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What Is Anarchism?

( The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition )

anarchism (an´urkizum)

[Gr.,=having no government], theory that equality and justice are to be sought through the abolition of the state and the substitution of free agreements between individuals. Central to anarchist thought is the belief that society is natural and that men are good but are corrupted by artificial institutions. Also central in anarchism are the belief in individual freedom and the denial of any authority, particularly that of the state, that hinders man's development. Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoic philosophy, is regarded as the father of anarchism. In the Middle Ages the anarchist tradition was closely linked to utopian, millenarian religious movements such as the Brethren of the Free Spirit of the 13th cent. and the Anabaptists of the 16th cent. The philosophy of modern political anarchism was outlined in the 18th and 19th cent. by William Godwin, P. J. Proudhon, and others. Mikhail Bakunin attempted to orient the First International toward anarchism but was defeated by Karl Marx. Bakunin gave modern anarchism a collectivist and violent tone that has persisted despite the revisionary efforts of Piotr Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy. Political anarchism in Russia was suppressed by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. Anarchism's only real mass following was in Latin countries, where its doctrines were often combined with those of syndicalism, especially in Spain. In the United States, early anarchists such as Josiah Warren were associated with cooperatives and with utopian colonies. After the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886 and the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 a law was passed forbidding anarchists to enter the country. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case attests to the fear of anarchism in the United States. As an organized movement, anarchism is almost dead, but it retains importance as a philosophical attitude and a political tendency. See Roderick Kedward, The Anarchists (1971); Gerald Runkle, Anarchism, Old and New (1972); Max Nettlau, History of Anarchism (3 vol., 1978).

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The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition. Copyright ©1993, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Inso Corporation. All rights reserved.

anarchism (an´urkizum)., The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition, 01-01-1993.

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Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia

ANARCHISM. The word anarchism derives from a Greek term meaning "without a chief or head." Anarchism was one of the leading political philosophies to develop in Europe in the 19th century. The chief tenet of anarchism is that government and private property should be abolished. Also part of anarchism is the concept that the people should be allowed to live in free associations, sharing work and its products.

Although a 19th-century movement, anarchism had theoretical roots in the writings of two English social reformers of the two previous centuries: Gerrard Winstanley and William Godwin. Winstanley was a 17th-century agrarian reformer who believed that land should be divided among all the people. Godwin, in a book entitled 'Political Justice' (1793), argued that authority is unnatural and that social evils arise and exist because people are not free to live their lives according to the dictates of reason.

It was the French political writer Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who coined the term anarchism and laid the theoretical foundations of the movement. In many ways Proudhon's thought was similar to socialism (see Socialism). He urged the abolition of private property and the control of the means of production by the workers. Instead of government Proudhon desired a federal system of agricultural and industrial associations. (See also Proudhon.)

Proudhon's theories attracted many followers, among them the Russians Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, and Emma Goldman; the Italian Enrico Malatesta; the Frenchman Georges Sorel; and the American Paul Goodman. These individuals all elaborated theories of anarchism based on Proudhon's work. (See also Bakunin; Kropotkin.)

There were several different tendencies within anarchism. For some, the only means to change society was terrorism. Malatesta, for example, advocated "propaganda by the deed," a point of view that led to a number of political assassinations (see Assassination). Others, including Sorel, tried to combine the goals of anarchism with those of trade unions, in a movement called anarcho-syndicalism. The main tool of this movement was the general strike, by which anarcho-syndicalists hoped to achieve their goal of abolishing capitalism and the state and of establishing organized worker production units.
It was the economic and social change wrought by the Industrial Revolution that led to the proliferation of political theories such as anarchism, communism, and socialism. Followers of the three movements were at first allied in their basic desire to overthrow the existing political order; however, the anarchists soon split from the others. While the communists wished to take control of the state, the anarchists wished to abolish the state altogether. Anarchism continued as a mass movement until the end of World War II. It was especially strong in Spain, where anarchists played an active role in the Spanish Civil War (see Spanish Civil War). The movement finally declined because of the success of communism in the Russian Revolution and because of the suppression of anarchists by Fascist governments in Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s.

Although there was a brief revival of interest in anarchism during the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1950s and 1960s, anarchism persists primarily as an ideal, a warning against the dangers of concentrating power in the hands of governmental or economic institutions. (See also Communism.)

Some Leading Anarchists

Some prominent persons are not included below because they are covered in the main text of this article or in other articles in Compton's Encyclopedia.

Goldman, Emma (1869-1940). Born in Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania. Immigrated to the United States in 1885; became associated with Russian anarchist Alexander Berkman. Carried on anarchist propaganda and activities until 1917, when she was arrested for obstructing the war effort. After two years in prison, she was deported to Russia. She left there after two years and later lived in England and Canada. Died in Toronto, Ont.

Goodman, Paul (1911-72). Born in New York City. Writer and lecturer who espoused anarchism in the 1930s. Urged educational decentralization in his book 'Growing Up Absurd', which made him popular with protesters of the 1960s. Also an author of poems, plays, and short stories.

Malatesta, Enrico (1853-1932). Born in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, in what is now Italy. Anarchist who promoted "the insurrectionary deed," an act of terrorism done to change society. Spent 35 years in exile, mainly in London, but returned to Italy after an amnesty in 1919.

Most, Johann (1846-1906). Born in Augsburg, Bavaria (now in Germany). Publisher of socialist and anarchist newspapers. Imprisoned in both Germany and France for his views, he immigrated to the United States in the early 1880s. After several imprisonments there, he abandoned the anarchist philosophy.

Sorel, Georges (1847-1922). Born in Cherbourg, France. Social philosopher and author. He became a convert to Marxism in 1893, but by 1902 had turned altogether against government, even under communism. Adopted revolutionary syndicalism as the means of social change. Author of 'Reflections on Violence'. Died in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France.

Stirner, Max (1806-56). Pseudonym of was Johann Kaspar Schmidt. Born in Bayreuth, Bavaria (now in Germany). Published 'The Ego and His Own' in 1845 under the name Stirner. The book was an attack on all philosophical systems and an exaltation of the absolute individual. He asserted that one has no obligations except to oneself. He saw the state as the enemy of the people and proposed a rebellion of all individuals instead of a political revolution that would only establish another state.

Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia
Copyright © 1994, 1995 Compton’s NewMedia, Inc.

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