An excerpt from An Anarchist FAQ. The full version is available at

A.2 What does anarchism stand for?

These words by Percy Bysshe Shelley gives an idea of what anarchism stands
for in practice and what ideals drive it:

The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,

Pollutes whate'er it touches, and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanised automaton.

As Shelley's lines suggest, anarchists place a high priority on liberty,
desiring it both for themselves and others. They also consider
individuality -- that which makes one a unique person -- to be a most
important aspect of humanity. They recognise, however, that individuality
does not exist in a vacuum but is a social phenomenon. Outside of
society, individuality is impossible, since one needs other people in
order to develop, expand, and grow.

Moreover, between individual and social development there is a reciprocal
effect: individuals grow within and are shaped by a particular society,
while at the same time they help shape and change aspects of that society
(as well as themselves and other individuals) by their actions and thoughts.
A society not based on free individuals, their hopes, dreams and ideas would
be hollow and dead. Thus, "the making of a human being. . . is a collective process, a process in which both community and the individual participate." [Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis, p. 79] Consequently, any political
theory which bases itself purely on the social or the individual is false.

In order for individuality to develop to the fullest possible extent,
anarchists consider it essential to create a society based on three
principles: liberty, equality and solidarity.
These principles are shared by all anarchists. Thus we find,
the communist-anarchist Peter Kropotkin talking about a
revolution inspired by "the beautiful words, Liberty, Equality and
Solidarity." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 128] Individualist-anarchist
Benjamin Tucker wrote of a similar vision, arguing that anarchism
"insists on Socialism . . . on true Socialism, Anarchistic Socialism:
the prevalance on earth of Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity."
[Instead of a Book, p. 363] All three principles are

Liberty is essential for the full flowering of human intelligence,
creativity, and dignity. To be dominated by another is to be denied the
chance to think and act for oneself, which is the only way to grow and
develop one's individuality. Domination also stifles innovation and
personal responsibility, leading to conformity and mediocrity. Thus the
society that maximises the growth of individuality will necessarily be
based on voluntary association, not coercion and authority. To quote
Proudhon, "All associated and all free." Or, as Luigi Galleani puts it,
anarchism is "the autonomy of the individual within the freedom of association" [The End of Anarchism?, p. 35] (See further
section A.2.2 -- Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?).

If liberty is essential for the fullest development of individuality, then
equality is essential for genuine liberty to exist. There can be no real
freedom in a class-stratified, hierarchical society riddled with gross
inequalities of power, wealth, and privilege. For in such a society only
a few -- those at the top of the hierarchy -- are relatively free, while
the rest are semi-slaves. Hence without equality, liberty becomes a
mockery -- at best the "freedom" to choose one's master (boss), as under
capitalism. Moreover, even the elite under such conditions are not really
free, because they must live in a stunted society made ugly and barren by
the tyranny and alienation of the majority. And since individuality
develops to the fullest only with the widest contact with other free
individuals, members of the elite are restricted in the possibilities for
their own development by the scarcity of free individuals with whom to
interact. (See also section A.2.5 -- Why are anarchists in favour of equality?)

Finally, solidarity means mutual aid: working voluntarily and
co-operatively with others who share the same goals and interests. But
without liberty and equality, society becomes a pyramid of competing
classes based on the domination of the lower by the higher strata. In
such a society, as we know from our own, it's "dominate or be dominated,"
"dog eat dog," and "everyone for themselves." Thus "rugged individualism"
is promoted at the expense of community feeling, with those on the bottom
resenting those above them and those on the top fearing those below them.
Under such conditions, there can be no society-wide solidarity, but only a
partial form of solidarity within classes whose interests are opposed,
which weakens society as a whole. (See also section A.2.6 -- Why is solidarity important to anarchists?)

It should be noted that solidarity does not imply self-sacrifice or
self-negation. As Errico Malatesta makes clear:

"we are all egoists, we all seek our own satisfaction. But the anarchist finds his greatest satisfaction in struggling for the good of all, for the achievement of a society in which he [sic] can be a brother among brothers, and among healthy, intelligent, educated, and happy people. But he who is adaptable, who is satisfied to live among slaves and draw profit from the labour of slaves, is not, and cannot be, an anarchist." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 23]

For anarchists, real wealth is other people and the planet on which we live. Or, in the words of Emma Goldman, it "consists in things of utility and
beauty, in things which help to create strong, beautiful bodies and
surroundings inspiring to live in . . . [Our] goal is the freest possible
expression of all the latent powers of the individual . . . Such free
display of human energy being possible only under complete individual
and social freedom," in other words "social equality." [Red Emma Speaks,
pp. 67-8]

Also, honouring individuality does not mean that anarchists are
idealists, thinking that people or ideas develop outside of society.
Individuality and ideas grow and develop within society, in response to
material and intellectual interactions and experiences, which people
actively analyse and interpret. Anarchism, therefore, is a materialist
theory, recognising that ideas develop and grow from social interaction
and individuals' mental activity (see Michael Bakunin's God and the
State for the classic discussion of materialism versus idealism).

This means that an anarchist society will be the creation of human beings,
not some deity or other transcendental principle, since "[n]othing ever arranges itself, least of all in human relations. It is men [sic] who do the arranging, and they do it according to their attitudes and understanding of things." [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 185]

Therefore, anarchism bases itself upon the power of ideas and the ability
of people to act and transform their lives based on what they consider to
be right. In other words, liberty.

A.2.1 What is the essence of anarchism?

As we have seen, "an-archy" implies "without rulers" or
"without (hierarchical) authority."
Anarchists are not against "authorities" in the sense of experts who are
particularly knowledgeable, skillful, or wise, though they believe that
such authorities should have no power to force others to follow their
recommendations (see section B.1 for more
on this distinction). In a nutshell, then, anarchism is anti-authoritarianism.

Anarchists are anti-authoritarians because they believe that no human
being should dominate another. Anarchists, in L. Susan Brown's words,
"believe in the inherent dignity and worth of the human individual."
[The Politics of Individualism, p. 107] Domination is inherently
degrading and demeaning, since it submerges the will and judgement of the
dominated to
the will and judgement of the dominators, thus destroying the dignity and
self-respect that comes only from personal autonomy. Moreover, domination
makes possible and generally leads to exploitation, which is the root of
inequality, poverty, and social breakdown.

In other words, then, the essence of anarchism (to express it positively)
is free co-operation between equals to maximise their liberty and

Co-operation between equals is the key to anti-authoritarianism. By
co-operation we can develop and protect our own intrinsic value as unique
individuals as well as enriching our lives and liberty for "[n]o individual
can recognise his own humanity, and consequently realise it in his lifetime,
if not by recognising it in others and co-operating in its realisation for
others . . . My freedom is the
freedom of all since I am not truly free in thought an din fact,
except when my freedom and my rights are confirmed and approved in
the freedom and rights of all men [and women] who are my equals."
[Michael Bakunin, quoted by Errico Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 30]

While being anti-authoritarians, anarchists recognise that human beings
have a social nature and that they mutually influence each other. We
cannot escape the "authority" of this mutual influence, because, as
Bakunin reminds us:

"The abolition of this mutual influence would be death. And when we advocate the freedom of the masses, we are by no means suggesting the abolition of any of the natural influences that individuals or groups of individuals exert on them. What we want is the abolition of influences which are artificial, privileged, legal, official." [quoted by Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 51]

In other words, those influences which stem from hierarchical authority.

A.2.2 Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?

An anarchist can be regarded, in Bakunin's words, as a "fanatic lover
of freedom, considering it as the unique environment within which the
intelligence, dignity and happiness of mankind can develop and increase."
[Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 196] Because human beings are thinking
creatures, to deny them liberty is to deny them the opportunity to think
for themselves, which is to deny their very existence as humans. For
anarchists, freedom is a product of our humanity, because:

"The very fact. . . that a person has a consciousness of self, of being
different from others, creates a desire to act freely. The craving for
liberty and self-expression is a very fundamental and dominant trait."
[Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, p. 439]

For this reason, anarchism "proposes to rescue the self-respect and
independence of the individual from all restraint and invasion by authority.
Only in freedom can man [sic!] grow to his full stature. Only in freedom
will he learn to think and move, and give the very best of himself. Only
in freedom will he realise the true force of the social bonds which tie
men together, and which are the true foundations of a normal social life."
[Op. Cit., pp. 72-3]

Thus, for anarchists, freedom is basically individuals pursuing their
own good in their own way. Doing so calls forth the activity and power
of individuals as they make decisions for and about themselves and their
lives. Only liberty can ensure individual development and diversity. This
is because when individuals govern themselves and make their own decisions
they have to exercise their minds and this can have no other effect
than expanding and stimulating the individuals involved. As Malatesta
put it, "[f]or people to become educated to freedom and the management
of their own interests, they must be left to act for themselves, to
feel responsibility for their own actions in the good or bad that comes
from them. They'd make mistakes, but they'd understand from the
consequences where they'd gone wrong and try out new ways." [Fra
Contadini, p. 26]

So, liberty is the precondition for the maximum development of
one's individual potential, which is also a social product and can be
achieved only in and through community. A healthy, free community will
produce free individuals, who in turn will shape the community and enrich
the social relationships between the people of whom it is composed.
Liberties, being socially produced, "do not exist because they have been
legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the
ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet
with the violent resistance of the populace . . . One compels respect from
others when one knows how to defend one's dignity as a human being.
This is not only true in private life; it has always been the same in
political life as well." In fact, we "owe all the political rights and
privileges which we enjoy today in greater or lesser measures, not to
the good will of their governments, but to their own strength." [Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-syndicalism, p. 75]

It is for this reason anarchists support the tactic of "Direct Action"
(see section J.2) for, as Emma Goldman argued,
we have "as much liberty as [we are] willing to take. Anarchism
therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and
resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and
moral." It requires "integrity, self-reliance, and courage. In
short, it calls for free, independent spirits" and "only
presistent resistance" can "finally set [us] free. Direct action
against the authority in the shop, direct action against the
authority of the law, direct action against the invasive,
meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical,
consistent method of Anarchism." [Red Emma Speaks, pp. 76-7]

Direct action is, in other words, the application of liberty,
used to resist oppression in the here and now as well as the
means of creating a free society. It creates the necessary
individual mentality and social conditions in which liberty
flourishes. Both are essential as liberty develops only within
society, not in opposition to it. Thus Murray Bookchin writes:

"What freedom, independence, and autonomy people have in a given
historical period is the product of long social traditions and . . . a
collective development -- which is not to deny that individuals play
an important role in that development, indeed are ultimately obliged
to do so if they wish to be free." [Social Anarchism or Lifestyle
Anarchism, p. 15]

But freedom requires the right kind of social environment in which
to grow and develop. Such an environment must be decentralised
and based on the direct management of work by those who do it.
For centralisation means coercive authority (hierarchy), whereas
self-management is the essence of freedom. Self-management
ensures that the individuals involved use (and so develop) all
their abilities -- particularly their mental ones. Hierarchy, in
contrast, substitutes the activities and thoughts of a few for the
activities and thoughts of all the individuals involved. Thus,
rather than developing their abilities to the full, hierarchy
marginalises the many and ensures that their development
is blunted (see also section B.1).

It is for this reason that anarchists oppose both capitalism and statism.
As the French anarchist Sebastien Faure noted, authority "dresses
itself in two principal forms: the political form, that is the State;
and the economic form, that is private property." [cited by Peter
Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 43] Capitalism, like
the state, is based on centralised authority (i.e. of the boss over
the worker), the very purpose of which is to keep the management
of work out of the hands of those who do it. This means "that the
serious, final, complete liberation of the workers is possible only
upon one condition: that of the appropriation of capital, that is,
of raw material and all the tools of labour, including land, by the
whole body of the workers." [Michael Bakunin, quoted by Rudolf
Rocker, Op. Cit., p. 50]

Hence, as Noam Chomsky argues, a "consistent anarchist must oppose
private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery
which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle
that labour must be freely undertaken and under the control of the
producer." ["Notes on Anarchism", For Reasons of
State, p. 158]

Thus, liberty for anarchists means a non-authoritarian society in
which individuals and groups practice self-management, i.e. they
govern themselves. The implications of this are important. First, it
implies that an anarchist society will be non-coercive, that is, one
in which violence or the threat of violence will not be used to "convince"
individuals to do anything. Second, it implies that anarchists are firm
supporters of individual sovereignty, and that, because of this support,
they also oppose institutions based on coercive authority, i.e. hierarchy.
And finally, it implies that anarchists' opposition to "government" means
only that they oppose centralised, hierarchical, bureaucratic organisations
or government. They do not oppose self-government through confederations
of decentralised, grassroots organisations, so long as these are based on
direct democracy rather than the delegation of power to "representatives"
(see section A.2.9 for more on anarchist organisation). For authority is the opposite of liberty, and hence any form of organisation
based on the delegation of power is a threat to the liberty and dignity of
the people subjected to that power.

Anarchists consider freedom to be the only social environment within
which human dignity and diversity can flower. Under capitalism and
statism, however, there is no freedom for the majority, as private property
and hierarchy ensure that the inclination and judgement of most individuals
will be subordinated to the will of a master, severely restricting their
liberty and making impossible the "full development of all the material,
intellectual and moral capacities that are latent in every one of us."
[Michael Bakunin, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 261]

section B for further discussion
of the hierarchical and authoritarian nature of capitalism and statism).

A.2.3 Are anarchists in favour of organisation?

Yes. Without association, a truly human life is impossible. Liberty
cannot exist without society and organisation. As George Barrett
pointed out:

"To get the full meaning out of life we must co-operate, and to
co-operate we must make agreements with our fellow-men. But to suppose
that such agreements mean a limitation of freedom is surely an absurdity;
on the contrary, they are the exercise of our freedom.

"If we are going to invent a dogma that to make agreements is to damage
freedom, then at once freedom becomes tyrannical, for it forbids men to
take the most ordinary everyday pleasures. For example, I cannot go for a
walk with my friend because it is against the principle of Liberty that I
should agree to be at a certain place at a certain time to meet him. I
cannot in the least extend my own power beyond myself, because to do so I
must co-operate with someone else, and co-operation implies an agreement,
and that is against Liberty. It will be seen at once that this argument is
absurd. I do not limit my liberty, but simply exercise it, when I agree
with my friend to go for a walk.

"If, on the other hand, I decide from my superior knowledge that
it is good for my friend to take exercise, and therefore I attempt
to compel him to go for a walk, then I begin to limit freedom.
This is the difference between free agreement and government."
[Objections to Anarchism, pp. 348-9]

As far as organisation goes, anarchists think that "far from
creating authority, [it] is the only cure for it and the only
means whereby each of
us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in collective
work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders."

[Errico Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 86] Thus
anarchists are well aware of the need to organise in a structured and
open manner. As Carole Ehrlich points out, while anarchists "aren't
opposed to structure" and simply "want to abolish hierarchical
structure" they are "almost always stereotyped as wanting no structure
at all." This is not the case, for "organisations that would build in
accountability, diffusion of power among the maximum number of persons,
task rotation, skill-sharing, and the spread of information and resources"

are based on "good social anarchist principles of organisation!"
["Socialism, Anarchism and Feminism", Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist
Reader, p. 47 and p. 46]

The fact that anarchists are in favour of organisation may seem strange
at first, but it is understandable. "For those with experience only of
authoritarian organisation," argue two British anarchists, "it appears
that organisation can only be totalitarian or democratic, and that
those who disbelieve in government must by that token disbelieve in
organisation at all. That is not so." [Stuart Christie and Albert
Meltzer, The Floodgates of Anarchy, p. 122] In other words, because
we live in a society in which virtually all forms of organisation are
authoritarian, this makes them appear to be the only kind possible.
What is usually not recognised is that this mode of
organisation is historically conditioned, arising within a specific
kind of society -- one whose motive principles are domination and
exploitation. According to archaeologists and anthropologists, this kind
of society has only existed for about 5,000 years, having appeared with
the first primitive states based on conquest and slavery, in which the
labour of slaves created a surplus which supported a ruling class.

Prior to that time, for hundreds of thousands of years, human and proto-human
societies were what Murray Bookchin calls "organic," that is, based on
co-operative forms of economic activity involving mutual aid, free access
to productive resources, and a sharing of the products of communal labour
according to need. Although such societies probably had status rankings
based on age, there were no hierarchies in the sense of institutionalised
dominance-subordination relations enforced by coercive sanctions and
resulting in class-stratification involving the economic exploitation of
one class by another (see Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom).

It must be emphasised, however, that anarchists do not advocate
going "back to the Stone Age." We merely note that since the
hierarchical-authoritarian mode of organisation is a relatively recent
development in the course of human social evolution, there is no reason to
suppose that it is somehow "fated" to be permanent. We do not think that
human beings are genetically "programmed" for authoritarian, competitive,
and aggressive behaviour, as there is no credible evidence to support this
claim. On the contrary, such behaviour is socially conditioned, or
learned, and as such, can be unlearned (see Ashley Montagu,

The Nature of Human Aggression). We are not fatalists or genetic
determinists, but believe in free will, which means that people can change
the way they do things, including the way they organise society.

And there is no doubt that society needs to be better organised, because
presently most of its wealth -- which is produced by the majority -- and
power gets distributed to a small, elite minority at the top of the social
pyramid, causing deprivation and suffering for the rest, particularly for
those at the bottom. Yet because this elite controls the means of coercion
through its control of the state (see section
B.2.3), it is able to suppress
the majority and ignore its suffering -- a phenomenon that occurs on a
smaller scale within all hierarchies. Little wonder, then, that people
within authoritarian and centralised structures come to hate them as a
denial of their freedom. As Alexander Berkman puts it:

"Any one who tells you that Anarchists don't believe in organisation
is talking nonsense. Organisation is everything, and everything is
organisation. The whole of life is organisation, conscious or
unconscious . . . But there is organisation and organisation.
Capitalist society is so badly organised that its various members suffer:
just as when you have a pain in some part of you, your whole body aches
and you are ill. . . , not a single member of the organisation or union
may with impunity be discriminated against, suppressed or ignored. To do
so would be the same as to ignore an aching tooth: you would be sick all
over." [Op. Cit., p. 198]

Yet this is precisely what happens in capitalist society, with the
result that it is, indeed, "sick all over."

For these reasons, anarchists reject authoritarian forms of organisation

and instead support associations based on free agreement. Free agreement
is important because, in Berkman's words, "[o]nly when each is a
free and independent unit, co-operating with others from his own choice because of
mutual interests, can the world work successfully and become powerful."
[Op. Cit., p. 199] As we discuss in
section A.2.14, anarchists stress
that free agreement has to be complemented by direct democracy (or, as it
is usually called by anarchists, self-management) within the association
itself otherwise "freedom" become little more than picking masters.

Anarchist organisation is based on a massive decentralisation of power
back into the hands of the people, i.e. those who are directly affected
by the decisions being made. To quote Proudhon:

"Unless democracy is a fraud and the sovereignty of the People a
joke, it must be admitted that each citizen in the sphere of his
[or her] industry, each municipal, district or provincial council
within its own territory . . . should act directly and by itself
in administering the interests which it includes, and should
exercise full sovereignty in relation to them." [The General
Idea of the Revolution,
p. 276]

It also implies a need for federalism to co-ordinate joint interests.
For anarchism, federalism is the natural complement to self-management.
With the abolition of the State, society "can, and must, organise
itself in a different fashion, but not from top to bottom . . . The
future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom upwards,
by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their
unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a
great federation, international and universal. Then alone will be
realised the true and life-giving order of freedom and the common
good, that order which, far from denying, on the contrary affirms
and brings into harmony the interests of individuals and of society."
[Bakunin, Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 205-6] Because a "truly popular
organisation begins . . . from below" and so "federalism becomes a
political institution of Socialism, the free and spontaneous
organisation of popular life." Thus libertarian socialism "is
federalistic in character." [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy
of Bakunin, pp. 273-4 and p. 272]

Therefore, anarchist organisation is based on direct democracy (or
self-management) and federalism (or confederation). These are the
expression and environment of liberty. Direct (or participatory)
democracy is essential because liberty and equality imply the need
for forums within which people can discuss and debate as equals and
which allow for the free exercise of what Murray Bookchin calls
"the creative role of dissent." Federalism is necessary to ensure
that common interests are discussed and joint activity organised in
a way which reflects the wishes of all those affected by them. To
ensure that decisions flow from the bottom up rather than being
imposed from the top down by a few rulers.

