An excerpt from An Anarchist FAQ. The full version is available at http://www.infoshop.org/faq/index.html
A.1 What is anarchism?
Anarchism is a political theory which aims to create anarchy, "the
absence of a master, of a sovereign." [P-J Proudhon, What is Property
, p. 264] In other words, anarchism is a political theory which aims
to create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together
as equals. As such anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control
- be that control by the state or a capitalist - as harmful to the
individual and their individuality as well as unnecessary.
In the words of anarchist L. Susan Brown:
"While the popular understanding of anarchism is of a violent, anti-State
movement, anarchism is a much more subtle and nuanced tradition then a
simple opposition to government power. Anarchists oppose the idea that
power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate
more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and
economic organisation." [The Politics of Individualism, p. 106]
However, "anarchism" and "anarchy" are undoubtedly the most misrepresented
ideas in political theory. Generally, the words are used to mean "chaos" or
"without order," and so, by implication, anarchists desire social chaos
and a return to the "laws of the jungle."
This process of misrepresentation is not without historical parallel. For
example, in countries which have considered government by one person
(monarchy) necessary, the words "republic" or "democracy" have been used
precisely like "anarchy," to imply disorder and confusion. Those with a
vested interest in preserving the status quo will obviously wish to imply
that opposition to the current system cannot work in practice, and that a
new form of society will only lead to chaos. Or, as Errico Malatesta
"since it was thought that government was necessary and that without
government there could only be disorder and confusion, it was
natural and logical that anarchy, which means absence of government,
should sound like absence of order." [Anarchy, p. 16]
Anarchists want to change this "common-sense" idea of "anarchy," so people
will see that government and other hierarchical social relationships are
both harmful and unnecessary:
"Change opinion, convince the public that government is not only
unnecessary, but extremely harmful, and then the word anarchy, just because
it means absence of government, will come to mean for everybody: natural
order, unity of human needs and the interests of all, complete freedom
within complete solidarity." [Op. Cit., pp. 16]
This FAQ is part of the process of changing the commonly-held ideas regarding
anarchism and the meaning of anarchy. But that is not all.
As well as combating the distortions produced by the "common-sense"
idea of "anarchy", we also have to combat the distortions that anarchism
and anarchists have been subjected to over the years by our political
and social enemies. For, as Bartolomeo Vanzetti put it, anarchists are
"the radical of the radical -- the black cats, the terrors of many, of
all the bigots, exploiters, charlatans, fakers and oppressors.
Consequently we are also the more slandered, misrepresented,
misunderstood and persecuted of all." [Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo
Vanzetti, The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti, p. 274]
Vanzetti knew what he was talking about. He and his comrade Nicola
Sacco were framed by the US state for a crime they did not commit
and were, effectively, electrocuted for being foreign anarchists in
1927. So this FAQ will have to spend some time correcting the slanders
and distortions that anarchists have been subjected to by the capitalist
media, politicians, ideologues and bosses (not to mention the distortions
by our erstwhile fellow radicals like liberals and Marxists). Hopefully
once we are finished you will understand why those in power have spent
so much time attacking anarchism -- it is the one idea which can effectively
ensure liberty for all and end all systems based on a few having power
over the many.
A.1.1 What does "anarchy" mean?
The word "anarchy" is from the Greek, prefix an
(or a), meaning
"not," "the want of," "the absence of," or "the lack of", plus archos,
meaning "a ruler," "director", "chief," "person in charge," or "authority."
