— Alan Moore
Of all the political philosophies that have existed throughout history, anarchism is perhaps the most misunderstood. With general impressions ranging from the idea that Anarchy Is Chaos to scary images of Bomb-Throwing Anarchists from popular fiction, what most probably don't realise is there's actually a wealth of complex and multilayered ideas associated with anarchism that have had an impact on radical politics, the arts, and even mainstream culture.
The definition of anarchism to most people means "belief the state is bad and shouldn't exist." However, while all anarchists are anti-statists, it is not the only or, in most cases, even the primary part of their ideology.
Anarchism is the belief that rulership as a whole, not just the state, should not exist as indicated in its Greek roots, an- [no] -arkhos [ruler] and that people should instead organize their social relations and institutions though voluntary cooperation without hierarchies of power. So what characterises anarchism is not anti-statism so much as anti-authoritarianism. note
This means that most anarchists would not welcome a reduction in state power if it meant an increase of other kinds of authoritarianism as a result. For example, privatising a public health service may weaken the state, but increase the power of corporations, and thus anarchists would probably oppose doing so. Though generally speaking, they don't support state or private management of things. Instead, anarchists push for voluntary, localised, and cooperative institutions organised from the bottom-up through decentralised networks and run via processes of participatory democracy and workplace self-management.
Another way of thinking about anarchism is that it's "democracy without the state" or "socialism when it occurs on a voluntary basis". This tends to confuse many who
- associate the word democracy with representative government; and
- especially those who associate the word socialism with statism.
In fact, the word democracy originally meant direct democracy, like in Ancient Greece. And the word socialism originally referred to a number of economic systems in which economic institutions were run by those who actually worked in them. It's the earlier meanings of both words that anarchists use when talking about them. This also applies to their use of the word libertarian. Which, despite its modern Anglo-American use to mean laissez-faire capitalist, was actually first used by anarchist socialists to mean "anti-authoritarian". A frequently used synonym for social anarchism is libertarian socialism.
In addition to the systems of centralised power found in statism and capitalism, anarchists also support dissolving all forms of social hierarchy and domination (i.e., rulership) - such as sexism, racism, queerphobia, ableism, speciesism, and the domination of nature - and restructuring society on a decentralised and horizontalist basis.
There are two main categories of political anarchist thought, divided chiefly by what kind of economic system they want to build.
- Market Anarchists want a stateless free market economy made up of producer and consumer cooperatives and self-employed professionals instead of private corporations and wage-labour. While once very popular, especially in America, market anarchism has ended up becoming a minority in the larger anarchist canon.
- Social Anarchists, on the other hand, want what could be called a "free commons", note in which systems of decentralised and localised planning of the economy (by directly-democratic popular assemblies and worker-controlled enterprises) replace traditional market relations. In terms of numbers, this is by far the most prominent anarchist tradition and is what most people are referring to when they talk about "anarchism" without prefixes.
Both of these in turn are sub-divided into four overall proposals for different economic systems, each associated primarily with a different anarchist "founding father", with the first two being forms of market anarchism and the later two social anarchism:
- Mutualist anarchism (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon)
- Individualist anarchism (Benjamin Tucker)
- Collectivist anarchism (Mikhail Bakunin)
- Communist anarchism (Peter Kropotkin)
Despite their differences, they all share a social commitment to the ideal of organising things on the basis of "voluntary, non-hierarchical cooperation".
Anarchism was extremely popular in labour movements around the world in the late 19th and early 20th century, so much so that for a time it surpassed Marxism as the principal philosophy of working class struggles. Historian Benidict Anderson makes the case that anarchism was in fact the first "anti-systemic" movement that was fully global in scale, having influence in areas Marxism didn't reach for decades, like Japan, the Philippines, Latin America, Egypt, and Southern Africa.
Its popularity waned somewhat after the Russian Revolution in which Marxists took power for the first time. Then after a last hurrah in the late 1930s, in which there was an anarchist revolution in Spain and Catalonia, it flickered out in terms of appeal in the Global North except for occasional influences within environmental, anti-war, and student movements, though it still maintained an active presence in other parts of the world.
After a long time in a relative political wilderness, anarchism has seen something of a resurgence in worldwide political and social movements since the 1999 World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle over corporate-led globalisation policies, and especially since the 2011 "squares movements" around the world like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.
The anthropologist David Graeber has opined that most social movements in the present day - structured through horizontal networks of cooperation rather than top-down hierarchies - are basically anarchist in their principles, even if they don't necessary use the word to describe themselves.
For those new to anarchist ideas, there's been a massive project aimed at explaining everything about (social) anarchist theory, practice, and history called An Anarchist FAQ available at this link, and a series of introductory videos on social anarchist/left-libertarian ideas is available here and here. Some good book-length intros can be found in Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism by Peter Marshall, Anarchy in Action by Colin Ward, Red Emma Speaks by Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Its Aspirarions by Cindy Milstein, and A Living Spirit of Revolt by Ziga Vodovnik.
(Note: As social anarchism is by far the majority tendency within anarchism as a whole, most of the following article will address primarily what social anarchists believe, but with occasional explanations of what market anarchists desire when the two differ.note )
The values of political anarchism emerged from the same Enlightenment humanist milieu which animated most of the progressive movements of the 19th century, and so the broad anarchist tradition adheres to the same Enlightenment ideals of reason, progress, individuality, and social justice, developing them in an anti-authoritarian direction. At the political level, it can be seen as a kind of fusion of classical liberalism and democratic socialism, thus its alternative name: libertarian socialism. At the intellectual level, it draws its ethos from an opposition to hierarchy and domination, and from support for individual autonomy, mutual aid, and horizontal cooperation.
However, while anarchism as a political tradition only emerged in the 1800s, philosophically anarchist (or "anarchistic") ideas and practices can arguably be found in every era and every part of the world - from indigenous tribal confederations to peasant revolts to urban social movements - whenever people resist hierarchical domination and organise on the basis of voluntary cooperation where power is decentralised to each individual. Anarchist theorists have always tried to take account of these struggles and work what people are already doing into a coherent framework for future activity.
Anarchism as Method
In contrast to Marxists and liberals, who usually start at the abstract level and come up with theories and practices for people to adhere to apart from their own lived experiences, anarchists try to tease out what anarchistic elements already exist in societies, and in what people are doing in their struggles for freedom and equality; then try to work out theories in which those elements could be pushed in a more explicitly anarchist direction.
So while for Marxists and liberals, practice should follow theory, for anarchists, theory needs to follow already-existing practice. As Ashanti Alston explained, "One of the most important lessons learned from anarchism is that you need to look for the radical things that we already do and try to encourage them". Anarchistic elements (called "potentialities") always exist within every social situation, like "seeds beneath the snow" which can be grown into wider movements if cultivated in the right way. And most anarchists as a rule don't regard it as crucial for people to call themselves anarchists as long as their activities are anarchistic in their ethos.
At the baseline level, anarchists support the same triad of left-wing values that animated the French Revolution of the late 1700s: freedom, equality, and solidarity (the more gender-inclusive term for what's meant by "fraternity"), and believe that each of the three is a necessary condition for the other two.
At the same time, they oppose what they call the "unholy trinity" of authoritarianism: religion, capital, and the state, and believe that each thrives of the existence of the the other two. "Religion" here can also be understood to encompass authoritarian ideologies in general, including: nationalism, ethnic supremacy, caste systems (like in the Indian subcontinent), patriarchy, and heteronormativity, though this doesn't preclude the practice of non-authoritarian forms of spirituality (as long as they don't throw science and reason out the window).note
Anarchists tend to reject the traditional dichotomy of individualism vs. collectivism as a false one. Instead, they promote what political theorist Alan Ritter calls "communal individuality": the view that the free flourishing of the individual and self-realization are only truly possible in a liberated society of equals, where the autonomy of one is the precondition for the autonomy of all. For this reason, they see the fights for individual freedom and for social justice as one and the same.
They also tend to be extreme civil libertarians with regard to social issues, stressing the sovereignty of the individual and advocating the full freedom to do anything as long as it doesn't interfere with the equal freedom of others; valuing cultural unity-in-diversity and the celebration of alternative and hybrid lifestyles. It should surprise no one that anarchists were some of the first modern proponents of what's now called free love and polyamory; as well as one of the first political movements to support the inclusion of LGBT+ people. Unlike many other libertarians and leftists, anarchists aren't that concerned with achieving same-sex marriage, but only because they tend to support the abolition of marriage as a state-sanctioned institution.
In terms of ethics, anarchists vary somewhat. While a minority adopt ethical egoism and the belief that the only good is the satisfaction of the individual will, most proponents of social anarchism gravitate towards what are called consequentialist ethics, and support anarchism out of the belief that it would ensure the greatest freedom and well-being for the greatest number of people.note
Peter Kropotkin, an anarchist philosopher and scientist, devised an ethical system that started from an evolutionary basis, and blended elements of consequentialism with what would now be called virtue ethics (virtue-consequentialism).note
What almost all anarchists would agree on, however, is that ethics should be constructed on an entirely secular basis, with religion playing no part in conceptions of what's right and wrong. Indeed, Mikhail Bakunin, arguably the theoretical founder of social anarchism, claimed that all forms of hierarchical domination (rulership) in the material world are ultimately rooted in supernatural beliefs. Some even reject the use of the word "morality", in the sense of an objective standard of good and evil, and think that ethics is a separate concept; supporting the creation of a "non-moral ethics" if you will. They also tend to reject the concept of "rights" as a basis for ethics - as they stem from either moral or legal fictions - in favour of freedoms and equalities.
Roughly speaking, the principle of anti-domination serves as a grounding for all other ethical considerations. Anarchists start from the premise that it should be wrong to dominate others or to be dominated oneself, then build the rest of their non-hierarchical modes of action from this basic ethic. Mutual aid - voluntarily cooperating with others in ways that benefit both the self and the one being helped - acts as the social glue which binds anarchists together in their ethical commitments.
Also important to them on an ethical level is the concept of prefiguration or "prefigurative politics": the belief that the means used to achieve an end must embody the content of that end in practice, for the reason that means inevitably shape ends. It's for this reason that anarchists (usually) oppose the state-socialist tactic of taking governmental power, as they hold that you can't accomplish libertarian ends via authoritarian means (though there are some anarchists who advocate voting to prevent the state from becoming more authoritarian, such as Noam Chomsky).
A common misconception is that anarchists believe Rousseau Was Right and that human nature is inherently good. On the contrary, one of the main reasons they oppose large-scale concentrations of authority is that they think the flaws in the human condition lead people to be corrupted by too much power. This isn't to say that they're cynics about humans, but they are cynics about hierarchical power and the effect it has on people, fully agreeing with Lord Acton's Dictum "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely". Power over others that is, not power over your own life. After all, powerlessness also corrupts.
Anarchists believe humans have two different tendencies running through them as a result of their natural evolution: one that encourages people to be selfish, egotistical jerks; and another that encourages them to be sociable and cooperative.
- The Egotistic Tendency: Characterised by mutual struggle within and between groups, dominative behaviour, and narrow self-interest.
- The Mutualistic Tendency: Characterised by mutual aid within and between groups, solidarity, and enlightened self-interest.
They have a contextual view of human nature, believing that the egotistic tendency or mutualistic tendency manifests itself more depending on the environment people develop in, and that if you structure the social environment in a more socialistic and cooperative way, the mutualistic tendency is more likely to be nurtured than the egotistic tendency. So anarchists are neither biological determinists nor social constructionists but accept that humans are a product of both natural evolution (first nature) and socialisation (second nature), while holding to the normative belief that mutual aid proves more beneficial to the human species than mutual struggle.
Anarchism, meaning rulerlessness, could be summed up as a fully horizontal plane of power relations, where each individual has maximal freedom in the context of maximal equality and solidarity. The desire is to decentralise (or "flatten") power to such an extent that individuals and groups can't feasibly wield hierarchical authority over others, as everyone's power acts as a check on everybody else's.
Most anarchists accept that a 100% egalitarian distribution of power is probably impossible, but is still valuable as an ideal to continually aspire to, dissolving hierarchy wherever it appears and pushing ever closer towards complete liberation in all things.
The more specific institutional structures they see making up such a set of social conditions are:
- A stateless participatory democracy, made up of voluntary confederations of "free communes" (self-governing localities).
- A libertarian socialist "economy of the commons", based on worker self-management of enterprises, communal stewardship of resources, and decentralised planning of the economy by both communities and workplaces.
- A civil libertarian society in which anybody can do whatever they want, as long as they're not harming anybody else; embodying a spirit of inclusiveness, justice, and unity-in-diversity.
Short-term and Mid-term Goals
While a stateless participatory democracy, libertarian socialist economy, and civil libertarian society is their long term goal, anarchists also have various short-term and mid-term goals which they see as desirable both as a means of making life under capitalism/statism more tolerable, as well as pushing society in a more liberatory direction. These include things like:
- an unconditional Basic Income to replace existing welfare programs
- building a more unionised workforce
- creating more cooperatives
- localising/regionalising the production of goods (especially food and manufacturing)
- creating alternative currency systems such as LETS
- pushing for interest-free banking to replace usury and fund self-managed enterprises
- legalising recreational drugs
- legalising illegal forms of sex work and organising sex workers into unions and cooperatives
- opposing intellectual property laws
- supporting animal liberation causes
- protecting natural environments from destruction
- supporting the replacement of fossil fuels with green energy
- reforming prisons and pushing for the release of political prisoners
- decentralising and ecologising the urban environment
- and reforming cultural attitudes that are sexist, racist, classist, queerphobic, speciesist, or anti-ecological.
As a basic rule of thumb, political anarchism (despite its internal differences) could be summed up in the following six principles:
- Individual Autonomy
- Voluntary Association
- Mutual Aid
- Free Federation
- Direct Action
To clarify each of these principles in more detail ...
1. Individual Autonomy
(Concerning persons as individuals)
The sovereignty of the individual person and their freedom to do whatever they want as long as they're not harming anyone else.
2. Voluntary Association
(Concerning persons in relation to other persons and in relation to groups)
The idea that all relations and institutions should be organised voluntarily with the guarantee that any individual or group can disassociate/secede from an association whenever they choose, and either join another or found their own.
3. Mutual Aid
(Concerning persons in relation to other persons and groups in relation to other groups)
The practice of positive reciprocity; or helping others out just as they help you out, building common bonds and providing the basis of solidarity. Also called "mutuality" or "sociality" when described as a concept instead of a practice. Contained in the principle is the recognition that no act is fully self-interested (egoistic) or self-negating (altruistic), but contains concern for both the self and for others.
(Concerning persons in relation to each other within groups)
Organising within associations being done through horizontal cooperation and participatory decision-making by all members involved, also called participatory democracy. While some anarchists have criticised what's commonly called democracy (i.e., representative government), they do support decisions being made in a manner that is direct, participatory, and autonomous. In fact, this is actually closer to what the word democracy originally meant. Though this is only as long as the democracy is on the basis of voluntary association and respects individual autonomy.
5. Free Federation
(Concerning groups in relation to other groups)
In keeping with their commitment to decentralisation of power, anarchists support organising things on a large scale through federations/confederations of voluntary, directly-democratic associations, with each component unit remaining self-organising while also being part of a larger whole that cooperates to take care of issues that require a bigger geographical scope than local autonomous associations allow.
6. Direct Action
(Concerning individuals, groups, and all the ways they relate to each other)
This means accomplishing tasks without mediation. Removing representation and bureaucracy from activity, replacing both with immediate (direct) self-activity of people doing stuff for themselves and by themselves.
And all six could in turn be condensed into the formula:
Anarchism = Autonomy + Cooperation
The type of political system (polity) anarchists want to create could be characterised as "democracy without the state". Or more specifically, a decentralised system of local-level participatory democracies. A municipal-confederation in place of a nation-state.
The core unit of such a confederation is called a free commune, a territorial entity just large enough to be an autonomous political body, but small enough to be self-governing without the need for statist bureaucracy; for example: a small town, a city ward, or a rural parish. And each free commune would itself be composed of a variety of voluntary associations, webbed together by mutually-agreed contracts into a larger political-economic whole. In other words, an anarchist free commune is a kind of "mini-republic" self-governed by its residents, where direct participatory decision-making replaces political hierarchies.
The word "commune", by the way, just means a local residential area (roughly synonymous with "municipality") and doesn't have anything to do with "communes" of the hippie or cult variety.
While some older anarchist literature uses the word "political" as a synonym for "statist", later anarchists make a distinction between politics (the collective administration of social affairs) and statecraft (the monopolisation of politics by a centralised system of rulership).
In the absence of centralised political power, anarchists desire creating political structures which are autonomous - meaning voluntary and self-organising - and where decision-making flows from the bottom-up instead of the top-down.
While this can be characterised as democratic in the broad sense, anarchists are not in favour of "democracy" in an uncritical capacity. They support direct (face-to-face) forms of participatory democracy only as long as they're subordinate to the principle of autonomy, autonomous democracy if you will. And some anarchists even dislike calling their principles of decision-making "democratic" at all, owing to the associations the word can have with majorities forcing their will on minorities.
Still, since the 1960s, anarchists have used the word democracy in its popular meaning as a shorthand way of describing how they want to make collective decisions and coordinate things, as long as the process is voluntary and respectful of the individual's freedom to dissent and disassociate.
This autonomous version of directly-democratic self-organisation takes the form of:
- communal self-governance in politics
- workplace self-management in economics
- personal self-sovergnty in society
Anarchists also support decentralising decision-making power down to the smallest and most localised scale possible, so as to ensure that the maximum number of people are able to shape the political and social policies that will affect them.
Free Communalism and Confederalism
The political dimension of anarchism is called free communalism i.e. free communes confederated together via mutually-agreed contracts. This means replacing the nation-state and representative democracy with a municipal-confederation and direct democracy; mainly organised through local networks of participatory, face-to-face, neighborhood assemblies.
Each self-governing free commune (municipality) making up such a confederation would be part of it voluntarily and free to secede from it at any time. The desire is for "law" to become more a collection of contractual agreements between residents of a given locality instead of something externally imposed upon them by structural violence.
For taking care of issues that go beyond the local level, anarchists propose creating inter-municipal "administrative councils" made up of mandated delegates (spokespersons rather than traditional representatives in a parliament) who would communicate the wishes of the community that sent them and negotiate the coordination of large-scale projects, e.g., building a cross-country rail system.
The core "levels" of an anarchist confederation are:
- (1) Municipal/Communal note
- (2) Regional/Cantonal note
- (3) National/Confederal. note
With an additional sub-level below the Municipal, the Local, made up of the network of democratic assemblies. People at the Local level would appoint spokespersons to a Municipal administrative council, the Municipal council would then send one of its members to Regional council, and so on; with regular rotations of the position to prevent anyone becoming too comfortable in the job. Policy-making still lies exclusively at the Local level, and is only ever done directly by the people in popular assemblies, with administrative councils only having the power to act as conduits for the decisions already made at the ground.
Also, at the municipal scale, public utilities would be administered by "commissions" organised by the particular service, e.g., sanitation, telecommunications, transport, etc. The various "working groups" set up around the General Assembly in Occupy Wall Street could be seen as a small-scale version of this.
There's actually some historical precedents for this kind of free communalist polity, like the leagues of free cities and guilds that existed in Europe during the Middle Ages (such as the Hanseatic League) which for a time looked like they could've represented a decentralised alternative to the then emergent nation-states. note Other examples would be the town hall democracy that existed in much of New England prior to American independence. That said, most anarchists today would criticise these models for their religious basis, coercive moral norms, and involuntary nature, and insist that all institutions in an anarchist society should be established on the basis of voluntary association, with the freedom to disassociate guaranteed to any individual or group taking part.
More contemporary examples of anarchist(-ish) political systems are the Zapatista Councils of Good Government in southern Mexico - where indigenous rebels seized rural and urban areas and declared them autonomous from the Mexican government - and the network of communal assemblies which have sprung up in the Rojava (western Kurdistan) region of North Syria; inspired in part by the political theories of anarchist Murray Bookchin. Other examples, which cropped up during the twentieth century, occurred in Spain and Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, and in Ukraine (the Free Territory) roughly concurrent with the Russian Revolution. Anarchist philosopher John P. Clark claims that the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka is also roughly anarchist in its principles, being inspired in large part by philosophical anarchist Gandhi.
For socio-political concerns that are outside the scope of formal politics and public deliberation, they support - in the present as well as in the future - people forming what are called affinity groups; small groups of no more than about twenty people who cooperate around a specific issue or cause. Each affinity group does its own thing and takes care of its own affairs, while also federating into "clusters" (collections of affinity groups) who organise things through spokescouncils made up of rotating spokespersons (or just "spokes" for short).
