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Debate: Anarchism

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* [ Anarchy watch] * [ Anarchy watch]
* [ Excellent page of links for research, from Western Illinois University] * [ Excellent page of links for research, from Western Illinois University]
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==Books:== ==Books:==
* [ Anarchism: Arguments for and Against] : Albert Meltzer * [ Anarchism: Arguments for and Against] : Albert Meltzer

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Is Anarchism a valuable political ideology?

Background and context

On 1st May 2000, the London May Day Carnival against Capitalism, a peaceful demonstration against capitalism, turned into a riot that led to the defacing of the Cenotaph and millions of pounds worth of damage to City buildings. Similar violence has been seen at other large-scale anti-capitalism protests, such as at the World Trade Organisation’s talks in Seattle. In these circumstances, people have come to question the rhetoric and claims of the anarchists. So is anarchism a defensible policy? Can it be supported both in theory and in practice?


Argument #1


Anarchism is essentially a fight for human freedom. Modern states, even those which claim to be democracies, stifle their citizens with oppressive and artificial machinery such as laws and taxes. These are imposed by the people who run the state - the elites, the governing classes. Anarchists believe it is better to live without such controls imposed by such people. This does not mean they stand for complete chaos though; they support co-operation and barter between individuals as profitable. Only without controls can humans truly live naturally and freely.

  • "Lord of the Flies" is not a study of how an anarchist society would fail, Jack became dictator over hunters. The book was a story of how struggles for power corrupt and destroy, how a state no matter what size is inherently violent (this is compounded by the ending of the novel when the boys are rescued from the war on their island and reprimanded by a naval captain who is in command of a warship searching to kill its own enemies), and how hierarchy and authority allow a seemingly good natured child i.e. Roger to turn into a cold-blooded killer and torturer because he was acting on the orders of a higher power.

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."

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.

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 Cornelius 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 decisions.

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 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.


Views on Anarchism

The fact that anarchism is even a viable ideal in anyone's mind is absurd. Those that claim that governmental restraints hinder the true human form fail to look at the facts before them. It is notable that throughout history, human soceity that drifts away from laws and boundaries spirals into an uncontrollable free fall. A classic example can be found in the "Lord of the Flies" by Golding. These supposedly well groomed boys descended into a state of almost inrecognizable insanity. Jack's band of savages, (anarchists, hmmm, ponder that) eventually evolve to commit murder and general unrest throughout the subculture. Anarchism frees its self from supposed governmental red tape and policy making. This defies the very order of society which has spawned the intellectual feats of the past 800 years.

Anarchism is marked by exactly this sort of utopian, unrealistic argument - a diatribe based on the principle that the grass is always greener on the other side. Far from freeing humans, anarchy allow them to be dominated by primitive forces that a controlling state has eliminated, such as the use of physical force by the strong to oppress the weak. Laws and a police force are necessary to prevent this. What is more, a state allows industries to be organised and crops to be grown so as to support its citizens, and without these high-intensity techniques there is no way that all the population could be fed. All advances in art and science have been made possible by a state that brings people and resources together. Anarchism is merely a backward and dreamy approach to serious political matters.

Argument #2


Anarchists believe in a classless society. Modern democracies are divided into classes that continually fight each other; states have created barriers between men that cause hatred and misery. Anarchy removes these barriers, by removing the apparatus that makes economic subjection of others possible.

  • 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.


This is impossible. Some men and women achieve dominance over others due to natural intelligence, skill, cunning, attractiveness or any other advantage. This is nothing to do with a state, and anarchism would not make everyone equal.

Argument #3


States also repress their citizens by removing their ability to govern themselves. Most ‘democracies’ are in fact nothing of the sort; is a general election every 5 years really fully representative of individual’s opinions ? The existence of ‘spin-doctors’ and other such practices shows how governments are misleading the people, not being controlled by them.

  • The main function of the state is to guarantee the existing social relationships and their sources within a given society through centralised power and a monopoly of violence. To use Malatesta's words, the state is basically "the property owners' gendarme." This is because there are "two ways of oppressing men [and women]: either directly by brute force, by physical violence; or indirectly by denying them the means of life and thus reducing them to a state of surrender." The owning class, "gradually concentrating in their hands the means of production, the real sources of life, agriculture, industry, barter, etc., end up establishing their own power which, by reason of the superiority of its means . . . always ends by more or less openly subjecting the political power, which is the government, and making it into its own gendarme." [Op. Cit., p. 23, p. 21 and p. 22]

The state, therefore, is "the political expression of the economic structure" of society and, therefore, "the representative of the people who own or control the wealth of the community and the oppressor of the people who do the work which creates the wealth." [Nicholas Walter, About Anarchism, p. 37] It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the state is the extractive apparatus of society's parasites.

