Thursday, March 06, 2008

Anarchism Essay, by Richard

A common feeling people have about modern anarchism is that it is primarily a negative political theory. They see it as defining itself more in its opposition to capitalism, coercive state power and general forms of authority rather than any positive alternative. It is also seen as closely tied to the anti-capitalist, anti-poverty, anti-United States and anti-World Trade Organisation movements. While it is true that anarchism opposes capitalism and state power and supports these movements, it also yearns for a better society and provides a number of arguments for what this could be and how it should come about. Generally, all left-wing anarchists believe in a decentralised, federalised society along with workers’ control of the means of production, where people are autonomous and are able to pursue their own goals and dreams, free from state or commercial coercion.[1] Despite the principle of autonomy advocated by anarchists, they also stress community and solidarity. There is no real inconsistency here because humans are social animals and community is something they freely choose as an integral part of their lives; it does not need to be forced upon them by higher powers. Although I will be talking about modern anarchism, the early anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin illustrates the anarchist vision well when he says:

harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilised being’.[2]

Neoliberalism is seen as a mockery of these beliefs by its reduction of too many areas of life to a universal set of market transactions, so that almost everything has a price and very little has value and where citizens are only seen in terms of their labour power and how much they can consume and acquire.[3]

Organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the WTO are seen as the some of the main proponents of these neo-liberal values. They are executive bodies that administer and push forward modern capitalism on a planned and global basis. To anarchists, such bodies have partly usurped the role of national states, taken on many of their powers and adopted the same ideological armour. For example, they believe in the ‘trickle down’ effect, as most free-market capitalists of the past have done, an ideology completely anathema to anarchists.[4] The popular anarcho-syndicalist, Noam Chomsky sees such institutions as,

efforts to centralise power in a world economic system geared towards ensuring that the general populations of the world have no role in decision making, and that the level of policy planning is raised to be so remote from peoples’ knowledge and understanding and input that they have absolutely no idea about the various decisions that will effect their lives, and they certainly couldn’t influence them if they did.[5]

This reflects anarchists’ belief that capitalism operates based on brutal self-interest and exploitation of the poor, the working classes, and the Third World.

All nation states and so-called liberal democracies are still strongly opposed by anarchists however, in particular the United States, as it is seen to use its unchallenged status as the world’s greatest superpower to support neoliberalism around the world, often by violent means, to those who refuse to kowtow to its agenda.[6] Anarchists try to show the hypocrisy of a so-called ‘free market’ nation-state engaging in economic protectionism. They are also opposed to states as a matter of principle. Despite universal suffrage and the benefits that have flowed from the development of the welfare state, anarchists tend to see putting a cross on a piece of paper every few years, and accepting whatever new laws and obligations are enacted in that period, as a neat example of how power is preserved under the guise of democracy. It is not unusual for anarchists to use voting figures in their arguments because they frequently show that a large percentage of citizens choose not to vote for any of their would-be representatives.[7] While this shows a dissatisfaction with democracy it does not necessarily show support for any other aspect of anarchism, which goes too far for many in terms of rejecting most forms of authority.

An example of this would be anarchists’ fundamental disagreement with the institution of the school. They believe that the ultimate social function of education is to perpetuate society: it is the social function. Society guarantees its future by rearing children in its own image.[8] Moreover, schools are an almost perfectly regressive form of taxation: the children of the poorest one-third of the population of the United States cost the public in schooling US$2,500 each over a lifetime, while the children of the richest one-tenth cost about US$35,000.[9] In place of what they deem a corrupt system, anarchists demand schools from which the principle of authority will be eliminated:

They will be schools no longer; they will be popular academies in which neither pupils nor masters will be known, where the people will come freely to get, if they need it, free instruction, and in which, rich in their own expertise, they will teach in their turn many things to the professors who shall bring them knowledge which they lack.[10]

Along with education, the criminal system is an important consideration for anarchist theories, as many questions arise over how crime would be dealt with in a society without any overt authority. Ward believes that many crimes committed in modern nation-states would not occur in an anarchist society. He gives several reasons for this, the first is that most crimes today are of theft or property destruction, and in a society in which real property and productive property are communally held and where personal property is shared out on a more equitable basis, the incentive for theft would disappear. Also, crimes of violence not originating in theft would dwindle away since a genuinely permissive and non-competitive society would not produce personalities prone to violence.[11] He hopes that motoring offences would not present the problems that they do now because people would be more socially conscious and responsible, would tend to use public transport (when the private car had lost its status), and in a more leisured society we would lose the pathological love of speed and aggressiveness that we see on the roads today. Lastly, in a decentralised society vast urban conglomerations would cease to exist and people would be more considerate and concerned for their neighbours.[12] For the late-19th, early 20th century anarchist writer Errico Malatesta, one of the most important things an anarchist society would have to remember is that the ‘do-it-yourself’ justice system could have a tendency to harden into an oppressive institution. For Malatesta, we only have the right to intervene with material force against those who offend against others violently and prevent others from living in peace. Force and physical restraint must only be used against attacks of violence and for no other reason than self-defence. Further, we must avoid the creation of bodies specialising in police work.[13] He thinks that perhaps something will be lost in ‘repressive efficiency’ by following this line, but we will avoid the creation of the instrument of every tyranny: the police/prison system. There must also be room for deviance in society, and there must be support for the right to deviate.[14] People will not be labelled criminals if they diverge from the status quo.