Affinity groups usually start out as a collection of friends who unite around a specific concern and attempt to build ties with other like-minded groups based on mutual aid. In the present they tend to focus more on struggles within communities than on workplace organising, which tends to be the concern of trade unions.
As for decision-making within such social or political institutions, anarchists have a dislike for the notion that the majority should be entitled to dictate to a minority about things, even a minority of one. Having said that, most anarchists do support majority voting for decisions as long as it takes place on a voluntary basis, with all parties taking a vote agreeing in advance to be bound by the decision. So again, for democracy, but only when it's subordinate to individual autonomy.
Some, however, are so opposed to the idea of "tyranny of the majority" that they only support consensus decision-making, where even a single person can veto a decision supported by 99% of the association. Most anarchists today support a combination of consensus, majority voting, and supermajority voting depending on the context.
According to anarchist theorist Michael Albert, the general principle to hold to when making decisions is that each person should have "decision-making input in proportion to the degree they're affected by the decision". In other words, if you're at work and want to put a picture of your boyfriend on your desk, that's a decision that only affects you, thus only you should have decision-making input with regard to that action. However, if you want to bring a boom-box to work and blast anime theme songs at full volume, that's a decision that affects your co-workers, thus they should also get a say.
Forms of Power
Anarchists are often mischaracterised as being against all forms of power and authority. With regard to authority, it would be more accurate to say they're always sceptical of authority, but are willing to accept certain forms of it as justifiable as long as it is minimal, voluntary, and above all, temporary. So a social directing committee set up during an emergency and the parent/child or teacher/student relationships are okay by anarchists, but permanent or even semi-permanent hierarchies of command are not.
As for power, along with intersectional feminist theorists, anarchists make a distinction between power-to (ability to do something) and power-over (control of others), supporting the dissolution of the latter so as to increase the amount of the former held by everyone - that's what "power to the people" means: decentralisation of power away from centralised hierarchies to horizontal networks of individuals. Anarchists wish to create situations in which power-to is equally distributed so as no individual or group can be in a position to wield power-over anyone else. There's also a third form which anarchist Cindy Milstein calls power-together, when people exercise their power-to collectively as equals through horizontal cooperation. So the basic anarchist view of power could be broken down as:
- 1. Power-to: the basic sense of power as the capacity to affect reality. The basis of individual autonomy.
- 2. Power-over: power-to wielded as domination and/or manipulation of others in hierarchical and coercive settings. The basis of rulership.
- 3. Power-together (or "power-with"): power-to wielded as non-coercive, non-hierarchical influence and initiative among people who view themselves as equals. The basis of participatory democracy through voluntary association.
Power Structures and the Ruling Elite
Power structures on the other hand are a slightly different matter. In sociology and political science, "structures" are like the ingrained habits of entire societies, constellations of relationships which shift and alter themselves with changes in the distribution of power, increases of knowledge, and changes in shared beliefs. Most methods of studying a critiquing social structures could be classed as either "methodological individualist" (or atomist, like most liberals) or "methodological collectivist" (or holist, like most Marxists). The former see personal agency as determining the social structure, while the latter think the opposite is the case. Social anarchists take a kind of middle path, seeing agency and structure as co-creating each other, and placing the focus on the interrelations between individuals. Anarchist eco-political theorist Alan B. Carter calls this approach methodological interrelationism.
Anarchist sociologist C. Wright Mills claimed that the structure of almost all societies was characterised by power being concentrated in the hands of a social-political-economic ruling elite (though he used the less specific term "power elite"). This goes beyond traditional socialist conceptions of an economic ruling class. The ruling elite includes the ruling class, but also those who wield other non-economic forms of social power, like politicians, religious figures, celebrities, public intellectuals, and media personalities. So while to be a member of the ruling class means owning large amounts of capital (financial wealth), you don't necessarily have to be rich to be a member of the ruling elite. Anarchists don't believe that all groups comprising the ruling elite have the same goals and use the same tactics to control everyone else (many of them openly despise one another), but they are united on certain key issues and their points of agreement are what define the hierarchical structure of a society, and the dominant ideology and ethos of the society which help reinforce the structure.
Despite anti-bureaucratic rhetoric nowadays coming from the right-wing, anarchists have been staunch critics of bureaucracy as both an ideology and practice since the mid 19th century, and supportive of building political structures that do away with it in favour of forms of administration that rely upon direct participation, local autonomy, and decentralised coordination.
Mikhail Bakunin attacked what he called the bureaucratic class (now more often called the managerial class) and criticised Marxism out of the belief that what it would bring about was not economic democracy, but a "red bureaucracy". In his essay God and the State he offered one of the earliest theoretical critiques of what's now called "technocracy" - rule by an elevated class of experts. In the mid twentieth century, Colin Ward lambasted the grey administrative rationality that pervaded much of the post-war world after the construction of the welfare state ("which trades social welfare for social justice") and recommended bottom-up, decentralist alternatives for organising society.
More lately, anthropologist David Graeber has outlined an anarchist systematic critique of bureaucracy in his book The Utopia of Rules (2015). He argues that contrary to neoliberal (market fundamentalist) conventional wisdom, capitalist society has become more bureaucratic, not less, with so-called free trade reforms and privatisation. The organisational ethos of public and private institutions is now indistinguishable, with both existing as part of a larger system for the extraction of rents/profits for the benefit of a ruling elite; all of which is backed up by an ever-increasingly militarised state system of structural violence, saying, "Whenever someone starts talking about the free market, its a good idea to look around for the man with the gun. Hes never far away.
If anarchist politics are "democracy without the state", then anarchist economics might be described as "democratic socialism without the state". While different visions exist among anarchist of what a post-capitalist economic system should be like, a rough model they would all agree on would be a decentralised network of horizontally-organised enterprises - each one administering itself through worker self-management. Differences emerge when it comes to issues like the role of markets, the role of incomes and prices, and among social anarchists regarding whether the economy should be primarily worker-directed (by the democratic enterprises) or community-directed (by the democratic popular assemblies), or some combination of the two.
Economically, anarchists oppose capitalism (with the exception of anarcho-capitalists), and instead advocate replacing private corporations and wage-labour as the primary forms of enterprise with self-employment, worker-run cooperatives, commons-based peer production, and other economic institutions organised on a horizontal, rather than hierarchical, basis. However, they are divided on what specific form a post-capitalist, post-statist economy should take, as well as the best means for achieving it - with some calling for the armed overthrow of the state and corporations, and others calling for a nonviolent "dual power" strategy in which federations of democratic cooperatives, popular assemblies, affinity groups, and other institutions work together to gradually replace hierarchical society by opting out of it.
The issue of capitalism might seem from the outside to be a divisive one for anarchists, although this is only due to terminology. Most anarchist literature, and most anarchists, define "capitalism" in the same way Marxists do (the system of wage-labour, which according to Marxism is exploitative). However, the term "capitalism" is also commonly defined by non-anarchists as "free-market economics" (i.e., when all economic activity takes place outside the state). Most anarchists consider the two meanings to be separate concepts, with "capitalism" being used in the same sense as Marxists and "free market" being used to refer to the second definition.
For the remainder of this article, "capitalism" and "free market" will be used with these definitions. Therefore, a person can be both anti-capitalist and pro-market (i.e., arguing for a society of self-employed people interacting and exchanging on a purely voluntary basis; the mutualists and individualist anarchists share this position). This was in common with classical liberalism. On the other hand, someone can be pro-capitalist and anti-market by such definitions (arguably, Mussolini-style corporatism fits this).
Hence, the anarchists from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon on were opposed completely to what they called capitalism (i.e., the existence of wage-labour, landlordism, and usury), with only the so-called "anarcho-capitalists" supporting it. They find commonality, however, in opposing the coercive mechanisms of the state, though often for different reasons; and most anarchists don't consider self-described anarcho-capitalists (or "voluntaryists", as they're also called) to be anarchists, considering the two terms to be mutually exclusive.
In seeing themselves as part of an economic class struggle for democratic, worker control of the means of production, anarchists place strong emphasis on the importance of how economic classes affect human society and shape the forms other trans-class hierarchies (race, gender, sexuality, ecology) manifest themselves. They go beyond traditional theories of class which see the primary classes as being the capitalist class and the working class, seeing things more broadly as the ruling class and the popular classes - which includes the traditional working class but also every other economic category outside the ruling class. Each "class" (singular) is itself composed of several smaller classes (plural) which have at times competing interests with each other; such as between public sector and private sector workers or between the capitalist class and political class when it comes to the rulers.
Some anarchists also view class relations in triadic, not dualist, terms, with three primary classes instead of two
- The Ruling Elite note
- The Managerial Class note
- The Popular Classes note
It's the middle one, the managerial class, which have been traditionally ignored by most class analyses. Their job is to manage the relations between the ruling classes and the popular classes, and they often occupy the most empowering forms of work relative to other forms of labour done by the popular classes below them - which are most often rote, monotonous, or dangerous.
Each of the classes have competing class interests and different desires for what kind of economy and society they would like to create. The ruling class want to maintain their position at the top, using divide-and-rule tactics to keep everyone from uniting against them. The managerial class want to push things in a more technocratic and bureaucratic direction, putting themselves more at the forefront. The popular classes want to unite worldwide, put aside racial, gender, national, and religious differences, and create a economic system that dissolves all economic classes and puts economic activity under popular control.
The popular classes want economic equality. The managerial class wants more equality (but not too much, as that would mean they would lose their positions of privilege). While the ruling classes want to maintain inequality as much as possible, only lessening in it when it threatens to undermine the system itself.
Private Property vs. Personal Property
While frequently found criticising the institution of "private property", anarchists make what they see as an important distinction between private property and personal property, opposing the former while embracing the latter. The distinction is made when it comes down to their standard of what should constitute legitimate claims to land, dwellings, and personal items, which is generally guided by the possession principle first laid out by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
Basically, if something is defined by (A) active personal use; (B) consistent occupancy; and (C) with the provision that someone else isn't already doing so, you can claim it as your personal possession. For this reason it's also called the "use and occupancy" rule. (This doesn't, by the way, have anything to do with what's called "homesteading", which is popular among many libertarian capitalists). So in other words, anarchists fully support an individual's ability to claim things like a home, car, personal possessions, etc., but not large-scale productive resources like factories, hard capital, or natural resources, which can only be defined by absentee ownership.
In fact, this is why they argue - contrary to laissez-faire capitalists who claim to be anti-statists - that capitalism couldn't even exist without the state, as its monopoly on the use of physical coercion is what enables some people to claim private property rights over stuff they don't use or occupy themselves. A single individual could theoretically defend their personal property with just a gun, while it's difficult to imagine how a businessman could defend his claim to a factory or forest by himself without invoking the power of a state to prevent people from taking over such resources themselves.
Common Ownership of the Means of Production
The productive resources in any given locality - the means of production, distribution, and investment - anarchists claim, should be "owned" (or rather stewarded) as commons by all the residents of that locality, then allocated to enterprises on a contractual basis, with the resources they use reverting to being commons when the enterprise is dissolved. This is called "usufruct", in which the people running an enterprise are not the owners of the resources they're employing, but are still granted user rights as long as they're making use of them. You could divide social anarchist categories of exclusive use vs. open access into three levels:
- Commons: Stewarded by everyone in a locality. With two subdivisions, open access (like forests) and zero access (like unused plant and machinery)
- Usufruct: Still in common ownership but granted by the community to an individual or group on a contractual basis for a particular purpose, like to set up an enterprise. If the terms of the contract were broken (say, if the enterprise used the resources it was given to wreck the environment) then the property could be repossessed and put "back on the commons".
- Possession: Personal property defined by use and occupancy. Has two subdivisions: inalienable (like arable land, which you can't destroy) and disposable (which you can destroy).
Social anarchists see these commons organised within each self-governing community as forming part of a greater free commons (in contrast to a free market) encompassing the entirety of the municipal-confederation. Market anarchists, on the other hand, support these local commons within the context of a larger free-market economy and tend to be more okay with individual or worker ownership of enterprises rather than common ownership.
Welfare State vs. Welfare Commons
It often confuses many libertarian capitalists how anarchists can claim to oppose the state while still defending government-provided welfare programs against cuts and privatisation. This is only because anarchists tend to see the welfare state as it exists now as a lesser evil to a potential corporate state in which almost everything is privatised and the poor and marginalised are left without any kind of socio-economic safety-net, which they see as an essential feature of any free egalitarian society so as to give each person a baseline standard of living - they call this the guaranteed minimum (or "irreducible minimum").
In the long term, however, they support providing this guaranteed minimum through a network of voluntary associations nested in each community rather than through a paternalistic state which ends up making people dependent on it - i.e., a welfare commons in place of a welfare state. This idea has its roots in the many forms of working class self-help and mutual aid that existed prior to modern welfare programs, such as friendly societies, mutual insurance, cooperatives, and trade unions. In the short- to mid-term, anarchists are likely to support proposals for a universal basic income over increases in public spending on social programs.
They also see it as essential, in their long-term goal of dismantling the state, to dismantle it in the right order, attacking first those apparatuses of state power that prop up corporations and finance capital, and leaving until last the aspects of the state that provide a socio-economic safety-net.
Economic Analysis (Marxian Influences)
Unlike Marxism, there's never really been a distinctly anarchist school of economics - in terms of a systematic analysis and critique of political economy - as most anarchists felt that Karl Marx's critique in Das Kapital was the definitive word on the subject. It's worth pointing out, though, that a lot of the ideas found in Marxian economics were first articulated by the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, even if Marx explored them more thoroughly. For this reason, many anarchists, while opposing Marxist politics and sociology, still follow the Marxian school of economics when it comes to critiquing capitalism. (One anarchist, Wayne Price, has even written a whole book called Marx's Economics for Anarchists.) However, they tend to do so with nuance, taking issue with many of its more economic/technologically deterministic conclusions. Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Alexander Berkman, and others also rejected the labour theory of value, claiming that the question over what gives things value is so multi-faceted and complex that it can never be adequately quantified.
Examining their writings on economic matters, the classical social anarchists could be said to have had a (very rough) theory of value of their own in which value and prices were co-determined by three overlapping factors:
- (1) Labour
- (2) Utility note
- (3) Power relations note
While some other economists of the time (eg: Alfred Marshall) argued that both social labour and subjective utility (affected by supply and demand) shaped value, rather than one or the other, one could argue that the missing factor was power, which few but the social anarchists took account of. The way the rough theory works is as follows: labour contributions - mediated by various power relations - form the "backbone" of value and the foundation for market prices, which then go up or down slightly due to changes in supply and demand. And labour, power, and utility each play a larger or smaller role than the others depending on the context. note
Economic Analysis (Beyond Marxism)
In the late 20th and early 21st century, a few anarchist thinkers attempted to develop economic ideas outside of Marxism. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, in addition to creating a proposal for an anarchist economic system called "participatory economics", developed an analysis of classes that differed from the Marxian Proletariat/Bourgeoisie dichotomy. They claimed that there was also a third class in between workers and capitalists called the "professional-managerial class" or "coordinator class" that most leftists had failed to take into account. They credit anarchist Mikhail Bakunin as one who did; he called it the "bureaucratic class" and "aristocracy of labour". Robin Hahnel specifically also developed a critique of the capitalist employer-employee relationship that doesn't rely on the labour theory of value or Marxian "exploitation theory", but attacks it as unjust given that it comes about due to an inequality of relative bargaining power between workers and the owners of workplaces. Most of their theoretical work is available on the website ZNet.
Greek political philosopher Takis Fotopoulos also developed a historical analysis of capitalism and the market economy that views economic systems as unified political-economic-social structures (just as Kropotkin did), and claims that you can't examine the economy without also taking into account the political, social, and ecological factors that shape economic behaviour. He also invented a theoretical social anarchist political-economic system called Inclusive Democracy, which blends the Social Ecology theories of Murray Bookchin with the ideas of fellow Greek libertarian socialist Cornelius Castoriadis. His book, outlining his core ideas, is available for free here.
The Mutualist writer Kevin Carson took the basic economic ideas of Proudhon and the American individualist Benjamin Tucker and mixed them together with elements of several economic schools into a synthesis laid out in his book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy (available free here). In it, he devised a new version of the labour theory of value (which incorporates aspects of the subjective theory of value) as well as offering a history of capitalism that tried to show that it was the state, not the market, that was the primary cause of most of the problems with capitalism. In particular, he lays out how the state subsidises and supports large-scale, centralised institutions instead of smaller-scale, decentralist ones. He also put forward a vicious critique of intellectual property laws (patents, copyrights, and trademarks), which he claimed are the way states and corporations centralise power today and create artificial scarcity where the Internet and new technology could in fact create abundance.
David Graeber, in his first book Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, also developed a new version of the labour theory of value, which expanded the traditional version of it by taking into account not just so-called "productive" labour, but also the immaterial, symbolic, and reproductive labour of persons and activities not generally regarded as important to the formation of value; in particular the domestic and caring labour of women - in a later essay summarising this formulation he renamed it the ethnographic theory of value. It places at the centre of value-creation the social "production" of human beings instead of the material production of consumables. note
In Debt: The First 5000 Years, he put forward an anarchist perspective on the history of debt and money, arguing that in the modern era it has become a excellent means for the 1% to keep control of the 99% by keeping them subordinate under both financial and moral burdens (relying on the maxim that "one must repay one's debts").
Incorporating Other Economic Perspectives
Social anarchists claim that the economic realm is really a subset of the political realm, so most of what people think of as "apolitical" economic issues are unavoidably embedded in political structures created and backed up by state violence, almost always in the service of a ruling elite. So economic realities are largely the product of political realities, not the other way around as most neoclassical economists claim. As anarchist historian Iain Mc Kay points out, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was one of the first economists to propose an endogenous theory of money - that money has its origin in state systems - and so most social anarchists have naturally incorporated modern monetary theory (MMT) into their analyses, which is most popular with the Post-Keynesian school of economics.
Lately, especially among social anarchists, there's been a lot of support for the relatively new school of Green economics, which has much in common with the Social Ecology methodology of Murray Bookchin and makes many normative proposals that social anarchists find favour with, like de-growth, a steady-state economy based on production-for-use instead of for profit, localized production based on human-scale technologies, and an unconditional basic income fulfilling the guaranteed minimum.
More recently still, many social anarchists have taken on the ideas and methodology of the power economics school of Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, whose ideas have a remarkable similarity to the economic theories of Peter Kropotkin. Their thesis is that there is no real-world dichotomy between the economy and polity, and that capital (self-expanding money) should be understood as commodified power, symbolising the capitalists' ability to creatively order and restructure the world around them. note
The duo have even given a degree of critical support for social anarchists in the wake of the Occupy movement, encouraging them to adopt the capital-as-power framework: "Anarchists imagine a world without corporate/state organizations, nationalism, racism, institutionalized religion and other xenophobic barriers to a humane society. And as outcasts of a society besieged by all those ills, we share their aspiration for direct democracy". They've made their (very weighty) tome encapsulating their theories available for free here
A Social Anarchist Political Economy(?)
Peter Kropotkin said that while Marxian economics focuses on the production process, and liberal economics focuses on the distribution process, an anarchist economics should shift focus to the consumption process, meaning that it should be oriented around how to best satisfy people's needs, maximising their biological, psychological, and social well-being.
While no such school of social anarchist political economy (SAPE) was ever developed, fragments of such a tradition can be found in the writings of the social anarchists themselves on economics - focusing on power, hierarchy, and ecology rather than just material conditions - and there have been elements of other economic schools which approximated social anarchist concerns, namely:
- Autonomist Marxism - examining processes of social production as a whole, not just material production, and how class struggle (and social struggle more broadly) is the main driver of socio-economic progress
- Post-Keynesianism - in particular its stress on debt and its theory of money
- Green economics - in wanting to replace growth as a metric of economic progress and view economies as embedded within ecological systems
- Capital-as-power - for its breaking of the dichotomy between politics and economics and its examination of power relations at the roots of economic realities
- Critical Realism - when applied to economics, Critical Realism tries to analyse how people are both created by and co-creators of their socio-economic circumstances
The first social anarchist essay anthology to explicitly focus on economic issues The Accumulation of Freedom was released in 2012 and encorporates insights from the above traditions as well as from social anarchist theory generally. Another essay anthology focusing more narrowly on participatory economics (a proposed social anarchist economic model) called Real Utopia was released earlier. However, a fully thought-out scholarly discourse with its own distinct class analysis, theory of value, methodological framework, hypothesis of socio-economic development, and other key elements remains to be created, though the material described in the above section could potentially provide the basis for one.
The view of anarchists on society is that most of its core problems are rooted in interpersonal relations and institutional structures based on unequal distributions of power (decision-making ability). In contrast to Marxists, who see the primary problem as being "exploitation" (in the economic sense), anarchists see the primary problem as domination (in the wider social sense), with domination itself stemming from social hierarchy.