The state ensures the exploitative privileges of its ruling elite by protecting certain economic monopolies from which its members derive their wealth. The nature of these economic privileges varies over time. Under the current system, this means defending capitalist property rights. This service is referred to as "protecting private property" and is said to be one of the two main functions of the state, the other being to ensure that individuals are "secure in their persons." However, although this second aim is professed, in reality most state laws and institutions are concerned with the protection of property.

From this we may infer that references to the "security of persons," "crime prevention," etc., are mostly rationalisations of the state's existence and smokescreens for its perpetuation of elite power and privileges. This does not mean that the state does not address these issues. Of course it does, but, to quote Kropotkin, any "laws developed from the nucleus of customs useful to human communities . . . have been turned to account by rulers to sanctify their own domination." of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment." [Anarchism, p. 215]

Simply put, if the state "presented nothing but a collection of prescriptions serviceable to rulers, it would find some difficulty in insuring acceptance and obedience" and so the law reflects customs "essential to the very being of society" but these are "cleverly intermingled with usages imposed by the ruling caste and both claim equal respect from the crowd." Thus the state's laws have a "two-fold character." While its "origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage" it also passes into law "customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect" -- unlike those "other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., pp. 205-6] To use an obvious example, we find the state using the defence of an individual's possessions as the rationale for imposing capitalist private property rights upon the general public and, consequently, defending the elite and the source of its wealth and power against those subject to it.

Moreover, even though the state does take a secondary interest in protecting the security of persons (particularly elite persons), the vast majority of crimes against persons are motivated by poverty and alienation due to state-supported exploitation and also by the desensitisation to violence created by the state's own violent methods of protecting private property. In other words, the state rationalises its existence by pointing to the social evils it itself helps to create (either directly or indirectly). Hence, anarchists maintain that without the state and the crime-engendering conditions to which it gives rise, it would be possible for decentralised, voluntary community associations to deal compassionately (not punitively) with the few incorrigibly violent people who might remain.

Anarchists think it is pretty clear what the real role of the modern state is. It represents the essential coercive mechanisms by which capitalism and the authority relations associated with private property are sustained. The protection of property is fundamentally the means of assuring the social domination of owners over non-owners, both in society as a whole and in the particular case of a specific boss over a specific group of workers. Class domination is the authority of property owners over those who use that property and it is the primary function of the state to uphold that domination (and the social relationships that generate it). In Kropotkin's words, "the rich perfectly well know that if the machinery of the State ceased to protect them, their power over the labouring classes would be gone immediately." [Evolution and Environment, p. 98] Protecting private property and upholding class domination are the same thing.

The historian Charles Beard makes a similar point:

"Inasmuch as the primary object of a government, beyond mere repression of physical violence, is the making of the rules which determine the property relations of members of society, the dominant classes whose rights are thus to be protected must perforce obtain from the government such rules as are consonant with the larger interests necessary to the continuance of their economic processes, or they must themselves control the organs of government." ["An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution," quoted by Howard Zinn, Op. Cit., p. 89]

This role of the state -- to protect capitalism and the property, power and authority of the property owner -- was also noticed by Adam Smith:

"[T]he inequality of fortune . . . introduces among men a degree of authority and subordination which could not possibly exist before. It thereby introduces some degree of that civil government which is indispensably necessary for its own preservation . . . [and] to maintain and secure that authority and subordination. The rich, in particular, are necessarily interested to support that order of things which can alone secure them in the possession of their own advantages. Men of inferior wealth combine to defend those of superior wealth in the possession of their property, in order that men of superior wealth may combine to defend them in the possession of theirs . . . [T]he maintenance of their lesser authority depends upon that of his greater authority, and that upon their subordination to him depends his power of keeping their inferiors in subordination to them. They constitute a sort of little nobility, who feel themselves interested to defend the property and to support the authority of their own little sovereign in order that he may be able to defend their property and to support their authority. Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all." [The Wealth of Nations, book 5, pp. 412-3]

This is reflected in both the theory and history of the modern state. Theorists of the liberal state like John Locke had no qualms about developing a theory of the state which placed the defence of private property at its heart. This perspective was reflected in the American Revolution. For example, there is the words of John Jay (the first chief justice of the Supreme Court), namely that "the people who own the country ought to govern it." [quoted by Noam Chomksy, Understanding Power, p. 315] This was the maxim of the Founding Fathers of American "democracy" and it has continued ever since.

