A common misconception I often hear is that anarchists are contradictory in their anti-authoritarianism since they want to force everyone under a particular system, and are thus authoritarian in their own right. From my own experience, this is said not just by “anarcho”-capitalists who claim social anarchists want to force everyone under libertarian socialism but also from those who call themselves “anarchist without adjectives” and “panarchists” who insist that individuals who promote one particular school of anarchism (be it mutualism, collectivism, anarcho-communism, and so on) want to force the entire world under their system. Though it should be mentioned that “anarchism without adjectives” traditionally meant anarchists who were agnostic about which economic system to implement rather than today’s “anarchism without adjectives” which seems to be more of a call for pluralism among all anarchist economic systems, a point I will touch on shortly.
Anarchism as a philosophy stresses a holistic set of values, hence why anarchists promote anti-authoritarianism, direct democracy, and so on. The reason for this is because these values promote a plurality of values, as individuals are able to fully maximize their individual autonomy. However, all these values are derived from the preconditions of specific values, so unles you agree to be anti-authoritarian and maintain a system that’s based on anti-authorianism you will not have that plurality. The real issue is how we come to agree upon those values and enforce them without a hierarchical power structure. So if one holds an “anything goes” attitude towards new institutions and planning they will (ironically) not get a plurality of values, since some of the systems which may come out of this “anything goes” means of doing things will not meet the prerequisite for the plurality that the more “laissez faire” types claim to strive for. As an example, you could see a reemergence of capitalism or the governing state with specific systems. In a market anarchist society, individuals would have to concern themselves with the potential for capitalist property relations to re-emerge through the divorce of possession from occupancy and use to the point where the right-of-increase becomes prevalent and class society forms, whereas an anarcho-communist society would face the potential for governmental statism to re-emerge also through the divorce of possession from occupancy and use to the point where individuals and all property become entirely subordinated to “the commune”. Either way, individuals and the institutions they create within each system will have to subscribe to a certain amount of values and principles if they want to maintain a society where autonomy and equality are maximized. Some anarchist systems could smoothly coexist with each other as well. In a mutualist society, communes could easily become parts of the federation; in a communist society, gifting could be done on a reciprocal basis.
Most of all, every anarchist school initially promotes a plurality of institutions and systems. Where did Proudhon say he was going to get the federation to uproot communes? Where did Kropotkin say he was going to force societies to not be mutualist or collectivist? What anarchists who promote a particular school of anarchism claim is that a society ought to be run in this system if anarchist values of autonomy and equality are to be produced and remain as such. That was Proudhon’s argument against what he called “communism” and Kropotkin’s argument against what he saw as mutualism. These attributes are hardly unique to “anarchists without adjectives”. Anarchists of all schools never, ever say they want to force everyone under a particular system, they just claim that the specific system they advocate would result in something more desirable. For example, an anarchist society where you have elements of capitalism and governmental statism will probably be far less free and egalitarian than a system where these elements don’t exist. No one is going to force that society out of its quasi-capitalism, however, if people chose to implement those particular property norms or institutions the end result will not be anarchy or anything close to anarchy (assuming that “absolute anarchy” is improbable). Likewise, preserving or instituting authoritarian cultural norms will not result in anarchy. If groups want to keep practicing them, fine, but they shouldn’t expect a freer society to be the end result.
Of course, when deciding how we’re going to accomplish our goals we can simply point to general tendencies of certain systems and see what does or doesn’t ultimately result in more freedom and equality. No one follows a textbook like it’s some infallible work that needs to be followed word-for-word. We just look at what institutions and systems are better at carrying out our values and specifically go with that. As a mutualist, I believe the best way we can achieve these goals is if our institutions and property relations incorporate reciprocity in principle and action. (I’ve explained this idea in this post as well.) As far as the issue of compulsion goes, any society will require some kind of compulsion, since obligations will always exist, though we can take efforts to heavily reduce the need for compulsion by balancing individualist and collectivist elements.
Finally, I thought I’d bring up the allegedly “adjectives-less” approach. From what I have seen, what is called “anarchism without adjectives” is more of an appropriation than a rejection of adjectives. I have witnessed “an”-caps and individuals who hold similar ideologies label themselves “anarchist without adjectives” merely because they wouldn’t oppose mutualists creating a market socialist system or communists creating a commune down the road from them, and assume that holding this view gives them a free pass into social anarchist spaces. It’s hardly limited to market anarchists though. I know of social anarchists who use the “without adjectives” label who presuppose what a future society would look like before norms, customs, and so forth have been decided upon. Personally, I feel that it’s impractical to go into activism which takes on such a huge long-term goal of complete social revolution without a clear-cut set of values. You’re going to have to create new institutions and forms of exchange, which will ultimately lead to new social relations and new paradigms, so putting your finger in the air and going whichever way the wind blows seems very naive and unthoughtful. Agnosticism doesn’t appear to be a good idea, especially now that actions and new paradigms are needed more than ever.
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Julia Riber Pitt: Is a philosophy major at McDaniel College. She grew up in the Merrimack Valley, started college at CSU Northridge in Los Angeles. For most of 2010 she was a collective member of the Lucy Parsons Center in Boston where she learned how to co-run an infoshop.