Are Public Spending Cuts an ‘Anti-State’ Measure?

Relevantly to a previous post entitled ‘why I hate David Cameron’, there has recently been the announcement that the public sector should anticipate 40% cuts. Now, this is probably a ruse to make eventual 30% cuts seem milder, but it’s still amazing. Although healthcare is, supposedly, to be spared, cuts to benefits, education, transport, housing, etc. are going to be catastrophic, not to mention hundreds of thousands more unemployed and a substantial risk of it all generating a fresh recession.

I’ve had people suggest to me, though, that in some sense I should welcome these plans, what with denying the legitimacy of the state etc. Isn’t this a ‘rollback’ of the state, a step towards it’s abolition? How can an anarchist object to a reduction in state spending?

In fact, the same point could be made on more specific topics. How could someone both support the abolition of work, and also object to job losses? How could someone both support the abolition of school, and also object to cuts to education? Etc.

But then there are cases of the same phenomenon that already begin to indicate the resolution of the paradox. How could someone both support the abolition of prisons, and also object to overcrowded, underfunded prisons? How could someone both support the abolition of zoos, and also object to the financial neglect of zoos? Quite easily, actually.

What becomes obvious in these last two cases is that when dealing with what we might call ‘confining’ institutions, which work essentially by controlling and restricting people’s actions and movements, reducing their resources will often mean intensifying their confining function.

An underfunded prison, which has to put more inmates in fewer rooms, and can organise fewer opportunities to leave those rooms, confines people more, not less. A neglected zoo similarly – whatever stultification and frustration it imposes on the animals it contains is likely to increase as the zoo becomes poorer. And to be trapped in a classroom of 50 children, with one teacher struggling to control them, may be felt as more of a confinement than to be trapped in a classroom of 10 children, able to carry on a human conversation.

The same applies in a more complex way to the state, which like the school but unlike the prison confines its inmates without using physical barriers. If, for example, unemployment benefits are reduced, unemployed people are not thereby made more independent of the state, more ‘left alone’ by it, but rather become more subject to its power – because, having less money, the sphere of goods they can consume and utilise without its intervention shrinks.

The act of establishing a state and subjecting people to it, like the act of putting an animal in a zoo or an inmate in a prison, changes the character of all further acts – this basic intervention makes it impossible to speak meaningfully of the state ‘stepping back’ or ‘letting people get on with their lives’, just as a zookeeper couldn’t say “we decided not to expand the lion’s cage, because we don’t want the lion to depend on our generosity – it needs to stand on its own four feet.”

The fact that this can be made to appear simply as a reduction in state activity is a feature of ‘ideology’, in the perjorative sense.

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