Emma Goldman and Johann Most: In Defence of Anarchism

By 1896, anarchism was acquiring a fearsome reputation, largely due to the actions of a few self-proclaimed anarchists, particularly in France, where there was a series of bombings and assassinations. Emma Goldman and Johann Most were already notorious anarchists in the United States. Goldman’s comrade, Alexander Berkman, had tried to assassinate the industrialist Henry Clay Frick in 1892, after Frick had ordered the violent suppression of a strike at the Homestead steel plant, resulting in the deaths of several workers and some of the Pinkertons sent in to put down the strike. Despite the anti-anarchist atmosphere at the time, the Metropolitan Magazine, a New York literary and political magazine, printed this defence of anarchism by Goldman and Most (anglicizing his first name) in October 1896 (much later it sent John Reed to cover the Mexican Revolution). It is difficult to find English translations of Most’s work (thanks to the Anarchy Archives for finding this one). In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included the Pittsburgh Proclamation, which was mainly written by Most, from the 1883 founding congress of the International Working People’s Association.


Anarchy Defended by Anarchists

To most Americans Anarchy is an evil-sounding word — another name for wickedness, perversity, and chaos. Anarchists are looked upon as a herd of uncombed, unwashed, and vile ruffians, bent on killing the rich and dividing their capital. Anarchy however, to its followers, actually signifies a social theory which regards the union of order with the absence of all government of man by man; in short, it means perfect individual liberty.

If the meaning of Anarchy has so far been interpreted as a state of the greatest disorder, it is because people have been taught that their affairs are regulated, that they are ruled wisely, and that authority is a necessity.

In by-gone centuries any person who asserted that mankind could get along without the aid of worldly and spiritual authority was considered a madman, and was either placed in a lunatic asylum or burned at the stake; whereas to-day hundreds of thousands of men and women are infidels who scorn the idea of a supernatural Being.

The freethinkers of today, for instance, still believe in the necessity of the State, which protects society; they do not desire to know the history of our barbarian institutions. They do not understand that government did not and cannot exist without oppression; that every government has committed dark deeds and great crimes against society. The development of government has been in the order, despotism, monarchy, oligarchy, plutocracy; but it has always been a tyranny.

It cannot be denied that there are a large number of wise and well-meaning people who are anxious to better the present conditions, but they have not sufficiently emancipated themselves from the prejudices and superstitions of the dark ages to understand the true inwardness of the institution called government.

“How can we get along without government?” ask these people. “If our government is bad let us try to have a good one, but we must have government by all means!”

The trouble is that there is no such thing as good government, because its very existence is based upon the submission of one class to the dictatorship of another. “But men must be governed,” some remark; “they must be guided by laws.” Well, if men are children who must be led, who then is so perfect, so wise, so faultless as to be able to govern and guide his fellows.

We assert that men can and should govern themselves individually. If men are still immature, rulers are the same. Should one man, or a small number of men, lead all the blind millions who compose a nation?

“But we must have some authority, at least,” said an American friend to us. Certainly we must, and we have it, too; it is the inevitable power of natural laws, which manifests itself in the physical and social world. We may or may not understand these laws, but we must obey them as they are a part of our existence; we are the absolute slaves of these laws, but in such slavery there is no humiliation. Slavery as it exists to-day means an external master, a lawmaker outside of those he controls; while the natural laws are not outside of us — they are in us; we live, we breathe, we think, we move only through these laws; they are therefore not our enemies but our benefactors.

Are the laws made by man, the laws on our statute books, in conformity with the laws of Nature? No one, we think, can have the temerity to assert that they are.

It is because the laws prescribed to us by men are not in conformity with the laws of Nature that mankind suffers from so much ill. It is absurd to talk of human happiness so long as men are not free.

We do not wonder that some people are so bitterly opposed to Anarchy and its exponents, because it demands changes so radical of existing notions, while the latter ofend rather than conciliate by the zealousness of their propaganda.

Patience and resignation are preached to the poor, promising them a reward in the hereafter. What matters it to the wretched outcast who has no place to call his own, who is craving for a piece of bread, that the doors of Heaven are wider open for him than for the rich? In the face of the great misery of the masses such promises seem bitter irony.

I have met very few intelligent women and men who honestly and conscientiously could defend existing governments; they even agreed with me on many points, but they were lacking in moral courage, when it came to the point, to step to the front and declare themselves openly in sympathy with anarchistic principles.

We who have chosen the path laid down for us by our convictions oppose the organization called the State, on principle, claiming the equal right of all to work and enjoy life.

When once free from the restrictions of extraneous authority, men will enter into free relations; spontaneous organizations will spring up in all parts of the world, and every one will contribute to his and the common welfare as much labor as he or she is capable of, and consume according to their needs. All modern technical inventions and discoveries will be employed to make work easy and pleasant, and science, culture, and art will be freely used to perfect and elevate the human race, while woman will be coequal with man.

“This is all well said,” replies some one, “but people are not angels, men are selfish.”

What about? Selfishness is not a crime; it only becomes a crime when conditions are such as to give an individual the opportunity to satisfy his selfishness to the detriment of others. In an anarchistic society everyone will seek to satisfy his ego; but as Mother Nature has so arranged things that only those survive who have the aid of their neighbors, man, in order to satisfy his ego, will extend his aid to those who will aid him, and then selfishness will no more be a curse but a blessing.

A dagger in one hand, a torch in the other, and all his pockets brimful with dynamite bombs — that is the picture of the Anarchist such as it has been drawn by his enemies. They look at him simply as a mixture of a fool and a knave, whose sole purpose is a universal topsy-turvy, and whose only means to that purpose is to slay any one and every one who differs from him. The picture is an ugly caricature, but its general acceptance is not to be wondered at, considering how persistently the idea has been drummed into the mind of the public. However, we believe Anarchy — which is freedom of each individual from harmful constraint by others, whether these others be individuals or an organized government — cannot be brought about without violence, and this violence is the same which won at Thermopylae and Marathon.

The popular demand for freedom is stronger and clearer than it has ever been before, and the conditions for reaching the goal are more favorable. It is evident that through the whole course of history runs an evolution before which slavery of any kind, compulsion under any form, must break down, and from which freedom, full and unlimited freedom, for all and from all must come.

From this it follows that Anarchism cannot be a retrograde movement, as has been insinuated, for the Anarchists march in the van and not in the rear of the army of freedom.

We consider it absolutely necessary that the mass of the people should never for a moment forget the gigantic contest that must come before their ideas can be realized, and therefore they use every means at their disposal — the speech, the press, the deed — to hasten the revolutionary development.

The weal of mankind, as the future will and must make plain, depends upon communism. The system of communism logically excludes any and every relation between master and servant, and means really Anarchism, and the way to this goal leads through a social revolution.

As for the violence which people take as the characteristic mark of the Anarchist, it cannot and it shall not be denied that most Anarchists feel convinced that “violence” is not any more reprehensible toward carrying out their designs than it is when used by an oppressed people to obtain freedom. The uprising of the oppressed has always been condemned by tyrants: Persia was astounded at Greece, Rome at the Caudine Forks, and England at Bunker Hill. Can Anarchy expect less, or demand victories without striving for them?

Emma Goldman and John Most

Metropolitan Magazine, vol. IV, No. 3; October 1896

emma gold anarchism


Louise Michel: Why I am an Anarchist (1896)

Louise Michel

The recent death of Ursula Le Guin reminded me of Louise Michel (1830-1905), the French revolutionary anarchist. For one thing, Michel wrote some anarchist science fiction herself in the 1880s, The Human Microbes (1887) and The New World (1888), sharing some similarities with Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. The New World features a utopian anarchist community in the arctic, an environment equally as inhospitable as the desert moon, Anarres, in The Dispossessed, from which the anarchists aim to migrate into space. Michel also reminds me a bit of Odo, the anarchist feminist sage who inspired the anarchists on Anarres. But Louis Michel, in contrast to Odo, was no pacifist. In this article from 1896, Michel explains why she is an anarchist, and refers to her coming to an anarchist position on her voyage to the French penal colony in New Caledonia after the fall of the Paris Commune. One of the people on that voyage who helped persuade her to adopt an anarchist stance was Nathalie Lemel, who also played an important role during the Commune. I included excerpts from Michel’s defiant speech to the military tribunal that condemned her to the penal colony, and her defence of women’s rights, in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Why I am an Anarchist

I am an Anarchist because Anarchy alone, by means of liberty and justice based on equal rights, will make humanity happy, and because Anarchy is the sublimest idea conceivable by man. It is, today, the summit of human wisdom, awaiting discoveries of undreamt of progress on new horizons, as ages roll on and succeed each other in an ever widening circle.

