You Mean There’s More Than ONE Anarchism?



While reading Guerin’s No Gods No Masters, I attempted to keep notes on the several different (and apparently overlapping) ideas on what “Anarchism” means.  Below I list my own mental groupings of Anarchists, but it is certainly not the only way to organize this particular herd of cats…

There are Revolutionary Anarchists who believe the political revolution must precede the social revolution.  In other words, they believe that most people aren’t really ready for Anarchism yet, but the current power system sure as hell ain’t gonna train them for it.  So an advance guard of (preferably professional) revolutionaries must work to seize power in order that the necessary reforms can begin to be implemented which will prepare the masses for the freedoms and responsibilities of non-Statism.  Revolutionary Anarchists thus commonly have an Authoritarian streak [see below].

Authoritarian Anarchists (as oxymoronic as that may sound) would never think of themselves as Authoritarian… and yet they stand in favor of measures which presume some sort of centralized power if these measures were ever to be actually maintained in the real world.  These types of Anarchists have a strong predeliction for socialistic or communistic measures, such as the centralized setting of prices and even the distribution of housing.  Authoritarian Anarchists tend to be very concerned with economic liberty, maintaining that there is no real political liberty without it.    Anarchist Cesar de Paepe pointed out that a national federation of local communes (favored by many of the same revolutionaries who clamor against the existence of any centralized government) would basically BE a State (a centralized government) by another name… And there’s nothing wrong with that, he said… Things such as transportation and mail delivery will need to be coordinated at a larger level than the local free commune.

Anarcho-Syndicalists appear to me to be the only truly active Anarchists still around.  Their philosophy (as is so true for most Anarchistic philosophy) is painted in very broad strokes, but it appears that most Anarcho-Syndicalists envision a world organized politically and economically around federations of voluntarily cooperating, local workers’ unions. The need for “the State” (an organization based on its possession of insurmountable force) would cease to exist (or at least nearly cease to exist).  All the economic and political power would be invested in these unions of workers.  It sounds as if Anarcho-Syndicalists could be argued to make (in one area of their beliefs) strange bedfellows with… ultra-conservatives, who believe that many functions currently carried out by the government could be best handled by private enterprise.

Moving along, there are Collectivist Anarchists who believe that a society’s means of production should be held “in common,” but that the distribution of goods produced from these shared means should be left more or less to the labor market and free exchange.  How the “means of production” are to be “held in common” (and what qualifies as “means of production”) would need to be worked-out if such a system were to be implemented.  One of the greatest Anarchist thinkers, Pyotr Kropotkin, claimed that Capital is “the common inheritance of humanity” and thus, “ought to be accessible to all”– and, by the way, the man makes a very good argument, well worth reading.

There are also outright Communist Anarchists who believe in the common ownership of means of production AND in a community-dictated scheme of “fair” distribution.  Some Communists would maintain that products should be distributed “to each according to his need,” without regard to a person’s contribution to production.

Like the Authoritarian Anarchists, both Communists and Collectivists are greatly motivated by ideas of economic “fairness.”  And again, I feel that in the real world, it’s difficult to imagine such proposed systems being maintained without some sort of coercion (by some State or State-like entity).

There are also Anarchists who believe in Free Love, Anarchists who wish to do away with all laws, Anarchists who believe there exists no universal moral precepts but that each person should live the lifestyle which seems best to him.  “One ought to behave immorally if one wishes to behave as an individual,” wrote Max Stirner, adding that “it is precisely individuality that society targets and means to subject to its power.”  Although Stirner in some places sounds as if he’s against ANY behavior-curbing laws, he sometimes seems open to having a few rules around, as when he states… “there is a difference between a society that curtails my freedom and a society that curtails my individuality.”

Emile Henry, and many free-thinkers of his day (and of this), considered the institution of marriage not only tres bourgeois, but a dual instrument of oppression… the oppression of the woman by the man, and the oppression of the children by the parents.  Why should “two creatures who happen to have been in love for a moment,” ponders Henry, “bind themselves one to the other until the end of their days”?  Other Anarchists have voiced the opinion that children are not the property of parents, but belong  –as much as any human being can be said to “belong” to anyone– to society.

In contradiction to the “Stirner”-type of Anarchist who believes (or claims to believe) in no general morality… there are also Anarchists who believe in fundamental rules of behavior which must be followed by a civilized society, but that these basic rules are not to be enforced by the State, but through peer pressure and, sometimes, Vigilante Justice.  These Anarchists contend that the mechanism for ensuring proper behavior should not come in the form of police power and criminal punishment, but in the form of social norms (this of course assumes a valid group morality)– and these norms should be enforced via shamings, peer pressure, and the threat of being outcast… or even (for Anarchists not opposed to violence per se) the risk of being seized and physically and/or materially punished by disapproving neighbors (aka a posse or a vigilante mob).


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