I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.
—Emma Goldman, 1931
An anarchist is someone who rejects the domination of one person or class of people over another. Anarchism is a very broad umbrella term for a group of political philosophies that are based on the idea that we can live as anarchists. We anarchists want a world without nations, governments, capitalism, racism, sexism, homophobia… without any of the numerous, intersecting systems of domination the world bears the weight of today.
There is no single perfect expression of anarchism, because anarchism is a network of ideas instead of a single dogmatic philosophy. And we quite prefer it that way.
You’re obliged to pretend respect for people and institutions you think absurd. You live attached in a cowardly fashion to moral and social conventions you despise, condemn, and know lack all foundation. It is that permanent contradiction between your ideas and desires and all the dead formalities and vain pretenses of your civilization which makes you sad, troubled and unbalanced. In that intolerable conflict you lose all joy of life and all feeling of personality, because at every moment they suppress and restrain and check the free play of your powers. That’s the poisoned and mortal wound of the civilized world.
—Octave Mirbeau, 1899
There are those who say that anarchism wouldn’t work, that we need laws and cops and capitalism. But we say that it is the systems that are currently in place which aren’t working.
Industrialization is warming the planet to the degree that it might yet just kill us all. In the best case scenario, we’ve already created one of the largest mass extinctions in the history of the earth. Deforestation spreads the deserts in the wild and systemic racism expands the food deserts in the cities.
Billions go hungry every day across the globe because global capitalism makes it more profitable for the elite of starving nations to grow crops for export than to feed their own people. Science has been subverted by the demands of profit, and research is only funded if it explores what might make some rich bastards richer. Even the middle class is beginning to fall into ruin, and in this economy, there aren’t many left who buy into the myth of prosperity that they sold us when we were kids.
We’re told that anarchy can’t work because people are “inherently” flawed and are motivated solely by self-interest. They somehow make the illogical jump from this idea to the idea that we therefore need leaders and government. But if we don’t trust people to lead themselves, why do we trust them enough to put them in charge of everybody?
An anarchist is one who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, 1974
One way some anarchists like to think about it is that anarchism is the marriage of responsibility and freedom. In a state society, under the rule of government, we are held responsible to a set of laws to which we did not consent. We are expected to be responsible without being trusted with freedom. There are laws about everything: whom we can love, what imaginary lines we can cross, what we can put into our own bodies. We are not trusted to act on our own authority, and at every turn we are being managed, observed, policed, and, if we step out of line, imprisoned.
The reverse—freedom without responsibility—is not much better, and it forms the mainstream myth of anarchy. Government thrives off this misconception, the idea that it’s only the existence of cops and prisons that keeps us from murdering one another wholesale. But in reality, the people in this world who act with total freedom and no responsibility are those so privileged in our society so as to be above reproach, such as the police and the ultra-rich. Most of the rest of us understand that in order to be free, we must hold ourselves accountable to those we care about and those our actions might impede upon: our communities and families and friends.
The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1754
There’s this idea, which has proven demonstrably false on a global level, that it’s “good” or “healthy” or “more natural” for most everyone in a society to act solely for personal gain. In economic terms, this is the central myth of capitalism: that everyone should try to get one over on everyone else all the time, and that if everyone does that, most people win. The people who want you to believe that myth are the people who do win: the people who already control everything.
Capitalism does not, as is popularly misunderstood, mean an economic system in which people work for money that they can exchange for goods or services. Capitalism is, instead, an economic system in which people can leverage their access to capital to extort money from other people. That is to say, capitalism is the system by which people who own things don’t have to work and everyone else does. The owning class makes money just by already having money. They make money off investments, off renting property, off the value produced by their employees. They live in luxury because they are in the process of dominating everyone who makes money through work.
Capitalism is a system by which one class of people dominates another, and we oppose it. Instead, we suggest all kinds of different ways of organizing our economies. Some anarchists argue for communism, in which the means of production are held in common by communes. Others favor mutualism, in which means of production are owned by individuals or collectives and money is used but money can only be made through work, not through capital. Still others push for a system of gift economics, an organic system in which people give to one another freely and without compulsion, sharing when and what they would like with whom they’d like. There are many more ideas than this besides, and most anarchists believe that any given group of anarchists ought to be free to choose the system that they prefer—as long as these ideas steer clear from demonstrably oppressive systems like capitalism.
Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us.
—Leo Tolstoy, 1894
For the past several hundred years, the progressive rhetoric in Western societies has been around what sort of government to have. But the division of people and geography into “states” under which they are ruled is itself preposterous and harmful. To an anarchist, asking what sort of government to have is like asking whether it’s better to be eaten by wolves or lions. What is not asked often enough is whether or not we ought to be “governed” at all.
Anarchists do not eschew organization, however. If anything, we spend too much of our time concerned with its intricacies. We are opposed to government because we are opposed to being ruled, not because we are opposed to organizing amongst our peers for our mutual benefit.
But this is not to say that what we want is democracy. At its worst, as is practiced in the US and elsewhere, we have a “representative” democracy in which we appoint our rulers. At its best, we might hope for a “direct” democracy in which we all get to vote on decisions. But a democracy is a government still, one that makes up a set of laws that everyone is compelled to obey—like when six wolves and four sheep get together to plan what they would like for dinner.
