Anarchism is in the news once again. As usual, it is being drastically misrepresented.
A good example is an article by The American Conservative, which actually compares historical anarchists with ISIS. Predictably, it starts by claiming that, “Today, revolutionary anarchists seem archaic, almost quaint. But for around 50 years, from the 1880s to the 1930s, anarchists carried out terror …”
Well, you can surely see where they are going, or attempting to go. One could simply note that ISIS are very much in favor of authority, and that this instantly makes comparisons somewhat shaky. Add in just how terrible ISIS is and, well, there is now even less of a comparison. Unfortunately, despite the powerful research capabilities of the internet, few will study the issue any further than what’s said in their article. But what does it say? One implication is that all anarchists were terrorists, and that that’s all they wanted. Of course, that’s untrue. Even in the events alluded to, most of the violence in question was carried out against authority figures, and not all anarchists supported such tactics (in fact, some anarchists are actually pacifists, which you’d never know from reading The American Conservative article).
One of the most well known events, the Chicago Haymarket bombing, saw anarchists incarcerated through a clearly biased trial that utilized little to no evidence (the actual bomber was never identified, which should help indicate the strength of the state’s case). Another example would be anarchist Alexander Berkman’s assassination attempt of industrialist union-buster Henry Clay Frick. Rather than happening for no reason, it was actually an act of retaliation for Frick’s actions during the Homestead Steel Strike, which Frick hired 300 Pinkerton guards to break up. The Pinkertons killed 9 striking workers, with only one guard being killed. On top of that, Frick threatened to evict striking workers from their homes. Were these deaths simply the fault of crazy anarchists? It doesn’t sound that way to me. It looks like Frick was trying to maintain his setup, in which he would draw grossly disproportionate benefit, and could do virtually anything he wanted against the workers. Well, Berkman wasn’t having it, and that’s history.
So terms like “self-radicalized” are pretty much nonsensical in this context (as they basically are even in the context of the much worse ISIS). More simply, it should be noted that nearly all political movements have histories of violent behavior. That anarchists are attributed some especially evil character only indicates successful propaganda against them. For example, we hear of “bomb throwing anarchists,” but we never hear of “bomb dropping governments,” even though governments have a pretty strong history of violence.
Also, as mentioned before, anarchism doesn’t really mean violence. In fact, they tend to be reasonable people, but fed up with the status quo. They’ve even been part of positive change in history. It’s commonly stated that, not very long ago, the average life expectancy was about 40 years. If this indeed was true, life expectancy has increased largely due to advances in medicine, and also things like safer working conditions, safer products, shorter workdays and workweeks, and quite simply taking better care of each other. Believe it or not, none of these things contradict anarchist theory. Anarchists want better, more equal conditions for all people, not just some who can afford it. They want social stratification and systems of authority to be virtually nonexistent.
Ironically, plenty of prominent Democrats — and even some conservatives — claim this very same goal. The main difference is that anarchists don’t believe in giving a President , or anyone else, vast powers in the process. They take the ideas seriously, whereas politicians tend not to.
Obama is a good example. After Bush, the country looked even more screwed up than usual, so the Obamaniacs flocked en masse to the voting booths, and the Electoral College actually reflected their wishes. Republicans offered little alternative, as their sole focus was on how scary Obama was. So Obama won, and a lot of progressives were rightfully disappointed with his business-as-usual approach of rampant militarism, corporate cronyism, continuation of Bush’s bailouts, etc. At the same time, Republicans looked crazier and crazier in their Obama fears, so Democrats still looked more moderate in comparison. I for one didn’t think Obama would put most people into work camps, at least no more than any Republican President would have, but that was (apparently) the Republican thinking process. Either way, many Americans still share the dissatisfaction that anarchists feel, which gives the powers that be additional incentive to undermine them. If more people begin considering anarchist principles, the powers that be could become the powers that were.
In 2009, this was reported: “Fifty-four percent (54%) of voters say Congress is doing a poor job these days. While Congress grows the country’s budget deficit by historic amounts in an effort to help the economy, the majority of Americans don’t even believe most legislators pay all the taxes they owe.”
This is significant, and can’t be pinned on anarchists. Still, the two parties will try to do just that. Anyone is to blame but the system itself, which rewards power seekers and corruption. It seems the status quo is creating confusion — chaos, if you will. But hey, let’s smear anarchists and pretend they are utterly incapable of making even a single valid point, ever And there’s always a new election circus around the corner, where we can start the cycle all over again. See how much better it is to speak of hope and change, while opposing meaningful hope and change?
Another absurd article, ironically from a place called “RealClearPolitics.com,” labels Donald Trump the “Anarchist In Chief.” Fascinatingly, it starts off with: “Donald Trump is a real estate mogul, showman, crude trash talker and master media manipulator. To some he is a racist, misogynist, authoritarian, Russian appeaser and xenophobe…”
There are so many contradictions to anarchist positions listed in the first paragraph alone. The most telling one is “authoritarian.” Anarchists are not authoritarian. Or, if they are, they are not being like anarchists. But really, what makes Trump an “anarchist” is that he’s challenging Hillary Clinton, so let’s just throw that word at him and pretends it discredits him rather than the author. Trup said, as one might expect, that “the election of Hillary Clinton would lead, in my opinion, to the almost total destruction of our country as we know it.”
