How would an anarchist society work

Are you an anarchist?

The power of vision Take the test - the answer might surprise you! By David Graeber, published in issue # 22/2013

You have probably heard somewhere what anarchists supposedly are and believe. I guess everything you've heard is bullshit. Because many think anarchists are for violence, chaos and destruction and against any form of order and organization, or they are crazy nihilists who want to blow everything up. Not even close. Anarchists simply believe that people can get along well with one another without having to be forced to do so. Actually a very simple idea. But the rich and powerful have always considered them extremely dangerous.
Put simply, anarchism is based on two basic assumptions. First, under ordinary circumstances, people are as sensible and decent as they are allowed to be, and they organize themselves and their communities without having to be told how. Second, power corrupts. In anarchism, the main thing is to have the courage to take what decency commands us to take seriously and to think it through consistently. It may sound strange, but there are many crucial ways that you are probably already an anarchist, even if you don't already know. Let's start with a few everyday examples:
You are standing in line in front of a crowded bus. Do you wait your turn and don't push yourself forward, even if there is no policeman in sight?
If you answered "yes" then behave like an anarchist! The most basic anarchist principle is self-organization: people do not have to be threatened with prosecution in order to make reasonable agreements with one another and to treat one another with dignity and respect.
All people think they are able to behave sensibly. If you think we need laws and law enforcement, it is only because you don't believe that other people can do the same. But don't all these people think exactly the same thing about you? Anarchists argue that most of the antisocial behavior that makes us think we need armies, cops, prisons, and governments to control our lives, is caused by the very systematic injustices perpetrated by those armies, cops, prisons, and governments are only made possible - a vicious circle! If people are used to being treated as if their opinion were irrelevant, they become angry and cynical or even violent - which admittedly makes it easy for those in power to claim that these people's opinions are irrelevant. But when these people understand that their opinion is as valid as any other person's, they become amazingly insightful. In short, anarchists believe that it is above all power and the effects of power that make people act stupid and irresponsible.
Are you a member of a club, sports association or other voluntary organization in which decisions are not made from above, but based on democracy?
Yes? Then you belong to an organization that works according to anarchist principles! Another basic anarchist principle is the voluntary nature of the connection. Basically, anarchism is simply about realizing truly democratic principles in everyday life - but with the significant difference that anarchists believe in a society in which everything can be organized according to these principles and in which all groups are based on the voluntary consent of their members establish. Thus, hierarchical and military forms of organization structured by chains of command from top to bottom, such as armies, administrative apparatus or large companies, are no longer necessary. You may not believe that such a world is possible. But, every time you come to an agreement by consensus rather than threat, every time you make a voluntary agreement, compromise or compromise with someone by being aware of the other person's circumstances or needs, you are an anarchist - even if you don't already know.
Anarchism is what people do when they are made to do what they want to do and when they interact with equally free people who are aware of the mutual responsibility that such freedom brings. This leads us to another crucial point: while people can be sensible and considerate when they meet others on an equal footing, it is in the nature of humans that this no longer applies once one has power over the other. If people are endowed with such power, they will almost invariably abuse it in one way or another.
Do you think most politicians are selfish, complacent careerists who don't care about the common good? Do you think our economic system is idiotic and unjust?
Yes? Then you support the anarchist criticism of today's society, at least in its basic features. Anarchists believe that power corrupts and that those who seek power for their entire lives are the last to be entrusted with that power. Anarchists believe that the current economic system rewards people for selfish and unscrupulous behavior rather than upright and compassionate behavior. Most people believe this. The difference is that many believe that nothing can be done about it, or - as the vicarious agents of the mighty repeat like a mantra - anything that can be done about it will only make matters worse.
But what if this is not true at all?
Is there any good reason we should believe this? Most predictions about a world without nation states or without capitalism turn out to be completely wrong on closer examination. Countless societies have lived without governments. Even today, in many parts of the world, people live outside government control without killing each other. They just live their lives, just like other people. If you think about how this could be implemented in a complex, urbanized, technological society, we come across a series of questions to which we have no answers because hardly anyone asks about them. Anarchists believe that this is exactly the question we should ask.