Now considering the alternatives proposed for wider society, anarchists believe the replacement for today’s states will be based on people taking responsibility for their workaday lives and developing forms of participatory, decentralised, democratic government for complex societies where power is not concentrated in the hands of elites or bureaucracy.[15] It is imagined that the competitive market would be replaced by a localised communal system of production and distribution not based on supply and demand but on the basis of citizens’ needs and the availability of resources, where the citizens and workers themselves decide what goods and services they deem valuable. Instead of ruthless competition for market shares and the search for lower costs, which translates into pitifully low wages and child labour in Third World sweatshops, localisation prioritises local production and small producers. Economic planning would be participatory and on based at the local level, with national and international planning for complex modes of production and scarce or locally unavailable resources. The central organisational idea is that of the federation, built up from a democratic base of associations, workers’ councils and communes, arriving at joint decisions and exercising authority but in a way that does not recreate the authoritarian rule of the state.[16]

All sections of an anarchist society would make decisions based on a democratic ‘consensus’ approach. Instead of voting proposals up and down, proposals would be worked, reworked, and reinvented until a consensus is reached. When it comes to finding consensus, there are two ways for objection to proposals to take place: one can ‘stand aside’ from the decision making or ‘block’ the decision, which has the effect of a veto. One can only block if one feels a proposal is in violation of the fundamental principles or reasons for being of a group.[17] An alternative approach is proposed by Murray Bookchin, which he sees operating in New England town meetings. Problems of local government are discussed and decided in an open vote. Issues such as school tuition and the construction of roads are discussed with issues are placed on the agenda by petition. A board of selectmen (chosen annually) chair the meetings and are responsible for implementing the resolutions.[18]

To ensure an anarchist society did not face the risk of becoming authoritarian, representatives to organisations above the local-level will be members of the community and live within it, will serve only part-time, and will be able to be recalled quickly by their community. Representation would follow a cyclical pattern whereby every able member of the community has an opportunity to participate politically.[19] However, the replacement of government by voluntary cooperatives would not eliminate the need for psychological, legal, and social sanctions, nor would it remove the possibility of some familiar aspects of authority and control emerging in disguised forms.[20] The difference would be that any sanctions would be put in place by the community for the good of the community, and if authoritarianism did arise it would be much easier to deal with as the entire populace would be involved in decision-making.

As for political parties, an anarchist society would not forcefully prevent them from arising. Where there is direct participation in self-management, in economic and social affairs, then factions, conflicts, differences of interest and ideas and opinion, which should be welcomed and cultivated, will be expressed at every one of these levels. It is not clear, though, why these should be divided into two or three political parties. It is unlikely parties would appear in an anarchist society, however, because, as Chomsky mentions, ‘parties represent basically class interests, and classes would have been eliminated or transcended in such a society.’[21]

I will now consider a few criticisms of the proposed anarchist society and possible responses. One of the main criticisms made of anarchism is that in an anarchist society, with no wage incentive or authority, there would be no ‘drive’ for people to succeed and for the economy to grow at the rate we are accustomed to. Chomsky believes that it is perhaps a good thing that there would not be such a drive to produce. He says that people have to be driven to have certain wants in our system, so why not leave them alone so they can just be happy, and follow pursuits of their choice? Drive should be internal — a force of discovery rather than mere production growth.[22] Furthermore, it is a common charge against anarchists that they do not accept any authority, but this is a misconception: only illegitimate authority is opposed completely. For Séan Sheehan,

accepting authority…should be distinguished from accepting professional opinion and judgement; anarchists are not objecting to some people having a more authoritative voice than others in fields where this is appropriate.[23]

Ward believes that there would be no ‘laziness’ or ‘unemployment’ problem either. In fact he sees all previous societies, including our own, as supporting the lazy man: the privileged aristocracy and elites who benefit from other peoples’ toil. If we were to simply give everyone the chance to be useful, which is the opportunity most people yearn for, he says, we would not encounter this problem.[24]

A related question often posed against anarchists is: ‘Why should we expect the kind of work people would find interesting and fulfilling to coincide at all closely with the kind which actually needs to be done, if we are to sustain anything like the standard of living which people demand and are used to?’ Chomsky believes that science and technology have not been devoted to examining that question or to overcoming the onerous and self-destructive character of the ‘necessary’ work of society. He says that it has always been assumed that there is a substantial body of wage-slaves who will do this type of work simply because, if they do not, they will be unable to support their themselves, and that if human intelligence is turned to the question of how to make the necessary work of society itself meaningful, we may find out that a fair amount may be made entirely tolerable. Moreover, if work has to be equally shared among people capable of doing it, it can potentially be satisfying because we all have a hand in the management of the enterprise and thereby determine how the work will be organised, what it is for, and what will happen to the outputs of our production. Even if these arguments are unacceptable, he argues, the choice we face is — if the residue of undesired work is large — between having it equally shared, or having the undesired work receive high extra pay, so that individuals voluntarily choose it, or to design social institutions so that some group of people will be simply compelled to do the work, on pain of starvation. Chomsky would argue for the first rather than the second (and obviously not the third), but they are both basically consistent with anarchist principles.[25]

