Anarchist vision

Considering how many anarchists there are writing blogs and making Youtube videos, there is something of a lack of details about how any of us envision an anarchist society available for those curious about anarchism. I myself am guilty of giving out endless bitter critique but little to aspire to (though I have written a bit on the subject here). I have sometimes said I cannot paint an accurate picture of an anarchist society because, given how free it would be, forms of organization will likely be so various I could not explain it in the present. However, there are some things we could say about the free society. This post will sketch my vision of an ideal society based on anarchist principles.

Culture is made up of norms, which are beliefs and assumptions about the way things are and actions that derive from those beliefs. Norms govern a great deal of our behavior. They make it easy to think the way things are is the only, the best or even the “natural” way to be. Many or most people in the world believe it is normal for them to work long hours, pay taxes, rent and debt, and fear the very real violence of the police. Anarchists think this state of affairs should never be considered normal. If anarchist goals become more widespread (and of course one does not have to identify as anarchist to believe in any of the below), a free society can grow in the ruins of the authoritarian one we have today.

Autonomy

Freedom, liberty, autonomy, independence–whatever you want to call it, anarchists believe the people should be as free as possible be to pursue what they want. Most people are fairweather friends of freedom and do not realize the potential benefits of it. While not everyone agrees on what freedom means, surely it would at least mean making and taking responsibility for one’s own decisions, instead of letting others impose their will on us. Most laws that exist are destructive of freedom, so we would no longer value laws written by someone else. No one would stop you from doing things that did not hurt others, but you would still take responsibility for your actions.

Freedom to do the things we want could be impeded by others bullying, threatening, harassing or other oppressive behaviors; an anarchist society would actively stamp out such practices. Therefore, not only would slavery be a thing of the past, but so would harassment. Thanks to mutual aid and solidarity (see below), poverty would be gone as well, so people would have the time and energy to pursue those things they want for most of the time, rather than spend all day at work.

I think privacy would be an important part of freedom as well. People in cultures that value privacy will expect others not to spy and collect information on them the way states and corporations do today. That said, norms would emerge regarding when to intervene, say, when there is a dog in a hot car, or when neighbors suspect a man is keeping someone locked up in his basement.

Prison is another tool of oppression that will need to be torn down. A free society would not threaten people with imprisonment and all its concomitant violence except as a last resort. While forms of governance will vary (see below), it is likely free people would deal with the problem locally, focus on getting to the root of the problem, repayment and reconciliation. Violent punishment for non-conformity is not conducive to a free society.

As I will explain more below, an anarchist world would be one where people could associate with whom they want, move where they want and, unless it oppresses others, do what they want. They would be free from slavery, incarceration, stress, discrimination, poverty and violence, or at least, much freer in all those respects than they are today.

Equality

In the society I envision, it would be normal to treat everyone equally. We like to think we already do that but we do not. Class, money and status are measures of inequality, and our culture accepts them. People discriminate against others based on race and gender, as well, often due to the unconscious influence of culture, in spite of our conscious efforts. These norms of unequal treatment are not just “differences of opinion”. They lead to violence. For example, landlords can and do deny people a place to live because they are transgender, and bosses deny people employment due to their skin color. As a result, racial or gender minorities (and especially people who are both) are more likely to be unemployed, poor or living on the street. This kind of violence is known as structural violence: The landlord himself may not have raised a hand to you, but the police will if you do not comply. But none of this discrimination or violence is necessary, and does not exist in egalitarian societies. In a post-landlord world, no one would own land or homes. They would simply inhabit them, owning them in effect but not having any rights to the place if they move. I see no reason we could not have decent homes for everyone, enough food that people could have all they want, and access to whatever other goods they choose. (Indeed, they might well have much better goods, as capitalism is a highly inefficient form of production and innovation.)

It has been proposed (eg. here) that people have decision-making power to the extent they are affected by something. My decision to put a photo on the wall of my bedroom was presumably not one taken democratically but dictatorially. My decision to paint a mural on a building downtown might concern far more people and should therefore be taken democratically. Perhaps we could have an app with which to vote collectively (which already exists, eg. here). What if I wanted to put on a play in the park but someone else wanted to hold a wedding there at the same time? An organized society might create a website one could visit to see who might want to use the park for what activities at what times, thus avoiding the need to bring everyone who could possibly be affected together to make a minor decision.

