Anarchism by Colin Ward [Book Summary – Review]

You’ve undoubtedly heard of anarchism. Unfortunately, the word is frequently used negatively to indicate turmoil, rioting, and even social collapse.

The genuine meaning of anarchism, on the other hand, is far from negative. Indeed, it was a word used by a number of influential nineteenth-century thinkers to characterize their vision of a more equitable and egalitarian society.

Now, what is anarchism’s fundamental goal? It aims to eliminate all oppressive hierarchies from human existence, whether enforced by the state and its police forces, patriarchal social institutions, or religious groups. Anarchists foresee a society built on mutual cooperation, direct democracy, and communities federalizing with others for the benefit of all once these repressive features are abolished.

Anarchism, which arose from the mistakes of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, is still influential today as it was then.

Anarchist ideologies may provide an unforeseen lifeline as economic inequality and climate change challenges loom bigger.

You’ll learn a lot in these chapters.

  • During the Spanish Civil War, anarchism thrived on a vast scale;
  • why ownership is both “theft” and “freedom,” according to anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon;
  • how anarchist ideals may aid in the solution of the overcrowding problem in modern jails.

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Chapter 1 – Anarchism is a political theory based on the rejection of all forms of hierarchy.

Anarchy is derived from the Greek word ‘anarkhia’, which means “without a leader.” However, when French anarchist theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon connected “anarchism” to his political theory in the mid-nineteenth century, it took on a new connotation. Anarchism was an ideology that claimed society could – and should – be structured without the use of central governments or authority.

Proudhon and other anarchists thought that humanity should be based on voluntary transactions between people and organizations and that such a society would be able to fulfill all of its members’ production and consumption demands with efficiency and justice.

But then why did Proudhon think such a society was necessary? The solution can be found in the errors of the French Revolution.

Commoners and laborers were frustrated after the Revolution when they learned the newly triumphant bourgeois political elite was no better than the aristocrats who had just been deposed. Early anarchist philosophers like Proudhon, who were oppressed by institutions like punishing police forces and violent armies, saw that it wasn’t the rulers who were the problem. The notion of rule, which prioritized one set of people over another, was at the basis of society’s problems.

Since the seventeenth century, anarchists have been preoccupied with the problem of the state – and how to eliminate it and construct a more just society. Who you ask about how to achieve this, though, will have a different opinion.

Anarcho-communists are the most visible group of anarchists. They think that the communities that benefit from land, resources, and methods of production should have authority over them.

Anarchists refuse hierarchical structures and all forms of external interference, whether imposed by nations, business owners, or religious organizations. Although other splinter groups of anarchist thought emphasize feminism or green politics.

However, how would an anarchist society be run? There are four basic elements that would almost certainly be included.

First and foremost, anarchist groups should be voluntary – participation should not be compulsory, as this would limit individual freedom and responsibility.

They must also be useful, with a clear purpose and justification for being.

Third, they must be transient, as permanent organizations have a tendency to outgrow their usefulness, becoming more concerned with preserving their existence than with assisting others. 

Finally, anarchist groups must be small, as hierarchical impulses are less likely to emerge when people meet in person to discuss problems.

Maybe this all comes across as wishful thinking? We’ll look at how certain anarchist theorists envisioned societal transformation in the following chapter, as well as how anarchism has worked in reality.

Chapter 2 – Anarchism was popularized by Peter Kropotkin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and it flourished in Spain.

Whilst also there have been many anarchist philosophies and attempts, three aspects of the movement’s history must not be overlooked: the political theories of eighteenth-century Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin; the ideas of his counterpart, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; and the ideological upheaval surrounding the Spanish Civil War.

Proudhon famously stated that “property is theft” and “property is freedom,” in addition to being the first to coin the word “anarchism.”

This did not seem paradoxical to him, because the property was frequently the result of exploitation or conquest by landowners and capitalists.

Property, on the other hand, was freedom since peasants and workers required houses, land, and the means of production in order to live – freedom that didn’t have to be earned by exploitative or forceful means.

