To what extent do anarchists agree about the nature of the future anarchist society?

Anarchism can be said to be split into two distinct strands; collectivist anarchism and individualist anarchism. Collectivist anarchists advocate a future where people live in a communist society, whereas individualist anarchists envisage a society where the free market provides for everyone’s needs. However, whilst they may seem very different, both strands of anarchism have a core belief that a future society will be stateless.

Anarchism can be said to be split into two distinct strands; collectivist anarchism and individualist anarchism. Collectivist anarchists advocate a future where people live in a communist society, whereas individualist anarchists envisage a society where the free market provides for everyone’s needs. However, whilst they may seem very different, both strands of anarchism have a core belief that a future society will be stateless.

Both collectivist anarchists and individualist anarchists envisage a future stateless society. Anarchism can be said to be ‘the negation of the principal of authority’. For anarchists, authority is an offence against the principals of freedom and equality. It enslaves, oppresses and limits human life. It also damages those who are in power by corrupting them. As Lord Acton said, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. To be in authority is to acquire an appetite for prestige, control and eventually domination. Paul Goodman described such as a society as being a place where ‘many are ruthless and most live in fear’. Liberals believe that the power of individuals can be restrained by constitutionalism, through external legal constraints such as a written constitution and through internal checks such as the separation of powers, which prevents a concentration of power in the hands of one individual or group. However, anarchists dismiss this as being a façade that merely acts to protect the elites. This is a position also taken by fundamentalist socialists, who believe that it acts in the interests of the ruling class who exploit the subordinate class.

The state is also said to be coercive, exploitative and destructive. Coercive in that there is the threat of punishment if laws are not followed; exploitative in the sense that property is robbed through the system of taxation (something typically expressed by individualist anarchists); and destructive in that people fight, kill and die for their country in wars that invariably are fought for territorial expansion, plunder or national glory. Therefore, all anarchists agree that the state should not exist because it creates power relationships that corrupt otherwise cooperative, sympathetic and sociable human beings, and oppress the rest of society.

This belief in a stateless society is based upon a utopian belief in human nature. Anarchists see that there is a natural goodness in humans. Social order arises naturally and spontaneously, and thus does not require the machinery of ‘law and order’. Collectivist anarchists have stressed the capacity for sociable and cooperative behaviour, whilst individualist anarchist have highlighted the importance of enlightened human reason. Thus, humans don’t need a state because they are perfectly capable of pursuing their wants and needs harmoniously

Nevertheless, anarchism has been split as to how a future anarchist society would be structured. Whilst it is agreed it should be stateless, it is not agreed what should replace the state. Collectivist anarchists, particularly anarcho-communists, believe that sociable and gregarious humans should live a shared communal existence. There should be small, self-sufficient communes along the lines of the medieval city-state or peasant commune.  Peter Kropotkin argued that these communes should own their wealth in common. People work in common with fellow human beings so the wealth they produce should be owned in common by the community. Private property is seen as being theft. It represents the exploitation of workers and encourages selfishness. The inequalities in wealth then lead to greed, envy and resentment, which cause crime and disorder. This is in stark contrast to the conservative view of private property, which views property as being capable of fostering greater social cohesion. This is due to a belief that because individuals have a ‘stake’ in society they are more willing to protect the property of others.

Anarcho-communists have highlighted at least three advantages of arranging society in their way. Firstly, it strengthens the bonds of compassion and solidarity as it is based on the principles of sharing and collective endeavour. Secondly, decisions are made through a process of direct democracy (popular self-government). This guarantees a high level of popular participation and political equality, and thus is the only form of government supported by anarchists. Thirdly, an anarcho-communist society believe that such ‘human scale’ communities allow for greater face-to-face action than depersonalised, bureaucratic capitalism.

Another strand of collectivist anarchism, mutualism, has also put forward ideas as to a future anarchist society. Proudhon came up with a system of property ownership that would avoid exploitation and instead promote social harmony. Proudhon’s followers set up mutual credit banks in Switzerland and France where loans were sold but only with an interest rate enough to cover costs and not enough to make a profit. Social interaction would therefore be voluntary, mutually beneficial and harmonious. Consequently, there would be no need for regulation or interference by the government.

Individualist anarchists have disagreed with the collectivist anarchist view of a future society. For them, the state should be replaced by unregulated capitalism, which is seen as being capable of satisfying all human wants and needs. Therefore, contrary to the view of collectivist anarchists, anarcho-capitalists have argued that property should be owned by sovereign individuals who may choose to enter into voluntary contracts with others in the pursuit of self-interest. Social democrats would argue that this creates unjust inequalities in wealth that must be prevented through the establishment of a welfare state. However, anarchists would argue that the market is capable of providing for everyone, particularly those who work hard, thus adopting a very liberal approach. The market allows the individual to remain free and it market regulates all social interaction. Therefore, it can be said that this goes well beyond the ideas of free-market liberalism, which argues that the market has its limits and that the government needs to provide ‘public goods’ that wouldn’t otherwise be provided by the market (e.g. education). Anarcho-capitalists, such as Murray Rothbard, have disagreed with this argument, instead saying that private agencies could deliver all kinds of services. This includes protection by ‘private courts’ and a private police force. They would offer a better service than the current system because they are cheap, efficient and responsive to consumer needs. Such examples can be seen to exist already, in the form of ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ and the private prisons that have become more common in the UK. For anarcho-capitalists, this kind of society is beneficial because it allows the individual to enjoy absolute freedom, and not have to be, as Proudhon described, ‘watched over, spied on, directed…’.

Other individualist anarchists, libertarian anarchists, have advocated ‘time stores’, where one person’s labour could be exchanged for a promise to return labour in kind. Josiah Warren argued that this system of market exchange allows individuals to the property that they themselves produce but also forces them to work with others in order to gain the advantages of the division of labour.

In conclusion, anarchists have had strong disagreements over the structure of a future anarchist society. On the one hand, collectivist anarchists have advocated a communist society based upon common ownership and cooperation, whilst on the other hand, individualist anarchists have advocated an extreme capitalist society based upon the free-market and enlightened human reason. Nevertheless, whilst there may be strong differences, all anarchists firmly agree that a future society should be stateless. Therefore, the two branches of anarchism disagree about the economic considerations of a future anarchist society but agree upon the political and moral considerations.

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