Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

Anarchism and History (1971)

1. Anarchism is the theory and practice of total opposition to God and the State, that is, total opposition to the historically dominant forms of the Spirit of Authority.

By "historically dominant" is meant the dominance within real experienced history which belongs as such only to the Nation-State and the Stalino-Liberal-Christian-Judaic God. In a static society, that is one in which both the sacred and the secular are just aspects of the organization of the one unitary society conceived as both. natural and eternal, the thought of anarchism cannot arise. Prior to the modern period only isolated individuals have made any approach to distinctively anarchist concepts and to our knowledge this has only been achieved in societies given a real history by the clash of rival powers disrupting the traditional fabric of society..; As a system of thought anarchism could only arise in reaction to the monopolisation of history by a single deity and his earthly representative the modern nation-state.

For the God of the West stood outside nature but inside history, in contradistinction to all previous Gods, who only were inside history insofar as they were part of the natural order. Right from the start there was a contradiction in a God radically separate from the world of things, and thus from sub-historical man, who yet claimed the right to make an end to man's history and thus provide history with a meaning, a meaning which man was supposed unable to give it. For a while the myth of Jesus, the God-made-man, seemed to provide a solution. to this paradox - if only in a symbolic and allegorical sense - but with the mathematisation of the universe into by Newton and the Seventeenth century scientists it became increasingly obvious that God was nowhere; he was not outside space and time because Newtonian space-time left nothing outside it, but it was equally silly to suppose him inside the universe and the theologians had never said that he was. Thus was God banished from the world. But even as the atomism of the new science banished God from the universe, atomism in political philosophy was preparing his return as the State.

From the dawn of christian civilization in the West power and religion have inter-penetrated. Initially the West was theoretically united politically as the Holy Roman Empire and religiously as (catholic) christendom. Although, this unity was soon reduced to a facade by power struggles for the right of succession to the two seats of power, and completely fractured by the logic of economics, geography and demography, the chief beneficiaries of the decay the embryonic nation states were blessed by the pope (for a price) and the new doctrines of the Divine Right of Kings and every King an Emperor in his own domain were developed to ensure the continued identity of power and religion. The shifting balance of power between the local monarchs and the (theoretically universal) papacy soon reached the point at which it was obvious that all clergy were national clergy even if they were not, as in England, nationalized. The first duty of the orthodox christian was worship of the state.

But this result, although implicit in the very premises of Western civilization, was only achieved by real historical movement. The ultimate identity of heavenly power and earthly power, the feudal lord and the heavenly lord, is only clear from a higher vantage point. The divinization of the state and the secularization of religion proceeded through national wars, struggles of church and state and, most importantly, religious wars in which atomism in morals - a harbinger of the bourgeoisie - joined with peasant revolt to change the whole apparatus of church and state. Thus the very forces which had helped realise God on earth as the nationstate foreshadowed His destruction.

Although undertaken in the name of religion the peasant wars and rebellions had raised the demand for freedom from earthly rulers and the advance of theoretical atomism; which had banished God from the skies, reinstated him on earth as the Monarch or the State only at the cost of recognizing the theoretical possibility of statelessness or atheism in politics. The medieval oppositions, viz man/state and world/God, which really just expressed the same opposition, were displaced by the new oppositions man/nature - which underlay early economic philosophy - and people/rulers which underlay Machievelli's revision of medieval political theory. Revolutionary bourgeois thought worked this over and they culminated in Hegel's opposition of civil society/state, and Rousseau's opposition of natural man/state. This discovery that the state was erected on other social formations and was not an eternal form prepared the way for its banishment from history just as the earlier discovery of the notion of infinite space had banished God from the universe.

Thus it is clear that, quite independently of the ideological form of its presentation, the discovery that man is free, i.e. makes his own history, in an understandable world, is implicit in the development of Western civilization. Thus anarchism, as the demand that man be freed from God and the State, quite naturally arises along with its progressive realization.

2. If anarchism is rooted in history in this way, then it stands in no special need of theoretical support. However in the absence of an understanding of the real movement which has produced anarchism it is possible to identify the ideological forms which produced and accompanied the decay of traditional order as the sources of anarchist doctrine - thus implicitly degrading anarchism from knowledge to ideology. If this were the case then anarchism would be essentially an amalgam of extreme liberalism in politics with protestantism in ethics but, despite some similarities, it is different. The connection is not that anarchism is a continuation or development of these doctrines but that it is a completely different movement which in some retarded countries, e.g. Spain, (partially) played the part that liberalism and protestantism had previously played in more developed countries. (Just as Marxism unsuccessfully played the part of liberalism in Germany.)

Of the early anarchists Godwin and Proudhon came closest to fitting the ideological continuation model but of these Godwin was never an influence on the historical movement. Proudhon, while taking as his point of departure the French revolution, passed through an anarchist stage - throughout which he adhered to economic liberalism as a description of rational economics - and then further to a more conservative stage in which he dismantled elements of his anarchist system. He was an influence on Spanish liberalism and was in his non-economic, i.e. non-liberal, ideas a point of departure for Bakunin. Starting with Bakunin, though, anarchism broke decisively with liberalism and became a revolutionary alternative to it. There is no "peaceful evolution" of liberalism and protestantism into anarchism; liberalism takes its stand on "freedom from" guaranteed by the State and protestantism on the authority of "internalized" laws of God. Anarchism bases itself on positive freedom, "freedom to", which implies the negation of both the State and God.

The sole element anarchism inherits from the traditions of protestantism and liberalism is the "proof" - which itself involves their transcedence - that there can be no politico-moral obligation, i.e. that you never have the duty to do what the authorities tell you, that you have no obligations to God and the State.

3. The merely negative realization that one has no obligations to rulers does not yet imply the practical overthrow of the state and in the nature of the case no purely theoretical result could. But if anarchism is the thought of a truly human history made freely by man, i.e. society, then the State, as the chief contemporary body claiming the monopoly of history, is doomed insofar as freedom is realized. But since the State only exists insofar as it can monopolize history (and direct all social life) it is necessarily organized to prevent man making his own history. Thus in the struggle for a human history the State is the enemy. No thesis demands the destruction of the State but man's consciousness of himself as the conscious maker of history will imply it.

4. When a human history is achieved it will not be a history of wars and conquest. Neither will it be a history of Gross National Products and profit rates. It will be a history of everyday life, in fact history will be the ensemble of everyone's lives. History when truly the product of the masses themselves will necessarily be the history of the masses. Then history will be rewritten as the activity of self-liberation, a history of the class struggle the aim of which is to put the means of sustaining life into the hands of the living. Thus in the final analysis anarchism is the consciousness of the aim of the revolution.

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