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Table of Contents

Introduction 14

An Anarchist FAQ: After ten years 23

Introduction to Volume 1 37

A Summation 48

Contents 50

Section A - What is Anarchism? 53

A.1 What is anarchism? 59

A.1.1 What does "anarchy" mean? 63

A.1.2 What does "anarchism" mean? 69

A.1.3 Why is anarchism also called libertarian socialism? 76

A.1.4 Are anarchists socialists? 81

A.1.5 Where does anarchism come from? 90

A.2 What does anarchism stand for? 97

A.2.1 What is the essence of anarchism? 103

A.2.2 Why do anarchists emphasise liberty? 107

A.2.3 Are anarchists in favour of organisation? 114

A.2.4 Are anarchists in favour of "absolute" liberty? 122

A.2.5 Why are anarchists in favour of equality? 124

A.2.6 Why is solidarity important to anarchists? 133

A.2.7 Why do anarchists argue for self-liberation? 139

A.2.8 Is it possible to be an anarchist without opposing hierarchy? 148

A.2.9 What sort of society do anarchists want? 156

A.2.10 What will abolishing hierarchy mean and achieve? 166

A.2.11 Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy? 171

A.2.12 Is consensus an alternative to direct democracy? 182

A.2.13 Are anarchists individualists or collectivists? 186

A.2.14 Why is voluntarism not enough? 194

A.2.15 What about "human nature"? 201

A.2.16 Does anarchism require "perfect" people to work? 213

A.2.17 Aren't most people too stupid for a free society to work? 222

A.2.18 Do anarchists support terrorism? 229

A.2.19 What ethical views do anarchists hold? 244

A.2.20 Why are most anarchists atheists? 257

A.3 What types of anarchism are there? 267

A.3.1 What are the differences between individualist and social anarchists? 273

A.3.2 Are there different types of social anarchism? 290

A.3.3 What kinds of green anarchism are there? 301

A.3.4 Is anarchism pacifistic? 312

A.3.5 What is Anarcha-Feminism? 322

A.3.6 What is Cultural Anarchism? 341

A.3.7 Are there religious anarchists? 345

A.3.8 What is "anarchism without adjectives"? 358

A.3.9 What is anarcho-primitivism? 365

A.4 Who are the major anarchist thinkers? 388

A.4.1 Are there any thinkers close to anarchism? 409

A.4.2 Are there any liberal thinkers close to anarchism? 417

A.4.3 Are there any socialist thinkers close to anarchism? 429

A.4.4 Are there any Marxist thinkers close to anarchism? 435

A.5 What are some examples of "Anarchy in Action"? 446

A.5.1 The Paris Commune 454

A.5.2 The Haymarket Martyrs 464

A.5.3 Building the Syndicalist Unions 475

A.5.4 Anarchists in the Russian Revolution. 484

A.5.5 Anarchists in the Italian Factory Occupations 514

A.5.6 Anarchism and the Spanish Revolution. 540

A.5.7 The May-June Revolt in France, 1968. 550

Section B - Why do anarchists oppose the current system? 562

B.1 Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy? 571

B.1.1 What are the effects of authoritarian social relationships? 582

B.1.2 Is capitalism hierarchical? 601

B.1.3 What kind of hierarchy of values does capitalism create? 610

B.1.4 Why do racism, sexism and homophobia exist? 616

B.1.5 How is the mass-psychological basis for authoritarian civilisation created? 632

B.1.6 Can hierarchy be ended? 645

B.2 Why are anarchists against the state? 659

B.2.1 What is main function of the state? 676

B.2.2 Does the state have subsidiary functions? 685

B.2.3 How does the ruling class maintain control of the state? 699

B.2.4 How does state centralisation affect freedom? 716

B.2.5 Who benefits from centralisation? 727

B.2.6 Can the state be an independent power within society? 742

B.3 Why are anarchists against private property? 751

B.3.1 What is the difference between private property and possession? 761

B.3.2 What kinds of property does the state protect? 769

B.3.3 Why is property exploitative? 793

B.3.4 Can private property be justified? 799

B.3.5 Is state owned property different from private property? 812

B.4 How does capitalism affect liberty? 816

B.4.1 Is capitalism based on freedom? 825

B.4.2 Is capitalism based on self-ownership? 835

B.4.3 But no one forces you to work for them! 852

B.4.4 But what about periods of high demand for labour? 865

B.4.5 But I want to be "left alone"! 871

B.5 Is capitalism empowering and based on human action? 880

B.6 But won't decisions made by individuals with their own money be the best? 889

B.7 What classes exist within modern society? 894

B.7.1 But do classes actually exist? 900

B.7.2 Does social mobility make up for class inequality? 913

B.7.3 Why is the existence of classes denied? 923

B.7.4 What do anarchists mean by "class consciousness"? 928

Section C - What are the myths of capitalist economics? 938

C.1 What is wrong with economics? 954

C.1.1 Is economics really value free? 980

C.1.2 Is economics a science? 1005

C.1.3 Can you have an economics based on individualism? 1018

C.1.4 What is wrong with equilibrium analysis? 1034

C.1.5 Does economics really reflect the reality of capitalism? 1049

C.1.6 Is it possible to a non-equilibrium based capitalist economics? 1072

C.2 Why is capitalism exploitative? 1093

C.2.1 What is "surplus value"? 1102

C.2.2 How does exploitation happen? 1116

C.2.3 Is owning capital sufficient reason to justify profits? 1128

C.2.4 Is profit the reward for the productivity of capital? 1141

C.2.5 Do profits represent the contribution of capital to production? 1157

C.2.6 Does interest represent the "time value" of money? 1173

C.2.7 Are interest and profit not the reward for waiting? 1193

C.2.8 Are profits the result of entrepreneurial activity and innovation? 1216

C.2.9 Do profits reflect a reward for risk? 1240

C.3 What determines the distribution between labour and capital? 1257

C.4 Why does the market become dominated by Big Business? 1271

C.4.1 How extensive is Big Business? 1281

C.4.2 What are the effects of Big Business on society? 1288

C.4.3 What does the existence of Big Business mean for economic theory and wage labour? 1297