Or, as Peter Kropotkin put it, Anarchy comes from the Greek words meaning
"contrary to authority." [Anarchism, p. 284]
While the Greek words anarchos and anarchia
are often taken to
mean "having no government" or "being without a government," as can be
seen, the strict, original meaning of anarchism was not simply "no
government." "An-archy" means "without a ruler,"
or more generally,
"without authority," and it is in this sense that anarchists have
continually used the word. For example, we find Kropotkin arguing
that anarchism "attacks not only capital, but also the main sources
of the power of capitalism: law, authority, and the State."
p. 150] For anarchists, anarchy means "not necessarily absence of
order, as is generally supposed, but an absence of rule." [Benjamin
Tucker, Instead of a Book, p. 13] Hence David Weick's excellent
"Anarchism can be understood as the generic social and political
idea that expresses negation of all power, sovereignty, domination,
and hierarchical division, and a will to their dissolution. . .
Anarchism is therefore more than anti-statism . . . [even if]
government (the state) . . . is, appropriately, the central focus
of anarchist critique." [Reinventing Anarchy, p. 139]
For this reason, rather than being purely anti-government or anti-state,
anarchism is primarily a movement against hierarchy. Why? Because
hierarchy is the organisational structure that embodies authority. Since
the state is the "highest" form of hierarchy, anarchists are, by definition,
anti-state; but this is not a sufficient definition of anarchism. This
means that real anarchists are opposed to all forms of hierarchical
organisation, not only the state. In the words of Brian Morris:
"The term anarchy comes from the Greek, and essentially means 'no
ruler.' Anarchists are people who reject all forms of government
or coercive authority, all forms of hierarchy and domination.
They are therefore opposed to what the Mexican anarchist Flores
Magon called the 'sombre trinity' -- state, capital and the
church. Anarchists are thus opposed to both capitalism and to
the state, as well as to all forms of religious authority. But
anarchists also seek to establish or bring about by varying means,
a condition of anarchy, that is, a decentralised society without
coercive institutions, a society organised through a federation
of voluntary associations." ["Anthropology and Anarchism,"
pp. 35-41, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, no. 45, p. 38]
Reference to "hierarchy" in this context is a fairly recent development --
the "classical" anarchists such as Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin did use
the word, but rarely (they usually preferred "authority," which was used as
short-hand for "authoritarian"). However, it's clear from their writings
that theirs was a philosophy against hierarchy, against any inequality of
power or privileges between individuals. Bakunin spoke of this when he attacked
"official" authority but defended "natural influence," and also when he said:
"Do you want to make it impossible for anyone to oppress his fellow-man?
Then make sure that no one shall possess power." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 271]
As Jeff Draughn notes, "while it has always been a latent part of the
'revolutionary project,' only recently has this broader concept of
anti-hierarchy arisen for more specific scrutiny. Nonetheless, the root
of this is plainly visible in the Greek roots of the word 'anarchy.'"
[Between Anarchism and Libertarianism: Defining a New Movement]
We stress that this opposition to hierarchy is, for anarchists, not
limited to just the state or government. It includes all authoritarian
economic and social relationships as well as political ones, particularly
those associated with capitalist property and wage labour. This can be
seen from Proudhon's argument that "Capital . . . in the political field
is analogous to government . . . The economic idea of capitalism,
of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the
Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack
one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them . . . What
capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does
to the spirit. This trinity of absolutism is as baneful in practice
as it is in philosophy. The most effective means for oppressing
the people would be simultaneously to enslave its body, its will
and its reason." [quoted by Max Nettlau, A Short History
of Anarchism, pp. 43-44] Thus we find Emma Goldman opposing capitalism
as it meant "that man [or woman] must sell his [or her] labour" and, therefore, "that his [or her] inclination and judgement are subordinated to the will of a
master." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 50] Forty years earlier Bakunin made
the same point when he argued that under the current system "the worker
sells his person and his liberty for a given time" to the capitalist
in exchange for a wage. [Op. Cit., p. 187]
Thus "anarchy" means more than just "no government," it means opposition
to all forms of authoritarian organisation and hierarchy. In Kropotkin's
words, "the origin of the anarchist inception of society . . . [lies in]
the criticism . . . of the hierarchical organisations and the authoritarian
conceptions of society; and . . . the analysis of the tendencies that are
seen in the progressive movements of mankind." [Op. Cit., p. 158]
For Malatesta, anarchism "was born in a moral revolt against
social injustice" and that the "specific causes of social ills"
could be found in "capitalistic property and the State." When
the oppressed "sought to overthrow both State and property --
then it was that anarchism was born." [Errico Malatesta:
His Life and Ideas, p. 19]
Thus any attempt to assert that anarchy is purely
anti-state is a misrepresentation of the word and the way it has been
used by the anarchist movement. As Brian Morris argues, "when one
examines the writings of classical anarchists. . . as well as the
character of anarchist movements. . . it is clearly evident that it
has never had this limited vision [of just being against the state]. It
has always challenged all forms of authority and exploitation, and has
been equally critical of capitalism and religion as it has been of the
state." [Op. Cit., p. 40]
And, just to state the obvious, anarchy does not mean chaos nor do anarchists
seek to create chaos or disorder. Instead, we wish to create a society
based upon individual freedom and voluntary co-operation. In other words,
order from the bottom up, not disorder imposed from the top down by
authorities. Such a society would be a true anarchy, a society without rulers.
