Anarchism on WordPress
More and more convinced that anarchism is the way to go, I’ve been searching for blogs on WordPress on the subject. I found quite a few yesterday and today that I’ve bookmarked for future reading, but, curiously, nothing of what I’ve written here, which I think is considerable. This post, then, is a kind of test to see if I can show up in the “anarchism” category, with the ultimate goal of making connections with like-minded folks and maybe stirrin’ up some shit…Another idea is to use the anarchism tag for everything I write.
Most of the blogs my search brought up began with eye-catching pictures, so that’s another thing I intend to do — learn more about adding cool stuff to my dull’n’stodgy words-only posts. Behold, below, a friend’s anarchist kitty. I also need to learn how to insert links — just clicked on the “insert link” icon in the toolbar and nothing happened. Advice welcome.
Starting the New Year with understanding
Hey, everybody! Let’s start out 2014 with the best understanding of our world possible, including ideas on how to make it better. That’s what this blog is all about, and in that spirit I have a new year’s gift for you: my notes on Chomsky on Anarchism, 2013.
In case you’re not familiar with Noam Chomsky, he’s an 84-year-old linguist and political commentator, ignored by the mainstream media because his views don’t fit into the dominant paradigm. Wikipedia describes Chomsky as “a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, state capitalism, and the mainstream news media. Ideologically, he aligns himself with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.” Let’s find out what those labels mean, in his case at least, by delving into the latest of his many books, Chomsky on Anarchism. (If you find yourself becoming interested in anarchism after reading this blog post – which I hope you will – look under “Possibilities” at the top of the page, where you’ll find a section on Anarchism that includes a longer introduction to the subject. More pages will be added in the coming weeks.)
Now for Chomsky’s book…In the introduction, Nathan Schneider, a much younger anarchist associated with the Occupy movement, says that “what makes anarchism worth taking seriously is the prospect of learning, over the course of generations, how to build a well-organized and free society from the ground up…The principle with which Chomsky describes his anarchist leanings is that power that isn’t justified by the will of the people should be dismantled and refashioned from below, with workers owning and governing their workplaces and communities providing everyone’s basic needs…Both the anarcho-curiosity awakened by Occupy and the flourishing of right-wing libertarianism are signs that anarchism is overdue for recognition as a serious intellectual tradition and a real possibility.”
In the first chapter, titled “Notes on Anarchism,” Chomsky quotes Rudolf Rocker, who insists that “socialism will be free or it will not be at all.” From this point of view, Chomsky says, “anarchism may be regarded as the libertarian wing of socialism, and it is in this spirit that Daniel Guérin has approached the study of anarchism in Anarchism and other works.
Guérin quotes Adolph Fischer, who said that ‘every anarchist is a socialist, but not every socialist is an anarchist.’ Similarly, Bakunin, in his manifesto of 1865, laid down the principle that each member of his international anarchist fraternity must be, to begin with, a socialist.
A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer.” This excludes, Chomsky notes, both capitalist wage labor and various modern forms of totalitarianism or state capitalism.
Chomsky reminds us that “anarcho-syndicalists sought, even under capitalism, to create ‘free associations of free producers’ that would engage in militant struggle and prepare to take over the organization of production on a democratic basis.
The consistent anarchist, then, should be a socialist, but a socialist of a particular sort. He will not only oppose alienated and unspecialized labor and look forward to the appropriation of capital by the whole body of workers, but he will also insist that this appropriation be direct, not exercised by some elite force acting in the name of the proletariat.
These ideas have been realized in spontaneous revolutionary action in Germany and Italy after World War I and in Spain in the countryside and industrial Barcelona in 1936. One might argue that some form of workers’ council communism is the natural form of revolutionary socialism in an industrial society.”
Chomsky concludes this chapter by cautioning us that the phrase “spontaneous revolutionary action” can be misleading. “The accomplishments of the popular revolution in Spain, in particular,” he says, “were based on the patient work of many years of organization and education.”
In chapter 2, “Excerpts from Understanding Power,” Chomsky notes that “anarchism as a social philosophy has never meant ‘chaos’ – in fact, anarchists have typically believed in a highly organized society, just one that’s organized democratically from below.
People in power have always regarded anarchism as the ultimate evil. Take the ‘60s, for example. The only thing that made it into history was the crazy stuff around the periphery. The main things that were going on are out of history because they had a libertarian character, and there is nothing more frightening to people in power.
Libertarian and anarchist mean the same thing to me and to others around the world. It’s just in the United States that ‘libertarianism’ means unbridled capitalism. If you have unbridled capitalism, you have all kinds of authority – you have extreme authority.
If capital is privately controlled, people are going to have to rent themselves to survive. You can say, ‘They rent themselves freely; it’s a free contract,’ but wage slavery or starvation isn’t a choice.
The American version of ‘libertarianism’ is an aberration – nobody really takes it seriously. Everybody knows that a society that worked by American libertarian principles would self-destruct in three seconds. The only reason people pretend to take it seriously is because you can use it as a weapon. When somebody comes out in favor of a tax, you can say, ‘No, I’m a libertarian, I’m against that tax’ – but, of course, I’m still in favor of the government building roads, and having schools, and killing Libyans, and all that sort of stuff. If you read about the world consistent libertarians describe, it’s so full of hate nobody would want to live in it.
I don’t feel that in order to work hard for social change you need to be able to spell out a detailed plan for the future. What I feel should drive a person to work for change are certain principles you’d like to see achieved. The basic principle I’d like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified or be dismantled. To me, that’s anarchism: the point of view that people have a right to be free, and if there are constraints on that freedom, you have to justify them.
I think people should be able to live in a society where they can act on the basis of their internal drives and freely develop their capacities, instead of being forced into the narrow range of options available to most people in the world today. One of the main purposes of socialism to me is to reach a point where people have the opportunity to decide for themselves what their needs are, and not have the ‘choices’ forced on them by some arbitrary system of power.
The anarchist vision in almost all its varieties has looked forward to dismantling state power, and I share that vision. But right now I defend elements of state power under severe attack – programs set up in the nation-state system after a century of hard struggle by the labor movement and the socialist movement that fulfill people’s needs. In my opinion the immediate goal of even committed anarchists should be to defend some state institutions, while helping to pry them open to more meaningful public participation, and ultimately to dismantle them in a much more free, equal, and participatory society. The far right wants to weaken these governmental structures to make sure all the key decisions are in the hands of the big corporations.
Take the example of devolving authority to the states. Ideally, moving from a central to a local authority would increase democracy, but in current circumstances, it would just give middle-sized corporations the ability to control state and local governments the way big corporations control the federal government – in addition to playing work forces off against each other.
I think it’s realistic and rational to work within structures to which you’re opposed in order to move to a situation where you can challenge them.
There’s nothing in the society right now that can protect people from corporate tyranny except the federal government.”
In chapter 3, “What Happened to Anarchism in Spain in the ‘30s,” Chomsky notes that both liberal and Communist intellectuals oppose and have opposed “revolutionary movements that are largely spontaneous and only loosely organized, while rooted in deeply felt needs and ideals of dispossessed masses – like the revolution that swept over much of Spain in the summer of 1936.
During the months following the Franco insurrection in July 1936, a largely spontaneous social revolution of unprecedented scope took place involving masses of urban and rural laborers with no ‘revolutionary vanguard.’ It radically transformed economic and social conditions and persisted, with remarkable success, until it was forcibly suppressed.
There were strikes, expropriations, and battles between peasants and Civil Guards in the months preceding Franco’s coup, and when it came, the Republican government was paralyzed. Workers armed themselves in Madrid and Barcelona, robbing government armories and even ships in the harbor, and putting down the insurrection while the government, afraid to arm the working classes, vacillated. In large areas of Spain effective authority passed into the hands of anarchist and socialist workers.
The next few months have frequently been described as a period of “dual power.” In Barcelona industry and commerce were largely collectivized, and a wave of collectivization spread through rural areas, as well as towns and villages, in Aragon, Castile, and the Levant, and to a lesser but still significant extent in many parts of Catalonia, Asturias, Estremadura, and Andalusia. Military power was exercised by defense committees, and social and economic organization took many forms, generally following the program of the Saragossa Congress of the anarchist CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) in May 1936. The revolution’s organs of power and administration remained separate from the central Republican government, and even after several anarchist leaders entered the government in the autumn of 1936, continued to function fairly independently until the revolution was finally crushed between the fascist and Communist-led Republican forces. The success of collectivized industry and commerce in Barcelona impressed even unsympathetic observers. The scale of rural collectivization is indicated by these data from anarchist sources: in Aragon, 450 collectives with half a million members (70% of the rural population, the majority of whom organized spontaneously); in the Levant, the country’s richest agricultural region, 900 collectives accounting for half of agricultural production and 70% of marketing; and in Castile, 300 collectives with 100,000 members. In Catalonia, the bourgeois government headed by Companys retained nominal authority, but real power was in the hands of the anarchist-dominated committees.
The period of July through September may be characterized as one of spontaneous, widespread, but unconsummated social revolution. A number of anarchist leaders joined the government, as Federica Montseny said on January 3, 1937, “to prevent the Revolution from deviating, in order to carry it further beyond the war, and to oppose [any] dictatorial tendency.” The central government fell increasingly under Communist control, however, largely as a result of Russian military assistance. Communist success was greatest in the rich farming areas of the Levant, and the government moved to Valencia, the capital of one of its provinces, where prosperous farm owners flocked to the Peasant Federation the Spanish Communist Party had organized to protect wealthy farmers and check the rural collectivization promoted by agricultural workers.
