Tuesday, May 15, 2007
If you were to ask an anarchist at random to define the word “anarchy,” chances are, he or she would probably describe a utopian society without government, capitalism, religion, or other oppressive forces, where people live in free association with one another. This idea of an anarchist utopia has historically been at the heart of anarchist thinking, and while it is undoubtedly important and useful, placing too much emphasis on it can be problematic. The problem with emphasizing the anarchist vision of a future libertarian society is that, to many people, the prospect seems to be too distant to be of much relevance. This is understandable; it’s easy to see why someone living in Bush’s America would have trouble imagining a society without horrific oppression and exploitation. Perhaps our ideas would have more resonance with ordinary people if we reframed our discussion of anarchism, to focus on its immediate relevance.
We should not think of anarchism as just a thing of the future, as something that will happen someday after “the revolution.” Neither should we think of it as just a thing of the past, as a movement that reached its peak with Bakunin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, the Haymarket martyrs, or the Spanish Revolution. Rather, we should think of anarchism as primarily a thing of the present. Anarchism is a tool box that can be used to enrich our lives and improve the societies that we currently live in.
Anarchism is all around us. Anarchism exists wherever nonhierarchical grassroots organizations are fighting tyranny and injustice. Anarchism exists wherever people are using direct action to create situations in which individuals can experience liberty and self-actualization. Anarchism exists wherever people are acting according to their own consciences instead of deferring to the dictates of external authorities. While it is useful to look at past libertarian movements for inspiration and ideas, and to think of a future anarchist society as an ideal to strive for, it is important that we live in the present, because that is when we can actually change things.
Even though mass-scale anarchist revolution seems like a remote prospect at the moment, anarchism is still relevant and important to modern society. Without a vision of what a libertarian, egalitarian, and ecologically-sustainable society could look like, a coherent critique of existing systems of oppression and exploitation, or an effective tactical strategy for dismantling the existing society and replacing it with a liberated society, we have no hope of changing society. Anarchism is important to any modern struggle for social justice—be it the anti-capitalist movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the animal rights movement, or the environmental movement—precisely because it offers a vision of a transformed society to strive for, a critique of state-capitalism, and a tactical strategy (direct action) which ordinary people can employ to achieve concrete results. It is our hope that anarchist revolution will occur in the future; however, until the day that it does, anarchism will still play an important role in enriching our lives and improving our society.
 The other problem is that most anarchists can’t seem to agree on what exactly this future libertarian society should look like, and too often this prevents people who share common values from working with each other.
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