Anarchism in Theory
–For all the different philosophical assumptions, strategies and social recommendations, anarchists are united in their search for a free society without the State and government. They all flow in the broad river of anarchy towards the great sea of freedom. Peter Marshall
To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded; all by creatures that have neither the right, nor wisdom, nor virtue … To be governed means that at every move, operation, or transaction one is noted, registered, entered in a census, taxed, stamped, priced, assessed, patented, licensed, authorized, recommended, admonished, prevented, reformed, set right, corrected. Government means to be subjected to tribute, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, pressured, mystified, robbed; all in the name of public utility and the general good. Then, at the first sign of resistance or word of complaint, one is repressed, fined, despised, vexed, pursued, hustled, beaten up, garroted, imprisoned, shot, machine-gunned, judged, sentenced, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to cap it all, ridiculed, mocked, outraged, and dishonoured. That is government, that is its justice and its morality!
PIERRE-JOSEPH PROI. DHON
Man is truly tree only among equally free men.
Every State is a despotism, be the despot one or many. !VIAX STIRNER
The River of Anarchy
ANARCHY IS USUALLY DEFINED as a society without government, and anarchism as the social philosophy which aims at its realization. The word
anarchy' comes from the ancient Greek word avaocta in which av meantwithout’ and max meant first a military ‘leader’ then ‘ruler’. In medieval Latin, the word became anarchia. During the early Middle Ages this was used to describe God as being ‘without a beginning’; only later did it recapture its earlier Greek political definition. Today it has come to describe the condition of a people living without any constituted authority or government. From the beginning, anarchy has denoted both the negative sense of unruliness which leads to disorder and chaos, and the positive sense of a free society in which rule is no longer necessary. It would be misleading to offer a neat definition of anarchism, since by its very nature it is anti-dogmatic. It does not offer a fixed body of doctrine based on one particular world-view. It is a complex and subtle philosophy, embracing many different currents of thought and strategy. Indeed, anarchism is like a river with many currents and eddies, constantly changing and being refreshed by new surges but always moving towards the wide ocean of freedom. While there are many different currents in anarchism, anarchists do share certain basic assumptions and central themes. If you dive into an anarchist philosophy, you generally find a particular view of human nature, a critique of the existing order, a vision of a free society, and a way to achieve it. All anarchists reject the legitimacy of external government and of the State, and condemn imposed political authority, hierarchy and domination. They seek to establish the condition of anarchy, that is to say, a decentralized and self-regulating society consisting of a federation of voluntary associations of free and equal individuals. The ultimate goal of anarchism is to create a free society which allows all human beings to realize their full potential. Anarchism was born of a moral protest against oppression and injustice. The very first human societies saw a constant struggle between those who wanted to rule and those who refused to be ruled or to rule in turn. The first anarchist was the first person who felt the oppression of another and rebelled against it. He or she not only asserted the right to think independently but challenged authority, whatsoever form it took. As a recognizable trend in human history, the thread of anarchism, in thought and deed, may be traced back several thousands of years. Kropotkin once observed that ‘throughout the history of our civilization, two traditions, two opposing tendencies have confronted each other: the Roman and the Popular; the imperial and the federalist; the authoritarian and the libertarian.” Anarchism is part of the latter tradition. It is a tradition opposed to domination, a tradition which sees the self-governing community as the norm and the drive to create authoritarian and hierarchical institutions as an aberration. Anarchism began to take shape wherever people demanded to govern themselves in the face of power-seeking minorities — whether magicians, priests, conquerors, soldiers, chiefs or rulers. Throughout recorded history, the anarchist spirit can be seen emerging in the clan, tribe, village community, independent city, guild and union. The anarchist sensibility made its first appearance amongst the Taoists of ancient China, and has been with us ever since. It is clearly present in classical Greek thought. During the Christian era, its message found direct political expression in the great peasants’ revolts of the Middle Ages. The factions of the extreme Left which flourished during the English Revolution, especially the Diggers and the Ranters, were deeply imbued with its spirit. Equally, it was to infuse the lively town meetings in the New England of the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, these manifestations are, strictly speaking, part of the prehistory of anarchism. It required the collapse of feudalism in order for anarchism to develop as a coherent ideology, an ideology which combined the Renaissance’s growing sense of individualism with the Enlightenment’s belief in social progress. It emerged at the end of the eighteenth century in its modern form as a response partly to the rise of centralized States and nationalism, and partly to industrialization and capitalism. Anarchism thus took up the dual challenge of overthrowing both Capital and the State. But it soon had to struggle on two fronts, against the existing order of State and Church as well as against authoritarian tendencies within the emerging socialist movement. It was of course the French Revolution which set the parameters for many of the arguments and struggles which preoccupied the Left during the nineteenth century. Anarchist sentiments and organization can be seen in the districts and municipalities during the Revolution. But the term
