Anarchism is the belief that people can voluntarily cooperate to meet everyone's needs, without bosses or political authority, and without sacrificing individual liberty.

It is the belief that people are able to work together in a peaceful and rational manner, as equals. Instead of a society of individuals competing against one another, some enjoying huge advantages, each only looking after his or her own interests, an anarchist community would be a cooperative effort. This mutual aid or team work does not require great altruisn or self-sacrifice, but simply common decency and helpfulness.

A good science fiction novel about left-wing anarchism (see also anarcho-syndicalism, as opposed to the capitalistic oriented right-wing anarchism of Ayn Rand and most libertarians) is The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's a good novel, because it's well written, and it's good science fiction, because it brings to life the reality of anarchism, and not only the positive or negative side.

(BTW: Why get left-wing nodes bad reputations all the time?)

Anarchism is a socialist political theory which rejects the heirarchical organization of society. Heirarchical authority, that is, the sort of authority wielded by States and by capitalists, is seen as contrary to the well-being of the individual and, moreover, unnecessary to the function of society. At the core of anarchist thinking is the fundamental belief that no one has a right to exploit or to oppress another person.

Anarchism is popularly touted as a violent or terrorist movement that seeks to plunge our happy consumerist world into utter chaos. This is pure nonsense.

Anarchism posits that the authority of the State, whose power is the monopoly of violence and therefore coercion, is unjustified and oppressive. Further, anarchism holds that capitalism -- that is, an economic system based on private property and wage labour -- leads to widespread poverty, exploitation and the marginalisation of people in favour of systemic interests.

Anarchists distinguish between the authority inherent in a person due to her talents or wisdom and the "authority" assumed by a person simply because he holds the superior role in an arbitrary hierarchy. Anarchists don't presume that society ought not to have structures, merely that the structures society does have should be based upon inherent, or natural, authority (Starhawk might call it power-from-within) and direct, participatory, democracy.

Anarchists believe that both the individual and society are best served when no-one dominates or rules over another. Anarchists tend to believe that social organization based on voluntary association, participatory and co-operative economy and a culture of individual empowerment and distrust of authority will lead to a more free and egalitarian society.

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"Anarchy", "anarchist" - these words are worth more to the modern media as slurs to be directed at radical alternatives than as actual political definitions. Anarchy is used interchangeably with "chaos", and is often used to describe such situations as tribal warfare in Afghanistan and Somalia, or feudal conflict between tiny fiefdoms, where the common person suffers as the most powerful or wealthy oppress the population with abandon and no restraint. Similarly, rioting during protest actions is often chalked up to "anarchists" who have "infiltrated" the event, implicitly assuming that what anarchists desire when they speak of "anarchy" is a brutal and barbaric riot scene with no purpose or organization. Anarchy as a political concept is nothing of the sort: as one popular anarchist web-resources site puts it, anarchy is "a lack of orders, not a lack of ORDER." (1) Anarchy, etymologically, comes from the combination of the Greek prefix an-, meaning "the absence of", and archos, meaning "ruler", "director", or "authority". Originally, the strict meaning of this word was simply "no state", which could be extended to any number of hierarchal institutions that were not under the purview of state power; the definition, however, saw its extension in anarchist theory, beginning in the 19th century at about the same time as Karl Marx began to expound on his own theory of socialism and revolution. The anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin stated this updated definition as well as anyone could: "contrary to authority"(2). Anarchy is the theoretical form of society in which not only state government is abolished, but all forms of oppressive hierarchy are replaced by egalitarian alternatives that respect the individual. This includes corporate and capitalist hierarchy (associated with capitalist definitions of "property" and "labor", class hierarchy, racial, sexual, and gender hierarchies). "Do you want to make it impossible for anyone to oppress his fellow-man? Then make sure that no one shall possess power."(3)

Anarchists consider the only just society to be one that is anti-hierarchal in all its modes and facets. A non-statist system that still retained the current unjust division of labor that is inherent in capitalism would not be anarchy, as the wage-slave employee would still be subject to his employer for his basic livelihood; a society without property or state that still forced women into sexist roles and allowed an imbalance between male and female labor would still be socially hierarchal and unjust. Anarchy requires a world that is complete and continuous in its rejection of hierarchy and acceptance of the individual and egalitarianism, and thus the philosophy that pursues it must be holistic, not neglecting polity, economy, or society, nor depending on the alteration of one or the other to fix the problems inherent in a society (as many forms of dogmatic Marxism do by assuming that once an economically egalitarian workers' state is established that social injustice will disappear). This philosophy is a third path, one that has been poorly lit by scholarly lamps all throughout its history. Like an impoverished urban neighborhood between the gold-paved streets of Capitalist Ln. and the steel railroad of the Marxist Line - much more stable and glamorous in their theoretical and scholarly states than in the practice that underlies them - Anarchist St. is unfairly neglected in its practice and theory, but has been around as long as either of its rivals have been in ascendance.

