What is anarchism?

Anarchism is a political philosophy opposed to all forms of oppression, domination, and exploitation. In particular, it proposes the abolition of capitalism and the state, and the creation of a society of free individuals, interacting on the basis of perfect equality, for the benefit of all.

There have been numerous varieties of anarchism, including individualist, syndicalist, communist, feminist, insurrectionist, anti-civilization, and pacifist strands. Many of these tendencies are mutually incompatible, but they all share the opposition to hierarchy in any form.

27 responses to “What is anarchism?

  1. Much of that does sound like the Communist mantra (from each according to their ability, to each according to their need, while the ‘state’ will eventually wither away and be replaced by the proletariat–we saw ample examples of just how much withering went on during the cold war years) I heard so often growing up. Yet some anarchist claim communist anarchism is an oxymoron. I dunno–sounds like a lot of what I hear going around. And isn’t government (or democracies) established by the people to prevent force & fraud and provide for the national defense along the lines of the utopian creed stated above? Some anarchists even revile the term ‘political’, and I don’t know that they’re wrong since I suspect a revolution needs to occur in the minds and hearts of the people before there can ever be a lasting political/structural one. As terrible as ‘corruption’ in government is, the corruption within the people themselves is equally terrifying and was the subject of considerable concern by some of our founding fathers such as Franklin. (“A republic, madam…if you can keep it!” -Ben Franklin-)

  2. What is the opinion of the anarchism movement on “illegal” immigration. I ask because 2 months ago, my husband, who has not had any kind of run-in with the law in about a decade, was picked up at our HOME by ICE. My belief is that a vindictive former friend turned him in. He has been deported 3 times previously, but in reality has lived in the US since he was 7. I am fighting with everything i have to keep him here with me. He worked at jobs and had taxes deducted as well as child support. He will never see the benefits of the Social Security taxes he has paid into for decades, yet despite this, our awesome society views this hard-working, decent man as a criminal and want to send him back to a country he does not even really know anymore. I have never been so terrified in my life. The system of detention in this country is actually not in keeping with the International Human Rights standards and the fact that a non-violent, no flight-risk individual cannot be granted bond or community supervision due to a drug-related felony he committed 20 years ago blows my mind. The only thing I can now do is learn everything I can about the system, work with his attorneys and volunteer to help other undocumented immigrants via the NWIRP. I am angry at the “system”. I am completely over how human beings who are simply looking for a better life are treated in this country. I know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this fine nation that disagree with me, but when something like this becomes personal it is an eye-opener!
    Thank you for your time. Viva la libertad

    • Anarchy and equality go hand in hand, if you meet an “anarchist” that suggests someone is illegal, well then they probably aren’t an actually an anarchist. Speaking for myself and others I’ve met, we think “illegal immigration” is nonsense. Nobody is illegal. It’s most often just perpetuated by racism. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband. So many people are deported every day for absolutely nothing. In my dreams, there are no borders, no nations. Everyone would be free.

      Best of luck to you and your husband.

      • Thank you for your response. The despair I feel over this situation has led me to rethink a lot of my old political views and beliefs. It has mobilized me volunteer for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in any small way that I can. Detention is hard on immigrant detainee’s psyche and a large percentage of them are not lucky enough to be able to afford attorneys. Many just give up and are deported. Families are destroyed daily. It is heartbreaking and there are so many stories like this. Thank you for the good wishes and your time! I just want my husband to be free to live his life in the only country he has ever really known.

    • You should not feel alone. Many people all across the country are fighting the same battle you are involved in. My daughter recently wrote a book on the subject ” Immigration Nation”. It is in most libraries. She teaches at UC-Merced. I am not sure where you are located. Her email is tgolash-boza@ucmerced.edu. She knows people all across the country who are involved in the struggle. Obama and Romney have made many promises and told many lies about immigrants. They cannot be counted on in this fight. Smash all borders!


