Monday, April 14, 2008

Petit Bourgeois Anarchist: Enemy or Ally?

Right now, I have received a bachelors of science in Business Administration from a small liberal arts college and am currently working in small restaurant owned by my family. I started out with that major because I ultimately plan on taking over the family business. And strangely enough I became a libertarian socialist, which rejects the capitalist values I was taught. Now my major doesn’t seem like much of a fit with who I am. Maybe I would have been happier learning something else, but what’s done is done. I am not sure that I will be continuing my education any time soon, but I never let school get in the way of my education anyways. As far as plans go, I am already getting more involved in the family-owned restaurant. Since I have been born, my family has been very well off, but they had to work up from having next to nothing. So I’ve been part of the upper middle class for my entire life. I know that there are quite a few libertarian socialists out there who are part of the petite bourgeois and can probably relate to some of the feelings of guilt I am experiencing. On the flipside, I definitely believe that my family’s financial success gave me the time, resources, and opportunity to develop my own thoughts. Their success may actually be partially responsible for my ever reaching my beliefs in libertarian socialism. Unfortunately, the nature of state capitalism seems to do a really good job at preventing many people from having the time, resources, and energy to thoughtfully consider things like anarchism.

I am currently working at our family restaurant, and I am doing my own research to better organize and improve upon our restaurant’s success. In keeping with my libertarian socialist beliefs, I am trying to implement better pay while dealing with my parents who are blocking my suggested changes. I am trying to come to a compromise with them by actually developing a pay scheme that would somehow fall between a co-operative form of profit sharing and a normal hierarchical small capitalist business. I just can’t convince the rest of my family to bring in others to share in the ownership of the business. They understandably want to keep the business solely within the family, and I do want to respect their wishes. At the same time, I can’t help but feeling like I am being part of the problem. A small part no doubt, but a part nonetheless. I’m certainly wealthy, but I am not disgustingly super rich. The consolidation of global big business interests is certainly doing no favors for small business.

I know that many anarchists could consider my being a small business owner and therefore a boss fairly hypocritical. To some extent I agree, although I look at anarchism as trying to make everyone his or her own boss. We want everyone to essentially be business owners, and that naturally sounds very petit bourgeois. Although I could probably be called a “petit bourgeois anarchist”, which is a dirty word for some libertarian socialists, I believe that because I live in a State Capitalist society, where money unfortunately buys freedom, I don't have much of a choice other than to use the system to thrive and survive. It would just be a lot to risk giving up. I cannot give up what my grandparents and parents have painstakingly built from the ground up throughout the years. They themselves had to struggle through financial hardship, and I want to make sure that my children and grandchildren don’t have to go through that. I simply do not have the confidence to radically restructure an already very successful business and believe that it would be immensely foolish to give up what I have. Furthermore, I can use the resources gained from our business to hopefully promote some good. We can see that as anarchists we face a never-ending inward and outward struggle for freedom and equality.

Most of us want more money and thus more freedom and power within the current state capitalist system. For the most part, we have no choice but to play their corrupt game. If we don’t, our lives can become quite uncomfortable. Trying to destroy an inequitable system that saturates our society can be very risky to ones own security, health, comfort, and life. Once you move up the socioeconomic ladder it becomes very hard to destroy the very ladder you had to climb to get where you are. It’s understandable that my parents and grandparents, who had to scrape by and work extremely hard to create a successful small business, would be very leery of my desire to share the wealth, comfort, and control with others. Fighting the system can be very risky business. It is for that reason that I believe the anarchist movement needs to do a better job at giving those who don’t want to directly confront the state-government a better outlet for exercising their beliefs. I have no qualms about those who engage in illegal acts such as vandalism, squatting, and violent protest, but unfortunately such activities seem to alienate many people who would like to be doing something for the anarchist movement. While some of us are directly confronting the state-government power head-on, we need others to more actively circumventing the system through the anarchistic organization of their daily lives. As we can see, we certainly have an incredibly uphill battle.

It is clear why a movement that desires such radical change needs the widespread support of the working class (they are the ones who have the least to lose) but I am unsure that the petit bourgeoisie has no role to play. The petit bourgeois has things to gain from libertarian socialism as well. When oppressor an oppressed interact it is not only the oppressed who suffers although they arguable suffer the most. The oppressor also suffers from alienation, dehumanization, guilt, and inner turmoil that result when still being an oppressor with a human conscience. Unfortunately, a large part of the problem is that many in the working class desperately want only to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Many can only see the option of becoming the oppressor to alleviate being oppressed. They see that as the only realistic option to get out of their desperate situation. Many can’t see the alternative of destroying the oppressive ladder altogether. That is a huge part of the problem with our fight against the state capitalist system. The truth is that those within the working class need to step up and assume the roles of management and capital ownership. As anarchists have always said, the revolution needs to come from below and not from above. The working class needs to start becoming small business owners and self-managers of their own communities.