Man will only be conscious when he is free. Anarchy will therefore be the complete separation between the human flocks, composed of slaves and tyrants, as they exist to day, and the free humanity of tomorrow. As soon as man, whoever he may be, comes to power, he suffers its fatal influence and is corrupted; he uses force to defend his person. He is the State; and he considers it a property to be used for his benefit, as a dog considers the bone he gnaws. If power renders a man egotistical and cruel, servitude degrades him. A slave is often worse than his master; nobody knows how tyrannous he would be as a master, or base as a slave, if his own fortune or life were at stake.

To end the horrible misery in which humanity has always dragged a bloody and painful existence incites brave hearts more and: more to battle for justice and truth. The hour is at hand: hastened by the crimes of governors, the law’s severity, the impossibility of living in such circumstances, thousands of unfortunates without hope of an end to their tortures, the illusory amelioration of gangrened institutions, the change of power which is but a change of suffering, and man’s natural love of life; every man, like every race, looks around to see from which side deliverance will come.

Anarchy will not begin the eternal miseries anew. Humanity in its flight of despair will cling to it in order to emerge from the abyss. It is the rugged ascent of the rock that will lead to the summit; humanity will no longer clutch at rolling stones and tufts of grass, to fall without end.

Anarchy is the new ideal, the progress of which nothing can hinder. Our epoch is as dead as the age of stone. Whether death took place yesterday or a thousand years ago, its vestiges of life are utterly lost. The end of the epoch through which we are passing is only a necropolis full of ashes and bones.

Power, authority, privileges no longer exist for thinkers, for artists, or for any who rebel against the common evil. Science discovers unknown forces that study will yet simplify. The disappearance of the order of things we see at present is near at hand. The world, up till now divided among a few privileged beings, will be taken back by all. And the ignorant alone will be astonished at the conquest of humanity over antique bestiality.

I became definitely an Anarchist when sent to New Caledonia, on a state ship, in order to bring me to repentance for having fought for liberty. I and my companions were kept in cages like lions or tigers during four months. We saw nothing but sky and water, with now and then the white sail of a vessel on the horizon, like a bird’s wing in the sky. This impression and the expanse were overwhelming. We had much time to think on board, and by constantly comparing things, events, and men; by having seen my friends of the Commune, who were honest, at work, and who only knew how to throw their lives into the struggle, so much they feared to act ill; I came rapidly to the conclusion that honest men in power are incapable, and that dishonest ones are monsters; that it is impossible to ally liberty with power, and that a revolution whose aim is any form of government would be but a delusion if only a few institutions fell, because everything is bound by indestructible chains in the old world, and everything must be uprooted by the foundations for the new world to grow happy and be at liberty under a free sky.

Anarchism is today the end which progress seeks to attain, and when it has attained it will look forward from there to the edge of a new horizon, which again as soon as it has been reached will disclose another, and so on always, since progress is eternal.

We must fight not only with courage but with logic; that the disinherited masses, who sprinkle every step of progress with their blood, may benefit at last by the supreme struggle soon to be entered upon by human reason together with despair. It is necessary that the true ideal be revealed, grander and more beautiful than all the preceding fictions. And should this ideal be still far off it is worth dying for.

That is why I am an Anarchist.


Liberty (UK), 3, 3 (March, 1896), 26

Ursula Le Guin (1929 – 2018)

Ursula Le Guin

I was sad to hear of the death of Ursula Le Guin yesterday. I heard her speak at an international anarchist symposium in Portland, Oregon back in 1980. She talked about her views on anarchism, buddhism, anthropology, science fiction, creativity and writing, and answered questions about her stories and books. The book that anarchists celebrated was The Dispossessed, about an anarchist colony on a large moon orbiting a planet like Earth. Here I reproduce a dialogue between the main character, Shevek, from the anarchist moon, Anarres, and a rich woman, Vea, living on the Earth-like planet that Shevek has secretly arranged to visit. Shevek expresses the ideas of the anarchists on Anarres, the “Odonians,” while Vea speaks from the vantage point of a cynical female member of the ruling class who cannot accept that the anarchists can live without hierarchy and authority, arguing that they have merely internalized them. It’s a great passage, drawing out some potential issues about life in an anarchist society, while showing that even a cynical “propertarian” (the word Le Guin uses to describe the capitalists) really wants to be free, but cannot see that freedom itself is a kind of relationship, and not something that can be achieved in isolation, or by exploiting others.

The Dispossessed – Chapter 7

[Vea] sat down on a low, cushioned stool near [Shevek], so she could look up into his face. She arranged her white skirt over her ankles, and said, “Now, tell me how it really is between men and women on Anarres.”

It was unbelievable. The maid and the caterer’s man were both in the room; she knew he had a partner, and he knew she did, and not a word about copulating had passed between them. Yet her dress, movements, tone — what were they but the most open invitation?

“Between a man and a woman there is what they want there to be between them,” he said, rather roughly. “Each, and both.”

“Then it’s true, you really have no morality?” she asked, as if shocked but delighted.

“I don’t know what you mean. To hurt a person there is the same as to hurt a person here.”

“You mean you have all the same old rules? You see, I believe that morality is just another superstition, like religion. It’s got to be thrown out.”

“But my society,” he said, completely puzzled, “is an attempt to reach it. To throw out the moralizing, yes — the rules, the laws, the punishments — so that men can see good and evil and choose between them.”

“So you threw out all the do’s and don’ts. But you know, I think you Odonians missed the whole point. You threw out the priests and Judges and divorce laws and all that, but you kept the real trouble behind them. You just stuck it inside, into your consciences. But it’s still there. You’re just as much slaves as ever! You aren’t really free.”

“How do you know?”

“I read an article in a magazine about Odonianism,” she said. “And we’ve been together all day. I don’t know you, but I know some things about you. I know that you’ve got a — a Queen Teaea inside you, right inside that hairy head of yours. And she orders you around just like the old tyrant did her serfs. She says, `Do this!’ and you do, and `Don’t’ and you don’t.”

“That is where she belongs,” he said, smiling. “Inside my head.”

“No. Better to have her in a palace. Then you could rebel against her. You would have to. Your great-great-grandfather did; at least he ran off to the Moon to get away. But he took Queen Teaea with him, and you’ve still got her!”

“Maybe. But she has learned, on Anarres, that if she tells me to hurt another person, I hurt myself.”

“The same old hypocrisy. Life is a fight, and the strongest wins. All civilization does is hide the blood and cover up the hate with pretty words!”

“Your civilization, perhaps. Ours hides nothing. It is all plain. Queen Teaea wears her own skin, there. We follow one law, only one, the law of human evolution.”

“The law of evolution is that the strongest survives!”

“Yes, and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are most social. In human terms, most ethical. You see, we have neither prey nor enemy, on Anarres. We have only one another. There is no strength to be gained from hurting one another. Only weakness.”

“I don’t care about hurting and not hurting. I don’t care about other people, and nobody else does, either. They pretend to. I don’t want to pretend. I want to be free.”

Kropotkin: The Origins of Anarchy

I was very excited to learn that Iain McKay, who produced the excellent anthologies of the writings of Proudhon, Property is Theft, and Kropotkin, Direct Struggle Against Capital, is now working on the definitive edition of Kropotkin’s Modern Science and Anarchy (better known in English as “Modern Science and Anarchism”), to be published by AK Press. The new edition will not only include the complete text of Kropotkin’s essay on modern science and anarchy/anarchism, but the additional essays that Kropotkin included in the 1913 French edition, including “The State – Its Historic Role,” and “The Modern State,” in which Kropotkin analyzes the emergence and mutually reinforcing roles of the modern state and capitalism. Here, I reproduce Kropotkin’s introductory chapter to Modern Science and Anarchy, in which he argues that throughout human history there has been a struggle between authority and liberty, between “statists” and anarchists.

The Origins of Anarchy

Anarchy does not draw its origin from any scientific researches, or from any system of philosophy. Sociological sciences are still far from having acquired the same degree of accuracy as physics or chemistry. Even in the study of climate and weather [Meteorology], we are not yet able to predict a month or even a week beforehand what weather we are going to have; it would be foolish to pretend that in the social sciences, which deal with infinitely more complicated things than wind and rain, we could scientifically predict events. We must not forget either that scholars are but ordinary men and that the majority belong to the wealthy, and consequently share the prejudices of this class; many are even directly in the pay of the State. It is, therefore, quite evident that Anarchy does not come from universities.

Like Socialism in general, and like all other social movements, Anarchy was born among the people, and it will maintain its vitality and creative force only as long as it remains a movement of the people.

Historically, two currents have been in conflict in human society. On the one hand, the masses, the people, developed in the form of customs a multitude of institutions necessary to make social existence possible: to maintain peace, to settle quarrels, and to practice mutual aid in all circumstances that required combined effort. Tribal customs among savages, later the village communities, and, still later, the industrial guilds and the cities of the Middle Ages, which laid the first foundations of international law, all these institutions were developed, not by legislators, but by the creative spirit of the masses.

