Is anarchism understood only by people who are highly self-conscious?

Yes and No.

Yes. From a theoretical or speculative perspective, it seems that the idea of anarchism is difficult for people to grasp. First, they probably understand it in the sense of lawlessness — a sort of random rampage. So, it is the word “anarchism” which is not understood by people in a scholarly manner. Again, as to the political theory of anarchism, ordinary people are totally ignorant of it. This is also true of historical events. Inasmuch as people are ignorant of history, to that extant they are also ignorant of anarchist movements.

No. If we understand by anarchism (1) free access to subsistence land, and (2) direct democracy by a small group, then (1) an anarchistic society is the most natural and normal society of people. All indigenous people — I am thinking of hunter/gatherers primarily — untouched by States are anarchists. This is the anthropological finding. (2) Under conditions of civil war as occurred in Mexico, Ukraine, Spain, and now in Syria [Rojava], people — especially peasants — become anarchists. They divide the land equally and gather together to make decisions through direct democracy.

Three attempts at an anarchist society

David Graeber, being an anthropologist, knew that an anarchistic way of life was possible because indigenous people — when not contaminated by modernity — are all anarchists (in Marxist terminology they are “primitive communists”). By my lights, anarchism requires two things: (1) free access to subsistence land, and (2) direct democracy on a small scale.

Other than indigenous or primitive anarchism, there were only two temporarily successful anarchist experiments.

The first one was in Ukraine, during the Russian and Ukrainian Civil War (1917-1921). The military leader of this anarchist movement was Nestor Makhno who managed to control the southeaster area of Ukraine. The program consisted of distributing land to those who worked it, and instituting local councils which operated by direct democracy. [a caveat: anarchism is not against government; it is against a hierarchical top-down democracy — if it is a democracy — elected through mass or macro-voting]. The Makhnovchina — as the territory was know — eventually was conquered by Bolsheviks due to a lack of weapons.

The second attempt at an anarchist society occurred in Spain — particularly in Catalonia (see George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia”) — between 1936 and 1939. The experiment failed because the Spanish Republic lost to the coup of Franko, aided by the arms of Hitler and Mussolini (a destruction so well depicted by Picasso’s “Guernica”)

Currently there is a third attempt at forming an anarchist society in northeastern Syria, in the region called Rojava. When David Graeber, an anarchist himself, became aware of it he became terribly excited and a great supporter of this effort. And it is through him that I became aware of Rojava and the ideologue behind it — Abdullah Ocalan. I too am excited about this.

Abdullah Öcalan (1948- ) — The Idealogue of Rojava

“Abdullah Öcalan is the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), regarded as one of the Kurds’ most important political representatives and a leading strategist. Ever since his abduction from Kenya in 1999 and subsequent trial and death sentence — commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole — he has been held in total isolation on İmralı island. For almost eleven years, he was the sole prisoner there.”

“Öcalan has written extensively on history, philosophy, and politics, and is regarded as a key figure for a political solution of the Kurdish issue. Since the author has been held totally incommunicado and not been able to consult his lawyers or receive regular visits for many years, this op-ed has been edited from his prison writings and recent statements by his collaborators and sent to Jacobin for publication. His recent works include The Sociology of Freedom (2020) and The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan (2017).”

His current thoughts are partially expresses in the following article:

Abdullah Öcalan: My Solution for Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds,” Jacobin, Aug. 7, 2020.

Publications by Abdullah Öcalan in English


Pamphlets Compiled from the Prison Writings

  • War and Peace in Kurdistan (Cologne: International Initiative Edition, revised edition, 2017).
  • Democratic Confederalism. (Cologne: International Initiative Edition, revised edition, 2017).
  • Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution (Cologne: International Initiative Edition, 2013).
  • Democratic Nation (Cologne: International Initiative Edition, 2016).

On the writings of Abdullah Öcalan:

Building Free Life: Dialogues with Öcalan, 2020

David Graeber (1961-2020)

Wiki article on David Graeber

David Graeber, 1961–2020, The New York Review of Books, Sept. 5, 2020.

David Graeber, Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value , 2001.

David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, 2004.

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, 2011.

David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bueaucracy , 2015.

David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins, On Kings, 2017.

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs, 2018.

Bibliography of David Graeber’s Works, The Anarchist Library

Why I am an anarcho-socialist.

I have noticed that people throw around the words “capitalism,” “socialism,” “state,” “government,” and “anarchism” without knowing what they are talking about, or using these words in some idiosyncratic way.