Considering the ‘growth’ part of the question, Chomsky says that it is not clear that contributing to the enhancement of pleasure and satisfaction in work is inversely proportional to contributing to the value of the output. Desire to create things of value to the community could conceivably be a very good reason why they should want to undertake that work and feel satisfied in doing so. Job satisfaction is undoubtedly an important aspect of peoples’ lives. Psychologists have conducted studies where employees complain when their job cannot be well done, for example, if the assembly-line on which they work moves too fast for them to complete their task to what they feel is their ability. There is an inherent pride and self-fulfilment people gain in simply doing a job well. Additionally, job satisfaction has been proven to be the highest overall predictor of longevity. [26]

The further (very common) criticism made against anarchism is the ‘who empties the privies?’ or ‘who will do the dirty jobs?’ question. Sheehan somewhat concedes this point by saying that, ‘anarchism naturally recognises that many indispensable and useful activities are carried out by governments.’[27] But, as Errico Malatesta pointed out, so-called autonomous societies can carry out very useful functions as well, even in capitalist states. For example, the Red Cross geographical societies, workers’ associations and voluntary bodies show the power of the spirit of cooperation. The relevance of this to the question is that the so-called ‘dirty jobs’ can be divvied up in an anarchist society because it has the organisational ideas to deal with the problem; as Sheehan says, ‘dis-organisations’ is not the same as ‘disorganisation’.[28] Graeber shares this assertion, and mentions – sincerely, but somewhat light-heartedly — that,

There’s no particular reason dirty jobs have to exist. If one divided up the unpleasant tasks equally, that would mean all the world’s top scientists and engineers would have to do them too; one could expect the creation of self-cleaning kitchens and coal-mining robots almost immediately.[29]

Many in capitalist society think that people are inherently materialistic and will always want to accumulate more under any social structure, including anarchism. Anarchists do not accept this at all. As Murray Bookchin says, thinking that what currently exists couldn’t be otherwise is the acid that corrodes all visionary thinking. There seems to be no reason to assume that materialism is a part of human nature. Capitalist society creates wants and needs. Peasant and tribal societies go on without the sort of rampant materialism embodied by modern capitalism. Peasants have had to be driven by force and violence into a wage-labour system they did not want; then major effects were undertaken to create wants. One example of this ‘want’ creation is the ascendance of advertising. A certain sense of status anxiety is also created by capitalists (also propagated by advertising). Once wants are created people are driven into a wage-labour society.[30] This is similar to the ‘false consciousness’ argument of communists: people think they need the things they currently have but they can really go on quite well without them. On the other hand, Sheehan comments,

to believe in libertarian socialism does not depend on a utopian belief in the perfectibility of human beings, just an appreciation of mutual aid and solidarity as basic principles for the betterment of life. What anarchism rejects is the bourgeois mind-set that sees life as a game in some economic playground, with winners and losers.’[31]

So anarchism doesn’t expect to get rid of status anxiety and materialism completely, but it certainly hopes that a different social structure which doesn’t have a fixation on the accumulation of goods and based on the principle of need and mutual will help to blunt this edge of so-called human nature to a considerable degree.

One final objection is to be considered. Namely, it seems that an anarchist society demands the opposite of the division of labour whereby nobody can actually become adept enough at one thing to excel in it due to their numerous other duties. It could lead to a society of ‘jacks of all trades’ where none at all are masters of any. An anarchist could respond that many jobs are simply not required in an anarchist society, and the ones that are required can be completed with a minimum of hassle and time where the rest of the time can be dedicated to true interests and hobbies. But, consider a counter-argument: What about painstaking medical and scientific work which requires large amounts of training and education and is not a mere hobby but work which is necessarily required by society? These tasks can only be performed by those with the relevant (and extremely time-consuming) education and training. A response could be along the lines of: some people will specialise in certain disciplines, necessarily, but this does not mean they should — or would have to — neglect their other social tasks. Others can be trained and can take over at appropriate times; after all, there will be greater possibilities for education for a greater proportion of the population in such a society. This seems to be one of those cases where people would in fact enjoy their job because they find it useful to society and other people respect them for undertaking it. However, it is important that these people’s other duties to society are not neglected. They cannot be seen as elites who get a ‘better deal’ than the rest of the populace, otherwise some may try to exploit this.

