Anarchy Made Easy, by Rich

by Rich
Featured Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rich’s Blog: Thumb Jig
July 28, 2007

A young and clever George Orwell knew the significance of a beautiful idea. He left his wife and career in England to fight in the Spanish Civil War in December of 1936, siding with the Anarchists who opposed Hitler-backed Nationalist, Francisco Franco. The upsurge of fascism so frightened the fresh faced idealist that he was willing to die to end it. Orwell recognized the elegance of the Spanish Anarchists’ radically different way of administrating their affairs. As a result of the war, his affection for the new society was inverse to his disgust for totalitarianism, a position that informed his future classics Animal Farm and the prescient 1984.

A society like the Anarchist collectives had never before or since existed, an entirely autonomous community divested of centralized rule. But how would a modern Anarchist system operate? Could there be roads, bridges or sanitation? Who would defend the masses from oppression? If it were sustainable back then would it be more so today?

The Principles of Anarchy: An Introduction

An Anarchist is against all categories of authority. The most obvious being government, but in a free society corporations and organized religion would also be relinquished. Modified versions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. would be acceptable as long as they were personal expressions of faith and not a component of a larger hierarchic structure such as the Catholic Church. These institutions constrict the freedom of their adherents. It is impossible to move unencumbered while under the thumb of any system which asserts control from aloft. Today’s dominant attitudes of helplessness and disenchantment can be linked to this cultural feature. People elect Representatives to govern while citizens play no direct part in legislation. As bureaucracies grow (because that’s what Capitalism does – it expands) they monopolize the lion’s share of wealth and power. It is the goal of Anarchism to bridge this chasm and place people in charge of themselves.

Under Anarchism all property serves as a public resource, therefore it is false to assume nothing is owned in Anarchistic communities. On the contrary, the public owns everything. This is why it is believed, as proprietors, individuals are more inclined to be dutiful stewards of what belongs to them. A timeless example of this principle in action can be taken from the book of Nehemiah. In it Nehemiah must rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after a vicious attack. He assigns laborers to work on restoring, not the sections of the wall farthest from where they live, but sections of the wall nearest to each worker, ensuring a quick and meritorious result.

The story of Nehemiah and the wall of Jerusalem illustrates the underpinnings of the Anarchist’s view of human nature. Everyone is an egotist at heart, selfish and individualistic. But most people are social animals as well capable of compassion and sympathetic toward sufferers. This is why the laborers Nehemiah placed in charge of the construction of the wall cooperated with each other. They wanted protection. Anarchist collectives would work for the same reason. The members of the collective value nourishment, social relationships and creative expression, and would enter into a social contract without the supervision of government. Unfortunately, there is one fatal flaw in this story. To any self-respecting Anarchist Nehemiah must go.

There’s no business like no business

From the perspective of the Anarchist, Capitalism degrades human potential when greed becomes the engine of society. Profits justify all beastly pursuits: theft, murder, deceit. The only unpardonable sin is losing money. Cities, for example, serve as a surplus of available labor for corporations. The design of a city centers around the needs of businesses, clustering employees and their families around factories, providing the employees with food, clothing and entertainment along with modes of control. The aim of Anarchists would be to abolish these inhibiting conditions.

After wresting authority away from their corporate handlers the workers would go on to erect “syndicates”. Each syndicate would be devoted to a specific aspect of production necessary for the continuance of the community. One syndicate would specialize in chairs another in toilets and another in ceiling fans and so on and so forth. The workers in a particular syndicate would have dominion over the policies in their workplace. Each worker has an equal vote in the direction of their co-operative. For the day-to-day decisions required to run a complex syndicate workers would divide the collective into administrative branches through popular vote. At this point it is up to an individual to persuade their fellow workers of their education and skills in order to be placed in the proper administrative branch.

In keeping with the spirit of self-management the community also deserves a say in how their syndicates operate. That is why all the syndicates would be owned by everyone in a commune. A collection of syndicates is called a confederation. Just how workers determine the best methods of how their syndicate produces, the members of the confederation decide what is produced and how much.

It is important to keep in mind that this is the formula of choice when it comes to any Anarchist commune. Hospitals, schools and the military are all organized in this fashion. The reason for this is simple. When a syndicate’s course is no longer navigated by the workers, but by a tiny elite, it reverts back into a corporation.

A worthy aside, the word “labor” has a different meaning in a free society. Within the current system people compliment machines in an assembly line mentality, but self-facilitating communes would use technology to eliminate dangerous, tedious and undesirable work. The result would be an abundance of leisure time with a few hours of intermittent labor resembling art more than drudgery. Those assembly lines would run themselves leaving the workers to decorate the products at the end. And even in cases like the construction of roads and bridges, the hazardous aspects will be automated and workers, free from bosses and arbitrary deadlines, will take pride in what they produce because it will be for their benefit.

When workers manage themselves it is unlikely they would pollute their streams and sky or maintain an unsafe working environment. Today’s corporations have made these practices apart of their culture. Consumption and competition animates Capitalism but in tomorrow’s society producers and consumers will be one in the same.

