Knowledge blast: Anarchist thought
In its most basic and simplest definition anarchism means “without rulers”, the common association of communities free of hierarchy or state rule. Through mutual arrangement (mutualism) and absence of central power, all men have autonomy of their own individual state and over their own interests, in which they exist as a part of a group of individual states working socially together without the need to invoke external overarching central power. Thoughts on anarchism are wide spread but generally Anarchism is divided into two philosophical camps and it is these camps that will later be revisited; the individual and the social. The Individual camp of anarchism known as individual anarchism focuses solely on the liberties, for the interest of the individual against state and social control of others; anti-statism and individualism are two main factors of this camp. Social anarchism focuses instead on the social or “collective state’s” liberties, everyone is to have an obligation to the interest of the community against the state; anti-statism and collectivism are two main factors of these camps. These are the main dividing blocks of anarchist thought and this is where the main contention line will be drawn, as these camps are important in understanding anarchism as a political philosophy. Equally as important when discussing philosophy and politics is the economic elements associated with anarchism which is to be noted, such economic systems that explain how the state will run once achieved and the theory has been put into practice; economic systems of anarcho syndicalism, examples of which are anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism. It is these economic systems that when added with the political philosophy, leads to what we understand anarchism to be. It is good to remember that words such as ‘Anarchy’ are misunderstood, generally considered to mean a temporary state of disorder; in popular television anarchy has been long portrayed as “disorder” or “chaos” this bastardization of the word has been at the forefront of people’s interpretation (to the honesty of myself, this generally had long been my understanding) yet what they do not realise is the word has been butchered by pop-culture and by the misuse of it by naive socialists and pseudo-intellectuals. In some respects the word has “poisoned” people’s perceptions towards anarchism; which means people will write off anarchy as simply disorder, this is why the writer of this paper is going to expressively explain the word in the full hope that people may be enlightened and get a better understanding of what can be called “Anarchist thought’.
Now it has been said Anarchism is the political philosophy that holds to the contention of the state as being immoral, corrupt and contemptible towards its own people. However let it be explained and expressed it promotes the notion that people are better without state control, and thus are better without rulers. At the heart of its philosophy is anti-statism which means that people are generally better off without state intervention or intervention by the government. The state is the organized entity overarching the people, it is the “shackles” that bind the people from reaching their true potential; Mikhail Bakunin (Russian philosopher and collectivist anarchist during the late 19th century) emphasises this sentiment, remarking in his book “Statism and anarchy”(1872) that “If there is a State, there must be domination of one class by another and, as a result, slavery; the State without slavery is unthinkable – and this is why we are the enemies of the State.”. This lovely quote can almost sum up the opinion of anarchists (not all) to the government. All this can be described as the base for anarchism, now is time to establish its supports.
A “state of anarchy” (a state that is built on the political philosophy of anarchism) before 19th century had only been in the minds of thinkers in the 15th-19th centuries. The first sign of Communities un-officiated by governments and external forces such as rural communities or better known followings (Christian anarchism emphasises the abolishment of human governments as being iconoclastic in nature, corrupt, instead favouring social gatherings and cooperation for theological reasons) had when the state did interfere and impose power on the subjugated people, the natural response was to revolt in violent disorderly means (this is possibly where anarchy comes from in popular thought) was in the sixth century. However only in France did this system of thought be truly introduced and added philosophical merit in the later 18th century, William Godwin (a thinker and French academic) noticed that the people of France during the French revolution used violent means instead of their own common sense and reason to change the system; he noticed that the system was made up of rules and it was these rules that society was based around. People followed these rules, and when the rules did not fit, they rebelled and made their own rules; thus allowing for this vicious cycle of statism to continue. Instead of violent means and more rules, Godwin proposed the abolition of rules for the interest of reason and common cooperation (hence “without rulers”), instead of using violent methods, the people could instead evolve the state in a peaceful manner. He went on to evolve this thought, and can be credited as one of the first modern anarchist thinkers. Proudon (a contemporary of Godwin) is however responsible for creating an element of anarchism; spontaneous order, the notion that organization can come about without the need of a central power orchestrating it “liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order” (Pierre-Joseph Proudon) the individual has the right to protect his own interests. It is this element that created the steardy support in the theory of anarchism. It is in this theory that there occurred a divide between the extent of the individual’s interests and the extent of his mannerism towards the social order he was in.