Amongst ourselves, we create organizing structures that allow for the full autonomy of every individual, wherein no person can be compelled to go along with the wishes of the group. Because we are not interested, by and large, in static organizational structures with fixed and official membership, anarchists are able to organize organically. People come and go from organizations and the organizations themselves come and go over time based on the needs of the people who make use of them. When larger structures are deemed useful or necessary, various groups often form networks, which are horizontal structures for disseminating ideas and information and for planning complex operations.
How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both the rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread!
—Anatole France, 1894
No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law. How can it be within the law? The law is stationary. The law is fixed. The law is a chariot wheel which binds us all regardless of conditions or place or time.
—Emma Goldman, 1917
Some people have an unfortunate tendency to insist that you can’t be against something unless you know what you’re for. We reject that idea. We don’t feel the burden of proof is upon the oppressed to identify what they would like to replace their oppressor with.
If I’m being hit with a baseball bat, I don’t feel the need to articulate what I would prefer to be hit with instead. Or, more to the point, police hit us with batons and the media insists that if we wish to stop being hit with batons we need to articulate exactly how it is we’d like to see crime and punishment handled within an anarchist society.
But while identifying and destroying systems of domination is the task immediately before us, we do spend some of our time imagining what a world without law would be like. And occasionally, we have the chance to enact such a world for days or weeks or years in groups both big and small and we’ve met with a fair amount of success.
A world without law is not a world without guidelines. We are opposed to law because law is a way of understanding human conduct that was designed—and has been implemented—for social control rather than for the furtherance of justice. Laws are designed to be obscure yet rigid, creating a series of traps for those who are already disenfranchised by society.
A law is not actually a particularly useful tool for judging human behavior. As the folk wisdom suggests, good people don’t need laws and bad people don’t follow them. Laws are black and white, forcing people to obey the “letter” of the law while gleefully ignoring the “spirit.” And what’s more, because they are enforced through violence at the slightest provocation, they polarize society into those too afraid to step out of line but without knowing why they obey and those who disobey simply for the sake of disobeying. Either way, they hinder people’s ability to develop their own personal sets of ethics. They don’t help people learn to respect people for the sake of respecting people.
People who are encouraged to act socially tend to act socially, and people who are treated with empathy will, by and large, respond in kind. There will always be exceptions, of course, but for dealing with those people, guidelines—which remain mutable to circumstance—are a significantly more useful tool than law will ever be.
Further, many anarchists work towards what is referred to as “transformative justice.” This is the concept that, while it is impossible to repair the harm done by the perpetrator of an unjust act, one can work to help the perpetrator take personal responsibility for what they have done so as to prevent them from returning to such behavior in the future. An anarchist society, like any other, will still defend itself from those who cannot or will not take responsibility for their actions, but this self-defense is done in the name of protection rather than “punishment” or “revenge.” It’s worth acknowledging here that like many of our ideas and methods, transformative justice is practiced—and was developed—not just by anarchists but by a wide range of other marginalized groups.
And of course, we don’t live in an anarchist society, free from the influence of the culture of domination that surrounds us, and any thoughts we have about a world without law are reasonably hypothetical. Once more, we reserve the right to condemn atrocities, like the culture of prison and police, without feeling an obligation to field and implement fully-developed alternatives.
I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.
—Mikhail Bakunin, 1871
Mutual aid is a fancy way of saying “helping each other out,” and it’s one of the core anarchist beliefs. We believe that people can interact in meaningful ways by sharing resources freely, without coercion. We share because it helps ourselves and everyone around us live more meaningful lives. We put more stock in cooperation than competition.
Solidarity is a fancy word for “having one another’s backs.” Solidarity is the most powerful force that the oppressed can bring to bear upon their oppressors. Every time they come after one of us, we act as though they are coming after all of us. Solidarity can look like a thousand different things. It can be when someone tackles a cop to free another protester, it can be demonstrations or actions in the names of those whose voices have been silenced by the state. Solidarity can be offering childcare for new parents, it can be medical aid. Solidarity is when we show the world that none of us is alone, when we choose to intertwine our struggles.
Solidarity is, in some ways, the opposite of charity. Charity is a way of providing aid that reinforces the hierarchical relationship between groups. Rich people donating money to charity makes poor people even more dependent upon the rich. Poor people, however, organizing to share resources as equals, are acting out of solidarity.
Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and tyrant, and I declare him my enemy.
—Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1849
Since we anarchists are committed to only doing things with people that those people want to do, we utilize a number of methods to determine what those things are.
On an individual level, we’re interested in practices based on consent. It’s rather amazing how little mainstream society teaches us to value one another’s consent. Consent is a way of finding out what other people are interested in doing with you. Mostly, this just means asking people before you do things with them. “Do you want to come to this demonstration?” “Can I kiss you?” “Would you like me to touch your back?” “Can I help you with that?” Some people consciously develop non-verbal ways of communicating consent, but the important thing is to not act without knowing if the other person is informed of the ramifications of an action, is in a headspace to make decisions, and is enthusiastic.
One tool we use for finding consent in larger groups is consensus. Most anarchist decision-making is built around this method. Consensus is a way of determining what everyone in a group is comfortable with doing. “Do we want to blockade this building?” “Do we want to sign our group’s name on this public letter?” “Do we want to publish this book?” A group that respects the autonomy of every individual within it will generally act via consensus in some form or another. Some people mistake consensus to be basically the same as voting but where everyone agrees instead of a majority. This thinking however, is still built around voting, which is a form of competitive decision-making that is not designed to respect people’s autonomy. Consensus, instead of being a way to convince everyone to agree to the same plan, is a way of exploring what the logical limits of any given group are. If all members of a group cannot agree on a specific action, then it clearly needs to take place outside of that group, if at all. Unlike consent on an individual level, however, it is not always the case that a group seeking consensus needs everyone to be enthusiastic about the given action, and “standing aside” on a decision is common and respectable behavior.
