PDF version of Section A.
One thing that soon becomes clear to any one interested in anarchism is that there is not one single form of anarchism. Rather, there are different schools of anarchist thought, different types of anarchism which have many disagreements with each other on numerous issues. These types are usually distinguished by tactics and/or goals, with the latter (the vision of a free society) being the major division.
This means that anarchists, while all sharing a few key ideas, can be grouped into broad categories, depending on the economic arrangements that they consider to be most suitable to human freedom. However, all types of anarchists share a basic approach. To quote Rudolf Rocker:
“In common with the founders of Socialism, Anarchists demand the abolition of all economic monopolies and the common ownership of the soil and all other means of production, the use of which must be available to all without distinction; for personal and social freedom is conceivable only on the basis of equal economic advantages for everybody. Within the Socialist movement itself the Anarchists represent the viewpoint that the war against capitalism must be at the same time a war against all institutions of political power, for in history economic exploitation has always gone hand in hand with political and social oppression. The exploitation of man by man and the domination of man over man are inseparable, and each is the condition of the other.” [Anarcho-Syndicalism, pp. 62-3]
It is within this general context that anarchists disagree. The main differences are between “individualist” and “social” anarchists, although the economic arrangements each desire are not mutually exclusive. Of the two, social anarchists (communist-anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and so on) have always been the vast majority, with individualist anarchism being restricted mostly to the United States. In this section we indicate the differences between these main trends within the anarchist movement. As will soon become clear, while social and individualist anarchists both oppose the state and capitalism, they disagree on the nature of a free society (and how to get there). In a nutshell, social anarchists prefer communal solutions to social problems and a communal vision of the good society (i.e. a society that protects and encourages individual freedom). Individualist anarchists, as their name suggests, prefer individual solutions and have a more individualistic vision of the good society. However, we must not let these difference cloud what both schools have in common, namely a desire to maximise individual freedom and end state and capitalist domination and exploitation.
In addition to this major disagreement, anarchists also disagree over such issues as syndicalism, pacifism, “lifestylism,” animal rights and a whole host of other ideas, but these, while important, are only different aspects of anarchism. Beyond a few key ideas, the anarchist movement (like life itself) is in a constant state of change, discussion and thought — as would be expected in a movement that values freedom so highly.
The most obvious thing to note about the different types of anarchism is that “[n]one are named after some Great Thinker; instead, they are invariably named either after some kind of practice, or, most often, organisational principle . . . Anarchists like to distinguish themselves by what they do, and how they organise themselves to go about doing it.” [David Graeber, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology, p. 5] This does not mean that anarchism does not have individuals who have contributed significantly to anarchist theory. Far from it, as can be seen in section A.4 there are many such people. Anarchists simply recognise that to call your theory after an individual is a kind of idolatry. Anarchists know that even the greatest thinker is only human and, consequently, can make mistakes, fail to live up to their ideals or have a partial understanding of certain issues (see section H.2 for more discussion on this). Moreover, we see that the world changes and, obviously, what was a suitable practice or programme in, say, industrialising France of the 1840s may have its limitations in 21st century France!
Consequently, it is to be expected that a social theory like anarchism would have numerous schools of thought and practice associated with it. Anarchism, as we noted in section A.5, has its roots in the struggles of working class people against oppression. Anarchist ideas have developed in many different social situations and, consequently, have reflected those circumstances. Most obviously, individualist anarchism initially developed in pre-industrial America and as a result has a different perspective on many issues than social anarchism. As America changed, going from a predominantly pre-capitalist rural society to an industrialised capitalist one, American anarchism changed:
“Originally the American movement, the native creation which arose with Josiah Warren in 1829, was purely individualistic; the student of economy will easily understand the material and historical causes for such development. But within the last twenty years the communist idea has made great progress, owning primarily to that concentration in capitalist production which has driven the American workingman [and woman] to grasp at the idea of solidarity, and, secondly, to the expulsion of active communist propagandists from Europe.” [Voltairine de Cleyre, The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, p. 110]
Thus rather than the numerous types of anarchism being an expression of some sort of “incoherence” within anarchism, it simply shows a movement which has its roots in real life rather than the books of long dead thinkers. It also shows a healthy recognition that people are different and that one person’s dream may be another’s nightmare and that different tactics and organisations may be required at different social periods and struggles. So while anarchists have their preferences on how they think a free society will, in general, be like and be created they are aware that other forms of anarchism and libertarian tactics may be more suitable for other people and social circumstances. However, just because someone calls themselves or their theory anarchism does not make it so. Any genuine type of anarchism must share the fundamental perspectives of the movement, in other words be anti-state and anti-capitalist.
Moreover, claims of anarchist “incoherence” by its critics are usually overblown. After all, being followers of Marx and/or Lenin has not stopped Marxists from splitting into numerous parties, groups and sects. Nor has it stopped sectarian conflict between them based on whose interpretation of the holy writings are the “correct” ones or who has used the “correct” quotes to bolster attempts to adjust their ideas and practice to a world significantly different from Europe in the 1850s or Russia in the 1900s. At least anarchists are honest about their differences!
Lastly, to put our cards on the table, the writers of this FAQ place themselves firmly in the “social” strand of anarchism. This does not mean that we ignore the many important ideas associated with individualist anarchism, only that we think social anarchism is more appropriate for modern society, that it creates a stronger base for individual freedom, and that it more closely reflects the sort of society we would like to live in.
While there is a tendency for individuals in both camps to claim that the proposals of the other camp would lead to the creation of some kind of state, the differences between individualists and social anarchists are not very great. Both are anti-state, anti-authority and anti-capitalist. The major differences are twofold.
The first is in regard to the means of action in the here and now (and so the manner in which anarchy will come about). Individualists generally prefer education and the creation of alternative institutions, such as mutual banks, unions, communes, etc. They usually support strikes and other non-violent forms of social protest (such as rent strikes, the non-payment of taxes and so on). Such activity, they argue, will ensure that present society will gradually develop out of government into an anarchist one. They are primarily evolutionists, not revolutionists, and dislike social anarchists’ use of direct action to create revolutionary situations. They consider revolution as being in contradiction to anarchist principles as it involves the expropriation of capitalist property and, therefore, authoritarian means. Rather they seek to return to society the wealth taken out of society by property by means of an new, alternative, system of economics (based around mutual banks and co-operatives). In this way a general “social liquidation” would be rendered easy, with anarchism coming about by reform and not by expropriation.
Most social anarchists recognise the need for education and to create alternatives (such as libertarian unions), but most disagree that this is enough in itself. They do not think capitalism can be reformed piece by piece into anarchy, although they do not ignore the importance of reforms by social struggle that increase libertarian tendencies within capitalism. Nor do they think revolution is in contradiction with anarchist principles as it is not authoritarian to destroy authority (be it state or capitalist). Thus the expropriation of the capitalist class and the destruction of the state by social revolution is a libertarian, not authoritarian, act by its very nature as it is directed against those who govern and exploit the vast majority. In short, social anarchists are usually evolutionists and revolutionists, trying to strengthen libertarian tendencies within capitalism while trying to abolish that system by social revolution. However, as some social anarchists are purely evolutionists too, this difference is not the most important one dividing social anarchists from individualists.
The second major difference concerns the form of anarchist economy proposed. Individualists prefer a market-based system of distribution to the social anarchists need-based system. Both agree that the current system of capitalist property rights must be abolished and that use rights must replace property rights in the means of life (i.e. the abolition of rent, interest and profits — “usury,” to use the individualist anarchists’ preferred term for this unholy trinity). In effect, both schools follow Proudhon’s classic work What is Property? and argue that possession must replace property in a free society (see section B.3 for a discussion of anarchist viewpoints on property). Thus property “will lose a certain attribute which sanctifies it now. The absolute ownership of it — ‘the right to use or abuse’ — will be abolished, and possession, use, will be the only title. It will be seen how impossible it would be for one person to ‘own’ a million acres of land, without a title deed, backed by a government ready to protect the title at all hazards.” [Lucy Parsons, Freedom, Equality & Solidarity, p. 33
However, within this use-rights framework, the two schools of anarchism propose different systems. The social anarchist generally argues for communal (or social) ownership and use. This would involve social ownership of the means of production and distribution, with personal possessions remaining for things you use, but not what was used to create them. Thus “your watch is your own, but the watch factory belongs to the people.” “Actual use,” continues Berkman, “will be considered the only title — not to ownership but to possession. The organisation of the coal miners, for example, will be in charge of the coal mines, not as owners but as the operating agency . . . Collective possession, co-operatively managed in the interests of the community, will take the place of personal ownership privately conducted for profit.” [What is Anarchism?, p. 217]
This system would be based on workers’ self-management of their work and (for most social anarchists) the free sharing of the product of that labour (i.e. an economic system without money). This is because “in the present state of industry, when everything is interdependent, when each branch of production is knit up with all the rest, the attempt to claim an individualist origin for the products of industry is untenable.” Given this, it is impossible to “estimate the share of each in the riches which all contribute to amass” and, moreover, the “common possession of the instruments of labour must necessarily bring with it the enjoyment in common of the fruits of common labour.” [Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, p. 45 and p. 46] By this social anarchists simply mean that the social product which is produced by all would be available to all and each individual who has contributed productively to society can take what they need (how quickly we can reach such an ideal is a moot point, as we discuss in section I.2.2). Some social anarchists, like mutualists for example, are against such a system of libertarian (or free) communism, but, in general, the vast majority of social anarchists look forward to the end of money and, therefore, of buying and selling. All agree, however, that anarchy will see “Capitalistic and proprietary exploitation stopped everywhere” and “the wage system abolished” whether by “equal and just exchange” (like Proudhon) or by the free sharing (like Kropotkin). [Proudhon, The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 281]
In contrast, the individualist anarchist (like the mutualist) denies that this system of use-rights should include the product of the workers labour. Instead of social ownership, individualist anarchists propose a more market based system in which workers would possess their own means of production and exchange the product of their labour freely with other workers. They argue that capitalism is not, in fact, a truly free market. Rather, by means of the state, capitalists have placed fetters on the market to create and protect their economic and social power (market discipline for the working class, state aid for the ruling class in other words). These state created monopolies (of money, land, tariffs and patents) and state enforcement of capitalist property rights are the source of economic inequality and exploitation. With the abolition of government, real free competition would result and ensure the end of capitalism and capitalist exploitation (see Benjamin Tucker’s essay State Socialism and Anarchism for an excellent summary of this argument).
The Individualist anarchists argue that the means of production (bar land) are the product of individual labour and so they accept that people should be able to sell the means of production they use, if they so desire. However, they reject capitalist property rights and instead favour an “occupancy and use” system. If the means of production, say land, is not in use, it reverts back to common ownership and is available to others for use. They think this system, called mutualism, will result in workers control of production and the end of capitalist exploitation and usury. This is because, logically and practically, a regime of “occupancy and use” cannot be squared with wage labour. If a workplace needs a group to operate it then it must be owned by the group who use it. If one individual claims to own it and it is, in fact, used by more than that person then, obviously, “occupancy and use” is violated. Equally, if an owner employs others to use the workplace then the boss can appropriate the product of the workers’ labour, so violating the maxim that labour should receive its full product. Thus the principles of individualist anarchism point to anti-capitalist conclusions (see section G.3).
This second difference is the most important. The individualist fears being forced to join a community and thus losing his or her freedom (including the freedom to exchange freely with others). Max Stirner puts this position well when he argues that “Communism, by the abolition of all personal property, only presses me back still more into dependence on another, to wit, on the generality or collectivity . . . [which is] a condition hindering my free movement, a sovereign power over me. Communism rightly revolts against the pressure that I experience from individual proprietors; but still more horrible is the might that it puts in the hands of the collectivity.” [The Ego and Its Own, p. 257] Proudhon also argued against communism, stating that the community becomes the proprietor under communism and so capitalism and communism are based on property and so authority (see the section “Characteristics of communism and of property” in What is Property?). Thus the Individualist anarchist argues that social ownership places the individual’s freedom in danger as any form of communism subjects the individual to society or the commune. They fear that as well as dictating individual morality, socialisation would effectively eliminate workers’ control as “society” would tell workers what to produce and take the product of their labour. In effect, they argue that communism (or social ownership in general) would be similar to capitalism, with the exploitation and authority of the boss replaced with that of “society.”
Needless to say, social anarchists disagree. They argue that Stirner’s and Proudhon’s comments are totally correct — but only about authoritarian communism. As Kropotkin argued, “before and in 1848, the theory [of communism] was put forward in such a shape as to fully account for Proudhon’s distrust as to its effect upon liberty. The old idea of Communism was the idea of monastic communities under the severe rule of elders or of men of science for directing priests. The last vestiges of liberty and of individual energy would be destroyed, if humanity ever had to go through such a communism.” [Act for Yourselves, p. 98] Kropotkin always argued that communist-anarchism was a new development and given that it dates from the 1870s, Proudhon’s and Stirner’s remarks cannot be considered as being directed against it as they could not be familiar with it.
Rather than subject the individual to the community, social anarchists argue that communal ownership would provide the necessary framework to protect individual liberty in all aspects of life by abolishing the power of the property owner, in whatever form it takes. In addition, rather than abolish all individual “property,” communist anarchism acknowledges the importance of individual possessions and individual space. Thus we find Kropotkin arguing against forms of communism that “desire to manage the community after the model of a family . . . [to live] all in the same house and . . . thus forced to continuously meet the same ‘brethren and sisters’ . . . [it is] a fundamental error to impose on all the ‘great family’ instead of trying, on the contrary, to guarantee as much freedom and home life to each individual.” [Small Communal Experiments and Why They Fail, pp. 8-9] The aim of anarchist-communism is, to again quote Kropotkin, to place “the product reaped or manufactured at the disposal of all, leaving to each the liberty to consume them as he pleases in his own home.” [The Place of Anarchism in the Evolution of Socialist Thought, p. 7] This ensures individual expression of tastes and desires and so individuality — both in consumption and in production, as social anarchists are firm supporters of workers’ self-management.