C.5 Why does Big Business get a bigger slice of profits? 1309

C.5.1 Aren't the super-profits of Big Business due to its higher efficiency? 1320

C.6 Can market dominance by Big Business change? 1330

C.7 What causes the capitalist business cycle? 1338

C.7.1 What role does class struggle play in the business cycle? 1347

C.7.2 What role does the market play in the business cycle? 1364

C.7.3 What role does investment play in the business cycle? 1375

C.8 Is state control of money the cause of the business cycle? 1392

C.8.1 Does this mean that Keynesianism works? 1423

C.8.2 What happened to Keynesianism in the 1970s? 1434

C.8.3 How did capitalism adjust to the crisis in Keynesianism? 1448

C.9 Would laissez-faire capitalism reduce unemployment? 1469

C.9.1 Would cutting wages reduce unemployment? 1496

C.9.2 Is unemployment caused by wages being too high? 1525

C.9.3 Are "flexible" labour markets the answer to unemployment? 1543

C.9.4 Is unemployment voluntary? 1572

C.10 Is "free market" capitalism the best way to reduce poverty? 1581

C.10.1 Hasn't neo-liberalism benefited the world's poor? 1600

C.10.2 Does "free trade" benefit everyone? 1618

C.10.3 Does "free market" capitalism benefit everyone, especially working class people? 1634

C.10.4 Does growth automatically mean people are better off? 1649

C.11 Doesn't neo-liberalism in Chile prove that the free market benefits everyone? 1671

C.11.1 Who benefited from Chile's "economic miracle"? 1689

C.11.2 What about Chile's economic growth and low inflation? 1702

C.12 Doesn't Hong Kong show the potentials of "free market" capitalism? 1723

Section D - How do statism and capitalism affect society? 1744

D.1 Why does state intervention occur? 1750

D.1.1 Does state intervention cause the problems to begin with? 1765

D.1.2 Is state intervention the result of democracy? 1774

D.1.3 Is state intervention socialistic? 1790

D.1.4 Is laissez-faire capitalism actually without state intervention? 1800

D.1.5 Do anarchists support state intervention? 1807

D.2 What influence does wealth have over politics? 1823

D.2.1 Is capital flight really that powerful? 1830

D.3 How does wealth influence the mass media? 1845

D.3.1 How does the structure of the media affect its content? 1852

D.3.2 What is the effect of advertising on the mass media? 1856

D.3.3 Why do the media rely on government and business "experts" for information? 1859

D.3.4 How is "flak" used as a means of disciplining the media? 1864

D.3.5 Why is "anticommunism" used as control mechanism? 1867

D.3.6 Isn't the "propaganda model" a conspiracy theory? 1871

D.3.7 Isn't the model contradicted by the media reporting government and business failures? 1875

D.4 What is the relationship between capitalism and the ecological crisis? 1879

D.5 What causes imperialism? 1887

D.5.1 How has imperialism changed over time? 1905

D.5.2 Is imperialism just a product of private capitalism? 1926

D.5.3 Does globalisation mean the end of imperialism? 1937

D.6 Are anarchists against Nationalism? 1964

D.7 Are anarchists opposed to National Liberation struggles? 1976

D.8 What causes militarism and what are its effects? 1991

D.9 Why does political power become concentrated under capitalism? 2005

D.9.1 What is the relationship between wealth polarisation and authoritarian government? 2021

D.9.2 Why is government surveillance of citizens on the increase? 2027

D.9.3 What causes justifications for racism to appear? 2037

D.10 How does capitalism affect technology? 2046

D.11 Can politics and economics be separated from each other? 2071

D.11.1 What does Chile tell us about the right and its vision of liberty? 2080

D.11.2 But surely Chile proves that "economic freedom" creates political freedom? 2088

Section E - What do anarchists think causes ecological problems? 2102

E.1 What are the root causes of our ecological problems? 2115

E.1.1 Is industry the cause of environmental problems? 2129

E.1.2 What is the difference between environmentalism and ecology? 2137

E.2 What do eco-anarchists propose instead of capitalism? 2144

E.3 Can private property rights protect the environment? 2166

E.3.1 Will privatising nature save it? 2182

E.3.2 How does economic power contribute to the ecological crisis? 2200

E.3.3 Can capitalism's focus on short-term profitability deal with the ecological crisis? 2224

E.4 Can laissez-faire capitalism protect the environment? 2232

E.4.1 Will laissez-faire capitalism actually end pollution? 2246

E.4.2 Can wilderness survive under laissez-faire capitalism? 2256

E.5 Can ethical consumerism stop the ecological crisis? 2273

E.6 What is the population myth? 2290

Section F - Is "anarcho"-capitalism a type of anarchism? 2311

F.1 Are "anarcho"-capitalists really anarchists? 2326

F.2 What do "anarcho"-capitalists mean by freedom? 2351

F.2.1 How does private property affect freedom? 2365

F.2.2 Do Libertarian-capitalists support slavery? 2373

F.3 Why do anarcho"-capitalists place little or no value on equality? 2389

F.3.1 Why is this disregard for equality important? 2406

F.3.2 Can there be harmony of interests in an unequal society? 2418

F.4 What is the right-"libertarian" position on private property? 2438

F.4.1 What is wrong with a "homesteading" theory of property? 2453

F.5 Will privatising "the commons" increase liberty? 2462

F.6 Is "anarcho"-capitalism against the state? 2473

F.6.1 What's wrong with this "free market" justice? 2477

F.6.2 What are the social consequences of such a system? 2490

F.6.3 But surely market forces will stop abuses by the rich? 2496

F.6.4 Why are these "defence associations" states? 2511

F.7 How does the history of "anarcho"-capitalism show that it is not anarchist? 2518

