Anarchism – What is it?

Every month in Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington, the Magnetic Fridge Diary is distributed. The MfD is a folded A3 piece of paper with a calendar of anarchist/activist/community events for the upcoming month, reviews of pamphlets from the local anarchist bookshop and short articles on a theme. It’s been running for a couple of years now, and currently has a print run of 300 which are distributed at libraries, high schools, cafes, universities and other places around the city. A .pdf (9MB) of the April issue is available for download here.

This month, the theme was Anarchism – I wrote a short and simple “what is anarchism” which I thought I’d repost here:

Anarchism – What is it?

Anarchism is the political philosophy that human society functions best based on concepts of mutual aid, direct democracy and free association.

Free association is the term for people who have chosen to associate for any particular cause. Free association is what occurs in any group in which you are a member by choice and choice alone, not because you are required to by law or other means, but because you care about and support the group and the goals of the group.

Mutual aid is a term used to describe interactions based on cooperation rather than competition. Under capitalism, we are compelled to compete with each other to survive – for jobs, for property and for friendships. While capitalism demands we ask why we should help someone, mutual aid encourages us to ask why not.

Anarchists see modern capitalist society as fundamentally flawed – a system where the means of production and consequently the wealth are owned by a small number of people while many more still struggle to get food, water and shelter to survive. Anarchists strive for a world where workers, wom*n, non-whites, queers and others are not systemically discriminated against for the benefit of a few.

Anarchists are for direct democracy. Anarchists often organise according to consensus-based self-governing principles, based in the understanding that we are best qualified to make decisions about our own lives. Anarchists believe that we must all control our own lives, making decisions collectively about matters which affect us.

Anarchists believe and engage in direct action. Direct action is any action which, if successful, achieves the desired result/s in and of itself, without appealing to a “higher power”. Direct action is based on the idea that we should all run our own lives, and that asking someone else to make a change for us, even if the change is made, is counter-productive as it only reinforces the idea that we cannot act for ourselves.

Anarchists are against nation-states and borders. Nation-states are inherently oppressive, and in subjugating the individual for further the welfare of the State in a race of nation-states and global economies, States resort all too readily to violent systematic oppression. Arbitrary lines on a map should have no role in deciding how we live our lives, and any movement for a better society must place the utmost importance on the free movement of individuals.

To find out more about anarchism or to get in touch with anarchists in Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington, visit The Freedom Shop, the anarchist bookstore, in Left Bank off Cuba Mall, or go to Revolting Books, the little anarchist library, at 128 Abel Smith St, Te Aro.

20 Responses to Anarchism – What is it?

  1. q says:

    What is Anarchism?.Anarchism is basically a crazy totally unworkable collective political system without any resemblance of order.Chaos is what you offer us Asher, the total breakdown of the current system.For what,a better society,not likey.
    Your IDEALIC PICTURESQUE anarcho society will quickly develope into a BRUTAL COLLECTIVE DICTATORSHIP more evil and repressive than any previous regime in history.

  2. yuda says:

    Yip q that really explains the spanish communes prior and during the Spanish Civil War.

    More reading and less tin foil hatting in order I think

  3. Q, maybe you should read up on the subject before spouting cliches. Order is what anarchism offers, chaos is what we have now. And Asher, I think your summantion of anarchism is right on the spot.

  4. Duncan Bayne says:

    Quick question – in an Anarchist system, how would those who combine voluntarily deal with those who don’t? Say everyone in my newly anarchistic locality decides to get together, pay a tithe, & run a school.

    I decide I don’t want to – maybe I don’t have children, maybe I want to home-school them, maybe I want to send them to a private school.

    Would I have that choice? In the absence of a central Government enforcing objective laws, what would protect the voluntary association voting to take my money regardless of my wishes to the contrary?

  5. Asher says:

    Hi Duncan,

    Your question demands a few different answers – Dependant on differing anarchist theories.

    In their utopias, various anarchists suggest many different options for what to do with money – some promote a gift economy, others barter-based economies, others money-based economies and plenty of other suggestions. Of course, in a global anarchist utopia, some or all of these could exist in various communities around the world.

    In a gift or barter economy, your question becomes moot, for obvious reasons.

    As for money based economies, where your question is certainly relevant, I’ll attempt to answer that here:

    Essentially, you could do what you like with your money. If you don’t like the school (which would no doubt be almost unrecognisable compared to modern schooling) then you would indeed be free not to contribute to it financially, and to have your children educated at home, or in another school that you had set up with others (on the basis, again, of free association). Or, of course, not to school them at all.

    The voluntary association that has formed the school in question would have no power or legitimacy to take money from you for a project you did not wish to associate with. Of course, if you wanted your children to attend this school, it would be a different matter – the voluntary association would obviously be justified in asking you to contribute towards something that you (/your children) are benefiting from.

    At the same time, you might decide, as part of an anarchist community where many children (even if not your own) gain great benefit from their schooling and thus benefit the community, that you wish to contribute to the school yourself (whether financially or otherwise). But you could not be compelled to do this.

    One last point I’ll add is that it seems fairly likely (and certainly desirable to me) that in an anarchist society education/schooling would cease to be something that is seen to be only fit for youth, and rather something that many/most would wish to partake in for the duration of their lives.