Anarchist ideas on libertarian organisation and the need for direct
democracy and confederation will be discussed further in sections A.2.9
and A.2.11.

A.2.4 Are anarchists in favour of "absolute" liberty?

No. Anarchists do not believe that everyone should be able to "do
whatever they like," because some actions invariably involve the denial of the liberty of others.

For example, anarchists do not support the "freedom" to rape, to exploit, or
to coerce others. Neither do we tolerate authority. On the contrary, since
authority is a threat to liberty, equality, and solidarity (not to mention
human dignity), anarchists recognise the need to resist and overthrow it.

The exercise of authority is not freedom. No one has a "right" to rule
others. As Malatesta points out, anarchism supports "freedom for
everybody . . . with the only limit of the equal freedom for others; which
does not mean . . . that we recognise, and wish to respect, the
'freedom' to exploit, to oppress, to command, which is oppression and
certainly not freedom." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 53]

In a capitalist society, resistance to all forms of hierarchical authority
is the mark of a free person -- be it private (the boss) or public (the
state). As Henry David Thoreau pointed out in his essay on "Civil
Disobedience" (1847)

"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves."

A.2.5 Why are anarchists in favour of equality?

As mentioned in above, anarchists are dedicated to
social equality because it is the only context in which individual liberty
can flourish. However, there has been much nonsense written about
"equality," and much
of what is commonly believed about it is very strange indeed. Before
discussing what anarchist do mean by equality, we have to indicate what
we do not mean by it.

Anarchists do not believe in "equality of endowment," which is not only
non-existent but would be very undesirable if it could be brought
about. Everyone is unique. Biologically determined human differences
not only exist but are "a cause for joy, not fear or regret." Why?
Because "life among clones would not be worth living, and a sane
person will only rejoice that others have abilities that they do not share." [Noam Chomsky, Marxism, Anarchism, and Alternative Futures, p. 782]

That some people seriously suggest that anarchists means by "equality" that
everyone should be identical is a sad reflection on the state of present-day
intellectual culture and the corruption of words -- a corruption used to divert
attention from an unjust and authoritarian system and side-track people
into discussions of biology. "The
uniqueness of the self in no way contradicts the principle of
equality," noted Erich Fromm, "The thesis that men are born equal
implies that they all share the same fundamental human qualities,
that they share the same basic fate of human beings, that they all
have the same inalienable claim on freedom and happiness. It
furthermore means that their relationship is one of solidarity,
not one of domination-submission. What the concept of equality
does not mean is that all men are alike." [The Fear of Freedom,
p. 228] Thus it would be fairer to say that anarchists seek equality
because we recognise that everyone is different and, consequently,
seek the full affirmation and development of that uniqueness.

Nor are anarchists in favour of so-called "equality of outcome." We have
no desire to live in a society were everyone gets the same goods, lives
in the same kind of house, wears the same uniform, etc. Part of the
reason for the anarchist revolt against capitalism and statism is that
they standardise so much of life (see George Reitzer's The McDonaldisation
of Society on why capitalism is driven towards standardisation and
conformity). In the words of Alexander Berkman:

"The spirit of authority, law, written and unwritten, tradition and
custom force us into a common grove and make a man [or woman]
a will-less automation without independence or individuality. . .
All of us are its victims, and only the exceptionally strong succeed
in breaking its chains, and that only partly." [What is
Anarchism?, p. 165]

Anarchists, therefore, have little to desire to make this "common
grove" even deeper. Rather, we desire to destroy it and every social
relationship and institution that creates it in the first place.

"Equality of outcome" can only be introduced and maintained by force, which
would not be equality anyway, as some would have more power than others!
"Equality of outcome" is particularly hated by anarchists, as we recognise
that every individual has different needs, abilities, desires and interests.
To make all consume the same would be tyranny. Obviously, if one person needs
medical treatment and another does not, they do not receive an "equal" amount
of medical care. The same is true of other human needs. As Alexander
Berkman put it:

"equality does not mean
an equal amount but equal opportunity. . . Do not make the mistake
of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict
camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity. It does not
mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the
same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it: the very reverse
in fact."

"Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality.

"Far from levelling, such equality opens the door for the greatest
possible variety of activity and development. For human character
is diverse . . . Free opportunity of expressing and acting out
your individuality means development of natural dissimilarities
and variations." [Op. Cit., pp. 164-5]

For anarchists, the "concepts" of "equality" as "equality of outcome" or
"equality of endowment" are meaningless. However, in a hierarchical
society, "equality of opportunity" and "equality of outcome" are

related. Under capitalism, for example, the opportunities each
generation face are dependent on the outcomes of the previous ones.
This means that under capitalism "equality of opportunity" without
a rough "equality of outcome" (in the sense of income and resources)
becomes meaningless, as there is no real equality of opportunity for
the off-spring of a millionaire and that of a road sweeper. Those
who argue for "equality of opportunity" while ignoring the barriers
created by previous outcomes indicate that they do not know what
they are talking about -- opportunity in a hierarchical society
depends not only on an open road but also upon an equal start.
>From this obvious fact springs the misconception that anarchists
desire "equality of outcome" -- but this applies to a hierarchical
system, in a free society this would not the case (as we will see).

Equality, in anarchist theory, does not mean denying individual
diversity or uniqueness. As Bakunin observes:

"once equality has triumphed and is well established, will various
individuals' abilities and their levels of energy cease to differ? Some
will exist, perhaps not so many as now, but certainly some will
always exist. It is proverbial that the same tree never bears two
identical leaves, and this will probably be always be true. And
it is even more truer with regard to human beings, who are much
more complex than leaves. But this diversity is hardly an evil. On
the contrary. . . it is a resource of the human race. Thanks to this
diversity, humanity is a collective whole in which the one individual
complements all the others and needs them. As a result, this infinite
diversity of human individuals is the fundamental cause and the
very basis of their solidarity. It is all-powerful argument for
equality." ["All-Round Education", The Basic
Bakunin, pp. 117-8]

Equality for anarchists means social equality, or, to use Murray
Bookchin's term, the "equality of unequals" (some like Malatesta
used the term "equality of conditions" to express the same idea). By
this he means that an anarchist society recognises the differences in
ability and need of individuals but does not allow these differences to
be turned into power. Individual differences, in other words, "would
be of no consequence, because inequality in fact is lost in the
collectivity when it cannot cling to some legal fiction or institution."

[Michael Bakunin, God and the State, p. 53]

If hierarchical social relationships, and the forces that create them,
are abolished in favour of ones that encourage participation and
are based on the principle of "one person, one vote" then natural
differences would not be able to be turned into hierarchical power.
For example, without capitalist property rights there would not be
means by which a minority could monopolise the means of life
(machinery and land) and enrich themselves by the work of
others via the wages system and usury (profits, rent and interest).
Similarly, if workers manage their own work, there is no class of
capitalists to grow rich off their labour. Thus Proudhon:

"Now, what can be the origin of this inequality?

"As we see it, . . . that origin is the realisation within society of
this triple abstraction: capital, labour and talent.

"It is because society has divided itself into three categories of
citizen corresponding to the three terms of the formula. . . that
caste distinctions have always been arrived at, and one half of
the human race enslaved to the other. . . socialism thus consists
of reducing the aristocratic formula of capital-labour-talent into
the simpler formula of labour!. . . in order to make every
citizen simultaneously, equally and to the same extent capitalist,
labourer and expert or artist." [No Gods, No Masters,
vol. 1, pp. 57-8]

Like all anarchists, Proudhon saw this integration of functions
as the key to equality and freedom and proposed self-management
as the means to achieve it. Thus self-management is the key to
social equality. Social equality in the workplace, for example,
means that everyone has an equal say in the policy decisions on
how the workplace develops and changes. Anarchists are strong
believers in the maxim "that which touches all, is decided by all."

This does not mean, of course, that expertise will be ignored or that
everyone will decide everything. As far as expertise goes, different
people have different interests, talents, and abilities, so obviously they
will want to study different things and do different kinds of work. It is
also obvious that when people are ill they consult a doctor -- an expert
-- who manages his or her own work rather than being directed by a
committee. We are sorry to have to bring these points up, but once the
topics of social equality and workers' self-management come up, some
people start to talk nonsense. It is common sense that a hospital managed
in a socially equal way will not involve non-medical staff voting on
how doctors should perform an operation!

In fact, social equality and individual liberty are inseparable. Without
the collective self-management of decisions that affect a group (equality)
to complement the individual self-management of decisions that affect the
individual (liberty), a free society is impossible. For without both,
some will have power over others, making decisions for them (i.e.
governing them), and thus some will be more free than others. Which
implies, just to state the obvious, anarchists seek equality in all
aspects of life, not just in terms of wealth. Anarchists "demand for every person not just his [or her] entire measure
of the wealth of society but also his [or her] portion of social power."
[Malatesta and Hamon, No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 20] Thus self-management is needed to ensure both liberty and equality.

Social equality is required for individuals to both govern and express
themselves, for the self-management it implies means "people working
in face-to-face relations with their fellows in order to bring the
uniqueness of their own perspective to the business of solving
common problems and achieving common goals." [George Benello,
From the Ground Up, p. 160] Thus equality allows the expression
of individuality and so is a necessary base for individual liberty.

Section F.3 ("Why do 'anarcho'-capitalists
place little or no value on equality?") discusses anarchist ideas on equality
further. Noam Chomsky's essay "Equality" (contained in The Chomsky
Reader) is a good summary of libertarian ideas on the subject.

A.2.6 Why is solidarity important to anarchists?

Solidarity, or mutual aid, is a key idea of anarchism. It is the link
between the individual and society, the means by which individuals can
work together to meet their common interests in an environment that
supports and nurtures both liberty and equality. For anarchists, mutual
aid is a fundamental feature of human life, a source of both strength and
happiness and a fundamental requirement for a fully human existence.

Erich Fromm, noted psychologist and socialist humanist, points out that the
"human desire to experience union with others is rooted in the specific conditions of existence that characterise the human species and is one of the strongest motivations of human behaviour." [To Be or To Have, p.107]

Therefore anarchists consider the desire to form "unions" (to use
Max Stirner's term) with other people to be a natural need. These unions,
or associations, must be based on equality and individuality in order to
be fully satisfying to those who join them -- i.e. they must be organised
in an anarchist manner, i.e. voluntary, decentralised, and

Solidarity -- co-operation between individuals -- is necessary for
life and is far from a denial of liberty. Solidarity, observed
Errico Malatesta, "is the only environment in which Man can express
his personality and achieve his optimum development and enjoy the
greatest possible wellbeing." This "coming together of individuals
for the wellbeing of all, and of all for the wellbeing of each,"

results in "the freedom of each not being limited by, but
complemented -- indeed finding the necessary raison d'etre in
-- the freedom of others." [Anarchy, p. 29] In other words,
solidarity and co-operation means treating each other as equals,
refusing to treat others as means to an end and creating relationships
which support freedom for all rather than a few dominating the many.
Emma Goldman reiterated this theme, noting "what wonderful results
this unique force of man's individuality has achieved when strengthened
by co-operation with other individualities . . . co-operation -- as
opposed to internecine strife and struggle -- has worked for the
survival and evolution of the species. . . . only mutual aid and
voluntary co-operation . . . can create the basis for a free
individual and associational life." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 118]

Solidarity means associating together as equals in order to satisfy our
common interests and needs. Forms of association not based on solidarity
(i.e. those based on inequality) will crush the individuality of those
subjected to them. As Ret Marut points out, liberty needs solidarity, the
recognition of common interests:

"The most noble, pure and true love of mankind is the love
of oneself. I want to be free! I hope to be
happy! I want to appreciate all the beauties of the
world. But my freedom is secured only when all
other people around me are free. I can only be happy when all other people
around me are happy. I can only be joyful when all the people I see and
meet look at the world with joy-filled eyes. And only then
can I eat my fill with pure enjoyment when I have the secure knowledge that other
people, too, can eat their fill as I do. And for that reason it is a
question of my own contentment, only of my own
self, when I rebel against every danger which threatens
my freedom and my happiness. . ." [Ret Marut (a.k.a. B. Traven),

The BrickBurner magazine quoted by
Karl S. Guthke, B. Traven: The life behind the legends, pp. 133-4]

To practice solidarity means that we recognise, as in the slogan of
Industrial Workers of the World, that "an injury to one
is an injury to all." Solidarity, therefore, is the means to protect individuality and
liberty and so is an expression of self-interest. As Alfie Kohn points out:

"when we think about co-operation. . . we tend to associate the concept
with fuzzy-minded idealism. . . This may result from confusing co-operation
with altruism. . . Structural co-operation defies the usual egoism/altruism
dichotomy. It sets things up so that by helping you I am helping myself at
the same time. Even if my motive initially may have been selfish, our fates
now are linked. We sink or swim together. Co-operation is a shrewd and highly
successful strategy - a pragmatic choice that gets things done at work and
at school even more effectively than competition does. . . There is also
good evidence that co-operation is more conductive to psychological health
and to liking one another." [No Contest: The Case Against
Competition, p. 7]

And, within a hierarchical society, solidarity is important not only
because of the satisfaction it gives us, but also because it is necessary
to resist those in power. Malatesta's words are relevant here:

"the oppressed masses who have never completely resigned themselves
to oppress and poverty, and who . . . show themselves thirsting for
justice, freedom and wellbeing, are beginning to understand that they
will not be able to achieve their emancipation except by union and
solidarity with all the oppressed, with the exploited everywhere in
the world." [Anarchy, p. 33]

By standing together, we can increase our
strength and get what we want. Eventually, by organising into groups, we
can start to manage our own collective affairs together and so replace the
boss once and for all. "Unions will. . . multiply the individual's means and secure his assailed property." [Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, p. 258] By acting in solidarity, we can also replace the current
system with one more to our liking: "in union there is strength." [Alexander
Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 74]

Solidarity is thus the means by which we can obtain and ensure our own
freedom. We agree to work together so that we will not have to work for
another. By agreeing to share with each other we increase our options so
that we may enjoy more, not less. Mutual aid is in my self-interest --
that is, I see that it is to my advantage to reach agreements with others
based on mutual respect and social equality; for if I dominate someone,
this means that the conditions exist which allow domination, and so in
all probability I too will be dominated in turn.

As Max Stirner saw, solidarity is the means by which we ensure that our
liberty is strengthened and defended from those in power who want to rule
us: "Do you yourself count for nothing then?", he asks. "Are you bound to let anyone do anything he wants to you? Defend yourself and no one will touch you. If millions of people are behind you, supporting you, then you are a formidable force and you will win without difficulty." [quoted in Luigi Galleani's
The End of Anarchism?, p. 79 - different translation in The Ego
and Its Own, p. 197]

Solidarity, therefore, is important to anarchists because it is the means
by which liberty can be created and defended against power. Solidarity is
strength and a product of our nature as social beings. However, solidarity
should not be confused with "herdism," which implies passively following a
leader. In order to be effective, solidarity must be created by free people,
co-operating together as equals. The "big WE" is not solidarity, although
the desire for "herdism" is a product of our need for solidarity and union.
It is a "solidarity" corrupted by hierarchical society, in which people are
conditioned to blindly obey leaders.

A.2.7 Why do anarchists argue for self-liberation?

Liberty, by its very nature, cannot be given. An individual cannot be
freed by another, but must break his or her own chains through
their own effort. Of course, self-effort can also be part of collective
action, and in many cases it has to be in order to attain its ends. As
Emma Goldman points out:

"History tells us that every oppressed class [or group or individual]
gained true liberation from its masters by its own efforts."
[Red Emma Speaks, p. 167]

Anarchists have long argued that people can only free themselves
by their own actions. The various methods anarchists suggest to aid this
process will be discussed in section J ("What Do
Anarchists Do?") and will
not be discussed here. However, these methods all involve people
organising themselves, setting their own agendas, and acting in ways that
empower them and eliminate their dependence on leaders to do things for
them. Anarchism is based on people "acting for themselves" (performing what anarchists call "direct action" -- see
section J.2 for details).

Direct action has an empowering and liberating effect on those involved in
it. Self-activity is the means by which the creativity, initiative,
imagination and critical thought of those subjected to authority can be
developed. It is the means by which society can be changed. As Errico
Malatesta pointed out:

"Between man and his social environment there is a reciprocal action.
Men make society what it is and society makes men what they are, and
the result is therefore a kind of vicious circle. To transform society
men [and women] must be changed, and to transform men, society must be
changed . . . Fortunately existing society has not been created by
the inspired will of a dominating class, which has succeeded in
reducing all its subjects to passive and unconscious instruments of
its interests. It is the result of a thousand internecine struggles,
of a thousand human and natural factors . . .

"From this the possibility of progress . . . We must take advantage
of all the means, all the possibilities and the opportunities that
the present environment allows us to act on our fellow men [and
women] and to develop their consciences and their demands . . .
to claim and to impose those major social transformations which
are possible and which effectively serve to open the way to
further advances later . . . We must seek to get all the people
. . . to make demands, and impose itself and take for itself all
the improvements and freedoms it desires as and when it reaches
the state of wanting them, and the power to demand them . . .
we must push the people to want always more and to increase its
pressures [on the ruling elite], until it has achieved complete
emancipation." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas,
pp. 188-9]

Society, while shaping all individuals, is also created by them, through
their actions, thoughts, and ideals. Challenging institutions that
limit one's freedom is mentally liberating, as it sets in motion the
process of questioning authoritarian relationships in general. This
process gives us insight into how society works, changing our ideas and
creating new ideals. To quote Emma Goldman again: "True emancipation begins. . . in woman's soul." And in a man's too, we might add. It is
only here that we can "begin [our] inner regeneration, [cutting] loose from the weight of prejudices, traditions and customs." [Op. Cit., p.
167] But this process must be self-directed, for as Max Stirner notes,
"the man who is set free is nothing but a freed man. . . a dog dragging a piece of chain with him." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 168] By changing
the world, even in a small way, we change ourselves.