Thus, for social anarchists, the Individualist Anarchist opposition to communism is only valid for state or authoritarian communism and ignores the fundamental nature of communist-anarchism. Communist anarchists do not replace individuality with community but rather use community to defend individuality. Rather than have “society” control the individual, as the Individualist Anarchist fears, social anarchism is based on importance of individuality and individual expression:
“Anarchist Communism maintains that most valuable of all conquests — individual liberty — and moreover extends it and gives it a solid basis — economic liberty — without which political liberty is delusive; it does not ask the individual who has rejected god, the universal tyrant, god the king, and god the parliament, to give unto himself a god more terrible than any of the proceeding — god the Community, or to abdicate upon its altar his [or her] independence, his [or her] will, his [or her] tastes, and to renew the vow of asceticism which he formally made before the crucified god. It says to him, on the contrary, ‘No society is free so long as the individual is not so! . . .'” [Op. Cit., pp. 14-15]
In addition, social anarchists have always recognised the need for voluntary collectivisation. If people desire to work by themselves, this is not seen as a problem (see Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread, p. 61 and Act for Yourselves, pp. 104-5 as well as Malatesta’s Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 99 and p. 103). This, social anarchists, stress does not in any way contradict their principles or the communist nature of their desired society as such exceptions are rooted in the “use rights” system both are based in (see section I.6.2 for a full discussion). In addition, for social anarchists an association exists solely for the benefit of the individuals that compose it; it is the means by which people co-operate to meet their common needs. Therefore, all anarchists emphasise the importance of free agreement as the basis of an anarchist society. Thus all anarchists agree with Bakunin:
“Collectivism could only imposed only on slaves, and this kind of collectivism would then be the negation of humanity. In a free community, collectivism can only come about through the pressure of circumstances, not by imposition from above but by a free spontaneous movement from below.” [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 200]
If individualists desire to work for themselves and exchange goods with others, social anarchists have no objection. Hence our comments that the two forms of anarchism are not mutually exclusive. Social anarchists support the right of individuals not to join a commune while Individualist Anarchists support the rights of individuals to pool their possessions as they see fit, including communistic associations. However, if, in the name of freedom, an individual wished to claim property rights so as to exploit the labour of others, social anarchists would quickly resist this attempt to recreate statism in the name of “liberty.” Anarchists do not respect the “freedom” to be a ruler! In the words of Luigi Galleani:
“No less sophistical is the tendency of those who, under the comfortable cloak of anarchist individualism, would welcome the idea of domination . . . But the heralds of domination presume to practice individualism in the name of their ego, over the obedient, resigned, or inert ego of others.” [The End of Anarchism?, p. 40]
Moreover, for social anarchists, the idea that the means of production can be sold implies that private property could be reintroduced in an anarchist society. In a free market, some succeed and others fail. As Proudhon argued, in competition victory goes to the strongest. When one’s bargaining power is weaker than another then any “free exchange” will benefit the stronger party. Thus the market, even a non-capitalist one, will tend to magnify inequalities of wealth and power over time rather than equalising them. Under capitalism this is more obvious as those with only their labour power to sell are in a weaker position than those with capital but individualist anarchism would also be affected.
Thus, social anarchists argue, much against its will an individualist anarchist society would evolve away from fair exchanges back into capitalism. If, as seems likely, the “unsuccessful” competitors are forced into unemployment they may have to sell their labour to the “successful” in order to survive. This would create authoritarian social relationships and the domination of the few over the many via “free contracts.” The enforcement of such contracts (and others like them), in all likelihood, “opens . . . the way for reconstituting under the heading of ‘defence’ all the functions of the State.” [Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism, p. 297]
Benjamin Tucker, the anarchist most influenced by liberalism and free market ideas, also faced the problems associated with all schools of abstract individualism — in particular, the acceptance of authoritarian social relations as an expression of “liberty.” This is due to the similarity of property to the state. Tucker argued that the state was marked by two things, aggression and “the assumption of authority over a given area and all within it, exercised generally for the double purpose of more complete oppression of its subjects and extension of its boundaries.” [Instead of a Book, p. 22] However, the boss and landlord also has authority over a given area (the property in question) and all within it (workers and tenants). The former control the actions of the latter just as the state rules the citizen or subject. In other words, individual ownership produces the same social relationships as that created by the state, as it comes from the same source (monopoly of power over a given area and those who use it).
Social anarchists argue that the Individualist Anarchists acceptance of individual ownership and their individualistic conception of individual freedom can lead to the denial of individual freedom by the creation of social relationships which are essentially authoritarian/statist in nature. “The individualists,” argued Malatesta, “give the greatest importance to an abstract concept of freedom and fail to take into account, or dwell on the fact that real, concrete freedom is the outcome of solidarity and voluntary co-operation.” [The Anarchist Revolution, p. 16] Thus wage labour, for example, places the worker in the same relationship to the boss as citizenship places the citizen to the state, namely of one of domination and subjection. Similarly with the tenant and the landlord.
Such a social relationship cannot help but produce the other aspects of the state. As Albert Meltzer points out, this can have nothing but statist implications, because “the school of Benjamin Tucker — by virtue of their individualism — accepted the need for police to break strikes so as to guarantee the employer’s ‘freedom.’ All this school of so-called Individualists accept . . . the necessity of the police force, hence for government, and the prime definition of anarchism is no government.“ [Anarchism: Arguments For and Against, p. 8] It is partly for this reason social anarchists support social ownership as the best means of protecting individual liberty.
Accepting individual ownership this problem can only be “got round” by accepting, along with Proudhon (the source of many of Tucker’s economic ideas), the need for co-operatives to run workplaces that require more than one worker. This naturally complements their support for “occupancy and use” for land, which would effectively abolish landlords. Without co-operatives, workers will be exploited for “it is well enough to talk of [the worker] buying hand tools, or small machinery which can be moved about; but what about the gigantic machinery necessary to the operation of a mine, or a mill? It requires many to work it. If one owns it, will he not make the others pay tribute for using it?” This is because “no man would employ another to work for him unless he could get more for his product than he had to pay for it, and that being the case, the inevitable course of exchange and re-exchange would be that the man having received less than the full amount.“ [Voltairine de Cleyre, “Why I am an Anarchist”, Exquisite Rebel, p. 61 and p. 60] Only when the people who use a resource own it can individual ownership not result in hierarchical authority or exploitation (i.e. statism/capitalism). Only when an industry is co-operatively owned, can the workers ensure that they govern themselves during work and can get the full value of the goods they make once they are sold.
This solution is the one Individualist Anarchists do seem to accept and the only one consistent with all their declared principles (as well as anarchism). This can be seen when French individualist E. Armand argued that the key difference between his school of anarchism and communist-anarchism is that as well as seeing “ownership of the consumer goods representing an extension of [the worker’s] personality” it also “regards ownership of the means of production and free disposal of his produce as the quintessential guarantee of the autonomy of the individual. The understanding is that such ownership boils down to the chance to deploy (as individuals, couples, family groups, etc.) the requisite plot of soil or machinery of production to meet the requirements of the social unit, provided that the proprietor does not transfer it to someone else or reply upon the services of someone else in operating it.” Thus the individualist anarchist could “defend himself against . . . the exploitation of anyone by one of his neighbours who will set him to work in his employ and for his benefit” and “greed, which is to say the opportunity for an individual, couple or family group to own more than strictly required for their normal upkeep.” [“Mini-Manual of the Anarchist Individualist”, pp. 145-9, Anarchism, Robert Graham (ed.), p. 147 and pp. 147-8]
The ideas of the American individualist anarchists logically flow to the same conclusions. “Occupancy and Use” automatically excludes wage labour and so exploitation and oppression. As Wm. Gary Kline correctly points out, the US Individualist anarchists “expected a society of largely self-employed workmen with no significant disparity of wealth between any of them.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 104] It is this vision of a self-employed society that logically flows from their principles which ensures that their ideas are truly anarchist. As it is, their belief that their system would ensure the elimination of profit, rent and interest place them squarely in the anti-capitalist camp alongside social anarchists.
Needless to say, social anarchists disagree with individualist anarchism, arguing that there are undesirable features of even non-capitalist markets which would undermine freedom and equality. Moreover, the development of industry has resulted in natural barriers of entry into markets and this not only makes it almost impossible to abolish capitalism by competing against it, it also makes the possibility of recreating usury in new forms likely. Combine this with the difficulty in determining the exact contribution of each worker to a product in a modern economy and you see why social anarchists argue that the only real solution to capitalism is to ensure community ownership and management of the economy. It is this recognition of the developments within the capitalist economy which make social anarchists reject individualist anarchism in favour of communalising, and so decentralising, production by freely associated and co-operative labour on a large-scale rather than just in the workplace.
For more discussion on the ideas of the Individualist anarchists, and why social anarchists reject them, see section G — “Is individualist anarchism capitalistic?”
Yes. Social anarchism has four major trends — mutualism, collectivism, communism and syndicalism. The differences are not great and simply involve differences in strategy. The one major difference that does exist is between mutualism and the other kinds of social anarchism. Mutualism is based around a form of market socialism — workers’ co-operatives exchanging the product of their labour via a system of community banks. This mutual bank network would be “formed by the whole community, not for the especial advantage of any individual or class, but for the benefit of all . . . [with] no interest . . . exacted on loans, except enough to cover risks and expenses.” Such a system would end capitalist exploitation and oppression for by “introducing mutualism into exchange and credit we introduce it everywhere, and labour will assume a new aspect and become truly democratic.” [Charles A. Dana, Proudhon and his “Bank of the People”, pp. 44-45 and p. 45]
The social anarchist version of mutualism differs from the individualist form by having the mutual banks owned by the local community (or commune) instead of being independent co-operatives. This would ensure that they provided investment funds to co-operatives rather than to capitalistic enterprises. Another difference is that some social anarchist mutualists support the creation of what Proudhon termed an “agro-industrial federation” to complement the federation of libertarian communities (called communes by Proudhon). This is a “confederation . . . intended to provide reciprocal security in commerce and industry” and large scale developments such as roads, railways and so on. The purpose of “specific federal arrangements is to protect the citizens of the federated states [sic!] from capitalist and financial feudalism, both within them and from the outside.” This is because “political right requires to be buttressed by economic right.” Thus the agro-industrial federation would be required to ensure the anarchist nature of society from the destabilising effects of market exchanges (which can generate increasing inequalities in wealth and so power). Such a system would be a practical example of solidarity, as “industries are sisters; they are parts of the same body; one cannot suffer without the others sharing in its suffering. They should therefore federate, not to be absorbed and confused together, but in order to guarantee mutually the conditions of common prosperity . . . Making such an agreement will not detract from their liberty; it will simply give their liberty more security and force.” [The Principle of Federation, p. 70, p. 67 and p. 72]
The other forms of social anarchism do not share the mutualists support for markets, even non-capitalist ones. Instead they think that freedom is best served by communalising production and sharing information and products freely between co-operatives. In other words, the other forms of social anarchism are based upon common (or social) ownership by federations of producers’ associations and communes rather than mutualism’s system of individual co-operatives. In Bakunin’s words, the “future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom upwards, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal” and “the land, the instruments of work and all other capital may become the collective property of the whole of society and be utilised only by the workers, in other words by the agricultural and industrial associations.” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 206 and p. 174] Only by extending the principle of co-operation beyond individual workplaces can individual liberty be maximised and protected (see section I.1.3 for why most anarchists are opposed to markets). In this they share some ground with Proudhon, as can be seen. The industrial confederations would “guarantee the mutual use of the tools of production which are the property of each of these groups and which will by a reciprocal contract become the collective property of the whole . . . federation. In this way, the federation of groups will be able to . . . regulate the rate of production to meet the fluctuating needs of society.” [James Guillaume, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 376]
These anarchists share the mutualists support for workers’ self-management of production within co-operatives but see confederations of these associations as being the focal point for expressing mutual aid, not a market. Workplace autonomy and self-management would be the basis of any federation, for “the workers in the various factories have not the slightest intention of handing over their hard-won control of the tools of production to a superior power calling itself the ‘corporation.'” [Guillaume, Op. Cit., p. 364] In addition to this industry-wide federation, there would also be cross-industry and community confederations to look after tasks which are not within the exclusive jurisdiction or capacity of any particular industrial federation or are of a social nature. Again, this has similarities to Proudhon’s mutualist ideas.
Social anarchists share a firm commitment to common ownership of the means of production (excluding those used purely by individuals) and reject the individualist idea that these can be “sold off” by those who use them. The reason, as noted earlier, is because if this could be done, capitalism and statism could regain a foothold in the free society. In addition, other social anarchists do not agree with the mutualist idea that capitalism can be reformed into libertarian socialism by introducing mutual banking. For them capitalism can only be replaced by a free society by social revolution.
The major difference between collectivists and communists is over the question of “money” after a revolution. Anarcho-communists consider the abolition of money to be essential, while anarcho-collectivists consider the end of private ownership of the means of production to be the key. As Kropotkin noted, collectivist anarchism “express[es] a state of things in which all necessaries for production are owned in common by the labour groups and the free communes, while the ways of retribution [i.e. distribution] of labour, communist or otherwise, would be settled by each group for itself.” [Anarchism, p. 295] Thus, while communism and collectivism both organise production in common via producers’ associations, they differ in how the goods produced will be distributed. Communism is based on free consumption of all while collectivism is more likely to be based on the distribution of goods according to the labour contributed. However, most anarcho-collectivists think that, over time, as productivity increases and the sense of community becomes stronger, money will disappear. Both agree that, in the end, society would be run along the lines suggested by the communist maxim: “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” They just disagree on how quickly this will come about (see section I.2.2).
For anarcho-communists, they think that “communism — at least partial — has more chances of being established than collectivism” after a revolution. [Op. Cit., p. 298] They think that moves towards communism are essential as collectivism “begins by abolishing private ownership of the means of production and immediately reverses itself by returning to the system of remuneration according to work performed which means the re-introduction of inequality.” [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 230] The quicker the move to communism, the less chances of new inequalities developing. Needless to say, these positions are not that different and, in practice, the necessities of a social revolution and the level of political awareness of those introducing anarchism will determine which system will be applied in each area.
Syndicalism is the other major form of social anarchism. Anarcho-syndicalists, like other syndicalists, want to create an industrial union movement based on anarchist ideas. Therefore they advocate decentralised, federated unions that use direct action to get reforms under capitalism until they are strong enough to overthrow it. In many ways anarcho-syndicalism can be considered as a new version of collectivist-anarchism, which also stressed the importance of anarchists working within the labour movement and creating unions which prefigure the future free society.
Thus, even under capitalism, anarcho-syndicalists seek to create “free associations of free producers.” They think that these associations would serve as “a practical school of anarchism” and they take very seriously Bakunin’s remark that the workers’ organisations must create “not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself” in the pre-revolutionary period.
Anarcho-syndicalists, like all social anarchists, “are convinced that a Socialist economic order cannot be created by the decrees and statutes of a government, but only by the solidaric collaboration of the workers with hand and brain in each special branch of production; that is, through the taking over of the management of all plants by the producers themselves under such form that the separate groups, plants, and branches of industry are independent members of the general economic organism and systematically carry on production and the distribution of the products in the interest of the community on the basis of free mutual agreements.” [Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-syndicalism, p. 55]
Again, like all social anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists see the collective struggle and organisation implied in unions as the school for anarchism. As Eugene Varlin (an anarchist active in the First International who was murdered at the end of the Paris Commune) put it, unions have “the enormous advantage of making people accustomed to group life and thus preparing them for a more extended social organisation. They accustom people not only to get along with one another and to understand one another, but also to organise themselves, to discuss, and to reason from a collective perspective.” Moreover, as well as mitigating capitalist exploitation and oppression in the here and now, the unions also “form the natural elements of the social edifice of the future; it is they who can be easily transformed into producers associations; it is they who can make the social ingredients and the organisation of production work.” [quoted by Julian P. W. Archer, The First International in France, 1864-1872, p. 196]
The difference between syndicalists and other revolutionary social anarchists is slight and purely revolves around the question of anarcho-syndicalist unions. Collectivist anarchists agree that building libertarian unions is important and that work within the labour movement is essential in order to ensure “the development and organisation . . . of the social (and, by consequence, anti-political) power of the working masses.” [Bakunin, Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 197] Communist anarchists usually also acknowledge the importance of working in the labour movement but they generally think that syndicalistic organisations will be created by workers in struggle, and so consider encouraging the “spirit of revolt” as more important than creating syndicalist unions and hoping workers will join them (of course, anarcho-syndicalists support such autonomous struggle and organisation, so the differences are not great). Communist-anarchists also do not place as great an emphasis on the workplace, considering struggles within it to be equal in importance to other struggles against hierarchy and domination outside the workplace (most anarcho-syndicalists would agree with this, however, and often it is just a question of emphasis). A few communist-anarchists reject the labour movement as hopelessly reformist in nature and so refuse to work within it, but these are a small minority.
