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Forum Post: Anarchy: A Definition. What is anarchism?

Posted 2 years ago on May 14, 2012, 8:27 p.m. EST by DKAtoday (28427) from Coon Rapids, MN
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Anarchy: A Definition What is anarchism?

Anarchism is the movement for social justice through freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian. It has existed and developed since the seventeenth century, with a philosophy and a defined outlook that have evolved and grown with time and circumstance. Anarchism began as what it remains today: a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism promotes mutual aid, harmony and human solidarity, to achieve a free, classless society - a cooperative commonwealth. Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for perfect accord between the individual, society and nature. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists, are not simply dreamers obsessed with abstract principles. We know that events are ruled by chance, and that people’s actions depend much on long-held habits and on psychological and emotional factors that are often anti-social and usually unpredictable. We are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle could last forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be.

Whatever the immediate prospects of achieving a free society, and however remote the ideal, if we value our common humanity then we must never cease to strive to realise our vision. If we settle for anything less, then we are little more than beasts of burden at the service of the privileged few, without much to gain from life other than a lighter load, better feed and a cosier berth.

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice.

In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakeable faith then it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchism encompasses such a broad view of the world that it cannot easily be distilled into a formal definition. Michael Bakunin, the man whose writings and example over a century ago did most to transform anarchism from an abstract critique of political power into a theory of practical social action, defined its fundamental tenet thus: In a word, we reject all privileged, licensed, official, and legal legislation and authority, even though it arise from universal suffrage, convinced that it could only turn to the benefit of a dominant and exploiting minority, and against the interests of the vast enslaved majority.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute to it practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels both of individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.

Elsewhere, the less formal practices and struggles of the more indomitable among the propertyless and disadvantaged victims of the authority system have found articulation in the writings of those who on brief acquaintance would appear to be mere millenarian dreamers. Far from being abstract speculations conjured out of thin air, such works have, like all social theories, been derived from sensitive observation. They reflect the fundamental and uncontainable conviction nourished by a conscious minority throughout history that social power held over people is a usurpation of natural rights: power originates in the people, and they alone have, together, the right to wield it.

17 Comments

17 Comments


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[-] 3 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Anarchism starts with the idea that power relationships/structures are not self justifying, and nothing should be exempt from scrutiny. Whether it's boss/worker, police/civilian, government/citizen ... in any case where we can identify power structures/relationships that involve coercion (and dominion of one party over another), anarchism holds that the people have a right to question its legitimacy (and right to exist). If there's a way to achieve needed functions in a participatory way, then according to anarchism; that's the way it should be done. More broadly speaking, this philosophy can be applied to everything (including even personal relationships).

[-] 2 points by brightonsage (4494) 2 years ago

In no society that has ever existed, has it purely committed to a single philosophy or belief system, or organizational principle. I think it is obvious in this society there are multiples of all of these.

First question: At what fraction does the plurality switch from some other system to anarchy?

Second question: Since it will coexist how is the system enforced on those who do not accept it?

Third question: What fraction of people can refuse to accept the system and have it sustain successful function? What is the best example that supports the answers to these questions?

Fourth question: Has there been a case which hasn't evolved into an authoritarian socialist/communist state?

Fifth question: Is chaos a necessary phase in the evolution to anarchy?

Sixth question: Why has it failed to reach the promise of the theoretical end state in the instances in which it has been tried?

[-] 1 points by jbgramps (159) 2 years ago

Overly dramatic and romanticized, but seems sincere. I applaud the enthusiasm.

However, In today’s world, especially the US, people tend to equate anarchists with terrorism. I’ve seen lots of posts trying to define anarchists as non-violent. But the masses aren’t buying it. During the protests about the only that makes the MSM is the violent acts. That’s what the people see.

Personally I see a lot (not all) anarchists being capable of violent acts. I would think that the more disparate and frustrated anarchists become the more prone to violence.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

For those who benefit from power relationships, anarchism is a threat, and there's very little these power structures won't do to retain power (the best we can hope for is that they merely try to scare people and redefine the concept of anarchism, when the power structure really feels threatened, things usually get much uglier). What we have now (in terms of government) is a hybrid between a subtle form of fascism and state socialism (basically, a plutocracy, hidden under a veil of illusory democracy). What's worse, these two aspects of our power structure have become intertwined (so the deck is stacked pretty high against average citizens).

