Saturday, July 09, 2005

Anarchist International Relations

Anarchist IR
Frederic Christie

A basic question for those concerned about the state of world affairs is, "Why is there so much violence between people?" In the parlance of state societies: "Why do states battle each other, diplomatically or militarily?" IR has tried its best to answer these questions, but given the intrinsic blinders of academia, its success has been limited. It is my intent to discuss a potential anarchist critique of existing IR and alternative concepts. There are roughly two discussions, one of which is commonly missing from IR: what is and what should be. The first question is answered by anarchists as follows: Power structures and institutions massively determine the domestic structures of the society, and their interaction (both cooperative and antagonistic) shape the contours of the global (called "international") system. Regarding the second, anarchists argue that illegitimate and elitist power and hierarchy must be confronted wherever it is perceived and that institutions must be altered to empower individuals to gain control of their life and reflect voluntary and organic decisions.

Nation-states are mountains of accumulated political power. Their role is to subvert and deny human interests and needs for the sake of whatever elite dominates them. As Rudolf Rocker, an eminent anarchist historian, declared in his Anarcho-Syndicalism, "Just as for… religious theology, God is everything and man nothing, so for this modern political theology, the state is everything and the man nothing. And just as behind the "will of God" there always lay hidden the will of privileged minorities, so today there hides behind the "will of the state" only the selfish interest of those who feel called to interpret this will..." The fact that the state performs functions for some elite, and that that elite is determined by the cultural and economic factors of society, is essential to understanding the differences between states.

The state is not simply an institution that performs the functions of legislation, execution and adjudication. As noted again by Rocker, "The economic dictatorship of the monopolies and the political dictatorship of the totalitarian state are the outgrowth of the same… objectives, and the directors of both have the presumption to try to reduce all the countless expressions of social life to the mechanical tempo of the machine..." The state’s function is to repress and destroy human urges. It is not my intention to argue the idea of a "noble savage". Clearly, there are aspects of human nature that can propel inspiring and benevolent ends, and other aspects that propel malevolent and hateful ends. We have produced both Hitlers and Gandhis. The state, however, represses human urges not to ensure that important rights are not violated, but rather to establish a mechanical sense of order that allows the will of elites to be heard and projected.

The state survives in large part due to a system of borders, flags and identities. There is nothing inherent to any political process that demands that it occur in a particular geographic space all of the time. This is the point behind federation: to allow decision-making to occur in a number of geographical areas. The function of creating arbitrary areas of dominance is exclusive to the state, and the expansiveness of these domains are proportional only to the particular state’s power to steal and coerce and to maintain its dominance. The state demands obedience and service by creating an overarching identity that is not composed of the people, but outlasts the people and is more important than them. This identity is supposed to become value-neutral; indeed, an end to itself. One upholds the law not because the law is right, but because the state has determined that it is necessary. One "supports the troops" not on the basis of what they are doing, but on the basis of the fact that they have been given their marching orders by our benevolent masters.

There are those "within" and those "without" the borders. Those within are ostensibly protected from those without, and those within are ruled for their own sake. The state thus justifies its violence by referring to threats and enemies contained either within (e.g. criminals, angry and inferior black men, women who must be kept in their place) or without (e.g. terrorists, rogue states). The state’s overarching identity is brought to its apex in the form of the military, the ultimate conglomeration of political power. The state thus is built upon death: It offers a form of immortality at the cost of ensuring mortality for the miscreants. The true irony is that those "without" are often not threats until they are declared to be by the masters. The moujahadeen of Afghanistan would never have existed were it not for the CIA.
What, then, would an anarchist characterize his theory of international relations as? It clearly should combine elements of the aesthetic, realist, feminist, and idealist schools. I'll call this "anarchist IR", or perhaps "energetic IR", focusing on the way that the international arena is dominated by various forms of power. Again, we see the totality of oppression appear.

