Ten areas for anarchist initiatives: a personal list

Published in Visions of Freedom (Sydney: Visions of Freedom, 1996), pp. 36-37.

Brian Martin

Anarchists have focussed their efforts in certain areas, naturally enough. They have been prominent in developing critiques of the state, political parties and religion and in promoting self-management in areas such as education, industry and environment. Yet anarchism potentially has a much wider range of application. Here's a list of some possibilities that have not been developed as much as they might be. Others will have their own lists.

Two principles underlie these suggestions. First is opposition to systems of hierarchy, domination or exploitation and their replacement by egalitarian, self-managed social arrangements. Second is that the methods of anarchist practice should reflect the goals being sought: non-dominating methods should be used to promote a society without domination. For example, anarchists have rejected capturing state power as a means to a stateless society, and similarly should reject violence as a means to a nonviolent society.

1. Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is a way of organising work based on hierarchy and the division of labour. It is the dominant organisational form in the state, corporations, political parties, trade unions, etc. What are the best ways to transform bureaucracies from within and without and to create systems that are organised by those who work in and with them?

2. Communications

Mass media like television and big newspapers are inherently undemocratic, whereas network media like telephone and computer networks are more participatory. How can popular use of network media be strengthened and used to undermine the dominant role of mass media and their government and corporate partners?

3. Demarchy

Anarchists have criticised representative democracy, usually proposing federations of self-managing groups, and sometimes consensus. Another alternative is demarchy, which replaces state and bureaucracy by networks of functional groups (dealing with community "functions" such as industry, education and the arts) in each locality, the members of which are chosen randomly from volunteers. How can alternatives such as demarchy be be tested and promoted?

4. Feminism

Anarchafeminism argues for gender equality via eliminating systems of hierarchy in society rather than promoting a few women within these systems, which is the path of liberal feminism. Some strands of the feminist movement have incorporated anarchist sentiments, though seldom in explicit form. How can the anarchist movement confront male domination from within? How can anarchafeminist ideas be turned into practical action?

5. The market

The reality and ideology of the "free market" (that is, state-sponsored private exploitation) is overwhelming. Anarchists of collectivist persuasion (libertarian socialists) have long criticised the market and supported alternatives such as collectives and community provision. What grassroots initiatives will work to build such alternatives while undermining the state-market system?

6. Networking

"Networking" is a buzz word but nevertheless describes how people are building links with each other and counteracting the isolating and alienating effects of economic and political systems. Can networking be turned into a stronger method of social action?

7. Property

Ownership is the foundation of capitalism. States are creating new markets by making property out of what previously was unowned, such as genetic information. Anarchists have challenged property, for example through squatting. What campaigns can undermine the widespread belief in property as natural? What strategies are there to promote nonownership and collective use of goods and ideas?

8. Social defence

Organised nonviolent action by communities is a possible alternative to military defence. It also empowers people to resist other forms of oppression and repression. Use of nonviolent action globally is more and more visible; many nonviolent activists have anarchist sympathies. How can the energies of nonviolent action be used to undermine diverse systems of hierarchy and exploitation, including the state, the military and capitalism?

9. Technology

Cities, factories and communication systems are technological constructions that often build in hierarchy. "Alternative technology" is often compatible with a more participatory and equal society. Many campaigns, such as against nuclear power and in favour of small-scale renewable energy systems, are compatible with anarchist goals and methods. What about campaigns around surveillance technologies, technologies of repression, cars, etc.?

10. Theory

Ideas are central to social struggles. Most of the intellectual work in government, corporations and universities is too technical or obscure to be of any value for popular use -- or else, like advertising, it is manipulative. Are there ideas and methods of thinking that are specially suited for developing insights and strategies to challenge hierarchical systems? How can "theory" -- thinking systematically -- become a popular pastime rather than an elite pursuit?

There are other important areas too, including ethnicity, agriculture, cities, happiness... Plenty to choose from!

email: bmartin@uow.edu.au

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