Both communist and collectivist anarchists recognise the need for anarchists to unite together in purely anarchist organisations. They think it is essential that anarchists work together as anarchists to clarify and spread their ideas to others. Syndicalists often deny the importance of anarchist groups and federations, arguing that revolutionary industrial and community unions are enough in themselves. Syndicalists think that the anarchist and union movements can be fused into one, but most other anarchists disagree. Non-syndicalists point out the reformist nature of unionism and urge that to keep syndicalist unions revolutionary, anarchists must work within them as part of an anarchist group or federation. Most non-syndicalists consider the fusion of anarchism and unionism a source of potential confusion that would result in the two movements failing to do their respective work correctly. For more details on anarcho-syndicalism see section J.3.8 (and section J.3.9 on why many anarchists reject aspects of it). It should be stressed that non-syndicalist anarchists do not reject the need for collective struggle and organisation by workers (see section H.2.8 on that particular Marxist myth).
In practice, few anarcho-syndicalists totally reject the need for an anarchist federation, while few anarchists are totally anti-syndicalist. For example, Bakunin inspired both anarcho-communist and anarcho-syndicalist ideas, and anarcho-communists like Kropotkin, Malatesta, Berkman and Goldman were all sympathetic to anarcho-syndicalist movements and ideas.
For further reading on the various types of social anarchism, we would recommend the following: mutualism is usually associated with the works of Proudhon, collectivism with Bakunin’s, communism with Kropotkin’s, Malatesta’s, Goldman’s and Berkman’s. Syndicalism is somewhat different, as it was far more the product of workers’ in struggle than the work of a “famous” name (although this does not stop academics calling George Sorel the father of syndicalism, even though he wrote about a syndicalist movement that already existed. The idea that working class people can develop their own ideas, by themselves, is usually lost on them). However, Rudolf Rocker is often considered a leading anarcho-syndicalist theorist and the works of Fernand Pelloutier and Emile Pouget are essential reading to understand anarcho-syndicalism. For an overview of the development of social anarchism and key works by its leading lights, Daniel Guerin’s excellent anthology No Gods No Masters cannot be bettered.
An emphasis on anarchist ideas as a solution to the ecological crisis is a common thread in most forms of anarchism today. The trend goes back to the late nineteenth century and the works of Peter Kropotkin and Elisee Reclus. The latter, for example, argued that a “secret harmony exists between the earth and the people whom it nourishes, and when imprudent societies let themselves violate this harmony, they always end up regretting it.” Similarly, no contemporary ecologist would disagree with his comments that the “truly civilised man [and women] understands that his [or her] nature is bound up with the interest of all and with that of nature. He [or she] repairs the damage caused by his predecessors and works to improve his domain.” [quoted by George Woodcock, “Introduction”, Marie Fleming, The Geography of Freedom, p. 15]
With regards Kropotkin, he argued that an anarchist society would be based on a confederation of communities that would integrate manual and brain work as well as decentralising and integrating industry and agriculture (see his classic work Fields, Factories, and Workshops). This idea of an economy in which “small is beautiful” (to use the title of E.F. Schumacher’s Green classic) was proposed nearly 70 years before it was taken up by what was to become the green movement. In addition, in Mutual Aid Kropotkin documented how co-operation within species and between them and their environment is usually of more benefit to them than competition. Kropotkin’s work, combined with that of William Morris, the Reclus brothers (both of whom, like Kropotkin, were world-renowned geographers), and many others laid the foundations for the current anarchist interest in ecological issues.
However, while there are many themes of an ecological nature within classical anarchism, it is only relatively recently that the similarities between ecological thought and anarchism has come to the fore (essentially from the publication of Murray Bookchin’s classic essay “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought” in 1965). Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to state that it is the ideas and work of Murray Bookchin that has placed ecology and ecological issues at the heart of anarchism and anarchist ideals and analysis into many aspects of the green movement.
Before discussing the types of green anarchism (also called eco-anarchism) it would be worthwhile to explain exactly what anarchism and ecology have in common. To quote Murray Bookchin, “both the ecologist and the anarchist place a strong emphasis on spontaneity” and “to both the ecologist and the anarchist, an ever-increasing unity is achieved by growing differentiation. An expanding whole is created by the diversification and enrichment of its parts.“ Moreover, “[j]ust as the ecologist seeks to expand the range of an eco-system and promote free interplay between species, so the anarchist seeks to expand the range of social experiments and remove all fetters to its development.” [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 36]
Thus the anarchist concern with free development, decentralisation, diversity and spontaneity is reflected in ecological ideas and concerns. Hierarchy, centralisation, the state and concentrations of wealth reduce diversity and the free development of individuals and their communities by their very nature, and so weakens the social eco-system as well as the actual eco-systems human societies are part of. As Bookchin argues, “the reconstructive message of ecology. . . [is that] we must conserve and promote variety” but within modern capitalist society “[a]ll that is spontaneous, creative and individuated is circumscribed by the standardised, the regulated and the massified.” [Op. Cit., p. 35 and p. 26] So, in many ways, anarchism can be considered the application of ecological ideas to society, as anarchism aims to empower individuals and communities, decentralise political, social and economic power so ensuring that individuals and social life develops freely and so becomes increasingly diverse in nature. It is for this reason Brian Morris argues that “the only political tradition that complements and, as it were, integrally connects with ecology — in a genuine and authentic way — is that of anarchism.” [Ecology and Anarchism, p. 132]
So what kinds of green anarchism are there? While almost all forms of modern anarchism consider themselves to have an ecological dimension, the specifically eco-anarchist thread within anarchism has two main focal points, Social Ecology and “primitivist”. In addition, some anarchists are influenced by Deep Ecology, although not many. Undoubtedly Social Ecology is the most influential and numerous current. Social Ecology is associated with the ideas and works of Murray Bookchin, who has been writing on ecological matters since the 1950’s and, from the 1960s, has combined these issues with revolutionary social anarchism. His works include Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Toward an Ecological Society, The Ecology of Freedom and a host of others.
Social Ecology locates the roots of the ecological crisis firmly in relations of domination between people. The domination of nature is seen as a product of domination within society, but this domination only reaches crisis proportions under capitalism. In the words of Murray Bookchin:
“The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man. . . But it was not until organic community relations. . . dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself was reduced to a resource for exploitation. This centuries-long tendency finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing to its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity against the natural world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly . . . The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital.” [Op. Cit., pp. 24-5]
“Only insofar,” Bookchin stresses, “as the ecology consciously cultivates an anti-hierarchical and a non-domineering sensibility, structure, and strategy for social change can it retain its very identity as the voice for a new balance between humanity and nature and its goal for a truly ecological society.” Social ecologists contrast this to what Bookchin labels “environmentalism” for while social ecology “seeks to eliminate the concept of the domination of nature by humanity by eliminating domination of human by human, environmentalism reflects an ‘instrumentalist’ or technical sensibility in which nature is viewed merely as a passive habit, an agglomeration of external objects and forces, that must be made more ‘serviceable’ for human use, irrespective of what these uses may be. Environmentalism . . . does not bring into question the underlying notions of the present society, notably that man must dominate nature. On the contrary, it seeks to facilitate that domination by developing techniques for diminishing the hazards caused by domination.” [Murray Bookchin, Towards an Ecological Society, p. 77]
Social ecology offers the vision of a society in harmony with nature, one which “involves a fundamental reversal of all the trends that mark the historic development of capitalist technology and bourgeois society — the minute specialisation of machines and labour, the concentration of resources and people in gigantic industrial enterprises and urban entities, the stratification and bureaucratisation of nature and human beings.” Such an ecotopia “establish entirely new eco-communities that are artistically moulded to the eco-systems in which they are located.” Echoing Kropotkin, Bookchin argues that “[s]uch an eco-community . . . would heal the split between town and country, between mind and body by fusing intellectual with physical work, industry with agricultural in a rotation or diversification of vocational tasks.” This society would be based on the use of appropriate and green technology, a “new kind of technology — or eco-technology — one composed of flexible, versatile machinery whose productive applications would emphasise durability and quality, not built in obsolescence, and insensate quantitative output of shoddy goods, and a rapid circulation of expendable commodities . . . Such an eco-technology would use the inexhaustible energy capacities of nature — the sun and wind, the tides and waterways, the temperature differentials of the earth and the abundance of hydrogen around us as fuels — to provide the eco-community with non-polluting materials or wastes that could be recycled.” [Bookchin, Op. Cit., pp. 68-9]
However, this is not all. As Bookchin stresses an ecological society “is more than a society that tries to check the mounting disequilibrium that exists between humanity and the natural world. Reduced to simple technical or political issues, this anaemic view of such a society’s function degrades the issues raised by an ecological critique and leads them to purely technical and instrumental approaches to ecological problems. Social ecology is, first of all, a sensibility that includes not only a critique of hierarchy and domination but a reconstructive outlook . . . guided by an ethics that emphasises variety without structuring differences into a hierarchical order . . . the precepts for such an ethics . . . [are] participation and differentiation.” [The Modern Crisis, pp. 24-5]
Therefore social ecologists consider it essential to attack hierarchy and capitalism, not civilisation as such as the root cause of ecological problems. This is one of the key areas in which they disagree with “Primitivist” Anarchist ideas, who tend to be far more critical of all aspects of modern life, with some going so far as calling for “the end of civilisation” including, apparently, all forms of technology and large scale organisation. We discuss these ideas in section A.3.9.
We must note here that other anarchists, while generally agreeing with its analysis and suggestions, are deeply critical of Social Ecology’s support for running candidates in municipal elections. While Social Ecologists see this as a means of creating popular self-managing assemblies and creating a counter power to the state, few anarchists agree. Rather they see it as inherently reformist as well as being hopelessly naive about the possibilities of using elections to bring about social change (see section J.5.14 for a fuller discussion of this). Instead they propose direct action as the means to forward anarchist and ecological ideas, rejecting electioneering as a dead-end which ends up watering down radical ideas and corrupting the people involved (see section J.2 — What is Direct Action?).
Lastly, there is “deep ecology,” which, because of its bio-centric nature, many anarchists reject as anti-human. There are few anarchists who think that people, as people, are the cause of the ecological crisis, which many deep ecologists seem to suggest. Murray Bookchin, for example, has been particularly outspoken in his criticism of deep ecology and the anti-human ideas that are often associated with it (see Which Way for the Ecology Movement?, for example). David Watson has also argued against Deep Ecology (see his How Deep is Deep Ecology? written under the name George Bradford). Most anarchists would argue that it is not people but the current system which is the problem, and that only people can change it. In the words of Murray Bookchin:
“[Deep Ecology’s problems] stem from an authoritarian streak in a crude biologism that uses ‘natural law’ to conceal an ever-diminishing sense of humanity and papers over a profound ignorance of social reality by ignoring the fact it is capitalism we are talking about, not an abstraction called ‘Humanity’ and ‘Society.'” [The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 160]
Thus, as Morris stresses, “by focusing entirely on the category of ‘humanity’ the Deep Ecologists ignore or completely obscure the social origins of ecological problems, or alternatively, biologise what are essentially social problems.” To submerge ecological critique and analysis into a simplistic protest against the human race ignores the real causes and dynamics of ecological destruction and, therefore, ensures an end to this destruction cannot be found. Simply put, it is hardly “people” who are to blame when the vast majority have no real say in the decisions that affect their lives, communities, industries and eco-systems. Rather, it is an economic and social system that places profits and power above people and planet. By focusing on “Humanity” (and so failing to distinguish between rich and poor, men and women, whites and people of colour, exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed) the system we live under is effectively ignored, and so are the institutional causes of ecological problems. This can be “both reactionary and authoritarian in its implications, and substitutes a naive understanding of ‘nature’ for a critical study of real social issues and concerns.” [Morris, Op. Cit., p. 135]
Faced with a constant anarchist critique of certain of their spokes-persons ideas, many Deep Ecologists have turned away from the anti-human ideas associated with their movement. Deep ecology, particularly the organisation Earth First! (EF!), has changed considerably over time, and EF! now has a close working relationship with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a syndicalist union. While deep ecology is not a thread of eco-anarchism, it shares many ideas and is becoming more accepted by anarchists as EF! rejects its few misanthropic ideas and starts to see that hierarchy, not the human race, is the problem (for a discussion between Murray Bookchin and leading Earth Firster! Dave Foreman see the book Defending the Earth).
A pacifist strand has long existed in anarchism, with Leo Tolstoy being one of its major figures. This strand is usually called “anarcho-pacifism” (the term “non-violent anarchist” is sometimes used, but this term is unfortunate because it implies the rest of the movement are “violent,” which is not the case!). The union of anarchism and pacifism is not surprising given the fundamental ideals and arguments of anarchism. After all, violence, or the threat of violence or harm, is a key means by which individual freedom is destroyed. As Peter Marshall points out, “[g]iven the anarchist’s respect for the sovereignty of the individual, in the long run it is non-violence and not violence which is implied by anarchist values.” [Demanding the Impossible, p.637] Malatesta is even more explicit when he wrote that the “main plank of anarchism is the removal of violence from human relations” and that anarchists “are opposed to violence.” [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 53]
However, although many anarchists reject violence and proclaim pacifism, the movement, in general, is not essentially pacifistic (in the sense of opposed all forms of violence at all times). Rather, it is anti-militarist, being against the organised violence of the state but recognising that there are important differences between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. This explains why the anarchist movement has always placed a lot of time and energy in opposing the military machine and capitalist wars while, at the same time, supporting and organising armed resistance against oppression (as in the case of the Makhnovist army during the Russian Revolution which resisted both Red and White armies and the militias the anarchists organised to resist the fascists during the Spanish Revolution — see sections A.5.4 and A.5.6, respectively).
