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What Anarchism is Fundamentally About. By Max

September 23, 2010

Anarchism is about people making decisions about their lives and collectively making decisions about society as a whole. This simple idea is so important and is just so hard to disagree with. I bring up this concept of anarchism constantly in my discussions with others because it answers a good deal of the questions that people have about anarchism. Whether I’m wrestling with a question I have about an anarchist society, writing an article, or answering a friend’s question about anarchism, the idea that people should have control over their lives is so powerful and is necessary to imagining any better society.

This idea encapsulates all of the values necessary for a moral society: the freedom to participate in decision-making; the equality of giving everyone equal influence in society; the justice of having everyone collectively deciding who deserves what.

This idea guides the anarchist’s approach to all questions of organizing society; it’s just a matter of ironing out the details. What form of decision-making will be used? How will people be grouped together or apart?

Anything less than a trust in humanity that allows people to take control of society together results in taking away that right from some people. If you give one person decision-making power, you have totalitarianism. If you give a few people power, you have an oligarchy. If you give a class of people power, you have an aristocracy.

How many people have decision-making power in a liberal democracy such as the US? Well, at the most it appears to be around 80%, because most US citizens older than 18 have the right to vote. But maybe it’s only about 50%, because that’s about how many people feel empowered and educated enough to vote in presidential elections (the % is much smaller in more local elections). Maybe it’s the 25%-30% of the population whose presidential candidate wins the ‘popular’ vote. Maybe it’s only the 5% of the wealthiest people in the country, because they represent the overwhelming majority of people who hold political office because few other people have the resources to run a campaign. Maybe it’s the wealthiest 1% of the population who has more wealth than the rest of the bottom 95% of the population combined and who provide most of the money used in campaigns and lobbying. So maybe only a very small percentage of the population has influence over the public sphere.

Also, the vast majority of people in this country don’t have a democratic input into the places they work. Workers at a factory almost never have the formal ability to vote on something. Unions address this desire for economic democracy to a certain extent (and to whatever extent they do, they should be supported), but even they are often self-interested bureaucracies.

Defenders of government often see it as necessary to avoid what they call ‘mob rule.’ Widespread chaos might ensue, they say. Well, I’d argue that the fewer number of people who have influence and decision-making power in society, the more unjust that society is according to the spectrum that might loosely flow from fascism to aristocracy to representative democracy to anarchism. George Orwell wrote about mob rule and class distinctions, “‘Anything,’ he thinks, ‘any injustice, sooner than let the mob loose.’ He does not see that since there is no difference between the mass of rich and poor, there is no question of setting the mob loose. The mob is in fact loose now, and – in the shape of rich men …”

Increasing the sphere of influence to include everyone as opposed to a few would necessarily demand new social forms. What would group decision-making look like? How would it deal with disputes? Wouldn’t everyone be spending all their time in meetings? In the next issue, I’ll look at some of the answers that anarchists have proposed to deal with these inevitable questions.

As a society, you can either decide to give everyone the freedom and dignity to partake in decision-making, or you can restrict it with increasingly devastating effects to the detriment of all.

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