An anarchist would argue that the international arena is the place where global elites step outside of their parochial concerns and engage in battle for power and dominance. These elites are, as Tickner rightly identifies, usually patriarchal; as the realists identify, usually statist; as Marxists identify, usually corporatist (at least in the present world). State's interactions are not the only attentionworthy international form of interaction; the rulers of the global economy, the G-8, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, all defy states and in fact seem to limit the power of the state. An anarchist could be deceived if he were to follow realist thought and say that these international monetary institutions are positive because they reduce the state's abilities. They do, but they only limit the state's capacity to prevent private power from behaving in any way it wishes. In fact, these institutions demand statist protection at the same time they demand deregulation; for example, intellectual property rights.

In between the poles of liberalism and realism, where does IR stand? Chomsky cites Morgenthau with a reasonable degree of respect. Anarchists recognize that whether or not IR is a positive sum game is irrelevant: states will, in the aggregate and barring the influence of their people, seek to prolong short-term gain at the cost of long-term sustainability (particularly ecological sustainability), especially under the influence of markets with their externalities and corporations with their profit motive.

What is the advantage of this system of IR? Simply, it guides us to proper decisions. We can recognize that our state will behave no differently from any other ruthless warrior state, albeit within the limited framework set by its elites, if we, both as intellectuals and as ordinary citizens, do not protest and attempt to limit state power, finally replacing it. We can recognize that, like any other time we want to demand the state do something, we raise the costs to the elites so that continuing in the present course hurts their broader objectives.

One method is, ironically, the rule of law and the creation of world parliamentary associations such as the UN. While the UN is certainly a flawed organization, dominated by powerful nations and ineffectual even when it tries to contain them, it is also a meager attempt to limit their actions and establish a sense of order. The UN is a way for nations to attempt their domination through routes that do not involve war. It is much like putting murderers into a room and forcing them only to play chess or video games with each other. Yes, the murderers will still exist, and they will still be able to interact, but if they are sufficiently disarmed, they will only be able to interact in relatively harmless ways that do not harm others or themselves as substantially as letting them try to kill each other.

We again see the anarchist dilemma: For the moment, one of the most effective tools of limiting state power is to use the law, as patriarchal, corporatist and (most importantly) statist as it is in its present incarnation.

In the domestic arena, of course, we must "make the facts of the revolution" in the pre-revolutionary period by constructing non-hierarchical institutions to coordinate revolutionary protest of all types. In the international arena, we must construct similar organizations. Promising steps have from the World Social Forum, the Green Party, and so on. Just like in the domestic arena, these movements will be best if they are multi-issue, multi-strategy, and multi-tactic. If they can accommodate solidarity with diversity, they will be capable of tremendous change in the international arena. International labor unions will be capable of combating globalized corporations and forcing them to treat all workers equally. International feminist groups will be capable of limiting patriarchal abuses in both developing and developed countries. International environmental groups will be able to constrain statist and corporatist abuse of the environment the world over.

Most importantly, this movement must be revolutionary in scope. It must be capable of convincing elites that it is both willing and capable of demanding much more if they are not pacified. And, as in the domestic movement, the international movement must never become pacified. It must take what is won and use it to prove to prospective members and to opponents that the movement is capable of winning and that it is here to stay.

One does not need to attend to Lenin's Marxist predictions to recognize that imperialism will result naturally from modern nation-states. A state's prestige, economic capacity to serve its elites, and thirst for power are served by imperial ventures. Particularly, hegemonic states will seek to establish an order much like a Mob boss would. As Chomsky argues in What Uncle Sam Really Wants, "During World War II, study groups of the State Department and Council on Foreign Relations developed plans for the postwar world in terms of what they called the "Grand Area," which was to be subordinated to the needs of the American economy. Every part of the new world order was assigned a specific function." The Soviets, the Romans, the Mongols... all created particular modes of dominance in their domains. Many were quite benevolent, others violent, but the key was that anyone challenging that dominance were put down, whether Gauls or Muslims (examples of repressed minorities and opposing geopolitical blocs, respectively).