On the other hand, there have been magi, shamans, wizards, rain-makers, oracles, priests. These were the first teachers of a [rudimentary] knowledge of nature and the first founders of religions ([worshiping] the sun, the forces of Nature, ancestors, etc.) and the different rituals that were used to maintain the unity of tribal federations.

At that time, the first germs of the study of nature (astronomy, weather prediction, the study of illnesses) went hand in hand with various superstitions, expressed by different rites and cults. The beginnings of all arts and crafts also had this origin in study and superstition and each had its mystical formulae that were provided only to the initiated, and were carefully concealed from the masses.

Alongside of these earliest representatives of science and religion, there were also men, like the bards, the brehons of Ireland, the speakers of the law of the Scandinavian peoples, etc. who were considered masters in the ways of customs and of the ancient traditions, which were to be used in the event of discord and disagreements. They kept the law in their memory (sometimes through the use of symbols, which were the germs of writing) and in case of disagreements they acted as referees.

Finally, there were also the temporary chiefs of military bands, who were supposed to possess the secret magic for success in warfare; they also possessed the secrets of poisoning weapons and other military secrets.

These three groups of men have always formed among themselves secret societies to keep and pass on (after a long and painful initiation period) the secrets of their social functions or their crafts; and if, at times, they fought each other, they always agreed in the long run; they joined together and supported each other in order to dominate the masses, to reduce them to obedience, to govern them – and to make the masses work for them.

It is evident that Anarchy represents the first of these two currents, that is to say, the creative, constructive force of the masses, who developed institutions of common law to defend themselves against the domineering minority. It is also by the creative and constructive force of the people, aided by the whole strength of science and modern technology, that Anarchy now strives to set up the necessary institutions to guarantee the free development of society – in contrast to those who put their hope in laws made by ruling minorities and imposed on the masses by a rigorous discipline.

We can therefore say that in this sense there have always been anarchists and statists.

Moreover, we always find that [social] institutions, even the best of them – those that were originally built to maintain equality, peace and mutual aid – become petrified as they grew old. They lost their original purpose, they fell under the domination of an ambitious minority, and they end up becoming an obstacle to the further development of society. Then individuals, more or less isolated, rebel. But while some of these discontented, by rebelling against an institution that has become irksome, sought to modify it in the interests of all – and above all to overthrow the authority, foreign to the social institution (the tribe, the village commune, the guild, etc.) – others only sought to set themselves outside and above these institutions in order to dominate the other members of society and to grow rich at their expense.

All political, religious, economic reformers have belonged to the first of the two categories; and among them there have always been individuals who, without waiting for all their fellow citizens or even only a minority of them to be imbued with similar ideas, strove forward and rose against oppression – either in more or less numerous groups or alone if they had no following. We see revolutionaries in all periods of history.

However, these Revolutionaries also had two different aspects. Some, while rebelling against the authority that had grown up within society, did not seek to destroy this authority but strove to seize it for themselves. Instead of an oppressive power, they sought to constitute a new one, which they would hold, and they promised – often in good faith – that the new authority would have the welfare of the people at heart, it would be their true representative – a promise that later on was inevitably forgotten or betrayed. Thus were constituted Imperial authority in the Rome of the Caesars, the authority of the [Catholic] Church in the first centuries of our era, dictatorial power in the cities of the Middle Ages during their period of decline, and so forth. The same current was used to establish royal authority in Europe at the end of the feudal period. Faith in an emperor “for the people” – a Caesar – is not dead, even today.

But alongside this authoritarian current, another current asserted itself in times when overhauling the established institutions was necessary. At all times, from ancient Greece to the present day, there were individuals and currents of thought and action that sought not to replace one authority by another but to destroy the authority which had been grafted onto popular institutions – without creating another to take its place. They proclaimed the sovereignty of both the individual and the people, and they sought to free popular institutions from authoritarian overgrowths; they worked to give back complete freedom to the collective spirit of the masses – so that the popular genius might once again freely rebuild institutions of mutual aid and mutual protection, in harmony with new needs and new conditions of existence. In the cites of ancient Greece, and especially in those of the Middle Ages (Florence, Pskov, etc.,) we find many examples of these kinds of conflicts.

We may therefore say that Jacobins and anarchists have always existed among reformers and revolutionaries.

Formidable popular movements, stamped with an anarchist character, took place several times in the past. Villages and cities rose against the principle of government – against the organs of the State, its courts, its laws – and they proclaimed the sovereignty of the rights of man. They denied all written law, and asserted that every man should govern himself according to his conscience. They thus tried to establish a new society, based on the principles of equality, complete freedom, and work. In the Christian movement in Judea, under Augustus – against the Roman law, the Roman State, and the morality, or rather the immorality, of that time – there was unquestionably considerable elements of Anarchy. Little by little this movement degenerated into a Church movement, fashioned after the Hebrew Church and Imperial Rome itself, which naturally killed all that Christianity possessed of anarchism at its outset, gave it Roman forms, and soon it became the principal support of authority, State, slavery, oppression. The first seeds of “opportunism” which were introduced into Christianity are already visible in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles – or, at least, in the versions of these writings that make up the New Testament.

Similarly, the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century, which inaugurated and brought about the Reformation, also had an anarchist basis. But crushed by those reformers who, under Luther’s leadership, leagued with the princes against the rebellious peasants, the movement was suppressed by a great massacre of peasants and the “lower classes” of the towns. Then the right wing of the reformers degenerated little by little, until it became the compromise between its own conscience and the State which exists today under the name of Protestantism.

Therefore, to summarize, Anarchy was born in the same critical and revolutionary protest which gave rise to socialism in general. However, one portion of the socialists, after having reached the negation of capital and of a society based on the enslavement of labour to capital, stopped there. They did not declare themselves against what constitutes the real strength of capital – the State and its principal supports: centralization of authority, law (always made by the minority, for the profit of minorities), and [a form of] Justice whose chief aim is to protect authority and capital.

As for Anarchy, it does not exclude these institutions from its critique. It raises its sacrilegious arm not only against capital but also these henchmen of capitalism.

Peter Kropotkin

Ōsugi Sakae: The Chain Factory

Ōsugi Sakae (1885-1923) was a Japanese anarchist active from around 1906 until his murder by Japanese military police in 1923. Together with his lover, the anarchist feminist Itō Noe, and his 6 year old nephew, Ōsugi was beaten to death and thrown in a well, on the pretext that the anarchists were going to take advantage of the chaos and destruction following the Great Kantō earthquake to overthrow the government. I included pieces by both Ōsugi and Itō in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Adam Goodwin has recently translated the following short story by Ōsugi, “The Chain Factory.” Goodwin describes it as an “allegorical story by Ōsugi to represent the modern economic order as he relates it by recollection of a dream he had one night. The imagery in Japanese is compelling and accurate to an insurrectionary-anarchist’s perspective on our social order.”

Osugi Sakae, Ito Noe and the editors of Rodo Undo, Tokyo 1921

The Chain Factory

Late one night I awoke with a start and found myself in a strange place.

As far as I could see there were countless people busily working away at something. They are fashioning chains.

The fellow beside me wraps a rather long length of chain around himself and passes one end of it to the chap beside him. The second fellow lengthens the chain further, wraps it around himself and, again, passes it to another chap sitting diagonally from him. While this was happening, the first chap takes the end of another chain from the fellow beside him, and, as before, lengthens it and wraps it once around himself, and then passes the end to the chap sitting diagonally from him. This continues on and on, with everyone doing the same thing, and at a dizzying pace.

All of them have chains wrapped around their mid-sections ten to twenty times, and at first glance it seemed that they were completely immobilized, but their hands and feet were free enough to make the chain and wrap it around their bodies. They work so intently. There isn’t a sign of bother on any of their faces. They actually look happy as they work.

But all is not what it seemed. Ten places from me a chap shouted something as he tosses away the end of a chain. But then, another fellow, who was standing near, but also with chains wrapped around his body, gruffly approached him and clubbed him three or four times with the large truncheon he was carrying. Everyone near the clubbed chap cried out in glee. The clubbed chap, crying, picks up the end of the chain, fashions a small link and joins it, makes another link, and joins that one. And, after a while, the tears on his face had all disappeared.

In places there are slightly-more refined men standing with, again, chains wrapped around their mid-sections, and they incessantly speak in a shrill voice, like that one would hear from a phonograph. They speak at length with difficult words and complicated reasoning something to the effect of ‘the chains protect us; the chains are sacred to our freedom.’ Everyone listens intently.

And, in the middle of this expansive factory are a group splendid-looking fellows—perhaps the family that owns this factory—lounging on sofas, smoking what seem to be cigars. Their smoke rings sometimes gently waft past the faces of the workers, making them choke uncomfortably.
As I dwelt upon how strange this place was, I felt my own joints begin to ache. I look down to find my own body wrapped ten to twenty times in chains. I busily attend to linking the chains. I was also, as is to be expected, another worker at this factory.

