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Anarchism is a political philosophy that calls for a radical decrease in the level of coercion directed against people in society. As such, it is unalterably opposed to the state, which relies upon coercive instruments such as the police and the army to guarantee obedience to its directives. Anarchism instead aims at a society based on voluntary cooperation.   The root word, anarchy, means literally "no ruler"[1] (compare with monarchy: "one ruler", etc.). It does not, at least in the sense used by anarchists, mean "no organisation" – only that participation in organised activities be always voluntary, not coerced.

The end condition visualised by anarchism has many similarities to that visualised by Marxian communism; the main difference between the two approaches is that anarchism calls for undelayed, direct, movement to the desired condition, whereas Marxism postulates the necessity of an in-between stage in which a state, under proletarian raher than capitalist control, defends agaist capitalist counter-revolution and prepares the ground for the the final stateless, classless society.

The period of "classical" anarchism is regarded (eg., by Gordon, Graeber) as having been the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its principal theorists were Proudhon, Kropotkin, Bakunin and Godwin. After the success of Communist revolutions in the first half of the 20th century, anarchism waned in popularity but anarchist practices gained currency again in some of the more radical sections of 1960s counter hegemonic movements in the Western industrialized countries – eg. radical feminism, environmentalism, animal rights, anti-nuke, etc. – and that stream continued through subsequent decades, recent manifestations being the strong anarchist influence in protests at neoliberal summits (WTO, Seattle, Quebec, etc.) and in the Indignados/Occupy movement. It should be noted that many of the participants in those movements do not self-identify as anarchists although the techniques they are using have been identified by anarchist theorists such as Uri Gordon and David Graeber as belonging to the anarchist tradition. (Participants' non-use of the 'anarchist' label may in some cases be due to reluctance to accept a term that is often publicly conflated with chaos and violence; it may also stem from (postmodernist?) preferences for atheorism and celebration of difference; or then again it could be that they are right and Gordon and Graeber are wrong.)

Consistently with the doctrine that we do not have to wait before transitioning to a non-coercive society, anarchist practise consists of, on the one hand, efforts to undermine the state and other institutions predicated on hierarchy, domination and coercion, such as capitalist corporations; and on the other hand (and complimentary to the first), create oases of horizontally-organised, non-dominating, non-coercive existence within the grim capitalist surroundings. The latter kind of activity is exemplified by squats, cooperatives, "temporary autonomous zones" (TAZ), communes, Occupy encampments, etc., and other instances of "building the new society within the shell of the old."[2] Furthermore, contemporary anarchists attempt to expunge hierarchy and domination from their own organisational proceedures during actions. This prefigurative politics is demonstrated in their "General Assembly" decision making practice which is participatory- or direct-democratic rather than representative-democratic, in their use of consensus decision-making, in their refusal to designate leaders, and in their world wide coordination under banners like Reclaim the Streets, Food not Bombs, etc., under which anyone can operate whenever they feel like it, rather than under hierarchical organisation.

The occasionally obsessive attention paid by contemporary anarchists to correct process in organisational matters illustrates the point that while anarchists are opposed to dominating and coercive forms, they are not opposed to organisation or all types of tradition.


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Contemporary anarchist organisation

According to Gordon (2008) and Graeber (2009) contemporary anarchism tends to organise along the following lines: Affinity group is the small, basic unit of people who know each other well and have a common purpose. Larger gatherings are convergences, general assemblies (GA or PGA – peoples' general assembly), and spokescouncils. Everybody can voice an opinion directly at a GA, but at spokescouncils, each affinity group selects a spokesperson to speak for them. The spokesperson or 'spoke' is not entitled to represent or make decisions for the group, only to transmit their already worked out position to the larger body. The affinity group might be present at the spokescouncil and work out positions on the fly by whispering among themselves and to their spokesperson.

