Anarchists have a rounded conception of freedom; it is not merely the absence of tyranny, but the meaningful opportunity to shape one's own life. As well as being free from, one ought to be free to do. And you can't be free to do much if you're constantly weighed down by the threat of poverty.
But what environment facilitates the blossoming of freedom? Anarchists have consistently maintained for over 100 years that a communist society is such. A communist society would be where the production and, importantly, the consumption of goods would be held in 'common': from each according to ability, to each according to need. If there is a scarcity of goods then they can be rationed in an equitable manner. We already have a form of rationing, the money system - if you have lots of money you can get whatever you like. If you don't, tough.
In addition to being convenient, communism is entirely fair as everything produced in a modern society is produced in common; the brainiest doctor depends on a whole array of medical workers, from nurses, to cleaners, to the factory workers who make the implements to do a good job. There is no real way of accurately calculating any particular job's true value to society. And the attempt to do so ensures a useless layer of workers and bureaucracy; from central banks to control the money supply, to insurance companies which put the bandages on during the bad times to the police who contain the discontent.
We regularly read in the papers about Michael Smurfit or some other well groomed thug making millions every year and, as the figures are so outrageous, we never really take it in. But why should he have more wealth than he can use for himself in a thousand lifetimes when the hospitals are at breaking point? Particularly when the actual work that makes his millions is being done by others as his 'job' is to invest his capital and hire others to do the work.
Probably the real reason for massive disparities in wealth is the one offered by Orwell in 1984: without differences in wealth, the need for inequality in society will disappear. Wealth is the currency of power. But without inequality the justification, always dubious, for the existence of a ruling class disappears for they will no longer have power over others, and this is obviously not a welcome prospect for them.
A communist society is in contrast to the current capitalist set-up where a tiny minority of bosses made up of the likes of Tony O'Reilly and Dick Cheney, control the wealth produced by the rest of society. And because they control the wealth they get to issue the orders. This has profound implications for everything from environmental degradation to your working conditions. Capitalists aren't going to base their decisions on what's best for the community. What counts is how much profit they can make. And if that means an oil spillage here or a strict hierarchy at work there, then so be it.
Socialism would ensure that the constant worries over rent, the kids_ future, the lack of money to go to the doctor would be eased. These stresses of everyday life, particularly when they begin to pile on top of each other, grind us down, making it harder to find the time, the money, or even the desire to pursue the good things in life. In a society as rich and as technologically advanced as the modern world, there is no good reason that everyone should not have a high standard of living. It is feasible; it is no longer a dream. At this point in history it is more a question of consciousness, organisation and desire than about whether it is materially possible.
Given the experience of the USSR, which as the anarchists of the time noted, was a lesson on how not to introduce communism, extra care needs to be taken to ensure that a communist society is also a libertarian one. In fact, the most logical communism is anarchist communism, for it carries through to all spheres of life the basic propositions of communism: that humans are a social species who not only like to live with others but who live most happily when these relationships take the form of friendship amongst equals without the need for authoritarian structures to control the people.
(1) The so-called 'free' market is a joke which is thoroughly distorted by control from above through devices like advertising and, when necessary, war.
(2) I use the terms 'socialism' and 'communism' interchangeably.
(3) As the USSR had a minority ruling class, i.e. the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, which controlled the wealth of society and issued orders to everybody else it clearly wasn't communist, despite the rhetoric of both it and its opponents.
Thinking about anarchism
This edition is No84 published in Jan 2005