Cheran — an anarchist town of 20,000 in Michoacan, Mexico

Yesterday I discovered the existence of a town in Mexico which is a model of anarchism — meaning that it is a politically semi-autonomous town governed by direct democracy since 2011. It is not completely independent because it is subject, for one, to external taxation.

Here is an article about the town from BBC News: Linda Pressly, “Cheran: The town that threw out police, politicians and gangsters,” Oct. 13, 2016.

And here is one from Aljazeera: “How a Mexican town toppled a cartel and established its independence,”, 2014.

Below is one video out of many available on Youtube:

“In this video, Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange gives you the latest on Cheran, Michoacan an anarchist town that’s followed by anarchy principles and over 30,000 anarchists. We talk to Jeff Berwick the dollar vigilante who organizes one of the largest anarchy conferences anarapulco.”

How is this possible within a State?
1. From the Mexican legal perspective, indigenous people have a right to a certain level of autonomy.
2. And this town is a homogenous one, consisting of Purepecha natives.
3. This town also has arms and a militia.

The situation of Cheran should be distinguished from that of the uprising of Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994. Here is a Democracy Now report in 2014 on its 20 year anniversary:

“On the same day North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect on January 1, 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army and people of Chiapas declared war on the Mexican government, saying that NAFTA meant death to indigenous peoples. They took over five major towns in Chiapas with fully armed women and men. The uprising was a shock, even for those who for years worked in the very communities where the rebel army had been secretly organizing. To learn about the impact of the uprising 20 years later and the challenges they continue to face, we speak with Peter Rosset, professor on rural social movements San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.”

Marshall Sahlins (1930-2021)

Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, 1972.

Chapter 1: The Original Affluent Society

If economics is the dismal science, the study of hunting and gathering economies must be its most advanced branch. Almost universally committed to the proposition that life was hard in the paleolithic, our textbooks compete to convey a sense of impending doom, leaving one to wonder not only how hunters managed to live, but whether, after all, this was living? The specter of starvation stalks the stalker through these pages. His technical incompetence is said to enjoin continuous work just to survive, affording him neither respite nor surplus, hence not even the “leisure” to “build culture.” Even so, for all his efforts, the hunter pulls the lowest grades in thermodynamics-less energy/capita/year than any other mode of production. And in treatises on economic development he is condemned to play the role of bad example: the so-called “subsistence economy.”

The traditional wisdom is always refractory. One is forced to oppose it polemically, to phrase the necessary revisions dialectically: in fact, this was, when you come to examine it, the original affluent society. Paradoxical, that phrasing leads to another useful and unexpected conclusion. By the common understanding, an affluent society is one in which all the people’s material wants are easily satisfied. To assert that the hunters are affluent is to deny then that the human condition is an ordained tragedy, with man the prisoner at hard labor of a perpetual disparity between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means.

For there are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be “easily satisfied” either by producing much or desiring little. The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way, makes assumptions peculiarly appropriate to market economies: that man’s wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although improvable: thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that “urgent goods” become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, departing from premises somewhat different from our own: that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty-with a low standard of living.

That, I think, describes the hunters. And it helps explain some of their more curious economic behavior: their “prodigality” for example-the inclination to consume at once all stocks on hand, as if they had it made. Free from market obsessions of scarcity, hunters’ economic propensities may be more consistently predicated on abundance than our own. Destutt de Tracy, “fish-blooded bourgeois doctrinaire” though he might have been, at least compelled Marx’s agreement on the observation that “in poor nations the people are comfortable,” whereas in rich nations “they are generally poor.”

This is not to deny that a preagricultural economy operates under serious constraints, but only to insist, on the evidence from modern hunters and gatherers, that a successful accomodation is usually made. After taking up the evidence, I shall return in the end to the real difficulties of hunting-gathering economy, none of which are correctly specified in current formulas of paleolithic poverty.


Anarchism, Socialism, and Communism

In a previous blog, I wrote:

“There are three characteristics which such primitive or “savage” societies have. The first is that everyone has a free access to subsistence land (socialism). The second is that they form small egalitarian democratic groups (anarchism). The third is that they share freely, and are prone to gift giving (communism).”

The primitive societies which I have in mind are hunter-gatherers, subsistence gardeners, and subsistence herders. Since all three have a source of subsistence on free land, they satisfy the socialist criterion as expressed by Anton Menger [see Anton Menger, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, 1899] which is the right to subsistence. Anarchism, on the other hand, is a political ideal which requires a bottom-up democracy — either by consensus or by majority rule — of small groups of about 100 persons. Primitive societies thus satisfy this anarchist requirement.

Whereas socialism and anarchism can be understood as a form of rule following, communism is different in requiring an attitude or disposition to sharing and gift giving as occurs most commonly in families. It cannot occur by simply bringing together different people with different backgrounds.

First, let me say that what occurred in the Soviet Union was not communism. Yes, the Bolshevik Party rechristened itself as the Communist Party. And the rest of the world acquiesced in calling their system “communistic.” But it wasn’t even socialistic since there was no free access to subsistence, unless you want to call a prison a socialist system because the inmates are provided with subsistence (having deprived them of free meandering, and forcing them to work). The Soviet Union had state-run factories and state-run agricultural collectives. The products of these factories and collectives were sold in the domestic and international markets, just like private enterprises do in other countries. The proper name for such a system is “state-capitalism.”

