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How do anarchists feel about European social democracies?

+1 vote
I'm just asking this because everytime you get in an argument with a leftist they bring them up as examples of how "democracy works". There is a little bit of truth to this since they do tend to offer far superior welfare services than that of the united states, and have at times punished banks (like iceland), but how do anarchists feel about them in the big picture?

If you could direct me to some readings as well that would be nice

asked May 29, 2014 by anonymous

4 Answers

+5 votes
1. Europe, like the United States, has the wealth that it does because it relies on cheap labor and resources from the global south: Latin America, Africa, Indochina, etc. There literally isn’t enough wealth in the world for everyone to have a Scandanavian lifestyle. If that was the case, inflation would be so high that money would become meaningless and we'd enter a depression. For there to be rich countries, there must be poor countries; just as for there to be rich people there must be poor people.

2. Social Democracy is capital’s response to conditions specific to the global economy at the time. The United States used to have a relatively large welfare system, unions had a decent amount of power, the minimum wage was higher (when compared to productivity nowadays), etc. But for x,y, and z reasons it became necessary, or even just preferable, for elites to allow capital to more easily invest wherever investors would on a global scale (neoliberalism aka 'globalization'). Now we have less and less social democracy, because those measures often result in investors receiving less on their investments, or at least because the investments become unpredictable. As long as capital exists, it doesn’t matter if we SOMEHOW create a utopic Scandinavian social democracy, the economy will change and bring us back to where we are now when it sees fit. An anarchist victory would be to arrive at a ‘point of no return,’ when capital not only loses the power it has currently, but the situation is so that it can NEVER gain it back. This element is lacking in social democracy.

3. Someone anonymously wrote this on a wall during the May 1968 uprising in France (one of the wealthiest social democracies the 20th centuries had produced), I think it speaks for itself:

"Since 1936 I have fought for wage increases.
My father before me fought for wage increases.
Now I have a TV, a fridge, a Volkswagen.
Yet my whole life has been a drag.
Don’t negotiate with the bosses. Abolish them. "
answered May 29, 2014 by flip (4,000 points)
i always basically bring up the first point, but this more nuanced approach to it was what i was looking for, thanks
+6 votes
Anarchism is a political philosophy, the premise of which is that the state -- in all its various forms -- is the enemy of freedom. The traditional manifestations of the state for early anarchists were: the military, the church, the legal system (cops, lawyers, prisons). Principled opposition to capitalism is also a defining aspect of anarchism. Anarchists are (supposed to be) against every type of government, no matter how allegedly democratic or fair or nice or gentle; they all rely on the use of institutionalized legal violence to maintain themselves, so are all equally pernicious (at least "in the big picture"). Anarchists are not (supposed to be) interested in capitalist crumbs and politer police. Social democracy is a statist ideology and practice, therefore it is (supposed to be) opposed by anarchists.
answered May 30, 2014 by lawrence (550 points)
I enjoyed this answer. I was curious if you agree on a thought I'm having. The thought is that the government is subservient to the state. Like religion, government handles certain affairs, but is not and should not be assumed to be "the state", but rather just another cluster of institutions that serve the state.

The latest example I can think of where the government and the state are clearly different is Thailand, where the state (in this case the military) is preventing elections from occurring until it stabilizes Thailand. Looking at many other examples, typically the military holds the power of the state, but sometimes this can flip.

