BY PETER JAMES HUDSON
For many on the Black left there is an enduring ignorance concerning the theory and practice of anarchism. This ignorance is born of two grotesque but resilient caricatures–a caricature of anarchism, and one of anarchists. In the first instance, anarchism is viewed less as a positive political philosophy than as an anti-political practice, one whose language is violence and whose ideology is chaos, mayhem, terrorism, and the wholesale annihilation of formal, bourgeois society. In the second instance, anarchists are seen as invariably, unrepentantly, and insufferably white.
These caricatures of anarchism and anarchists find brute form in contemporary discussions and discourse surrounding Antifa. The representative of Antifa (commonly referred to through the Trumpist pronunciation “AnTEEfa,” rather than “Anti-FA”) is portrayed as a cartoonish arch-villain: a black-masked, graffiti spraying, Molotov-cocktail throwing white boy—the hoodie-wearing white street punk of nihilistic religion whose ritualistic ceremony marries wanton destruction of private property with irregular sneak attacks on the police. This vision of Antifa, and of that mysterious cult known as Black Bloc , is shared by both liberal and conservative commentators, both of whom conveniently forget that Antifa stands for “antifascist,” while neglecting to mention that the opposite of anti-fascist is, of course, fascist.
The association of anarchism and anarchists with both whiteness and violence has its roots in anarchism’s origins in nineteenth century Europe. Yet it was only the latter category, that of violence, that received any notice at that time. As with other radical critiques of and alternatives to capitalism, anarchism came into being in response to the great societal transformations wrought by the emergence of industrial capitalism and, with it, the grim arrival of the European working classes. Anarchism’s fundamental principles are found in the root of the word itself, from the Greek anarchos, meaning “without a ruler.” Figures like Pierre-Joseph Prudhon in France and Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin in Russia wrote against class hierarchy, the authoritarian, exploitative, and anomic forces of capitalist society, and the violent, dispossessive tendencies of private property.
The anarchists advocated libertarianism as the free and creative expression of the individual made possible by the removal of the restrictive and oppressive forces of church, state, and capital. This is not the present-day version of libertarianism associated with right-wing free market individualism lost in the fever dreams of crypto-currency speculation. It is a libertarianism whose ethical foundation is conjoined with mutuality, communalism, non-hierarchical social relations, and cooperative economics. Indeed, anarchists often drew inspiration from their view of the autonomous and collectivized pre-capitalist social worlds of the European peasant and they envisioned a world of shared abundance, excess, and wealth.