In an interview during the Spanish Revolution, the Spanish anarchist
militant Durutti said, "we have a new world in our hearts." Only
self-activity and self-liberation allows us to create such a vision
and gives us the confidence to try to actualise it in the real

Anarchists, however, do not think that self-liberation must wait
for the future, after the "glorious revolution." The personal is political,
and given the nature of society, how we act in the here and now will
influence the future of our society and our lives. Therefore, even in
pre-anarchist society anarchists try to create, as Bakunin puts it,
"not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself."
We can do so by creating alternative social
relationships and organisations, acting as free people in a
non-free society. Only by our actions in the here and now can
we lay the foundation for a free society. Moreover, this process
of self-liberation goes on all the time:

"Subordinates of all kinds exercise their capacity for critical
self-reflection every day -- that is why masters are thwarted,
frustrated and, sometimes, overthrown. But unless masters are
overthrown, unless subordinates engage in political activity,
no amount of critical reflection will end their subjection and
bring them freedom." [Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract,
p. 205]

Anarchists aim to encourage these tendencies in everyday life
to reject, resist and thwart authority and bring them to their
logical conclusion -- a society of free individuals, co-operating
as equals in free, self-managed associations. Without this process
of critical self-reflection, resistance and self-liberation a
free society is impossible. Thus, for anarchists, anarchism comes
from the natural resistance of subordinated people striving to
act as free individuals within a hierarchical world. This process
of resistance is called by many anarchists the "class
struggle" (as
it is working class people who are generally the most subordinated
group within society) or, more generally, "social struggle."
It is
this everyday resistance to authority (in all its forms) and the
desire for freedom which is the key to the anarchist revolution.
It is for this reason that "anarchists emphasise over and over
that the class struggle provides the only means for the workers
[and other oppressed groups] to achieve control over their
destiny." [Marie-Louise Berneri, Neither East Nor West,
p. 32]

Revolution is a process, not an event, and every
"spontaneous revolutionary action" usually results
from and is based upon the patient work of many years of
organisation and education by people with "utopian" ideas. The
process of "creating the new world in the shell of the old" (to use
another I.W.W. expression), by building alternative
institutions and relationships, is but one component of what
must be a long tradition of revolutionary commitment and

As Malatesta made clear, "to encourage popular
organisations of all kinds is the logical consequence
of our basic ideas, and should therefore be an integral
part of our programme. . . anarchists do not want to emancipate
the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves. . . ,
we want the new way of life to emerge from the body of the
people and correspond to the state of their development
and advance as they advance." [Op. Cit., p. 90]

Unless a process of self-emancipation occurs, a free society is
impossible. Only when individuals free themselves, both materially
(by abolishing the state and capitalism) and intellectually (by
freeing themselves of submissive attitudes towards authority),
can a free society be possible. We should not forget that capitalist
and state power, to a great extent, is power over the minds of those
subject to them (backed up, of course, with sizeable force if the
mental domination fails and people start rebelling and resisting). In
effect, a spiritual power as the ideas of the ruling class dominate
society and permeate the minds of the oppressed. As long as this
holds, the working class will acquiesce to authority, oppression
and exploitation as the normal condition of life. Minds submissive
to the doctrines and positions of their masters cannot hope to win
freedom, to revolt and fight. Thus the oppressed must overcome the
mental domination of the existing system before they can throw
off its yoke (and, anarchists argue, direct action is the means
of doing both -- see sections J.2
and J.4). Capitalism and statism
must be beaten spiritually and theoretically before it is beaten
materially (many anarchists call this mental liberation "class
consciousness" -- see section B.7.4). And self-liberation through
struggle against oppression is the only way this can be done. Thus
anarchists encourage (to use Kropotkin's term) "the spirit of

Self-liberation is a product of struggle, of self-organisation,
solidarity and direct action. Direct action is the means of creating
anarchists, free people, and so "Anarchists have always advised
taking an active part in those workers' organisations which carry
on the direct struggle of Labour against Capital and its protector,
-- the State." This is because "[s]uch a struggle . . . better than
any indirect means, permits the worker to obtain some temporary
improvements in the present conditions of work, while it opens his
[or her] eyes to the evil that is done by Capitalism and the State
that supports it, and wakes up his [or her] thoughts concerning the
possibility of organising consumption, production and exchange without
the intervention of the capitalist and the state," that is, see the
possibility of a free society. Kropotkin, like many anarchists,
pointed to the Syndicalist and Trade Union movements as a means of
developing libertarian ideas within existing society (although he,
like most anarchists, did not limit anarchist activity exclusively
to them). Indeed, any movement which "permit[s] the working men
[and women] to realise their solidarity and to feel the community
of their interests . . . prepare[s] the way for these conceptions"
of communist-anarchism, i.e. the overcoming the spiritual domination of
existing society within the minds of the oppressed. [Evolution and
Environment, p. 83 and p. 85]

For anarchists, in the words of a Scottish Anarchist militant, the
"history of human progress [is] seen as the history of rebellion and
disobedience, with the individual debased by subservience to authority
in its many forms and able to retain his/her dignity only through
rebellion and disobedience." [Robert Lynn, Not a Life Story, Just a
Leaf from It, p. 77] This is why anarchists stress self-liberation
(and self-organisation, self-management and self-activity). Little
wonder Bakunin considered "rebellion" as one of the
"three fundamental principles [which] constitute the essential
conditions of all human development, collective or individual, in
history." [God
and the State, p. 12] This is simply because individuals and
groups cannot be freed by others, only by themselves. Such
rebellion (self-liberation) is the only means by which existing
society becomes more libertarian and an anarchist society a possibility.

A.2.8 Is it possible to be an anarchist without opposing hierarchy?

No. We have seen that anarchists abhor authoritarianism. But if
one is an anti-authoritarian, one must oppose all hierarchical institutions,
since they embody the principle of authority. For, as Emma Goldman
argued, "it is not only government in the sense of the state which
is destructive of every individual value and quality. It is the
whole complex authority and institutional domination which
strangles life. It is the superstition, myth, pretence, evasions,
and subservience which support authority and institutional
domination." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 435] This means that
"there is and will always
be a need to discover and overcome structures of hierarchy, authority
and domination and constraints on freedom: slavery, wage-slavery
[i.e. capitalism], racism, sexism, authoritarian schools, etc."
[Noam Chomsky, Language and Politics, p. 364]

Thus the consistent anarchist must oppose hierarchical relationships
as well as the state. Whether economic, social or political, to be
an anarchist means to oppose hierarchy. The argument for this (if
anybody needs one) is as follows:

A hierarchy is a pyramidally-structured organisation composed of a series
of grades, ranks, or offices of increasing power, prestige, and (usually)
remuneration. Scholars who have investigated the hierarchical form have
found that the two primary principles it embodies are domination and
exploitation. For example, in his classic article "What Do Bosses Do?" (Review of Radical Political Economy, Vol. 6, No. 2), a study of the
modern factory,
Steven Marglin found that the main function of the corporate hierarchy
is not greater productive efficiency (as capitalists claim), but greater
control over workers, the purpose of such control being more effective

Control in a hierarchy is maintained by coercion, that is, by the threat
of negative sanctions of one kind or another: physical, economic,
psychological, social, etc. Such control, including the repression of
dissent and rebellion, therefore necessitates centralisation: a set
of power relations in which the greatest control is exercised by the
few at the top (particularly the head of the organisation), while those
in the middle ranks have much less control and the many at the bottom
have virtually none.

Since domination, coercion, and centralisation are essential
features of authoritarianism, and as those features are embodied in
hierarchies, all hierarchical institutions are authoritarian. Moreover,
for anarchists, any organisation marked by hierarchy, centralism and
authoritarianism is state-like, or "statist." And as anarchists oppose
both the state and authoritarian relations, anyone who does not seek to
dismantle all forms of hierarchy cannot be called an anarchist.
This applies to capitalist firms. As Noam Chomsky points out, the structure
of the capitalist firm is extremely hierarchical, indeed fascist, in

"a fascist system. . . [is] absolutist - power goes from top down . . .
the ideal state is top down control with the public essentially
following orders.

"Let's take a look at a corporation. . . [I]f you look at what they
are, power goes strictly top down, from the board of directors to
managers to lower managers to ultimately the people on the shop
floor, typing messages, and so on. There's no flow of power or
planning from the bottom up. People can disrupt and make
suggestions, but the same is true of a slave society. The structure
of power is linear, from the top down." [Keeping the Rabble in
Line, p. 237]

David Deleon indicates these similarities between the company
and the state well when he writes:

"Most factories are like military dictatorships. Those at the
bottom are privates, the supervisors are sergeants, and on up
through the hierarchy. The organisation can dictate everything
from our clothing and hair style to how we spend a large portion
of our lives, during work. It can compel overtime; it can require
us to see a company doctor if we have a medical complaint; it
can forbid us free time to engage in political activity; it
can suppress freedom of speech, press and assembly -- it can use
ID cards and armed security police, along with closed-circuit
TVs to watch us; it can punish dissenters with 'disciplinary
layoffs' (as GM calls them), or it can fire us. We are forced,
by circumstances, to accept much of this, or join the millions
of unemployed. . . In almost every job, we have only the 'right'
to quit. Major decisions are made at the top and we are expected
to obey, whether we work in an ivory tower or a mine shaft."
["For Democracy Where We Work: A rationale for social
self-management", Reinventing Anarchy, Again,
Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.), pp. 193-4]

Thus the consistent anarchist must oppose hierarchy in all its
forms, including the capitalist firm. Not to do so is to support
archy -- which an anarchist, by definition,
cannot do. In other words, for anarchists, "[p]romises to obey,
contracts of (wage)
slavery, agreements requiring the acceptance of a subordinate
status, are all illegitimate because they do restrict and
restrain individual autonomy." [Robert Graham, "The Anarchist
Contract, Reinventing Anarchy, Again, Howard J. Ehrlich
(ed.), p. 77] Hierarchy, therefore, is against the basic principles which
drive anarchism. It denies what makes us human and "divest[s] the
personality of its most integral traits; it denies the very notion
that the individual is competent to deal not only with the
management of his or her personal life but with its most
important context: the social context." [Murray Bookchin,

The Ecology of Freedom, p. 129]

Some argue that as long as an association is voluntary, whether it has an
hierarchical structure is irrelevant. Anarchists disagree. This is for
two reasons. Firstly, under
capitalism workers are
driven by economic necessity to sell their labour (and so liberty)
to those who own the means of life. This process re-enforces the
economic conditions workers face by creating "massive disparities
in wealth . . . [as] workers. . . sell their labour to the
capitalist at a price which does not reflect its real value."

"To portray the parties to an employment contract,
for example, as free and equal to each other is to ignore the serious
inequality of bargaining power which exists between the worker
and the employer. To then go on to portray the relationship
of subordination and exploitation which naturally results as
the epitome of freedom is to make a mockery of both individual
liberty and social justice." [Robert Graham, Op. Cit., p. 70]

It is for this reason that anarchists support collective action
and organisation: it increases the bargaining power of working
people and allows them to assert their autonomy (see
section J).

Secondly, if we take the key element as being whether an association
is voluntary or not we would have to argue that the current state
system must be considered as "anarchy." In a modern democracy no
one forces an individual to live in a specific state. We are free
to leave and go somewhere else. By ignoring the hierarchical nature
of an association, you can end up supporting organisations based
upon the denial of freedom (including capitalist companies, the armed
forces, states even) all because they are "voluntary." As Bob Black
argues, "[t]o demonise state authoritarianism while ignoring
identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements
in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy
is fetishism at its worst." [The Libertarian as Conservative,
The Abolition of Work and other essays, p. 142]
Anarchy is more than being free to pick a master.

Therefore opposition to hierarchy is a key anarchist position, otherwise
you just become a "voluntary archist" - which is hardly anarchistic.
For more on this see section A.2.14 (
Why is voluntarism not enough?).

Anarchists argue that organisations do not need to be hierarchical, they
can be based upon co-operation between equals who manage their own affairs
directly. In this way we can do without without hierarchical structures
(i.e. the delegation of power in the hands of a few). Only when an
association is self-managed by its members can it be considered truly

We are sorry to belabour this point, but some capitalist apologists,
apparently wanting to appropriate the "anarchist" name because of its
association with freedom, have recently claimed that one can be both a
capitalist and an anarchist at the same time (as in so-called "anarcho"
capitalism). It should now be clear that since capitalism is based on
hierarchy (not to mention statism and exploitation), "anarcho"-capitalism
is a contradiction in terms. (For more on this, see
Section F)

A.2.9 What sort of society do anarchists want?

Anarchists desire a decentralised society, based on free association. We
consider this form of society the best one for maximising the values we
have outlined above -- liberty, equality and solidarity. Only by a
rational decentralisation of power, both structurally and territorially,
can individual liberty be fostered and encouraged. The delegation of power
into the hands of a minority is an obvious denial of individual liberty
and dignity. Rather than taking the management of their own affairs away
from people and putting it in the hands of others, anarchists favour
organisations which minimise authority, keeping power at the base, in
the hands of those who are affected by any decisions reached.

Free association is the cornerstone of an anarchist society. Individuals
must be free to join together as they see fit, for this is the basis of
freedom and human dignity. However, any such free agreement must be based
on decentralisation of power; otherwise it will be a sham (as in capitalism),
as only equality provides the necessary social context for freedom to grow
and development. Therefore anarchists support directly democratic
collectives, based on "one person one vote" (for the rationale of direct
democracy as the political counterpart of free agreement, see section
A.2.11 -- Why do most anarchists support direct

We should point out here that an anarchist society does not imply some
sort of idyllic state of harmony within which everyone agrees. Far from
it! As Luigi Galleani points out, "[d]isagreements and friction will
always exist. In fact they are an essential condition of unlimited progress.
But once the bloody area of sheer animal competition - the struggle for
food - has been eliminated, problems of disagreement could be solved
without the slightest threat to the social order and individual liberty."

[The End of Anarchism?, p. 28] Anarchism aims to "rouse the spirit of
initiative in individuals and in groups." These will "create in their
mutual relations a movement and a life based on the principles of free
understanding" and recognise that "variety, conflict even, is life
and that uniformity is death." [Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism, p. 143]

Therefore, an anarchist society will be based upon co-operative conflict
as "[c]onflict, per se, is not harmful. . . disagreements exist [and should
not be hidden] . . . What makes disagreement destructive is not the fact of
conflict itself but the addition of competition." Indeed, "a rigid
demand for agreement means that people will effectively be prevented from
contributing their wisdom to a group effort." [Alfie Kohn, No
Contest: The Case Against Competition, p. 156] It is
for this reason that most anarchists reject consensus decision making in
large groups (see section A.2.12).

So, in an anarchist society associations would be run by mass assemblies of
all involved, based upon extensive discussion, debate and co-operative
conflict between equals, with purely administrative tasks being handled by
elected committees. These committees would be made up of mandated, recallable
and temporary delegates who carry out their tasks under the watchful eyes of
the assembly which elected them. Thus in an anarchist society,
"we'll look after our affairs ourselves and decide what to
do about them. And when, to put our ideas into action, there
is a need to put someone in charge of a project, we'll tell
them to do [it] in such and such a way and no other . . .
nothing would be done without our decision. So our delegates,
instead of people being individuals whom we've given the right
to order us about, would be people . . . [with] no authority,
only the duty to carry out what everyone involved wanted."
[Errico Malatesta, Fra Contadini, p. 34] If the delegates act against their mandate
or try to extend their influence or work beyond that already decided by the
assembly (i.e. if they start to make policy decisions), they can be instantly
recalled and their decisions abolished. In this way, the organisation remains
in the hands of the union of individuals who created it.

This self-management by the members of a group at the base and the power
of recall are essential tenets of any anarchist organisation.
The key difference between a statist or hierarchical system and an
anarchist community is who wields power. In a parliamentary system, for
example, people give power to a group of representatives to make decisions for
them for a fixed period of time. Whether they carry out their promises
is irrelevant as people cannot recall them till the next election. Power
lies at the top and those at the base are expected to obey. Similarly,
in the capitalist workplace, power is held by an unelected minority of
bosses and managers at the top and the workers are expected to obey.

In an anarchist society this
relationship is reversed. No one individual or group (elected or unelected)
holds power in an anarchist community. Instead decisions are made using direct
democratic principles and, when required, the community can elect or appoint
delegates to carry out these decisions. There is a clear distinction between
policy making (which lies with everyone who is affected) and the co-ordination
and administration of any adopted policy (which is the job for delegates).

These egalitarian communities, founded by free agreement, also freely
associate together in confederations. Such a free confederation would be
run from the bottom up, with decisions following from the elemental
assemblies upwards. The confederations would be run in the same manner as
the collectives. There would be regular local regional, "national" and
international conferences in which all important issues and problems
affecting the collectives involved would be discussed. In addition,
the fundamental, guiding principles and ideas of society would
be debated and policy decisions made, put into practice, reviewed,
and co-ordinated. The delegates would simply "take their given mandates
to the relative meetings and try to harmonise their various needs
and desires. The deliberations would always be subject to the control
and approval of those who delegated them" and so "there would be
no danger than the interest of the people [would] be forgotten."
[Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 36]

Action committees would be formed, if required, to co-ordinate and
administer the decisions of the assemblies and their congresses, under
strict control from below as discussed above. Delegates to such bodies
would have a limited tenure and, like the delegates to the congresses,
have a fixed mandate -- they are not able to make decisions on behalf
of the people they are delegates for. In addition, like the delegates
to conferences and congresses, they would be subject to instant recall
by the assemblies and congresses from which they emerged in the first
place. In this way any committees required to
co-ordinate join activities would be, to quote Malatesta's words, "always
under the direct control of the population" and so express the
"decisions taken at popular assemblies." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 175 and p. 129]

Most importantly, the basic community assemblies can overturn any decisions
reached by the conferences and withdraw from any confederation. Any
compromises that are made by a delegate during negotiations have to go
back to a general assembly for ratification. Without that ratification
any compromises that are made by a delegate are not binding on the
community that has delegated a particular task to a particular
individual or committee. In addition,
they can call confederal conferences to discuss new developments and to
inform action committees about changing wishes and to instruct them on
what to do about any developments and ideas.

In other words, any delegates required within an anarchist organisation
or society are not representatives (as they are in a democratic
government). Kropotkin makes the difference clear:

"The question of true delegation versus representation can be better
understood if one imagines a hundred or two hundred men [and women],
who meet each day in their work and share common concerns . . . who
have discussed every aspect of the question that concerns them and
have reached a decision. They then choose someone and send him [or
her] to reach an agreement with other delegates of the same kind. . .
The delegate is not authorised to do more than explain to other
delegates the considerations that have led his [or her] colleagues
to their conclusion. Not being able to impose anything, he [or she]
will seek an understanding and will return with a simple proposition
which his mandatories can accept or refuse. This is what happens
when true delegation comes into being." [Words of a
Rebel, p. 132]

Unlike in a representative system, power is not delegated into the
hands of the few. Rather, any delegate is simply a mouthpiece for
the association that elected (or otherwise selected) them in the
first place. All delegates and action committees would be mandated
and subject to instant recall to ensure they express the wishes of
the assemblies they came from rather than their own. In this way
government is replaced by anarchy, a network of free associations
and communities co-operating as equals based on a system of mandated
delegates, instant recall, free agreement and free federation from
the bottom up.

Only this system would ensure the "free organisation of the people,
an organisation from below upwards." This "free federation from
below upward" would start with the basic "association" and their
federation "first into a commune, then a federation of communes
into regions, of regions into nations, and of nations into an
international fraternal association." [Michael Bakunin, The
Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 298] This network of anarchist communities would work on three levels. There
would be "independent Communes for the territorial organisation, and of
federations of Trade Unions [i.e. workplace associations] for the
organisation of men [and women] in accordance with their different
functions. . . [and] free combines and societies . . . for the
satisfaction of all possible and imaginable needs, economic, sanitary,
and educational; for mutual protection, for the propaganda of ideas,
for arts, for amusement, and so on." [Peter Kropotkin, Evolution and
Environment, p. 79] All would be based on self-management, free
association, free federation and self-organisation from the bottom up.

By organising in this manner, hierarchy is abolished in all aspects of
life, because the people
at the base of the organisation are in control, not their delegates.
Only this form of organisation can replace government (the initiative and
empowerment of the few) with anarchy (the initiative and empowerment of
all). This form of organisation would exist in all activities which
required group work and the co-ordination of many people. It would be, as
Bakunin said, the means "to integrate individuals into structures which
they could understand and control." [quoted by Cornelious Castoriadis,
Political and Social Writings, vol. 2, p. 97] For individual initiatives, the
individual involved would manage them.

