What is real anarchism?

  • Posted on: 13 December 2017
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

Anarchism is a philosophy which, over the years, has often been seriously misunderstood, thanks largely to the efforts of its enemies. But the situation seems worse than ever today, in that even those who call themselves anarchists sometimes lack a clear understanding of what it involves. Sometimes they accept the comic-book version of anarchism presented to us by the mainstream media and so help perpetuate that parody. Sometimes they undermine the whole sense of anarchism by trying to combine it with a political philosophy with which it is entirely incompatible, such as capitalism, liberalism, postmodernism, Marxism, nationalism or the politics of “racial” identity.

By real anarchism, we mean an anarchist vision unblurred by a confusion of other ideas and influences, an anarchist point of view which is strong and coherent because it is built on the foundation stone of anarchist philosophy. Anarchism, as a political movement, is doomed to disintegrate and disappear if it fails to reconnect itself to the roots of its own world-view.

Anarchy comes from the Greek terms arkh meaning ruler and an- meaning without: it therefore means a society without rulers. An anarchist is someone who thinks we should live without rulers and who tries to push society in that direction. Note that an anarchist isn’t just someone who thinks we could possibly live without rulers, in certain circumstances and if certain conditions were met, but someone who thinks it preferable to live without rulers.

The obvious question which springs to mind is why do anarchists think it would be better to live in a society without rulers, without government? After all, most of us have been brought up to believe that a state, the rule of law and so on are necessary for our well-being and protection. There may be arguments about how much power the state should have, or how it should use that power, but there is no general question about the need for some kind of authority in charge of our society. People assume that without a government, human society would fall apart into chaos, with everyone trampling over each other in a brutal “dog-eat-dog” world. The word “anarchy” is often used in this way by non-anarchists. They talk about a fear that we could “descend into anarchy”.

From this perspective, the anarchist point of view doesn’t make any sense at all. One common conclusion is that anarchists must be hopelessly naïve to believe that it could be possible to do away with authority without disastrous consequences. Another reaction is that anarchists must be destructive-minded and violent people, who actively want society to slip into a nightmarish condition of chaos. In fact, these two depictions of anarchists are used pretty much interchangeably by our enemies, particularly in the mainstream media, depending on the needs of the moment. One day anarchists are bunch of woolly-minded idealists, completely detached from “the real world”, foolishly clinging to a childish cloud-cuckoo fantasy of stateless society. The next day they are a sinister and violent gang of sociopaths, plotting underground to wreak havoc and destroy everything that is good in society.

Behind all this misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the anarchist position lies the important question of how we regard human nature. If you believe that humans are naturally selfish, greedy and violent, then you will argue that they need the structure of a state to control them. If you believe that there is no such thing as human nature, and that we are entirely shaped by the environment in which we grow up, then you will be keen to ensure that the correct environment is provided and may well look to some kind of state to ensure this happens.

But what if you believe that humans have a natural tendency for co-operation rather than for competition, for mutual aid rather than for mutual robbery? This is the anarchist point of view, most famously set out by the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 masterpiece Mutual Aid. In this case, you obviously do not believe that a state is necessary to hold society together, as this is something that happens naturally from within, because of this tendency for co-operation.

This difference between the statist and anarchist outlooks is fundamental. It is the point where anarchism diverges from all other political philosophies. So it is crucial to understand why Kropotkin, and his anarchist followers, have this particular view of human nature. Kropotkin made it quite clear in Mutual Aid, and elsewhere, that it is not just human nature he is describing. All animals show the same tendency to co-operate, simply because it makes sense. That is how species, including the human species, survive and flourish – by working together and looking out for each others’ interests. He makes it clear that this is only a tendency he is describing. There are plenty of instances of competition in nature, as well in human society. Anarchists do not suggest that a future anarchist society would never involve any conflict between individuals or groups. But the overall pattern remains one of co-operation.