Not all collectives and groups are very formal in their consensus decision-making, and many groups tend to work more on an “autonomy” model in which everyone is trusted to act on behalf of the group and then be responsible to everyone else for the actions and decisions they made on behalf of the group.
Anarchists know that a long period of education must precede any great fundamental change in society, hence they do not believe in vote begging, nor political campaigns, but rather in the development of self-thinking individuals.
—Lucy Parsons, 1890s
Anarchists do not want to reform the existing political system, we want its abolition. Instead of political advocacy, by which we might appeal to others to change our conditions, we generally practice direct action.
Direct action is a means by which we take control over our own lives, by which we regain the autonomy and agency that is systematically stripped away from us by governmental systems, by which we become self-thinking individuals.
Rather than plead and beg for the government or corporations to start protecting forests, we put our bodies between the trees and the chainsaws—or sneak in at night and burn their logging trucks. No system based on industrialization and capitalism is ever going to prioritize natural ecosystems over profit, so we won’t waste our time asking nicely. Rather than ask the capitalists to repeal their trade policies that are gutting developing nations, we will show up en masse to their summits and block trade delegates from ever having the chance to scheme. Rather than campaign for the right to marry, we’ll live our queer lives however we feel with whomever we choose, and we’ll defend ourselves from bigots instead of asking the state to intervene.
If you took the most ardent revolutionary, vested him in absolute power, within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself.
We participate in direct action because we find the means and the ends to be inseparable. It’s quite likely that none of us will live in an anarchist society, but that doesn’t mean we can’t act like anarchists now. To be an anarchist is at least as much about the ways in which you engage with the world and how you treat people as it is about what fantastic utopia you hope to one day live in.
Sometimes we call this intertwining of the means and the ends “prefiguration.” Anarchists aim to act in ways that maximize other people’s autonomy. Most Marxists, state communists, and other “revolutionary” ideologies suggest a vanguard with which to seize power. We’ve no interest in seizing power for anyone but ourselves, and we oppose anyone who thinks they ought to rule us, “revolutionary” or not.
What’s more, prefiguration means that we don’t put up with oppressive attitudes in our circles, because we seek a world without oppressive behavior.
It doesn’t mean, however, that we have to be non-violent. While we do believe a responsible anarchist world would be more peaceful than the world we inhabit today, most anarchists accept that domination may occasionally need to be met with violent force in order to stop it. Our problem isn’t with violence itself, but the systems of domination that make use of it.
An anarchist is anyone who denies the necessity and legitimacy of government; the question of his methods of attacking it is foreign to the definition.
—Benjamin R. Tucker, 1895
The same as there is no unified idea of anarchist economics, there is no universally accepted framework for anarchist tactics. We know we believe in direct action, but what kinds? Almost every individual anarchist or anarchist group might respond to this question differently.
The most famous anarchist tactic so far in the twenty-first century is the black bloc. The black bloc is a tactic by which we obscure our identities by wearing identical black clothing and then engage in various direct actions, usually in public. The most iconic action is probably that of breaking out the windows of banks, court houses, chain stores, and other institutions and symbols of domination. The second most-well-known action black blocs engage in is that of defending demonstrations from police attack, often by using shields, reinforced banners, and the occasional weapon like flagpoles or thrown rocks. The black bloc tactic remains popular today because it is effective at empowering those who participate in it and, compared to other tactics, effective at keeping those involved safe from police repression. This does not mean that every anarchist participates in—or even supports—black bloc tactics, nor does it mean that people who participate in black blocs don’t engage in other tactics as well.
There are many, many more tactics that anarchists are actively engaged with all over the world besides wearing black and taking the streets. (We also, for example, sometimes wear color when we take the streets.) We organize demonstrations. We organize free dinners for ourselves and anyone else who needs food. We organize workplaces into unions and we start worker-owned cooperatives. We work towards cities designed to suit the needs of people and the ecosystem instead of the desires of the wealthy. We throw pies at politicians to show the world that they are not untouchable. We run magazines and blogs and write as journalists. We hack security databases and leak information to the public about the ways in which the public is being spied upon. We tell stories that heroize resistance to oppression. We help people cross borders. We fight fascists in the streets. We’ve been known to burn down a building or two. And it’s been awhile, but we used to kill kings.
We openly advocate what’s called a “diversity of tactics,” meaning we’ve got as much respect for those practicing non-violent civil disobedience as we do for arsonists—that is to say, only as much respect as the individual actions themselves deserve on their own merit at the time, place, and social context in which they were used.
An anarchist strategy is not a strategy about how to make a capitalist or statist society less authoritarian or spectacular. It assumes that we cannot have an anarchist society while the state or capitalism continues to reign.
A lot of broader strategies have been suggested for how we might go about creating an anarchist society—or even just strategies of how we might best live as anarchists here and now. Each has their proponents and detractors, but few people believe that there is one single correct path to take towards freedom, and all of these strategies have in the past and will continue to overlap.