Anarchists use the word "hierarchy" in a very specific sense, to mean power relations in which one party is subordinate to the will of another primarily to the higher party's benefit; i.e., they aren't opposed to all systems which rank things one on top of the other, even though such systems are often referred to as hierarchies. They view the amount of freedom in a society as being in inverse proportion to the amount of hierarchical power; pushing wherever possible for relations, institutions, and structures characterised by horizontal cooperation and individual autonomy. For this reason, anarchists regard a mere political revolution (in institutional structures) to be insufficient, pushing for a full social revolution in institutional structures, interpersonal relations, and in social consciousness.
So in addition to opposing the power hierarchies of the state and corporations, they also oppose the social hierarchies of racism, sexism, queerphobia, ableism, colonialism, speciesism, and the domination of the natural world for extractive purposes. Thus key components of anarchist theory and practice are
- Anti-nationalism note
- Feminism note
- LGBT+ liberation
- Animal liberation note
- Radical environmentalism. note
Lately, there's also been broad support for the theory of intersectionality, the idea that forms of oppression need to be examined in relation to one another and how they "intersect" with one another. In fact, many of the theories of anarcha-feminist Emma Goldman and Eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin pioneered ideas which nowadays would be called intersectional.
Of all the forms of hierarchy and domination, special importance is given to class, which, while not being seen as the primary hierarchy, is the all-inclusive hierarchy as economic exploitation affects everyone subject to more particular forms of domination. So while anarchists support uniting class-based campaigns for control over the means of production with trans-class campaigns for inclusion and social equality, they are opposed to "cross-class" alliances with members of the ruling elite, even if they suffer some forms of non-economic domination (eg: with gay or black members of the business class, with feminist female politicians, or with corporate environmentalists).
The values of personal self-realisation and unity-in-diversity are very important to anarchists. While they push for a democratic public realm in which science and reason serve as the foundation for societal organisation, their commitment to individual autonomy and civil libertarianism means they also support a private realm in which people are free to practice whatever kind of lifestyle or identities they want as long as they're not harming anyone else. Nudism, voluntary nomadism, and exploration of alternative forms of sexuality have long been popular among certain anarchists and supported by the broad anarchist movement for their disruptive effects on conventional morality and authoritarian social mores.
Communal individualism is seen as the personal and social ideal in place of either individualism or collectivism as traditionally understood, opposing both the commercialist egoism of market capitalism, and the grey uniformity and group-think of authoritarian socialism. Other more recent terms for this ideal are collective autonomy and participatory culture. Overcoming the tension between self and society and the manufactured conflict between the two is an issue anarchists have always placed strong emphasis on. As Emma Goldman put it, "There is no conflict between the individual and the social instincts, any more than there is between the heart and the lungs: the one the receptacle of a precious life essence, the other the repository of the element that keeps the essence pure and strong. The individual is the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life; society is the lungs which are distributing the element to keep the life essence - that is, the individual - pure and strong".
Also, in contrast to libertarian capitalists (especially anti-state voluntaryists who follow the Austrian school of economics) anarchists are not approving of any social relations at all just because they're "voluntary". Something being voluntary is regarded as necessary, but not sufficient, to be considered anarchist; the other necessary component is non-hierarchy. To put it as a formula:
- Anarchism = voluntary association + horizontal organisation
- Voluntaryism = voluntary association + any form of organisation
Some anarchists would go further and posit that without a non-hierarchical structure, an arrangement cannot be truly voluntary due to the unequal negotiating positions of the parties involved. After all, members of the working class must eat, and without a job, their ability to do so in a capitalist society is vastly decreased, so they are in a fundamentally weaker negotiating position than their employers.
Marxists have a particular analytical method they use to study history and human society called historical materialism. note
(1) A material/technological/economic Base (basically a society's technology and economic set-up) which determines the shape of its ...
(2) Ideological/cultural/legal Superstructure (basically, culture, religions, laws, and the state).
Think of society as a cake with icing on top. The icing (Superstructure) may make it look like it's made of one thing, but when you peel the icing away you see the real substance of the cake (its Base). And the type of cake (Base) you have will always determine what kind of icing (Superstructure) is on top for people to see.
The general idea is that if you want to figure out what's really going on in a society, you need to look at the nature of its technological and economic infrastructure, and examine the interests of its ruling class, drawing out the inherent contradictions latent within. Historical materialism was developed in part as a reaction to the the philosophy of idealism associated with GWF Hegel in 19th century Germany, which claims that it is primarily collections of ideas, not material forces, which shape historical progress. Marx and Engels agreed that history proceeds along a mostly linear path in different stages, but thought that it was primarily technology and economics that drove this process, with ideas largely being conditioned by material factors.
Many latter day scholars of Marxism argue that what's now called historical materialism was more Engels' creation than Marx'. Marx was more focused on the dialectical components of their theories and Engels with the materialist parts.
While a few anarchists also use this method, the mainstream find it tends to reduce social phenomena to economic relations and subordinates non-economic forms of social struggle to class struggle. Peter Kropotkin remarked that claiming human social behaviour was caused by economics was like saying botany was "caused" by heat, ignoring every other factor. Rudolf Rocker devotes the first chapter of his Nationalism and Culture to attacking historical materialism and suggested the will-to-power among humans was just as important to the development of societies. Murray Bookchin used the same dialectical method as Marxists to claim that material determinism was self-contradictory, stressing that ideas were just as important to how people behaved, and that social hierarchies couldn't simply be reduced to economic classes. David Graeber now claims that historical materialism is itself "a crude kind of idealism" as it denies the material force ideal activities have, as well as the ideal nature of material activities, with the Base/Superstructure model itself being remarkably undialectical. So for most social anarchists:
- material conditions are central, but not primary, to conditioning human society and how it develops
- the relation between material conditions people live in and their social consciousness is reciprocal, instead of the former determining the latter
- non-economic power hierarchies (racism, sexism, queerphobia, speciesism, ecological domination) are shaped by economic class relations but are not reducible to them
- the drive of people to gain social power in general over others is at least as important as the drive of ruling classes to gain economic leverage over the producing classes
- human progress doesn't proceed along a fixed path with a linear trajectory
- changes in social consciousness can precede (and cause) changes in material conditions
While this social-ontological perspective - in between idealism and materialism - was never given a formal name, anarchist anthropologist Brian Morris has used the term historical naturalism to describe it. Meaning they accept the naturalist (non-supernatural) and realist view of reality, and see economic factors and classes as vital to understanding how the world works, but also place importance on ecological and ideological forces as shapers of human behaviour and development; in particular the effects of hierarchical power on both its wielders and those subject to it. The drive of humans to have power over others - from primeval foragers to modern nation-states - is seen as at least as important a force of social development as the material conditions they exist in. Jesse Cohn explains the anarchist conception of history as being akin to working with clay: humans shape and reshape the world using the material and ideational resources at their disposal, equal parts created by and creators of their social evolution.
The historical materialist method is to "scientifically" draw out the contradictions in capitalism and locate the most advantageous things for proletarians (those subject to capital) to do. Historical naturalists on the other hand also criticise capitalism (and all forms of domination) on an ethical level. They see in human history that two organisational forms have always been in tension with each other: the authoritarian form (hierarchical and centralised) and the libertarian form (democratic and decentralised). A historical naturalist then would attempt to tease out the most libertarian elements (called "potentialities") latent in a society's economic, social, and cultural make-up, and try to push them to the forefront, driving the society in a more anarchistic direction. note
This differs from Hegelian dialectical idealism and Marxian dialectical materialism in that both of these see historical progress as proceeding along a predetermined track, and concluding in a final stage or "end of history" (Absolute Spirit for Hegel, stateless communism for Marx). Historical naturalism would claim there is no final stage, and that there are always paths not taken in history depending on whether or not certain potentialities are actualised. Humanity could just as well regress backwards into barbarism as achieve a utopia.
Many anarchists also combine historical naturalism with another approach called complementary holism (see the Philosophical Origins section for more info on this), using both as tools for social analysis. Both tend to be more "bottom-up" methodologies while Marxism tends to be "top-down".
Early forms of human community are generally believed to have been mostly non-hierarchical and egalitarian by anthropologists and archaeologists. Anarchists call this early form of humanity "organic society" due to its connection to nature prior to its integration into urban environments, which on one hand dissolved many tribal/ethnic divisions that existed among different bands of humans, but on the other led to some of the first solidified class divisions and the emergence of debt, commercialisation, and made possible large-scale organised warfare and imperialism. This dual-nature of the city is illustrative of the dialectical tension between the "legacy of freedom" and "legacy of domination" in human history, as the two are usually wound up together like the double helix structure of DNA.
This move from organic society to civilisation (city-based culture) created a kind of rift between the natural world (first nature) and human activity (second nature), as the relation of humans to the natural world gradually came to be seen as one of hierarchy - in line with the increasingly hierarchical relations of humans towards each other - in which ecology was increasingly seen as as mere "resources" to be extracted from. Though this didn't become a major environmental problem until the coming of the imperialist nation-state and capitalism, where human alienation from the natural world became even more pronounced, especially seeing as the ruling classes overseeing this extractivist process were insulated from the ecological consequences of their actions - which often happened to indigenous populations of other countries, who often rebelled violently to defend their natural environments. Because of their rootedness in the natural world, organic societies could be said to have more of a connection to nature, and more likely to defend it from spoiling.
Anarchist political scientist James C. Scott argues that many organic societies existing in the present - like the people of Zomia in South-East Asia - far from not having discovered the state and commercial civilisation, consciously resisted integration into them, as every part of their social structure seems consciously designed to keep the state at arms length. This tends to be part of a recurring theme in human social evolution, for "hill people" to prefer organic society and "valley people" to build cities and states. Not to say that organic societies are inherently less dominative than city-dwellers. Many hunter-gatherers and hunter-horticulturists are very patriarchal and violent towards other tribes, while some archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest cities may have been quite egalitarian.
The Emergence of Hierarchy
Mikhail Bakunin, Rudolf Rocker, and Murray Bookchin all linked the rise of social hierarchies with supernatural beliefs (religions, gods, and demons) which created what the latter called "epistemologies of rule": conceptions of the universe itself being structured along hierarchical lines. The first physical-world hierarchies believed to have arisen were either age-based or sex-based, followed by chiefdoms, then with the rise of agriculture and cities came formal monarchies and oligarchies. With these also came the rise of economic classes (ruling classes, popular classes, with managerial classes in the middle) which encompass all other existing hierarchies of age, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality.
Elisee Reclus tried to make clear that ecological and geographic factors played a large part in conditioning how a society would evolve, and that social development wasn't a one-way street in which humans start out as non-hierarchical bands of hunter-gatherers and end up as centralised states with market economies. This is largely imposing the particular way in which European societies evolved (unique to the temperate zone of the Earth) upon the rest of the world, which has entirely different ecological conditions and geographical layouts, and thus different conditions for human development. Because hierarchy and centralised political power came to define Western Europe, many historians and social scientists tend to look at such organic societies as "backwards", seeing their own cultures as the image of what they need to "catch up" to. note
Murray Bookchin offered an anarchist account of the development of human societies from a social-political and ecological perspective in his work The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. David Graeber put forward a similar account from an economic perspective in Debt: The First 5000 Years. Earlier accounts can be found in Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution by Peter Kropotkin and Nationalism and Culture by Rudolf Rocker. What they all have in common is viewing hierarchy and domination as sources of violence and misery, and seeing individual autonomy and horizontal cooperation as liberatory alternatives. They also see the relationship between material forces and social ideas/consciousness as reciprocal (co-creating each other) rather than the Marxist view of the former determining the latter.
None of them try to romanticise organic societies of the past or present, or say that the coming of civilisation wasn't a positive movement. Merely that the linear view of history associating the emergence of hierarchy and centralised power with progress is wrongheaded, arising from a largely Eurocentric worldview. The state may have been a "historically necessary evil" if we wanted to have intellectual and technological advancement, but there there may also have been less hierarchical paths that could have been taken had conditions been different or different forces prevailed.
Money, Markets, and Market Economies
The conventional narrative about the origin of money and markets in liberal political economy (the neoclassical, Keynesian, and Austrian schools) is that early humans started out bartering their goods with each other ("I'll give you three chickens for a goat/five apples for a bag of eggs"), from which they then invented money to make exchanges more convenient, followed by the spontaneous emergence of markets and complex credit systems to accompany them.
- Communal economies/Barter —> Money/Markets —> Credit (then states)
The problem with this narrative is that there isn't a shred of archaeological or anthropological evidence to support it. As David Graeber outlines in his anarchist history of debt and money, most early organic societies actually had "gift economies" in which land and resources were communally owned. Barter only tended to occur between people who didn't know each other, sometimes even enemies. Far from states being antithetical to markets, the first markets were in fact created by early states in Mesopotamia (and probably Mesoamerica) as a way of breaking up and "de-cluttering" bureaucratic administration. Credit systems in early cities and states preceded both formal monetary and barter systems. Official money originally emerged from the commercialisation of war debts from imperial conquests. Barter, far from being a form of proto-money, is in fact an attempt to replicate money among people who are already used to market-monetary structures. So a more accurate picture of economic history would be:
- Communal economies/Credit —> (then states) Markets/Money —> Barter
What this narrative also reveals is that when people are left alone, they tend to gravitate to commons-based economic structures (sometimes horizontal, sometimes hierarchical), while market-monetary calculation only tends to become the organising principle of the economy and society when the threat of violence is present, such as from a band of raiders or a state.
Also, markets are not exactly the same thing as market economies. Markets have existed as parts of economies for as long as state-like structures have existed, but always within wider social economies subject to political and communal regulations. For example, the Islamic Caliphate had, by today's standards, very open markets, but in the context of a social-economic system in which usury (making money off of money without producing anything) was expressly banned on moral grounds. It was only with the enclosures of the commons that the market (singular instead of plural) became the central organising factor in national economies, when European states "nationalised" the dispersed local markets that were embedded in broader communal economies. These national market economies later became internationalised via imperial conquest and colonial subjugation of indigenous populations, trying to integrate them into the global state-market system that was being established in the Age of Empires.
This age was also the beginning of the growth imperative, (also called extractivism) which associated progress with increased commercial expansion and the enlargement of industrial output. This also had ecological implications as growth increasingly came to be associated with the conquest of nature and treating it hierarchically as both an inexhaustible well of resources and a dumping ground for any negative externalities. Takis Fotopoulos documented this process and the ideology underpinning it in the first part of his Towards an Inclusive Democracy.
The Nation-State vs. The Municipal-Confederation
Contrary to Marxists, who view the coming of the nation-state and capitalism as inevitable and "progressive" relative to feudalism, social anarchists view them as neither. Before the nation-state and capitalism, there existed alternative political and economic forms which anarchists think could have provided a decentralist alternative. For example, the free cities and communes (both kinds of autonomous "municipalities") that existed outside feudal authority in medieval Europe, which often formed into leagues/confederations with each other - such as the Hanseatic League and city-republics of Italy. Also the independent guilds of artisans and other workers, and the systems of commons which allowed rural populations to sustain themselves without wage-labour. Similar structures existed in Africa in the form of tribal leagues and among the indigenous peoples of North America, especially the Iroquois Confederacy.
Peter Kropotkin's long essay The State: Its Historic Role offered an anarchist analysis of these institutions and the historical "path not taken".
The ascendant nation-states (made more powerful from 1500 on through colonialism outside of Europe) and the municipal-confederations for a time existed in tension with one another. Through a mix of economic strangulation and military coercion through raids and wars, the nation-state won out over the municipal-confederations. This provided the political ground for capitalism to be born through the enclosures of the commons, which threw peasants off the land they collectively managed, forcing them to seek a living through wage-labour in the industrialising towns and cities. And of course the conquest of the Americas and Africa forced the native peoples of those regions into the European nation-state model and the early forms of capitalism and landlordism. This destruction of commons-based forms of economy and their replacement by commercial ones was the first form of what's now called the accumulation of capital (financial wealth).
Peter Kropotkin objected to the Marxist term for this process, "primitive accumulation", as it implied that it only happened in the past. In reality, state and capitalist dispossession of the commons is a continual and ongoing process which continues to this day, especially in more agrarian parts of the world like India and South America.
The first person to call himself an anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, had some pretty nasty sexist views. However, virtually every single self-identified anarchist after him has rejected his patriarchal beliefs and argued that they were actually in contradiction to everything else he stood for as a proponent of a non-hierarchical society. Since the 19th century anarchists have been at the forefront in pushing for the equality of women with men, liberty in sexual affairs, and freedom of gender expression; most often in conflict with dominant mores and even with other radicals.
While the term "anarcha-feminism" was only coined in 1975 by the second-wave feminist Peggy Kornegger, in the sense of advocating full gender equality anarchism has arguably been feminist in its ethos since at least the 1860s. Emma Goldman was one of the first anarchist writers to specifically address gender issues and the plight of women in her essays and activism, and was also one of the first to attack homophobia and the persecution of non-heterosexual people. Unlike the first-wave feminists however, early anarcha-feminists like Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Louise Michel, He Zhen, and Voltairine De Cleyre saw little point in getting votes for women, as they believed that statist representative democracy would only continue women's subordination but with women's complicity. Early anarchist feminists examined women's lack of freedom not only in relation to their legal inequality to men and patriarchal cultural attitudes, but to their lack of economic self-reliance, as most of the labour traditionally done by women - domestic work, raising children, emotional support - wasn't remunerated, leaving almost all women economically dependent on men. The first explicitly feminist anarchist group, La Voz de la Mujer ("The Voice of Women") was founded in Argentina in 1896.
During the Spanish Civil War, a famous anarchist women's group called the "Mujeres Libres" ("liberated women") was founded to push for female equality within the context of the emergent anarchist society, as most male anarchists at the time still harboured sexist attitudes, despite their radicalism in other areas; combined with the problem of a lot of them using the free love (polyamorous) ethos of anarchism as an excuse to bone just about any girl in sight, then getting mad when the girls did the exact same thing in reverse. (Sound familiar?).
Although there has always been a feminist current in anarchism as a whole, it's only lately that anarcha-feminism has made progress at the theoretical level. Within the wider feminist movement, anarcha-feminists advocate what's called intersectionality, the view that women's domination must be seen as part of an intersecting web of different hierarchies such as class, race, and sexuality, and that there may be areas where women are actually at an advantage relative to men. They also tend to oppose "sex-negative" forms of feminism which want to ban pornography, prostitution, and BDSM. Hardline criticism also comes in for anti-transgender forms of feminism like radical feminism and political lesbianism.
Anarchists were also some of the first political voices to push for the equality of LGBT+ people. The first ever gay magazine Der Eigene (The Unique) was started by individualist anarchist Adolf Band and inspired by the philosophy of Max Stirner. German anarchist psychoanalyst Otto Gross also wrote extensively about same-sex sexuality in both men and women and argued against its discrimination. Male anarchists such as Alexander Berkman, Daniel Guerin, and Paul Goodman also discussed their gay and bisexual experiences in their writings. Lately, the famous queer theory scholar Judith Butler has identified as a "philosophical" anarchist and contributed material to anarchist essay anthologies.
Anarcha-queer people and writers are critical of the institution of marriage, seeing it as a restrictive institution historically tied to female subordination. By contrast, they tend to be highly supportive of polyamory, which has long been a part of anarchist practice under the term "free love", and encourage people to stop viewing romantic and sexual relationships through both a heteronormative and mononormative lens - the former means viewing things as if heterosexual, heteroromantic, and cisgendered relations are the the only legitimate forms of sexual/romantic/gender expression. The latter means viewing things as if monogamy is the only legitimate type of sexual/romantic relationship.
For those who were into monogamy, anarchists proposed the idea of "free unions" which weren't sanctioned by state legality. The idea being that people could still hold a ceremony to solidify their long-term romantic commitment and refer to each other as husband or wife, but their union wouldn't be a legal practice, so there would be no such thing as divorce other than people agreeing to split up.
From the late 1800s, anarchism has been a wordwide movement which tried to unite the popular classes of the whole world across national boundaries with the goal of replacing capitalism, statism, and hierarchy generally with an international confederation of confederations of libertarian socialist societies. It thus naturally opposes all forms of racism, ethnic supremacy, nationalism, colonialism, and imperialism (the subjugation of a people by an external state).
It takes account of how non-white peoples are made into "the Other" (with a capital-o) and sees as an essential component of social revolution the dissolution of white supremacy as both an institutionalised and mentally internalised form of hierarchy - especially by those who may not realise they have internalised it.
Differences in race and nationality are commonly weaponised by ruling elites as a means of dividing people who would otherwise have common cause in opposing their rulership. These differences are made to form the basis of hierarchies as part of a divide-and-rule tactic. For example, the category of "the White race" was only invented in the 1600s as a way to prevent African slaves and European indentured servants in the American colonies from joining together to overthrow the colonial ruling class.