So, let me explain to you how I understand these words.

“Capitalism” — as I keep repeating — is a political stance which bars people from free access to subsistence land. It is a system which creates a class of proletarians. These are people who have to work for wages or become homeless.

“Socialism” is a political stance antithetical to capitalism; thus, it allows free access to subsistence land. [Granting everyone a basic income or, as Bertrand Russell called it, a “vagabond’s wage,” would compensate for not allowing free access to subsistence land.]

“State” and “government” are not synonymous. A government is a set of rules regulation social life — however formulated: either by informal agreement, direct or indirect democracy.

A “State” is a centralized government ruling over hundreds, thousands, or millions of people over some territory.

“Anarchism” is a government ruling over a small community of about 150 families through direct democracy or through a council (the Russian word for a council is “soviet.”

By combining the idea of a small community ruling itself with the idea of granting everyone in the community free access to subsistence land, we get the hyphenated idea of “anarcho-socialism.” It can also be called “libertarian socialism” since by “liberty” is meant the self-rule of a small community.

The idea of “anarcho-capitalism” is a contradiction caused by not knowing how to define capitalism. The usual idea given is that capitalism involves free-trade. But free-trade, although a necessary condition for capitalism, is not a sufficient condition — simply because free-trade has existed under slavery and feudalism. The other necessary condition is the barring of people from a free access to subsistence land. Yet, those who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” also want to grant everyone a homestead. But granting a homestead is equivalent to granting free access to subsistence land. Hence, a puzzling situation for the anarcho-capitalists. Does “ideal” capitalism really allow free access to subsistence land?

Below is the flag for anarcho-socialism. A red flag represents socialism. A black flag represents anarchism.

Land and Survival

My wife, Kathy, and I are addicted to the series “Naked and Afraid,” in which a man and a woman are paired, transported to various “raw” environments, stripped of all clothing, and given each a tool of their own choosing. Usually the choices are rational: a machete or a large knife and a flint firestarter. Sometimes, however, some odd choices have been made. Once a woman chose a magnifying glass, another woman chose a cooking pot, and still another chose a tarp.

Given that the couple is naked, a major concern is temperature — especially at night. And with the additional possibility of rain, hypothermia is a danger. So, a shelter and fire are very important. A machete will help in the construction of a shelter as well as for other uses, like making a spear, as well as preparing food. And a fire is needed for warmth, boiling water, and cooking. Let me point out that without a fire starter, people had to twirl sticks to create an amber — and sometimes this proved to be impossible.

It is said that without water a person can survive for a week, and with water but no food, for a month. Perhaps for this reason the producers of the show made the duration of coping with nature 21 days.

So, in the order of priorities: shelter, fire, water, food.

So, why is this show so fascinating? Because this show makes explicit the human needs for survival. And survival is the bare bones of human life. Everything else is luxuries and psychological quirks.

Other than making such mistakes as drinking unboiled water and eating the wrong food (e.g. green figs), or not knowing how to hunt and fish, the main obstacle for successful cooperation is an individual’s character traits. Some individuals cannot endure the physical discomforts or psychological distress; others cannot cooperate because of laziness or ignorance, or because of being too bossy or too needy — and some are downright mean.

What this show teaches is that humans can survive even in the harshest environments as long as they have access to these environments. However, modern States which favor capitalism, forbid such a free access to subsistence land.

Below is an example of the show:

Anarchist and other strategies for defeating capitalism: views of James Herod

I have just discovered the existence of James Herod, who has a website at [here].

I am in sympathy with all his ideas which I have heard in the videos below. His main book is: James Herod, Getting Free: Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods, 2007. pdf file

Below is a talk he gave at Tufts University, Boston, on Nov. 28, 2012: “Introduction to Anarchism”

Here is another of his talks: Anarchist Revolutionary Strategy, Nov. 2011, Boston

Dana Ward on Anarchism

Dana Ward, to me, is the most dedicated and influential promoter of anarchism on the internet. For many years he has uploaded with the assistance of his students the classics of anarchism on his website at Anarchy Archives. I was pleased to find the following videos of three of his lectures.

“Anarchist, Insurrection, and Revolutionary Memory,” at the 2011 Clark Symposium: Pissarro’s Politics in Context – Anarchism and the Arts, 1849-1900.

2017 Classical Anarchism: An Overview

2018 “Anarchist History of Thought from Godwin to Occupy”