I cursed myself; I grew saddened, and then angry. I remembered the words of Hegel: “The real is the rational, and the rational is the real.”
Wilhelm I and his loyal subjects interpreted these words to grant the sanctity of philosophy to all political realities of the day, including the despotic government, the police state, the arbitrary courts and the suppression of free speech.

Not just the political realities. But everything. For the dim-witted Prussian people, all of those realities were, without a doubt, necessary and just.
As I cast the chains and bind myself with them, their reality is unavoidable; it is just; and, it is my own fate.

I must cease the casting of my own chains. I must cease the binding of my body. I must break the chains that bind me. I must also create a new self, a new reality, a new sense of justice, a new fate.

The chains that bound my mind were rather much easier to break than I had believed. Yet the chains around my feet and hands dig tenaciously into my flesh, and, with time, down to my bones; even the slightest touch left me in agony. Yet, as I endured, the chains relented somewhat. And, as time passed, that pain was accompanied by a slight sense of satisfaction. I even began to tolerate the the three to four truncheon blows from the fellow on watch. I eventually got to the point that I gladly accepted the taunting and abuse from the lounging men.

However, there were many chains that, try as I might, I could not break alone. Everyone’s chain is cleverly linked with mine. There is nothing I can do.If I at all grew idle, the chains that I had taken great pains to loosen subtly worked their way around my body again. Before I knew it, I found my hands mending the links of my own chain.

The master of the factory holds the key to our bellies, and by wielding it, he moves our feet and hands. I had always thought that it was my own mind that controlled my feet and hands; how mistaken I was. As far as I look, no one controls their feet and hands with their own mind. Everyone is under the complete control of the master holding the key to our bellies. It sounds so foolish, but the fact is there is nothing we can do.

I then thought I would try to get back the key to my belly from the man holding it. But it was an impossible task to snatch it away from him by myself. It turns out that he holds my key in such a clever way that it is interlocked with the keys of everyone else, and I cannot possibly grab away from him my key alone.

He is also surrounded by many guards. They all have chains wrapped around their torsos, as they stand holding their spears and bows. They are a frightening bunch and I dare not approach them.

I had lost almost all hope. I then shifted my gaze to the fellows around me.

There are so many who do not realize that they are bound by chains. There are many more still who, were they to realize, would only be grateful for their chains. There are also many who, while not grateful, have resigned themselves to work industriously making their chains. And there are the many who see the chain-making as ridiculous, find the gaps in the watch to frequently rest their bodies as they harbour selfish delusions in their heads, and passionately spout nonsense of actually being free, and not bound by chains at all. It is too foolish to bear to watch.

I then suddenly cast my gaze. I found others around me that seemed to be aligned with me.

They are few, and they are scattered all around. But they all desire the key to their bellies in the clutches of the master. And, like me, they seem to be aware of not being able to take back their own keys alone, so they whisper frequently to their neighbours forging alliances.

“They are few; we are many. They are outnumbered. If we act together, we can take back our keys in one fell swoop.”

“However, since we make pronouncements about justice and peace, we must not permit violence. We must proceed through peaceful means. There is a simple way to do this.”

“Once a year, we send a representative to the master to decide every aspect of our lives. All of those chaps in that meeting are representatives of the master, and if we muster up our own true representatives now, we can be the majority in the meeting, and that’s how we can pass the resolutions that we want.”

“All we need to do is shut up and make the chains. Just continue to wrap the chains around ourselves. Then, when the day comes every few years that we choose our representative, we simply vote for our own representative.”

“Our representative will gradually loosen our chains, and will, ultimately, take back the key to our bellies from the master. We will then find ourselves in a factory under a new organization and a new system of our own ideals, with our chains in the hands of our representative.”

For a time, I thought this to be the soundest argument. But the idea of relying simply on numbers, or relying on someone else over myself, did not sit right with me somehow. And when they declared their philosophy to be scientific, I then realized that they were not my comrades.

They were dreadful subscribers to panlogism. Dreaded mechanical fatalists. In their ideal of the new organization of the factory, they believe themselves to be the natural inheritors of the current factory organization, the result of an inevitable economic process. Thus, their belief is vested in simply changing the factory system and organization according to economic processes.

When pushed to decide, I, myself, am also a subscriber to panlogism. I am a mechanical fatalist. But there were a great many unknowns in my thinking, in my mechanical fatalism. As long as I did not discern these unknowns, achieving my ideals would not be certain. They would remain probabilities with a degree of potential. I cannot look favourably to the future like these men. In fact, my pessimism for the future is what nourishes my efforts in the present.

The majority of my so-called unknowns lie with humans. They’re with the development of life, itself. They’re with the power of life, itself. More specifically, they lie with the efforts to realize one’s potential, to realize one’s autonomy, to fight tirelessly for that development, and all of the effort therein.

I have no doubt that economic processes are a major force in determining the future of our factory. Yet, those unknowns—more specifically, our power and efforts—shape what kind of organization and system should be brought about as a result of those processes. Whether it be an organization or a system, these are merely phenomena manifested from the interactions of human beings. The interaction of nothing with nothing—the relationship between nothing and nothing—will, ultimately, be nothing.

And yet, I cannot help but shudder in fear at what might rightly be called the omnipotence of the organizations and systems that already exist today. Those fellows in the factory, steeped in a dream within a dream, consider themselves to be complete individuals and give not a moment’s thought to the destruction of those systems.

Sloth has no ambition. Sloth makes no history.

I looked around myself once again.

I am surrounded almost entirely by sloth. They work dutifully fashioning chains and wrapping them around their own bodies, under the full control of the mind of another; almost not a single one moves of his own mental faculties. It matters not how many of these fellows are brought together, for they have no ambition, no creative power.

I have given up on this vulgar group.

My own hopes rested on me alone. We can only come to realize our own power and autonomy, go through our own small revolutions, and have our hopes rest on the scant minority that put forth all they can to achieve their own betterment.

We must face the men who hold the key to our bellies, look upon the organization and system of the factory they have created to subjugate us, and confront it like wild beasts.

We will likely be a scant minority until the bitter end. Yet we have the will and the effort. And we also have the experience of actions born of this effort. Our aspirations are born from this experience. We will fight to the last.

That fight is a demonstration of our power. It is the touchstone of our personal autonomy. We are the magnets who invite the slothful within our sphere of influence and transform them into warriors.

This fight yields new meaning and new power within our lives, and germinates the seed of the new factory we are trying to construct.

Well, I’ve relied too much on argument alone. Arguments don’t break chains. Arguments don’t snatch back the keys to our bellies.

The chains have grown ever tighter around us now. The keys to our bellies have become ever stiffer to turn. Even the slothful among this vulgar group began to grow restless. The time for the efforts of the self-aware, combative minority is now. I threw off the chains wrapped around my hands and feet, and stood up.

I awoke. The night had past, and the mid-August morning sun lights up my half-asleep countenance.

Ōsugi Sakae

Kropotkin: The Coming Anarchy (1887)

In my last post, I reproduced some thoughts of Tomás Ibáñez on the “coming anarchism,” that is the anarchism of the future, modified and adapted to rapidly changing conditions unforeseen by 19th century anarchist revolutionaries. The title to the piece was an allusion to an article by the anarchist communist, Peter Kropotkin, “The Coming Anarchy,” the second part of an essay he published in the English review, The Nineteenth Century (February and August 1887 issues). The two parts of Kropotkin’s essay were republished as the pamphlet, “Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles” (1887, reprinted on its 100th anniversary in Kropotkin, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism, ed. N. Walter, Freedom Press,  1987). Here, I reproduce excerpts from “The Coming Anarchy,” highlighting Kropotkin’s advocacy not only of anarchism, but of anarchy itself. Unlike some anarchists who equate “anarchy” with some decentralized, federalist forms of direct democracy, Kropotkin argued that what we should be striving for is anarchy in the sense of a society without any kind of law or government at all. I included several selections by Kropotkin on anarchy, anarchist communism, law and morality in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

Peter Kropotkin

The Coming Anarchy

I have already said that anarchy means no-government. We know well that the word ‘anarchy’ is also used in the current language as synonymous with disorder. But that meaning of ‘anarchy’ being a derived one, implies at least two suppositions. It implies, first, that whenever there is no government there is disorder; and it implies, moreover, that order, due to a strong government and a strong police, is always beneficial. Both implications, however, are anything but proved. There is plenty of order — we should say, of harmony — in many branches of human activity where the government, happily, does not interfere.

As to the beneficial effects of order, the kind of order that reigned at Naples under the Bourbons surely was not preferable to some disorder started by Garibaldi; while the Protestants of this country will probably say that the good deal of disorder made by Luther was preferable, at any rate, to the order which reigned under the Pope. As to the proverbial ‘order’ which was once ‘restored at Warsaw,’[1] there are, I suppose, no two opinions about it. While all agree that harmony is always desirable, there is no such unanimity about order, and still less about the ‘order’ which is supposed to reign on our modern societies; so that we have no objection whatever to the use of the word ‘anarchy’ as a negation of what has been often described as order.