This potential and natural tendency for co-operation and mutual aid is based on our belonging to the natural world, where co-operation remains intact as the general rule of life. It is a continuation of nature within humanity, the extension of the organic structure of nature into the realm of human affairs. A human society without a state can hold itself together because that is what it had evolved to do, before the modern era of hierarchies warped our ways of living.

So-called anarchist thinking in recent decades has been overly influenced by other philosophical ideas which do not share its roots. It is fashionable in some circles to reject the idea of “nature”, particularly when applied to human beings. It is wrongly seen as being some kind of restriction applied to individuals from the outside, an attempt to make them conform to someone else’s model. This hasn’t been helped by the right-wing misuse of the words “natural” and “unnatural” to describe behaviour or ways of being that are considered acceptable or unacceptable by certain groups. This has nothing to do with actual nature, which is simply the living world of which we are part.

Nature is at the heart of real anarchist thinking. The idea of a natural state of freedom that has been stolen from us by states, churches and other forms of domination underlies the whole anarchist tradition. Time and time again anarchists write of removing the constraints of the state, so that we can organise ourselves into co-operative societies where we will always have the potential to flourish.

For most people today, the existence of a state is accepted as something necessary for the general welfare of humanity. But what does the state represent for anarchists? If human society naturally functions well on its own, and then something comes along which interferes with that natural functioning, then that thing is a problem. Yes, the state is unnecessary, but it’s even worse than that. It is actually stopping us from living how we should be living. The state is a positive menace to human well-being.

Comparisons are sometimes made between anarchism and the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Taoism describes a natural flow to the world which can be blocked and disrupted by any attempts to control it, even well-meaning ones.

For those who see anarchy as being a natural and desirable condition of humankind, all kinds of authority are regarded as both unnatural and undesirable. This is the basis of the anarchist position. While those in power regard anarchists as wanting to turn their world upside down, anarchists regard the current world as already being upside down and want to put it back the right way again, how it’s meant to be.

Seen from the anarchist point of view (from the right way up), all the structures of our current society take on a different appearance. They are revealed as ways of keeping us enslaved and concealing from us the truth about our predicament. Here are some examples.

The state. Anarchists regard the state as an appalling imposition. A group of powerful people declare themselves to have some kind of right to authority, tell the people they need that authority, and then force people to obey them. This is unacceptable.

Property. The powerful people who run the state also claim to “own” parts of the surface of the Earth and exclude others from these areas.

The law. This is the way that all the theft and domination is justified, disguised and imposed. The law replaces the principle of “right” and “wrong” with narrow definitions of “legal” and “illegal” suiting the interests of those who run the state, possess the wealth and write the laws.

The police. They are the physical means by which the powerful people who run the state violently enforce obedience to their system.

The “nation”. The concept of a “nation” is a false one, designed to give legitimacy to the existence of states controlling particular territories. Obviously there are fluid cultural and linguistic identities across the world, which should be defended from statist imperialism and centralisation, but anarchists reject any idea that these identities are fixed or that humans can be defined by national or racial labels.

“Democracy”. To hide the reality behind their theft and domination, the powerful people behind the state have constructed an elaborate façade of so-called “democracy” to persuade the dispossessed majority that they do, in fact, have a say in the running of society. The usefulness of the illusion of “democracy” is to head off the need for constant violent repression of the public.

The main aim of the powerful people behind the state has always been to increase their own wealth and power at the expense of everyone else. They disguise this aim by describing it as “progress”, “development” or “economic growth”.

In order to boost their own wealth, the ruling class have stolen from the rest of humanity the ability to live freely off the natural fruits of the land and trapped us into a complex system of enslavement based on money. The basic idea is that you either become a slave to their system, or you starve. To encourage voluntary submission, we have been taught to think that any kind of paid employment has a positive value, whatever the work involves. The accumulation of money and possessions is likewise presented as praiseworthy in itself, and confers social status.

The increase in the wealth of the ruling class – or “economic growth” as they call it – is presented as an unchallengeable priority, justifying unending and ever-increasing exploitation of life in all its forms – human, animal and our natural environment.