While we discuss what an anarchy could look like in section I,
Noam Chomsky sums up the key aspect when he stated that in a
truly free society "any interaction among human beings that is
more than personal -- meaning that takes institutional forms of
one kind or another -- in community, or workplace, family, larger
society, whatever it may be, should be under direct control of its
participants. So that would mean workers' councils in industry,
popular democracy in communities, interaction between them, free
associations in larger groups, up to organisation of international
society." [Anarchism Interview] Society would no longer be divided
into a hierarchy of bosses and workers, governors and governed. Rather,
an anarchist society would be based on free association in participatory
organisations and run from the bottom up. Anarchists, it should be noted,
try to create as much of this society today, in their organisations,
struggles and activities, as they can.
A.1.2 What does "anarchism" mean?
To quote Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism is "the no-government system of socialism." [Anarchism, p. 46] 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." [Errico Malatesta, Towards Anarchism,", p. 75]
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."
[The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 269]
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." [cited by Eunice Schuster, Native American Anarchism, p. 140] 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." [The
Politics of Individualism, p. 108] 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." [Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother
Earth, pp. 23-4]
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" [Peter
Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 46]
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, which will be discussed in
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
"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."
[My Granny made me an Anarchist, pp. 162-3]
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 section J, 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. Section I discusses what we aim to
replace it with, i.e. what anarchism aims for.
A.1.3 Why is anarchism also called libertarian socialism?
Many anarchists, seeing the negative nature of the definition of
"anarchism," have used other terms to emphasise the inherently positive
and constructive aspect of their ideas. The most common terms used are
"free socialism," "free communism," "libertarian socialism," and
"libertarian communism." For anarchists, libertarian socialism,
libertarian communism, and anarchism are virtually interchangeable.
As Vanzetti put it:
"After all we are socialists as the social-democrats, the socialists,
the communists, and the I.W.W. are all Socialists. The difference --
the fundamental one -- between us and all the other is that they are
authoritarian while we are libertarian; they believe in a State or
Government of their own; we believe in no State or Government." [Nicola
Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti,
But is this correct? Considering definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary, we find:
LIBERTARIAN: one who believes in freedom of action and thought; one who
believes in free will.
SOCIALISM: a social system in which the producers possess both political
power and the means of producing and distributing goods.
Just taking those two first definitions and fusing them yields:
LIBERTARIAN SOCIALISM: a social system which believes in freedom of action and thought and free will, in which the producers possess both political
power and the means of producing and distributing goods.
(Although we must add that our usual comments on the lack of political
sophistication of dictionaries still holds. We only use these definitions
to show that "libertarian" does not imply "free market" capitalism nor
"socialism" state ownership. Other dictionaries, obviously, will have
different definitions -- particularly for socialism. Those wanting to
debate dictionary definitions are free to pursue this unending and
politically useless hobby but we will not).