anarchist' was still used as a term of abuse by the Jacobins and the Girondins when attacking the extreme sans culottes and the enrages who advocated federalism and the abolition of government. The real father of anarchismProudhortism broadly developed and pushed to its extreme consequences” He popularized the term ‘anarchy’, exploiting the two associations of the word: with the widespread discord of revolutionary upheaval, and with the stable social order of freedom and solidarity which would follow. Providing a charismatic example of anarchy in action, Bakunin also helped forge the identity of the modern anarchist movement. His aristocratic compatriot Peter Kropotkin tried, in the latter half of the century, to make anarchism more convincing by developing it into a systematic social philosophy based on scientific principles. He further refined Bakunin’s collectivism — which had looked to distribute wealth according to work accomplished — by giving it a more communistic gloss. Reacting against Kropotkin’s mechanistic approach, the Italian Errico Malatesta brought about a major shift by emphasizing the importance of the will in social struggle. During this period Benjamin R. Tucker in America also took up Proudhon’s economic theories but adopted an extreme individualist stance. Although Tolstoy did not publicly call himself an anarchist because of that title’s associations with violence, he developed an anarchist-critique of the State and property based on the teachings of Christ. As a result, he helped develop an influential pacifist tradition within the anarchist movement. In the twentieth century, Emma Goldman added an important feminist dimension, while more recently Murray Bookchin has linked anarchism with social ecology in a striking way. More recent anarchist thinkers have, however, been primarily concerned with the application of anarchist ideas and values. The Russian Revolution and the Spanish Republic both proved great testing-grounds for anarchism before the Second World War. After it, the flood of anarchy subsided, but it did not disappear; the demographic complexion of the movement merely became more middle-class, and, since the sixties, the New Left, the counter-culture, the peace, feminist and
is to be found on the other side of the Channel. It was William Godwin who gave the first clear statement of anarchist principles, looking forward eagerly to the dissolution of that 'brute engine' of political govemment.2 The nineteenth century witnessed a great flood of anarchist theory and the development of an anarchist movement. The German philosopher Max Stirner elaborated an uncompromising form of individualism, firmly rejecting both government and the State. The first person deliberately to call himself an anarchist was the Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; he insisted that only a society without artificial government could restore natural order: lust as man seeks justice in equality, society seeks order in anarchy.'3 He launched the great slogans 'Anarchy is Order' and 'Property is Theft'. The Russian revolutionary Michael Bakunin described anarchism as
6 Demanding the Impossible
Green movements have all taken up many central anarchist themes. But while anarchism is a broad river, it is possible to discern a number of distinctive currents. What principally divides the family of anarchists is their different views of human nature, strategy and future organization. The mainstream is occupied by the, social anarchists, but the individualists form an important part of the flow. Amongst the social anarchists, there are mutualists, collectivists, communists, and syndicalists who differ mainly on the issue of economic organization. Some may be grouped according to their ideas, like the spiritual and philosophical anarchists; others according to their strategies, like the pacifist anarchists. The social anarchists and individualists often work together but bear differing emphases. The individualists see the danger of obligatory cooperation and are worried that a collectivist society will lead to the tyranny of the group. On the other hand, the social anarchists are concerned that a society of individualists might become atomistic and that the spirit of competition could destroy mutual aid and general solidarity. Such differences do not prevent both wings coming together in the notion of communal individuality, which attempts to achieve a maximum degree of personal freedom without destroying the community. The boundaries between the different currents of anarchism are not clear-cut; indeed they often flow into each other. Mutualism, collectivism, communism, and syndicalism might well exist side by side within the same society, as different associations and districts experiment with what best meets their specific wants and demands. No anarchist would be comfortable laying down an incontrovertible blueprint for future generations. Spiritual anarchists see humans as primarily spiritual beings capable of managing themselves without the curb of external government. Most of them reject man-made laws in favour of a prior obligation to natural law or the law of God; some go even further to insist that in a state of grace no law, whether human or divine, is applicable. They generally assume that human impulses are fundamentally good and beneficent. Spiritual anarchism is not linked to any particular creed or sect, but its adherents all reject organized religion and the hierarchical church. Like Tolstoy and Gandhi, many spiritual anarchists subscribe to pacifist beliefs. Pacifist anarchists refuse to use physical violence even to repel violence. They see the State and government as the ultimate expressions of organized violence, agreeing, with Randolph Bourne, that War is the Health of the State’. In their vocabulary, the State stands for legalized aggression, war mass murder, conscription slavery, and the soldier a hired assassin. They argue that it is impossible to bring about a peaceful and free society by the use of violence since means inevitably influence the nature of ends. It therefore follows, as Bart de Ligt argued, ‘the greater the
The River ofAnarchy 7