I might not seek to change my current family-owned business into something more compatible with my libertarian socialist ideals, but I personally dream of eventually opening up a separate worker-owned store of some kind. It is certainly possible that this might become a reality thanks to my current access to property and resources. It would ultimately depend upon my technical understanding, financial situation, human resources, level of interest, and will power. Maybe then the rest of the anarchist community won't consider me too much of a hypocrite. It would definitely be a risky venture, so I will be keeping our current restaurant as financial backup instead of trying to radically restructure it. Hopefully, my access to capital will help me further put my principles into action. This control over resources is what the working class desperately needs to really progress the libertarian socialist movement. I also plan on supporting counter-economic activities by promoting things such as the use of alternate forms of currency. While trying to bring down the system, the anarchist movement must also be about finding peace and freedom within our own personal relationships. Even if we can’t completely bring down the state-government and capitalism, there are things all of us could probably do to make ourselves freer. At least we have our freedom of thought. It’s about seeking out and enjoying our own little slice of freedom. So is a petit bourgeois anarchist an enemy or ally? What’s the verdict? We must all fight the enemies outside and within ourselves.


Jeremy said...

I'm sort of going through the same thing, actually... about to start an LLC to do my freelance web development, but the whole idea of incorporating is just creepy. And yet, I really can't compete without it.

I found this essay to be very helpful. Business is really no different than any other endeavor in the community. All you have to do is not be driven by profit, or at least balance maintenance of your own household with service to the community. Business creates wealth, and there's no reason why that wealth cannot be allocated in a just manner. This social responsibility argument is perfectly valid, IMHO, when applied to individuals (I find it vulgar when applied to institutions because systems don't have a conscience).

Keep experimenting and agitating. We should talk more about what it means to be a conscious business, especially from the mutualist perspective. We might even bring in Shawn Wilbur, who used to run a bookstore, and see what he thinks.

Thanks for bringing this up. As you can see, blogging is not just speaking one way to the world - it's a way to start conversations.

Belinsky said...

Definitely an interesting dilemma. In my view, we simply ought to be just to the best of our abilities. As long as you try and make some progress, it seems alright to me. Perhaps you might try to slowly convert your business into a cooperative, over time. Not being able to completely overcome one's parents is perfectly understandable, though; just do what you can within those constraints. No one is perfect!

Cork said...

I fear you are going to spend your entire life miserable and unhappy with this kind of attitude. There is no reason to feel guilty about having a job, and no reason why every business has to be a cooperative. Why so glum? Cheer up.

Silent Radical said...

Thanks for that interesting article, Jeremy. I am sure most anarchists feel guilt towards some aspect of their lives because we all currently have to somehow act within the state capitalist system we disagree with. Just being in one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world is cause for feelings of unease. We are all benefiting from things on a daily basis that are incompatible with our ideals in one form or another. I am glad that I am not alone in my guilt and hope that some of my words help other anarchists realize that they are not alone either. Let’s definitely keep this important conversation going!

Belinsky, thanks for expressing your understanding of my dilemma. Although, I am not sure if I can ever fully convert my family’s current restaurant into a cooperative, I am definitely trying to make some progress for the benefit of our employees. I dislike the whole employer-employee relationship, but under my current parental and financial constraints, all I can currently do is try to gradually improve things for our employees. By the way, does anyone know of any good resources explaining what would constitute a just wage for employees working in a small family-owned restaurant? I may make some progress within our current restaurant, but if I want to take part in a full-fledged co-operative, I would probably need to go about creating a completely separate business. My sister is actually going into the medical field and she may eventually want to establish a private practice. Therefore, I might have a good chance at being part of the creation of some kind of health co-operative.

Cork, don’t worry. I am not actually as miserable and unhappy as my somber post has led you believe. Most of us experience some level of cognitive dissonance as a result of wanting to radically change the world. With the current state of human existence I find it perfectly reasonable to feel some level of guilt, discomfort, and unease. If one doesn’t have such feelings, then I would have to say that there is something wrong with the person. I can assure you that I am not experiencing any debilitating anger, sadness, frustration, or depression. I am merely trying to motivate myself and others to work as hard as possible towards the practical application of our ideals within our daily lives. I am merely trying to figure out how to aid progress towards freedom and equality to the greatest extent that I am able.

John M├ędaille said...

There is not the slightest reason for any reasonable guilt in what you say. If you are providing a good product at fair price, and paying decent wages, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Profit is the necessary measure of a business, even if it is not the sole measure. To make it the sole measure would be to deprive it of its soul.

However, if you decide that your restaurant needs to be a conglomerate, with a thousand branches and a million slaves, then we'll hear your confession. Until then, cheer up, share your good fortune with your friends, share your good looks with the ladies, and at least some of your excess cash with the cashless. More than this is not required.

Silent Radical said...

Thanks for your kind words, John.