Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

Anarcho-Reformism: the Twentieth Century and After (1967)

If the C19th anarchists and their descendents in the earlier C20th were revolutionaries then their successors and counterparts in the later C20th must be called reformists. By this I do not mean that anyone has started a parliamentary Ararchist Party, but simply mean to refer to their preoccupation with small scale enterprises and reforms not only as examples to back up their theories but as ends without either the appeal to a Utopia or the felt need for revolution.

This reformism is understandable in that the main centres of anarchist thought are in developed and reasonably liberal countries where for most people the need for revolution is not great, i.e. there is no revolutionary class. Furthermore anti-utopianism and scepticism are attitudes common amongst the "free" C20th intelligentsia and whilst constituting a reaction against dogmatism have been carried so far that any plan or suggestion is suspect.

Reformism is also satisfying in that many anarchists have read the pessimistic Italian sociologists and wish to be spared the necessity of having a revolutionary elite to guide the revolution whether from above or within for the reformist need only represent a viewpoint within an institution and is hence spared the stigma of authoritarianism.

As a result in those countries in which revolution is necessary the anarchists have left the struggle to others with less understanding of power and fewer scruples in its pursuit. Reformism of course is only defensible where it is practicable - and revolution not practicable.

In countries where reformist aims are realisable there are many fruitful fields of activity for anarchists. Firstly a constant stream of criticism can be levelled at the Government and other enemies and the libertarian alternative stated. This is the background against which anarchists must present their positive reforms. In most countries organisations exist, or can be set up, espousing sexual freedom, educational reform, industrial reorganisation, direct foreign aid, self-help in housing and recreation and disarmament; anarchists can work in all of these. Furthermore legal reform is being pressed by certain organisations and anarchists can join in here too. Various weapons present themselves: verbal or written propaganda, civil disobedience, demonstrations and other forms of direct action. At all costs anarchists must resist the tendency of these organisations to go through the proper channels.

From what has been said it follows that revolutionary methods can be used to achieve reformist aims. The reverse is also true. Reforms eventually topple or replace the system they were propounded for. Hence some idea of a longer range aim must be kept in mind when advocating reforms for otherwise they can become pernicious. (e.g. England is neither a socialist or a capitalist paradise). The anarchist aims to improve the society and destroy the state. Hence the reforms he espouses must as far as possible remove spheres of social life from the state's control and he must try to show the state's incapacity for beneficial changes. The aim then is the removal of government prerogatives and the destruction of public worship of governments - if not confidence in them.

In its classical forms anarchism failed although this was not always due to anarchist ideas being poor or inappropriate. This does not mean that anarchist aims will always be unfulfilled or that anarchist society is impossible. It simply means that if anarchism is again to become a living movement, if it is again to inflame and move large numbers, if it is to influence other movements and gain new adherents, then anarchists must seek new ways, make new suggestions and put themselves in the van of all aspects of the progressive movement.

[ Top of Page ] [ Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index ] [ Radical Tradition Contents ]