However, due to the creation of the Libertarian Party in the USA, many
people now consider the idea of "libertarian socialism" to be a
contradiction in terms. Indeed, many "Libertarians" think anarchists are
just attempting to associate the "anti-libertarian" ideas of "socialism"
(as Libertarians conceive it) with Libertarian ideology in order to make
those "socialist" ideas more "acceptable" -- in other words, trying to
steal the "libertarian" label from its rightful possessors.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists have been using the term
"libertarian" to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850's.
According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the revolutionary anarchist
Joseph Dejacque published Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social in
New York between 1858 and 1861 while the use of the term "libertarian
communism" dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress
adopted it. [Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, p. 75 and p. 145]
of the term "Libertarian" by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s
onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist
laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word "anarchy" in the
popular mind (Sebastien Faure and Louise Michel published the paper
Le Libertaire -- The Libertarian -- in France in 1895, for example).
Since then, particularly outside America, it has always been associated
with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the USA, anarchists organised "The Libertarian League" in July 1954, which
had staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. The US-based
"Libertarian" Party, on the other hand has only existed since the early
1970's, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe
their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression "libertarian
communism" was first adopted). It is that party, not the anarchists, who have
"stolen" the word. Later, in Section B, we will discuss why the idea of a "libertarian" capitalism (as desired by the Libertarian Party) is a contradiction in terms.
As we will also explain in Section I, only a libertarian-socialist system of ownership can maximise individual freedom. Needless to say, state ownership -- what is commonly called
"socialism" -- is, for anarchists, not socialism at all. In fact, as we
will elaborate in Section H, state "socialism"
is just a form of capitalism, with no socialist content whatever. As Rudolf Rocker noted, for anarchists, socialism is "not a
simple question of a full belly, but a question of culture that would
have to enlist the sense of personality and the free initiative of the
individual; without freedom it would lead only to a dismal state
capitalism which would sacrifice all individual thought and feeling
to a fictitious collective interest." [quoted by Colin Ward, "Introduction",
Rudolf Rocker, The London Years, p. 1]
Given the anarchist pedigree of the word "libertarian," few anarchists
are happy to see it stolen by an ideology which shares little with our
ideas. In the United States, as Murray Bookchin noted, the "term 'libertarian'
itself, to be sure, raises a problem, notably, the specious identification
of an anti-authoritarian ideology with a straggling movement for 'pure
capitalism' and 'free trade.' This movement never created the word: it
appropriated it from the anarchist movement of the [nineteenth] century.
And it should be recovered by those anti-authoritarians . . . who try to
speak for dominated people as a whole, not for personal egotists who
identify freedom with entrepreneurship and profit." Thus anarchists in
America should "restore in practice a tradition that has been denatured
by" the free-market right. [The Modern Crisis, pp. 154-5] And as we
do that, we will continue to call our ideas libertarian socialism.
A.1.4 Are anarchists socialists?
Yes. All branches of anarchism are opposed to capitalism. This is because
capitalism is based upon oppression and exploitation (see sections
B and C).
Anarchists reject the "notion that men cannot work together unless they
have a driving-master to take a percentage of their product" and think
that in an anarchist society "the real workmen will make their own
regulations, decide when and where and how things shall be done." By
so doing workers would free themselves "from the terrible bondage of
capitalism." [Voltairine de Cleyre, Anarchism p. 32 and p. 34]
(We must stress here that anarchists are opposed to all economic forms
which are based on domination and exploitation, including feudalism,
Soviet-style "socialism" -- better called "state capitalism" --, slavery
and so on. We concentrate on capitalism because that is what is dominating
the world just now).
Individualists like Benjamin Tucker along with social anarchists like
Proudhon and Bakunin proclaimed themselves "socialists."
