Having referred to myself as an anarchist in various blog posts, I thought I would write about what anarchism means to me. Anarchism means something slightly different to each anarchist, so this is a very personal post.
“Anarchism means a condition or society where all men and women are free, and where all enjoy equally the benefits of an ordered and sensible life.”
– Alexander Berkman: ABC of Anarchism (1929)
Anarchy, and anarchism, doesn’t mean chaos, despite what the media and politicians will tell you. Anarchists believe that no-one should be ruled over or managed and that no-one should hold more power than another. We believe that we can organise together and that people should directly run society, as opposed to governments enforcing their laws on us and imprisoning us if we don’t obey. We demand a world without oppression and without governments, judges, the police, the military, landlords and land owners, and we demand a world without borders. We believe that all people should have a right to land and a right to move wherever they want to, no matter how ‘poor’ they are, or what colour skin they have, or what passport they have (if they are privileged enough to have one at all).
We aspire to live in a world that is free from racism, sexism, ableism (discrimination against those with disabilities), nationalism, homophobia and transphobia.
We reject wars where states such as the US and the UK bomb countries to gain control of their land, oil, gas and minerals, or to gain strategic power over an area.
We value all lives equally, dismissing the ridiculous idea that somehow someone’s life is less valuable because they happen to come from a country such as Afghanistan or Somalia.
Anarchism is our beautiful vision for the replacement of capitalism.
“Capitalism is a system that puts profit for the few above all other considerations. Within capitalism, our time, the water we drink, the food we eat and our relationships with each other are reduced to commodities to make money for the wealthy few.”
– Chris, Brighton anarchist
The extent to which capitalism and corporations – and the governments that enable them – damage and destroy our Earth, and the beings living on it, is so huge that I couldn’t possibly cover it in this blog post.
Anarchist Peter Kropotkin once quoted famous anarchist author Leo Tolstoy as saying:
“[The state is] the domination of the wicked ones, supported by brutal force. Robbers, he says, are far less dangerous than a well-organised government.”
My anarchism is a world based on compassion and co-operation. A world where we respect all beings – human and non-human – as well as the Earth that we’ve all inherited. We exploit nothing and no-one. It is a belief that humans are naturally co-operative and helpful, rather than selfish. Within an anarchist world, we would voluntarily contribute to society, rather than being forced against our will. We would live in a world of mutual aid, helping each other, exchanging skills, co-operating with each other and eradicating oppression and exploitation. Unlike in today’s society, we would not be motivated by money and a pursuit of profit over everything else. A person would be valued for much more than the money she earns, and she would contribute to a community in a million different ways that are more valuable than most of the jobs that we currently value within capitalism.
“[A person] will become fully human when he will scorn to rule and refuse to be ruled. He will be truly free only when there shall be no more masters.”
– Alexander Berkman
I was always an anarchist, but I wasn’t aware of it for a long time. For most of my life it was buried deep down inside of me, waiting to emerge. From birth, I was conditioned otherwise. Like everyone, I was conditioned to get a career. As young children, we were all asked by adults, “so, what do you want to BE?” ensuring that we learnt from the earliest possible age that our very existence was defined by our job within the capitalist system. Like everyone, I was conditioned to want a family and a house. I was conditioned to consume consume consume, so that I would work for 40 hours a week and then spend my meagre wages on companies’ useless products, therefore feeding the whole system in a vicious cycle and trapping me within it.
Whilst working in my ‘career’ in London in my early twenties, I felt the first rumblings of discontentment: the anarchist within me was emerging. I resented bosses having power over me, ‘managing’ me, and giving me a verbal warning when I was five minutes late for work. I hated being told that we were all team players when the directors of the company reaped the benefits of my 40 hours a week, whilst I could barely pay my rent. I knew that everything was wrong, but everyone around me was happy to be a team player to further their career, and I had never heard of the concept of anarchism. If I had have done, I would never have had an eight year career in the useless world of magazine publishing!
I moved to Berlin years later as a discontented young woman, certain that never again would I have a career. Finally, at 29 years old, living in Berlin, I learnt about anarchism and met anarchist activists.
“More harm has been done throughout history by obedience than by malice. The arsenals of all the world’s militaries are the physical manifestation of our willingness to defer to others. If you want to be sure you never contribute to war, genocide, or oppression, the first step is to stop following orders.”
