By Marina Sitrin, Dissent
Many popular movements around the world today oppose hierarchy and embrace direct democracy. This is a spirit that we should applaud and help to flourish.
There is not much of a global anarchist movement today. At the same time, since the 1990s, many popular movements around the world have been animated by something that I would call an anarchist spirit—a way of organizing and relating that opposes hierarchy and embraces direct democracy. This is a spirit that we should applaud and help to flourish. Although they may not define themselves as ideologically anarchist or even always be aware of the connection, these new movements nonetheless have much in common with ideas developed by historical anarchists like Emma Goldman, Murray Bookchin, and the libertarian left in Spain during the 1930s.
Anarchism is not a unified ideology or theory, but it does emphasize a few core beliefs: opposition to both capitalism and the state, an emphasis on face-to-face relationships, and prefigurative ways of organizing society. Some anarchists look to the working class as the main agent of change; for others, it’s ecology, and still others view feminism as the starting point for transforming society. All anarchists oppose institutional forms of hierarchy and the idea of power as something to wield over others. That does not, however, mean that anarchists oppose organization, structure, rules, accountability, or decentralized forms of governance.
Many commentators on the left have criticized recent movements like Occupy in the United States, the Squares movements in Spain and Greece, and even the Zapatistas in Mexico by labeling them anarchist, often in an attempt to dismiss them as unserious, violent, or opposed to building political parties or taking state power. But if we want to change the world, we should listen closely to what these newer movements are thinking and doing, instead of seeking to confine them in an ideological box.