I am trying to write a simple faq about anarchism. One of the question is “Why do anarchist want to abolish hierarchies?”. This question sounds so obvious to me I cannot write something convincing enough.
My answer to the concept of “justifiable hierarchies”
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Well that’s very precisely what anarchism is about: a collection of mental tool and individual/collective strategies to sabotage all forms of domination.
That is true. Most autonomous communes have been assimilated or exterminated over the years. Contrary to popular belief, the middle ages were a rather free time for those people who lived far away from the centers of power. Nowadays, nobody can escape State control. This state of things was obtained through a mix of technological progress (gasoline motors considerably expanded the reach of State control) and progressive narrative (“public school is mandatory for the good of the children”).
Many anarchists are very skeptical/defiant and would rather on a daily basis only interact/cooperate with other anarchists (affinity) because they assume other people have an opposite mindset. However, despite all our formatting from years of school and media propaganda, most people in practice agree with anarchist principles when faced with actual situations, for example:
Many people have argued in the past that in nature humans and other species tend towards anarchism (disinterested cooperation). That was the main point of Kropotkin’s Mutual aid, or David Graber’s Are you an anarchist? the answer may surprise you.
Despite my criticizing “nature” as a valid concept at all, i do believe most humans tend to be compassionate and critical by default, and it takes considerable amount of resources to indoctrinate people into behaving otherwise. For example, it takes many years of public schools to “teach” kids helping one another is cheating… and some like me will never “learn” ;)
Competing is not exactly the word. But authoritarian systems and libertarian capitalist communes tend to exterminate alternatives, so we do have to be prepared. However in anarchist thought/practice this is usually understood as specific of a specific context (power balance). Two examples:
About defending ourselves, popular self-defense is an important notion for anarchists. Basically, it’s the idea that most conflicts can be resolved through non-violent means (deescalation and community accountability) but we should have the power to defend ourselves and our communities violently if the need arises. Both aspects are core principles of popular self-defense.
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There is and there was. That most anarchist communes have been eradicated by authoritarians of all stripes doesn’t mean they weren’t successful. The two last ones to fall in the past few years, la ZAD and Exarchia, were really amazing communities where one could live without money and (mostly) without oppression.
It depends. State control was widely limited by (lack of) technological means. People living in the mountains/swamps were mostly rid of State control because there was no gasoline to take an army up there. And whatever control the State had, they didn’t have cameras on the streets and a television spitting lies in every home to exert their control.
I’m not idealizing the middle ages, there were a lot of problems. But free communes and peasant uprisings were a thing back then. Can we say the same today in the western world?
Definitely not. My point was simply that back then, people could technically evade feudalism by fleeing from the centers of power. While evading capitalism today is mostly impossible (or please show me how).
From my (limited) understanding of the zapatistas, they are indeed an anarchist movement (from my definition). They are building dual power from the ground up without higher authority.
What really sets zapatism apart from other marxist revolutions, is that the armed branch of the revolution (EZLN) explicitly recognizes they are not representative of the people and the people should decide for themselves. EZLN is only here to protect the revolution against outside threats, and does not worry about internal politics.
This healthy self-criticism and strong separation of powers is what enables the movement to build concrete autonomy, whereas revolutionary avant-garde (of the past) have actively sabotaged revolutionary efforts (eg. bolsheviks taking power away from the soviets, into the hands of the State).
Also it’s not a small niche. Zapatist communities are huge, and are well connected to the social struggles of the urban centers. As recently as last year, the movement announced the creation of new autonomous regions (caracols) so it’s still growing.
And killed/enslaved millions of others. “Liberation” is not how people in the USSR/Spain/China experienced it: see Cronstadt/Makhnovtchina for example of true revolutionaries rising up against the counter-revolutionary bolshevik tyrants for social justice and self-determination (spoiler: they were massacred). If you’re interested in that, Emma Goldman has very detailed, first-hand accounts of her disillusions with the Russian revolution and the bolshevik dictatorship (of the proletariat, or so they say).
For me the first question is how can we avoid reproducing this, personally and as communities. Overthrowing a system of oppression to replace it with another one is of no interest to me. Whether i’m placed in a concentration camp by the capital’s police or the people’s police makes no difference to me. Burn all prisons and police stations, then we can start to think differently about living together as a society.
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