Anarchist FAQ/What is Anarchism?/1.2

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Anarchist FAQ/What is Anarchism?
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A.1.2 What does "anarchism" mean?[edit | edit source]

To quote Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism is "the no-government system of socialism." [1] In other words, "the abolition of exploitation and oppression of man by man, that is the abolition of private property [i.e. capitalism] and government." [2]

Anarchism, therefore, is a political theory that aims to create a society which is without political, economic or social hierarchies. Anarchists maintain that anarchy, the absence of rulers, is a viable form of social system and so work for the maximisation of individual liberty and social equality. They see the goals of liberty and equality as mutually self-supporting. Or, in Bakunin's famous dictum:

"We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality." [3]

The history of human society proves this point. Liberty without equality is only liberty for the powerful, and equality without liberty is impossible and a justification for slavery.

While there are many different types of anarchism (from individualist anarchism to communist-anarchism - see section A.3 for more details), there has always been two common positions at the core of all of them - opposition to government and opposition to capitalism. In the words of the individualist-anarchist Benjamin Tucker, anarchism insists "on the abolition of the State and the abolition of usury; on no more government of man by man, and no more exploitation of man by man." [4] All anarchists view profit, interest and rent as usury (i.e. as exploitation) and so oppose them and the conditions that create them just as much as they oppose government and the State.

More generally, in the words of L. Susan Brown, the "unifying link" within anarchism "is a universal condemnation of hierarchy and domination and a willingness to fight for the freedom of the human individual." [5] For anarchists, a person cannot be free if they are subject to state or capitalist authority. As Voltairine de Cleyre summarised:

"Anarchism ... teaches the possibility of a society in which the needs of life may be fully supplied for all, and in which the opportunities for complete development of mind and body shall be the heritage of all ... [It] teaches that the present unjust organisation of the production and distribution of wealth must finally be completely destroyed, and replaced by a system which will insure to each the liberty to work, without first seeking a master to whom he [or she] must surrender a tithe of his [or her] product, which will guarantee his liberty of access to the sources and means of production ... Out of the blindly submissive, it makes the discontented; out of the unconsciously dissatisfied, it makes the consciously dissatisfied ... Anarchism seeks to arouse the consciousness of oppression, the desire for a better society, and a sense of the necessity for unceasing warfare against capitalism and the State." [6]

So Anarchism is a political theory which advocates the creation of anarchy, a society based on the maxim of "no rulers." To achieve this, "[i]n common with all socialists, the anarchists hold that the private ownership of land, capital, and machinery has had its time; that it is condemned to disappear: and that all requisites for production must, and will, become the common property of society, and be managed in common by the producers of wealth. And ... they maintain that the ideal of the political organisation of society is a condition of things where the functions of government are reduced to minimum ... [and] that the ultimate aim of society is the reduction of the functions of government to nil - that is, to a society without government, to an-archy" [7]

Thus anarchism is both positive and negative. It analyses and critiques current society while at the same time offering a vision of a potential new society - a society that fulfils certain human needs which the current one denies. These needs, at their most basic, are liberty, equality and solidarity.

Anarchism unites critical analysis with hope, for, as Bakunin (in his pre-anarchist days) pointed out, "the urge to destroy is a creative urge." One cannot build a better society without understanding what is wrong with the present one.

However, it must be stressed that anarchism is more than just a means of analysis or a vision of a better society. It is also rooted in struggle, the struggle of the oppressed for their freedom. In other words, it provides a means of achieving a new system based on the needs of people, not power, and which places the planet before profit. To quote Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie:

"Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian ... Anarchism began - and remains - a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for the maximum accord between the individual, society and nature. Practically, it aims for us to organise and live our lives in such a way as to make politicians, governments, states and their officials superfluous. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists are not dreamers obsessed with abstract principles and theoretical constructs ... Anarchists are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle lasts forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be ...

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice. In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakeable faith, it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels of both individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places." [8]

Anarchism, anarchists argue, is simply the theoretical expression of our capacity to organise ourselves and run society without bosses or politicians. It allows working class and other oppressed people to become conscious of our power as a class, defend our immediate interests, and fight to revolutionise society as a whole. Only by doing this can we create a society fit for human beings to live in.

It is no abstract philosophy. Anarchist ideas are put into practice everyday. Wherever oppressed people stand up for their rights, take action to defend their freedom, practice solidarity and co- operation, fight against oppression, organise themselves without leaders and bosses, the spirit of anarchism lives. Anarchists simply seek to strengthen these libertarian tendencies and bring them to their full fruition. As we discuss in later sections, anarchists apply their ideas in many ways within capitalism in order to change it for the better until such time as we get rid of it completely. The volume of this book discusses what we aim to replace it with, i.e. what anarchism aims for.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Kropotkin, Peter, Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings, Roger N. Baldwin (Ed.), Dover Press, New York, 2002. p. 46.
  2. Errico Malatesta, "Towards Anarchism", Man!, M. Graham (ed.), Cienfuegos Press, London, 1974. p. 75.
  3. The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, G.P. Maximov (ed.), The Free Press, New York, 1953. p. 269.
  4. Schuster, Eunice, Native American Anarchism: A Study of Left-Wing American Individualism, De Capo Press, New York, 1970. p. 140.
  5. Brown, L. Susan, The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism and Anarchism, Black Rose, Montreal/New York, 1993. p. 108.
  6. [Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth, pp. 23-4
  7. Kropotkin, Peter, Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings, Roger N. Baldwin (Ed.), Dover Press, New York, 2002. p. 46
  8. My Granny made me an Anarchist (The Christie File part 1, 1946-1964), Christie Books, Hastings, 2002. pp. 162-3.