You will be pleased to know that I'm not going to bore you details of why capitalism bad. You would not be here if you did not question it. As such, I'm taking it as read that you are looking for alternatives to that system. This is what I'm doing to talk about, the anarchist alternative.
The media and politicians tend to complain that "anti-capitalists" do not know what they want. After the battle of Prague, the South Africa finance minister and chair of summit started that "I know what they're against but have no sense of what they're for." After this years May Day protests, the Scotsman asserted that the protestors "seemed bereft of any concrete notion of what they wanted to replace the amorphous 'capitalism' they were complaining about." This did not stop them later stating that these same protesters "are unable to understand that a return to subsistence economies based on small peasant holdings, now being pioneered in Zimbabwe, will only lead to Malthusian famines." I wish that it would make its mind up! The Daily Record echoed these comments: for it protesters "seem to know what they're against. But what are they for?"
Of course, it could be pointed out that they don't want to find out. If they did, they would start presenting serious reporting on the subject, asking those there what they wanted. If they did do that they would soon discover that this new movement is diverse, which is extremely positive. Indeed, perhaps we should be saying that "other worlds are possible" as we cannot specify what is best for every individual, community. The "one size fits all" mentality should be left to the various brands of capitalism (from neo-liberalism to the state capitalism of Leninism). Moreover, this movement is just starting, so its ideas and ideals will be vague, to varying degrees. As to be expected, as people learn through struggle. Ultimately, of course, it is not up to the protesters to decree for humanity what is to be. A new society will be created by all, organised by the direct participation of all concerned, from the periphery to the centre, freely and spontaneously. This does not mean we don't have our ideas of what could be, it simply means that unless that idea inspires or reflects those creating a revolution it will not be applied on a wide-scale.
So any new movement will be full of debate, and develop based on this, its struggles and the desires and ideas it reflects and creates. It will be full of vagueness and clarity, contradictions and consistencies, shaped by new experiences and ideas. Anarchists aim to take part in this debate, to discuss our ideas with others, as equals. After all, this is not first social movement and we should learn from previous experiences and ideas. In so doing we may find out that we have a lot in common and that anarchists can help to clarify ideas and give shape to vague aspirations. And, of course, we anarchists can learn from other activists, from their ideas and experience. It must be a two-way communication, a dialogue not a monologue.
Aim of meeting
Which brings me to the aim of this meeting, to provide a few thoughts on what kind of society anarchists aim for and how we think it will come about.
I must stress that anarchists are not in the business of laying down plans for the future. I am giving an overview only, based on anarchist theory and practice. Any actual anarchist society will be reflect the needs, hopes, dreams and desires of those who create it, as well as the circumstances they find themselves in. This will be seen from the various examples of "anarchy in action" I mention later.
And this should come as no surprise. Given how hierarchical and class society shapes us, it is impossible for us to imagine what new forms will arise once humanity's ingenuity and creativity is unleashed by the removal of its present authoritarian fetters. Therefore, any attempts to paint a detailed picture of the future will be doomed to failure. But as any future society will be born from this one, we can give some sketches of it is starting point.
Do we need vision?
Some may wonder why we need vision at all. Why bother discuss the future society, it could be argued. It will sort itself out and so we should concentrate on the here and now.
I would say that such an argument is flawed for three reasons.
Firstly, As Kropotkin argued, "no struggle can be successful if it is unconscious, if it has no definite and concrete aim. . . Even a theoretical criticism of what exists is not possible without picturing to oneself a more or less exact image of that which he desires to see in its place." By seeing and experiencing what is wrong with capitalism, we start to draw conclusions on what society should be like and how we should do to end it. As such, vision informs our activity in the here and now.
Secondly, it indicates why people should become anarchists and, hopefully, it will inspire them to become committed to its practical realisation. As such, vision plays a key role in spreading the anarchist message.
Thirdly, to quote Malatesta's argument made in the middle of the Italian revolutionary "Two Red Years,": "either we all apply our minds to thinking about social reorganisation, and right away, at the very same moment that the old structures are being swept away, and we shall have a more humane and more just society, open to future advances, or we shall leave such matters to the 'leaders' and we shall have a new government." So the more people who have a fairly clear idea of what a free society would look like the easier it will be to create that society and ensure that no important matters are left to the "leaders" to decide for us.
