Anarchism

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Anarchism, also known as "libertarian socialism" (around the turn of last century, when people used the term "libertarian" they generally meant "anarchist"), is the political ideology and practice of opposing all coercive, hierarchical concentrations of power in society, politics, and economic exchange. Anarchists generally believe that coercion and hierarchy poison social relationships and prevent individuals from fully actualizing themselves. Anarchists reject Big Business, Big Religion, Big Media, Big Academia and Big Government because of the destructive effects they have on human beings and the natural environment. For many anarchists, anarchism is an ethical insistence on consistency between words and deeds. They strive to live lives that reject coercion and deception and affirm peace and truth.

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners. -- Edward Abbey, author and essayist

Contents

An Overview

Liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality. -- Mikhail Bakunin
Far from living in a world of visions and imagining men better than they are, we see them as they are; and that is why we affirm that the best of men is made essentially bad by the exercise of authority, and that the theory of the "balancing of powers" and "control of authorities" is a hypocritical formula, invented by those who have seized power, to make the "sovereign people," whom they despise, believe that the people themselves are governing. It is because we know men that we say to those who imagine that men would devour one another without those governors: "You reason like the king, who, being sent across the frontier, called out, 'What will become of my poor subjects without me?'" -- Peter Kropotkin

Anarchists commonly hold a belief in the illegitimacy of state power as well as the undesirability of capitalism.

It is not a contradiction in terms to speak of anarchism 'in power', as anarchism does not reject the notion of political structures. Anarchists simply reject structures to the extent that they are coercive and unaccountable to their members.

Related is the idea of direct control over the means of production by the workers without the intervening system of the Bourgeoisie or the state.

Anarchism is a rejection also of interpersonal hierarchy in general. Modern anarchists make a psycho-social critique of hierarchy, arguing that it twists the psyches of both the people on top and those on the bottom. Anarchism leaves open a number of concievable and/or possible anarchic systems, usually decentralized and unbinding in nature.

Social Contract and Free Association

Many anarchists from a variety of strains view the concept of social contract with a certain degree of skepticism. The social contract theory is usually presented as one of the following: a) Prehistoric man, living a life that was solitary, brutal, and short, saw fit to create a system of governance to enhance peace and stability; or b) Though initially created as a tool of oppression, democratically run states have incentives to listen to the voters they "represent," and the voters therefore have enough control over the state that it behaves in their best interests.

The first argument was put forth by Hobbes and is, put simply, an absurdly naive view of the state's formation. When you look at organizations of our direct evolutionary ancestors, you see small top-down hierarchies, usually with an alpha male who maintains order through conformance to his singular will. Since our ancestors and mammal contemporaries lack the linguistic and/or the cognitive ability to perceive of other forms of organizing themselves, violence is the only effective way to communicate important information. Given violence as the near-sole form of communication, other members of the group simply stop doing whatever the strongest one doesn't appear to want them to do.

It's also worth noting that Peter Kropotkin's groundbreaking book "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution" details that it is more often than not species that cooperate that stand the best chances of survival, instead of the classic Darwinian/Hobbesian conjecture of a "war of all against all". [1]

The second argument isn't as absurd, but is still an invalid claim. No organization can be said to have the mandate of those they represent unless membership in the organization is freely associative. This includes one's ability to withdraw from the group if they so desire and/or form a different group that does meet the given goal. Since the group leadership can not be said to have their members' mandate, their actions cannot be said to represent the will of the group.

In the current social situation with an American who opposes the Iraq invasion, one must materially support it through taxation, establishing the fiat currency they control as a valuable commodity thus giving them additional means of financing the war, and the indirect support by way of defense contracting or indirectly providing services to companies that perform work to support the war, etc. Additionally, our association is enhanced through the state actors' position as elected officials (even if we didn't vote for them, they still "represent" us) and their role as the sole means of law enforcement and largely unrestricted domestic violence. In an anarchist society, groups or individuals would be able to remove material as well as social support for any action, thus making any war materially impossible to accomplish once it became unpopular. But as our association with the state is forced and it has many actors we have to abide by, we must wait every two to four years until we can merely decide upon who may possibly be able to end the war, if they play their cards right.