As can be seen, anarchists wish to create a society based upon structures
that ensure that no individual or group is able to wield power over others.
Free agreement, confederation and the power of recall, fixed mandates and
limited tenure are mechanisms by which power is removed from the hands of
governments and placed in the hands of those directly affected by the

For a fuller discussion on what an anarchist society would
look like see section I. Anarchy,
however, is not some distant goal but rather
an aspect of current struggles against oppression and exploitation.
Means and ends are linked, with direct action generating mass
participatory organisations and preparing people to directly manage
their own personal and collective interests. This is because anarchists,
as we discuss in section I.2.3, see the framework of a free society
being based on the organisations created by the oppressed in their
struggle against capitalism in the here and now. In this sense,
collective struggle creates the organisations as well as the individual
attitudes anarchism needs to work. The struggle against oppression is
the school of anarchy. It teaches us not only how to be anarchists but
also gives us a glimpse of what an anarchist society would be like,
what its initial organisational framework could be and the experience
of managing our own activities which is required for such a society to
work. As such, anarchists try to create the kind of world we want
in our current struggles and do not think our ideas are only applicable
"after the revolution." Indeed, by applying our principles today we
bring anarchy that much nearer.

A.2.10 What will abolishing hierarchy mean and achieve?

The creation of a new society based upon libertarian organisations will
have an incalculable effect on everyday life. The empowerment of millions
of people will transform society in ways we can only guess at now.

However, many consider these forms of organisation as impractical and
doomed to failure. To those who say that such confederal, non-authoritarian organisations
would produce confusion and disunity, anarchists maintain that the
statist, centralised and hierarchical form of organisation produces
indifference instead of involvement, heartlessness instead of solidarity,
uniformity instead of unity, and privileged elites instead of equality.
More importantly, such organisations destroy individual initiative and
crush independent action and critical thinking. (For more on hierarchy,
see section B.1 -- "Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?").

That libertarian organisation can work and is based upon (and promotes)
liberty was demonstrated in the Spanish Anarchist movement. Fenner
Brockway, Secretary of the British Independent Labour Party, when visiting
Barcelona during the 1936 revolution, noted that "the great solidarity that existed among the Anarchists was due to each individual relying on his [sic]
own strength and not depending upon leadership. . . . The organisations
must, to be successful, be combined with free-thinking people; not a
mass, but free individuals" [quoted by Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-syndicalism, p. 67f]

As sufficiently indicated already, hierarchical, centralised structures
restrict freedom. As Proudhon noted: "the centralist system is all
very well as regards size, simplicity and construction: it lacks but one
thing -- the individual no longer belongs to himself in such a system, he
cannot feel his worth, his life, and no account is taken of him at all."

[quoted in Paths in Utopia, Martin Buber, p. 33]

The effects of hierarchy can be seen all around us. It does not work.
Hierarchy and authority exist everywhere, in the workplace, at home, in
the street. As Bob Black puts it, "[i]f you spend most of your waking life taking orders or kissing ass, if you get habituated to hierarchy, you will
become passive-aggressive, sado-masochistic, servile and stupefied, and
you will carry that load into every aspect of the balance of your life." ["The Libertarian as Conservative," The Abolition of Work and other
essays, pp. 147-8]

This means that the end of hierarchy will mean a massive transformation
in everyday life. It will involve the creation of individual-centred
organisations within which all can exercise, and so develop, their
abilities to the fullest. By involving themselves and participating
in the decisions that affect them, their workplace, their community and
society, they can ensure the full development of their individual

With the free participation of all in social life, we would quickly
see the end of inequality and injustice. Rather than people existing
to make ends meet and being used to increase the wealth and power of
the few as under capitalism, the end of hierarchy would see (to
quote Kropotkin) "the well-being of all" and it is "high time for
the worker to assert his [or her] right to the common inheritance,
and to enter into possession of it." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 35
and p. 44] For only taking possession of the means of life (workplaces,
housing, the land, etc.) can ensure "liberty and justice, for liberty
and justice are not decreed but are the result of economic
independence. They spring from the fact that the individual is
able to live without depending on a master, and to enjoy . . .
the product of his [or her] toil." [Ricardo Flores Magon, Land
and Liberty, p. 62] Therefore liberty requires the abolition of
capitalist private property rights in favour of "use rights."

(see section B.3 for more details). Ironically, the "abolition of
property will free the people from homelessness and nonpossession."
[Max Baginski, "Without Government," Anarchy! An Anthology of
Emma Goldman's Mother Earth, p. 11] Thus anarchism promises "both requisites
of happiness -- liberty and wealth." In anarchy, "mankind
will live in freedom and in comfort." [Benjamin Tucker, Why
I am an Anarchist, p. 135 and p. 136]

Only self-determination and free agreement on every level of
society can develop the responsibility, initiative, intellect and
solidarity of individuals and society as a whole. Only anarchist
organisation allows the vast talent which exists within humanity to be
accessed and used, enriching society by the very process of enriching and
developing the individual. Only by involving everyone in the process of
thinking, planning, co-ordinating and implementing the decisions that
affect them can freedom blossom and individuality be fully developed and
protected. Anarchy will release the creativity and talent of the mass of
people enslaved by hierarchy.

Anarchy will even be of benefit for those who are said to benefit from
capitalism and its authority relations. Anarchists "maintain that both rulers and ruled are spoiled by authority; both exploiters and exploited are spoiled by exploitation." [Peter Kropotkin, Act for Yourselves,
p. 83] This is because "[i]n any hierarchical relationship the dominator as well as the submissive pays his dues. The price paid for the 'glory of
command' is indeed heavy. Every tyrant resents his duties. He is relegated
to drag the dead weight of the dormant creative potential of the
submissive all along the road of his hierarchical excursion."

[For Ourselves, The Right to Be Greedy, Thesis 95]

A.2.11 Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?

For most anarchists, direct democratic voting on policy decisions
within free associations is the political counterpart of free
agreement (this is also known as "self-management"). The reason
is that "many forms of domination can be carried out in a 'free.'
non-coercive, contractual manner. . . and it is naive. . . to think
that mere opposition to political control will in itself lead to an
end of oppression." [John P. Clark, Max Stirner's Egoism, p. 93]
Thus the relationships we create within an organisation is as
important in determining its libertarian nature as its voluntary
nature (see section A.2.14

for more discussion).

It is obvious that individuals must work together in order to lead a fully
human life. And so, "[h]aving to join with others humans" the

individual has three options: "he [or she] must submit to the will of
others (be enslaved) or subject others to his will (be in authority) or
live with others in fraternal agreement in the interests of the greatest
good of all (be an associate). Nobody can escape from this necessity."
[Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 85]

Anarchists obviously pick the last option, association, as the only means
by which individuals can work together as free and equal human beings,
respecting the uniqueness and liberty of one another. Only within direct
democracy can individuals express themselves, practice critical thought and
self-government, so developing their intellectual and ethical capacities
to the full. In terms of increasing an individual's freedom and their
intellectual, ethical and social faculties, it is far better to be sometimes
in a minority than be subject to the will of a boss all the time. So what
is the theory behind anarchist direct democracy?

As Bertrand Russell noted, the anarchist "does not wish to abolish
government in the sense of collective decisions: what he does wish
to abolish is the system by which a decision is enforced upon those
who oppose it." [Roads to Freedom, p. 85] Anarchists see
self-management as the means to achieve this. Once an individual
joins a community or workplace, he or she becomes
a "citizen" (for want of a better word) of that association. The association
is organised around an assembly of all its members (in the case of large
workplaces and towns, this may be a functional sub-group such as a specific
office or neighbourhood). In this assembly, in concert with others, the content
of his or her political obligations are defined. In acting within the
association, people must exercise critical judgement and choice, i.e. manage
their own activity. Rather than promising to obey (as in hierarchical
organisations like the state or capitalist firm), individuals
participate in making their own collective decisions, their own
commitments to their fellows. This means that political obligation is not owed to a
separate entity above the group or society, such as the state or company, but
to one's fellow "citizens."

Although the assembled people collectively legislate the rules governing
their association, and are bound by them as individuals, they are also
superior to them in the sense that these rules can always be modified or
repealed. Collectively, the associated "citizens" constitute a political
"authority", but as this "authority" is based on horizontal relationships
between themselves rather than vertical ones between themselves and an
elite, the "authority" is non-hierarchical ("rational" or "natural," see
section B.1 - "Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?" - for more on this). Thus Proudhon:

"In place of laws, we will put contracts [i.e. free agreement]. - No
more laws voted by a majority, nor even unanimously; each citizen,
each town, each industrial union, makes its own laws." [The General
Idea of the Revolution, pp. 245-6]

Such a system does not mean, of course, that everyone participates
in every decision needed, no matter how trivial. While any decision
can be put to the assembly (if the assembly so decides, perhaps
prompted by some of its members), in practice certain activities
(and so purely functional decisions) will be handled by the
association's elected administration. This is because, to quote
a Spanish anarchist activist, "a collectivity as such cannot write
a letter or add up a list of figures or do hundreds of chores which
only an individual can perform." Thus the need "to organise the
administration." Supposing an association is "organised without
any directive council or any hierarchical offices" which "meets
in general assembly once a week or more often, when it settles
all matters needful for its progress" it still "nominates a
commission with strictly administrative functions." However,
the assembly "prescribes a definite line of conduct for this
commission or gives it an imperative mandate" and so "would
be perfectly anarchist." As it "follows that delegating

these tasks to qualified individuals, who are instructed in advance how
to proceed, . . . does not mean an abdication of that collectivity's
own liberty." [Jose Llunas Pujols, quoted by Max Nettlau, A
Short History of Anarchism, p. 187] This, it should be noted,
follows Proudhon's ideas that within the workers' associations
"all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the
approval of the members." [Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 222]

Instead of capitalist or statist hierarchy, self-management (i.e.
direct democracy) would be the guiding principle of the freely
joined associations that make up a free society. This would apply
to the federations of associations an anarchist society would
need to function. "All the commissions or delegations nominated
in an anarchist society," correctly argued Jose Llunas Pujols,

"must be subject to replacement and recall at any time by the
permanent suffrage of the section or sections that elected them."
Combined with the "imperative mandate" and "purely administrative
functions," this "make[s] it thereby impossible for anyone to
arrogate to himself [or herself] a scintilla of authority."
[quoted by Max Nettlau, Op. Cit., pp. 188-9] Again, Pujols follows
Proudhon who demanded twenty years previously the "implementation
of the binding mandate" to ensure the people do not "adjure
their sovereignty." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 63]

By means of a federalism based on mandates and elections, anarchists
ensure that decisions flow from the bottom-up. By making our own
decisions, by looking after our joint interests ourselves, we exclude
others ruling over us. Self-management, for anarchists, is essential
to ensure freedom within the organisations so needed for any decent
human existence.

Of course it could be argued that if you are in a minority, you are
governed by others ("Democratic rule is still rule" [L. Susan Brown,
The Politics of Individualism, p. 53]). Now, the concept of
direct democracy as we have
described it is not necessarily tied to the concept of majority rule.
If someone finds themselves in a minority on a particular vote, he or she
is confronted with the choice of either consenting or refusing to
recognise it as binding. To deny the minority the opportunity to exercise
its judgement and choice is to infringe its autonomy and to impose
obligation upon it which it has not freely accepted. The coercive
imposition of the majority will is contrary to the ideal of self-assumed
obligation, and so is contrary to direct democracy and free association.
Therefore, far from being a denial of freedom, direct democracy within the
context of free association and self-assumed obligation is the only means
by which liberty can be nurtured ("Individual autonomy limited by the
obligation to hold given promises." [Malatesta, quoted by quoted by Max
Nettlau, Errico Malatesta: The Biography of an Anarchist]).
Needless to say, a minority, if it remains
in the association, can argue its case and try to convince the majority of
the error of its ways.

And we must point out here that anarchist support for direct democracy does
not suggest we think that the majority is always right. Far from it! The case
for democratic participation is not that the majority is always right, but
that no minority can be trusted not to prefer its own advantage to the
good of the whole. History proves what common-sense predicts, namely that
anyone with dictatorial powers (by they a head of state, a boss, a husband,
whatever) will use their power to enrich and empower themselves at the
expense of those subject to their decisions.

Anarchists recognise that majorities can and do make mistakes and that is
why our theories on association place great importance on minority rights.
This can be seen from our theory of self-assumed obligation, which bases
itself on the right of minorities to protest against majority decisions
and makes dissent a key factor in decision making. Thus Carole Pateman:

"If the majority have acted in bad faith. . . [then the] minority will
have to take political action, including politically disobedient action
if appropriate, to defend their citizenship and independence, and the
political association itself. . . Political disobedience is merely one
possible expression of the active citizenship on which a self-managing
democracy is based . . . The social practice of promising involves the
right to refuse or change commitments; similarly, the practice of
self-assumed political obligation is meaningless without the practical
recognition of the right of minorities to refuse or withdraw consent,
or where necessary, to disobey." [The Problem of Political
Obligation, p. 162]

Moving beyond relationships within associations, we must highlight how
different associations work together. As would be imagined, the links between
associations follow the same outlines as for the associations themselves.
Instead of individuals joining an association, we have associations
joining confederations. The links between associations in the confederation
are of the same horizontal and voluntary nature as within associations, with
the same rights of "voice and exit" for members and the same rights for
minorities. In this way society becomes an association of associations,
a community of communities, a commune of communes, based upon maximising
individual freedom by maximising participation and self-management.

The workings of such a confederation are outlined in section A.2.9
( What sort of society do anarchists want?)
and discussed in greater detail in section I (What
would an anarchist society look like?).

This system of direct democracy fits nicely into anarchist theory. Malatesta
speaks for all anarchists when he argued that "anarchists deny the right of
the majority to govern human society in general." As can
be seen, the majority has no right to enforce itself on a minority -- the
minority can leave the association at any time and so, to use Malatesta's
words, do not have to "submit to the decisions of the majority before they
have even heard what these might be." [The Anarchist Revolution,
p. 100 and p. 101] Hence, direct
democracy within voluntary association does not create "majority rule"
nor assume that the minority must submit to the majority no matter what.
In effect, anarchist supporters of direct democracy argue that it
fits Malatesta's argument that:

"Certainly anarchists recognise that where life is lived in common it
is often necessary for the minority to come to accept the opinion of
the majority. When there is an obvious need or usefulness in doing
something and, to do it requires the agreement of all, the few should
feel the need to adapt to the wishes of the many . . . But such adaptation
on the one hand by one group must be on the other be reciprocal,
voluntary and must stem from an awareness of need and of goodwill to
prevent the running of social affairs from being paralysed by obstinacy.
It cannot be imposed as a principle and statutory norm. . ." [Op.
p. 100]

As the minority has the right to secede from the association as well as
having extensive rights of action, protest and appeal, majority rule
is not imposed as a principle. Rather, it is purely a decision making
tool which allows minority dissent and opinion to be expressed (and
acted upon) while ensuring that no minority forces its will on the
majority. In other words, majority decisions are not binding on the
minority. After all, as Malatesta argued:

"one cannot expect, or even wish, that someone who is firmly convinced
that the course taken by the majority leads to disaster, should sacrifice
his [or her] own convictions and passively look on, or even worse, should
support a policy he [or she] considers wrong." [Errico Malatesta: His
Life and Ideas, p. 132]

Even the Individual Anarchist Lysander Spooner acknowledged that direct
democracy has its uses when he noted that "[a]ll, or nearly all, voluntary
associations give a majority, or some other portion of the members less
than the whole, the right to use some limited discretion as to the
means to be used to accomplish the ends in view." However, only the
unanimous decision of a jury (which would "judge the law, and the justice
of the law") could determine individual rights as this "tribunal fairly
represent[s] the whole people" as "no law can rightfully be enforced
by the association in its corporate capacity, against the goods, rights,
or person of any individual, except it be such as all members of the
association agree that it may enforce" (his support of juries results
from Spooner acknowledging that it "would be impossible in practice" for

all members of an association to agree) [Trial by Jury, p. 130-1f,
p. 134, p. 214, p. 152 and p. 132]

Thus direct democracy and individual/minority rights need not clash.
In practice, we can imagine direct democracy would be used to make most
decisions within most associations (perhaps with super-majorities required
for fundamental decisions) plus some combination of a jury system and
minority protest/direct action and evaluate/protect minority claims/rights
in an anarchist society. The actual forms of freedom can only be created
through practical experience by the people directly involved.

Lastly, we must stress that anarchist support for direct democracy does
not mean that this solution is to be favoured in all circumstances. For
example, many small associations may favour consensus decision making
(see the next section on consensus and
why most anarchists do not think
that it is a viable alternative to direct democracy). However, most
anarchists think that direct democracy within free association is the
best (and most realistic) form of organisation which is consistent with
anarchist principles of individual freedom, dignity and equality.

A.2.12 Is consensus an alternative to direct democracy?

The few anarchists who reject direct democracy within free associations
generally support consensus in decision making. Consensus is based
upon everyone on a group agreeing to a decision before it can be put
into action. Thus, it is argued, consensus stops the majority ruling
the minority and is more consistent with anarchist principles.

Consensus, although the "best" option in decision making, as all agree,
has its problems. As Murray Bookchin points out in describing his
experience of consensus, it can have authoritarian implications:

"In order. . . to create full consensus on a decision, minority
dissenters were often subtly urged or psychologically coerced to decline
to vote on a troubling issue, inasmuch as their dissent would essentially
amount to a one-person veto. This practice, called 'standing aside' in
American consensus processes, all too often involved intimidation of the
dissenters, to the point that they completely withdrew from the
decision-making process, rather than make an honourable and continuing
expression of their dissent by voting, even as a minority, in accordance
with their views. Having withdrawn, they ceased to be political beings--so
that a 'decision' could be made. . . . 'consensus' was ultimately achieved only after dissenting members nullified themselves as
participants in the process.

"On a more theoretical level, consensus silenced that most vital aspect of
all dialogue, dissensus. The ongoing dissent, the passionate dialogue that
still persists even after a minority accedes temporarily to a majority
decision,. . . [can be] replaced. . . .by dull monologues -- and the
uncontroverted and deadening tone of consensus. In majority decision-making,
the defeated minority can resolve to overturn a decision on which they have
been defeated -- they are free to openly and persistently articulate reasoned
and potentially persuasive disagreements. Consensus, for its part, honours
no minorities, but mutes them in favour of the metaphysical 'one'
of the 'consensus' group." ["Communalism: The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism", Democracy and Nature, no. 8, p. 8]

Bookchin does not "deny that consensus may be an appropriate form of
decision-making in small groups of people who are thoroughly familiar with
one another." But he notes that, in practical terms, his own experience
has shown him that "when larger groups try to make decisions by
consensus, it usually obliges them to arrive at the lowest common
intellectual denominator in their decision-making: the least
controversial or even the most mediocre decision that a sizeable assembly
of people can attain is adopted-- precisely because everyone must agree
with it or else withdraw from voting on that issue" [Op. Cit., p.7]

Therefore, due to its potentially authoritarian nature, most anarchists
disagree that consensus is the political aspect of free association.
While it is advantageous to try to reach consensus, it is usually
impractical to do so -- especially in large groups -- regardless of its
other, negative effects. Often it demeans a free society or association
by tending to subvert individuality in the name of community and dissent
in the name of solidarity. Neither true community nor solidarity are
fostered when the individual's development and self-expression are aborted
by public disapproval and pressure. Since individuals are all unique,
they will have unique viewpoints which they should be encouraged to
express, as society evolves and is enriched by the actions and ideas of

In other words, anarchist supporters of direct democracy stress the
"creative role of dissent" which, they fear, "tends
to fade away in the gray uniformity required by consensus."
[Op. Cit., p. 8]

We must stress that anarchists are not in favour of a mechanical
decision making process in which the majority just vote the minority away
and ignore them. Far from it! Anarchists who support direct democracy see
it as a dynamic debating process in which majority and minority listen
to and respect each other as far possible and create a decision which
all can live with (if possible). They see the process of participation
within directly democratic associations as the means of creating common
interests, as a process which will encourage diversity, individual and
minority expression and reduce any tendency for majorities to marginalise
or oppress minorities by ensuring discussion and debate occurs on important

A.2.13 Are anarchists individualists or collectivists?