Do you really believe what you tell your children (or what your parents told you)?
"It's not about who started", "One injustice doesn't cancel the other", "Put your things away yourself", "What you don't want someone to do to you, don't do it to anyone else" "Don't be mean to people just because they're different". Maybe we should decide whether we want to lie to our children when we tell them what is right and wrong, or whether we are willing to take our requests seriously ourselves. Because if you really take these moral principles seriously, you quickly end up with anarchism.
For example, the principle "one injustice does not cancel out the other": taken really seriously, it would undermine almost all wars and criminal prosecution systems. The same applies to sharing: we keep telling children that they have to learn to share, to be considerate of the needs of others and to support one another; and then we go out into the world with the expectation that all human beings are naturally selfish and compete with one another. An anarchist would remark here: What we tell our children is true. Virtually every great achievement in human history, every discovery, everything that makes our life a good life is based on cooperation and mutual help. Most people already spend more money on friends and relatives than they do on themselves. Most likely there will always be individuals who think they are in competition with others. However, there is no reason why a society should encourage such behavior, let alone incite people to struggle with one another for basic needs.
Do you believe that people are fundamentally corrupt and evil or that certain groups (women, "people of color", average people who are neither rich nor educated) are inferior and should be ruled by superior ones?
If your answer is yes, then you are probably not an anarchist after all. But if it says "no," then you agree with ninety percent of the anarchist principles and probably live by them. Anytime you treat other people with consideration and respect, you are an anarchist. Anytime you resolve differences with others by finding a good compromise or by listening to everyone instead of letting a single person decide, you are an anarchist. Anytime you have the opportunity to force someone to do something and instead choose to appeal to them with reason and justice, you are an anarchist. Likewise every time you share with friends, when you decide together who does the dishes or behave fairly.
You may now object that all of this is well and good for getting along in small groups; however, the administration of a city or a country is a completely different story. You are not entirely wrong about that. Even if society is decentralized and as much power as possible is placed in the hands of small communities, there are things that need to be coordinated at a higher level: from roadmaps to landmark decisions about the research goals of medicine. But just because something is complicated does not mean that it cannot be done on the basis of mutual decision.
Anarchists have developed various ideas and visions for the self-administration of a complex society, which, however, would go beyond the scope of this text. Let us be satisfied with two pointers: firstly, many people have spent a lot of time developing models for a truly democratic, healthy society, and secondly, no anarchist claims to have a perfect blueprint. The last thing we want is to impose pre-made templates on society. In truth, we are probably not even aware of a fraction of the problems that we will encounter on the way to a society in which decisions are made jointly by citizens. Even so, we are confident that human resourcefulness will be able to solve all of these problems, as long as we remain true to our basic principles, which upon final analysis are nothing more than the principles of decency and humanity.

Slightly edited and shortened translation from English by Matthias Fersterer.

 

David Graeber(52), American ethnologist and activist, has called himself an anarchist for four decades. Extensive field research in Madagascar resulted in a PhD from the University of Chicago on magic, slavery and violence. Graeber was instrumental in founding the Occupy movement that emerged from the "Occupy Wall Street" protest - the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" described him as its "intellectual superstar". He teaches ethnology at Goldsmiths College, University of London and is professor at the renowned London School of Economics. His books combine sharp analysis with smug style and passionate reasoning; in it they are reminiscent of Horst Stowasser's standard work ┬╗Anarchy!┬ź. In 2008 "Frei von Herrschaft" was published by Peter Hammer Verlag, last year by Campus "Debt" and "Inside Occupy" and just now in Edition Nautilus "Direct Action" and by Random House "The Democracy Project". Graeber is a member of the worldwide trade union organization "Industrial Workers of the World" and was appointed to the interim committee of the non-governmental organization "International Organization for a Participatory Society", founded in 2012, alongside Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky and others.

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more articles from issue # 22