Main strains of Anarchist thought

Most anarchist thinking follows along one or more of the following prevailing ideologies:

Belief in communal ownership of the means of production and "from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs." Usually using a common registry of "needs" which are then met by other members.
Similar in spirit and much theory (usually lumped in) with anarcho-communism, syndicalism aims to use labor unions as a force for taking over the means of production and management once attained. Some forms (such as those employed by the CNT-FAI during the Spanish Civil war) used labor notes in lieu of more traditional currency.
The belief that all individuals should attempt to maximize individual liberty rather than surrender them to any collective (corporation, union, commune, etc.) This doesn't preclude some of the use of collective action, or that they aren't part of the person's ideal society, but that individuals working on their own leads to a better society for all. This is a form of market anarchism where traditional top-down capitalism is replaced with a more "mutualized" economy, (mutual credit, cooperatives, abolishing absentee landlords, etc.) Due to its similarity with anarcho-syndicalism, it is often referred to as "market syndicalism" with the "syndicalism" usually meant in a pejorative sense.
Inspired by the Mutualists of the late 19th Century, Murray Rothbard detailed the similar philosophy in the mid-1970's. Anarcho-Capitalism differs from mutualism in that private and free enterprise is stressed as sufficient and more ideal than egalitarian mutual enterprises. This difference along with the rejection of liberation ideologies (such as women's liberation), a willingness to prefer status quo unless convinced otherwise, and the fact they self-identify as being right-wing has lead many other anarchists to label them "frauds" and claim that they aren't "really" anarchists.

Anarchism and Marxism

The main points of contrast between anarchism and Marxism are with the issue of free association and (more recently in the 20th century) the use of violence. Marxian thinking usually involves a fair bit of compulsion cemented with violence or threat of violence (summarized by anarchists as 'coercion') in order to accomplish the eventual goal.

While much of the social theory is similar or shared, many anarchists also differ from Marxists in that anarchists do not believe that the most important (and for some Marxists, the sole) social distinction is class. Modern anarchism is a synthesis of feminist, critical race theory, socialist, and ecologist critiques of current society.

That being said, much of the ultimate, final theoretical aims of both Marxists and anarchists are congruous; however the all-important question -- how to get there? -- is the focal point for much heated debate. In an 1872 letter, Mikhail Bakunin was eerily prescient when he wrote:

Marx is an authoritarian and centralizing communist. He wants what we want, the complete triumph of economic and social equality, but he wants it in the state and through the state power, through the dictatorship of a very strong and, so to say, despotic provisional government, that is, by the negation of liberty. His economic ideal is the state as sole owner of the land and all kinds of capital, cultivating the land under the management of state engineers, and controlling all industrial and commercial associations with state capital. We want the same triumph of economic and social equality through the abolition of the state and of all that passes by the name of law (which in our view, is the permanent negation of human rights). We want the reconstruction of society and the unification of [hu]mankind to be achieved, not from above downwards by any sort of authority, nor by socialist officials, engineers, and other accredited men of learning -- but from below upwards, by the free federation of all kinds of workers' associations liberated from the yoke of the State.

Anarchism in History

The nation-state is itself a relatively recent invention, only within the past four to five hundred years. And while we might be tempted to think of people like Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Proudhon as having "invented" anarchism, anthropologist David Graeber writes:

The nineteenth-century "founding figures" did not think of themselves as having invented anything particularly new. The basic principles of anarchism - self-organization, voluntary association, mutual aid - referred to forms of human behavior they assumed to have been around about as long as humanity. The same goes for the rejection of the state and of all forms of structural violence, inequality, or domination (anarchism literally means "without rulers"), even the assumption that all these forms are somehow related and reinforce each other. [2]

Similarly, anthropologist Pierre Clastres for much of his field work in the 1970s lived in South American societies that had no state or centralized authority.

Much of the American West in the 19th century existed outside of what could be called "the State" and formalized society. As a result impromptu currency and collective rule of law (see vigilantism) became part of the way of life. And of course, many of the indigenous tribes organized themselves non-hierarchically, relying on forms of consensus and right of secession to make decisions.