The short answer is: neither. This can be seen from the fact that
liberal scholars denounce anarchists like Bakunin for being
"collectivists" while Marxists attack Bakunin and anarchists in general
for being "individualists."

This is hardly surprising, as anarchists
reject both ideologies as nonsense. Whether they like it or not,
non-anarchist individualists and collectivists are two sides of the same
capitalist coin. This can best shown be by considering modern capitalism,
in which "individualist" and "collectivist" tendencies continually
interact, often with the political and economic structure swinging from
one pole to the other. Capitalist collectivism and individualism are both
one-sided aspects of human existence, and like all manifestations of
imbalance, deeply flawed.

For anarchists, the idea that individuals should sacrifice themselves for
the "group" or "greater good" is nonsensical. Groups are made up of
individuals, and if people think only of what's best for the group, the
group will be a lifeless shell. It is only the dynamics of human
interaction within groups which give them life. "Groups" cannot think,
only individuals can. This fact, ironically, leads authoritarian
"collectivists" to a most particular kind of "individualism," namely the
"cult of the personality" and leader worship. This is to be expected,
since such collectivism lumps individuals into abstract groups, denies
their individuality, and ends up with the need for someone with enough
individuality to make decisions -- a problem that is "solved" by the
leader principle. Stalinism and Nazism are excellent examples of this

Therefore, anarchists recognise that individuals are the basic unit of
society and that only individuals have interests and feelings. This
means they oppose "collectivism" and the glorification of the group.
In anarchist theory the group exists only to aid and develop the
individuals involved in them. This is why we place so much stress
on groups structured in a libertarian manner -- only a libertarian
organisation allows the individuals within a group to fully express
themselves, manage their own interests directly and to create social
relationships which encourage individuality and individual freedom.
So while society and the groups they join shapes the individual, the
individual is the true basis of society. Hence Malatesta:

"Much has been said about the respective roles of individual initiative
and social action in the life and progress of human societies . . .
[E]verything is maintained and kept going in the human world thanks to
individual initiative . . . The real being is man, the individual. Society
or the collectivity - and the State or government which claims
to represent it - if it is not a hollow abstraction, must be made up of
individuals. And it is in the organism of every individual that all
thoughts and human actions inevitably have their origin, and from being
individual they become collective thoughts and acts when they are or
become accepted by many individuals. Social action, therefore, is neither
the negation nor the complement of individual initiatives, but is the
resultant of initiatives, thoughts and actions of all individuals who
make up society . . . [T]he question is not really changing the
relationship between society and the individual . . . [I]t is a question
of preventing some individuals from oppressing others; of giving
all individuals the same rights and the same means of action; and of
replacing the initiative to the few [which Malatesta defines as a
key aspect of government/hierarchy], which inevitably results in the
oppression of everyone else . . . " [Anarchy, pp. 38-38]

These considerations do not mean that "individualism" finds favour with
anarchists. As Emma Goldman pointed out, "'rugged individualism'. . .
is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his
individuality. So-called Individualism is the social and economic
laissez-faire: the exploitation of the masses by the [ruling]
classes by means of legal trickery, spiritual debasement and
systematic indoctrination of the servile spirit . . . That corrupt
and perverse 'individualism' is the straitjacket of individuality
. . [It] has inevitably resulted in the greatest modern slavery,
the crassest class distinctions driving millions to the breadline.
'Rugged individualism' has meant all the 'individualism' for the
masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve
a handful of self-seeking 'supermen.'" [Red Emma Speaks, p. 112]

While groups cannot think, individuals cannot live or discuss by
themselves. Groups and associations are an essential aspect of
individual life. Indeed, as groups generate social relationships
by their very nature, they help shape individuals. In other words,
groups structured in an authoritarian way will have a negative impact
on the freedom and individuality of those within them. However, due to
the abstract nature of their "individualism," capitalist individualists
fail to see any difference between groups structured in a libertarian
manner rather than in an authoritarian one -- they are both "groups".
Because of their one-sided perspective on this issue, "individualists"
ironically end up supporting some of the most "collectivist" institutions
in existence -- capitalist companies -- and, moreover, always find a
need for the state despite their frequent denunciations of it. These
contradictions stem from capitalist individualism's dependence on
individual contracts in an unequal society, i.e. abstract individualism.

In contrast, anarchists stress social "individualism" (another, perhaps
better, term for this concept could be "communal individuality").
Anarchism "insists that the centre of gravity in society is the
individual -- that
he [sic] must think for himself, act freely, and live fully. . . . If he
is to develop freely and fully, he must be relieved from the interference
and oppression of others. . . . [T]his has nothing in common with. . .
'rugged individualism.' Such predatory individualism is really flabby,
not rugged. At the least danger to its safety, it runs to cover of the
state and wails for protection. . . .Their 'rugged individualism' is
simply one of the many pretences the ruling class makes to mask unbridled
business and political extortion." [Emma Goldman, Op. Cit.,
pp. 442-3]

Anarchism rejects the abstract individualism of capitalism, with its
ideas of "absolute" freedom of the individual which is constrained by
others. This theory ignores the social context in which freedom exists
and grows. "The freedom we want," Malatesta argued, "for ourselves
and for others, is not an absolute metaphysical, abstract freedom
which in practice is inevitably translated into the oppression of the
weak; but it is a real freedom, possible freedom, which is the
conscious community of interests, voluntary solidarity." [Anarchy,
p. 43]

A society based on abstract individualism results in an inequality
of power between the contracting individuals and so entails the need for
an authority based on laws above them and organised coercion to enforce the
contracts between them. This consequence is evident from capitalism and,
most notably, in the "social contract" theory of how the state developed.
In this theory it is assumed that individuals are "free" when they are
isolated from each other, as they allegedly were originally in the
"state of nature." Once they join society, they supposedly create a
"contract" and a state to administer it. However, besides being a fantasy
with no basis in reality (human beings have always been social
animals), this "theory" is actually a justification for the state's having extensive
powers over society; and this in turn is a justification of the capitalist
system, which requires a strong state. It also mimics the results of the
capitalist economic relations upon which this theory is built. Within
capitalism, individuals "freely" contract together, but in practice the
owner rules the worker for as long as the contract is in place. (See
sections A.2.14 and
B.4 for further details).

Thus anarchists reject capitalist "individualism" as being,
to quote Kropotkin, "a narrow and selfish individualism" which,
moreover, is "a foolish egoism which belittles the individual"

and is "not individualism at all. It will not lead to what was
established as a goal; that is the complete broad and most
perfectly attainable development of individuality." The hierarchy
of capitalism results in "the impoverishment of individuality" rather than its
development. To this anarchists contrast "the individuality
which attains the greatest individual development possible
through the highest communist sociability in what concerns
both its primordial needs and its relationships with others
in general." [Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution,
p. 295, p. 296 and p. 297] For anarchists, our freedom is enriched
by those around us when we work with them as equals and not as
master and servant.

In practice, both individualism and collectivism lead to a denial of both
individual liberty and group autonomy and dynamics. In addition, each
implies the other, with collectivism leading to a particular form of
individualism and individualism leading to a particular form of

Collectivism, with its implicit suppression of the individual, ultimately
impoverishes the community, as groups are only given life by the
individuals who comprise them. Individualism, with its explicit
suppression of community (i.e. the people with whom you live),
ultimately impoverishes the individual, since individuals do not exist
apart from society but can only exist within it. In addition, individualism
ends up denying the "select few" the insights and abilities of the
individuals who make up the rest of society, and so is a source of
self-denial. This is Individualism's fatal flaw (and contradiction),
namely "the impossibility for the individual to attain a really full development in the conditions of oppression of the mass by the 'beautiful aristocracies'. His [or her] development would remain uni-lateral." [Peter
Kropotkin, Anarchism, p. 293]

True liberty and community exist elsewhere.

A.2.14 Why is voluntarism not enough?

Voluntarism means that association should be voluntary in order maximise
liberty. Anarchists are, obviously, voluntarists, thinking that only in
free association, created by free agreement, can individuals develop,
grow, and express their liberty. However, it is evident that under
capitalism voluntarism is not enough in itself to maximise liberty.

Voluntarism implies promising (i.e. the freedom to make agreements), and
promising implies that individuals are capable of independent judgement
and rational deliberation. In addition, it presupposes that they can
evaluate and change their actions and relationships. Contracts under
capitalism, however, contradict these implications of voluntarism. For,
while technically "voluntary" (though as we show in
section B.4, this is
not really the case), capitalist contracts result in a denial of liberty.
This is because the social relationship of wage-labour involves promising
to obey in return for payment. And as Carole Pateman points out, "to promise
to obey is to deny or to limit, to a greater or lesser degree, individuals'
freedom and equality and their ability to exercise these capacities [of
independent judgement and rational deliberation]. To promise to obey is to
state, that in certain areas, the person making the promise
is no longer free to exercise her capacities and decide upon her own
actions, and is no longer equal, but subordinate." [The Problem of
Political Obligation, p. 19] This results in those obeying no longer
making their own decisions. Thus the rational for voluntarism (i.e.
that individuals are capable of thinking for themselves and must be
allowed to express their individuality and make their own decisions) is
violated in a hierarchical relationship as some are in charge and the
many obey (see also section A.2.8). Thus any voluntarism which generates
relationships of subordination is, by its very nature, incomplete and
violates its own justification.

This can be seen from capitalist society, in which workers sell their
freedom to a boss in order to live.
In effect, under capitalism you are only free to the extent that you can
choose whom you will obey! Freedom, however, must mean more than the
right to change masters. Voluntary servitude is still servitude. For
if, as Rousseau argued, sovereignty,
"for the same reason as makes it inalienable, cannot be represented"
neither can it be sold nor temporarily nullified by a hiring contract.
Rousseau famously argued that the "people of England regards itself
as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the
election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected,
slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing." [The Social Contract
and Discourses, p. 266] Anarchists expand on this analysis. To
paraphrase Rousseau:

Under capitalism the worker regards herself as free; but she is grossly
mistaken; she is free only when she signs her contract with her boss. As
soon as it is signed, slavery overtakes her and she is nothing but an order taker.

To see why, to see the injustice, we need only quote Rousseau:

"That a rich and powerful man, having acquired immense possessions
in land, should impose laws on those who want to establish themselves
there, and that he should only allow them to do so on condition that
they accept his supreme authority and obey all his wishes; that, I
can still conceive . . . Would not this tyrannical act contain a
double usurpation: that on the ownership of the land and that on
the liberty of the inhabitants?" [Op. Cit., p. 316]

Hence Proudhon's comment that "Man may be made by property a slave
or a despot by turns." [What is Property?, p. 371] Little wonder
we discover Bakunin rejecting "any contract with another individual on
any footing but the utmost equality and reciprocity" as this would
"alienate his [or her] freedom" and so would be a "a relationship of
voluntary servitude with another individual." Anyone making such a
contract in a free society (i.e. anarchist society) would be "devoid of
any sense of personal dignity." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings,
pp. 68-9] Only self-managed associations can create relationships of
equality rather than of subordination between its members.

Therefore anarchists stress the need for direct democracy in voluntary
associations in order to ensure that the concept of "freedom" is not a
sham and a justification for domination, as it is under capitalism. Only
self-managed associations can create relationships of equality rather
than of subordination between its members.

It is for this reason that anarchists have opposed capitalism and
urged "workers to form themselves into democratic societies, with
equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism."
[Proudhon, The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 277] For similar
reasons, anarchists (with the notable exception of Proudhon) opposed
marriage as it turned women into "a bonded slave, who takes her
master's name, her master's bread, her master's commands, and serves
her master's passions . . . who can control no property, not even her
own body, without his consent." [Voltairine de Cleyre, quoted by Paul
Avrich, An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre,
p. 160] While marriage, due to feminist agitation, in many countries
has been reformed towards the anarchist ideal of a free union of equals,
it still is based on the patriarchical principles anarchists like
Goldman and de Cleyre identified and condemned (see
section A.3.5 for more on feminism and anarchism).

Clearly, voluntary entry is a necessary but not a sufficient condition
to defend an individual's liberty. This is to be expected as it ignores
(or takes for granted) the social conditions in which agreements are
made and, moreover, ignores the social relationships created by them
("For the worker who must sell his labour, it is impossible to
remain free." [Kropotkin, Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, p. 305]). Any social relationships based on abstract individualism are likely to be
based upon force, power, and authority, not liberty. This of course
assumes a definition of liberty according to which individuals exercise
their capacities and decide their own actions. Therefore, voluntarism is
not enough to create a society that maximises liberty. This is why
anarchists think that voluntary association must be complemented by
self-management (direct democracy) within these associations. For
anarchists, the assumptions of voluntarism imply self-management. Or,
to use Proudhon's words, "as individualism is the primordial fact of
humanity, so association is its complementary term." [System of
Economical Contradictions, p. 430]

To answer the second objection first, in a society based on private
property (and so statism), those with property have more power,
which they can use to perpetuate their authority. "Wealth is power,
poverty is weakness," in the words of Albert Parsons. This means
that under capitalism the much praised "freedom to choose" is
extremely limited. It becomes, for the vast majority, the freedom
to pick a master (under slavery, quipped Parsons, the master
"selected . . . his own slaves. Under the wage slavery system
the wage slave selects his master."). Under capitalism, Parsons
stressed, "those disinherited of their natural rights must hire
out and serve and obey the oppressing class or starve. There
is no other alternative. Some things are priceless, chief among
which are life and liberty. A freeman [or woman] is not for sale
or hire." [Anarchism, p. 99 and p. 98] And why should we excuse
servitude or tolerate those who desire to restrict the liberty
of others? The "liberty" to command is the liberty to enslave,
and so is actually a denial of liberty.

Regarding the first objection, anarchists plead guilty. We are
prejudiced against the reduction of human beings to the status of robots.
We are prejudiced in favour of human dignity and freedom. We are
prejudiced, in fact, in favour of humanity and individuality.

( Section A.2.11 discusses why direct democracy is the necessary social
counterpart to voluntarism (i.e. free agreement). Section B.4 discusses
why capitalism cannot be based on equal bargaining power between property
owners and the propertyless).

A.2.15 What about "human nature"?

Anarchists, far from ignoring "human nature," have the only political
theory that gives this concept deep thought and reflection. Too often,
"human nature" is flung up as the last line of defence in an argument
against anarchism, because it is thought to be beyond reply. This is
not the case, however.

First of all, human nature is a complex thing. If, by human nature,
it is meant "what humans do," it is obvious that human nature is
contradictory -- love and hate, compassion and heartlessness, peace
and violence, and so on, have all been expressed by people and so
are all products of "human nature." Of course, what is considered
"human nature" can change with changing social circumstances. For
example, slavery was considered part of "human nature" and "normal"
for thousands of years. Homosexuality was considered perfectly
normal by the ancient Greeks yet thousands of years later the
Christian church denounced it as unnatural. War only become
part of "human nature" once states developed. Hence Chomsky:

"Individuals are certainly capable of evil . . . But individuals
are capable of all sorts of things. Human nature has lots of ways
of realising itself, humans have lots of capacities and options.
Which ones reveal themselves depends to a large extent on the
institutional structures. If we had institutions which permitted
pathological killers free rein, they'd be running the place. The
only way to survive would be to let those elements of your nature
manifest themselves.

"If we have institutions which make greed the sole property of
human beings and encourage pure greed at the expense of other
human emotions and commitments, we're going to have a society
based on greed, with all that follows. A different society might
be organised in such a way that human feelings and emotions of
other sorts, say, solidarity, support, sympathy become dominant.
Then you'll have different aspects of human nature and personality
revealing themselves." [Chronicles of Dissent, pp. 158]

Therefore, environment plays an important part in defining what
"human nature" is, how it develops and what aspects of it are
expressed. Indeed, one of the greatest myths about anarchism is
the idea that we think human nature is inherently good (rather,
we think it is inherently sociable). How it develops and expresses
itself is dependent on the kind of society we live in and create.
A hierarchical society will shape people in certain (negative)
ways and produce a "human nature" radically different from a
libertarian one. So "when we hear men [and women] saying that
Anarchists imagine men [and women] much better than they really
are, we merely wonder how intelligent people can repeat that
nonsense. Do we not say continually that the only means of
rendering men [and women] less rapacious and egotistic, less
ambitious and less slavish at the same time, is to eliminate
those conditions which favour the growth of egotism and rapacity,
of slavishness and ambition?" [Peter Kropotkin, Act for
Yourselves, p. 83]

As such, the use of "human nature" as an argument against anarchism
is simply superficial and, ultimately, an evasion. It is an excuse
not to think. "Every fool," as Emma Goldman put it, "from king to
policemen, from the flatheaded parson to the visionless dabbler in
science, presumes to speak authoritatively of human nature. The
greater the mental charlatan, the more definite his insistence on
the wickedness and weakness of human nature. Yet how can any one
speak of it to-day, with every soul in prison, with every heart
fettered, wounded, and maimed?" Change society, create a better
social environment and then we can judge what is a product of
our natures and what is the product of an authoritarian system.
For this reason, anarchism "stands for the liberation of the
human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the
human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the
shackles and restraint of government." For "[f]reedom, expansion,
opportunity, and above all, peace and repose, alone can teach us
the real dominant factors of human nature and all its wonderful
possibilities." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 73]

This does not mean that human beings are infinitely plastic, with each
individual born a tabula rasa (blank slate) waiting to be formed by
"society" (which in practice means those who run it). As Noam Chomsky argues,
"I don't think its possible to give a
rational account of the concept of alienated labour on that
assumption [that human nature is nothing but a historical
product], nor is it possible to produce something like a moral
justification for the commitment to some kind of social change,
except on the basis of assumptions about human nature and how
modifications in the structure of society will be better able to
conform to some of the fundamental needs that are part of our
essential nature." [Language and Politics, p. 215] We do not wish to
enter the debate about what human characteristics are and are not
"innate." All we will say is that human beings have an innate ability to
think and learn -- that much is obvious, we feel -- and that humans are
sociable creatures, needing the company of others to feel complete and to
prosper. Moreover, they have the ability to recognise and oppose injustice and
oppression (Bakunin rightly considered "the power to think
and the desire to rebel" as "precious faculties." [God and
the State, p. 9]).

These three features, we think, suggest the viability of an
anarchist society. The innate ability to think for oneself automatically
makes all forms of hierarchy illegitimate, and our need for social
relationships implies that we can organise without the state. The deep
unhappiness and alienation afflicting modern society reveals that the
centralisation and authoritarianism of capitalism and the state is denying
some innate needs within us. In fact, as mentioned earlier, for the great majority of its existence the
human race has lived in anarchic communities, with little or no
hierarchy. That modern society calls such people "savages" or "primitive"
is pure arrogance. So who can tell whether anarchism is against "human
nature"? Anarchists have accumulated much evidence to suggest that it may
not be.

