Despite its negative connotations, anarchism can provide a non-anarchist political movement with many ideas based upon its practices and theoretical speculations throughout the decades.
The twentieth century has been the manifestation of various lines of thought that began in the nineteenth century. Before the sudden event of the Bolshevik Revolution, there was, to a limited degree, a public discussion of socialism, communism, and anarchism. It would be very common for socialists, communists, and anarchists to have meetings and public speaking venues. They were viewed as real alternatives. As a point of clarification, the difference between socialism and communism can be defined in a specific way. Socialists are Marxists that enter into power through elections while communists are Marxists who enter into power through revolution. Socialism made some electoral gains in the United States in the early twentieth century and in Europe as well later on. Communism became relegated to one side of an ideological warfare during the Cold War, and was easily caricatured. However, socialism became limited as only reformers within a democratic structure and communism reconstituted the centralization of power that was supposedly overthrown by revolution. In both cases, real systematic change was restricted. The anarchist tradition used a different approach which emphasized creating the new world in the shell of the old. In other words, real change was enacted through immanent structures that expressed both freedom and equality in a substantial way that was also local and voluntary. Unfortunately, anarchism as a movement that could effectively achieve the overall goals of socialism and communism was strongly misinterpreted as rooted in violence and a push to create absolute chaos. It can be very helpful, and very productive, for any political movement committed to social, economic, and ecological justice to understand the anarchist vision as a template. This process may need to ignore the term anarchism itself in order to look at its traits clearly and impartially.
Anarchism is a set of practices. It is both non-ideological and immanent, which requires any action or structure to be under the control of the people who initiate it. No anarchist project is ever elevated to a transcendent principle or category that could contain and control people. Therefore, there is no eternal dogmas of truth and actions are judged by their positive effects. This movement is not an exclusive system of thought. It can be open to changes and improvements with multiple types of anarchism coexisting. Instead of one true anarchism, there are many articulations in order to comply with the authentic needs of a diversity of people. Most importantly, anarchism can be a possibility for a new American life. It can be specific to an American democratic culture, as well as a natural fit between anarchist practices and American ideals and hopes. Anarchism proposes alternative methods to perpetuate a democratic culture that is external to the limits of an official democratic structure. This democratic structure can exclude widespread change through its own inertia and reproduction of the existing establishment of power. A democratic culture that is not a confining democratic structure can be expressed through the methods of anarchism. These methods allow an openness to a new future form of American society and politics.
The principles of anarchism can be applied by individual and collectives who do not consider themselves anarchists.
1. Non-coercion is a balance of power among all participants where cooperation is a practical methodology. Since competition requires a preexisting imbalance, cooperation implies that the participants have equal status. There are no prior determinations that can force choices and restrict future options or decisions.
2. Voluntary association is the ability to end associations at any time, and there is an equality of all members during decisions. Interdependence among members of the association are used to insure fairness. This interdependence demonstrates that individuals can not be absolutely separate from all collectives, but collectives can not exist without active individuals. The scope of any contract in an association is determined by the scope of individual obligation.
3. Social pluralism is the acknowledgement that society is made up of politics, culture, and economics. Each of these fields are attempts by humans to deal with the world and reality in itself. Humans use politics for empowerment, culture for meaning, and economics for the production that can satisfy needs. The state, on the other hand, is the establishing of one set of social rules over others. Social aspects must be separated from the state power, and multiple social forms must exist simultaneously for humans to choose. Free agency is possible through these multiple social choices.
4. Non-essentialism is an emphasis on the contingency of reality, rather than any type of necessity that can determine future actions or choices. There is no absolute foundation since this formation of a foundation would allow artificial natural and eternal states. No standard form of identity would exist for the purposes of control. This perspective does not mean that everything is relative, or that reality is socially constructed at all times. The reality outside of structures is real but unknown, and meaning is developed within structures. Therefore, the practice of reality is immanent, where the constructed whole and the relationship of parts is in a direct interaction with the reality it works upon. The attempt to force an essential state of reality on all of reality is a method of restricting the possibilities of free agency. Wherever this forcing happens, it is a common oppression but with unique forms of oppression for each case.
5. Anti-representation understands that any attempt at representation is an abstraction of the group. One who is chosen as the representative is extracted and expanded to incorporate the many. It would be very rare if the choice made by that representative would reflect the opinion of all members of the group in unison. There would always be a minority opinion, but the act of representation would make a claim that the group is reflected in the actions or choices of the one member. It is a transition from an example to a representative. The example can be used as a reflection of dominant or majority traits of the group, but a representative will have a particular role that encompasses the general group and will obscure the minority traits. The larger the group, the more abstract the representation.
