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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11 thoughts on “Is Anarchism Utopian?

  1. I really, really love this post. You should submit this one to the next carnival, too. 😉

    Sorry though, I hadn't realized you had submitted one. Which is odd. Maybe they take a few days to go through the system or something? Sure didn't take long for the spam to appear though. 😉

    Posts like these are a perfect example of why sitting around worshipping Marx and Lenin and repeating their quotes does us little good. If theory is of any value, it has to come from us, not them.

    1. Glad you liked it. Worshipping any person is counter-productive in any case but the problem I have with Marxist-Lenninists especially is their patronizing "I know better" attitude, especially since you can easily punch holes in many of their theories.

  2. Ahhh… the old Marxist is anti-Anarchism chestnut.

    The whole problem here is the misunderstanding between terms. I have yet to be shown any ideological difference in aims of Marxism, Communism, Anarchism, Libertarian Socialism, whatever you want to call it. Maybe you could show me one? Their goals for the creation of a society free from exploitation and social hierarchy are completely identical.

    The only difference thus lies in their presented methods of achieving such aims. Marxists understand that the sudden jump from modern day Capitalism to a classless stateless society cannot exist without the intermediate socialist state. Let me remind you that this state would be a democratic bottom up system nothing such like the Soviet system. Once this so called dictatorship of the proletariat is established (Note – NOT dictatorship in the Stalin/Hitler sense, just in the sense of creating a workers state) then the state, from a Marxist view, becomes further and further unessential- and thus withers away, until a classless stateless society, that being the exact one which Anarchists envision, exists. Lenin went into this is great detail in his State and Revolution, which I see you have linked.

    It is obvious to me, and any other intelligent being, that the concentration of power is that led to the failure of previous Communist movements. That is something that one would prevent repeating by the implementing of specific systems – including; the promotion of genuine democracy, removal of censorship, creation of workers councils etc. etc.

    Being a self labelled Marxist I never distance myself from Anarchists, they are on my side after all, but I've yet to see a anarchist present a valid system to progress the existing bourgeoisie state Capitalism to a classless stateless society, bar of course the "smash the state!". With the present existing class differentials and social hierarchy, to remove the state in one big sweep would only create further social hierarchy between the haves and have-nots in the modern world.

    I also request evidence from you to back up the dubious statement- "[in modern] Capitalism, … the vast majority of people live in worse situations than they lived in pre-capitalist societies"

    Yet again @BlueLinchpin, I've yet to find anyone who worships Marx and or Lenin. What is the point in labouring issues that have previously been solved by theoreticians such as Marx?

    1. Being a self labelled Marxist I never distance myself from Anarchists, they are on my side after all, but I've yet to see a anarchist present a valid system to progress the existing bourgeoisie state Capitalism to a classless stateless society, bar of course the "smash the state!". With the present existing class differentials and social hierarchy, to remove the state in one big sweep would only create further social hierarchy between the haves and have-nots in the modern world.

      This is simply evidence that you have not bothered in checking what Anarchists themselves say about this but rather simply trusted Lenin's misrepresentations. Here: http://www.infoshop.org/faq/secH1.html#sech13

    2. I also request evidence from you to back up the dubious statement- "[in modern] Capitalism, … the vast majority of people live in worse situations than they lived in pre-capitalist societies"

      Compare tribal middle-African nations with modern African nations. Nowhere in the history of humanity did you ever have 5 million children _starving_ every year. Starving mind you, not being killed.

      You can also see older examples as well, such as the situation of the industrial class of Britain during the industrial revolution, where people would rather spill blood than go work in factories.

  3. I know what you are saying, I, and most Anarchists, are perfectly aware that both Anarchism and Marxism have the same end-goal. What we argue is the means one goes about it, as you say yourself.

    The problem in our case is

    1. That Marxist do not always advocate bottom-up socialism or transitory phase. While some do, such as Luxemburg, others do not, Such as Trotskyism and Maoism, which is why I've been talking about "Mainstream Marxism"

    2. That some Marxists advocate libertarian measures, to the point of approaching Anarchism, but in practise follow authoritarian measures. Such was the example of Lenin for example.

    So obviously we wouldn't follow what such regimes did but by doing so, we wouldn't be following the "Mainstream Marxism" I was arguing against.

  4. Unsurprisingly I agree with most of this. On the fraught "is Marxism authoritarian" hoo-hah I think it's usually best to put the emphasis on Leninism (and Trots etc.) because 1) it cannot be denied that there's a hell of a lot of them, probably a good majority of all self-identified Marxists, and 2) it cannot be denied that this is an authoritarian ideology, insofar as it gives respect to the Bolshevik party that crushed the Russian revolution. Of course, you do put the stress on Leninism etc., and Iowa clearly still read it as referring to 'Marxism' more generally.

    "I've yet to see a anarchist present a valid system to progress the existing bourgeoisie state Capitalism to a classless stateless society"
    Kropotkin's "conquest of bread" does a fairly good job of talking about post-revolutionary practicalities. I think it's clearly true that intermediate societies of some sort have to exist, and I'd go so far as to adopt the label 'dictatorship of the proletariat' in some cases, but that doesn't have to mean statehood, i.e. it doesn't have to mean a group of top-level administrators with a monopoly of violence. I guess the anarchist critique of state-socialism is similar to the Marxist critique of parliamentary reformism: you're not simply going there more gradually, you're going in the wrong direction and won't be able to turn round.

  5. Great blog post! Indeed, those who perform mental gymnastics to convince themselves that government and offensive coercion are helpful are indeed the ideologues. Those who do not agree with the anarchistic idea of self-direction and who think some big altruistic government will save them are utopian ideologues. And though many of its supporters deny it, a capitalist economy is a big government in my opinion.

  6. check out the book 'Living Without Domination: The Possibility of an Anarchist Utopia' by Sam Clark. its very good and related. available as a pdf on the torrent site http://www.kat.ph

  7. For the question if anarchism utopian? definitely No, but it is not the solution. To see anarchy as the solution or as utopia is a lack of comprehension of what anarchism is. It is a challenge once again to strike the root of problems and to create new and civil solutions. It is a challenge to improve current and proven alternatives building on those and moving further on theoretical alternatives.

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