As for the charge the anarchists demand too much of "human
nature," it is often non anarchists who make the greatest
claims on it. For "while our opponents seem to admit there is
a kind of salt of the earth -- the rulers, the employers, the
leaders -- who, happily enough, prevent those bad men -- the
ruled, the exploited, the led -- from becoming still worse than
they are" we anarchists "maintain that both rulers and ruled are
spoiled by authority" and "both exploiters and exploited are
spoiled by exploitation." So "there is [a] difference, and a
very important one. We admit the imperfections of human
nature, but we make no exception for the rulers. They make
it, although sometimes unconsciously, and because we make
no such exception, they say that we are dreamers." [Peter
Kropotkin, Act for Yourselves, p. 83] If human nature is
so bad, then giving some people power over others and hoping
this will lead to justice and freedom is hopelessly utopian.

Moreover, as noted, Anarchists argue that hierarchical organisations
bring out the worse in human nature. Both the oppressor and the
oppressed are negatively affected by the authoritarian
relationships so produced. "It is a characteristic of privilege
and of every kind of privilege," argued Bakunin, "to kill the
mind and heart of man . . . That is a social law which admits
no exceptions . . . It is the law of equality and humanity."
[God and the State, p. 31] And while the privileged become
corrupted by power, the powerless (in general) become servile
in heart and mind (luckily the human spirit is such that there
will always be rebels no matter the oppression for where there
is oppression, there is resistance and, consequently, hope). As
such, it seems strange for anarchists to hear non-anarchists
justify hierarchy in terms of the (distorted) "human nature" it

Sadly, too many have done precisely this. It continues to this
day. For example, with the rise of "sociobiology," some claim
(with very little real evidence) that capitalism is a product
of our "nature," which is determined by our genes. These claims
are simply a new variation of the "human nature" argument and
have, unsurprisingly, been leapt upon by the powers that be.
Considering the dearth of evidence, their support for this
"new" doctrine must be purely the result of its utility to those
in power -- i.e. the fact that it is useful to have an "objective"
and "scientific" basis to rationalise inequalities in wealth and
power (for a discussion of this process see Not in Our Genes:
Biology, Ideology and Human Nature by Steven Rose, R.C. Lewontin
and Leon J. Kamin).

This is not to say that it does not hold a grain of truth. As
scientist Stephen Jay Gould notes, "the range of our potential
behaviour is circumscribed by our biology" and if this is what
sociobiology means "by genetic control, then we can scarcely
disagree." However, this is not what is meant. Rather, it is a
form of "biological determinism" that sociobiology argues for.
Saying that there are specific genes for specific human traits
says little for while "[v]iolence, sexism, and general nastiness
are biological since they represent one subset of a possible
range of behaviours" so are "peacefulness, equality, and kindness."

And so "we may see their influence increase if we can create
social structures that permit them to flourish." That this may
be the case can be seen from the works of sociobiologists
themselves, who "acknowledge diversity" in human cultures while
"often dismiss[ing] the uncomfortable 'exceptions' as temporary
and unimportant aberrations." This is surprising, for if you
believe that "repeated, often genocidal warfare has shaped our
genetic destiny, the existence of nonaggressive peoples is
embarrassing." [Ever Since Darwin, p. 252, p. 257 and p. 254]

Like the social Darwinism that preceded it, sociobiology
proceeds by first projecting the dominant ideas of current society
onto nature (often unconsciously, so that scientists mistakenly
consider the ideas in question as both "normal" and "natural").
Then the theories of nature produced in this manner are transferred

back onto society and history, being used to "prove" that the
principles of capitalism (hierarchy, authority, competition, etc.)
are eternal laws, which are then appealed to as a justification
for the status quo! Amazingly, there are many supposedly intelligent
people who take this sleight-of-hand seriously.

This can be seen when "hierarchies" in nature are used to explain,
and so justify, hierarchies in human societies. Such analogies
are misleading for they forget the institutional nature of
human life. As Murray Bookchin notes in his critique of sociobiology,
a "weak, enfeebled, unnerved, and sick ape is hardly likely to become
an 'alpha' male, much less retain this highly ephemeral 'status.'
By contrast, the most physically and mentally pathological human
rulers have exercised authority with devastating effect in the
course of history." This "expresses a power of hierarchical
institutions over persons that is completely reversed in
so-called 'animal hierarchies' where the absence of institutions
is precisely the only intelligible way of talking about 'alpha
males' or 'queen bees.'" ["Sociobiology or Social Ecology",

Which way for the Ecology Movement?, p. 58] Thus what makes
human society unique is conveniently ignored and the real
sources of power in society are hidden under a genetic screen.

The sort of apologetics associated with appeals to "human nature"
(or sociobiology at its worse) are natural, of course, because every
ruling class needs to justify their right to rule. Hence they support
doctrines that defined the latter in ways appearing to justify elite
power -- be it sociobiology, divine right, original sin, etc. Obviously,
such doctrines have always been wrong . . . until now, of course, as
it is obvious our current society truly conforms to "human nature" and
it has been scientifically proven by our current scientific priesthood!

The arrogance of this claim is truly amazing. History hasn't stopped. One
thousand years from now, society will be completely different from what it
is presently or from what anyone has imagined. No government in place at the
moment will still be around, and the current economic system will not exist.
The only thing that may remain the same is that people will still be claiming
that their new society is the "One True System" that completely conforms to
human nature, even though all past systems did not.

Of course, it does not cross the minds of supporters of capitalism that
people from different cultures may draw different conclusions from the
same facts -- conclusions that may be more valid. Nor does it occur to
capitalist apologists that the theories of the "objective" scientists may
be framed in the context of the dominant ideas of the society they live
in. It comes as no surprise to anarchists, however, that scientists
working in Tsarist Russia developed a theory of evolution based on
cooperation within species, quite unlike their counterparts in
capitalist Britain, who developed a theory based on competitive struggle
within and between species. That the latter theory reflected the dominant
political and economic theories of British society (notably competitive
individualism) is pure coincidence, of course.

Kropotkin's classic work Mutual Aid, for example, was written in
response to the obvious inaccuracies that British representatives of
Darwinism had projected onto nature and human life. Building upon the
mainstream Russian criticism of the British Darwinism of the time,
Kropotkin showed (with substantial empirical evidence) that "mutual
aid" within a group or species played as important a role as "mutual
struggle" between individuals within those groups or species (see
Stephan Jay Gould's essay "Kropotkin was no Crackpot" in his book
Bully for Brontosaurus for details and an evaluation). It was, he
stressed, a "factor" in evolution along with competition, a factor
which, in most circumstances, was far more important to survival.
Thus co-operation is just as "natural" as competition so proving
that "human nature" was not a barrier to anarchism as co-operation
between members of a species can be the best pathway to advantage

To conclude. Anarchists argue that anarchy is not against "human nature"
for two main reasons. Firstly, what is considered as being "human nature"
is shaped by the society we live in and the relationships we create. This
means a hierarchical society will encourage certain personality traits
to dominate while an anarchist one would encourage others. As such,
anarchists "do not so much rely on the fact that human nature will change
as they do upon the theory that the some nature will act differently
under different circumstances." Secondly, change "seems to be one of
the fundamental laws of existence" so "who can say that man [sic!] has
reached the limits of his possibilities." [George Barrett, Objections
to Anarchism, pp. 360-1 and p. 360]

For useful discussions on anarchist ideas on human nature, both of
which refute the idea that anarchists think human beings are naturally
good, see Peter Marshall's "Human nature and anarchism" [David Goodway
(ed.), For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice, pp. 127-149]
and David Hartley's "Communitarian Anarchism and Human Nature".
[Anarchist Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, Autumn 1995, pp. 145-164]

A.2.16 Does anarchism require "perfect" people to work?

No. Anarchy is not a utopia, a "perfect" society. It will be a
human society, with all the problems, hopes, and fears associated with human
beings. Anarchists do not think that human beings need to be "perfect"
for anarchy to work. They only need to be free. Thus Christie and

"[A] common fallacy [is] that revolutionary socialism [i.e. anarchism]
is an 'idealisation' of the workers and [so] the mere recital of their
present faults is a refutation of the class struggle . . . it seems
morally unreasonable that a free society . . . could exist without
moral or ethical perfection. But so far as the overthrow of [existing]
society is concerned, we may ignore the fact of people's shortcomings
and prejudices, so long as they do not become institutionalised. One
may view without concern the fact . . . that the workers might achieve
control of their places of work long before they had acquired the
social graces of the 'intellectual' or shed all the prejudices of the
present society from family discipline to xenophobia. What does it
matter, so long as they can run industry without masters? Prejudices
wither in freedom and only flourish while the social climate is
favourable to them . . . What we say is . . . that once life can
continue without imposed authority from above, and imposed authority
cannot survive the withdrawal of labour from its service, the
prejudices of authoritarianism will disappear. There is no cure
for them other than the free process of education." [The Floodgates
of Anarchy, pp. 36-7]

Obviously, though, we think that a free society will produce people who
are more in tune with both their own and others individuality and needs,
thus reducing individual conflict. Remaining disputes would be solved by
reasonable methods, for example, the use of juries, mutual third parties,
or community and workplace assemblies (see
section I.5.8 for a discussion
of how could be done for anti-social activities as well as disputes).

Like the "anarchism-is-against-human-nature" argument (see section A.2.15), opponents of anarchism usually assume "perfect" people --
people who are not corrupted by power when placed in positions of
authority, people who are strangely unaffected by the distorting effects
of hierarchy, privilege, and so forth. However, anarchists make no such
claims about human perfection. We simply recognise that vesting power
in the hands of one person or an elite is never a good idea, as people
are not perfect.

It should be noted that the idea that anarchism requires a "new" (perfect)
man or woman is often raised by the opponents of anarchism to discredit
it (and, usually, to justify the retention of hierarchical authority,
particularly capitalist relations of production). After all, people are
not perfect and are unlikely ever to be. As such, they pounce on every
example of a government falling and the resulting chaos to dismiss
anarchism as unrealistic. The media loves to proclaim a country to be
falling into "anarchy" whenever there is a disruption in "law and order"
and looting takes place.

Anarchists are not impressed by this argument. A moment's reflection
shows why, for the detractors make the basic mistake of assuming
an anarchist society without anarchists! (A variation of such claims
is raised by the right-wing "anarcho"-capitalists to discredit real
anarchism. However, their "objection" discredits their own claim to
be anarchists for they implicitly assume an anarchist society without anarchists!). Needless to say, an "anarchy" made up of people who
still saw the need for authority, property and statism would soon
become authoritarian (i.e. non-anarchist) again. This is because
even if the government disappeared tomorrow, the same system
would soon grow up again, because "the strength of the government
rests not with itself, but with the people. A great tyrant may be a
fool, and not a superman. His strength lies not in himself, but in the
superstition of the people who think that it is right to obey him. So
long as that superstition exists it is useless for some liberator to
cut off the head of tyranny; the people will create another, for
they have grown accustomed to rely on something outside themselves."
[George Barrett, Objections to Anarchism, p. 355]

Hence Alexander Berkman:

"Our social institutions are founded on certain ideas; as long as
the latter are generally believed, the institutions built on them
are safe. Government remains strong because people think political
authority and legal compulsion necessary. Capitalism will continue
as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just.
The weakening of the ideas which support the evil and oppressive
present day conditions means the ultimate breakdown of government
and capitalism." [What is Anarchism?, p. xii]

In other words, anarchy needs anarchists in order to be created and
survive. But these anarchists need not be perfect, just people who
have freed themselves, by their own efforts, of the superstition that
command-and-obedience relations and capitalist property rights are
necessary. The implicit assumption in the idea that anarchy needs
"perfect" people is that freedom will be given, not taken; hence the
obvious conclusion follows that an anarchy requiring "perfect" people
will fail. But this argument ignores the need for self-activity and
self-liberation in order to create a free society. For anarchists,

"history is nothing but a struggle between the rulers and the ruled,
the oppressors and the oppressed." [Peter Kropotkin, Act for
p. 85] Ideas change through struggle and, consequently, in the struggle
against oppression and exploitation, we not only change the world, we
change ourselves at the same time. So it is the struggle for freedom
which creates people capable of taking the responsibility for their
own lives, communities and planet. People capable of living as equals
in a free society, so making anarchy possible.

As such, the chaos which often results when a government disappears is
not anarchy nor, in fact, a case against anarchism. It simple means that
the necessary preconditions for creating an anarchist society do not
exist. Anarchy would be the product of collective struggle at the heart
of society, not the product of external shocks. Nor, we should note,
do anarchists think that such a society will appear "overnight." Rather,
we see the creation of an anarchist system as a process, not an event.
The ins-and-outs of how it would function will evolve over time in the
light of experience and objective circumstances, not appear in a perfect
form immediately (see section H.2.5
for a discussion of Marxist claims otherwise).

Therefore, anarchists do not conclude that "perfect" people are necessary
anarchism to work because the anarchist is "no liberator with a divine
mission to free humanity, but he is a part of that humanity struggling
onwards towards liberty." As such, "[i]f, then, by some external means
an Anarchist Revolution could be, so to speak, supplied ready-made and
thrust upon the people, it is true that they would reject it and rebuild
the old society. If, on the other hand, the people develop their ideas
of freedom, and they themselves get rid of the last stronghold of
tyranny --- the government -- then indeed the revolution will be
permanently accomplished." [George Barrett, Op. Cit., p. 355]

This is not to suggest that an anarchist society must wait until
everyone is an anarchist. Far from it. It is highly unlikely, for
example, that the rich and powerful will suddenly see the errors
of their ways and voluntarily renounce their privileges. Faced
with a large and growing anarchist movement, the ruling elite
has always used repression to defend its position in society.
The use of fascism in Spain (see section
A.5.6) and Italy (see
section A.5.5) show
the depths the capitalist class can sink to.
Anarchism will be created in the face of opposition by the ruling
minorities and, consequently, will need to defend itself against
attempts to recreate authority (see
section H.2.1 for a refutation
of Marxist claims anarchists reject the need to defend an anarchist
society against counter-revolution).

Instead anarchists argue that we should focus our activity on
convincing those subject to oppression and exploitation that
they have the power to resist both and, ultimately, can end
both by destroying the social institutions that cause them.
As Malatesta argued, "we need the support of the masses to
build a force of sufficient strength to achieve our specific
task of radical change in the social organism by the direct
action of the masses, we must get closer to them, accept them
as they are, and from within their ranks seek to 'push' them
forward as much as possible." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and
Ideas, pp. 155-6] This would create the conditions that make
possible a rapid evolution towards anarchism as what was
initially accepted by a minority "but increasingly finding
popular expression, will make its way among the mass of the
people" and "the minority will become the People, the great
mass, and that mass rising up against property and the State,
will march forward towards anarchist communism." [Kropotkin,

Words of a Rebel, p. 75] Hence the importance anarchists
attach to spreading our ideas and arguing the case for
anarchism. This creates conscious anarchists from those
questioning the injustices of capitalism and the state.

This process is helped by the nature of hierarchical society
and the resistance it naturally developed in those subject to it.
Anarchist ideas develop spontaneously through struggle. As we
discuss in section I.2.3,
anarchistic organisations are often
created as part of the resistance against oppression and exploitation
which marks every hierarchical system and can., potentially, be
the framework of a few society. As such, the creation of libertarian
institutions is, therefore, always a possibility in any situation.
A peoples' experiences may push them towards anarchist conclusions,
namely the awareness that the state exists to protect the wealthy
and powerful few and to disempower the many. That while it is needed
to maintain class and hierarchical society, it is not needed to
organise society nor can it do so in a just and fair way for all.
This is possible. However, without a conscious anarchist presence
any libertarian tendencies are likely to be used, abused and finally
destroyed by parties or religious groups seeking political power
over the masses (the Russian Revolution is the most famous example
of this process). It is for that reason anarchists organise to
influence the struggle and spread our ideas (see
section J.3 for
details). For it is the case that only when anarchist ideas
"acquire a predominating influence" and are "accepted by a
sufficiently large section of the population" will we "have
achieved anarchy, or taken a step towards anarchy." For
anarchy "cannot be imposed against the wishes of the people."

[Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 159 and p. 163]

So, to conclude, the creation of an anarchist society is not dependent
on people being perfect but it is dependent on a large majority being
anarchists and wanting to reorganise society in a libertarian manner.
This will not eliminate conflict between individuals nor create a
fully formed anarchist humanity overnight but it will lay the ground
for the gradual elimination of whatever prejudices and anti-social
behaviour that remain after the struggle to change society has
revolutionised those doing it.

A.2.17 Aren't most people too stupid for a free society to work?

We are sorry to have to include this question in an anarchist FAQ, but we
know that many political ideologies explicitly assume that ordinary people
are too stupid to be able to manage their own lives and run society. All
aspects of the capitalist political agenda, from Left to Right, contain
people who make this claim. Be it Leninists, fascists, Fabians or Objectivists, it
is assumed that only a select few are creative and intelligent and that
these people should govern others. Usually, this elitism is masked by
fine, flowing rhetoric about "freedom," "democracy" and other platitudes
with which the ideologues attempt to dull people's critical thought by
telling them want they want to hear.

It is, of course, also no surprise that those who believe in "natural"
elites always class themselves at the top. We have yet to discover an
"objectivist", for example, who considers themselves part of the great
mass of "second-handers" (it is always amusing to hear people who
simply parrot the ideas of Ayn Rand dismissing other people so!)
or who will be a toilet cleaner in the unknown
"ideal" of "real" capitalism. Everybody reading an elitist text will
consider him or herself to be part of the "select few." It's "natural" in
an elitist society to consider elites to be natural and yourself a
potential member of one!

Examination of history shows that there is a basic elitist ideology which
has been the essential rationalisation of all states and ruling classes
since their emergence at the beginning of the Bronze Age. This ideology
merely changes its outer garments, not its basic inner content.

During the Dark Ages, for example, it was coloured by Christianity, being
adapted to the needs of the Church hierarchy. The most useful "divinely
revealed" dogma to the priestly elite was "original sin": the notion that
human beings are basically depraved and incompetent creatures who need
"direction from above," with priests as the conveniently necessary
mediators between ordinary humans and "God." The idea that average people
are basically stupid and thus incapable of governing themselves is a
carry over from this doctrine, a relic of the Dark Ages.

In reply to all those who claim that most people are "second-handers" or
cannot develop anything more than "trade union consciousness," all we can
say is that it is an absurdity that cannot withstand even a superficial
look at history, particularly the labour movement. The creative powers of
those struggling for freedom is often truly amazing, and if this
intellectual power and inspiration is not seen in "normal" society, this
is the clearest indictment possible of the deadening effects of hierarchy
and the conformity produced by authority. (See also

section B.1 for more on the effects of hierarchy). As Bob Black points

"You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid,
monotonous work, chances are you'll end up boring, stupid, and
monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping
cretinisation all around us than even such significant moronising
mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all
their lives, handed to work from school and bracketed by the family in the
beginning and the nursing home in the end, are habituated to hierarchy and
psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that
their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias.
Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they
start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into
politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from
people at work, they'll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in
everything. They're used to it." [The Abolition of Work and other essays, pp. 21-2]

When elitists try to conceive of liberation, they can only think of it
being given to the oppressed by kind (for Leninists) or stupid (for
Objectivists) elites. It is hardly surprising, then, that it fails. Only
self-liberation can produce a free society. The crushing and distorting
effects of authority can only be overcome by self-activity. The few examples
of such self-liberation prove that most people, once considered incapable
of freedom by others, are more than up for the task.

Those who proclaim their "superiority" often do so out of fear that their
authority and power will be destroyed once people free themselves from the
debilitating hands of authority and come to realise that, in the words
of Max Stirner, "the great are great only because we are on our knees."