      • Thank you Mike, we’re on 98 days of immigration detention and counting. Juan is really struggling with trying not to just give up and let them deport him. At this point, he stays in the fight for me and his elderly mother. The saddest moment was tonight when I went to visit her in the hospital ICU (she had surgery and is having some complications) and she said “where is Juan?” I had to remind her that her only son is locked away by a country she has lived in and believed in since 1981. I have no faith in either presidential candidate at all. They are self-serving and will pander to whoever will get them further along in their goals. Thanks again for showing interest!
        Viva la libertad (well onhly if you’re not an undocumented immigrant in the US)!

  3. Immigration is a many pointed star–essentially a ‘legal’ problem that anarchists won’t be able to help/resolve pending the ‘withering away’ of the state. So you’re on the right/immediate track when you volunteer in the Immigrant Rights Project. Heck, they can’t even keep themselves out of jail (Matt, et ux), so they’re not going to be able to help you much other than, perhaps, emotionally.

    Everything you’ve said is true, but realize in a world of 7 billion, some argue we must be able to control our borders. Anarchists don’t believe in borders, but as you’ve seen, they exist. It is what it is. So the question remains, do you want to remain in an oppressive system, or do you want to seek a space where you and your family can live without that oppression? There’s no easy answer to that dilemma.

    My own, practical thoughts are mixed, but (for what it’s worth) I believe U.S. Citizens actually NEED a young hard working immigrant population that contributes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare–all anathema to anarchists because these are *government* programs. Still, tens of millions of seniors and retirees rely on them. The programs are going broke because there are too many beneficiaries and insufficient contributors. The immigrant population helps stem the red ink, but in a spasm of schizoid hysteria, they are targeted by a nation which manages by crisis. Many blue collar workers see immigrants as a threat to their jobs/wages. Yet truly enlightened self interest along the lines of responsible social financial stability dictates a new paradigm. We cannot maintain the existing structure based on an aging population with too few contributing workers. Ayn Rand (“…the disabled should rely on charity.”) wouldn’t have a philosophical problem with the collapse of social security and medicare, but the material reality would be a disaster.

    My advice is to seek legal (ugh!–lawyers) assistance and to form bonds with sympaticos in your community. The ugly truth is we have a fence on our southern border to keep out immigrants. That should tell you something, right there, about the country you’ve chosen to live in. Having elected to do so, you’ve nothing left but to make the most of it. Best of luck!

  4. What is “perfect equality” if there aren’t any democratically determined laws that prevent people from infringing on each others’ rights?

  5. Borders are imaginary things, just like money and government are imaginary things. We’ve been completely convinced that we need them, however, there is no evidence whatsoever supporting that claim. Just endless fear-mongering and brainwashing. Such silly mantras as: “Oh, people NEED government or the world will collapse into chaos,” which has been repeated so many times by so many sources, that whenever you mention ‘anarchy’ to someone, they immediately say, ‘but isn’t that just chaos?’ It’s the way anarchy is represented in movies, literature, television, news media, etc. Yet, all anarchy really is, is a mindset saying, ‘listen, we, as people, do not require controls set forth by monies, borders, governments, police, religion and others.’ I see it as merely a form of self-regulation. The people who say that we need leaders and we need controls simply do not acknowledge that people are quite capable of caring for themselves. Until we break free from this submissive-dominant relationship, I’m afraid we’ll never really understand true freedom.