At meetings of any size there is a facilitator or team of facilitators whose job is to alot speaking time, to try to keep discussions coherent, to try to find areas of agreement, and finally, based on the thoughts presented, to attempt to formulate a proposal for action upon which all can agree. (The facilitator may also put forward in unaltered form a prposal made by someone in the crowd if it appears to have broad support.) The proposal is put forward in terms such as "Do we have consensus on ... [proposal] ... ?" A consensus decision-making process is used. Doing nothing, or making a positive sign such as raising the hands palm forward (possibly accompanied by "twinkling" – wiggling the fingers ) indicates an individual's consent to the the proposal. It does not mean "I think this is the best way to proceed;" it means "I can live with this if it's what the group wants to do." One may also stand aside or block. Standing aside means, "I disagree with this and probably won't participate in the action, but I won't atand in the way of others participating." Blocking, often indicated by forming an "X" with the forearms, means, "I think that this violates the principles of unity of the group, and if it were to proceed, there would be a strong possibility that I would quit." A few stand-asides or one block causes the proposal to fail.

According to its advocates, an advantage of this system is that no one is ever put in the position of being coerced by the group will, because if one doesn't want to do something, one can stand aside or block it. They also emphasize that the real value of the system is not in the final test of opinion, but in the process of sounding out the group and synthesizing ideas that comprises most of the meeting. The motive for carrying out that process thouroughly and fairly is strong because if anyone feels that their views were not fairly considered, they can derail everything. By contrast, in a majority vote process, if you know that you have the numbers, you can pretty much ignore minority opinion.

Consensus's supporters claim that in a group that has enough solidarity and sense of common purpose to be effective anyway, stand-asides are infrequent, blocks almost never occurr, and the consultation and synthesis process leads to better solutions and less alienation of members. The scenario where one side gets voted down and is therefore obviously and explicitly "the loser", and then to make matters worse, may be required to help implement the very policy that they rallied against, is avoided by consensus.

In contemporary anarchist consensus meetings, the agenda is intentionally kept away from theoretical questions; proposals are for specific, physical actions: "Should we protest the Republican convention Thursday?", "Should we announce our plans to the media beforehand?, etc. It is believed that consensus is easier to reach when participants are not being asked to subscribe to statements of belief, to endorse something as the "correct theoretical line," etc., but merely to indicate that they think some physical course of action is, at the present time, useful.

Anarchist Groups: Ruckus Society, CrimethInc Collective .

Different types of anarchism

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Anarchists sometimes disagree on what some kinds criteria are required in anarchism. There is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance.[3]

There are many types and traditions of anarchism, not all of which are mutually exclusive[4]. Strains of anarchism have been divided into the categories of social self aware anarchism and anarchism or similar dual classifications[5].Anarchism is often considered to be a communist- related ideology, which it is in a sense, given the phrase "There is no freedom while the state exists". However, anarchism has always included an individualist strain[6] supporting a market economy and private property[7]

Graeber (2009: 214, 18) lists the following as various kinds of anarchists: Associationists, Individualists, Syndicalists, Platformists, Primitivists (eg. John Zerzan), Green Anarchists.

Situationist Marxism is close to anarchism. Its theorists include Guy Debord (La Societe du spectacle, 1967) and Raoul Vaneigm.[8]

Anarchist communism

Anarchist communism stresses egalitarianism and the abolition of social hierarchy and class distinctions that arise from unequal wealth distribution, the abolition of capitalism and money, and the collective production and distribution of wealth by means of voluntary associations. In anarchist communism, the state and property would no longer exist. Each individual and group would be free to contribute to production and to satisfy their needs based on their own choice. Systems of production and distribution would be managed by their participants. The abolition of wage labor is central to anarchist communism. With distribution of wealth being based on self-determined needs, people would be free to engage in whatever activities they found most fulfilling and would no longer have to engage in work for which they have neither the temperament nor the aptitude. Anarchist communists argue that there is no valid way of measuring the value of any one person's economic contributions because all wealth is a collective product of current and preceding generations. For instance, one could not measure the value of a factory worker's daily production without taking into account how transportation, food, water, shelter, relaxation, machine efficiency, emotional mood etc. contributed to their production. To truly give numerical economic value to anything, an infinite amount of externalities and contributing factors would need to be taken into account. Especially current or past labor that contributes to the ability to utilize future labor[9].