By taking for our watchword anarchy, in its sense of no-government, we intend to express a pronounced tendency of human society. In history we see that precisely those epochs when small parts of humanity broke down the power of their rulers and reassumed their freedom were epochs of the greatest progress, economical and intellectual. Be it the growth of the free cities, whose unrivalled monuments — free work of free associations of workers — still testify [to] the revival of mind and of the well-being of the citizen; be it the great movement which gave birth to the Reformation — those epochs when the individual recovered some part of his freedom witnessed the greatest progress.

And if we carefully watch the present development of civilized nations, we cannot fail to discover in it a marked and ever-growing movement towards limiting more and more the sphere of action of government, so as to leave more and more liberty to the initiative of the individual. After having tried all kinds of government, and endeavoring to solve the insoluble problem of having a government ‘which might compel the individual to obedience, without escaping itself from obedience to collectivity,’ humanity is trying now to free itself from the bonds of any government whatever, and to respond to its needs of organization by the free understanding between individuals prosecuting the same common aims.

Home Rule, even for the smallest territorial unity or group, becomes a growing need; free agreement is becoming a substitute for the law; and free co-operation a substitute for governmental guardianship. One after the other those functions which were considered as the functions of government during the last two centuries are disputed; society moves better the less it is governed.

And the more we study the advance made in this direction, as well as the inadequacy of governments to fulfill the expectations placed in them, the more we are bound to conclude that Humanity, by steadily limiting the functions of government, is marching towards reducing them finally to nil; and we already foresee a state of society where the liberty of the individual will be limited by no laws, no bonds — by nothing else but his own social habits and the necessity, which everyone feels, of finding cooperation, support, and sympathy among his neighbours.

Of course, the no-government ethics will meet with at least as many objectives as the no-capital economics [communism]. Our minds have been so nurtured in prejudices as to the providential functions of government that anarchist ideas must be received with distrust. Our whole education, from childhood to the grave, nurtures the belief in the necessity of a government and its beneficial effects.

Systems of philosophy have been elaborated to support this view; history has been written from this standpoint; theories of law have been circulated and taught for the same purpose. All politics are based on the same principles, each politician saying to the people he wants to support him : ‘Give me the governmental power; I will, I can, relieve you from the hardships of your present life.’

All our education is permeated with the same teachings. We may open any book of sociology, history, law, or ethics : everywhere we find government, its organization, its deeds, playing so prominent a part that we grow accustomed to suppose that the State and the political men are everything; that there is nothing behind the big statesmen. The same teachings are daily repeated in the Press. Whole columns are filled up with minutest records of parliamentary debates, of movements of political persons; and, while reading these columns, we too often forget that there is an immense body of men — mankind, in fact — growing and dying, living in happiness or sorrow, labouring and consuming, thinking and creating, besides those few men whose importance has been so swollen up as to overshadow humanity.

And yet, if we revert from the printed matter to our real life, and cast a broad glance on society as it is, we are struck with the infinitesimal part played by government in our life. Millions of human beings live and die without having had anything to do with government. Every day millions of transactions are made without the slightest interference of government; and those who enter into agreements have not the slightest intention of breaking bargains. Nay, those agreements which are not protected by government (those of the Exchange, or card [gambling] debts) are perhaps better kept than any others. The simple habit of keeping one’s word, the desire of not losing confidence, are quite sufficient in the immense overwhelming majority of cases to enforce the keeping of agreements.

Of course, it may be said that there is still the government which might enforce them if necessary. But not to speak of the numberless cases which could not even be brought before a court, everybody who has the slightest acquaintance with trade will undoubtedly confirm the assertion that, if there were not so strong a feeling of honour in keeping agreements, trade itself would become utterly impossible.

Even those merchants and manufacturers who feel not the slightest remorse when poisoning their customers with all kinds of abominable drugs, duly labelled, even they also keep their commercial agreements. But, if such a relative morality as commercial honesty exists now, under the present conditions, when enrichment is the chief motive, the same feeling will further develop very fast as soon as robbing somebody of the fruits of his labour is no longer the economical basis of our life…

The objections to the above may be easily foreseen. It will be said of course: “But what is to be done with those who do not keep their agreements? What with those who are not inclined to work? What with those who would prefer breaking the written laws of society, or—on the anarchist hypothesis—its unwritten customs? Anarchism may be good for a higher humanity,—not for the men of our own times.”

First of all, there are two kinds of agreements: there is the free one which is entered upon by free consent, as a free choice between different courses equally open to each of the agreeing parties. And there is the enforced agreement, imposed by one party upon the other, and accepted by the latter from sheer necessity; in fact, it is no agreement at all; it is a mere submission to necessity. Unhappily, the great bulk of what are now described as agreements belong to the latter category. When a workman sells his labour to an employer and knows perfectly well that some part of the value of his produce will be unjustly taken by the employer; when he sells it without even the slightest guarantee of being employed so much as six consecutive months, it is a sad mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy—Adam Smith—was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. As long as three-quarters of humanity are compelled to enter into agreements of that description, force is of course necessary, both to enforce the supposed agreements and to maintain such a state of things. Force—and a great deal of force—is necessary to prevent the labourers from taking possession of what they consider unjustly appropriated by the few; and force is necessary to continually bring new “uncivilized nations” under the same conditions.

But we do not see the necessity of force for enforcing agreements freely entered upon. We never heard of a penalty imposed on a man who belonged to the crew of a lifeboat and at a given moment preferred to abandon the association. All that his comrades would do with him, if he were guilty of a gross neglect, would probably be to refuse to have anything further to do with him. Nor did we hear of fines imposed on a contributor to the dictionary for a delay in his work, or of gendarmes driving the volunteers of Garibaldi to the battlefield. Free agreements need not be enforced.

As to the so-often repeated objection that no one would labour if he were not compelled to do so by sheer necessity, we heard enough of it before the emancipation of slaves in America, as well as before the emancipation of serfs in Russia…

Overwork is repulsive to human nature—not work. Overwork for supplying the few with luxury—not work for the well-being of all. Work is a physiological necessity, a necessity of spending accumulated bodily energy, a necessity which is health and life itself. If so many branches of useful work are so reluctantly done now, it is merely because they mean overwork, or they are improperly organized. But we know—old [Benjamin] Franklin knew it—that four hours of useful work every day would be more than sufficient for supplying everybody with the comfort of a moderately well-to-do middle-class house, if we all gave ourselves to productive work, and if we did not waste our productive powers as we do waste them now.

As to the childish question, repeated for fifty years: “Who would do disagreeable work?” frankly I regret that none of our savants has ever been brought to do it, be it for only one day in his life. If there is still work which is really disagreeable in itself, it is only because our scientific men have never cared to consider the means of rendering it less so. They have always known that there were plenty of starving men who would do it for a few cents a day.

As to the third—the chief—objection, which maintains the necessity of a government for punishing those who break the law of society, there is so much to say about it that it hardly can be touched incidentally. The more we study the question, the more we are brought to the conclusion that society itself is responsible for the anti-social deeds perpetrated in its midst, and that no punishment, no prisons, and no hangmen can diminish the numbers of such deeds; nothing short of a reorganization of society itself.

Three quarters of all the acts which are brought before our courts every year have their origin, either directly or indirectly, in the present disorganized state of society with regard to the production and distribution of wealth—not in perversity of human nature. As to the relatively few anti-social deeds which result from anti-social inclinations of separate individuals, it is not by prisons, nor even by resorting to the hangmen, that we can diminish their numbers. By our prisons, we merely multiply them and render them worse. By our detectives, our “price of blood,” our executions, and our jails, we spread in society such a terrible flow of basest passions and habits, that he who should realize the effects of these institutions to their full extent would be frightened by what society is doing under the pretext of maintaining morality. We must search for other remedies, and the remedies have been indicated long since.

…[I]f all our children—all children are our children—received a sound instruction and education—and we have the means of giving it; if every family lived in a decent home—and they could at the present high pitch of our production; if every boy and girl were taught a handicraft at the same time as he or she receives scientific instruction, and not to be a manual producer of wealth were considered as a token of inferiority; if men lived in closer contact with one another, and had continually to come into contact on those public affairs which now are vested in the few; and if, in consequence of a closer contact. we were brought to take as lively an interest in our neighbours’ difficulties and pains as we formerly took in those of our kinsfolk—then we should not resort to policemen and judges, to prisons and executions. Anti-social deeds would be nipped in the bud, not punished. The few contests which would arise would be easily settled by arbitrators; and no more force would be necessary to impose their decisions than is required now for enforcing the decisions of the family tribunals of China.