  6. I am a 63 year old anarchist. I have considered myself an anarchist since 1969, and I have written extensively on the subject of anarchism, helping to found the anarchist journal The Match in 1969. Although many regard anarchism as a utopian movement, a powerful case can be made that any society in which government ceases to exist is necessarily less violent and less unjust than a world in which governments reign. Virtually all of the principal crimes of history have been committed by governments of one form or another. It has been estimated that in the twentieth century alone, one billion persons were systematically murdered by governments in pogorms, ethnic cleansings, and purges of various kinds — this is in addition to, and does not include casualties of war. It is almost inconceivable that any random acts of violence committed by individuals could rival the wholesale carnage wrought by governments, and yet we continue to hear that government is “necessary” to protect us from marauding thugs. Wake up! There is no band of marauding thugs more dangerous than an army, or more vicious than a squadron of police. Government is little more than morality-at-gunpoint, the erroneous belief that people are by nature wicked and must therefore be governed. But this view ignores the fact that governments themselves are comprised of people. And we have seen, time and again, that the kinds of people attracted to government power are precisely the psychopaths and sociopaths who pose the greatest danger to a peaceful society. In establishing governments, we arm these sick murderers with the very tools they employ in our enslavement and torture. No, anarchists do not really believe that a society without government will be free of violence and wrongdoing. But a society without government will at least be free of INSTITUTIONALIZED violence and wrongdoing, and in the absence of laws, jails, judges, cops and presecutors, the great masses of people will have the only possible incentive to behave. Coercion and compulsion to do make men good. Only freedom can nurture goodness and morality, and it is precisely this state of freedom we aim to inaugurate.

    • My problem with anarchism is that it seems fixated on the potential for organized violence and injustice. I am willing to concede that the potential for organized violence and injustice exists in any government, but concluding therefore that “organization” in general should be thrown away is absurd. Yes, you defeat the possibility of organized violence, but in so doing you also dispense with organized protection of rights, organized cooperation, and any other global good begotten by organization (which includes things like penicillin and the computer on which you are typing). And if you abolish government, but then create some “other” institution of organization, all you have done is create a government by another name.

      And anyway, if you don’t believe in organized efforts for the good of the people (i.e. government), how do you divest a government of its authority over you? If you have no authority figures that maintain a common sense of the good, how do you prevent your neighbors from forming a government of their own? Any effort to organize a defense against such a nationalism from developing is itself a government by another name, albeit a minimalistic one.

      It seems to me, if you call yourself an anarchist, you have achieved 100% of your stated goals, because if you conclude “organization is bad” you have already surrendered any means to prevent others from holding a gun to your head and making you do what they want you to do (which is exactly what you say government does).

      • Anarchists aren’t against organization, we are against hierarchy – social relations of command and obedience. As everyone who has spent any time reading anarchist theory knows, most anarchists favor organization but want organizations based on consensus and/or direct democracy – not an organization in which one group makes the decisions and another group follows orders.

        Government is not synonymous with organization; there are many organizations which are not governments. As introductory sociology literally says, government (also called the state) is an organization which asserts a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Organizations that do not attempt to monopolize violence are not states.

        You should read the links on introductions to anarchism posted earlier. These topics have been covered quite extensively by anarchist writers.

      • joe112, So anarchism is okay with organization, it just requires direct-election (or some other form of consensus making) and it can include figures of authority? Then as far as I can tell from your discussion, an anarchist is not against the establishment government, per se (you anticipate and avoid this conclusion by suggesting that the definition of government is necessarily about the right to commit violence; though government often includes this assumption about appointing “just violence”, it is not “literally” the definition by any means). This is so because an organization could exist that consists of direct-election decision-making and which has no authority figures, but whose raison d’etre was for making all the regional decisions for a defined region. Again, you insist (for arbitrary reasons) on saying that such an organization would not be a state, but it is a state.

        So is my assessment correct? Can anarchists establish a state so long as it makes decisions solely by direct-election and has no authority figures? If I am wrong, why am I wrong?

      • Initially, I meant to say “anarchism is okay with organization… so long as it doesn’t include figures of authority?”.

      • Walt Duncan your desire to impose definitions and ways of thought on other people is authoritarian and simplistic. You are free to argue semantics online but I think it is a misuse of the privilege of being educated and computer-literate.

        In general, any essentialist argument (“people using arbitrary state behaviors are a state”) is based on authoritarian thought patterns. Who established the definition of “state” that you argue? What authority will recognize that your point is correct?

