Part I - Few people understand Anarchy. Unfortunately, that includes most anarchists
by Ruth Kinna
What is anarchism? 6
Anarchy: origins of the word: 21
Anarchist thought: key personalities: 37
Anarchist thought: schools of anarchism: 48
Anarchist thought: history: 92
End of chapter one: 133
Conclusion: 134 (Lone Cypress Workshop
Summary Conclusion: 148 (Lone Cypress Workshop)
A number of people have helped in the production of this book. Many thanks to Sharif Gemie and Vasilis Margaras for reading and commenting on early drafts, and to Dave Berry for generously giving his time to share his extensive knowledge of anarchist labour history – as well as lending some valuable materials. Thanks also to Simon Tormey who read and offered helpful comments on the original manuscript. Sadly, none of them have managed to iron out all the creases, but I’m very grateful for their help and encouragement. The production team at Oneworld – especially Victoria Roddam, who suggested the project, Mark Hopwood and Judy Kearns – have been extremely helpful and I’m grateful for their responsiveness and patience in seeing the book through.
Finally, I’d like to thank family and friends – some I didn’t know I had – who helped out in the dark days of 2002–3, and especially to Robert and Andrew who bore the brunt of those times. This book is for them.
This book falls into four chapters, each organized around a particular theme: (i) the ideology of anarchism; (ii) anarchist conceptions of the state; (iii) principles of anarchist organization (ideas of anarchy); and (iv) strategies for change.
The first chapter begins by introducing the terms ‘anarchism’, ‘anarchist’, and ‘anarchy’ and then discusses the problems anarchists have encountered with popular conceptions of anarchy.
(Lone Cypress Workshop) I can only applaud the attempt at bringing clarity not just to those, such as myself that have been interested in finding some kind of definitive explanation as to what this concept of anarchism may actually mean, and that encompasses a journey over more than fifty years. I have had much the same complicated and frustrating investigation when it comes to communism, socialism, capitalism, and even within Objectivism. In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to emphasize that I am an individualist, an objectivist, and essentially an anarchist as well. Perhaps not in the sense that many who read this think of themselves, but an anarchist nonetheless.
I am a passionate and fundamentalist individualist by nature, by reason, and by philosophy. Objectivism is the only ideology that I have found in my sixty-nine years of exploration that allows me to be all of these things, and my confidence in my own ability, because of these things, compels me to believe that I am more than capable, certainly more than anyone else, to determine my own direction and future, without the need to hurt another person in any way, and with the ability to comprehend what others experience in their lives as well, with an intent to help when I am able, but only to the extent I personally decide to offer, without coercion from others, through my own contemplations and eventual conclusions.
From what I have come to understand from the non-violent anarchist perspective, I find there to be no conflict with my own personal positions and hope to come away from this experience ‘enlightened’ as to how the anarchist ideology can deal with the trials and tribulations of existing in a social paradigm without the need for any manipulation or coercion.
I am highly skeptical after reading and talking for years with anarchists. I don’t find there to be a consistent, compelling, or rational basis behind the positions I hear, at least from a practical standpoint, and I say this while acknowledging that from a theoretical perspective it seems consistent and reasonable.
My comments are not meant to inflame or incite. They are not an attack on anarchism or on any particular anarchist. I have a multitude of my own personal perspectives and what I think is a well-constructed, comprehensive, and consistent ideology and philosophy upon which I rest my thoughts, my words, and my actions. I neither expect anyone to take my words for granted, either for or against, and I do not try to dictate what someone else should think or say. I would appreciate the benefit of the doubt as to my intent and would find some level of satisfaction if you could take the time to think about my comments and perhaps try to understand my concepts and explore my perspective with reason and an openness to conflicting ideas, whether you agree or disagree.
I have never attempted something like this. My hope we can both enjoy this. I am looking forward to it. Let’s walk and talk like an anarchist!
(Ruth Kinna) The main body of the chapter looks at three different approaches to anarchism. The first seeks to understand the core principles of anarchism by abstracting key ideas from the works of designated anarchist thinkers. The second emphasizes the broadness of the ideology by categorizing anarchists into a variety of schools or traditions. The third approach is historical and argues that anarchism developed in response to a peculiar set of political circumstances, active in the latter decades of nineteenth-century Europe. The aim of this chapter is to suggest that anarchism can be defined as an ideology by the adherence of anarchists to a core belief namely, the rejection of the state.
(LCW) I have some strongly contradictory positions and fundamental questions that need to be discussed, but perhaps a better time and place will come as we explore the content of this book. As for the book, it was not a suggested item, but a random one. I would tend to believe that any legitimate work would suffice, but I am not sure if this would be acceptable to all, or only to some limited segment of the larger anarchist membership. In any case, it is the one I intend to use.
(RK) The second chapter considers some of the ways in which anarchists have theorized the state and the grounds on which they have called for its abolition. It looks in particular at anarchist ideas of government, authority, and power and it uses these ideas to show why anarchists believe the state to be both detrimental and unnecessary. Anarchists sometimes suggest that they are wholly opposed to government, authority, and power, but the chapter shows how these concepts are incorporated into anarchist theories to bolster anarchist defenses of anarchy. Finally, the chapter reviews some anarchist theories of liberty, in an effort to show why anarchists believe anarchy is superior to the state, and to illustrate the broad difference between anarchist communitarians and libertarians.
