The nature of anarchism

I was recently enjoying the wise words of some like-minded political thinkers from the beginning of the 20th century, when it suddenly struck me that what we had in common was a belief in something you could term “natural anarchism”.

Then, twice as suddenly, I realised that this label was meaningless. All anarchism is natural. That’s the whole point. The state is an artificial imposition on humanity, which prevents it from self-organising in an organic and co-operative manner. If we remove the state, there won’t be chaos, as opponents of anarchism claim, but a harmony born of mutual aid and grassroots communal cohesion, as Peter Kropotkin (pictured here) famously set out.

Attaching any adjective to the word “anarchism” is problematic, as I’ve pointed out here previously.

If the adjective concerned, such as “natural”, does indeed fit anarchism, then it’s a tautology to have repeated it. Talking about “natural anarchism” or, for instance, “egalitarian anarchism” is like talking about “wet water” or “cold ice”.

Anarchism is much more than a political programme or particular point of view, such as could be neatly written down in the form of a manifesto. It is a vast and multi-faceted philosophy with the innate quality of embracing a disparity of perspectives within its overall unity.

You could argue that by applying a specific label to one kind of anarchism, you are merely identifying one of these many aspects within the whole. However, at the same time you are implying that there are other kinds of anarchism to which your particular label does not apply, which is where the problem lies. If I say that I espouse “natural anarchism” I am necessarily proposing that there could be such a thing as “unnatural anarchism”.

If adjectives that do reflect the anarchist Weltanschauung are thus not only superfluous but misleading, what about adjectives that represent a point of view beyond anarchism?

These are just as unacceptable, since they automatically represent logical impossibilities. Neither “nationalist anarchism” nor “capitalist anarchism” can exist, because anarchism is intrinsically internationalist and anti-capitalist.

Whichever angle we approach it from, we find that qualifying adjectives always seem inappropriate for anarchism.

In practice, the way people often get round this is to use “anarchist” or the prefix “anarcho-”- as the adjective to some other term. There can’t really be such a thing as “communist anarchism” because all anarchism is “communist” in the pure meaning of the word, but there can be such a thing as “anarcho-communism” because all communism is far from being anarchist in nature!

So how about “anarcho-capitalism” as a concept? It still doesn’t really work, in fact, because the necessary anti-capitalist implications of the term “anarcho” conflict so badly with the main part of the noun.

When people deploy “anarcho” or “anarchic” in that kind of way, they usually mean something more like “libertarian”. I am greatly suspicious of this word, and not just because it is often used by right-wing capitalists, particularly in the USA. It suggests a vague attraction to “liberty”, while shying away from the total rejection of the state which is inherent in anarchism.

Even the use in English of a Latin, rather than Anglo-Saxon, root word seems to me to reflect an unconscious avoidance of the authentic emotional commitment to freedom that flows proudly in the blood of every anarchist.