The most famous strategy is that of revolution, in which a single, reasonably organized mass uprising allows for the oppressed classes to seize the means of production and take their lives into their own hands. Many anarchists remain skeptical of how we might go about organizing such a thing in a way that doesn’t simply leave a different class of people, an anarchist government of sorts, in charge. Furthermore, exemplified in the recent uprisings in the Middle East, revolution does not have the best track record in terms of increasing liberty to those in the revolutionary country. Quite often, state communists or other authoritarian groups have essentially seized control of the revolution at the last minute, stepping into the vacuum of power. This, many anarchists would argue, doesn’t mean that an anti-authoritarian revolution is impossible, only that it faces numerous challenges.
A second strategy is that of advocating and participating in insurrections. Insurrections are moments of freedom and revolt, often occurring in times of crisis. These insurrections would, ideally, allow for areas to be liberated from state control and, if they came in increasing strength and frequency, allow for a generalized revolt that could break state power. It has been argued that insurrections do not provide lasting change and can often simply serve as an excuse for government repression, but insurrections have also played important roles in numerous anarchist struggles.
A third strategy that anarchists have historically tried is syndicalism. This method is a “workerist” method that suggests destroying the capitalist state economy by means of workers taking direct control of their factories. While largely popular and indeed, often successful, in the past, the nature of modern labor and the shift in developed countries away from manufacturing makes syndicalism less popular than it has historically been.
Another strategy is referred to sometimes as the dual power strategy. This is a strategy of building up “counter-infrastructure” along anarchist lines to fulfill people’s needs and desires while simultaneously attacking the mainstream institutions that are destroying the world.
This list is clearly not all-inclusive. Some anarchists find themselves primarily concerned with strategies based around decolonization, education, or intervening in crisis. Others are likely hard at work scheming strategies that have never been tried, ideas that we can’t wait to test.
The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.
—Ursula K Le Guin, 1974
Obviously, despite our best efforts, we live within a capitalist, statist world. Anarchism is aspirational and optimistic—it is not, however, delusional. Just because we do not approve of the state’s existence doesn’t mean we don’t understand that the state exists and has material power. We don’t “believe” in prison, but that doesn’t keep the state from locking us inside it. Every action we take, as individuals and as groups, needs to accept the reality of the situation. Perhaps if we were perfect anarchists, we would destroy our state-issued IDs and not pull over the next time a cop puts on their lights behind us, but we must all make strategic concessions. Similarly, we want a world without wage labor, but this does not make us hypocrites when we work for the money we need so that we can eat.
The anarchists of revolutionary Spain would probably rather we fight our own struggles today than spend so much time discussing theirs! The Spanish anarchists were just regular folks, and they did exactly what we’ll do when we get the opportunity.
—Curious George Brigade, 2004
Anarchists are more concerned about the present than the future, because how we live here and now is more important than some illusory utopia. And we’re more concerned with the future than the past, because we have control over the future and we will live in it. But we do have a long and rich history, from which we can draw inspiration, pride, and numerous lessons.
While anarchist-influenced philosophy may be found throughout and before recorded history, from certain Taoists, Stoics, Hindus, tribal groups, and others, it was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who coined the term in 1840 and was the first to self-identify as an anarchist.
Anarchists have played an enormous role in revolutions, labor struggles, uprisings, and culture ever since. In the 1880s, anarchists fighting against wage labor in the United States got caught up in the fight for the eight-hour work day. After a series of labor rights culminating in a fight in Haymarket Square in Chicago, eight anarchists were put on trial explicitly for being anarchists. Four were hanged and one killed himself in jail as a result. Their martyrdom changed labor history in the US, the eight-hour workday fight was won, and anarchism continued to be a strong voice in the labor movement.
At the turn of the century, we killed kings and other heads of state, forever earning a reputation as bomb-throwers and assassins which some of us wear with pride and others would prefer to forget.
We fought for revolution in Russia for decades, only to be betrayed when the Bolsheviks turned around and murdered us in 1917. For three years, from 1918–1921, seven million Ukrainians lived as anarchists until the Bolshevik army betrayed an alliance and conquered us while we were busy fighting armies hired by the capitalists.
We had another three-year go of it from 1936–1939, when syndicalist labor unions took control of Catalonia, a region in Spain, during the Spanish Revolution. Once again, while anarchists were busy fighting a right-wing invasion, the Bolshevik-controlled communist party opened fire on us and the country fell to fascists.
Anarchists were heavily involved in Korean independence from Japanese colonial rule and labor struggle in South America. We were involved in the Mexican Revolution. We organized hobos with guns in the US and we robbed banks in France. And we’ve been involved in numerous art, literary, and music movements — from André Breton’s involvement in surrealism to Crass’s influence on punk.
But we cannot be weighed down by the past. We have our own history to make.
Anarchism is not a concept that can be locked up in a word like a gravestone. It is not a political theory. It is a way of conceiving life, and life, young or old as we may be, old people or children, is not something definitive: it is a stake we must play day after day.
—Alfredo M. Bonanno, 1998
In the past fifteen years, anarchism has been, as a movement, on the upswing. First with the anti-globalization demonstrations at the turn of the millennium, now with the rise of anti-austerity riots and movements across the world, people are beginning to reject authoritarianism. Which makes sense—capitalism is quickly destroying everything, and we won’t soon forget what a nightmare the authoritarians made of revolution, whether the right-wing fascists or the left-wing Stalinists.
In a society that has destroyed all adventure, the only adventure left is to destroy that society.