Equality would not mean some kind of perfect equality achieved through constant violence, like some people seem to think it means. There is no need to hamper those with significant abilities, like in Harrison Bergeron; indeed, in a free world, they would have whatever they wanted to thrive. They would just not get to amplify their power over others, because there would be no means (ie. a state) for them to do so.

Along with eliminating poverty, equal access to necessities would greatly reduce stress among working people who spend most of their waking time struggling to survive. Reducing stress and eliminating the stark inequalities of today’s society would improve mental health and reduce all kinds of violence.

Mutual aid

So if everyone can have their own house, who is going to build them? In a word, anyone. Mutual aid just means taking care of each other. State welfare is not an example of mutual aid. In today’s pre-revolution world, mutual aid might mean a community banding together to make sure all its members have health insurance. It might mean sharing food. It might mean providing services for free to those in need. As a teacher by profession, I also think it should mean educating each other. And if I have anything to do with it, that will mean tearing down schools and designing education for each student. We want education, after all, not schooling.

I would also like to mention that without mutual aid, there is no revolution. A revolution (or at least the only kind I want to be a part of) is one that decentralizes power. In other words, instead of giving power to make major decisions to just a few people, the purpose of revolution is to distribute that power to everyone. Mutual aid is how we ensure power goes to everyone, that no one is left out because they are too poor to pay for heating or medical treatment, or because of their race, or because they do not conform to our expectations of gender. People ask me what would happen to all those the state takes care of now through welfare. I tell those people, if we aren’t taking care of those people, the revolution will have failed.

The Black Panthers provided breakfast for children in their communities.

Mutual aid would also mean mutual protection of each other. Safety is essential. An anarchist society would be one with much less fear. Vigilance is important, but fear of police, terrorists, military occupation, poverty and discrimination will be gone. People would organize as communities to make decisions and engage in mutual aid, but they would also doubtless organize across communities to protect against invasion by a state or whatever form the violence they face might take.

Voluntary association

Another principle many people believe in in the abstract but hardly ever in practice is freedom of association. We like to think everyone should be free to associate but at birth we are inducted into a number of involuntary associations, such as the nation state and a religion. But if the nation state or religious community does not help us as individuals, if it is not an association I would enter into voluntarily, then it has no authority over me and should not exist.

Freedom to associate would mean being a part of any group, organization, community, etc. that helps the individual achieve their goals, and leaving them when they have outlived their usefulness. It would mean being able to move anywhere in the world without the need for papers, passports, stamps, fees, background checks, patdowns and all the other security theater designed to keep us divided into a hierarchy of nation states.

So if no one rules us, how are decisions made? Quite simply, we make them. Instead of government, meaning rule by a few, we would have governance, which is just another word for making and implementing decisions for a society. Plenty of societies have governance that does not require imposing one’s will on others. Those decisions that need to be made in groups will likely be made in the smallest possible groups, such as in a neighborhood of houses or a block of flats, the workers at a factory, or perhaps a family. If people want to fix or build a road, there is no need for them to call other people and ask them for permission. They can do what is in their interest, as long as their perceived interest does not step on others’ toes. If it might step on another’s toes, that person is affected and should be consulted.

When a decision could affect more than a handful of people, or when there are major problems, people would turn not only to their immediate communities but to a wider confederation of communities. Imagine someone was trying to invade the country where you live, but the country has already eliminated a central military command. Communities would likely have little hesitation in committing resources to fend off the struggle. They might have an app that allows them to communicate and vote easily (such things already exist, after all), so they can support each other and the wider self-defense effort. Moreover, no one would need to wait for the approval of another before they actually start defending themselves from the invaders. People would be accustomed to helping each other and would have no belief in property, so they would also accept refugees.

Forms of governance will vary from town to town. Governance is easier and more transparent when there is a constitution, especially if everyone needed to agree to the constitution to ratify it or to be a part of the community in the first place. The constitution might say nothing more than how decisions are made and implemented, a few rules (eg. don’t hurt each other and take care of each other) and the process for dealing with people who break those rules. A community of 50 people might prefer to make all collective decisions by consensus. A community of 100 people might say majority rule is fine for most things but 2/3 votes need to be cast to amend the local constitution. Punishment is likely to defer to reconciliation wherever possible, but a community might also punish someone harshly for murder or kidnapping. Punishments could be a reprimand for something small or a first offense, ranging to being kicked out of the community and being put on an online register for something much worse. In a land that prefers not to punish, prisons would only be for people who clearly could not control themselves. In every case, instead of asking who did what, we would also look more carefully at why. Trials could be conducted by a random representation of the town’s adults, or all the town’s adults, or even just one judge voted in, with everyone else watching, keeping check on the judge to make sure they do not abuse their power.

