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The Syndicate

A model which could replace the state in an anarchistic society

The notion syndicate is common in anarchism, and different anarchistic directions have very different ideas about its properties. I use this notion to describe what we obtain if we impose the Golden Rule on a modern state.

The requirement is to include the Golden Rule into the constitution of the state – as the most important, unchangeable, basic rule:

Article 1: Every behaviour which is legitimate for this organization is legitimate for everybody else too.

As the immediate result, this organization is no longer a state – indeed, this organization does not have any legal monopoly.

On the other hand, it may have factual monopolies in certain domains. If we start with an existing state, it has all the monopolies which has a state, in particular in the domain of military, police, courts, jail, and owns a lot of infrastructure. But, despite these actual monopolies, it is no longer a state (an organization violating the Golden Rule). That's why I need a new term for this organization, and syndicate has been my choice.

Instead of the "laws" or the constitution of the state, the syndicate has a statute. It is this statute which contains the Article 1 (the Golden Rule), and which should be in agreement with the Golden Rule in all its parts.

There is nothing wrong with factual monopolies

It is important to distinguish between the legal monopoly, which violates the Golden Rule because it forbids others to do what you do yourself, and a factual monopoly which simply means that nobody else likes to do what you are doing. There is nothing morally or economically wrong with a factual monopoly.

Anything done by the syndicate in agreement with its statute is fine. It can use all its factual monopolies without further restrictions.

A consequence of article 1 is that everybody else has the right to start a competing business in any domain where the former state has yet a factual monopoly. Forbidding this would violate the Golden Rule. But there is no further requirement of "privatization" – what was owned by the state, is now owned by the syndicate. It has all the advantages of a very big firm with factual monopoly except one: It can no longer forbid its possible competitors to compete, nor directly, nor indirectly via "regulations" by the state.

This right to compete is already sufficient to force the factual monopoly to prepare for competition. In particular, it restricts the ability of the factual monopoly to ask arbitrary prices for its goods. And the basic idea is simple: Or the prices are too high – then one can make money offering the same goods for a fair price – or they are fair – then there is nothing wrong with the factual monopoly.

There is nothing wrong with combining different businesses

It is part of the criticism of the state that it combines very different things, which are in no way related with each other – building streets, managing TV channels, banking, military, jails, consumer protection, courtship and arbitrage, regulation of working conditions and lots of other human activities, various types of insurances.

But as long as others are not forbidden to do similar things, there is nothing morally or economically reprehensible with combining such different activities. This is something many private firms do to some extend. If this is efficient or not is a different question – with quite high probability it is not. But this is something which will be decided on the free market. If the free market decides that this combination is efficient, fine – there is no reason to object.

There is nothing wrong with syndicate-internal democracy

Last but not least, there is also nothing morally wrong with internal democracy as a rule for decision-making in the syndicate. Democracy is certainly not without problems, and these problems may be quite heavy, as shown by public choice theory. But this is an internal problem of the syndicate, it does not violate any rights of non-members of the syndicate. If you don't like the democratic decisions, leave the syndicate.

The possibility to leave

Membership in a civilized organization, which does not violate the Golden Rule, is not obligatory. There has to be also a possibility for members to leave the organization.

This is, of course, something which weakens the organization, so various organizations try to use various methods to restrict this possibility. This goes up to jail (communist countries) or even death penalty (religions like Islam) for those who leave the organization. Another possibility is not to give the ones who leave a fair part of the property of the organization.

While citizens of modern states usually have the right to leave their country, they usually do not obtain any fair share of their ownership of all what is owned by the state. This is a point which is worth to be corrected.

A simple way to do this is to transform the state into some form of society where citizenship is replaced by ownership of some share. This share may, then, be sold if one wants to leave the organization.

The syndicate as the final point of a peaceful transition from a state to a civilized organization

Once there is nothing wrong with some of the basic properties of current states (factual monopolies, combining very different things, democratic decision making) and the Golden Rule is completely realized in the statute of the syndicate, there is nothing morally objectionable with a syndicate. So it may be the final point of a peaceful transition from the current amoral, criminal state to a morally acceptable organization.

But that does not mean that it is the final point of development. Instead, it is an organization acting on a free market, face to face with actual and potential competitors, even in the domain where it has factual monopolies. It can lose its factual monopolies, it can be splitted into parts, it can optimize its internal organization.

It may also lose its power and vanish completely, with more successful, more efficient competitors replacing it. That's fine too.

There is only one dangerous possibility for the development of a syndicate – the backward transition into the uncivilized, criminal past, the state.