They did so
because, as Kropotkin put it in his classic essay "Modern Science and
Anarchism," "[s]o long as Socialism was understood in its wide, generic,
and true sense -- as an effort to abolish the exploitation of Labour by
Capital -- the Anarchists were marching hand-in-hands with the Socialists
of that time." [Evolution and Environment, p. 81] Or, in Tucker's words,
"the bottom claim of Socialism [is] that labour should be put in possession
of its own," a claim that both "the two schools of Socialistic
thought . . . State Socialism and Anarchism" agreed upon. [The
p. 144] Hence the word "socialist" was originally defined to include
"all those who believed in the individual's right to possess what he
or she produced." [Lance Klafta, "Ayn Rand and the Perversion of
Libertarianism," in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, no. 34]
This opposition to exploitation (or usury) is shared by all true
anarchists and places them under the socialist banner.
For most socialists, "the only guarantee not to be robbed of the fruits
of your labour is to possess the instruments of labour." [Peter Kropotkin,
The Conquest of Bread, p. 145] For this reason Proudhon, for example,
supported workers' co-operatives, where "every individual employed in the
association . . . has an undivided share in the property of the company"
because by "participation in losses and gains . . . the collective force
[i.e. surplus] ceases to be a source of profits for a small number of
managers: it becomes the property of all workers." [The General Idea
of the Revolution, p. 222 and p. 223] Thus, in addition to desiring the
end of exploitation of labour by capital, true socialists also desire a
society within which the producers own and control the means of production
(including, it should be stressed, those workplaces which supply services).
The means by which the producers will do this is a moot point in anarchist
and other socialist circles, but the desire remains a common one. Anarchists
favour direct workers' control and either ownership by workers' associations
or by the commune (see section A.3 on the different types of anarchists).
Moreover, anarchists also reject capitalism for being authoritarian as
well as exploitative. Under capitalism, workers do not govern themselves
during the production process nor have control over the product of their
labour. Such a situation is hardly based on equal freedom for all, nor
can it be non-exploitative, and is so opposed by anarchists. This
perspective can best be found in the work of Proudhon's (who inspired
both Tucker and Bakunin) where he argues that anarchism would see
"[c]apitalistic and proprietary exploitation stopped everywhere
[and] the wage system abolished" for "either the workman. . . will
be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he
will participate . . . In the first case the workman is subordinated,
exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience. . . In the
second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen. . . he forms
part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the
slave . . . we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is
necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without
that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and
there would ensue two. . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which
is repugnant to a free and democratic society." [Op. Cit.,
p. 233 and pp. 215-216]
Therefore all anarchists are anti-capitalist ("If labour owned the wealth
it produced, there would be no capitalism" [Alexander Berkman, What is
Anarchism?, p. 44]). Benjamin Tucker, for example -- the
anarchist most influenced by liberalism (as we will discuss later) --
called his ideas "Anarchistic-Socialism" and denounced capitalism as
a system based upon "the usurer, the receiver of interest,
rent and profit." Tucker held that in an anarchist, non-capitalist,
free-market society, capitalists will become redundant and exploitation
of labour by capital would cease, since "labour. . . will. . . secure its natural wage, its entire product."
[The Individualist Anarchists, p. 82 and p. 85]
Such an economy will be based on mutual banking
and the free exchange of products between co-operatives, artisans and
peasants. For Tucker, and other Individualist anarchists, capitalism is not
a true free market, being marked by various laws and monopolies which
ensure that capitalists have the advantage over working people, so ensuring
the latters exploitation via profit, interest and rent
(see section G for a fuller
discussion). Even Max Stirner, the arch-egoist, had nothing but scorn for
capitalist society and its various "spooks," which for him meant ideas
that are treated as sacred or religious, such as private property, competition,
division of labour, and so forth.
So anarchists consider themselves as socialists, but socialists of a specific
kind -- libertarian socialists. As the individualist anarchist Joseph A.
Labadie puts it (echoing both Tucker and Bakunin):
"It is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake.
Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism,
archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free.
Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to increase or
decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual. As
they increase they are archistic; as they decrease they are anarchistic."
[Anarchism: What It Is and What It Is Not]
Labadie stated on many occasions that "all anarchists are socialists,
but not all socialists are anarchists." Therefore, Daniel Guerin's
comment that "Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The
anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the
exploitation of man by man" is echoed throughout the history
of the anarchist movement, be it the social or individualist wings.
[Anarchism, p. 12] Indeed, the Haymarket Martyr Adolph Fischer
used almost exactly the same words as Labadie to express the same
fact -- "every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not
necessarily an anarchist" -- while acknowledging that the movement
was "divided into two factions; the communistic anarchists and the
Proudhon or middle-class anarchists." [The Autobiographies of the
Haymarket Martyrs, p. 81]
So while social and individualist anarchists do disagree on many issues --
for example, whether a true, that is non-capitalist, free market would be
the best means of maximising liberty -- they agree that capitalism is to
be opposed as exploitative and oppressive and that an anarchist society
must, by definition, be based on associated, not wage, labour. Only
associated labour will "decrease the powers of external wills and
forces over the individual" during working hours and such
self-management of work by those who do it is the core ideal of
real socialism. This perspective can be seen when Joseph Labadie
argued that the trade union was "the exemplification of gaining freedom
by association" and that "[w]ithout his union, the workman is much more
the slave of his employer than he is with it." [Different Phases
of the Labour Question]
However, the meanings of words change over time. Today "socialism"
almost always refers to state socialism, a system that all anarchists
have opposed as a denial of freedom and genuine socialist ideals.
All anarchists would agree with Noam Chomsky's statement on
"If the left is understood to include 'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly
dissociate myself from the left. Lenin was one of the greatest
enemies of socialism." [Marxism, Anarchism, and Alternative
Futures, p. 779]
Anarchism developed in constant opposition to the ideas of Marxism, social
democracy and Leninism. Long before Lenin rose to power, Mikhail Bakunin
warned the followers of Marx against the "Red bureaucracy" that would
institute "the worst of all despotic governments" if Marx's state-socialist
ideas were ever implemented. Indeed, the works of Stirner, Proudhon and
especially Bakunin all predict the horror of state Socialism with great
accuracy. In addition, the anarchists were among the first and most vocal
critics and opposition to the Bolshevik regime in Russia.
Nevertheless, being socialists, anarchists do share some ideas with
some Marxists (though none with Leninists). Both Bakunin and Tucker
accepted Marx's analysis and critique of capitalism as well as his
labour theory of value (see section C). Marx
himself was heavily
influenced by Max Stirner's book The Ego and Its Own, which contains
a brilliant critique of what Marx called "vulgar" communism as well as
state socialism. There have also been elements of the Marxist movement
holding views very similar to social anarchism (particularly the
anarcho-syndicalist branch of social anarchism) -- for example,
Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxembourg, Paul Mattick and others, who are
very far from Lenin. Karl Korsch and others wrote sympathetically of
the anarchist revolution in Spain. There are many continuities from
Marx to Lenin, but there are also continuities from Marx to more
libertarian Marxists, who were harshly critical of Lenin and
Bolshevism and whose ideas approximate anarchism's desire for the
free association of equals.
Therefore anarchism is basically a form of socialism, one that stands
in direct opposition to what is usually defined as "socialism" (i.e.
state ownership and control). Instead of "central planning," which
many people associate with the word "socialism," anarchists advocate
free association and co-operation between individuals, workplaces and
communities and so oppose "state" socialism as a form of state capitalism
in which "[e]very man [and woman] will be a wage-receiver, and the
State the only wage payer." [Benjamin Tucker, The Individualist
Anarchists, p. 81] Thus anarchist's reject Marxism (what most
people think of as "socialism") as just "[t]he idea of the State
as Capitalist, to which the Social-Democratic fraction of the
great Socialist Party is now trying to reduce Socialism." [Peter
Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 31] The anarchist
objection to the identification of Marxism, "central planning"
and State Socialism/Capitalism with socialism will be discussed
in section H.
