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Anarchy 101

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Anarchy 101 by Bob Black What is anarchism ? What is anarchy ? Who are
    Message 1 of 1 , May 27, 2006
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Anarchy 101
      by Bob Black

      What is "anarchism"? What is "anarchy"? Who are "anarchists"?

      Anarchism is an idea about the best way to live. Anarchy is
      a way of living.

      Anarchism is the idea that government (the state) is
      unnecessary and harmful. Anarchy is society without
      government. Anarchists are people who believe in anarchism
      and desire to live in anarchy as all our ancestors once did.
      People who believe in government (such as liberals,
      conservatives, socialists and fascists) are known as "statists."

      It might sound like anarchism is purely negative -- that
      it's just against something. Actually, anarchists have many
      positive ideas about life in a stateless society. But,
      unlike Marxists, liberals and conservatives, they don't
      offer a blueprint.

      Aren't anarchists bomb-throwers?

      No -- at least not compared to, say the United States
      Government, which drops more bombs every day on Iraq than
      anarchists have thrown in the almost 150 years they have
      been a political movement. Why do we never hear of
      "bomb-throwing Presidents"? Does it matter if bombs are
      delivered horizontally by anarchists rather than vertically
      by the U.S. Government?

      Anarchists have been active for many years and in many
      countries, under autocratic as well as democratic
      governments. Sometimes, especially under conditions of
      severe repression, some anarchists have thrown bombs. But
      that has been the exception. The "bomb-throwing anarchist"
      stereotype was concocted by politicians and journalists in
      the late 19th century, and they still won't let go of it,
      but even back then it was a gross exaggeration.

      Has there ever been an anarchist society that worked?

      Yes, many thousands of them. For their first million years
      or more, all humans lived as hunter-gatherers in small bands
      of equals, without hierarchy or authority. These are our
      ancestors. Anarchist societies must have been successful,
      otherwise none of us would be here. The state is only a few
      thousand years old, and it has taken that long for it to
      subdue the last anarchist societies, such as the San
      (Bushmen), the Pygmies and the Australian aborigines.

      But we can't go back to that way of life.

      Nearly all anarchists would agree. But it's still an
      eye-opener, even for anarchists, to study these societies,
      and perhaps to pick up some ideas on how a completely
      voluntary, highly individualistic, yet cooperative society
      might work. To take just one example, anarchist foragers and
      tribesmen often have highly effective methods of conflict
      resolution including mediation and nonbinding arbitration.
      Their methods work better than our legal system because
      family, friends and neighbors of the disputants encourage
      disputants to agree, helped by sympathetic and trustworthy
      go-betweens, to find some reasonable resolution of the
      problem. In the 1970s and 1980s, academic supposed experts
      tried to transplant some of these methods into the American
      legal system. Naturally the transplants withered and died,
      because they only live in a free society.

      Anarchists are naïve: they think human nature is essentially

      Not so. It's true that anarchists reject ideas of innate
      depravity or Original Sin. Those are religious ideas which
      most people no longer believe in. But anarchists don't
      usually believe that human nature is essentially good
      either. They take people as they are. Human beings aren't
      "essentially" anything. We who live under capitalism and its
      ally, the state, are just people who have never had a chance
      to be everything we can be.

      Although anarchists often make moral appeals to the best in
      people, just as often they appeal to enlightened
      self-interest. Anarchism is not a doctrine of
      self-sacrifice, although anarchists have fought and died for
      what they believe in. Anarchists believe that the
      carrying-out of their basic idea would mean a better life
      for almost everyone.

      How can you trust people not to victimize each other without
      the state to control crime?

      If you can't trust ordinary people not to victimize each
      other, how can you trust the state not to victimize us all?
      Are the people who get into power so unselfish, so
      dedicated, so superior to the ones they rule? The more you
      distrust your fellows, the more reason there is for you to
      become an anarchist. Under anarchy, power is reduced and
      spread around. Everybody has some, but nobody has very much.
      Under the state, power is concentrated, and most people have
      none, really. Which kind of power would you like to go up

      But -- let's get real -- what would happen if there were no

      As anarchist Allen Thornton observes, "Police aren't in the
      protection business; they're in the revenge business."
      Forget about Batman driving around interrupting crimes in
      progress. Police patrol does not prevent crime or catch
      criminals. When police patrol was discontinued secretly and
      selectively in Kansas City neighborhoods, the crime rate
      stayed the same. Other research likewise finds that
      detective work, crime labs, etc. have no effect on the crime
      rate. But when neighbors get together to watch over each
      other and warn off would-be criminals, criminals try another
      neighborhood which is protected only by the police. The
      criminals know that they are in little danger there.