Socialism on a small scale would occur if these enterprises were owned and run by the workers themselves; thus determining their rate of pay by themselves. But how this is to occur has been a subject of controversy.

As I see it, communism is possible only on a small scale where everyone knows everyone else (about 150 persons) and where there prevails mutual trust and respect. It cannot occur by bringing together a bunch of 900 strangers as happened in the experiment of Robert Owen at New Harmony, Indiana, in 1824.

When discussing this experiment, what is always skipped is the fact that the town of New Harmony was successfully built by a flourishing colony of communist Rappites. This was a group of German immigrants who fled from religious persecution in Germany. They were devout Christian celibates, as are the Catholic nuns and monks who live in monasteries. They had the communistic disposition of sharing and gift giving.

If we are to examine whether communism is possible, we have to look for examples in religious communities such as the Mennonites, the Amish, the Dukhobors, as well as other denominations.

The Owen experiment was to bring together strangers into a secular environment and have communism be practiced by decree. This is impossible. If we look at the example of primitive tribes — they form an extended family by birth and custom. Strangers have nothing in common except an external bond of agreement (a social contract), which they may not be inclined to honor.

The closest a colony or a village of strangers can flourish together is when the land is owned in common but used separately. The Russian “mir” (a village) has been used as an example of a workable socialism. It is called “communism” only in the respect that the land is communal property which is shared. But it is not a sharing of work or the products of labor. The Russian mir did not have the Amish trait of, for example, communal barn raising. Individual families coped on their own.

I found the histories of American group settlements to be enlightening, especially the following three books (available on the internet):

John Humphrey Noyes, History of American Socialisms, 1870;
Charles Nordhoff, The Communistic Societies of the United States, 1875;
William Alfred Hinds, American Communities, 1878, revised 1902

Nordhoff concluded his research thus:

The societies which may thus be properly used as illustrations of successful communism in this country are the SHAKERS, established in the Eastern States in 1794, and in the West about 1808; the RAPPISTS, established in 1805; the BÄUMELERS, or ZOARITES, established in 1817; the EBEN-EZERs, or AMANA Communists, established in 1844; the BETHEL Commune, established in 1844; the ONEIDA PERFECTIONISTS, established in 1848; the ICARIANS, who date from 1849; and the AURORA Commune, from 1852.

Though in name there are thus but eight societies, these consist in fact of not less than seventy-two communes: the Shakers having fifty-eight of these; the Amana Society seven; and the Perfectionists two. The remaining societies consist of but a single commune for each.

Two Anarchists: Ammon Hennessy (1893-1970) and Utah Phillips (1935-2008)

Utah Phillips interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now in 2004

Ammon Hennacy talks about the Joe Hill House of Hospitality in Salt Lake City

Utah Phillips on Ammon Hennacy and Joe Hill House of Hospitality

While reflecting on Ammon Hennessy, Utah Phillips talks about Anarchism

Socialism =/= Anarchism

I call myself an anarcho-socialist for a reason. I favor both socialism and anarchism. Socialism is concerned primarily with subsistence; whereas anarchism with freedom of agreements. The model for anarcho-socialism is a typical indigenous tribe of hunter/gatherers. But remember a model is used to depict things in given respects only; other respects are irrelevant or even unsavory. The respects in which a tribe serves as a model for socialism is that it satisfies all three criteria as given, for example, by Anton Menger. He listed these as: 1. the right to the full product of labor, 2. right to subsistence, 3. the right to labor. Of these, the primary is the right to subsistence, i.e., all the things which are necessary to preserve animal life: water, food, shelter, clothing, fire (energy).

An indigenous tribe also serves as a model for anarchism inasmuch as the tribe makes decisions through direct democracy on a small scale, i.e., the scale of a Dunbar number of not more than 150 persons. This presumably is the amount of people that one can get to know intimately.

There are, however, features of primitive tribes which are inimical to free thought. And it is in this respect which Karl Popper condemns “tribalism” as a closed society. Primitive tribes are closed to metaphysical and ritualistic disagreements. This unsavory aspect is continued in modern societies by religions and patriotic rituals.

If the essence of socialism is the right to subsistence, then socialism is carried out by the States in the form of prisons, and in the case of the United States in the form of Indian reservations, and to a lesser extent by welfare programs. Let us call these Prison Socialism, Reservation Socialism, and Welfare Socialism. There are also various non-governmental charitable organizations serving, for example, the homeless. Call these Charitable Socialisms.

Talking about Prison Socialism, have you seen Michael Moore’s video “Where to Invade Next“? Watch the whole film about how socialism works, and especially the clip from the film about Norwegian prisons:

Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno (English Subtitles)

“Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno” is a 2005 12-part mini-series which aired on Russia television. The series is a historical biographical drama about the life of Nestor Makhno, a Ukrainian anarchist who was the commander of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (Makhnovshchina) which fought in the Russian and Ukrainian Civil War (1918-1921). Recently there were added English subtitles by Dmitriy Ostrovskiy and his friends. The series is available at: Nine Lives of Nestor Makhno with English subtitles

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.