my frustration centers around misunderstandings of what anarchism is about. thats why i would like others to read the selected essays by some of the most important anarchist thinkers (I didnt even get to others like Rudolph Rocker or Alexander Berkman) before we conjecture on what it can and cant do.
Peter Kropotkin is probably the most important one I would suggest reading, especially for this group. He does alot to tie the ideals of Anarchism to Science and Philosophy.
another great essay by him - and was written in 1898 - is:
Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal
Those who are persuaded that Anarchy is a collection of visions relating to the future, and an unconscious striving toward the destruction of all present civilization, are still very numerous; and to clear the ground of such prejudices of our education as maintain this view we should have, perhaps, to enter into many details which it would be difficult to embody in a single lecture. Did not the Parisian press, only two or three years ago, maintain that the whole philosophy of Anarchy consisted in destruction, and that its only argument was violence?
Nevertheless Anarchists have been spoken of so much lately, that part of the public has at last taken to reading and discussing our doctrines. Sometimes men have even given themselves trouble to reflect, and at the present moment we have at least gained a point: it is willingly admitted that Anarchists have an ideal. Their ideal is even found too beautiful, too lofty for a society not composed of superior beings.
But is it not pretentious on my part to speak of a philosophy, when, according to our critics, our ideas are but dim visions of a distant future? Can Anarchy pretend to possess a philosophy, when it is denied that Socialism has one?
This is what I am about to answer with all possible precision and clearness, only asking you to excuse me beforehand if I repeat an example or two which I have already given at a London lecture, and which seem to be best fitted to explain what is meant by the philosophy of Anarchism.
You will not bear me any ill-will if I begin by taking a few elementary illustrations borrowed from natural sciences. Not for the purpose of deducing our social ideas from them-far from it; but simply the better to set off certain relations, which are easier grasped in phenomena verified by the exact sciences than in examples only taken from the complex facts of human societies.
Well, then, what especially strikes us at present in exact sciences, is the profound modification which they are undergoing now, in the whole of their conceptions and interpretations of the facts of the universe.
There was a time, you know, when man imagined the earth placed in the center of the universe. Sun, moon, planets and stars seemed to roll round our globe; and this globe, inhabited by man, represented for him the center of creation. He himself-the superior being on his planet-was the elected of his Creator. The sun, the moon, the stars were but made for him; toward him was directed all the attention of a God, who watched the least of his actions, arrested the sun’s course for him, wafted in the clouds, launching his showers or his thunder-bolts on fields and cities, to recompense the virtue or punish the crimes of mankind. For thousands of years man thus conceived the universe.
You know also what an immense change was produced in the sixteenth century in all conceptions of the civilized part of mankind, when it was demonstrated that, far from being the centre of the universe, the earth was only a grain of sand in the solar system-a ball, much smaller even than the other planets; that the sun itself-though immense in comparison to our little earth, was but a star among many other countless stars which we see shining in the skies and swarming in the milky-way. How small man appeared in comparison to this immensity without limits, how ridiculous his pretensions! All the philosophy of that epoch, all social and religious conceptions, felt the effects of this transformation in cosmogony. Natural science, whose present development we are so proud of, only dates from that time.
But a change, much more profound, and with far wider reaching results, is being effected at the present time in the whole of the sciences, and Anarchy, you will see, is but one of the many manifestations of this evolution.
Anarchism is an ideal, a philosophy. It is not a concrete set of instructions or a manual, or a Utopia. It is largely centered around humanity’s social behavior. Its central themes is found in humanity already and has been there for as long as we can tell. Again, Kropotkin in Anarchist Morality:
And when we study closely the evolution of the animal world, we discover that the aforesaid principle, translated by the one word Solidarity, has played an infinitely larger part in the development of the animal kingdom than all the adaptations that have resulted from a struggle between individuals to acquire personal advantages.
It is evident that in human societies a still greater degree of solidarity is to be met with. Even the societies of monkeys highest in the animal scale offer a striking example of practical solidarity, and man has taken a step further in the same direction. This and this alone has enabled him to preserve his puny race amid the obstacles cast by nature in his way, and to develop his intelligence.
A careful observation of those primitive societies still remaining at the level of the Stone Age shows to what a great extent the members of the same community practice solidarity among themselves.
This is the reason why practical solidarity never ceases; not even during the worst periods of history. Even when temporary circumstances of domination, servitude, exploitation cause the principle to be disowned, it still lives deep in the thoughts of the many, ready to bring about a strong recoil against evil institutions, a revolution. If it were otherwise society would perish. For the vast majority of animals and men this feeling remains, and must remain an acquired habit, a principle always present to the mind even when it is continually ignored in action.
It is the whole evolution of the animal kingdom speaking in us. And this evolution has lasted long, very long. It counts by hundreds of millions of years.
Even if we wished to get rid of it we could not. It would be easier for a man to accustom himself to walk on fours than to get rid of the moral sentiment. It is anterior in—animal evolution to the upright posture of man.
The moral sense is a natural faculty in us like the sense of smell or of touch.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that humans prefer short term planning over long-term (though I see no difficulties with managing both). thats not a critique of Anarchism. Anarchism is not simply about long-term planning anymore than it is simply about dissolving the state or private property. What I mean is, it is not the act that makes anarchism what it is. It is the reason behind it!
Humans are very social creatures and I am very suspicious of the claim that we need topdown authority to manage our societies, whether it comes in the name of Communism, Fascism or Western Democracy just as much as I am skeptical of the notion that self-management could only work on a small, local level. When I do organizing work I dont see that people dont care. I see that they strongly do care, but that they feel powerless. More than half of registered voters dont vote - and its much higher on state and local levels - and the most popular reason is that they dont feel it will change anything. Its not that they dont want to change things, but that they dont feel like they have the power! Recent polls are showing the public is radically to the left on things like social programs and caring for the needy. There is a deep seeded sense that we should care for others. We are not selfish creatures with no concern for others. We are quite the opposite. There is a reason why the Golden Rule is the golden rule.
Some of the greatest social achievements in human history have been the result of the broadening the powers, especially when the general population is given a say. anarchism is a method that seeks to apply that to every form of life by dissolving topdown authority in place of cooperation, participation, solidarity, collective action, self-management. Its not about doing away with leadership. Its about taking authority away from leadership and leaving leaders the role of delegates who dont “decide” but execute the will of the public they freely represent. We can have people in leadership positions without authority coming from above.
There is no reason to think that workers cannot manage themselves, expand their work, seek newer and more effective tools, equipment, develope partnerships with other industries across town, the country or the globe or anything else. Authority in the topdown sense does not create. It simply uses force to maintain the disparity between classes, to ensure the excessive privileges of an idle class.
Again, Anarchism is not something that has to be conducted in any particular way other than managing from below. There is no reason to think it cannot adapt with experience or change in conditions. There is no manual to refer to, no blueprint, no itemized steps to be carried out in a robotic fashion. It is simply the reflection of a common human desire to be free and work together in an atmosphere without coercion.