Is Anarchism Utopian?

Collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin opposed...
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It’s amusing when Anarchists are accused of being too ideological or outright Utopian, it is especially so when such an accusation comes from liberals or state socialists (i.e. mainstream Marxists). Why is it amusing? Because of all political perspectives, Anarchism (i.e. Libertarian Socialism) is the only one whose theories have not been refuted by history itself!

This “Utopian” accusation generally comes from two general sources. First there are those who support the current Capitalist system as is (in the 1st world countries of course) and only propose mild changes, such as more or less regulation of the economy. These would generally be the Social Democrats (or “Liberals” in US politics) or Conservatives in most political systems.

They would argue from the perspective that the Capitalist/State combination is not only “the way things are” but also the only way things can be. They would then raise such arguments as the common appeal to human nature, that Capitalism is the “end of history” – in that its superiority has been proven from an societal evolutionary perspective, that the state is necessary to ensure control from the people (i.e. representative democracy), that Capitalism provides the best benefit for all etc.

But one has to ask: who is really the ideologue here? Who is assuming an expertise of human nature in order to have some kind of unshakable base? Who is ignoring the historical forms of human societies (hint: communal) and the considerable amount of coercion required by the state in order to jump-start Capitalism? Who is absolutely oblivious the true role of the state and the real impotence of elections and government to change life for the better through normal channels, even when there is considerable popular request for social reform?

Worst of all, it’s the more than ironic result of this superior system, Capitalism, that the vast majority of people live in worse situations than they lived in pre-capitalist societies. One only has to look at the situation in the lost continent, Africa, and compare it with the pre-capitalist tribal societies, which while not great by any measure of the word, were never as bad as today. One only has to look at the current environmental obliteration, the sheer scale of unending conflict and even the relative worsening conditions of people in all nations to ask: Who is really the ideologue here?

The other great accuser of utopianism is none other than the mainstream Marxist movements of Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism and the like. The younger (who somehow think itself more mature) and patronizing cousin of Anarchism.

As revolutionary anti-capitalist movements, they at least share some of the correct critical perspective on the current Capitalist system but they lose the ball when they turn around and accuse libertarian socialists of being naive for not promoting centralization, hierarchy structures and movements from above, that is, leadership from a minority of enlightened few.

The saddest thing is not that they have to misrepresent the arguments of Anarchism in order to attack their favorite straw-men (“Anarchists will not defend the revolution” being a crowd favorite), nor that they ignore what some of their own have written that basically parrots the libertarian perspective, but that they dare claim historical proof, when empirical facts have shown that their theories put in practice failed in exactly the manner that Anarchists had predicted!

Is the federalist libertarian perspective Utopian, or is the centralized authoritarian one when it fails both in theory (power corrupts, requires inhuman knowledge, leads to bureaucracy etc) and in practice? Is a bottom-up democratic society Utopian or the top-down hierarchical one who expects leaders to be practically flawless and that “real power” will somehow still remain at the hands of the people? Is the “similar means as the ends” anarchist position Utopian or is the Leninist “ends justify the means” which expects a revolution where people just passively followed orders from the enlightened few can somehow lead to a society or politically active and empowered individuals?

In the end, who is the ideologue? The one who looks at how humans currently and historically acted and interacted and makes a revolutionary theory to describe and lead to something better, or one who makes a theory which proves to be a failure in practice and then refuse to discard it? Oh, the authoritarian socialists will say that “Of course we will learn from the mistakes our historical leaders made, we of course don’t want to repeat them. Terrible tragedy” and all that, but that is no more different than the Liberals who after every Capitalist crisis declared that they will learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure a future with no Crises and depressions. And when the next disaster comes, they are always oh so surprised.

This convinces few for it’s the theory’s core of hierarchy and authority that is flawed and by refusing to review that they only doom themselves to similar results and suffering of scale.

And finally, there’s also the right-“libertarian”, pro-capitalist, free market “anarchist” camp. But those don’t generally accuse others of utopianism for they’ve probably learned that those living in glass houses don’t throw ideological stone around.

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