Similarly many anarchists point towards the relations of pirates both internally and with inlander African traders. [3]

A good example of a point in recent history where anarchism widespread acceptance and application is during the first few years of Spanish Civil War, where much of non-fascist Spain was organized politically and economically along anarchist lines. Factories were taken over and run by the workers themselves, with no bosses; farms were grouped together and worked on cooperatively. The Spanish effort was spearheaded by the CNT, which was at the time both the largest trade union in Spain and explicitly anarchist in its viewpoints. A combination of factors, including the cooptation of leftist forces by Stalinist funding and weapons, and the influx of German and Italian support for the Fascist Franco led to the halt and reversal of many anarchist advances.

The Paris Commune of 1848 was also largely anarchist in conception, as were much of the events of France in May 1968, though even in anarchistic revolutions, few people actually use the label "anarchist" on themselves while carrying out anarchist ideas or processes.

The Israeli kibbutzim (collective communities) as originally conceived had strong anarchist attributes and ideas about authority, social interaction and distribution of work, and some still hold to those values.

The Zapatistas, starting with their uprising in 1994, are a good example of a movement with strong anarchist tendencies that has actually proven resilient in the face of an oppressive Mexican military force, while still keeping its cooperative and libertarian structures intact.

All these examples point to a conclusion that the government we have now is not inevitable nor ineradicable. The establishment of centralized control and coercion in both the government (the state) and private industry (capitalism), which developed in parallel (and which, Karl Polanyi argues, are mutually dependent upon each other [4]), are the result of conscious actions by elites. As a result, it's not wishful thinking to imagine - and work toward - a world conspicuously missing both.

Anarchism & Religion

"A Boss in Heaven is the best excuse for a boss on earth, therefore if God did exist, he would have to be abolished." -- Mikhail Bakunin

Anarchism has had a long relationship with atheism; atheist anarchists argue that (especially western) religion assumes that humanity is bad or evil, whereas anarchists believe that humanity is either good or has no tendency toward either (very much in the vein of Rousseau). Religions also generally develop power structures and these are seen to be controlling and often serving the interests of those who hold power in society. Organized religion, especially in the 19th century, was seen as an opposing force, actively supporting the state and capitalism (which churches had profited well from -- for much of the 19th century, the Catholic Church was the largest landowner in Europe). The Catholic Church was a favorite target of leftists, including anarchists, during the Spanish Civil War, as the Church had played a significant role in the operation of the monarchist Spanish government and was considered responsible for being an oppressive force -- in particular, for the hanging of anarchist educator Francisco Ferrer, whose secular "modern schools" were seen as a threat to the otherwise Church-bound Spanish educational system. Indeed, an argument could be made that it is not the existence of a god that many anarchists oppose, but the social institutions those who believe in a god build and impose on others here on Earth.

"The religious truth of anarchism consists in this, that power over man is bound up with sin and evil, that a state of perfection is a state where there is no power of man over man, that is to say, anarchy. The Kingdom of God is freedom and the absence of such power . . . the Kingdom of God is anarchy." -- Nicolas Berdyaev

However, there have been several notable Christian anarchists, including Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, Russian theorist Nicolas Berdyaev, and Thomas Hagerty (one of the founding members of the IWW). Dorothy Day, of the Catholic Worker Movement, is a more contemporary Christian anarchist. Many religious Israeli Jews also form the kibbutz system of collective communities, many of which are still run along anarchist lines.

Violence?

The image provided by most media outlets portray anarchists as bomb-throwers and rioters due to anarchism having a long history of violence the best known act starting WWI.

Historic

Between the 1880s and the 1920s, the now-discredited concept of "propaganda of the deed" was popular in some anarchist circles. Propaganda of the deed was a theory that the best way to stir the people to revolution was through a symbolic, usually violent, act against the state or capitalism. During this time many heads of state in the Western world were assassinated by self-proclaimed anarchists (though it's important to note that most anarchist contemporaries condemned the attacks). Most famous of these are the assassinations of President William McKinley and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Propaganda of the deed was unsuccessful and ultimately counterproductive, as the acts by a few radicals led to violent and repressive measures taken against all radicals by governments, especially in the post-World War I era.

Contemporary

As a result of those failures and a growing critique of all violence in general, most anarchists are explicitly non-violent in nature, believing that if one wants a non-violent society, one cannot use violent means to get there.

