Anarchism: pre-, post-, and unfiltered in 7 painless sections

A call for a "deeper democracy" was issued in 1999 by Anthony Giddens, the current dean of sociologists and founder of the "third way" between left and right political traditions.  This call followed logically from the admirable analysis of global changes in his series of lectures for the BBC radio.   These lucid chapters are also available in a book I often assign,  Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives.   Giddens eloquently discussed global  changes in:  family;  assumptions  about  communication,  sex, romance;  current  battles over tradition,  religious  fundamentalism, over  modern  choices;  and also  the  advent of a technocratic "risk" society.    Each of these domains is intimately interconnected, as a careful hearing of Giddens will show.  

Describing such historic trends of global modernity, Giddens also prescribes the more positive emergence of social equality and respect for dialogue that can be found.  This takes a long view of slow change, and it requires that we momentarily set aside the rather obvious violence and ignorance that continue to destroy as always.  Nevertheless, the long view does reveal some progress.  In prescribing more of this progress as needed for tomorrow, he summed it up in the phrase, "democratising democracy".  Democracy itself will have to progress in order to deal with the new global realities, and with the higher expectations of modern citizens who have the same access to information as their governors.  What he recommends is a more active, more participatory civic sphere -- independent of both the "free" market and of the government bureau.  Giddens concludes the lecture series and the book with a final claim:  "Our runaway world doesn't need less, but more government - and this, only democratic institutions can provide."  

Giddens is a good liberal progressivist, yet one who notes that the current state of democracy is insufficient and increasingly incapable of addressing itself to the new "transnational" activities, the emerging conditions of economic and cultural interactivity that bypass national borders and thus current legislation.  Where Giddens goes beyond the run-of-the-mill liberal is in his recommendation -- not simply for more state regulation -- but for the creation of deeper participation in community affairs than is currently available under parliamentary representation.  He supports the rise of NGOs  that monitor and intervene in transnational problems, and in the rise of community organizations that make decisions on matters that affect the same people who are deciding.  This I take to be about as far as the progressive liberal mind has gone today.  While Giddens is decidedly not an anarchist, he is realizing something that the old anarchist tradition of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Goldman had long since realized.

That tradition goes by many names and also gets aligned with both the Left and the Right at times.  Let's be blunt about one simple matter:  the actual anarchists were always already on the left of the Left.  They enacted equality, fraternity, and liberty in a manner that is unsurpassed -- moreover despite all the conflicts implied therein.  Theirs was the deepest democracy in history.  Their ideals are sometimes borrowed and repackaged by the Libertarian Right, but this is a bastardized form that emphasizes the right to individual Property instead, meanwhile forgetting all about equality and fraternity.  The actual anarchist tradition always focused on communal organization and mutuality, on interdependence and participation, on open-minded tolerance and on worker's control over their own products.   Anything that would harm this community would then be appropriately changed by that community with the full involvment of those concerned.  A private corporation, for example, that exploited people and polluted their air would simply not be allowed.  Most actual anarchist communities would simply change the corporation (one of the biggest headaches facing us today) at its most fundamental level: capitalism itself.  

What are those many names?   Here are a few:  anarcho-syndicalist, syndicalism, worker's councils, councilist communes, libertarian socialists, autonomists, situationists, social ecology, wobblies, etc.  

Every political economy has been tried and found wanting.   History is cluttered with the garbage remaining from communism, capitalism, representative democracy, socialism, feudalism, oligarchy, slavery, imperialism, etc.    Anarchism is unique in this regard too.  It either has never been tried or it has never failed; this alternative depends on the depth of your historical knowledge.  

Particular anarchist communities did rise and fall.  The Paris Commune of 1871 is one.  Spain is another -- in the few years before and after 1936, when most of the country and industry was run by anarchist communities.  I take these two as essential examples of why anarchists fell:  they were killed by hired militias.  

While most literate readers today realize that Noam Chomsky is a real anarchist, very few realize how many famous writers in the mainstream literary canon were anarchists by definition and by profession.  This has been suppressed.  Here's a partial list at random:  P. B. Shelley. William Blake, George Orwell, H. D. Thoreau,  Ernest Hemingway, Ursula LeGuin, James Joyce, Tolstoy, etc.  The list is significantly longer.  I'm working on an anthology to propose for publication now, because I discovered that no such anthology has been printed.

Postmodern academics have recently moved through marxism to postmarxism, and through structuralism to poststructuralism.  Both of these movements meet up with anarchism, which has been waiting for them to catch on.  Postmarxism is perhaps easier to get.  When Marx projected the eventual  "withering away of the State" he was wrong; but he was wrong precisely because marxists advocated the centralization of control over production led by the vanguard party, in other words, a strong state bureaucracy.  History has thus shown that Bakunin won the argument with Marx.  Marxists also advocated authority over the production process within the factory.  Marxists also rejected the revolutionary potential of non-proletarians.  Wrong on so many counts, so easy to spot in hindsight.  Postmarxists today tend thus to recapitulate anarchism, without knowing it, and only in very advanced jargon.  Something like this occurs with poststructuralism, which is too elaborate to be introduced in a web site.  But the three most important books you can read about this explain why postmodern academics are recapitulating anarchist theory and also, equally crucial, what they offer to improve upon the limitations of traditional anarchist theory.  These three books sum up what's called "postanarchism".    Contemporary theory is synonymous with postanarchism.  How do I know?  I've read it all.  My own manner is to sythesize where various works can complement each other.

Pseudo-anarchism exists, or does that go without saying?  Varieties of this can be found in the authors Nozick to Zizek and many between who are uninformed about the actual tradition of anarchist communities.  So if you have to draw a line somewhere . . . then . . .  .   Still, it is impossible for anyone to be wrong all of the time (except apparently G.W. Bush)  and even these writers have a few very worthwhile things to say.

So what shall we do after closing this window and standing up?  If you want to read more in the future, I can recommend a single volume of brick size (= over 750 pages) that summarizes anarchist thinkers, ancient and modern, anarchist history both European and Asian, and a veritable encyclopedic coverage:

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