And here we are brought to consider a great question: what would become of morality in a society which recognized no laws and proclaimed the full freedom of the individual? Our answer is plain. Public morality is independent from, and anterior to, law and religion. Until now, the teachings of morality have been associated with religious teachings. But the influence which religious teachings formerly exercised on the mind has faded of late, and the sanction which morality derived from religion has no longer the power it formerly had. Millions and millions grow in our cities who have lost the old faith. Is it a reason for throwing morality overboard, and for treating it with the same sarcasm as primitive cosmogony?

Obviously not. No society is possible without certain principles of morality generally recognized. If everyone grew accustomed to deceiving his fellow-men; if we never could rely on each other’s promise and words; if everyone treated his fellow as an enemy, against whom every means of warfare is justifiable—no society could exist. And we see, in fact, that notwithstanding the decay of religious beliefs, the principles of morality remain unshaken. We even see irreligious people trying to raise the current standard of morality. The fact is that moral principles are independent of religious beliefs: they are anterior to them…

In fact, each new religion takes its moral principles from the only real stock of morality—the moral habits which grow with men as soon as they unite to live together in tribes, cities, or nations. No animal society is possible without resulting in a growth of certain moral habits of mutual support and even self-sacrifice for the common well-being. These habits are a necessary condition for the welfare of the species in its struggle for life—cooperation of individuals being a much more important factor in the struggle for the preservation of the species than the so-much-spoken-of physical struggle between individuals for the means of existence. The “fittest” in the organic world are those who grow accustomed to life in society; and life in society necessarily implies moral habits.

As to mankind, it has during its long existence developed in its midst a nucleus of social habits, of moral habits, which cannot disappear as long as human societies exist. And therefore, notwithstanding the influences to the contrary which are now at work in consequence of our present economic relations, the nucleus of our moral habits continues to exist. Law and religion only formulate them and endeavour to enforce them by their sanction…

Whatever the variety of theories of morality, all can be brought under three chief categories: the morality of religion; the utilitarian morality; and the theory of moral habits resulting from the very needs of life in society. Each religious morality sanctifies its prescriptions by making them originate from revelation; and it tries to impress its teachings on the mind by a promise of reward, or punishment, either in this or in a future life.

The utilitarian morality maintains the idea of reward, but it finds it in man himself. It invites men to analyse their pleasures, to classify them, and to give preference to those which are most intense and most durable. We must recognize, however, that, although it has exercised some influence, this system has been judged too artificial by the great mass of human beings.

And finally—whatever its varieties—there is the third system of morality which sees in moral actions—in those actions which are most powerful in rendering men best fitted for life in society—a mere necessity of the individual to enjoy the joys of his brethren, to suffer when some of his brethren are suffering; a habit and a second nature, slowly elaborated and perfected by life in society. That is the morality of mankind; and that is also the morality of anarchism.

Such are, in a very brief summary, the leading principles of anarchism. Each of them hurts many a prejudice, and yet each of them results from an analysis of the very tendencies displayed by human society. Each of them is rich in consequences and implies a thorough revision of many a current opinion. And anarchism is not a mere insight into a remote future. Already now, whatever the sphere of action of the individual, he can act, either in accordance with anarchist principles or on an opposite line. And all that may be done in that direction will be done in the direction to which further development goes. All that may be done in the opposite way will be an attempt to force humanity to go where it will not go.

Peter Kropotkin

1. This was a statement made by the Russian Governor of Poland, Muraviov, after brutally putting down the Polish uprising of 1863.

Shawn Wilbur: Notes on the Anarchist Culture Wars

Taking a break from my usually more historical postings, today I reproduce a blogpost by Shawn Wilbur, prompted by recent discussions regarding alleged personal and political connections between the far right and anarchism. The problem of egoists, Nietzschean “supermen,” “national syndicalists,” “national anarchists,” and the like associating themselves with anarchism goes back at least to the 1890s, when Malatesta argued that anarchy without “socialist content… would be worthy of ‘supermen’ in Nietzsche’s and [the proto-fascist Gabriele] D’Annunzio’s fashion and, contradicting itself, would turn into aristocratism and tyranny” (Complete Works, Vol. 3, p. 293). Attempts by the far right to co-opt anarchists (and anarchism) were not limited to individualist anarchism, nor are they limited today to the so-called “post-left” anarchist milieu. The original Fascists in Italy attempted to recruit syndicalists (without as much success as some “post-leftist” anarchists would have it), and in France they attempted to appropriate the legacy of Proudhon, among other things. In Russia, “national bolsheviks” and “national anarchists” claim Bakunin as a forerunner, quoting from his various anti-semitic outbursts in support of  their “white nationalism.” But it is a completely fallacious leap to then argue that anarchism is an incipiently fascist doctrine, “contaminated” by inherently fascist ideas because fascists sometimes like to court self-proclaimed anarchists or to misappropriate anarchist ideas and tactics, such as direct action, for their own purposes.

Shawn Wilbur’s Contr’un: Anarchist Theory

Notes on the Anarchist Culture Wars

With regard to the “courting” of anarchists by authoritarians, and as someone who has been so courted on various occasions, it seems to me that the key vulnerability among radicals is not attraction to certain authors or ideas, but particular ways of interacting with ideas. And that vulnerability is widespread in the milieu, with perhaps the more dangerous instances involving ideas that are not themselves so obviously edgy.

What is required for someone to slide from Stirner toward fascism, from Proudhon toward monarchy, from Bakunin toward actual dictatorship, etc. is for a few, generally uncharacteristic bits of their thought to be disconnected from their context, elevated in importance and then associated with similarly disconnected bits of authoritarian thought, with some sort of eclecticism, “syncretism” or outright opportunism as the guiding philosophy. The alt-right has made this sort of opportunist, hodge-podge thinking a fairly explicit policy. Unfortunately, many radicals also engage in it, without much sense of the stakes. The result is a convergence of people who aren’t really all that interested in ideas, except as potential capital to put behind projects with some less philosophical basis or as a sort of personal adornment. And these people, whether they identify with the right or the left, tend to tell a story about “theory” that assumes ideas are generally mixable. No idea is really very distant from any other, provided you simply disregard the bits that establish distance (and, of course, clarity.)

(These folks will “use” any idea, no matter how radical, provided they can break off some little bit of it that appeals to their audience of people who don’t care much. We can never stop these people from this kind of annoying, but ultimately trivial appropriation. All we can do is be clearer than they are, so that people who actually do care aren’t mislead. You never convince opportunists that they are wrong, because that’s not ultimately what it’s about. You can, however, demonstrate the weaknesses of opportunism as a mode of thought.)

Sometimes these folks find common cause with people who think that ideas are indeed important, but draw firm lines between ideas that they think of as “bad” or “dangerous” and some set of ideas that seem to them safe, good, etc. There’s a kind of narrow rationalism that is constantly concerned that “something could go wrong” if we have unsafe thoughts or make use of ideas and ways of thinking unapproved by its particular standards. A lot of well-meaning and unconsciously authoritarian would-be radicals fall into this camp. Some of them are quite serious about the defense of their particular sort of approved thinking and some just have a low tolerance for anything that might seem “problematic,” “sketchy” or “fucked up.”

When we do find people swept from one position to another, I suspect these are often people who rather enjoy the fact that many ideas are dangerous, but aren’t so concerned about using ideas in any very serious way. Philosophy, like ideology, can be just another recreational drug. When we “lose” these people, we probably have to acknowledge that we only had them in a very limited sense in the first place.

None of these groups, it seems to me, are very well situated to deal with the notion of anarchy, which is necessarily (in the short term certainly, but probably also in the longest of terms) a truly dangerous idea. Now, some self-proclaimed “anarchists” are happy to do without the notion of anarchy, but as far as I can see that’s just giving up before you get started. But there are also people who look at Stirner (or something they’ve heard about egoism) and think “that’s problematic,” hear the usual criticisms of Proudhon and Bakunin and think “that’s fucked up,” worry about what might “go wrong” with poststructuralism, etc., but then look at anarchy and think “nothing to worry about here, folks.” But we often find that these folks also consider “democracy” a safe, positive notion, will find room in their nominally “anarchist” theory for authority, hierarchy, etc. It’s easy to be tolerant of this sort of thing as “rookie mistakes,” which ought to be fixed by more exposure to anarchist thought — except that there doesn’t seem to be much in the milieu pushing anarchists towards any more complex engagement, while there is perhaps an increasing resistance.

When it comes right down to it, the only people I have much faith in when it comes to a lasting commitment to anarchist thought and practice are those who are both serious about ideas (although I recognize a lot of ways this seriousness might manifest itself) — and specifically serious about anarchist ideas and anarchistic ways of thinking — and ready to acknowledge that the particular ideas that separate anarchism from the rest of the political or social philosophies out there, anarchy chief among them, are not “safe.” This isn’t a question of an intellectual vanguard or any sort of commitment that should exclude the average working stiff. We just shouldn’t be surprised that committing to even the serious contemplation of anarchy, which involves a radical break with the principles that govern the majority of our current relations and institutions, takes some mental effort, no matter where we’re starting from. You don’t have to know that Proudhon came to anarchy as a result of research into “the criterion” of certainty, but you probably do have to come to terms, in one way or another, that the “definitive” and “authoritative” are at least going to have to undergo some reworking in an anarchistic context, if they don’t simply get swept away with the authoritarian.