It is because of these differences with state socialists, and to reduce
confusion, most anarchists just call themselves "anarchists," as it is
taken for granted that anarchists are socialists. However, with the rise
of the so-called "libertarian" right in the USA, some pro-capitalists
have taken to calling themselves
"anarchists" and that is why we have laboured the point somewhat here.
Historically, and logically, anarchism implies anti-capitalism, i.e. socialism,
which is something, we stress, that all anarchists have agreed upon (for a fuller
discuss of why "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist see
A.1.5 Where does anarchism come from?
Where does anarchism come from? We can do no better than quote the
The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists produced
by participants of the Makhnovist movement in the Russian Revolution (see
Section A.5.4). They point out that:
"The class struggle created by the enslavement of workers and their aspirations to liberty gave birth, in the oppression, to the idea of anarchism:
the idea of the total negation of a social system based on the principles of classes and the State, and its replacement by a free non-statist society of
workers under self-management.
"So anarchism does not derive from the abstract reflections of an intellectual or a philosopher, but from the direct struggle of workers against capitalism, from the needs and necessities of the workers, from their aspirations to liberty and equality, aspirations which become particularly alive in the best heroic period of the life and struggle of the working masses.
"The outstanding anarchist thinkers, Bakunin, Kropotkin and others, did not invent the idea of anarchism, but, having discovered it in the masses, simply helped by the strength of their thought and knowledge to specify and spread
it." [pp. 15-16]
Like the anarchist movement in general, the Makhnovists were a mass movement
of working class people resisting the forces of authority, both Red (Communist)
and White (Tsarist/Capitalist) in the Ukraine from 1917 to 1921. As Peter
Marshall notes "anarchism . . . has traditionally found its chief supporters
amongst workers and peasants." [Demanding the Impossible, p. 652]
Anarchism was created in, and by, the struggle of the oppressed for
freedom. For Kropotkin, for example, "Anarchism . . . originated in
everyday struggles" and "the Anarchist movement was renewed each
time it received an impression from some great practical lesson:
it derived its origin from the teachings of life itself."
[Evolution and Environment, p. 58 and p. 57] For
Proudhon, "the proof" of his mutualist ideas lay in the "current
practice, revolutionary practice" of "those labour associations . . .
which have spontaneously . . . been formed in Paris and Lyon . . .
[show that the] organisation of credit and organisation of labour
amount to one and the same." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1,
pp. 59-60] Indeed, as one historian argues, there was "close
similarity between the associational ideal of Proudhon . . . and
the program of the Lyon Mutualists" and that there was "a remarkable
convergence [between the ideas], and it is likely that Proudhon was
able to articulate his positive program more coherently because of
the example of the silk workers of Lyon. The socialist ideal that
he championed was already being realised, to a certain extent, by
such workers." [K. Steven Vincent, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, p. 164]
Thus anarchism comes from the fight for liberty and our desires
to lead a fully human life, one in which we have time to live,
to love and to play. It was not created by a few people divorced
from life, in ivory towers looking down upon society and making
judgements upon it based on their notions of what is right and
wrong. Rather, it was a product of working class struggle and
resistance to authority, oppression and exploitation. As Albert
Meltzer put it:
"There were never theoreticians of Anarchism
as such, though it produced a number of theoreticians who discussed
aspects of its philosophy. Anarchism has remained a creed that has
been worked out in action rather than as the putting into practice
of an intellectal ideas. Very often, a bourgeois writer comes along
and writes down what has already been worked out in practice by
workers and peasants; he [or she] is attributed by bourgeois
historians as being a leader, and by successive bourgeois writers
(citing the bourgeois historians) as being one more case that
proves the working class relies on bourgeois leadership."