(LCW) I certainly look forward to well-articulated positions on the state and liberty. They are concepts that are rarely explained clearly or fully. I understand the intent to not have one and to have the other. I would tend to agree, but while I agree the state needs to be miniscule in comparison to what we have today, I would suggest that it is impossible to have a stateless existence in anything larger than a few hundred individuals, especially when dealing with such self-confident and competent individuals that are the essence of the anarchist paradigm.
I have to same desire to have a fully defined explanation of how liberty works when strong-willed individuals conflict with the extent of what they believe their own liberties to encompass. Without the state, some form of government or even some collectivist agreement is necessary to cooperate and work together. Because of this belief, I see nothing but friction and perpetual disputes, and there is no centralized morality that can contain the animosity and hostility that has always existed between individuals to this day, and none of the systems ever devised have ever been able to come to a definitive conclusion.
We simply don’t have the people of character and morality and ethics that would be integral to making such an endeavor successful. What is the answer from anarchism where these impeccable individuals of character and integrity are going to come from? If they existed, the systems we have now would be working and beyond reproach, and there would be no need for anything to replace them, but these individuals do not exist, at least not in the numbers necessary. I sit here with breathless anticipation to hear resolutions that are not drowned in rhetoric.
(RK) The third chapter looks at anarchist ideas of organization and some models of anarchy. It looks first at the ways in which anarchists have understood the relationship between anarchy and statelessness, and the use they have made of anthropology to formulate ideas of anarchy. The second part of the chapter considers anarchist responses to utopianism, identifies decentralized federalism as the principle of anarchist planning, and outlines two ‘utopian’ views of this principle. The final part of the chapter considers some experiments in anarchy, both historical and contemporary, highlighting the relationship that some anarchists posit between the organization and revolutionary change.
(LCW) I have never heard of these alternatives from anarchists before, hence my search for a different path to understanding. I have no alternative but to reject the concept of some unattainable Utopian dream, certainly not with the quality of existing humanity that I see daily, all across this globe. This is not a European or even an American issue. This lack of legitimate leaders, as well as citizens, is the death knell to any possibilities of significant changes that I have ever envisioned.
But I welcome the opportunity to listen to something besides invective, intimidation, ad hominem attacks, and outright hatred and violence. Are these things something that I can expect to be a part of the anarchist paradigm that is envisioned by the vast majority that terms themselves as such? They don’t exist in my own philosophy and ideology, and will never be acceptable or legitimate as a means to an end. This is non-negotiable. I remain an anarchist by my own definition. I believe the anarchist refuses to be directed through force in any way toward making their own decisions. I find that my antipathy and resistance with such a paradigm would tend to agree with that passionately. Therefore I am an anarchist if I say so, and I do. What does the anarchist ideology say to those that do not agree even on the most fundamental aspects of their beliefs? I will be fascinated to hear an answer to that question.
(RK) The final chapter examines strategies for change – both revolutionary and evolutionary – and different methods of protest, from symbolic to direct action. The chapter includes a discussion of anarchist responses to the anti-globalization movement and reviews one of the important arguments that anti-globalization protest has raised: the justification of violence.
(LCW) How does an ideology expect to retain any legitimacy or credibility at all if violence is ever, under any circumstances allowed to be justified? It is an irrational position. Revolution does not have to be coercive or violent. Revolutionary evolution is the only legitimate option that I can envision, but we return to the need for individuals of deeply held moral beliefs and ethics. Without these things, there can be no respect or consideration of options or the considerations of others.
In many ways, anarchism is self-destructing from within, much the same as the Liberal Democrats with an over-abundance of special interests that simply cannot be tamed once they taste the blood of power and control. These things, from what I understand, are not supposed to be a primary of the ideology of anarchism. In fact, I was under the impression they were anathema to the essence of anarchy. The question is only if they are needed or wanted at all. If so, there will have to be a reckoning at some point, and I would think it will not be pretty.
Chapter One: what is anarchism?
(RK) There cannot be a history of anarchism in the sense of establishing a permanent state of things called ‘anarchist’. It is always a continual coping with the next situation, and a vigilance to make sure that past freedoms are not lost and do not turn into the opposite ...
(Paul Goodman, in A Decade of Anarchy, p. 39)
(LCW) I would suggest that this is a reference to that evolutionary change mentioned. Nothing can stay the same, and everything remains in flux under any and all circumstances. That is the reason that most ‘states’ fail, they simply cannot adapt. The status quo works for individuals short-term for self-interests but never delivers the long-term benefits that some speak of but we never seem to reach the experience.
The inevitable paradigm of any economic or political ideology is the ability to determine and develop the changes that need to be made to keep viability and legitimacy and this is not an easy thing. I know there are few anarchists, collectivists, or liberals that will be open to the position that America is one of the few that was actually ‘designed’ to do just that. I would go so far as to say it is the epitome of what I have heard anarchist theory promote, although even the street anarchists will have no part of it. The fact that it is in disarray and possible extinction is beside the point.