On the question of non-violence, as a rough rule of thumb, the movement divides along Individualist and Social lines. Most Individualist anarchists support purely non-violent tactics of social change, as do the Mutualists. However, Individualist anarchism is not pacifist as such, as many support the idea of violence in self-defence against aggression. Most social anarchists, on the other hand, do support the use of revolutionary violence, holding that physical force will be required to overthrow entrenched power and to resist state and capitalist aggression (although it was an anarcho-syndicalist, Bart de Ligt, who wrote the pacifist classic, The Conquest of Violence). As Malatesta put it, violence, while being “in itself an evil,” is “justifiable only when it is necessary to defend oneself and others from violence” and that a “slave is always in a state of legitimate defence and consequently, his violence against the boss, against the oppressor, is always morally justifiable.” [Op. Cit., p. 55 and pp. 53-54] Moreover, they stress that, to use the words of Bakunin, since social oppression “stems far less from individuals than from the organisation of things and from social positions” anarchists aim to “ruthlessly destroy positions and things” rather than people, since the aim of an anarchist revolution is to see the end of privileged classes “not as individuals, but as classes.” [quoted by Richard B. Saltman, The Social and Political Thought of Michael Bakunin p. 121, p. 124 and p. 122]
Indeed, the question of violence is relatively unimportant to most anarchists, as they do not glorify it and think that it should be kept to a minimum during any social struggle or revolution. All anarchists would agree with the Dutch pacifist anarcho-syndicalist Bart de Ligt when he argued that “the violence and warfare which are characteristic conditions of the capitalist world do not go with the liberation of the individual, which is the historic mission of the exploited classes. The greater the violence, the weaker the revolution, even where violence has deliberately been put at the service of the revolution.” [The Conquest of Violence, p. 75]
Similarly, all anarchists would agree with de Ligt on, to use the name of one of his book’s chapters, “the absurdity of bourgeois pacifism.” For de Ligt, and all anarchists, violence is inherent in the capitalist system and any attempt to make capitalism pacifistic is doomed to failure. This is because, on the one hand, war is often just economic competition carried out by other means. Nations often go to war when they face an economic crisis, what they cannot gain in economic struggle they attempt to get by conflict. On the other hand, “violence is indispensable in modern society. . . [because] without it the ruling class would be completely unable to maintain its privileged position with regard to the exploited masses in each country. The army is used first and foremost to hold down the workers. . . when they become discontented.” [Bart de Ligt, Op. Cit., p. 62] As long as the state and capitalism exist, violence is inevitable and so, for anarcho-pacifists, the consistent pacifist must be an anarchist just as the consistent anarchist must be a pacifist.
For those anarchists who are non-pacifists, violence is seen as an unavoidable and unfortunate result of oppression and exploitation as well as the only means by which the privileged classes will renounce their power and wealth. Those in authority rarely give up their power and so must be forced. Hence the need for “transitional” violence “to put an end to the far greater, and permanent, violence which keeps the majority of mankind in servitude.” [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 55] To concentrate on the issue of violence versus non-violence is to ignore the real issue, namely how do we change society for the better. As Alexander Berkman pointed out, those anarchists who are pacifists confuse the issue, like those who think “it’s the same as if rolling up your sleeves for work should be considered the work itself.” To the contrary, “[t]he fighting part of revolution is merely rolling up your sleeves. The real, actual task is ahead.” [What is Anarchism?, p. 183] And, indeed, most social struggle and revolutions start relatively peaceful (via strikes, occupations and so on) and only degenerate into violence when those in power try to maintain their position (a classic example of this is in Italy, in 1920, when the occupation of factories by their workers was followed by fascist terror — see section A.5.5).
As noted above, all anarchists are anti-militarists and oppose both the military machine (and so the “defence” industry) as well as statist/capitalist wars (although a few anarchists, like Rudolf Rocker and Sam Dolgoff, supported the anti-fascist capitalist side during the second world war as the lesser evil). The anti-war machine message of anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists was propagated long before the start of the first world war, with syndicalists and anarchists in Britain and North America reprinting a French CGT leaflet urging soldiers not to follow orders and repress their striking fellow workers. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were both arrested and deported from America for organising a “No-Conscription League” in 1917 while many anarchists in Europe were jailed for refusing to join the armed forces in the first and second world wars. The anarcho-syndicalist influenced IWW was crushed by a ruthless wave of government repression due to the threat its organising and anti-war message presented to the powerful elites who favoured war. More recently, anarchists, (including people like Noam Chomsky and Paul Goodman) have been active in the peace movement as well as contributing to the resistance to conscription where it still exists. Anarchists took an active part in opposing such wars as the Vietnam War, the Falklands war as well as the Gulf wars of 1991 and 2003 (including, in Italy and Spain, helping to organise strikes in protest against it). And it was during the 1991 Gulf War when many anarchists raised the slogan “No war but the class war” which nicely sums up the anarchist opposition to war — namely an evil consequence of any class system, in which the oppressed classes of different countries kill each other for the power and profits of their rulers. Rather than take part in this organised slaughter, anarchists urge working people to fight for their own interests, not those of their masters:
“More than ever we must avoid compromise; deepen the chasm between capitalists and wage slaves, between rulers and ruled; preach expropriation of private property and the destruction of states such as the only means of guaranteeing fraternity between peoples and Justice and Liberty for all; and we must prepare to accomplish these things.” [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 251]
We must note here that Malatesta’s words were written in part against Peter Kropotkin who, for reasons best known to himself, rejected everything he had argued for decades and supported the allies in the First World War as a lesser evil against German authoritarianism and Imperialism. Of course, as Malatesta pointed out, “all Governments and all capitalist classes” do “misdeeds . . . against the workers and rebels of their own countries.” [Op. Cit., p. 246] He, along with Berkman, Goldman and a host of other anarchists, put their name to International Anarchist Manifesto against the First World War. It expressed the opinion of the bulk of the anarchist movement (at the time and consequently) on war and how to stop it. It is worth quoting from:
“The truth is that the cause of wars . . . rests solely in the existence of the State, which is the form of privilege . . . Whatever the form it may assume, the State is nothing but organised oppression for the advantage of a privileged minority . . .
“The misfortune of the peoples, who were deeply attached to peace, is that, in order to avoid war, they placed their confidence in the State with its intriguing diplomatists, in democracy, and in political parties . . . This confidence has been deliberately betrayed, and continues to be so, when governments, with the aid of the whole of the press, persuade their respective people that this war is a war of liberation.
“We are resolutely against all wars between peoples, and . . . have been, are, and ever will be most energetically opposed to war.
“The role of the Anarchists . . . is to continue to proclaim that there is only one war of liberation: that which in all countries is waged by the oppressed against the oppressors, by the exploited against the exploiters. Our part is to summon the slaves to revolt against their masters.
“Anarchist action and propaganda should assiduously and perseveringly aim at weakening and dissolving the various States, at cultivating the spirit of revolt, and arousing discontent in peoples and armies. . .
“We must take advantage of all the movements of revolt, of all the discontent, in order to foment insurrection, and to organise the revolution which we look to put end to all social wrongs. . . Social justice realised through the free organisation of producers: war and militarism done away with forever; and complete freedom won, by the abolition of the State and its organs of destruction.” [“International Anarchist Manifesto on the War,” Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth, pp. 386-8]
Thus, the attraction of pacifism to anarchists is clear. Violence is authoritarian and coercive, and so its use does contradict anarchist principles. That is why anarchists would agree with Malatesta when he argues that “[w]e are on principle opposed to violence and for this reason wish that the social struggle should be conducted as humanely as possible.” [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 57] Most, if not all, anarchists who are not strict pacifists agree with pacifist-anarchists when they argue that violence can often be counterproductive, alienating people and giving the state an excuse to repress both the anarchist movement and popular movements for social change. All anarchists support non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, which often provide better roads to radical change.
So, to sum up, anarchists who are pure pacifists are rare. Most accept the use of violence as a necessary evil and advocate minimising its use. All agree that a revolution which institutionalises violence will just recreate the state in a new form. They argue, however, that it is not authoritarian to destroy authority or to use violence to resist violence. Therefore, although most anarchists are not pacifists, most reject violence except in self-defence and even then kept to the minimum.
Although opposition to the state and all forms of authority had a strong voice among the early feminists of the 19th century, the more recent feminist movement which began in the 1960’s was founded upon anarchist practice. This is where the term anarcha-feminism came from, referring to women anarchists who act within the larger feminist and anarchist movements to remind them of their principles.
The modern anarcha-feminists built upon the feminist ideas of previous anarchists, both male and female. Indeed, anarchism and feminism have always been closely linked. Many outstanding feminists have also been anarchists, including the pioneering Mary Wollstonecraft (author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), the Communard Louise Michel, and the American anarchists (and tireless champions of women’s freedom) Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman (for the former, see her essays “Sex Slavery”, “Gates of Freedom”, “The Case of Woman vs. Orthodoxy”, “Those Who Marry Do Ill”; for the latter see “The Traffic in Women”, “Woman Suffrage”, “The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation”, “Marriage and Love” and “Victims of Morality”, for example). Freedom, the world’s oldest anarchist newspaper, was founded by Charlotte Wilson in 1886. Anarchist women like Virgilia D’Andrea and Rose Pesota played important roles in both the libertarian and labour movements. The “Mujeres Libres” (“Free Women”) movement in Spain during the Spanish revolution is a classic example of women anarchists organising themselves to defend their basic freedoms and create a society based on women’s freedom and equality (see Free Women of Spain by Martha Ackelsberg for more details on this important organisation). In addition, all the male major anarchist thinkers (bar Proudhon) were firm supporters of women’s equality. For example, Bakunin opposed patriarchy and how the law “subjects [women] to the absolute domination of the man.” He argued that “[e]qual rights must belong to men and women” so that women can “become independent and be free to forge their own way of life.” He looked forward to the end of “the authoritarian juridical family” and “the full sexual freedom of women.” [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 396 and p. 397]
Thus anarchism has since the 1860s combined a radical critique of capitalism and the state with an equally powerful critique of patriarchy (rule by men). Anarchists, particularly female ones, recognised that modern society was dominated by men. As Ana Maria Mozzoni (an Italian anarchist immigrant in Buenos Aires) put it, women “will find that the priest who damns you is a man; that the legislator who oppresses you is a man, that the husband who reduces you to an object is a man; that the libertine who harasses you is a man; that the capitalist who enriches himself with your ill-paid work and the speculator who calmly pockets the price of your body, are men.” Little has changed since then. Patriarchy still exists and, to quote the anarchist paper La Questione Sociale, it is still usually the case that women “are slaves both in social and private life. If you are a proletarian, you have two tyrants: the man and the boss. If bourgeois, the only sovereignty left to you is that of frivolity and coquetry.” [quoted by Jose Moya, Italians in Buenos Aires’s Anarchist Movement, pp. 197-8 and p. 200]
Anarchism, therefore, is based on an awareness that fighting patriarchy is as important as fighting against the state or capitalism. For “[y]ou can have no free, or just, or equal society, nor anything approaching it, so long as womanhood is bought, sold, housed, clothed, fed, and protected, as a chattel.” [Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Gates of Freedom”, pp. 235-250, Eugenia C. Delamotte, Gates of Freedom, p. 242] To quote Louise Michel:
“The first thing that must change is the relationship between the sexes. Humanity has two parts, men and women, and we ought to be walking hand in hand; instead there is antagonism, and it will last as long as the ‘stronger’ half controls, or think its controls, the ‘weaker’ half.” [The Red Virgin: Memoirs of Louise Michel, p. 139]
Thus anarchism, like feminism, fights patriarchy and for women’s equality. Both share much common history and a concern about individual freedom, equality and dignity for members of the female sex (although, as we will explain in more depth below, anarchists have always been very critical of mainstream/liberal feminism as not going far enough). Therefore, it is unsurprising that the new wave of feminism of the sixties expressed itself in an anarchistic manner and drew much inspiration from anarchist figures such as Emma Goldman. Cathy Levine points out that, during this time, “independent groups of women began functioning without the structure, leaders, and other factotums of the male left, creating, independently and simultaneously, organisations similar to those of anarchists of many decades and regions. No accident, either.” [“The Tyranny of Tyranny,” Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader, p. 66] It is no accident because, as feminist scholars have noted, women were among the first victims of hierarchical society, which is thought to have begun with the rise of patriarchy and ideologies of domination during the late Neolithic era. Marilyn French argues (in Beyond Power) that the first major social stratification of the human race occurred when men began dominating women, with women becoming in effect a “lower” and “inferior” social class.
The links between anarchism and modern feminism exist in both ideas and action. Leading feminist thinker Carole Pateman notes that her “discussion [on contract theory and its authoritarian and patriarchal basis] owes something to” libertarian ideas, that is the “anarchist wing of the socialist movement.” [The Sexual Contract, p. 14] Moreover, she noted in the 1980s how the “major locus of criticism of authoritarian, hierarchical, undemocratic forms of organisation for the last twenty years has been the women’s movement . . . After Marx defeated Bakunin in the First International, the prevailing form of organisation in the labour movement, the nationalised industries and in the left sects has mimicked the hierarchy of the state . . . The women’s movement has rescued and put into practice the long-submerged idea [of anarchists like Bakunin] that movements for, and experiments in, social change must ‘prefigure’ the future form of social organisation.” [The Disorder of Women, p. 201]
Peggy Kornegger has drawn attention to these strong connections between feminism and anarchism, both in theory and practice. “The radical feminist perspective is almost pure anarchism,” she writes. “The basic theory postulates the nuclear family as the basis of all authoritarian systems. The lesson the child learns, from father to teacher to boss to god, is to obey the great anonymous voice of Authority. To graduate from childhood to adulthood is to become a full-fledged automaton, incapable of questioning or even of thinking clearly.” [“Anarchism: The Feminist Connection,” Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader, p. 26] Similarly, the Zero Collective argues that Anarcha-feminism “consists in recognising the anarchism of feminism and consciously developing it.” [“Anarchism/Feminism,” pp. 3-7, The Raven, no. 21, p. 6]
Anarcha-feminists point out that authoritarian traits and values, for example, domination, exploitation, aggressiveness, competitiveness, desensitisation etc., are highly valued in hierarchical civilisations and are traditionally referred to as “masculine.” In contrast, non-authoritarian traits and values such as co-operation, sharing, compassion, sensitivity, warmth, etc., are traditionally regarded as “feminine” and are devalued. Feminist scholars have traced this phenomenon back to the growth of patriarchal societies during the early Bronze Age and their conquest of co-operatively based “organic” societies in which “feminine” traits and values were prevalent and respected. Following these conquests, however, such values came to be regarded as “inferior,” especially for a man, since men were in charge of domination and exploitation under patriarchy. (See e.g. Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade; Elise Boulding, The Underside of History). Hence anarcha-feminists have referred to the creation of a non-authoritarian, anarchist society based on co-operation, sharing, mutual aid, etc. as the “feminisation of society.”
Anarcha-feminists have noted that “feminising” society cannot be achieved without both self-management and decentralisation. This is because the patriarchal-authoritarian values and traditions they wish to overthrow are embodied and reproduced in hierarchies. Thus feminism implies decentralisation, which in turn implies self-management. Many feminists have recognised this, as reflected in their experiments with collective forms of feminist organisations that eliminate hierarchical structure and competitive forms of decision making. Some feminists have even argued that directly democratic organisations are specifically female political forms. [see e.g. Nancy Hartsock “Feminist Theory and the Development of Revolutionary Strategy,” in Zeila Eisenstein, ed., Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, pp. 56-77] Like all anarchists, anarcha-feminists recognise that self-liberation is the key to women’s equality and thus, freedom. Thus Emma Goldman:
“Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right of anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them, by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities; by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation.” [Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 211]
Anarcha-feminism tries to keep feminism from becoming influenced and dominated by authoritarian ideologies of either the right or left. It proposes direct action and self-help instead of the mass reformist campaigns favoured by the “official” feminist movement, with its creation of hierarchical and centralist organisations and its illusion that having more women bosses, politicians, and soldiers is a move towards “equality.” Anarcha-feminists would point out that the so-called “management science” which women have to learn in order to become mangers in capitalist companies is essentially a set of techniques for controlling and exploiting wage workers in corporate hierarchies, whereas “feminising” society requires the elimination of capitalist wage-slavery and managerial domination altogether. Anarcha-feminists realise that learning how to become an effective exploiter or oppressor is not the path to equality (as one member of the Mujeres Libres put it, “[w]e did not want to substitute a feminist hierarchy for a masculine one” [quoted by Martha A. Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, pp. 22-3] — also see section B.1.4 for a further discussion on patriarchy and hierarchy).