The most common criticism, shared by the entire range of critics, is basically that anarchism would swiftly degenerate into a chaotic Hobbesian war of all-against-all. Thus the communist Friedrich Engels wonders "How these people propose to run a factory, operate a railway or steer a ship without having in the last resort one deciding will, without single management, they of course do not tell us." He continues: "The authority of the majority over the minority also ceases. Every individual and every community is autonomous; but as to how society, even of only two people, is possible unless each gives up some of his autonomy, Bakunin again maintains silence." And similarly, the classical liberal Ludwig von Mises states that "An anarchistic society would be exposed to the mercy of every individual. Society cannot exist if the majority is not ready to hinder, by the application or threat of violent action, minorities from destroying the social order. This power is vested in the state or government.[10]

We are not enemies

In the early Communist International, `Lenin was very anxious to have the support of "the best of the anarchists" ', according to Victor Serge. Angel Pestana of the Spanish C.N.T. (National Workers' Confederation); Armando Borghi of the Italian Union Sindicale; Augustin Souchy, delegate from the Swedish and German Syndicalists, and M. Lepetit of the French C.G.T. (General Confederation of Workers) were all anarchists and delegates to the International in Moscow in the 1920s.[11]

Other definitions

Oxford English dictionary: Anarchy, is, in a sense or in truth, a state with no law, order, police force or anything that decrees there are rules. It has no government or enforced authority at all. "A social state in which there is no leader or group of people leading, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder)[12]

Consise Oxford Dictionary of Politics: Anarchism promotes a stateless society, or anarchy.It seeks to diminish or even abolish order, law and all rules and replace them with human relations[13].

See also


  1. Oxford Engish Dictionary:
    "Anarchy (ae' narki). Also 6-7 -ie. [ad.Gr. avapXia, n. of state f. avapX-os without a chief or head, f. av priv + apXos leader, chief. The word was also adopted in med L. anarchia, and Fr. anarchie (Cotgr. 1611), from one or other of which the Eng. may have been immediately taken.]
    1. Absence of government; a state of lawlessness due to absence or ineficiency of supreme power; political disorder.
    1539 Taverner Erasm. Prov. (1552) 43 This unleful lyberty or lycence of the multitude ...."
    Various other examples are given from the English. Oxford's examples mainly feature use of the term to mean unlawful, chaotic, etc. So, if Oxford is to be trusted (they're conservative fuddy duddies and probably can't stand anarchism) the usage of the term in English literature has shifted a little from the original Greek of "without a chief or head."
  2. The slogan originates with the IWW, according to Jeff Shantz, Constructive Anarchy, 2010.
  3. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
  4. Sylvan, Richard (1995). "Anarchism". In Goodwin, Robert E. and Pettit. A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy. Philip. Blackwell Publishing. p. 231.
  5. Kropotkin, Peter (2002). Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings. Courier Dover Publications. p. 5. ISBN 0-486-41955-X.R.B. Fowler (1972). "{ The Anarchist Tradition of Political Thought]". Western Political Quarterly (University of Utah) 25 (4): 738–752.
  6. Stringham, Edward (2007). Stringham, Edward. ed. Anarchy and the Law. The Political Economy of Choice.. Transaction Publishers. p. 720.
  7. Narveson, Jan (2002). Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice. Chapter 11: Anarchist's Case.
  8. Graeber (2009)
  9. Anarcho- communism
  10. "An anarchist society, lacking any central coercive authority, would quickly degenerate into violent chaos."
  11. Victor Serge, Memoirs, Chapter 3. has it
  12. "Anarchy." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2004. The first quoted usage is 1850."
  13. Slevin, Carl. "Anarchism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003.


Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive!, 2008.

David Graeber, Direct Action, 2009. This book is basically about contemporary (2000-2009) North American anarchism. Pages 228-9 describe the 1960s beginnings of the contemporary style of anarchism in the US, and also the development of the consensus decision making model. Chapter 7, "Meetings", describes consensus practice.

Dana Williams, "An Anarchist-Sociologist Research Program:Fertile Areas for Theoretical and Empirical Research." in Nathan Jun and Shane Wahl, New Perspectives on Anarchism, 2010.da:Anarkisme es:Anarquismo