The Statist Mindset of Anarchists

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January 2, 2007

Being a libertarian anarchist, I have come to a terrifying conclusion: most anarchists are pseudo-statists! Yes, it might sound strange, but many anarchists are in fact as much statists as are minarchists. It seems even anarchists cannot in effect break free from the statist thinking in terms of guarantees and fixed systems.

One has to ask, what kind of world is this where even anarchists are statists? The problem is that it is true, many anarchists are stuck in a statist way of thinking. This seemingly contradictory statement should trouble not only anarchists but statists, too. Why? Because it means even the ability to think about something other than the existing has obviously been washed away. Thus, we're seeing the effects of large-scale brainwashing.

But let me explain what I mean by statist anarchists in order to clarify what I mean by the statist mindset being a truth we cannot seem to break free from. It is like a religion from which we cannot escape.

A real anarchist is an enemy of the state. This is the obvious core and starting point, anarchism means anti-state. But it doesn't really do to simply understand that the state is inefficient, ineffective, dangerous, and destructive. One also has to want--that is, really really want--to abolish the state altogether. So being anarchist means one really wants nothing to do with the state, and it also means any anarchist is opposed to whatever the state is about.

The latter is actually the most important part of what it means to be anarchist: to be opposed to whatever the state is about. This means it isn't enough to want to abolish the American imperialist warfare-welfare state only to establish a new, "proper," government. That would actually make you statist, since you adhere to the principle that the core of society is a government body with the power to enforce whatever society you consider "righteous."

It also wouldn't be enough to oppose the state but champion a society based on some kind of system replacing the state. That's still the same thing--statism. What you are doing is identifying the problems with the state as it is known to us today, but simultaneously proposing a new kind of government.

This might come as a surprise to you, but this is what many anarchists--perhaps a majority--are actually doing. I call it blueprint anarchism or blueprintism: the wish to abolish the state and explicit rule only to replace it with a new kind of structure which is less explicit (and not called a state) and seems "better."

The Russian anarcho-communist Mikhail Bakunin does just this in his writings: he proposes abolishing the state for the sake of stopping its capital exploitation of labor. This is fine by me and should be fine by any anarchist, but he goes on: post-state society will be based on labor workers' ownership of the means of production. Furthermore, the stateless society will be organized in local labor unions that come together in regional labor unions, national labor unions, and--at the top--one single, global labor union federation.

Excuse me? Exactly how is this not a state? Of course, Bakunin and his followers never did, and still don't, call this global federation structure of labor unions a state. But it should be pretty clear that the hierarchy of labor union federations would be pretty close to a world government. The difference to the contemporary state is simply that it is based on the right of labor workers rather than capitalists--and that it is global rather than national.

But what about anarchism? It seems more like the dictatorship of the proletariat in communism to me.

So I wouldn't call Bakuninism anarchism, at least not in the form described here. If you don't want to abolish the state, but merely replace it, you are not truly anarchist. There can be no blueprint for how a free society "must" be organized, even if it is called "free" or "voluntary" (but mandatory . . .).

But even though many anarchists call themselves anarcho-communists (I guess to make sure they are not thought of as anarchists), most do not. There are many people calling themselves anarcho-somethings who are still as much (little) anarchists as the Bakuninists.

Imagine statements such as anarchism being an orderly society where criminals are brought to justice by the anarchist police and tried in anarchist courts according to anarchist law. Does this sound familiar? No? It should--the only difference to the [theory of] the modern or post-modern state is the prefix "anarchist." The structure or system is the same as that of the state even though the real contents may differ: there are laws, a police, and courts--and these institutions enjoy a special status throughout society.

The package is the same, but the label and some of the content has been replaced. So it is not a state, but "something else" that functions just like a state (perhaps less oppressive in some way). This is obviously not out-of-the-box thinking--you're keeping everything the box is about but using other names for it (such as cage, container, or package). But it still works the same way.