As a case in point of just how artificial the concept of "whiteness" is, when it was first devised, it only applied to people from European Protestant countries. It specifically excluded the Irish, Polish, Slavs, Spaniards, Italians, and Jewish people - all of whom were only admitted into the White race in the 1800s with the influx of Catholic and Jewish migrants to North America, which served to prevent them making common cause with Black, Native American, and East Asian workers. Hispanic people even went back and forth in the government's eyes from being non-White, to White, then back to non-White again depending on the political and economic situation.
Similar divide-and-rule tactics were historically employed in Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, and in Southern Africa (witness the legacy of Apartheid).
Race and Colonialism (Historical)
Anarchists have attacked all forms of racism since very early on, and as labour organisers were founders of some of the first trade unions to organise across racial lines, when most other unions at the time were only interested in uniting workers of their own ethnicity. They organised multi-racial unions of blacks and whites in South Africa, Korean immigrant workers with native Japanese in Japan, blacks, whites, and mixed workers in Brazil and Argentina, whites and Amerindians in Peru and Mexico, Afro-Cubans and Euro-Cubans in Cuba, whites, blacks, and indiginous peoples in the US and Australia (under the IWW) and in Europe tried to organise Jewish people with Gentiles when so much of the subcontinent was fervently anti-semitic. note
As a result, anarchism and syndicalism tended to thrive in the late 19th and early 20th century among immigrant populations and in more agrarian (colonised) parts of the world, what would now be referred to as the Global South.
The reason it had the leg over Marxism at this period in history was that Marxism tended to think socialism could only be established in heavily industrialised countries (eg: the U.S., Britain, Germany) and that imperial conquest of the Global South was a progressive development - as it would bring industrialisation and centralised governance, which in turn would make socialism feasible. Anarchists rejected this view, and also saw revolutionary potential in agrarian populations which hadn't yet been industrialised.
This changed however when Lenin took power in Russia, who, as well as establishing the first so-called example of "socialism" on a national scale, changed traditional Marxist theory to advocate a "two-stage" theory of revolution, in which nationalist attempts to throw off imperialism in the Global South were okay as he believed capitalist imperialism had now reached a stage in which it was no longer progressive, and thus no longer useful for creating socialism. And so many peoples in the Global South who would have previously supported anarchism and syndicalism started to gravitate to Marxism and nationalism.
Race and Colonialism (Today)
Where it still had a presence in the Global North, anarchism tended to be an overly white political movement, while still being hostile to all forms of legal and cultural racism. In the last few decades however, anarchist people of colour (POC) note have been coming more to the forefront and working out means of struggle which challenge both white supremacy along with capitalism, the state, and all other forms of domination.
African-Americans in particular have formed a distinct tendency known as Black anarchism, which integrates traditional anarchist analyses of class and hierarchy with strategies unique to the African-American experience. They oppose the notion that oppressed races/nationalities can simply put aside their identities in favour of a broad "class solidarity" which fails to acknowledge the extra privileges white workers enjoy. Ashanti Alston opined "Every time I hear someone talk about my people as if we are just some 'working class' or 'proletariat' I wanna get as far away from that person or group as possible, anarchist, Marxist, whatever". Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin has written a book outlining a distinctly African-American version of the social anarchist project called Anarchism and the Black Revolution.
It's essential to take account of the fact that oppressions are contextual, and while white people are the most dominant racial group in the Global North, other ethnicities occupy that position in different parts of the world. In most of the Middle East, for example, Arabs enjoy the position of dominance relative to Kurds, Yezidis, and other groups. Similarly, in Tibet the dominant racial group is Han Chinese, with Tibetans in particular facing vicious discrimination.
In India, the religious and status-based hierarchies of the caste system fulfil most of the same criteria for racism in other parts of the world and function as a similar means of "racialising" people into divided ranks based on heritage, leading to discrimination, exclusion, and violence. The levels of oppression and exclusion suffered by the Dalit ("untouchable") caste in India could in many ways put Jim Crow laws and Apartheid to shame.
An issue that's become pressing for anarchists in recent years is the plight of indigenous peoples in the Americas and Australia, who often live in wretched economic conditions and are treated as virtual aliens on the land masses their people have spent millennia on. Recognising the (mostly unacknowledged) privileges being classified as white brings someone - especially in parts of the Global North where POC are ethnic minorities - is something white anarchists have to try to come to terms with and try to work against in terms of how they relate to people of colour - especially if they happen to live on colonised land.
Nationhood and National Liberation
Anarchists are opposed to nationalism, both because it encourages national chauvinism and xenophobia, and because it is inevitably tied to establishing a nation-state in which the popular classes and ruling classes are seen as having shared interests. A nation-state is not the same thing as a sense of nationhood however. German anarchist Gustav Landauer said that a nation could simply be thought of a "a community of communities" and didn't necessarily have to be tied to a state. So while anarchists have the long-term goal of erasing all national borders which divide one state from another, they still think nations would continue to exist as a shared collective identity among people - but without the "us and them" mentality that pervades the concept now.
Nor is national liberation synonymous with nationalism, although the two most often have been tied together. National liberation refers to the struggle of a people - who consider themselves a nation - to emancipate themselves from colonial rule by an imperial power. Unlike nationalism, this doesn't necessarily involve a wish to set up a separate nation-state with a native ruling class to replace foreign rule. It has the potential to be anti-statist, anti-capitalist, and internationalist in its aspirations. Most anarchists have recommended working within national liberation struggles and trying to push them in an anarchistic direction from inside them. They remain very sceptical of anything relating to nationalism or any ideology which venerates one group of people above another.
Most of the classical anarchists didn't place a huge focus on ecological issues, but some - most notably Peter Kropotkin and Elisee Reclus - explored ideas and raised concerns in their geographical and scientific writings which today would be regarded as proto-environmentalist and expressive of an ecological worldview. Reclus in particular deserves credit for being pretty much the first person to espouse an unambiguously green perspective in his scholarship. note
Since the late 1960s, when green concerns became more of an issue on the world stage, new trends in anarchism emerged which added an environmental focus to its anti-authoritarian ideas, eventually leading to a new tendency called eco-anarchism or green anarchism.
Eco-anarchists were early advocates of replacing fossil fuels with green energy, protecting wilderness, animal liberation, localising food production, and ecologising urban landscapes. Many also find that viewing the lived environment in terms of its bioregions instead of nation-states is a good way of reorientating oneself to an ecological worldview: non-hierarchy, mutual aid, conservation, and decentralism.
''Social Ecology'' was coined by Murray Bookchin, whose book Our Synthetic Environment was released six months before the more famous Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, the book widely credited with kickstarting the modern environmentalist movement. Social Ecology takes the anarchist perspective of seeing social problems as stemming from hierarchy and domination and applies it to humanity's relation to nature: seeing the negative way humans treat the environment - such as pollution, landscape spoiling, and animal cruelty - as being rooted in the negative ways humans treat each other. As a solution, Social Ecologists seek to utilize technology for ecological rather than profit-driven ends and to decentralize institutions into small-scale eco-communities operating through direct-democracy.
At the theoretical level, it views the world as divided into:
- First Nature (the natural world) The wilderness landscapes humans first emerged from and non-human animals; usually thought of as simply "nature" as distinct from "culture".
- Second Nature (the human social milieu) Everything created by human efforts: cultured landscapes, farm land, gardens, and cities; usually thought of as being separate and distinct from nature but in fact existing within it.
The problem, Bookchin claimed, was that humans developed ways of living together that were based on hierarchy and domination instead of democracy and cooperation. This in turn meant that they applied this same hierarchical logic to first nature, treating it as something to be dominated and extracted from instead of treated in a mutualistic manner. The goal therefore should be to restructure second nature (human society) in a a libertarian and egalitarian way so as to reintegrate it with first nature, forming a dialectical synthesis of the two he called "free nature".
Other Social Ecologists besides Bookchin include political scientist Takis Fotopoulos, anthropologist Brian Morris, political activist Janet Biehl, philosopher John P. Clark, anarcho-syndicalist Graham Purchase, and several Scandinavian activists associated with the online journal New Compass, though the latter tend to see themselves as non-anarchists while still remaining libertarian socialists.
Social Ecology tends to be sceptical of other green schools of thought who blame humans as a whole for environmental problems instead of hierarchical social structures, as well as the more "mystical" forms of Eco-philosophy which conceive of nature in religious, as opposed to rational terms.
An introductory essay by Bookchin is available here
Other green anarchist movements such as Deep Ecology and anarcho-primitivism came later and see ecological problems lying not in the authoritarian ways humans treat each other, but in humanity itself as a species. While Social Ecology was developed within the social anarchist movement, Deep Ecology was developed outside it by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess and then caught on among many green anarchist activists in the Pacific Northwest. Deep Ecologists believe that all life forms have a right to existence apart from or even in opposition to human needs, and society must be radically restructured to accommodate this.
Primitivists move even further, believing the human population must be significantly reduced, with the few humans that remain going back to a hunter-gatherer way of life, leaving behind all technology more sophisticated than those found in the neolithic era. As you might expect, Social Ecologists and primitivists do not like each other, with most social anarchists contesting the claims of primitivists to even be anarchists.
While primitivism exerted a large influence upon anarchist activism in the 1990s and early 2000s, it has seen a decline since then note with Social Ecology coming back in popularity after Bookchin's death in 2006. It has exerted a large influence on the social-political thought of the Kurdish revolutionaries in Turkish and Rojava (Syrian) Kurdistan, especially its focus on confederated municipalities running themselves through direct democracy, and on their aspirations to redesign their urban areas as Eco-cities composed mostly of green spaces.
Despite some more contemporary tends among anarchists towards technophobia and neo-Luddism, the broad anarchist tradition has been largely enthusiastic and supportive of the liberatory potential of technology to remove needless toil from work, automate production, and enhance communication and transport among regions. They have no love, however, for the kind of centralised, mass production systems of technology which have dominated economies since the Industrial Revolution. Peter Kropotkin, in his book ''Fields, Factories, and Workshops'', recommended radically decentralising the scale of technologies, localising production so as to move closer to communal self-sufficiency, and integrating mental and manual labour.
Later, in the 1960s, Murray Bookchin claimed that decentralist and human-scale technology was the only means to provide a high standard of living while maintaining ecological balance. Social anarchists think one of the main problems of capitalism regarding technology is that it actually holds technological innovation back, channelling its development into producing destructive military weapons and planned obsolescence in consumer goods instead of building things to last and eliminating dull, dirty, and dangerous forms of labour with automation.
Nowadays there's a lot of anarchist support for micro-manufacturing, small-scale shop production, the open-source hardware movement, and of course enthusiastic support for the Internet and especially the free software movement. There's also considerable crossover with the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) movement as well, in which the non-proprietary sections of the Internet are viewed as an actually-existing free commons, whose principles of decentralised cooperation, horizontal and networked association, and participatory organisation should be expanded to the so-called real world.
In line with the anarchist conception of history (see above) that for every form of progress achieved through hierarchy and centralisation there was a horizontal/decentralist "path not taken", anarchists apply this same analytic to technology. Just as Kropotkin believed it may have been possible for politics and economics to evolve through municipal-confederations instead of nation-states, he also thought it may have been possible to avoid the brutal, polluting, and centralised shape the industrial revolution took under capitalism; that it may have been possible to have had "industrialisation from below" led by guilds and small-scale shop production had federative and commons-based forms prevailed. He wrote a book, Fields, Factories, and Workshops, laying out a decentralist, cooperative, and ecological alternative to capitalist and statist kinds of technology.
Inspired in large part by Kropotkin, American left-libertarian theorist Lewis Mumford put forward a roughly historical naturalist history of technology, or more broadly speaking, "technics" - this analysis was in turn taken up by social anarchists like Murray Bookchin and market anarchists like Kevin Carson. Technics comes from the Greek techne, which refers to both techniques and technologies, basically ways of doing things (by human or machine hands) which can be formalised and systematised. This view of technological evolution hypothesises three phases in the development of technics since the Middle Ages:
- The Eotechnic Phase note
- The Paleotechnic Phase note
- The Neotechnic Phase note
With the coming of the Internet and computerisation one could argue that we are now in a fourth phase which could be called the Cybertechnic Phase, which, like the neotechnic phase, is structurally decentralist, but is being used by centralist institutions for hierarchical purposes; with artificial scarcity created by intellectual property when cybertechnic technology offers the possibilities for real abundance. Murray Bookchin claimed in the 1960s that the then new cybertechnic technologies and eco-technologies provided the preconditions for a post-scarcity economy if only they were developed in a decentralist, democratic, and liberatory direction.
Technics and Metis
James C. Scott takes a similar views of technics, also stressing the importance of another kind of knowledge called "metis" (another Greek term).
- Technics: (Techniques and technologies) Knowledge and practices which can be formalised and systematised.
- Metis: More nuanced knowledge and practices which can't be boiled down to a set of formal rules. Basically practical, on-the-ground methods of getting stuff done that exist only a series of "shorthands" between working people.
Scott claims that while states and other centralised institutions require metis to get stuff done, their very function is ironically premised on its lack of importance. They justify their existence on the idea that decentralised, commons-based forms of organising are inferior to centralised hierarchies, while at the same time relying on people to "go beyond the rulebook" and take practical initiative (metis). Colin Ward said similar things regarding how the "formal economy" is dependent upon the workings of the "informal economy" like unpaid labour by women and forms of cultural creativity which are co-opted for commercial purposes. This, anarchists claim, represents the contradictions inherent in centralised hierarchies and the superiority of decentralist and directly-democratic alternatives.
Changing the overall ethos of society and culture in intellectual terms isn't regarded as sufficient for building a directly democratic world and anarchists see the need for social institutions (that aren't strictly political or economic) to solidify non-hierarchical and libertarian relationships.
Anarchists have always placed a strong emphasis on education, in particular self-education and teaching tailored to the needs to the individual learner. For this reason they tend to support democratic schools in which students themselves collaborate with teachers in forming the curriculum and the school environment functions more to facilitate self-education than to proscribe a fixed standard that each student should adapt themselves to. Francisco Ferrier and social critic Ivan Illich wrote a lot about pedagogy from an anarchistic point of view.
With regard to housing, anarchists tend to disagree with others on the left, especially welfare state supporting social democrats, that publicly-owned housing is a good thing. While they would agree that each person should rightly have a home to live in, they want direct tenant control over living arrangements instead of them being handled by external authorities.
Sociologist Colin Ward wrote a book, Housing: An Anarchist Approach, in which he praised attempts at self-built homes and community-based projects like Community Land Trusts and housing co-ops. He claimed, in opposition to Labour Party supporters against the buyout of councils flats by co-ops, "I believe in social ownership of social assets, but I think it a mistake to confuse society with the state. Co-operative ownership seems to me to be a better concept of social ownership than ownership by the state".
Ward also laid out a set of general principles for building and architecture processes, saying that while professional architects and civil engineers may be necessary to draw up the plans for how buildings will look, the people who use the buildings, whether tenants or other users, need to be the ones who drive the process, though coordinating meetings and a rigorous process of consultation.
A lot of anarchists are also heavily involved in the squatters' movement and promote the occupation of disused buildings so as to make use of them, often setting up intentional communities organised on non-hierarchical principles.
Crime and Judicial Matters
As for judicial and criminal issues, this is one area where anarchist literature is somewhat scant. Anarchists don't imagine that all crimes will magically disappear once an anarchistic society is constructed, but they do like to point out that the vast majority of crimes are either crimes against the state or crimes against private property, and that if you eliminate statism and capitalism, you eliminate these entire categories of crime, with only crimes of individuals against each other remaining.
How to deal with these offences is a topic of dispute among anarchists. James Guillaume in his pamphlet Ideas on Social Organisation recommended that such offenders as murderers, rapists, and thieves be placed in a "special house" rather than a jail and prevented from leaving until the rest of the community deems them fit to re-enter society, while Peter Kropotkin recommended setting up institutions of voluntary arbitration to settle disputes rather than criminal courts, hoping that social censure would help eliminate violent and coercive elements among people.
Defence and Security
As for collective self-defence, anarchists are obviously opposed to any military or standing army. Anarchists of a more pro-market persuasion propose setting up cooperative defence agencies which members of a given locality pay dues to in exchange for security and protection. Anti-market anarchists, on the other hand, tend to support locally-based militias staffed by volunteers and neighbourhood watch committees instead of a traditional police force.
They are somewhat divided on whether people should be armed or not. Market anarchists (hailing mostly from the U.S.) as a rule tend to be very pro-gun and oppose absolutely all forms of gun control. Social anarchists tend to be a bit more sceptical, while still opposing bans on gun ownership in every situation, bringing them into conflict with most others on the left. The social anarchist political scholar Jason Royce Lindsay criticised American gun culture, claiming it deludes people into believing they have more power over the state than they really do.
Democratising finance is one of the oldest components of the anarchist economic vision, first being suggested by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; finance being the "means of investment" under capitalism. The early mutualists sought to create "mutual banks" which would be used to fund the creation of worker cooperatives and other self-managed economic institutions to gradually replace capitalist and state enterprises, and to eliminate usury (charging interest for loaned money).
The social anarchists from the First International on went further in seeking the full socialisation of investment in the hands of local communities. Many also suggested replacing traditional money with "labour vouchers" (nowadays these would take the form of digital credit points on debit cards) which unlike conventional currency, would be created at the point of receiving income and would cease to exist upon purchase of an item; in much the same way as frequent flyer miles or restaurant loyalty points work. Participatory Economics and Inclusive Democracy both support such proposals.
Other anarchists go even further in their long-term goals in wanting to replace all forms of money, incomes, and prices completely by creating a gratis-based gift economy in which people can take goods freely from stores "according to need". Though most would concede that this would only be workable on a large scale once certain preconditions are met - such as the production of food and manufacturing being as decentralised and localised as possible (near or total communal self-sufficiency) with a great deal of labour automated away by technology.
Arts and Entertainment.
With regard to the creation of art in the contemporary world, anarchists are fond of pointing out that the only reason that every single movie, tv show, video game, book, album, etc. couldn't be made available right now for free through the Internet is the existence of intellectual property laws (patents, copyrights, and trademarks), as all of the above could in theory be distributed gratis for downloading and streaming due to there being little-to-no material cost involved. They feel that abolishing IP laws (especially copyrights) would unleash a multitude of creative endeavours as people would be able to use all the non-material resources available (including editing software) to improve upon and create their own works of art and entertainment, distributing it online as part of a participatory culture. It's for this reason that there's a lot of overlap between anarchists and the free software movement.
The anarchist art critic Herbert Read argued that every good artist (and by extension entertainer) needed three things in order to be able to create good art:
- (1) appreciation, that is, peer recognition
- (2) patronage, or a source of income so as to be able to earn a living from their work; and
- (3) liberty in their creative endeavours.
The problem is, he claimed, the second (funding) often conflicts with the third (creative freedom), as the sources of an artist's income often have a vested interest in the kind of art they create supporting (or at least not offending) their economic or ideological agenda. In the Middle Ages, the problem was Church funding and not being able to offend religious sensibilities. In the modern day, the problem is corporate and state funding, and not being able to offend commercial capitalist interests. Read believed that a return to a kind of guild system for artists could offer a solution, where artists themselves controlled their investments and were insulated from commercial pressures and external political interests.
While not an anarchist himself, the fantasy novelist China Miéville suggested a system that most anarchists would find appealing, where authors (and other artists and entertainers) are paid salaries for doing creative work rather than being paid per the profits for their individual products, as they could be distributed for free online. While this would obviously mean that most of the big-name artists and entertainers could no longer make millions, he pointed out that for most struggling artists it would actually be a pay upgrade, allowing them to devote themselves to their craft full-time. An anarchist entertainment industry could therefore be based on cooperatives (based on location) and democratic guilds (based on art form), where big-scale art/entertainment projects like blockbuster movies would be greenlit based on perceived quality instead of potential profitability.
Of all the social sciences, anarchists have been most consistently drawn to anthropology. Contemporary anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber believes that this may be because, as proponents of a stateless and non-hierarchical society, anthropology shows that such social set-ups are indeed possible; given that anthropologists devote their careers to studying them.
Anthropological elements are found in the works of classical anarchists like Peter Kropotkin and Elisee Reclus, by twentieth century anarchists Murray Bookchin and Colin Ward, and by modern-day anarchists who are by profession anthropologists like Brian Morris and the aforementioned David Graeber. Jeff Shantz has argued that auto-ethnography in particular - people from marginal groups giving first-person accounts of their lives and experiences - can be regarded as an especially anarchistic form of anthropology.
