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Criticisms of anarchism

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Criticisms of anarchism originate from the interest groups it opposes as well as related theories such as Marxism. Specific ideas within anarchism have been criticized, as has anarchism generally. Some charges leveled against anarchism by its critics are utopianism, authoritarianism, tendency towards nonviolence, hypocrisy and being an expression of the class interests of the petite bourgeoisie.



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Anarchism is often criticized as unfeasible, or plain utopian, even by many who agree that it is a nice idea in principle. For example, Carl Landauer in his book European Socialism criticizes anarchism as being unrealistically utopian, and holds that government is a "lesser evil" than a society without "repressive force." He holds that the belief that "ill intentions will cease if repressive force disappears" is an "absurdity."[1] However, not all anarchists hold the Utopian view that conflict can be eliminated. Many anarchists view anarchy as a continuing goal that in fact cannot be reached, but should be continuously worked toward. For example, Rudolf Rocker once said, "I am an anarchist not because I believe anarchism is the final goal, but because there is no such thing as a final goal" [2]. William Godwin addressed the "anarchism as Utopia" criticism by suggesting people are "perfectible," or always capable of improvement. Godwin's belief, shared by many anarchists, is a key difference between Anarchism and attitudes of Nihilism.Template:Or However, other anarchists, such as Sir Herbert Read, proudly accept the characterization "utopian."

Anarchist communists have historically fought for social change that is neither utopian nor unfeasible.Template:cn The key difference being in who has the power, Marxists and statists in general agree that a centralized and hierarchical (although with elected leaders in democratic governments) apparatus is needed to keep peace and organize social life, anarchists on the other hand believe that the people are perfectly capable of doing both things by their local organizations in a direct democratic and federalist way and that a centralized government is inefficient, bureaucratic and authoritarian. Critics counter that anarchists have never produced a compelling explanation of how those decentralized local organizations could resist the organized fascist movement that the critics believe would inevitably step into the power vacuum to seize control,[1] although decentralized armies might be mustered should the need arise, as in Ukraine or the anarchist resistance observed in Spain.

Tacit authoritarianism[edit]

In recent decades anarchism (chiefly the Bakuninist concept of the revolutionary secret society) has been criticized by Situationists and others of preserving tacitly statist, authoritarian or bureaucratic tendencies.[3] Many anarchists consider it a strawman as the organization proposed by Bakunin has only been used in times of repression where clandestine activity is needed for survival (for example, during the last Argentinian dictatorship by Resistencia Libertaria Anticapitalista).

This criticism mainly comes from capitalists. Anarcho-capitalist Bryan Caplan alleges the treatment of fascists and fascist sympathizers by Spanish anarchists in the Spanish Civil War was a form of illegitimate coercion, and according to him this allegedly made the anarchists "ultimately just a third faction of totalitarians," alongside the communists and fascists. Apart from this criticism, he criticizes the willingness of the CNT to join the Republican government during the civil war, and references Stanley G. Payne's book on the Franco regime which claims that the CNT entered negotiations with the government of Spain six years after the war.[4] Many anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists, and other types of anarchists have criticized the CNT[5]'s mistakes during and since the events of the Spanish Civil War. On the other it should be noted that Caplan himself has shown some hypocrisy in supporting the right of capitalists to attack or kill others in the name of defense of private property, which in itself has been called a form of illegitimate coercion and authoritarianism by some anarchists. Caplan's political writing and scholarship, and the essay containing these points of view has been criticized as "mostly false reporting, based upon selective presentation of evidence in order to paint a radically false picture of the Spanish Anarchist movement", by Iain McKay.[6] Hence the truthfulness of Caplan's claim regarding the behavior anarchists in the Spanish Civil War is questionable. And even if the anarchists used certain some amount of violence against the fascists, it was only for the purpose of resistance. War of any kind itself is violent, and war can only be win by eliminating the enemy. This is the primary theory of any war happened throughout the history of mankind. Violence against enemy forces done by almost all types of people engaged in war. And the atrocities committed by the fascist forces were extremely high.


Since anarchism has often been associated with violence, it has been portrayed as being inherently violent. This is a matter of much debate between anarcho-pacifists and those who argue for the right to use violence in self-defense, whether of individuals or of class interests.

Friedrich Engels criticized anarchists for not being violent enough:

"A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois?"[7]

This is considered dishonest by many anarchists as Bakunin and most anarchists in the past have historically advocated for the use of revolutionary violence. The true difference lies in the way anarchists have organized to defend the revolution, that is, voluntary popular militias with elected officers and without the use of coercion to impose obedience to orders from a centralized command (see Nestor Makhno and Buenaventura Durruti for two anarchist military leaders), contrast this with forced conscription with unelected officers (and political officers to control them, as they were reactionaries most of the time) in a centralized and hierarchical chain of command, and death penalty for insubordination and desertion (see Trotsky and Stalin for two Marxist military leaders). Also, anarchists advocate revolutionary pluralism instead of one-party dictatorship (as Lenin imposed, although allegedly as a temporary measure, and Stalin and Mao defended as the form of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat), not taking revenge towards reactionaries for being reactionaries (only taking measures in the case of active opposition, like sabotage, spying, or murder, and when the person had acted ruthlessly against workers previously to the revolution) and convincing others to join collectivities by example instead of under threat (this can be seen in the Spanish revolution, most collectivities were partial, individualists were allowed to work land plots without hired labor, compare it with Mao's Great Leap Forward or Stalin's forced collectivization). The collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin disagreed with Marx's ideas of violent revolt, and argued that not all revolutions must be violent.

Alleged hypocrisy[edit]

Some critics point to the sexist[8] and racist views of some prominent anarchists, notably Proudhon and Bakunin, as examples of alleged hypocrisy. While many anarchists, however, dismiss that the personal prejudices of some 19th century theorists influence the beliefs of present-day anarchists, others criticise modern anarchism for continuing to be Eurocentric and reference the impact of anarchist thinkers like Proudhon on fascism through groups like Cercle Proudhon.[9] However, the tremendous number of anarchist opponents of fascism in its earliest history, plus the large number of Jewish anarchist followers of Bakunin from the past 120 years appears to attest to the power of his positive ideas about basic human freedom and the rejection by anarchists of his and Proudhon's negative statements (both in their times, like Dejacques and today). Anarchists point out that the people who focus on this area of these two people's writings tend to be Marxists trying to discredit anarchism, or nationalists pursuing a racist agenda, and not anarchists. The Jewish anarchist position has been to argue that while the stupidity of anti-semitism whom many otherwise progressive intellectuals possessed should not be forgotten or overlooked, it should not make us forget the positive work some who fell into this trap in past history have contributed to humanity. The argument that anarchism is Eurocentric or "Western" in philosophical orientation have largely been disproved by the large histories of Cuban anarchism (see Frank Fernández), Chinese anarchism (see Ba Jin) and African anarchism, Latin American anarchism (see Augusto César Sandino & Ricardo Flores Magón) movements in the 1920s.

Class character[edit]

Marxists have characterized anarchism as an expression of the class interests of the petite bourgeoisie or perhaps the lumpenproletariat. For example, Georgi Plekhanov supplied a Marxist critique in 1895.[10] Anarchists point out how Marxist revolutions create a new bourgeoisie based on being a bureaucrat. (See Anarchism and Marxism).