Hence anarchism’s traditional hostility to liberal (or mainstream) feminism, while supporting women’s liberation and equality. Federica Montseny (a leading figure in the Spanish Anarchist movement) argued that such feminism advocated equality for women, but did not challenge existing institutions. She argued that (mainstream) feminism’s only ambition is to give to women of a particular class the opportunity to participate more fully in the existing system of privilege and if these institutions “are unjust when men take advantage of them, they will still be unjust if women take advantage of them.” [quoted by Martha A. Ackelsberg, Op. Cit., p. 119] Thus, for anarchists, women’s freedom did not mean an equal chance to become a boss or a wage slave, a voter or a politician, but rather to be a free and equal individual co-operating as equals in free associations. “Feminism,” stressed Peggy Kornegger, “doesn’t mean female corporate power or a woman President; it means no corporate power and no Presidents. The Equal Rights Amendment will not transform society; it only gives women the ‘right’ to plug into a hierarchical economy. Challenging sexism means challenging all hierarchy — economic, political, and personal. And that means an anarcha-feminist revolution.” [Op. Cit., p. 27]
Anarchism, as can be seen, included a class and economic analysis which is missing from mainstream feminism while, at the same time, showing an awareness to domestic and sex-based power relations which eluded the mainstream socialist movement. This flows from our hatred of hierarchy. As Mozzoni put it, “Anarchy defends the cause of all the oppressed, and because of this, and in a special way, it defends your [women’s] cause, oh! women, doubly oppressed by present society in both the social and private spheres.” [quoted by Moya, Op. Cit., p. 203] This means that, to quote a Chinese anarchist, what anarchists “mean by equality between the sexes is not just that the men will no longer oppress women. We also want men to no longer to be oppressed by other men, and women no longer to be oppressed by other women.” Thus women should “completely overthrow rulership, force men to abandon all their special privileges and become equal to women, and make a world with neither the oppression of women nor the oppression of men.” [He Zhen, quoted by Peter Zarrow, Anarchism and Chinese Political Culture, p. 147]
So, in the historic anarchist movement, as Martha Ackelsberg notes, liberal/mainstream feminism was considered as being “too narrowly focused as a strategy for women’s emancipation; sexual struggle could not be separated from class struggle or from the anarchist project as a whole.” [Op. Cit., p. 119] Anarcha-feminism continues this tradition by arguing that all forms of hierarchy are wrong, not just patriarchy, and that feminism is in conflict with its own ideals if it desires simply to allow women to have the same chance of being a boss as a man does. They simply state the obvious, namely that they “do not believe that power in the hands of women could possibly lead to a non-coercive society” nor do they “believe that anything good can come out of a mass movement with a leadership elite.” The “central issues are always power and social hierarchy” and so people “are free only when they have power over their own lives.” [Carole Ehrlich, “Socialism, Anarchism and Feminism”, Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader, p. 44] For if, as Louise Michel put it, “a proletarian is a slave; the wife of a proletarian is even more a slave” ensuring that the wife experiences an equal level of oppression as the husband misses the point. [Op. Cit., p. 141]
Anarcha-feminists, therefore, like all anarchists oppose capitalism as a denial of liberty. Their critique of hierarchy in the society does not start and end with patriarchy. It is a case of wanting freedom everywhere, of wanting to “[b]reak up . . . every home that rests in slavery! Every marriage that represents the sale and transfer of the individuality of one of its parties to the other! Every institution, social or civil, that stands between man and his right; every tie that renders one a master, another a serf.” [Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Economic Tendency of Freethought”, The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, p. 72] The ideal that an “equal opportunity” capitalism would free women ignores the fact that any such system would still see working class women oppressed by bosses (be they male or female). For anarcha-feminists, the struggle for women’s liberation cannot be separated from the struggle against hierarchy as such. As L. Susan Brown puts it:
“Anarchist-feminism, as an expression of the anarchist sensibility applied to feminist concerns, takes the individual as its starting point and, in opposition to relations of domination and subordination, argues for non-instrumental economic forms that preserve individual existential freedom, for both men and women.” [The Politics of Individualism, p. 144]
Anarcha-feminists have much to contribute to our understanding of the origins of the ecological crisis in the authoritarian values of hierarchical civilisation. For example, a number of feminist scholars have argued that the domination of nature has paralleled the domination of women, who have been identified with nature throughout history (See, for example, Caroline Merchant, The Death of Nature, 1980). Both women and nature are victims of the obsession with control that characterises the authoritarian personality. For this reason, a growing number of both radical ecologists and feminists are recognising that hierarchies must be dismantled in order to achieve their respective goals.
In addition, anarcha-feminism reminds us of the importance of treating women equally with men while, at the same time, respecting women’s differences from men. In other words, that recognising and respecting diversity includes women as well as men. Too often many male anarchists assume that, because they are (in theory) opposed to sexism, they are not sexist in practice. Such an assumption is false. Anarcha-feminism brings the question of consistency between theory and practice to the front of social activism and reminds us all that we must fight not only external constraints but also internal ones.
This means that anarcha-feminism urges us to practice what we preach. As Voltairine de Cleyre argued, “I never expect men to give us liberty. No, Women, we are not worth it, until we take it.” This involves “insisting on a new code of ethics founded on the law of equal freedom: a code recognising the complete individuality of woman. By making rebels wherever we can. By ourselves living our beliefs . . . . We are revolutionists. And we shall use propaganda by speech, deed, and most of all life — being what we teach.” Thus anarcha-feminists, like all anarchists, see the struggle against patriarchy as being a struggle of the oppressed for their own self-liberation, for “as a class I have nothing to hope from men . . . No tyrant ever renounced his tyranny until he had to. If history ever teaches us anything it teaches this. Therefore my hope lies in creating rebellion in the breasts of women.” [“The Gates of Freedom”, pp. 235-250, Eugenia C. Delamotte, Gates of Freedom, p. 249 and p. 239] This was sadly as applicable within the anarchist movement as it was outside it in patriarchal society.
Faced with the sexism of male anarchists who spoke of sexual equality, women anarchists in Spain organised themselves into the Mujeres Libres organisation to combat it. They did not believe in leaving their liberation to some day after the revolution. Their liberation was a integral part of that revolution and had to be started today. In this they repeated the conclusions of anarchist women in Illinois Coal towns who grew tried of hearing their male comrades “shout in favour” of sexual equality “in the future society” while doing nothing about it in the here and now. They used a particularly insulting analogy, comparing their male comrades to priests who “make false promises to the starving masses . . . [that] there will be rewards in paradise.” The argued that mothers should make their daughters “understand that the difference in sex does not imply inequality in rights” and that as well as being “rebels against the social system of today,” they “should fight especially against the oppression of men who would like to retain women as their moral and material inferior.” [Ersilia Grandi, quoted by Caroline Waldron Merithew, Anarchist Motherhood, p. 227] They formed the “Luisa Michel” group to fight against capitalism and patriarchy in the upper Illinois valley coal towns over three decades before their Spanish comrades organised themselves.
For anarcha-feminists, combating sexism is a key aspect of the struggle for freedom. It is not, as many Marxist socialists argued before the rise of feminism, a diversion from the “real” struggle against capitalism which would somehow be automatically solved after the revolution. It is an essential part of the struggle:
“We do not need any of your titles . . . We want none of them. What we do want is knowledge and education and liberty. We know what our rights are and we demand them. Are we not standing next to you fighting the supreme fight? Are you not strong enough, men, to make part of that supreme fight a struggle for the rights of women? And then men and women together will gain the rights of all humanity.” [Louise Michel, Op. Cit., p. 142]
A key part of this revolutionising modern society is the transformation of the current relationship between the sexes. Marriage is a particular evil for “the old form of marriage, based on the Bible, ’till death doth part,’ . . . [is] an institution that stands for the sovereignty of the man over the women, of her complete submission to his whims and commands.” Women are reduced “to the function of man’s servant and bearer of his children.” [Goldman, Op. Cit., pp. 220-1] Instead of this, anarchists proposed “free love,” that is couples and families based on free agreement between equals than one partner being in authority and the other simply obeying. Such unions would be without sanction of church or state for “two beings who love each other do not need permission from a third to go to bed.” [Mozzoni, quoted by Moya, Op. Cit., p. 200]
Equality and freedom apply to more than just relationships. For “if social progress consists in a constant tendency towards the equalisation of the liberties of social units, then the demands of progress are not satisfied so long as half society, Women, is in subjection. . . . Woman . . . is beginning to feel her servitude; that there is a requisite acknowledgement to be won from her master before he is put down and she exalted to — Equality. This acknowledgement is, the freedom to control her own person. “ [Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Gates of Freedom”, Op. Cit., p. 242] Neither men nor state nor church should say what a woman does with her body. A logical extension of this is that women must have control over their own reproductive organs. Thus anarcha-feminists, like anarchists in general, are pro-choice and pro-reproductive rights (i.e. the right of a woman to control her own reproductive decisions). This is a long standing position. Emma Goldman was persecuted and incarcerated because of her public advocacy of birth control methods and the extremist notion that women should decide when they become pregnant (as feminist writer Margaret Anderson put it, “In 1916, Emma Goldman was sent to prison for advocating that ‘women need not always keep their mouth shut and their wombs open.'”).
Anarcha-feminism does not stop there. Like anarchism in general, it aims at changing all aspects of society not just what happens in the home. For, as Goldman asked, “how much independence is gained if the narrowness and lack of freedom of the home is exchanged for the narrowness and lack of freedom of the factory, sweat-shop, department store, or office?” Thus women’s equality and freedom had to be fought everywhere and defended against all forms of hierarchy. Nor can they be achieved by voting. Real liberation, argue anarcha-feminists, is only possible by direct action and anarcha-feminism is based on women’s self-activity and self-liberation for while the “right to vote, or equal civil rights, may be good demands . . . true emancipation begins neither at the polls nor in the courts. It begins in woman’s soul . . . her freedom will reach as far as her power to achieve freedom reaches.” [Goldman, Op. Cit., p. 216 and p. 224]
The history of the women’s movement proves this. Every gain has come from below, by the action of women themselves. As Louise Michel put it, “[w]e women are not bad revolutionaries. Without begging anyone, we are taking our place in the struggles; otherwise, we could go ahead and pass motions until the world ends and gain nothing.” [Op. Cit., p. 139] If women waited for others to act for them their social position would never have changed. This includes getting the vote in the first place. Faced with the militant suffrage movement for women’s votes, British anarchist Rose Witcop recognised that it was “true that this movement shows us that women who so far have been so submissive to their masters, the men, are beginning to wake up at last to the fact they are not inferior to those masters.” Yet she argued that women would not be freed by votes but “by their own strength.” [quoted by Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History, pp. 100-1 and p. 101] The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s showed the truth of that analysis. In spite of equal voting rights, women’s social place had remained unchanged since the 1920s.
Ultimately, as Anarchist Lily Gair Wilkinson stressed, the “call for ‘votes’ can never be a call to freedom. For what is it to vote? To vote is to register assent to being ruled by one legislator or another?” [quoted by Sheila Rowbotham, Op. Cit., p. 102] It does not get to the heart of the problem, namely hierarchy and the authoritarian social relationships it creates of which patriarchy is only a subset of. Only by getting rid of all bosses, political, economic, social and sexual can genuine freedom for women be achieved and “make it possible for women to be human in the truest sense. Everything within her that craves assertion and activity should reach its fullest expression; all artificial barriers should be broken, and the road towards greater freedom cleared of every trace of centuries of submission and slavery.” [Emma Goldman, Op. Cit., p. 214]
For our purposes, we will define cultural anarchism as the promotion of anti-authoritarian values through those aspects of society traditionally regarded as belonging to the sphere of “culture” rather than “economics” or “politics” — for example, through art, music, drama, literature, education, child-rearing practices, sexual morality, technology, and so forth.
Cultural expressions are anarchistic to the extent that they deliberately attack, weaken, or subvert the tendency of most traditional cultural forms to promote authoritarian values and attitudes, particularly domination and exploitation. Thus a novel that portrays the evils of militarism can be considered as cultural anarchism if it goes beyond the simple “war-is-hell” model and allows the reader to see how militarism is connected with authoritarian institutions (e.g. capitalism and statism) or methods of authoritarian conditioning (e.g. upbringing in the traditional patriarchal family). Or, as John Clark expresses it, cultural anarchism implies “the development of arts, media, and other symbolic forms that expose various aspects of the system of domination and contrast them with a system of values based on freedom and community.” This “cultural struggle” would be part of a general struggle “to combat the material and ideological power of all dominating classes, whether economic, political, racial, religious, or sexual, with a multi-dimensional practice of liberation.” In other words, an “expanded conception of class analysis” and “an amplified practice of class struggle” which includes, but is not limited to, “economic actions like strikes, boycotts, job actions, occupation, organisations of direct action groups and federations of libertarian workers’ groups and development of workers’ assemblies, collectives and co-operatives” and “political activity” like the “active interference with implementation of repressive governmental policies,” the “non-compliance and resistance against regimentation and bureaucratisation of society” and “participation in movements for increasing direct participation in decision-making and local control.” [The Anarchist Moment, p. 31]
Cultural anarchism is important — indeed essential — because authoritarian values are embedded in a total system of domination with many aspects besides the political and economic. Hence those values cannot be eradicated even by a combined economic and political revolution if there it is not also accompanied by profound psychological changes in the majority of the population. For mass acquiescence in the current system is rooted in the psychic structure of human beings (their “character structure,” to use Wilhelm Reich’s expression), which is produced by many forms of conditioning and socialisation that have developed with patriarchal-authoritarian civilisation during the past five or six thousand years.
In other words, even if capitalism and the state were overthrown tomorrow, people would soon create new forms of authority in their place. For authority — a strong leader, a chain of command, someone to give orders and relieve one of the responsibility of thinking for oneself — are what the submissive/authoritarian personality feels most comfortable with. Unfortunately, the majority of human beings fear real freedom, and indeed, do not know what to do with it — as is shown by a long string of failed revolutions and freedom movements in which the revolutionary ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality were betrayed and a new hierarchy and ruling class were quickly created. These failures are generally attributed to the machinations of reactionary politicians and capitalists, and to the perfidy of revolutionary leaders; but reactionary politicians only attract followers because they find a favourable soil for the growth of their authoritarian ideals in the character structure of ordinary people.
Hence the prerequisite of an anarchist revolution is a period of consciousness-raising in which people gradually become aware of submissive/authoritarian traits within themselves, see how those traits are reproduced by conditioning, and understand how they can be mitigated or eliminated through new forms of culture, particularly new child-rearing and educational methods. We will explore this issue more fully in section B.1.5 (What is the mass-psychological basis for authoritarian civilisation?), J.6 (What methods of child rearing do anarchists advocate?), and J.5.13 (What are Modern Schools?)
