There's No Government Like No Government: A Case for Anarchism

Anarchism is probably the most misunderstood political philosophy currently extant. Nevertheless, this paper shall argue that the anarchist ideal for social, political, and economic organization is more than a justifiable and obtainable goal-it is, in fact, a practical necessity for the continued growth and existence of humanity. This case shall be argued through an examination of some socioeconomic, environmental, and ethical arguments for anarchism. I shall also show, through examples, that the fundamentals of an anarchist society, namely voluntary cooperation and initiative already exist in our current social structure. However, before any further discussion can occur, a clarification of the terms "anarchism" and "anarchy" is required.

The term "anarchy" simply means "without government." Unfortunately, the common use of this term is to connote a state of "political disorder and violence" (according to Webster's New World Dictionary.) Due to the degradation of that term, "anar chism" shall be used in its place throughout the paper. This term, fortunately, has fared better and has not been degraded to such a gross extent. According to the same dictionary, anarchism is "the theory that all forms of government interfere unjustl y with individual liberty and should be replaced by a system of voluntary cooperation." While this is a simplistic definition, it is essentially correct.

However, one major component of anarchism missing from that definition is the corresponding liberation of humanity from the bonds of exploitative, profit-driven capitalism. This system, which is ingrained in the structure of the modern nation-sta te, exists solely through the exploitation of "the masses" for the continued aggrandizement of profit for the few who own the means of production. As long capitalism continues, capitalists will use whatever means they can to maintain their wealth, regar dless of any sense of morality or justice besides their greed. As these means have been institutionalized in the form of the state, it is therefore inevitable that the enslavement of peoples by their governments will continue as long as capitalism holds sway.

Of course, many people would ask why such (literally) revolutionary change as the overthrow of the current system is needed in the first place. The response to this is threefold, the first being socioeconomic. The basic reason in this sense is t hat, to paraphrase Karl Marx, the proletariat (re. the working classes, including the "middle-class") have nothing in common with the bourgeoisie (re. the owners of capital.) Unless the proletariat seizes control of the means of production and begins wor king for their own benefit rather than for a small group of wealthy capitalists, those capitalists will continue to exploit their fellow humans, whom they view as commodities to be bought, sold, and disposed of arbitrarily. With this, anarchists assert t he necessity of socialism (worker control of the means of production) in an anarchist society. Unlike many so-called Marxists ("so-called," as Marx himself did not advocate the following,) however, anarchists believe that imposing a "revolutionary state" on society will only lead to the totalitarian despotism of Authoritarian Socialism (or, as it is commonly known, "Communism.") Therefore, as the great German anarcho-syndicalist Rudolph Rocker stated in his book, Anarcho-Syndicalism; "socialism will be free or not at all." Rather than the obviously undesirable dictatorship mentioned above, anarchists insist that only through the direct democratic organization of people in their communities and workplaces can worker control and its corresponding freedom from the external controls of government and capital be preserved. These groups would then be able to join together, on a voluntary basis, in federations of mutual cooperation on such matters as the exchange of resources, communication, environmental p rotection, and defense from aggressors. The overall result of this "bottom-up" design of economic activity would be the individual and collective empowerment, rather than enslavement, of people by their work.

It is this insistence on direct, cooperative action that differentiates anarchism from other ideas for social organization. However, the principles it is based on already exist (albeit to a much lesser extent) in our own society. Voluntary assoc iation and cooperation has a long and successful history in the US and elsewhere. It can be found in many places, including the numerous community groups, social activism organizations, and the various chaotic assemblages of people on the Internet. In t he event that the ruling demons, the state and its master, capital, disappeared tomorrow, it is likely that these groups would either become, or at least be the basis of new self-sufficient communities. Unfortunately, the constraints imposed by the state and the capitalist system prevent these associations from taking the greater role in society that they could (and, conceivably, would) have if those coercive forces were absent.

This emphasis on direct democracy on the community and/or workplace level would also eliminate the increasing alienation felt by many towards their communities and their society. As the trend towards decreasing government powers (namely those th at don't directly benefit that owning/ruling class) gains momentum, more decisions that affect both individuals, communities, and society as a whole are made by corporations. Those corporations are completely unaccountable to the people affected by their decisions (unlike government, which is, at least, nominally accountable.) In an anarchist society, this sense of alienation would be nonexistent, as those making decisions regarding production and distribution would also be those directly affected by th em. Instead of being cogs in, or rather fuel for, the machine of naked greed and profit, workers would have a stake in determining their own economic futures and a reason to care about them.