Forms of praxis employed by anarchists are important to, first, convince people of their ideology and, second, to effect a social revolution to alter the status quo. I will first outline their general theory of revolution and then go on to examine some of their methods and tactics. Anarchists believe that a social revolution will have to destroy the state bureaucracy and the state’s forces of violence and coercion (the police, armed forces, intelligence agencies, and so on). They believe that if this is not done, the state will come back and crush the revolution. Such a destruction of the state it not designed to enact violence against individuals, but rather to precipitate the destruction of hierarchical organisations, positions and institutions. It would involve, for example, the disbanding of the police, army, navy, state officialdom, and the transformation of police stations, army and naval bases, and the state bureaucracy’s offices into something more useful to society. Prisons would eventually be destroyed when they were no longer needed. Those who used to work as public servants would be asked to pursue a more fruitful way of life or else leave the community.[32] For Chomsky, the revolution must start with the take-over of the management of all factories by the producers themselves.[33] Some would say that this would be too difficult to organise, or even impossible, but this is exactly what the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) did in Spain in 1911 to develop a working anarchist organisation. Ward thinks that if one group takes an initiative that is valuable, others will freely take it up, and the revolution will build from there to develop a mass consciousness of anarchist ideas.[34]

Consciousness raising is of great importance to the success of this revolutionary tendency. Anarchists try to get people to recognise the existence of oppression and domination and the fact that they are not inevitable. They also believe that struggle helps create people, movements and organisations which are libertarian in nature and which, potentially, can replace capitalism with a more humane society.[35] Anarchists believe that they need to encourage those with revolutionary spirit to revolt, and do so by a number of tactics, including pamphlet drops, demonstrations, protests and, of course, dispersal of anarchist literature. Mainstream channels are also a possibility.

However, some anarchists disagree on whether they should use existing structures, such as the mainstream media, political parties, and government organisations to help their cause. The discussion includes not just consciousness raising, but the possibility of reform. Chomsky is one anarchist who thinks that reforms should be sought but, if you ‘press [for] reforms within the existing systems of repression, sooner or later you find that you will have to change them.’ He believes that, ‘there is no conflict between trying to overthrow the state and using the means that are provided in a partially democratic society.’[36] Graeber agrees here by saying that we have to create a new society ‘within the shell of the old’, to expose, subvert and undermine structures of domination. He adds that anarchists must always proceed in a democratic fashion; in a manner which itself demonstrates those structures are unnecessary and helps project their sensibilities to would-be sympathisers.[37]

Graeber does not think that all anarchists are going to agree on every issue or that we can — or should — try to convert another person completely to their point of view, which is why they employ a consensus approach, where everyone agrees from the start on certain broad principles of unity and purposes for being for the groups but leave the detail open for discussion. Discussion should focus on concrete questions of action, and coming up with a plan that everyone can live with and no one feels that it fundamentally violates their principles. Rather than be based on the need to prove others’ fundamental assumptions wrong, the consensus approach (which has been discussed above) seeks to find particular projects on which these assumptions can reinforce each other.[38] This is an application of the principle that revolutions should not be about knowing exactly what will and should take place but to be prepared to experiment and allow differing opinions to influence one another equally and on a non-hierarchical basis.

Some critics of anarchism consider this a weakness: that it does not work in the ordinary ‘political party’ way, with a pyramid-like command structure. While it is true that anarchists are very sceptical of hierarchies in any form, they do not necessarily distrust leaders. Some people of course come to the fore in many situations and charismatic individuals do emerge. Examples include the highly charismatic Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista movement in Mexico. Anarchists believe that leaders are probably somewhat inevitable, and if a structure does not allow for, and accommodate this, the alternative is going to be an informal, undemocratic leadership.[39]

I shall now consider a few examples of direct action employed by anarchists, or in which anarchists have been involved. On New Year’s Day 1994 the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) enacted an insurrection where 2,000 armed supporters occupied towns and a city in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Declaring war on the national government, they called for self-determination for the indigenous peoples and peasants of the Chiapas region (many of the group’s members are indigenas people). They called on all Mexicans to show solidarity with the indigenas people, asserting that it had no agenda for a Marxist-style reorganisation of society and no wish to seize power. They were originally set up in a hierarchical, centralised way but by 1994 the group had no executive body and operated without a command structure as such. Such a form was inspired by the life of the indigenas: on ideas of community and communal decision making. The Mexican state was opposed basically because it was a state and, in its stead, a participatory democracy was sought that would allow citizens to challenge the economic order. Support for the Zapatistas came in the form of activists from a variety of backgrounds: human rights, indigenous rights, peace groups, environmentalists. Much of the insurrection was organised over the Internet, with some members travelling to Chiapas and organising a medley of support groups and ad hoc activities.[40]

The ‘free city’ of Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark has been making a practical contribution to what remains the long-term aim of the Zapatista movement and anti-capitalist movement as a whole: the building of a global civil society to oppose global capitalism and the power of the state. 650-1,000 people live in Christiania, which operated without paying taxes to the government for over 20 years. Christianites pay rent to the community’s ‘Area Funds’, which are run democratically to provide necessities to all its members. In general meetings, the consensus approach is followed. Decisions are not made on the basis of voting and, consequently, some decisions are not quickly arrived at. It is not totally anarchist, however, with people from all political persuasions living more or less in separate districts.[41]

Lindsay Hart argues that the direct action that has developed within the feminist, environmentalist, peace and animal liberation movements has often had a distinctly anarchist flavour, with decentralist and non-hierarchical organisational structures and direct democratic decision-making forming part of the way that many of their campaigns have been conducted. Illegal tactics have been used as part of direct action strategies performed within the above social movements. Civil disobedience, for example, has been used widely in most of these movements. Hart makes the point that, ‘while convincing more people of the value of anarchism’s tenets is a necessary task for anarchists, to attempt to do this while justifying one’s law-breaking can often leave one in a difficult position.’ For the anarchist, it seems to be far better in terms of tactics to argue for the justification of one’s present actions within the present political context than to argue for the dissolution of the whole of the theoretical underpinnings of the modern world.[42]