Imagine further that anarchist society is described as a "horizontally organized public sector" where people are legally equal and have joined forces to create this society with its laws, courts, and police. This public sector is organized non-hierarchically, but enforces the anarchist law through anarchist courts and anarchist police. Is this anarchism?

I'm told it is, not that it could be. It is. But I cannot understand how a society without rule and thus without institutionalized force and coercion can be organized in one single way. And I especially cannot understand how this can be foreseen and even made part of the very definition of anarchism: "anarchism is this specific organization structure and if this very organization structure doesn't exist, it isn't anarchism."

Well, this isn't a definition of anarchism I'd like to use--it isn't anarchism to me at all. It is a blueprint for how society must be organized, even though its proponents claim this structure is anarchism but also is voluntary. My conclusion from this kind of reasoning is: this is the plan, and whoever deviates from this plan is anti-anarchist.

What's shocking about this is that it is a real-life example of how I'm told anarchist society "will be" organized. It was presented recently in the forum of the anarchist web site by an anarchist representing an international anarchist organization.

No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I think about it, I fail to understand the anarchism in this example, and others, presented by anarchists. If I would champion abolishing the state but still reserving the right to say what must be after the state has been abolished, I certainly wouldn't be an anarchist. If I had the right individually or collectively to make my own exclusive definition of what anarchism is, I wouldn't be an anarchist. I would be a statist.

It seems many anarchists can't think out of the box: they want something "instead of" the state, and so they put a lot of thought into making plans and defining what society they would want to see. The problem is that they think so much about this dream of theirs that they get stuck in the system they call anarchism. But anarchism isn't a system, it is non-system. Anarchism is spontaneous order, not contrived order.

This is the terrifying part of the story: the system approach many anarchists subscribe to is a product of their inability to get rid of their boxed thinking. They are stuck with a statist mindset. They have managed to get rid of thinking of the state as some kind of guarantee, but they still can't get rid of the idea that there must be a guarantee. But as we all should know: there are no guarantees!

Understanding that there are no guarantees means you are an anarchist, and it is liberating in the way that you don't have to replace systems with other systems. If there is no guarantee, there is no reason for a state (since it cannot guarantee anything anyway), and there is also no reason for replacing it with some other system.

But many anarchists don't seem to understand this, and that's why I call myself a free market anarchist; I'm somewhere between individualist anarchism and agorism. The core in a free society, to me, is the market. I don't mean the core of a free society is a number of corporations or factories or a certain degree of large-scale production or low wages or whatever people tend to think the market is. The market is simply a term denoting the fact that free people make choices individually or collectively in order to achieve some kind of value, and they have no way of escaping the responsibility of their actions.

The market is a great way of describing anarchist society since the market is already studied extensively, in economics, for example. We know about the spontaneous order arising in the free marketplace, we know how free actors engaging in voluntary transactions means there will be both peace and prosperity. But it isn't only applicable on the market for monetary transactions: these theories are equally applicable on any free society populated by human beings. That's why I use the prefix "free market" to the label "anarchist," to show that I don't put myself as an omniscient, omnipotent engineer of the free society--I'm an actor like everybody else.

This means I am no champion of a certain system or structure--all I know is that without rule, people will make choices and people will act. I also know they will rather do what they have an incentive to do than the opposite. But exactly how they choose to act I cannot really say. Actually, it isn't my business as long as they don't use force to take that which is mine or restrain me in any way.

I'm sure there will be structures spontaneously arising just like cultures and other market standards tend to arise when people aren't limited. But I can't say what will be--and who am I to tell what should be? I'm sure things will be just fine without someone bossing people around and forcing them to act against their will, and I'm sure people would get organized, too. That still doesn't make it a statist society--if people are free to do what they want, I'm sure a lot of people would help each other out.

But I cannot know exactly what will be, and I cannot say how people must organize. The very reason I am an anarchist is that I don't think anyone should have the power to make this or that of society. So why would I take that power myself? Doing so would just make me a statist, wouldn't it?

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

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