Anarchist FAQ/What is Anarchism?/1

Anarchist FAQ/What is Anarchism?
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A.1 What is Anarchism?Edit

Anarchism is a political theory which aims to create anarchy, "the absence of a master, of a sovereign." [1] In other words, anarchism is a political theory which aims to create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control - be that control by the state or a capitalist - as harmful to the individual and their individuality as well as unnecessary.

In the words of anarchist L. Susan Brown:

"While the popular understanding of anarchism is of a violent, anti-State movement, anarchism is a much more subtle and nuanced tradition then a simple opposition to government power. Anarchists oppose the idea that power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and economic organisation." [2]

However, "anarchism" and "anarchy" are undoubtedly the most misrepresented ideas in political theory. Generally, the words are used to mean "chaos" or "without order," and so, by implication, anarchists desire social chaos and a return to the "laws of the jungle."

This process of misrepresentation is not without historical parallel. For example, in countries which have considered government by one person (monarchy) necessary, the words "republic" or "democracy" have been used precisely like "anarchy," to imply disorder and confusion. Those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo will obviously wish to imply that opposition to the current system cannot work in practice, and that a new form of society will only lead to chaos. Or, as Errico Malatesta expresses it:

"since it was thought that government was necessary and that without government there could only be disorder and confusion, it was natural and logical that anarchy, which means absence of government, should sound like absence of order." [3]

Anarchists want to change this "common-sense" idea of "anarchy," so people will see that government and other hierarchical social relationships are both harmful and unnecessary:

"Change opinion, convince the public that government is not only unnecessary, but extremely harmful, and then the word anarchy, just because it means absence of government, will come to mean for everybody: natural order, unity of human needs and the interests of all, complete freedom within complete solidarity." [4]

This FAQ is part of the process of changing the commonly-held ideas regarding anarchism and the meaning of anarchy. But that is not all. As well as combating the distortions produced by the "common-sense" idea of "anarchy", we also have to combat the distortions that anarchism and anarchists have been subjected to over the years by our political and social enemies. For, as Bartolomeo Vanzetti put it, anarchists are "the radical of the radical -- the black cats, the terrors of many, of all the bigots, exploiters, charlatans, fakers and oppressors. Consequently we are also the more slandered, misrepresented, misunderstood and persecuted of all." [5]

Vanzetti knew what he was talking about. He and his comrade Nicola Sacco were framed by the US state for a crime they did not commit and were, effectively, electrocuted for being foreign anarchists in 1927. So this FAQ will have to spend some time correcting the slanders and distortions that anarchists have been subjected to by the capitalist media, politicians, ideologues and bosses (not to mention the distortions by our erstwhile fellow radicals like liberals and Marxists). Hopefully once we are finished you will understand why those in power have spent so much time attacking anarchism—it is the one idea which can effectively ensure liberty for all and end all systems based on a few having power over the many.


  1. Proudhon, P-J, What is Property: an inquiry into the principle of right and of government, William Reeves Bookseller Ltd., London, 1969. p. 264.
  2. Brown, L. Susan, The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism and Anarchism, Black Rose, Montreal/New York, 1993. p. 106.
  3. Malatesta, Errico, Anarchy, Freedom Press, London, 2001. p. 16.
  4. Malatesta, Errico, Anarchy, Freedom Press, London, 2001. p. 16.
  5. Sacco, Nicola and Vanzetti, Bartolomeo, The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti, Penguin Books, New York, 1997. p. 274.