F.7.1 Are competing governments anarchism? 2524

F.7.2 Is government compatible with anarchism? 2537

F.7.3 Can there be a "right-wing" anarchism? 2553

F.8 What role did the state take in the creation of capitalism? 2562

F.8.1 What social forces lay behind the rise of capitalism? 2584

F.8.2 What was the social context of the statement "laissez-faire?" 2592

F.8.3 What other forms did state intervention in creating capitalism take? 2602

F.8.4 Aren't the enclosures a socialist myth? 2618

F.8.5 What about the lack of enclosures in the Americas? 2626

F.8.6 How did working people view the rise of capitalism? 2645

Appendix - The Symbols of Anarchy 2658

Introduction 2658

1 What is the history of the Black Flag? 2663

2 Why the red-and-black flag? 2680

3 Where does the circled-A come from? 2688


"Proletarians of the world, look into the depths of your own beings, seek out the truth and realise it yourselves: you will find it nowhere else"
- Peter Arshinov
The History of the Makhnovist Movement

Welcome to our FAQ on anarchism

This FAQ was written by anarchists across the world in an attempt to present anarchist ideas and theory to those interested in it. It is a co-operative effort, produced by a (virtual) working group and it exists to present a useful organising tool for anarchists on-line and, hopefully, in the real world. It desires to present arguments on why you should be an anarchist as well as refuting common arguments against anarchism and other proposed solutions to the social problems we face.

As anarchist ideas seem so at odds with "common-sense" (such as "of course we need a state and capitalism") we need to indicate whyanarchists think like we do. Unlike political theories, anarchism rejects flip answers and bases its ideas and ideals in an in-depth analysis of society and humanity. In order to do both anarchism and the reader justice we have summarised our arguments as much as possible without making them simplistic. We know that it is a lengthy document and may put off the casual observer but its length is unavoidable.

Readers may consider our use of extensive quoting as being an example of a "quotation [being] a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself."(A.A. Milne) This is not the case of course. We have included extensive quotations by many anarchist figures three reasons. Firstly, to indicate that we are notmaking up our claims of what certain anarchists thought or argued for. Secondly, and most importantly, it allows us to link the past voices of anarchism with its present adherents. And lastly, the quotes are used for their ability to convey ideas succinctly rather than as an appeal to "authority."

In addition, many quotes are used in order to allow readers to investigate the ideas of those quoted and to summarise facts and so save space. For example, a quote by Noam Chomsky on the development of capitalism by state protection ensures that we base our arguments on facts without having to present all the evidence and references Chomsky uses. Similarly, we quote experts on certain subjects (such as economics, for example) to support and bolster our analysis and claims.

We should also indicate the history of this FAQ. It was started in 1995 when a group of anarchists got together in order to write an FAQ refuting the claims of certain "libertarian" capitalists to being anarchists. Those who were involved in this project had spent many an hour on-line refuting claims by these people that capitalism and anarchism could go together. Finally, a group of net-activists decided the best thing was to produce an FAQ explaining why anarchism hates capitalism and why "anarcho" capitalists are not anarchists. However, after the suggestion of Mike Huben (who maintains the "Critiques of Libertarianism"web-page) it was decided that a pro-Anarchist FAQ would be a better idea than an anti-"anarcho"-capitalist one. So the Anarchist FAQ was born. It still bears some of the signs of its past-history. For example it gives the likes of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and so on, far too much space outside of Section F -- they really are not that important. However, as they present extreme examples of everyday capitalist ideology and assumptions, they do have their uses -- they state clearly the authoritarian implications of capitalist ideology which its more supporters try to hide or minimise.

We think that we have produced a useful on-line resource for anarchists and other anti-capitalists to use. Perhaps, in light of this, we should dedicate this anarchist FAQ to the many on-line "libertarian" capitalists who, because of their inane arguments, prompted us to start this work. Then again, that would give them too much credit. Outside the net they are irrelevant and on the net they are just annoying. As you may guess, sections F and G contain the bulk of this early anti-Libertarian FAQ and are included purely to refute the claim that an anarchist can be a supporter of capitalism that is relatively common on the net (in the real world this would not be required as almost all anarchists think that "anarcho"-capitalism is an oxymoron and that its supporters are not part of the anarchist movement).

So, while coming from a very specific reason, the FAQ has expanded into more than we originally imagined. It has become a general introduction about anarchism, its ideas and history. Because anarchism recognises that there are no easy answers and that freedom must be based on individual responsibility the FAQ is quite in-depth. As it also challenges a lot of assumptions, we have had to cover a lot of ground. We also admit that some of the "frequently asked questions" we have included are more frequently asked than others. This is due to the need to include relevant arguments and facts which otherwise may not have been included.

We are sure that many anarchists will not agree 100% with what we have written in the FAQ. That is to be expected in a movement based upon individual freedom and critical thought. However, we are sure that most anarchists will agree with most of what we present and respect those parts with which they do disagree with as genuine expressions of anarchist ideas and ideals. The anarchist movement is marked by wide-spread disagreement and argument about various aspects of anarchist ideas and how to apply them (but also, we must add, a wide-spread tolerance of differing viewpoints and a willingness to work together in spite of minor disagreements). We have attempted to reflect this in the FAQ and hope we have done a good job in presenting the ideas of all the anarchist tendencies we discuss.

We have no desire to write in stone what anarchism is and is not. Instead the FAQ is a starting point for people to read and learn for themselves about anarchism and translate that learning into direct action and self-activity. By so doing, we make anarchism a living theory, a product of individual and social self-activity. Only by applying our ideas in practice can we find their strengths and limitations and so develop anarchist theory in new directions and in light of new experiences. We hope that the FAQ both reflects and aids this process of self-activity and self-education.