Remember those impeccable individuals with deeply held beliefs that define flawless character and exhibit unprecedented integrity? They don’t seem to exist in the numbers we need across the U.S. (and the planet) as we speak. Without them, America will cease to exist in any meaningful way. I can hear the cheering as I write the words. Unfortunately, it also means that whatever your vision for the future holds, without those same people the endeavor will be doomed from the start. You will live a multitude of lives, never to see that which you desire as a concrete reality. If by some chance of fate anarchism becomes the norm, more probably collectivism of some perverted version, it will inarguably not be what was expected, and the call for revolution will reverberate through another century. I find it inevitable.
(RK) What do we anarchists believe? ... we believe that human beings can achieve their maximum development and fulfillment as individuals in a community of individuals only when they have free access to the means of life and are equals among equals, we maintain that to achieve a society in which these conditions are possible it is necessary to destroy all that is authoritarian in existing society.
(Vernon Richards, Protest Without Illusions, p. 129)
(LCW) It brings a tear to my eye. Do you think this is not what the Founders envisioned when they created this Constitutional Federal Republic? If they wished for nothing more than power and corruption and ‘exploitation’ as so many put it, then why not simply institute another Monarchy or something simpler like a dictatorship? They could have done this but they did not. They created a system that was supposed to live and breathe and evolve as the country and its inhabitants grew and prospered and developed into those very same people that I described previously. It never happened.
This is exactly what Objectivism desires as well. It dovetails with the fundamentals of the anarchist ideology in every respect. It wants every single individual to develop into the very best person and member of society that can be achieved. It talks about self-fulfillment through self-interest, with a focus on NOT hurting another individual through their own actions. Those that think there is an implication of irrational selfishness only show their ignorance and inability to research an ideology that is almost a mirror image of what is being professed by the anarchist philosophy.
It demands fair trade between individuals, and mutual benefit through mutual agreement, and implicitly condemns the taking advantage of those that need our help. It does indeed leave the extent and method of doing this up to the individual, but I have to ask, is the anarchist coerced into helping others, or does he do so because it is the right thing to do? Is he told when and how and who to help? Does anarchy exploit the individual and extort the fruits of their labour to be distributed to others when they have no input? How exactly do they handle these situations?
Objectivism abhors the state. It wants the absolute smallest government with the minimum of power and authority possible. Whatever the anarchist envisions is completely compatible with the positions of the Objectivist. It would be illuminating to hear a rational, objective, and honest response to these comments. Sixty-nine years, and I have yet to hear a reasonable argument against it.
(RK) Anarchism is a doctrine that aims at the liberation of peoples from political domination and economic exploitation by the encouragement of direct or non-governmental action.
(LCW) No one wants any individuals to be dominated by political and economic exploitation. Do you really mean to tell me that anyone thinks that it is only the anarchists that say this? They all say it, especially the collectivists, and yet in every instance they end up in at least an authoritarian paradigm if not a totalitarian one. The problem is that they really don’t mean it, they don’t have a clue, or they are not capable of initiating and implementing a system that can actually provide such an environment. They don’t have those ‘appropriate players’ that will simply do the right thing, the thing that they promised to do, and not what is only to the advantage and benefit of themselves, their ideology, and their compatriots.
(RK) Historically, it has been linked to working-class activism, but its intellectual roots lie in the mid-nineteenth century, just prior to the era of mass organization. Europe was anarchism’s first geographical centre, and the early decades of the twentieth century marked the period of its greatest success.
(LCW) I feel compelled to ask exactly what those ‘successes’ actually were, and specifically what is considered the greatest achievement? Times of unrest and disaffection with government are consistent throughout history. As exemplified by the mindless demonstrations we have had to endure over the last few years, few, if any, of the participants could articulate what they are doing or why. They are not part of a movement in the intellectual sense but more of a mob mentality. The only constant is that they want something, and they want it now. These individuals are not a part of a philosophical or reasoned paradigm, and I don’t really believe that they are doing it for the altruistic motives they proclaim, but only directly in relation to personal benefit, and the result of hysterical and inexplicable hatred. If not, then why is there little if any progress being made away from the politics and cameras? Why are they accomplishing so little in their own personal paradigms?
(RK) Yet the influence of anarchism has extended across the globe, from America to China; whilst anarchism virtually disappeared after 1939, when General Franco crushed the Spanish revolution to end the civil war, today it is again possible to talk about an anarchist movement or movements.
(LCW) I fail to understand why a single ‘crushing’ event would have any effect upon a global movement. Is it that easy to dissuade and distract such an intrinsically credible expectation for such fundamental revolutionary transformation? Something else is going on here and I don’t see an honest and reasonable explanation for the ineffectual response.
(RK) The origins of contemporary anarchism can be traced to 1968 when, to the delight and surprise of activists – and disappointment and incredulity of critics – student rebellion put anarchism back on the political agenda.
