Examine the history of and different types of Anarchism

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Introduction The word ‘anarchy’ comes from Greek and literally means ‘without rule’. The term has been in use since the French Revolution. It was used to describe a breakdown of order. This remains the case today. The word only acquired positive associations when Pierre-Joseph Proudhon declared in his book What is Property?, published in 1840: ‘I am an anarchist’. Anarchists advocate the abolition of law and government in the belief that a more natural social order will develop. Some anarchists have supported violence to bring an end to the existing social order but most reject this.

The first thinker associated with anarchism is William Godwin, author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, published in 1793. Godwin himself would have rejected the label ‘anarchist’. During the 19th Century, anarchism came to constitute a key element of the emerging socialist movement. In 1864, the followers of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon joined with the followers of Karl Marx to set up the International Working Men’s Association or First International. The International collapsed in 1871 on account of growing antagonism between Marxists and anarchists, led by Michael Bakunin. In the late 19th Century, anarchists sought support from the landless peasants of Russia and southern Europe. Through the anarcho-syndicalist movement, they made a bid for support among the urban proletariat. Syndicalism was a form of revolutionary trade unionism. It was strong in France, Italy and Spain. In France, the Confédération Generale des Travailleurs was dominated by anarchists before 1914. The same can be said for the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajadores in Spain. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, the CNT had over two million members. Anarcho-syndicalist movements emerged in Latin America in the early 20th Century, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay. The Mexican Revolution, led by Emiliano Zapata, was influenced by syndicalist ideas. Anarchism in Spain and Latin America soon fell victim to authoritarianism and repression. It also lost out to Communism.

Anarchism has never succeeded in winning power at national level. During the Spanish Civil War, anarchists briefly controlled parts of eastern Spain, setting up workers’ and peasants’ collectives. As a result of this, anarchists have looked to history for inspiration – Ancient Greece, Medieval Europe or traditional peasant communes such as the ‘mir’ in Tsarist Russia. They have also emphasised the non-hierarchical and egalitarian nature of tribal society. The anarchist objective of overthrowing the state and all forms of political authority is widely seen as impractical. Anarchists spurn participation in the political process as corrupting, placing their faith in spontaneous, mass action. Anarchism is nevertheless very much in being, especially with the young and idealistic. It is a key part of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movement.

Anarchism is defined by its opposition to the state and the institutions of government and law which form a part of the state. Anarchists have as their ideal a stateless society in which free individuals manage their affairs by voluntary agreement, free from compulsion or coercion.
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Anti-statism Anarchism is the negation of the principle of authority. It sees authority as an offence against the principles of freedom and equality. It corrupts those who exercise it and oppresses those who are subject to it. In the words of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: ‘To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded; all by creatures that have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue.’ Anarchists reject the liberal concept of the ‘social contract’ between rulers and ruled. Anarchists emphasise the ability ...

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