We are sure that there are many issues that the FAQ does not address. If you think of anything we could add or feel you have a question and answer which should be included, in contact with us. The FAQ is not our "property" but belongs to the whole anarchist movement and so aims to be an organic, living creation. We desire to see it grow and expand with new ideas and inputs from as many people as possible. If you want to get involved with the FAQ then contact us. Similarly, if others (particularly anarchists) want to distribute all or part of it then feel free. It is a resource for the movement. For this reason we have "copylefted" An Anarchist FAQ (see details). By so doing we ensure that the FAQ remains a free product, available for use by all.

One last point. Language has changed a lot over the years and this applies to anarchist thinkers too. The use of the term "man" to refer to humanity is one such change. Needless to say, in today's world such usage is inappropriate as it effectively ignores half the human race. For this reason the FAQ has tried to be gender neutral. However, this awareness is relatively recent and many anarchists (even the female ones like Emma Goldman) used the term "man" to refer to humanity as a whole. When we are quoting past comrades who use "man" in this way, it obviously means humanity as a whole rather than the male sex. Where possible, we add "woman", "women", "her" and so on but if this would result in making the quote unreadable, we have left it as it stands. We hope this makes our position clear.

So we hope that this FAQ entertains you and makes you think. Hopefully it will produce a few more anarchists and speed up the creation of an anarchist society. If all else fails, we have enjoyed ourselves creating the FAQ and have shown anarchism to be a viable, coherent political idea.

We dedicate this work to the millions of anarchists, living and dead, who tried and are trying to create a better world. An Anarchist FAQ was officially released on July 19th, 1996 for that reason -- to celebrate the Spanish Revolution of 1936 and the heroism of the Spanish anarchist movement. We hope that our work here helps make the world a freer place.

The following self-proclaimed anarchists are (mostly) responsible for this FAQ:

Iain McKay (main contributor and editor)
Gary Elkin
Dave Neal
Ed Boraas

We would like to thank the following for their contributions and feedback:

Andrew Flood
Mike Ballard
Francois Coquet
Jamal Hannah
Mike Huben
Greg Alt
Chuck Munson
Pauline McCormack
Nestor McNab

Kevin Carson

Shawn Wilber

and our comrades on the anarchy, oneunion and organise! mailing lists.

"An Anarchist FAQ", Version 13.0
Copyright (C) 1995-2008 The Anarchist FAQ Editorial Collective:
McKay, Gary Elkin, Dave Neal, Ed Boraas

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation, and/or the terms of the GNU General Public License, Version 2.0 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.

See the Licenses page at more details.

An Anarchist FAQ: After ten years

It is now ten years since "An Anarchist FAQ" (AFAQ) was officially released. A lot has happened over that time, unfortunately finishing it has not been one of them!

Over that decade, AFAQ has changed considerably. It was initially conceived as a energy-saving device to stop anarchists having to continually make the same points against claims that "anarcho"-capitalism was a form of anarchism. As would be expected, the quality of the initial versions and sections were pretty mixed. Most of it was extremely good (even if we do say so ourselves!) and has required little change over the decade (mostly we have built upon and expanded the original material). A few bits were less good and have been researched more and rewritten. We have also, of course, made mistakes and corrected them when we have been informed about them or have discovered them ourselves. In general, though, our initial work has stood up well and while we were occasionally wrong on a few details, the general thrust of even these areas has been proven correct. Overall, our aim to produce an FAQ which reflected the majority of anarchist thought, both currently and historically from an international perspective, has been a success as shown by the number of mirrors, links and translations AFAQ has seen (being published by AK Press).

Since the official release, AFAQ has changed. When we released it back in 1996, we had already decided to make it a FAQ about anarchism rather than an FAQ on why anarchism is anti-capitalist. However, the first versions still bore the marks of its origins. We realised that this limited it somewhat and we have slowly revised the AFAQ so that it has become a resource about anarchism (indeed, if it were to be started again the section on "anarcho"-capitalism would be placed into an appendix, where it belongs). This means that the aim of AFAQ has changed. I would say that it has two related goals:

1. To present the case for anarchism, to convince people they should become anarchists.

2. To be a resource for existing anarchists, to use to bolster their activism and activities by presenting facts and arguments to allow them to defend anarchism against those opposed to it (Marxists, capitalists, etc.).

The second goal explains why, for example, we spend a lot of time refuting capitalist economics and Marxism/Leninism (partly, because many of the facts and arguments are in academic books which are unavailable to the general public). We hope that AFAQ has proved useful to our comrades as much as we hope we have convinced non-anarchists, at best, to become anarchists, or, at worse, to take our ideas seriously. Hopefully, the two aims are mutually complementary.

Not only has AFAQ changed over the last ten years, so has the anarchist and general political landscape on the internet. When AFAQ was being initially created, the number of anarchists on-line was small. There were not that many anarchist webpages and, relatively speaking, right-wing "libertarians" were unopposed in arguing that "anarcho"-capitalism was a form of anarchism (the only FAQ was Caplan's biased and inaccurate "Anarchist Theory FAQ"). As a non-American, I was surprised that this oxymoron even existed (I still am, as are all the anarchists I mention it to). Anarchism has always been a socialisttheory and the concept of an "anarchism" which supported the economic system anarchism was born opposing is nonsense. Arguing with its supporters and reading up on it convinced me that the only real it has with anarchism is simply its attempted appropriation of the name. [1] Hence the pressing need for a realanarchist FAQ, a need AFAQ successfully met.