Moreover, the idea that we can unite over what we are against while ignoring what we are for is a fallacy. Discussion over ends is as important as discussion over means as they are related. As Kropotkin once pointed out, those who downplay the importance of discussing the "order of things which . . . should emerge from the coming revolution" in favour of concentrating on "practical things" are being less than honest as "far from making light of such theories, they propagate them, and all that they do now is a logical extension of their ideas. In the end those words 'Let us not discuss theoretical questions' really mean: 'Do not subject our theory to discussion, but help us to put it into execution.'" The Russian Revolution shows us the danger of this approach.
So vision is important.
What Anarchists are Against?
We can get an idea of what anarchists want by summarising what we are against. Capitalism marked by inequality both in terms of wealth and in power. People have little say in the decisions that affect them and, more often than not, treated as children who would only harm themselves and others if they were given any meaningful power.
So in current society power is in the hands of the few. We get to pick who will govern us. Politically, we get to pick a politician once every few years who is under the control of economic power (big business) and the state bureaucracy, neither of which we get to pick! In the economy, we pick a boss, a master who tells us what to do, when to do and for how long and, moreover, keeps the product of our labour for the privilege! Needless to say, we are expected to quietly obey our masters, under threat of punishment. Such inequality can only have negative impact on people. The effects of hierarchy can be seen all around us. It does not work.
Thus anarchists are against both state and capital. As Proudhon put it: "The economic idea of capitalism . . . [and] the politics of government or of authority . . . [are] identical . . . [and] linked in various ways. . . What capital does to labour . . . the State [does] to liberty." Both are based on oppression and lead to exploitation.
I must stress here that anarchists oppose all forms of hierarchy, we do not limit ourselves to the oppression caused by state and capital. This means we oppose sexism, racism, homophobia, relgious bigotry and any other social relationship based on oppression, the treating of others as less than human and the restriction of their autonomy.
What is anarchism?
This (very short!) summary of what anarchists are against suggests the basics of anarchism. Brian Morris provides us with an excellent summary:
"The term anarchy comes from the Greek, and essentially means 'no ruler.' Anarchists are people who reject all forms of government or coercive authority, all forms of hierarchy and domination. They are therefore opposed to what the Mexican anarchist Flores Magon called the 'sombre trinity' -- state, capital and the church. Anarchists are thus opposed to both capitalism and to the state, as well as to all forms of religious authority. But anarchists also seek to establish or bring about by varying means, a condition of anarchy, that is, a decentralised society without coercive institutions, a society organised through a federation of voluntary associations."
Clifford Harper provides us would an even more elegant definition:
"Like all great ideas, anarchism is pretty simple when you get down to it -- human beings are at their best when they are living free of authority, deciding things among themselves rather than being ordered about."
Therefore anarchism has to be participatory, it has to empower people both individually and collectively. This applies politically, socially, sexually and economically. Anarchists tend to call this idea and practice "self-management." It also needs to decentralised. This means power rests in those affected by a decision. They make it, not some one else. This means that an anarchist society would be created and run from the "bottom-up." Power is not given to a small group as in centralised systems like the state and capitalist business. Rather decisions made by all and co-ordinated by elected, mandated, recallable delegates. As Kropotkin put it:
"socialism must become more popular, more communalistic, and less dependent upon indirect government through elected representatives. It must become more self-governing."
Such a system does not imply isolation, far from it. Anarchists have always stressed federalism. In a federal system decisions are made at the appropriate level, following from the locality upwards rather than being imposed from the top-downwards. In this way co-operation replaces coercion, agreement replaces authority.
Economically, anarchism implies free access to social wealth. Freedom would be pretty meaningless unless you have a space to practice it. Therefore the means of life needs to be available to all. Use rights would replace property rights: To quote Bakunin, the "land belongs to only those who cultivate it with their own hands; to the agricultural communes. The capital and all the tools of production belong to the workers; to the workers' associations . . . The future political organisation should be a free federation of workers." Anarchism would be based on workers' self-management of production. Most anarchists take this vision to its logical conclusion, the abolition of money and the free distribution of goods ("libertarian communism," not to be confused with the "Communism" of Stalinism).
In a nutshell, anarchists aim for a society in which people can live full lives. The anarchist, argued Bakunin, "takes his stand on his positive right to life and all its pleasures, both intellectual, moral and physical. He loves life, and intends to enjoy it to the full." And to achieve a society that values the individual and encourages the growth of all their abilities to the full, anarchists consider that a few preliminary social conditions must be achieved, namely the destruction of the state and of private property. Or,more positively, the creation of self-management and socialisation.
