What Is Anarchism?


Anarchism is a political theory that aims to create anarchy, which is "the absence of a master, of a sovereign."  In other words, anarchism is a political theory that aims to create a society where individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such, anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control—whether by government laws or by capitalist business practices—as harmful to the individual and their individuality, as well as unnecessary.


The word "anarchy" is from the Greek prefix an (or a), meaning "not," "the want of," "the absence of," or "the lack of," plus archos, meaning "a ruler," "director," "chief," "person in charge," or "authority."  Or, as Peter Kropotkin put it, Anarchy comes from the Greek words meaning "contrary to authority."


While the Greek words anarchos and anarchia are often taken to mean "having no government" or "being without a government," as can be seen, the strict, original meaning of anarchism was not simply "no government." "An-archy" means "without a ruler," or more generally, "without authority."


For this reason, rather than being purely anti-government or anti-state, anarchism is primarily a movement against hierarchy. Why? Because hierarchy is the organizational structure that embodies authority. Since the state is the "highest" form of hierarchy, anarchists are, by definition, anti-state; but this is not a sufficient definition of anarchism. This means that real anarchists are opposed to all forms of hierarchical organization or oppression, such as racism, sexism, classism, and environmental destruction.


Anarchism, then, is simply the theoretical expression of our ability to freely organize ourselves, solve problems, and run society without bosses or politicians.  But, it is no abstract philosophy—anarchist ideas are put into practice everyday. Wherever oppressed people stand up for their rights, take action to defend their freedom, practice solidarity and cooperation, fight against oppression, organize themselves without leaders and bosses, or simply enjoy their lives freely with mutual aid and respect for their environment, the spirit of anarchism lives.


Thus anarchism is both positive and negative, both reactionary and pro-active. It analyses and critiques the problems of current society while at the same time offering a vision of a potential new society—a society that fulfils certain human needs which the current one denies. These needs, at their most basic, are liberty, equality and solidarity.


In summary, anarchy does not mean chaos nor do anarchists seek to create chaos or disorder. Instead, we wish to create a society based upon individual freedom and voluntary co-operation. In other words, order from the bottom up, not disorder imposed from the top down by authorities. Such a society would be a true anarchy, a society without rulers, where each individual has the privilege and the duty to rule only their own selves.


Many more answers to frequently asked questions about anarchism.