So, in a nutshell, the state is the means by which the ruling class rules. Hence Bakunin:

"The State is authority, domination, and force, organised by the property-owning and so-called enlightened classes against the masses . . . the State's domination . . . [ensures] that of the privileged classes who it solely represents." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 140]

Under the current system, this means that the state "constitutes the chief bulwark of capital" because of its "centralisation, law (always written by a minority in the interest of that minority), and courts of justice (established mainly for the defence of authority and capital)." Thus it is "the mission of all governments . . . is to protect and maintain by force the . . . privileges of the possessing classes." Consequently, while "[i]n the struggle between the individual and the State, anarchism . . . takes the side of the individual as against the State, of society against the authority which oppresses it," anarchists are well aware that the state does not exist above society, independent of the classes which make it up. [Kropotkin, Anarchism, pp. 149-50, p. 214 and pp. 192-3]

Consequently anarchists reject the idea that the role of the state is simply to represent the interests of the people or "the nation." For "democracy is an empty pretence to the extent that production, finance and commerce -- and along with them, the political processes of the society as well -- are under control of 'concentrations of private power.' The 'national interest' as articulated by those who dominate the . . . societies will be their special interests. Under these circumstances, talk of 'national interest' can only contribute to mystification and oppression." [Noam Chomsky, Radical Priorities, p. 52] Nationalism always reflects the interests of the elite, not those who make up a nation and, consequently, anarchists reject the notion as nothing more than a con (i.e. the use of affection of where you live to further ruling class aims and power).

Indeed, part of the state's role as defender of the ruling elite is to do so internationally, defending "national" (i.e. elite) interests against the elites of other nations. Thus we find that at the IMF and World Bank, nations are represented by ministers who are "closely aligned with particular constituents within their countries. The trade ministers reflect the concerns of the business community" while the "finance ministers and central bank governors are closely tied to financial community; they come from financial firms, and after their period in service, that is where they return . . . These individuals see the world through the eyes of the financial community." Unsurprisingly, the "decisions of any institution naturally reflect the perspectives and interests of those who make the decisions" and so the "policies of the international economic institutions are all too often closely aligned with the commercial and financial interests of those in the advanced industrial countries." [Joseph Stiglitz, Globalisation and its Discontents, pp. 19-20]

This, it must be stressed, does not change in the so-called democratic state. Here, however, the primary function of the state is disguised by the "democratic" facade of the representative electoral system, through which it is made to appear that the people rule themselves. Thus Bakunin writes that the modern state "unites in itself the two conditions necessary for the prosperity of the capitalistic economy: State centralisation and the actual subjection of . . . the people . . . to the minority allegedly representing it but actually governing it." [Op. Cit., p. 210]


Granted, there are many problems with democracy. But these can all be solved within the state structure, by devolving power downwards into regional government, and by holding more frequent referenda. There is no need to do away with the state altogether.

Argument #4


Anarchism has nothing to do with violent organisations that hijack anarchist events for their own reasons. The vast majority are peaceable protesters who would never use violence, and it is lowering the tone of the debate to try and condemn anarchism by association in this way. Anarchism is a viable and fair way of life, that allows humans to live and interact naturally, without a Big Brother controlling us.

  • Anarchist violence is the only violence that can be justified, the only violence that is not criminal.

I speak, of course, of the violence which has truly anarchist characteristics, not of the various blind and irrational acts of violence attributed to anarchists or which have, indeed, been committed by real anarchists roused to fury by abominable persecution, or blinded through an irrational excess of feeling by the sight of social injustice and sorrow for others' sorrow. Real anarchist violence ceases where the need for defense and liberation ceases. It is tempered by the awareness that individuals, taken in isolation, are hardly, if at all responsible for the positions which heredity or environment have bestowed on them. It is inspired bot by hared but love, and it is sacred because its goal is the liberation of all and not the substitution of one form of domination with another. Anarchists are not hypocritical. Force must be countered with force - today against today's oppression, tomorrow against forms of oppression which might seek to replace today's. We want liberty for all, for ourselves and our friends as well as for our adversaries and enemies. Freedom of thought and freedom to propagate our own point of view, freedom to work and organize our own lives in the way we want; not, of course, freedom - and let the communists not equivocate - not freedom to suppress freedom and to exploit the work of others.

Sometimes all it takes to be complicit in the oppression of millions is to be a slave who dies of natural causes.


As can clearly be seen from recent violent act, such as the May Day riots, anarchy is largely a front for organised terrorists gangs and violence-seeking thugs. Their activities are also cover for other civil trouble-makers, such as violent animal rights activists. Their calls for ‘pacifism’ belie their true nature, and their arguments smack of dangerous utopianism. Anarchists seek to subvert all the advances made my mankind over the last millennium.


  • This House believes that anarchy rules
  • This House would bring down the state

In legislation, policy, and the real world:

See also

External links and resources:


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