"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Friend or Foe?
I frequently receive a lot of e-mails to my web site Anarchism.net. Most of them are sent by anarchists with socialist preferences basically claiming I am the most evil man alive, and that I have 'no idea' what anarchism really is. I always respond with a standardized 'why libertarianism is anarchism' e-mail, and usually I never hear from them again.
It is obvious these people see me as their greatest enemy, being libertarian and pro-capitalism. But wouldn't the rational approach be to appreciate any time and effort put to forwarding anarchist ideas? The anarchist movement is divided into many different factions that usually tend to wage war upon each other: communist anarchists against socialist anarchists against syndicalist anarchists against Christian anarchists against environmentalist anarchists against free-market, libertarian, and voluntaryist anarchists. This flora of different anarchisms need not be a bad thing, but since it seems there is more energy and effort used in fighting each other than the common enemy (the State), we are only creating problems for ourselves.
Of course, the two main groups of anarchist ideologies ' individualist and collectivist ' seem incompatible. Anarchists see the free society in very different ways and may even have different methods or preferences in how to abolish the state. But, most importantly, all anarchists agree on abolishing the state.
The main difference is how one sees the anarchist society. But while discussing the anarchist society, anarchists often make the same mistake as statists: making up a plan for how an anarchist society would be like, and aim to accomplish this society. But for an anarchist, this must be a strange way of thinking: The very reason one is an anarchist is not wanting anyone to force a structure on society. So why do so many anarchists make such statist-like plans in their heads, which are then preached to anybody willing to listen? I do not know; all I know is that it is in essence not very anarchist.
Yes, this plan for society includes abolishing the state, so it must be anarchist by definition. But since these social engineering anarchists 'know' what society would look like, or how a free society should (or must) be structured, they are really using both the statist vocabulary and, in reality, aim for statist methods. If the post-state society is structured in a specific way, it means that we are not creating a free society but a new kind of state. I agree in that creating an image of what could be in anarchy may have pedagogical benefits in discussing with statists, but the image is nothing but a guess.
Actually, how we may believe a free society would be spontaneously structured is not and cannot be true; we can only guess what people would choose. This is the beauty of being anarchist: We leave to everybody to form their own life and their own society the way they prefer and would like it. So there is a place in anarchist society for everybody: statist or non-statist, collectivist or individualist, property owner or non-property socialist, money users or non-money, and so on.
There is a common goal for all anarchists: abolishing all coercive structures. It is the only way of reaching anarchy. Of course, collectivism-influenced anarchists reckon capitalism, the market, money and such things as technology or contracts are 'coercive structures' and thus need to be abolished too. Libertarian or free-market anarchists say only direct force can be coercive, since capitalism, money, etc. are all the results of people's voluntary actions.
To me, it does not really matter what we as anarchists identify as coercive structures in this oppressive society. The collectivist, communist, no-property anarchists may identify whatever they wish as coercive structures. The main point is that all anarchists identify the state as the number one enemy. This is the common goal which makes us anarchists and which should allow us to work together.
I believe that abolishing the state would create a free society, and then people would voluntarily choose whatever structure they would like in their lives. An anarchist society would be structured, but it would have a multitude of structures which all are the results of individual or collective voluntary action. There would be a number of small societies corresponding to the values of whoever lives there. How can we, as anarchists, say we wish to abolish such structures? We cannot.
The very foundation of anarchism is the belief in man having the full, sovereign right to self. Some identify this as only realizable in the higher value of a collective or society, some believe this is possible only while alone and that collective action is a threat to this right. But this does not really matter.
The obvious problem for the anarchist movement is the leftist claim that capitalism and property need to be abolished, otherwise there can be no freedom. Voluntaryist, free-market anarchists usually consider capitalism and the right to property as 'natural' rights which must be the foundation of any society. Thus, they both have a plan or blueprint for the foundation of an anarchist society, just like the statists do. There seems to be a conflict of ideas here, but I believe there is not. The main problem here is anarchists turning to dogmas instead of working on the revolution.
As a matter of fact, many leftist anarchists claim the state is the only reason there exists such things as property, since they believe property and money need a monopoly power in order to exist. And as a free-market anarchist, I believe it is not possible to abolish these things, since they will automatically arise when free people voluntarily choose to interact. So in reality, there is no conflict; if the leftist anarchists are right, property and money will automatically disappear; if free-market anarchists are right, people will automatically choose property and money.
Of course, if either side turns to the use of force to structure society the way they want it, we have a problem. (But on the other hand, they would not be real anarchists, would they?) If collectivist anarchists believe they should abolish the state and then abolish all property for everybody to 'liberate them,' they will have to turn to force. Abolishing the state means no one will have to use force in order to create a structure, since the abolishment of coercion in itself cannot be coercive. But abolishing other people's property sure includes force and coercion.
The problem here is of course that leftist anarchists usually do not identify any claims to property as just, and they believe they are totally correct in this even though other people may not agree. I agree in that most property is to some extent unjustly acquired, but stealing or destroying it does not make things better. As a matter of fact, in order to abolish property, all property owners need to voluntarily give up any claims to property. Otherwise, we are not abolishing property, but stealing it (that is, forcefully taking it from people) since they will take it back if we do not guard it. And if we do, it will be our property.
Leftist anarchists may claim property is in itself a theft from 'community,' but they cannot force people into not having the choice to produce wealth. Abolishing the state may very well mean all or most property as of today is abolished, but any wealth created in the post-state societies can be identified as property by whoever produced it. So there may be property even though all unjust, state-based property is abolished.
This is the problem we have in the anarchist movement ' can there be such a thing as property? And how do we handle this issue? This is a philosophical question, which I firmly believe we do not need to settle right now. I believe, as most or all anarchists seem to believe, that abolishing the state is number one on the anarchist wish list. What comes thereafter we cannot know, and whatever it is, it will need to be voluntary and thus anarchist.