P.-J. Proudhon (1809–1865) was one of the first modem anarchists, and probably was the most profound anarchist theoretician of all. His works are very lengthy and complex, however, and few have known or appreciated him as well as they have his successors. In this country he is particularly ill understood, in part because very little of his work has been translated into English, and that little is from his earlier and less important writings.
Oh, man in your individuality! Can it be that you have rotted in this baseness for sixty centuries? You call yourself pure and sacred, but you are only the whore, the sucker, the goat of your servants, your monks, and your mercenary soldiers. You know this and you endure it! To be Governed is to be kept under surveillance, inspected, spied upon, bossed, law-ridden, regulated, penned in, indoctrinated, preached at, registered, evaluated, appraised, censured, ordered about, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the knowledge, nor the virtue to do so. To be Governed is to be at each operation, at each transaction, at each movement, marked down, recorded, inventoried, priced, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, sanctioned, endorsed, reprimanded, obstructed, reformed, rebuked, chastised. It is, under the pretense of public benefit and in the name of the general interest, to be requisitioned, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be squelched, corrected, vilified, bullied, hounded, tormented, bludgeoned, disarmed, strangled, imprisoned, shot down, judged, condemned, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to top it off, ridiculed, made a fool of, outraged, dishonored. That’s government, that’s its justice, that’s its morality! And to think that there are democrats among us who claim that there is some good in government—socialists who support this infamy in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity—proletarians who proclaim their candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic! Hypocrisy!
Alexander Berkman (1870–1936), who immigrated from Russia as a youth, was one of the most outstanding anarchists in the United States during the movement’s heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He served fourteen years in prison for his unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the coal and steel baron, Henry Clay Frick, in revenge for the killing of workers by Pinkerton guards during the Homestead Strike, in 1892. Berkman and Emma Goldman (see pp. 34–49) were lifelong friends and co-workers.
I want to tell you about Anarchism.
I want to tell you what Anarchism is, because I think it is well you should know it. Also because so little is known about it, and what is known is generally hearsay and mostly false.
I want to tell you about it, because I believe that Anarchism is the finest and biggest thing man has ever thought of; the only thing that can give you liberty and well-being, and bring peace and joy to the world.
I want to tell you about it in such plain and simple language that there will be no misunderstanding it. Big words and high-sounding phrases serve only to confuse. Straight thinking means plain speaking.
But before I tell you what Anarchism is, I want to tell you what it is not.
That is necessary because so much falsehood has been spread about Anarchism. Even intelligent persons often have entirely wrong notions about it. Some people talk about Anarchism without knowing a thing about it. And some lie about Anarchism, because they don’t want you to know the truth about it.
Anarchism has many enemies; they won’t tell you the truth about it. Why Anarchism has enemies and who they are, you will see later, in the course of this story. Just now I can tell you that neither your political boss nor your employer, neither the capitalist nor the policeman, will speak to you honestly about Anarchism. Most of them know nothing about it, and all of them hate it. Their newspapers and publications—the capitalistic press—are also against it.
Even most Socialists and Bolsheviki misrepresent Anarchism. True, the majority of them don’t know any better. But those who do know better also often lie about Anarchism and speak of it as “disorder and chaos.” You can see for yourself how dishonest they are in this: the greatest teachers of Social-ism—Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels—had taught that Anarchism would come from Socialism. They said that we must first have Socialism, but that after Socialism there will be Anarchism, and that it would be a freer and more beautiful condition of society to live in than Socialism. Yet the Socialists, who swear by Marx and Engels, insist on calling Anarchism “chaos and disorder,” which shows you how ignorant or dishonest they are.
The Bolsheviki do the same, although their greatest teacher, Lenin, had said that Anarchism would follow Bolshevism, and that then it will be better and freer to live.
Therefore I must tell you, first of all, what Anarchism is not.
It is not bombs, disorder, or chaos.
It is not robbery and murder.
It is not a war of each against all.
It is not a return to barbarism or to the wild state of man.
Anarchism is the very opposite of all that.
Anarchism means that you should be free; that no one should enslave you, boss you, rob you, or impose upon you.
It means that you should be free to do the things you want to do; and that you should not be compelled to do what you don’t want to do.
It means that you should have a chance to choose the kind of a life you want to live, and live it without anybody interfering.
It means that the next fellow should have the same freedom as you, that everyone should have the same rights and liberties.
It means that all men are brothers, and that they should live like brothers, in peace and harmony.
That is to say, that there should be no war, no violence used by one set of men against another, no monopoly and no poverty, no oppression, no taking advantage of your fellows-man.