(LCW) While in some respects this may be true, it seems that events illustrate more the ‘tail wagging the dog’ than any legitimate intent on the part of the individuals. There is no focused platform except a diluted version of the collectivist wish to destroy capitalism and government and to replace it with a vague and unworkable Utopian dream-state that neither exists on paper nor in the real world. Where is the indisputable leadership, the overwhelming reasoned arguments, or is that a non-sequitur in relation to what I was led to believe the anarchist movement represented?
(RK) There is some dispute in anarchist circles about the character and composition of the late-twentieth and twenty-first-century anarchism and its relationship to the earlier twentieth-century movement. But all agree that anarchism has been revived and there is some optimism that anarchist ideas are again exercising a real influence in contemporary politics.
(LCW) Is this optimism based on definable and recognizable concepts or is it just the pleasure of thinking that the movement is possibly relevant once again? You point to ‘anarchist ideas’ but there are hundreds of anarchist schisms that exist. Which ideas specifically are you alluding to? It is all too ambiguous and nebulous to even begin to persuade me that there is some compelling and reasonable ideology at work here. There needs to be a much stronger and more focused intellectual objective to really pique my interest.
I see no real influence in contemporary politics, nothing but more of the same intimidating cancel culture, visceral hatred, violence, and a pronounced lack of any interest in discussion or debate. That is not the way to create, develop and implement any movement of any legitimacy. Never has been and never will be. It may well result in victory, but it will be an empty one since it will remain credible only to those hard-core fanatics that will inevitably end up implementing a totalitarian government, which seems to contradict the fundamental integrity of anarchism itself.
(RK) This influence is detectable in numerous campaigns – from highly publicized protests against animal vivisection, militarization, and nuclear arms, to less well-known programmes for urban renewal, the development of alternative media, free education, radical democracy, and co-operative labour. Anarchist ideas have also made themselves felt in the anti-capitalist, anti-globalization movement – sometimes dubbed by activists as the pro-globalization movement or the movement for globalization from below.
(LCW) There is strong doubt that this influence that you speak of is actually a credible platform. What are the specifics besides disagreement and the wish to prosecute revolution and destruction?
I find it tragically amusing, on issues like vivisection, that the anarchist thinks they are the only one who has any concern for the issues, without providing any tangible alternatives to the unwanted behaviour. I tend to see quite a bit of criticism but no tangible resolution on how to solve the problems. Please explain how, if there is no authority, who is to make the distinctions about what is animal abuse or exploitation and what is acceptable? Again, are you and those that are of like mind the source of this non-authoritarian authority? I believe that I would find the answer both fascinating and intriguing.
Anyone can point to issues of contention. There are few that can give a balanced analysis and even fewer that can come to reasonable and workable conclusions to solve the issues. That is ultimately what is truly necessary, is it not?
(RK) Anarchists are those who work to further the cause of anarchism. Like activists in other movements, those who struggle in the name of anarchism fall into a number of categories ranging from educationalists and propagandists to combatants in armed struggle.
(LCW) This is an extremely simplistic and redundant truism. Of course, anarchists work to further the cause of anarchism. If not, then by definition they cannot be anarchists. The issue is ‘not’ if any number of individuals ‘fall into’ various categories but if the groups have any intrinsic credibility or legitimacy in relation to the ideology itself.
(RK) Anarchists work in local and international arenas, building networks for community action and showing solidarity with comrades locked in struggles in areas like Palestine and the Chiapas region of Mexico.
(LCW) These are statements without substance. The expectation that there is some valid philosophy encapsulated in their efforts would be much more acceptable if the reference to comrades was not such a causal connection. There is a continual (and reasonable) comparison made between anarchists and collectivists and liberals on any number of issues which is counter-productive and self-destructive for the movement. The anarchist normally does not appreciate the reference to these other groups, but in seeking validation and solidarity, it sometimes sounds like the ideology is simply an outshoot of a larger collectivist push for revolution and a historical ideology that has failed time and again trying to achieve a result that is simply not creating a practical or reasonable paradigm.
The adoption of nomenclatures such as comrade and the stated goals in the context of subversion and submission only confirms the influence of the collectivist within the ideological structure of anarchism, and this spells an interpretation of illegitimacy in its philosophy and its objectives. It comes across as deceptive and irrational and therefore an understandable degree of skepticism from others.
(RK) Because anarchists eschew party politics, their diversity is perhaps more apparent than it is in other organizations. The development of discrete anarchist schools of thought will be examined in some detail later on in the chapter. But as a starting point, it is useful to indicate three areas of difference to help to distinguish the concerns of contemporary anarchists.
(LCW) To add to my previous comments, if the anarchist actually does wish to avoid and distance themselves from hierarchical party politics then they should refrain from using language that solidifies an intimate connection with other movements such as liberalism and collectivism and diminishes any positive intentions and expectations that may otherwise have been possible.