There's also a lot of mucking about in anthropology by so-called "anarcho-primitivists" like John Zerzan, though their works tend to suffer from selective reading and romanticisation of hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Most anarchists admire certain features of such communities - mutual aid, reciprocity, communality, ecological stewardship - but have no desire to regress back to such states of affairs, abandoning all sophisticated technology. It's important to keep in mind that many (perhaps most) hunter-gatherer societies are in fact very hierarchical and patriarchal.
David Graeber has written a broad outline for an anarchist school of anthropology available here.
In their views on social psychology, anarchists believe that social hierarchies create "lopsided relations of the imagination" which make both the highers and the lowers in the hierarchy stupid, uncaring, and violent but in different ways. Hierarchies also make it so that the lowers (the working classes, women, people of colour) are always more psychologically empathetic towards the highers (the rich, men, whites) than the other way around. This is because those on the receiving end of hierarchical power have to understand how their masters' minds and social environments operate in order to get by in life, but those on the top don't have to know much about the worlds of their subordinates. note Anarchists hold that society can only achieve genuine psychological well-being through creating conditions of material equality, personal freedom, and social relations built upon horizontal cooperation, communal caring, and mutual aid.
With regard to personal psychology, anarchists stress the importance of interdependence, but also individual self-reliance and autonomy, encouraging persons to chart a middle way between collectivist groupthink and rugged individualism in their quests for self-fulfilment and self-realisation. It's considered a bad idea to try to analytically separate a person with psychological problems from the social conditions in which they develop, and an even worse practice to try to adjust them to a negative environment, as negative environments are seen as the main cause of messed up mental states in the first place; especially relations and institutions characterised by authoritarianism, cut-throat competition, and repression. They have long attacked sexual repression in particular as damaging both to the individual in their self-development, and to wider society. Alex Comfort, author of the famous erotic liberation manual The Joy of Sex, was himself an anarchist note
American anarchist Paul Goodman co-created a psychological method called Gestalt Therapy, which blends western clinical approaches with aspects of eastern philosophy, in particular Buddhism and Taoism (both of which tend to be popular with anarchists for psychological/spiritual reasons). It is focused on bringing the patient/practitioner into the "present moment" and helping them to regain self-determined direction over their own lives.
One of the most famous anarchists of the last few decades is Noam Chomsky, who places a special focus in his work on how mass media is used by states and corporations to create the illusion of popular agreement with what those powerful forces do to the public. With Edward S. Hermann, he developed an anarchistic approach to studying mass media called the propaganda model. It holds that state and corporate media are structured in a way which imposes a rather uniform perspective with the aim of shaping general opinion along certain lines. A number of factors condition this hegemonic worldview and how its gets expressed:
- 1. Ownership of the medium
- 2. Funding sources of the medium
- 3. Sourcing of content for the medium
- 4. Flak by states, businesses, special interest groups, and other mediums
- 5. Fear of a perceived "enemy". note
Also, while most media sources do compete with and disagree with each other, at the same time they have a certain set of common aims and interests on which they align to reinforce the status-quo in popular consciousness and push the agenda of the ruling elite. Anarchists have always tried to establish their own non-profit, alternative forms of media to enable marginalised voices an outlet they are routinely denied in the mainstream, attempting to create an anti-authoritarian and democratic counter-narrative to the dominant ideology.
Social anarchists have a long history of association with town and city planning, stressing the importance of decentralised scale over the gigantism of the megalopolis, ecologising the urban environment by making it majority green space and powered by renewable energy and eco-technologies, and neighbourhood designs which emphasise communal self-reliance over the atomisation of modern city life. They loathe urban sprawl, suburbanisation, urban congestion, and especially car culture. note Paul Goodman even once wrote an (only half joking) article proposing to ban private cars from Manhattan.
The proposals of anarchist urbanists like Elisee Reclus, Paul Goodman, and Murray Bookchin were very similar to what's now called New Urbanism and New Pedestrianism, and similar to utopian city-planners like Ebenezer Howard and the Garden cities movement. Colin Ward was an urban planner by profession and wrote extensively about the subject.
While anarchism has always been extremely hostile to religion in general and organised religion in particular, most anarchists view spirituality as a separate concept and feel that the need to feel part of something larger than oneself is an essential part of the human condition that needs to be nurtured. So while promoting a public realm in which science and reason are the basis of managing social affairs, they also support a private realm in which individuals and voluntary associations are free to pursue self-realisation through whatever means feel right, as long as they accept the consensus on the scientific method and rationalism as the primary means of solving collective problems.
Early anarchists were drawn to American transcendentalist philosophy for its communal individualism and libertarian ethos, and to the more esoteric traditions of major Abrahamic religions while still remaining secularists: Gnostic Christianity and Sufism for example. Since the twentieth century, anarchists have gravitated towards the more anti-authoritarian tendencies of Eastern philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism. Many even consider the dialectical Tao Te Ching to be a proto-anarchist text. Leo Tolstoy is sometimes regarded as an anarchist (though he never described himself as one) and his panentheistic, pacifist form of Christianity provided much of the influence behind a tradition calling itself "Christian anarchism", as did elements of the American Catholic Workers Movement. Because of anarchism's opposition to religion with its belief in supernatural authority, there's some debate as to whether this can be regarded as a form of anarchism or merely "anarchistic".
Robert Anton Wilson and Alan Moore - both of whom were secular agnostics - promoted a playful, pick-and-mix approach to spirituality and mysticism, incorporating elements of Western Esoteric traditions (Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Tarot, Chaos Magick) with Eastern mystical traditions (within Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism) and other arcane practices (from paganism, shamanism, and Wicca) into an aestheticised form of personal psychology for personal self-realisation. John P. Clark has attempted something similar under the pseudonym "Max Cafard", supposedly a snarky Cajun wizard with an interest in bioregionalism and French Situationism.
Anarchist philosopher Simon Critchley has spoken of the necessity for anarchists to recapture a religious sensibility while remaining without religious faith, as that dimension of human experience usually occupied by faith is a vital part of the personality and of community, even if the supernatural beliefs that go along with it are not.
Direct Action and Electoralism
In wanting to transition from the current hierarchical society to one based on voluntary cooperation without rulership, the question of how to get from "here to there" is one that has been of crucial concern to anarchists of different stripes from day one. However, it's also an issue which has divided them, though they would all at least agree that the strategy of taking state power and strengthening it to bring about libertarian socialism is out of the question. As a consequence, they tend to oppose taking part in electoral politics both on principle and out of the belief that it's ineffective compared to direct action (grassroots activity unmediated by formal political institutions).
However, some anarchists like Noam Chomsky recommend what's called "defensive voting" (using your vote as a form of self-defence against the state) in situations where a certain candidate or party winning an election could be catastrophic, like a fascist coming to power or a war being launched.
A few others support what's called "destructivist" voting (named by an obscure 1870s anarchist called Paul Brousse). This means taking part in municipal elections (though never national elections) so as to devolve the powers of local governments to directly-democratic neighbourhood assemblies, and to municipalise enterprises before turning them over to worker self-management. It was recommended by several anarchists in the First Internarional for a time (even, briefly, Bakunin and Kropotkin), and was later pushed by Murray Bookchin as part of his broader strategy of "libertarian municipalism". Though this is a minority position, with most anarchists being against taking part in any form of electoral politics, believing it to be useless at best and counterproductive to movement-building at worst.
In general, direct action and grassroots self-organisation are the primary methods anarchists recommend for accomplishing their goals. That means resisting all the different forms of hierarchical power through popular social struggle, as well as trying to create contrete examples of anarchism in a positive sense, namely associations which run on the basis of free cooperation and egalitarian self-ordering by their own participants.
They don't put much faith in even a well-meaning government to do the right thing by the socially oppressed, relative to the oppressed themselves through bottom-up forms of collective self-help. Though that's not to say they oppose making demands on the government from the outside, through protest and civil disobedience, and this usually entails (1) demanding the state reduce its own authority over people, and (2) redirect it's resources (as long as it has them at all) towards helping the general population rather than the ruling elite.
Anarchist Approaches to Revolution
In contrast to other self-described revolutionaries, anarchists have always stressed that they want more than just a political revolution (a change in governments), but a more all-encompassing social revolution that is, a transformation in political, economic, and societal structures, changing people's social consciousness as well as institutions. They also stress that revolution (transformation) is a process, not an event, and that the word doesn't just refer to erecting barricades and storming government buildings. The Industrial Revolution being just as transformative as the French Revolution.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first person to self-identify as an anarchist, foresaw social revolution involving the gradual exodus of the people from the capitalist state system through the construction of alternative institutions: cooperatives, credit unions, interest-free banks, and confederations of free communes. He imagined that the new libertarian socialist order would chip away at the old order, which would shrink as more people became part of the non-capitalist counter-economy. This strategy of exodus and dual power is still a popular strain in anarchist thought, later being elaborated by thinkers such as Gustav Landauer, Paul Goodman, and Murray Bookchin.
When movement anarchism became a thing however in the 1860s and 1870s the set of strategies shifted from the gradual withdrawal from capitalist-statism to a destructive break with it, advocating (like republican and nationalist movements of the time) a popular uprising which would smash the existing system and usher in the new one.
At first, inspired by the Paris Commune of 1871, this involved recommending acts of collective insurrection, leading many anarchists to try taking over small municipalities in Italy and Spain, with the intention of turning them into free communes. The idea being that this would cause a domino effect of the people in other parishes, towns, and cities becoming inspired to mirror such actions, turning their local areas into free communes with libertarian socialist economies. This was called propaganda by the deed: belief that living examples of socialist revolution proved more effective than writing pamphlets or making speeches; that is, written and oral propaganda. And just to clarify, the word propaganda back then didn't mean brainwashing (as it mostly does today), was a term roughly synonymous with what's now called public relations (PR): getting your message out there.
After a string of failures however, and the successful assassination of Tsar Alexander the 2nd in Russia, focus shifted to acts of individual insurrection, targeting royals and businessmen in the hope that this would give the masses the confidence to rise up and overthrow the governments and the structures of private property.
This didn't work either. In fact, the violent acts of individual attentats (political assassins) only served to alienate the general population, leading to the now-popular image of anarchists as bomb-throwers in black trenchcoats. A lot of these attentats also, probably, looked to have serious mental health problems given the description of their personalities and behaviour. Others came from extremely deprived and brutal backgrounds, turning to such actions out of desperation and misplaced thirst for vengeance. Anarchists, who had bad press to begin with, started really getting a bad rep when targets expanded to include random members of the wealthy or royalty who hadn't even done anything.
Attention then turned to the growing labour movement as a possible channel through which revolution could be catalysed. The spread of capitalism around the world meant that more and more people were being turned into wage-workers (as opposed to self-reliant farmers), and thus hostile to the poor conditions they were placed in while doing unhealthy industrial work. While critical of the tendency of many unions to pursue parliamentary politics, anarchists saw potential in strikes and labour struggles to:
- (A) Get people organising along anarchistic lines, practicing worker self-management and socialist distribution of resources; putting in place the underlying structure of the future society, making the transition easier.
- (B) Turn the modest demands of mainstream unions (higher wages, shorter hours, better conditions) into opportunities to confront capital and the state directly, eventually turning strikes into riots and riots into a full-blown popular uprising.
This strategy was already discussed by Mikhail Bakunin and others in the First International in the 1860s and 1870s. But it became really relevant in the 1880s through to the 1910s, as the labour movements of the world became more and more successful and relevant. This lead to the birth of anarcho-syndicalism as a distinct strategic approach which centred the workplace, the industrial working class, and trade unions (syndicates in French) as the primary vehicles of revolution. Though a lot of anarchists, such as Errico Malatesta and Emma Goldman, discouraged people from emphasising syndicalism too much, arguing that focusing on economic issues alone could cause anarchists to neglect political, societal, and individual-level issues.
For example, at the 1907 Amsterdam Congress of anarchists, some expressed the idea that the strategy of revolutionary syndicalism (trade unionism) was "enough in itself" to realise anarchist goals, and that anarchists should dissolve themselves into the wider labour movement. Errico Malatesta came out staunchly against this view, claiming that while workers' struggles were important, they were (by themselves) conservative unless they were pushed in a more social libertarian direction, and that specifically anarchist political organisations would be necessary, not just anarchists working within trade unions. This came from his view, contrary to Marxism, that mass struggle has as much to do with will (fighting for a chosen ideal) as with material interest (reacting to the mechanical processes of the economy).
Such anarchists also cautioned against the idea that revolution would involve dispatching the old order in one fell swoop, claiming that the whole process would take years. Emma Goldman went as far as claiming it would take literally hundreds of years before the world was fully anarchist in a meaningful sense, stressing the stickiness authority had in relation to human beings.
In other parts of the world (outside the industrialised regions), anarchists were involved less with industrial syndicalism and more with other popular movements closer to their particular circumstances. These included peasant uprisings (eg: Ukraine), and national liberation struggles (eg: Korea and Manchuria). Today, anarchists who focus excessively on the industrial working class and trade unions are referred to by the derisive term "workerism"; which means fetishising workers and the workplace as a site of struggle.
The most sucessful example of an attempted anarchist social revolution, Spain in the years 1936-37, involved both trade unions and a popular uprising by anarchists, as well as attempts to transform culture and kinship relations at the societal level, with libertarian education and anarcha-feminist organising being crucial.
Evolution and Revolution
Elisee Reclus claimed that evolution and revolution were two variants of the same process, with evolution being the incremental changes which occur on a continuous basis, and revolutions being moments of sudden rupture, preceded by a long period of evolution beforehand.
Even those anarchists who saw social revolution as involving a popular uprising (like the French Revolution) didn't think libertarian socialism would just spontaneously establish itself. They held that while the abolition of the state and subsequent devolution of power to localities would open up the necessary space/opportunities for creating anarchism, the actual process itself would take several years of hard work. This would entail the constructive efforts of spreading anarchist ideas and practices among the general population, reorganising the polity and economy along decentralised and horizontalist lines, as well as the defensive work of making sure the state, capitalism, or hierarchy in general don't reemerge from the remnants of the old order. In other words, anarchists should focus on "evolution" both before and after "revolution"
Peter Kropotkin claimed that social revolution should be conceived in three stages, not a simple two stage before and after framework:
- 1. Preparation
- 2. Fermentation
- 3. Transformation
Nowadays, while the tactics of syndicalism and insurrectionism are still considered important, the anarchist strategic toolkit has expanded to include: societal revolts against repressive cultural and kinship relations; ecological struggles for defence of the environment and for animal liberation; communalist initiatives to build networks of popular assemblies in neighbourhoods; and technological campaigns involving projects against state/corporate surveillance and intellectual property, and for the internet being made into a digital commons, also involving the constructive use of decentralist eco-technologies as positive elements in an anarchist economy of the commons.
A minority of anarchists don't actually believe that transition to a full anarchist social order is possible, or at least not on a large scale. Instead, they view anarchism more as a set of practices for the here-and-now, as a way to realise autonomous spaces of freedom and autonomy in a sea of authoritarianism, as well as a politics of permanent protest against every form of hierarchy and domination. They view anarchism as primarily evolutionary rather than revolutionary. People like Colin Ward and James C. Scott fall into this camp.
This came close to becoming the default version of anarchism in the mid 20th century after the (anarchist) Spanish Revolution and World War II, but before the revival of anarchism in the New Left of the 1960s as establishing a completely stateless non-hierarchical world seemed ever more impossible. This position was called resistencialism by its detractors, meaning concerned only with resisting authoritarianism instead of dissolving it.
Sites of Struggle: The Commune (Municipality) and the Workplace
A "site of struggle" in socialist discourse refers to a place physical or institutional where people contest the powers-that-be and try to transform that place into something more liberatory.
For anarchists, there are many different sites of struggle, owing to the many different sites of hierarchical power. Though two in particular stand out as primary to anarchist attempts at social transformation:
- The Commune: (aka Municipality) The local territory where people live, corresponding to small towns, city districts, or rural parishes.
- The Workplace: The enterprise where people work, producing things for consumption and providing services, whether public utilities or recreational.
The goal is to transform statist municipalities into liberated free communes, self-governed by their own residents through autonomous directly-democratic processes; and to turn capitalist corporations into liberated cooperative enterprises, self-managed by their own workers through workplace democracy. Plus transform broader societal relations in culture (race, nationality, religion) and kinship (gender, sexuality, disability) by means of creating an anarchistic counter-culture which prefigures the liberatory and inclusive values of the future society.
While early on, during the the mid-to-late 1800s, there was an even balance in focus between the commune and the workplace, over time the workplace started to hold a more and more important place in anarchist attention, especially with anarchist involvement in the workers' movement and the rise of revolutionary syndicalism (trade unionism), and later by anarcho-syndicalism in the 1920s. Though the commune retained its importance for anarchists organising in more agrarian parts of the world, where the people were united more by their community in the countryside than by their trade in the city.
There was a little bit of tension early in the 1870s and 1880s over whether a post-capitalist economy should be organised primarily through self-governing communes or self-managed syndicates, but these tensions between pro-commune and pro-syndicate factions became a lot more pronounced in the early 20th century, especially after the brith of anarcho-syndicalism a fusion of social anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism in the 1920s.
Confusingly, the commune-oriented group the "communalists" tended to call themselves "anarcho-communists", even though many of them also supported revolutionary syndicalism as a tactic.
While the worker-oriented group the "workerists" tended to call themselves "anarcho-syndicalists", even though they tended to support a free communist economy.
This dual meaning of "communist" within anarchism organisation through communes and a moneyless commons economy has befuddled both anarchists and non-anarchists, hence the reason that the use of communism to mean commune-ism is often retroactively referred to as communalism.
Those who focused more on the commune tended to see revolution coming about from a popular uprising which would seize the means of governance from the state, then reorganise things on free communalist lines. They also tended to support a post-capitalist economy which was community-directed by the self-governing communes.
Those who focused more on the workplace tended to see revolution coming about from a general strike, where militant trade unions keep amping up the struggle against capitalists until finally an economy-wide lockdown was declared, forcing the ruling classes to abdicate control over the means of production to the workers. They also tended to support a post-capitalist economy that was worker-directed by self-managed enterprises and federations of industrial syndicates.
In the early twentieth century, there was often a conflict of ideas and practices between these two tendencies.
- Anarcho-Syndicalists (workerists) generally wanted a free communist economy no state, no markets, no money but wanted to achieve it via industrial proletarian class struggles through trade unions. note They also wanted the future society to be organised with the self-managed workplace at the centre of things, with the economy being composed of federations of worker-run enterprises.
- Anarcho-Communists (communalists) generally supported taking part in syndicalist struggles, but saw them as only one tactic among many, not as the primary locus of social struggle. note They also wanted the future society to be organised with the self-governing commune as the centre of things, with the economy being composed of confederations of directly-democratic communities.
In Japan in particular, the two tendencies fought bitterly with each other from the 1920s onwards. The pro-commune anarchists came to see their tradition as representing "pure anarchism", while regarding pro-syndicate anarchism as a deviation from the philosophy's anti-hierarchical ethos, believing that making the industrial workplace the centre of a stateless society would replicate capitalism's structure instead of dismantling it. Indeed, Japanese thinkers like Shuzo Hatta made some of the only original contributions to the pro-commune school of social anarchism after Kropotkin, while the rest of the anarchist movement moved closer to a pro-syndicate position, barely mentioning the free commune at all.
As the twentieth century progressed, social anarchism grew more and more towards "workerism" rather than "communalism", possibly due to the world becoming more industrialised, and thus industrial workplaces becoming more important as sites to spread anarchist ideas and fight against capitalists.
However, in the second half of the century, some anarchists, such as Murray Bookchin, argued for focusing more on the commune, claiming that in the era of the welfare state, the working class and trade unions had been bought off by reforms and no longer had the potential to dismantle capitalism and the state; attacking anarcho-syndicalism as too class-centric and too accepting of the "work ethic" found in both capitalism and state socialism. Transformative change should therefore be waged by a convergence of oppressed social groups (women, people of colour, LGBT+ folks) and focus more on creating democratised communities rather than trying to organise workers into radical trade unions.
While there is a historical conflict between these two tendencies, later alliances between class-based and trans-class forces in events like Occupy may mean that some of the balance between the two sites of struggle could be restored. Many social anarchists today even use "anarcho-communist" and "anarcho-syndicalist" as interchangeable, through the latter is still preferred among those of a more traditional worker-centric school of class struggle.
In terms of post-capitalist economic models, there's a general agreement that it should be both community-directed and worker-directed, with popular assemblies in free communes and workers' councils in cooperative enterprises forming a symbiotic relationship with each other.
Getting Stuff Done: Anarchist Organisation
Despite popular belief, no anarchists are opposed to organisation (adjective), because this is pretty much impossible anyway, given that even two people working together is organisation in the most basic sense. However a minority have occasionally voiced criticism of formal "organisations" (noun).