That being said, some anarchists make a distinction between violence against living things (humans, animals, the environment in general) and violence against inert physical property, which they do not consider to be violence at all. This is the subject of continuous debate in anarchist and other radical circles, and usually consensus is made that nomatter the distinction some people make, the question that should be asked is whether the act help or hurt their cause. Most anarchists who consider that question engage in completely non-violent activity.

The graphic novel and recently-released film V for Vendetta brings up issues of violence in the pursuit of a revolutionary goal; the graphic novel wrestles with the issue in a much more in-depth way than the film. In addition, the original graphic novel version paints V as explicitly anarchist, with discussions about political theory and action that are largely left out in the film version, replaced with general paeans to terms like truth and freedom.

Human Nature

A common argument against anarchism is the assertion that human nature is inherently x (e.g. evil, war-like, greedy, violent, etc.) and therefore anarchism would not work. A common rebuttal is that if humans inherently are x, and thus should not be given power over their own lives (which is the essential argument for government), then it is irrational to say that some of these humans, having the x attribute, should thus have power over not only their lives but the lives of others as well.

Thus, any set of social arrangements based on forced association or coercion will prevent the victims from disassociating from the predators. This is contrasted with a society based on free association, where one is only forced to accept an arrangement if no existing collective would be willing to agree to the person's ideal. The rationale for why this is good can be thought of as "If an individual's free association is maximized in a sustainable way, then only two basic types of demands can ever not be met: a) unreasonable demands where the person wants unrealistic entitlements. b) one existing groups have not addressed for themselves yet, which can be done through direct education or competition"

Thus, all governments and capitalist businesses epitomize forced associations. Additionally, by limiting our choices and thus forcing individuals to support people and institutions we may feel are immoral, they impede society's ability to purge (or at least marginalize) them from the population.

The Anti-Corporate Globalization Movement

Many assertions have been made that the modern anti-corporate globalization movement is anarchist in spirit, if not explicitly so, with groups using traditional anarchist organization methods (e.g. affinity groups and plenary councils) and processes (e.g. consensus), as well as anti-authoritarian politics that favor decentralization and localization of political and economic power.

It should be noted that most anarchists are in favor of globalization in the sense of the effacement of borders and the free flow of people, ideas and goods across those borders, not least because anarchists reject the concept of the nation-state itself. The vast majority of anarchists oppose corporate-style globalization not on grounds of nationalized privilege, but that when multinational corporations are given full freedom to move capital where they want, they can bypass (and therefore undermine) organized labor, environmental protections, and other beneficial social institutions. Globalization also features multinational economic institutions, which exercise vast economic power and are essentially undemocratic in nature. Most anarchists would consider a move from democratic government to undemocratic government a step in the wrong direction.

Non-Western Anarchism

In Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Yale professor David Graeber explores the notion that anarchist ideas have been around for much longer than the 1800s, and are consistent, recurring factors in societies stretching back through time. He specifically discusses the Malagasy tribe in Madagascar, where he spent several years studying the natives and found anti-state and anti-authoritarian principles woven into both current social structure and popular mythology.

Notable Anarchists

  • Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, often regarded as the father of anarchism (at least in the Western world) wrote books and essays that form a general (if at times vague) theoretical basis for anarchism.
  • Mikhail Bakunin is one of the founders of Anarchism, and a spirited opponent of Karl Marx. Marx and his followers kicked out Bakunin and the other anarchists from The First International Working Men's Organization in the 1880s. The First International disbanded shortly after, a combination of the reduced membership and the relocation of its headquarters to New York City. History will note that Bakunin made a much more accurate prediction of the inevitable authoritarian path of Marxism (e.g. the Soviet Union and China) than Marx himself or Marx's followers did.
  • Peter Kropotkin, a former-Russian prince, geologist and political theorist. He made a significant contribution to the fields of evolution and political thought with his 1902 book "Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution," washing away the shaky scientific ground that social darwinists of his time were standing on.
  • Emma Goldman, a feminist famous for her fiery oratories regarding everything from economics to birth control, was a prolific writer and opponent of World War I, and for her political speech she was deported from the United States (where she had immigrated to from Russia as a child) and lived in exile in Europe for the rest of her life. She briefly returned to the United States for a speaking tour at the behest of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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