Cultural anarchist ideas are shared by almost all schools of anarchist thought and consciousness-raising is considered an essential part of any anarchist movement. For anarchists, its important to “build the new world in the shell of the old” in all aspects of our lives and creating an anarchist culture is part of that activity. Few anarchists, however, consider consciousness-raising as enough in itself and so combine cultural anarchist activities with organising, using direct action and building libertarian alternatives in capitalist society. The anarchist movement is one that combines practical self-activity with cultural work, with both activities feeding into and supporting the other.
Yes, there are. While most anarchists have opposed religion and the idea of God as deeply anti-human and a justification for earthly authority and slavery, a few believers in religion have taken their ideas to anarchist conclusions. Like all anarchists, these religious anarchists have combined an opposition to the state with a critical position with regards to private property and inequality. In other words, anarchism is not necessarily atheistic. Indeed, according to Jacques Ellul, “biblical thought leads directly to anarchism, and that this is the only ‘political anti-political’ position in accord with Christian thinkers.” [quoted by Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 75]
There are many different types of anarchism inspired by religious ideas. As Peter Marshall notes, the “first clear expression of an anarchist sensibility may be traced back to the Taoists in ancient China from about the sixth century BC” and “Buddhism, particularly in its Zen form, . . . has . . . a strong libertarian spirit.” [Op. Cit., p. 53 and p. 65] Some, like the anti-globalisation activist Starhawk, combine their anarchist ideas with Pagan and Spiritualist influences. However, religious anarchism usually takes the form of Christian Anarchism, which we will concentrate on here.
Christian Anarchists take seriously Jesus’ words to his followers that “kings and governors have domination over men; let there be none like that among you.” Similarly, Paul’s dictum that there “is no authority except God” is taken to its obvious conclusion with the denial of state authority within society. Thus, for a true Christian, the state is usurping God’s authority and it is up to each individual to govern themselves and discover that (to use the title of Tolstoy’s famous book) The Kingdom of God is within you.
Similarly, the voluntary poverty of Jesus, his comments on the corrupting effects of wealth and the Biblical claim that the world was created for humanity to be enjoyed in common have all been taken as the basis of a socialistic critique of private property and capitalism. Indeed, the early Christian church (which could be considered as a liberation movement of slaves, although one that was later co-opted into a state religion) was based upon communistic sharing of material goods, a theme which has continually appeared within radical Christian movements inspired, no doubt, by such comments as “all that believed were together, and had all things in common, and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them all, according as every man has need” and “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul, not one of them said that all of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common.” (Acts, 2:44,45; 4:32)
Unsurprisingly, the Bible would have been used to express radical libertarian aspirations of the oppressed, which, in later times, would have taken the form of anarchist or Marxist terminology). As Bookchin notes in his discussion of Christianity’s contributions to “the legacy of freedom,” “[b]y spawning nonconformity, heretical conventicles, and issues of authority over person and belief, Christianity created not merely a centralised authoritarian Papacy, but also its very antithesis: a quasi-religious anarchism.” Thus “Christianity’s mixed message can be grouped into two broad and highly conflicting systems of belief. On one side there was a radical, activistic, communistic, and libertarian vision of the Christian life” and “on the other side there was a conservative, quietistic, materially unwordly, and hierarchical vision.” [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 266 and pp. 274-5]
Thus clergyman’s John Ball’s egalitarian comments (as quoted by Peter Marshall [Op. Cit., p. 89]) during the Peasant Revolt in 1381 in England:
Who was then a gentleman?”
The history of Christian anarchism includes the Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Middle Ages, numerous Peasant revolts and the Anabaptists in the 16th century. The libertarian tradition within Christianity surfaced again in the 18th century in the writings of William Blake and the American Adam Ballou reached anarchist conclusions in his Practical Christian Socialism in 1854. However, Christian anarchism became a clearly defined thread of the anarchist movement with the work of the famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
Tolstoy took the message of the Bible seriously and came to consider that a true Christian must oppose the state. From his reading of the Bible, Tolstoy drew anarchist conclusions:
“ruling means using force, and using force means doing to him whom force is used, what he does not like and what he who uses force would certainly not like done to himself. Consequently ruling means doing to others what we would not they should do unto us, that is, doing wrong.” [The Kingdom of God is Within You, p. 242]
Thus a true Christian must refrain from governing others. From this anti-statist position he naturally argued in favour of a society self-organised from below:
“Why think that non-official people could not arrange their life for themselves, as well as Government people can arrange it nor for themselves but for others?” [The Slavery of Our Times, p. 46]
This meant that “people can only be freed from slavery by the abolition of Governments.” [Op. Cit., p. 49] Tolstoy urged non-violent action against oppression, seeing a spiritual transformation of individuals as the key to creating an anarchist society. As Max Nettlau argues, the “great truth stressed by Tolstoy is that the recognition of the power of the good, of goodness, of solidarity – and of all that is called love – lies within ourselves, and that it can and must be awakened, developed and exercised in our own behaviour.“ [A Short History of Anarchism, pp. 251-2] Unsurprisngly, Tolstoy thought the “anarchists are right in everything . . . They are mistaken only in thinking that anarchy can be instituted by a revolution.” [quoted by Peter Marshall, Op. Cit., p. 375]
Like all anarchists, Tolstoy was critical of private property and capitalism. He greatly admired and was heavily influenced by Proudhon, considering the latter’s “property is theft” as “an absolute truth” which would “survive as long as humanity.” [quoted by Jack Hayward, After the French Revolution, p. 213] Like Henry George (whose ideas, like those of Proudhon, had a strong impact on him) he opposed private property in land, arguing that “were it not for the defence of landed property, and its consequent rise in price, people would not be crowded into such narrow spaces, but would scatter over the free land of which there is still so much in the world.” Moreover, “in this struggle [for landed property] it is not those who work in the land, but always those who take part in government violence, who have the advantage.” Thus Tolstoy recognised that property rights in anything beyond use require state violence to protect them as possession is “always protected by custom, public opinion, by feelings of justice and reciprocity, and they do not need to be protected by violence.” [The Slavery of Our Times, p. 47] Indeed, he argues that:
“Tens of thousands of acres of forest lands belonging to one proprietor — while thousands of people close by have no fuel — need protection by violence. So, too, do factories and works where several generations of workmen have been defrauded and are still being defrauded. Yet more do the hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain, belonging to one owner, who has held them back to sell at triple price in time of famine.” [Op. Cit., pp. 47-8]
As with other anarchists, Tolstoy recognised that under capitalism, economic conditions “compel [the worker] to go into temporary or perpetual slavery to a capitalist” and so is “obliged to sell his liberty.” This applied to both rural and urban workers, for the “slaves of our times are not only all those factory and workshop hands, who must sell themselves completely into the power of the factory and foundry owners in order to exist; but nearly all the agricultural labourers are slaves, working as they do unceasingly to grow another’s corn on another’s field.” Such a system could only be maintained by violence, for “first, the fruit of their toil is unjustly and violently taken form the workers, and then the law steps in, and these very articles which have been taken from the workmen — unjustly and by violence — are declared to be the absolute property of those who have stolen them.” [Op. Cit., p. 34, p. 31 and p. 38]
Tolstoy argued that capitalism morally and physically ruined individuals and that capitalists were “slave-drivers.” He considered it impossible for a true Christian to be a capitalist, for a “manufacturer is a man whose income consists of value squeezed out of the workers, and whose whole occupation is based on forced, unnatural labour” and therefore, “he must first give up ruining human lives for his own profit.” [The Kingdom Of God is Within You, p. 338 and p. 339] Unsurprisingly, Tolstoy argued that co-operatives were the “only social activity which a moral, self-respecting person who doesn’t want to be a party of violence can take part in.” [quoted by Peter Marshall, Op. Cit., p. 378]
So, for Tolstoy, “taxes, or land-owning or property in articles of use or in the means of production” produces “the slavery of our times.” However, he rejected the state socialist solution to the social problem as political power would create a new form of slavery on the ruins of the old. This was because “the fundamental cause of slavery is legislation: the fact that there are people who have the power to make laws.” This requires “organised violence used by people who have power, in order to compel others to obey the laws they (the powerful) have made — in other words, to do their will.” Handing over economic life to the state would simply mean “there will be people to whom power will be given to regulate all these matters. Some people will decide these questions, and others will obey them.” [Tolstoy, Op. Cit., p. 40, p. 41, p. 43 and p. 25] He correctly prophetised that “the only thing that will happen” with the victory of Marxism would be “that despotism will be passed on. Now the capitalists are ruling, but then the directors of the working class will rule.” [quoted by Marshall, Op. Cit., p. 379]
>From his opposition to violence, Tolstoy rejects both state and private property and urged pacifist tactics to end violence within society and create a just society. For Tolstoy, government could only be destroyed by a mass refusal to obey, by non-participation in govermmental violence and by exposing fraud of statism to the world. He rejected the idea that force should be used to resist or end the force of the state. In Nettlau’s words, he “asserted . . . resistance to evil; and to one of the ways of resistance – by active force – he added another way: resistance through disobedience, the passive force.“ [Op. Cit., p. 251] In his ideas of a free society, Tolstoy was clearly influenced by rural Russian life and aimed for a society based on peasant farming of communal land, artisans and small-scale co-operatives. He rejected industrialisation as the product of state violence, arguing that “such division of labour as now exists will . . . be impossible in a free society.” [Tolstoy, Op. Cit., p. 26]
Tolstoy’s ideas had a strong influence on Gandhi, who inspired his fellow country people to use non-violent resistance to kick Britain out of India. Moreover, Gandhi’s vision of a free India as a federation of peasant communes is similar to Tolstoy’s anarchist vision of a free society (although we must stress that Gandhi was not an anarchist). The Catholic Worker Group in the United States was also heavily influenced by Tolstoy (and Proudhon), as was Dorothy Day a staunch Christian pacifist and anarchist who founded it in 1933. The influence of Tolstoy and religious anarchism in general can also be found in Liberation Theology movements in Latin and South America who combine Christian ideas with social activism amongst the working class and peasantry (although we should note that Liberation Theology is more generally inspired by state socialist ideas rather than anarchist ones).
So there is a minority tradition within anarchism which draws anarchist conclusions from religion. However, as we noted in section A.2.20, most anarchists disagree, arguing that anarchism implies atheism and it is no coincidence that the biblical thought has, historically, been associated with hierarchy and defence of earthly rulers. Thus the vast majority of anarchists have been and are atheists, for “to worship or revere any being, natural or supernatural, will always be a form of self-subjugation and servitude that will give rise to social domination. As [Bookchin] writes: ‘The moment that human beings fall on their knees before anything that is ‘higher’ than themselves, hierarchy will have made its first triumph over freedom.'” [Brian Morris, Ecology and Anarchism, p. 137] This means that most anarchists agree with Bakunin that if God existed it would be necessary, for human freedom and dignity, to abolish it. Given what the Bible says, few anarchists think it can be used to justify libertarian ideas rather than support authoritarian ones and are not surprised that the hierarchical side of Christianity has predominated in its long (and generally oppressive) history.
Atheist anarchists point to the fact that the Bible is notorious for advocating all kinds of abuses. How does the Christian anarchist reconcile this? Are they a Christian first, or an anarchist? Equality, or adherence to the Scripture? For a believer, it seems no choice at all. If the Bible is the word of God, how can an anarchist support the more extreme positions it takes while claiming to believe in God, his authority and his laws?
For example, no capitalist nation would implement the no working on the Sabbath law which the Bible expounds. Most Christian bosses have been happy to force their fellow believers to work on the seventh day in spite of the Biblical penalty of being stoned to death (“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.” Exodus 35:2). Would a Christian anarchist advocate such a punishment for breaking God’s law? Equally, a nation which allowed a woman to be stoned to death for not being a virgin on her wedding night would, rightly, be considered utterly evil. Yet this is the fate specified in the “good book” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). Would premarital sex by women be considered a capital crime by a Christian anarchist? Or, for that matter, should “a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother” also suffer the fate of having “all the men of his city . . . stone him with stones, that he die”? (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Or what of the Bible’s treatment of women: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.” (Colossians 3:18) They are also ordered to “keep silence in the churches.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35). Male rule is explicitly stated: “I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” (I Corinthians 11:3)
Clearly, a Christian anarchist would have to be as highly selective as non-anarchist believers when it comes to applying the teachings of the Bible. The rich rarely proclaim the need for poverty (at least for themselves) and seem happy to forgot (like the churches) the difficulty a rich man apparently has entering heaven, for example. They seem happy to ignore Jesus’ admonition that “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21). The followers of the Christian right do not apply this to their political leaders, or, for that matter, their spiritual ones. Few apply the maxim to “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.” (Luke 6:30, repeated in Matthew 5:42) Nor do they hold “all things common” as practised by the first Christian believers. (Acts 4:32) So if non-anarchist believers are to be considered as ignoring the teachings of the Bible by anarchist ones, the same can be said of them by those they attack.
Moreover idea that Christianity is basically anarchism is hard to reconcile with its history. The Bible has been used to defend injustice far more than it has been to combat it. In countries where Churches hold de facto political power, such as in Ireland, in parts of South America, in nineteenth and early twentieth century Spain and so forth, typically anarchists are strongly anti-religious because the Church has the power to suppress dissent and class struggle. Thus the actual role of the Church belies the claim that the Bible is an anarchist text.
In addition, most social anarchists consider Tolstoyian pacifism as dogmatic and extreme, seeing the need (sometimes) for violence to resist greater evils. However, most anarchists would agree with Tolstoyians on the need for individual transformation of values as a key aspect of creating an anarchist society and on the importance of non-violence as a general tactic (although, we must stress, that few anarchists totally reject the use of violence in self-defence, when no other option is available).
In the words of historian George Richard Esenwein, “anarchism without adjectives” in its broadest sense “referred to an unhyphenated form of anarchism, that is, a doctrine without any qualifying labels such as communist, collectivist, mutualist, or individualist. For others, . . . [it] was simply understood as an attitude that tolerated the coexistence of different anarchist schools.” [Anarchist Ideology and the Working Class Movement in Spain, 1868-1898, p. 135]
The originator of the expression was Cuban born Fernando Tarrida del Marmol who used it in November, 1889, in Barcelona. He directed his comments towards the communist and collectivist anarchists in Spain who at the time were having an intense debate over the merits of their two theories. “Anarchism without adjectives” was an attempt to show greater tolerance between anarchist tendencies and to be clear that anarchists should not impose a preconceived economic plan on anyone — even in theory. Thus the economic preferences of anarchists should be of “secondary importance” to abolishing capitalism and the state, with free experimentation the one rule of a free society.
Thus the theoretical perspective known as “anarquismo sin adjetives” (“anarchism without adjectives”) was one of the by-products of a intense debate within the movement itself. The roots of the argument can be found in the development of Communist Anarchism after Bakunin’s death in 1876. While not entirely dissimilar to Collectivist Anarchism (as can be seen from James Guillaume’s famous work “On Building the New Social Order” within Bakunin on Anarchism, the collectivists did see their economic system evolving into free communism), Communist Anarchists developed, deepened and enriched Bakunin’s work just as Bakunin had developed, deepened and enriched Proudhon’s. Communist Anarchism was associated with such anarchists as Elisee Reclus, Carlo Cafiero, Errico Malatesta and (most famously) Peter Kropotkin.