Luckily, over the 1990s things changed. More anarchists went online, anarchist organisations created a web presence and the balance of forces changed to reflect reality (i.e. there are far more anarchists than "anarcho"-capitalists). The anti-capitalist movement helped, putting anarchists back in the news (the BBC even linked to AFAQ for those interested in finding out what anarchists wanted!) Even in the USA, things got better and after Seattle genuine anarchism could no longer be ignored. This produced some articles by "anarcho"-capitalists, explaining how there are two forms of anarchism and that the two have nothing or little in common (if that is the case, why call your ideology anarchism?). Anarchist organisations and activism increased and the awareness that anarchism was anti-hierarchy, anti-state andanti-capitalist increased. As an bonus, some genuine individualist anarchists appeared, refuting the claim that "anarcho"-capitalism was merely a form of "updated" individualist anarchism. All these developments were welcomed, as were the words of praise and encouragement we received for our work on AFAQ from many anarchists (including, it must be stressed, individualist ones). Today, genuine anarchism in all its forms has a much greater profile, as is anarchist opposition to "anarcho"-capitalism and its claims. We hope AFAQ played a role, however small, in that process.

Of course, the battle is not over. On Wikipedia, for example, right-"libertarians" are busy trying to rewrite the history of anarchism. Some anarchists have tried to counteract this attempt, and have meant with differing degrees of success. We urge you to get involved, if you have the time and energy as numbers, sadly, do seem to count. This is because we anarchists are up against people who, apparently, do not have a and so can wage a war of attrition against those who try and include relevant facts to the entries (such as the obvious anti-capitalism of "traditional" anarchism, that anarchism is notcompatible with government or hierarchy -- hence an-archy! -- or that calling yourself an anarchist does not necessarily make it so). It is a shame that such a promising project has been derailed by ideologues whose ignorance of the subject matter is matched only by their hatred of AFAQ which they deny is a "credible" or valid reference on anarchism.

I am not surprised that AFAQ is hated by the "libertarian" right (nor will I be surprised if it is equally hated by the authoritarian left). After all, it presents the case for genuine anarchism, exposes the claims of a capitalist "anarchism" for the nonsense they are and shows how deeply authoritarian right-wing "libertarianism" actually is. That the FAQ can be called "biased" by these people goes without saying (it is, after all, a FAQ about anarchism written by anarchists). What seems funny is that they just do not comprehend that anarchists take offence to their pretensions of labelling their ideology "anarchism," that we would seek to refute such claims and that their notion that "anarcho"-capitalism is anarchist is far more biased. Let us hope that more academics will pay attention to this and the obvious fact that there is a very long list of anarchists, famous and not-so-famous, who consider the whole concept an oxymoron.

Equally unsurprising is the attempt to deny that AFAQ is a valid reference on Wikipedia. This boils down to the claim that the authors are "nobodies." Given that Kropotkin always stressed that anarchism was born from the people, I take that intended insult as a badge of pride. I have always taken the position that it is not who says something that counts, but what they say. In other words, I would far sooner quote a "nobody" who knows what they are talking about than a "somebody" who does not. As AFAQ indicates with its many refutations of straw man arguments against anarchism, there are plenty of the latter. Ultimately, the logical conclusion of such an argument is that anarchists are not qualified to discuss anarchism, an inherently silly position but useful if you are seeking to turn anarchism into something it is not.

Given that even such an usually reliable expert as the late, great, Paul Avrich made mistakes, this position is by far the most sensible. Between what a suitably qualified "expert" writes and what actual anarchists say and do, I always go for the latter. Any serious scientist would do so, but sadly many do not -- instead, we get ideology. A classic example is Eric Hobsbawm's thesis on "Primitive Rebels"which he decided to illustrate, in part, with the example of Spanish anarchism. As we recount as part of our appendix on "Marxism and Spanish Anarchism" while undoubtedly a "somebody" and immensely qualified to write on the subject, his account was utter nonsense. This was proven doubt when an anthologist interviewed the survivors of the Casas Viejas massacre. Their account of the event had only appeared previously in anarchist papers at the time and both, needless to say, refuted Hobsbawm.

So, to be called a "nobody" is quite a complement, given how many of the "somebodies" have not stopped being ignorant of anarchism from putting pen to paper and exposing that ignorance to the world (the worse recent example of this, outside of Marxism, must be George Monbiot's terrible comments in his "Age of Consent"). So, when it comes to saying what anarchism is, I turn to anarchists. This is what the "experts" should be doing anyway if they were doing their job.

Are we "qualified" to write about anarchism? Well, the collective has always been made up of anarchists, so we have an anarchist FAQ written by anarchists. It has always been a popular site, given the number of mirrors, translations and links it has been given (one mirror called it "world famous"). It is being published by AK Press, one of the leading anarchist publishers in the world.

I am the main editor and contributor to AFAQ. While one contributor to Wikipedia claimed I as an American academic, this is not the case. I have a "real" job and work on AFAQ in my spare time (I do despair when people, particularly leftists, assume that wage slaves are incapable of producing works like AFAQ). I have been always been an anarchist since becoming politically aware which means I have been an anarchist activist for approximately 20 years (time flies when you are having fun!). I have been a member of numerous anarchist groups and have contributed to many anarchist publications and websites. As can be seen from my personal webpage [2], I regularly contribute articles to Freedom(the leading English-language anarchist newspaper). Rarely does an issue come out without something by me it in. , some of the longer articles have appeared in Black Flag(before and after I joined its editorial committee). My works have also been published in Scottish Anarchist, Anarcho-Syndicalist Reviewand Free Voicesand some have been translated into other languages. I am also an invited columnist for the www.infoshop.organd www.anarkismo.netwebpages (neither of which I am otherwise involved with). In addition, I have been invited to speak at anarchist conferences in Scotland and Ireland, as well as by Marxist parties to debate the merits of anarchism. Due to family commitments, my specifically anarchist activities are pretty much limited to writing these days, but I remain a reasonably active trade unionist.

I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether we are "qualified" to write about anarchism or not!