In itself anarchism is usually divided into two camps, the first being the individual camp and the second being the social camp. Both camps have one thing in common anti-statism, they both are opposed to the government. Yet where they really differ is in attitudes of the individual to the post-state, this is to say his attitudes after the government has been rid of (which will be later expressed). When the individual is his own autonomous state, then generally anything according to his interests are considered by him to be his. Individual anarchism can vary in attitudes to post-state; some may say that their interests can be achieved through their own means; this can mean seizure of others property, resolving issues by means of violence and so on (illegalism and individual reclamation). Other individuals may take mends of prescribing philosophies that do not necessarily go towards the social order, more then it goes to the interests and values of the individual; such as the free expression of love, property, and a form of sharing willingly, however this differs from ideology to ideology. Individual anarchism attracts largely to intellectuals, as it expresses highly the value of using one’s own cognitive faculties, being able to freely express the liberties of the individual both mentally and physically; and in this respects democracy’s only difference is it has an element of statism, one could dare say it be different otherwise. Social anarchism involves the need for the individual to pertain to the collective state; this means in other words the means of production are controlled mutual common ownership within a community, without the interference of centralised power or state warranty. Many social libertarians may hold to such an ideology and the element of capitalism (the means of production in the hands of private companies) is absent, which many anarchists would argue is a good thing (not anarcho-capitalists, more social anarchists). Marxism in some respects plays along the same line of social anarchism, yet in itself it wishes to create classless societies, which in some respects are the intentions of anarchism.
Yet there is a debate between the two, this can be shown with the debate between marx and Bakunin, between Marxism and anarchism; to cut the long story short, both anarchism and Marxism have both themselves means of wishing to attain the perfect socialist utopia. The methods they use are why there was such a debate between the two men in The First International (a hot spot for intellectual discussion in the early to late 19th century). Bakunin differed with Marx, in that he promoted the idea of “revolutionary socialism” the idea that the means of production and private ownership is abolished and instead collective ownership of the means of production be established. Marx wanted to have a proletariat dictatorship, whereas Bakunin instead advocated collective rule through revolution to establish a socialist utopia. At the end of this dispute Bakunin went his separate ways with Marx; this is why Marxism and anarchism have salient similarities because of their thought processes and the means by which they achieve them is the only thing that really differs. This dispute touches on economics, which can be described as the nails used to strengthen the supports.
Anarchism by itself is not sustainable in the long run, achieving a society without order is simply impossible; this is why a system based on ideology and economy is established to order and structure the system (anarchism + Ideology). Now some may critique that such structured systems of community cooperation inevitably lead to government, in some respects that is understandable, as if we were to look through and scower the pages of history we can see that small tribal communities if left to their basic cooperation and mutual cooperation, inevitably organize themselves, eventually leading to some form of organized government. So in what regards does anarchist economics have to give that is different from other forms of economy? Well there is a number of anarchist economic doctrines such as anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism. Which come as a result of anarcho syndicalism, each has their own means of pertaining either an alternative form of economics to an existing form, or establishing new existing ones separate of state. So taking a look at each is well worth the interest.
