Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

The State and Politics: some definitions (1966?)

Society is the totality of relations existing between individuals. A social structure is a more or less persistent set of relations having a function which is compatible with the aims of the group of individuals supporting it. Structures range from fluid ones which depend on direct support to ones that are more rigid and semi or completely Autonomous, e.g. the state.

Depending on usage and context the state is either the set of rigid social structures recognised in a particular geographical area or a smaller subset of these. Its function is to manage relations with other like structures and to regulate the activities of other social organisations - most rigid social structures and some fluid ones - in its realm. To do this it may attempt to regulate individual activity.

The state can do this due to its autonomy and possession of the structures of violence and coercion which allow it to function with very little actual support. This power to do so is political power. When individuals or structures other than the state have political power it means that they can ensure the state's functioning in a way compatible with their aims. Other analogous "powers" exist in connection with similar rigid structures but non-state structures lack the monopoly of violence and must rely instead on moral or material coercion.

If politics is hence defined as the activity of fighting for or defending some group's political power, the activity of destroying political power must be anti-political.

From what has been said it should be clear that the individual is better served by and less threatened by fluid structures or by rigid structures without political power. Certainly powers other than political power exist but in the absence of political power they cannot long be used by a minority against a majority as the majority would be able to create alternative structures. Indeed in most cases it would seem that even a minority cannot be coerced without the ultimate guarantee of political power.

A distinction can be made between the individual as individual and the individual as agent or component of a given social structure. As an agent of the structure an individual must determine policy from the available facts and intended function of the structure or execute such policies determined from its function. In rigid organisations this reduces largely to implementation of standardised "if-then" rules and the individual as such vanishes. When an individual in a rigid organisation starts behaving as an individual the functioning of the organisation is in some sense impaired and in extreme cases it may collapse - e.g. mass revolts in an army. In other cases however such a change may leave the organisation intact but change its total function as with generals' revolts.

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