    For a look into alternative forms of education (both for youth and adults) with heavy anarchist involvement in history, I can highly reccomend checking out the Ferrer schools in Europe, the Modern School movement in the USA and groups like Worker’s Educational Associations all over the world. Many of these are not without their own problems, but I find them fascinating and they certainly made a good start in working towards more libertarian (in the traditional sense of the world), egalitarian, non-hierarchical forms of education.

    Hope that answers your question – feel free to ask follow-ups if it doesn’t!

  6. Jericho says:

    Well this is the way we should govern ourselves, but because of the natural competitive nature of humans, it would never be a reality. I agree the co-operation is far more productive than competition the reason given above prevent this from occurring.
    It is dealing with the greedy criminal types who love to govern us that would be a real difficulty, but would be interested on your take on the problem

  7. Duncan Bayne says:


    Competition will arise naturally from having multiple providers of the same good and service, provided people aren’t compelled to deal with one or the other. Commercial competition is good, & part of human nature. It has led to the wealth we enjoy today.

  8. [...] Anarchism – What is it? ? Anarchia [...]

  9. Your definition of anarchy is for a particular sub-branch. There are anarcho-capitalists out there too. You probably don’t like them, but your definition rules them out of existence. You’ve got a half-decent definition for anarcho-socialism or anarcho-mutualism. But the space is wider than that. Private property anarchists exist, and shouldn’t be ruled out of court by definition. Check Bryan Caplan’s extensive discussion at .

  10. Asher says:

    As I said to you on Kiwiblog, so-called “anarcho”-capitalists are not anarchists – see for a more detailed response.

    The definition above is a pretty broad one – I specifically wrote it to encompass all strands of anarchism, from those I agree or sympathise with (anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism etc) to those I disagree with (anarcho-primitivism, individualist anarchism).

  11. BluecollarGreenie says:

    Eric Crampton

    The protection of property “rights” requires the legitimization and enforcement thereof from a powerful governing body, which negates the eligibility of anarcho-capitalists to be defined as anarchists. Anarcho-capitalism is an oxymoron. Its merely a euphemism for libertarianism or unfettered capitalism, which directly leads to enrichment and domination of a few over the many as was witnessed in Victorian times or to a marginally lesser extent, today.

  12. To Jericho:

    The wishes of women and men are dependent of their situation. In our societies the social drives are not fulfilled. So women and men are driven in other directions.

    But every man getting all drives fulfilled acts as any other man who get the same, also every woman gettinng all drivs fulfilled acts as any other woman woho gets the the same.

    This is the point of no differences between people, that point is most important. First it is necessary to realize the natural biologic wedding, which contains two acts: First the woman brings the man to love her, then the man brings the woman to love him.

    In our civilized societies the first act has been abolished by religious pression, beginning with Hammurabi, later, in Germany, by the Catholic Church.

    Natural: The woman brings the man to a flush by letting him suck at her vagina (under her control!!!), then the man fucks the woman and brings her to flush that way.

    You should have a look to the descriptions aber SEXUALSCHEMA (Google) by moody or by me, Winfried Sobottka. Upt to now only in German Language, but German Anarchists love me for those Publishings!

    winfried sobottka, a speaker of female and male anarchists in Austria and FRG

  13. Hmm,
    If people can subscribe to alternative forms of education and choose which education systems to contribute to, that sounds like free market capitalism to me.
    And If under anarchy there is no government enforcing or preventing any particular type of economic exchange or currency, then individuals can decide if they want to exchange goods for gold or some other currency if they want to. This too sounds like free market capitalism can exist under anarchism. All sounds good to me as a libertarian.
    My only concern is protection from fraudsters and thieves. I presume there would be no justice and police system under anarchy.

  14. Felipe says:

    ok… I feel that… One thing must be said:

    Anarchism is utopic.

    What does that means?
    That means it is an horizon we shall walk forward.
    It is not a ready destination. It is not a final objective and there is not a ready anarchist society model.
    It is, in fact, a continuous transforming horizon. Just as the horizon transform every step we move ahead, towards it.
    Maybe, one day we will reach that horizon we can barely see now, but, then we will still be looking at the “same new” horizon, and walking. And we will never notice that we are there, because it can allways be better. So, we keep moving towards it.

    Thanks! (

  15. WageSlave says:

    Why should parents be free to treat children like Play-Doh? The implication is that children are property, like slaves. I’m sure libertardians would be happy to treat them as property, on the deranged Lockean grounds that they are the “products” of the parents’ “labor,” but libertardians are, well, retarded. (With apologies to the mentally challenged.)

    Should parents be free to raise children to be racists? Doesn’t that constitute a threat to the community?

    It’s questions like these that raise the specter of the state. I’m all for alternatives to the state, but I’m also for collectively preventing individual whackos from wiring little timebombs and setting them loose on the community.

    There’s no inherent right to parent the product of your loins by virtue of your shared DNA. We all share DNA, and we’re all affected by what parents do to their kids’ minds. Thus, we’re all entitled to see to it that those minds are not intentionally set to blow.

  16. nilambari says:

    against capitalists?
    the worst bunch of people are anarchist.
    they are the weak, lazy ass, incompetent people who cannot compete in this world where the soul law is the survival of the fittest.

    if someone(like a capitalists) is growing his business due to his own hardwork, they find it disgusting.
    why, because they cannot perceive the the greatness in such man.
    anarchists are ‘second handers’. they believe not in creating but in sharing.
    zzzz…i’ve welll wasted enough time on writing about crap

  17. Slava says:

    Anarchia mater ordinis est! That’s all!

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