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Commentary :: Politics
What does anarchism stand for?
05 Oct 2005
In order for individuality to develop to the fullest possible extent, anarchists consider it essential to create a society based on three principles: liberty, equality and solidarity. These principles are shared by all anarchists. Thus we find, the communist-anarchist Peter Kropotkin talking about a revolution inspired by "the beautiful words, Liberty, Equality and Solidarity." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 128] Individualist-anarchist Benjamin Tucker wrote of a similar vision, arguing that anarchism "insists on Socialism . . . on true Socialism, Anarchistic Socialism: the prevalance on earth of Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity." [Instead of a Book, p. 363] All three principles are interdependent.
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A.2 What does anarchism stand for?
These words by Percy Bysshe Shelley gives an idea of what anarchism stands for in practice and what ideals drive it:

The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches, and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanised automaton.

As Shelley's lines suggest, anarchists place a high priority on liberty, desiring it both for themselves and others. They also consider individuality -- that which makes one a unique person -- to be a most important aspect of humanity. They recognise, however, that individuality does not exist in a vacuum but is a social phenomenon. Outside of society, individuality is impossible, since one needs other people in order to develop, expand, and grow.

Moreover, between individual and social development there is a reciprocal effect: individuals grow within and are shaped by a particular society, while at the same time they help shape and change aspects of that society (as well as themselves and other individuals) by their actions and thoughts. A society not based on free individuals, their hopes, dreams and ideas would be hollow and dead. Thus, "the making of a human being. . . is a collective process, a process in which both community and the individual participate." [Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis, p. 79] Consequently, any political theory which bases itself purely on the social or the individual is false.

In order for individuality to develop to the fullest possible extent, anarchists consider it essential to create a society based on three principles: liberty, equality and solidarity. These principles are shared by all anarchists. Thus we find, the communist-anarchist Peter Kropotkin talking about a revolution inspired by "the beautiful words, Liberty, Equality and Solidarity." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 128] Individualist-anarchist Benjamin Tucker wrote of a similar vision, arguing that anarchism "insists on Socialism . . . on true Socialism, Anarchistic Socialism: the prevalance on earth of Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity." [Instead of a Book, p. 363] All three principles are interdependent.

Liberty is essential for the full flowering of human intelligence, creativity, and dignity. To be dominated by another is to be denied the chance to think and act for oneself, which is the only way to grow and develop one's individuality. Domination also stifles innovation and personal responsibility, leading to conformity and mediocrity. Thus the society that maximises the growth of individuality will necessarily be based on voluntary association, not coercion and authority. To quote Proudhon, "All associated and all free." Or, as Luigi Galleani puts it, anarchism is "the autonomy of the individual within the freedom of association" [The End of Anarchism?, p. 35] (See further section A.2.2 -- Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?).

If liberty is essential for the fullest development of individuality, then equality is essential for genuine liberty to exist. There can be no real freedom in a class-stratified, hierarchical society riddled with gross inequalities of power, wealth, and privilege. For in such a society only a few -- those at the top of the hierarchy -- are relatively free, while the rest are semi-slaves. Hence without equality, liberty becomes a mockery -- at best the "freedom" to choose one's master (boss), as under capitalism. Moreover, even the elite under such conditions are not really free, because they must live in a stunted society made ugly and barren by the tyranny and alienation of the majority. And since individuality develops to the fullest only with the widest contact with other free individuals, members of the elite are restricted in the possibilities for their own development by the scarcity of free individuals with whom to interact. (See also section A.2.5 -- Why are anarchists in favour of equality?)

Finally, solidarity means mutual aid: working voluntarily and co-operatively with others who share the same goals and interests. But without liberty and equality, society becomes a pyramid of competing classes based on the domination of the lower by the higher strata. In such a society, as we know from our own, it's "dominate or be dominated," "dog eat dog," and "everyone for themselves." Thus "rugged individualism" is promoted at the expense of community feeling, with those on the bottom resenting those above them and those on the top fearing those below them. Under such conditions, there can be no society-wide solidarity, but only a partial form of solidarity within classes whose interests are opposed, which weakens society as a whole. (See also section A.2.6 -- Why is solidarity important to anarchists?)