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 2 years ago

We have to remember that most Americans considered Vietnam War protestors little more than terrorists (though that word was not really in vogue during the late '60s), when the anti-war movement first started. Many Americans considered the civil-rights movement communist-inspired. J Edgar Hoover even went so far as to offer Robert Kennedy documents alleging some of King's closest advisors were communists.

A negative image in the beginning is sometimes an advantage as many people come to realize their perceptions have been wrong on quite a few issues.

[-] 1 points by jbgramps (159) 2 years ago

You’re right about the Vietnam protests. Mostly college kids feeling their oats. But there were a few violent spin off groups like the Weathermen. In reality the sixties protests were rather isolated to a few large cities. Most of the country took the Hippies in stride and continued their lives as normal. I’m a Vietnam vet and didn’t pay much attention to them. Although they had a big impact on fashion.

Some important things evolved from the Hippie generation (both good and bad). Like environmental issues, drugs and a whole new feeling of social awareness. But I digress.

My point is that violence is counterproductive; and anarchists spend a lot of time just trying to explain they are not violent. And people still don’t buy it. The public is very sanative about terrorism; and will not support anything they feel associated with it. To say the least, the public is suspicious of the name anarchists and they’re not going to put a lot of time into understanding your definition.

[-] 1 points by Endgame (535) 2 years ago

Well said jbgramps. Its all about the perception.

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 2 years ago

Violence is counterproductive, but to equate violence with anarchism is like equating MLK with communism, or Vietnam War protestors with the violent acts of the Weatherman.

Some people are violent in almost any group. All Americans aren't warmongers in spite of how American polticians behave.

[-] 2 points by brightonsage (4494) 2 years ago

Some groups seem to be involved with more violence than others. This violence may be self generated, or may be attracted from outside. It is not unreasonable to try to understand the amount of violence that is typically experienced in conjunction with a system and to try to determine the source or cause of this violence.

People would like to make the minimal amount of change with the least amount of risk to achieve an increment of improvement. Common sense.

[-] 2 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 2 years ago

Yes, people, like water, generally follow the path of least resistence.

Still, I can't think of any radical social change that has occurred without some violence, even those which we consider basically non-violent. Gandhi was paralled by Subhas Chandra Bose, and many modern Indian historians credit Bose more than Gandhi for the final surge, which finally forced the Raj to capitulate.

Even in the United State the non-violent Vietnam War protestors were shadowed by the Weatherman and similar groups. Martin Luther King marched through Birmingham without ever raising his fist, but the Black Panthers loomed in the shadows.

Violence is a natural part of social unrest. The effort of the majority of prostestors should be to keep that faction on the outside and always in the smallest of minorities.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I think it's fair to say violence is counterproductive in a place like the United States (simply because it's almost certainly a losing proposition), but the fusion of peaceful protest and anarchism hasn't been universally agreed upon by all anarchist thinkers through time. Nevertheless, a new breed of anarchism has emerged (since around the middle of last century), which as a general rule strongly rejects and condemns any form of violence (and proponents of violent anarchism are a very small minority at this point) ... but (in this context) the term violence needs to be qualified. Occupying an empty building or public land is not seen as a violent act, and to some extent, an anarchist would reject the states right to physically remove them from that place (and define it as an exercise of illegitimate power).

If we don't have real democracy (and we don't), then there is no state with power derived from the people (therefore, absent true participatory democracy, the legitimacy of state power should be called into question). Without participatory democracy, the best we can hope for is a softer version of master/slave, feudal lord/serf, etc. (but the underlying dynamic is still the same).

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 2 years ago

I certainly agree with your points, but feel compelled to point out that in the first Canut revolt of 1831, aside from the casualties sustained during the initial overthrow of governmental authority in Lyon, while workers rallied under the black flag, overall the uprising remained non-violent, even when government forces reclaimed the town.

My point is simply that the workers, some of which were anarchists, generally refrained from violence except to rid themselves of governmental control. The second Canut revolt just a few years later proved that the bourgeousie had no real interest in peaceful solutions, when government forces massacred hundreds in reclaiming Lyon then imprisoned thousands of the workers.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 2 years ago

the government is itself violent so people expect violence

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (28427) from Coon Rapids, MN 2 years ago

Tell ya what - under the right circumstances (?) most anyone is capable of violence.

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[-] 0 points by stevebol (1269) from Milwaukee, WI 2 years ago

Anarchists? I thought they were people who didn't got to their High School prom.

[-] 1 points by epa1nter (4650) from Rutherford, NJ 2 years ago

True: they all just had ecstatic sex with each other instead.