by Matthew Houston
“I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men[sic], far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.”-Mikhail Bakunin
Throughout history there have been two opposing tendencies that have confronted each other: the elite and the popular, the authoritarian and the libertarian, those seeking power and those wishing to disperse it. It is within this second tradition that anarchism is rooted. The term anarchy comes from the Greek word anarchos, meaning “without rulers” and, for the greater part of history, came to mean disorder and chaos. In the 1840s, a political and ethical philosophy emerged calling itself anarchism that sought new relationships between people, work, and with themselves.
These relationships based on the principles of voluntary association, mutual aid, freedom, and solidarity are to be the scaffolding of a new society. It is based on these principles that we seek to create a new society in the here-and-now, based on our ideals, within our very organizations, relationships and lives.
In concert with these efforts to create a new world, we also seek to destroy systems of oppressions, hierarchy (any system of persons ranked one above another) and domination. Today, these systems of domination can be seen in the state, in capitalism, in racism, and in patriarchy (the social systems in which power is primarily held by men) and are exhibited in other forms that also seek to shackle people to non-freedom. Anarchism seeks to expand both collective and individual freedom, as Mikhail Bakunin said: “I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.”
Anarchism has always had different tendencies that prioritize both different modes of struggle and critiques for reaching an egalitarian (equal for all people in every sphere of life) future. Anarcho-syndicalists see the workplace as the center of struggle. Insurrectionary anarchists look to organize informally and prioritize constant attacks on the capitalist system. Green anarchism is centered on the environment. These are but a few of the tendencies of anarchism which overlap and cross-pollinate, contributing distinct parts to a body of thought.
In Peter Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible, he explains the relationship between the different tendencies as well as a goal of anarchism: “For all the different philosophical assumptions, strategies and social recommendations, anarchist are united in their search for a free society without the State and government. They all flow in the broad river of anarchy towards the great sea of freedom.”