Anarchists reject this rhetoric, and everything that goes along with it. We have our own set of values which have got nothing to do with the fake and self-serving “values” of the world of money.

Ethics form an important part of the anarchist vision. There is already an ethical dimension in the basic idea of a co-operative way of life founded on mutual aid. But real anarchists extend this further in seeing a sense of values which naturally goes hand in hand with the idea of a self-governing and organic anarchist society. These values provide an ethical structure for this society; they are the fabric that make it possible and hold it together on a physical level. This basic concept has been shared by many cultures in human history. It is the Chinese Tao, it is the Indian idea of dharma or cosmic order, or the indigenous South American sumak kawsay or “right way of living”.

This anarchist dharma is key to the superiority of anarchist society. As well as naturally having a tendency to co-operate, for survival and well-being, humans have a tendency to be guided by certain values which help build harmonious and sustainable societies. Respect for each other, respect for other creatures, for trees, plants and rivers. These values are commonplace amongst us but are not allowed to come to the fore and guide the direction of our societies, because of all the false structures imposed upon us.

Freeing humanity from the yoke of state control and enslavement would also free us to live according to values coming naturally to us, rather than being forced to obey the laws imposed on us by the slave-owning minority.

People new to anarchist ideas often misunderstand the role of the individual in anarchist philosophy. The emphasis on individual freedom leads some to imagine that anarchism is little more than an extreme form of individualism, a mere libertarianism which could theoretically be coupled with liberalism or capitalism. However, this interpretation neglects the strong social aspect of anarchism, its emphasis on our innate tendency towards co-operation and mutual aid.

Anarchism rejects the idea that there is an inherent clash of interests between the individual and the community, which has to be resolved by some kind of social contract or compromise. Instead, it understands that the individual human’s sense of belonging to a wider community is a natural one, if allowed to flourish. We do not need a state (whether capitalist or communist) to artificially impose that belonging and loyalty on us – indeed, trying to do so is more likely to destroy affinity with wider society.

Because anarchists maintain that humanity has a natural tendency towards co-operation, we trust people to organise themselves, rather than wanting to force them to behave in the ways that we see fit by means of laws, police and so on. For anarchists, the idea of complete freedom for all individuals is not something to be feared, because we recognise that, in the long run, individuals will act in the interests of the communities of which, after all, they are part. For the minority who use the structures of the current system to dispossess and exploit the majority, complete freedom is indeed to be feared – as a threat to their own privileged status.

Freedom of the individual is, for anarchists, necessary for the freedom of the community. A society cannot be considered free if its members are not free. An individual cannot be considered free if they are not free to act according to their own conscience and their own values. Those values are found deep within each of us. But, since each of us is also part of the human species, these are shared human values. When we search in our hearts for what is right and wrong, just and unjust, we are searching within the collective culture, the collective thinking, of humankind.

And embedded within that collective human culture is the idea of dharma, or Tao, or natural harmony, the sense of rightness by which human society can guide itself. When that sense of rightness has been obscured by all the false representations of contemporary society, it is the role of anarchists to bring it back to the fore.

Since anarchists demand complete freedom for all individuals, it goes without saying that we also recognise a complete equality of worth in all. The labels attached to people by current society, denoting their social or “national” or “racial” status, have no meaning for anarchists, who see only fellow human beings with a right to define themselves as they see fit and to be treated with respect by others.

We know that many in society today are subject to discrimination and oppression in ways that are not always seen, or regarded as significant, by others who do not undergo the same experiences. And we know that it is important to always remain aware of this. However, anarchists do not define themselves in terms of our oppression, or accept the role of victim. We prefer to fight back, focusing not on the differences between us but on what we all have in common.

Anarchism is not a narrow dogma and emerges in many different forms. Sometimes it can embrace struggles which may not be anarchist themselves, but are wholly compatible with anarchism. Anti-fascism is a good example of this. Not all anti-fascism is necessarily anarchist, but all anarchism is necessarily anti-fascist, as fascism is entirely incompatible with anarchism. Likewise, while class struggle does not have to be specifically anarchist, class struggle is very much part of the anarchist struggle – specifically the struggle to abolish the whole economic system in which humans are ranked in “classes”.