Welcome to the neighborhood

For all the praise in reference to “the people” it could be wrongfully assumed Anarchists romanticize the masses. Untrue. Anarchists make no illusions about the gullibility of massive groups of people. It is the multitude who allowed the minority, the wealthy oligarchy of policy-makers, to enslave them in the first place. The answer is to transform the majority into well-educated cells.

Communes are structured in exactly this way. While they will communicate with other communes it is important to reach a balance so as not to become bloated with a large population. When free people are taught outside the restrictions of a repressive society it is difficult to imagine this being a problem. Work in an Anarchist society is voluntary so if someone wants to leave a syndicate, or even a commune, he or she may. The end result being a vibrant culture in a constant state of flux.

But even with each individual expressing him or herself freely without the deterrence of laws a few basic needs will remain. Health care will be just as vital as ever. Hospitals would function in the same way as syndicates. The doctors and nurses would organize, split into administrative branches based on their training and abilities, and be available for public use at any time. Doctors would visit the homes of the handicapped and the elderly who cannot care for themselves. The treatment people receive under this system, it could be said, would be superior because they would be cared for as patients and not customers. Additionally, those who entered into the health care profession would not do so for material gain but because of their passion for the work.

Some criminal element could be expected to dwell inside any commune. Plenty of crime would have been extinguished after the socialization of a community’s resources. Still a fraction of criminals would linger. Prisons have never been a popular solution and embodies everything Anarchists abhor about authoritarian rule. Instead the treatment of a criminal would be based upon their specific crime. He or she may be ostracized from the commune through popular vote or, depending upon the crime, given an opportunity to observe the destructive effects they had on the community. Popular opinion also would be used to pressure an injurious individual. A court system, constructed by the people of the commune and served in by everyone via lottery, would determine the guilt or innocence of an individual as well as his or her punishment. For those who need to be removed from society altogether, such as rapists, child molesters and sociopaths, asylums would be built in order to treat the offender without harm to others.

As for protection, a police force could be built if a commune desired. However, it would not patrol neighborhoods in the traditional sense, instead it would be an on-call service, much like a fire department, for anyone who wished to utilize it. And just like any other syndicate in the commune, the people hold sway over the policies of the police force. So if somebody abuses his or her power they can be immediately dismissed.

Anarchy made easy?

Because there have been so few examples of functional Anarchist societies in history these suggestions cannot be seen as gospel truth. Many of these ideas are taken either from noteworthy Anarchist thinkers or from the Spanish Civil War where they were put into practice. Freedom requires massive amounts of education on a large scale. It took the people of Spain seventy years to prepare for their revolution all the while overcoming illiteracy and a civil war, but with the internet and relative peace (at least here in the United States) the conditions are markedly better to annunciate the message. Isn’t it time to start thinking like George Orwell and recognize the significance of this beautiful idea?

18 thoughts on “Anarchy Made Easy, by Rich

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  5. Whenever I read a defense of capitalism I always get caught (for a confusing minute) in the trap of thinking that – 1 – there isn’t any alternative to capitalism, there just can’t be, and – 2 – that capitalism isn’t really that bad afterall since capitalism is where we get windex for our chores and bosses for our construction.

    But the truth is that capitalism is not defined by what products are made, or who gives advice to whom. It’s defined by control. If you defend capitalism, you are defending the control of one persons actions (yours for example) by another person. Human life and labor is the capital in capitalism.

    Is there no alternative to capitalism, to wage-ownership? We see examples of equitable free association everyday, friendship, for example, sex, participation in community activities, volunteerism, social groups. On and on. All we would ahve to do is extend the foundation of these relationships to the rest of life. And if you want to be difficult, we could make new ones, more appropriate to making windex.

    I can’t see it as true that our species in flatly incapable of living in a libertatiran socialist society or in any kind of society.

    Of course we could. It just takes work.

  6. An anarchist rejects the notion of a state or nation so if there was any country who implemented this stye of social arrangement it would no longer be recognized as such.

    Yeah, but no movement like that’s succeeded, ever. Anytime. And I can’t believe that the idea of no government atall didn’t occur to anybody in history to try. Democracy is is so much more complicated, for example.

    Slavery was hardly the same thing, since the country emancipationism grew up in, Britain, had few slaves at the time that movement grew up. It didn’t take any big stretch for many British to see that their country could work fine without the few slaves there. That same thought no doubt helped propel it in the Nothern States. The Southern States, where the way of life did depend on it, had to be forced, if you recall.

    …it took seventy years of education and persuasion in order to achieve popular support.

    … not majority support, though.

    Each individual had one vote which counted equally.

    Cool! Then that’s democracy. Sounds good to me…. Presumably, for them to vote, there must’ve been resolutions to vote on, INTRODUCED BY CERTAIN LEADERS, like Athens and some towns today. The leaders of Athens’ parties didn’t have any formal positions; just influence over their parties.

    The Syndicates would even have made for a capitalism on top of that democracy.

    In my life, I’ve been involved in plenty of things, but nothing, not even chores, without somebody, somewhere, leading something (e.g.,bossing construction, or bossing a company that made something I used in the chore).