It is probably one of my primary points when I discuss anarchism, that if indeed there is such diversity within the ideological structure of anarchism, that diversity illustrates the profound differences between many of them, and the question begs an answer on how the philosophy intends to adjudicate these differences which inevitable will manifest themselves as conflict and disagreement. With no formal authority upon which to rely, I find it extremely difficult to envision that these individuals will simply sit down and come to an amicable consensus. If this were possible, we could do so under any and all other ideologies and disciplines. The fact that this does not happen, and is most successful under the admittedly challenged system of capitalism and constitutional federal republicanism, would suggest that the conversation that is inherently necessary has not yet even begun to happen much less the opportunity to have that ‘conversation’ that is so desperately needed.
(RK) Some of those calling themselves anarchists consider anarchism to be a political movement directed towards the liberation of the working class.
(LCW) It is very telling that you mention ‘some’ of those individuals that ‘call’ themselves anarchists. The fact that you use that particular verbiage suggests to me that many anarchists do not accept some others and I question what that is based upon and that calls into question almost anyone calling themselves an anarchist. Are they inferior anarchists or are they provocateurs and opportunists or simply imposters and posers? Heaven forbid that they are independent individuals searching for the answers to our questions of existence.
I also have to question what exactly does ‘working’ class mean. Is it only those that are fortunate in their efforts towards success on any level, or possibly only those that have created neither wealth nor valid standing? Are hard-working middle-class individuals, even if their numbers are shrinking, up for consideration? There are hard-working upper-class individuals. Are they rejected summarily simply because of their successes? Do you really mean to imply that there is no ‘exploitation’ of any of these ‘other’ workers? Is it all about building a power base of the historically unrewarded and underrepresented workers, or something else? Is there as much deception on the part of these leaderless and classless movements as there is within the mainstream contemporary status quo? Is this just a substitution for one evil over another? It certainly seems so on a superficial level. To garner support and justification, there is a need, neigh a demand, to illustrate and exemplify that this is not the case, and the collectivists have done the exact opposite and if not careful, the anarchist philosophy may well follow suit.
(RK) In the past, this struggle was centered on urban industrial workers, though in places like Spain it also embraced rural workers. Today, anarchists in this group also make appeals to women and people of colour within the working class and combine their traditional concern to overcome economic oppression with an interest to combat racism, sexism, and fascism.
(LCW) I am highly skeptical and troubled when I hear that the ‘struggle’ is ‘centered on any particular group. To be a legitimate ideology is it not incumbent on the philosophy to be available and of benefit to each and every individual in that society? Anything else simply reeks of a predominantly and specific hierarchy and I thought that anarchists were fundamentally against any kind of class structure whatsoever. Yet another comparison to the communist classless expectations.
The ‘special-interest’ groups you present (directly from liberal and contemporary collectivist political platforms) such as industrial and rural workers, women of colour, racism (which exists on both sides of every cultural conflict since the dawn of man) sexism, and fascism only exacerbates this unseemly intimate relationship with these other ideologies and philosophies that have difficulty being accepted by a broad swath of social communities. It is very self-limiting and politically self-destructive.
You speak of economic oppression and I unequivocally reject oppression and coercion in virtually any guise, with few exceptions, so I am again compelled to question how the anarchist paradigm deals with people that have legitimate and reasonable arguments against many of the issues involved with these special interests. Are anarchists so homogenous that there is no intellectual conflict and contradictions among the enthusiastic adherents of anarchism? I find that difficult to believe on any level.
(RK) Anarchists in this band include groups affiliated to the International Workers’ Association (IWA): the Solidarity Federation in Britain and the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in Spain.
In contrast, other anarchists see anarchism as a vast umbrella movement, importantly radicalized by feminists, ecologists, gays, and lesbians.
(LCW) Once again, nothing but self-absorbed and single-issue groups looking to engage on very narrowly defined and self-interested issues. This is not by any means to suggest that these issues are not terribly important and in some cases profound, and the intention to neglect or dismiss these issues is unacceptable but that is not the point. Special interests are destroying America on so many levels when the true and legitimate focus needs to be on the individual and not on any specific group that feels disrespected or mistreated. When every individual is treated with consideration and respect then there are no outliers and there is no inequality. It is for each anarchist to make sure that ‘they’ are not the issue, and they need to stand up and confront and address any others that are the essence of that conflict. There is no need for any special interest groups. They are authoritarian and fundamentally self-absorbed in nature and their very existence reeks of hierarchical expectations and is contradictory, in my interpretation, to the anarchical intent.
My concern is that there is no single issue in any of these concepts that are not just as legitimate and credible when studied and analyzed in the macro sense. If any of the issues are demonstrably that single-minded and apply only to specific groups of individuals then that is discriminatory superficially, and a damning example of hierarchy and inequality in its most base form. I find it incomprehensible that this is not obvious to more people, especially those that are searching for information and answers on the philosophy of anarchism.
Whatever the issue, it must be in the context of society as a whole, with equal treatment under whatever laws or template that you wish to construct. Any exceptions having one individual holding more or less intrinsic value than some other individual only illustrates the epitome of discrimination, racism, inequality, and especially an inescapable example of hierarchy. Am I missing something?
(RK) Anarchists in this group, often suspicious of being categorized by any ism, tend to see anarchism as a way of life or a collective commitment to a counter-cultural lifestyle defined by interdependence and mutual support.
