II. What anarchism is by Dana Williams



Anarchist thinking can be embodied in the context of individual freedom and a social attitude. Thus, anarchists "place a high priority on liberty, desiring it both for themselves and others. They also consider individuality-- that which makes a unique person-- to be the most important aspect of humanity." In addition to this is the truth that the individual does not exist within a vacuum, but is a member of a social phenomenon. Both society and the individual require each other to grow, evolve, and develop.20

This symbiosis is what allows the human race to function. Society is made up of human individuals, and it gains its importance and dynamicism from that relationship. In the same fashion, the individual gains self-worth from society and the other things that allows one to live a highly functional life.21

Like many philosophies, ideologies, or parties, anarchists are "anti" towards certain things; they are anti-authority, anti-oppression, anti-control, anti-hierarchy, and anti-state. The way these terms are defined, of course, could change the attitude of an anarchist. If the "state" becomes something in which all people simply associate within freely and work out problems, then the authority and oppressive elements would be gone, and thus not something they would oppose.22

For an individual to develop to the fullest extent possible, it is necessary for the society to be based upon three basic principles: liberty, equality, and solidarity. All three of these are interdependent and must rely on traits of the others to be full and complete. For instance, to be totally liberated, all must have equal opportunity and help each other to remain liberated. Just as, in order to be united, all must be equal in the treatment of others and free to associate or disassociate, and so on.23

Many people see a contradiction in the emphasis placed upon individualism and the greater population, and see it as an irreconcilable difference. However, in truth, the relationship between the two is highly linked and inseparable, and just as ignoring the entire structure of an automobile is foolish, so is ignoring the individual components that define it as a car: the tires, engine, drive shaft, radiator, clutch, etc. The society at large is not a colorless formation, but a multi-colored conglomeration and without its individual members, it is nothing. Reciprocally, the individual contributes to society since his/her own interests are enhanced by the same efforts and in the process adds the flavor and personality that would otherwise render a society into simply a "bunch of people who live in the same place".24

So how do anarchists think this interaction does/should take place? They see a number of factors that contribute to the individual and community solidarity: voluntary association, confederation, unions, free expression, free will, cooperation amongst equals, social equality, and the removal of authority which creates tiers in society. Tiers are simple hierarchy that promotes one individual over another, and often for reasons that are marginal and with results that are exploitative.25

Solidarity means "working voluntarily and cooperatively with others who share the same goals and interests". Solidarity may be accomplished through a variety of "schemes", such as confederations, unions, co-ops, all of which accomplish essentially the same thing. They strive to achieve a common purpose and they are structured so that everyone has an equal say in how they operate. People can join and leave freely as soon as the goals agree or disagree with the individual's goals. That way it is assured that the group cannot control an individual and the individual is assured that the group does not incorrectly speak for them.26

Social equality and the free will of individuals are of extreme importance in all of this. Social equality does not mean equality of outcome or equality of endowment, it means that everyone has an equal voice and stake in everything they do. Equality of outcome would mean that everyone has the same goods, the same kind of house, wears the same clothes, etc. and equality of endowment is when individuals all have the same skills and traits, which would also create a truly boring world. Social equality allows individuals to be individuals and retain their freedoms and uniqueness. Only equals can work together, free from exploitation.27

Economic Attitude

Like socialists, anarchists see the capitalist/mercantilist system as inherently unfair, cruel, and authoritarian, and thus oppressive. While the capitalist heralds the benefits of competition, he at the same time demands from the state a high level of welfare in the form of high tariffs, subsidies, government/military contracts, and low taxes. Eugene V. Debs correctly observed:

No successful capitalists wants competition-- for himself-- he only wants it for the working class, so that he can buy his labor power at the lowest competitive price in the labor market.28

Little has fundamentally changed since Debs' 1904 comments, except that the exploitation has been, if anything, internationalized and increased. 20.5% of American children (under 18) are living in poverty. Wealth inequality in 1989 (the last year that statistics were available) was at a 60-year high and the "top 1 percent of wealth holders controlled 39 percent of total household wealth."29