To attend to responses: One could argue that racism and ethnic conflict defy state borders. This is true, but irrelevant for two reasons. First of all, progressive anarchists assume institutions are simply prolonged structures that create roles, alter perceptions, and provide incentives and disincentives; in this case, cultural institutions like racism qualify. Yes, they may need unique theoretical corpuses to understand; no, they are not outside of the bounds of anarchism. But anti-racist advocate Tim Wise points out in his article "Unnatural Racism" that racism is not innate to humanity, that to make decisions regarding the artificial category of an opposing ethnicity or race (even if there are physical characteristics like skin color) is a learned behavior and is perpetuated by such things as the upper class strategically fomenting racism and poverty becoming associated with already poor minorities.

One could argue that, in fact, liberal democratic states are less likely to commit warfare (indeed, cite the commonly argued dyadic "democratic peace theory"), but close examination reveals this to be propagandistic pap. For one, even without the caveats democratic peace advocates use to limit out dubious democracies, the amount of time historically where the number of democracies was anywhere in the double digits has been infinitesimal. Even now, the probability that any two democracies will fight simply by looking at the amount of democratic-democratic dyads is a minority of potential conflicts. Further, this may be reverse causal: peace increases democracy, not democracy increases peace. After all, democracies often reduce their democratic character during times of war; see rationing in the US during World War II. And the seriousness of the democratic peace theory is demonstrated when Weart argues that it's impressive that no two Swiss cantons have fought. By that standard, the American Civil War demonstrates that democracies can fight, and thus eliminates the dyadic democratic peace theory. However, this can be resolved very simply: The state and the demos are diametric poles. Liberal democracies,
And for Friedman's golden arches theory? Before the book was even published, in April 5, 1999, America began to bomb Serbia, a country with McDonald's and pop music.

In the space provided here, a detailed proposal for the post-revolutionary society will be difficult to convincingly outline. But a summary should indicate how radically different this polity is. The goals are federation (resolving ethnic conflict; see Calabresi), participatory self-management and the right to influence decisions insofar as one is impacted, separation of powers, checks and balanced, councils that are narrower/broader rather than higher/lower, ultimate organic accountability and recallability of delegates, attempts at cycling, appeals systems, modular borders, advice councils in lieu of bureaucracies, and similar.


Bharadwaj, Atul. "Man, State and the Myth of Democratic Peace."

Calabresi, Stephen G. December 1995; MICHIGAN LAW REVIEW, "A government of limited and enumerated powers," EE2001-hxm P.

Chomsky, Noam. What Uncle Sam Really Wants. Odonian Press 2002. Chomsky cites as follows: "7-8. On "Grand Area" planning for the postwar period by the State Department and the CFR, see Laurence Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust, Monthly Review, 1977. There is extensive literature on the development and execution of these plans. An early work, of great insight, is Gabriel Kolko, Politics of War,: Random House, 1968. One valuable recent study is Melvyn Leffler, Preponderance of Power, Stanford University Press, 1992. For further sources and discussion, specifically on NSC 68, see Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Chapter 1. NSC 68 and many other declassified documents can be found in the official State Department history, Foreign Relations of the United States, generally published with about 30 years delay."

Encyclopedia Brittanica. "Retreat from Empire: Decolonization." Authored by Raymond F. Betts.

Friedman, Thomas. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. Anchor 2000.

Gonick, Larry. The Cartoon History of the Universe, Vols I-III. Main Street Books 1994 and 1997; W.W. Norton and Company 2002;

Nandy, Ashis. The Epidemic of Nuclearism: A Clinical Profile of the Genocidal Mentality.

Poniewozik, Jamie. "Fallen Arches", Salon.

Rocker, Rudolf. "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism." 1938.

Snyder, Jack and Edward Mansfeld. "Democratization and War". Foreign Affairs, vol. 74 (May/June 1995), pp. 79-97. Snyder and Mansfeld actually establish that democracies can be more violent, especially in transition.

Tickner, J. Ann, Gendering World Politics : Issues and Approaches in the Post-Cold War Era. Columbia University Press, 2001

Weart, Spencer R. Never At War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another.
Chapter One. New Haven, CT 1997 Yale University Press.

White, Matthew. "War Between Democracies."


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