Three decades ago, the libertarian Alfred Kuzan published an article with the provocative title “Do We Ever Really Get Out of Anarchy?” The answer he gave is that we do not, that government only substitutes one kind of anarchy for another.
In Kuzan’s view it should be noted that anarchy or the state of nature is always the result of market forces, or as Austrian economists would put it, individual economic acts which result in political ends. It is worth examining the variations in meaning attached to the term, within the South African context.
Most recently ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe “warned of anarchy if incitement to violence was tolerated.” In a news article carried by mainstream newspapers, Mantashe famously said: “Once anarchy rules society, that society degenerates, and that society collapses in the long run.” The term has become the stock in trade of politicians and news editors alike, feeding public fears about law and disorder in the wake of Marikana and yet the term has really nothing to do with the absence of rules, but rather the absence of a ruler.
When South Africans talk about anarchy what they really mean is chaos, and often the chaos which is referred to is the chaos of the marketplace, (especially when a subjugated work-force refuses to be lead by union leaders working in cahoots with mine bosses), it is a chaos of nature which is a response to the self-same economic forces which drive capitalism.
If one accepts the definition of anarchy as related by the press, then the biggest anarchists must be the ratings agencies. Moody’s and S&P who have done more to put South Africa on the path to anarchy than any member of the workers international vanguard league.
That international financial markets are able to dictate the manner in which money is circulated, controlling bond rates while rendering the South African central bank impotent, in an act which in turn feeds worker revolt against an evil and unjust system, surely sign that anarchism must be upon us?
Defining anarchism as Kuzan does, according to the natural dictates of the marketplace, in the libertarian tradition, is thus an interesting exercise, it repositions criticism of the dominant hierarchies from a discourse between subject and ruler, (traditionalism) to a discourse of the rich vs poor (revolution) in which we are left defending both the right to participate in the economy as well as the right to refuse to participate in such acts of violence and coercion which may be perpetrated by the state against us.
Coercion in the form of the money supply, interest rates, taxation and resulting loss of pay experienced by workers, who despite their wage demands, and right to withdraw their labour are once again confronted with punishment inflicted by these self-same “market anarchists” who believe in nothing more than the free market.
Most people regardless of their ideological preferences, according to Kuzan, simply assume that the abolition of anarchy is possible, that they live under Government and that anarchy would be nothing but chaos and violence. It is fear of chaos and violence which drives news editors to label striking workers as anarchists, while forgetting the market + anarchists and yet these workers are simply demonstrating a principle common to bankers and strikers alike, their right to participate in individual economic acts, which when taken as a collective, result in political ends. There is no reason why these political ends cannot be organised around true anarchist principles of cooperation, mutual aid, voluntary participation and non-aggression.
Is a constitutional anarchy possible? The South African state continues to exist despite the anarchy of the markets — the anarchy of the many demands of its citizens, it accomplishes its political ends through the duel hypocrisy of super-exploitation of workers and the perpetuation of a brutal, century-long mining extractive economy. Such a “state of anarchy” however, is neither desirable nor inevitable.