Ruth Kinna on Anarchism

Russell Brand asks Ruth Kinna: Why does anarchy get such a bad press?! (July 25, 2019)


After I perused Ruth Kinna’s Anarchism: A Beginner’s Guide (2005), it struck me that it was not for beginners, but a compendium for scholars of anarchism. For beginners, it should be short and to the point, and not be cluttered with names and classifications.

Given that there is an ordinary common usage for the words “anarchy,” “anarchist,” and “anarchism,” as meaning something chaotic and disorderly, there is a need to stipulate how one wishes to use these words in a laudatory rather than in a disparaging way.

There is also the problem that though anyone may call himself an “anarchist,” — or anything else he wishes — he may not be an “anarchist” in the stipulated sense.

There is also the problem caused by associating a description of a person, on the one hand, and the person’s actions, on the other, where the description has no relevance to the action. I have in mind, for example, Jordan Peterson calling Stalin a Marxist, and then blaming Stalin’s mass murders on Marxism. There would be some rationale for this if the doctrine of Marxism indeed called for mass murder. But it does not. Think of it this way. Assume that Marxism stipulates some end state, and is silent about the means. Then means are optional, rather than stipulated by Marxism. So, at best, we could say that Stalin used mass murder for Marxist ends.

In like manner, there were people who identified themselves as anarchists, and assassinated politicians. Here we have to distinguish again the state of affairs which one is aiming at (the ends), and the means which will bring this state about.

I call myself an anarcho-socialist for the following reason. I agree with Anton Menger that socialism ultimately aims at subsistence through the right to the full produce of one’s labor, which (in my view) can be obtained by having free access to land. On the other hand, I believe that what prevents this state of affairs from occurring is the State. Thus, for me, getting rid of the State is the essence of anarchism. And it seems to me to be a truncated reason for getting rid of the State simply because one does not like to take orders and be bossed around (as a slave, a serf, or a wage-laborer). No, I want to get rid of the State because in addition to bossing me around, it makes the obtaining of subsistence either more difficult than otherwise, or it blocks me from getting subsistence altogether.

My models for such an anarcho-socialistic existence are stateless, indigenous societies of people, who are called “primitive,” “savages,” and “barbarians.” And they are models, as are all models, in certain respects only. And they are models in two respects: they have a (1) free access to subsistence land, and are organized as (2) small democratic tribes.

Any other characteristics about such tribes are irrelevant; specifically, what is irrelevant are their beliefs, their economies, and their mores.

Ruth Kinna has a chapter about strategies to achieve an anarchist society. This is a separate problem and does not define anarchism. Some so-called anarchists believed that assassination of politicians is the way to go, others have believed in a general (universal) strike by workers. Others, like Nestor Makhno, used guerrilla warfare to defend themselves from aggressors. But the means for getting or defending an anarchist society are separate issues from the question of what constitutes an anarchist society.

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