Overthrowing the System
Anarchists do not see overthrowing the state as an end in itself. Instead, they wish to challenge the social and economic structures of life.
Bakunin: 'political power and wealth are inseperable'
In the 19th Century, early anarchists developed from the working class movement and became broadly collectivist, some subscribing to a socialist philosophy.
Capitalism was understood in class terms: the 'ruling class' exploits and the 'working class' is oppressed. In contrast to Marxism, this 'ruling class' was not defined purely by economic terms, but was instead seen to describe all those who commanded wealth, power or privilege in society. It therefore included kings, politicians, state officials, judges, police officers, bishops and priests, as well as industrialists and bankers.
Bakunin's Three Classes
Bakunin therefore proposed that there were three social groups in every society:
The Vast Majority who are exploited
The Minority who are exploited but also exploit others equally
The Supreme Governing Estate who are pure exploiters and oppressors
19th Century anarchists defined themselves as the 'vast majority', i.e. working class, and therefore sought to carry out a revolution in the name of the exploited masses, in which both capitalism and the state would be destroyed.
Tensions within Anarchism
It is the economic structure of life that mostly keeps tensions within anachism:
- Many anarchists acknowledge a kinship with socialism, based on a common hatred of property and inequality
- Others have defended the right to property and even defended competitive capitalism
This is the main distinction between anarchist strands: Collectivist (common ownership and cooperation) and Individualist (free market and property).
Combined Hatred of Current System
Despite their differences over the ideal system to have, anarchists have agreed on their hatred of the current economic systems which have endured much of the 20th Century.
All anarchists oppose the 'managed capitalism' that occured after 1945. Collectivist anarchists resented it on the grounds that state intervention merely props up a system of exploitiation by making capitalism seem safe and human. Individualist anarchists argue that intervention distorts the market and creates economies dominated by both the public and private monopolies.
They have been even more united against Soviet-style 'state socialism'. Collectivist anarchists argue that 'state socialism' is a contradiction and the socialist state merely replaces the capitalist state as a source of oppression. Individualist anarchists argue that there is a violation of property rights and individual freedom that always occurs in a planned economy.
All anarchists favour an economy in which individuals manage their own affairs without the need for state ownership or regulation. However, this has allowed them to endorse a range of economic models, ranging from 'anarcho-communism' to 'anarcho-capitalism'.