What is anarchism?

Anarchism is a political theory and doctrine based on the rejection of authority as a form of social, political and economic organization. Derived from Greek anarchos (‘without authority’), anarchism understands that all power organized and concentrated in a norm, institution, individual or group builds a harmful system of domination that must be ended. Therefore, anarchists are against the State and economic, religious or political elites and advocate collective individualism or free association, that is, the ability of human beings to live and cooperate as equals.

Although there are older similar ideas, anarchism emerged in the mid-19th century along with socialism or communism, which also questioned the traditional organization of power, and declined after the first half of the 20th. Although it is often understood as a utopian model, anarchism had a great political impact during those decades, especially in the fight for labor rights and in European wars. It is a broad political movement that has different and even contradictory currents. For example, individualist anarchism fights against any limitations on individual freedom. Meanwhile, social anarchisms such as collectivism, anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism start from the community and an appropriation of the means of production to build egalitarian societies.

Anarchism as an alternative

The first anarchist thinker was the Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), who in addition to coining the term argued that authority was not something “natural” and therefore should be dissolved in favor of “mutualism.” That is, a society based on equity and mutual aid in which the search for economic benefit does not exist. Proudhon’s mutualism laid the foundations of modern anarchism and inspired one of its most important theorists: the Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin agreed with Proudhon in his criticism of authority, but argued that the means of production must be collective. Furthermore, he defended direct action and violence as useful methods for revolution.

Bakunin’s collectivist anarchism influenced Spain, Italy, Switzerland and France. It was also central to the First Labor International, founded in 1864, until the expulsion of Bakunin and his supporters for their irreconcilable differences with Marxism. Bakunin’s ideological successor was the Russian revolutionary Peter Kropotkin, founder of anarcho-communism, who defended the abolition of private property and the collectivization of the distribution of goods. Kropotkin used biological reasons, arguing that it is more natural to cooperate than to compete.

terrorists, hippies and fights for rights

Anarchism became known through “propaganda by deed”, that is, showing its ideals through direct action. For example, through terrorist attacks against relevant figures or institutions of the State. During the 1890s, anarchists killed presidents Sadi Carnot, William McKinley, and Antonio Cánovas del Castillo of France, the United States, and Spain, respectively, as well as King Umberto I of Italy. In this way, they contributed to destabilizing the political systems of these countries at the cost of earning a reputation as terrorists rather than revolutionaries.

The anarchists also channeled their project through the workers’ struggle, creating their own unions and workers’ unions to fight against the State and the capitalist order. This is how anarcho-syndicalism was born, one of the most influential currents with the most followers. In 1922 they created the International Workers’ Association, and revolutionary union organizations were soon replicated throughout Europe and America. One of the most successful cases was that of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, through organizations such as the National Confederation of Labor (CNT) or the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), which came to control the east of the country during the Civil War.

After the Second World War, the triumph of Soviet communism and the repression of European fascist regimes caused anarchism to lose popularity and capacity for action. However, its ideals have continued to permeate anti-establishment struggles around the world, such as the civil rights, anti-war, and civil rights movements. hippies of the United States in the sixties and seventies, but also feminism, environmentalism or anticolonialism at a global level. At the same time, different anarchist unions from the early 20th century survive and continue to defend workers’ rights.