted human activities. People’s real needs are frustrated in capitalist society and this has certain consequences. Authoritarian conditioning and powerlessness in one’s social existence leads to ineffectiveness, impotence, dependence and inability to cope. In a society that is based on dominance/submission relationships (order givers/order takers, leader/followers) where people are organised as to compete with each other (“peck order”), there inevitably arise problems where an endless source of frustration expresses itself in individual and social irrationality. The resulting tide of estrangement which shipwrecks many on the shores of alcoholism, drug addiction, neuroses, madness and suicide drives the majority through the dark waters of quiet despair.
The majority are subservient to God or fate, nature, destiny, history, law, government, the boss, teachers, parents, tradition or custom. To counter capitalist culture, to create a free cultural expression of individual and social needs, it must be defeated by the individual and collective consciousness of the people who are entrapped in it.
The only potentially successful alternative culture that exists in any of the hierarchical societies of today, whether in state capitalism or corporate capitalism, is in the number of people who maintain their unique integrity in the fall of demands to confirm to the restricted ways to people and things. Their struggle is implicit, its effectiveness limited by the extent of their personal courage and integrity, of their being prepared to have different values.
But it is not just an individual problem. It is also a social problem and requires a social solution. Personal courage, to be effective (ie. to win a free society and not be continually smashed) must be expressed as social courage. Those who wish to build resistance to capitalism’s authoritarian culture with its dismal future must join with others who want to do the same. They must actively organise in a way which encourages human expression.
Libertarian socialists believe that only an organised egalitarian movement, reflecting and practicing the values of free and independent relations can defeat the hierarchical social organisation of those who oppress us. Only egalitarian relations will free people in the myriad activities which will constitute a free peoples culture. We state explicitly that we are for a society of equality: equal wages and equal power. We see the spreading of revolutionary demands and the greater acceptance of revolutionary solutions as an encouraging sign.
We believe that the only way an egalitarian organisation can function is through participatory democracy. To elect a representative to make decisions for a group of people, to believe that some people know ‘better’ than others and to give them authority over people is a fatal error. Decisions should be made by freely associating peoples at workers and community councils, not by a few selected individuals in power. Representative and parliamentary democracy are worse than useless. They are deceptive and dangerous shams.
The growing collective and communitarian movement had great potential but unless its organisation is egalitarian and unless it understands that it must struggle in a constructive, outward and ongoing manner, it will fail as its predecessors have failed. There must be more co-operation between collectives and communities. Horizontal links must be established and increased. Federations of collectives and communities must be striven for, both in the country and in the city. The potential for a powerful challenge to capitalist culture exists. Whether or not that is successful will depend upon how the alternative society is organised and the degree of self activity of its members. The reward for success is high: a free society. Failure means the world will continue its self destructive, hectic rush to totalitarianism or oblivion.
Jim Cairns’ (yes, that Jim Cairns) invitation to attend the first ConFest can be seen here. ConFest is still going, and as I understand it the critique of the Wandervogel quoted by the LSO is as applicable as ever.