What Anarchism Isn’t

I generally don’t read Time Magazine anymore.  I am more interested in other less sanitized views of the world.  But i did find myself with the “Person of the Year” issue honoring Pope Francis.  Early in the long article there is a section about how the Pope can’t please everyone in his church.

The papacy is mysterious and magical: it turns a septuagenarian into a superstar while revealing almost nothing about the man himself. And it raises hopes in every corner of the world—hopes that can never be fulfilled, for they are irreconcilable. The elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest both have hopes. The ambitious monsignor in the Vatican Curia and the evangelizing deacon in a remote Filipino village both have hopes. No Pope can make them all happy at once.

The reason i bring this up is not because i want to talk about Catholicism, but rather because i want to compare this big church with another, which i actually identify with: anarchism.  I stumbled across this comic on Facebook.

who sez?

who sez?

The definition is pretty much right on, but the explanation below leaves me grumpy.  There is nothing inherent in anarchy which preclude chaos or lawlessness.  Especially when governments collapse there can certainly be periods of lawlessness which ensue and this can certainly be an anarchistic circumstance.

And it is definitely not the case that all anarchists are peaceful, even if you try to leave out the issue of self defense.  I have some anarchist friends who believe that the only way to move from the current extremely dangerous situation to a better one is to use violence against agents of the state – especially the police, the military and political leaders.

Perhaps the most famous anarchist, Emma Goldman, supported her lover Alexander Berkman’s efforts to kill Henry Clay Frick, the chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company for his ruthless treatment of mill workers and miners.  US President William McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz who identified as an anarchist.  There is no accrediting organization for anarchists, anyone who says they are an anarchist just might be – or they might be messing with you.

Some anarchists choose violence

Some anarchists choose violence – Czologosz kills the president circa 1901

More recently, black block/autonom protesters have chosen violent tactics and strategies in their struggles with police at demonstrations around the world, from anti-nuclear protests in Germany, to the famous WTO protest in Seattle in 1999, to the teachers protest in Brazil last fall.

Most anarchists i know don’t embrace violence.  This can be because of the “pre-figurative” arguments – we don’t want to use tools to create revolution which we are not planning on using once the revolution is complete.  Other anarchists argue that violence is not a very effective tool, because the state has superior access to violence, including a court system which almost never addresses excessive police violence.  And because in many cultures you can not win the hearts and minds of the populace using violent techniques.

Occupy was a pre-figurative exercise.

Occupy was a pre-figurative exercise.

I’ve been doing political organizing for over 3 decades and in all that time, in many countries and several cultures i have never been convinced that embracing violence was going to advance our political goals.  [I should be clear that violence is when someone gets hurt, property destruction is not violence and has on occasion been a tactic groups i work with employ.]

A paradoxical quip i quote is “All people who generalize are fools.” And so it is with generalizing about the large church of anarchism.  There is not much you can say that is true about all anarchists, except that they don’t think the government is going to solve their problems.

If this is interesting to you, consider reading:

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

4 responses to “What Anarchism Isn’t”

  1. Will says :

    Full disclosure: I think anarchism (for large groups) is a belief system that requires massive denial of reality. But, if it were a system that could work on any large scale, wouldn’t it depend almost absolutely on nonviolence? Sure, theoretically you could have a system like in “The Lottery,” where everyone just agrees that someone will be murdered now and then; but who would really accept that in their anarchic community? Anarchy couldn’t possibly work without extremely high levels of trust (which is one reason it couldn’t work for large groups); and that level of trust would be virtually impossible unless it included a close approximate to nonviolence. If you’re an anarchist, you’d BETTER be nonviolent.

    • paxus says :

      So this begs the question what is large? One of the communities i live in (Acorn) is anarchist identified. It Has a million dollar a year business and the work environment is one of the most pleasant and desirable i have ever been in. We are about 40 people. Clearly you don think this is large. But Acorn is also could also be one of many federated communities working together. There is a high level of trust, doors are without locks, crime virtually non-existent. And there is a commitment to non-violence. Thanks for your comment

    • MILO says :

      Any system, large or small, depends on non-violence to be sustainable. The current system dominating the majority of the population is evidence of that. An interpretation of myan writings is that those systems have at most 5000 yrs. I haven’t seen/read “The Lottery” but the theme is in many stories. And these stories are about a hero who takes down the unpopular lottery system. When people are given an informed choice the majority choose non-violence. This is why the minority that profit from violence distort information, like what anarchy really is.

  2. Edward says :

    Anarchy views the state as a violent being because of the fact that is oppresses the people. Anarchists are against uninitiated violence but in the view of a revolutionary the state has been violent to us since it’s creation and will stop at nothing to halt any form of peaceful revolution leaving the only other option to be a violent revolution.

    “I think that, i’m of course opposed to terror or any rational person is but I think that if we’re serious about the question of terror serious about the question of violence, we have to recognize that it is a tactical and hence moral matter. incidentally, tactical issues are basically moral issues.
    they have to do with human consequences and if we’re interested in let’s say diminishing the amount of violence in the world, it’s at least arguable and perhaps even sometimes true that a terroristic act does diminish the amount of violence in the world. hence a person who is opposed to violence will not be opposed to that terroristic act.” – Noam Chomsky

    There is no such thing as a peaceful revolution.

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