Introduce a Little Anarchy

Under capitalism, man exploits man; under communism, it is the other way around

Anarchism is  a political philosophy which opposes all kinds of oppression, whether by the State, economic exploitation or patriarchy. It is thus libertarian, socialist and feminist.

Politically and philosophically, I’m an Anarchist – of the fun-loving Emma Goldman sort and not a whiny, self-denying miserablist who sees indulging in any kind pleasure as a betrayal of something or other, and who thinks the world would be a better place if we all went back to growing our own potatoes. Anarchism, as understood here, is a more authentic form of socialism, stripped of the Marxist delusion that the State is the mechanism through which socialism will be achieved. The ‘socialist state’, as proven by history, is a self-perpetuating tyranny, and a contradiction in terms. I’ve some sympathy with the humanist Marxism of E.P. Thompson but none at all with the anti-humanism of Louis Althusser and his ilk. Anarchism rejects the monological utopia of Marxists and embraces the ‘heterotopia‘ where freedom from exploitation goes hand in hand with diversity, free speech and personal liberty. Anarchism is the only political philosophy which believes in the fundamental decency – or humanity – of human beings: other philosophies, which regard others with automatic suspicion, lead only to authoritarianism. This isn’t primarily an anarchist site – though it is anarchic – and I welcome a wide spectrum of people who share a generally liberal outlook – but my politics will obviously shape the assumptions implicit in some of these articles, and since part of the raison d’être of this site is to lay bare the processes by which meaning is created I should make my prejudices clear from the outset.

The Origins of Anarchism

Elements of Anarchist thought can be traced back to antiquity. The Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium (334 BC – c. 262 BC), founder of Stoicism. Stoicism was concerned with the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom (see my essay Agency vs Structure), and they believed that it is virtuous to maintain a will (or ‘prohairesis‘) that in accordance with nature.

Zeno had opposed the Utopian state presented in Plato‘s The Republic.

According to Peter Kropotkin, Zeno:

…repudiated the omnipotence of the state, its intervention and regimentation, and proclaimed the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual – remarking already that, while the necessary instinct of self-preservation leads man to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct – that of sociability. When men are reasonable enough to follow their natural instincts, they will unite across the frontiers and constitute the cosmos. They will have no need of law-courts or police, will have no temples and no public worship, and use no money – free gifts taking the place of the exchanges. Unfortunately, the writings of Zeno have not reached us and are only known through fragmentary quotations. However, the fact that his very wording is similar to the wording now in use, shows how deeply is laid the tendency of human nature of which he was the mouthpiece”

– Peter Kropotkin, ”Anarchism”, Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition

William Godwin

William Godwin  (1756–1836) is regarded as the founder of modern arachism though he himself never used that term. He didn’t have a beard either.

Godwin wrote An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice  (1793) and Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794)

Godwin was married to the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792); their daughter Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley), wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) and the early apocalyptic sf novel The Last Man (1826)

It was Godwin, in his Enquiry concerning Political Justice (2 vols., 1793), who was the first to formulate the political and economical conceptions of anarchism, even though he did not give that name to the ideas developed in his remarkable work. Laws, he wrote, are not a product of the wisdom of our ancestors: they are the product of their passions, their timidity, their jealousies and their ambition. The remedy they offer is worse than the evils they pretend to cure. If and only if all laws and courts were abolished, and the decisions in the arising contests were left to reasonable men chosen for that purpose, real justice would gradually be evolved. As to the state, Godwin frankly claimed its abolition. A society, he wrote, can perfectly well exist without any government: only the communities should be small and perfectly autonomous. Speaking of property, he stated that the rights of every one ‘to every substance capable of contributing to the benefit of a human being’ must be regulated by justice alone: the substance must go ‘to him who most wants it’. His conclusion was communism. Godwin, however, had not the courage to maintain his opinions. He entirely rewrote later on his chapter on property and mitigated his communist views in the second edition of Political Justice (8vo, 1796).

– Peter Kropotkin, ”Anarchism”, Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

The first Anarchist to proclaim himself as such was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), author of  What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government (Qu’est-ce que la propriété? Recherche sur le principe du droit et du gouvernement, 1840) and The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty (Système des contradictions économiques ou Philosophie de la misère, 1847). He is probably best remembered for his assertion that ‘Property is Theft’.

‘To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.’

– P-J. Proudhon

Proudhon’s anarchism belongs to the school of anarchism known as Mutualism.

Peter Kropotkin

By 1894 two distinct schools of anarchist thought had emerged, and in The Two Anarchisms (1894) the English writer Henry Seymour called these Mutualistic and Individualistic. By the time Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) wrote his entry on ”Anarchism” for the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910) he had defined six schools of anarchist thought: mutualistic, individualistic, collectivist (or anarcho-collectivist), communist, Christian and Literary.

The anarcho-communists.

The Conquest of Bread (preface by Élisée Reclus,1892) and Fields, Factories and Workshops (1912) and Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (originally published between 1890-96 in the British monthly literary magazine, Nineteenth Century, and published in book form in 1902).

   Under pain of death, human societies are forced to return to first principles: the means of production being the collective work of humanity, the product should be the collective property of the race. Individual appropriation is neither just nor serviceable. All belongs to all. All things are for all men, since all men have need of them, since all men have worked in the measure of their strength to produce them, and since it is not possible to evaluate every one’s part in the production of the world’s wealth.
All things are for all. Here is an immense stock of tools and implements; here are all those iron slaves which we call machines, which saw and plane, spin and weave for us, unmaking and remaking, working up raw matter to produce the marvels of our time. But nobody has the right to seize a single one of these machines and say, “This is mine; if you want to use it you must pay me a tax on each of your products,” any more than the feudal lord of medieval times had the right to say to the peasant, “This hill, this meadow belong to me, and you must pay me a tax on every sheaf of corn you reap, on every rick you build.
All is for all! If the man and the woman bear their fair share of work, they have a right to their fair share of all that is produced by all, and that share is enough to secure them well-being. No more of such vague formulas as “The Right to work,” or “To each the whole result of his labour.” What we proclaim is THE RIGHT TO WELL-BEING: WELL-BEING FOR ALL!

– Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread (p.14)

Max Stirner

Johann Kaspar Schmidt (1806–1856), better known as Max Stirner, was a leading proponent of individualist anarchism. Stirner’s main work is The Ego and Its Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, 1845).


”…advocated, not only a complete revolt against the state and against the servitude which authoritarian communism would impose upon men, but also the full liberation of the individual from all social and moral bonds – the rehabilitation of the ‘I’, the supremacy of the individual, complete ‘amoralism’, and the ‘association of the egotists’.

– Peter Kropotkin, ”Anarchism”, Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition



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