Owing to social anarchism's birth out of the debates within the First International during the 1860s and 1870s, in which they were booted out and deceived by the Marxists, many anarchists felt scared by the experience, and developed a suspicion of formal organisations. As a result, they advocated only organising in small affinity groups and clusters of such groups, largely out of fear of succumbing to the bureaucracy and betrayal of the First International under Marx and his followers.
The majority of anarchists however argued that the problem was only with centralised and hierarchical organisations, not formal organisations as such. Following this hypothesis, they tried to build political organisations and trade unions which were as decentralised, participatory, and anti-bureaucratic as they could, structuring them on the basis of federalism which in anarchist parlance means the association of autonomous (organisational) units on a lateral basis, so that each component part retains independence while also being united as a larger whole.
This split over strategy and tactics turned into two rough approaches over how to achieve anarchistic aims in the short term, and how to transition to an anarchist society in the long term:
- Mass Anarchism: Trying to turn anarchism into a mass movement of the people; educating, agitating, and organising the oppressed through building political organisations, trade unions, and cooperatives which were run on anarchist lines, as well as working within broader liberatory movements.
- Insurrectionary Anarchism: Trying to catalyse the oppressed into revolutionary action through propaganda by the deed, performing spectacular acts of violence and property damage to instil a sense of popular confidence that a large-scale uprising was possible.
Aside from the question of how to bring about a social revolution to transform things into anarchism, there remained divisions within anarchism over what kind of post-capitalist economy there should be eg: free collectivism or free communism. This sometimes led to arguments within organisations as to whether they were really fighting for the same thing. Support for anarchist communism (a moneyless economy with distribution "according to needs") ended up becoming the majority tendency in most countries, though anarchist collectivism (an economy which retained incomes and prices with distribution "according to deeds") became the majority in Spain, anarchism's main centre of activity. Support for free collectivism was also a minority position among anarchists in countries where free communism was the default position of anarchists.
A possible solution to this problem was advocacy of "anarchism without adjectives", where the question of free collectivism vs free communism was left to each individual free commune in the post-statist society, recommending that anarchists shouldn't be divided over the future when they needed to remain united to dismantle capitalism and the state. note
In the first half of the twentieth century, and especially after the destruction and betrayal of anarchists during the Russian Revolution, disputes also arose over what kinds of formal organisations anarchists should try to build, in particular over how strict the organisation should be. Out of these debates came:
- Platformism and Specifism: These two approaches developed independently of each other (platformism in East Europe, specifism in South America), but came to most of the same conclusions, such as the need for anarchist political organisations which were tightly structured, had a general agreement on ideas and practices, and had an ethos of collective responsibility among its members rather than a loose anything goes attitude to what members did. One of the main points of unity being that each organisation should only espouse one post-capitalist economic system, namely anarchist communism.
- Synthesis Anarchism: (aka Synthesism) This approach developed in opposition to platformism, which was felt by some to be too doctrinaire and against plurality in anarchist thought and action, in particular its position on only allowing one kind of post-capitalist economic model. Synthesism instead tries to synthesise different anarchist schools in one organisation, enabling every kind of anarchist to work together.
To this day, advocates of the synthesis approach argue that platformist organisations are too strict and arent able to attract enough members because of their insistence on getting everybody to agree on everything. Platformists/specifists in turn argue that synthesist organisations may have larger numbers, but aren't able to do much in practice due to their members constantly disagreeing with each other. Synthesists claim platformists lack pluralism, while platformists claim synthesists lack standards.
In setting up anarchist organisations to accomplish aims and goals, anarchists have proposed a twofold strategy. On one hand, setting up groups and federations which are specifically anarchist in their principles and which espouse a particular form of anarchism (eg: communist anarchism or collectivist anarchism), on the other, working within more mainstream groups (like trade unions and grassroots organisations) to push them in a more anarchistic direction from the inside. This is called organisational dualism. Both specificly (especifismo) anarchist groups and anarchists working within non-anarchist groups create links with each other to tackle issues on both fronts.
The strategy of organisational dualism conceives of social struggle in terms of two "levels": (1) the Political Level, which is specifically anarchist and made up of anarchist activists with a consistent set of ideas and practices; and (2) the Social Level, which is the general non-anarchist population. Anarchism will always be held by a militant minority of the the people at the political level, rather than the mass of the people at the social level, so anarchists see the need to organise both as political anarchists, and as part of broader coalitions of popular social forces. In practical terms, this entails two approaches:
- Specifism (Political Level): Having specifically social anarchist political organisations, with a general agreement on theory and strategy.
- Social Insertion (Social Level): Anarchists getting involved in more mainstream social movements, both to help them accomplish common goals, and to act as an anarchistic influence, pushing such movements away from centralism and hierarchy and towards decentralism and horizontal cooperation.
When operating within more mainstream organisations, most often collaborating with people who aren't political anarchists, it's understood that it's not a top priority to get everyone else to declare themselves an anarchist as long as they're practicing forms of direct democracy, mutual aid, and voluntary cooperation. Most anarchists acknowlege that if society is transformed along libertarian socialist lines, it probably won't be under the name anarchism, but that this doesn't really matter as long as anarchism itself is what's being practiced.
Anarchists agree with most other radical socialists that class struggle (of the popular classes against the ruling elites) is a necessary part of social transformation, though they tend to disagree with many, especially Marxists, who see economic class as the only/primary form of oppression, with others - like race, gender, sexuality, nationality, ecology - being secondary or at worst a distraction.
Rather, they see it as necessary to integrate class struggle with trans-class forms of struggle, unifying them in a way that makes purely class-based issues (like workplace organising) complement non-economic concerns (like fights against gender or ethnic oppression, or defence of the environment) as part of an intersectional social struggle against all forms of hierarchy and domination, whatever the specific tactics used for achieving an anarchist society.
Furthermore, social struggle in the traditional sense is just one form of social transformation which anarchists have used to realise their aims. Others include militant attempts to destroy authoritarianism rather than struggle consistently against it, and more pacific attempts to reform societal and institutional relations through gradual changes in behaviour, culture, kinship, and the types of economic structures in the society.
To offer a brief run down of the various strategies that have been proposed to dissolve hierarchical society and bring about libertarian socialism, they are:
Destruction of the dominant powers though militant uprisings
This means armed struggle to violently overthrow the state and private capital, and then set up a confederation of worker councils and popular assemblies in their place. The tactic of "propaganda by the deed", which was popular in the second half of the 19th century, involved committing acts of violence against ruling elites in the hope this would incite the working classes to rise up and get into insurrection mode. As the now common image of the Bomb Throwing Anarchist terrorist proves, this didn't work. In fact, it only served to alienate most working people by associating anarchism with mindless terrorism.
What few proponents this tactic has today at least agree that they need to get popular support for the uprising before committing any acts of violence, and that isolated acts of terrorism don't do much besides turn people off their cause.
Though, to be fair, propaganda by the deed first referred to armed struggle in a collective sense, such as militias taking over a small town and turning it into an autonomous territory, not assassinations or bombings. When seen in this context, the idea seems more appropriate and likely to inspire further popular uprisings.
Confrontation with the dominant powers through mass organising
This is social struggle (of which class struggle is the main part) in the more familiar sense. Mass organising by anarchist groups and other transformative forces to push against existing forms of domination, with the intention of winning enough victories against capital and the state to trigger the downfall of the capitalist state system.
Varieties of the this approach are platformism and specifism and the more famous tactic of anarcho-syndicalism. While many have (somewhat inaccurately) used this term to refer to a certain type of social anarchist economic system, note it's actually a strategy of achieving libertarian socialism through the use of trade unions. Anarcho-syndicalists propose setting up anarchist syndicates (unions), as well as establishing an anarchist presence in mainstream unions, so as to get as many working people organised as possible and eventually declare a general strike (or "general lock-out of the capitalist classes") to shut down the capitalist economy until the capitalists and landlords agree to sign over control over the means of production, distribution, and investment to the federation of syndicates that would have been established, who would then reorganise the economy on the basis of decentralised worker self-management.
Anarcho-syndicalism, as a strategy, is still very popular today despite having been developed over a century ago in very different economic circumstances. It's also the one that's been most successful thus far, winning many labour victories through trade unions in the early 20th century with the Spanish Revolution of 1936 successfully establishing a libertarian socialist economy for a short time (before being suppressed by Marxists on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War).
Escaping from the dominant powers and constructing a positive alternative to them; prefiguration of the liberated world to come
This involves escaping the capitalist state system by creating counter-institutions to it - like worker cooperatives, directly-democratic popular assemblies, affinity groups, democratic schools, interest-free banks, intentional communities - and then linking them all together into a confederated network, so as to contest the power of corporations and governments over the administration of society.
This creation of positive alternatives is called dual power, or sometimes counter-power. Strategists of dual power see this process of "exodus" from hierarchical society as creating an anarchist transfer-culture which will prefigure the forms the new social-institutional structure will take "within the shell of the old".
It also entails conscious changes in personal (kinship) and cultural behaviours, prefiguring the kinds of mutualistic relations which will characterise a post-hierarchical world. This is often done through arts and aesthetics, creating a counter-culture as part of the broader transfer-culture mentioned above.
Most want this whole endeavour to be as nonviolent as possible, while still defending the use of self-defensive violence as a last resort to prevent the dual power structure from being dismantled by state or corporate power. It was originally devised by Proudhon and is the primary strategy recommended by market anarchists, though several social anarchists like Gustav Landauer, Paul Goodman, and Murray Bookchin have supported it as well.
Some even see the politics of creation (dual power) as compatible with the politics of struggle (including anarcho-syndicalism), with trade unions and other popular organisations confronting capital directly (and defending workers from its effects) while the dual-power institutions try to route around it, offering people an escape from capitalism and from the state.
Anarchistic ideas and notions have arguably existed throughout most of human history, with traditions such as Taoism, Buddhism, and Ancient Greek Cynicism containing many notions with anarchist characteristics. Many tribal societies from pre-history to the present, such as the Nile Valley Nuer or Iroquois Confederacy, also had or have methods of non-hierarchical organisation which mirror the anarchist ideal of a society without rulership or centralised political authority.
Early forms of what were later called "mystical anarchism" can be found in many radical religious movements throughout the Middle Ages. In Islam with sects like the Kharijites, the Najdiyya, and the Muzzalites. In Christianity with movements like the Brotherhood of the Free Spirit, John Ball in the English Peasant Uprising, the Taborites, and Thomas Müntzer in the German Peasants Uprising, who after snapping from torture screamed his belief "All things should be held in common!" Most of these mystical movements adhered to a set of ideas called "millenarianism", where the common people conceived of the "world turned upside down" with their rulers dispossessed and the Kingdom of Heaven was established materially on Earth.
Also worth mentioning is the late medieval essay Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1576) by Étienne de La Boétie, which has been admired by every anarchist since for how it explains the ways rulership secures its power not just by brute force and coercion, but by convincing the ruled that it is in their own interest to let others dominate them.
The words "anarchy" and "anarchism" themselves arose in the mid-1600s during the English Civil War as an insult hurled at fringe radical groups. While this epithet for the most part had no basis in fact, two groups which were active at the time - the Diggers and the Ranters - had ideas and practices which were quite close to anarchism. (The Diggers have their own folk song which expressed many of their proto-anarchist sentiments.)
Some view the English radical William Godwin as the first modern philosophical anarchist, from his work Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) in which he espoused proto-anarchist views about the state and the then-emerging economic system of capitalism in England. note A few decades later in Germany, an obscure girls school teacher wrote a book called The Ego and its Own under the pseudonym Max Stirner. While largely ignored at the time, it was later rediscovered in the 1890s (along with William Godwin's book) and praised by anarchists for its anti-authoritarian individualist philosophy.
Other movements of the same period with philosophical anarchist ideas were the French revolutionary faction the Enragés (enraged ones), who felt the revolution wasn't going far enough, pushing for direct democracy and economic equality; and the American transcendentalists of the early to mid 19th century: Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson being the most famous. note
Finally, Robert Owen and the cooperatives movement in the early 1800s laid the ground for a lot of the theoretical and practical directions socialism and anarchism would take as the century wore on. Irish cooperativist William Thompson penned an in-depth critique of capitalism long before Marx did, and they also attempted to form communalit settlements which brought their ideas into practice, similar to what would later be called the dual power strategy. British Owenites notably proposed an prototypical form of what would later be called syndicalism.
However, while philosophical anarchism can be be identified in many places and in almost every time period, political anarchism did not emerge as a self-aware school of thought until the 19th century in Europe. According to German anarchist Rudolf Rocker, anarchism could be seen as the confluence of two earlier social and political philosophies: liberalism and socialism, or more accurately, classical liberalism and democratic socialism. Thus, the alternative term for anarchism, libertarian socialism.
Intellectually, it can be thought of as an outgrowth of the Enlightenment ideals of humanism, reason, progress, and individuality developed in an anti-authoritarian and socialist direction.
French writer and politician Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first thinker to call himself an anarchist with the book What is Property? (1840), from which came the famous slogan: "property is theft". It's important to note that Proudhon did not mean all forms of what we could call "property" by this, only those not defined by personal possession. In other words, he supported personal property (defined by use and occupancy) but opposed "private" property (when defined by absentee ownership), which he felt was based on theft of others' personal property.
While Proudhon and a few other thinkers called themselves anarchists in the 1840s and 1850s, anarchism didn't really get organised as a cohesive movement until the mid 1860s within the famous socialist group the IWMA (International Working Men's Association), also called the "First International", as there's been at least three others that came after it. Although the First International is most well-known today because Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were members, for a time it actually contained more anarchists than Marxists - until, that is, they were expelled in the early 1870s by Marx himself.
Relationship to Marxism
Having developed out of the same European socialist movement that Karl Marx was a part of, anarchism's relationship to Marxism has always been ambivalent. While many anarchists accepted Marx's critique of capitalism and (with nuance) the Marxian school of economics, they strenuously rejected Marx's politics, in particular the tactic of taking state power as a way to bring about socialism. For anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin (Marx's rival in the First International), the state was inherently an institution of class rule, and could never be used to bring about a classless society, as it would just corrupt whatever group laid their hands on it. (Bakunin's view is generally regarded as having been Vindicated by History in light of what happened in the Soviet Union and other nominally Communist countries).
They also tended to reject the Marxist conception of history - historical materialism - which claims that economic and technological factors are the fundamental driving force of human development. Anarchists saw this perspective as reductionist and ignoring important social factors that weren't directly related to economics - their own conception of history might best be termed historical naturalism. note
Also, while Marxists see the proletariat (the urban industrial working class) as the fundamental agents of revolution, anarchists also saw revolutionary potential in the rural peasantry and social outcasts (the lumpen-proletariat), which Marxists tend to dismiss as "backwards". They also feel that it's important to appeal to those subject to hierarchy and domination as "the people" and not just as an economic class. So you could say that Marxists interpret class struggle to mean "worker struggle", while social anarchists interpret it as "popular struggle".
New Left Philosophy
During the New Left era, Michael Albert, Robin Hahnel, Noam Chomsky and others attempted to develop an anarchistic alternative to the methodology of economistic Marxism called complementary holism. Instead of the Marxian model of an economic base determining an ideological superstructure, complementary holism conceived of human society being made up of four accommodating and co-reproducing "social spheres":
- the political sphere note
- the economic sphere note
- the kinship sphere note
- the cultural sphere note
With each of the four spheres existing in an ecological context, incorporating Murray Bookchin's theory of Social Ecology - which also developed out of the sixties counter-cultural environment.
They came up with this model in large part due to what they felt was Marxism's inadequacy when it came to addressing issues of race and gender in a United States context. At the time, many in the black power/Chicano movements could at times act as if racial oppression (cultural sphere) was the most important hierarchy to get rid of, or how the nascent feminist movement emphasised gender inequality (kinship sphere) as the most pressing problem. Marxists tended to be dismissive of race and gender struggles as distractions from the workers' class struggle (economic sphere), while a few anarchists could at times act as if taking down the state should be the main focus of oppositional campaigns (political sphere). All of these movements, it was claimed, needed to stop thinking of domination in monist terms and examine how their oppressions relate to each other in holist terms.
In other words, they were countering what's called the "linchpin" view of oppression: the idea that there's one main form of oppression (e.g. class or patriarchy) which, if gotten rid of, will cause all other oppressions to crumble, like a lynchpin causing something to unravel if pulled loose.
The four spheres are used for social analysis and examining how different social factors affect one another. For example, how patriarchal gender relations (kinship sphere) are reproduced in the workplace (economic sphere), or how racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination (cultural sphere) is heightened further and reproduced through oppressive state laws (political sphere).
But at the same time these hierarchies can also be transformed within each sphere, leading to co-transformation in the other spheres. Like how removing anti-queer discrimination in the kinship sphere can force the political, economic, and cultural spheres to catch up; or how devolving political power to communities of colour transforms both spheres at the same time.
The complementary holist model also stresses the importance of a the "third class" in-between the ruling classes and the working classes called the managerial class (or coordinator class) whose ideal is neither capitalism nor worker self-management but a kind of left-wing bureaucracy. It is this class, they claim, who is best served by traditional state-socialism and social democracy. A broad outline of these ideas is available here.
Also developed around the same time, by the Combahee River Collective, were the ideas of intersectionality, a framework for examining how different social oppressions interact with each other, which has a broad overlap with the complementary holist model and has since become a staple of social anarchist theory.
Relation to Other Philosophical Ideas
Over the last century, anarchism has had a complex set of relationships with other philosophies too. Repression of much anarchist political and labour organising in the late 19th and early 20th century meant that a lot of anarchist thinkers ended up channelling their ideas into more intellectual pursuits. For instance, anarchism (especially individualist anarchism) had a large influence on the development of early Modernism, Dadaist art, and surrealism in the early years of the 20th century. From the end of World War II to the rise of the 1960s counter-culture, anarchists helped influence various American and European bohemian movements, such as the Beats and hippies, informing their philosophy of trying to live outside the boundaries of "the system".
In the later years of the same century it also blended with certain forms of postmodernism and poststructuralism to create a hybrid many started calling "post-anarchism".
However, many anarchists, such as the ecological theorist Murray Bookchin, lambasted these developments as moving away from anarchism's roots in rationalism and support for the liberatory power of scientific realism. At around the same time, Bookchin himself developed his own philosophical approach called dialectical naturalism, which blends the dialectical thought of GWF Hegel, Karl Marx, and Mikhail Bakunin with his own theory of Social Ecology.
There's also something of an affinity between anarchism and American pragmatism, with both supporting a "whatever works" attitude to solving problems, with the US writer Paul Goodman inspiring many a student radical with his common sense, pragmatic approach to anarchism.
Lately, there's been a drift in anarchist thinking towards the philosophy of Critical Realism (originally devised by Roy Bhaskar) which is a sort of middle-way between scientistic positivism and postmodernism. The famous anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, fellow anthropologist Brian Morris, and literary critic Jesse Cohn have used Critical Realism to elucidate their theoretical work, finding that it chimes well with the overall social anarchist approach to philosophising. Roy Bhaskar's Critical Realism has a lot in common with Bookchin's philosophy, though the two were unfamiliar with each other's work during their lifetimes.
Views on economics among anarchists could be divided into four different but overlapping schools of thought, each of which developed at different times in response to different economic and social circumstances.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who started writing in 1840, argued that property, except when based in personal possession (i.e. occupancy and use), was theft. His reasoning was laid out exhaustively in What is Property?, with most if not all anarchists accepting it. Opposition to "private property" (anything besides actual possession) in addition to the state is near-universal to anarchism, though some have used the term in a positive way to support property that is the product of one's own labour. Along with this, most opposed sexism, racism, homophobia, classism and social hierarchy generally. Proudhon did not in fact oppose the concept of a free market, supporting workers' associations (cooperatives) and mutual banks (similar to modern credit unions) to compete away industrial capitalism. His school of thought is termed mutualism. While it fell out favour for a long time, it has recently been revived by the economic theorist Kevin Carson, who has integrated it with elements borrowed from the thought of other left-wing, pro-market writers.
Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian noble turned radical writer who was imprisoned for his politics, escaping into exile, followed Proudhon and broke with him on many issues, supporting collective work without markets and workers' self-management. Bakunin also linked opposition to religion, especially organized, hierarchical forms, to his view of anarchism, seeing God as the ultimate authority. He turned a saying of Voltaire's on its head: "If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him." He was a strong rival of Marx in the First International, and the two fought a long war of words over control of the organization until Bakunin's followers were expelled from it by Marx's. Bakunin's school of thought is called anarcho-collectivism, and could be considered a sort of middle way between mutualism (markets but with cooperatives instead of corporations) and communism (in which markets and even money would be abolished). note The best outline of how a collectivist anarchist economy would work in practice is the pamphlet Ideas on Social Organisation by Bakunin's friend James Guillaume. Participatory Economics (Parecon) and Inclusive Democracy (ID) could be considered contemporary forms of collectivist anarchism.
