An Anarchist FAQ — Section J [en]

Section J — What do anarchists do?

This section discusses what anarchists get up to. There is little point thinking about the world unless you also want to change it for the better. And by trying to change it, you change yourself and others, making radical change more of a possibility. Therefore anarchists give their whole-hearted support to attempts by ordinary people to improve their lives by their own actions. We urge “emancipation through practical action” recognising that the “collective experience” gained in “the collective struggle of the workers against the bosses” will transform how they see the world and the world itself. [Bakunin, The Basic Bakunin, p. 103] Ultimately, “[t]he true man does not lie in the future, an object of longing, but lies, existent and real, in the present. [Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, p. 327]

Anarchism is more than just a critique of statism and capitalism or a vision of a freer, better way of life. It is first and foremost a movement, the movement of working-class people attempting to change the world. Therefore the kind of activity we discuss in this section of the FAQ forms the bridge between capitalism and anarchy. By self-activity and direct action, people can change both themselves and their surroundings. They develop within themselves the mental, ethical and spiritual qualities which can make an anarchist society a viable option. As Noam Chomsky argues:


An Anarchist FAQ — Section I [en]

Section I — What would an anarchist society look like?

So far this FAQ has been largely critical, focusing on hierarchy, capitalism, the state and so on, and the problems to which they have led, as well as refuting some bogus “solutions” that have been offered by authoritarians of both the right and the left. It is now time to examine the constructive side of anarchism — the libertarian-socialist society that anarchists envision. This is important because anarchism is essentially a constructive theory, in stark contradiction to the picture usually painted of anarchism as chaos or mindless destruction.

In this section of the FAQ we will give an outline of what an anarchist society might look like. Such a society has basic features — such as being non-hierarchical, decentralised and, above all else, spontaneous like life itself. To quote Glenn Albrecht, anarchists “lay great stress on the free unfolding of a spontaneous order without the use of external force or authority.” [“Ethics, Anarchy and Sustainable Development”, pp. 95–117, Anarchist Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, p. 110] This type of development implies that anarchist society would be organised from the simple to the complex, from the individual upwards to the community, the bio-region and, ultimately, the planet. The resulting society, which would be the outcome of nature freely unfolding toward greater diversity and complexity, is ethically preferable to any other sort of order simply because it allows for the highest degree of organic solidarity and freedom. Kropotkin described this vision of a truly free society as follows:


An Anarchist FAQ — Section H [en]

Section H — Why do anarchists oppose state socialism?

The socialist movement has been continually divided, with various different tendencies and movements. The main tendencies of socialism are state socialism (Social Democracy, Leninism, Maoism and so on) and libertarian socialism (anarchism mostly, but also libertarian Marxists and others). The conflict and disagreement between anarchists and Marxists is legendary. As Benjamin Tucker noted:

“It is a curious fact that the two extremes of the [socialist movement] ... though united ... by the common claim that labour should be put in possession of its own, are more diametrically opposed to each other in their fundamental principles of social action and their methods of reaching the ends aimed at than either is to their common enemy, existing society. They are based on two principles the history of whose conflict is almost equivalent to the history of the world since man came into it ...

“The two principles referred to are AUTHORITY and LIBERTY, and the names of the two schools of Socialistic thought which fully and unreservedly represent one or the other are, respectively, State Socialism and Anarchism. Whoso knows what these two schools want and how they propose to get it understands the Socialistic movement. For, just as it has been said that there is no half-way house between Rome and Reason, so it may be said that there is no half-way house between State Socialism and Anarchism.” [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 78–9]


An Anarchist FAQ — Section G [en]

Section G — Is individualist anarchism capitalistic?