violence, the less revolution’.5 The preferred tactics of the pacifist anarchists are non-violent direct action, passive resistance and civil disobedience; they engage in strikes, boycotts, demonstrations and occupations. Philosophical anarchism has often been despised by militants, although clearly any action executed without thought is just an arbitrary jerk. All anarchists are philosophical in a general sense, but it is usual to call those thinkers philosophical anarchists who have reached anarchist conclusions in their search for universal principles without engaging in any practical activity. While the philosophical anarchists like Godwin have tended to stay aloof from direct action, the great anarchist thinkers of the nineteenth century — Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin — were actively involved in promoting the application of their distinctive strain of anarchism. Proudhonism was the first current in anarchism to emerge (in Europe from the 184os on) as an identifiable social movement, with federalism as the means of organization, mutualism as the economic principle and anarchy as the goal. The indispensable premiss of mutualism was that society should be organized, without the intervention of a State, by individuals who are able to make free contracts with each other. To replace the existing State and Capital, mutualists proposed, and tried to create, a co-operative society, comprising individuals who exchange the necessities of life on the basis of labour value and obtain free credit through a people’s bank. Individuals and small groups would still possess their instruments of labour, and receive the produce thereof. Associations based on mutualite (reciprocity) would ensure that exchange took place in the proper fashion by employing a system of labour notes valued according to the average working time it took to make a product. On a larger scale, mutualists suggested that local communities link up in a federalist system. Society would thus become a vast federation of workers’ associations and communes co-ordinated by councils at the local, regional, national and international level. Unlike parliaments, the members of the councils would be delegates, not representatives, without any executive authority and subject to instant recall. The councils themselves would have no central authority, and consist of co-ordinating bodies with a minimal secretariat. Mutualism was not only taken up by members of the first International Working Men’s Association (IWMA); many revolutionaries in the Paris Commune of 1871 called themselves mutualists. Since it made no direct attack on the class system, mutualism tended to appeal to craftsmen and artisans, shopkeepers and small farmers, who valued their independence rather more than did the industrial working class . It was not long before delegates within the federalist wing of the IWMA developed Proudhon’s mutualist economic doctrine towards collectivism.
8 Demanding the Impossible
Bakunin used the term for the first time at the Second Congress of the League of Peace and Liberty at Bern in 1868. Collectivists believed that the State should be dismantled and the economy organized on the basis of common ownership and control by associations of producers. They wished to restrict private property only to the product of individual labour, but argued that there should be common ownership of the land and all other means of production. Collectivists in general look to a free federation of associations of producers and consumers to organize production and distribution. They uphold the socialist principle: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to work done.’ This form of anarchist collectivism appealed to peasants as well as workers in the labour movement who wanted to create a free society without any transitional revolutionary government or dictatorship. For a long time after Bakunin, nearly all the Spanish anarchists were collectivists. After the demise of the First International in the 187os the European anarchist movement took a communist direction. At first the distinction between communism and collectivism was not always readily apparent; `collective socialism’ was even used as a synonym for ‘non-authoritarian communism’. Nevertheless, anarchist communists came to believe, like Kropotkin, that the products of labour as well as the instruments of production should be held in common. Since the work of each is entwined with the work of all, it is virtually impossible to calculate the exact value of any person’s labour. Anarchist communists therefore conclude that the whole society should manage the economy while the price and wage system should be done away with. Where collectivists see the workers’ collective as the basic unit of society, communists look to the commune composed of the whole population — consumers as well as producers — as the fundamental association. They adopt as their definition of economic justice the principle: ‘From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.’ In a free communist society, they are confident that drudgery could be transformed into meaningful work and that there could be relative abundance for all. Economic relations would at last express the natural human sympathies of solidarity and mutual aid and release spontaneous altruism. Anarchist communists hold a different view of human nature from the individualists, stressing that man is a social being who can only realize his full potential in society. Where the individualists talk about the sovereignty of the individual and personal autonomy, the communists stress the need for solidarity and co-operation. The proper relationship between people, they argue, is not one of self-interest, however enlightened, but of sympathy. Anarcho-syndicalism shares their concern with mutual aid. Its roots
The River of Anarchy 9