As Emma Goldman remarks about women's equality, "[t]he extraordinary achievements of women in every walk of life have silenced forever the
loose talk of women's inferiority. Those who still cling to this fetish do
so because they hate nothing so much as to see their authority challenged.
This is the characteristic of all authority, whether the master over his
economic slaves or man over women. However, everywhere woman is escaping
her cage, everywhere she is going ahead with free, large strides."
[Vision on Fire, p. 256] The same comments are applicable, for example, to the very successful
experiments in workers' self-management during the Spanish Revolution.

Then, of course, the notion that people are too stupid for anarchism to
work also backfires on those who argue it. Take, for example, those who
use this argument to advocate democratic government rather than anarchy.
Democracy, as Luigi Galleani noted, means "acknowledging the right and
the competence of the people to select their rulers." However, "whoever
has the political competence to choose his [or her] own rulers is, by
implication, also competent to do without them, especially when the
causes of economic enmity are uprooted." [The End of Anarchism?, p. 37]
Thus the argument for democracy against anarchism undermines itself,
for "if you consider these worthy electors
as unable to look after their own interests themselves, how is it that
they know how to choose for themselves the shepherds who must guide them?
And how will they be able to solve this problem of social alchemy, of
producing the election of a genius from the votes of a mass of fools?"

[Malatesta, Anarchy, pp. 53-4]

As for those who consider dictatorship as the solution to human stupidity,
the question arises why are these dictators immune to this apparently
universal human trait? And, as Malatesta noted, "who are the best? And
who will recognise these qualities in them?" [Op. Cit., p. 53] If they
impose themselves on the "stupid" masses, why assume they will not exploit
and oppress the many for their own benefit? Or, for that matter, that they
are any more intelligent than the masses? The history of dictatorial and
monarchical government suggests a clear answer to those questions. A similar
argument applies for other non-democratic systems, such as those based
on limited suffrage. For example, the Lockean (i.e. classical liberal
or right-wing libertarian) ideal of a state based on the rule of property
owners is doomed to be little more than a regime which oppresses the
majority to maintain the power and privilege of the wealthy few. Equally,
the idea of near universal stupidity bar an elite of capitalists (the
"objectivist" vision) implies a system somewhat less ideal than the
perfect system presented in the literature. This is because most people
would tolerate oppressive bosses who treat them as means to an end
rather than an end in themselves. For how can you expect people to
recognise and pursue their own self-interest if you consider them
fundamentally as the "uncivilised hordes"? You cannot have it both ways
and the "unknown ideal" of pure capitalism would be a grubby, oppressive
and alienating as "actually existing" capitalism.

As such, anarchists are firmly convinced that arguments against anarchy
based on the lack of ability of the mass of people are inherently
self-contradictory (when not blatantly self-servicing). If people
are too stupid for anarchism then they are too stupid for any system you
care to mention. Ultimately, anarchists argue that such a perspective
simply reflects the servile mentality produced by a hierarchical society
rather than a genuine analysis of humanity and our history as a species.
To quote Rousseau:

"when I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword, and death to preserve
only their independence, I feel that it does not behove slaves to reason
about freedom." [quoted by Noam Chomsky, Marxism, Anarchism, and
Alternative Futures, p. 780]

A.2.18 Do anarchists support terrorism?

No. This is for three reasons.

Terrorism means either targeting or not
worrying about killing innocent people. For anarchy to exist, it must be
created by the mass of people. One does not convince people of one's ideas
by blowing them up. Secondly, anarchism is about self-liberation. One
cannot blow up a social relationship. Freedom cannot be created by the
actions of an elite few destroying rulers on behalf of the majority.
Simply put, a "structure based on centuries of history cannot be destroyed with a
few kilos of explosives." [Kropotkin, quoted by Martin A. Millar,

Kropotkin, p. 174] For so long as people feel the need for rulers, hierarchy will exist (see
section A.2.16 for more on this). As we have stressed earlier, freedom
cannot be given, only taken. Lastly, anarchism aims for freedom. Hence
Bakunin's comment that "when one is carrying out a revolution for the
liberation of humanity, one should respect the life and liberty of
men [and women]." [quoted by K.J. Kenafick, Michael Bakunin and
Karl Marx, p. 125] For anarchists, means determine the ends and
terrorism by its very nature violates life and liberty of individuals
and so cannot be used to create an anarchist society. The history of, say, the Russian Revolution,
confirmed Kropotkin's insight that "[v]ery sad would be the future
revolution if it could only triumph by terror." [quoted by Millar,
Op. Cit., p. 175]

Moreover anarchists are not against individuals but the institutions
and social relationships that cause certain individuals to have power
over others and abuse (i.e. use) that power. Therefore the anarchist
revolution is about destroying structures, not people. As Bakunin
pointed out, "we wish not to kill persons, but to abolish status
and its perquisites" and anarchism "does not mean the death of
the individuals who make up the bourgeoisie, but the death of the
bourgeoisie as a political and social entity economically distinct
from the working class." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 71 and p. 70] In
other words, "You can't blow up a social relationship" (to quote
the title of an anarchist pamphlet which presents the anarchist
case against terrorism).

How is it, then, that anarchism is associated with violence? Partly
this is because the state and media insist on referring to terrorists
who are not anarchists as anarchists. For example, the German
Bader-Meinhoff gang were often called "anarchists" despite their
self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninism. Smears, unfortunately, work.
Similarly, as Emma Goldman pointed out, "it is a known fact known
to almost everyone familiar with the Anarchist movement that a
great number of [violent] acts, for which Anarchists had to
suffer, either originated with the capitalist press or were
instigated, if not directly perpetrated, by the police."
[Red Emma Speaks, p. 262]

An example of this process at work can be seen from the current
anti-globalisation movement. In Seattle, for example, the media
reported "violence" by protestors (particularly anarchist ones)
yet this amounted to a few broken windows. The much greater
actual violence of the police against protestors (which,
incidentally, started before the breaking of a single window)
was not considered worthy of comment. Subsequent media coverage
of anti-globalisation demonstrations followed this pattern, firmly
connecting anarchism with violence in spite of that the protesters
have been the ones to suffer the greatest violence at the hands of
the state. As anarchist activist Starhawk notes, "if breaking
windows and fighting back when the cops attack is 'violence,' then
give me a new word, a word a thousand times stronger, to use when
the cops are beating non-resisting people into comas." [Staying
on the Streets, p. 130]

Similarly, at the Genoa protests in 2001 the mainstream media presented
the protestors as violent even though it was the state who killed one
of them and hospitalised many thousands more. The presence of police
agent provocateurs in creating the violence was unmentioned by the
media. As Starhawk noted afterwards, in Genoa "we encountered a
carefully orchestrated political campaign of state terrorism. The
campaign included disinformation, the use of infiltrators and
provocateurs, collusion with avowed Fascist groups . . . , the
deliberate targeting of non-violent groups for tear gas and beating,
endemic police brutality, the torture of prisoners, the political
persecution of organisers . . . They did all those openly, in a way
that indicates they had no fear of repercussions and expected political
protection from the highest sources." [Op. Cit., pp. 128-9] This
was, unsurprisingly, not reported by the media.

Subsequent protests have seen the media indulge in yet more
anti-anarchist hype, inventing stories to present anarchists are
hate-filled individuals planning mass violence. For example, in
Ireland in 2004 the media reported that anarchists were planning to use
poison gas during EU related celebrations in Dublin. Of course,
evidence of such a plan was not forthcoming and no such action
happened. Neither did the riot the media said anarchists were
organising. A similar process of misinformation accompanied the
anti-capitalist May Day demonstrations in London and the protests
against the Republican National Congress in New York. In spite of
being constantly proved wrong after the event, the media always
prints the scare stories of anarchist violence (even inventing
events at, say Seattle, to justify their articles and to demonise
anarchism further). Thus the myth that anarchism equals violence
is perpetrated. Needless to say, the same papers that hyped the
(non-existent) threat of anarchist violence remained silent on the
actual violence of, and repression by, the police against demonstrators
which occurred at these events. Neither did they run apologies after
their (evidence-less) stories of doom were exposed as the nonsense
they were by subsequent events.

This does not mean that Anarchists have not committed acts of
violence. They have (as have members of other political and
religious movements). The main reason for the association of
terrorism with anarchism is because of the "propaganda by the
deed" period in the anarchist movement.

This period -- roughly from 1880 to 1900 -- was marked by a small
number of anarchists assassinating members of the ruling class
(royalty, politicians and so forth). At its worse, this period saw
theatres and shops frequented by members of the bourgeoisie targeted.
These acts were termed "propaganda by the deed." Anarchist support for
the tactic was galvanised by the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in
1881 by Russian Populists (this event prompted Johann Most's famous
editorial in Freiheit, entitled "At Last!", celebrating regicide
and the assassination of tyrants). However, there were deeper reasons
for anarchist support of this tactic: firstly, in revenge for acts
of repression directed towards working class people; and secondly,
as a means to encourage people to revolt by showing that their
oppressors could be defeated.

Considering these reasons it is no coincidence that propaganda by
the deed began in France after the 20 000-plus deaths due to the
French state's brutal suppression of the Paris Commune, in which
many anarchists were killed. It is interesting to note that while
the anarchist violence in revenge for the Commune is relatively well
known, the state's mass murder of the Communards is relatively unknown.
Similarly, it may be known that the Italian Anarchist Gaetano Bresci
assassinated King Umberto of Italy in 1900 or that Alexander Berkman
tried to kill Carnegie Steel Corporation manager Henry Clay Frick in
1892. What is often unknown is that Umberto's troops had fired upon
and killed protesting peasants or that Frick's Pinkertons had also
murdered locked-out workers at Homestead.

Such downplaying of statist and capitalist violence is hardly
surprising. "The State's behaviour is violence," points out
Max Stirner, "and it calls its violence 'law'; that of the
individual, 'crime.'" [The Ego and Its Own, p. 197] Little
wonder, then, that anarchist violence is condemned but the
repression (and often worse violence) that provoked it ignored
and forgotten. Anarchists point to the hypocrisy of the accusation
that anarchists are "violent" given that such claims come from
either supporters of government or the actual governments themselves,
governments "which came into being through violence, which maintain
themselves in power through violence, and which use violence
constantly to keep down rebellion and to bully other nations."
[Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader, p. 652]

We can get a feel of the hypocrisy surrounding condemnation of
anarchist violence by non-anarchists by considering their response
to state violence. For example, many capitalist papers and individuals
in the 1920s and 1930s celebrated Fascism as well as Mussolini and
Hitler. Anarchists, in contrast, fought Fascism to the death and
tried to assassinate both Mussolini and Hitler. Obviously supporting
murderous dictatorships is not "violence" and "terrorism" but
resisting such regimes is! Similarly, non-anarchists can support
repressive and authoritarian states, war
and the suppression of strikes and unrest by violence ("restoring
law and order") and not be considered "violent." Anarchists, in
contrast, are condemned as "violent" and "terrorist" because a
few of them tried to revenge such acts of oppression and
state/capitalist violence! Similarly, it seems the height of hypocrisy for someone
to denounce the anarchist "violence" which produces a few broken
windows in, say, Seattle while supporting the actual violence of
the police in imposing the state's rule or, even worse, supporting
the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. If anyone should be considered
violent it is the supporter of state and its actions yet people do
not see the obvious and "deplore the type of violence that the
state deplores, and applaud the violence that the state practises."
[Christie and Meltzer, The Floodgates of Anarchy, p. 132]

It must be noted that the majority of anarchists did not support
this tactic. Of those who committed "propaganda by the deed"
(sometimes called "attentats"), as Murray Bookchin points out,
only a "few . . . were members of Anarchist groups. The majority
. . . were soloists." [The Spanish Anarchists, p. 102] Needless
to say, the state and media painted all anarchists with the same
brush. They still do, sometimes inaccurately (such as blaming
Bakunin for such acts even though he had been dead years before
the tactic was even discussed in anarchist circles!).

All in all, the "propaganda by the deed" phase of anarchism was
a failure, as the vast majority of anarchists soon came to see.
Kropotkin can be considered typical. He "never liked the slogan
propaganda by deed, and did not use it to describe his own
ideas of revolutionary action." However, in 1879 while still
"urg[ing] the importance of collective action" he started
"expressing considerable sympathy and interest in attentats"
(these "collective forms of action" were seen as acting "at
the trade union and communal level"). In 1880 he "became less
preoccupied with collective action and this enthusiasm for
acts of revolt by individuals and small groups increased."

This did not last and Kropotkin soon attached "progressively
less importance to isolated acts of revolt" particularly once
"he saw greater opportunities for developing collective action
in the new militant trade unionism." [Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin
and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, p. 92, p. 115, p. 129,
pp. 129-30, p. 205] By the late 1880s and early
1890s he came to disapprove of such acts of violence. This was
partly due to simple revulsion at the worse of the acts (such as
the Barcelona Theatre bombing in response to the state murder
of anarchists involved in the Jerez uprising of 1892 and Emile
Henry's bombing of a cafe in response to state repression) and
partly due to the awareness that it was hindering the anarchist

Kropotkin recognised that the "spate of terrorist acts" of the
1880s had caused "the authorities into taking repressive action
against the movement" and were "not in his view consistent
with the anarchist ideal and did little or nothing to promote
popular revolt." In addition, he was "anxious about the
isolation of the movement from the masses" which "had increased
rather than diminished as a result of the preoccupation with"

propaganda by deed. He "saw the best possibility for popular
revolution in the . . . development of the new militancy in the
labour movement. From now on he focussed his attention increasingly
on the importance of revolutionary minorities working among the
masses to develop the spirit of revolt." However, even during
the early 1880s when his support for individual acts of revolt
(if not for propaganda by the deed) was highest, he saw the
need for collective class struggle and, therefore, "Kropotkin
always insisted on the importance of the labour movement in the
struggles leading up to the revolution." [Op. Cit.,
pp. 205-6, p. 208 and p. 280]

Kropotkin was not alone. More and more anarchists came to see
"propaganda by the deed" as giving the state an excuse to clamp
down on both the anarchist and labour movements. Moreover, it
gave the media (and opponents of anarchism) a chance to associate
anarchism with mindless violence, thus alienating much of the
population from the movement. This false association is renewed
at every opportunity, regardless of the facts (for example, even
though Individualist Anarchists rejected "propaganda by the deed"
totally, they were also smeared by the press as "violent" and

In addition, as Kropotkin pointed out, the assumption behind propaganda
by the deed, i.e. that everyone was waiting for a chance to rebel, was
false. In fact, people are products of the system in which
they live; hence they accepted most of the myths used to
keep that system going. With the failure of propaganda by
deed, anarchists turned back to what most of the movement
had been doing anyway: encouraging the class struggle and
the process of self-liberation. This turn back to the roots
of anarchism can be seen from the rise in anarcho-syndicalist
unions after 1890 (see section A.5.3).

Despite most anarchists' tactical disagreement with propaganda by
deed, few would consider it to be terrorism or rule out assassination
under all circumstances. Bombing a village during a war because there

might be an enemy in it is terrorism, whereas assassinating a murdering
dictator or head of a repressive state is defence at best and revenge
at worst. As anarchists have long pointed out, if by terrorism it is
meant "killing innocent people" then the state is the greatest terrorist
of them all (as well as having the biggest bombs and other weapons of
destruction available on the planet). If the people committing "acts
of terror" are really anarchists, they would do everything possible
to avoid harming innocent people and never use the statist line that
"collateral damage" is regrettable but inevitable. This is why the
vast majority of "propaganda by the deed" acts were directed towards
individuals of the ruling class, such as Presidents and Royalty, and
were the result of previous acts of state and capitalist violence.

So "terrorist" acts have been committed by anarchists. This is a fact.
However, it has nothing to do with anarchism as a socio-political
theory. As Emma Goldman argued, it was "not Anarchism, as such, but
the brutal slaughter of the eleven steel workers [that] was the urge
for Alexander Berkman's act." [Op. Cit., p. 268] Equally, members of
other political and religious groups have also committed such acts.
As the Freedom Group of London argued:

"There is a truism that the man [or woman] in the street seems
always to forget, when he is abusing the Anarchists, or whatever
party happens to be his bete noire for the moment, as the
cause of some outrage just perpetrated. This indisputable
fact is that homicidal outrages have, from time immemorial,
been the reply of goaded and desperate classes, and goaded
and desperate individuals, to wrongs from their fellowmen [and
women], which they felt to be intolerable. Such acts are
the violent recoil from violence, whether aggressive or
repressive . . . their cause lies not in any special
conviction, but in the depths of . . . human nature
itself. The whole course of history, political and social,
is strewn with evidence of this." [quoted by Emma Goldman,

Op. Cit., p. 259]

Terrorism has been used by many other political, social and
religious groups and parties. For example, Christians, Marxists,
Hindus, Nationalists, Republicans, Moslems, Sikhs, Fascists,
Jews and Patriots have all committed acts of terrorism. Few of these
movements or ideas have been labelled as "terrorist by nature" or
continually associated with violence -- which shows anarchism's
threat to the status quo. There is nothing more likely to discredit
and marginalise an idea than for malicious and/or ill-informed
persons to portray those who believe and practice it as
"mad bombers" with no opinions or ideals at all, just an
insane urge to destroy.

Of course, the vast majority of Christians and so on have opposed terrorism
as morally repugnant and counter-productive. As have the vast majority of
anarchists, at all times and places. However, it seems that in our case
it is necessary to state our opposition to terrorism time and time again.

So, to summarise - only a small minority of terrorists have ever been
anarchists, and only a small minority of anarchists have ever been
terrorists. The anarchist movement as a whole has always recognised that
social relationships cannot be assassinated or bombed out of existence.
Compared to the violence of the state and capitalism, anarchist violence
is a drop in the ocean. Unfortunately most people remember the acts of
the few anarchists who have committed violence rather than the acts of
violence and repression by the state and capital that prompted those acts.

A.2.19 What ethical views do anarchists hold?

Anarchist viewpoints on ethics vary considerably, although all share
a common belief in the need for an individual to develop within themselves
their own sense of ethics. All anarchists agree with Max Stirner that
an individual must free themselves from the confines of existing morality
and question that morality -- "I decide whether it is the right thing for
me; there is no right outside me." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 189]

Few anarchists, however, would go so far as Stirner and reject any concept
of social ethics at all (saying that, Stirner does value some universal
concepts although they are egoistic ones). Such extreme moral relativism
is almost as bad as moral absolutism for most anarchists (moral relativism
is the view that there is no right or wrong beyond what suits an individual
while moral absolutism is that view that what is right and wrong is
independent of what individuals think).

It is often claimed that modern society is breaking up because of excessive
"egoism" or moral relativism. This is false. As far as moral relativism goes,
this is a step forward from the moral absolutism urged upon society by various
Moralists and true-believers because it bases itself, however slimly, upon
the idea of individual reason. However, as it denies the existence (or
desirability) of ethics it is but the mirror image of what it is rebelling
against. Neither option empowers the individual or is liberating.

Consequently, both of these attitudes hold enormous attraction to
authoritarians, as a populace that is either unable to form an opinion about
things (and will tolerate anything) or who blindly follow the commands of
the ruling elite are of great value to those in power. Both are rejected by
most anarchists in favour of an evolutionary approach to ethics based upon
human reason to develop the ethical concepts and interpersonal empathy to
generalise these concepts into ethical attitudes within society as well as
within individuals. An anarchistic approach to ethics therefore shares the
critical individual investigation implied in moral relativism but grounds
itself into common feelings of right and wrong. As Proudhon argued:

"All progress begins by abolishing something; every reform rests upon
denunciation of some abuse; each new idea is based upon the proved
insufficiency of the old idea."

