Anarchism signifies the condition of being without rule. Anarchism, then, has often been equated with chaos. This interpretation was lent weight by the period of anarchist ”propaganda by deed” towards the end of the nineteenth century. For most anarchists, though, their political allegiances involve opposition to the intrusiveness, destructiveness, and artificiality of state authority, the rejection of all forms of domination and hierarchy, and the desire to construct a social order based on free association. Anarchism is, however, a heterogeneous political field, containing a host of variations – for instance, organization versus spontaneity, peaceful transition versus violence, individualist versus collectivist means and ends, romanticism versus science, and existential versus structural critique of domination.
Although anarchism has been traced back, say, to millenarian sects of the Middle Ages, anarchism is properly a nineteenth-century ideology and movement, and anarchists are perhaps best remembered through Marx’s encounters with Max Stirner, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Mikhail Bakunin. Nevertheless, anarchism and communism were not clearly distinguished as varieties of socialism until the period after the Second International. From this time onwards, Marxists equated anarchism with extreme individualism, with opposition to any form of organization or authority, and with mistakenly taking the state (instead of capital) as primary in understanding exploitation and domination.
In the twentieth century, anarchism provided the underpinnings of larger movements and rebellions – for instance, revolutionary syndicalism (the trade unions as revolutionary weapons and models of a future social order) in strongholds such as France, Spain, and Italy; and the collectivization of land and factories during the Spanish Civil War. MIT linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky is probably the best-known contemporary representative of this strand of anarchist thought.
Between 1914 and 1938, anarchism as an ideology and a movement went into serious decline. However, it was widely viewed as at least implicit in the counter-cultural opposition of the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, ”primitivist” anarchists connected modernity’s obsessions with science and progress with the domination of human beings and nature and with the loss of authenticity and spontaneity. For some, poststructuralism has strong anarchist resonances – underscoring difference against totalizing and scientistic Marxian theory and politics, decentralist, and attentive to the micro-operations of power. Finally, the anti-globalization movement is sometimes said to represent a ”new anarchism,” opposing neoliberal capitalism and statism, decentralist and localist in its aims, and characterized by openness and by ”horizontal” organizational tendencies.
- Carter, A. (1971) The Political Theory of Anarchism. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
- Woodcock, G. (ed.) (1977) The Anarchist Reader. Harvester Press, Brighton.