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Murray Bookchin - How I Became An Anarchist (1983)

[Video Link; originally from the documentary Anarchism In America]

Please have patience with some of the terminology, the general idea delievered throughout the video is very insightful...

Transcript [With Extra Resource Links Added Throughout]

My background and how I have become an "Anarchist" is a long, long story. I had entered the Communist children's movement, an organization called "The Young Pioneers of America", in 1930 in New York City. I was only nine years of age and had gone through the entire 30's as a "Stalinist" initially, and then increasingly as someone who was more and more sympathetic to "Trotskyism". And by 1939, after having seen Hitler rise to power, the Austrian worker's revolt of 1934, an almost completely forgotten episode in labor history, the Spanish Revolution, by which I mean the so-called "Spanish Civil War", I finally became utterly disillusioned with "Stalinism" and drifted increasingly towards "Trotskyism". And by 1945, I finally also became disillusioned with "Trotskyism", and I would say now, increasingly with "Marxism" and "Leninism".

But the essential thing so far as I am concerned, as I reflect upon all of this now, is that I had gone through a period of "Marxism" which is almost unknown today to many American radicals, a period when "Marxism" was a worker's movement to a very great extent, when it was a movement in the streets in which hundreds of thousands of people at times could be brought out in massive demonstrations throughout the country under red flags, whether it be "Communist" or "Socialist". And by the end of the Second World War, and particularly by the end of the 1940s, I literally saw this movement disappear, and disappear from history, at least as far as the United States is concerned. And I have no belief whatever that it will come back again. Namely, what I am saying is that I saw the end of the classical worker's movement.

And I had to ask myself, "Why had this come about? What did this mean?" And the conclusion I came to was this: that the worker's movement never really had a revolutionary potential. That the factories...and I had worked in factories for ten years, and had worked in factories partly as a labor organizer in the old CIO before it united with the AFL, when it was still in a very "militant" stage of its development...that this worker's movement had never really had the revolutionary potentialities that Marx attributed to it, that, point in fact, the factory which is supposed to "organize" the workers in Marxist language, mobilize them and instill in them the class consciousness that is to stem out of a conflict between "wage labor" and "capital", in fact had created habits of mind in the worker that served to regiment the worker, that served in fact to assimilate the worker to the work ethic, to the industrial routine, to hierarchical forms of organization...and that, no matter how compellingly Marx had argued that such a movement could have revolutionary consequences, in fact such a movement could have nothing but a purely adaptive function, an adjunct to the "capitalist system" itself.

And I began to try to explore what were "movements", and "ideologies" if you like, that really were liberatory, that really freed people of this hierarchical sensibility and mentality, of this authoritarian outlook, of this complete assimilation by the work ethic. And I now began to turn, very consciously, towards "Anarchist" views, because "Anarchism" posed a question, not simply of a struggle between "classes" based upon economic exploitation. "Anarchism" really was posing a much broader historical question that even goes beyond our industrial civilization, not just "classes" but hierarchy, hierarchy as it exists in the family, hierarchy as it exists in the school, hierarchy as it exists in sexual relationships, hierarchy as it exists between ethnic groups, not only class divisions based upon economic exploitation. And it was concerned not only with economic exploitation, it was concerned with domination, domination which may not even have any economic meaning at all, the domination of women by men in which women are not economically exploited, the domination of ordinary people by bureaucrats in which you may even have a welfare, so-called "Socialist" type of state, domination as it exists today in China even when you are supposed to have a "classless" society, domination as it exists today in Russia where you are supposed to have a "classless" society.

So these are the things that I noted in "Anarchism", and increasingly I came to the conclusion that if were to avoid, or if we are to avoid the mistakes that were made over 100 years of proletarian "Socialism", if we are to really achieve a liberatory movement, not simply in terms of economic questions but in terms of every aspect of life, we would have to turn to "Anarchism" because it alone posed the problem, not merely of class domination, but hierarchical domination, and it alone posed the question not simply of economic exploitation, but exploitation in every sphere of life. And it was that growing awareness, that we had to go beyond classism to hierarchy, and beyond exploitation into domination, that lead me into "Anarchism" and to a commitment to an "Anarchist" outlook.

Personal Comments

Getting a first-hand account like this shows just how much of the history of the United States (and of other places) has been either unintentionally forgotten or intentionally obscured, such as the economic aspects behind the "American Revolution", the importance of "muckraking journalism" in uncovering corruption and advocating for human rights, the history of organizations like "The League for Industrial Democracy", and of the existence of a "worker's movement" in general. [Thanks to Auzzie Jay for this last link!]