The first phase of the counterrevolution was the legalization and regulation of those accomplishments of the revolution that appeared irreversible. A decree of October 7th by the Communist Minister of Agriculture legalized the expropriations of land belonging to participants in the Franco revolt. By exempting the estates of landowners who hadn’t participated in the rebellion, the decree represented a step backward from the standpoint of the revolutionaries. Similarly, a decree of October 24, 1936 promulgated by a CNT member who had become Councilor for Economy in Catalonia gave legal sanction to the collectivization of Catalonian industry but limited it to enterprises employing over 100 workers and transferred control from workers’ committees to the state bureaucracy.
The second stage of the counterrevolution, from October 1936 through May 1937, involved the destruction of the local committees, the replacement of the militia by a conventional army, and the reestablishment of the prerevolutionary economic and social system wherever possible. Finally, in May 1937, there was a direct attack on workers in Barcelona. Following the success of this attack, which killed 500 workers and wounded over a thousand, the process of liquidating the revolution was completed. The collectivization decree of October 24th was rescinded, and industries were ‘freed’ from workers’ control. Communist-led armies swept through Aragon, destroying many collectives, dismantling their organizations, and bringing the area under the control of the central government. Throughout the Republican-held territories, the government, now under Communist domination, acted in accordance with the plan announced in Pravda on December 17, 1936: ‘So far as Catalonia is concerned, the cleaning up of Trotskyist and Anarcho-Syndicalist elements has already begun, and it will be carried out with the same energy as in the USSR.’
During this period and after the success of the counterrevolution, the Republic was waging a war against the Franco insurrection. The Communist-led counterrevolution must be understood in context with the ongoing antifascist war and the more general attempt of the Soviet Union to construct a broad antifascist alliance with the Western democracies. The Communists didn’t believe these states, which had substantial commercial interests in Spain, would tolerate revolution there.
Rudolf Rocker made another important point: ‘What the Russian autocrats and their supporters fear most is that the success of libertarian socialism in Spain might prove to their blind followers that the much vaunted “necessity of a dictatorship” is nothing but one vast fraud which in Russia has led to the despotism of Stalin.’ In other words, Bolshevism and Western liberalism were united in their opposition to popular revolution. The Russians withdrew their support of the Republic once it became clear that the British would not be swayed from the policy of appeasement, confirming the thesis that only considerations of Russian foreign policy led the Soviet Union to support the Republic in the first place.
As Franz Borkenau pointed out, the Communist defeat of the revolution weakened popular support for the war against Franco. The masses wouldn’t commit themselves to the defense of a Communist-run dictatorship, which restored former authority and even ‘showed a definite preference for the police forces of the old regime.’ The critical loss of Málaga on February 8, 1937 might have been averted, Borkenau says, by a mass ‘fight of despair of the sort the anarchists might have led.’
George Orwell commented that ‘a government which sends boys of fifteen to the front with 40-year-old rifles and keeps its biggest men and newest weapons in the rear is manifestly more afraid of the revolution than of the fascists.’
The Catalonian war industry was successful under collectivization and could have achieved more had the means for expansion (the ability to purchase raw materials outside Spain) not been denied it by the Communist-dominated government (the government was insisting on controlling industry in exchange). All attempts to obtain credit for collectivized industry and agriculture were unsuccessful, the government remaining in control through the medium of the banks.
Among historians of the Spanish Civil War, the dominant view is that the Communist policy was in its essentials the correct one – that in order to consolidate domestic and international support for the Republic it was necessary to block and then reverse the social revolution. The anarchist leaders who entered the government shared this view, putting their trust in the good faith of liberals like Companys and believing – naively, as events were to show – that the Western democracies would come to their aid.”
These “democracies,” Chomsky notes, “were actually complicit in the fascist insurrection. Pro-Franco French bankers blocked the release of Spanish gold to the loyalist government, hindering the purchase of arms and increasing the Republic’s reliance on the Soviets. Despite a supposed policy of ‘non-intervention,’ which blocked Western aid for the loyalist government while Hitler and Mussolini helped Franco, British naval forces joined those of Germany and Italy in preventing the Spanish navy from blocking Franco’s transportation of Moroccan troops.” Britain, Chomsky explains, was “determined to maintain its control of the Mediterranean.” It also, in the name of anti-communism, supplied Franco with munitions and gave him information about Russian arms deliveries to the Republic. Meanwhile, according to Chomsky, the supposedly neutral United States blocked almost all deliveries of arms and oil to the Republic. Five oil tankers belonging to Texaco were diverted to Franco, who received $6 million worth of oil on credit during the Civil War, in July 1936. Franco’s Spain became a staunch anti-Communist American ally during the Cold War.
“A policy diametrically opposed to the one followed by the Republic was advocated by Camillo Berneri, the leading anarchist intellectual in Spain. Berneri, an Italian anarchist, left Italy after Mussolini’s rise to power, coming to Barcelona on July 19, 1936. Having formed the first Italian units for the antifascist war, he was murdered during the May Days of 1937 after being arrested by Communist-controlled police. In an open letter to anarchist minister Federica Montseny, Bernini predicted ‘either victory over Franco through revolutionary war, or defeat.’ He argued that Morocco should be granted independence and that an attempt should be made to stir up rebellion throughout North Africa. (Franco relied heavily on Moorish contingents, including a substantial number from French Morocco.) Delegations of Moroccan nationalists approached the Valencia government asking for arms and materiel, but were refused by Caballero, who proposed territorial concessions in North Africa to France and England to try to win their support.
It is perhaps relevant that in Asturias, the one area of Spain where the CNT-UGT system of committees wasn’t eliminated in favor of central control, guerilla warfare continued well after Franco’s victory.
A former minister of the central government admitted ‘that there had been a successful social revolution in half of Spain. Successful, that is, in the collectivization of factories and farms which are operated, quite efficiently, under trade union control.’
The study of collectivization published by the CNT in 1937 concludes with a description of the village of Membrilla in the present-day central Spanish province of Castile-La Mancha. ‘In its miserable huts live the poor inhabitants of a poor province; 8,000 people, but the streets aren’t paved, the town has no newspaper, no cinema, café, or library. On the other hand, it has many churches that have been burned.’ Immediately after the Franco insurrection, the land was expropriated and village life collectivized. ‘Food, clothing, and tools were distributed equitably to the whole population. Money was abolished, work collectivized, all goods passed to the community, consumption was socialized. It was, however, not a socialization of wealth, but of poverty.’ Work continued as before. An elected council appointed committees to organize the life of the commune and its relations to the outside world. The necessities of life were distributed freely, insofar as they were available. A large number of refugees were accommodated. A small library was established, and a small school of design.
The document closes with these words: ‘The whole population lived as in a large family; functionaries, delegates, the secretary of the syndicates, the members of the municipal council, all elected, acted as heads of a family. But they were controlled, because special privilege or corruption would not be tolerated. Membrilla is perhaps the poorest village of Spain, but it is the most just.’
An account such as this, with its concern for human relations and the ideal of a just society, may be treated with scorn by the sophisticated intellectual – taken to be naïve, primitive, or irrational. Only when such prejudice is abandoned will it be possible for historians to undertake a serious study of the popular movement that transformed Republican Spain in one of the most remarkable social revolutions recorded by history.”
Forgot to post this: some month-old thoughts
Here’s a post I wrote over a month ago, on June 11th, and then forgot to put up:
Hi, everybody! It’s been so long since I’ve written a blog post, I almost feel like I have to reintroduce myself and become reacquainted with you all over again.
Why the long hiatus? I just haven’t been inspired to “talk with” you about this crazy world we live in for a while. Maybe I needed a rest. I’m writing again today, because I still think it could all change, perhaps rather quickly, if enough of us wake up and start doing things differently. At the same time, possibly because some of us get discouraged about that ever happening, the current insanity can seem pretty intractable.
This week we have another wonderfully idealistic and principled, honest, and clear-eyed young man – Edward Snowden – joining Bradley Manning (currently on trial) in blowing the whistle on the American “security” system, part of the totalitarian “military-industrial complex” Eisenhower warned us about.
That was in “Ike”‘s final televised address from the Oval Office on January 17, 1961. In a farewell speech, Eisenhower described what he saw as unjustified government spending proposals and warned, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.” He said that though “we recognize the imperative need for this development,” because of the “ruthless” and “insidious” enemy, the Soviet Union, “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Of course, Eisenhower was already part of that machine and that misplaced power, and, leaving public office, he may have felt guilty about it. Whatever he sincerely believed, the Soviet Union didn’t threaten the American people; it threatened the capitalist system and capitalist interests – the big banks, corporations, and financial interests that began running the show and starting wars at least as early as the 19th century, and that still runs it today, supposedly fighting “terrorism.” There’s always a bogeyman to frighten us into accepting these lies.
But did the system defend us against the Boston Marathon massacre? Has it prevented the killing of little children at school? Does it care about the unnecessary deaths of poor and middle-class people who can’t afford medical care, the veterans of its unnecessary wars, or those wars’ Iraqi, Afghan, and other “foreign” victims? No. And we shouldn’t be surprised at that, or waste our energy protesting it. The state will always exert power in the interests of the ruling class against other states and classes. And a “democratic” state will always lie. Everything our so-called leaders say isn’t bullshit, just 95% of it, which is why, as I’ve written in this blog, I think it’s a waste of time and energy to get invested in what they’re saying or doing, vote for them, at least on a national level, or expect the current national or global system to, ultimately, bring you and others much good.