Quickly Communist-Anarchist ideas replaced Collectivist Anarchism as the main anarchist tendency in Europe, except in Spain. Here the major issue was not the question of communism (although for Ricardo Mella this played a part) but a question of the modification of strategy and tactics implied by Communist Anarchism. At this time (the 1880s), the Communist Anarchists stressed local (pure) cells of anarchist militants, generally opposed trade unionism (although Kropotkin was not one of these as he saw the importance of militant workers organisations) as well as being somewhat anti-organisation as well. Unsurprisingly, such a change in strategy and tactics came in for a lot of discussion from the Spanish Collectivists who strongly supported working class organisation and struggle.
This conflict soon spread outside of Spain and the discussion found its way into the pages of La Revolte in Paris. This provoked many anarchists to agree with Malatesta’s argument that “[i]t is not right for us, to say the least, to fall into strife over mere hypotheses.” [quoted by Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, pp. 198-9] Over time, most anarchists agreed (to use Nettlau’s words) that “we cannot foresee the economic development of the future” [Op. Cit., p. 201] and so started to stress what they had in common (opposition to capitalism and the state) rather than the different visions of how a free society would operate. As time progressed, most Communist-Anarchists saw that ignoring the labour movement ensured that their ideas did not reach the working class while most Collectivist-Anarchists stressed their commitment to communist ideals and their arrival sooner, rather than later, after a revolution. Thus both groups of anarchists could work together as there was “no reason for splitting up into small schools, in our eagerness to overemphasise certain features, subject to variation in time and place, of the society of the future, which is too remote from us to permit us to envision all its adjustments and possible combinations.” Moreover, in a free society “the methods and the individual forms of association and agreements, or the organisation of labour and of social life, will not be uniform and we cannot, at this moment, make and forecasts or determinations concerning them.” [Malatesta, quoted by Nettlau, Op. Cit., p. 173]
Thus, Malatesta continued, “[e]ven the question as between anarchist-collectivism and anarchist-communism is a matter of qualification, of method and agreement” as the key is that, no matter the system, “a new moral conscience will come into being, which will make the wage system repugnant to men [and women] just as legal slavery and compulsion are now repugnant to them.” If this happens then, “whatever the specific forms of society may turn out to be, the basis of social organisation will be communist.” As long as we “hold to fundamental principles and . . . do our utmost to instil them in the masses” we need not “quarrel over mere words or trifles but give post-revolutionary society a direction towards justice, equality and liberty.” [quoted by Nettlau, Op. Cit., p. 173 and p. 174]
Similarly, in the United States there was also an intense debate at the same time between Individualist and Communist anarchists. There Benjamin Tucker was arguing that Communist-Anarchists were not anarchists while John Most was saying similar things about Tucker’s ideas. Just as people like Mella and Tarrida put forward the idea of tolerance between anarchist groups, so anarchists like Voltairine de Cleyre “came to label herself simply ‘Anarchist,’ and called like Malatesta for an ‘Anarchism without Adjectives,’ since in the absence of government many different experiments would probably be tried in various localities in order to determine the most appropriate form.” [Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 393] In her own words, a whole range of economic systems would be “advantageously tried in different localities. I would see the instincts and habits of the people express themselves in a free choice in every community; and I am sure that distinct environments would call out distinct adaptations.” [“Anarchism”, Exquisite Rebel, p. 79] Consequently, individualist and communist anarchist “forms of society, as well as many intermediations, would, in the absence of government, be tried in various localities, according to the instincts and material condition of the people . . . Liberty and experiment alone can determine the best forms of society. Therefore I no longer label myself otherwise than ‘Anarchist’ simply.” [“The Making of An Anarchist”, The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, pp. 107-8]
These debates had a lasting impact on the anarchist movement, with such noted anarchists as de Cleyre, Malatesta, Nettlau and Reclus adopting the tolerant perspective embodied in the expression “anarchism without adjectives” (see Nettlau’s A Short History of Anarchism, pages 195 to 201 for an excellent summary of this). It is also, we add, the dominant position within the anarchist movement today with most anarchists recognising the right of other tendencies to the name “anarchist” while, obviously, having their own preferences for specific types of anarchist theory and their own arguments why other types are flawed. However, we must stress that the different forms of anarchism (communism, syndicalism, religious etc) are not mutually exclusive and you do not have to support one and hate the others. This tolerance is reflected in the expression “anarchism without adjectives.”
One last point, some “anarcho”-capitalists have attempted to use the tolerance associated with “anarchism without adjectives” to argue that their ideology should be accepted as part of the anarchist movement. After all, they argue, anarchism is just about getting rid of the state, economics is of secondary importance. However, such a use of “anarchism without adjectives” is bogus as it was commonly agreed at the time that the types of economics that were being discussed were anti-capitalist (i.e. socialistic). For Malatesta, for example, there were “anarchists who foresee and propose other solution, other future forms of social organisation” than communist anarchism, but they “desire, just as we do, to destroy political power and private property.” “Let us do away,” he argued, “with all exclusivism of schools of thinking” and let us “come to an understanding on ways and means, and go forwards.” [quoted by Nettlau, Op. Cit., p. 175] In other words, it was agreed that capitalism had to be abolished along with the state and once this was the case free experimentation would develop. Thus the struggle against the state was just one part of a wider struggle to end oppression and exploitation and could not be isolated from these wider aims. As “anarcho”-capitalists do not seek the abolition of capitalism along with the state they are not anarchists and so “anarchism without adjectives” does not apply to the so-called “anarchist” capitalists (see section F on why “anarcho”-capitalism is not anarchist).
This is not to say that after a revolution “anarcho”-capitalist communities would not exist. Far from it. If a group of people wanted to form such a system then they could, just as we would expect a community which supported state socialism or theocracy to live under that regime. Such enclaves of hierarchy would exist simply because it is unlikely that everyone on the planet, or even in a given geographical area, will become anarchists all at the same time. The key thing to remember is that no such system would be anarchist and, consequently, is not “anarchism without adjectives.”
As discussed in section A.3.3, most anarchists would agree with Situationist Ken Knabb in arguing that “in a liberated world computers and other modern technologies could be used to eliminate dangerous or boring tasks, freeing everyone to concentrate on more interesting activities.” Obviously “[c]ertain technologies — nuclear power is the most obvious example — are indeed so insanely dangerous that they will no doubt be brought to a prompt halt. Many other industries which produce absurd, obsolete or superfluous commodities will, of course, cease automatically with the disappearance of their commercial rationales. But many technologies . . ., however they may presently be misused, have few if any inherent drawbacks. It’s simply a matter of using them more sensibly, bringing them under popular control, introducing a few ecological improvements, and redesigning them for human rather than capitalistic ends.” [Public Secrets, p. 79 and p. 80] Thus most eco-anarchists see the use of appropriate technology as the means of creating a society which lives in balance with nature.
However, a (very) small but vocal minority of self-proclaimed Green anarchists disagree. Writers such as John Zerzan, John Moore and David Watson have expounded a vision of anarchism which, they claim, aims to critique every form of power and oppression. This is often called “anarcho-primitivism,” which according to Moore, is simply “a shorthand term for a radical current that critiques the totality of civilisation from an anarchist perspective, and seeks to initiate a comprehensive transformation of human life.” [Primitivist Primer]
How this current expresses itself is diverse, with the most extreme elements seeking the end of all forms of technology, division of labour, domestication, “Progress”, industrialism, what they call “mass society” and, for some, even symbolic culture (i.e. numbers, language, time and art). They tend to call any system which includes these features “civilisation” and, consequently, aim for “the destruction of civilisation”. How far back they wish to go is a moot point. Some see the technological level that existed before the Industrial Revolution as acceptable, many go further and reject agriculture and all forms of technology beyond the most basic. For them, a return to the wild, to a hunter-gatherer mode of life, is the only way for anarchy is exist and dismiss out of hand the idea that appropriate technology can be used to create an anarchist society based on industrial production which minimises its impact on ecosystems.
Thus we find the primitivist magazine “Green Anarchy” arguing that those, like themselves, “who prioritise the values of personal autonomy or wild existence have reason to oppose and reject all large-scale organisations and societies on the grounds that they necessitate imperialism, slavery and hierarchy, regardless of the purposes they may be designed for.” They oppose capitalism as it is “civilisation’s current dominant manifestation.” However, they stress that it is “Civilisation, not capitalism per se, was the genesis of systemic authoritarianism, compulsory servitude and social isolation. Hence, an attack upon capitalism that fails to target civilisation can never abolish the institutionalised coercion that fuels society. To attempt to collectivise industry for the purpose of democratising it is to fail to recognise that all large-scale organisations adopt a direction and form that is independent of its members’ intentions.” Thus, they argue, genuine anarchists must oppose industry and technology for “[h]ierarchical institutions, territorial expansion, and the mechanisation of life are all required for the administration and process of mass production to occur.” For primitivists, “[o]nly small communities of self-sufficient individuals can coexist with other beings, human or not, without imposing their authority upon them.” Such communities would share essential features with tribal societies, “[f]or over 99% of human history, humans lived within small and egalitarian extended family arrangements, while drawing their subsistence directly from the land.” [Against Mass Society]
While such tribal communities, which lived in harmony with nature and had little or no hierarchies, are seen as inspirational, primitivists look (to use the title of a John Zerzan book) forward to seeing the “Future Primitive.” As John Moore puts it, “the future envisioned by anarcho-primitivism . . . is without precedent. Although primitive cultures provide intimations of the future, and that future may well incorporate elements derived from those cultures, an anarcho-primitivist world would likely be quite different from previous forms of anarchy.” [Op. Cit.]
For the primitivist, other forms of anarchism are simply self-managed alienation within essentially the same basic system we now endure, minus its worse excesses. Hence John Moore’s comment that “classical anarchism” wants “to take over civilisation, rework its structures to some degree, and remove its worst abuses and oppressions. However, 99% of life in civilisation remains unchanged in their future scenarios, precisely because the aspects of civilisation they question are minimal . . . overall life patterns wouldn’t change too much.” Thus “[f]rom the perspective of anarcho-primitivism, all other forms of radicalism appear as reformist, whether or not they regard themselves as revolutionary.” [Op. Cit.]
In reply, “classical anarchists” point out three things. Firstly, to claim that the “worst abuses and oppressions” account for 1% of capitalist society is simply nonsense and, moreover, something an apologist of that system would happily agree with. Secondly, it is obvious from reading any “classical” anarchist text that Moore’s assertions are nonsense. “Classical” anarchism aims to transform society radically from top to bottom, not tinker with minor aspects of it. Do primitivists really think that people who went to the effort to abolish capitalism would simply continue doing 99% of the same things they did before hand? Of course not. In other words, it is not enough to get rid of the boss, although this is a necessary first step! Thirdly, and most importantly, Moore’s argument ensures that his vision of a good society would never be achieved without genocide on an unimaginable scale.
So, as can be seen, primitivism has little or no bearing to the traditional anarchist movement and its ideas. The visions of both are simply incompatible, with the ideas of the latter dismissed as authoritarian by the former. Unsurprisingly, the ideas of primitivism and other anarchists are hard to reconcile. Equally unsurprisingly, other anarchists question whether primitivism is practical in the short term or even desirable in the long. While supporters of primitivism like to portray it as the most advanced and radical form of anarchism, other anarchists are less convinced. They consider it as a confused ideology which draws its followers into absurd positions and, moreover, is utterly impractical. They would agree with Ken Knabb comments that primitivism is rooted in “fantasies [which] contain so many obvious self-contradictions that it is hardly necessary to criticise them in any detail. They have questionable relevance to actual past societies and virtually no relevance to present possibilities. Even supposing that life was better in one or another previous era, we have to begin from where we are now. Modern technology is so interwoven with all aspects of our life that it could not be abruptly discontinued without causing a global chaos that would wipe out billions of people.” [Op. Cit., p. 79]
The reason for this is simply that we live in a highly industrialised and interconnected system in which most people do not have the skills required to live in a hunter-gatherer or even agricultural society. Moreover, it is extremely doubtful that six billion people could survive as hunter-gatherers even if they had the necessary skills. As Brian Morris notes, “[t]he future we are told is ‘primitive.’ How this is to be achieved in a world that presently sustains almost six billion people (for evidence suggests that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is only able to support 1 or 2 people per sq. mile)” primitivists like Zerzan do not tell us. [“Anthropology and Anarchism,” pp. 35-41, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, no. 45, p. 38] Most anarchists, therefore, agree with Chomsky’s summation that “I do not think that they are realising that what they are calling for is the mass genocide of millions of people because of the way society is now structured and organised . . . If you eliminate these structures everybody dies . . . And, unless one thinks through these things, it’s not really serious.” [Chomsky on Anarchism, p. 226]
This means that any “primitivist” rebellion has two options. Either it produces a near instant transformation into a primitivist system and, as a consequence, kills billions of people by hunger as well as causing extensive ecological destruction or it involves a lengthy transition period during which “civilisation” and its industrial legacies are decommissioned safely, population levels drop naturally to an appropriate level and people regain the necessary skills required for their new existence.
Sadly, option one, namely an almost overnight transformation, is what appears to be implied by most primitivist writers. Moore, for example, talks about “when civilisation collapses” (“through its own volition, through our efforts, or a combination of the two”). This implies an extremely speedy process, over which mere mortals have little say or control. This is confirmed when he talks about the need for “positive alternatives” to be built now as “the social disruption caused by collapse could easily create the psychological insecurity and social vacuum in which fascism and other totalitarian dictatorships could flourish.” [Op. Cit.] A revolution based on “collapse,” “insecurity” and “social disruption” does not sound like a recipe for a successful social revolution based on mass participation and social experimentation.
Then there is the anti-organisation dogmas expounded by primitivism. Moore is typical, asserting that “[o]rganisations, for anarcho-primitivists, are just rackets, gangs for putting a particular ideology in power” and reiterates the point by saying primitivists stand for “the abolition of all power relations, including the State . . . and any kind of party or organisation.” [Op. Cit.] Yet without organisation, no modern society could function. There would be a total and instant collapse which would see not only mass starvation but also ecological destruction as nuclear power stations meltdown, industrial waste seeps into the surrounding environment, cities and towns decay and hordes of starving people fighting over what vegetables, fruits and animals they could find in the countryside. Clearly an anti-organisation dogma can only be reconciled with the idea of a near overnight “collapse” of civilisation, not with a steady progress towards a long term goal. Equally, how many “positive alternatives” could exist without organisation?
Faced with the horrors that such a “collapse” would entail, those few primitivists who have thought the issue through end up accepting the need for a transition period. John Zerzan, for example, argues that it “seems evident that industrialisation and the factories could not be gotten rid of instantly, but equally clear that their liquidation must be pursued with all the vigour behind the rush of break-out.” Even the existence of cities is accepted, for “[c]ultivation within the cities is another aspect of practical transition.” [On the Transition: Postscript to Future Primitive]
However, to accept the necessity of a transition period does little more than expose the contradictions within primitivism. Zerzan notes that “the means of reproducing the prevailing Death Ship (e.g. its technology) cannot be used to fashion a liberated world.” He ponders: “What would we keep? ‘Labour-saving devices?’ Unless they involve no division of labour (e.g. a lever or incline), this concept is a fiction; behind the ‘saving’ is hidden the congealed drudgery of many and the despoliation of the natural world.” How this is compatible with maintaining “industrialisation and the factories” for a (non-specified) period is unclear. Similarly, he argues that “[i]nstead of the coercion of work — and how much of the present could continue without precisely that coercion? — an existence without constraints is an immediate, central objective.” [Op. Cit.] How that is compatible with the arguing that industry would be maintained for a time is left unasked, never mind unanswered. And if “work” continues, how is this compatible with the typical primitivist dismissal of “traditional” anarchism, namely that self-management is managing your own alienation and that no one will want to work in a factory or in a mine and, therefore, coercion will have to be used to make them do so? Does working in a factory somehow become less alienating and authoritarian during a primitivist transition? And how will this work be done in a libertarian manner unless under self-management?
