Thursday, February 23, 2017

Frederick Engels', On Authority - Part 2

If man, by dint of his knowledge and inventive genius, has subdued the forces of nature, the latter avenge themselves upon him by subjecting him, in so far as he employs them, to a veritable despotism independent of all social organisation. Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power loom in order to return to the spinning wheel.

Destroying authority in industry is close to completely destroying industry itself. Man has conquered nature, only to subject himself to the rules of industry. Destroy the authority in industry and you risk displacing man into a lesser period of human technological development. Destroy the power loom to return to the spinning wheel.

Let us take another example, the railway. Here too the co-operation of an infinite number of individuals is absolutely necessary, and this co-operation must be practiced during precisely fixed hours so that no accidents may happen. Here, too, the first condition of the job is a dominant will that settles all subordinate questions, whether this will is represented by a single delegate or a committee charged with the execution of the resolutions of the majority of persona interested. In either case there is a very pronounced authority. Moreover, what would happen to the first train dispatched if the authority of the railway employees over the Hon. passengers were abolished?

In industry, the cooperation of a great deal of individuals is required during a precisely fixed period of time so that no accidents occur, whether it be in a factory or on a railway. Whether there is a single delegate or a committee serving as the will controlling this cooperation, authority is present. This authority is very strongly present and must be to ensure the safety of the workers and the proper operation of the machinery. Imagine what would happen to a train if the worker's authority over the railway's operation was not present. What would become of the train's passengers?

But the necessity of authority, and of imperious authority at that, will nowhere be found more evident than on board a ship on the high seas. There, in time of danger, the lives of all depend on the instantaneous and absolute obedience of all to the will of one.

On the sea, in a sailing vessel, the authority relationship is at its strongest. In times of danger their can be nothing but instant obedience to orders if the ship and its crew are too survive.

When I submitted arguments like these to the most rabid anti-authoritarians, the only answer they were able to give me was the following: Yes, that's true, but there it is not the case of authority which we confer on our delegates, but of a commission entrusted! These gentlemen think that when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves. This is how these profound thinkers mock at the whole world.

Anti-authoritarians think that granting power to a commission of workers eliminates authority, when really all they have done is change the name of authority. The commission controls other worker's actions and the movements of the machinery. Call it whatever you want, this is still authority.

We have thus seen that, on the one hand, a certain authority, no matter how delegated, and, on the other hand, a certain subordination, are things which, independently of all social organisation, are imposed upon us together with the material conditions under which we produce and make products circulate.

Authority and subordination are things that work together to manipulate the material conditions under which we produce and make products circulate.

We have seen, besides, that the material conditions of production and circulation inevitably develop with large-scale industry and large-scale agriculture, and increasingly tend to enlarge the scope of this authority. Hence it is absurd to speak of the principle of authority as being absolutely evil, and of the principle of autonomy as being absolutely good. Authority and autonomy are relative things whose spheres vary with the various phases of the development of society. If the autonomists confined themselves to saying that the social organisation of the future would restrict authority solely to the limits within which the conditions of production render it inevitable, we could understand each other; but they are blind to all facts that make the thing necessary and they passionately fight the world.

The material conditions of production and circulation inevitably develop with large-scale industry and agriculture and grow in scope as industry and agriculture grow. It is absurd to consider the principle of authority an absolutely evil concept and the principle of autonomy as solely good. These principles are relative things whose spheres vary with the the development of the material conditions in a given society. Anti-authoritarians, by changing words, blind themselves to the reality of the material conditions that create authority and subordination.

Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?

All socialists agree that, in time, the state's authoritative position will slowly dissipate from a political function to a purely administrative function, but anti-authoritarians believe that this transfer should happen immediately, even if the social conditions for such a drastic change are not yet ripe. Their first demand is to eliminate all authority, even though a revolution is one of the most authoritarian things that can exist, as one portion of the people imposes their will over another by means of rifles, cannons, and bayonets. Further, the revolutionary force must maintain their position with authoritarian measures, which rob some people of their rights. How long would the Paris Commune have lasted if it lacked an authoritarian power? Further, why were they not more authoritarian?

Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don't know what they're talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction.

So, two conditions exist. Either anti-authoritarians don't know what they are talking about and are, thus, confusing everyone, or they do know what they are talking about, and are, thus, betraying the movement of the proletariat.

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