Peter Kropotkin, a Russian prince who, like Bakunin, gave it all up for radicalism, advocated full libertarian communism on the principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs", favouring abolition of money in favour of free access to communally-owned goods, although with voluntary, direct democratic participation: communist anarchism, or later anarcho-communism. note Many on first impression may find the term communist anarchism odd, given the modern day associations of the word Communism with the statist, centrally planned economies of the former Soviet States. However, in the 19th century, the word communist simply referred to any economic system that lacked both a state and money, where goods were distributed according to need. It is this original sense of the word that anarchists refer to when talking about communism. Kropotkin provided a general outline of anarchist communism here.
Meanwhile, in the United States, a very different brand of anarchism emerged. American writers such as Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, William Green and others set out an ideal very close to Proudhon's, with even more emphasis upon an "anti-capitalist free market", in which self-employed craftsmen, artisans or farmers were paid their "full wage" and land title was possession-based only. In short, individualist anarchism argued for a society where every individual was a "capitalist" (in the Marxist sense, i.e. an owner of capital). Essentially, they held to the Labour Theory of Value along with support of free markets - "cost is the limit of price" was among their key slogans. Their ideal was a stateless economy made up mostly of self-employed artisans and shopkeepers. This school of thought began slowly dying out in the late 19th century as social anarchism (collectivist or communist) took over, with immigrants from Europe such as bringing it to the forefront of US anarchism.
SOCIAL ANARCHISM & MARKET ANARCHISM:
As they stand today, the four main economic schools mentioned above could be grouped into two categories:
Market anarchism (containing mutualist anarchism and individualist anarchism), which seeks a non-capitalist free market made up of self-employed professionals and worker-run cooperatives, and ...
Social anarchism (collectivist anarchism and communist anarchism), which seeks to replace the market with a free commons involving decentralised, directly-democratic planning of the economy, either by community assemblies or worker councils; or some combination of the two. note
While differences in terms of desired outcomes do exist between these two tendencies, most anarchists don't have a problem with each self-governing free community in an anarchist confederation deciding for itself what particular economic system they want to have. Ericco Malatesta, although himself a social anarchist, conceived of various different municipalities practising collectivism, communism, mutualism, and individualism all existing side-by-side. Likewise, Benjamin Tucker, although viciously opposed to anarcho-communism, conceded that local communism was okay by him as long as it was voluntary. So a free commons and free market are not necessarily at odds with each other as their proponents both accept "voluntary, non-hierarchical cooperation" as a basic principle of organising things.
The following are not so much independent schools of thought like the four economic traditions listed above, but more tendencies with regard to specific issues that find expression across each of them. The tendencies listed after syndicalism aren't considered part of the anarchist mainstream, as they lack a philosophical connection to the historical anarchist movement, and many don't regard them as anarchist at all (especially the last three).
At around the same time Proudhon was penning his socialist attacks on property and the state, another writer, Max Stirner, wrote a similar attack on these and other authoritarian institutions from a more individualist perspective in The Ego and Its Own (1845).
Stirner did not label himself an anarchist, but his rejection of the state, capitalism, and, well, basically all institutions means he has been counted with them. He believed that rights, property, the state, conventional morality and God were all "spooks" holding back the individual from themselves, since all these are placed above them. It's worth noting that Stirner, while believing the individual's right to act was unlimited, advised that it would be best if they respected each other as individuals, to let each flourish, even saying people could not have their full self-expression absent communion with others, so they could join together voluntarily in a way he called the "Union of Egoists", which was similar in principle to what most anarchists now call voluntary association, but less formalised. Here is a classic text by the Situationist International, advancing a socialist form of egoism. Stirner denounced authoritarian communism of his time, but a kind which respected individuals and lent them full expression of themselves is viewed to be compatible with his ideas. Even the anarcho-communist Emma Goldman was a big fan, and saw Stirner's ideas as fully compatible with her own.
In the late 19th century Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (who, like Bakunin and Kropotkin, was a Russian noble who renounced his title) embraced a form of Christian, pacifist anarchism - though like Stirner and Godwin before him, he didn't use the label anarchist himself. Unique among anarchist trends for its total rejection of violence, even in self-defense or defense of others, Tolstoy advocated essentially the same ideas as Bakunin or Kropotkin, his countrymen and more famous anarchists, but with complete pacifism. His work deeply influenced Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi (who knew Indian anarchists in London early in his activism, while disagreeing with them over the issue of using violence) in addition to Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau. Critics argued his ideas were fit only for saints (though many think Gandhi was such). Another prominent anarcho-pacifist was the American public intellectual Paul Goodman, who became a kind of go-to guy for student radicals in the 1960s opposed to the Vietnam war. While initially supportive of radical youth movements, he later became critical of them for abandoning nonviolence and decentralist organising for militant action and Marxist-Leninism.
The turn of the 20th century saw another trend, which advocated for revolutionary unions to overthrow capitalism and the state using militant industrial organizing, sabotage, general strikes and overall working-class solidarity. This is called anarcho-syndicalism, from the French word for labour union - "chambre syndical." It was less a separate school of thought than tactical view, since followers were invariably social anarchists in the collectivist or communist mould. The Spanish Revolution, often pointed to as their greatest (albeit doomed) triumph by social anarchists, utilized this in the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo- National Confederation of Labour), which organized a worker's revolt in 1936 following the military coup led by Francisco Franco against the elected Spanish Popular Front government. The CNT and FAI (Federación Anarquisto Ibérica - Iberian Anarchist Federation) ran much of northeast Spain, centred in Catalonia, along anarchist lines with no small success for the next three years until the revolution was crushed by a combination of Stalinists and Francoist forces.
It is important to note, however, that while syndicalism is typically associated with anarchism, this does not mean that all syndicalists are anarchists; some of them are actually very authoritarian. Mussolini in fact called his economic model National Syndicalism, as did Franco, though this meant something completely different, as fascist "syndicates" were government-created trade associations which ran industry. It's like a Venn diagram, in that there are non-anarchist syndicalists and non-syndicalist anarchists who favour other tactics for achieving libertarian socialism.
Propaganda of the deed
Like anarcho-syndicalism, this isn't a school of thought, but rather the tactic prominent in the last decades of the 19th century of killing powerful figures in society, both to avenge their perceived abuses but also to inspire revolt through such "attentats" (acts that would draw attention). Needless to say, this backfired spectacularly, allowing the anarchist movement to be painted as mindless terrorists. A few made this even worse by targeting random people. Heads of state assassinated included the President of France, the Empress of Austria, the King of Italy, and the President of the United States in 1901, around the time propaganda of the deed ended. Almost no anarchists today actually advocate this, so it could be considered something of a Discredited Trope in philosophy, though a lot of self-described "insurrectionary anarchists" of the present day (the kind who tend to break shop windows at protests) would seemingly like to see this tactic restored and are highly critical of nonviolence as an ideology, claiming it "protects the state".
"Post-left" and "lifestyle" anarchism has become widespread in modern times, something Murray Bookchin and others disapproved of. Lifestylism could be summed up as viewing anarchism more as a means of personal rebellion in the here-and-now than transforming all of society in the long-term. These are marked by a tendency to reject classical social anarchism's left-wing, working-class organizing and goals or at least complement them with ecological or animal rights issues. Veganism and dumpster diving (combined as "freeganism"-eating only food that is reclaimed after being discarded) have become common for such lifestyle anarchism, in addition to using the system (especially where it has an ecological impact) to the lowest degree possible. The group Crimethinc are the most prominent exponents of this brand of post-left/lifestyle anarchism. note
Primitivists emerged from the nascent green anarchist milieu in the Pacific Northwest in the late 20th century and are heavily inspired by both Deep Ecology and anti-civilisation ideology. They view all forms of complex technology as corruptive and wish to abandon it in favour of a hunter-gatherer way of life, significantly reducing the human population as a necessary stage in this goal. Some even reject language (at least in a written fashion), counting, and acknowledging the passage of time as oppressive - which they consider remnants of "symbolic culture". Primitivists cite that tribal groups don't have domestication (i.e. farming) tend to be more egalitarian than those with domestication. Some argue that while technology itself isn't inherently oppressive, the structures that it requires to exist are. An example can be seen in weapons. In an primitivist society, theoretically, everyone would have access to stone or wood based weapons, or at the very least, could use their own body as a weapon, putting them on a mostly even playing field. When advanced technology comes into play, those with access to the means to create more powerful weapons will have an advantage against those who do not. (i.e., a person with a wooden spear would either be killed by, or have to submit to a person armed with a firearm.) Whereas if everyone had access to the same type of weapons, this playing field would force people to at least attempt to work together in a more voluntary fashion.
They are heavily criticised by social anarchists as a source of great embarrassment for their association with the a-word. Like voluntaryists, most social anarchists don't consider primitivism to be a form of anarchism and regard it as a separate ideology. Lately, many primitivists have agreed, and have begum to regard their ideas as distinct from anarchism.
Ugh. Let's just say the less said about this crowd the better.
Anarchists have long seen great potential in the arts for expanding people's consciousness in a liberatory direction, stressing the importance of "social art" - that explores social, political, and intellectual concerns - over the idea of "art-for-art's-sake" favoured by the Romantic school of thought. The literature professor Jesse Cohn has argued that anarchists hold to a critical aesthetics that views the value of art/entertainment in terms of its anti-hierarchical ethics; appreciating a work in terms of how it supports vs. challenges the established order based on hierarchy and domination.
He also proposes what he calls an "social anarchist hermeneutic" (method of interpretation) for the purposes of textual analysis (oh, and by the way, in literary theory, a "text" refers to anything that can be analysed, not just the written word).
The anarchist hermeneutic proposes that meaning lies neither entirely in the text being analysed, nor entirely in the mind of the person doing the analysing. Rather, meaning is what emerges from the interplay between the two, so finding out meaning - especially in art - is as much a process of creation as of discovery.
When trying to figure out the meaning of a movie for instance, it's not enough to take into account just what the writer/director intended or just what significance the movie has to you based on your personal/cultural history. You need to see the meaning as a process of "negotiation" (or dialectic) between the text itself and you, the audience. This is why meanings can alter over time (as the semiotic/cultural signifiers of audiences change) but the texts remain largely the same. So meaning always exists in that tension between the text itself and the person(s) enjoying it/reflecting upon it.
In his book Underground Passages (2015), Cohn traces the history of anarchist "resistance culture" around the world and the kinds of arts/literature/entertainment admired by and produced by anarchists. Classical anarchists greatly admired what nowadays would be termed "high art", especially works that blended high concepts and important issues with popular folk traditions, and tended to dismiss most examples of romanticism and mass culture as sentimental, decadent, and escapist. In other words, they liked art/entertainment that was "accessible but thought-provoking", which made the audience think critically about what was wrong with hierarchical society and work out liberatory alternatives to the status-quo.
They hoped that liberatory art could help create an anarchistic transfer-culture which would help transform society as it existed in the present - by teasing out what was already liberatory/progressive in the existing culture - and transition people from the authoritarian world to the libertarian socialist one.
In terms of art appreciation, Herbert Read, in his collection of essays To Hell With Culture, argued against seeing art "culture" as a distinct sphere of human society, saying that we should view it as embedded in everyday practice instead of putting it on pedestal above ordinary life, summing his attitude up as "the quality of a society should be judged by how good its pots and pans are". So the cultural goal of the anarchist could be conceived as making even the mundane into (what's now considered) high art.
Also, Rudolf Rocker in his magnum opus Nationalism and Culture argued that every artist and work of art should be looked at as "Of their time, not of their place". He claimed that there was no such thing as national art, given that artists borrow and meld influences from all parts of the world. note Instead, he saw the necessity of viewing art as a global, international phenomenon that should ideally try to draw out the spirit of the times the artist lived in, and how all the epochs that came before worked their way into it. In other words, viewing art as a commons.
The neo-Impressionists, who were a group of late 1800s painters inspired by anarchism, claimed that there ought to be three functions of anarchist art:
- Propagation of the anarchist cause
- Documentation of the real conditions of the oppressed
- Envisioning of positive alternatives to the present order of things
The first of these was intended to bring people over to social libertarian causes and ways of thinking; the second was meant to awaken people to the problems created by statism, capitalism, and social hierarchy in general, exposing them as irrational effects of a flawed system; and the third was supposed to help people see beyond the confines of authoritarian society, showing that a more rational and humane alternative was possible and necessary. As well as Impressionism and neo-Impressionism, painting styles which anarchists have been drawn to include futurism, dada, surrealism, (infrequently) abstract expressionism, and collage art.
In music, there's a long tradition among anarchists of taking popular songs (including religious hymns and national anthems) and rewriting them with radical far-left lyrics, "Imagine a revolutionary, libertarian socialist version of "Weird Al" Yankovic and you'll get the idea". Japanese anarchists for example wrote a song called "Anarchist Melody" that was set to the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree" and several anarchist rewritings of the French national anthem and popular folk-diddys exist.
The association of anarchism with punk music and punk culture is well-known, with bands like Crass, Subhumans, and Chumbawamba pushing anarchist, pacifist, anti-fascist, and pro-queer messages in their lyrics. Even punk movements who weren't explicitly anarchist frequently had anarchist influences, like Riot Grrrl and Pussy Riot. For the record, despite their famous song "Anarchy in the UK", the Sex Pistols were about as close to anarchism as Pluto is to the Sun. They merely appropriated the iconography of actual anarcho-punk bands like Crass without taking the "anarcho-" part seriously, viewing it as little more than a rebellious-sounding chant. Though another form of "punk" most don't realise has anarchist roots, in fact, is steampunk.
Visual art has been a popular means by which anarchists disseminated and explored anti-authoritarian ideas. Wall murals, graffiti, single-panel satirical cartoons, and most recently image memes are used to attack various forms of domination and to highlight the positives of autonomy, solidarity, and horizontal cooperation. Comics and sequential art more generally are also praised by anarchists. Alan Moore, perhaps the most renowned comics writer of his generation, is himself an anarchist and frequently explores anarchistic themes in his work (most notably V for Vendetta).
In novels, there's a long association with works that take a critical or satirical look at existing society and point out its hypocrisies and how its problems mostly originate in relations, institutions, and beliefs founded on centralised power, greed, and unquestioned authority. They particularly appreciate stories that focus on the plight of oppressed and marginalised groups of people - women, people of color, indigenous peoples, queer people, anthropomorphised animals, the working classes - told from their point of view. There's also a great appreciation for the science-fiction and fantasy genres and utopian fiction, especially works like those of Ursula K. Le Guin, William Morris, Ken Macleod, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Iain M. Banks, who use fantastical and imagined settings to explore alternative visions of how societies might work. The purpose being to paint hierarchical society as it exists at present as unreal and absurd compared to a more rational and liberated anarchistic ideal.
Anarchist theorists themselves also frequently wrote about art and literature on the side after discussing issues like politics and economics.
- Peter Kropotkin wrote a book about Russian literature.
- Emma Goldman wrote a book about the revolutionary potential of modern drama, which was huge in her day, much like movies are today (she was a massive fan of Henrik Ibsen).
- Gustav Landauer part-timed in his early days as a literary critic.
- Voltairine de Cleyre wrote of the importance of a "double reading" of books: the first reading for pleasure, examining the book in the spirit it was intended by the author, and the second reading to pick it apart and examine it critically for what it says about the society it came from and how it might say things that the author didn't intend.
- Rudolf Rocker devoted a long chapter of his massive theoretical work Nationalism and Culture to art history.
- David Graeber arguably invented Buffy Studies by writing the first academic essay examining Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and has since written anarchist analyses of fantasy fiction and, notably, superheroes.
- Paul Goodman and Erich Mühsam wrote that the goal of good art (specifically poetry for the former and theatre for the latter) should be to make people realise the affinities they have with one another, breaking down their alienation, and bring them together as a community - or more accurately, a counter-community with shared values opposed to those of the existing hierarchical society.
Paul Goodman also stressed the importance of theatre, which in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th century was a key means of spreading anarchist ideas to working class audiences. In his own day he was involved in the famous Living Theatre in New York City, which was a sort of haven for playwrights of an anarchist and radical pacifist sensibility.
In contemporary times, as noted by anarchist academic Jeff Shantz, there's a lot of anarchists involved in DIY forms of artistic production, especially since the advent of the Internet. Anarchists tend to view culture itself as a sort of commons which should belong to everyone - viciously opposing all intellectual property, especially copyrights - with the practice of fan labour (fanart, fanfiction, fan songs, and the like) actually being very in-keeping with the anarchist ethos, as is the practice of sampling in hip-hop.
Also, the tradition of taking existing works and repurposing them with radical messages continues. One anarchist even did a graphic novel where Tintin starts a social revolution called Tintin: Breaking Free. Comedy memes have also become a favoured method of spreading anarchist ideas, such as "Pictures of Kanye, Words of Noam"; in which Kanye West is depicted espousing the anarchistic sentiments of Noam Chomsky.
Writers, artists, and entertainers who openly declared an affinity with political anarchism are somewhat rare, although a few notable ones are: Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, George Orwell (in his early days), Charlie Chaplin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Robert Anton Wilson, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and (uh...) Woody Harrelson.
A partial list of works inspired by anarchism can be found at the bottom of the Political Ideologies page.
Like many political and philosophical discourses, anarchism has its own assortment of key terms. Some of which are more familiar terms but used in a somewhat idiosyncratic way compared to other political traditions. The most important ones are as follows.
Anarchy: From the Greek anarchos, meaning "without rulership". Anarchists frequently point out that the term actually means "without rulers, not without rules", and that what they seek is not chaos or disorder, but voluntary, decentralised, non-hierarchical order. What most people are really referring to when they use the word anarchy (rulerlessness) would more accurately be defined as anomie (orderlessness). Because of the negative association of the noun, most anarchists today only ever say anarchism and avoid using the word anarchy.
Atheism: A key intellectual foundation for anarchist thought, with anarchists viewing religious authority and unquestionable supernatural beliefs in general as the root of all other forms of hierarchy and domination. This is because they promote, in the words of Murray Bookchin, "epistemologies of rule" in which nature/reality itself is conceived as having a natural hierarchical order where the strong are on top and the weak obey or are destroyed for the benefit of the strong. While there have been a few philosophical anarchists who were religious (for example Leo Tolstoy interpreted the teachings of Christ as being compatible with anarchism, and several anarchists have argued the Tao Te Ching is a proto-anarchist text), the broad anarchist tradition has been almost entirely anti-theistic and supportive of science, rationalism, and critical thinking as enemies of authoritarianism.
Authority: Contrary to popular belief, anarchists are not against all forms of authority. Mikhail Bakunin once said "Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from such a thought. When I need shoes, I defer to the authority of the boot maker. When a bridge needs to be built, I defer to the authority of the architect. But I allow neither the boot maker nor the architect to impose his authority upon me." In other words, anarchists, while always at least sceptical of authority as a concept, are okay with certain forms of it as long as they are (1) voluntary; (2) temporary; and (3) minimal. So temporary and minimal forms of authority like the relationships between parent/child, teacher/student, doctor/patient (all of which ideally exist for the benefit of the one subject to authority and not the wielder) are okay by anarchists as long as they're organised in as equitable a way as possible. They are, however, opposed to all forms of authoritarianism, forms of authority that are involuntary, permanent, or maximal.
Autonomy: While most often used to mean independence or self-reliance, the etymological root nomos (from which the "nomy" part comes) means "order" or "law". So what autonomy more fully means is more along the lines of "self-ordering" or "self-determination"; with its opposite being heteronomy (other/external-ordering). This can be collective as well as individual and this more specific meaning - self-ordering free of external determinations - is the way anarchists use the word. note
Autonomism: A form of anti-authoritarian Marxism with a lot of similarity to social anarchism. Adherents of each philosophy frequently cooperate with each other. Like social anarchists, autonomists want a stateless participatory democracy and libertarian socialist economy, and are also against using the state as a way to bring this about. Unlike social anarchists, they root themselves at the theoretical level in Marx and Engels's writings instead of Bakunin and Kropotkin's. They're also still very much committed to the theory of historical materialism (which many anarchists find reduces social issues to economic ones), though unlike most Marxists who use the methodology, they don't see forms of social struggle relating to race, gender, sexuality, or ecology as less important than class-based struggle. This is because they see capitalism as having fundamentally changed since the decline of industrialism and the coming of the internet, with "immaterial labour" (the provision of services and creation of non-material products) having replaced material/manual labour as the most important form of work to the running of capitalism. Thus, they see the primary "site of struggle" against capitalism as no longer being the factory/workplace (like when industrial capitalism reigned), but the city/metropolis - anarchist Murray Bookchin felt the same way, though he thought the city, not the workplace, should always have been seen as the primary site of struggle. note
Balanced Job Complexes: Where people in a workplace do a variety of tasks, sharing and rotating both the enjoyable and dirty work, instead of the ultra-specialisation that pervades capitalist and state enterprises. Many anarchists see these as a good way of avoiding managerialism, as people would take it in turns to be managers instead of having management be a fixed layer of the workplace above ordinary workers.