– Crimethinc: To Change Everything
I believe that all humans are naturally anarchists (buried deep, deep down beneath our conditioning). Every human wants to be treated with respect. Every person wants their opinion to be valued. No-one wants to be dictated to, or managed. No-one likes being forced into doing something that makes them miserable. Surely we would all prefer to determine how we spend those days that we’re enslaved to the desk in the office?
“If you had complete self-determination, what would you be doing right now? Think of the vast potential of your life: the relationships you could have, the things you could experience, all the ways you could give meaning to your existence. When you were born, it seemed there was no limit to what you could become. You represented pure possibility…The open secret is that we do all have complete self-determination: not because it’s given to us, but because not even the most totalitarian dictatorship could take it away. Yet as soon as we begin to act for ourselves, we come into conflict with the very institutions that are supposed to secure our freedom.”
– Crimethinc: To Change Everything
Many of us attempt to live in an anarchist way in our daily lives. An obvious example of anarchist organising is when we have a meeting (and it may come as a surprise to you to learn that anarchists have meetings more than anyone on Earth! We spend half of our lives in meetings!) If decisions need to be made, we talk them through and usually try to reach a decision by consensus. No-one in the room should have power over another person (but of course, this isn’t always the case, as we’re all conditioned by the society that we live in).
When running our anarchist social centres, we make our rules together (yes, we even have rules!!) instead of having them imposed on us.
Some of us try to bring anarchism into our workplaces by forming workers’ co-operatives. Within an anarchist workers co-op, there is no manager. Absolutely everyone is equal and decisions are made collectively. And everyone should be on an equal wage, no matter what job role they have.
We also set up housing co-operatives, where a group of people live together. This is an attempt at taking back control of our homes (albeit within the capitalist system of property ownership). The co-op collectively owns the property, and the debts are not owed by any one person, but by the whole co-op. One person does not have more of a say over the running of the house, even if they fronted most of the money to buy it. No individual alone can sell the property.
Others form eco-villages or land co-ops, and some squat houses and land, believing that everyone has a right to a roof over their head, and land to grow food on, no matter how ‘poor’ they are.
There are also many examples of people organising in an anarchist way, but without necessarily calling themselves anarchists. For example, at Rainbow Gatherings, we make decisions by consensus, and there are, at least in theory, no leaders. A person contributes in whatever way they can, whether it is by giving money, or collecting fire wood, or building a kitchen, or helping to chop vegetables. No one is excluded.
As well as building new, more beautiful alternatives to capitalism, many anarchists are activists, devoting their lives to trying to resist injustice, or to protect our beautiful Earth from even more destruction. Courageous activists have to endure constant police harrassment, or even imprisonment, when trying to stand up for those who are oppressed.
Veganism is also essential to my anarchist morals (although not all anarchists are vegans, so this is where my blog post becomes more personal). I am an anti-speciesist, meaning that I believe that all beings, human and non-human, are equal. I believe that at the very least, we all have a duty to wake up and see the factory farms, the torture, the misery, that we are inflicting, instead of turning a blind eye because it suits us.
I want to see a world where we grow food locally and organically, where pesticides are not giving us cancer. Within an anarchist world, people in Africa would not be displaced from their lands by land-grabbing corporations or the states that act for them. Financial speculators in the City of London would not exist to bet on the price of food, wiping out small farmers all over the globe.
For me personally, feminism is an essential part of anarchism. I reject all patriarchy and sexism, and in particular I am disgusted by patriarchy within western Europe, where women are told that they have everything, but where they are continually objectified (whilst being lucky enough to have that career!!)
Anarchism is the most beautiful vision that exists, despite what the media and governments would have you believe! Together we can replace politicians, managers, land ownership, even money itself: after all, they are all social constructs.
“This is the time to boldly say, ‘Yes, I believe in the displacement of this system of injustice by a just one; I believe in the end of starvation, exposure, and the crimes caused by them; I believe in the human soul regnant over all laws which man has made or will make; I believe there is no peace now, and there will never be peace, so long as one rules over another; I believe in the total disintegration and dissolution of the principle and practice of authority; I am an anarchist, and if for this you condemn me, I stand ready to receive your condemnation.'”
– Voltairine de Cleyre, 1866-1912