I know that’s a hard pill to swallow, if you haven’t already done so. But do you want to operate in the real world or in a fairytale that will never come true? I don’t have an “answer,” if by that you mean a detailed program on how to make it all better. All I can say is that, like you, I believe in democracy, and I don’t think it’s possible in a state or capitalist system.
Can we create small-scale democratic communities without delegating power (that will be abused) to any one person or group? Yes; it’s called anarchism, though that word doesn’t have to be used, if you think it’ll scare people away. Read up on it, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Can we defend those communities against old-style undemocratic groups or still-existing states prepared to use force? That part could be tough. But if a critical mass wants this kind of democracy, equality, non-violence, and sharing of resources more than they want anything else, it could happen, at least for a time (long or short) in some places. When “enemies” threaten, the community can open itself to them, offering each individual a place at the table, as in Starhawk’s utopian novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing. Will that work? I don’t know; I just know that fighting so-called enemies in other ways can easily destroy the community by betraying its principles. Maybe you give hostile folks the chance to communicate, share, and join, and then, if they don’t take it, you defend yourself and your friends and family. Nothing is pre-set – you have to react to whatever comes up as best you can, based on what you believe in.
That’s it for today. Read my other posts and look into the resources on this website – they’re all created to help you deal with the “Help!” feeling you get when you see the craziness for what it is – the first time or whenever it gets you down. The people creating it and the people who believe in and support it aren’t evil enemies – they’re you and me at other stages of realization: ignorant, fearful, grasping at straws, thinking their choices are more limited than they are. That describes all of us, really.
We need to help each other whenever we can. You’re helping me by considering my thoughts, and I’m hoping to help you by sharing them. I’m not over here creating a brave new world while you live an ordinary life. I live an ordinary life, too. I don’t overwhelm myself with too much exposure to the “news,” I enjoy life as much as possible in spite of it all, and I neither expect nor rule out big changes (for good or ill) going forward.
I have a suspicion that if we go back and look at what was good/truly revolutionary in the Occupy movement and try to live it, we’ll be on the right track. Just a parting thought.
A solstice gift: info on anarchism
Here’s my solstice gift for you: the notes I’ve been slaving over for the past 2 weeks on Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism by Peter Marshall, 2010. I’m also going to put these notes — and some more on anarchism in the coming days, 2012 solstice goddesses willing, up as pages under “Possibilities.” Enjoy! I think it makes a lot of sense.
The word “anarchy,” conjuring up as it does for many terrorist bombings or the collapse of law and order, has had a bad press. In fact, only a tiny minority of anarchists have used terror as a revolutionary strategy, mostly in the 1890s, when there was a string of spectacular bombings and political assassinations. Over the long haul, anarchism has been far less violent than other political creeds, and certainly less violent than the states it criticizes. Anarchists believe that states and governments, theoretically intended to prevent injustice, are actually the main forces perpetuating oppression by force. They think people can live together freely and peacefully without states or formal governments – that this is, in fact, our natural state.
The historic anarchist movement had its high points during two of the major revolutions of the 20th century – the Russian and the Spanish. In the Russian Revolution, anarchists tried to give real meaning to the slogan “All Power to the Soviets [workers’ councils],” and in many places, particularly in the Ukraine, they established free communes. These efforts were short-lived, however – the Bolsheviks, believing in the need for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” to take over the state before it could “wither away,” crushed the Russian anarchists in the early 1920s.
The greatest anarchist experiment took place in Spain in the 1930s. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, peasants, especially in Andalusia, Aragon, and Valencia, set up a network of collectives in thousands of villages. In Catalonia, the most highly developed industrial part of Spain, anarchists managed the industries through workers’ collectives based on the principles of self-management. But the intervention of fascist Italy and Germany on the side of the far-right leader Franco and his nationalist rebels, and the Soviet policy of funneling arms through the Spanish communists, doomed the experiment. Communists and anarchists fought each other in Barcelona in 1937, and Franco triumphed soon after, establishing a 36-year dictatorship. Millions of Spanish anarchists were killed or imprisoned, or went underground. The Second World War which followed shattered the international anarchist movement.
The ’60s saw a revival in a diffuse form, since many of the themes of the New Left – decentralization, workers’ control, and participatory democracy – were central anarchist concerns. The growth of a counterculture based on individuality, community, and joy also expressed an anarchist sensibility, if not self-conscious knowledge. It became possible, once again, to “demand the impossible.”
Every state is a despotism, be the despot one or many. Max Stirner
Though anarchism by its very nature is anti-dogmatic, anarchists share certain beliefs and concerns, including a particular view of human nature, a critique of the existing order, a vision of a free society, and ideas on how to achieve it. All anarchists reject the legitimacy of the state and external government, and condemn imposed political authority, hierarchy, and domination. They believe society can be decentralized and self-regulating, consisting of a federation of voluntary associations of free and equal individuals.
The anarchist sensibility can be seen in the Taoism of ancient China and in classical Greek thought, and was expressed in the great peasant revolts of the Middle Ages and by extreme left factions of the English Revolution. It emerged as a conscious ideology at the end of the 18th century in response to the rise of centralized states, nationalism, industrialization, and capitalism.
The 19th century witnessed a flood of anarchist theory and the development of an anarchist movement. The first person to call himself an anarchist was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon of France, who insisted that only a society without artificial government could restore natural order: “Just as man seeks justice in equality, society seeks order in anarchy.” He launched the great slogans “Anarchy is Order” and “Property is Theft.”
The Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin provided a charismatic example of anarchy in action, while his compatriot Peter Kropotkin developed anarchism into a systematic social philosophy based on scientific principles. Though he didn’t publicly identify as an anarchist because of the word’s association with violence, the novelist Leo Tolstoy also created an anarchist critique of the state and property based on the teachings of Christ.
The anarchist mainstream is occupied by social anarchists – mutualists, collectivists, communists, and syndicalists, differing mainly on the issue of economic organization. All of these could exist side by side in the same society.
Individualist anarchists worry that a collectivist society will lead to the tyranny of the group, while social anarchists try to achieve a maximum degree of personal freedom in community, believing that only in community can an individual realize his or her full potential.
Pacifist anarchists see the state and government as the ultimate expressions of organized violence, involving legalized aggression, war mass murder, conscription slavery, and the soldier as a hired assassin. They argue that it’s impossible to bring about a free and peaceful society by the use of violence, since means inevitably influence ends. Their preferred tactics are nonviolent direct action, passive resistance, and civil disobedience, and they engage in strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and occupations.
The indispensable premise of mutualism is that society be organized, without the intervention of a state, by individuals able to make free contracts with each other, exchanging the necessities of life on the basis of labor value, and obtaining free credit from a people’s bank. Labor notes would be valued according to the average amount of time it took to make a product. Local communities would link up in a federalist system of workers’ associations and communes coordinated by councils at the local, regional, national, and international level. The members of the councils would be delegates, not representatives, without any executive authority and subject to instant recall, and the councils themselves would have no central authority.
Many revolutionaries in the Paris Commune of 1871 called themselves mutualists. Since it made no direct attack on the class system, mutualism tended to appeal to craftsmen, artisans, shopkeepers, and small farmers. Some mutualists developed into collectivists, a term used for the first time by Bakunin in 1868. Collectivists wish to restrict private property to the products of individual labor, arguing that there should be common ownership of the land and all other means of production. They look to a free federation of associations of producers and consumers to organize production and distribution, upholding the socialist principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to work done.” Nearly all the Spanish anarchists were collectivists.
After the demise of the First International in the 1870s, the European anarchist movement took a communist direction, though at first the distinction between communism and collectivism wasn’t always apparent. Communists felt that since it’s virtually impossible to calculate the exact value of any one person’s labor, the whole price and wage system should be done away with. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is their slogan.
Where collectivists see the workers’ collective as the basic unit of society, communists look to the commune – consumers as well as producers – as the fundamental association. They believe that in a communist system economic relations would express the natural human sympathies of solidarity and mutual aid, releasing spontaneous altruism and creating an abundant way of life for all. The proper relationship between people, they believe, isn’t self-interest, however enlightened, but sympathy.
Anarcho-syndicalism, according to Wikipedia, “is a branch of anarchism which views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as an appropriate vehicle for subjugated classes in capitalist society to regain control over the course of their own destiny. Syndicalism is viewed both as a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as being an alternative cooperative economic system upon which to base a democratic regime of production for the satisfaction of human need once the injustices understood to be inherent to capitalist society have been overcome.” Anarcho-syndicalists take the view that trade unions and labor syndicates should be concerned with more than improving workers’ conditions and wages. They should also teach socialism and establish institutions of self-management so that when the revolution comes through a general strike, the workers will be prepared to begin the necessary social transformation.
Many Spanish anarchists were anarcho-syndicalists, as were, in many ways, the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World), founded in the US in 1905. The Wobblies, who believe in one international union, were powerful in the American labor movement and in politics until the Red Scare repression preceding and during World War II.
Pure anarchy in the sense of a society with no concentration of force and no social controls has probably never existed. Stateless and peasant societies employ sanctions of approval and disapproval, the offer of reciprocity and the threat of its withdrawal, as instruments of social control. But modern anthropology confirms that in “primitive” societies there is a limited and rarely imposed concentration of force. Anarchists wish to combine ancient patterns of cooperation and mutual aid with a more modern sense of individuality and personal autonomy.
