Today, people play at Anarchism. A few alienated youths or rebellious spirits like to toss the word around, or perhaps they toy with its concepts from time to time. And I’ve even heard of a politician or two claiming to hold Anarchic beliefs (although, personally, I can’t condone anyone calling themselves an “Anarchist” who is in –or desiring to be in– any government which currently holds sway in this world). But the true Anarchist is a member of an endangered species. This is sad. For as crazy as were the Utopian, castles-in-the-sky dreams of the Anarchists… I feel the world loses something vital every day there is not some zany out there telling us that we can do better.
Once upon time there was a Golden Age of Anarchism. It lasted less than a hundred years. From about the mid 1800s until, I’d say, the end of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. After the Spanish Civil War (overlapping with the years of the Great Depression), the world launched into WWII, and after that catastrophe, there were but two dominating ideologies left to do battle for the remainder of the 20th century… both anathema to any self-respecting Anarchist… Centralized Communism or Centralized Capitalism.
Why did Anarchism die? I’d say it was from loss of blood. And the “blood” of which I speak is that which throbs through the veins of any group of intrepid, open-minded people. But after suffering through two World Wars, the people of this planet were drained of all hot-bloodedness. And no true revolution can come from an exhausted people… a starving people, yes… a downtrodden people, yes… but an utterly exhausted people?… no. Sure, the IDEA of revolution was still there, but scrapping the current system and reinventing a better one from the ground up just sounded like too much work. In fact, it sounded like more than work. It sounded risky. And after the bloodbaths of the two big wars, who can blame people for just wanting to live their lives away from the cliff-edge for a while? So, instead of true social revolution from the ground up, people opted to have their revolution spoonfed slowly to them by their existing government… much as a child might look to his mother to cut up his steak into bite-sized pieces before he eats it.
However, as any student of history can tell you, a revolution handed down by government is no true revolution. For a true revolution to occur, the people—the vast majority of them at least– must hunger for it from the bottom of their hearts. In the early 20th century, the Russians attempted to have a political revolution before the population was prepared for the requisite and accompanying social revolution… but ultimately, as with most top-down revolutions, the attempt failed.
As Proudhon wisely stated… “The social revolution is seriously compromised if it is delivered by political revolution.”
Continues Proudhon… “Any revolution, to be effective, must be spontaneous and emanate– not from the heads of the authorities– but from the bowels of the people.” […] “Government is reactionary, not revolutionary.”
And it was Kropotkin who warned against sitting back and allowing the government to take care of coming up with and implementing real reform… “It would be a profound error to wait for any government to do it,” he wrote. “For history teaches us that governments, even when have emerged from the revolution, have never done anything other than give legal sanction to accomplished revolutionary facts, and indeed, that the people had to wage a protracted battle with these governments in order to wrest from them assent for the revolutionary measures for which it had been calling loudly over periods of restlessness.”
The 20th century tip-toed toward fundamental change—and then backslid. The world still sets upon its revolutionary egg… But it’s a slow hatch. And yet, as Malatesta and his comrades stated in the 1915 Anarchist manifesto… “War is permanently incubating.”
For the Anarchists of 1915, a revolutionary war against the modern State system is inevitable; it is… “the natural consequence –and necessary, inescapable destiny– of a regime founded upon the economic inequality of its citizens, relying on the unbridled clash of interests and placing the world of labor under the narrow, painful oversight of a minority of parasites.”
Still today, we would be acting only honorably if we were to take every young soldier aside and explain to him how his actions– though springing from so noble a heart and with such valorous intentions– actually serve only to perpetuate the current world order. The 1915 Anarchists thought those enlightened with true political wisdom owed it to themselves and the younger generation to warn each soldier who thinks “that he is fighting for justice and freedom;” the young soldiers must be told the hard truth… that “their heroism and their valor will serve only to perpetuate hatred, tyranny, and misery.”
The 20th century may not be the last age of revolutionary backsliding, but the waters of discontent are rising, rising steadily. And as James Guillaume put it… “The waters rise slowly and by degrees: but once they have reached the desired level, the collapse is sudden, and the dam crumbles in the blinking of an eye.”