It has become fashionable to dismiss any idea of revolution as naïve. It is argued either that it is impossible, or that it will merely lead to new forms of oppression. But for anarchists, real naïvety lies in imagining that real change can be brought about without revolution. This is not revolution in the state-communist sense of a transfer of power to a new ruling elite. Anarchism aims at nothing less than the permanent destruction of the state and all the layers of authority it uses to enslave us.

While short-term social gains are not to be sniffed at, they are always to be seen for what they are. Without the demolition of all the structures of current system (law, work, patriarchy, borders, etc.) the structure of enslavement will remain intact and will, in time, reassert control. Real anarchists refuse to abandon the call for revolution, because we know that it is our only hope. Moreover, the myth of revolution, the dream of the complete destruction of the current system, is something that can galvanise action, that can capture people’s imagination and create powerful energies. One thing is for sure, and that is nothing will ever change if we all give up believing that change is even possible.

The anarchist view of the individual comes into play again when the question of revolution comes up. For us, the freedom of the individual is always combined with the responsibility to use that freedom in the general communal interest. In times of social harmony (i.e. anarchy), this would involve protecting the dharma of a stable and happy community. But in times like ours, where the world is upside down, the responsibility lies elsewhere.

Instead, say anarchists, individuals must find within themselves the strength to fight against the oppressive system in whatever way they can. This is partly a question of asserting own individuality through our dissent from the status quo and our adherence to our own set of values. But, of course, we are also acting in the interests the wider human community – as our values demand. Any anarchist who is true to themself has no choice but to act.

This courage to destroy injustice, tyranny and domination in all its forms is sometimes mistaken for negativity. But in fact anarchism has the deeply positive aim of sweeping away an existing negativity blocking human well-being and happiness. Anarchism is the spirit of life reasserting itself against oppression.




Can the real anarchist author tell me a revolution in history that has been successful in pushing toward anarchy?


the author has to be vegan. Many an anarchist draw their line of who is to be oppressed to suit themselves because they like the taste of sentient flesh! Real anarchists are vegan in that no sentient being is the property of another.

I think this is important. Anarchists/Anarchism is essentially the position of an elect where as anarch anarchic and anarchy is the more immediate position and referent to a non mediated non organized way of life.

The author is one of those anarcho-fakes who has a job and spends time at a space that does film screenings and letter writing nights.

Having a job disqualifies huh? Do you read much history then?

Perhaps having a job does disqualify a person from being an anarchist? I mean, on the one hand you say no gods no masters and on the other hand, you say yes boss, right away! This is a real problem. Personally, I don't think you can be an anarchist AND be a tax paying wage slave. That's the reality for me. It's like saying that you're basically (not quite) vegan!!! Hmm, so you're not a vegan then?

Yes, it's a real problem called capitalism. It isn't optional for most people. Shall we assume you're trolling or young or both?

Unemployed and supported by a trust fund is anarchistic

you're an anarchist sympathiser, surely not an anarchist? And yes, Emma Goldman had a job blah di blah. So what? No Gods No Masters, that's it. It's a bitter pill to swallow.

Having a job as such hardly disqualifies one from being an anarchist UNLESS it's a problematic job directly related to authority. It is an issue if one wants to be anarchic or a performing practicing anarch.

A mere position allows for more flexibility in regards to practice.

Sure, if you want to boil "what is anarchist" down to the SLOGAN "no gods, no masters" making it a law then almost no one is anarchist. And neither are you.

And no, I don't work.

What's a tad bitter, when it isn't just a quick, derisive laugh, is listening to clueless kids pontificate about how divorced from the reality of capitalism their lives are. Must be nice!