In accordance with their beliefs about the state, anarchists have always preached abstention from conventional politics. Instead of paying taxes to a government, which then decides who is in need, anarchists prefer to help the disadvantaged directly by voluntary acts of giving or by participating in community organizations. They reject the claim made by democratic socialists that the state is the best means of redistributing wealth and providing welfare. They say that in practice the socialist state tends to spawn a vast bureaucracy that stifles the voluntary associations of community life, creates a new elite, and encourages dependency and conformity.
Rejecting the state, anarchists also reject its laws and coercive enforcement of them, pointing out that all human law is arbitrary. They seek to reduce the occasion for crime by eradicating its causes – government and accumulated property – and by educating people to think in terms of the general good rather than private interest. They admit that violent people might have to be restrained temporarily, but think they should be treated kindly and kept within the community if possible.
Most anarchists support national liberation movements as part of a wider struggle for freedom, but don’t believe people should give their loyalty to nation-states or serve as cannon fodder in nationalist wars.
Anarchists recognize that the freedom of all is the necessary condition for the freedom of each, and include freedom from want (in the sense of economic hardship) in this. The anarchist concept of freedom means freedom to do whatever one wants as long as it doesn’t interfere with the freedom of others or go against the common good. Such boundaries, however, are adopted voluntarily rather than being imposed by force by government or some other authority.
Taoism and Buddhism
The Chinese Taoists of the 6th century BC rejected government and believed that people could live in natural and spontaneous harmony. The Tao te Ching (“The Way and Its Power”), attributed to Lao Tzu and written in the 3rd century BC, celebrates the way of nature and describes how the wise person can follow it. The Taoist conception of nature is based on the ancient Chinese principles of yin and yang, opposite and complementary forces which together constitute the ch’i (matter-energy) of which all beings and phenomena are formed. Yin is the supreme feminine power, characterized by darkness, cold, and receptivity and associated with the moon; yang, masculine, bright, warm, and active, is identified with the sun. Both forces are at work within men and women and in all things.
The Tao, which can’t be defined – Lao Tzu likens it to a river flowing home to the sea or an uncarved block – follows what’s natural. It’s the way the universe works, the order of nature that gives all things their being, then changes them. The wise person contemplates and adopts its ways rather than trying to conquer or exploit it. For the Taoist, the art of living is to be found in simplicity, non-assertion, and spontaneity.
Central to Taoist teaching is the concept of wu-wei, the lack of wei. Wei is artificial, contrived activity that interferes with natural unfolding. From a political point of view, wei is authority imposed on natural order. Wu-wei is the creative and effective use of energy – work without effort, undertaken for its intrinsic value, that’s indistinguishable from play.
Favoring a form of agrarian collectivism, Taoists rejected all forms of imposed authority, government, and the state. The Tao te ching criticized of the bureaucratic, warlike, and commercial nature of the Chinese feudal system, and saw accumulated property as a form of robbery: “When the court is arrayed in splendor, the fields are full of weeds, and the granaries are bare.” Lao Tzu offers the social ideal of a decentralized classless society without government and patriarchy in which people live simply in harmony with nature, producing and sharing goods.
A small country has fewer people.
Though there are machines that can work ten to a hundred times faster than man,
They are not needed.
The people take death seriously and do not travel far.
Though they have boats and carriages, no one uses them.
Though they have armor and weapons, no one displays them.
Men return to the knotting of rope in place of writing.
Their food is plain and good, their clothes fine but simple, their homes secure.
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their neighbors,
And crowing cocks and barking dogs are heard across the way,
Yet they leave each other in peace while they grow old and die.
The anarchistic tendency of the Taoists comes through even stronger in the writings of the philosopher Chuang Tzu, who lived about 369-286 BC. He wrote, “A mountain is high because of its individual particles. A river is large because of its individual drops. And he is a just man who regards all parts from the point of view of the whole.”
The disaffiliation, voluntary poverty, and nonviolence of practicing Buddhists continued the Taoist spirit. Zen Buddhism in particular attempts to reach truth and enlightenment without concepts, scriptures, and ritual. It developed in China in the 6th century AD, and reached Japan 500 years later. Zen is intended to bring the practitioner back to the original state of freedom he’s lost through ignorance. Anyone can become enlightened through direct and immediate experience, seeing into his or her own nature and realizing that it’s not separate from Nature as a whole. Zen monks live and work communally, with equal obligation and equal treatment, and, like all Mahayana Buddhists, are concerned with the welfare of the larger world and seek to be of service in it.
The Greek Cynics of the 4th century BC also rejected custom and law and wanted to live according to nature. They denied the competence of courts to judge actions, and argued that laws and hierarchies are without moral foundation. Antisthenes (c. 444-370 BC), a friend of Socrates, turned his back on his former aristocratic circle in order to pursue simple goodness among working people. He preached at open-air meetings that there should be no government, no private property, no marriage, and no established religion. His pupil, Diogenes, became even more famous. Condemning the artificial encumbrances of civilization, he aspired to live as simply as a dog. He was therefore called a “cynic,” which means “canine.” Diogenes not only rejected the institution of slavery, but declared his brotherhood with all beings, human and animal. He considered himself to be a “citizen of the world.”
The Stoics took up the doctrine of the Cynics, using nature as a guiding principle and developing the ideals of individualism, rationalism, equality, internationalism, and cosmopolitanism. Zeno (336-264 BC), called the founder of Stoicism, saw a social instinct that inclines people toward cooperation for the common good. In the fragments of Zeno’s Republic that have been preserved, there are no law courts, police, armies, temples, schools, money, or marriage. People live as a single “herd” without family or property, with no distinctions of race or rank, and no need for compulsion of any sort. A stateless society of complete equality and freedom spreads across the globe.
Christ’s voluntary poverty, his attacks on political authority and riches, and his sharing of food and other items inspired many early Christians to practice a form of communism. In the 4th century, Ambrose said, “Nature has poured forth all things for all men for common use. It has therefore produced a common right for all, but greed has made it right for a few. In accordance with the will of God and the union of nature, we ought to be of mutual help one to the other.” In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas recognized the right to property for personal use, but believed that anything extra should be distributed to those in need. The right to property is therefore only a right of administration or stewardship. Wealth is held in trust for the public good, and where death threatens or there is no other source of sustenance, it’s permissible to take what’s necessary.
At the beginning of the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi lived in ecstatic joy, delighting in nature and repudiating all notion of property, including items for personal use. His message implied that the established church and state were lost in ostentation and opulence, and that the poor were the only community capable of redemption.
The Diggers and Ranters, part of the radical republican wing in the English Revolution of the 17th century, rejected church, state, and all temporal law, feeling that they were in a state of grace and could commit no sin. They looked to the Second Coming of Christ and the immediate realization of heaven on earth in which people would live in perfect freedom and complete equality. The poet William Blake thought similarly at the end of the 18th century, believing that since human beings are made in the Divine Image they can govern themselves without law or government.
Inspired by Gerrard Winstanley, the Diggers tried to set up a colony on a wasteland area in the spring of 1649. Hoping to “lay the foundation of making the earth a common treasury for all,” forty people planted beans, wheat, rye, parsnips, and carrots. Despite harassment by the local clergy, landlords, magistrates, and freeholders, who trampled on their seedlings, stole their tools, and pulled down their crude huts, they persevered for a year.
Winstanley believed God wasn’t a personal deity or Supreme Being, but a “spirit that dwells in all mankind.” He identified God with Reason and Reason with the law of the universe. A person subject to Reason became a Son of God, no longer ruled from without but from within, by their conscience, love, and reason. Winstanley wrote that the “ruling and teaching power without dams up the spirit of peace and liberty, first within the heart, by filling it with slavish fears of others; secondly, without, by giving the body of one to be imprisoned, punished, and oppressed by the outward power of another.” He believed private property to be the principal source of social conflict, “restraining other fellow creatures from seeking nourishment from their mother earth.” For these reasons, Winstanley attacked the social and political order and advocated an anarchist and communist form of society without the state, army, or law. Opposed to violence, including capital punishment, he didn’t call for mass insurrection or the seizure of the lands of the rich.
The Ranters, whom Winstanley despised, sought total emancipation from all laws and rules, and advocated free love. They attacked private property and called for its abolition, and rejected all forms of government, whether ecclesiastical or civil. The Ranters were often confused with Quakers, and many may have crossed over from one group to the other. Both believed there was an “indwelling spirit” or “inner light” in each individual soul and thought the power of love would be enough to bring about a new era of peace and freedom.
Tolstoy’s radical interpretation of the Gospels led him to the anarchist conclusion that since the Kingdom of God is within and we can be guided by the divine light of reason, governments are both unnecessary and harmful. If people would but understand that they are “sons of God,” Tolstoy wrote, “and can therefore be neither slaves nor enemies to one another, these insane, unnecessary, worn-out, pernicious organizations called governments, and all the sufferings, violations, humiliations, and crimes they occasion, would cease.” Tolstoy inspired a long tradition of anarchist pacifists, including Gandhi, who developed his doctrine of civil disobedience into a highly effective form of nonviolent direct action.
Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker organization in 1933, sought with the anarchist Peter Maurin to decentralize society and establish a community of families, with a combination of private and communal property. She stressed above all the need for love. Ammon Hennacy similarly preached “the one-man revolution within the heart,” based on voluntary poverty and pacifism. “When we take part in government by voting for legislative, judicial, and executive officials,” he wrote, “we make these men our arm by which we cast a stone [judge others] and deny the Sermon on the Mount.”
