Anarchism is a nonsensical and immature political philosophy. To even call it a philosophy is probably being far too generous. In order to mitigate the inevitable bleating of “No True Scotsman” from various unwashed packs of self-styled “anarchist” rabble across the internets, allow me to define my term. When I say “anarchism” here I am talking about the utopian and fantastical ideology promoted by leftist intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and described in the Anarchist FAQ. So yes, I am talking about your kind of anarchist Mr. Scotsman.
The theory (if you can call it that) behind anarchism is based on two interlocking principles. The first and most important is that hierarchy is a form of oppression (hint: oppression is bad, mmmkay). The second is that private property is a form of hierarchy. Private property in the anarchist view is the absolute worst form of oppression. It is the social institution that the envious soul of the anarchist rages against most fiercely. Private property is bad because it creates hierarchy in terms of relationships to specific resources. If one person owns something, then another person is necessarily deprived of it. Exclusion of anyone from anything is intolerable.
Property ownership is hierarchical, anti-egalitarian and exploitative (exploitation is also bad, mmmkay). Property owners exploit non-owners by threatening them with starvation if they do not work to make the owners even richer. Hence the familiar blather about wage slavery. The state is set up to forcefully protect the property of this exploiting class. Without the state the institution of property could not be maintained.
To solve the grave social and moral problems of private property and hierarchy anarchists advocate a totally unique and original system of collective property ownership and democratic control of the means of production. It is difficult to see how this differs from classical Marxism, yet anarchists will cry foul if you point this out. They claim that their form of communism is different because it will occur naturally and spontaneously when capitalism falls, and capitalism will necessarily fall when the state collapses. Classical Marxists at least acknowledge that the state is necessary to force people to abide by communist property arrangements on a wide scale.
This ideology is so stupid, backwards and full of basic logic errors that buying into it is tantamount to an intellectual crime. While “anti-authoritarian” in theory, in practice anarchism must become one of the most totalitarian systems imaginable. It is no surprise that in real life anarchists tend to have tyrannical, controlling, hysterical and borderline maniacal personalities. If you have ever had a conversation or tried to debate with one of these resentful good-for-nothings, you know what I am talking about. Nor is it surprising that these miscreants praise mass-murdering commies like Castro and Che, or that their favorite intellectual guru associates with leftist thugs like Hugo Chavez. While anti-state in theory this riffraff will throw public temper tantrums if cuts to state entitlement programs are even considered. Noam Chomsky has openly said that his disciples should support the expansion of the welfare state because it is the only protection that “working people” (people without jobs) have to defend themselves from “private tyrannies” like Starbucks.
The state by any other name
For any society to survive some natural resources must become human property one way or the other. Yet despite this obvious fact of life, the infantile anarchist worldview holds that property ownership is the greatest evil. The use of property for private profit is the worst form of aggression against society. All private property is based on violence, and is therefore arbitrary and illegitimate. Yet these unthinking cretins would re-create this exact situation on a grander scale. Their idea of “justice” is to give the “workers” (again, people without jobs) the right to expropriate all current title holders and redistribute all property. If it is a grave moral problem that all current property titles are the result of past violence, it is absurd to propose yet another round of violent redistribution as a solution.
Ultimately even the most bullheaded of anarchists must acknowledge that a society without people using exclusive property at some level is impossible. To deal with this problem they have invented the categories of “exploitative” and “non-exploitative” property. But who gets to decide what is “non-exploitative” property and what is not? Can just anyone decide? What happens if people disagree? What system is used to choose? And who decides that? Democratic control of the means of production raises similar questions. Who will administer the polls and enforce their outcomes? What happens to people that act in opposition to the democratic consensus? Who stops them? And how was it decided that it would be that way? Are anarchists really so dimwitted and myopic that these rather obvious issues never occurred to them?
Anarchists insist that property must be owned by all people equally and the use of property must be democratically decided by society as whole. But the decision to structure society this way must logically come prior to any decision by society as a whole. At some point an individual or group must make a decision that is not ratified by society. In other words, at some point there must be a state. What is a state? A state is a group of people that act as ultimate decision makers and have a monopoly on the lawful initiation of force over a given territory.
While anarchists claim to be anti-state, their lofty ideals would require a state in order to be implemented in the real world. They may call their state “the community” or the “worker’s council” but it is still a state. Anarchist society cannot in reality be egalitarian or anti-hierarchical. There will necessarily be an inequality of power between the people that make and enforce decisions for society and everyone else. In order to realize their dream society anarchists must not only create a hierarchy, they must be complete totalitarians.
If society owns everything in common, society must own the labor power of each individual as well. Society cannot allow the individual to sell his labor or personally profit from it in any way. This would constitute stealing from society. The anarchist state must use violence or threats of violence to enforce society’s claim to the labor of each member. It is bitterly ironic given the volume of crocodile tears anarchists shed for private wage slaves that their preferred system would create a much crueler form of public slavery.
To be consistent anarchists cannot allow private property to exist anywhere. They must force everyone to be a part of their collective. To do otherwise would be to morally accept the institution of private property. If anarchists were to allow anyone in their future utopia to individually own anything, anywhere on earth they would be betraying their own principles. What then would be the point of being an anarchist? How would the new society be any different than the status quo ante? Anarchism is necessarily a totalitarian ideology. Abolishing private property cannot be a halfway measure.
