Anarchism: Origins

Anarchism: Origins

The Enlightenment

  • Enlightenment thinkers often explored ideas related to the limits of state power. These ideas formed a base upon which anarchist thought could grow.
  • Figures like William Godwin began to articulate ideas that majorly influenced the development of anarchist theory. He argued for the essential goodness of humanity and the negative impact of government on this natural goodness.
  • Anarcho-capitalism, a branch of anarchism, can trace its roots back to classical liberal ideas about the sanctity of private property and the corrupting influence of state intervention.

The Industrial Revolution

  • The Industrial Revolution created social conditions that led to rapid urbanisation and expanding industrial workforces. These contributed to a rise in political consciousness among workers that provided fertile ground for anarchist ideas.
  • Proudhon’s work, ‘What is Property?’, critiquing the accumulation of wealth and property by the ruling class, gained traction in this period. His phrase “Property is theft!” encapsulates a key aspect of anarchist thought.
  • Anarchist ideas became increasingly popular within labour movements. Some unions and worker’s cooperatives adopted anarchist principles of direct action, mutual aid and self-management.

Social and Political Movements

  • The role of anarchists in the Spanish Civil War was a key moment in the history of anarchism. The widespread collectivisation and worker control seen in anarchist-controlled areas are often cited as examples of anarchism in practice.
  • Anarcha-feminism, which draws on both anarchist and feminist traditions, emerged within the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s. It emphasises the links between patriarchal oppression and state power.
  • The global justice movement, including groups like Occupy Wall Street, has seen a resurgence of interest in anarchist ideas. The horizontal organisation, consensus decision-making and direct action tactics used by these groups reflect key anarchist principles.

Anarchism and Other Ideologies

  • The split between anarchists and Marxists at the 1872 congress of the International Workingman’s Association highlights the conflict between these two ideologies over the role of the state in achieving a classless society.
  • However, some ideological overlap can be found. Libertarian socialism, for example, combines socialist opposition to capitalism with an anarchist rejection of the state.
  • Anarchists have also found common ground with certain strands of environmentalism. The idea of ‘deep ecology’, which centres the intrinsic worth of non-human nature, aligns well with the anarchist emphasis on freedom and equality for all beings.