Anarchism: Tensions

Anarchism: Tensions

Individualism vs Collectivism

  • Individualist anarchists stress non-coercive interactions and personal autonomy. They believe individuals have the right to dispose of their property as they see fit, reject external authorities, and typically support a laissez-faire economic system.
  • In contrast, collectivist anarchists focus on community and cooperation. They reject private ownership of production means, advocating instead for collective control. They often support direct democracy and cooperative economies.
  • An example of this tension is the disagreement between the anarcho-capitalist ideas of Murray Rothbard, who emphasised individual rights and free markets, and the social anarchism of Peter Kropotkin, who focused on mutual aid and communal living.

Violence vs Pacifism

  • There has been a longstanding debate within the anarchist movement about the role of violence. Some believe that direct action, including violence if needed, is a necessary tool to resist state power and achieve anarchist objectives.
  • Others promote anarchist pacifism, arguing against the use of violence. They suggest that non-violent forms of disobedience or protest align more closely with the core anarchist values of freedom and equality.
  • The tension is highlighted by contrasting the militant stance of anarchist Federico Arcos, who participated in the Spanish Civil War, with the peaceful civil disobedience advocated by varieties of anarchism such as anarcho-pacifism.

Revolution vs Gradualism

  • Some anarchists advocate for revolutionary anarchism, asserting that a sudden, radical social change is necessary to abolish the existing state system and capitalist structures. Mikhail Bakunin and Emma Goldman were proponents of this idea.
  • On the other side, gradualist anarchists like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and William Godwin argue for a slow, evolutionary move towards anarchy. They believe in creating alternative institutions and relationships within the existing system to gradually erode state power.
  • This tension can be seen in the varying tactics of different anarchist groups: the Insurrectionary Anarchist Federation calling for immediate uprisings versus the slower push for reform through worker’s cooperatives championed by anarcho-syndicalist movements.

Practicality vs Idealism

  • Anarchist ideals have often been critiqued as impractical, with critics suggesting that a stateless society could lead to disorder and vulnerability to exploitation.
  • Anarchists respond to these critiques in various ways. Some maintain an idealist position, arguing that an anarchist society is not only feasible, but also the only ethical form of social organisation.
  • Others take a more pragmatic approach, acknowledging the potential challenges and viewing anarchism more as a guide for critique and improvement of existing structures. David Graeber, an anthropologist and anarchist, exemplifies this approach with his work on “everyday anarchism,” finding instances of anarchic principles in existing social interactions.