It is an obvious fact that the human population size cannot be reduced significantly by voluntary means in a short period of time. For primitivism to be viable, world population levels need to drop by something like 90% as it is impossible for 6 billion people to live the lives of hunter-gatherers (as Zerzan stresses, “Agriculture itself must be overcome” [Op. Cit.]). This means that agriculture and most industries will have to continue for some time. Similarly with large cities and towns as an instant and general exodus from the cities would be impossible. This implies a drastic reduction of population will take decades, if not centuries, to achieve voluntarily. Given that it is unlikely that (almost) everyone on the planet will decide not to have children, this time scale will almost certainly be centuries. Likewise, reliable contraceptives are a product of modern technology and, consequently, the means of producing them would have to maintained over that time — unless primitivists argue that along with refusing to have children, people will also refuse to have sex.
Then there is the legacy of industrial society, which simply cannot be left to decay on its own. To take just one obvious example, leaving nuclear power plants to melt down would hardly be eco-friendly. Moreover, it is doubtful that the ruling elite will just surrender its power without resistance and, consequently, any social revolution would need to defend itself against attempts to reintroduce hierarchy. Needless to say, a revolution which shunned all organisation and industry as inherently authoritarian would not be able to do this (it would have been impossible to produce the necessary military supplies to fight Franco’s fascist forces during the Spanish Revolution if the workers had not converted and used their workplaces to do so, to note another obvious example).
Then there is another, key, contradiction. For if you accept that there is a need for a transition from ‘here’ to ‘there’ then primitivism automatically excludes itself from the anarchist tradition. The reason is simple. Moore asserts that “mass society” involves “people working, living in artificial, technologised environments, and [being] subject to forms of coercion and control.” [Op. Cit.] So if what primitivists argue about technology, industry and mass society are all true, then any primitivist transition would, by definition, not be libertarian. This is because “mass society” will have to remain for some time (at the very least decades, more likely centuries) after a successful revolution and, consequently from a primitivist perspective, be based on “forms of coercion and control.” There is an ideology which proclaims the need for a transitional system which will be based on coercion, control and hierarchy which will, in time, disappear into a stateless society. It also, like primitivism, stresses that industry and large scale organisation is impossible without hierarchy and authority. That ideology is Marxism. Thus it seems ironic to “classical” anarchists to hear self-proclaimed anarchists repeating Engels arguments against Bakunin as arguments for “anarchy” (see section H.4 for a discussion of Engels claims that industry excludes autonomy).
So if, as seems likely, any transition will take centuries to achieve then the primivitist critique of “traditional” anarchism becomes little more than a joke — and a hindrance to meaningful anarchist practice and social change. It shows the contradiction at the heart of primitivism. While its advocates attack other anarchists for supporting technology, organisation, self-management of work, industrialisation and so on, they are themselves are dependent on the things they oppose as part of any humane transition to a primitivist society. And given the passion with which they attack other anarchists on these matters, unsurprisingly the whole notion of a primitivist transition period seems impossible to other anarchists. To denounce technology and industrialism as inherently authoritarian and then turn round and advocate their use after a revolution simply does not make sense from a logical or libertarian perspective.
Thus the key problem with primitivism can be seen. It offers no practical means of achieving its goals in a libertarian manner. As Knabb summarises, “[w]hat begins as a valid questioning of excessive faith in science and technology ends up as a desperate and even less justified faith in the return of a primeval paradise, accompanied by a failure to engage the present system in any but an abstract, apocalyptical way.” To avoid this, it is necessary to take into account where we are now and, consequently, we will have to “seriously consider how we will deal with all the practical problems that will be posed in the interim.” [Knabb, Op. Cit., p. 80 and p. 79] Sadly, primitivist ideology excludes this possibility by dismissing the starting point any real revolution would begin from as being inherently authoritarian. As any transition period towards primitivism would involve people working and living in “mass society,” it condemns itself as utterly impractical.
Given that a hierarchical society will misuse many technologies, it is understandable that some people can come see “technology” as the main problem and seek its end. However, those who talk about simply abolishing all forms of injustice and oppression overnight without discussing how it will be achieved may sound extremely radical, but, in reality, they are not. In fact they are building blocks to genuine social change by ensuring that no mass movement would ever be revolutionary enough to satisfy their critique and, as such, there is no point even trying. As Ken Knabb puts it:
“Those who proudly proclaim their ‘total opposition’ to all compromise, all authority, all organisation, all theory, all technology, etc., usually turn out to have no revolutionary perspective whatsoever — no practical conception of how the present system might be overthrown or how a post-revolutionary society might work. Some even attempt to justify this lack by declaring that a mere revolution could never be radical enough to satisfy their eternal ontological rebelliousness. Such all-or-nothing bombast may temporarily impress a few spectators, but its ultimate effect is simply to make people blasé.” [Op. Cit., pp. 31-32]
Then there is the question of the means suggested for achieving primitivism. Moore argues that the “kind of world envisaged by anarcho-primitivism is one unprecedented in human experience in terms of the degree and types of freedom anticipated … so there can’t be any limits on the forms of resistance and insurgency that might develop.” [Op. Cit.] Non-primitivists reply by saying that this implies primitivists don’t know what they want nor how to get there. Equally, they stress that there must be limits on what are considered acceptable forms of resistance. This is because means shape the ends created and so authoritarian means will result in authoritarian ends. Tactics are not neutral and support for certain tactics betray an authoritarian perspective.
This can be seen from the UK magazine “Green Anarchist,” part of the extreme end of “Primitivism” and which argued in favour of a return to “Hunter-Gatherer” forms of human society, opposing technology as being hierarchical by its very nature. Due to the inherent unattractiveness of such “primitivist” ideas for most people, it could never come about by libertarian means (i.e. by the free choice of individuals who create it by their own acts) and so cannot be anarchist as very few people would actually voluntarily embrace such a situation. This led to “Green Anarchist” developing a form of eco-vanguardism in order, to use Rousseau’s expression, to “force people to be free.” This reached its logical conclusion when the magazine supported the actions and ideas of the (non-anarchist) Unabomber and published an article (“The Irrationalists”) by one of the then two editors stating that “the Oklahoma bombers had the right idea. The pity was that they did not blast any more government offices . . . The Tokyo sarin cult had the right idea. The pity was that in testing the gas a year prior to the attack they gave themselves away.” [Green Anarchist, no. 51, p. 11] A defence of these remarks was published in the next issue and a subsequent exchange of letters in the US-based Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed magazine (numbers 48 to 52) saw the other “Green Anarchist” editor (at the time) justify this sick, authoritarian nonsense as simply nonsense as simply examples of “unmediated resistance” conducted “under conditions of extreme repression.” Whatever happened to the anarchist principle that means shape the ends? This means there are “limits” on tactics, as some tactics are not and can never be libertarian.
However, few eco-anarchists take such an extreme position. Most “primitivist” anarchists rather than being anti-technology and anti-civilisation as such instead (to use David Watson’s expression) believe it is a case of the “affirmation of aboriginal lifeways” and of taking a far more critical approach to issues such as technology, rationality and progress than that associated with Social Ecology. These eco-anarchists reject “a dogmatic primitivism which claims we can return in some linear way to our primordial roots” just as much as the idea of “progress,” “superseding both Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment” ideas and traditions. For these eco-anarchists, Primitivism “reflects not only a glimpse at life before the rise of the state, but also a legitimate response to real conditions of life under civilisation” and so we should respect and learn from “palaeolithic and neolithic wisdom traditions” (such as those associated with Native American tribes and other aboriginal peoples). While we “cannot, and would not want to abandon secular modes of thinking and experiencing the world. . . we cannot reduce the experience of life, and the fundamental, inescapable questions why we live, and how we live, to secular terms. . . Moreover, the boundary between the spiritual and the secular is not so clear. A dialectical understanding that we are our history would affirm an inspirited reason that honours not only atheistic Spanish revolutionaries who died for el ideal, but also religious pacifist prisoners of conscience, Lakota ghost dancers, taoist hermits and executed sufi mystics.” [David Watson, Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a future social ecology, p. 240, p. 103, p. 240 and pp. 66-67]
Such “primitivist” anarchism is associated with a range of magazines, mostly US-based, like Fifth Estate. For example, on the question of technology, such eco-anarchists argue that “[w]hile market capitalism was a spark that set the fire, and remains at the centre of the complex, it is only part of something larger: the forced adaptation of organic human societies to an economic-instrumental civilisation and its mass technics, which are not only hierarchical and external but increasingly ‘cellular’ and internal. It makes no sense to layer the various elements of this process in a mechanistic hierarchy of first cause and secondary effects.” [David Watson, Op. Cit., pp. 127-8] For this reason “Primitivist” anarchists are more critical of all aspects of technology, including calls by social ecologists for the use of appropriate technology essential in order to liberate humanity and the planet. As Watson argues:
“To speak of technological society is in fact to refer to the technics generated within capitalism, which in turn generate new forms of capital. The notion of a distinct realm of social relations that determine this technology is not only ahistorical and undialectical, it reflects a kind of simplistic base/superstructure schema.” [Op. Cit., p. 124]
Thus it is not a case of who uses technology which determines its effects, rather the effects of technology are determined to a large degree by the society that creates it. In other words, technology is selected which tends to re-enforce hierarchical power as it is those in power who generally select which technology is introduced within society (saying that, oppressed people have this excellent habit of turning technology against the powerful and technological change and social struggle are inter-related — see section D.10). Thus even the use of appropriate technology involves more than selecting from the range of available technology at hand, as these technologies have certain effects regardless of who uses them. Rather it is a question of critically evaluating all aspects of technology and modifying and rejecting it as required to maximise individual freedom, empowerment and happiness. Few Social Ecologists would disagree with this approach, though, and differences are usually a question of emphasis rather than a deep political point.
However, few anarchists are convinced by an ideology which, as Brian Morris notes, dismisses the “last eight thousand years or so of human history” as little more than a source “of tyranny, hierarchical control, mechanised routine devoid of any spontaneity. All those products of the human creative imagination — farming, art, philosophy, technology, science, urban living, symbolic culture — are viewed negatively by Zerzan — in a monolithic sense.” While there is no reason to worship progress, there is just as little need to dismiss all change and development out of hand as oppressive. Nor are they convinced by Zerzan’s “selective culling of the anthropological literature.” [Morris, Op. Cit., p. 38] Most anarchists would concurr with Murray Bookchin:
“The ecology movement will never gain any real influence or have any significant impact on society if it advances a message of despair rather than hope, of a regressive and impossible return to primordial human cultures, rather than a commitment to human progress and to a unique human empathy for life as a whole . . . We must recover the utopian impulses, the hopefulness, the appreciation of what is good, what is worth rescuing in yumn civilisation, as well as what must be rejected, if the ecology movement is to play a transformative and creative role in human affairs. For without changing society, we will not change the diastrous ecological direction in which capitalism is moving.” [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 63]
In addition, a position of “turning back the clock” is deeply flawed, for while some aboriginal societies are very anarchistic, not all are. As anarchist anthropologist David Graeber points out, “we know almost nothing about like in Palaeolithic, other than the sort of thing that can be gleaned from studying very old skulls . . . But what we see in the more recent ethnographic records is endless variety. There were hunter-gatherer societies with nobles and slaves, there are agrarian societies that are fiercely egalitarian. Even in . . . Amazonia, one finds some groups who can justly be described as anarchists, like the Piaroa, living alongside others (say, the warlike Sherentre, who are clearly anything but.” [Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, pp. 53-4] Even if we speculate, like Zerzan, that if we go back far enough we would find all of humanity in anarchistic tribes, the fact remains that certain of these societies did develop into statist, propertarian ones implying that a future anarchist society that is predominantly inspired by and seek to reproduce key elements of prehistoric forms of anarchy is not the answer as “civilisation” may develop again due to the same social or environmental factors.
Primitivism confuses two radically different positions, namely support for a literal return to primitive lifeways and the use of examples from primitive life as a tool for social critique. Few anarchists would disagree with the second position as they recognise that current does not equal better and, consequently, past cultures and societies can have positive (as well as negative) aspects to them which can shed light on what a genuinely human society can be like. Similarly if “primitivism” simply involved questioning technology along with authority, few would disagree. However, this sensible position is, in the main, subsumed within the first one, the idea that an anarchist society would be a literal return to hunter-gatherer society. That this is the case can be seen from primitivist writings. Some primitivists stress that they are not suggesting the Stone Age as a model for their desired society nor a return to gathering and hunting, yet they seem to exclude any other options by their critique.
So to suggest that primitivism is simply a critique or some sort of “anarchist speculation” (to use John Moore’s term) seems incredulous. If you demonise technology, organisation, “mass society” and “civilisation” as inherently authoritarian, you cannot turn round and advocate their use in a transition period or even in a free society. As such, the critique points to a mode of action and a vision of a free society and to suggest otherwise is simply incredulous. Equally, if you praise foraging bands and shifting horticultural communities of past and present as examples of anarchy then critics are entitled to conclude that primitivists desire a similar system for the future. This is reinforced by the critiques of industry, technology, “mass society” and agriculture.
Until such time as “primitivists” clearly state which of the two forms of primitivism they subscribe to, other anarchists will not take their ideas that seriously. Given that they fail to answer such basic questions of how they plan to deactivate industry safely and avoid mass starvation without the workers’ control, international links and federal organisation they habitually dismiss out of hand as new forms of “governance,” other anarchists do not hold much hope that it will happen soon. Ultimately, we are faced with the fact that a revolution will start in society as it is. Anarchism recognises this and suggests a means of transforming it. Primitivism shies away from such minor problems and, consequently, has little to recommend it. It is for this reason that most anarchists actually argue that such forms of “primitivism” are not anarchist at all, as the return to a “Hunter-Gatherer” society would result in mass starvation in almost all countries as the social infrastructure collapses so that the “lucky” few that survive can be “wild” and free from such tyrannies as hospitals, books and electricity.
This is not to suggest, of course, that non-primitivist anarchists think that everyone in a free society must have the same level of technology. Far from it. An anarchist society would be based on free experimentation. Different individuals and groups will pick the way of life that best suits them. Those who seek less technological ways of living will be free to do so as will those who want to apply the benefits of (appropriate) technologies. Similarly, all anarchists support the struggles of those in the developing world against the onslaught of (capitalist) civilisation and the demands of (capitalist) progress.
For more on “primitivist” anarchism see John Zerzan’s Future Primitive as well as David Watson’s Beyond Bookchin and Against the Mega-Machine. Ken Knabb’s essay The Poverty of Primitivism is an excellent critique of primitivism as is Brian Oliver Sheppard’s Anarchism vs. Primitivism.