—Anonymous French Graffiti, 1968
Anarchism isn’t a membership club. Even as a political ideology, we’re more of an anti-ideology than we are one with a strict set of rules. So there are no membership forms to mail in and there are no fees. There are anarchist groups, all over the world, working on any number of problems that might interest you, from ecology to social justice, and many of those groups will let you join, or at least participate in their actions.
But you can also just, well, do it. Find yourself a like-minded group of people and get to it. Organize all the gardeners in your neighborhood to share produce for free or organize against a multinational like Walmart moving into town. Squat a building and steal electricity to throw shows and raise money for anarchist prisoners. Attack symbols of power. Spread information. Act in the ways you feel compelled to act.
But the most important things about being an anarchist are: treating other people with respect, as masters of their own lives; and taking control of your life, seizing freedom, but remaining responsible to yourself and those you care about.
As a word of warning, there are predators in the anarchist movement. Agents of the state infiltrate our movement and do their utmost to destroy it. They prey upon new people in particular, setting them up to break the law and then sending them to prison for years or decades. Don’t commit felonious crimes with anyone you haven’t known for years. Never let anyone convince you that if you “really cared” about anarchism or some other cause that you’d take some dangerous action. Read up about what happened to Eric McDavid, David McKay, and the Cleveland 4.
And even if you’re acting alone or with your closest childhood friends, think carefully and maturely about the ramifications of any illegal action you might take. While we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear, we need to remember that certain types of actions will be treated very, very seriously by the authorities and far more good can be done from outside of prison than from within.
But that aside, welcome. We need you. The world needs you. Together we can get some things done.
People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable for an artist to live under. To this question there is only one answer. The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all.
—Oscar Wilde, 1891
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When looking to read anarchist theory it is standard to be directed to a canon of "classical" anarchist thinkers, including the likes of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman, Stirner, and Proudhon etc. You would be forgiven for thinking that anarchists have not come up with any original ideas since the beginning of the 20th century. In truth, anarchism, more than most social movements, aims to maintain a dynamic link between theory and practice, and as such its ideas are constantly evolving. Furthermore anarchism has an iconoclastic, self-critical, and creative streak that is constantly seeking to overcome its own limitations and avoid ideological stagnation and dogmatism. This dispatch aims to provide a directory for exploring anarchist theory since 1950, a more or less arbitrary date, the mid-point in a century of war.
There is a great deal of overlap between the various categories below, which are by no means mutually exclusive, but separated for clarity.
Anarcho-communist ideas were first elaborated by individuals who have since been idolised in the tradition. In contrast, recent anarcho-communist theory has mostly been developed within organisations and their publications, either as collective efforts or unsigned individual contributions. So there are few "thinkers" to point to, yet plenty of thought to unravel.
For example, the Anarchist Federation (AF) in Britain has done a great deal to update and refine anarcho-communism for the present day. The core theory is clearly laid out in their pamphlet Introduction to Anarchist Communism, while The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation presents an exposition of strategy and organisation. In the pamphlet Against Nationalism, the AF present perhaps the best treatment of the subject, including the controversial question of national liberation struggles. A treasure trove of ideas and reflections can be found in the pages of the theoretical journal, Organise!.
The Platformist tendency of anarcho-communism, first crystallized in the Organisational Platform of 1926, remains a significant part of working class anarchist organisation. Wayne Price has been prolific in his writing, and George Fontenis was influential (and controversial) in the French movement, particularly with his Manifesto of Libertarian Communism. Organisations such as the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) in South Africa, the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) in Ireland, and the Black Rose [Rosa Negra] Anarchist Federation (BRRN) in the USA, have made headway in developing the theoretical current. Recent writings from various groups and people are collected in the Platformist Archive and the website of the Anarkismo network.
Separately to Platformism is Europe, a similar current of working-class anarchism arose in Latin America known as Especifismo (sometimes translated to 'specifism'), which has since become influential across the world but particularly in North America. The essay by Adam Weaver - Especifismo: The Anarchist Praxis of Building Popular Movements and Revolutionary Organization - introduced this current to the anglo-sphere. Huerta Grande is a seminal essay of especifismo, written by the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU) in 1972, which reassesses the nature of anarchist theory and strategy. The most thorough exposition can be found in the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) document, Social Anarchism and Organisation.
Other important anarcho-communist writers include Daniel Guerin, who besides being an important figure in the LGBT movement, attempted to synthesize the best of Marxism with anarchism. Scott Nappalos introduces to anarchism the concept of 'emergence', laid out in the book Emergence and Anarchism: A Philosophy of Power, Action, and Liberation. Before moving towards libertarian-municipalist ideas, and ultimately departing from anarchism, Murray Bookchin made some important contributions to anarcho-communist theory in essays such as Listen, Marxist!, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, The Forms of Freedom, and Desire and Need. Bookchin's polemic Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm is a highly referenced piece, influential for some, heavily criticised by many.
Anarcho-syndicalists are perhaps the most sceptical of abstract and philosophical theorisation, preferring clear and concise ideas and analysis that directly relates to the practical activity of revolutionary class struggle. That's not to say, however, that these ideas remain static.
Fighting for Ourselves, written by the Solidarity Federation (SF), reassesses the history of working class struggle - identifying lessons and distinctions along the way - building up to a coherent and contemporary theory of anarcho-syndicalism for the 21st century. The SF attempt to document and draw ideas from significant experiences of workers' struggle in such pamphlets as Workmates and Anarcho-syndicalism in Puerto Real. Although it has some significant gaps, their History of Anarcho-Syndicalism proves an important documentation and engagement with the historical, international movement. The SF offer a critique of capitalist economics and an alternative vision for a libertarian-communist society in The Economics of Freedom.