But as I said, I always consider what is said more important than who says it. The fact that AFAQ is so popular with anarchists is what counts and I hope that we continue to be. We are always looking for help and suggestions, so if you want to get involved or want something added or changed, please contact us -- we consider AFAQ as a resource for anarchists and we want it to reflect what anarchists think and do. [3] However, if you do want something changed or added be prepared to do some or all of the work yourself as we have our own plans on future developments and may not be able to provide the time or energy for other changes. Also, if you spot a mistake or a typo, please inform us as no matter how often we check errors do creep in. We take our task seriously and correct all errors when informed of them (differences in interpretation or terminology are not, of course, errors). [4]

Speaking personally, I have enjoyed being part of this project. I have learned a lot and have gained a better understanding of many anarchist thinkers and historical events. For example, I can now understand why Daniel Guerin was so interested in Proudhon and why it has been a crying shame that Voltairine de Cleyre's works have been unavailable for 8 decades. As such, my understanding and appreciation of anarchism has been enriched by working on AFAQ and I hope that others have had a similar experience reading it. On the negative side, I've had to read some terrible books and articles but very few, if any, of those were anarchist. But this is minor. The work has been worth it and while it has taken longer than any of us had imagined at the start, I'm glad that we are still working on it ten years later as AFAQ is much improved for all that time and energy. If nothing else, this work has reinforced my belief in the positive ideas and ideals of anarchism and confirmed why I became an anarchist so long ago. And, let me be honest, I would not do it unless I enjoyed it!

What of the future? Obviously, we know that AFAQ is not the final word on anarchism (we have always stressed that this is AnAnarchist and not "The Anarchist FAQ," although some do call it that). The immediate aim is to revise the existing main sections of AFAQ for publication, which we are slowly doing. In the process some previous work is being added to and, in some cases, totally revised. After ten years, our knowledge of many subjects has expanded considerably. We have also asked a couple of individualist anarchist comrades to have a look over section G and hopefully their input will flesh out that section when it comes to be revised (for all its flaws, individualist anarchism deserves far more than to be appropriated by the right and social anarchists should be helping its modern supporters attempts to reclaim their radical tradition). [5] Once the revision of the main body of is complete, the appendix on the Russian Revolution will be finished and then all the appendices will be revised.

After that, AFAQ will be added to once new information becomes available and new anarchist social movements and ideas develop. We have not covered everything nor does AFAQ discussed all developments within anarchism in all countries. If you think we have missed something, then contact us and we can arrange to include the subject and issues missing. As noted above, though, do notexpect us to do all the work for you. This is a resource for the movement and, as such, we expect fellow anarchists to help out beyond merely suggesting things they expect othersto do!

Hopefully, after summarising 19th and 20th century anarchism, the anarchists of the 21st century will use that to build and develop new ideas and movements and create both viable anarchist alternatives under statism and capitalism and, eventually, a free society. Whether we do so or not is, ultimately, up to us. Let us hope we can rise to the challenge! I do hope that anarchists can rise above the often silly arguments that we often inflict on each other and concentrate on the 90%+ that unites us rather than the often insignificant differences some consider so important. One thing is sure, if we do not then the worse will happen.

Finally, another personal note. On the way to work, I go past a little park. This little oasis of green in the city is a joy to behold, more so since someone has added this piece of graffiti to one of its walls:

"Resistance is never futile! Have a nice day, y'all. Love Friday, XXX"

With that in mind, we dedicate the ten year anniversary release of "An Anarchist FAQ" to all those "nobodies," all those anarchists who are not famous or have the appropriate "qualifications", but whose activity, thoughts, ideas, ideals, dreams and hopes give the "somebodies" something to write about (even if they fail to get some, or even all of it, right).

Iain McKay


1. While "anarcho"-capitalism has some overlap with individualist anarchism, it lacks the radical and socialist sensibility and aims of the likes of Tucker which makes the latter anarchist, albeit a flawed and inconsistent form. Unlike the former, individualist anarchism canbecome consistent anarchism by simply applying its own principles in a logical manner.

2. Under my pseudonym "Anarcho" (given what's on it, I'm surprised I bother using "Anarcho" these days as it is obvious who writes the articles). It is available here:

3. Apologies for those who sent emails over the years and never received a reply -- some were lost and, given how much busy we are, emails are always the first to suffer.

4. For a discussion of one early incident, mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on AFAQ, see my article ("An Anarchist FAQ, David Friedman and Medieval Iceland"on my webpage). Suffice to say, once we became aware of his new criticism this year (Friedman did not bother to inform us directly), we sped up our planned revision and expansion of that section and corrected the few mistakes that had remained. In summary, it can be said our original critique remained valid in spite of some serious errors in details caused by a failure to check sources in a rush to officially release it. We learned our lesson and try not to make the same mistake again (and have not, as far as I am aware).

5. A few people have said that AFAQ does not give equal billing to individualist anarchism. However, in terms of numbers and influence it has always been very much a minority trend in anarchism outside of America. By the 1880s, this was probably the case in America as well and by the turn of the 20th century it was definitely the case (as noted by, among others, Paul Avrich). As such, it is hardly a flaw that AFAQ has presented the majority position on anarchism (social anarchism), particularly as this is the position of the people involved.

Introduction to Volume 1

As many anarchists have noted, our ideal must be one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented political theories on the planet. “An Anarchist FAQ” (AFAQ) aims to change this by presenting the basics of anarchist theory and history, refuting the most common distortions and nonsense about it and providing anarchists with a resource they can use to aid their arguments and struggles for freedom. This is important, as much of the ground covered in AFAQ was provoked by having to critique other theories and refute attacks on anarchism.

Anarchism has changed over the years and will continue to evolve and change as circumstances do likewise and new struggles are fought and (hopefully) won. It is not some fixed ideology, but rather a means of understanding an evolving world and to change it in libertarian directions. As such, AFAQ seeks to place specific aspects of anarchism into their historical context. For example, certain aspects of Proudhon’s ideas can only be understood by remembering that he lived at a time when the vast majority of working people were peasants and artisans. Many commentators (particularly Marxist ones) seem to forget this (and that he supported co-operatives for large-scale industry). Much the same can be said of Bakunin, Tucker and so on. I hope AFAQ will help anarchism continue to develop to meet new circumstances by summarising what has gone before so that we can build on it.