Three styles of non-violent direct action that are common to many campaigns used in these movements are: bearing witness, obstruction and mass movement. Bearing witness (as commonly practised by environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace) is regarded as relatively limited by anarchists due to the fact that it relies disproportionately for its effectiveness on the mass media to communicate the message that the individual or small group of activists are bearing witness to. It is only really effective as part of a broader whole. There is also a problem that some organisations who practise this tactic rely on a small group of ‘elite’ activists to witness the injustice on behalf of everyone else. This problem also applies to the ‘obstruction’ tactic. Whereas mass movements tend to occur only in countries where the issue has been one of immediate survival, such as the Cochabamba protests of 2000 in Bolivia over the privatisation of the municipal water supply.[43]

Anarchists have been strongly involved in anti-capitalist marches and protests recently, and most notably in Seattle 1999. These have largely been non-violent in nature as modern anarchism rejects the violence in general and especially the organised violence that states embody. Sheehan describes anarchists as now using:

paint-bombs not semtex, water pistols not guns, and the employment of mock armies of fairies of white-overalled protested, ludicrously emboldened by foam padding or elongated rubber limbs…This is not the expression of a soft, hippy, gradualism but a dramatically visual form, appropriate to public dissent, of a non-hierarchical oppositional movement up in arms.[44]

Even as early as the 1970s, groups such as the Angry Brigade in Britain dismissed violence in favour of property destruction and scare-tactics. They targeted homes of Establishment figures, police stations and computer systems, the Spanish embassy, the Ministry of Employment and the home of the managing director of Ford. They were a libertarian communist group part of an organised working-class opposition to free-market capitalism. They did not see themselves as a vanguard for the revolution, and their small-scale bombs were never designed to kill or maim: targets were selected for their symbolic value. They were mainly designed to complement the industrial unrest that characterised Britain in the early 1970s. From their Communiqué 7, they complain that:

The politicians, the leaders, the rich, the big bosses are in command. They control. We, the people, suffer. They have tried to make us mere functions of a production process. They have polluted the world with chemical waste from their factories. They shoved garbage from their media down our throats. They made us absurd sexual caricatures, all of us, men and women. There is a certain kind of professional who claims to represent us…the M.P.s, the Communist Party, the Union leaders, the Social Workers, the old-old left. All these people presumed to act on our behalf. All these people have certain things in common…They always sell us out.[45]

More recently, Critical Mass from the US and Reclaim the Streets from England have emerged as anarchist-inspired groups concerned to reclaim overregulated public spaces. ‘Critical mass’ is a metaphor for the possibility of leaderless, mass action precipitating a direct action dynamic of explosive social power. They oppose the gentrification of urban spaces and proliferation of surveillance they view as part of the process of class control. Their goal is to subvert controlled hierarchies and they attempt to do so through non-violent actions such as: BASE jumping, hiphop graffiti writing and outlawed microradio broadcasting.[46]

The question of violence is an important one for anarchists, as they are commonly characterised as terrorists and criminals. According to Sheehan, many accept that ‘the anti-capitalist movement must be non-violent in order to viably challenge the organised violence of the post-Cold War, US-led, alliance of nation states that promote and sustain international capital and market Stalinism.’[47] But Chomsky says that violence may sometimes be necessary to defend yourself, for example, against security forces when trying to protest or conduct a strike or simply organise. He believes that violence overwhelmingly comes from the powerful. The reason people talk about it coming from the revolutionaries is that when they are attacked they often defend themselves with violence. He does not think violence is going to be an effective revolutionary tool, however, because there is a limit to how much popular movements can defend themselves with violence and still maintain a popular-democratic character. He sees broader solidarity as necessary to stop violence: if soldiers and police officers feel more allegiance to the revolutionaries than the powers they are serving they might very well switch sides.[48]

Hart quotes the militant anarchist P. Marshall, in defence of revolutionaries who employ violence:

…they have never organised the indiscriminate slaughter that is war or practised genocide as governments have. They have never coolly contemplated the complete nuclear annihilation of the earth as nuclear scientists, generals and presidents have. They have never adopted a deliberate policy of terror in power as Robespierre, Stalin or Pol Pot did.[49]

Some, such as the British Class War Federation, support this assertion and completely reject Gandhi’s famous precept ‘hate the sin but not the sinner’. They believe that ‘the system has no real existence outside of individuals, there is no Capitalism without Capitalists’.[50] They advocate direct action of a nastier, more in-your-face kind, which often included attacking wealthy capitalists.

Most anarchists, however, do not approve of violence for any reason but self-defence. This does not mean they worry about breaking laws they see as oppressive. And they certainly accept that governments can be terribly violent and that they can define their violence as appropriate and legitimate, but for anarchists to do the same would be hypocritical.

