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The word anarchy unsettles most people in the Western world; it suggests disorder, violence, uncertainty. We have good reason for fearing those conditions, because we have been living with them for a long time, not in anarchist societies (there have never been any) but in exactly those societies most fearful of anarchy–the powerful nation-states of modern times.

At no time in human history has there been such social chaos. Fifty million dead in the Second World War. More than a million dead in Korea, a million in Vietnam, half a million in Indonesia, hundreds of thousands dead in Nigeria, and in Mozambique. A hundred violent political struggles all over the world in twenty years following the second war to end all wars. Millions starving, or in prisons, or in mental institutions. Inner turmoil symbolized by huge armies, stores of nerve gas, and stockpiles of hydrogen bombs. Wherever men, women and children are even a bit conscious of the world outside their local borders, they have been living with the ultimate uncertainty: whether or not the human race itself will survive into the next generation.

It is these conditions that the anarchists have wanted to end: to bring a kind of order to the world for the first time. We have never listened to them carefully, except through the hearing aids supplied by the guardians of disorder–the national government leaders, whether capitalist or socialist.

The order desired by anarchists is different from the order (“Ordnung,” the Germans called it: “law and order,” say the American politicians) of national governments. They want a voluntary forming of human relations, arising out of the needs of people. Such an order comes from within, and so is natural. People flow into easy arrangements, rather than being pushed and forced. It is like the form given by the artist, a form congenial, often pleasing, sometimes beautiful. It has the grace of a voluntary, confident act. Thus there is nothing surprising in Herbert Read, poet and philosopher of art, being an anarchist.

Read came to philosophical anarchism out of his special set of experiences: growing up in Yorkshire as the son of an English farmer…

The order of politics, as we have known it in the world, is an order imposed on society, neither desired by most people, nor directed to their needs. It is therefore chaotic and destructive. Politics grates on our sensibilities. It violates the elementary requirements of aesthetics–it is devoid of beauty. It is coercive, as if sound were forced into our ears at a decibel level such as to make us scream, and those responsible call this music. The “order” of modern life is a cacophony which has made us almost deaf to the gentler sounds of the universe.

It is fitting that in modern times, around the time of the French and American Revolutions, exactly when man [sic] became most proud of his [sic] achievements, the ideas of anarchism arose to challenge that pride. Western civilization has never been modest in describing its qualities as an enormous advance in human history: the larger unity of national states replacing tribe and manor; parliamentary government replacing the divine right of kings; steam and electricity substituting for manual labor; education and science dispelling ignorance and superstition; due process of law canceling arbitrary justice. Anarchism arose in the most splendid days of Western “civilization” because the promises of that civilization were almost immediately broken.

Nationalism, promising freedom from outside tyranny, and security from internal disorder, vastly magnified both the stimulus and the possibility for worldwide empires over subjected people, and bloody conflicts among such empires: imperialism and war were intensified to the edge of global suicide exactly in the period of the national state. Parliamentary government, promising popular participation in important decisions, became a façade (differently constructed in one-party and two-party states) for rule by elites of wealth and power in the midst of almost-frenzied scurrying to polls and plebiscites. Mass production did not end poverty and exploitation; indeed it made the persistence of want more unpardonable. The production and distribution of goods became more rational technically, more irrational morally. Education and literacy did not end the deception of the many by the few; they enabled deception to be replaced by self-deception, mystification to be internalized, and social control to be even more effective than ever before, because now it had a large measure of self-control. Due process did not bring justice: it replaced the arbitrary, identifiable dispenser of injustice with the unidentifiable and impersonal. The “rule of law,” replacing the “rule of men,” was just a change in rulers.

In the midst of the American Revolution, Tom Paine, while calling for the establishment of an independent American government, had no illusions about even a new revolutionary government when he wrote, in Common Sense, “Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil.”

Anarchists almost immediately recognized that the fall of kings and the rise of committees, assemblies, parliaments, did not bring democracy; that revolution had the potential for liberation, but also for another form of despotism. Thus, Jacques Roux, a country priest in the French Revolution concerned with the lives of the peasants in his district, and then with the workingmen in the Gravilliers quarter of Paris, spoke in 1972 against the `senatorial despotism,” saying it was “as terrible as the scepter of kings” because it chains the people without their knowing it and brutalizes and subjugates them by laws they themselves are supposed to have made. In Peter Weiss’s play, Marat-Sade, Roux, straitjacketed, breaks through the censorship of the play within the play and cries out:

Who controls the market
who locks up the granaries
who got the loot from the palaces
who sits tight on the estates
that were going to be divided between the poor

before he is quieted.

A friend of Roux, Jean Varlet, in an early anarchist manifesto of the French Revolution called Explosion wrote

“What a social monstrosity, what a masterpiece of Machiavellianism, this revolutionary government is in fact. For any reasoning being, Government and Revolution are incompatible, at least unless the people wishes to constitute organs of power in permanent insurrection against themselves, which is too absurd to believe.”

But it is exactly that which is “too absurd to believe” which the anarchists believe, because only an “absurd” perspective is revolutionary enough to see through the limits of revolution itself. Herbert Read, in a book with an appropriately absurd title, To Hell with Culture (he was seventy: this was 1963, five years before his death), wrote:

“What has been worth while in human history–the great achievements of physics and astronomy, of geographical discovery and of human healing, of philosophy and of art– has been the work of extremists–of those who believed in the absurd and dared the impossible…”

The Russian Revolution promised even more–to eliminate that injustice carried into modern times by the American and French Revolutions. Anarchist criticism of that Revolution was summed up by Emma Goldman (My Further Disillusionment in Russia) as follows:

“It is at once the great failure and the great tragedy of the Russian Revolution that it attempted…to change only institutions and conditions while ignoring entirely the human and social values involved in the Revolution… No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the means used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the purposes to be achieved. Revolution is the negation of the existing, a violent protest against man’s inhumanity to man [sic] with all of the thousand and one slaveries it involves. It is the destroyer of dominant values upon which a complex system of injustice, oppression, and wrong has been built up by ignorance and brutality. It is the herald of new values, ushering in a transformation of the basic relations of man to man, and of man [sic] to society.”

The institution of capitalism, anarchists believe, is destructive, irrational, inhumane. It feeds ravenously on the immense resources of the earth, and then churns out (this is its achievement–it is an immense stupid churn) huge quantities of products. Those products have only an accidental relationship to what is most needed by people, because the organizers and distributers of goods care not about human need; they are great business enterprises, motivated by profit. Therefore, bombs, guns, office buildings, and deodorants take priority over food, homes, and recreation areas. Is there anything closer to “anarchy” (in the common use of the word, meaning confusion) than the incredibly wild and wasteful economic system in America?

Anarchists believe the riches of the world belong equally to all, and should be distributed according to need, not through the intricate inhuman system of money and contracts which have so far channeled most of the riches into a small group of wealthy people, and into a few countries. (The United States [in the 1970s] with six percent of the population, owns, produces, and consumes fifty percent of the world production.) They would agree with the Story Teller in Bertholt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, in the final words of the play:

Take note what men of old concluded:
That what there is shall go to those who are good for it
Thus: the children to the motherly, that they prosper
The carts to good drivers, that they are well driven
And the valley to the waterers, that it bring forth fruit.

