What is Anarchism? by Alexander Berkman

Posted: October 17, 2011 in Book Notes
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Excerpts from Chapter 10: Reformer and Politician

If I should rob you of all you have and then persuade you that what I did is good for you and that you should guard my booty against. others, it would be a very clever trick on my part, wouldn’t it? It would secure me in my stolen possessions. Suppose further that I should also manage to convince you that we must make a rule that no one may touch my stolen wealth and that I may continue to accumulate more in the same manner, and that the arrangement is just and to your own best interests. If such a crazy scheme should be actually carried out, then we’d have the ‘law and order’ of government and capitalism which we have to-day.

It is clear, of course, that laws would have no force if the people did not believe in them and did not obey them. So the first thing to do is to make them believe that laws are ‘necessary and that they are good for them. And it is still better if you can lead them to think that it is they themselves who make the laws. Then they will be willing and anxious to obey them. That’s what is called democracy: to get the people to believe that they are their own rulers and that they themselves pass the laws of their country. That’s the great advantage that a democracy or a republic has over a monarchy. In olden times the business of ruling and robbing the people was much harder and more dangerous. The king or feudal lord had to compel people by force to serve him. He would hire armed bands to make his subjects submit and pay tribute to him. But that was expensive and troublesome. A better way was found by ‘educating’ the populace to believe that they ‘owe’ the king loyalty and faithful service. Governing then became much easier, but still the people knew that the king was their lord and commander. A republic, however, is much safer and more comfortable for the rulers, for there the people imagine that they themselves are the masters. And no matter how exploited and oppressed they are, in a ‘democracy’ they think themselves free and independent.

That is why the average workingman in the United States, for instance, considers himself a sovereign citizen, though he has no more to say about the running of his country than the starved peasant in Russia had under the Tsar. He thinks he is free, while in fact he is only a wage slave. He believes he enjoys ‘liberty for the pursuit of happiness’, while his days, weeks and years, and his whole life, are mortgaged to the boss in the mine or factory.

The people under a tyranny know they are enslaved and sometimes they revolt. The people of America are in bondage and don’t know it. That is why there are no revolutions in America.

Modern capitalism is wise. It knows that it prospers best under ‘democratic’ institutions, with the people electing their own representatives to the lawmaking bodies, and indirectly casting a vote even for the president. The capitalist masters do not care how or for whom you vote, whether it be the Republican or the Democratic ticket. What difference is it to them? Whoever you elect, he will legislate in favor of ‘law and order,’ to protect things as they are. The main concern of the powers that be is that the people should continue to believe in and uphold the existing system. That is why they spend millions for the schools, colleges, and universities which ‘educate’ you to believe in capitalism and government. Politics and politicians, governors and law-makers are only their puppets. They will see to it that no legislation is passed against their interests. Now and then they will make a show of fighting certain laws and favoring others, else the game would lose its interest for you. But whatever laws there be, the masters will take care that they shouldn’t hurt their business, and their well-paid lawyers know how to turn every law to the benefit of the Big Interests, as daily experience proves.

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