Finally, I will look at some anarchist ‘policies’ and the prospects for anarchist revolution in the future. Anarchists usually champion non-voting as a means of expressing a political choice, albeit the negative one of rejecting all of the candidates, but the principle of chosen representatives — considered they are probationary, accountable and replaceable — is far from anathema to them. Nor should it be thought that anarchists necessarily relish, as an end in itself, the prospect of more and more people choosing not to vote.[51] For Ward, non-voting is not an end in itself but it is one of the most important tenets of anarchist policy:

[We begin] not with supporting, joining, or hoping to change from within, the existing political parties, nor by starting new ones as rival contenders for political power. Our task is not to gain power, but to erode it, to drain it away from the state.[52]

Chomsky, as noted earlier, is not totally against voting or ‘reformist’ change. Chomsky feels that anarchists don’t necessarily need to be against all state institutions (in the short term at least). He thinks that political parties should enter the American political area representing the population, not just business interests. He accepts the welfare state as a necessary part of today’s society, and he sees aspects of the state system under attack from others who want to destroy the few concessions it does allow. Although, he says, defending these programmes is not the ultimate end we should be pursuing, we still have to face the problems that are right on the horizon, and which seriously affect human lives. The deeper visions should be maintained but dismantling the state system is a goal that is a lot farther away.[53] Chomsky appears to be in the minority of anarchists who agree with reformism.

Graeber is not necessarily opposed to reformism but he seems to see the anarchist cause as much more urgent. He believes that the struggle against work has always been central to anarchist organising; not the struggle for better worker conditions or higher wages, but the struggle to eliminate work, as a relation of domination, entirely: hence the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the ‘Wobblies’) slogan, ‘against the wage system’. He concedes that in the short term, what can’t be eliminated can at least be reduced.[54]

Anarchists support the policy of getting rid of superfluous occupations. In fact, this is one of most important tasks of anarchist revolution for two main reasons: first, because the level of production we tolerate today is unsustainable, and second, getting rid of unnecessary jobs would mean everybody would have more leisure hours in which to pursue their interests and hobbies. Graeber believes that most people would agree that there are many jobs whose disappearance would be a net gain for humanity, for example,

telemarketers, stretch-SUV manufacturers, or for that matter, corporate lawyers. We could also eliminate the entire advertising and PR industries, fire all politicians and their staffs, eliminate anyone remotely connected with an HMO, without even beginning to get near essential social functions… The elimination of advertising would also reduce the production, shipping, and selling of unnecessary products, since people would figure out how to find out about goods they actually want or need. The elimination of radical inequalities would mean we would no longer require the services of most of the millions currently employed as doormen, private security forces, prison guards, or SWAT teams–not to mention the military. Beyond that, we’d have to do research. Financiers, insurers, and investment bankers are all essentially parasitic beings, but there might be some useful functions in these sectors that could not simply be replaced with software. [55]

He thinks that, by undertaking this cull we might discover that, if we identified the work that really did need to be done to maintain a comfortable and ecologically sustainable standard of living, and redistribute the hours, it may turn out that the Wobbly platform of reducing the work to 20 hours a week or less, is perfectly realistic. Although he says that we need to bear in mind that no one would be forced to stop working after four hours if they didn’t feel like it. Then again, it might even turn out that no one will have to work any more than they particularly want to. [56]

There are conflicting feelings among anarchists as to whether the prospects for an anarchist revolution are promising. Most agree, though, that revolution cannot come immediately. Chomsky is one who supports this view. He says that, ‘the accomplishments of the popular revolution in Spain were based on the patient work of many years of organisation and education, one component of a long tradition of commitment and militancy.’[57]

From one point of view, according to Ward, the outlook is bleak because centralised power, whether that of governments, or of private capitalism or the ‘super-capitalism’ of giant international corporations, has never been greater. But from another standpoint he views the outlook as infinitely promising:

The very growth of the state and its bureaucracy, the giant corporation and its privileged hierarchy, are exposing their vulnerability to non-co-operation, to sabotage, and to the exploitation of their weaknesses by the weak. They are also giving rise to parallel organisations, counter organisations, alternative organisations, which exemplify the anarchist method…De-schooling movement, anti-university, squatter movements, tenants’ co-operatives, food co-operatives, Claimants’ Unions, community newspapers, movements for child welfare, communal households, black/ female/ homosexual/ prisoners’/ children’s’ liberation. None of these movements is yet a threat to the power structure, and this is scarcely surprising since hardly any of them existed before the late 1960s. None of them fits into the framework of conventional politics. They talk the language of anarchist and they insist on anarchist principles of organisation, which they have learned not from political theory but from their own experience. They organise in loosely associated groups which are voluntary, functional, temporary and small. They are networks, not pyramids.[58]

For Bookchin, the fact that young people in working-class families have increasingly responded to the culture of their white middle-class peers is one of the most hopeful signs that the factory will not be impervious to revolutionary ideas. Once it has taken root, he says, a cultural advance, like a technological advance, can be ever more widely diffused, particularly among people whose minds have not been hardened by conditioning and age. He sees the youth culture, with its freedom of the senses and spirit, as having its own innate appeal and that the spread of this culture to the schools is one of the most subversive social phenomena in the world today.[59]