I'll have to develop this more, but I think there is significant evidence that I can prove that the monopoly on violence is more often wielded against the government and that government's current role is the administration of the people of a territory for the state.
Rambling thoughts to further the discussion:
Attempts to distinguish between state and government are older than anarchism. I don't know how much it matters, but to me "government" entails the ideology of authoritarianism and social control, while the state is indifferent to any particular ideology. This is the basis of the academic field of political science, to which I am also indifferent. The state can be seen as the interlocking set of institutions of hierarchical social control, while government is the location of pronouncements of their justification and implementation. If you want to make a more rigid distinction, perhaps it's useful to think about the government as the place where policies are discussed and decided upon, while the state is the location of their implementation. Government can exist without the state (NGOs, workplaces, schools, locations where decisions are based on subtle coercion), but the state cannot exist without a government. I think you are quite right to point out the role of a military presence as a prerequisite for the state; without that sort of institutionalized force and violence, the options for ignoring government are multiplied.
Thank you Lawrence. As far as English speaking anarchists, I must say you give the clearest voice for anarchy.
0 votes
As somebody who lives in one the "social democracies" of Europe I can say that there is little of any true Democracy. What we have in Europe, for the most part at least, is a ruling elite that are either descended from the old upper class, these tend to be the conservative elements, or in the case of the more neoliberal modern right wingers, they are either big business oligarchs or the chosen representatives of big business oligarchs. Of course there's the also the pseudo-marxist "left wing" types, these are usually bourgeois intellectual people who are claiming to represent the interests of the 'working class' or of minority groups, from my admittedly limited experience these parties are usually authoritarian, police state fetishists, who try to mask those tendencies behind a vale of 'social welfare', which in truth is money taken at the threat of prison, pariah status or even death. As for the banks well, with the possible exception of Iceland most of those banks have been bought out using "tax payers" money. Europe is no more democratic or superior to the US, politicians are still politicians and capitalist's are still ruling the show. Europe's also experiencing a disturbing rise in far right nationalism of late, so no "democracy" here.
answered Jun 9, 2014 by Anarcho-Goth (740 points)
+3 votes
In my opinion, social democracy, as it exist in France is the pure form of modern democracy at its paroxysm : a method of administration, a mode of government.

You generally have more of "fundamental rights" (let's rather say "temporary priviledges"), more benefits and allowances, more social control, less sticks and more carots when you don't protest.

But even the "good aspects" of the "welfare state" are mostly things that the dominant class gave up and yelded to the exploited and poor people because of high intensity class warfare. So here's what happened : there were warfare, they gave us welfare. ;-)

Only few exemples of this for france :

- Early 19th century : big strikes, anarchists intrigues, direct actions, 8hour day.

- 1936 : big general strikes everywhere, violent clashes with cops and far rights movements, first big social reforms, increase of wage, shortening of labor week time. You can read the very good book of Mickael Seidman about this "Workers against work : Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the popular fronts".

- 1945 : Liberation, wild strikes, protests, armed groups (mainly from the communist and revolutionnary resistance) threatening the provisional government... and application of large part of the CNR program (National Resistance Comittee) wich included "social security" (healthcare), etc. At this time, the french government was really scared with the idea of a insurrection and the high possibility of social revolution. Even Stalin said he wouldn't encourage the french communist party to do so (;-) intersting thing to know by the way).

- 1968 : insurrectionnary movement, general wild strike, riots everywhere, etc... and the Grenelle agreements just happened ! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenelle_agreements). Other important thing to know is that these agreements were only signed and negociated by stalinist and reformist organisations and bureacrats while the vast majority of "the base" and other strikers and protesters continued the movement. Which also created panic in the governement, that considered the possibility of using tanks so as to take back the streets. Here is the hidden face of democracy. ;-)

And this history could be made again and again until now a day.

I doubt if it has all been translated to english, but you could read anything about this by autonomous and anarchist groups and publications from france during the "Mitterand", first french socialist governement, during the 80's. Especially things like "Os Cangaceiros", or earlier "Les fossoyeurs du vieux monde" for exemple. These 2 groups have made a deep critique of social democracy as a way to subjugate people, cultivate apathy and strangle the revolutionnary passions.

Another french anarchist formula that you often meet, says that "social democracy is a branch office for fascism". Which is kind of very true if you look at history in europe, and the actual situation of many countries where social democrats are actually managing the government.

I think that the nordic and scandinavian social democracies are a bit different from the german and latin ones, but they share a common history with it. Both in terms of nature and historical context. A sweden anarcho-syndicalist once told me that the developement of it was also very linked with the history of social struggles and class war.
answered Jun 11, 2014 by okapy (2,120 points)