But it was Proudhon’s emphasis on the need for commune federalism that would play a key part in the Paris Commune of March-May 1871, probably the first example of revolutionary socialism in action.

During its brief existence, the revolutionary communards knew that in order to survive, they would need to federate with other communes, according to Proudhon. Unfortunately, their commune did not exist long enough for this to occur.

Peter Kropotkin, in addition to Proudhon, was an early proponent of anarchism. He strove to construct a well-justified framework for burgeoning ideas as a scientifically oriented guy. He drew forth a framework for how communes in post-revolutionary society should self-organize via mutual help and voluntary cooperation in one of his most renowned books, The Conquest of Bread.

Kropotkin’s thoughts on how workers may collectivize industry and agriculture were significant during the Spanish Civil War that followed the 1936 revolution.

Spain was mostly an agrarian country in the 1930s, with only 2% of the population owning 67 percent of the land. Everything changed after the revolution.

Private property was practically eliminated in many regions of the country, with agricultural land and agriculture undergoing widespread collectivization. Collectivization was also implemented in revolutionary Catalonia. Other aspects of life, like public transportation, energy, and telecommunications, were subjected to collectivization.

Although fascist forces under Francisco Franco finally won the Spanish Civil War, anarchism’s practical achievements in Spain suggested that anarchism had the capacity to achieve great societal reform.

Chapter 3 – Anarchism offers much-needed solutions to social problems, such as those plaguing the US criminal justice system.

Although anarchists’ ultimate objective is to create a society without hierarchies, the various solutions inspired by anarchist theories may also help address issues within the current social structure.

Prison reform is one area where anarchism might be beneficial.

For their political engagement, several of the founding anarchist intellectuals served time in prison. Kropotkin, for example, was imprisoned several times and learnt a lot about the detrimental impacts of the current criminal system in the process.

For example, it was Kropotkin who coined the phrase “universities of crime” to describe jails. Many minor offenders learn how to carry out their crimes from their cellmates while inside. 

This pattern leads to greater crime and jail after release.

Later American criminal reformers were influenced by Kropotkin’s views. Lots of them had been imprisoned as resistance movement rebels during World Wars I and II, and they’d noticed that many of the detainees hailed from low-income families. It indicated that poverty enhanced the risk of committing little offenses. Sending these marginalized people to the “university of crime” creates a vicious cycle of poverty, petty criminality, incarceration, greater crime, reincarceration, and so on.

Penal reformers who identified this tendency were essential in the US criminal justice system’s gradual humanization. They encouraged the formation of the probation service, for example, where probation officials oversee, counsel, and assist prisoners to get back on track after leaving the prison, decreasing the reincarceration.

Unfortunately, much of this progress has since been reversed. In the year 2000, for example, there were as many as 2 million convicts in the United States. To this day, the country has the greatest jail population in the history of contemporary nation-states as compared to the total population.

Anarchism can once again be used to address contemporary challenges such as jail overpopulation caused by drug-related charges.

For example, in 1922, Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta observed that incarcerating drug addicts in order to discourage drug usage had the opposite effect: it raises drug addiction rates in society and encourages drug trafficking.

Is Malatesta’s idea correct? Both drug use and drug sales should be decriminalized. It would not only reduce the jail population, but it would also remove the gang culture from the drug business, lowering costs and addiction rates, as drugs are tempting in part because they are illegal.

Decriminalization measures have been enacted in both Zurich and Amsterdam, and both have verified Malatesta’s premise.

Chapter 4 – Anarchism has allowed for little revolutions, both quiet and loud.

There is little question that anarchists have failed to achieve significant social change through revolution. However, this does not imply that anarchists’ political efforts have been in vain.

Anarchist action, on the other hand, has enabled many parts of our existence that we take for granted.

Consider, for instance, the way we clothe. We frequently forget that what we wore was confined by class or gender only fifty years ago. Anarchists were able to contribute to a large relaxation of what various individuals were required to dress by exercising radical nonconformity and rejecting fashion during the twentieth century by practicing radical nonconformity and rejecting fashion.

