Redefining Popular Views of Anarchy

When individuals usually think of anarchy, their mind rears to images of chaos, extreme violence, clowns with bad makeup or creepy masks destabilizing the social order and making life miserable for everyone. What if I were to tell you that the image of anarchy in your head is pure fabrication, grossly misrepresenting the beliefs of anarchists and their impact on the course of history?

Anarchism as a school of political philosophy covers many different belief systems in its label, ranging from anarcho-capitalism to anarcho-communism. The common thread that connects these varied political beliefs, however, is a critical analysis of social hierarchy. An anarchist does not believe that social hierarchies justify themselves, since these institutions must prove that they are both just and necessary to those that are under them.

If they cannot meet this burden of proof the hierarchy is illegitimate and should be dismantled and replaced with a more egalitarian and free relationship. If this sounds familiar at all, it is the same line of logic used by many political movements. If you are a feminist and you believe that the needless domination of men over women is wrong than you're being an anarchist about patriarchy. If you are against racism and desire its eradication you are being an anarchist about race, and so on.  

An anarchist applies this skeptical analysis to all aspects of society with the ultimate goal of creating a stateless, classless society free of all forms of exploitation.

In regards to the state, discounting its role as the defender of economic hierarchy, anarchists see it as a system where the governance of society, laws and policies are determined, not by the people of the area which they apply, but by a centralized chosen group of elites who are incentivized to make decisions that are in their interests, often the maintenance and acquisition of power and influence.

Voltairine de Cleyre, who describes the state as “an institution existing for its own sake, preying upon the people and teaching them whatever will tend to keep it secure in its seat,” best sums up the anarchist position on the state.

So what about capitalism? What could anarchists possibly find wrong with it? To an anarchist, capitalism serves as the antithesis of freedom. This perspective is best understood through the anarchist analysis of wage-labor, one of the key tenets of capitalism. Wage labor can be best defined as the system of people owning their labor and then selling their labor for a wage of various quantities. However, ownership implies the existence of two separate entities, the owner and the commodity.

For example, if I owned a laptop, there is the owner (me), and the commodity (my laptop). In regards to labor, however, there is no such distinction between owner and commodity. Your labor does not go to work while you go and do something else; you go to work. Since labor is a commodity for sale, and you are your labor, that would make humans commodities in a capitalist economy in the same vein as oppressive institutions such as slavery and prostitution.

It is not like the workers can enjoy the fruits of their labor either, as they only receive a piecemeal of it back in the form of a wage while the vast majority of said fruits will go to line the pockets of the capitalists that own the business. This is why anarchist are against capitalist — they see it as a hierarchal, ultimately anti-human institution.       

Anarchists generally want non-hierarchal alternatives to the state and capitalism. In regards to government, anarchists seek a direct consensus democracy operating on a decentralized level. As for the economy, they seek to put workers in control of the means of production instead of private ownership. Some examples of this type of society are Catalonia during the Spanish Revolution (1936-1938) and, most recently, the Rojava system of democratic  confederalism that is currently contending with ISIL, Syria’s dictatorship and Turkey against the idea of kurdish independence.

I am not telling you all to be anarchists after reading thisb nor do I expect you not to have questions or qualms. What I do want you to know is the truth about this demonized political philosophy and to show alternatives outside the scope of ‘acceptable’ political opinion.