That makes him an anarchist? Because he’s paranoid of what will happen if Hillary wins? Well, I’m sorry, but that also makes Democrats anarchists for similar fears about Trump. As you can see, the word is rendered meaningless, like the idea that we can “make America proud and strong.” Vacuous concepts that even a child should be able to see through. Yet this kind of talk persists.
Is a country threatened more by anarchy, by a “1984”-style scenario, or by unbridled, so-called “capitalism”? Does anarchism potentially stifle all innovation, hold people back or generate sheer chaos?
Oddly enough for some, I find anarchism to be compatible with some aspects of democracy. Even though majoritarianism is stupid, some basic aspects of democracy make sense. It has some validity, as long as (a) the democracy is egalitarian, and (b) majority opinion is not imposed by force upon the population. In other words, it should be voluntary, direct democracy. Any elected representatives could be essentially devoid of power, and solely serve as instantly recallable delegates, with big decisions passed by all members of a given organization.
I also don’t assume that all democracy MUST lead to minority persecution. That would contradict basic egalitarian principles, and suggest humans can never get along. I want to live in democracy precisely because I dislike persecution. People should also feel free to comment on any issue as they see fit, without having their comments leading to violent arguments. And, if they dislike decisions strongly enough, people can always try to state their case, live with the decision, or leave the arrangement and strike off on their own. That is freedom. It is hard to come by in a government setting, and under social stratification, where one person or group is given special powers, privileges and rights to control (and, lets face it, abuse) the rest.
Meanwhile, regarding the rugged individualism of capitalism, the anarchist Emma Goldman had this to say: “‘Rugged individualism’ has meant all the ‘individualism’ for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking ‘supermen.’ America is perhaps the best representative of this kind of individualism, in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues [as with Henry Clay Frick]; while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social opportunity to live is denounced as ‘un-American’ and evil in the name of that same individuality.”
Regarding government generally, the British journalist, philosopher, aheist and anarchist Nicolas Walter noted: “Many people say that government is necessary because some men cannot be trusted to look after themselves, but anarchists say that government is harmful because no men can be trusted to look after anyone else.”
Then there’s Mikhail Bakunin’s comment in “Statism & Anarchy” (1873) about strong government “for the people”: “In the republic the State, which is supposed to be the people, legally organized, stifles & will continue to stifle the real people. But the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labeled ‘the people’s stick.’”
I find all of these anarchist quotes witty and brilliant, rather than the words of some rabid miscreants. Indeed, to me they are glimpses into the strength of anarchism in terms of practical logic, especially compared to the status quo.
As for science, does evidence and innovation disappear in a society that strives to be more free? I wouldn’t say so. I also wouldn’t characterize violence as “anarchy.” The chaos of “soldiers and men of action” is not “a state of anarchy.” That is a state of authoritianism, or resulting from a battle against it (usually to replace one illegitimate authority with another).
So, with all of the recent “news” stories above, a classic and rather huge mistake is made: Anarchists are depicted as loving chaos and destruction, and nothing else. Anarchists are not against social organizations, but against ones where one person or small group of people dominates resources and decision making. It would make zero sense to want to abolish every kind of organization. Anarchism is actually pretty great, which is why utter conformists have to bash it from every direction. Anarchy is not just a theory of violence as many claim it to be (though, like virtually any philosophy, it can be used in such a way).
In any case, one of the basis ideas of anarchism is ridiculously straightforward: If a certain policy or enterprise doesn’t have adequate supporters, it needn’t be carried out. If a workplace makes a terrible decision, workers could always ask someone, “Have you gone mad?” Unfortunately, they often don’t, because they don’t want to lose their jobs and their livelihoods. In an anarchist scenario, basic protections of critics would need to be in place, and no one person would be able to pull a Trump and say “You’re fired!” Again, if there are “officials” of some type, they would be totally accountable and would have no control of economies.
Right now, the western “democracies” are run for the ruling class people, by the ruling class people. An anarchist organization must be in fact run by all the people involved. Virtually every political system claims to be “for the common man,” and anarchism recognizes and emphasizes the folly in this. This is why anarchism does not put greed and power above all else in the world, and seeks to undermine not just existing ruling classes, but any would-be class of rulers, thus reducing politics in general and not putting so much power into the hands of a few. Because many would enjoy joining a class of rulers, we should aim to avoid such a situation, thus cutting conflicts off at the source as best as possible. It’s not a perfect process, but it’s better than just saying “Okay, go ahead, tell everyone else what to do, hog most of the wealth and we’ll all be fine.”
Still, when it comes to people, they are going to do what they will. One can only hope more will carry out the terror of common sense.