The Accidental Anarchist

This essay has been paraphrased from Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings by Peter Kropotkin. This way, I hope, I would understand the finer nuances of anarchist thoughts while editing the atrociously-composed article!

Check the original text

The headline is inspired by The Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo, the Italian Nobel laureate


Anarchism is derived from two German words -- ‘an’ and ‘archos’ -- which literally mean, contrary or opposed to authority. That free agreements between the people, independently constituted for the sake of production and consumption can form a society is one of the major tenets of this thought. A society can be conceived without government; and, the voluntary associations to meet the needs and aspirations of a civilized being are more significant than the state.

How can such an affiliation execute its obligation? It would be an extension of the individuals to substitute themselves for the state in all its functions. Comprising a myriad network of groups plus federations and ranging their reach from the local level to the international stage, these associations have a multi-tasking responsibility: communications, education, mutual protection, defence of the territory et al, as well as to meet the scientific, artistic, literary and other social needs.

As there will be no shackle of Volkstaat, the popular state -- and its servility and the inertia of mind of so many people -- an individual would get his full potential to be utilised at free will. Subsequently, he would be able to reach full individualisation that may not be possible even under the modern system of individualism.

IMG: Anonymous ART of Revolution

A new world order of shared economy
The anarchists have decisive lines of thought on economic activities. Their beliefs are the service for all and the general well being. Here they share a common ideology, with the socialists, in condemning private ownership and the capitalist production that exist for the sake of profit. They view that capitalism dictates utility and represents a monopoly, which acts against the principle of justice. Besides, the capitalists’ wage and production system is an obstacle to progress and it prevents modern technology to benefit mankind.

But more detrimental than capitalism is the main antagonist: the state, whether it is a monarchy or a republic. The state is the power that authorises the few capitalists to dominate, monopolise the resources and seize the surplus production. So the state is resisted with the same energy that it endorses the private ownership. Moreover, a new instrument of tyranny is created when the main sources of economical life are handed over to the state. It is noted: “True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both ‘territorial’ and ‘functional’, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound, in lieu of the present hierarchy from the centre to the periphery.”

The man who sold the government
Proudhon was the first theorist to use the term ‘anarchy’. In his 1840 memoir, ‘Qu'est-ce que la propriete’, he mentioned the state of society with no government and renounced all schemes of communism as well as the state plus state-aided socialism. It was also here that he professed ‘property is theft,’ albeit he meant it in another way. Property, in those days, was understood in the sense of right to use and abuse according to the Roman law. This reason was taken in the limited sense of possession, so Proudhon saw that the best protection was against the encroachment of the state.

Meanwhile, he did not want the landowners and capitalists to be dispossessed violently. He wanted a system, which he called ‘Mutuellisme’, where the exchange of services would be strictly equivalent and the capital be rendered incapable of earning interest. Subsequently, he advocated a national bank that would be based on mutual confidence. The stake holders would be those people who participated in production and exchanged among themselves their produce at cost value, by means of labour cheques. (These cheques represent the hours of labour required to produce every given commodity.)

It is further added: “Such a bank would be enabled to lend money without interest, levying only something like 1 per cent, or even less, for covering the cost of administration. Everyone being thus enabled to borrow the money that would be required to buy a house, nobody would agree to pay any more a yearly rent for the use of it. A general ‘social liquidation’ would thus be rendered easy, without violent expropriation. The same applied to mines, railways, factories and so on.”

In such a society, free agreement would determine the relationship between the citizens, a mere account keeping process would regulate it and arbitration would settle any contests. Precisely, the state would be useless. The above mentioned cases were some of Proudhon’s main works, which were marked by a deep insight into economic problems plus a profound criticism of the state and government.

The A-team
The significance of anarchism finds its fullest expression with the contribution of other thinkers. One of them was Max Stimer, the German philosopher, who advocated the full liberation of the individual from all social and moral bonds -- the rehabilitation of the ‘I’, the supremacy of the individual, complete ‘amoralism’, and the ‘association of the egotists’. Earlier, he had urged a complete revolt against the state and against the servitude which authoritarian communism would impose upon men.

