Anarchism: The dream of Freedom…



Basic Reading


Woodcock, G. (1962)  Anarchism... read his 'Prologue' (look on Google).






R.B. McCallum's 1945 classic article proposes that: ‘free from is free to…’

(challenges the idea that ether there is negative - 'classical liberal' liberty OR positive 'socialist' liberty by arguing that free from implies free to do)


But free to do what – what sort of life


ought one to… (moral)


could one… (possibilities via internal and external restraint)


would one…(intention/desire)


wish to Live.




Is freedom both the basic and supreme value for oneself -  is it the basis of ‘free to do’ as well as linked to equal freedom for others i.e. we do not have freedom for the sake of something else (the freedom that States and religions want you to have);


States/religions give you degrees of freedom consonant with your doing what they want; under systems of governance - an arche-tecture of power - freedom is conditional - you have X only if you do Y.


whereas under anarchism you have freedom,  so as to execute any life-plan that you desire +  the rider of equal respect for the freedom of others.


At least that is what anarchist have as their motivation..AND as such do not have a utopia (other than perhaps a Nozick….as a meta-Utopia – a utopia of all utopias = we can choose the forms of life that we wish for without interference but, (and this makes it tricky for those who wish to create  Nazi commune) one has to have prior agreement to adhere to the equal freedom rider. So the nazi commune cannot propose to invade the Czech republic or France as a kind of weekend re-enactment exercise!


So no necessary connection between Anarchism and Utopia (despite the popular belief about Anarchism being utopian) - if, by Utopia we mean an imposition of a blueprint society after the (revolutionary?) (r)ejection of existing society. Thus the anarchist can experiment with various forms of society.


Marxists are far more deterministic in that they have a theory of history that, through class conflict (a dialectical process) as its driving forces, leads to revolution and to a post-capitalist arrangement for freedom to self-flourish.





All anarchists…..


a) deny authority; many of them fight against it. But by no means all who deny authority

and fight against it can reasonably be called anarchists.


b) Historically, anarchism is a doctrine which poses a criticism of existing society; a view of a desirable future society; and a means of passing from one to the other.


c) Mere unthinking revolt does not make an anarchist, nor does a philosophical or religious rejection of earthly power. Mystics and stoics seek not anarchy, but another kingdom.


d) Anarchism, historically speaking, is concerned mainly with man in his relation to society. Its ultimate aim is always social change; its present attitude is always one of social condemnation, even though it may proceed from an individualist view of man's nature;


e) its method is always that of social rebellion, violent or otherwise.


from: Woodcock, Prologue





Here is a much quoted passage from the french 19th  anarchist, Pierre Joseph Proudhon.


To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. (Proudhon)




Anarchy to Anarchism - remember:


anarchy is simply a commonly used word for chaotic lawless situations and behaviours  whereas, Anarchism is an ideology of social freedom without (primarily) State power but it also usually includes the absence of corporate capitalist power where that power builds on support/protection by the State, and State regulation - thus the 'Capitalist State'. 


Not all types of Anarchism rule out every form of capitalism!


Proudhonist mutualism, American 19th C Individualist anarchism, and Anarcho-capitalism all accept some version of unregulated capitalist mechanism as a method of coordinating the economic structure of society and the distribution of property, goods and services.



Though George Woodcock (the author of the book I sent out to you) uses Pierre Joseph Proudhon, (1809-1865), as his axis for discussion, anarchism has a history, contra-Woodcock, of millenarian revolt against those in authority from say the christian anarchist mystics of the 13th/14th - 17th C century (check out the Ranters and Abiezer Coppe's a Fiery Flying Rolle) and the gnostics through to Anne Hutchinson's challenges to the masculinist religious authoritarianism of the early American settlers such as John Winthrop and Wiliam Coddington.  That is to say that there is in anarchism an idea of revolt against the religious establishment where the emphasis is more upon revolt and protest than on building an anarchist society. (Woodcock, I sense wants to downplay the tradition of revolt perhaps to make anarchism seem more friendly). In our own day, the 'organisation' Class War was of this 'let's stir up revolt' type of anarchism. (also 'King Mob')



Probably still the best accounts of these millenarian and also civil war religious sects are Norman Cohn's 'Pursuit of the Millenium' and Christopher Hill's 'World Turned Upside Down'.