Classic Anarchist Thinkers
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first self-styled anarchist, published What Is Property? In 1840, and was an important influence on the developing French labor movement. Even though Proudhon answered his question “What is property?” with the bold paradox “Property is Theft,” he was wasn’t opposed to private property as such; in fact, he called communists who wanted to collectivize it “enemies of freedom.” He was principally opposed to large property-owners who appropriated the labor of others.
On the subject of government, he demonstrated that “anarchy is order” by showing that authoritarian government and the unequal distribution of wealth are the principal causes of disorder and chaos in society.
Marx tried to get Proudhon to join his international communist group, but the French printer was put off by Marx’s doctrinaire and dominating personality and by authoritarian communism. He wrote, “Simply because we are leaders of a movement let us not instigate a new intolerance. Let us not set ourselves up as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic or reason.” Marx called Proudhon a “petty-bourgeois idealist” who failed to recognize that human nature isn’t an unchanging essence but a product of history. This opposition marked the beginning of a split between libertarian and authoritarian socialists that later came to a head in the dispute between Marx and Bakunin in the First International.
Mikhail Bakunin was born into an aristocratic Russian family in 1814. At 22, he resigned from the army and went to Moscow to study and teach philosophy. He made his way to Paris in 1843, where he was impressed by Proudhon’s critique of government and property. He also met Marx, whom he described as “vain, morose, and devious…head to foot an authoritarian.”
Bakunin was arrested in Germany in 1849 for revolutionary activity. Deported to Russia, he spent the next eight years in solitary confinement. In 1855 his sentence was changed from life imprisonment to banishment in Siberia, and in 1861, he escaped, taking an American ship to San Francisco, then sailing to London.
In 1863 Bakunin went to Italy, where he wrote that “new organisms can only arise from immense destruction, and we will be fortunate to see even that.” He no longer believed in national liberation movements as a revolutionary force and began to advocate social revolution on an international scale. He praised Marx for having been the first to understand “that all the intellectual and political developments of society are nothing other than the expression of its material and economic developments.”
Bakunin was strongly influenced by the Italian anarchist leader Carlo Piscane, who defined property and government as the principal sources of slavery, poverty, and corruption, and called for a new Italy organized from the bottom up on the principle of free association. In the absence of a well-organized Italian workers’ movement, Bakunin created a secret society in Florence in 1864 and another in Naples in 1866. Although his secret societies were never influential, Bakunin hoped they would act as “invisible pilots in the thick of the poplar tempest, assisting the birth of the revolution by sowing seeds corresponding to the instincts of the masses, then channeling the revolutionary energy of the people.”
At this stage, Bakunin didn’t call for the direct and immediate expropriation of private industry, thinking that the abolition of the right of inheritance and the formation of cooperative workers’ associations would ensure the gradual disappearance of private ownership and economic inequality. He believed all property belonging to the state and to “reactionaries” should be confiscated, however. In place of existing nation states, society would be organized “from the base to the summit – from the circumference to the center – according to the principles of free association and federation.” The basic unit of society would be the autonomous commune, which would always have the right to secede from any federation. Decisions would be made by majority rule based on universal suffrage of both sexes. Every adult would be expected to fulfill three obligations: remaining free, living by his own labor, and respecting the freedom of others.
Bakunin recognized that this ideal society could only be put in place violently. He envisioned the revolution as a fight not against particular men, but against “antisocial institutions” that would not take long and would not degenerate into “cold, systematic terrorism.” In 1867 Bakunin acknowledged that the full realization of socialism “will no doubt be the work of centuries.” He also wrote that every human has a sense of justice deep in their conscience that translates itself into “simple equality.”
In 1868 in a speech at the Second Congress of the League for Peace and Freedom in Berne, Bakunin declared in no uncertain terms that all states are founded on “force, oppression, exploitation, and injustice, elevated into a system. They offer a double negation of humanity, internally by maintaining order by force and exploiting the people, and externally by waging aggressive war. By their very nature they represent the diametrical opposite of human justice, freedom, and morality.” He concluded that freedom and peace could only be achieved through the dissolution of all states and the creation of a universal federation of free associations, organized from the bottom up.
Later that year, Bakunin joined the Geneva branch of the International, and in 1869 acted as its delegate to the Fourth Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association in Basel. He soon found support among the watchmakers of the French-speaking Jura, who provided him with a base, and he went on to win over other workers, especially in France and Italy. Meanwhile, his Italian comrade Giuseppe Fanelli went to Spain and soon converted the Spanish Federation, the largest organization within the International, to Bakunin’s collectivist and federalist program. It was from these libertarian sections of the International that revolutionary syndicalism, or anarcho-syndicalism, developed.
Bakunin felt that the best way for workers to learn theory wasn’t through propaganda and education, but through practice: “emancipation through practical action.”
The differences between Bakunin and Marx came to a head at the Basel Congress of the International in September 1869 with a split between the former’s anti-authoritarian communists, communist federalists, and communist anarchists and authoritarian communists.
In September 1870 Bakunin went to Lyon, France to try to trigger an uprising he hoped would lead to a revolutionary federation of communes. The Lyon uprising was quickly crushed, but it marked the beginning of the revolutionary movement that would culminate in the Paris Commune the following spring. In a fragment on “The Program of the Alliance” written at this time, Bakunin rejected class collaboration and parliamentary politics. He also attacked union bureaucracy by means of which elected leaders often become “absolute masters of the rank-and-file, and replace popular assemblies by committees.”
On religion, Bakunin wrote that the idea of God implied “the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and practice.” Bakunin considered God to be such a threat to human liberty and virtue that he reversed Voltaire’s famous phrase to say “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”
Bakunin was also concerned about the authoritarian dangers of a scientific elite, saying that it would be better for people to dispense with science altogether than be governed by technocrats, for “life, not science, creates life; the spontaneous action of the people themselves alone can create liberty.”
Bakunin saw representative government as an “immense fraud” resting on the fiction that executive and legislative bodies elected by universal suffrage represent the will of the people. Irrespective of their democratic sentiments, he said, all rulers are corrupted by their participation in government – political power means domination. Even workers put into power would the day after their election become “the most determined aristocrats, open or secret worshippers of the principle of authority, exploiters and oppressors.” Bakunin wrote that representative government is “a system of hypocrisy and perpetual falsehood whose success rests on the stupidity of the people and the corruption of the public mind…Freedom can be created only by freedom, by a total rebellion of the people from the bottom up.” A people’s state even in a transitional period is therefore a contradiction in terms. In one of his most famous maxims, Bakunin insisted that “freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, and socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”
Bakunin abhorred the ancient Russian mir or peasant commune, because although the Russian peasants felt the land belonged to the community and were hostile to the state, they revered the tsar and were organized patriarchally. In contrast, the new commune in an emancipated society would consist of a voluntary association of free and equal individuals of both sexes. He believed individual freedom for Bakunin could only exist in the context of communal solidarity, and insisted that the basic principle of socialism was “that every human being should have the material and moral means to develop his humanity.”
Marx engineered Bakunin’s expulsion from the International at its Congress at the Hague in September 1872.
Bakunin considered the poorest and most oppressed and alienated to be the “flower of the proletariat,” while Marx dismissed this group, which he called the lumpenproletariat, as riffraff or rabble. Bakunin also felt that the peasants, whom Marx saw as “rural idiots,” were equally important in making the revolution. He hoped to see land being appropriated by agricultural associations and capital and the means of production by industrial associations. Marshall notes that Bakunin’s stress on the revolutionary potential of the peasantry has been confirmed by all the major revolutions of the 20th century – in Russia, Spain, China, Cuba, and Vietnam.
Bakunin died in Berne on July 1, 1876. His legacy was the spreading of anarchist ideas and the revolutionary spirit among 19th century workers, especially in France, Italy, Spain, and Latin America.
Peter Kropotkin, whom Marshall calls “the most systematic and profound anarchist thinker of the 19th century,” was born in 1842 into an aristocratic Russian family. As a military student, he became the personal page de chambre of Tsar Alexander II, whom he initially admired for liberating the serfs in 1861. The growing brutality of the regime eventually made Kropotkin distrust court politics and government in general, however. Later, his close observation of animals while serving as a military administrator in eastern Siberia led him to revise Darwin’s theory and insist that cooperation is the most important factor in evolution. Kropotkin’s contact with Siberian peasants and their communities also gave him a lasting faith in the solidarity and creative spontaneity of the people.
In 1871, having returned to St. Petersburg to study mathematics, Kropotkin was inspired by news of the Paris revolution, and the following year he visited western Europe. He became particularly friendly with Bakunin’s closest friend, James Guillaume, and absorbed his federalist ideas. Returning to Russia, Kropotkin became involved with the narodniks – young Russians who went to live with and educate the people (narod). Their goal was a new society based on a voluntary association of producers on the lines of the traditional Russian mir or village commune. The majority of these were for non-militant agitation, but Kropotkin advocated peasant uprisings and the seizure of land and property. He urged that society be organized by workers and peasants without government.
Arrested in March 1874, Kropotkin made a daring and dramatic escape from a prison hospital two years later. He left for England, determined to throw in his lot with the workers, and spent all his energy during the next five years in the anarchist cause. Arrested, he spent five years in a French prison, returning to London in 1886.