      But the modern state is deeply involved in the regulation of
      everyday life. Almost every activity has some sort of state

      That's true -- but when you think about it, everyday life is
      almost entirely anarchist. Rarely does one encounter a
      policeman, unless he is writing you a traffic ticket for
      speeding. Voluntary arrangements and understandings prevail
      almost everywhere. As anarchist Rudolph Rocker wrote: "The
      fact is that even under the worst despotism most of man's
      personal relations with his fellows are arranged by free
      agreement and solidaric cooperation, without which social
      life would not be possible at all."

      Family life, buying and selling, friendship, worship, sex,
      and leisure are anarchist. Even in the workplace, which many
      anarchists consider to be as coercive as the state, workers
      notoriously cooperate, independent of the boss, both to
      minimize work and to get it done. Some people say anarchy
      doesn't work. But it's almost the only thing that does! The
      state rests, uneasily, on a foundation of anarchy, and so
      does the economy.


      Anarchism has always attracted generous and creative spirits
      who have enriched our culture. Anarchist poets include Percy
      Bysshe Shelley, William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, and Lawrence
      Ferlinghetti. American anarchist essayists include Henry
      David Thoreau and, in the 20th century, the Catholic
      anarchist Dorothy Day, Paul Goodman, and Alex Comfort
      (author of The Joy of Sex). Anarchist scholars include the
      linguist Noam Chomsky, the historian Howard Zinn, and the
      anthropologists A.R. Radcliffe-Brown and Pierre Clastres.
      Anarchist literary figures are way too numerous to list but
      include Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, and Mary Shelley (author
      of Frankenstein). Anarchist painters include Gustav Courbet,
      Georges Seurat, Camille Pissarro, and Jackson Pollock. Other
      creative anarchists include such musicians as John Cage,
      John Lennon, the band CRASS, etc.

      Supposing you're right, that anarchy is a better way to live
      than what we have now, how can we possibly overthrow the
      state if it's as powerful and oppressive as you say it is?

      Anarchists have always thought about this question. They
      have no single, simple answer. In Spain, where there were
      one million anarchists in 1936 when the military attempted a
      coup, they fought the Fascists at the front at the same time
      that they supported workers in taking over the factories,
      and the peasants in forming collectives on the land.
      Anarchists did the same thing in the Ukraine in 1918-1920,
      where they had to fight both the Czarists and the
      Communists. But that's not how we will bring down the system
      in the world of the 21st century.

      Consider the revolutions that overthrew Communism in Eastern
      Europe. There was some violence and death involved, more in
      some countries than in others. But what brought down the
      politicians, bureaucrats and generals -- the same enemy we
      face -- was most of the population just refusing to work or
      do anything else to keep a rotten system going. What were
      the commissars in Moscow or Warsaw to do, drop nuclear
      weapons on themselves? Exterminate the workers that they
      were living off?

      Most anarchists have long believed that what they call a
      general strike could play a large part in crumbling the
      state. That is, a collective refusal to work.

      If you're against all government, you must be against democracy.

      If democracy means that people control their own lives, then
      all anarchists would be, as American anarchist Benjamin
      Tucker called them, "unterrified Jeffersonian democrats" --
      they would be the only true democrats. But that's not what
      democracy really is. In real life, a part of the people (in
      America, almost always a minority of the people) elect a
      handful of politicians who control our lives by passing laws
      and using unelected bureaucrats and police to enforce them
      whether the majority want it or not.

      As the French philosopher Rousseau (not an anarchist) once
      wrote, in a democracy, people are only free at the moment
      they vote, the rest of the time they are government slaves.
      The politicians in office and the bureaucrats are usually
      under the powerful influence of big business and often other
      special interest groups. Everyone knows this. But some
      people keep silent because they are getting benefits from
      the powerholders. Many others keep silent because they know
      that protesting does no good and they might be called
      "extremists" or even "anarchists" (!) if they tell it like
      it is. Some democracy!