The revival of anarcho-syndicalism in the 1970s largely sprung from the re-emergence of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) after the death of Franco. Emerging from exile and clandestine resistance, they rebuilt a revolutionary anarchist union, upon the principles established in the document What is the CNT?.
The anarcho-syndicalist Sam Dolgoff critices those who resign anarchism to the dustbin of history, and those who seek to rejuvenate anarchism from "bourgeois" sources, in the essay The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society.
Various anarcho-syndicalists have built up a solid guide for anarchist workplace organising for all to access and use.
The above currents are more or less direct continuations of the anarchist tradition, but other anarchists have sought to shed the dead weight of tradition and strike out in new directions, with new conceptions of anarchist struggle. The ideas of insurrectionary anarchism emerged from the militant, informal, and often armed struggles of Italy, Spain, and Greece in the later decades of the 20th century.
The most well known and widely translated insurrectionary anarchist writer is no doubt Alfredo Bonanno, who clarifies an anarchist perspective - rid of dogma and anachronisms - in his essay The Anarchist Tension, while calling people to passionate revolt in the infamous Armed Joy. New ideas, and reflections on insurrectionary ventures, abound in articles written for various Italian anarchist journals, some of which can be found collected in Revolutionary Struggle and Insurrection and Let’s Destroy Work, Let’s Destroy the Economy.
At Daggers Drawn with the Existent, its Defenders and its False Critics, published anonymously, illustrates the insurrectionary logic with masterful prose; while Massimo Passamani brings fresh light to contemporary anarchist problems in the collection “More, Much More” and other writings. Examples of insurrectionary projects are documented in The Struggle Against the Cruise Missile Base in Comiso 1981–83 and The Struggle Against the Maxi-Prison in Brussels.
Many insurrectionary writings were first translated into English by Jean Weir, but found little effect in Britain. In contrast, when introduced to North America through such journals as Killing King Abacus insurrectionary writings provoked a new wave of anarchism. Written by editors of Killing King Abacus, Some Notes on Insurrectionary Anarchism has become a definitive articulation, while their essay The Anarchist Ethic in the Age of the Anti-Globalization Movement expands on those notes with contemporary contextualization and theoretical elaboration.
In Archipelago, the anonymous author draws out the ideas and practice of informal organisation. Dr Bones raises the need for immediate revolt in his appeal No one is coming to save you, Comrade. The essay Total Liberation brings together insurrectionary anarchism with the many aspects of our struggle to present a broad vision of a way forwards.
Insurrectionary ideas are often shared and developed through communiques claiming responsibility for specific attacks - explicitly bringing theory and practice together - and further developed in journals such as ProvocAzione, Canenero, Insurrection, Avalanche, A Murder of Crows, Rumoer, and many more.
Post-left anarchy is a theoretical current that seeks to critique and overcome the 'leftist' heritage of anarchism. Post-left critique has been one of the more iconoclastic and imaginative currents of contemporary anarchism, while also drawing on a wide range of past radical theory and philosophy.
Perhaps the most well known post-leftist is Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson), who introduced news ideas, practices, and philosophies to anarchism in the book The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism.
Another significant writer is Wolfi Landstreicher, who summarises the proposal for a break with leftism in the essay From Politics to Life: Ridding anarchy of the leftist millstone. In eloquent writings such as Against the Logic of Submission and The Network of Domination he weaves together post-left critique with insurrectionary, egoist, anti-civ, and situationist ideas. He wrote other essays under the name Feral Faun such as those collected in Feral Revolution that brings the notion of 'wildness' into the anarchist cosmos.
Infamous for his bitter polemics, Bob Black develops his critique of leftism through strong criticism of Murray Bookchin in the essay Anarchy After Leftism, although his best writing shines through in The Abolition of Work.
There is a definite Nietzschean strand to much post-left critique. Shahin explicitly draws out this inspiration in the book Nietzsche and Anarchy.
While eschewing ideological labels, the CrimethInc. collective incorporates many post-left themes into their perspective. Their most well-known book, Days of War, Nights of Love brought a whole generation of rebels and punks into the anarchist movement. The appeal To Change Everything introduces basic anarchist concepts to the general public, drawn out with more detail in the earlier piece Fighting for Our Lives. Other important texts include From Democracy to Freedom, Say You Want an Insurrection, Deserting the Digital Utopia, and There's No Such Thing as Revolutionary Government.
SOCIAL ECOLOGY & ECO-ANARCHISM
Murray Bookchin pioneered the theories of social ecology, which have since developed into a significant school of thought in their own right. A thorough explanation of this perspective can be found in the collection The Philosophy of Social Ecology, while What is Social Ecology? offers a shorter introduction. In his anarcho-communist phase, Bookchin wrote essays such as Ecology and Revolutionary Thought which affirm essential ecological principles as a basis for social-anarchism, and Towards a Liberatory Technology which defends the ecological and libertarian possibilities of modern technology, in contrast to anti-civ critique. Often considered Bookchin's magnum opus, The Ecology of Freedom is a book length exposition of social ecology as part of a broader philosophy.