(LCW) OMG. When you look past the integral condemnation of specialized prejudice inherent in most ideologies, is this not what we all wish for ourselves and others? A way of life that prohibits oppression and coercion by others, irrespective of their intentions and opinion. It is for each of us to find our own path and the integrity to follow that path.
Is not collective commitment the magic recipe for a social paradigm of peace and harmony? How does treating minorities and women and gays as better than everyone else going to bring that kind of environment to the entire social community? It is contrary to any reasoned expectation to have individuals accept and engage and embrace other individuals from different cultures and belief systems. Do we vilify them and ostracize them and cancel their lives and their futures and their dreams, or do we find a way that we can all find our own answers, our own potentials, our own priorities, and our own integrities?
I say it can be done, and the ‘only’ way to begin is to do away with special interest groups and treat each and every other individual the way we wish to be treated. Anything else is dishonest and irrationally self-interested. No exceptions.
I continue to hear different versions of this interdependence and mutual support, but that doesn’t seem to be an integral part of this special-interest environment that we find ourselves mired in today. So we don’t support white people, even though it is difficult to define exactly what that means, except for the most pasty-white individuals we can find. Does it mean that we cannot support men, even though, as bad as they are, many if not most of them are the companions and fathers, sons and brothers of those we most love and cherish? Does it mean that religious people cannot understand the trials and tribulations of those that embrace disparate views? Does it mean that straight people somehow are incapable of seeing the obstacles and challenges that have faced the gay community for most of history?
I don’t subscribe to any of this. All of these great attributes that you struggle to attach to the anarchist community have nothing to do with anarchism. It has to do with people of a deep and philosophically sound morality. It is about individuals that work very hard to be someone of deep integrity and exhibit unmatched integrity, compassion, empathy, and understanding. These people can make anarchism a reality, but if we had those kinds of individuals, we could fix capitalism or make socialism or even communism work.
(RK) Variations of this idea are expressed by anarchists linked to the journal Social Anarchism as well as by European ‘insurrectionists’ like Alfredo Bonanno. A third group similarly downplays the idea of working-class struggle to emphasize the aesthetic dimension of liberation, building on an association with art that has its roots in the nineteenth century. For these anarchists, anarchism is a revolutionary movement directed toward the need to overcome the alienation, boredom, and consumerism of everyday life. Its essence lies in challenging the system through cultural subversion, creating confusion to highlight the oppressiveness of accepted norms and values. Anarchists in this group include self-styled anti-anarchist anarchists like Bob Black and primitivists like John Moore.
(LCW) Here, here. I completely concur with the intent to counteract the alienation, boredom, and consumerism of everyday life. These things are not intrinsic to capitalism but are rather the attributes of lazy and unfocused individuals. If they are already anarchists, then nothing can change. If they are not, nothing is going to change anyway.
We must indeed challenge the system, no matter what it is and no matter if it is our own system or not. Complacency is the enemy, not the system. It is the individuals that are the problem, as well as the solution. I can’t say that I like the term ‘cultural subversion’. It sounds too strategic and more like subterfuge and sabotage than an honest attempt at creating change, open and transparent to everyone what it is that needs to be done, and why it needs to be done. Anything else is manipulation and coercion. Did I mention that I am adamantly opposed to coercion?
I am not sure that I can condone this overt act to create confusion that is somehow going to highlight existing issues. confusion by definition is the lack of clarity or explanation so how is the anarchist going to help others understand the anarchist paradigm if your primary objective is to give anything ‘but’ credible and reasonable information upon which to convince these others that are simply attempting to find reason and logic in your actions? I find the whole concept to be a tool of coercive intent and not one of cooperation and voluntary agreement of anarchist principles. I think it an absolute imperative to be as clear and patient as possible to accomplish that persuasion which may bring resolution.
I’m sorry, but you are going to have to educate me on what an anti-anarchist anarchist is. I’m still trying to understand what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. As for Moore, he is such an outlier that it is difficult to take him seriously. A primitivist would not write a book, nor would he hold down a job or live in a house constructed by someone else or pay for it in any other way than barter. He may be a part of an interesting conversation but he is irrelevant and irrational in the context of anything you are trying to explain or I am attempting to understand. I wish him well. There are more things that can be argued but are so far removed from a rational concept that I will leave the dissertations to others.
(RK) Anarchy is the goal of anarchists: the society variously described to be without government or without authority; a condition of statelessness, of free federation, of ‘complete’ freedom and equality based either on rational self-interest, co-operation or reciprocity. Though there are fewer conceptions of anarchy than there are anarchists, the anarchist ideal has been conceptualized in a variety of ways. What holds them together is the idea that anarchy is an ordered way of life.
(LCW) Anarchy is the goal of anarchists (Aristotle’s law of identity. An intrinsic derivative component of Rand’s Objectivism). Yet another redundant truism. A fruitful and focused discussion cannot derive from riddles and vague references.