In short, Anarchism means a condition of society where all men and women are free, and where all enjoy equally the benefits of an ordered and sensible life.
“Can that be?” you ask; “and how?”
“Not before we all become angels,” your friend remarks.
Well, let us talk it over. Maybe I can show you that we can be decent and live as decent folks even without growing wings.
Derry Novak (1919—) is an associate professor of political science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His approach is that of an objective scholar with a fondness for philosophical anarchism. A number of men developed ideas akin to anarchism before the nineteenth century; the subject is an interesting one and is discussed by Novak, but this section of his article is omitted here. Additional historical comment will be found in the selection by James Joll.
Anarchism is one of those concepts about which there generally is deep ignorance or profound misunderstanding.
“In the popular mind,” says Bertrand Russell, “an Anarchist is a person who throws bombs and commits other outrages, either because he is more or less insane, or because he uses the pretense of extreme political opinions as a cloak for criminal proclivities.”1
Yet in the history of political thought, as well as in the history of social movements, anarchism has played a role which cannot be overlooked.
Anarchism is not only a political theory in the narrow meaning of the term, but also a social theory understood in the broad sense. As such a theory, anarchism—since it is concerned with the problems of power, authority, and coercion, especially as manifested in the machinery of the State, and since it strives to show how the exercise of power of man over man, together with the institutions through which it is carried out, should be eradicated—necessarily deals with the complex problems of both national and international politics. Anarchism, however, while paying attention to the individual as a citizen of the State, is interested in him also as a human being, as a member of various groups of human beings, and as a member of the human race. Thus in the consideration of the problems of men, whether a given problem be conceived narrowly or broadly, in the relation of man to man, of one citizen to another, of a citizen to the State, or in the relation of State with State, and whether it be conceived in economic, political, social, or ethical terms, anarchism as a social philosophy will be found to express a judgment.
Like many other political and social theories, anarchism starts from premises based on the appraisal of human nature, from which it draws its conclusions concerning the right kind of social organization. Unlike other reformist and revolutionary theories, however, anarchism much more readily and determinedly refutes or supplements the accepted tenets of other theories and develops new principles and interpretations, always questioning the very foundations of social institutions, both those existing and those envisaged by other reformers and revolutionaries.
Peter Kropotkin defined anarchism as a “principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government …harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to authority, but by free agreements concluded between various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.”2
Oscar Jászi points out that “Anarchism covers so many distinct conceptions and tendencies that it is difficult to reduce them all to a common denominator,” and considers anarchism not so much a
social theory as “a mass ideology colored by many emotional and religious elements.”3
In this approach Jászi comes close to Zenker, who considers both anarchism and socialism “forms of idolatry” with different idols, “religions and not sciences, dogmas and not speculations,” and kinds of “honestly meant social mysticism” which strive for “the establishment of a terrestrial Eden, of a land of the absolute Ideal, whether it be Freedom or Equality.”4
Jászi, by drawing attention to the variety of conceptions and tendencies covered by the term “anarchism,” also comes close to Paul Eltzbacher in his judgment of anarchism.5
With these provisions in mind, however, Jászi thinks that anarchism can be defined as “an attempt to establish justice (that is, equality and reciprocity) in all human relations by the complete elimination of the state (or by a genuine minimization of its activity) and its replacement by an entirely free and spontaneous co-operation among individuals, groups, regions, and nations.” …
One need not go so far as the anarchist writer who said that “there are as many variations of Anarchism as there are Anarchists,” but one cannot fail to realize that the differences between various anarchist theories and theorists, as well as the emphasis laid upon the right to differ, are part of the nature of anarchism. In the sphere of anarchism as a political movement, this attitude is reflected in the looseness of groups, which cannot be considered organizations on the pattern of political parties, and which lack accepted leadership and discipline. It can also be noted in the lack of a general program to which all members have to subscribe, and in the freedom left to individual members to advocate views and measures that may be in conflict with those of the majority.
In spite of the differences, there are certain underlying features which are common to all anarchist trends. These features stand out in the several definitions of anarchism given above and are contained in most other definitions of anarchism or in treatises on it. The rejection of the State, listed by Eltzbacher, is one feature, but it is not the only one common to the various anarchist trends. Even, if looked upon as a basic principle of anarchism, implied in the very word, the rejection of the State can still be looked upon as following from another principle, namely, the acknowledgment and assertion of the independent value of the individual and his right to a free and full development. The essence of anarchist thought is the emphasis on the freedom of the individual, leading to the denial and condemnation of any authority which hinders his free and full develop...