von sophilos

Anarchy is a word so many people are afraid of without knowing what it actually means. It is used synonymously to chaos and anomie, and as a colloquial expression describes a state of lawlessness and political disorder. This fear and fundamental misconception probably dates back to the late 19th century, when several terrorists and terrorist organizations called themselves anarchistic. In this essay I would like to clear up the real meaning of the word anarchy and present some of the most important anarchist philosophers and ideas.

Anarchy has both a nominal and a real meaning. The nominal meaning is simply the absence of any kind of reign and/or hierarchy (from Greek: anarchia “without ruler”). The real meaning is much more difficult to define, as opinions diverge. What they all have in common is the disapproval of reign and the demand for absolute liberty for every individual without the implication of political disorder[1]. This is guaranteed by a system of direct agreement and consensus.

One of the central ideas of Anarchy, first published by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his book “Qu’est ce que la propriété?” (What is property?), is the disapproval of property (in contrast to possession). The difference is that possession is something you possess and you yourself use and/or need. Property is something you own and you can do as you want with it. For example, if somebody owns a car without having a driving licence this car is his property, because this person can prescribe who may use this car. Or, a more common example, a house owned by someone, who is not living in it or using it for any other purposes is property, because the owner forbids anyone else, perhaps a homeless person needing shelter, to use it. Proudhon’s example addresses factory workers. According to him factory workers, the ones actually using the machines and the ones actually working, should run and possess the factory and the machines. There is a humoristic cartoon putting this problem in a nutshell:

Capitalist A: What did you tell that man just now?

Capitalist B: I told him to work faster!

C. A: How much do you pay him?

C. B: Fifteen dollars a day.

C. A: Where do you get the money to pay him?

C. B: I sell products!

C. A: Who makes the products?

C. B: He does!

C. A: How many products does he make in one day?

C. B: Fifty dollars worth…

C. A: Then instead of you paying him, he pays you 35 dollars a day to tell him to work faster.

C. B: Huh? … Well I own the machines!

C. A: How did you get the machines?

C. B: I sold products and bought them.

C. A: And who made those products?

C. B: Shut up! He might hear you!

The conclusion Proudhon draws from his research is “La propriété c’est le vol.” (Property is theft.) He was therefore the “founder” of the later, very successful anarcho-syndicalist movement.

Two other very popular anarchist ideas are communist anarchism (by Peter Kropotkin) and anarcho-pacifism. Communist anarchism is based on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. Imagine a huge pot where everyone puts in the products they produce or the services they offer and everyone needing anything simply takes it out of the pot. This model is called indirect exchange. Instead of exchanging a loaf of bread for a bag of carrots, the baker would produce bread for the whole commune without demanding anything in exchange and the farmer would grow carrots and offer it to the whole commune without demanding anything in exchange. Furthermore, by contradicting Social Darwinism, Kropotkin makes the assumption (based on scientific observations) that human individuals would benefit from working together as a community of equals rather than competing with other humans. Anarcho-pacifism is a very traditional anarchist position. Many anarchists agree that force and violence are forms of reign and therefore “antianarchical”. But anarcho-pacifism (in contrast to anarcho-syndicalism and communist anarchism) is a modus of resistance abandoning any form of force or violence apart from self-defence. Anarcho-pacifism was influenced by many anarchist philosophers the most important ones being Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, Gustav Landauer, Bertrand Russell and last but not least Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The most important anarcho-pacifistic methods are strike and civil disobedience, which consists of demonstrations, election boycott, non-cooperation, tax protesting and more.

There is so much more to say about anarchy, but this essay should only give very superficial insight. Anarchy is a very appealing philosophy and has worked out quite efficiently in the past. Some examples for that are several communes in Spain of 1936 or in Ukraine from 1917 to 1922. Unfortunately anarchy was never given a real chance, perhaps because people were not ready for anarchy yet or because there is still too much fear. I would like to close with a quotation of Mohandas Gandhi about anarchy: “The ideally non violent state will be an ordered anarchy. That state is the best governed, which is governed the least.”

[1] In Fact Immanuel Kant, who was definitely no anarchist, wrote: “Anarchy is law and order without violence.”



by Raffael