Conditions of stability

So let's evaluate the danger of a syndicate developing back into a state. We cannot completely exclude this danger. There is certainly a possibility for a syndicate to become a state. At least if it has a factual monopoly in the military, there will be no military force which is able to prevent this. And, unfortunately, military power is a domain where a monopoly seems quite natural.

Given that our syndicate is up to now only a hypothetical construction, there is also not much available as a base for an estimate.

So, are we left completely uncertain about this danger? Fortunately not. The point is that the syndicate remains in many of its properties similar to a state. There are some important differences, but also important similarities. And these similarities, together with the evaluation of how the differences influence the probability of a transition, allow a meaningful comparison with another transition probability – the probability of transition from a "nice" state (say, democratic, with respect to human rights, freedom of speech, and fair justice) into an "evil" state (say, fascist or fundamentalist dictatorship).

This second probability has the advantage that we have some reasonable expectations about it. Moreover, it is the relative value which is much more interesting than some absolute probabilities. If the probability of a transition of a syndicate into a state (it doesn't matter which type of state) is lower than the probability of transition of a nice state into an evil state, then it is reasonable to prefer a syndicate – it gives more security against the thing we are really afraid of, against the transition into an evil state.

Comparison syndicate – state

But this is what we have to expect. The syndicate is, with its factual monopoly in many different domains, very powerful. But the syndicate is restricted by the Golden Rule, a restriction which does not exist for states, even for very nice states. This has an important consequence:

Even a "nice" state is much more powerful than a syndicate

To do many things which are everyday practice in every state of the world, good or bad, nice or evil, would be a violation of its statute, a violation of the Golden Rule.

The danger of violating the own statute

Certainly violations of statutes, constitutions, and laws by states are far away from being impossible. Everyday life is full of them, and the "independent" justice which is obliged to control the state is in fact closely related in many ways with the politicians. The politicians decide about the highest judges, or they have at least a great influence on this process. In particular, not much of the essence of the American Constitution has been left today: The Constitution is about a federation of independent states, but in real life the US of A are a central state in almost all important questions.

Despite this constitutions and the control of constitutions by independent courts are a powerful way to protect the rights of the people against the state. There have been lots of decisions of such courts in favour of freedom, against the state. The system restricts the politicians in some important aspects. In particular, the usual way of transition which makes a constitution meaningless takes a quite long time and works piece by piece. With this technique, after a hundred of years not much may be left from the original constitution. But this is not what politicians elected for four years prefer.

So, in states the danger of violating the constitution exists, and it can transform restricted states into much more powerful states at least in the long run (with the US in the last century as an illustration). Let's also not forget that the transition of Germany 1933 from democracy to Hitlerism was in a large part legal, with only a few violations of laws in the process of taking power.

What, and to which extend, changes if we replace a state by a syndicate?

Thus, there are some effects which make a violation of the statute, in particular of the Golden Rule, more problematic for syndicates than violations of the constitutions are for states today.

The danger of an open military coup

What about the danger that the syndicate, based simply on its military power, establishes an open military dictatorship? This danger has to be compared with an open military coup by the military of a "nice" state.

This danger certainly exist – there is a long list of successful military coups against more or less "democratic" governments which have lead to more or less long term military dictatorships. But even if it exists, the danger depends on some properties of the society which are difficult to define but nonetheless very influental. Nobody would expect a successful military coup in, say, the US or most European states.

What are the properties of the society which are different in so-called "stable democracies" where a military coup seems to be without a chance and other states where military coups have a real chance of success? This is a difficult and interesting question. The answer is not simple. In particular, it does not seem to be a simple question of a law. Military coups against the government are forbidden in all states. And if they fail, the penalty for the attempt may be much higher in those states where such a coup is probable. So no forbidding it nor establishing a high penalty for the attempt to organize it solves the problem.

What obviously makes an important difference is the public opinion about the legitimacy of such a coup. In particular, if the state is considered to be ruled by corrupt criminals anyway, and the military is considered to be the lesser evil, then a military coup has a greater chance of success. Instead, if the population considers a military government as evil, a military coup has much less chances.

What are the differences between a state and a syndicate in this question?

We conclude that a military coup which openly violates the statute of the syndicate seems less probable than a military coup in a democratic state, even if we compare it with a modern stable democracy where such a coup is very improbable.

But a central point is, of course, the question of legitimacy in the public opinion. If in an anarchistic society the state is considered by a majority as legitimate, then a military coup which reestablishes a state has a good chance. Anarchy, as democracy, will be stable only if the public opinion considers the alternative – a military dictatorship – as more evil.