Anarchism is the political theory that advocates the abolition of all forms of government. The word anarchism derives from Greek roots an (no) and archos (ruler).
Different groups have radically different understandings of what the abolition of governments would entail: "Libertarian socialists" are convinced it means a collectivist economy; "anarcho-capitalists" are convinced it means capitalism; "individualist anarchists" don't know or don't care as much about such issues, but insist above all on individual freedom from state.
This theory of anarchism calls for a system of socialism, notably with collective ownership of means of production, without the need for any government authority or coercion.
Adherents of this view sometimes call themselves 'libertarian socialists' or 'left anarchists', to distinguish themselves from anarcho-capitalists. However, the mere word 'anarchist' popularly denote this brand of anarchists.
Libertarian socialism traces its tradition back to the eighteenth (can anyone give any reference???) and nineteenth centuries (see Proudhon, Kropotkin, Bakunin, etc.).
Few left-anarchists are actually violent, but throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, the violent kind has made "anarchism" famous as an ideology justifying murder and bombing. Most left-anarchists are not immediately violent, although many advocate a future revolution. The position of left-anarchists regarding violence, what legitimizes it or not, and how can justice exist with or without violence is not clear, though.
The theory of anarchism, based on individualism and natural law, calls for the abolition of any government control or regulation, and promotes capitalist private businesses to replace all of current government's activities.
Adherents of this theory of anarchism call themselves 'anarcho-capitalists'.
Anarcho-capitalism has existed in its modern form at least since Gustave de Molinari in the 1840s, but has mostly been flourishing since it organized in the 1950s in the USA. Anarcho-capitalists consider themselves as radical members of the classical liberal tradition ('libertarianism' as it is now called in the USA), and trace their explicit roots back to Locke and the seventeenth century english Whigs. All classical liberals believe in 'as little government as possible'; anarchists among them believe governments can and must be done without completely, whereas minarchists believe or accept that some government be necessary for e.g. enforcing law and order.
Anarcho-capitalists, like classical liberals in general, tend to loathe violent action and revolutions as a "normal" way to promote or impose their views, even in presence of governments they hate. However, they do support, e.g. the american revolution, that precisely consisted in individuals sharing common views fighting together, against people trying to impose their views on them.
There are several anarchist thinkers, such as Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner and Max Stirner which are known as individualist anarchists. Beyond economic issues of collectivism vs capitalism, they insist on individual liberty and absence of coercion from state.
Like libertarian socialists, they loathe government-supported capitalism, and reject several essential principles of capitalism in general. Like anarcho-capitalists, they put an emphasis on individual rights and liberty, and on market-based approaches rather than collectivism. They are thus acknowledged both by libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists, although each side accepts or criticizes differently the works of these thinkers. See individualist anarchism for a discussion of this issue.
On the debate of capitalism vs socialism, the reply of modern individualist anarchism is to let each individual choose the system he is willing to adhere to, and, with experience, each will choose what suits him best; to them, it doesn't matter which system will majoritarily prevail, as long as individual freedom is respected.
The popular meaning of anarchy as absolute chaos and disorder, what scholars call "anomy" (absence of order), is rejected by all the above anarchist traditions - they think that government is actually a source of disorder, and that society would be more orderly without any.
This usage has strong negative connotations, and has historically been used as a slur by political groups against their opponents, most notably by monarchists against republicans in past centuries. However, anomy has also been embraced by countercultural elements such as punk rock.
Both libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists share an opposition to states and governments; but beyond that they disagree vehemently.
Libertarian socialists consider that an employer-employee relationship is based on coercion by the employer, which constitutes a de facto government, and should be prevented, even if oppressed employees are passively consenting out of weakness and ignorance. Anarcho-capitalists consider that an employer-employee relationship is an elaborate and mutually profitable form of voluntary association, and that any external power capable of preventing it is a form of oppressive de facto government.
Libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists view each other with hostility. Proponents of each of these two theories tend to claim that theirs is the only true anarchism, while the other position is not anarchism at all, because it opposes a wrong notion of power ('archos'). On the other hand, libertarian socialists consider themselves as part of the collectivist movement, while anarcho-capitalists consider themselves as classical liberals - this shows that the opposition between collectivism and individualism in matters of political economy is indeed more essential than the question of the existence of government.
Many libertarian socialists argue that anarcho-capitalism should not be called anarchism at all, due to the much older use of the word to refer to libertarian socialism. Anarcho-capitalists argue they have just as much right to the word as libertarian socialists have, and that their anti-statist tradition is actually older and more coherent. Individualist anarchists don't care much for such macho "length contests" about the age of traditions.
Historical Anarchist Movements
- Spanish Civil War - During the Spanish civil war, the anti-fascist forces were comprised of various factions including communists and anarchists. Anarchist groups controlled both territory and factories for a time during the war. Fights broke out between the communists and anarchist in some cities. One of the anarchist groups from that time, the CNT (Confederación National del Trabajo), still exists in Spain and has a website.
Most Famous Anarchists
Here is a small selection of most famous anarchists. For more, see in various categories.
- Michael Bakunin (1814 - 1876), well-known early socialist anarchist
- Peter Kroptkin (1842-1921), credited as first theorist of anarcho-communism (an advance on Bakunin's anarchist-collectivism)
- Gustave de Molinari (1819 - 1912), first theorist of anarcho-capitalism
- Benjamin Tucker (1854 - 1939), great defender of individualist anarchism
- Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910), Novelist and "Christian anarchist" thinker
- Voltairine de Cleyre (1866 - 1912)
- Rudolph Rocker (1873 - 1958), important figure in anarchist-syndicalist movement
- Noam Chomsky (19?? - present)
Web sites with a clear libertarian socialist bent:
- "Anarchism", from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910.
- The History of Anarchism by Brian Crabtree (1992)
- Anarchist History - Anarchist Archives
- Anarchist Encyclopedia list several hundred anarchists, with relevant resource links
- Anarchist Timeline lists about 1500 dates with events & resource links
Web sites with a clear anarcho-capitalist bent:
- Bryan Caplan's Anarchism Theory FAQ
- David Hart's Gustave De Molinari And The Anti-Statist Liberal Tradition