In press commentary on the recent events in Egypt, there were frequent expressions of concern that Egypt might be falling into “anarchy.” “Anarchy,” in conventional journalistic usage, means chaos, disorder, and bloodshed — a Hobbesian war of all against all — that occurs when the stabilizing hand of government is removed. “Anarchy” is the agenda of mobs of kids in black circle-A t-shirts, smashing windows and setting stuff on fire.
But “anarchy,” as the term is understood by anarchists, is a form of society in which the state is replaced by the management of all human affairs through voluntary associations. Paul Goodman argued that it was impossible, through violence, to impose an anarchistic order on society, or to achieve a free society by replacing an old order with a new one. Rather, a free society results from “the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life.” Or to quote Gustav Landauer: “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.”
And we saw a great deal of anarchy in Egypt in recent days, in that sense. The people of Egypt have made a great start towards extending the spheres of free action, contracting new kinds of relationships between human beings, and creating the institutional basis of a real community.
Despite the poice state’s attempts to promote religious dissension and divide the opposition, Coptic Christians have stood watch over Muslims during their daily times of prayer. Muslims, likewise, guarded the perimeter of Liberation Square during a Coptic mass.
The resistance organized patrols to safeguard shops and museums from looting, and to watch over neighborhoods from which the security forces had been withdrawn. Meanwhile, as it turned out, most of the actions of violence and looting were false flag operations, carried out by security forces posing as protestors. So the functionaries of the state were the actual sources of violence and disorder; law and order emerged from anarchy — that is, from voluntary association.
The interim leader, Vice President Omar Suleiman — the object of so much hope on the part of neoconservative partisans of “stability” and “order” — is a torturer and a collaborator with the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. Never forget: For every dubious example of an alleged “bomb-throwing anarchist,” like those at Haymarket, there are a million bombs thrown by governments. For every innocent person harmed by an alleged anarchist in a rioting mob, there are a thousand people tortured or murdered in some police dungeon, or ten thousand slaughtered by death squads in the countryside. For every store window broken by demonstrators, there are untold thousands of peasants robbed of their land in evictions and enclosures by feudal elites.
The people of Egypt have managed to throw out one tyrant. Now they find themselves under a military dictatorship which may or may not wind up reducing the level of tyranny. But if the Egyptian people find the new boss as oppressive as the old one, says Molinari Institute President Roderick Long, they know how to get rid of him.
If there is any real hope for the future, in the long run, it is in the anarchy that the people have built for themselves on the streets. There’s an old phrase that’s popular among the Wobblies, or Industrial Workers of the World: “building the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.” The Egyptian people have made a fair start toward doing just that. May the seeds of anarchy which were planted in the recent uprising continue to germinate and grow.