Forms of freedom
As my quote from Bakunin indicated, anarchists see an anarchist society as an organised society, based around freely federated associations of free people. An anarchist community would work on three levels:
All would be based on self-management, free association, free federation and self-organisation from the bottom up. Government is replaced by anarchy, a network of free associations and communities co-operating as equals. Capitalism, wage slavery, replaced by workers self-management of their productive activity. Economically, therefore, anarchists are socialists, but our socialism is not that of the statist school. Rather it is a socialism of associations, organised and run from below upwards. Indeed, any socialism not based on workers' self-management and socialisation is not socialism (as Lenin's regime quickly showed).
Needless to say, a free society would transform totally the working environment. Workplaces integrated into both the life of the local community and into the local environment. Unlike capitalism, the decision making criteria of an anarchist society will be rooted in an ecological perspective, looking after both people and their planet. This would be based on appropriate technology and scale.
Such a society is organised to ensure, to quote Bakunin again, "that every human being should have the material and moral means to develop his humanity." This applies socially as well as economically, to production as well as consumption. The anarchist desires to liberate the artist in all of us. Emma Goldman put it well when she argued that "real wealth consists of things of utility and beauty, in things that help create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to live in." Anarchism's "goal is the freest possible expression of all the latent powers of the individual . . . [and this] is only possible in a state of society where man [and woman] is free to choose the mode of work, the conditions of work, and the freedom to work."
The end of hierarchy will mean a massive transformation in everyday life. All can and would exercise, and so develop, their abilities to the fullest. Only anarchism allows the vast talent that exists within humanity to be accessed and used, enriching society by the very process of enriching and developing the individual.
I must stress that this vision does not imply some sort of idyllic state of harmony within which everyone agrees. Far from it! Anarchists have always argued that conflict between people (if not between master and servant) would remain in any society, so anarchy would not be a perfect society, simply a human one!
Nor does it imply a uniform system across the world. The actual needs of each community and its starting point will be different, so shaping its development. As in any eco-system, diversity is the key.
How to get there
Needless to say, this description is a bit bare. It has to be, as there is no way that anyone can do more than sketch the basics of a free society. The flesh for this skeleton will be provided by life itself. Anarchists do not abstractly compare the current one with an ideal one. Rather, we root our visions of the future in current developments and, most importantly, in the class struggle.
Indeed, this struggle is the school for anarchy. Anarchists have long argued that the initial framework of an anarchist society as being created under statism and capitalism when working class people organise themselves to resist oppression and exploitation. The very process of collective class struggle would create the basis of anarchism, with an anarchist society would be based on the working class's own combat organisations created against current society. It is this struggle which allows us to gain skills and experience needed for freedom.
So there an organic connection between what is and what could be -- collective struggle and organisation. This linking of the present and the future through the self-activity and self-organisation of working class people is also found in the works of all anarchists.
Which explains the importance of direct action in anarchist theory. In the course of struggle people can transform their assumptions about what is possible, necessary and desirable. They get a sense of their own power and abilities. The necessity of organising their struggles and their actions ensures the development of assemblies and other organs of popular power in order to manage their activity. These create, potentially, an alternative means by which society can be organised. As Kropotkin put it, "any strike trains the participants for a common management of affairs."
Direct action promotes self-activity and self-organisation. The ability of people to manage their own lives, and so society, becomes increasingly apparent and the existence of hierarchical authority, the state, the boss or a ruling class, becomes clearly undesirable and unnecessary.
Anarchism created from below
An anarchist society can only be created from below. The "revolution should not only be made for the people's sake; it should also be made by the people," in Bakunin's words. Thus anarchism is rooted in the idea that working class people must liberate themselves, by their own efforts and using their own organisations. It is a truism of anarchism that social problems solved in our interests when we solve them ourselves.
Thus, for anarchists, revolution is seen as, to quote Kropotkin, "a widely spread popular movement, during which movement . . . the masses set themselves to the work of reconstructing society on new lines. The people -- both the peasants and the town workers -- must themselves begin the constructive work, on more or less Communist principles, without waiting for schemes and order from above." This would involve the expropriation of capital by the workers themselves, in their own class organisations, and social decision making by popular assemblies and their federations.
The basic principle would be, to quote Bakunin again, that "revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation."
Needless to say, the actual form of these associations has varied from rebellion to rebellion, from revolution to revolution. Thus we see strike and community assemblies, factory committees, workers councils, communes and so on appearing in all major struggles and revolutions. But no matter what their name, or the specifics of how they are organised, the core ideas would be the same.
