For any movement or system of thought to remain relevant or dynamic, it must possess the internal capability of periodically reassessing its present course and shifting its focus and direction. Thus far, political anarchism has experienced two distinct stages. The first of these was the era of “classical” anarchism. Roughly defined, this was the period between the Marx/Bakunin split in the 1870s and the defeat of the Spanish anarchists in the 1930s. The second stage began during the 1960s with the emergence of a brand of anarchism that internalized the ideological framework of the New Left, and it is this framework that still prevails at the present time.
The classical anarchist movement was primarily oriented towards proletarian revolution and the historic labor movement. This was appropriate as the “labor question” was the principal political struggle of the time. The New Left-influenced anarchist movement (“neo-anarchism”) oriented itself towards the movements that emerged during its own era. These included “anti-racism” (for instance, the movement against American and South African racial apartheid systems), “anti-colonialism” (opposition to the Vietnam War and other manifestations of imperialist aggression), “the womens’ movement” (second wave feminism), “gay liberation” (homosexuals were previously regarded as criminals, deviants or mentally ill by the wider society), the ecology movement, a variety of tendencies collectively known as “counterculturalism” and other comparable but lesser known movements, all of which had the purpose of challenging traditional institutions, systems of authority, social practices, cultural norms and so forth. The overwhelming majority of contemporary anarchists continue to function within this particular paradigm.
However, the question needs to be asked as to whether this paradigm is really appropriate in the early 21st century. If it were found to be inappropriate, what might the alternative be? In more recent times, an number of tendencies have emerged within the anarchist milieu that have challenged the dominant New Left-derived paradigm. These include primitivists, eco-anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-monarchists, national-anarchists, tribal anarchists, anarcho-pluralists, a variety of ideologies that might be collectively labeled “free-market anti-capitalists”, post-left anarchists, Christian anarchists, and a number of other perspectives. While there are significant differences between these tendencies, and each of these rejects the dominant New Left paradigm with varying degrees of consistency or fervor, collectively they compromise a dissident force within anarchism that seeks to move past the current second stage in the history of anarchism and into a new era.
The two most serious weaknesses of contemporary anarchism are illustrated by the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on anarchism:
Anarchism is a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which consider the state, as compulsory government, to be unnecessary, harmful, and/or undesirable, and favors the absence of the state (anarchy.)Specific anarchists may have additional criteria for what constitutes anarchism, and they often disagree with each other on what these criteria are. According to The Oxford Companion to Philosophy “there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance.”
Among many contemporary anarchists, there is an observable tendency to ignore the struggle against the state, or the treat the battle against the state as only one matter on a laundry list of preferred causes, usually those of a conventionally leftist or countercultural nature. This is the first weakness. The other is the matter of sectarianism, i.e., setting an amount of “additional criteria for what constitutes anarchism” that is so large that it becomes self-defeating when it comes to the matter of building an actual movement that can wield political influence.
There needs to be a revolution within the anarchist movement itself. This should be a revolution that re-orients the anarchist movement towards the primary anarchist objective of state abolitionism. Second, there needs to be a shift in contemporary anarchist thought and action that involves a retreat from the current tunnel-visioned focus on ultra-leftism and counterculturalism. A new focus that is broader and that speaks to a wider variety of issues and population groups is necessary. Third, there needs to be an evaluation of tactics, and the adoption of new tactics that are relevant to current political realities.
An interesting list of historic anarchist communities can be viewed here. One thing that is immediately noticeable about these anarchist polities from the past is how different many of them were from one another. Consequently, it is probable that in a civilization where anarchist communities became widespread there would be wide variation in the specific ideological, cultural or structural content of these communities. This automatically means that the sectarian differences between competing strands within anarchism are irrelevant. Different kinds of anarchists will form different kinds of communities in those geographical regions where their own tendencies are prevalent. For instance, anarcho-communists and anarcho-capitalists, leftist anti-racist anarchists and national-anarchists, anarcho-futurists and primitivists, gay anarchists and Christian anarchists, anarcha-feminists and anarcho-monarchists, may not even consider one another to be “true” anarchists, but these battles simply do not matter if different kinds of anarchists are simply “doing their own thing” within the context of their own communities, institutions and organizations.
How, in a nation-state like the United States, could an anarchist movement become large enough, or influential or powerful enough, to actually carry out a revolution rivaling that of, for instance, the Spanish anarchists of the 1930s? Clearly the anarchist movement in North America could never do such a thing, given its small size and narrow focus. But what about a much larger popular movement, in which anarchists assume leadership roles, and with a much broader focus than what is found in the anarchist milieu at present?
Read this essay by the military historian Martin Van Creveld on the present decline of the state as an institution. Now, read this series of articles on the possible scenarios that will bring about the downfall of the American regime itself. Then read this review of a book that describes how Americans are in the process of sorting themselves out into communities specifically oriented towards their own political, cultural or lifestyle interests. Now, take a look at this opinion poll showing the amount of support for secessionist movements in the U.S., and the surprising nature of these numbers. Then take a look at two books (here and here) which offer us an alternative economic paradigm beyond the standard “big business vs big government” false dichotomy.
My friends, these works contain the ideas and information necessary to develop a popular revolutionary movement in North America. This essay is an attempt to synthesize these ideas and develop a comprehensive strategy for their application. No single reader is likely to agree with every argument or position taken in that essay, but its purpose is to “get the ball rolling” concerning the debate as to how anarchist revolution in North America will actually be carried out. And this essay is a discussion of considerations concerning time frames.
The single idea of state abolitionism will never be popular enough to become a mass movement. Most people simply are not that averse to political authority. However, the idea of secession has its roots in American history, culture and tradition. Therefore, anarchists should simply work to develop their own independent enclaves reflecting the value systems of their particular sect of anarchism, encourage other secession movements, and work to popularize the idea of secession. An effort should be made to appeal to those demographic groups most under attack by the state, those with single issues that put them in conflict with the state, and those who have the least to lose and most to gain by rejecting the state.
Further, anarchists should position themselves as the upholders of the economic interests of ordinary people. This opinion poll indicates that the issues of most concern to the public at large at present are unemployment, government spending and healthcare. What, if anything, do anarchists plan to do about these matters? How many individual anarchists have even given any thought to such topics? There are some ideas on these here, here, and here. If you do not like these, then come up with something of your own.
Particularly problematic is the question of people and groups with polar opposite views on many issues participating in the same movement. For instance, the conflicts between the various anarchist sects (Anarchist People of Color and Crimethinc come immediately to mind), or the conflict between secessionists holding opposing cultural or ideological perspectives. No doubt, there are some people who will not enter into a movement that includes others with whom they strongly disagree on certain questions no matter what. These individuals will simply have to fall by the wayside. The proper response to such questions is the “good riddance” argument. In a decentralized political system, with voluntary association and community autonomy, leftist anti-racist anarchists and national-anarchists need not have any association with one another, nor anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists, nor gays and religious conservatives, nor racists and racial minorities, nor snobby rich people and slummy poor people, nor druggies and straight edges, nor feminists and male chauvinist pigs. Nor Crimethinc and Anarchist People of Color. Everyone wins but the state, the ruling class and the empire.