        Please consider how privileged you are to articulate your arguments on a computer and whether your argumentation challenges the bad in the world, or sustains it.

      • portlandprose, perhaps I did go too far to suggest that even what an anarchist wants is a state. But I am trying to parse out the difference between what I practice and what a person values when she calls herself an “anarchist”.

        That said, you can’t couch the blame exclusively on me simply because I insist on naming a definition of what it is that you think is so evil. You can’t just blame me, because you too are assuming some definition of the term “state”. I mean, I could just as easily say “no, the United States of America is not a state, so I don’t believe in any state either.” If you insist on calling a state evil, you appeal no less to an authoritarian source in defining “state” than do I. And just because you insist on being vague as to what authority it is that you are appealing, that does not mean that you are avoiding appealing to such an authority.

        I am sorry, but semantics do matter. I am not so egotistical as to simply say that “I oppose evil”, and thereby completely ignore what that opposition entails. Is it all states you oppose, or just violent ones? The answer to this matters. If all you oppose is violence, that makes you pacifist, not an anarchist. I am sorry that you think I am authoritarian or arrogant because I insist on applying these labels consistently, but if you want to label yourself anything, be it “anarchist” or whatever, we need to agree on what that means. We have to agree on the semantics, so as to coordinate the pragmatics.

        And I find it laughable that you should point a finger at me to suggest that it is I who should be mindful of my privileges. I am mindful of them. I am also mindful of what beget them. Capitalism and globalization beget this computer on which I type, as well as the internet that is piping my sentences to your computer screen. Perhaps you are right, and the violence that these institutions create aren’t worth all the goods like technology and medicine they create, but this discussion would not exist without these institutions. You could not criticize them as effectively as you do if they did not exist.

  7. I’m wondering if someone can address two questions I have:

    1. What is voluntaryism, and what is its connection with anarchism?
    2. Your page advocates for the abolition of capitalism, therefore do you believe anarcho-capitalism to be a contradiction in terms?

    • Re question 2, absolutely.
      There is a lot anarchists don’t agree about. But the one thing almost all of them agree on is that ‘anarcho-capitalist’ is an oxymoron. At the last international gathering of anarchists, the self-proclaimed ‘anarcho-capitalists’ were laughed out of the building.

      • Is this because there would be no state to enforce property rights, or for some other reason? In the same vein, how do, say, anarcho-syndicalists believe that a democratic society run by the workers can exist without a state?

      • No, it’s because by its’ very nature, capitalism creates inequality and power imbalances.
        Re anarcho-syndicalists, I suggest you read the books more, particularly “Demanding the Impossible”

  8. It is disturbing how many times I have been encountered with the notion that somehow I should have outgrown anarchism. Back in the 80s, it seems, a lot of youngsters got it out of their systems in the mosh pits across America. I would venture to say that when I see what some former fellow moshers are now posting on social media, phrases like “cult of personality” come to mind. Psychological validation is based on a lot of illusions and a few truths…
    There are no winners in a macho pissing contest, just everything covered in piss.

  9. Yes, anarchists are okay with organization so long as its voluntary, non-hierarchical, and does not attempt to monopolize violence. Making all the decisions in a region is an impractical goal for any organization, state or otherwise. There are far too many decisions, many of them mundane, for a single organization to make them all. For example, having a single organization decide when everyone goes to the bathroom, eats a meal, what they wear, etc. would quickly get bogged down in so many details that it would be unworkable.

    States are organizations that attempt to maintain a monopoly on violence. This is not arbitrary, it is the definition used by social scientists and provided in introductory sociology textbooks. All actually existing states conform to this definition. Equating all organizations with states is overly broad. That would mean student groups, churches, corporations, cooperatives, labor unions, book clubs, and non-profits are all states. There is a difference between an organization with a monopoly of violence and an organization that does not attempt to maintain a monopoly of violence. By calling them the same thing you imply they are the same when there are actually differences between them.

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