The philosophy that pursues this end, and that encompasses the details of such a future society, is "anarchism". It is the pursuit of what Russian and Eastern European anarchists like Nestor Makhno would come to call "libertarian socialism", one that seeks the stateless equality and fraternity promised by Marxism, but based in the understanding and fostering of each member of society as a creative, active, and valuable individual rather than a cog in an economic machine. Alienation is the constant social problem of both capitalism and authoritarian Marxism, one measuring the worth of a human in "capital" as directed by corporate marketeers and executives, while the other measures in "labor" as directed by commissars and state planners. Anarchism's most basic idea, key to understanding its view of the individual, is that of a direct and participatory democracy - something rarely achieved in this present "Age of Democracy". Democratic participation must extend to economic justice as surely as it does to the political, according to anarchist theory, or else one is left with the stagnant and corrupt hierarchies ingrained in parliamentarianism, with the wealthy maintaining a stranglehold on the legislature, the media, and the corporate aspects of social conditioning. Anarchism has many variants among different theorists (eco-anarchism, individualist anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism), who integrate social, economic, environmental, and other factors to varying degrees and also differ in their understanding of revolution and future society - but direct democracy as a replacement of the state and of capitalism is the root cause of anarchism and its quest to fully integrate the individual with conceptual "society" and finally eliminate the schizoid disruption of alienation. Each individual must have a direct hand in his or her society, through local councils, voluntary federations as pertain to specific issues, and a re-creation of the "workplace" as a free environment that is governed by the individuals who are contributing their time and energy to society at large - with input from those outside who are affected by the work being done. Self-determination is key to anarchism's view of a holistic society, and is the only just way to achieve equality among all those involved. "Liberty is essential for the full flowering of human intelligence, creativity, and dignity. To be dominated by another is to be denied the chance to think and act for oneself, which is the only way to grow and develop one's individuality. Domination also stifles innovation and personal responsibility, leading to conformity and mediocrity." (4)

Is anarchism opposed to capitalism? Yes. "If liberty is essential for the fullest development of individuality, then equality is essential for genuine liberty to exist. There can be no real freedom in a class-stratified, hierarchical society riddled with gross inequalities of power, wealth, and privilege. For in such a society only a few -- those at the top of the hierarchy -- are relatively free, while the rest are semi-slaves. Hence without equality, liberty becomes a mockery -- at best the "freedom" to choose one's master (boss), as under capitalism." (5) Anarchism hopes to directly dismantle the capitalist structure of economy and replace it with an egalitarian and democratic socialism, as anarchist theory views all managing of resources by small groups of power mongers as not only "potential for injustice" (as many capitalist stalwarts have admitted in the case of Enron's incestual interaction with auditors and the government that supposedly oversees corporate activity), but simple injustice in action - inherent in such domination is the alienation an individual feels when he or she knows that there is little to no say in the basic facets of that individual's life. What is the socialism of anarchism? It differs from both Marxist and parliamentarian socialism, as it seeks to do away with what theorist Michael Albert refers to as the "coordinator class". Whether ruled by a Politboro or an elected elite, both hierarchal forms of socialism place society and power over the lives of individuals into the hands of this class, an educated (and generally quite wealthy) section of society which seeks to preserve and maintain its own control, whether out of a self-righteous and ingrained sense of superiority in such matters or downright greed and tyranny. The results of such an authoritarian attempt at socialism can be seen in both the history of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, where a "workers' paradise" thinly masked a brutally oppressive government from the earliest days of Bolshevik dictatorship to the collapse of the union in the 1990s, and in the "socialist" governments of parliamentarian Europe, where earlier gains in labor protection and egalitarian policies are now being turned around for the economic benefits of "neoliberal" capitalist philosophy and practice. Formerly socialist parties, like the NDP of Canada, are now safely in the middle of the road as far as economic and social policies go, as are the Greens of Germany, originally autonomist and anti-authoritarian but now simply another parliamentary party hoping to maintain the seats it holds.

Socialism can only be maintained and implemented by those it champions - not "the People" in the abstract, theoretical sense, but by the people, along every step of the development of an egalitarian society. ". . .solidarity means mutual aid: working voluntarily and co-operatively with others who share the same goals and interests. But without liberty and equality, society becomes a pyramid of competing classes based on the domination of the lower by the higher strata. In such a society, as we know from our own, it's 'dominate or be dominated,' 'dog eat dog,' and 'everyone for themselves.' "(6) The only way socialist solidarity can be achieved and equality of resources established is through direct democracy, with either immediate control over social decisions by the people themselves, or through delegates that are under that same immediate control - that can be recalled instantly, that speak in the voice of those they represent as decided by direct voting on issues, and so on.