      Well, if you don't elect officials to make the decisions,
      who does make them? You can't tell me that everybody can do
      as he personally pleases without regard for others.

      Anarchists have many ideas about how decisions would be made
      in a truly voluntary and cooperative society. Most
      anarchists believe that such a society must be based on
      local communities small enough for people to know each
      other, or people at least would share ties of family,
      friendship, opinions or interests with almost everybody
      else. And because this is a local community, people also
      share common knowledge of their community and its
      environment. They know that they will have to live with the
      consequences of their decisions. Unlike politicians or
      bureaucrats, who decide for other people.

      Anarchists believe that decisions should always be made at
      the smallest possible level. Every decision which
      individuals can make for themselves, without interfering
      with anybody else's decisions for themselves, they should
      make for themselves. Every decision made in small groups
      (such as the family, religious congregations, co-workers,
      etc.) is again theirs to make as far as it doesn't interfere
      with others. Decisions with significant wider impact, if
      anyone is concerned about them, would go to an occasional
      face-to-face community assembly.

      The community assembly, however, is not a legislature. No
      one is elected. Anyone may attend. People speak for
      themselves. But as they speak about specific issues, they
      are very aware that for them, winning is not, as it was for
      football coach Vince Lombardi, "the only thing." They want
      everyone to win. They value fellowship with their neighbors.
      They try, first, to reduce misunderstanding and clarify the
      issue. Often that's enough to produce agreement. If that's
      not enough, they work for a compromise. Very often they
      accomplish it. If not, the assembly may put off the issue,
      if it's something that doesn't require an immediate
      decision, so the entire community can reflect on and discuss
      the matter prior to another meeting. If that fails, the
      community will explore whether there's a way the majority
      and minority can temporarily separate, each carrying out its

      If people still have irreconcilable differences about the
      issue, the minority has two choices. It can go along with
      the majority this time, because community harmony is more
      important than the issue. Maybe the majority can conciliate
      the minority with a decision about something else. If all
      else fails, and if the issue is so important to the
      minority, it may separate to form a separate community, just
      as various American states (Connecticut, Rhode Island,
      Vermont, Kentucky, Maine, Utah, West Virginia, etc.) have
      done. If their secession isn't an argument against statism,
      then it isn't an argument against anarchy. That's not a
      failure for anarchy, because the new community will recreate
      anarchy. Anarchy isn't a perfect system -- it's just better
      than all the others.

      We can't satisfy all our needs or wants at the local level.

      Maybe not all of them, but there's evidence from archaeology
      of long-distance trade, over hundreds or even thousands of
      miles, in anarchist, prehistoric Europe. Anarchist primitive
      societies visited by anthropologists in the 20th century,
      such as the San (Bushmen) hunter-gatherers and the tribal
      Trobriand Islanders, conducted such trade between individual
      "trade-partners." Practical anarchy has never depended on
      total local self-sufficiency. But many modern anarchists
      have urged that communities, and regions, should be as
      self-sufficient as possible, so as not to depend on distant,
      impersonal outsiders for necessities. Even with modern
      technology, which was often designed specifically to enlarge
      commercial markets by breaking down self-sufficiency, much
      more local self-sufficiency is possible than governments and
      corporations want us to know.

      One definition of "anarchy" is chaos. Isn't that what
      anarchy would be -- chaos?

      Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first person to call himself an
      anarchist, wrote that "liberty is the mother, not the
      daughter of order." Anarchist order is superior to
      state-enforced order because it is not a system of coercive
      laws, it is simply how communities of people who know each
      other decide how to live together. Anarchist order is based
      on common consent and common sense.

      When was the philosophy of anarchism formulated?

      Some anarchists think that anarchist ideas were expressed by
      Diogenes the Cynic in ancient Greece, by Lao Tse in ancient
      China, and by certain medieval mystics and also during the
      17th century English Civil War. But modern anarchism began
      with William Godwin's Political Justice published in England
      in 1793. It was revived in France by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
      in the 1840s (What Is Property?). He inspired an anarchist
      movement among French workers. Max Stirner in The Ego and
      His Own (1844) defined the enlightened egoism which is a
      basic anarchist value. An American, Josiah Warren,
      independently arrived at similar ideas at the same time and
      influenced the large-scale movement at the time to found
      utopian communities. Anarchist ideas were developed further
      by the great Russian revolutionary Michael Bakunin and by
      the respected Russian scholar Peter Kropotkin. Anarchists
      hope that their ideas continue to develop in a changing world.