Anarchy in Action
For a movement regularly dismissed as "utopian" and "impractical," anarchists can point to numerous examples of "anarchy in action"! Anarchist ideas have been confirmed again and again, in many different countries and in many different circumstances. We can learn from these struggles, and we have. Due to time considerations I will be concentrating on just one example of "anarchy in action," the Spanish revolution of 1936.
Spain in the 1930s had the biggest anarchist movement in the world, rooted in working class life and struggle for decades. Years of strikes, organising and insurrections paid off in 1936! Indeed, without the anarchist union the CNT, Franco would have won without a fight.
The defeat of Franco in two-thirds of Spain saw the start of a massive and wide-reaching society revolution, probably the most successful revolution to date. Workers' started to expropriate their workplaces and the land, applying self-management in industry, on the land, in the militias sent to fight the fascists. Over seven million took part in collectives.
A flavour of the transformation can be seen from this quote from one female anarchist participant:
"The atmosphere then [during the revolution], the feelings were very special. It was beautiful. A feeling of -- how shall I say it -- of power, not in the sense of domination, but in the sense of things being under our control, if under anyone's. Of possibility. We had everything. We had Barcelona: It was ours. You'd walk out in the streets, and they were ours -- here, CNT; there, comite this or that. It was totally different. Full of possibility. A feeling that we could, together, really do something. That we could make things different."
In the collectives, general assemblies of workers decided policy, while elected committees managed affairs on a day-to-day basis. The collectives increased freedom. In the words of one member, "it was marvellous. . . to live in a collective, a free society where one could say what one thought, where if the village committee seemed unsatisfactory one could say. The committee took no big decisions without calling the whole village together in a general assembly. All this was wonderful."
The quality of life improved materially as well, as co-operation allowed the introduction of health care, education, machinery and investment in the social infrastructure. Indeed, the collectives often increased production in difficult circumstances.
So Spain showed the power and potential of libertarian ideas applied to a modern society. Needless to say, it was not perfect. One major problem was that the compromises made politically hindered the economic transformation, so full libertarian communism could not develop. Unfortunately time precludes a full discussion of what happened and why (I will discuss it in my talk on "Anarchism and Marxism.")
There are plenty of other examples: the Paris Commune, the Mexican revolution, the early stages of the Russian Revolution, the Makhnovists, Italy 1920, post-war Korea, Hungry 1956, Paris, 68, Portugal, 74, etc. Perhaps we can add Argentina, with its popular assemblies in the community and workplace, the expropriation capital and workers' self-management... Not to mention the Zapatistas! I wish I had time to go into them all!
However, I must stress that these examples and the lessons anarchists draw from them are only the start, not the end. While we may be able to roughly guess the way an anarchist society could start initially, we cannot pretend to predict how it will develop in the long term. But we have to start where we are now, not where we hope to end up so our ideas on anarchism while reflect the current reality as this is the society we will be transforming. As anarchists do not think anarchism will be created overnight, this is to be expected.
I've discussed what anarchists want, how we aim to get there and given a short example of anarchy in action. The question now must be, what do we do now?
I would suggest that the way is clear. We need to preserve and extend the anarchistic elements that exist in every struggle and movement, to help them become consciously libertarian by discussion and debate as members of those struggles. We need to strengthen our roots in the working class, in its struggles. This is because demonstrations, no matter how militant, are not enough to change the world. They may show our defiance and protest, but real power to change the world can only exist in a militant working class movement.
Which points the way we should go. Any flower will wither unless rooted in fertile soil. This implies a decentralisation of global resistance, to create what Bakunin called "the social (and therefore anti-political) organisation and power of the working masses of the cities and villages." This means we must develop anarchist alternatives in our workplaces and communities, based on self-managed community and workplace self-organisation which use direct action and solidarity to make the world a better place. While we are thousands, the state can easily defeat us. When we are millions then real change is possible, then a revolution will be possible.
I will leave you with the words of Nestor Makhno, the Ukrainian anarchist who fought against both White and Red dictatorship for free soviets and working class freedom and self-management:
"Conquer or die -- such is the dilemma that faces the . . . peasants and workers at this historic moment . . . But we will not conquer in order to repeat the errors of the past years, the error of putting our fate into the hands of new masters; we will conquer in order to take our destinies into our own hands, to conduct our lives according to our own will and our own conception of the truth."
We face the same dilemma. The choice lies with you! Have confidence in yourselves, have faith in your future and you will win.