6. A genealogy of history is useful as a way to understand the present political movement in a larger framework. History is seen as not linear or determined, and there is no necessity or goal at the end. Instead, history is a series of ruptures and transformations in both reality and the social field. This nonlinearity implies all that was potentially excluded at each point in history, and reveals that through human intervention things could have gone in a different direction. Free agency is possible during each period of history and is an important factor in shaping history.
7. The recognition of power is how it can be used by either structures of dominance or by humans in resistance to those structures. Besides being the control of individuals and collectives, power can be expressed by free agency. The actions of power as free agency must be both a stated opposition and a proposed alternative to the current system of dominant power. The system of dominant power will initiate oppression as political force, exploitation as economic use, and regulation as social repression. Free agency must always use power to oppose and create in the shadow of this system of oppression, exploitation, and regulation.
Social systems expressed through the anarchist vision would begin as a critique that would eventually offer solutions and a new method. The state creates a monopoly on violence, and force is used to protect the majority interests of the state through an appearance of a majority identity. But these institutions of force are controlled by a physical minority within the political apparatus. In other words, the minority who exercises power create the illusion that they are in the majority that reflects the general will of the people. There is an alienation of free agency where physical control is exercised by an outside source. The state interests are imposed on individual and collective interests. Over time, there is also a transformation of personal interest as a reflection of state ideology. Those who are controlled begin to accept the goals and needs of the state as their goals and needs. However, collective decisions can be carried out by those effected by these decisions. Direct democracy that incorporates consensus can be formed that promotes an immanent state of being between individuals and collectives. Each community could be free to shape their social standards and laws while not forcing other communities to follow their decisions. Voluntary associations can be the structural limit of the freedom to create laws. Each association can prevent a situation where one form of direct democracy is placed over another form that would result in a hierarchy and a need for force. There can be a federation of communities that have the ability for large-scale organization. This federation would be cooperation beyond a locality. It would be a decentralization of society with an increase of voluntary associations. Delegates would directly communicate their voting decisions, and instant recall would be in effect. In this organization, each locality can exist independently from other localities. There would be different but parallel forms of intentional community.
Economic systems seen through an anarchist perspective can offer new insight in the critique of capitalism. It would look beyond markets and wage-labor and would emphasize individual and collective self-ownership as the foundation for a new economic process. This process would need the recognition of common property along with private and public property. Any production must be ecological and sustainable. This production includes the foresight that comes with ecology as an interdependence and complex causality between participants in the social field as well as nature. Sustainability is the self-sustaining and management of open systems. It is a relationship of systems within their contexts. This structural knowledge can enhance the best methods of production that must also support self-ownership.
Urban systems can also be examined in regards to an anarchist vision. The city can be a main mode of community living and identity because it can retain a historical consistency. Natural cities are those that have overlapping systems within them, and the overlap itself is considered a distinct system. All parts are built to facilitate movement and access for all residents. In many respects, a city must emulate an ecosystem in how it takes in resources and how it changes structures to deal with waste. This process must also be connected to a direct democratic method as the way that humans become part of the urban ecosystem. Overall, the city must be defined as a focal point of concentration of flows. These can be material flows such as economics and production, symbolic flows such as linguistics and culture, and biological flows such as population and genetics. Accompanied by direct democracy, the city can be a space for free agency and the functional tools necessary to promote free agency.
Legal systems can be very important for the anarchist vision and its expression. Community-based mediation and courts can be created where the proximity of people allows for interconnected interests. The particular laws of property would be determined by community consensus, and not as a transcendent dogma that imposes itself on the reality of the community. Power inequalities, as the differences in the human ability to act, could be averaged out of influence on the law. Equality before the law would be the starting point for a freedom of identity, and the concepts of freedom and equality would be balanced through a process of practical justice within the community context. This context would allow each individual to be able to comprehend the collective, and the individual and collective would be prioritized as simultaneous phenomenon. Crime would subsequently be defined as creating victims and a power inequality through force or exploitation. The definition of theft would be expanded to appropriation of all kinds that occur outside of a democratic process among equal participants. In regards to the social field, there would be the recognition that particular crimes are manifestations of general problems. Systematic crime reduction would allow for better investigation of random crimes. In all cases, individual and collective liberty would be respected. The law would emerge not as standards supposed to reflect nature or absolute reality, but as multiple methods for a community to solve problems within the community. The law would not be a transcendent truth, but the changing immanent relationships of participants with each other using the democratic process. The law would not be executed by the state in the name of the abstract people, but used by a democracy as mediation among concrete humans.
The lessons and ideas of anarchism are not as strange to America as originally supposed. Any political party that wants to avoid the twin dangers of being hampered reformers or a revolutionary vanguard should take a closer look at anarchism’s methodology. Even though anarchism does not involve itself with political parties, its principles can be a new way for a party to enact real change without going against an original vision or hope. Overall, anarchism can provide a philosophical outlook that can survive the practices of the status quo as it is implemented by structures of power, meaning, and production.