Kropotkin thought that small revolutionary groups should submerge themselves in workers’ organizations and act as catalysts to bring about a mass uprising and social revolution. He also recommended working through militant trade unions and was sympathetic to revolutionary syndicalism. Though associated with the doctrine of “propaganda by the deed,” Kropotkin was opposed to indiscriminate violence and believed that individual acts of violence were only justified as part of a revolutionary struggle with anarchist goals. He understood the despair that led to acts of terrorism, however, and refused to condemn anarchist terrorists outright, especially in view of the state’s mass terrorism.
Kropotkin maintained that man, like many other primates, is naturally adapted to live in society without artificial regulations. He noted that traditional people have always lived in clans and tribes in which customs and taboos ensure cooperation and mutual aid. People naturally engage in mutual aid out of an innate moral sense, and this voluntary cooperation hasn’t been eradicated by the appearance of coercive institutions and the modern state. The anarchist ideal, in other words, would bring people’s natural tendencies to the fore.
Kropotkin wrote that by its very nature the state can’t recognize a freely formed union operating within itself; it only recognizes subjects. “The State and its sister the Church arrogate to themselves alone the right to serve as the link between men.” In the history of human societies, the state has thus acted “to prevent direct association among men, to shackle the development of local and individual initiative, and to crush existing liberties in order to subject the masses to the will of minorities.” Kropotkin agreed with Marx that the political regime to which human societies are subjected is always the expression if the economic regime prevalent in that society. Even representative political systems, he believed, are by definition manipulated by those who control the economy.
Kropotkin criticized the revolutionary government advocated by state socialists as a transitional stage to a free society. Since a revolution is a growing and spontaneous movement, he wrote, any centralized political authority will check and crystallize its progress, and become a counterrevolutionary force resisting any development beyond itself. The immense and profound complexity of reorganizing society and elaborating new social forms can only be achieved by the collective suppleness of the mind of the whole people, not by an elected or dictatorial minority. Revolutionary groups should restrict their activity to awakening the consciousness of the people and reminding them of fundamental goals. On the morrow of the revolution, Kropotkin wrote, grievances and needs must be satisfied immediately so that the people can see that the situation has been transformed to their advantage and isn’t merely a change of persons and formulae. This necessitates the full expropriation of social goods and the means of production and the introduction of communism.
A free society for Kropotkin would be composed of a network of voluntary associations of equal individuals who are both consumers and producers. The network would include an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes – local, regional, national, and international, temporary and more or less permanent, formed for all possible purposes. The local commune would be the basic social unit and the center of life in town and country. Each group within the commune will be “drawn toward other similar groups in other communes,” and will federate with them “by links as solid as those which attach it to its fellow citizens,” constituting another “commune of interests whose members are scattered in a thousand towns and villages.”
In place of law, people would regulate their relationships by a combination of custom and free agreements, not enforced by any authority, but incentivized by common interest. With the eradication of private property and poverty, crime would be almost nonexistent, and the few disputes that arose could be easily settled by arbitrators.
When it came to organizing the economy, Kropotkin went beyond Proudhon’s mutualism and Bakunin’s collectivism to advocate a form of anarchist communism. Politically, this meant a society without government (anarchy); economically, it meant the complete negation of the wage system and the ownership of the means of production in common. Kropotkin felt that anarchist communism was the union of the two fundamental tendencies of society – toward political liberty and economic equality. The means of production would be owned by associations or communes of producers, organized on a voluntary basis and connected federally. Each person would do whatever work he could and receive from the common stock according to his needs, without money or exchange notes.
Kropotkin further advocated industrial decentralization, regional self-sufficiency, integration of town and country, and more intensive methods of food production. He was convinced that 5 hours of labor a day for 150 days a year would satisfy the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, with another 150 days to provide secondary goods. “After bread has been secured,” he wrote, “leisure is the supreme aim.”
All adults under a certain age – say, forty – would be expected to do some manual labor, but technology would reduce drudgery and toil and people could choose their work and vary it as they wished. The incentive to work would be the conscious satisfaction of the work itself and a sense of contributing to the general happiness.
Kropotkin returned to his homeland in 1917, but said after the Bolsheviks took power, “This buries the revolution. The method by which they seek to establish communism in a strongly centralized state makes success impossible and paralyzes the constructive work of the people.” In 1919, Kropotkin met with Lenin and complained about the persecution of the cooperatives and the bureaucratized local authorities. In December 1920 he wrote and complained about the hostage-taking practices of the Red Army during the civil war. The following year he wrote that the Bolsheviks were “perpetuating horrors” and ruining the country.
When Kropotkin died in February 1921, the Bolshevik government offered his family a state funeral, but they refused. His funeral proved to be the last great anarchist demonstration in Russia, for later that year the movement was crushed.
Feminist anarchist Emma Goldman was born in 1869 in a Jewish ghetto in Russia. At 15, her poverty-stricken family sent her to a half-sister in America. She decided to become a revolutionary in 1886, on the the Haymarket anarchists were hanged. Six years later, Goldman and her lover, Alexander Berkman, planned to assassinate Henry Clay Frick during the 1892 Homestead steel strike. Having wounded Frick, Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
In 1893, Goldman spent a year in prison for urging the unemployed to take bread by force. In 1906, Goldman and Berkman began publishing the monthly Mother Earth, which discussed anarchist ideas and featured writers like Thoreau, Nietzsche, and Wilde. Goldman also went on lecture tours, becoming one of the most magnetic and volatile orators in American history, despite the attempts of police and vigilante groups to silence her. She was imprisoned a second time for distributing birth control literature, but her longest sentence came from helping to set up No-Conscription Leagues and organizing rallies against the First World War. She and Berkman were arrested in 1917 for conspiracy to obstruct the draft and given two years in prison. Upon their release, they were stripped of their American citizenship and deported with other ‘Reds’ to Russia.
Goldman and Berkman were disappointed by the lack of free speech in the Soviet Union and the special privileges enjoyed by Communist Party members. Traveling throughout the country collecting documents for the revolutionary archives, they were horrified at the growing bureaucracy, political persecution, and forced labor they found. Their breaking point was reached when the Kronstadt rebellion was crushed by the Red Army. A series of workers’ strikes had taken place in March 1921 in Petrograd, supported by the Kronstadt sailors, calling for an equalization of rations, freedom of speech, and elections to the soviets. Goldman and Berkman obtained passports and left for Europe, convinced that the Revolution had been defeated.
Berkman settled in France, and Goldman in England, where she found herself almost alone in condemning the Bolsheviks so that her public lectures were poorly attended. On hearing that Goldman might be deported in 1925, another activist offered to marry her to give her British nationality, and she accepted his expression of solidarity. With a British passport, she was able to travel to France and Canada, and in 1934 was even allowed to return to the United States.
Depressed by the rise of fascism and by Berkman’s suicide in 1936, Goldman was greatly cheered to hear of the republican stand against Franco in Spain. In September 1936, at the age of 67, she went to Barcelona to join in the struggle. She worked with the anarchist CNT-FAI (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo-Federación Anarquista Ibérica), and on one occasion 10,000 of their members turned out to hear her call them a “shining example to the rest of the world.” She edited the English language edition of the organization’s bulletin and was given the task of publicizing their cause in Britain.
Goldman disagreed with the participation of the CNT-FAI in the coalition government of 1937 and the concessions they made to the increasingly powerful communists for the sake of the war effort. Still, she stood by her comrades.
Despite her profound disappointment at Franco’s eventual triumph, Goldman refused to compromise her anarchist principles. She wrote just before her death in 1940, “I am against dictatorship and fascism as I am opposed to parliamentary regimes and so-called political democracy.” Having met leading French syndicalists, Goldman saw syndicalism, with its wish to overthrow the wage system and replace the centralized state with the “free, federated grouping of the workers,” as the “economic expression of anarchism.”
While living in America, Goldman advocated the use of collective violence to overthrow the state and capitalism, and endorsed class war, direct action, and industrial sabotage. But after her experience in Russia in 1920 and 1921, she recognized the inconsistency in using violent means to achieve libertarian ends. Social revolution, she now thought, should recognize the sanctity of human life and aim at a fundamental change in values. As she wrote to a friend in 1923, “The one thing I am convinced of as I have never been in my life is that the gun decides nothing at all.” Goldman now thought the most effective way of reconstructing society was through example and “free school” education.
As a feminist, Goldman wrote that true emancipation for women began neither at the polls nor in the courts, but in a “woman’s soul” as she “assert[ed] herself as a personality…refusing the right to anyone over her body, refusing to bear children unless she wants them; and refusing to be a servant to God, the state, society, or her and family.” Living a “simpler, deeper, and richer” life according to her own lights, such free women will be “a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire,” able to give life to free men and women. Finally, she emphasized the importance of joy, saying, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.”
After the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, Nestor Makhno, an anarcho-communist revolutionary, organized a 400-square-mile area of the Ukraine with a population of 7 million into an autonomous region. The factories were occupied, and collectives organized their production. Makhno had to fight Whites, Ukrainian nationalists, and the Germans and Austrians who were given control of the Ukraine under the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
By September 1918, Makhno’s partisan army had captured the regional capital of Gulyai-Polye from the Austrians. Even under war conditions, the social revolution continued, with communes or free-work soviets set up in areas under Makhno’s control. When they passed through a district, his partisans would put up posters announcing, “The freedom of the workers and the peasants is their own, and not subject to any restriction. It is up to the workers and peasants themselves to act, to organize themselves in all aspects of their lives, as they themselves see fit. The Makhnovists can do no more than give aid and counsel. In no circumstances can they, nor do they wish to, govern.” Wherever they went, Makkno’s partisans carried the black flag of anarchy at their head, embroidered with “Liberty or Death” and “The Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers.”
