Anarchist FAQ/What is Anarchism?/2.10

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A.2.10 What will abolishing hierarchy mean and achieve?

The creation of a new society based upon libertarian organisations will have an incalculable effect on everyday life. The empowerment of millions of people will transform society in ways we can only guess at now.

However, many consider these forms of organisation as impractical and doomed to failure. To those who say that such confederal, non-authoritarian organisations would produce confusion and disunity, anarchists maintain that the statist, centralised and hierarchical form of organisation produces indifference instead of involvement, heartlessness instead of solidarity, uniformity instead of unity, and privileged elites instead of equality. More importantly, such organisations destroy individual initiative and crush independent action and critical thinking. (For more on hierarchy, see section B.1 -- "Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?").

That libertarian organisation can work and is based upon (and promotes) liberty was demonstrated in the Spanish Anarchist movement. Fenner Brockway, Secretary of the British Independent Labour Party, when visiting Barcelona during the 1936 revolution, noted that "the great solidarity that existed among the Anarchists was due to each individual relying on his [sic] own strength and not depending upon leadership. . . . The organisations must, to be successful, be combined with free-thinking people; not a mass, but free individuals" [quoted by Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-syndicalism, p. 67f]

As sufficiently indicated already, hierarchical, centralised structures restrict freedom. As Proudhon noted: "the centralist system is all very well as regards size, simplicity and construction: it lacks but one thing -- the individual no longer belongs to himself in such a system, he cannot feel his worth, his life, and no account is taken of him at all." [quoted by Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia, p. 33]

The effects of hierarchy can be seen all around us. It does not work. Hierarchy and authority exist everywhere, in the workplace, at home, in the street. As Bob Black puts it, "[i]f you spend most of your waking life taking orders or kissing ass, if you get habituated to hierarchy, you will become passive-aggressive, sado-masochistic, servile and stupefied, and you will carry that load into every aspect of the balance of your life." ["The Libertarian as Conservative," The Abolition of Work and other essays, pp. 147-8]

This means that the end of hierarchy will mean a massive transformation in everyday life. It will involve the creation of individual-centred organisations within which all can exercise, and so develop, their abilities to the fullest. By involving themselves and participating in the decisions that affect them, their workplace, their community and society, they can ensure the full development of their individual capacities.

With the free participation of all in social life, we would quickly see the end of inequality and injustice. Rather than people existing to make ends meet and being used to increase the wealth and power of the few as under capitalism, the end of hierarchy would see (to quote Kropotkin) "the well-being of all" and it is "high time for the worker to assert his [or her] right to the common inheritance, and to enter into possession of it." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 35 and p. 44] For only taking possession of the means of life (workplaces, housing, the land, etc.) can ensure "liberty and justice, for liberty and justice are not decreed but are the result of economic independence. They spring from the fact that the individual is able to live without depending on a master, and to enjoy . . . the product of his [or her] toil." [Ricardo Flores Magon, Land and Liberty, p. 62] Therefore liberty requires the abolition of capitalist private property rights in favour of "use rights." (see section B.3 for more details). Ironically, the "abolition of property will free the people from homelessness and nonpossession." [Max Baginski, "Without Government," Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth, p. 11] Thus anarchism promises "both requisites of happiness -- liberty and wealth." In anarchy, "mankind will live in freedom and in comfort." [Benjamin Tucker, Why I am an Anarchist, p. 135 and p. 136]

Only self-determination and free agreement on every level of society can develop the responsibility, initiative, intellect and solidarity of individuals and society as a whole. Only anarchist organisation allows the vast talent which exists within humanity to be accessed and used, enriching society by the very process of enriching and developing the individual. Only by involving everyone in the process of thinking, planning, co-ordinating and implementing the decisions that affect them can freedom blossom and individuality be fully developed and protected. Anarchy will release the creativity and talent of the mass of people enslaved by hierarchy.

Anarchy will even be of benefit for those who are said to benefit from capitalism and its authority relations. Anarchists "maintain that both rulers and ruled are spoiled by authority; both exploiters and exploited are spoiled by exploitation." [Peter Kropotkin, Act for Yourselves, p. 83] This is because "[i]n any hierarchical relationship the dominator as well as the submissive pays his dues. The price paid for the 'glory of command' is indeed heavy. Every tyrant resents his duties. He is relegated to drag the dead weight of the dormant creative potential of the submissive all along the road of his hierarchical excursion." [For Ourselves, The Right to Be Greedy, Thesis 95]