Most anarchists take the viewpoint that ethical standards, like life itself,
are in a constant process of evolution. This leads them to reject the various
notions of "God's Law," "Natural Law," and so on in favour of a theory of
ethical development based upon the idea that individuals are entirely
empowered to question and assess the world around them -- in fact, they
require it in order to be truly free. You cannot be an anarchist and blindly
accept anything! Michael Bakunin, one of the founding anarchist thinkers,
expressed this radical scepticism as so:

"No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will
save the world. I cleave to no system. I am a true seeker."

Any system of ethics which is not based on individual questioning can
only be authoritarian. Erich Fromm explains why:

"Formally, authoritarian ethics denies man's capacity to know what is
good or bad; the norm giver is always an authority transcending the
individual. Such a system is based not on reason and knowledge but on
awe of the authority and on the subject's feeling of weakness and
dependence; the surrender of decision making to the authority results
from the latter's magic power; its decisions can not and must not be
questioned. Materially, or according to content, authoritarian ethics
answers the question of what is good or bad primarily in terms of the
interests of the authority, not the interests of the subject; it is
exploitative, although the subject may derive considerable benefits,
psychic or material, from it." [Man For Himself, p. 10]

Therefore Anarchists take, essentially, a scientific approach to problems.
Anarchists arrive at ethical judgements without relying on the mythology of
spiritual aid, but on the merits of their own minds. This is done through
logic and reason, and is a far better route to resolving moral questions
than obsolete, authoritarian systems like orthodox religion and certainly
better than the "there is no wrong or right" of moral relativism.

So, what are the source of ethical concepts? For Kropotkin, "nature has thus
to be recognised as the first ethical teacher of man. The social instinct,
innate in men as well as in all the social animals, - this is the origin
of all ethical conceptions and all subsequent development of morality."

[Ethics, p. 45]

Life, in other words, is the basis of anarchist ethics. This means that,
essentially (according to anarchists), an individual's ethical viewpoints
are derived from three basic sources:

1) from the society an individual lives in. As Kropotkin pointed out,
"Man's conceptions of morality are completely dependent upon the form that
their social life assumed at a given time in a given locality . . . this
[social life] is reflected in the moral conceptions of men and in the moral
teachings of the given epoch." [Op. Cit., p. 315] In other words, experience
of life and of living.

2) A critical evaluation by individuals of their society's ethical norms,
as indicated above. This is the core of Erich Fromm's argument that "Man
must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only using his
own powers can he give meaning to his life . . .there is no meaning to life
except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by
living productively." [Man for Himself, p. 45] In other words, individual
thought and development.

3) The feeling of empathy - "the true origin of the moral sentiment . . .
[is] simply in the feeling of sympathy." ["Anarchist Morality", Anarchism, p. 94] In other words, an individual's ability to
feel and share experiences and concepts with others.

This last factor is very important for the development of a sense of
ethics. As Kropotkin argued, "[t]he more powerful your imagination, the
better you can picture to yourself what any being feels when it is made
to suffer, and the more intense and delicate will your moral sense be. . .
And the more you are accustomed by circumstances, by those surrounding you,
or by the intensity of your own thought and your imagination, to act as
your own thought and imagination urge, the more will the moral sentiment grow
in you, the more will it became habitual." [Op. Cit., p. 95]

So, anarchism is based (essentially) upon the ethical maxim "treat others as
you would like them to treat you under similar circumstances." Anarchists
are neither egoists nor altruists when it come to moral stands, they are
simply human.

As Kropotkin noted, "egoism" and "altruism" both have their roots in the
same motive -- "however great the difference between the two actions in
their result of humanity, the motive is the same. It is the quest for
pleasure." [Op. Cit., p. 85]

For anarchists, a person's sense of ethics must be developed by themselves
and requires the full use of an individual's mental abilities as part of
a social grouping, as part of a community. As capitalism and other forms of
authority weaken the individual's imagination and reduce the number of
outlets for them to exercise their reason under the dead weight of hierarchy
as well as disrupting community, little wonder that life under capitalism
is marked by a stark disregard for others and lack of ethical behaviour.

Combined with these factors is the role played by inequality within
society. Without equality, there can be no real ethics for "Justice
implies Equality. . . only those who consider others as their
equals can obey the rule: 'Do not do to others what you do not wish
them to do to you.' A serf-owner and a slave merchant can evidently
not recognise . . . the 'categorial imperative' [of treating people as
ends in themselves and not as means] as regards serfs [or slaves] because
they do not look upon them as equals." Hence the "greatest obstacle
to the maintenance of a certain moral level in our present societies
lies in the absence of social equality. Without real equality, the
sense of justice can never be universally developed, because Justice
implies the recognition of Equality." [Peter Kropotkin, Evolution
and Environment, p. 88 and p. 79]

Capitalism, like any society, gets the ethical behaviour it deserves..

In a society which moves between moral relativism and absolutism it is
little wonder that egoism becomes confused with egotism. By disempowering
individuals from developing their own ethical ideas and instead encouraging
blind obedience to external authority (and so moral relativism once
individuals think that they are without that authority's power), capitalist
society ensures an impoverishment of individuality and ego. As Erich Fromm
puts it:

"The failure of modern culture lies not in its principle of
individualism, not in the idea that moral virtue is the same as
the pursuit of self-interest, but in the deterioration of the
meaning of self-interest; not in the fact that people are too
much concerned with their self-interest, but that they are not
concerned enough with the interest of their real self; not in
the fact that they are too selfish, but that they do not love
themselves." [Man for Himself, p. 139]

Therefore, strictly speaking, anarchism is based upon an egoistic frame
of reference - ethical ideas must be an expression of what gives us pleasure
as a whole individual (both rational and emotional, reason and empathy).
This leads all anarchists to reject the false division between egoism and
altruism and recognise that what many people (for example, capitalists)
call "egoism" results in individual self-negation and a reduction of
individual self-interest. As Kropotkin argues:

"What was it that morality, evolving in animal and human societies, was
striving for, if not for the opposition to the promptings of narrow
egoism, and bringing up humanity in the spirit of the development of
altruism? The very expressions 'egoism' and 'altruism' are incorrect,
because there can be no pure altruism without an admixture of personal
pleasure - and consequently, without egoism. It would therefore be more
nearly correct to say that ethics aims at the development of social
habits and the weakening of the narrowly personal habits. These last
make the individual lose sight of society through his regard for his own
person, and therefore they even fail to attain their object, i.e. the
welfare of the individual, whereas the development of habits of work
in common, and of mutual aid in general, leads to a series of beneficial
consequences in the family as well as society." [Ethics, pp. 307-8]

Therefore anarchism is based upon the rejection of moral absolutism
(i.e. "God's Law," "Natural Law," "Man's Nature,"

"A is A") and the
narrow egotism which moral relativism so easily lends itself to. Instead,
anarchists recognise that there exists concepts of right and wrong which
exist outside of an individual's evaluation of their own acts.

This is because of the social nature of humanity. The interactions between
individuals do develop into a social maxim which, according to Kropotkin,
can be summarised as "[i]s it useful to society? Then it is good. Is it hurtful?
Then it is bad." Which acts human
beings think of as right or wrong is not, however, unchanging and the
"estimate of what is useful or harmful . . . changes, but the foundation
remains the same." ["Anarchist Morality", Op. Cit., p. 91
and p. 92]

This sense of empathy, based upon a critical mind, is the fundamental basis
of social ethics - the 'what-should-be' can be seen as an ethical criterion
for the truth or validity of an objective 'what-is.' So, while recognising
the root of ethics in nature, anarchists consider ethics as fundamentally a
human idea - the product of life, thought and evolution created by
individuals and generalised by social living and community.

So what, for anarchists, is unethical behaviour? Essentially anything
that denies the most precious achievement of history: the liberty,
uniqueness and dignity of the individual.

Individuals can see what actions are unethical because, due to empathy, they
can place themselves into the position of those suffering the behaviour.
Acts which restrict individuality can be considered unethical for two
(interrelated) reasons.

Firstly, the protection and development of individuality in all enriches the
life of every individual and it gives pleasure to individuals because of
the diversity it produces. This egoist basis of ethics reinforces the
second (social) reason, namely that individuality is good for society for
it enriches the community and social life, strengthening it and allowing
it to grow and evolve. As Bakunin constantly argued, progress is marked by
a movement from "the simple to the complex" or, in the words of Herbert
Read, it "is measured by the degree of differentiation within a society.
If the individual is a unit in a corporate mass, his [or her] life will be
limited, dull, and mechanical. If the individual is a unit on his [or her]
own, with space and potentiality for separate action . . .he can develop -
develop in the only real meaning of the word - develop in consciousness of
strength, vitality, and joy." ["The Philosophy of Anarchism,"
Anarchy and Order, p. 37]

This defence of individuality is learned from nature. In an ecosystem,
diversity is strength and so biodiversity becomes a source of basic ethical
insight. In its most basic form, it provides a guide to "help us distinguish
which of our actions serve the thrust of natural evolution and which of them
impede them." [Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p. 342]

So, the ethical concept "lies in the feeling of sociality, inherent in the
entire animal world and in the conceptions of equity, which constitutes one
of the fundamental primary judgements of human reason." Therefore anarchists embrace "the permanent presence of a double tendency
- towards greater development on the one side, of sociality, and, on the
other side, of a consequent increase of the intensity of life which results
in an increase of happiness for the individuals, and in progress -
physical, intellectual, and moral." [Kropotkin, Ethics, pp. 311-2 and pp. 19-20]

Anarchist attitudes to authority, the state, capitalism, private property
and so on all come from our ethical belief that the liberty of individuals
is of prime concern and that our ability to empathize with others,
to see ourselves in others (our basic equality and common individuality,
in other words).

Thus anarchism combines the subjective evaluation by individuals of a given
set of circumstances and actions with the drawing of objective interpersonal
conclusions of these evaluations based upon empathic bounds and discussion
between equals. Anarchism is based on a humanistic approach to ethical
ideas, one that evolves along with society and individual development. Hence an ethical society is one in which "[d]ifference among people will
be respected, indeed fostered, as elements that enrich the unity of
experience and phenomenon . . . [the different] will be conceived of as
individual parts of a whole all the richer because of its complexity."
[Murray Bookchin, Post Scarcity Anarchism, p. 82]

A.2.20 Why are most anarchists atheists?

It is a fact that most anarchists are atheists. They reject the idea
of god and oppose all forms of religion, particularly organised religion.
Today, in secularised western European countries, religion has lost
its once dominant place in society. This often makes the militant
atheism of anarchism seem strange. However, once the negative role
of religion is understood the importance of libertarian atheism
becomes obvious. It is because of the role of religion and its
institutions that anarchists have spent some time refuting the idea
of religion as well as propagandising against it.

So why do so many anarchists embrace atheism? The simplest answer
is that most anarchists are atheists because it is a logical extension
of anarchist ideas. If anarchism is the rejection of illegitimate
authorities, then it follows that it is the rejection of the so-called
Ultimate Authority, God. Anarchism is grounded in reason, logic, and
scientific thinking, not religious thinking. Anarchists tend to be
sceptics, and not believers. Most anarchists consider the Church to
be steeped in hypocrisy and the Bible a work of fiction, riddled with contradictions, absurdities and horrors. It is notorious in its
debasement of women and its sexism is infamous. Yet men are treated
little better. Nowhere in the bible is there an acknowledgement that
human beings have inherent rights to life, liberty, happiness, dignity,
fairness, or self-government. In the bible, humans are sinners, worms,
and slaves (figuratively and literally, as it condones slavery). God
has all the rights, humanity is nothing.

This is unsurprisingly, given the nature of religion. Bakunin put it

"The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it
is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in
the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and in practice.

"Unless, then, we desire the enslavement and degradation of mankind
. . . we may not, must not make the slightest concession either to the
God of theology or to the God of metaphysics. He who, in this mystical
alphabet, begins with A will inevitably end with Z; he who desires to
worship God must harbour no childish illusions about the matter, but
bravely renounce his liberty and humanity.

"If God is, man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God
does not exist." [God and the State, p. 25]

For most anarchists, then, atheism is required due to the nature of
religion. "To proclaim as divine all that is grand, just, noble, and
beautiful in humanity," Bakunin argued, "is to tacitly admit that
humanity of itself would have been unable to produce it -- that is,
that, abandoned to itself, its own nature is miserable, iniquitous,
base, and ugly. Thus we come back to the essence of all religion --
in other words, to the disparagement of humanity for the greater
glory of divinity." As such, to do justice to our humanity and the
potential it has, anarchists argue that we must do without the
harmful myth of god and all it entails and so on behalf of "human
liberty, dignity, and prosperity, we believe it our duty to recover
from heaven the goods which it has stolen and return them to earth."

[Op. Cit., p. 37 and p. 36]

As well as the theoretical degrading of humanity and its liberty,
religion has other, more practical, problems with it from an
anarchist point of view. Firstly, religions have been a source of
inequality and oppression. Christianity (like Islam), for example,
has always been a force for repression whenever it holds any
political or social sway (believing you have a direct line to god
is a sure way of creating an authoritarian society). The Church
has been a force of social repression, genocide, and the
justification for every tyrant for nearly two millennia. When
given the chance it has ruled as cruelly as any monarch or
dictator. This is unsurprising:

"God being everything, the real world and man are nothing. God being
truth, justice, goodness, beauty, power and life, man is falsehood,
iniquity, evil, ugliness, impotence, and death. God being master, man is
the slave. Incapable of finding justice, truth, and eternal life by his
own effort, he can attain them only through a divine revelation. But
whoever says revelation, says revealers, messiahs, prophets, priests,
and legislators inspired by God himself; and these, as the holy
instructors of humanity, chosen by God himself to direct it in the path
of salvation, necessarily exercise absolute power. All men owe them
passive and unlimited obedience; for against the divine reason there is
no human reason, and against the justice of God no terrestrial justice
holds." [Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 24]

Christianity has only turned tolerant and peace-loving when it is
powerless and even then it has continued its role as apologist for
the powerful. This is the second reason why anarchists oppose the
church for when not being the source of oppression, the church has
justified it and ensured its continuation. It has kept the working
class in bondage for generations by sanctioning the rule of earthly
authorities and teaching working people that it is wrong to fight
against those same authorities. Earthly rulers received their
legitimisation from the heavenly lord, whether political (claiming
that rulers are in power due to god's will) or economic (the rich
having been rewarded by god). The bible praises obedience, raising
it to a great virtue. More recent innovations like the Protestant
work ethic also contribute to the subjugation of working people.

That religion is used to further the interests of the powerful can
quickly be seen from most of history. It conditions the oppressed
to humbly accept their place in life by urging the oppressed to be
meek and await their reward in heaven. As Emma Goldman argued,
Christianity (like religion in general) "contains nothing dangerous
to the regime of authority and wealth; it stands for self-denial
and self-abnegation, for penance and regret, and is absolutely
inert in the face of every [in]dignity, every outrage imposed upon
mankind." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 234]

Thirdly, religion has always been a conservative force in society.
This is unsurprising, as it bases itself not on investigation and
analysis of the real world but rather in repeating the truths
handed down from above and contained in a few holy books. Theism
is then "the theory of speculation" while atheism is "the science
of demonstration." The "one hangs in the metaphysical clouds of the
Beyond, while the other has its roots firmly in the soil. It is the
earth, not heaven, which man must rescue if he is truly to be saved."
Atheism, then, "expresses the expansion and growth of the human mind"
while theism "is static and fixed." It is "the absolutism of theism,
its pernicious influence upon humanity, its paralysing effect upon
thought and action, which Atheism is fighting with all its power."

[Emma Goldman, Op. Cit., p. 243, p. 245 and pp. 246-7]

As the Bible says, "By their fruits shall ye know them." We anarchists
agree but unlike the church we apply this truth to religion as well.
That is why we are, in the main, atheists. We recognise the destructive
role played by the Church, and the harmful effects of organised
monotheism, particularly Christianity, on people. As Goldman summaries,
religion "is the conspiracy of ignorance against reason, of darkness
against light, of submission and slavery against independence and
freedom; of the denial of strength and beauty, against the affirmation
of the joy and glory of life." [Op. Cit., p. 240]

So, given the fruits of the Church, anarchists argue that it is time
to uproot it and plant new trees, the trees of reason and liberty.

That said, anarchists do not deny that religions contain important
ethical ideas or truths. Moreover, religions can be the base for
strong and loving communities and groups. They can offer a sanctuary
from the alienation and oppression of everyday life and offer a guide
to action in a world where everything is for sale. Many aspects of,
say, Jesus' or Buddha's life and teachings are inspiring and worth
following. If this were not the case, if religions were simply a tool
of the powerful, they would have long ago been rejected. Rather,
they have a dual-nature in that contain both ideas necessary to live
a good life as well as apologetics for power. If they did not, the
oppressed would not believe and the powerful would suppress them
as dangerous heresies.

And, indeed, repression has been the fate of any group that
has preached a radical message. In the middle ages numerous
revolutionary Christian movements and sects were crushed by
the earthly powers that be with the firm support of the
mainstream church. During the Spanish Civil War the Catholic
church supported Franco's fascists, denouncing the killing of
pro-Franco priests by supporters of the republic while remaining
silent about Franco's murder of Basque priests who had supported
the democratically elected government (Pope John Paul II is
seeking to turn the dead pro-Franco priests into saints while
the pro-Republican priests remain unmentioned). The Archbishop
of El Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, started out as a conservative
but after seeing the way in which the political and economic
powers were exploiting the people became their outspoken champion.
He was assassinated by right-wing paramilitaries in 1980 because
of this, a fate which has befallen many other supporters of
liberation theology, a radical interpretation of the Gospels which
tries to reconcile socialist ideas and Christian social thinking.

Nor does the anarchist case against religion imply that religious
people do not take part in social struggles to improve society.
Far from it. Religious people, including members of the church
hierarchy, played a key role in the US civil rights movement of
the 1960s. The religious belief within Zapata's army of peasants
during the Mexican revolution did not stop anarchists taking part
in it (indeed, it had already been heavily influenced by the
ideas of anarchist militant Ricardo Flores Magon). It is the
dual-nature of religion which explains why many popular movements
and revolts (particularly by peasants) have taken used the rhetoric
of religion, seeking to keep the good aspects of their faith will
fighting the earthly injustice. For anarchists, it is the willingness
to fight against injustice which counts, not whether someone believes
in god or not. We just think that the social role of religion is to
dampen down revolt, not encourage it. The tiny number of radical
priests compared to those in the mainstream or on the right
suggests the validity of our analysis.

It should be stressed that anarchists, while overwhelmingly hostile to
the idea of the Church and an established religion, do not object to
people practising religious belief on their own or in groups, so long
as that practice doesn't impinge on the liberties of others. For example,
a cult that required human sacrifice or slavery would be antithetical to
anarchist ideas, and would be opposed. But peaceful systems of belief
could exist in harmony within in anarchist society. The anarchist view
is that religion is a personal matter, above all else -- if people want
to believe in something, that's their business, and nobody else's as
long as they do not impose those ideas on others. All we can do is
discuss their ideas and try and convince them of their errors.

To end, it should noted that we are not suggesting that atheism
is somehow mandatory for an anarchist. Far from it. As we discuss
in section A.3.7, there are anarchists who do believe in god or some
form of religion. For example, Tolstoy combined libertarian ideas
with a devote Christian belief. His ideas, along with Proudhon's,
influences the Catholic Worker organisation, founded by anarchists
Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933 and still active today. The
anarchist activist Starhawk, active in the current anti-globalisation
movement, has no problems also being a leading Pagan. However, for most
anarchists, their ideas lead them logically to atheism for, as Emma
Goldman put it, "in its negation of gods is at the same time the
strongest affirmation of man, and through man, the eternal yea to
life, purpose, and beauty." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 248]