  7. Jon,

    Thanks for voicing your concerns, I hope to help clarify a few aspects of an Anarchistic collective for you.

    Your first question is unintelligible in regards to Anarchism. An anarchist rejects the notion of a state or nation so if there was any country who implemented this stye of social arrangement it would no longer be recognized as such.

    There are a multitude of reasons why examples of Anarchistic societies haven’t emerged more often: corporate control of information, state repression and coercion, etc. I am relieved your logic wasn’t embraced by abolitionists in the mid-1800s, otherwise the deeply entrenched institution of slavery would still be with us today.

    As far as the Spanish Anarchists go, it took seventy years of education and persuasion in order to achieve popular support. If there were any leaders they wouldn’t have had any greater authority over the rest of the population. Each individual had one vote which counted equally. The people of the community decided their own fate, not leaders.

    I hope this answers your questions.

  8. the concepts are great — the problem is that the word they fly under has been bastardized and ruined.

    you will not be able to sell the general populace on “anarchy.”

    you could, however, make up a new term for the same set of ideas, and sell it with relative ease.

    this, of course, is simply an opinion.

  9. I see I was unclear. When I asked if any successful “societies” had adopted it, I meant countries. After all, if you want society at large to adopt it, we need to see SOME evidence that it works for society at large. And, by now, we oughta’ve seen some successful example of such a simple organization if it was going to work.

    Can you offer evidence that the Spanish anarchists didn’t have a realistic leader, somebody who organized their actions? Did those of their syndicates that functioned have de-facto leaders?

    > Having to be productive and a contributor to society rather then a consumer is hard and challenging.

    …be careful. How do you become a consumer in our society? Mostly, by earning money PRODUCING THINGS. So, except for minors, other guardianship cases, and a few trust fund babies, aren’t most of us contributing things?

    > I don’t think people will willingly go back to a communal lifestyle that requires constant involvement.

    “Back to?”

  10. oh yeah, another flaw in your reasoning is that you don’t see the “collective” as another authority that must be abolished…how is this different from your standard run of the mill socialism? how is the tyranny of the “collective” any different than the tyranny of the state or the church or what have you?

    this seems a contradiction in principles if i ever saw one.

  11. i don’t see why anarchism, in any way, would incompatible with capitalism…in fact, the prime example of an anarcho-capitalist is murray rothbard…who believes the market and the private sector can provide for all our needs, without any state intervention whatsoever…

    if you’re trying to say that anarchism would abolish all private property…well, that’s just absurd. are you saying that if i carve out a piece of land for myself, build my own house, grow my own food, etc., i don’t have the right to defend my property with lethal force if necessary? should i just give it up to the mob when they demand it?

    in that case, it just reaffirms the importance of private property rights and having a constitutional republic to defend the inalienable rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority.


  12. Jon,

    I know Anarchism is difficult to envision through the obfuscation of Capitalist propaganda, but I encourage you to go back and reread the article. First, your argument that social organization requires a leader is just false. The crisis in Somalia does not reflect Anarchism at all. It is an example of rampant authoritarianism. The people aren’t slaughtering themselves, warlords, a minority, are committing these atrocities. In the article, first and second paragraphs, I speak about a collective of Spanish Anarchists who achieved exactly what you claim to be impossible, popular rule without centralized power.

    The difference between syndicates and corporations was also explained in the piece. With corporations the decision-making power is removed from the workers, held above them from afar. In a syndicate, workers determine the direction of their workplace.

    And, again, cities, as I stated, are focused around businesses. Think of the devastation a town like Flint, Michigan has to clean up after GM moved their plant. Corporations use us and we have no say about it.

    Please re-read the article. Anarchism is possible if only we had the courage of our convictions.

  13. While the ideals of Anarchism are beautiful, I don’t know that if would ever work. Most people in our society want comfort, convience and entertainment. Having to be productive and a contributor to society rather then a consumer is hard and challenging. I think that society has gotten to the point where we shrink from challenges and unless forced, I don’t think people will willingly go back to a communal lifestyle that requires constant involvement.

  14. Anarchy can’t be made easy, because it’s ignoring human reality. The reality of anarchy is warlords like in Somalia. You never even have a commune without a charismatic LEADER (hmm, sounds like rule to me). Humans need leaders. Can you name even one successful and healthy society, anytime in history, that’s lacked leaders?

    And those syndicates? How are they different than companies? Given time, they’ll grow to look just like today’s globalized economic landscape.

    And, in fact, cities center around PEOPLE. Individual people each do what suits them best – keep down the commute to their jobs, and go shopping and eating.

  15. Great Post! As an Anarchist, I can tell you we deal with far too much negative press, most likely stemming from a lack of understanding, but frustrating none-the-less. Glad to see that people outside a few small group of us are still trying to show people the true nature of Anarchism before it is intellectually usurped by the capitalists calling for free-market liberty, and the statists calling for ‘minimization of government.’

    Anarchism is a beautiful philosophy which aims to liberate the individual from the shackles of society. (to poorly quote the lovely Emma Goldman)

    If anyone reading this has even the slightest interest in knowing more, please get in contact with me, and I would be happy to talk about any part of the Anarchists philosophy…

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