Another alternative to capitalism: anarchism
Another alternative to capitalism: anarchism
The other great alternative to capitalism has been anarchism. People often don’t even think about it. But it comes and goes in history. And libertarian ideas still have a lot of influence, says Richard Swift.
by Volker Straeter
People who want something different from capitalism can look at socialism or anarchism. Anarchism first started as a political theory in the 19th century. But people have wanted to lead themselves and not follow the authority of others for many many years.
Capitalism can make itself look freer by making sure the market is free. But capitalism, with the power of big business, takes away our economic and political power. Anarchists have always fought against capitalism and said that business and property is not the only way to get realistic human freedom.
Some anarchists – eg. Russian Pyotr Kropotkin – said that Neolithic humans were mostly peaceful and controlled their own groups. Then the state and armies brought the problems. There are many examples in history of groups fighting against these eg. in Greece, slaves fighting against Imperial Rome, and farming communities.
Two important people were Thomas Müntzer, a leader of the peasant revolts in Germany in the early 16th century; and Gerrard Winstanley, from the Diggers movement, fighting to protect the Commons (land belonging to all) at the end of the English Revolution in the mid-17th century. Winstanley said that authority and property stops people being free.
Formal anarchism started with the revolutions of 1848. There were many revolutions that year in Europe, eg. in Paris, Vienna and Berlin. But at the end of the year, many people were dead or in prison as the controlling powers punished them. In Paris, thousands were executed with no trial.
After the failures of 1848, the anarchist movement grew a lot, particularly in France and the Slavic and Mediterranean countries. This was not only a few intellectuals but also many working-class groups, like the watchmakers of the Swiss Jura and the workers from the marble quarries around Carrara, Italy. There was anarchist thinking in the revolt of the Paris Commune in 1871. The influence of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the anarchists were more important than all other socialist ideas.
After the defeat of the Paris Commune, the anarchist movement almost disappeared. The anarchist writer George Woodcock says that there was a pattern of anarchism getting more important, then less important. There was more libertarian thought and organizing again in the 1900s, then less after the anarchists lost to Bolshevism (1917-22). Anarchism became more important again in the 1930s in Catalonia and Andalusia in the Spanish Civil War. Woodcock and others say that libertarian thought was very important in creating the international New Left in the 1960s. New Left ideas were more like anarchism than Lenin’s ideas. And this continues with the global justice and Occupy movements fighting against capitalism now.
The Left is often divided. This is because ideas are more important than being practical in socialist culture. There was a big divide at the end of the 19th century. In 1872, at a conference of the First International in The Hague, Marx and others made the anarchists leave the socialists. So groups around people like Mikhail Bakunin, Errico Malatesta and James Guillaume separated. And the Left became weaker. And also, controlling commumism became stronger because it had lost the libertarian groups.
The second big divide was in 1896, when the libertarians were forced to leave the International Socialist Congress. Socialists like William Morris and Keir Hardie were against this. But most social democrats thought the libertarians and their criticisms were too irritating. Then the social democracy parties focussed on supporting their own countries in World War One.
The social democrats supported the colonization of the European empires of the “less important” countries of Asia and Africa. When they no longer had the libertarians to fight against corruption, social democracy slowly became just a more humane type of capitalism, not an alternative.
It was not only anarchists who saw the problems of top-down power. Others in socialism criticized Bolshevism and social democracy for being happy for the state to control everything. For example, Paul Lafarge (Marx’s son-in-law) and William Morris fought against this and discussed the nature of work and the purpose of economic growth.
Rosa Luxemburg was a very important radical. She was a leader of the left wing of German social democracy. She was an activist and she fought for the rights of workers in the Soviet Union. But she died in the workers’ revolt in 1919, when they fought against the Junker class that had led Germany into World War One.
Maybe the classical anarchism – fighting against Marx and the state socialists – is disappearing. Now people are not so interested in politics. And there is the eco-collapse. Maybe the real victory of anarchism is in all the modern social movements that fight against authority.
A good example here is how feminists criticize male power. An early anarchist feminist was Emma Goldman. She fought for women to be free and said how bad sexual slavery was. More women’s rights now means both women and men have more power. And it also makes people question how the state controls us with political power. Radical feminism has criticized control by the state (mostly men) and wants local, community control by everyone instead.
Social movements like feminism are part of ‘civil society’. Together with other non-governmental organizations, they often check what the government are doing. If we have anarchists here, maybe they can stop society believing in the control of the state too much.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2015/07/01/the-anarchist-impulse/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).