But if you can come to terms with anarchy, then you have not only gained an ideal, but presumably also mastered a skill. And that skill is, it seems to me, the one that best protects us whenever we are dealing with “dangerous” ideas. It might even simply involve the recognition that all ideas are dangerous, which is a pretty good inoculation against all the various systems and schemes that are peddled from every direction.

Shawn Wilbur

Anarchist Resistance: After the Elections – Before the Revolution


The website “Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness” has recently posted a collection of anarchist responses to the Fall 2016 US elections, “Our Work Has Begun – The Future is Coming.” Here is the contribution from Anarchist Resistance NYC. Their criticisms of electoral strategies cannot be separated from the call for alternative means of action; as Malatesta argued, abstentionism in itself doesn’t change anything.

The Days After the Election and the Days Before the Revolution

by Anarchist Resistance NYC

Today, many radicals are asking themselves how they could be waking up to President Trump. Our question instead is what does this mean for the Left in this country. Paralyzing myths have now been shattered, and this situation could, with a lot of work, passion, and clear thinking, lead to a strategy of action and a far greater positive change than voting for the status quo. The change we are talking about is generational and will have a far greater effect than any string of elections, no matter how repugnant they may be.

Those that see the Greatness of America as being misogynist, nativist, anti-urban, and homogenous in race, sexuality and faith are fighting a rearguard battle against the future which they can not hope to win.

First, this election has dispelled the myth, spread during Occupy, that the primary division in this country exists between the 99% and the 1%. Trump’s victory proves that the conflict is deeper than what amounts to a very simplistic and inaccurate economic calculus: the 99 must surely win against the 1. Many of the so-called 99%ers came out in to support a billionaire, while the other half supported a pro-free trade, Wall Street democrat. Yes, there is absolutely a conflict between the rich and the poor, but that has never been the only division in this country. Those that see the Greatness of America as being misogynist, nativist, anti-urban, and homogeneous in race, sexuality and faith are fighting a rearguard battle against the future which they can not hope to win. This doesn’t mean that they will go away quietly and without inflicting great harm, but that is the nature of dying ideologies.

What is distressing is that this desperate rhetoric has captured the imagination of many who have suffered real humiliation and pain under the neo-liberalism of the one-percent. The tragedy is that the rejection and failure of neo-liberalism has led those “left behind” to eagerly cast their lot with the equally oppressive and failed ideology of paleo-conservativism, with its xenophobia, isolationism and anti-intellectualism. This has created a desperate new political alignment that rejects the very things that can restore its adherents’ respect and livelihood.

From this vantage point, American electoral politics has been nothing more than a zombie horde of defunct worldviews along with oppressive and dangerous ideologies lurching across the blue and red states. No president can overturn the demographic reality that this country will continue to urbanize, will become more and more diverse, and that the mythologized manufacturing jobs of the past will remain dead and buried. These realities are the true wheel of history – the dead will inexorably give way to the living, the past to the future – and no election can change that.

Revolution is not an event that suddenly happens, but something that is carefully prepared, built towards, and eventually implemented by those aligned with the future. All governments, whether they are liberal or conservative, will fight equally hard against threats to the State or the capitalist power structure.


The second shattered myth is that electoral politics is a valid arena for populist leftist change. Whether it is Syriza or Trump, Podemos or Hillary, in the end the Left must confront the oppressive powers of the State and capitalism, none of which can possibly be subverted by superficial electoral games. This is not to say there would be no difference between a Trump administration and a Bernie administration, rather it is to say that the latter would only serve to stall the inevitable confrontation. Electoral politics holds out the promise of slow-moving, incremental socio-political advancement, but real evolution only comes about with a radical change of environment, and this can only be achieved through social revolution.

Revolution is not an event that suddenly happens, but something that is carefully prepared, built towards, and eventually implemented by those aligned with the future. All governments, whether they are liberal or conservative, will fight equally hard against threats to the State or the capitalist power structure. So if we are seeking a confrontation that promises a substantial and irreversible change in society, it doesn’t really matter if it is a liberal or a conservative regime in power. Liberal and conservative governments are both inherently reactionary and resistant to any kind of meaningful change, if only because their very existence is dependent on freezing the present and obscuring all possible futures.

We have seen this play out recently in places like Spain, Greece, the UK, and countless other countries. It is always the same paradigm: the political structure refuses to truly change and will continue an endless cycle of lurching back and forth between liberal and conservative. This brutal and blind impulse towards self-preservation is not only found in rightist regimes. Both right and left-wing regimes have used the implements of totalitarianism – prisons, secret police, fear, war, and economic oppression – to maintain the status quo. To have a future, we must reject all the State’s apparatuses of oppression, and this includes electoral politics with its self-serving divisiveness and false promises of change and hope.


The third myth is that the government has ever been our government. The government is the tool of the State, it is an occupying force now, just as much as it was before. All occupying forces of the twentieth century pair an outward benevolence with a healthy dose of fear and repression. We have always understood this formula, and have been struggling against it. Trump’s victory, nevertheless, heightens the sense of urgency to pull down the mask of benevolence, and we must not squander it. The government has never been our protector, and now those caught up in the trap of “representative democracy” may finally see this as well.

Without these myths, what ways are open to us in the dark days to come? The situation has changed and will continue to change during the next four long years. It won’t be easy, in large part because currently the Left is small and lacks the maturity needed to mitigate many of the on-coming attacks on the future. Attacks on women, LGBTQ, POC, immigrants, political dissidents, and so many others, have been par for the course for too long, and the coming years will be no different. Trump’s victory has only increased the number of bullies and people who are fearful.

We need to pluck up our courage, ready or not, and do what we can to stand up to the bullies. We need not only audacity, but imagination. Our theater of action must move beyond the co-optable symbolic opposition to the lived reality of everyday struggles against oppression. Our actions need to be bold like the Greek anarchists who squatted a hotel to house refugees or the German Leftists who physically shut down and re-purposed a neo-fascist radio station. We need to take up space in Trump’s America and support others to speak, move, and love in their own neighborhoods without fear. We need to continue to expose the systemic brutality against those racially targeted by the police.

While the Trumpists spew their fevered conspiracy theories we will double down on reality. Yes, we will get bashed, we will lose some fights, but there is too much at stake to stay on the sidelines waiting “for next time.” There is no cavalry coming, no courts, no congressional gridlock, no petitions, no media; now it is clear the only recourse is action from the ground up. This is the time when we must ask ourselves: do we really stand with those being bullied even when to do so may cost us our own safety? Is it worth it to stand side by side with the targeted, the scared, and the disheartened, knowing there will be risks? This time we cannot delude ourselves – thanks to Trump these risks are greater but so also are the rewards.

We can cower in the corner, or we can stand up and make new comrades with whom we will grow our resistance. We must become ungovernable to the occupation and unwavering in our support of those that feel targeted. This is how resistance is born and how it achieves victory.

The liberals promised to protect everyone with nothing but a ballot, and now they have been routed and are publicly conceding on all fronts. They are asking us to passively accept whatever injustices Trump has planned for us, for our neighbors, for our friends, for our co-workers, and for those comrades we have not yet met. We have never believed in hiding who we are or being ashamed of our liberatory aspirations.

We know the power of solidarity. We have relied on it for generations and we know it is a stronger, more honest way to protect ourselves and ensure our future. The time has come to stand up for ourselves and what we fight for, to defend the communities that the liberals have abandoned to fend for themselves while cynically asking them to return to the fold in four years’ time. Four years is too long to hide in fear or to look the other way. Let us not be afraid, let us not offer concessions, for we know our work has begun and the future is coming.

Let us not be afraid, let us not offer concessions, for we know our work has begun and the future is coming



Laurens Otter: Nuclear Weapons and the Permanent War Economy

Laurens Otter 2016

Laurens Otter 2016

Laurens Otter, born in 1930, has been active in anarchist and pacifist movements since the 1950s. I heard him speak (briefly) at a History Workshop conference in 1986, where he recounted that during the French conflicts in Algeria, French anarchists fire bombed troop trains to stop the soldiers from reaching Algeria, a militant form of direct action that he, as a pacifist, did not endorse, advocating instead non-violent direct action. Recently, his memoir, The Accidental Making of an Anarchist, has been posted online. The memoir covers a period from his youth to the 1960s. While it is sometimes difficult to follow, particularly the changing relationships between various leftist and anarchist groups and their members, the memoir covers a period when anarchism emerged from its ideological exile during the era of Soviet and social democratic domination of the left, to yet again take its place at the forefront of campaigns against nuclear weapons, imperialist wars, and the “military-industrial” complex. This excerpt deals with the attitude of the non-Stalinist left to nuclear weapons during the 1950s. The reemergence of anarchism during the 1950s and 60s is documented in Volume Two of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.


