Thinking about anarchism

Are anarchists violent?

As anarchism grows more popular, so do attempts to brand it as 'violent'. More than a few journalists have found it is much easier to make up stories about anarchists than to talk to anarchists themselves. Today we aren't hearing a lot of the 'anarchists hate all organisation' rubbish. After all, it stretches credibility to accuse people of organising 'anti-capitalist' protests and at the same time say they are against all structure and organisation.

However, there is a lot of nonsense turning up on TV, radio and in the newspapers, which tries to make anarchism little more than another word for violence. In reality anarchists are no more violent than anyone else, in fact we are a lot less so because of our politics. Our goal is a better world for everyone who lives on this planet, and it is a goal that can not be imposed by a minority.

Nobody can be forced to get together with their workmates and neighbours to take control of the decisions which effect them, nobody can be forced to be free. Our battle is a battle of ideas.

So why is anarchism so often confused with the antics of terrorist gangs? Like most myths, there is a grain of truth involved. After the 1871 workers' uprising in Paris was defeated, the ruling class scrapped what few political liberties existed in many European countries and unleashed bloody violence against anyone who opposed the rule of the rich.

A minority of anarchists resorted to avenging the violence of the bosses and nobility against the workers. In most cases this was the work of lone individuals acting on their own initiative. None the less, it provided a great opportunity to saddle anarchism with a violent image.

In England, Scotland Yard had a field day stirring up black propaganda. They put it about that anarchists (usually of 'foreign' extraction) were plotting to use poison and bombs in their 'war to the death against society'. They were even supposed to be studying dangerous germs so as to infect some of the poorest and most squalid areas of London's East End. These same plotters were even alleged to be collecting the clothes of cholera victims and bringing them to England.

Of course this was all utter rubbish, but if you repeat a lie often enough most people will accept it as fact until they meet real living anarchists and then discover the lie is even less believable than the one about the UDA being on ceasefire.

So let's set the record straight. Anarchists, all over the world, have said that secret armies and conspiracies cannot bring about the sort of change we desire. Usually they are ruthless, not caring too much about innocent casualties of their self-declared wars. They are elitist and authoritarian, under no control but their own, yet saying they are 'for the people'.

We can understand why, in desperation, small groups can turn to militarist means. Injustice is found everywhere and there are always those who look for a quick solution. We have to clearly state that killing individual rulers, bosses or their police will never end the capitalist system. They are all replaceable.

Capitalism survives because the majority believe there is no alternative. We need to convince them that there is, and that it is within their capabilities to make it happen.

Only a strong and politically aware working class can do the business. When we get to that stage, it is pretty certain that the old rulers will not give up their wealth and power without a struggle. In all of human history no ruling class has ever voluntarily stepped aside. The gains of the new society, a society based on the agreement and participation of the majority, will have to be defended. This will be done by organisations which are under democratic control.

What violence may be necessary will not be to change society, that comes from winning the majority to the anarchist goal, but rather to defend the new society from the attacks of the ex-rulers and ex-bosses.


This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper '
Workers Solidarity'. We also provide a PDF file of the latest edition (with pictures) for you to print out and distribute locally

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This edition is No66 published in September 2001

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