[Anarchism: Arguments for and against, p. 18]
In Kropotkin's eyes, "Anarchism had its origins in the same
creative, constructive activity of the masses which has
worked out in times past all the social institutions of
mankind -- and in the revolts . . . against the representatives
of force, external to these social institutions, who had laid
their hands on these institutions and used them for their own
advantage." More recently, "Anarchy was brought forth by the
same critical and revolutionary protest which gave birth to
Socialism in general." Anarchism, unlike other forms of
socialism, "lifted its sacrilegious arm, not only against
Capitalism, but also against these pillars of Capitalism: Law,
Authority, and the State." All anarchist writers did was to
"work out a general expression of [anarchism's] principles,
and the theoretical and scientific basis of its teachings"
derived from the experiences of working class people in struggle
as well as analysing the evolutionary tendencies of society
in general. [Op. Cit., p. 19 and p. 57]
However, anarchistic tendencies and organisations in society have existed
long before Proudhon put pen to paper in 1840 and declared himself an
anarchist. While anarchism, as a specific political theory, was born with
the rise of capitalism (Anarchism "emerged at the end of the eighteenth
century . . .[and] took up the dual challenge of overthrowing both
Capital and the State." [Peter Marshall, Op. Cit., p. 4]) anarchist
writers have analysed history for libertarian tendencies. Kropotkin
argued, for example, that "from all times there have been Anarchists
and Statists." [Op. Cit., p. 16] In Mutual Aid (and elsewhere)
Kropotkin analysed the libertarian aspects of previous societies
and noted those that successfully implemented (to some degree)
anarchist organisation or aspects of anarchism. He
recognised this tendency of actual examples of anarchistic
ideas to predate the creation of the "official" anarchist movement
and argued that:
"From the remotest, stone-age antiquity, men [and women] have realised
the evils that resulted from letting some of them acquire personal
authority. . . Consequently they developed in the primitive clan,
the village community, the medieval guild . . . and finally in the
free medieval city, such institutions as enabled them to resist
the encroachments upon their life and fortunes both of those strangers
who conquered them, and those clansmen of their own who endeavoured
to establish their personal authority." [Anarchism, pp. 158-9]
Kropotkin placed the struggle of working class people (from which modern
anarchism sprung) on par with these older forms of popular organisation.
He argued that "the labour combinations. . . were an outcome of the same
popular resistance to the growing power of the few -- the capitalists
in this case" as were the clan, the village community and so on, as
were "the strikingly independent, freely federated activity of the
'Sections' of Paris and all great cities and many small 'Communes'
during the French Revolution" in 1793. [Op. Cit., p. 159]
Thus, while anarchism as a political theory is an expression of working
class struggle and self-activity against capitalism and the modern state,
the ideas of anarchism have continually expressed themselves in action
throughout human existence. Many indigenous peoples in North America and
elsewhere, for example, practised anarchism for thousands of years before
anarchism as a specific political theory existed. Similarly, anarchistic
tendencies and organisations have existed in every major revolution --
the New England Town Meetings during the American Revolution, the Parisian
'Sections' during the French Revolution, the workers' councils and factory
committees during the Russian Revolution to name just a few examples (see
Murray Bookchin's The Third Revolution for details). This is to be expected
if anarchism is, as we argue, a product of resistance to authority then
any society with authorities will provoke resistance to them and generate
anarchistic tendencies (and, of course, any societies without authorities
cannot help but being anarchistic).
In other words, anarchism is an expression of the struggle against oppression
and exploitation, a generalisation of working people's experiences and
analyses of what is wrong with the current system and an expression of our
hopes and dreams for a better future. This struggle existed before it was
called anarchism, but the historic anarchist movement (i.e. groups of people
calling their ideas anarchism and aiming for an anarchist society) is
essentially a product of working class struggle against capitalism and
the state, against oppression and exploitation, and for a free society
of free and equal individuals.