However, Stimer’s views on individual anarchism had a shortcoming. It was seen that the aim of all superior civilization is, not to permit ‘all’ members of the community to develop in a normal way, but to permit certain better endowed individuals 'fully to develop', even at the cost of the happiness and the very existence of the mass of mankind. It is thus a return towards the most common individualism, advocated by all the would-be superior minorities. This is why this direction of thought, notwithstanding its undoubtedly correct and useful advocacy of the full development of individuality, finds a hearing only in limited artistic and literary circles.

IMG: Anonymous ART of Revolution

Soon Bakunin arrived on the scene, and became a pioneer in professing anarchism. He demanded a complete abolition of the state, observing that a state is a product of religion, belongs to a lower state of civilisation, represents the negation of liberty and spoils the very thing that it takes in charge for the general well being. He also viewed that the state was a historically necessary evil and it is equally necessary for its complete extinction. He rejected all legislation, claiming for each nation, region and commune full autonomy as long as it is not a menace to the neighbours. He had also claimed full independence for the individual, adding that one becomes really free only as and when others are also free. Lastly, he said free federations of the communes would constitute free nations.

Regarding economic activities, Bakunin described himself as a collectivist anarchist. He expressed a state of things in which all necessaries for production are owned in common by the labour groups and the free communes, while the ways of retribution of labour, communist or otherwise, would be settled by each group for itself. Social revolution, the near approach of which was foretold at that time by all socialists, would be the means of bringing into life the new conditions.

In America, Benjamin R Tucker occupied a prominent position among the individual anarchists around the 1880s. He started the ‘Liberty’ journal, which had an ideology that combines those of Proudhon and Herbert Spencer. He viewed the powers of an individual will be limited by the exercise of the equal rights of others. He also had a unique moral law of anarchism: Mind every one your own business.

Following H Spencer, Tucker further indicated that there is a difference between the encroachment on somebody's rights and resistance to such an encroachment; and between domination and defence: the former being equally condemnable, whether it be encroachment of a criminal upon an individual, or the encroachment of one upon all others, or of all others upon one; while resistance to encroachment is defensible and necessary. For their self-defence, both the citizen and the group have the right to any violence, including capital punishment. Violence is also justified for enforcing the duty of keeping an agreement.

The individualist anarchism of the American Proudhonians finds but little sympathy among the working masses. The great bulk of the anarchist working men prefer the anarchist-communist ideas, which have gradually evolved out of the anarchist collectivism of the International Working Men's Association. A number of anarchists of this direction have joined the so-called syndicalist movement - the French name for the non-political labour movement, devoted to direct struggle with capitalism, which has lately become so prominent in Europe.

Conforming to new ideas
As regards the substance of anarchism itself, it was Kropotkin's aim to prove that communism at least partial - has more chances of being established than collectivism, especially in communes taking the lead, and that free, or anarchist-communism is the only form of communism that has any chance of being accepted in civilized societies. Therefore, communism and anarchy are two terms of evolution which compete each other, the one rendering the other possible and acceptable.

Kropotkin tried to indicate how a large city could organize itself on the lines of free communism if its inhabitants have accepted the idea during a revolutionary period. It should be when the city guarantees to every inhabitant a good life.

It would be impossible to represent here, in a short sketch, the penetration of anarchist ideas into modern literature. Take some of these titles: J.S. Mill's "Liberty", Spencer's "Individual versus the State", Marc Guyau's "Morality without Obligation or Sanction", Richard Wagner's "Art and Revolution", the works of Nietzsche, Emerson, W. Lloyd Garrison, Thoreau, Alexander Herzen, Edward Carpenter and so on. In the domain of fiction, the dramas of Ibsen, the poetry of Walt Whitman, Tolstoy's "War and Peace", Zola's "Paris" and "Le Travail" -- literature is full of ideas, which show how closely anarchism is interwoven with the work that is going on in modern thought in the same direction of enfranchisement of man from the bonds of the state as well as from those of capitalism.

For more information, you can read The intentional birth of an anarchist



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