A society may in fact be able to exist without a formal government, but that is simply parsing definitions. No group can exist without structure, which immediately infers authority as well as hierarchy. Authority is essential at some level at some point or the result is not anarchy, but chaos and an incapacity to be able to ensure or restore order when conflict passes a certain point. There have to be consequences for actions taken, whether it be a hanging from the local oak tree, stoning in the town square, incarceration, or different levels of physical, psychological, or economic damage to the perpetrator of the action. Where does rehabilitation fit into the anarchist paradigm? All of these are coercive in nature and completely reasonable (for the most part) and a necessary component of society in general. This is in addition to the ability to detect, determine and define the actual transgression.
A ‘federation’ is simply an organization (state) that controls, no matter how loosely, the community in question. There are a multitude of required abilities to create such an organization and by definition, it is a hierarchy designed to ameliorate disputes. I find a real reluctance from the anarchist to accept and acknowledge this reality or to explain why this is not true. I really don’t care which one is chosen, only that the individual makes a choice and is able to defend their position with a reasoned argument.
I have considered often what the concept of full and unfettered ‘freedom’ might actually entail and I have yet to come up with a workable hypothesis. Without those exceptional individuals that I repeatedly reference, it is simply impossible to envision a paradigm that is workable in any real sense. Even with those individuals, I am hard-pressed to believe that such an environment is possible.
There can be nothing termed complete equality either. The concept of diversity, by definition, encompasses our differences and has nothing to do with our similarities. While similarities do exist, there are more differences between individuals than anything else. I would welcome clarity as to what constitutes equality and how it can be conceived or implemented within any society without an undue amount of coercion and authority.
In almost every case, we are never someone’s equal. I can run faster than you. We are not equal. If we race a hundred times, and you win fifty times, I win the other fifty times. Ties are an anomaly. Perhaps I am proficient at painting, and you are not, but you can play the piano like there is no tomorrow, or even just chopsticks, and I can’t even do that. I am good at math, but you are good at chemistry. You are a problem solver, I am a problem definer. You can manage people but I can motivate them. Do you understand what I am trying to say? We are intrinsically and irrefutably different on almost as many levels as you wish to discuss. What form would this ‘equality’ actually present in a social framework?
And remember, each and every one of these measurable and definitive attributes creates a hierarchy next time the social community requires something done. If we need a door hung do we get the woodworker or the piano player? No brainer, right? What is intrinsically wrong with hierarchy, or authority for that matter? I think the problem is more with the corruption, nepotism, prejudice, and favoritism that is exemplified in the system we now have. I hate to say it, but with good people in positions of power we would not even be having this conversation.
The trick is to have a system that promotes and supports the creation and development of these appropriate players and the recognition and expulsion of those that are doing all of these wrong things for personal and ideological imperatives. Perhaps instead of rejecting and discarding hierarchies and states and authority we should condemn and dismantle ideologies in general. Isn’t that where all the conflict comes from, those pesky philosophies that make us do things that we know are wrong, and yet we do them anyway, hurting anyone and everyone that gets in our way from doing what ‘we’ consider the right thing? If only everyone would understand that ‘we’ know what the right thing is, and we are only forcing you for your own good. You will thank me for it later. Bullshit, right?
(RK) Indeed, the origin of the familiar graffiti – the ‘A’ in a circle – derives from the slogan ‘Anarchy is order; government is civil war’, coined by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1848 and symbolized by the revolutionary Anselme Bellegarrigue.
(LCW) That’s one of the problems with slogans and symbols, what it means to me is invariably not what it means to you. It takes on a life of its own, and the end result is arguably rarely equal to expectations. Some of them are pretty cool I must admit, creative and insightful, and thought-provoking, but the need for deep contemplation and discussion seems to get lost in the shuffle of gaining ascendency over the debate without actually saying anything of substance, and logos and slogans are often the results.
Anarchy is order. Admirable sentiment. Order is virtually impossible to define. To one it is everyone sitting around having a drink or some other distraction, while to others it is marching in military formation. It might be a clean room as opposed to the disarray that existed on Einstein’s desk. He knew where everything was, even though no one else could discern what or where anything was. Order existed, it was there, but only for poor Albert and no one else. Do you define order, or is it the individual? Does not anarchy demand that the individual is not compelled to do anything he does not want to do? How then does one even explain the concept of order to someone that inherently disagrees or does not understand, or doesn’t even care? Sorry, but your authority and hierarchies are showing, and it is somewhat embarrassing for you that they are.
To have an ideology or a philosophy of any substance there is one thing that is without question of utmost importance and that is consistency and comprehensiveness. Everything has to be explainable and relatable. If not, then the ideology loses significance and relevance and disappears into oblivion. It may resurrect itself many times over the years, but if it intends to be a player it needs credibility and legitimacy, and my perspective at this point is that anarchism, as well as collectivism and liberalism, are being strongly challenged by the inability to articulate the essence of the philosophy, the reason why we should sit up and listen. There have to be structured reasons why each element is credible and what it is going to take to implement the philosophy into our own lives. Why should we even consider it, and what should we expect to happen over the short term as well as the long term?
