Anarcho-authoritarians and anarcho-libertarians
A critical clarification of certain positions in the anarchist movement that hinder the development and diffusion of the libertarian conception and practice.
In all groups that want to refound/revolutionize the whole of society there are authoritarian individuals who believe they know very well the direction in which everyone must go and the way in which everyone must operate.
Paradoxically, this is also the case among people and groups who claim to be anarchists, even though anarchy means the absence of domination and the fact that the first people who declared themselves anarchists explicitly stated that the liberation of individuals is the work of the individuals themselves and not of a party and its ruling élite dictating objectives and strategies. Unfortunately, the anarchist conception, which is admirable and highly acceptable to all because of its openness to all non-authoritarian experiences and proposals, has been side-tracked and deformed precisely by the presence of sectarian elements who think they possess the magic formula for the liberation of all. While I am not inclined to assign labels, the definition of anarcho-authoritarians fits them well, even though, with anarchy, they have nothing to do.
These alleged anarchists understand anarchy as an ideology (anarchism) and, like other ideologies (communism, capitalism) they would like to make it accepted by all, even by force, because, according to them, the admirable goal of creating an anarchist society justifies any act of violence committed by them.
But therein lies the crux of the problem. Anarchy is a conception in which personal freedom and variety of experiences are intimately connected. Hence, the goal of anarchists is not the construction of a single, uniform anarchist society in which everyone is anarchist – which, moreover, is an impossible dream – but of a reality characterised by freedom of choices, in which everyone, anarchists and non-anarchists alike, can initiate experimental projects of individual and social life (voluntary communities).
This position was well expressed by Max Nettlau in one of his writings: “I have long been fascinated by the idea of how nice it would be if, at last, in the common opinion on the succession of political and social institutions, the fatal expression one after the other were replaced with the very simple and clear expression one next to the other. ”
Thus, the primary task of an anarchist is not to revolutionise society but to reorient his life and social relations, acting in a fully non-authoritarian and liberating way towards the people he comes into contact with. It will clearly follow that, with the development and diffusion of non-authoritarian practices, whole societies will come to be radically transformed and the current dominant power represented by the state will see its role drastically reduced if not suppressed. As pointed out by Gustav Landauer : “The state is a social relationship, a certain way of individuals to relate to each other. The state can be destroyed only by replacing it with new social relationships, by behaving differently towards each other. ”
What, then, is to be done about those who are not and do not want to be anarchists? Here is how Max Nettlau resolves the situation: “The problem that is frequently posed, namely how one should behave towards reactionaries who are refractory to freedom, would then be solved in a very simple way: let them keep their state for as long as they want, for us it no longer matters. The state would have the same meaning and power for us as the eccentric ideas of a religious sect that nobody pays attention to. This will come to pass sooner or later: freedom will make its way everywhere. ”
So, on the basis of what has been said here, it is necessary to briefly examine what are the main characteristics of the anarcho-authoritarians, to recognise them and, if possible, avoid them so as not to be dragged into unproductive diatribes and continuous wasting of time that hinder the development and spread of anarchy. The features are, in my opinion:
– Menefreghism (I don’t give a damn). The authoritarian anarchist is a first-class menefreghista (self-centred individual). His ego is his God. This position has nothing to do with a person living apart from society or with the emergence of a healthy individuality, which is indeed a defining characteristic of the libertarian anarchist. Therefore, we are dealing not with individuality but with pure and simple egotism, what Camillo Berneri describes as ‘anarchist cretinism’. It manifests itself, for example, when in a meeting there is « the guy who wants to smoke even if the room is cramped and without ventilation, not caring about the female comrades present and those with breathing problems ». Of these experiences of mindlessness, trivial but absolutely deplorable, one still hears nowadays in some ‘anarchist’ circles.
– Mysticism. One of the aspects that characterises some fringes of the anarchist movement is mysticism, i.e. the transformation of anarchy (non-authoritarian individual and social conception and practice) into a religion, with its dogmas summed up in poorly digested slogans (property is theft, neither God nor master), with its heroes of dubious or reckless behaviour (Ravachol, the Bonnot gang, Émile Henry, Buenaventura Durruti), with its myths (the civil war in Spain). With respect to the civil war in Spain (1936-1939), many authors (Gerald Brennan, Frank Borkenau, Hanns-Erich Kaminski) who have dealt with the subject have highlighted the deeply religious and even mystical aspect of several components of Spanish anarchism. This explains the fact that many Spanish anarchists were at the forefront in the destruction of hundreds of churches and the murder of some 7000 clergymen. They wanted to replace one religion with another, and this could be done only by erasing the traces of the previous one. That is why atheism and anti-religious sentiment to be imposed on everyone, even by violence, is such an important aspect for the anarcho-authoritarians.
– Messianism. To crown it all, there is the messianic spirit that leads the anarcho-authoritarian to take on a salvific mission towards all. He wants to introduce, whatever the cost, radical social transformations that should lead, in his mind, to the introduction of the anarchist paradise on earth. And this, despite the well-known saying that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. During the civil war in Spain, some anarchists went so far as to speak of an “anarchist dictatorship” in order to save the revolution, an obvious contradiction because, as Vernon Richards pointed out, when “anarchists impose their social ideas on the people by force, they cease to be anarchists.”
Messianism is also present, to some extent, in Marx and in certain fringes of conservative and liberal thought and action, leading to that behaviour that Frédéric Bastiat has branded “philanthropic despotism”. It is therefore not surprising that anarchists, or rather anarcho-authoritarians, are also affected.
If these are the characterising traits of anarcho-authoritarians, those of the anarcho-libertarians, or anarchists or libertarians tout court, are quickly higlighted:
– Project experimentation
– Social variety
Based on these traits, which represent universal values and practices, the anarchist conception may attract the interest of a large number of people and the projects for the liberation of individuals from the domination of Big Brother, whoever he may be, might regain momentum and have considerable possibilities of realisation.