The Anarchist Federation put forward a contemporary social-anarchist analysis in the pamphlet Capitalism is Killing the Earth, while Peter Gelderloos imagines an ecological future in An Anarchist Solution to Global Warming. Graham Purchase considers ecology from the perspective of revolutionary class-struggle anarchism in the book Anarchism & Environmental Survival. An eco-anarchism based in anthropology is offered by Brian Morris in the book Anthropology, Ecology, and Anarchism (which also heavily critiques deep ecology and primitivism).
The major trend of contemporary green anarchism is anti-civilization theory, a category which also includes anarcho-primitivism and post-civilization anarchism. The classic articulation of the anti-civ perspective can be found in Fredy Perlman's Against His-story, Against Leviathan. A shorter, non-primitivist anti-civ perspective is put forward by Barbaric Thoughts: On a Revolutionary Critique of Civilization by Wolfi Landstreicher.
At the root of the anti-civ perspective is 'deep green' ecology, as expressed for example by Earth First! and IWW activitist Judi Barry in Revolutionary Ecology. The pamphlet Biocentric Anarchy further draws out deep green ideas as a challenge to the anarchist movement.
The anonymously published Desert has become influential across the anarchist movement, raising vital questions and possibilities in reflection on the ecological collapse currently underway.
Anarcho-primitivism takes the critique of civilization to its logical extreme, and calls for a return to the hunter-gatherer type society of pre-history. What is Anarcho-Primitivism? provides a brief introduction, while more in-depth theory can be found in the works of John Zerzan and Kevin Tucker.
Post-civ anarchy seeks to continue the anarchist critique of civilization in a non-primitivist direction. Margaret Killjoy summarises the basics in the essay Take What You Need and Compost the Rest, which is further developed in Post-Civ!: A Deeper Exploration.
ANARCHA-FEMINISM & QUEER ANARCHISM
Anarcha-feminists have brought feminist practices and critique into the anarchist movement, while also developing feminist ideas in an anarchist direction. Anarcho-Feminism: Two Statements offers a precise and powerful introduction, while To Destroy Domination in All Forms by Julia Tanenbaum documents the blooming of anarcha-feminism in the 1970s, clarifying its theoretical and practical development. During the 70's anarcha-feminist newsletters flourished, producing brilliant essays such as Peggy Kornegger's Anarchism: The Feminist Connection and Carol Ehrlich's Socialism, Anarchism, and Feminism, as well important debates such as Cathy Levine's reply - in The Tyranny of Tyranny - to Jo Freeman's critique of informal organisation.
More recently, Abbey Volcano and J. Rogue consider the conceptual tool of intersectionality from an anarchist perspective in the essay Insurrections at the Intersections. Sally Darity breaks down the normative gender binary in the essay Gender is a Weapon: Coercion, domination and self-determination, while J. Rogue seeks to learn from transfeminism in De-essentializing Anarchist Feminism. Falling star: Countering Gender Essentialism with Sex Essentialism seeks to clarify trans-feminism in relation to the limits of essentialism. The Anarchist Federation in Britain have written A Class Struggle Anarchist Analysis of Privilege Theory.
A collection of essays on feminism and sexism in the anarchist movement are brought together in this must-read zine.
The Black Rose Anarchist Federation in the USA reflect on the shortcomings of anarcha-feminism in Breaking the Waves, and seek to learn from the surging feminist movements in Latin America in several excellent texts.
In Gender Disobedience, Lilith defends the continuing validity of feminism against weak post-left critique.
An excellent collection of writings can be found in the anthology Queering Anarchism.
'Bash Back!' was an important network of queer anarchist struggle - accounts, communiques, and theories from which are collected in the anthology Queer Ultraviolence. A good summary and reflection on this tendency can be found in Tegan Eanelli's essay Bash Back! is Dead; Bash Back Forever!.
The journal Bædan develops ideas of queer nihilism, and has become a significant reference point in queer anarchist circles. In the essay Against the Gendered Nightmare, from the second issue, the authors explore the question of gender in relation to the process of domestication (as developed by anti-civ writers).
Max Stirner remains the primary reference of this current; contemporary reflections of Stirner's thought include The Theory of the Individual by Alfredo Bonanno, An Immense, Reckless, Shameless, Conscienceless, Proud Crime by Wolfi Landstreicher, How the Stirner Eats Gods by Alejandro de Acosta, Politics of the Ego by Saul Newman, and Mutual Utilization by Massimo Passamani.
Wolfi Landsteicher, referenced above, is perhaps the most articulate of contemporary egoists.
Sidney E. Parker began with individualist anarchism, for example in My Anarchism, but ultimately began to theorise egoism as something distinct from anarchism, as he explains in Archists, Anarchists and Egoists.
Following on from an attempted synthesis of Marx and Stirner by a group of post-Situationists, egoist-communism has become a minor tendency in itself. Egoist-Communism: What It Is and What It Isn’t by Dr. Bones provides an introduction.
Aragorn! provides an excellent introduction with the text Nihilism, Anarchy, and the 21st century, discussing the relevance nihilism has to anarchism. He goes on to look at what anarchism brings to nihilism in Anarchy and Nihilism: Consequences.
Blessed is the Flame looks at the question of impossible rebellion through the lense of resistance in the Nazi concentration camps. Uncontrollable: Contributions Towards a Conscious Nihilism, meanwhile, looks to rebellion in contemporary Athens.
Lee Paxton offers a nihilist challenge to anarchism in Ultimate Profanation; as does Monsieur Dupont in the book Nihilist Communism, which through critique brings together a singular perspective. Alejandro de Acosta explores the nihilist dimension of anarchy in such essays as Its core is the negation.