      This revolutionary stuff sounds a lot like Communism, which
      nobody wants.

      Anarchists and Marxists have been enemies since the 1860s.
      Although they have sometimes cooperated against common
      enemies like the Czarists during the Russian Revolution and
      the Spanish Fascists during the Spanish Civil War, the
      Communists have always betrayed the anarchists. From Karl
      Marx to Joseph Stalin, Marxists have denounced anarchism.

      Some anarchists, followers of Kropotkin, call themselves
      "communists" -- not Communists. But they contrast their free
      communism, arising from below -- the voluntary pooling of
      land, facilities and labor in local communities where people
      know each other -- to a Communism imposed by force by the
      state, nationalizing land and productive facilities, denying
      all local autonomy, and reducing workers to state employees.
      How could the two systems be more different?

      Anarchists welcomed and in fact participated in the fall of
      European Communism. Some foreign anarchists had been
      assisting Eastern Bloc dissidents -- as the U.S. Government
      had not -- for many years. Anarchists are now active in all
      the former Communist countries.

      The Communist collapse certainly did discredit much of the
      American left, but not the anarchists, many of whom do not
      consider themselves leftists anyway. Anarchists were around
      before Marxism and we are still around after it.

      Don't anarchists advocate violence?

      Anarchists aren't nearly as violent as Democrats,
      Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Those people only
      seem to be nonviolent because they use the state to do their
      dirty work -- to be violent for them. But violence is
      violence. Wearing a uniform or waving a flag does not change
      that. The state is violent by definition. Without violence
      against our anarchist ancestors -- hunter-gatherers and
      farmers -- there would be no states today. Some anarchists
      advocate violence -- but all states engage in violence every

      Some anarchists, in the tradition of Tolstoy, are pacifist
      and nonviolent on principle. A relatively small number of
      anarchists believe in going on the offensive against the
      state. Most anarchists believe in self-defense and would
      accept some level of violence in a revolutionary situation.
      The issue is not really violence vs. nonviolence. The issue
      is direct action. Anarchists believe that people -- all
      people -- should take their fate into their own hands,
      individually or collectively, whether doing that is legal or
      illegal and whether it has to involve violence or it can be
      accomplished nonviolently.

      What exactly is the social structure of an anarchist society?

      Most anarchists are not "exactly" sure. The world will be a
      very different place after government has been abolished.

      Anarchists don't usually offer blueprints, but they propose
      some guiding principles. They say that mutual aid --
      cooperation rather than competition -- is the soundest basis
      for social life. They are individualists in the sense that
      they think society exists for the benefit of the individual,
      not the other way around. They favor decentralization,
      meaning that the foundations of society should be local,
      face-to-face communities. These communities then federate --
      in relations of mutual aid -- but only to coordinate
      activities which can't be carried on by local communities.
      Anarchist decentralization turns the existing hierarchy
      upside down. Right now, the higher the level of government,
      the more power it has. Under anarchy, higher levels of
      association aren't governments at all. They have no coercive
      power, and the higher you go, the less responsibility is
      delegated to them from below. Still, anarchists are aware of
      the risk that these federations might become bureaucratic
      and statist. We are utopians but we are also realists. We
      will have to monitor those federations closely. As Thomas
      Jefferson put it, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

      Any last words?

      Winston Churchill, a deceased alcoholic English politician
      and war criminal, once wrote that "democracy is the worst
      system of government, except for all the others." Anarchy is
      the worst system of society -- except for all the others. So
      far, all civilizations (state societies) have collapsed and
      have been succeeded by anarchist societies. State societies
      are inherently unstable. Sooner or later, ours will also
      collapse. It's not too soon to start thinking about what to
      put in its place. Anarchists have been thinking about that
      for over 200 years. We have a head start. We invite you to
      explore our ideas -- and to join us in trying to make the
      world a better place.

      Bob Black
      PO Box 3142
      Albany, NY 12203-0142 -- USA

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      "Don't just question authority,
      Don't forget to question me."
      -- Jello Biafra
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