anarchism

anarchism (ănˈərkĭzəm) [key] [Gr., = having no government], theory that equality and justice are to be sought through the abolition of the state and the substitution of free agreements between individuals. Central to anarchist thought is the belief that society is natural and that people are good but are corrupted by artificial institutions. Also central in anarchism are the belief in individual freedom and the denial of any authority, particularly that of the state, that hinders human development. Since the Industrial Revolution, anarchists have also opposed the concentration of economic power in business corporations.

Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoic philosophy, is regarded as the father of anarchism. In the Middle Ages the anarchist tradition was closely linked to utopian, millenarian religious movements such as the Brethren of the Free Spirit of the 13th cent. and the Anabaptists of the 16th cent. The philosophy of modern political anarchism was outlined in the 18th and 19th cent. by William Godwin, P. J. Proudhon, and others.

Mikhail Bakunin attempted to orient the First International toward anarchism but was defeated by Karl Marx. Bakunin gave modern anarchism a collectivist and violent tone that has persisted despite the revisionary efforts of Piotr Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy. Political anarchism in Russia was suppressed by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution.

Anarchism's only real mass following was in Latin countries, where its doctrines were often combined with those of syndicalism, especially in Spain. In the United States, early anarchists such as Josiah Warren were associated with cooperatives and with utopian colonies. After the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886 and the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 a law was passed forbidding anarchists to enter the country, and Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were among those deported. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case attests to the fear of anarchism in the United States.

As an organized movement, anarchism is largely dead, but it retains importance as a philosophical attitude and a political tendency, and to lesser degree as a source of social protest. In recent years they have mounted highly visible, sometimes violent or destructive public protests at international conferences attended by representives of the governments and corporations of major industrialized nations, such as meetings of the Group of Seven, the World Trade Organization, and the World Economic Forum.

See R. Kedward, The Anarchists (1971); G. Runkle, Anarchism, Old and New (1972); M. Nettlau, History of Anarchism (3 vol., 1978).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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