But perhaps most importantly, this video highlights a fundamental aspect of human nature that often gets completely trampled upon by "hierarchical domination". To explain what I mean, I will transcribe another excellent video that complements this one well, "Anarchism and Human Nature" by the YouTube channel Libertarian Communist Platform. Even if you don't identify with such labels, please carefully consider its contents...

Transcript [With Extra Resource Links Added Throughout]

Under what conditions do human beings thrive? When do human beings do well? In this video, I would like to consider the needs and capacities that human beings have and argue that we thrive and realize our potential when our needs are met. Social hierarchy typically runs counter to the needs which human beings have and creates conditions under which people become alienated from the valuable capacities that they possess.

If we want human beings to thrive and realize their potential, we ought to meet their essential needs. And since hierarchy runs counter to these needs, it ought to be dismantled whenever possible. Human nature, far from being an argument against "Anarchism", is a strong case for it as a non-hierarchical society creates conditions under which human beings can unleash their true potential.

A human nature argument for "Anarchism" can begin with something called "Self-Determination Theory". "Self-Determination Theory", intially founded by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, posits that human beings have three key psychological needs: competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

We need to feel that we are effective in dealing with the environment around us and that we are good at what we do. We need to feel a sense of connection with the other human beings around us and that we are cared for by others. We need to feel that we have some sense of control over our lives, that we aren't just pawns on a chessboard, and that we are acting in accordance with our integrated sense of self and the values that we have developed over time.

According to "Self-Determination Theory", or SDT, these essential needs are not learned but are inherent to human nature and exist across all societies and cultures. To the extent that these needs are met, well-being is enhanced. And to the extent that they are thwarted, we can expect people to become ill and alienated. The model of human nature that SDT supports is, in my opinion, a stable base that lends itself well to "Anarchism". SDT shows that we call for "Anarchist" forms of organization because the core needs and drives we possess as human beings require it and because social hierarchy runs counter to these needs and drives.

A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found support for the notion that we have a need for autonomy and that this need is cross-cultural. Quote:
...we found that whatever cultural practices one is considering, there appears to be a positive relation between more internalized or autonomous regulation of those practices and well-being [...] we found that whether one's behavior and attitudes are individualistic, collectivistic, horizontal, or vertical in nature, more autonomous enactment is associated with greater well-being. [...] we see the very nature of vertical social arrangements as more inherently conflictual vis-a-vis SDT's postulated basic needs for autonomy and relatedness. Vertical socities frequently require individuals to forego autonomy and to subordinate themselves to heteronomous influences. In addition, vertical societies place boundaries around those with whom intimacy and connectedness can be established. [...] this study shows that, across diverse cultures, the issue of autonomy can be similarly understood and that, across diverse practices, autonomy is associated with well-being.
Another study by Ed Deci and Richard Ryan looked at the well-being of workers in state-owned companies in Bulgaria and compared this with workers in a United States corporation. They found that:
The degree of autonomy-supportiveness of the work climate did predict overall need satisfaction in each culture, and need satisfaction in turn predicted both task engagement and well-being. Thus, by showing that satisfying these needs promotes motivation and mental health across cultures, results of the study are consistent with the view that these needs are universal.
Autonomy is also an important need, not just for adult workers, but for young people in school. A study looking at adolescent satisfaction with life and school again found a relationship between support for autonomy and well-being across different cultures, particularly Denmark and the United States:
To the extent that adolescents felt that their parents and teachers understand their perspectives and allowed them to make their own choices, adolescents positively perceived their lives and their experiences in school. In contrast, when adolescents felt controlled by their parents and teachers, and felt that these authorities treated the adolescents' own experiences and choices as relatively unimportant, they reported lower satisfaction with life and school.
A 2001 study by Chirkov and Ryan looking at student self-motivation and well-being found that:
...for both Russian and U.S. adolescents, the issue of autonomy-support versus control by parents and teachers has salience and significance. It appears that in both cultural samples, perceiving others as supporting one's autonomy facilitates well-being and self-motivation. [...] the need to experience one's behavior as self-regulated and self-endorsed may be critical to psychological health across human groups, as Self-Determination Theory has suggested.
Human beings have an innate need to have control over their lives and also to feel as if the people around them facilitate this sense of control. As "Anarchists", we believe that for example, workplaces ought to be owned and run democratically by their workers because this kind of economic arrangement, called "workers' self-management", meets the human needs of the workers for autonomy. It seems very unusual to suggest that meeting the innate human need for autonomy is somehow contrary to human nature when we have reason to believe that people having autonomy is associated with positive psychological outcomes.