The short answer is, no, it is not. While a diverse tendency, the individualist anarchists were opposed to the exploitation of labour, all forms of non-labour income (such as profits, interest and rent) as well as capitalist property rights (particularly in land). While aiming for a free market system, they considered laissez-faire capitalism to be based on various kinds of state-enforced class monopoly which ensured that labour was subjected to rule, domination and exploitation by capital. As such it is deeply anti-capitalist and many individualist anarchists, including its leading figure Benjamin Tucker, explicitly called themselves socialists (indeed, Tucker often referred to his theory as “Anarchistic-Socialism”).

So, in this section of our anarchist FAQ we indicate why the individualist anarchists cannot be classified as “ancestors” of the bogus libertarians of the “anarcho”-capitalist school. Rather, they must be classified as libertarian socialists due to their opposition to exploitation, critique of capitalist property rights and concern for equality, albeit being on the liberal wing of anarchist thought. Moreover, while all wanted to have an economy in which all incomes were based on labour, many also opposed wage labour, i.e. the situation where one person sells their labour to another rather than the product of that labour (a position which, we argue, their ideas logically imply). So while some of their ideas do overlap with those of the “anarcho”-capitalist school they are not capitalistic, no more than the overlap between their ideas and anarcho-communism makes them communistic.


An Anarchist FAQ — Section F [en]

Section F — Is “anarcho”-capitalism a type of anarchism?

Anyone who has followed political discussion on the net has probably come across people calling themselves “libertarians” but arguing from a right-wing, pro-capitalist perspective. For most people outside of North America, this is weird as the term “libertarian” is almost always used in conjunction with “socialist” or “communist” (particularly in Europe and, it should be stressed, historically in America). In the US, though, the Right has partially succeeded in appropriating the term “libertarian” for itself. Even stranger is that a few of these right-wingers have started calling themselves “anarchists” in what must be one of the finest examples of an oxymoron in the English language: “Anarcho-capitalist”!!!

Arguing with fools is seldom rewarded, but to let their foolishness to go unchallenged risks allowing them to deceive those who are new to anarchism. This is what this section of the FAQ is for, to show why the claims of these “anarchist” capitalists are false. Anarchism has always been anti-capitalist and any “anarchism” that claims otherwise cannot be part of the anarchist tradition. It is important to stress that anarchist opposition to the so-called capitalist “anarchists” do not reflect some kind of debate within anarchism, as many of these types like to pretend, but a debate between anarchism and its old enemy, capitalism. In many ways this debate mirrors the one between Peter Kropotkin and Herbert Spencer (an English capitalist minimal statist) at the turn the 19th century and, as such, it is hardly new.


An Anarchist FAQ — Section E [en]

Section E — What do anarchists think causes ecological problems?

This section of the FAQ expands upon section D.4 (“What is the relationship between capitalism and the ecological crisis?”) in which we indicated that since capitalism is based upon the principle of “grow or die,” a “green” capitalism is impossible. By its very nature capitalism must expand, creating new markets, increasing production and consumption, and so invading more ecosystems, using more resources, and upsetting the interrelations and delicate balances that exist with ecosystems. We have decided to include a separate section on this to stress how important green issues are to anarchism and what a central place ecology has in modern anarchism.

Anarchists have been at the forefront of ecological thinking and the green movement for decades. This is unsurprising, as many key concepts of anarchism are also key concepts in ecological thought. In addition, the ecological implications of many anarchist ideas (such as decentralisation, integration of industry and agriculture, and so forth) has meant that anarchists have quickly recognised the importance of ecological movements and ideas.


An Anarchist FAQ — Section D [en]

Section D — How do statism and capitalism affect society?

This section of the FAQ indicates how both statism and capitalism affect the society they exist in. It is a continuation of sections B (Why do anarchists oppose the current system?) and C (What are the myths of capitalist economics?) and it discusses the impact of the underlying social and power relationships within the current system on society.

This section is important because the institutions and social relationships capitalism and statism spawn do not exist in a social vacuum, they have deep impacts on our everyday lives. These effects go beyond us as individuals (for example, the negative effects of hierarchy on our individuality) and have an effect on how the political institutions in our society work, how technology develops, how the media operates and so on. As such, it is worthwhile to point out how (and why) statism and capitalism affect society as a whole outwith the narrow bounds of politics and economics.