Chomsky cites some statistics to show why he feels that, ‘more than ever, libertarian socialist ideas are relevant, and the population is very much open to them.’ He says that, despite a huge mass of corporate propaganda, outside of educated circles, people seem to maintain their traditional attitudes. In the US, for example, more than 80 percent of the population regard the economic system as ‘inherently unfair’ and the political system as a fraud, which serves the ‘special interests’, not ‘the people.’ The overwhelming majority think working people have too little voice in public affairs, that the government has the responsibility of assisting people in need, that spending for education and health should take precedence over budget-cutting and tax cuts, and that the current Republican proposals that are sailing through Congress benefit the rich and harm the general population and especially the poor.[60] He feels strongly that, ‘the more these concentrations of power and authority continue, the more we will see revulsion against them and efforts to organise and overthrow them.’[61]

For all anarchists, the most important principle to remember is that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy — every authoritarian structure — must prove it is justified; it has no prior justification. The burden of proof must always be on the person exercising the authority. They believe that most of the time authority structures have no justification: not morally, not in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or even general society.[62] Anarchists directly challenge what we are led to believe are inevitable and natural facts: that most of us are little more than our labour power, always in thrall to the laws of the market-place, that most things can be expressed in monetary terms, that quality of life is related to the possession of commodities, and that happiness best belongs to a private not public sphere.[63] They believe that none of these are valuable for human life, and they are certainly not part of a ‘human nature’ we cannot escape from. If nothing more, anarchist proposals need to taken seriously and become a part of public discourse and, for, even if they fail, the population needs to know that, if they are unhappy with the way things are, there are alternative visions; liberal capitalism it not the necessary end-point of human development. By employing even a few anarchist ideas, we may be on our way to achieving a less oppressive, freer, and more equitable society. Those who do not know of the alleged pitfalls of capitalism and states can easily be shown. But the worst thing to do would be to realise there is a problem, but sit back and do nothing.


Bookchin, Murray. Post-Scarcity Anarchism. San Francisco, Ramparts Press, Inc., 1971.

Chomsky, Noam and Barry Pateman (ed.). Chomsky on Anarchism. Oakland, AK Press, 2005.

Chomsky, Noam, Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (eds). Understanding Power. London, Vintage, 2003.

Graeber, David and Andrej Grubacic, Anarchism, Or The Revolutionary Movement Of The Twenty-first Century [online magazine], (January 6,2004), , accessed 24 April 2006.

Graeber, David. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago, Prickly Paradigm Press, LLC, 2004.

Heider, Ulrike. Anarchism: Left, Right and Green (Danny Lewis and Ulrike Bode, trans.). San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1994.

McKay, Iain et al. ‘What do Anarchists do?’, An Anarchist FAQ Webpage [online opinion FAQ], (10 Jan 2005), , accessed 24 April 2006.

Purkis, Jon and James Bowen (eds). Twenty-first Century Anarchism: Unorthodox Ideas for a New Millennium. London, Cassell, 1997.

Sheehan, Séan M. Anarchism. London, Reaktion Books Ltd., 2003.

Ward, Colin. Anarchism in Action. London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1973.

[1] Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, San Francisco, Ramparts Press, Inc., 1971, p. 23.

[2] Peter Kropotkin, quoted in David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Chicago, Prickly Paradigm Press, LLC, 2004, p. 1.

[3] Séan M. Sheehan, Anarchism, London, Reaktion Books Ltd., 2003, p. 18.

[4] Ibid. p. 150.

[5] Noam Chomsky, Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel (eds), Understanding Power, London, Vintage, 2003, p. 381.

[6] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 16.

[7] Ibid. p. 31.

[8] Colin Ward, Anarchism in Action, London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1973, p. 79.

[9] Everett Reimer, quoted in ibid. p. 83.

[10] Mikhail Bakunin, quoted in ibid. p. 82. This was Bakunin’s view and is not necessarily one that is shared by all other anarchists.

[11] This seems too optimistic in my opinion. Violent crime would indeed dwindle, but personalities prone to violence would still exist due to any number of reasons, not least psychological conditions. Besides there is no use in ignoring violent crime for, in an anarchist society, it would still need to be dealt with, but hopefully this would be done in a just way: treating crime as needing rehabilitation rather than punishment.

[12] Ward, op. cit. pp. 126-27.

[13] I am assuming everyday police organisations as well as more oppressive ad hoc vigilante groups and militias are envisioned here.

[14] Malatesta, in ibid. p. 132.

[15] Sheehan, op. cit. pp. 15-16, 151-52.

[16] Ibid. p. 49, and Ward, op. cit. p. 106. Anarchists also support the eventual elimination of national borders altogether as they believe they are often artificial, arbitrary and protect the privileged. Geographical locations and ‘boundaries’ of federations and communities would be democratically decided by the communities themselves.

[17] Graeber, op. cit. p. 45.

[18] Ulrike Heider, Anarchism: Left, Right and Green (Danny Lewis and Ulrike Bode, trans.), San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1994, pp. 61-2. Personally, I see the consensus approach as the more successful one as it seems Bookchin’s approach could end the discussion too abruptly after the vote had been taken.

[19] Chomsky, op. cit. p. 197.

[20] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 50.

[21] Noam Chomsky and Barry Pateman (ed.), ‘The Relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism’ (1976), in Chomsky on Anarchism, Oakland, AK Press, 2005, pp. 137-38.

[22] Chomsky, Understanding Power, pp. 202-03.