The Left and Nuclear Weapons

Attitudes of the Traditional Left to nuclear weapons need outlining. I hope I don’t need to say that I don’t consider Stalinism part of the Left, traditional or otherwise.

Given that most of the Left had been resisters for a long time, the reaction that ‘though this was a particularly nasty weapon, it was after all just that, one weapon, only worse than others as a matter of degree, not one of kind’, was understandable.

A minority, however, had decided in the past that a war might be the lesser of two evils, particularly an anti-imperialist war or a war to stop the spread of a tyranny like fascism, and were now confronted with a new evil, an evil that seemed to be the moral equivalent of the gas chambers. By its nature nuclear weaponry could not be selective to use it to counter tyranny. Inevitably the victims of the tyranny as well as the tyrant would be made the targets – indeed the tyrant might be able to build him/herself an adequate shelter, while the victim never could.

But it was not merely a question of the nature of the Bomb itself. It may have been understandable, for those who felt war against Hitler was a lesser evil, that the American uranium bombs were made in secret. The buildings where the designs were wrought unknown, the costs not mentioned in national budgets. But when this similarly happened in Britain after the war, when [Emanuel] Shinwell (who had been [Labour Party] Secretary of State for War) showed that he had not known that the Bomb was being made under his authority and he was made to look a fool in Parliament for not knowing; when no one had a chance to vote on the matter; when it became apparent that Government must have spent many millions on building research facilities, on buying and processing uranium and manufacturing bombs, at all times hiding the costs. (Did some of the money said to have been spent on the Health Service or on education, go to make nuclear weapons? Certainly, since the then major world source of uranium was in Rwanda and Burundi, the then Soviet allegation that the East African ground nut scheme was just a cover for transporting the ore had verisimilitude.)

This was why, right back in 1950, Common Wealth [an independent socialist group] argued that the [atomic] Bomb symbolised new class divisions, what [Alfred] Rosmer and [Pierre] Monatte had christened the permanent arms economy (a term taken up by, vulgarised and then hurriedly discarded by the International Socialists), that it was essential to the neo-Colonialism exercised by both Moscow and Washington, as also the remnants of traditional Imperialism. It was a weapon held exclusively by Whites, though uranium was primarily mined in Africa. It was thus not merely just another new weapon, not merely a symptom of new class society, but the symbol of it. Obviously such an analysis gave rise to divisions as to just how important the issue was in everyday politics.

The Bomb was not only a major manifestation of violence, it symbolized the lack of democracy; not even the supposedly relevant member of the Cabinet [Shinwell] knew it was being made, so Parliament (let alone the country) was never consulted; therefore nothing appeared in the budgets – none of the costs of the enormous factory-complexes (Aldermaston, Foulness) ever figured in government building costs. Some may have gone in under a cover-all of Defence, but not in itemized Defence Ministry accounts.

Huge housing estates were built for workers and this would have appeared in Budgets as normal housing. Many workers who didn’t want to work at Aldermaston told us that they’d lived in London and asked to go on the housing lists and been refused, and then they had been told that there were houses at Aldermaston for workers there. The Groundnut Scheme in Tanzania paid for two major harbours and two major railway lines from the coast to the Rwanda-Burundi border (Rwanda-Burundi was then the largest source of uranium), so probably a large part of what was meant to be Colonial Development and Third World Aid was spent as part of the hidden nuclear weaponry budget.

There was an enormous body of horrifying facts to be learnt that would only be revealed to people who asked questions and they only asked them when alerted by the ‘symptoms’ connected to the Bomb.

Laurens Otter

Copyright in this document as that of Laurens Otter and his family, though you may quote them freely in the spirit of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International.

Not just an armchair anarchist

Not just an armchair anarchist

Sebastien Faure: “Anarchy”


Some time ago I posted Sébastien Faure’s definition of “anarchist” from the Encyclopédie Anarchiste. Shawn Wilbur has now translated an excerpt from Faure’s definition of “anarchy” from the Encyclopédie. Faure was a French anarchist who first came to prominence doing speaking tours with the legendary Louise Michel in the 1890s. He revived the use of the term “libertarian” as a synonym for “anarchist” when it became illegal to publish anarchist propaganda in France. He later became a proponent of the “anarchist synthesis,” which sought to combine the best elements of individualist, syndicalist and communist anarchism (I included Voline’s entry from the Encyclopédie on “anarchist synthesis” in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas).


ANARCHY n. (from the Greek: a privative and archè, command, power, authority)

Preliminary observation. The object of this Anarchist Encyclopedia being to make known the full range of conceptions—political, economic, philosophical, moral, etc.—that arise from the anarchist idea or lead there, it is in the course of this work and in the very place that each of them must occupy within it, that the multiples theses contained in the exact and complete study of this subject will be explained. So it is only by drawing and joining together, methodically and with continuity, the various parts of this Encyclopedia that it will be possible for the reader to achieve the complete understanding of Anarchy, Anarchism and the Anarchists.

Consequently, I will show here only in its outlines, in a narrow and synthetic fashion, what constitutes the very essence of Anarchy and Anarchism. For the details—and it is appropriate to note that none have a great importance—the reader should consult the various words to which this text will ask them to refer.

Etymologically, the word “Anarchy” (which should be spelled An-Archy) signifies: the state of a people and, more precisely still, of a social milieu without government.

As a social ideal and in its actual fulfillment, Anarchy answers to a modus vivendi in which, stripped of all legal and collective restraint having the public force at its service, the individual would have no obligations but those imposed on them by their own conscience. They would possess the ability to give themselves up to rational inspirations of their individual initiative; they would enjoy the right to attempt all the experiments that appear desirable or fruitful to them; they would freely commit themselves to contracts of all sorts—always temporary, and revocable or revisable—that would link them to their fellows and, not wishing to subject anyone to their authority, they would refuse to submit to the authority of anyone. Thus, sovereign master of themselves, of the direction that it pleases them to give their life, of the use that they will make of their faculties, of their knowledge, of their productive activity, of their relations of sympathy, friendship and love, the individual will organize their existence as it seems good to them: radiating in every sense, blossoming as they please, enjoying, in all things, a full and complete liberty, without any limits but those that would be allocated to them by the liberty—also full and complete—of other individuals.

This modus vivendi implies a social regime from which would be banished, in right and in fact, any idea of employer and employed, of capitalist and proletarian, of master and servant, of governor and governed.

You will see that, thus defined, the world “Anarchy” has been insidiously and over time distorted from its precise meaning, that it has been taken, little by little, in the sense of “disorder” and that, in the majority of dictionaries and encyclopedias, it is only mentioned in that sense: chaos, upheaval, confusion, waste, disarray, disorder.

Apart from the Anarchists, all the philosophers, all the moralists, all the sociologists—including the democratic theorists and the doctrinaire socialists—maintain that, in the absence of a Government, of a legislation and a repression that assures respect for the law and cracks down on every infraction of it, there is and can only be disorder and criminality.

And yet!… Don’t the moralists and philosophers, men of State and sociologists perceive the frightful disorder that reigns, despite the Authority that governs and the Law that represses, in all domains? Are they so deprived of critical sense and the spirit of observation, that they are unaware that the more regulation increases, the more the more the web of legislation tightens, the more the field of repression extends, and the more immorality, disgrace, offenses and crimes increase?

It is impossible that these theorists of “Order” and these professors of “Morals” think, seriously and honestly, of confounding with what they call “Order” the atrocities, horrors, and monstrosities, the revolting spectacle of which observation places before our eyes.

And—if there are degrees of impossibility—it is still more impossible that, in order to diminish and a fortiori to make these infamies disappear, these learned doctors count on the virtue of Authority and the force of Law.

That pretention would be pure insanity.

The law has only a single aim: to first justify and then sanction all the usurpations and iniquities on which rest what the profiteers of these iniquities and usurpations call “the Social Order.” The holders of wealth have crystallized in the Law the original legitimacy of their fortune; the holders of Power have raised to the level of an immutable and sacred principle the respect owed by the crowds to the privileged, the to power and majesty with which they are invested. We can search, to the bottom or even deeper, all of the monuments to hypocrisy and violence that are the Codes, all the Codes, but we will never find a disposition that is not in favor of these two facts—facts of a historical and circumstantial order, which we tend to convert into facts of a natural and inevitable order—Property and Authority. I abandon to the official tartuffes and to the professionals of bourgeois charlatanism all that which, in the Legislation, deals with “Morals,” as that is, and can only be, in a social state based on Authority and Property, only the humble servant and brazen accomplice of those things.

Sébastien Faure

"Whoever denies authority and fights against it is an anarchist."

“Whoever denies authority and fights against it is an anarchist.”