Much of this current is highly theoretical, often a dialogue with academic philosophy. The practical side of anarchist-nihilism, on the other hand, is exemplified by the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire (CCF). The perspective and project of the CCF is explained in their text The Sun Still Rises, while in Beyond Right and Wrong they focus on the desire to attack in relation to morality, and Lone wolves are not alone looks at the connections to be made between conscious nihilists.
ANARCHISM IN ACADEMIA
Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics, has aligned himself with the anarcho-syndicalist tradition in his political views. The book On Anarchism collects some of his most explicit treatments of anarchism, including 'Notes on Anarchism', a popular introduction, and an excerpt from 'Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship' which assesses the historiography of the Spanish Civil War and the anarchist revolution which took place therein. His study, co-written with Edward S. Herman, of capitalist/state propaganda has been influential; a summarising excerpt of Manufacturing Consent can be read online.
David Graeber, a professor of anthropology, has applied anarchist ideas in works such as Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology and Revolution in Reverse. His most well known book, Debt: The First 5000 Years studies the rise and development of civilisations, including the systems of domination and exploitation we struggle against, by means of an anthropological history of debt.
Ruth Kinna, a professor of political philosophy, has written Anarchism: A Beginners Guide, which, besides offering an introduction to anarchist politics, also articulates anarchist theory with academic precision. Kinna is also an editor of the journal Anarchist Studies.
The academic Uri Gordon has also produced an introductory book - Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory based on his research and activism. He has also written Anarchism and Political Theory: Contemporary Problems, a critical analysis of anarchist theory.
Professor Harold Barclay has contributed to anarchist theory, for example in the book People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy, and the essay The Origin of the State.
Rebel Alliances by Benjamin Franks is a widely-read analysis of contemporary anarchism in Britain.
Several of the above have writings featured in the anthology Contemporary Anarchist Studies.
Academic research into anarchism is a fairly recent phenomenom, and has spawned groups such as the Institute for Anarchist Studies, which produces the journal Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, as well as a set of zines: the Lexicon.
Post-anarchism is also essentially an academic treatment of anarchism, and is addressed below.
Post-anarchism is best described as the convergence of post-structuralist philosophy with anarchist anti-politics. Post-anarchists seek to transcend the 'enlightenment' origins of the anarchist movement.
Todd May is widely regarded as initiating this current with the book The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism.
Saul Newman introduces the ambitions of this current in The Politics of Postanarchism. Newman draws a direct link between 19th century thinkers Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche, and the post-structuralist thinkers of the past half-century, and then relates this back to the anarchist project. This is evident in essays such as Anarchism and the Politics of Ressentiment, Stirner and Foucault: Toward a Post-Kantian Freedom, and Empiricism, Pluralism and Politics in Deleuze and Stirner, among others.
The essay Postanarchism is Not What You Think seeks to defend the theory against its critics while also offering some clarifications.
In the book Anarchism is Movement, Tomás Ibáñez looks at post-anarchism as simply one aspect of a broader rejuvenation of anarchism since the revolts of 1968, a tendency he refers to as 'neo-anarchism'.
Here are the texts that either do not fit into any of the above categories, or give an overview of all different kinds of anarchism.
The New Anarchism (1974-2012) is Volume 3 of Robert Graham's mammoth 'Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas', collecting together essays from many anarchists across the world.
Colin Ward was an important anarchist thinker in Britain. His main work, Anarchy in Action, has been influential on many anarchists. He was also an editor of the anarchist newspaper Freedom and the journal Anarchy for many years.
Peter Gelderloos shares anarchist ideas on a huge variety of topics. He is most well-known for his book Anarchy Works, which addresses various challenges to the viability in anarchy in practice. More recently he published the book Worshiping Power "An Anarchist View of Early State Formation". He has written other important essays such as How Nonviolence Protects the State, Diagnostics of the Future, and Lines in the Sand, an excellent reflection on so-called 'identity politics' and its critics.
The Black Rose Anarchist Federation have produced the collection Black Anarchism: A Reader, bringing together writings from several notable anarchists such as Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, Kuwasi Balagoon, and Sam Mbah, among others. The ZACF of South Africa analyse racial oppression in their text Anarchism, Racism and the Class Struggle. K. Aarons relates anarchism to afro-pessimism in the essay No Selves to Abolish.
The essay Listen, Anarchist!, by Chaz Bufe, offers a sharp criticism of contemporary North American anarchism, particularly its individualist, primitivist, and mystic tendencies.
James Herod writes on various topics, summarising some of his views in A Goal and Strategy for Anarchy. A more comprehensive account of his perspective, based on the strategy of 'building a new world in the shell of the old' can be found in Getting free - Creating an association of democratic autonomous neighborhoods.
In the book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, James C. Scott provides an anthropological study of ungoverned peoples.
A current of market anarchism continues to this day, primarily through the Center for a Stateless Society. A directory of writings is provided in their FAQ, and an audiobook of their major work Markets Not Capitalism can be accessed for free.
In the wonderful book The Dispossessed Ursula K. Le Guin imagines an anarchist society and its possible limitations. The Day Before the Revolution is a prequel of sorts. Another author offers a playful vision of anarchy in the book bolo'bolo.
We are going to inherit the earth. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie may blast and burn its own world before it finally leaves the stage of history. We are not afraid of ruins. We who ploughed the prairies and built the cities can build again, only better next time. We carry a new world, here in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.
—Buenaventura Durruti, 1936