The early anarcho-feminist and antinomian, Anne Hutchinson  led  a settler colony in America into a leaderless commune in the 1640s thus challenging the authority of Coddington who saw himself as leader in both religious terms as well as in terms of his ownership via the his name being on the deeds of the land on which the colony stood. After Anne's death, her follower Samuel Gorton carried on her ideas of a mutualistic commune where everybody co-ooperated with each other without a leader and by the 1640s he was condemned by Governor Winthrop as 'an anarchist'.


From this we may gather that settler America offered opportunities for anarchist mutualistic communes much like those theorised by Proudhon three centuries later.



American Individualist Anarchism in mid to late 19th C was very influenced by Proudhon's Mutualist anarchism:


Equally it is interesting to note that by the late 19th C. American 'individualist' anarchists such as Josiah Warren, and here is one of his best works, True Civilisation William Greene, Lysander Spooner or this,  and Benjamin Tucker, (this is his book 'Instead of a Book' and here is  shorter collection of his writing that he edited just called 'Individual Liberty) were to read and learn from Proudhon - indeed Tucker's translations of Proudhon are still published today. Here is the best book yet written on the tradition and this is good ands this as well.


Here is a link to Tucker's famous journal 'Liberty' which was in effect a clearing house for all forms of anarchist debate in the USA and Europe in the later 19th C - amazing journal.


Agrarian anarcho-communism (17th - 19th C)

The 17th century in both US and England saw in effect religiously inspired anarchisms emerge. The famous Diggers led by Gerard Winstanley went up against the Puritan republic of the English civil war by setting up their own commune in Weybridge, Surrey at St George's Hill where each member would till the land for each other - a basic agrarian communalism/communism that the writer Tolstoy at the end of the 19th century would dream of in his anarchist writings...but which of course become state imposed nightmares under Mao Tse Tung in China from the 1950s onwards. Stalin saw these often efficient agrarian co-ops as being counter-revolutionary and bourgeois in form.




Doing It!


But on the question of violence as a means of escape from the state and the power of capital, Anarchists are mixed:


Anarchists may be substantially agreed on their ultimate general aims; on the tactics needed to reach that aim they have shown singular disagreement, and this is particularly the case with regard to violence. The Tolstoyans admitted violence under no circumstances; Godwin sought to bring change through discussion and Proudhon and his followers through the peaceful proliferation of co-operative organizations; Kropotkin accepted violence, but only reluctantly and because he felt it occurred inevitably during revolutions and that revolutions were unavoidable stages in human progress; even Bakunin, though he fought on many barricades and extolled the bloodthirstiness of peasant risings, had also times of doubt, when he would remark, in the tones of saddened idealism: "Bloody revolutions are often necessary, thanks to human stupidity; yet they are always an evil, a monstrous evil and a great disaster, not only with regard to the victims, but also for the sake of the purity and the perfection of the purpose in whose name they take place." (Woodcock)


So the idea of revolution by deed (sometimes called propaganda by deed) was not always the cry of the anarchist despite some, especially in the 19th C, having a go - famously Emma Goldman's attempt to kill Henry Clay Frick, a corporate capitalist in the US,


but of course the cartoon image of an Anarchist - of a man in a black cape, pointy hat carrying a bomb - endures.


The anarchist idea of revolution inasmuch as it has been a revolutionary doctrine is often built on a spontaneist idea - the inspiration to revolt rather than a long outworking of class conflict a la Marx.


The basic ideas of anarchism, with their stress on freedom and spontaneity, preclude the possibility of rigid organization, and particularly of anything in the nature of a party constructed for the purpose of seizing and holding power. As such communes tend to be the answer, of which Proudhon's co-operative models is fairly poplar across A's history.