We also seek to draw out what anarchists have in common while not denying their differences. After all, individualist-anarchist Benjamin Tucker would have agreed with communist-anarchist Peter Kropotkin when he stated that anarchism was the “no government form of socialism.”While some anarchists seem to take more time in critiquing and attacking their comrades over (ultimately) usually minor than fighting oppression, I personally think that this activity while, at times, essential is hardly the most fruitful use of our limited resources -- particularly when it is about possible future developments (whether it is on the economic nature of a free society or our attitude to a currently non-existing syndicalist union!). So we have discussed the differences between anarchist schools of thought as well as within them, but we have tried to build bridges by stressing where they agree rather than create walls.

Needless to say, not all anarchists will agree with what is in AFAQ (it is, after all, as we have always stressed “An Anarchist FAQ”, not “The Anarchist FAQ” as some comrades flatteringly call it). From my experience, most anarchists agree with most of it even if they have quibbles about certain aspects of it. I know that comrades do point others to it (I once saw a Marxist complain that anarchists always suggested he read AFAQ, so I explained to him that this was what having a “Frequency Asked Questions” was all about). So AFAQ is only a guide, you need to discover anarchism for yourself and develop and apply it in your own way. Hopefully AFAQ will help that process by presenting an overview of anarchism and indicating what it is, what it is not and where to find out more.

Some may object to the length of many of the answers and that is a valid point. However, some questions and issues cannot be dealt with quickly and be considered as remotely convincing. For example, simply stating that anarchists think that capitalism is exploitative and that claims otherwise are wrong may be both correct and short but it hardly a convincing reply to someone aware of the various defences of profit, interest and rent invented by capitalist economists. Similarly, stating that Marxist ideology helped destroy the Russian Revolution is, again, both correct and short but it would never convince a Leninist who stresses the impact of civil war on Bolshevik practice. Then there is the issue of sources. We have tried to let anarchists speak for themselves on most issues and that can take space. Some of the evidence we use is from books and articles the general reader may not have easy access so we have tried to present full quotes to show that our use is correct (the number of times I’ve tracked down references only to discover they did not say what was suggested is, sadly, quite numerous).

Moreover, refuting distortions and inventions about anarchism can be lengthy simply because of the necessity of providing supporting evidence. Time and again, the same mistakes and straw man arguments are regurgitated by those unwilling or unable to look at the source material (Marxists are particularly bad at this, simply repeating ad nauseumthe assertions of Marx and Engels as if they were accurate). Assumptions are piled onto assumptions, assertions repeated as if they were factual. AFAQ seeks to address these and present evidence to refute them once and for all. Simply saying that some statement is may be correct, but hardly convincing unless you already know a lot about the subject. So I hope that readers will understand and find even the longest answers interesting and informative (one of the advantages of a FAQ format is that people can simply go to the sections they are interested in and skip others).

This volume covers what anarchism is, where it comes from, what it has done, what it is against (and why) as well as what anarchism is not (i.e., showing why “anarcho”-capitalism is not a form of anarchism).

The latter may come as a surprise to most. Few anarchists, never mind the general population, have heard of that specific ideology (it is US based, in the main) and those who have heard of it may wonder why we bothered given its obvious non-anarchist nature. Sadly, we need to cover this ground simply because some academics insist in listing it alongside genuine forms of anarchism and that needs to be exposed the nonsense it is. Few serious thinkers would list fascism along side socialism, regardless of whether its supporters call their ideology “National Socialism” or “National Syndicalism” (unsurprisingly, right-“libertarians” do precisely that). No one took the Soviet bloc states seriously when they described themselves as “peoples’ democracies” nor considered their governments democratic. Anarchism seems to be excluded from such common-sense and so we find academics discussing “anarcho”-capitalists along side anarchism simply, I suspect, because they call “anarchists.” That almost all anarchists reject their claims to being anarchists does not seem to be a sufficient warning about taking such statements at face value! For obvious reasons, we have not wasted space in explaining why another US based ideology, “National Anarchism,” is not anarchism. While some individual anarchists were racist, the notion that anarchism has anything in common with those who aim for racially pure nationalist communities is ridiculous. Even academics have fallen for that, although for almost all genuine anarchists “anarcho”-capitalism makes as little sense as “anarcho”-.

Then there is the history of AFAQ. As indicated in the original introduction, AFAQ was prompted by battles with “anarcho”-capitalists on-line in the early 1990s. However, while AFAQ may have started as a reply to the “anarcho”-capitalists it is no longer that. It would be a mistake to think that they are more significant than they actually are or that many anarchists bother with them (most, I am sure, have never heard of it). I did consider whether it was wiser to simply exclude section F from the book but, in the end, I decided it should remain. Partly, for the reasons above and partly because it does serve another, more useful, purpose. Neo-liberalism is based, in many ways, on right-“libertarian” dogmas so critiquing those helps our struggle against “actually existing” capitalism and the current attacks by the ruling class.

I do not wish anarchism to go the same way that “libertarian” has gone in the US (and, to a lesser extent, in the UK). Between the 1890s and 1970s, libertarian was simply a pseudonym for anarchist or similar socialist theories. However, the American free-market right appropriated the label in the 1970s and now it means supporters of minimal state (or private-state) capitalism. Such is the power having ideas that bolster the wealthy! The change in “libertarian” is such that some people talk about “libertarian anarchism” -- as if you can have an “authoritarian anarchism”! That these people include “anarcho”-capitalists simply shows how ignorant of anarchism they actually are and how alien the ideology is to our movement (I’ve seen quite a few of them proclaim anarchism is simply a “new” form of Marxism, which shows their grasp of the subject). Equally bizarrely, these self-proclaimed “libertarian anarchists” are also those who most fervently defend the authoritariansocial relationships inherent within capitalism! In other words, if “authoritarian anarchists” couldexist the “libertarian anarchists” would be them!