Are you a bomb-chucking bank robber? A master con artist living in a fortified squat, forging bills? No? Then you're probably on borrowed time from someone else having to work a job. Ya pompous little shit ;)

How anarchic you are should be based on a sliding scale instead of a binary. People who live in a squat, camp or a TAZ and don't have a job or pay bills or taxes are definitely living a more anarchic lifestyle than people living a conventional life. I work in a cottage industry that affords me a humble living but quite a bit of free time and I don't have a boss breathing down my neck but I'm still accountable to the business that buys my products, my neighbors and family so I wouldn't call it autonomy. Also some of my value is stolen from me in the productive and reproductive process. I also pay bills and taxes so I'm supporting the capitalist system at the same time I oppose it, so there is a contradiction here. I could see at some point in my life giving up the trappings of civilization and completely opposing the system especially if I found a better alternative.

Thanks for some honesty. The sliding scale? Surely an anarchist way of being is all or nothing? We're either beholden or free to come and go?

I'm free to come and go but there are consequences for every action and I have voluntary commitments that keep me in my current position. I also have material conditions that restrict my mobility and limit my options. Working within the field of possibilities and probabilities to find holes and lines of flight is my practice. Anarchy isn't an identity or lifestyle I'm trying to conform to but a literary and theoretical tradition that informs and transforms my psyche or intellect and affects my choices and actions.

'I'm free to come and go but...' That's what I said 'Free to come and go.' There is no 'but.' The 'but' is your choice as I understand what you've written. So, you could write 'and' instead of 'but.'

I try to choose my words carefully so once I hit the send button that's the end of editing unless I notice some obvious spelling or grammatical error but thanks for the input.

theoretical sympathisers and not practitioners and this would be by their own words. Most do not practice anarchy. It is a bitter pill to swallow. And so one has to wonder why people bother with 'anarchism.' Is it about escapism? This isn't about trolling or being young. After all, a capitalist theorises and practices capitalism likewise a socialist: these are not sympathisers; these are doers too. Anarchy is never going to happen while people accept and do wage slavery. You can write all the books, zines, podcasts etc you want and your frustration will remain. At least vegans too live by what they believe as with the capitalists and socialists: they practice as well as 'preach.' I don't see how any passionate anarchist can turn up for work and be shat on. Therefore, I have to conclude most are anarchist sympathisers. Sort of like The Clash being anti capitalist being signed to CBS and doing what the bigwigs tell them! Maybe there is something in the 'young' that the 'old' have lost or sold... excused away? 1976/77 when the mainstream took notice briefly and wondered about the punks on the street is a long time ago. Many bands took the money and had their 15 minutes.

Anarchian is not a materialistic or physiological, but rather a psychological attitudinal perspective on ones own being and the environment one inhabits. As Sir E said, if one is not partaking in authoritarian processes, like cutting down trees for a capitalist company, or working in a military industry, but a young person at McDonalds doing fries for some autonomy, hey, LETS NOT SPLIT HAIRS YA MEAN BUNCH OF RULE MAKERS!,,

"Anarchian is not a materialistic or physiological, but rather a psychological attitudinal perspective on ones own being and the environment one inhabits." Kid yourself all your life, buddy. So I can put you in a box and you will 'psychologically' believe you are on a sandy beach? What utter bollocks.

You ever heard the expression ' mind over matter ' and could you comprehend the concept of reality being a radically empirical sum of diverse random experiences and ones reaction to these encounters. You are rounded up and held in a prison cell for 2 months by authority as I have been, and for me it was an odyssey and a time to interact with your binary 'enemy', and possibly change and evolve their attitudes. This I call my creative aesthetic insurgency, and it is the only way to save the world without plummeting it into total war. My critics can continue in their Neanderthalic ways, I can only do my best praxis, by example,,,

It is interesting how language can be used to excuse the obvious lack of practicing what one supposedly believes in. Anarchism is in need of practicing anarchists!

So would you say you're trolling right now? Your position comes across as cartoonishly arrogant and detached from the real world.