David C. Korten remarks that while from 1992 to 1995 the 500 largest corporations grew 20% annually, the average worker's salary, benefits, and wages only increased 2.7%, the smallest increase on record. He further states:

The disparities in this competition have become truly obscene. In 1960 the annual compensation of the average CEO of a major US. company was 40 times that of the average worker. In 1992 it was 157 times as much. The average CEO of a large corporation now receives an annual compensation package of more than $3.5 million-- their reward for growing company profits by destroying millions of jobs.30

This continued exploitation is facilitated by private property that concentrates wealth in the hands of a shrinking minority. Wealth is power, and it restrains the majority of society, thus making it enslaved to a much smaller piece of the pie. Anarchists want to see an end to this enslavement, perhaps through the dissolvement of inheritance and private property. They question what "right" a child born into a rich family has that supersedes the "rights" of a child born into poverty, and thus the near guarantee of lifetime affluence and lifetime poverty, respectively.31

Political Attitude

Authority assumes two main forms: economic (as previously mentioned) in the form of private property and political authority, mainly embodied by the state. In many places in the world, the US included, power is highly centralized on a national level, which decreases the power of local communities and their freedoms. Anarchists are in favor of decentralization that would allow local communities to have the freedom to emphasize their priorities over that of the larger state.32

The state, often driven by monetary interests, does not always follow the "will of the people", as it is intended to do within democracy. When the state devises laws that take away the freedoms of individuals, people have the right, if not obligation, to protest such laws. In this respect, disobedience is a direct facilitator of greater freedoms because it forces the state to recognize it's "mistakes" and remove its oppressive laws. Obedience to restraining and unjust laws is an act that leads to more restriction, and potential enslavement. Thus, when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty to all people.33

When the state commits acts of aggression against other states, be they declared wars or "disputes", the people of the state are expected to fall in line behind the state, and assume that their state is justified in all of its actions. Most, however, can see that this is rarely the case and that when states become aggressors, they lose their innocence. According to anarchists, citizens of a state involved in conflict with another state should not blindly follow their state, blindly agree with its actions, or swallow all of its propaganda. Patriotism lessens freedom as it coerces individuals to make decisions not based upon personal exploration and analysis, but upon state dogma.34

Anarchists, like all libertarians, see the military draft or compulsory military service as slavery, and think that there is no reason to fight other fellow human beings under the order of a state. The draft is an attempt by the state to align its citizens behind its flag and intentions, by force if necessary. It creates an attitude of belligerence and self-righteousness amongst a people who are told that "might makes right" and that they are better than other states. Yet, the act of military defense itself often creates a moral dilemma, as revolutionary pacifist A.J. Muste noted after WWII:

The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Now who will teach him a lesson?35

In following with the rejection of the state's oppression, anarchists also reject the oppression of Marxist and communist governments, specifically those that stem from the esthetic of the Bolshevik Revolution. Nearly all the anarchists denounced the "revolution" that occurred in Russia in October 1917 because they saw the Vanguard Party as simply an elitist group that gained power and immediately curbed their "lofty goals" as they entrenched themselves to retain power. They dismantled the factory councils set up in prior months (after the popular revolution) and worked to "convert the workforce into what they called a 'labor army' under the command of the leader". Bakunin predicted that the Marxist intellectuals would be unwilling to distribute power amongst the non-intellectual classes, which is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union, as it became a model of "grinding state capitalism".36

In the critique of so-called "people's revolutions", the punk band CRASS sang the following lyrics in their 1980 song "Bloody Revolutions":

Romanticize your heroes, quote from Marx and Mao
But their ideas of freedom are just oppression now
Nothing's changed for all the death that their ideas created
It's just the same fascistic games, but the rules aren't clearly stated
Nothing's really different, 'cos all government's the same
They can call it freedom, but slavery's the game