To continue, the second argument in favor of anarchism is ethical. The radical democracy and cooperation of an anarchist society would eliminate the basic premise of the current system which causes the rampant destruction of both people and their environment, this premise being the continuous expropriation of the labor and resources of the many for the aggrandizement of wealth for the few. Also, if the ability to live and create freely is to be recognized, the dynamic decentralized structure of anarchism is the only means for its realization. Attempting otherwise would lead back to the liberal "democracies" of the (post-) industrial "First World," where freedom and rights are seen as privileges to be doled out and (more often) taken away by the state, instead of being inherent needs of human nature.

This community control of economic planning would easily extend to the environment; this provides the crux of the second argument for anarchism. It is a given that people will not damage their immediate ecological environment (or bioregion) in a way that would be detrimental to their own long-term interests (or, to put it bluntly, they won't "shit in their own nests.") Thus, any environmentally-detrimental decisions a community might make regarding production would directly affect the community that made them. Given the above facts, production would be based on long-term, communally determined needs rather than short-term motives of immediate gain. Correspondingly, natural resources would be used in a much more efficient and conscientious mann er. Contrast this with the present situation, where decisions regarding a community's bioregion are made by either profit-hungry corporations whose executives and primary investors live in well-manicured mansions or their lackeys in government. The ul timate result of the continuance of this system, and how it points to the necessity of anarchism, will be emphasized later in the paper.

By no means, of course, can these be construed as being the only reasons for anarchism, although they are the most-frequently mentioned ones. There are also numerous questions as to "how can we get there from here?" For this, there are two basic answers; a spontaneous, unplanned, and probably extremely bloody revolution, or a gradual process of public education, organization, and dissent so that, when the system is particularly vulnerable, workers can seize the opportunity and overthrow the sys tems of societal control with (hopefully) a minimum of violence. The major problem with the first approach is, as Hakim Bey wrote in his essay, "The Temporary Autonomous Zone:" "How is it that 'the world turned upside-down' always manages to right itself? Why does reaction follow revolution like seasons in Hell?" In every previous, supposedly "liberatory," revolution where a sudden, violent overthrow of power occurred without any sort of plan on the part of the revolutionaries for replacing it, the spontaneous chaos of the act soon succumbs to the re-regimentation of the society by the new rulers, who turn out to be as bad as the old ones.

Due to this historical evidence, the second option is clearly the most preferable. Rather than having a relatively small, rebellious minority drag along an unwilling and/or indifferent populace, anarchists call for a campaign to organize and educ ate the majority. A program of this sort already exhibited its effectiveness during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when, in reaction to the fascist Nationalist insurgency led by Gen. Franco, workers in Catalonia, Aragon, and other regions of Spain revol ted. For almost three years, these workers, who had been organized through anarcho-syndicalist unions (which were based on the ideas of free association and cooperation mentioned previously) before the revolution, efficiently and effectively ran both agr icultural and industrial production. At the same time, they also coordinated a strong armed resistance to the Fascists. Unfortunately, the brute force of Franco's troops and their Nazi and Italian allies, combined with the indifference of the Western po wers to the rise of Fascism in Europe, crushed the bold experiment of the Spanish proletariat. Nevertheless, if the largely uneducated but well-organized masses of 1930's Spain were so successful, a similar (albeit more permanent) situation could take pl ace here within the foreseeable future.

Of course, the responses to the next question regarding the specifics of organizing a post-revolutionary society are numerous as there are differences in anarchist thought. Regardless of their differences over means and methods, however, anarchis ts are in unanimous agreement that, for the continued growth and survival of the human race (both culturally and physically,) their hope for a society of free cooperation and association will soon be the only option left. If the continuing alienation of people from each other and their environment, as well as the corresponding destruction of later, is to continue under the current system, it is very likely that we will soon have no future of which to speak. While it is quite presumptuous of anyone to th ink that we can completely destroy the Earth, it is imminently possible that, unless we take matters into our own hands and smash the destructive system that enslaves us all, our planet could easily become uninhabitable for humanity. As the professor and dissident Noam Chomsky stated at the end of the biographical film, "Manufacturing Consent:" The question, in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved, or threats to be avoided. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be cherished-they may be prerequisites for survival."

Suggested Readings

Textbooks Voices of Wisdom-Marx, Karl "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844"

Other Books & Essays

Bey, Hakim "The Temporary Autonomous Zone," in T.A.Z. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1991

Chomsky, Noam "Notes on Anarchism," in For Reasons of State. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973

Purchase, Graham Anarchism & Environmental Survival. Tucson: See Sharp Press, 1994

Rocker, Rudolph Anarcho-Syndicalism. London: Pluto Press, 1989

Video "Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media" Dirs. Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick. Necessary Illusions Films/National Film Board of Canada, 1992