[23] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 33.

[24] Ward, op. cit. p. 109.

[25] Chomsky, ‘The Relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism’ (1976), in Chomsky on Anarchism, pp. 141-44.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 48.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Graeber, op. cit. p. 82.

[30] Chomsky, Understanding Power, p. 204.

[31] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 153.

[32] Iain McKay, et al. ‘What do Anarchists do?’, An Anarchist FAQ Webpage [online opinion FAQ], (10 Jan 2005),, accessed 24 April 2006.

[33] Chomsky, ‘Notes on Anarchism’ (1970), in Chomsky on Anarchism, p. 120.

[34] Ward, op. cit. p. 58. Ward also mentions that the methods used must be tailored to the society one lives in, because some tactics aren’t going to work in all circumstances.

[35] McKay, op. cit.

[36] Chomsky, ‘Interview with Ziga Vodovnik’ (2004), in Chomsky on Anarchism, pp. 237-9.

[37] Graeber, op. cit. p. 4.

[38] Ibid. p. 8.

[39] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 157. I should stress that this means leaders as leaders only, and not as dictators or those necessarily with more social power than others.

[40] Ibid. p. 116.

[41] Ibid. p. 117-18.

[42] Lindsay Hart, ‘In Defence of Radical Direct Action - Reflection on Civil Disobedience’, Sabotage and Nonviolence in Jon Purkis and James Bowen (eds), Twenty-first Century Anarchism: Unorthodox Ideas for a New Millennium. London, Cassell, 1997, pp. 42-3.

[43] Ibid. p. 47-8.

[44] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 17.

[45] Ibid. pp. 102-04.

[46] Ibid. pp. 127-28.

[47] Ibid. p. 17.

[48] Chomsky, Understanding Power, p. 192-93.

[49] P. Marshall, in Hart, op. cit. pp. 43-4.

[50] Sheehan, op. cit. p. 113.

[51] Ibid. pp. 31-2.

[52] Ward, op. cit. p. 22.

[53] Chomsky, Understanding Power, p. 194, 345.

[54] The Wobblies and other anarchists, at the turn of the century, played the central role in winning workers the 5-day week and 8-hour day.

[55] Graeber, op. cit. pp. 79-80.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Chomsky, ‘Notes on Anarchism’ (1970), in Chomsky on Anarchism, p. 127.

[58] Ward, op. cit. p. 137.

[59] Bookchin, op. cit. pp. 28-9.

[60] Chomsky, ‘Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future’ (1995), in Chomsky on Anarchism, pp. 188-89.

[61] Chomsky, ‘The Relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism’ (1976), in ibid. p. 148.

[62] Chomsky, Understanding Power, p. 203.

The Chimeras

Absence of heart – as in public buildings –
Absence of mind – as in public speeches –
Absence of worth – as in goods intended for the public,

Are telltale signs that a chimera has just dined
On someone else: of him, poor foolish fellow,
Not a scrap is left, not even his name.

Indescribable – being neither this nor that –
Uncountable – being any number –
Unreal – being anything but what they are,

And ugly customers for someone to encounter,
It is our fault entirely if we do:
They cannot touch us; it is we who will touch them.

Curious from wantonness – to see what they are like –
Cruel from fear – to put a stop to them –
Incredulous from conceit – to prove they cannot be –

We prod or kick or measure and are lost:
The stronger we are the sooner all is over;
It is our strength with which they gobble us up.

If someone, being chaste, brave, humble,
Get by them safely, he is still in danger,
With pity remembering what once they were,

Of turning back to help them. Don’t.
What they were once is what they would not be;
Not liking what they are not is what now they are.

No one can help them; walk on, keep on walking,
And do not let your goodness self-deceive you:
It is good that they are but not that they are thus.

WH Auden
That kicks so very much ass...

Thank you, youdad65 (Lloyd, correct?)

All Good Things,
Yessir, Alice, Lloyd's the handle.

Poems and Antipoems by Nicanor Parra?

One of all good things, to you.

- Lloyd
The Last Toast

Whether we like it or not,
We have only three choices:
Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And not even three
Because as the philosopher says
Yesterday is yesterday
It belongs to us only in memory:
From the rose already plucked
No more petals can be drawn.

The cards to play
Are only two:
The present and the future.

And there aren't even two
Because it's a known fact
The present doesn't exist
Except as it edges past
And is consumed...,
like youth.

In the end
We are only left with tomorrow.
I raise my glass
To the day that never arrives.

But that is all
we have at our disposal.

Nicanor Parra
And another, the last poem I sent my mother:

(To Patricia Rachel)

In Santiago, Chile
The days are interminably long:
Several eternities in a day.

Like the vendors of seaweed
Traveling on the backs of mules:
You yawn -- you yawn again.

Yet the weeks are short
The months go racing by
And the years have wings.
But I don't find The Last Toast in Miller Williams' 1966 Poems and Antipoems, ALTHOUGH...I found one of mine hiding in the back like a bat:

These washing machines speak spanish strangely
Yet they soothe, sisters and brothers
(Hermano hermana hermano hermana)

They ease the moltings they soothe
The ungranted recognitions
And ease some the molding wars

Among the face
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