Ed Deci contrasts autonomous motivation and controlled motivation as follows:
"Autonomous motivation" really means to do something with the full sense of willingness, volition, endorsement of the activity. It's having a sense of "this is what I want to be doing now", "this is what I choose to be doing now". The experience that goes along with what we call "controlled motivation", which is what I am talking about now, is that "I am feeling pressured and tense about it", "there's forces operating on me and making me be doing this", for instance.
One study looked at the relationship between autonomous motivation, controlled motivation, and the outcome of interpersonal therapy for recurrent depression. It found that: "...for those with highly recurrent depression, the therapeutic alliance predicted remission" while "autonomous motivation had no effect". However, for those with less recurrent depression, the therapeutic alliance and autonomous motivation resulted in greater likelihood of achieving remission. Importantly, controlled motivation was negatively associated with achieving remission across the board!

Autonomous motivation is also a predictor of something called "flow". "Flow" describes a state in which a person becomes fully immersed and focused on an activity. They are completely engaged. They have a full and thorough appreciation for what they are doing, and this brings them intense feelings of enjoyment.

A Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi, identified a number of characteristics of "flow" states, which includes, but is not limited to: having a feeling of control over the task, feeling that one's skills are meeting a challenge, and the experience itself being intrinsically rewarding.

A study looking at "flow" in the context of higher education found that Psychology students experienced more "flow" when they were autonomously motivated as opposed to having controlled motivation.

Giving people autonomy meets the essential needs of humans, and this need satisfaction enhances peoples' capacity to fully engage themselves with what's going on. Conversely, when people are deprived of their autonomy, when we go through the experience of feeling like as Ed Deci says "forces are operating on us" and making us behave in a certain way, our needs are unsatisfied and that diminishes our capacity to engage with what's going on.

For examples of this we can look at how rewards, a simple example of imposing controlled motivation on people, "do this and you'll get that", affect us. We have reason to believe that dangling goodies in front of people in order to get them to behave in a certain way is inherently destructive to human nature. Rewards increase the likelihood that we will do something, but they change the way we do it.

Alfie Kohn writes [on pg. 35 of Punished By Rewards]:
They offer one particular reason for doing it, sometimes displacing other motivations. And they change the attitude we take towards the activity.
When people are rewarded for doing something, they continue doing it for as long as the reward persists, but when the rewards run out, they lose their interest in it. For example, in 1972 a systematic review of the research looking at "token economies", which dispense rewards for acting in a certain way, found that there were numerous reports of token programs showing behavior change only while contingent token reinforcement is being delievered. Generally, removal of token reinforcement results in decrements in desirable responses and a return to baseline or near baseline levels of performance. In other words, when the goodies stopped, people lost interest.

A study looking at childrens' interest in particular games when rewards were involved found that when the rewards started, the kids promptly gravitated to the games that led to a payoff. When the rewards disappeared, their interest in those games dropped significantly, to the point that many were now less interested in them than were children who had never been rewarded in the first place.

A review of 28 programs encouraging people to wear seatbelts found that reward-based programs which gave people prizes or cash for wearing seatbelts were the least effective over the long haul, whereas programs without rewards were actually more effective, which was contrary to the predictions of the authors.

Rewards tend to produce temporary compliance, not behavior change that lasts beyond the reward. When in a situation where someone is saying "do this and you'll get that", our minds tend to assume that the reward is the only reason for doing the activity. Hence, why we lose interest as soon as the goodies stop. But when we are in these conditions, we also tend to feel as if our behavior is being controlled by external forces. By getting us to think this way, rewards actively undermine our intrinsic interest in the activity at hand and our autonomous motivation.

If an activity is creative, stimulating, and interesting, this will be undermined when rewards are introduced. Teresa Amabile has conducted multiple studies looking at rewards and creativity, and found that young creative writers wrote less creative poetry when made to focus on rewards. Children and adults making collages and inventing stories also had their creativity undermined from the use of rewards. And professional artists did less creative work when being rewarded.

A study by Sam Glucksberg found that offering people rewards for a task invovling the use of creative thinking to solve problems actually resulted in them taking longer than those not being rewarded. The effect of offering someone a reward for doing something is to diminish that person's creativity. When people are made to do things in order to get rewards, the rewards interfere with their performance.

A 1971 study with high school students found that people being promised rewards did a poorer job on a variety of tasks than people who weren't.

A 1981 study by Fabes and colleagues found that undergraduate students had a lower level of intellectual functioning when they were rewarded for their scores on the more sophisticated parts of an intelligence test.

In fact, in Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink argues that rewards ought to be used when the task itself is menial or requires very little thought or creativity.

Morton Deutsch argues that rewards work best for those who are alienated from their work, that is, for people doing tasks that seem pointless or a drudge, where there isn't any intrinsic interest to be found in the activity itself.

