Counter to how it is portrayed, Anarchism is not chaos. Anarchism has, in fact, a very specific order: that of smaller groups federating voluntarily and for reasons of mutual advantage to form larger groups. In turn, these groups join still larger federations– the overall system ultimately looking somewhat like a traditional wedding cake.
The base of the cake is composed of the Free Individuals. They join nothing they do not wish to join. Naturally enough, individuals will want to join together for mutual benefit, and they will form Voluntary Associations for specific purposes. These Voluntary Associations will in turn discover advantages in federating together with other Associations for certain tasks and will form Autonomous Communes.
Besides the Free Individual, himself, the Commune is the most important building block of the Anarchic Pyramid. The Commune is large enough to accrue many of the benefits of shared labor and ideas, but still small enough for everyone to contribute directly.
And so it goes on up the Pyramid Of Federations: all associations always voluntary, and the right to secede at any time always guaranteed. Autonomous Communes form Provinces, these go on to form Regions, Nations, and at the very top (and doing the LEAST)– the Universal Federation Of Peoples, which in Bakunin’s vision, would “eventually embrace the entire world.”
As you can see, Anarchism is not a synonym for disorder at all. Actually, the antithesis of Anarchism is not order but centralization.
Bakunin felt that centralized governments are inherently evil. “Despotism,” he says in The Revolutionary Catechism, “has its source much more in the centralized organization of State than in the despotic nature of kings.”
Bakunin believed that the States of Europe have been “founded from top to bottom on violence and the principle of authority” and that “all States were established by conquest and violence.”
He sees States as creating artificial divisions in humanity and pitting one group against another, the members of each State hoping to take advantage of the people in the other states, and each country locked “into a self-made fortress” attempting to find “its glory and prosperity in the evil it can do to other countries.” In this way, every centralized State “stands as an absolute negation of the rights of all other States.” Coming back to the same point in Federalism, Socialism, And Anti-Theologism, he states, “the State therefore is the most flagrant, the most cynical, and the most complete negation of humanity.”
Not only does international human solidarity suffer under the division of a world divided into centralized States, but the domestic inhabitants also suffer since the resources of the State are placed on such antagonistic footing. “A country bent on conquest,” says Bakunin, “is necessarily a country internally enslaved.”
Because Bakunin believed the modern State to be fundamentally biased against human freedom and solidarity, he had little patience with people too puffed up with a narrow patriotism– those who go around demanding sacrifice to the fatherland. A man who is “always willing to sacrifice his own liberty,” he says, “will willingly sacrifice the liberty of others.”
While acknowledging the differences in nationalities in Federalism, Socialism, and Anti-Theologism, Bakunin believed that too much prejudice in favor of one’s own ethnic group demonstrates an “exclusionist tendency” that separates man from mankind.
He imagined a more united, enlightened, and less paranoid world where the “abolition of of frontiers, passports, and customs duties” would be a reality. He thought that in a better world, acquiring multiple citizenship (or the future equivalent) would be an easy thing to do.
For freedom to truly prevail for all peoples and classes, Bakunin insisted that a total Revolution was required, that society and government “must be reorganized to issue from the base the summit”– not from the top down as they do today.
The centralized State must be absolutely dismantled. And when Bakunin says absolutely dismantled, he means a central government liquidation in which EVERYTHING must go: centralized bureaucracy, national courts and legal codes, nationalized home troops, standing armies, and nationally controlled schools.
At this point, the fear factor will often creep into people’s minds: Get rid of police? Schools? You’re crazy!
But those who say this have missed the point. Many of these things will still exist (if the Free Individuals desire them to), but they will be carried out under more locally controlled groups such as neighborhoods or Communes or Associations.
Education, for example, would still be provided in an Anarchic system– but controlled at the local level. “Since the very future of the Commune itself depends on the intellectual and moral training it gives to the children,” Bakunin says in The Revolutionary Catechism, “the Commune must be the tutor.”
And there are still rules and judges in an Anarchist society, but the judges who help society navigate the laws will be elected by the people.
Bakunin did not believe that merely making a large government subject to democratic elections would alleviate the problems associated with over-centralization. A person “must live in a dream world” if he thinks that the average man has the time and material means to “effectively exercise political liberty,” said Bakunin.
Bakunin considered national referendums to be frauds– with measures advanced by interested parties that the average person does not have the time or background to adequately study.
Bakunin also felt that no single person or group is competent to rule over other people’s lives in a wide variety of fields– there’s just too much detail to grapple with. He admits that there are people with natural authority in their fields– people with great minds or hearts or special knowledge or experience; but their advice and influence should be “natural and legitimate” as well as “freely accepted and never imposed.”
The rules governing an Anarchist society would include:
1) no theft
2) no inflicting bodily harm
3) no violating another person’s freedoms
4) no violation of voluntary contracts
But now we come, as far as I’m concerned, to the first real “shocker” of Anarchistic thought: criminal penalties. Under an Anarchist society, the primary mode of dealing with those who break the code of conduct is not prison but excommunication. Society would refuse to guarantee the civil rights of lawbreakers.
For example, no agreement made with a lawbreaker would be regarded as binding, meaning that no contract the lawbreaker is a party to will be enforced on their behalf.
Basically, criminals become truly “outlaws” under Anarchism– that is, they are forced as penalty for their actions to live outside the protection of the law which they have voluntarily chosen to reject. The idea of banishment from society is actually an ancient idea, and was frequently, for instance, the way in which pre-Columbian North American Indians dealt with trouble-makers in their own societies.
Free Individuals in an Anarchic society would be able to form any association they wanted to– an absolute right. This includes organizations formed for religious or political purposes– even associations formed for purposes that other citizens may consider immoral– as long as their activities do not violate the freedoms of the other Free Individuals.
The main political goal of Anarchism is Liberty, and by this, Bakunin says, “I mean the only Liberty worthy of the name, the Liberty which implies the full development of all the material, intellectual, and moral capacities latent in every one of us.” As he says later in life, “there can be nothing living or human outside of Liberty.”
I’ll talk about the Economic side of Anarchism in the next post.