While there would be no laws punishing victimless crimes, we would still be expected to take responsibility for our actions. Our local communities might be expected to punish us if we dumped trash in the local park or river. We might get our names put on a list everyone has access to if we were caught harassing someone. If I hit you in your town, the norm might be that your community punishes me for it. Norms would spread in a stateless world, so many forms of governance or rules or how to deal with people would likely be the same in nearby places.

I personally am in a historical limbo, with no legitimate “leaders” of any kind, and will therefore recognize no master. However, not everyone in the world would consider freedom, justice and equality to mean having no leaders at all. Many indigenous people around the world are governed by groups of elders or even just one person. Of course such arrangements could be abused but elders, in stark contrast to politicians, are very close to the people. White anarchists like me should do nothing to change them and merely support them in decolonizing so they can actually live their culture. (That is freedom, after all.) Likewise, many small towns around the world have just one policeman, who is much more a symbol of following the rules than someone who will shoot you in the name of the War on Drugs. Again, there is no real reason to change such an arrangement, except, again, to observe the person and make sure they do not abuse their power. It is likely that someone in a position of authority, such a policeman, the chair of a committee, head of a council, would in some communities be on a rotating basis, randomly selected or at least up for election.

I expect there are people still asking about the difference from the way things are today, but the difference is night and day. We currently live under a political system with a constitution that we did not consent to. New laws are passed all the time, bringing more power over more things under the power of those who control the states. But why would we need so many millions of laws? How is any of this in our interest? We can design structures of governance that actually empower us, rather than one that makes all the important decisions for us, and we make decisions for ourselves, rather than letting others make them on behalf of a few rich people. We would no longer live under the constant threat of violence for non-conformity to someone else’s laws.

Common ownership of the means of production

Like collective decision-making, reconciliation, leaving people alone and taking responsibility for one’s actions, cooperation would be a major part of a revolution. Cooperation is one of humanity’s greatest strengths and will be absolutely necessary both to succeed in the initial parts of the revolution (eg. tearing down the state) and to remain free in the later parts (after the state is gone). It will thereby be a cornerstone of the free society. We will not be atomized and alone. We will have thriving communities where children learn from all the people around them. We will decide together how to use our resources. We will protect our environments from destruction. And we will own the means of production together.

One part of an anarchist revolution would need to include seizing the means of production. When they get class consciousness, those working in factories, offices and other soul-sucking places will kick out the bosses, managers and owners and run them for themselves. In other words, at some point, workers will need to use force to become managers. Anarchism is about freedom, and owning your own workplace gives that freedom. Anarchism is about equality, so instead of the hierarchy pyramid of the corporation, workers will now have equal say in how the business is run and (until money is phased out) how the profits are distributed.

Many jobs and entire businesses are unnecessary and wasteful. If they are not oriented to pro-social goals, they can be eliminated. Some people work in tax compliance, but when there are no taxes, the job will be redundant. Advertisers will not be necessary anymore, either. But they have nothing to fear if mutual aid has become the norm, because they will be just as well taken care of as anyone else, and they can do other things. Many businesses can be merged. Look at how inefficient it is to work separately in several different organizations to develop a new drug. In the absence of competition, all those scientists could be combining their research and working far more efficiently. Workers would not under pressure to perform all the time, under the baleful eye of cameras and time cards and bosses, thus considerably reducing their stress.

There are many other tendencies within anarchism that would also be part of the revolution, such as care for the environment (see Murray Bookchin on social ecology). Critical thinking is not actually a principle of anarchism but I think it is absolutely necessary to it. For one, without thinking critically about the ways things are, most people will not become anarchists or join the revolution. For another, even during the revolution there would still be some people tempted to recreate states, monopolize resources, enslave others, etc., and people will need to recognize the signs and work together to prevent anyone from retaking power. Practicing critical thinking is a kind of individual safeguard against someone else’s influence, and it can be taught.

All of this vision is achievable and has been realized in one form or another throughout history, so we know it is possible. Building a new world is a very difficult task but I think it is worth it.

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