Groups of producers were federated into districts, and districts into regions. Free assembly, free speech, and a free press were declared. In January, February, and April of 1919, a series of Regional Congresses of Peasants, Workers, and Insurgents were held to discuss economic and military matters and elect a Regional Military Revolutionary Council.
Alarmed by the growing influence of the Makhnovist movement, the Bolshevik government tried to reach an agreement with Makhno in 1920. He insisted that in the area in which the Makhnovist army was operating “the worker and peasant populations shall create their own free institutions for economic self-administration; these institutions shall be autonomous and linked federally by agreements with the governing organs of the Soviet Republics.” In April 1919, the Third Regional Council had met despite being banned by the Soviet authorities, inviting delegates from the Red Army. After Makhno’s army defeated the Whites in October 1920, the Bolsheviks ordered that it be absorbed into the Red Army under Trotsky’s command. When Makhno resisted the order, the officers of the Crimean Makhnovist army were arrested while attending a joint military council, and shot. Makhno managed to fight on against hopeless odds until August 1921. In the end, defeated, he went into exile, slandered as a bandit and pogromist by the Bolsheviks. He died 13 years later in Paris.
Makhno’s widow and daughter were deported to Germany for forced labor during World War II. At the end of the war, they were arrested by the Russian NKVD and sentenced to eight years of hard labor. They lived in Kazakhstan after their release in 1953.
The Sarvodaya Movement
Sarvodaya, a Gujarati word meaning the progress or welfare of all, was used by Gandhi to express his political philosophy. He believed that the good of the individual is contained in the good of all, that all work has the same value, and that a life of labor is the only life worth living. The Gandhian social ideal also included an equitable distribution of wealth, communal self-sufficiency and individual freedom.
After Gandhi’s death, his followers in India (notably, Vinoba Bhave) continued working to promote the kind of society he’d envisioned, and their efforts have come to be known as the Sarvodaya Movement. Sarvodaya workers undertook various projects aimed at encouraging popular self-organization during the 1950s and 1960s, and groups descended from these networks continue to function locally in India today, some of them encouraging the voluntary donation and redistribution of land.
Marshall says that under Vinoba’s guidance the Sarvodaya movement took an increasingly anarchistic direction, advocating common ownership of the land. Gandhi had maintained that any property one has, including one’s talents, should be used for the benefit of the whole. As in the family, so in society: property should be held in common, each giving according to his ability and taking according to his needs. Like Gandhi, the Sarvodaya movement was and is committed to a decentralized economy of combined fields and workshops. Also, like Gandhi, the movement has been deeply suspicious of centralized authority. Stressing the right of private judgment and the importance of the individual conscience, Vinoba rejected the legitimacy of the state’s claim to obedience. “It is one mark of swaraj [independence] not to allow any outside power to exercise control over oneself. And the second mark of swaraj is not to exercise power over any other. These two things together make swaraj – no submission and no exploitation.”
Like their Western anarchist counterparts, the Sarvodayites assert that those who attain political power are inevitably corrupted. They also reject the idea that majority rule can express public opinion and bring about welfare of all, and believe that political parties are divisive. Recognizing that revolutions are never achieved by power or party politics, the Sarvodaya movement sought to develop a new form of politics based on the direct action of the people themselves, with all decisions taken either unanimously or by consensus (no member actively disagreeing). The movement is nonviolent, ascetic, and gradualist. Vinoba’s threefold program of political development moves from national independence via a decentralized self-governing state, to pure anarchy. The last stage will only be reached when all people are self-reliant and self-governing. The state will wither away as people build an alternative society through the slow and thorough transformation of ideas and values. Part of this process involves a new politics of party-less democracy based on the consensus of all classes and groups.
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a self-governance movement in Sri Lanka, provides development and conflict resolution programs to villages. Founded in 1958 by Dr A. T. Ariyaratne when he took forty high school students and twelve teachers from Nalanda College Colombo on an educational experiment to an outcaste village, it’s based on Buddhist and Gandhian principles, including sarvodaya and swaraj. The word “shramadana” means “a gift of labor.”
As of 2006, Sarvodaya staff and programs are active in some 15,000 (of 38,000) villages in Sri Lanka, involving 11 million people. The program begins with an invitation from a village for discussion of what is needed and how it can be done. It then creates a village council, builds a school and a clinic, and helps the village become economically self-sustaining. Sarvodaya also sponsors public meditations in which tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians meditate together on each other’s welfare.
“Neither Victims nor Executioners.” Albert Camus
During the 1960s, many members of the New Left espoused the traditional anarchist principles of mutual aid, direct action, and decentralization. Activists called for an end to hierarchy and domination, challenging corporate, state, and university authorities and criticizing the oppressive nature of contemporary culture, especially in the realm of sexuality and the family. They recognized the revolutionary potential of the marginal and declassé elements of society, realized that the organization of the movement foreshadowed the structure of the new society, and saw the need to create counter-institutions and build the new society from the bottom up.
The predominantly pacifist New Left largely existed outside strictly anarchist organizations, and saw feminism as a central issue. Where the main support for the old anarchist movement came from peasants and artisans, the new anarchists were principally disaffected middle-class intellectuals, especially teachers, social workers, and students. An anarchistic counterculture also developed, experimenting with mind-altering drugs and rejecting rationality and objectivity in favor of emotions, playfulness, and mysticism. The counterculture never offered a real threat to the status quo, however. Many of its fashions were taken up by the market, and most of its members were eventually co-opted by the dominant society and culture.
In France in May 1968, a student rebellion triggered the occupation of factories in one of the greatest general strikes in history. Graffiti on the walls in Paris declared: “Neither Gods Nor Masters;” “The More You Consume the Less You Live;” “All Power to the Imagination;” “It Is Forbidden to Forbid;” and “Be Realistic: Demand the Impossible.” But while the workers occupied the factories, they didn’t work in them and failed to turn their strike committees into administrative organs of self-management. After six weeks, a 10% pay raise was accepted by the reformist Confédération Générale du Travail. That and de Gaulle’s offer of new elections led to the collapse of the strike.
The riot following the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1968 was the high point of mass opposition to the state in the United States, and by the early ’70s the New Left had disintegrated as a coherent movement. The worldwide economic recession of 1973-4 checked post-scarcity utopianism, and the vast majority of rebellious youth put away their beads and tried to make it in straight society. Still, Proudhon’s maxim “Anarchy is Order,” commonly reduced to an encircled capital “A,” has become one of the most common graffiti in the urban landscape.
Anarchism today is no longer dismissed as the creed of bomb-throwers, but is increasingly recognized as one of thoughtful people asking important questions and proposing new ways of seeing and doing. Anarchy has been reinvented, and the new anti-capitalist, anti-war, and anti-globalization movements reflect its goals and decentralized and non-hierarchical ways of organizing.
Associated with “post-left anarchy” in the US, where the movement first emerged, are the journals Crimethinc, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, Green Anarchy, and The Fifth Estate. Many primitivists are post-leftists, although John Zerzan, one of their most influential thinkers, likes to call himself “anti-leftist.” Primitivists reject modern technology and try to adopt a primitive lifestyle close to nature. They believe that technology, far from being “neutral,” as many think, has adverse mental, physical, emotional, and social effects on us. For the anarcho-primitivists, it isn’t the centralized and militarized state that’s the principal cause of social, political, and ecological crisis, as most anarchists maintain, but civilization itself. In their view, human society went wrong around 7,000 BC when it settled down to domesticate animals and grow crops. By contrast, according to David Watson, the hunter-gatherer world is “affluent because its needs are few, all its desires are easily met. Its tool kit is elegant and light…It is anarchic…a dancing society, a singing society, a celebrating society, a dreaming society.”
Like deep ecologists, anarcho-primitivists wish to have an unmediated experience of nature, and with Edward Abbey and the members of Earth First! they’re prepared to engage in eco-sabotage to defend ecosystems and non-human species.
Many of these primitivists, such as Fredy Perlman, John Zerzan, and Derrick Jensen, would like to see the dismantling of urban civilization. They wish to go “feral,” and return to a condition of “wildness,” if not in the woods, deserts, or mountains, in the interstices of urban life, reclaiming abandoned buildings and vacant lots, and dumpster-diving. Rejecting wage labor, they try to become active agents rather than passive subjects – mere consumers.
Zerzan notes that the increasing trend of using symbolic representation, especially through language, cuts us off from each other and from the natural world. The experience of time as a linear process (clock and calendar time) also prevents us from living in the here and now. Jensen, who admires Zerzan’s work, advocates paralyzing the capitalist system by sabotaging commercial infrastructure and means of communication. As an older American anarchist, Noam Chomsky, has pointed out, however, this would cause mass suffering and many deaths. Which is the greater evil?
Marshall points out that, given the present human population, it would be impossible for all of us to abandon cities and live as hunter-gatherers. He says the only real wilderness left is “within ourselves. We were born to be wild and free; the great question for the new millennium is how to expand our freedom and preserve the remaining wilderness.”
Green anarchists, who share many of the primitivists’ beliefs, learn earth and survival skills, practice self-sufficiency, and try to simplify their lives while continuing to live in the city. They predict that the present form of industrial civilization, spreading across the world with global capital and political imperialism, will lead to a social and ecological catastrophe unless there is a major shift in values. While keeping a wider perspective, they stress the importance of local identity, rehabilitation of the land, and bioregionalism.