may be traced to the First International which insisted that the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves. But it developed, as a recognizable trend, out of the revolutionary trade union movement at the end of the last century, especially in France, where workers reacted against the methods of authoritarian socialism and adopted the anarchist rejection of parliamentary politics and the State. Syndicalism in general redirected the impulses of the advocates of ‘propaganda by the deed’ and took over many of the most positive ideas of anarchism about a free and equal society without goverment and the State. The advocates of anarcho-syndicalism take the view that trade unions or labour syndicates should not only be concerned with improving the conditions and wages of their members, although this is an important part of their activity. They should take on a more positive role and have an educational as well as social function; they should become the ‘most fruitful germs of a future society, the elementary school of Socialism in general’.6 By developing within the shell of the old society, the syndicates should therefore establish institutions of self-management so that when the revolution comes through a general strike the workers will be prepared to undertake the necessary social transformation. The syndicates should in this way be considered the means of revolution as well as a model of the future society. The most constructive phase of syndicalism was from 1894 to I914, especially in France and Italy; anarcho-syndicalists also played a significant part in the Russian Revolution. After the First World War, however, anarcho-syndicalism began to lose its way, except in Spain and to a lesser extent in Latin America. It tended to flourish in countries where the labour movement was not well-organized and the class struggle was sharp and bitter. The international movement however regrouped at a Congress in Berlin, Germany, in 1922. It called itself the International Working Men’s Association and in its declaration of principles asserted:
Revolutionary Syndicalism is the confirmed enemy of every form of economic and social monopoly, and aims at its abolition by means of economic communes and administrative organs of field and factory workers on the basis of a free system of councils, entirely liberated from subordination to any government or political party. Against the politics of the State and parties it erects the economic organization of labour; against the government of men, it sets up the management of things. Consequently, it has for its object, not the conquest of political power, but the abolition of every State function in social life.
Its aims were to be put to the test in the last remaining bastion of anarchosyndicalism in Spain during the Spanish Revolution, when the syndicates
to Demanding the Impossible took over the industries in Catalunya and demonstrated that they were capable of running them on efficient and productive lines. Despite its historical importance, many anarchists have argued that anarcho-syndicalism with its emphaSis on class struggle has too narrow a vision of a free society. On the one hand, it concentrates on problems of work and can easily become entangled in day-to-day struggles for better wages and conditions like any other union. On the other hand, it places a utopian confidence in the general strike as inaugurating the social revolution. Above all, it is principally concerned with the liberation of producers and not the whole of society. Individualist anarchism is the most self-regarding form of anarchism. Socially, the individualists conceive society not as an organic whole but as a collection of separate and sovereign individuals. Morally, they celebrate individuality as the supreme value, and are fearful of the individual sub-merging himself or herself in the community. Economically, they want each person to have the free disposal of the products of his or her labour. Individualist anarchism comes closest to classical liberalism, sharing its concepts of private property and economic exchange, as well as its definitions of freedom as the absence of restraint, and justice as the reward of merit. Indeed, the individualist develops the liberal concept of the sovereignty of the individual to such an extent that it becomes incompatible with any form of government or State. Each person is considered to have an inviolable sphere which embraces both his body and his property. Any interference with this private sphere is deemed an invasion: the State with its coercive apparatus of taxation, conscription, and law is the supreme invader. Individuals may thus be said to encounter each other as sovereign on their own territory, regulating their affairs through voluntary contracts. Anarcho-capitalism is a recent current which has developed out of individualist anarchism. It wishes to dismantle government while retaining private property and to allow complete laissez-faire in the economy. Its adherents stress the sovereignty of the individual and reject all governmental interference in everyday life. They propose that government services be turned over to private entrepreneurs. Even the symbolic spaces of the public realm like town halls, streets and parks would be made into private property. Radical libertarianism has recently had a considerable vogue in the USA, where the Libertarian Party has taken up many of its ideas, and in Great Britain where the right wing of the Conservative Party talk its language. While all anarchists are individualist to some degree in that they do not want to be ruled by others, collectivists and communists maintain that social problems cannot be solved on an individual basis or by the invisible hand of the market. In order to change existing society and establish an equitable
The River ofAnarchy replacement, it is necessary, they argue, to combine with others and work together. In recent times, the various currents of anarchism have flown closer together. There are genuine differences between those who are strict pacifists and those who would allow a minimal use of violence to achieve their common goal. Militants are often critical of the more philosophically inclined, and communists keep reminding the individualists of the importance of solidarity. But the different currents have not split off into different streams or hardened into sects. The concept of ‘anarchism without adjectives’ is being discussed again in the context of creating a broad front to face the challenges of the third millennium. Except for a few diehard fanatics, most anarchists would see the various currents as expressing a different emphasis rather than an unbridgeable chasm. Indeed, some would find it quite acceptable to call themselves individualists in everyday life, syndicalists in wanting self-management at work, and communists in looking forward to a society in which goods are shared in common. For all the different philosophical assumptions, strategies and social recommendations, anarchists are united in their search for a free society without the State and government. They all flow in the broad river of anarchy towards the great sea of freedom.