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.

Anarquismo sin adjetivos

As I explained in a recent blog post, I am a strong supporter of the idea of an anarchism without adjectives, from the Spanish anarquismo sin adjetivos.

Indeed, I’m coming to think that the very use of a prefix or suffix to anarchism is a real danger sign of something amiss.

I should say first of all that I have in the past been happy to be described as an “eco-anarchist”, on the simple basis that there is strong ecological element to my personal take on anarchism.

But it increasingly seems to me that to use that term is self-defeating and I don’t think I will continue using it. It’s as if I am myself suggesting that environmental issues have no intrinsic place in the anarchist worldview and are just elements that some of us have randomly decided to tack on.

The same could be said of anarchist-communism. The use of the term implies that anarchism and communism are completely different things that have been fused together in this particular ideology.

That impression is even stranger in that context. When I’ve used the term “eco-anarchist”, it’s partly because I am aware that not all other anarchists share all my environmental views – and neither would I suggest that they should do. There are lots of varying anarchist viewpoints –and this, as I have said before, is anarchism’s greatest strength.

However, some anarchist-communists claim that their kind of anarchism is in fact the only valid kind and adopt a negative attitude towards other strands of anarchist thought.

This is, in my view, a dangerous and destructive approach not worthy of the anarchist tradition. Class struggle is part of anarchism, but not the whole of it.

In this respect, I am in complete agreement with Voline and the other Russian anarchists who replied to the original Platformists in 1927 with a statement that insisted: “To maintain that anarchism is only a theory of classes is to limit it to a single viewpoint. Anarchism is more complex and pluralistic, like life itself. Its class element is above all its means of fighting for liberation; its humanitarian character is its ethical aspect, the foundation of society; its individualism is the goal of mankind.”


It seems especially odd, if you believe that anarchism is necessarily communist, to continue to couple the two terms together in hyphenated form – unless, that is, you primarily see yourself as a communist who’s refining that definition with the use of “anarchist” as a merely secondary label. In that case, who are you to tell other people what anarchism is or isn’t?

There are other problems of a very different kind involved with adjectives affixed to anarchism.

For instance, the very mention of the term “anarcho-capitalism” makes my blood boil. It just doesn’t exist, whatever its handful of proponents say. Anarchism is all about the destruction of wealth, property, privilege and the state which is always necessary to protect and impose them by force. Capitalism is the opposite of that. End of story. We really don’t need to discuss this.

The same applies to so-called “national-anarchism”. This is so obvious, I wouldn’t have even bothered pointing it out, if it hadn’t been for the fact that some of my stuff has been reposted on one of their sites, along with other anarchist material.

Anarchism is internationalist, universal, anti-racist. It specifically calls for the liberation of human beings from labels imposed on them from above, for the abolition of all nation-states, all borders. You just can’t take all that away and still call it anarchism.

It is pretty clear from a brief look at the “national-anarchist” material, with its promotion of racial separatism, that this is a rather transparent extreme-right attempt to pass for something else.

Of course, the proponents of this non-existent ideology try to counter objections by denying that it is an oxymoron of the most obvious kind and claiming that their idea of “nation” is different from the one generally referred to, that their idea of preserving races is just about bottom-up cultural diversity and so on.

If you accepted this at face value (which I don’t recommend!), it still leaves us with a question. Why, if “national-anarchists” really think they belong in the historic anarchist tradition, do they insist in distancing themselves from it by using the adjective “national” which, unlike “communist” or “eco”, doesn’t belong within the fold of anarchist thinking, or even just outside of it, but right over the horizon in a dark place no real anarchist would go anywhere near?

Why don’t they just ditch the absurd label, get involved in the anarchist movement and express their views (which are supposedly compatible with anarchism) in the usual ways?

The answer is easy, of course: it’s because they, like the capitalists, aren’t really anarchists at all.

As far as genuine comrades are concerned, maybe a good way of setting ourselves apart from imposters is to ditch all the obfuscating qualifications and say plainly that we are proud to be nothing but anarchists. Sin adjetivos.