Anarchism seems to be defined many ways by many different sources. Most dictionary definitions define anarchism as the absence of government. A leading modern dictionary, Webster’s Third International Dictionary, defines anarchism briefly but accurately as, “a political theory opposed to all forms of government and governmental restraint and advocating voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups in order to satisfy their needs.
” Other dictionaries describe anarchism with similar definitions. The Britannica-Webster dictionary defines the word anarchism as, “a political theory that holds all government authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocates a society based on voluntary cooperation of individuals and groups.” William Godwin was the first proclaimed anarchist in history and the first to write about anarchism. Godwin published a book called Political Justice in 1793 which first introduced his ideas about anarchism, Godwin was forgotten about, however, and after his death Pierre Joseph Proudhon became a leading anarchist figure in the world.
His book What is Property? incorporated greater meaning to the word anarchism; anarchism became not only a rejection of established authority but a theory opposing ownership of land and property as well. Anarchism fully blossomed as a defined theory when Russian anarchists Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) and Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) started to write and speak. Bakunin had a major influence in the world and introduced anarchism to many people. Kropotkin was one of the many people inspired by Bakunin.
Kropotkin wrote many books on anarchism, including Muitual Aid, Fields Factories and Workshops, and The Conquest of Bread, and greatly aided in the evolution of the theory of anarchism. As the 20th century emerged anarchism began to peak and the definition of anarchism became concrete with the growth of new anarchist writers and movements. The execution and imprisonment of eight anarchists in Chicago in 1886 sparked anarchism’s growth in the United States. The “Haymarket Eight” flourished anarchists such as Voltairine de Cleyre and Lucy Parsons.
Parsons was born into slavery and later became an anarchist and an ardent speaker and working class rebel; the Chicago police labeled Parsons, “…more dangerous than a thousand rioters.
” Although the word anarchism is understood by many in its classic sense (that defined by dictionaries and by anarchists of history), the word often seems to be misused or misunderstood. Anarchism, because of the threat it imposes upon established authority, has been historically, and is still, misused by power holders as violence and chaos. The claim that anarchism is chaos was refuted long ago by Alexander Berkman when he wrote: “I must tell you, first of all, what anarchism is not. It is not bombs, disorder, or chaos.
It is not robbery or murder. It is not a war of each against all. It is not a return to barbarianism or to the wild state of man. Anarchism is the very opposite of all that.
” So, what is anarchism? All of the pro-anarchy sources I found say that, basically, anarchism is a political philosophy that embraces democracy and freedom, and seeks to destroy all forms of coercion and oppression. The root of human oppression is seen as authority and inequality. This is why they think it is the perfect ideological guide for destroying poverty, racism, and sexism. All these oppressions are systems of power based on hierarchy.
Hierarchy means top-down, like a pyramid. Hierarchical constructions of power create positions of relative privilege and relative oppression. Capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy (male supremacy) are also top-down constructions of power. Anarchism conceptualizes power differently.
Instead of power over, anarchism proposes power with, cooperation. This means that social systems and institutions should be based on cooperation and compromising. Power would rest in individuals and the collectives they freely associate into. Anarchism revolves around five basic principles: 1) equality; 2) democracy; 3) free association; 4) mutual aid; 5) diversity.
Equality can have many different meanings. In regards to the anarchist political philosophy, they speak of equality in reference to power. This doesn’t mean they want a new society based on a totalitarian vision of everyone looking and acting the same, in fact they see strength in diversity. Instead they mean that everyone should have equal access to power, to determine how he or she wants to live his or her lives.
It appears the best way for equal power to be institutionalized is through different forms of democracy. Democracy is a vague notion, but in general it seeks to empower everyone to have an equal say in decisions that affect their lives. This is only useful if it extends to all areas of social life. Capitalism is undemocratic, in my opinion, especially when combined with racism and sexism.
Free Association is the idea that individuals should not be forced into social arrangements against their will. In the world today if you are born into poverty, most likely you will die in poverty. In America, children cannot expect to live at a higher standard than their parents. In an anarchist society collectives-or organizations, would be created for every purpose humanly desired, of people freely associated with equal power to determine its future.
This vision extends to all forms of social arrangements – from your neighborhood, to your city, to a neighborhood restaurant, etc. When people work together they can accomplish much more than when they work against each other. I do believe that social organizations should embrace and encourage this. It may seem like common sense, but when you look around, all you see is how we are constantly pitted against each other.
So anarchists do not seek to stifle creativity and individual excellence, but hope to spread it out, and allow everyone to chase their dreams. Diversity in this sense, is the key to survival in the future. The modern drive to standardize everything and apply the assembly line to all aspects of social life has left many alienated and hopeless. Instead of trying to make reality conform to state bureaucrats conceptions of order through imposition of their authority; anarchists believe that social organizations function more effectively for the people involved in them if those same people have the power to shape them in ways they desire.
So anarchists support diverse forms of democracy, family organization, production, dancing, loving, eating, whatever. Oh yeah, and being free. Here are my thoughts (they may, at first, seem to be off subject, but in the end you’ll nderstand why I begin the way I do): At the moment we live in a society in which there are two major classes – the bosses and the workers. The bosses own the factories, banks, shops, etc.
Workers don’t. All they have is their labor, which they use to make a living. Workers are compelled to sell their labor to the boss for a wage. The boss is interested in squeezing as much work out of the worker for as little wages as possible so that he/she can maintain high profits.
Thus the more wages workers get the less profits the bosses make. Their interests are in total opposition to each other. Production is not based on the needs of ordinary people. Production is for profit.
Therefore although there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, people starve because profits come first. This is capitalism. There are other classes in society such as the self- employed and small farmers but fundamentally there are workers and bosses whose interests are in opposition to each other. For workers needs to be fully met we must get rid of the bosses.
But this is no easy task. The bosses are organized. They have the media on their side. They also have the State and the force of the army and police that go with it.
The state (i.e. governments, armies, courts, police, etc.) is a direct result of the fact that we live in a class society.
A society where about 7% of the people own, at least, 85% of the wealth. The state is there to protect the interests of this minority, if not by persuasion then by force. Laws are made not to protect us, but to protect those who own the property. If you haven’t already guessed it, I don’t care much for capitalism.
I think it is very deceiving how we are led to believe that the state is run in our interests. “Don’t we have elections to ensure that any government not behaving itself can be brought to task?” you ask. Democracy is about putting numbers on a piece of paper every four years. We are given a choice all right, but between parties who all agree with the system of a tiny minority ruling the country.
So, is it possible for anarchy to exist? At the moment capitalism would collapse without the support of the working class. We make everything, we produce all the wealth. The sad thing is, most of the working class does believe America is being run in our interests. So, my answer is no; I don’t think anarchy will ever come to be in America.
The above paragraphs may make you think that I am now a anarchist. If so, I have misled you. I am against the way our nation is run today, but I do not think anarchy is an applicable alternative. Anarchy sounds as if we could actually live as an utopian society.
It is a nice dream, but will never be reality (at least not in my lifetime). When people are free, they are uncontrollable. I like the idea of having groups of different people, with equal power determining how the nation be run, but there needs to be control. I think the only way to come close to having an utopian society, is if someone comes up with a way where we can balance both freedom and control fairly, distribute it equally, and get the working class to believe it will work.
Who knows? Maybe someone actually will someday.