Anarchists may grumble that their imaginary society need not be a totalitarian slave state. People will choose to be a part of this communal system and abide by the rules once they have been re-educated to hold different values. Violence and terror will not be necessary to maintain anarchism. People won’t want to do anything but work for the betterment of their fellow man in the new utopia. The problem is that saying this implies that people would be allowed to choose whether or not to be a part of the system in the first place. Anarchists cannot possibly allow people this choice, or any choice, and still hold to their principles. No possible deviation can be tolerated if property and hierarchy are to be eliminated.
History and real life
The most famous attempt at bringing about an anarchist society took place during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Two anarchist militias known as the CNT and the FAI took control of parts of the Spanish regions of Catalonia and Aragon in 1936. When the CNT took over urban areas they initially allowed the workers to take control of the factories where they had previously been “enslaved.” They actually allowed “worker’s self management” at first. However, they soon discovered to their horror that the newly “liberated” workers tended to behave like real human beings rather than class-conscious proletarians. They treated the factories like private property and ran them for their own profit. As economist Bryan Caplan explains in his essay The Anarcho-Statists of Spain:
[A]fter being told that the workers now owned the means of production, the workers often took the statement literally. What is the point of owning the means of production if you can’t get rich using them? But of course if some workers get rich, they are unlikely to voluntarily donate their profits to the other members of their class. This seems elementary upon reflection, but only practical experience was able to reveal this to the economic reformers of the Spanish Revolution.
[P]ractical experience gradually revealed a basic truth of economics for which theoretical reflection would have sufficed: if the workers take over a factory, they will run it to benefit themselves. A worker-run firm is essentially identical to a capitalist firm in which the workers also happen to be the stockholders. Once they came to this realization, however dimly, the Spanish Anarchists had to either embrace capitalism as the corollary of worker control, or else denounce worker control as the corollary of capitalism. For the most part, they chose the latter course.
In the words of CNT militia leader Ricardo Sanz:
“[T]hings are not going as well as they did in the early days of the [revolutionary] movement… The workers no longer think of workings long hours to help the front. They only think of working as little as possible and getting the highest possible wages.”
As we would expect given the above analysis, the anarchists found this situation intolerable. In reaction they instituted a strictly controlled centralization of industry. According to Burnett Bolloten, author of The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution:
[T]he Anarchosyndicalists, contrary to common belief, were not without their own plans for the nationwide control and rationalization of production. Rootedly opposed to state control or nationalization, they advocated centralization — or socialization, as they called it — under trade-union management of entire branches of production.
[S]ocialization would eliminate the dangers of government control by placing production in the hands of the unions. This was the libertarian conception of socialization, without state intervention, that was to eliminate the wastes of competition and duplication, render possible industrywide planning for both civilian and military needs, and halt the growth of selfish actions among the workers of the more prosperous collectives by using their profits to raise the standard of living in the less favored enterprises.
So while the militias claimed that they were not implementing state control of production, the distinction was purely semantic. They behaved exactly like a state in substance and called it something else, just as the above analysis would predict.
In the rural areas the militias were not willing to take the same risks they took in the cities. They attempted to institute total agricultural collectivism immediately. As Bolloten explains:
Although no hard and fast rules were observed in establishing libertarian communism, the procedure was more or less the same everywhere. A CNT-FAI committee was set up in each locality where the new regime was instituted. This committee not only exercised legislative and executive powers, but also administered justice. One of its first acts was to abolish private trade and to collectivize the soil of the rich, and often that of the poor, as well as farm buildings, machinery, livestock, and transport. Except in rare cases, barbers, bakers, carpenters, sandalmakers, doctors, dentists, teachers, blacksmiths, and tailors also came under the collective system. Stocks of food and clothing and other necessities were concentrated in a communal depot under the control of the local committee, and the church, if not rendered useless by fire, was converted into a storehouse, dining hall, cafe, workshop, school, garage, or barracks. In many communities money for internal use was abolished…
Many people fled for fear of their lives. Their land was seized almost immediately. After all, who but a “fascist” would flee? The expropriation of land from anyone too terrified of the new regime to even wait to see what their new life would be like provided the nucleus for the collectives.
According to the CNT’s own propaganda newspaper:
We militiamen must awaken in these persons the spirit that has been numbed by political tyranny. We must direct them along the path of the true life, and for that it is not sufficient to make an appearance in the village; we must proceed with the ideological conversion of these simple folk.
Here again we see the militias behaving as a totalitarian communist state. We see the militia leaders exhibiting exactly the kind of megalomania that we would expect given the previous analysis.
When we look at the events of the Spanish Civil War, touted as a great triumph by anarchists, we see that despite their supposedly high ideals of equality and freedom, the anarchists ended up creating a totalitarian, hierarchical and bureaucratic state. They maintained their grip on power through terror. Far from being counter-intuitive, this is just what we would expect given the analysis of the principles that they were working from. We can thus conclude from both theory and history that an anarchist society would be impossible to achieve in reality without totalitarianism and democidal violence. The idea that there ever was or could be a society without a hierarchy is a dangerous fantasy.