Capital: Self-expanding money. Or more specifically, financial wealth which can be used to create more financial wealth, usually through buying and trading stocks and bonds. note While capital originally referred to finance and only finance, the term later came to refer to other forms of wealth, both tangible and non-tangible. Such as plant and machinary (hard capital), natural resources (natural capital), and even social skills and group relationships (social capital). Though the proper meaning only refers to intangible finance. Anarchists cite the capitalisation non-economic phenomena like social relations as evidence of just how much the logic of capitalism is penetrating everyday life.
Capitalism: Used by anarchists to mean an economic system characterised by (1) primarily private ownership of the means of production, distribution, and investment; (2) production-for-profit rather than production-for-use; and (3) wage-labour as the main form of legal work. They don't agree that capitalism should be defined as simply "voluntary exchange" (as this has existed for thousands of years before the birth of capitalism) or the presence of markets (as many anarchists support markets, just not private businesses). And unlike both Marxists and (funnily enough) libertarian capitalists, they view capitalism as inherently statist and argue that without a state or state-like entity to enforce (absentee-owned) private property, capitalism couldn't even exist.
Class: Economic hierarchy. Different classes are defined in anarchism not so much by income differences, but how they relate to the means of production. The ruling class (part of the ruling elite) owns the means of production, while the working classes (the plural form is important here) - or popular classes - operate them. Unlike in Marxism - in which there are only two key classes - many anarchists claim that there is an important third class in between the rulers and the workers/popular classes called the "professional-managerial class", or just managerial class for short. This class coordinates relations between the rulers above and the workers below, monopolising important information and empowering forms of work. It includes (obviously) managers, university professors, doctors, lawyers, and most people in professional occupations. While all anarchists would generally agree that class formations are important, unlike most Marxists they don't think everything can be reduced to class or economics, and they also think that appealing to people as "the people" is just as important, if not more so, than appealing to them as workers (so that they're not just reduced to their economic function).
Commission: Used by the social anarchist James Guillaume to refer to local institutions tasked with carrying out various operations in a locality, usually public services like sanitation, transport, communications, and others. The various "working groups" set up within Occupy Wall Street could be seen as a small-scale version of these.
Commons: A collective pool of resources (physical or intellectual) which anyone can partake of or contribute to, some of which are open-access, while others are cooperatively managed by their users. Forms an important part of contemporary anarchism, in which the goal is seen as the creation of a widespread free commons (in contrast to a free market) administered via decentralised, horizontal cooperation. The trope of "tragedy of the commons" is frequently cited as a case against such a set up. Anarchists argue that the real problem with the tragedy of the commons is the selfish and profit-driven behavior, not the fact that there's a common pool of resources. The commons can be seen as the "third way" of economic organisation beyond both state (public property) and market (private property). Commons are stewarded rather than "owned". Making temporary exclusive use of common resources is called usufruct, which is only granted to certain individuals or groups with the understanding that their user rights over the resources will dissolve after an agreed time has elapsed or goal accomplished.
Commune: What social anarchists see as the central political/social unit of an anarchist polity. A self-governing territorial area of no more than about 15,000 people. The word commune in most European languages simply means a small-scale local area - like a small town, rural parish, or city ward. However, in English, the word has (perhaps unfortunate) associations with hippies and even cults. For this reason, in English the word municipality tends to be used instead to mean the same thing; with a voluntary confederation of communes/municipalities being the core structure of an anarchist society. With each commune/municipality administering itself through a local network of directly-democratic popular assemblies and other voluntary associations.
Communism: Used in two different ways by anarchists depending on how the word is spelled. With a capital-c, Communism has come to refer to the totalitarian regimes ruled by Marxist-Leninists in the twentieth century. With a small-c, communism refers to an economic system that operates without a state, markets, or money and things are organised on the basis "from each according to ability, to each according to need". The small-c definition is in fact older than what Communism has come to mean in mainstream political discourse - which is actually the exact polar opposite of what late 19th century radicals used the word to mean. The weird thing is, not even the Marxist governments of the time referred to the economic system they had as communism, which they believed was still yet to be achieved. The confusion arose because all such governments were ruled by Communist Parties, so westerners came to associate the term "Communism" with the centrally planned economic systems they had - even though the Communist Parties themselves never called them that.
Cultural Anarchism: Spreading anarchistic ideas and values throughout general culture; part of trying to create an anarchist transfer-culture that will raise people's consciousness of non-hierarchical, democratic, and cooperative alternatives to the status quo. Coined by communitarian anarchist and Social Ecologist John P. Clark.
Decentralism: The idea that, wherever possible, institutions should be decentralised, devolved, localised, and otherwise scaled down to a smaller and more immediate scale, so that people are better able to directly participate in and manage them.
Democracy: Used to mean direct, participatory democracy rather than representative democracy. In fact, most anarchists would regard representative "democracy" as a contradiction in terms, as democracy (which means "people power" in the original Greek) for most of its history was thought of as by definition direct and without representation. Representative government, they find, is a more appropriate term. It should be noted that anarchists didn't always use the word in a positive sense, with the classical anarchists still mostly equating it with representation and majority rule. Since the 1960s, however, most anarchists have reclaimed the word to refer to the participatory decision-making processes they always supported anyway.
Dialectic: An important part of much anarchist philosophy, concerned with how opposing forces interact with each other and shape future developments by becoming synthesised. Also a form of analysis in which social structures are critiqued in terms of how they internally contradict themselves (for example, if a society founds itself on the ideal of equality, but doesn't realise it in practice), with progressive changes being regarded as the "working out" of these contradictions; like a knotted piece of rope unraveling itself. note
Direct Action: Grassroots actions and forms of organising that are unmediated by formal political institutions. What anarchists promote as a means of getting stuff done in place of electoral politics and capturing state power. Not the same thing as protesting. Protesting is about challenging existing authorities to do something, whereas a direct-actionist approach is to bypass the authorities, start doing it yourselves without their approval, then basically saying "come at me bro" if they ask you to stop.
Domination: Being subject to centralised/hierarchical power and unable to act autonomously (self-determining). The core thing anarchists are opposed to; used synonymously with "rulership". Domination is somewhat broader than oppression, as the word oppression tends only to be used for persons while domination can also apply to non-human animals and to the natural world, which anarchists see as also being subject to hierarchical domination. Along with prefiguration (means-ends consistency) the principle of anti-domination is the most pervasive ethic in anarchist theory and practice; "I will neither be dominated nor dominate others myself".
Ecology: Means more than just environmentalism. Environmentalism refers to concern for the environment, while ecology also includes how humanity relates to the natural world while being a part of it. As a philosophy, ecology could be thought of as environmentalism + an examination of humanity's role in the environment. The word later came to refer to the science of studying the natural world, being closely linked to biology. Social Ecology is perhaps the most significant ecological perspective developed within anarchism, though Deep Ecology (developed outside of anarchism by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess) also has a strong presence, especially among lifestyle anarchists.
Ethics: While there is no single set of anarchist ethics, different schools of anarchism do tend towards several of the main ethical traditions. Social anarchists tend towards consequentialist ethics and virtue ethics, while market anarchists tend towards deontological ethics (based on natural law theories) and ethical egoism. Not actually the same thing as morality, even though the two are often thought of as the same thing. Morality refers to objective standards of good and evil, while ethics refers to codes of behaviour. Some anarchists (like Emma Goldman) reject the notion that good and evil can have an "objective" basis outside of human interactions, and thus oppose "morality" while still supporting their own brand of ethics. Most settle on a few basic principles like non-domination, prefiguration (means-ends consistency), inclusiveness, and voluntary association as a must for all human relations.
Federation/Confederalism: These terms are normally employed to mean systems of government in which some powers are devolved to more local component parts. Anarchists, however, use federation/federalism/federative to mean decentralised forms of organisation in which autonomous groups cooperate with each other on a horizontal basis. Confederalism is somewhat more recent (though the idea isn't) and refers more specifically to the large-scale voluntary union of free communes/municipalities in an anarchist society.
Feminism: As a theory of sexual equality and gender liberation, feminism is an essential component of anarchist theory and practice, along with masculism (men's liberation) when it's supportive of feminism. Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre are seen as key figures in the history of both anarchism and feminism. There's been a close association between anarchism and the more left-wing varieties of feminism since the 1960s, with many of the consensus-based decision-making practices anarchists now use having been pioneered in feminist circles. Anarcha-feminists tend to be critical of so-called "sex-negative" schools of feminism and anti-transgender feminists.
Freedom: Anarchists understand freedom to mean more than just the absence of coercion (called negative freedom or formal freedom) and hold that one needs to have the capabilities for self-fulfillment and self-realisation if one is to be called free in any meaningful sense (called positive freedom or effective freedom). They think effective freedom is only possible in practice in conditions of equality and solidarity, where each individual has a guaranteed minimum (in terms of their economic needs). "My freedom ends where yours begins" is a frequently used phrase to emphasise the complementarity of freedom with equality. As Mikhail Bakunin put it "I can only be truly free when all those around me are equally free".
Guaranteed Minimum (also called Irreducible Minimum): The ethic that each individual, simply by virtue of being a living person, should be entitled to a basic minimum standard of living and capabilities for satisfying their needs, whether or not they engage in socially valued work. Anarchists want to provide this through a voluntary, horizontally-organised welfare commons instead of a centralised welfare state. They find a Basic Income is a better way of providing this in present society than state welfare programs.
Growth: In economic terms, the expansion of GDP (gross domestic product), which is basically like the profit of an entire national economy measured through the amount of economic transactions that take place and how much capital (self-expanding money) is accumulated. Since the birth of the modern market economy - as distinct from markets (plural) - this growth imperative, or "grow-or-die" logic, has been the central organising principle of all major economies, both capitalist and even state-socialist. Anarchists want to replace economic growth as the way progress is measured with needs-satisfaction and increased well-being of people and the planet, moving from production-for-profit to production-for-use and from a growth-based economy to a needs-based economy.
Hierarchy: Originally derived from an older Greek term for "holy rulership", the term is used in a more specific (somewhat idiosyncratic) way by anarchists to refer to relations and institutions in which one party is subordinate to another party primarily for the higher party's benefit. As a result, they aren't necessarily against all forms of "hierarchy" in the more mainstream sense, such as ranking systems and taxonomies, only hierarchies of power.
Horizontalism: Organising things on a decentralist and lateral basis where all parties involved share power equally. The opposite of hierarchy.
Human Nature: Anarchists have a contextual view of human nature and human social development. They don't agree with many postmodernists who think human nature is an artificial social construct that biology and evolution play no role in. But neither do they agree with biological determinists who think that there are a fixed and static set of behaviours that all humans end up succumbing to regardless of environment. Instead, they view human beings has having two main tendencies in their biological and social evolution: the egotistic tendency and the mutualistic tendency. They believe that an environment that promotes sociality, personal freedom, unity-in-diversity, love, and equality will better bring out the mutualistic tendency, even if the egotistic tendency can never be expunged entirely.
Intersectionality: A big word but a fairly simple idea: that when examining different forms of social hierarchy/oppression, they can't be examined in isolation from each other (or have one be given primary status as the only important one) but need to be analysed in terms of how the overlap and intersect with one another. Examples include how gender intersects with class or how sexuality intersects with race. A woman will experience class relations in different ways from a man and a black gay person will experience discrimination in a different way to a white gay person. While the term was only coined in the late 1980s, and is associated mostly with feminism, anarchists, in critically examining different forms of hierarchy, have arguably always been intersectional in their theory. Emma Goldman and Murray Bookchin in particular stand out as exemplars of proto-intersectional thinkers.
Libertarian: Synonym for "anarchistic" or "anti-authoritarian". Despite being most often used in English-speaking countries today to mean "laissez-faire capitalist", the word libertarian was first used in a political context by anti-capitalist anarchists all the way back in the 1850s (though it tended to be used as an adjective, not a noun). Something could be described as libertarian in character, but the term libertarian-ism was only coined when American pro-capitalists adopted the word for their own beliefs.
Managerialism: The ideology of the professional-managerial class (or just managerial class for short), the class in between the ruling class and working classes who manage the relations between the two. Mikhail Bakunin called it the "bureaucratic class" and the "aristocracy of labour". Strives to make the administration of things hierarchical and bureaucratic, claiming ordinary people can't do it for themselves due to not having the right information, and capitalists can't do it right due to being too greedy. Thus, everything needs to made technocratic and centralised for the people's own benefit, with an enlightened group of well-educated managers on top. This, anarchists claim, is the class the statist left (Marxists and left-liberals) have always represented the interests of, not the working classes.
Market(s): There's a crucial difference to be made between markets (plural) and the market (singular). The former have existed in most organised societies throughout human history, while the latter is only about 200-300 years old. The difference is that while markets have usually formed a component part of economies, they were never the central organising factors of economic activity, always being subject to social controls and embedded within a social context. That started changing with the enclosure of the commons, in which dispersed local markets were "nationalised" by European states to form a single national market, which later via imperialism became an internationalised (and now globalised) market economy - in which all non-market means of organising economic activity become subordinated to the market logic of the growth imperative, the profit-motive, propertarianism, and rugged individualism. note Many anarchists see no issue in supporting markets while opposing the market economy - also called the cash nexus. The problem, as they see it, is that markets (plural) and the market economy (singular) tend to be conflated, just as nationality is often conflated with nationalism.
Means of Production: Large-scale, physical and tangible resources that are used to produce things in the economy. "Big stuff that can be used to create smaller stuff - and to assemble that smaller stuff into big stuff". Usually refers to factories, heavy machinary, transportation, communications centres, and (sometimes) land and natural resources. Social anarchists want the means of production to be socialised into the common property of confederated, democratic communities, while market anarchists want them to be under worker ownership or individual ownership by self-employed professionals. Neither want private or state ownership of productive resources.
Mutual Aid: Voluntary cooperation without hierarchy in which one party helps another, forming a bond in which the receiver would help out the giver when they're in need. As an ethical practice, mutual aid goes beyond the traditional dichotomy of egoism vs. altruism, as it is neither entirely selfless nor entirely self-serving. It deliberately avoids quantifying obligations people have to each other, helping each party when they need assistance according to need.
Neoliberalism: (Also called market fundamentalism) The most prominent economic ideology since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Believes that the market economy is the natural state of human affairs and that state "intervention" in the economy always makes things worse. note Wants to privatise as many things as possible and wants to cut state-provided social programs out of the belief that they make ordinary people lazy and that getting rid of them would encourage them to go out and get jobs. Anarchists have no love for the welfare state and managerialism, but see it as a lesser evil to the kind of society neoliberalism wishes to create.
Pacifism/Pacificism: Anarchists have a long history of association with anti-war, anti-militarist, and peace movements, and aside from a few isolated individuals who committed bombings and assassinations in the late 19th century, anarchism could actually be considered one of the least violent political philosophies in terms of body count. Pacifism means avoiding violence in absolutely all cases, even in self-defence or the defence of others from being hurt and killed. Pacificism on the other hand is like pacifism with exceptions. It rests on an ethical aversion to war, militarism, and violence in general, while still allowing for the use of violence in self-defence when no other possible alternative is available to prevent more people from being hurt or killed. The broad anarchist tradition tends to be mostly pacificist, rather than pacifist (at one extreme) or insurrectionist (at the other). While there does exist a prominent anarcho-pacifist school of thought - associated at the theoretical level mostly with Gustav Landauer and Paul Goodman - even those two would more accurately qualify as pacificist, rather than pacifist in the strict sense. One example of an anarchist who actually was an Actual Pacifist is Leo Tolstoy.
Politics: The collective organisation of social affairs, which anarchists want to be directly democratic and organised from the bottom-up, starting with the local community through popular assemblies. Distinguished by anarchists from statecraft, for which the word politics is occasionally used as a synonym.
Popular Assemblies: Face-to-face meetings of people where they make decisions about issues that affect them (directly and without representation) through participatory democracy - using either majority voting or consensus decision-making, or a combination of the two. These have existed for most of human history as mechanisms of collective self-rule outside of the state, though the word democracy has not usually been applied to them, even though what they do is far closer to what the word democracy originally meant (in ancient Athens) than modern representative democracy.
Power: Roughly, "decision-making ability". While the distinction exists in other languages (like in French with pouvoir and puissance) social power is really two different, albeit related, things. To make this distinction, the best way is to hyphenate the word. The first kind of power is power-to - which simply means the effective ability to do something. The other kind is power-over - which refers to having control over others and being capable of getting them to do things they otherwise wouldn't do, usually by means of coercion. Anarchists seek to dissolve oppressive forms of power-over and disperse power-to equally to each individual, so that no person or group is able to wield power-over to lessen the freedom of others.
Prefiguration: Forms of action and organisation which prefigure the shape of a future libertarian socialist society - autonomy, voluntarism, participatory democracy, decentralisation, nonviolence (unless one is directly attacked), and ecological stewardship. Also the ethic of means-ends consistency. Along with the anti-domination principle, prefiguration is the most pervasive ethic in anarchist theory and practice.
Ruling Elite: Those who wield the most hierarchical power in society. Includes the ruling (economic) class, but also politicians, important religious figures, media/cultural figures, and certain powerful intellectuals. Unlike the ruling class, you don't necessarily have to be rich to be a part of the ruling elite, in which social/political power is counted along with economic power.
Socialism: Perhaps no other word in political discourse causes more confusion and misunderstandings than the word socialism when used by anarchists. Many today, especially Americans, are baffled by how anarchism can be a form of socialism when they associate the term "socialist" with statism and collectivism (in the negative sense of the word). This is because anarchists use an earlier definition of the term (from the 19th century) which referred to several potential economic systems in which economic institutions were administered without bosses through worker self-management. In fact, most anarchists don't regard government-directed economic systems to be socialist at all, merely "state-capitalist" - as the economy is still premised on profit and growth (at the national level), people still work for wages instead of controlling their own workplaces, and class stratifications still exist. In other words, the economy is still technically capitalist (by their definition), only directed by a centralised state instead of polycentric private businesses. It is worth noting that anarchism has existed for longer than most other forms of socialism, including Marxism. Chinese anarchist Ba Jin even regarded anarchism as the most "pure" form of socialism.
Statism: The existence of the state and the ideology of believing the state is good and should exist. Anarchists make a distinction between state and government, with a state being used to mean an institution of class rule with a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force" (Max Weber), and government meaning the apparatus that controls the state. Different governments can control the same state, much like different people can wield the same sword, but the sword (state) remains constant and distinct. In other words, anarchists are not necessarily opposed to "government" (or more accurately governance), just centralised state government which relies on structural violence. The goal of anarchism is to dissolve the state and decentralise government - so that it becomes participatory self-governance of autonomous communities.
Vegetarianism/Veganism: A key aspect of contemporary anarchist life and ethics, with most anarchists adopting vegetarian or vegan diets out of their support for animal liberation. Most, however, don't believe that changing one's eating/spending habits is likely to have any real impact on the meat industry, and are critical of so-called ethical consumerism, which they see as the co-optation of animal/environmental causes. Only by replacing capitalism and statism do they see animal liberation as being fully possible. The classical anarchist and proto-Social Ecologist Elisee Reclus was one of the first modern western intellectuals to advocate vegetarianism on secular ethical grounds.
Voluntarism: The principle that relations and institutions should exist on the basis of voluntary association, with the freedom of any person or component unit to disassociate or secede. While anarchists see voluntary association as an essential feature of social organisation, they think that it is fundamentally incomplete unless accompanied by non-hierarchy. In other words, they don't agree that forms of hierarchy or centralised power are okay just because those subject to them give their formal consent. In fact, many view such forms of "voluntary" rulership as being more insidious than overtly coercive forms, as they present themselves as existing on the basis of formal equality between ruler and subordinate, when in reality the disparity of bargaining power between the two makes the subordinate's "consent" little more than a ruse, as they can't effectively choose an alternative in which they would retain their autonomy. Voluntarism is not synonymous with voluntaryism, which is another (more accurate in fact) term for the philosophy of "anarcho-capitalism".
Worker Self-Management: (Also called workers' control, economic democracy, or just self-management) Where enterprises are organised from the bottom-up by their workers through democratic assemblies and councils instead of being administered through a hierarchy of bosses and managers. Cooperatives, commons-based peer-production, and self-employment are examples of worker self-management that already exist which anarchists would like to see expanded to the whole economy.