Yes mom, I am an anarchist! March 22, 2007Posted by Andreas in anarchism, Politics.
The other night my mother called me in a state of shock. People had kept telling her about the anti-nuclear rant I wrote on News24 and my blog, but although she was somewhat concerned about my taking the apparently unpopular anti-atomic stance, that was not what had gotten her into a frenzy.
Mom: It says at the bottom of your article that you’re an “anarchist”! You don’t believe in lawlessness, wanton mayhem and destruction, do you. You couldn’t hurt a fly. You’re not an anarchist. Who wrote that there?
Me: Well, actually, I guess one of the editors did, but it’s true, mom, I am an anarchist.
-long moment of silence in which almost 40-year old anarchist, feeling like a teenager, admonishes himself for not having formally come-out to his parents believing that their internet-free lifestyle would save them the associated worries and him long arguments and explanations-
Mom: What on earth do you mean? Your dad is worried we are going to be arrested!
So for the benefit of my mother and everyone else who’s concerned about my moral well-being and mental sanity, I’m writing this (rather lengthy) explanation of what I mean by anarchism (actually, I wrote it a couple of years back in a zine that was probably read by 4 people at best).
I know it’s quite wordy and pompous, but at least it’s not flippant like this introduction, right mom!?
My mother’s panic is a perfect example of the fact that anarchism has got to be one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented ideas around. Maligned as violent and chaotic by the right and as ultra-left, utopian and counter-revolutionary by the left, most people have been conditioned to associate anarchism with wanton destruction and mayhem.
One of the main reasons for this very negative conception of anarchism in many people’s minds is that anarchists have consistently been outspoken enemies of those institutions and individuals that most powerfully shape public opinion and the way history is written (e.g. governments, politicians, capitalists, religious hierarchies, and the corporate media they own and control). The anarchist vision of a new society based on freedom, equality and solidarity is diametrically opposed to the way the world is run currently – no wonder that those who are in power will do everything to maintain the status quo, and have always vilified anarchists and their ideas.
In reality, the vast majority of anarchists are reasonable, peace-loving and independent-minded people who pride themselves in the fact that their ideas are grounded in rational thought and logic. Anarchism is a pragmatic, practical and ever-evolving body of ideas: a socio-economic and political theory that reflects the experiences and struggles of ordinary people. It is not an ideology… it bows to “no gods, no masters” !
At its heart, anarchism has a sophisticated critique of human power relations that identifies hierarchical authority and domination of human by human as the source of most problems in our society.
With exceedingly few exceptions, human relationships are controlled by institutions with pyramidal power structures in which power is centralized and concentrated in a minority of individuals at the top. Capitalism, patriarchy, corporations, governments, armies, political parties, nuclear families, religious organizations, schools, factories and universities are all based, in a fundamental way, on a few people bossing it over the many.
Anarchists argue for the destruction of all these authoritarian, hierarchical, repressive and coercive institutions. Noam Chomsky suggests that
“it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled to increase the scope of human freedom! That includes political power, ownership and management, relationships among men and women, parents and children, our control over the fate of future generations…, and much else.”
An anarchist society would be organized “from the bottom up”, managed by free individuals and voluntary associations, in which the potential of each human being is realized without limiting that of others. In the words of L. Susan Brown,
“anarchists oppose the idea that power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and economic organization.”
Anarchists oppose capitalism, the state and all forms of religious authority, and work towards a society of self-managed confederations of decentralized workplace and community organizations based on direct, participatory democracy, rather than the delegation of power to “representatives”.
In this new world, a high priority would be placed on individual liberty and sovereignty, but within a society of equals. In the absence of hierarchical power relationships, economic, sexual, racial or social oppression and exploitation would not be tolerated in any form.
Far from being the chaotic and destructive ideology of bomb-throwing hooligans it is often portrait as, anarchism thus combines a radical critique of our current society with a revolutionary vision of what it could be like. Although anarchists have a very good idea of what they want this future to be like, they have no intention of ever providing the “vanguard” to lead people to this promised land.
As Michael Bakunin realized, “no theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world”. Change will have to come from individuals and communities themselves.
Enrico Malatesta insisted that
“anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want people to emancipate themselves…, we want the new way of life to emerge from the body of the people and correspond to the state of their development and advance as they advance”.
All anarchists can do is to try to convince people of the rationality of their arguments.
It would be ironic if anarchists were to produce detailed blueprints for a supposedly perfect society, to be handed down from those who know best to the clueless masses. Instead, anarchists debate broad frameworks of ideas for a better world.
A fundamental requirement of these frameworks is that they must provide individuals and society as a whole the freedom to experiment and the ability to constantly evolve towards improvement.
Some key concepts of the anarchist vision include:
- direct participatory democracy, with non-hierarchical organizations in which each participant has the ability to affect all decisions in proportion to the degree to which they affect her/his life;
- self-management and self-government (i.e. workers’ control of their workplaces and citizens’ control of their communities);
- society-wide ownership (not state-ownership!) of the means of production and distribution;
- an economy that is accountable to society and our environment as a whole, not the other way around;
- equity, mutual aid and solidarity;
- voluntary association, decentralization and federation;
- independence and direct action;
- means that are compatible with desired ends.
In the words of Kropotkin,
“a society of equals, who will not be compelled to sell their hands and their brains to those who choose to employ them … but who will be able to apply their knowledge and capacities to production, in an organism so constructed as to combine all the efforts for procuring the greatest possible well-being for all, while full, free scope will be left for every individual initiative”.