So here we sketch some of the impact concentrations of political and economic power have upon society. While many people attack the results of these processes (like specific forms of state intervention, ecological destruction, imperialism, etc.) they usually ignore their causes. This means that the struggle against social evils will be never-ending, like a doctor fighting the symptoms of a disease without treating the disease itself or the conditions which create it in the first place. We have indicated the roots of the problems we face in earlier sections; now we discuss how these impact on other aspects of our society. This section of the FAQ explores the interactions of the causes and results and draws out how the authoritarian and exploitative nature of capitalism and the state affects the world we live in.


An Anarchist FAQ — Section C [en]

Section C — What are the myths of capitalist economics?

Within capitalism, economics plays an important ideological role. Economics has been used to construct a theory from which exploitation and oppression are excluded, by definition. We will attempt here to explain why capitalism is deeply exploitative. Elsewhere, in section B, we have indicated why capitalism is oppressive and will not repeat ourselves here.

In many ways economics plays the role within capitalism that religion played in the Middle Ages, namely to provide justification for the dominant social system and hierarchies. “The priest keeps you docile and subjected”, argued Malatesta, “telling you everything is God’s will; the economist says it’s the law of nature.” They “end up saying that no one is responsible for poverty, so there’s no point rebelling against it.” [Fra Contadini, p. 21] Even worse, they usually argue that collective action by working-class people is counterproductive and, like the priest, urge us to tolerate current oppression and exploitation with promises of a better future (in heaven for the priest, for the economist it is an unspecified “long run”). It would be no generalisation to state that if you want to find someone to rationalise and justify an obvious injustice or form of oppression then you should turn to an economist (preferably a “free market” one).


An Anarchist FAQ — Section B [en]

Section B — Why do anarchists oppose the current system?

This section of the FAQ presents an analysis of the basic social relationships of modern society and the structures which create them, particularly those aspects of society that anarchists want to change.

Anarchism is, essentially, a revolt against capitalism. As a political theory it was born at the same time as capitalism and in opposition to it. As a social movement it grew in strength and influence as capitalism colonised more and more parts of society. Rather than simply express opposition to the state, as some so-called experts assert, anarchism has always been opposed to other forms of authority and the oppression they create, in particular capitalism and its particular form of private property. It is no coincidence that Proudhon, the first person to declare themselves an anarchist, did so in a book entitled What is Property? (and gave the answer “It is theft!”). From Proudhon onwards, anarchism has opposed both the state and capitalism (indeed, it is the one thing such diverse thinkers as Benjamin Tucker and Peter Kropotkin both agreed on). Needless to say, since Proudhon anarchism has extended its critique of authority beyond these two social evils. Other forms of social hierarchy, such as sexism, racism and homophobia, have been rejected as limitations of freedom and equality. So this section of the FAQ summarises the key ideas behind anarchism’s rejection of the current system we live under.


An Anarchist FAQ — Section A [en]

Section A — What is anarchism?

Modern civilisation faces three potentially catastrophic crises:

  1. Social breakdown, a shorthand term for rising rates of poverty, homelessness, crime, violence, alienation, drug and alcohol abuse, social isolation, political apathy, dehumanisation, the deterioration of community structures of self-help and mutual aid, etc.;

  2. Destruction of the planet’s delicate ecosystems on which all complex forms of life depend; and

  3. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons.

Orthodox opinion, including that of Establishment “experts,” mainstream media, and politicians, generally regards these crises as separable, each having its own causes and therefore capable of being dealt with on a piecemeal basis, in isolation from the other two. Obviously, however, this “orthodox” approach isn’t working, since the problems in question are getting worse. Unless some better approach is taken soon, we are clearly headed for disaster, either from catastrophic war, ecological Armageddon, or a descent into urban savagery — or all of the above.