The vast majority of anarchists in history, (centuries of history) came out of, and/or organized with and from within the labour movements. They used anarchist theory to inform their aggressive collective bargaining and gained tangible improvements in their own lives, as well as many others, all the while, looking to a future where they wouldn't have to work for anyone.

Contrast this with your asinine little word games.

I say this as someone who's been homeless, been on welfare, barely scrapped by using proceeds from black market shit and now works a job because efforts at squatting or land projects weren't successful for various reasons. What about you? How do you survive?

The vitriol that comes when so-called anarchists are challenged on the reality of their anarchist plight is telling. The anger and frustration of your failure is evident. That is what the challenging posts on this thread on also saying: the lack of anarchist communities says it all. Indeed, the TOTW has also raised this failure on occasion. The fact that anarchist sympathisers appear to be just as far away from their ideas as ever should tell you all something. For example, many on this site scoff at vegans. However, vegans are making in-roads into mainstream thinking and behaviour change. Western veganism has been around since 1940s only; anarchists much longer? Anarchist sympathisers appear reluctant to question why their ideas are not getting traction, perhaps you enjoy being an insignificant number or you don't actually believe that non-hierarchical relations to be possible? I survive by keeping to myself as much as possible, not saying much to anyone about how I get by. When you were homeless, one can find churches with available food, sleeping bags etc, you won't find anarchist centres though! Anarchism is riddled with small minded selfish identity politics probably as a result of personal frustrations where people end up shitting on those with whom they supposedly have some affinity? The constant destruction due to in-fighting is killing any idea of having non-hierarchical relations. Is it any wonder when the anarcho-curious scratch beneath the surface, they walk away saying forget it and end up in some socialist scene?

Now is the time to donate to churches so homeless anarchists can have food and a shelter over their heads.

apparently just here to grind your axe! You offer no supporting text; you simply have a dig at me. Anarchy is on its death-bed and all you can do is have a dig... backs up my observations. Given the state of inequality, pollution levels, disillusionment, debt etc, why aren't people turning into anarchists? Things were less severe in the mid-seventies, yet the punk scene took off and with it politics. Blacks and Whites attending the same space, anti-fascist, anti-racism gigs all over the place, females venting their anger as the front and centre person of punk and new wave music. DIY culture was up and running. Anarchism was on the radar. Since 1980ish, the anarchists are not singing anymore. I don't see anarchist sympathisers tabling on high streets. I do see vegans tabling on the high street. I do see Christians tabling too. 'Anarchists' do not promote anarchist ideas; many stick to their small insignificant circle! What's the point of that? I have got my local libraries to stock anarchist books which cost me nothing. So now, local mainstream people can, at least, know that there are other politics besides what they typically would be exposed to. Even environmentalists will table on the street. It doesn't have to cost lots of money or dressing up in black or be a lecture in some university.

This is just bizarre ad hominem directed at everyone and no-one. Hate to go all stirner on you but blaming "the anarchists" for what you perceive them to be doing or not doing, bears little relation to reality.

In your city, perhaps things are bleak, I don't know or care? Obviously you can read about anarchist activity in other places in the world that contradicts everything you're saying. I know a few things about my region and see inspiring things happening elsewhere but your little diatribe isn't even really an argument so there's nothing to refute, nothing to disprove.

At best, you're saying history is over and the anarchists should all give up. I disagree. It's just a polemic, just like … your opinion man. Not a particularly interesting one either, so my question is why spend your time doing writing pointless crap to a hostile audience?

Also, my point about "vitriol" didn't pass the collective's filter but it's worth considering that I say all this with an even tone. It's not necessarily "vitriol" when I find your bad-faith arguments beneath serious consideration. You're obviously articulate but your posts don't really mean much except "Why aren't people doing what I want them to?!" mixed with some rosy recollections of the past.

If you're the same person who was insisting that anarchists have to somehow exist entirely outside of wage slavery, you're ignoring most of anarchist history when you say that, which is either stupid, or bad-faith. Pick one.

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