The anarchist's cult of the natural, the spontaneous, the individual, sets him against the whole highly organized structure of modern industrial and statist society, which the

Marxist sees as the prelude to his own Utopia.




Anarchism: love and justice


Anarchism is not a rational response to exploitation and expropriation but also about building a society of feeling and closeness of people to each other....


"By simplifying existence so that toil is reduced, the anarchist believes that man can turn his attention to such noble activities and achieve the philosophic equilibrium in which death will cease to have terror. Again, it is Proudhon who presents the vision most concisely when, in De la Justice, he remarks that human life enters its fullness when it contains love, work, and "social communion or Justice." "If these conditions are fulfilled," he declares, "existence is full; it is a feast, a song of love, a perpetual enthusiasm, an endless hymn to happiness. At whatever hour the signal may be given, man is ready; for he is always in death, which means that he is in life and in love." (Woodcock)


This kind of society of love and justice we find in William Morris's ideas in late 19th C in Britain but it is difficult to see Anarchism as well-established within the terms of the industrial working class and its environment. By that token, it is therefore no surprise that anarchism has often appealed to the ecological movement as it developed in the 20th C.


The themes of love (desire) and justice (non-capitalist creative cooperative order), of a communal happiness of working for each other as a joyful activity is one that Zablocki in his study of the Bruderhof community emphasised as a basic orientation that kept he community together, but we find it ideologically articulated at the centre of Herbert Marcuse's (Critical theorist) 'Essay on Liberation' (1968) where he advocates up in those heady hippy days of anti-Vietnam War protest of the Sixties, a vision of a non-repressive society (yes a post-Freudian psychoanalytic idea) where the inner desiring self is in balance with outer conditions of peace and non-exploitation. Ain't that lovely eh?




Kropotkin: cooperation not competition - against 'Social Evolutionism'.

Kropotkin and the idea of Mutual Aid/Evolution: Darwinian Evolution in the mid-late 19th C which was about the competition for biological survival amongst species was given a social twist arguing that humans are naturally given to competitive socio-economic instincts..and this of course was seen as a justification of the 'naturalness' of capitalism.


Peter Kropotkin, perhaps the greatest of the left-wing anarchists but also a brilliant naturalist and geographer (along with his friend and fellow-anarchist, Elisee Reclus) argue in his book Mutual Aid that by dint of his studies in Russia of species it was natural for animals to be cooperative and non-hierarchical rather than competitive..


 and as such, anarcho-communism was a feasible and more natural alternative to the culturally shaped viciousness of capitalist competition.



Absolute Individualism - Max Stirner's  Egoism and its influence

Others such as the American Individualists anarchist movements especially Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker emphasised natural rights and then later Tucker endorsed Stirnerite Egoism - "I am my own; Nothing is more to me than my Own" - a thesis that undermines the 'equal freedom' (I recognise you by recognising you right to the same freedom as I would wish for myself) claim that links most libertarian/anarchist thought to classical liberalism (Mill) - cos Stirner only recognises and struggles for his own 'right' and does not recognise you or your right.


Note: Max Stirner was part of the 'Young Hegelian' intellectual circle in mid-19th c Germany along with Marx, Engels, the Bauer brothers, Feuerbach et al.


Marx and Engels were impressed by Stirner's 1845 'Ego and his Own' book to which end Marx attempted virtually a line-by-line refutation of it in the massive 3rd part of one of his great works: 'The German Ideology' (1845-6) mocking Stirner by referring to him in this section as 'Saint Max'






So it would seem that Anarchism has various strands to it:


The classic typology is:


Religious/mystical A as revolt




a) mutualism - Proudhon

b) communalism - Bakunin

c) communism - Kropotkin

d) syndicalism - trade union based workers collectives  (L'Autonomia movements in Italy in 1970s)

e) Individualism/Egoism - Max Stirner

f) Capitalism (as extension of (e)) Murray Rothbard/David Friedman.