As AFAQ explains, being opposed to the state is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for being an anarchist. Not only is this clear from the works of anarchist thinkers and anarchism as a social movement, but also from the nature of the idea itself. To be an anarchist you must also be a socialist (i.e. opposed to capitalist property and the exploitation of labour). It is no coincidence that Godwin and Proudhon independently analysed private property from a libertarian perspective and drew similar conclusions or that Kropotkin and Tucker considered themselves socialists. To deny this critique is to deny anarchism as a movement and as a socio-political theory never mind its history and the aims of anarchists across the years.

Furthermore, as AFAQ stresses, to be a consistentyou must recognise that freedom is more than simply the ability to change masters. Anarchism means “no authority” (an-archy) and to support social relationships marked by authority (hier-archy) produces a self-contradictory mess (such as supporting forms of domination, such as wage labour, which are essentially identical to those produced by the state – and, sometimes, admitted as such!). Anarchism is, fundamentally, a theory of organisation based on individuals associating together without restricting, and so denying and limiting, their freedom and individuality. This means that a consistent anarchism is rooted in free association within a context of self-management, decentralisation and “bottom-up” decision-making (i.e., it is rooted in political, economic and social equality). While it is possible to be an anarchist while opposing exploitation but not all forms of hierarchical social relationships, it is hardly logical nor a convincing position.

AFAQ also seeks to go into subjects anarchists have, traditionally, been weak on, such as economics (which is ironic, as Proudhon made his name by his economic critiques). In this sense, it is a resource for anarchists both in terms of our own history and ideas but also on subjects which we inevitably come across in our struggles (hopefully, the critiques we provide of capitalism, neo-liberalism and so forth will also be useful to other radicals). We have tried to indicate the quoted source is an anarchist or libertarian. If in doubt, please look at the bibliography on the webpage. This breaks references down into libertarian (anarchist and non-anarchist) thinkers (or sympathetic accounts of anarchism) and non-libertarians (which, needless to say, includes right-“libertarians”). It should go without saying that quoting an expert on one subject does not mean anarchists subscribe to their opinions on other matters. Thus if we quote, say, a Keynesian or post-Keynesian economist on how capitalism works it does not imply we support their specific political recommendations.

Some have criticised AFAQ for not including some of the more recent developments within anarchism, which is fair enough. I have asked on numerous occasions for such critics to contribute a section on these and, of course, for referenced corrections for any mistakes others think we have done. Nothing has been forthcoming and we have usually discovered mistakes ourselves and corrected them (although a steady flow of emails pointing out typos has come our way). We have always been a small collective and we cannot do everything. This also explains why important social events like, say, the turn of the century Argentinean revolt against neo-liberalism is not discussed in section A.5 (this is a wonderful example of anarchist ideas being spontaneously applied in practice during a mass revolt). Suffice to say, anarchistic tendencies, ideas and practices develop all the time and anarchism is growing in influence but if we continually added to AFAQ to reflect this then it would never have become ready for publication! As it is, we have excluded most of the appendices from the book version (these remain available on the website along with a lengthy links page).

I would like to thank everybody who has helped and contributed (directly and indirectly, knowingly and unknowingly) to AFAQ. As for authorship, AFAQ started as a collective effort and remained so for many years. I have been the only person involved from the start and have done the bulk of the work on it. Moreover, the task of getting it ready and revised for publication has fallen to me. I have enjoyed it, in the main. This explains why the book has my name on it rather than a collective. I feel I have earned that right. As such, I claim responsibility for any typos and examples of bad grammar that remain. I have substantially revised AFAQ for publication and while I have tried to find them all, I am sure I have failed (particularly in sections that were effectively rewritten). I hope these do not detract from the book too much.

Finally, on a personal note I would like to dedicate this book to my partner and two lovely children. They are a constant source of inspiration, love, support and hope (not to mention patience!). If this work makes the world we live in better for them then it has been more than worthwhile. For, when it comes down to it, anarchism is simply about making the world a freer and better place. If we forget that, then we forget what makes us anarchists in the first place.
Iain McKay

A Summation

No question, the word anarchy freaks people. Yet anarchy -- rule by no one -- has always struck me as the same as democracy carried to its logical and reasonable conclusions. Of course those who rule -- bosses and politicians, capital and the state -- cannot imagine that people could rule themselves, for to admit that people can live without authority and rulers pulls out the whole underpinnings of their ideology. Once you admit that people can -- and do, today, in many spheres of their lives -- run things easier, better and more fairly than the corporation and the government can, there's no justification for the boss and the premier. I think most of us realise and understand that, in our guts, but schools, culture, the police, all the authoritarian apparatuses, tell us we need bosses, we need to be controlled ‘for our own good.’ It’s not for our own good – it’s for the good of the boss, plain and simple.”

Anarchism is a demand for real freedom and real autonomy”

But I also remain convinced that something like an anarchist future, a world of no bosses or politicians, one in which people, all people, can live full and meaningful lives, is possible and desirable. We see glimpses of it all around us in our day-to-day lives, as people organise much of their lives without depending on someone to tell them what to do. We see it in that spirit of revolt -- a spirit that is often twisted by anger and despair, but nonetheless shows us that people have not given up. We see it in the political activism, the social lives, the demands for decency and respect and autonomy people put forward, the desire to be individuals while still being part of a community.

No, I don't think bowling leagues are the anarchist utopia, but they, like much of our lives outside of the workplace, are organised without hierarchy and oppression; the most meaningful, truly human parts of our lives already work best when organised on anarchist principles. Yet I also believe that in its function as critique and as a vision of the future -- perhaps the only one that doesn't end in our extinction as a species, or, as Orwell put it, as a jackboot smashing a human face, forever -- anarchism is not only desirable but possible and necessary.”

Mark Leier: The Case for Anarchy


Volume 1

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