Alfie Kohn writes [on pg. 46 of Punished By Rewards]:
Rewards usually improve performance only at extremely simple - indeed, mindless - tasks, and even then they improve only quantitative performance.
At this point, we ought to take a moment to consider the need human beings have for competence, and note that being trained for compliance not only undermines people's autonomy, but also reduces their creative and intellectual faculties.

Another study found that the use of controlling teaching methods makes children more prone to helpless behavior and this interferes with their performance.

We can look further at how hierarchy affects people by considering the impact of competition on human relationships. Hierarchical systems by their very nature create centers of power, and these centers of power may or may not be treated as scarce resources that people have to compete with each other to obtain. Indeed, capitalist society valorizes the notion that individuals ought to compete with each other for the acquisition of wealth and resources.

Alfie Kohn writes [on pg. 134 of No Contest]:
In the workplace, one tries to remain on friendly terms with one's colleagues, but there is guardedness, a part of the self held in reserve; even when no rivalry exists at the moment, one never knows whom one will have to compete against next week.
Carole Ames found that, in her studies with children, competition can cause people to believe that they are not the source of or in control of what happens to them, and this external locus of control interferes with their performance. This is contrasted with an internal locus of control where people feel that the outcomes of what happens in their lives are determined by their own actions as opposed to external forces beyond their control.

A study by David and Roger Johnson found that cooperative learning, when compared with competitive and individualistic learning situations, "promoted more positive attitudes towards heterogeneity among peers; higher self-esteem; more positive attitudes toward the teacher, fellow cooperators, and conflict; more internal locus of control; and higher daily achievement".

The mutually exclusive goal attainment that characterizes competition, "I succeed only if you fail", compels people to work at cross-purposes. It erodes our sense of community by creating anxiety and hostility in our relations with other people.

A famous experiment called "The Robbers Cave Experiment" looked at the behavior of Boy Scouts in situations of cooperation and competition. As the experiment predicted, when the Boy Scouts were separated into groups and set against each other to compete, they developed hostile attitudes to one another.

Alfie Kohn writes [on pg. 146 of No Contest]:
The boys began taunting and insulting each other, in some cases, turning against good friends who were now on the opposing team. They burned each other's banners, planned raids, threw food, and attacked each other after the games and at night.
When the groups were cooperating towards common goals, people were a lot nicer to each other.

David and Roger Johnson carried out 37 studies looking at different learning arrangements, cooperative and competitive. And in 35 of these studies, it was found that cooperation enhances "interpersonal attraction" among students. "Interpersonal attraction" refers to a number of effects, such as more giving and receiving of encouragement to and from peers, greater sensitivity to the needs of others, less self-centeredness, greater capacity to imagine the perspective of others, fewer difficulties communicating, and greater trust.

While competition creates anxiety, aggression, and hostility, cooperative conditions promote far more empathic behavior. Remember the human need for relatedness, and consider that cooperative conditions are far more suited to meeting this need than competitive ones. As "Anarchists", we promote cooperation over competition precisely because we see cooperation as being fundamentally more in line with our human need to feel connected to others.

What Self-Determination Theory shows is that human beings have innate needs and capacities for competence, relatedness, and autonomy, and to the extent that these needs are met, human beings will thrive. And to the extent that they are thwarted, human beings will become ill and alienated.

The conditions of social hierarchy, in which people are subjected to control from above, and in which people are encouraged to compete with one another for power and resources, creates an environment in which the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy are not met, resulting in ill-being and alienation. Subordination to authority undermines autonomous motivation, reduces our intellectual and creative faculties, and ruptures our relationships with our peers.

If we suppose that the needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy should be met, and if we see hierarchical organization as conflictual to these needs, then the "Anarchist" position, which is that hierarchy has a burden of proof to meet and that if it fails to meet this burden of proof it should be dismantled and replaced with horizontal organization, is entirely consistent with the view of human nature posited by Self-Determination Theory.

We are "Anarchists" because living as self-determined, curious and thoughtful agents, cultivating our skills and abilities, and sharing in the experience of this cultivation as part of a community, is fundamentally more in line with our inherent needs and capacities as human beings than being made to live as fragmented, alienated, atomized machines responding to external forces. With this in mind, to show that "Anarchism" is incompatible with human nature, the advocate for social hierarchy has a number of options. One option is to argue that hierarchy meets other more essential needs that human beings have and does so more effectively than non-hierarchy. A second option is to accept SDT, but to argue that social hierarchy is somehow not conflictual to the needs. A third option is to argue that the premises of SDT are false. And I think you'd be hard pressed to find evidence for any of these.