When it comes to the women’s liberation movement, the same may be said. Emma Goldman, one of the most important feminist theorists in the anarchist movement, wrote The Tragedy of Women’s Emancipation, an influential polemic against male authority that was originally published in 1906.

She discusses why suffrage is insufficient for women’s freedom in its pages. She stated that women also needed to fight for the freedom to choose whether or not to have children, or to participate in sexual interactions at all, decades before mainstream feminists would struggle on the same themes.

Aside from her feminist inspirations, Goldman was an early proponent – and practitioner – of free love, which was fundamental to how she envisioned sexual interactions in a possible anarchist society.

Goldman and other anarchists were among the first to advocate for free unions as an alternative to state or church-sanctioned marriage. By the end of the twentieth century, their revolutionary practice of free love had become the standard, thanks to advances in contraception.

These subtle revolutions have unquestionably changed our lives. However, not all anarchist-led little revolutions have been so quiet.

Anarchists, for example, have been able to take their struggle online and coordinate activities with other groups all over the world since the internet’s debut.

Anarchists and other anticapitalists conclusively demonstrated against the “Multilateral Agreement on Investment,” a treaty drafted by the OECD and big business that would have allowed companies to sue countries that restricted their profit-making operations, in 1999.

The draft pact was obtained and leaked by internet activists, who then organized enormous demonstrations. Treaty negotiators convened in Seattle in November 1999, only to be welcomed by tens of thousands of demonstrators who caused the discussions to fail.

Chapter 5 – With the future of our planet in jeopardy, only anarchist ideals can assist mankind to overcome its ecological issues.

Climate change and limiting resources have posed increasing problems to humanity as the twenty-first century has advanced. Capitalism, on the other hand, has shown incapable of overcoming these issues; it is a system dependent on continual, unlimited development, ever-increasing consumption, and growing markets by its very nature.

However, with capitalism showing no signs of slowing down, anarchists and their green friends have concluded that we must take control of our own destiny. If capitalism is unable to resolve the ecological challenges it has caused, we must take action and alter our lifestyles appropriately.

Peter Harper, a renowned proponent of environmental politics and sustainability, distinguishes between two types of green lifestyles that have emerged in recent decades: light greens and deep greens.

Light greens are concerned with investing in pricey green technology such as electric automobiles, solar panels, and organic food because they have the financial means to afford an alternative, customized lifestyle. Deep greens, on the other hand, encourage public transportation and cycling, indigenous and domestic food programs, and alternative currency schemes, with less focus on money and more on collectivism.

Harper claims that individuals who live a deep green lifestyle based on anarchist collectivist ideas mixed with protecting the environment would be best prepared to deal with the numerous looming ecological calamities.

But that’s not all. In the fight against environmental collapse, anarchist principles are significant.

Take, for example, localized, urban farming. We return to Kropotkin’s timeless views, which highlighted the potential challenges of finite resources and the need to support small-scale, local food production over cheap, worldwide food supply networks a century ago.

Kropotkin proposed that an island like Great Britain could grow all of its own food, which was thought ludicrous at the time.

However, like many other forerunners, his views have been vindicated — UN figures show that 90 percent of veggies are produced and consumed locally in Chinese cities, for example.

Kropotkin’s views, like those of many other anarchists we’ve examined, are crucial for conceptualizing how future human civilizations may work as collectivized, egalitarian units – and how our world can withstand looming ecological disasters.

Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction by Colin Ward Book Review

Anarchism dates back to the nineteenth century and is based on the political ideology of opposing hierarchies in all forms, including those of the state, religious institutions, and patriarchal societal standards. While significant anarchist revolutionary success has been restricted to the 1930s, anarchist philosophy has resulted in a slew of little successes, such as the contemporary parole system, marriage-free partnerships, and women’s reproductive rights, to mention a few. While an anarchist revolution does not appear to be on the horizon, challenges such as growing climate change will push civilizations to develop, bringing anarchist principles to the fore.

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