Anarchism is not necessarily a revolutionary philosophy - although it states that only through major upheaval and change in all parts of life will a just society be achieved (this being a part of the holistic view it promotes), there are any number of libertarian socialists and individualist anarchists who believe that a social revolution can only lead to violence and fascism and that other methods must be used (the spiritual revolution of Gandhi, the pre-existing federations of Proudhon, and so on). However, most popular aspects of anarchist socialism promote revolution against capitalism as a necessary means. "Revolutionary anarchists argue that, ultimately, capitalism cannot be reformed away nor will the state wither away under the onslaught of libertarian institutions and attitudes. They do not consider it possible to "burn Property little by little" via "some system of economics" which will "put back into society . . . the wealth which has been taken out of society by another system of economics", to use Proudhon's expression. Therefore, libertarian tendencies within capitalism may make life better under that system but they cannot, ultimately, get rid of it. This implies a social revolution, they argue. Such anarchists agree with Alexander Berkman when he writes: "This is no record of any government or authority, of any group or class in power having given up its mastery voluntarily. In every instance it required the use of force, or at least the threat of it." (ABC of Anarchism, p. 32) "(8)

This proposed revolution cannot simply be the proletarian revolt of Marxist theory, as workers seizing the means of production only addresses the economic issues of capitalist alienation, and is indeed only a beginning even to that. Thus, anarchism promotes "direct action" as a means to change, not just in the workplace, but in every activity of life. Someone who works for a revolutionary union and is still imprisoned by, say, bias against alternative lifestyles, is not acting directly in the interest of revolution. Direct action, and not electoral politics, is the chosen pursuit of the anarchist philosophy, ". . . because direct action is based around individuals solving their own problems, by their own action, it awakens those aspects of individuals crushed by hierarchy and oppression - such as initiative, solidarity, imagination, self-confidence and a sense of individual and collective power, that you do matter and count as an individual and that you, and others like you, can change the world." (7) Direct action encompasses the method of strikes and action on the job, popular and vigorous protest in the streets, as well as the creation of alternate social structures underneath the authoritarian systems of capitalism, such as non-authoritarian schools, food collectives, and community unions. Anarchism largely rejects reformism, or the belief that with the right electoral platform a parliamentary government can be elected that will bring about egalitarian reforms. "Taking capital to begin with, if we assume that a relatively reformist government was elected it would soon find itself facing various economic pressures. Either capital would disinvest, so forcing the government to back down in the face of economic collapse, or the government in question would control capital leaving the country and so would soon be isolated from new investment and its currency would become worthless. Either way, the economy would be severely damaged and the promised 'reforms' would be dead letters. In addition, this economic failure would soon result in popular revolt which in turn would lead to a more authoritarian state as 'democracy' was protected from the people. " (8) There is some dispute over this in anarchist circles, including the idea of "libertarian muncipalism" as proposed by social ecologist Murray Bookchin, which claims that election within townships and other small communities could pre-empt the need for a widescale social revolution that would be simultaneously waged against local authorities. Many anarchists, however, consider such elections to pave the way for dangerous statism and hierarchy, simply on a local level.

Anarchism proper can be summed up as "liberty, equality, and solidarity": the need for each individual to forge his own existence in the world free from the fetters of a boss or of the need to be a boss; the base requirement for such widespread liberty, equality, both in the political and economic sense, as well as in the social sense for all cultures, religions, races, genders, and sexual orientations; and solidarity, a strong sense of communal understanding of humanity as a single society that defies the boundaries of nations, states, or neighborhoods. This pursuit of a stateless society has been called naive by many and been misunderstood by most, but it has been implemented by various groups throughout the years (and usually crushed by injustice, as in the case of the CNT-FAI anarcho-communes during the Spanish Civil War). Anarchists continue to this day to promote their philosophy through direct action, and some theorize that in this age of capitalist "globalization" and the resulting isolation of a world citizen as a mere consumer, measured in dollars by a faceless hierarchy, anarchism's philosophy has wider appeal than it has had in decades.

1 . Mid-Atlantic Infoshop Online.
2 Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 284.
3 The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 271.
4, Section A.2
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7, Section J.2
8, Section J.7.1

An"arch*ism (#), n. [Cf. F. anarchisme.]

The doctrine or practice of anarchists.


© Webster 1913.

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