Syndicalists like Graham Purchase and Wobbly organizer Judi Bari have tried to develop a form of green syndicalism, in which unions committed to direct action and workers’ self-management take up ecological concerns. Anarchists have also been involved in the animal liberation and animal rights movements. Wild Greens and members of Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front defend the planet and its species with a wide variety of tactics carried out by autonomous groups and individuals. Another movement to emerge from green anarchy is freeganism, which advocates voluntary joblessness and living off the abandoned products of industrial society, such as the food thrown away by supermarkets.
Many green anarchists have been inspired by the poet and essayist Gary Snyder’s “Buddhist anarchism. He’s called for a return to a tribal way of life based on bioregions, truly dwelling in and caring for the land where we live. Synder reminds us that the most immediate and ordinary can be the most sacred, and that wildness isn’t just wild nature, but the wild culture of free peoples and the wild mind of creativity.
The science-fiction writer Ursula Le Guin has introduced many people to anarchism (and Taoism), most notably through her utopian novel The Dispossessed (1974). As the hero Shevek makes clear, “You can’t make the Revolution; you can only be the Revolution. It’s in your spirit, or it’s nowhere.” In her great work of utopian fiction Always Coming Home (1985), Le Guin has created an ideal culture and its dystopian mirror image: the cooperative, egalitarian Kesh and the patriarchal, militaristic Condor people. Pagan anarchist and novelist Starhawk imagines a similar cultural dichotomy in her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing (1994).
Anarchists still reject political representation in favor of direct and participatory democracy, and have generally boycotted elections. John Clark has argued that in some circumstances tactical voting can be beneficial if candidates are trying to educate, rather than gain power, particularly in local elections. Today’s anarchists engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action, including squatting, sabotage, defacing ads, and reclaiming the streets. “Critical mass” actions by small groups try to trigger a sustained chain reaction among the wider populace. Carnival, festival, theater, and pranks are used to highlight the coercive and empty nature of the state and corporate culture and show a different way of doing things that’s decentralized, democratic, egalitarian, and fun.
Marshall says his own view is that “when there are enough people who want to be free, we’ll have a free society.” He adds that love can subvert the “mad rationality of the Panopticon and Pentagon.” Just as the notion of self-organization, partly inspired by cybernetics, became popular in the ’70s, the more organic image of the rhizome now represents the principles of connection and heterogeneity – an a-centered, non-hierarchical, non-signifying system without organizing memory or central automation. The metaphor describes the kind of grassroots, leaderless networks of groups and movements that have emerged in the international campaign against corporate globalization and war. Working within mainstream society, it’s possible to create a new culture, building relationships of trust, support, and cooperation in ever-widening and overlapping circles. These networks are often made up of affinity groups, convivial gatherings of like-minded individuals that are autonomous, fluid, flexible, and responsive, coming and going according to need and desire. They can form loose clusters and confederations, and where necessary send delegates or “spokes” to larger assemblies or “spokes councils” to coordinate their thinking and action through a process of consensus decision-making. Current “practical anarchy” also includes experiments in communal living, alternative economic systems, and community currencies.
The theory and tactics of the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico have caught the attention of anarchists, too. Named after the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata and partly inspired by the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation rose up in 1994 in the state of Chiapas, demanding the right of the indigenous people of southern Mexico to be different and self-governing. Holding off the armed forces of the Mexican state, they’ve organized in autonomous municipalities with no fixed leadership, executive body, or headquarters. Their charismatic spokesman, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos – probably a missing professor of philosophy – playfully expresses left-libertarian views. He says he wears his mask as a “vaccine against caudillismo,” against the danger of becoming a boss.
Marshall concludes his book by saying, “It is still realistic to demand the impossible; indeed, it is more urgent than ever, if we are to survive the ecological crisis and reverse the growing injustice and inequality in the world. We need to imagine and realize an alternative future and social reality, one based on autonomy, individuality, community, solidarity, and a deep concern for the natural world…Like Malatesta, Reclus, and Voltairine de Cleyre more than a century ago, I advocate ‘anarchy without adjectives,’ anarchism which embraces rather than spurns, which encourages mutual tolerance between different strands and schools. It does not try to impose a common economic system: mutualism can evolve into collectivism, which in turn can develop into voluntary communism. As in republican Spain during the Civil War, land can be held in common while at the same time allowing some to work their own plots. Individualism can be supported by community…The organized warfare of modern states, the ruthless exploitation of transnational corporations, and the blind hatred of religious fundamentalists can be subverted by an ethos of universal love, justice, and reverence for all life. There is no need to despair or feel powerless, for as the ‘velvet revolutions’ in the former Soviet bloc, the self-managing citizens of Argentina, and the Zapatista peasants of Chiapas have shown, if enough people do not accept those in power, they cannot stay there for long.
In the meantime, we can form affinity groups, develop communities and cooperatives, and create permanent and temporary autonomous zones within the fissures of the authoritarian society. We can develop grassroots, participatory institutions. Depending on how it’s used, the internet can also create networks of like-minded people all over the world, sharing their experiences and knowledge and organizing protest and resistance.”
We need a new culture!
Wow…it’s been 6 weeks since my last blog post, a period of just trying to make it from day to day; of total immersion in self, friends, and family…energy and enthusiasm in short supply.
But reading a book on the history of anarchism and preparing to host a Eugene Mutual Aid Society table at a “Green Faire” tomorrow has revived my revolutionary, or at least evolutionary, spirit. I put together a presentation for the latter that emphasizes preparing for “energy descent” (peak oil, high gas prices), economic contraction or collapse, or whatever else may come down the pike — perhaps the west coast’s 1,000-year earthquake. Not in individual survivalist or “green lifestyle” middle-class homeowner mode, but together, in groups, as a community, using the anarchist principle of mutual aid. That is, or would be, revolutionary!
As my 3-sided poster to put on the table says, “Mutual aid societies are formed by people in free and voluntary association, who agree to abide by the unwritten mutual aid agreement: ‘If you’re in need, I’ll help you; if I’m in need, I trust you to help me,’ and ‘I agree to meet my own needs to the best of my ability.’ There are other things on the poster, too, about forming affinity groups; meeting with them to talk about helping each other be more self-sufficient; and networking with other groups, using the sppkescouncil model. Nothing too alarming, though I did throw in a little section about anarchism at the bottom.
But think about the mutual aid thing for a minute. Done right, done fully, it’s communism. Not communism as in the Soviet Union or Red China, but in the true, idealistic sense of the word: putting everything you have in the pot to share. Common ownership of land, factories, and other resources — not by a party run by bosses, but by democratic local assemblies or spokescouncils. Only “owning” your house — which you’d share, if big enough, for as long as you needed to live in it.
I think this kind of economic equality is necessary for democracy, because political rights are worthless if you’re sick, hungry, broke, or homeless. It’s also necessary for peace, and for us to mature into fully adult humans. It can’t be arrived at by a violent revolution — we can only have it by deciding voluntarily to share and be truly caring and generous over and over, every day. This would be quite a change for us “I’ve got mine, and I can’t afford to care about you” Americans. We might be able to ease into it gradually by following the example of small groups who’ve already done or are doing it. More likely, the collapse of the economy will force us into it, or something much worse, all of a sudden. Either way, this is what I think the immediate or near future will ask of us. And we’ll say “yes,” if we want to live up to our full potential, ethically and spiritually.
I say all this having just asked my housemate of three years to leave, because I’m tired of sharing space with her (or probably anyone) 24/7. We were going to have a “community” of two, and “learn about sharing,” but we ended up with a landlord-tenant relationship, stilted “How are you?”s and “Have a good morning”s, and petty grievances about cooking odors and crumbs on the kitchen counter. By ending our house-sharing arrangement now, I think we may be able to save our friendship, and actually enjoy spending time together again here and there.
I think it would have been easier for both of us if we’d been on a par financially and both owned a share of the house, but either way, sharing’s hard — at least for folks raised in this culture. When we try it we end up worrying about whether we’ll have enough for ourselves — enough solitude and privacy in my case, perhaps enough to eat in a future example. We also worry about whether others are putting the same amount of effort into the common project. My housemate never offered to mow the lawn, for example, even though she enjoyed the yard’s beauty, and I never saw her sweep or vacuum the kitchen or living room. That’s no way to form community. The question of the future may be whether we should feed an able-bodied person who hasn’t worked, or worked hard enough, to support the community.
I say, “We need a new culture,” because I think a lot of this is cultural. After toddlerhood, our culture stopped encouraging us to share. And it presents no models of true sharing or caring. Change is hard, but the difficulties we’ll have in learning to share pale in comparison — at least for me — with the pain of knowing that, because resources aren’t shared equally now, people, including children, are suffering and dying unnecessarily — while we or our children or grandkids buy more toys and luxuries with which to entertain ourselves.
I get impatient, because I’ve held these beliefs for 50 years — and tired, because I’m 68 years old, and sometimes feeling that age. I’m excited that some of the things I’ve been thinking about for so long may finally be coming to fruition, at least here and there. And I also feel that most of this will be for folks younger than me to do. I think the role of elders is to withdraw more and more from the fray, and meditate, wander around the garden, paint a picture or write a poem, enjoy present moments, and prepare for death by spending more and more time on soulful things, big and small.
But that’s another great thing about anarchism — I don’t have to do more than one person’s share, because the rest of you are responsible, thinking adults, too, and in whatever way you see fit, you’re doing and will do yours…I also believe everyone will have an elder’s share of leisure time in the sort of local community economy I have in mind. What’s not to like?