Don’t feed us pablum about some ridiculously distant future or even afterlife like religions do, and don’t offer us benefits and advantages that are not yours to proffer. Give us concrete and specific aspects that can not only be envisioned but demonstrable as well. Explain to the rest of us what we may not know. If you cannot do so, then perhaps the issue is not with our ignorance, but your inability to articulate your own positions. Einstein is reported to have said that ‘if you cannot explain it to a six-year-old then perhaps you don’t understand it yourself’. Every anarchist is the face of anarchy and needs to be able to explain the ideology in all of its simplicity as well as complexity. Maybe it’s time to restrain the demonstrations and protests and to increase your own self-knowledge.
(RK) Notwithstanding the regularity with which Bellegarrigue’s graffiti appears on bus shelters and railway lines, anarchists have not been able to communicate their ideas very effectively and, instead of being accepted as a term that describes a possible set of futures, anarchy is usually taken to denote a condition of chaos, disorder, and disruption.
(LCW) And whose fault is that? The person that knows nothing about the ideology or those who promote and support the belief system? Is it not incumbent on those who proclaim themselves anarchists to prosecute their own vision for the future? I am here for the express purpose of investigation and comprehension of the anarchist paradigm. Since I already feel an affinity for the basic principle of anarchism as I understand it, I am interested in finding out more relevant information about the philosophy and belief system. I am not looking for pablum and rhetoric but legitimate reason and validation on some level of what I see as a laudable and possibly relevant perspective.
The whole object of communicating an idea is the comprehension of the value and substance of the concept itself. If one cannot do this, then they should refrain from trying to persuade others to accept and embrace the ideology, and spend more time in self-introspection and discovery until they are adept and competent in explaining and bringing clarity to the philosophical tenets of the belief in a simple and comprehensive sense. Legitimacy comes from a command of the concept, and not some wishful thinking about some vague and indistinct future possibility.
(RK) Indeed, ‘anarchy’ was already being used in this second sense before anarchists like Proudhon adopted it to describe their ideal. Whilst studies of the origins of the word ‘anarchy’ are part and parcel of most introductions to anarchist thought, this well-trodden territory helps to explain the difficulty anarchists have had in defining their position. As G.D.H. Cole noted, ‘the Anarchists ... were anarchists because they did not believe in an anarchical world’. Common language, however, has always suggested otherwise.
(LCW) It is not even necessary for me to contradict and argue the anarchist paradigm, since many do so very capably with their own comments. If Proudhon is the muse of anarchy, then let us look at a few aspects of his position. Even if we accept the claim that he was the first person to proclaim himself an anarchist, and is widely known as the father of anarchism, it seems evident that he may have had many divergent and contradictory positions if compared to contemporary anarchism.
He was a politician, which is at odds with the anarchist rejection of authority and state. It is difficult to be a politician if there is no state. It seems that he self-labeled himself as a federalist, which again seems to conflict with the current mindset of the modern anarchist. This was during the mid-18th century, and while I have no direct information on his thoughts about America, it was a fairly vibrant experiment that was taking place at that time with the creation and infancy of a new country. It would be interesting to know his views on that 'Great American Experiment'.
He pursued a synthesis of communism and property, today anathema to one another. This seems to be lost on today’s anarchist. I hear no argument for or against his position. This could be termed a cause for concern. And yet his assertion that ‘property is theft’ is somewhat in conflict with his later sentiments. Was there a change of heart since his theft comment preceded his intent at synthesis?
These assertions attracted the attention of none other than Karl Marx, and they corresponded and influenced each other until mutual disagreements and choice of ‘friends’ ended their affiliation. Something of a surprise that anarchists cannot come to a mutual agreement over insignificant issues such as a difference of opinion or a choice of acquaintance. The symbiosis between the anarchists and communists at that time was irreparably influenced by this dissolution of affection. If these great minds cannot come to consensus and compromise and understanding, what can we expect from the unsophisticated individuals we find on the streets and in pubs across the planet? It is a complicated scenario and one that needs to be investigated.
He favored individual/peasant possession of property over that of private ownership. For the life of me, I find it difficult to make the distinction. I do appreciate that he believed social revolution to be achievable in a peaceful manner. I can accept no other process. I can only applaud his efforts to refrain from the easy answer, and the use of force and manipulation, and coercion. It must be through the efforts of thought and persuasion, and never, under any circumstances through any other course of action besides a mutual benefit through mutual agreements. It must be a matter of the mind, and never a matter of mindless emotion.
He was known to have said that anarchy is ‘order without power’. What a refreshing sentiment. I think that infers that it is imperative that change takes place exclusively through an intellectual and philosophical process of reasoned argument and persuasion, both of which I highly support. The change may be critical and essential, but it must also be through voluntary and deliberative conclusions. Nothing else will be significant or legitimate. History shows that nothing else produces relevant evolution of the human condition.
He as well made an attempt to create a national bank, which unfortunately was unsuccessful. His intent was to offer interest-free loans which I have long believed to be an appropriate venue for any bank that wishes to curry favor with the government. We give virtual interest-free loans to failing banks and grants and subsidies to businesses, both public and private so why not to those who do not have the wherewithal to pay for education or the startup of a personal venture? Certainly, a loan of 1 or 2% would pay for itself over time, and give many the opportunity to sample the Great American Experiment. Would you not agree?