Anarcho syndicalism is the method of achieving an alternative system of economy, which wishes to replace an existing capitalist system of economy through the means of the active revolutionary acts of organized trade unions; when organized unions seize industrial centres they can hold a lot of power, and can use this power to influence the economy towards a socialist syndication and can protect itself from the state. In laments words anarcho syndicalism means “industrial takeover”. A good example of anarcho-syndicalism can be seen in 1936 in the region of Catalonia in northern Spain, the industrial heart of Spain. During this time there was a lot of tension between socialist and trade union groups with the national party (the party who had control of the government) in that area; the C.N.T (national confederation of labour) and the F.A.I (Iberian Federation of anarchists) were the main socialist and trade union groups, along with the POUM (General Workers union) they captured the industrial area of Catalonia in what has been called “Revolutionary Catalonia” and created an anarcho-syndicalist state. This meant they cut themselves off from the rest of the country; as a result it started a civil war lasting three years between militia socialist workers from the C.N.T and F.A.I and the catholic nationalist federation that ruled Spain. However the C.N.T and F.A.I were up against great odds as the Spanish National party requested aid from countries such as Italy Germany and even Russia, which only escalated the country into more tension and conflict; well they fought with the nationalist troops in the hill side they also were fighting other socialist groups primarily the POUM within the anarchist state itself. This double front inevitably led to the downfall of the anarchist state, as it was taken over by nationalist troops (primarily because of the heavy munitions from Italian and German suppliers) who themselves were led by General Francisco Franco in 1939. The system of economy that was syndicated for the Catalonian anarchist state was that of Anarcho which called for the common ownership of the means of production and with the people working people. In fact if one had to push the envelope further on this similarity you could say that to achieve an anarcho communist system, you have to use anarcho syndicalism (revolutionary unionism) to achieve this method. The C.N.T and F.A.I can be seen as both an anarcho syndicalist state as well as an anarcho communist state, with this being said it must be noted that anarcho communism focuses very much on the community factor of anarchism, and wishes to synthesis individual anarchism with that of social anarchism. Karl Marx explains the common idea of a anarcho communist state in his “Critique of Gotha Program” (1875)
“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”
Even though Marx was writing about Communism, anarcho communist proponents works on the line “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” the economic system is grounded on this idea and it is this principle that they believe allows the individual to thrive. If this can be the one end of the extreme economic systems of anarchism, then anarcho capitalism would be the other extreme.
Anarcho capitalism is very different from other forms of traditional anarchism; traditionally anarchists are against capitalism as system of economy and instead focus more on social economic doctrines; some argue that anarcho capitalism is not anarchism at all but instead a mere right wing libertarian economic system (this is the criticisms of others, not the contention of this writer but it has been brought up). However anarcho capitalism is much different in this regard, if one could say its camp of philosophy it would be very much in the individual anarchism camp, as instead of a system made up of the means of production being commonly owned, it instead focuses on the individual’s sovereignty over his own private property, in an open market. This is to say that state would be absent and when the state is absent people will naturally barter with one another to attain goods and services in a voluntary system. This system can be highlighted in the example of a car crash; individuals would usually have to have one another’s insurance companies argue about costs (the middle man) however in an anarcho capitalist system the middle man is cut out instead resolving issues through direct resolution (pay me, I pay you, don’t pay me I break you). It is the synthesis between liberal economics and individual anarchism.
In conclusion what can be said about anarchism? As a system pertaining to the contention that society is better off without government interference; anarchism seeks to dislodge the system by which a state is a part of. The main thought behind anarchism is distinct between that of the individual and that of the social order, and it is among these differences that anarchism truly is realised as a political philosophy. With the supports of economic doctrines such as anarcho communism through anarcho syndicalism and anarcho capitalism to name a few, anarchism seeks to create a society for the people. Governments to anarchists may seem immoral, but not entirely to some such as me. Sure the government can be corrupt at times, even idiotic but what must be remembered is that the government is made up of the people, and the people are not always free of fault. When we take into account the vast times humanity has sought to gain a system that works, it has always in some way gone to fault, and this is entirely because we are evolved mammals with prefrontal lobes too small and adrenal glands too big. We have developed more cognitively meaning that we find better and more efficient ways of organization and centralization. A society without rulers is simply impossible for this reason, but it must not be blown off what anarchism has the potential power to do. Its notions of individual liberties and the individual’s right to pursue his interests are very modest, and something this writer can agree upon, but the long standing of an anarchist state has yet to be realised, and probably for the better, people still need to instead focus on how to make the state better rather than simply removing it from the picture all together. Liberal Democracy may be a crap shoot, but it’s the best crap shoot we have thus far and it would seem to have lasted quite some time already, capitalism is also the best economic system that we have come up with. It is because of democracy that individuals have the rights they do now, and it is indeed the people’s job to maintain what the government can do, if the government should abuse the people; it is the people’s job to remove the powers that be.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson