Question 2

One peculiar aspect that the film covers quite well is the wide range of political philosophies and practices encompassed by the term “anarchism.” From organic homestead ranchers to peaceful political protesters to academic theoreticians to isolated Thoreau-style survivalists to worker-owned factories, “American” anarchism has often established itself in contradictory ways. What is it about anarchism that lends itself to such varied interpretation? How can it contain individualists, egoists, isolationists and libertarians alongside communists, socialists, labor leaders, and advocates of direct action against the state? Is anarchism a left-wing or right-wing philosophy (or is it, as some theorists claim, “anti-political” or even “post-political”)? Do you think that the diversity within anarchist thought and practice is a strength or a weakness for a political program?


12 responses to “Question 2

  1. What unites a labor leader and an individualist is the perception that oppressive forces are in a position of power and that that’s not right. The difference lies in how one views humankind, either benevolently or with hostility and distrust. The way I understand anarchism, I would place it in the left-wing category. An important point that the documentary makes is that the term ‘anarchism’ has a negative ring to it unless you consider yourself an anarchist and are then probably one of the nicest people on the planet, very peace-loving, seeking justice for everyone. The discourse about anarchism has been dominated by ideas of violence, recklessness and anti-social behavior, which, I suspect, don’t apply to anarchism as it is laid out by anarchists themselves. I say ‘suspect’ since I haven’t read any anarchist philosophy yet (but am looking forward to it very much.) I am pretty sure of one thing, though, and that is that the reason why anarchism is perceived negatively by most people has something to do with the fact that the history of the labor movement in the USA has been suppressed – the connection is that powerful people have had and still have an interest in it being this way.

  2. To my mind, this diversity of interpretations of anarchism originates from the fact that many people confuse anarchy with liberty. All different kinds of people have been trying to find a place where they can fight for freedom. However, freedom can be achieved (or not) in many fields and everyone defines freedom differently for him-/herself. Some strive for freedom from authority and/or the right of civil disobedience, such as Henry David Thoreau (e.g. in his famous essay Civil Disobedience), Gandhi, Percy Shelley (in his political poem The Mask of Anarchy, written in 1819 and published in 1832, which was taken up by Thoreau and Gandhi, and which also influenced American social activists such as Howard Zinn), or even the GDR people). However, only some of them consider themselves anarchists anyway, whereas others again confuse anarchy (absence of a state) with anomie, the lack of social norms and derangement of order, which is what they (e.g. the Anarchistic Pogo Party of Germany, a satirical joke party whose members, most of them punks, have used the ‘political’ context for rioting; there is also an American offshoot of this party) define as ‘freedom’. These and other different groups might all be united by a strong sense of injustice and the strong desire of personal, social, and/or political freedom, but they differ as much as in any way possible in their perceptions of how an ‘ideal society’ should look like – if ever there is such a thing as ‘ideal society’.
    That’s what I think is, on the one hand, a great strength of this diversity but at the same time their major weakness. It is an advantage because in this way a political program – which it is to my mind because demanding the absence of a state as a ruling system does not automatically have to involve demanding the absence of any policy as such – can attract as many followers as possible. On the other hand, however, if you are not able to reach a broad consent among your own circle of supporters, how can you defend or even enforce your claims successfully?

  3. [Matthias Seier from the Google Forum]

    Well, on a very basic level, anarchist thought pretty much has to be anti-political. Actually, I think that post-political is the more apt term for anarchism as it strives to lose the connections to other political ideologies of the past. From an objective point of view, anarchism could therefore be neither left-winged nor right-winged. Theoretically, it should be rather unbiased. In practice though, things get mixed up: we have right-winged, anarcho-capitalist people (like e.g. Ayn Rand) with their preachings against collectivism whereas the vast majority of left-winged anarchist groups would probably swear that collectivism is one of the best methods to achieve a more anarchist society.

    (Another aspect which came to my mind is that I really cannot see any kind of right-winged anarchist thinkers or movements in Europe. Activities like homesteading or thoughts like extreme individualism/anarcho-capitalism sound pretty “American” to me even though this may sound weird (it probably does). Yet, I always and immediately think of anarchism as a left-wing philosophy, maybe because anarchism in Europe was always propagated by left-winged groups – whether it may in the Spanish Civil War, in post-WWI-Munich 1918, in the late 1960s with its student revolts and street guerilla groups, or in the times of Punk’s DIY ethic. To cut a long story short – I don’t know of any right-winged anarchist thought in Europe (until now). Until I’ve heard about people like Ayn Rand or Alan Greenspan a few years ago, the thought that conservatism and anarchist ideas might go somewhat hand in hand, sounded completely foreign to me.)

  4. When you regard anarchism as an ideal which is founded upon the complete absence of any poltical leader, it is hard to image that there can be a complete homogenity between followers of the anarchist movement. This is the biggest advantage of anarchism itself and at the same time its biggest enemy: there is complete anarchy inside anarchism itself. As every individual defines the term for him- / herself, it is hard to find the common determinator and could result in conflicts which long to find the TRUE anarchist. So for anarchism to really function one could argue that there would have to be a more or less widely accepted idea of what anarchism is and what it is not. This however directly contradicts what many anarchists believe anarchism to be about: freedom from political oppression, taking responsibilty for one’s one life etc. Some anarchists however think this can only be achieved by overthrowing the government in a revolutionary way. Others however refuse to acknowledge that there even is something which can be called “government” because they did not vote for it etc. This should make clear that it is very hard to judge if political anarchism could even function. In my opinion there are too many contradictions and the freedom to interpret these ideals on a personal level makes anarchism dangerous to itself (“I am the one true anarchist and I reject any political ideals except the one which I follow”). Because of this, anarchism can really be anything: left-wing, right-wing, radical, conservative etc. I guess this is what anarchism is about?

  5. I would like to elaborate on the ideas already mentioned in the Facebook group. I think that anarchism is for a major part about freedom and equality. This means that anarchism has the potential to attract everyone no matter what their political or philosophical values are. Also anarchism does always become interesting when freedom and equality are threatened. If authorities disadvantage a group of people, say the ones that earn little money, this group has one shared problem and yet the people within this group are very different. So while the advantage of anarchism is that it can attract various different people, the disadvantage is as well that it attracts various different people. The problem is, that everyone has a personal interest in and a personal view on anarchism. It is therfore rather difficult to find common ground. The great problem of anarchism is that it cannot solve this problem by delivering a defintion of anarchy that everyone has to except, since anarchism does only work if the diversity of people and therefore their freedom is respected. This is why I see only a little chance in successfully using anarchism within a society. Society as we know it would have to be overcome and replaced. Maybe it would be easier to revise the society or political system that we live in and achieve a community in which freedom and equality are bigger but not limitless.

  6. I think that the varied interpretations of anarchism derive from the problem of defining the term and the fact that there is not THE anarchist. Different political philosophies define the concept of anarchism differently or rather use aspects and ideas that can be interpreted as being anarchistic. Since anarchy as a philosophical concept is about rather broad ideas such as freedom, self-determination and anti-authoritarianism, it is not surprising that anarchism contains so many different political philosophies. My personal perception of anarchism has always been that it is a rather left-wing philosophy, because I also immediately think of the student revolts of the 1960s or punk music. I think that the different interpretations of anarchism and the diversity within anarchist thought present a weakness or even a risk for anarchism as a political program because it shows that anarchism as such is not really a fixed concept but rather a (vague) idea and I ask myself, whether it can be really called a “political program”.

  7. I agree that the concept of anarchism itself opposes a classification as right or left, because it dismisses the state as a system and therefore the political categorizations which go with it. As the main idea is to leave the individual to itself without state interference, it may connect to any ideology which aims at the absence of the state. Looking at political world views this includes every ideology which is extremist in any way – either on the far left or the far right – as everything in between evolves around the idea of an existing state.
    I have mixed feelings on this being a strength or a weakness. At first I would feel that diversity as such is a very positive thing. Imagining a lot of different people with different or even opposing ideas though, brings up the central idea or question of the early (pre-american) political philosophers.
    A place where everyone can do as he or she likes and is responsible for his own good only is very appealing. Anyway, it will not be possible to avoid contact with others, and there comes the trouble. Do we believe in a “noble” human or not? If we do, anarchism will totally work out as everyone would “have it in them” to leave “the other” be. If we do not believe in the “noble” human, this would be the weakness of the idea, as the consequence would be that people need a system to regulate peaceful coexistence: A state.

  8. I totally agree with Elisa – the problem is, that anarchism is not a fixed concept or ideology. Some people who call themselves anarchists want to abolish all kinds of power-structions and all institutions that control people in the society, others just want to abolish or change the current state system.
    In my opinion anarchy is neither anti-political nor post-political for there are so many different ideas that merge in the term anarchy. This is the first reason why so many people are attracted to anarchy – and they all contribute to new different understandings of this ideology. Second, it is not bound to left or right wing politics and therefore interesting for all people from various political and cultural values, who disagree with state-control or the current hierarchies.
    However, to me, anarchism is more “left-wing“ because with the abolition of hierarchies all people are finally equal and have the same rights and freedom. Furthermore, as Elisa already said, for me it is as well strongly connected to the student-revolts and the Flower-Power movement.
    In my opinion anarchism is anti-authorial and anti-hierarchical. Self-government and autonomy of institutions are the main terms. Politics are always strongly related to hierarchical structures, and these hierarchical structures have to be abolished. Anarchism is a way of freedom, in which people themselves can decide to which self- governed institutions they want to belong.
    The diversity definitely is a strength for it is the only way that can guarantee that the ideas of all people are considered.

  9. As for Elisa and Chiara, for me anarchism is highly connected to left-wing politics (one of the best examples being the punk movement). When I think about anarchism I think about equality – that really all people are equal, no matter where they were born or raised, whether they are considered poor or rich or are put into gender categories such as male or female etc. The idea to live without states and to be self-governing incorporates exactly this. Living without states (and therefore living without borders) makes people more equal and allows them to gain freedom without being told what to do by any government. Talking about equality then again means to unite people whether they are isolationists, individualists, egoists or socialists etc. – I guess it is an appealing concept for everyone who wants to live in “liberty unrestricted by man-made law” (part of the definition for anarchism we can find in Goldman) and therefore can be understood and interpreted in varied ways by different people.

  10. First of all, I want to give a chronological view on the events because the development of American Anarchism can be routed in the American history. After the United States got their freedom from their British oppressors, a democratic state was formed with two parties (democrats and republicans). In this new system the democrats were supported by the leftists and labor movement. Contrary, the republicans have their focus on entrepreneurs and wealthy groups of the country. It seems that the American system worked very well for a long period of time, but during the preparation of WW II the political system got shaken really hard. The freedom of speech and opinion was cut down by the government and people with a different opinion were pushed out of the system. Furthermore, I would say that in my opinion the anarchist movement derived out of the unhappiness of the citizens towards the current political situation. After the war political groups like communist and anarchist were illustrated in a negative way, like the documentary also showed, where famous anarchists were pursued, under the pretence of the Cold War. Moreover, the fact that so many people can be anarchists leads to the conclusion that anarchism can not only be seen as a left or a right wing philosophy but maybe both. But the most important message I gather from the documentary is that the anarchism movement really is pictured in a negative way, because of the fact that at the beginning there was shown a lot of violence and brutality.

  11. I would also agree with some of my fellowstudents here who claimed that anarchism could be rather sorted in to the left-wing politics, as it mainly is about freedom of the individual, which is connected to the thought of equality, as there needs to be the opportunity to unfold one’s personal needs and livestyles. Some speakers in the film state quite clearly that anarchism is not about being against anything, but being against oppression. Of course, anarchists implement their demand for freedom in a way that appears to be very radical, as they are fighting against a very powerful system: the government.
    Furthermore, there can not be any society without any rules at all, so I do not think that anarchy can be completely anti-political.

  12. [loversaskesis from the Google Forum]

    The varied interpretation of anarchism is what makes anarchism what it is. Anarchism contains an “open ended” definition which always leaves room for the Egoists, Liberation and communists alike. The diversity of the Anarchists population is a strength as a political program because of its guarantee of happiness f or the minority which is the mass population of the American society. The film explains that this great political movement has no chance of becoming a revolution in society because of the many restrictions that the American government imposes for change but there is still hope for minority. The film explains that the personal governmental preferences of individuals is not the major aim but to work together without a hierarchy while the individual’s happiness is controlled by that individual and still upholding ethical principles. This meaning may sound perfect but even Anarchists have their doubts against there own brethren and exclaim that they are contradictory to the anarchist belief. The film interviews an anarchist that discusses some contradictions to the definition by explaining that one cannot be an anarchist if an individual is patriotic and defies the same government where his loyalty lies. This statement is not a contradiction to Anarchism because the meaning of patriotism does not include the love of the countries government. Therefore, before contradictions or suggestions of Anarchism can be assumed we must first understand the arguments that are being made. Can Anarchism be suggested as a right or left wing philosophy? It is possible that it can be seen as a left wing party since it celebrates the lack of hierarchy and praises equality for those with disadvantages. For instance the film displays the workers collaborating to make a difference against the hierarchy of the working class. This particular section defends this idea because the people at a disadvantage fighting for a change are the workers against the hierarchy of their bosses. Regardless of the location of the wing Anarchism still is a strong political program because of the large number of potential supporters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s