It was on this principle that Gerard Winstanley, leader of the Diggers in seventeenth century England, ignored the law of private ownership and led his followers to plant grain on unused land. Winstanly wrote about his hope for the future:

“When this universal law of equity rises up in every man and woman, then none shall lay claim to any creature and say, This is mine, and that is yours. This is my work, that is yours. But everyone shall put to their hands to till the earth and bring up cattle, and the blessing of earth shall be common to all: when a man [sic] hath need for any corn or cattle, take from the next storehouse he [sic] meets with. There shall be no buying or selling, no fairs or markets, but the whole earth shall be a common treasury for every man, [sic] for earth is the lord’s…”

Our problem is to make use of the magnificent technology of out time, for human needs, without being victimized by a bureaucratic mechanism. The Soviet Union did show that national economic planning for common goals, replacing the profit-driven chaos of capitalist production, could produce remarkable results. It failed, however, to do what Herbert Read and other recent anarchists have suggested: to do away with the bureaucracy of large-scale industry, characteristic of both capitalism and socialism, and the consequent unhappiness of the workers who do not feel at ease with their work, with the products, with their fellow workers, with nature, with themselves. The problem could be solved, Read has suggested, by workers’ control of their own jobs, without sacrificing the benefits of planning and coordination for the larger social good.

“Property is theft,” Proudhon wrote in the mid-nineteenth century (he was the first to call himself an anarchist). Whether the resources of the earth and the energies of men are controlled by capitalist corporations or bureaucracies calling themselves “socialist,” a great theft of men’s life-work has occurred, as a kind of original sin which has led in human history to all sorts of trouble: exploitation, war, the establishment of colonies, the subjugation of women, attacks on property called “crime,” and the cruel system of punishment which all “civilized societies” have erected, known as “justice.”

Both the capitalist and the socialist bureaucracies of our time fail, anarchists say, on their greatest promise: to bring democracy. The essence of democracy is that people should control their own lives, by ones or twos or hundreds, depending on whether the decision being made affects one or two or a hundred. Instead, our lives are directed by a political-military-industrial complex in the United States, and a party hierarchy in the Soviet Union. In both situations, there is the pretense of popular participation, by an elaborate scheme of voting for the representatives who do not have real power (the difference between a one-party state and a two-party state being no more than one party–and that a smudged carbon copy of the other.) The vote in modern societies is the currency of politics as money is the currency of economics: both mystify what is really taking place–control of the many by the few.

Anarchists believe the phrase “law and order” is one of the great deceptions of our age…

What a waste of the evolutionary process! It took billions of years to create human beings who could, if they chose, form the materials of the earth and themselves into arrangements congenial to man, woman, and the universe. Can we still choose to do so?

It seems that revolutionary changes are needed–in the sense of profound transformations of our work processes, our decision-making arrangements, our sex and family relations, our thought and culture–toward a humane society. But this kind of revolution–changing our minds as well as our institutions–cannot be accomplished by the customary methods; neither military action to overthrow governments, as some tradition-bound radicals suggest; nor by that slow process of electoral reform, which traditional liberals urge on us. The state of the world today reflects the limitations of both these methods.

Anarchists have always been accused of a special addition to violence as a mode of revolutionary change…What makes anarchists unique among revolutionaries, however, is that most of them see revolution as a cultural, ideological, creative process, in which violence would be as incidental as the outcries of a mother and baby in childbirth. It might be unavoidable–given the natural resistance to change–but something to be kept to a minimum while more important things happen.

Alexander Berkman…

….

Anarchism seeks that blend of order and spontaneity in our lives which gives us harmony with ourselves, with others, with nature. It understands the need to change our political and economic arrangements to free ourselves, for the enjoyment of life. And it knows that the change must begin now, in those everyday human relations over which we have the most control. Anarchism knows the need for sober thinking, but also for that action which classifies otherwise academic and abstract thought.

Herbert Read, in Chains of Freedom, writes that we need a “Black Market in culture, a determination to avoid the bankrupt academic institutions, the fixed valued and standardized products of current art and literature; not to trade our spiritual goods through the recognized channels of Church, or State, or Press; rather to pass them `under the counter.'” If so, one of the first items to be passed under the counter must surely be the literature that speaks, counter to all the falsifications, about the ideas and imaginings of anarchism.

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