The tendency of thought that sees human society as made up of people cooperating together for mutual benefit.

The authors associated with this idea are:

  • William Godwin
  • Mikael Bakunin
  • Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  • Peter Kropotkin
  • William Morris.

These writers are opposed to Karl Marx who supported the idea of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat - which in practice became a dictatorship of the bureaucracy.

Anarchists think about economic organization as much as politics. Thus they tend to point out that democracies which are subject to economic dictatorship are not effective at providing people's needs.

The typical social devices and institutions supported by followers of this tendency are the Producers' Cooperative, as opposed to the Nationalized industry or Capitalist Corporation; people's militias rather than national armies; Credit Unions rather than banks. Anarchist thinking supports ecological thinking of a society able to respond to the pressures of global ecological problems at a local level. Anarchists tend to deny the usefulness of the state and investor owned corporations and prefer local self-organized groups.

The Gramin Banks of Bangladesh may be an example. The Mondragon Cooperatives of the Basque Country, though started by a Catholic priest, may also be another example. Other examples could be found in the Canadian maritime provinces (Antigonish). Numerous producers' and consumers' cooperatives, and Credit Unions throughout the world were influenced by this trend of thinking. It is opposed to the existence of the modern Corporation which concentrates power and wealth in fewer hands, and is experienced by employees and customers as a non-responsible dictatorship, answerable only to the owners (but often in practice not even to them).

Historically, anarchists have been opposed to Monarchy (as in pre-modern Europe, and especially in the Russia of the Tsars), Feudalism (as in southern Spain), Capitalism, as in modern industrial societies, and especially the United States of the Robber Baron period.

Anarchism became an important political force in Spain in the early stages of the Civil War (1936-39). It was suppressed by both the Stalinists and the Francoists. In Andalusia it was a reaction to the extreme feudalism of the landowners, and the power of the Catholic Church. In Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution there were important anarchist tendencies in reaction to the Autocracy of the Tsars, suppressed by the Marxists when they came to power.

Perhaps anarchist thought owes something to the early days of the American Revolution - the idea of the Federation rather than empire; the democracy. However, anarchism differs from early American thought in paying attention to economic organization, where the American revolution allowed undemocratic power to grow in the autonomous Corporations, nullifying much of the political revolution.

Should the followers of Ayn Rand be considered anarchists? Surely not, as her turgid novels seem to uphold the rights of certain individuals to exercise power over others, unprotected even by the state. She was an extreme capitalist, urging no regulation on the corporations. She wanted the state to disappear but the result would be more like fascism than either democracy or classical anarchism.

Anarchists talk, as did Marx, about the withering away of the state in favour of autonomous organisations. In practicality this can of course never happen, especially in a crowded world - much more populated than in the days of the classic writers. But their ideas can be used to encourage the dispersal of power from corporations that in practice try to make themselves immune to democratic control.

George Woodcock - Anarchism

Peter Kropotkin

Ursula le Guin - The Dispossessed

Race Mathews - Jobs of our own
description of Mondragon and others

Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stake-Holder Society

Last revised 16/03/09


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