Anarchism: an introduction

The prominent part which anarchist ideas are taking in the social and progressive movements of our time makes the subject one of interest to all enquiring minds. Owing to the dearth of space, however, our sketch must be considered more suggestive than exhaustive, but if it induces further thought and study, it will have effected its purpose.

Anarchy means no government, no rule, no constituted authority, meaning by authority the power of some to impose their will and interests on others irrespective of their wishes. Anarchism is thus an ideal of society where freedom prevails and people associate with each other on the basis of individual independence, of mutual equality alone.

It is thus opposed alike to the individualist who believes in the legal sanction of capitalist exploitation, and the state socialist who would abolish the monopolise of land and social wealth, but would maintain, and in fact increase the power of government and State control.

To the former the anarchist points out that private property is the direct negation of freedom since it renders the masses the wretched slaves of the few who monopolise their means of livelihood. Without the right to live, real human freedom is an impossibility.

To the latter he says: "You are inconsistent. While you would abolish the capitalist, the landlord and the exploiting classes generally, because by their monopoly they crush out the freedom of the workers and compel them to live in poverty and to toil for their benefit, you would extend the functions and powers of government, which does the same things."

The history of progress has been one long struggle against authority and oppression. But, besotted by superstitious belief in the necessity of some kind of mastership, the people have hitherto only pulled down one tyranny to put another in its place. Government from its origin has always been oppressive and reactionary. It supported chattel slavery, to-day it maintains wage-slavery. Its chief function is to protect property, that is social monopoly in its three forms of rent, interest and profit, and to directly enable the monopolisers to oppress the poor. They further their own interests by using the executive forces of the state, the police and military, to put down strikes and labour revolts, to suppress socialistic and revolutionary agitation, and to carry on wars with weaker and more "barbarous" peoples, as in Burmah, Soudan, Matabeleland, &c., to "open up trade," that is new spheres of capitalist exploitation.

The nature of government is not changed by the representative principle. Republican France has shown itself almost as tyrannical and as blind to the interests of the people as autocratic Russia.

It is the principle of government which is wrong. All States are based on authority, on the power of man over man, on the division of society into governors and governed, masters and servants, and this necessarily implies privilege, social inequality and slavery.

We are therefore dubious of any form of State Socialism; to our minds that only means a change of masters and of the form of government, and would be equally as oppressive and tyrannical as any which has hitherto existed. Such ideas are based on the false notion that the State is the organisation of society. This is not true.

Society and the State are by no means synonymous. Society existed before the State, and is independent of it. The State is simply a cancer or excrescence on the Social organism, which by protecting monopoly and arbitrarily interfering with the free play of its individual units hinders the natural working of the forces that make for life and progress.

Anarchism may thus be defined in two words - free association. We therefore look forward to a Society where autonomous groups of workers freely federated control the means of production and utilise them for the common benefit. Plenty, culture and freedom secured to all, social harmony will be a natural result.

As regards our methods, they are in accordance with our aims. No programmes, no red tape, no officialism, no leaders, no candidates for power; on the contrary, free individuals acting and agitating as they each think best spontaneously associating when necessary, and acting individually when they consider it advisable. Then, as a result, the revolt of the people, peaceful or violent, and - social justice - Anarchism.

Alfred Barton.

    54, Cottenham-st., C-on-M., Manchester.

From the Labour Annual for 1895