It should be noted that solidarity does not imply self-sacrifice or self-negation. As Errico Malatesta makes clear:

"we are all egoists, we all seek our own satisfaction. But the anarchist finds his greatest satisfaction in struggling for the good of all, for the achievement of a society in which he [sic] can be a brother among brothers, and among healthy, intelligent, educated, and happy people. But he who is adaptable, who is satisfied to live among slaves and draw profit from the labour of slaves, is not, and cannot be, an anarchist." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 23]

For anarchists, real wealth is other people and the planet on which we live. Or, in the words of Emma Goldman, it "consists in things of utility and beauty, in things which help to create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to live in . . . [Our] goal is the freest possible expression of all the latent powers of the individual . . . Such free display of human energy being possible only under complete individual and social freedom," in other words "social equality." [Red Emma Speaks, pp. 67-8]

Also, honouring individuality does not mean that anarchists are idealists, thinking that people or ideas develop outside of society. Individuality and ideas grow and develop within society, in response to material and intellectual interactions and experiences, which people actively analyse and interpret. Anarchism, therefore, is a materialist theory, recognising that ideas develop and grow from social interaction and individuals' mental activity (see Michael Bakunin's God and the State for the classic discussion of materialism versus idealism).

This means that an anarchist society will be the creation of human beings, not some deity or other transcendental principle, since "[n]othing ever arranges itself, least of all in human relations. It is men [sic] who do the arranging, and they do it according to their attitudes and understanding of things." [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 185]

Therefore, anarchism bases itself upon the power of ideas and the ability of people to act and transform their lives based on what they consider to be right. In other words, liberty.
A.2.1 What is the essence of anarchism?
As we have seen, "an-archy" implies "without rulers" or "without (hierarchical) authority." Anarchists are not against "authorities" in the sense of experts who are particularly knowledgeable, skillful, or wise, though they believe that such authorities should have no power to force others to follow their recommendations (see section B.1 for more on this distinction). In a nutshell, then, anarchism is anti-authoritarianism.

Anarchists are anti-authoritarians because they believe that no human being should dominate another. Anarchists, in L. Susan Brown's words, "believe in the inherent dignity and worth of the human individual." [The Politics of Individualism, p. 107] Domination is inherently degrading and demeaning, since it submerges the will and judgement of the dominated to the will and judgement of the dominators, thus destroying the dignity and self-respect that comes only from personal autonomy. Moreover, domination makes possible and generally leads to exploitation, which is the root of inequality, poverty, and social breakdown.

In other words, then, the essence of anarchism (to express it positively) is free co-operation between equals to maximise their liberty and individuality.

Co-operation between equals is the key to anti-authoritarianism. By co-operation we can develop and protect our own intrinsic value as unique individuals as well as enriching our lives and liberty for "[n]o individual can recognise his own humanity, and consequently realise it in his lifetime, if not by recognising it in others and co-operating in its realisation for others . . . My freedom is the freedom of all since I am not truly free in thought an din fact, except when my freedom and my rights are confirmed and approved in the freedom and rights of all men [and women] who are my equals." [Michael Bakunin, quoted by Errico Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 30]

While being anti-authoritarians, anarchists recognise that human beings have a social nature and that they mutually influence each other. We cannot escape the "authority" of this mutual influence, because, as Bakunin reminds us:

"The abolition of this mutual influence would be death. And when we advocate the freedom of the masses, we are by no means suggesting the abolition of any of the natural influences that individuals or groups of individuals exert on them. What we want is the abolition of influences which are artificial, privileged, legal, official." [quoted by Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 51]

In other words, those influences which stem from hierarchical authority.
A.2.2 Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?
An anarchist can be regarded, in Bakunin's words, as a "fanatic lover of freedom, considering it as the unique environment within which the intelligence, dignity and happiness of mankind can develop and increase." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 196] Because human beings are thinking creatures, to deny them liberty is to deny them the opportunity to think for themselves, which is to deny their very existence as humans. For anarchists, freedom is a product of our humanity, because:

"The very fact. . . that a person has a consciousness of self, of being different from others, creates a desire to act freely. The craving for liberty and self-expression is a very fundamental and dominant trait." [Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, p. 439]

For this reason, anarchism "proposes to rescue the self-respect and independence of the individual from all restraint and invasion by authority. Only in freedom can man [sic!] grow to his full stature. Only in freedom will he learn to think and move, and give the very best of himself. Only in freedom will he realise the true force of the social bonds which tie men together, and which are the true foundations of a normal social life." [Op. Cit., pp. 72-3]

Thus, for anarchists, freedom is basically individuals pursuing their own good in their own way. Doing so calls forth the activity and power of individuals as they make decisions for and about themselves and their lives. Only liberty can ensure individual development and diversity. This is because when individuals govern themselves and make their own decisions they have to exercise their minds and this can have no other effect than expanding and stimulating the individuals involved. As Malatesta put it, "[f]or people to become educated to freedom and the management of their own interests, they must be left to act for themselves, to feel responsibility for their own actions in the good or bad that comes from them. They'd make mistakes, but they'd understand from the consequences where they'd gone wrong and try out new ways." [Fra Contadini, p. 26]

So, liberty is the precondition for the maximum development of one's individual potential, which is also a social product and can be achieved only in and through community. A healthy, free community will produce free individuals, who in turn will shape the community and enrich the social relationships between the people of whom it is composed. Liberties, being socially produced, "do not exist because they have been legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet with the violent resistance of the populace . . . One compels respect from others when one knows how to defend one's dignity as a human being. This is not only true in private life; it has always been the same in political life as well." In fact, we "owe all the political rights and privileges which we enjoy today in greater or lesser measures, not to the good will of their governments, but to their own strength." [Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-syndicalism, p. 75]

It is for this reason anarchists support the tactic of "Direct Action" (see section J.2) for, as Emma Goldman argued, we have "as much liberty as [we are] willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral." It requires "integrity, self-reliance, and courage. In short, it calls for free, independent spirits" and "only presistent resistance" can "finally set [us] free. Direct action against the authority in the shop, direct action against the authority of the law, direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method of Anarchism." [Red Emma Speaks, pp. 76-7]

Direct action is, in other words, the application of liberty, used to resist oppression in the here and now as well as the means of creating a free society. It creates the necessary individual mentality and social conditions in which liberty flourishes. Both are essential as liberty develops only within society, not in opposition to it. Thus Murray Bookchin writes:

"What freedom, independence, and autonomy people have in a given historical period is the product of long social traditions and . . . a collective development -- which is not to deny that individuals play an important role in that development, indeed are ultimately obliged to do so if they wish to be free." [Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism, p. 15]

But freedom requires the right kind of social environment in which to grow and develop. Such an environment must be decentralised and based on the direct management of work by those who do it. For centralisation means coercive authority (hierarchy), whereas self-management is the essence of freedom. Self-management ensures that the individuals involved use (and so develop) all their abilities -- particularly their mental ones. Hierarchy, in contrast, substitutes the activities and thoughts of a few for the activities and thoughts of all the individuals involved. Thus, rather than developing their abilities to the full, hierarchy marginalises the many and ensures that their development is blunted (see also section B.1).

It is for this reason that anarchists oppose both capitalism and statism. As the French anarchist Sebastien Faure noted, authority "dresses itself in two principal forms: the political form, that is the State; and the economic form, that is private property." [cited by Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 43] Capitalism, like the state, is based on centralised authority (i.e. of the boss over the worker), the very purpose of which is to keep the management of work out of the hands of those who do it. This means "that the serious, final, complete liberation of the workers is possible only upon one condition: that of the appropriation of capital, that is, of raw material and all the tools of labour, including land, by the whole body of the workers." [Michael Bakunin, quoted by Rudolf Rocker, Op. Cit., p. 50]

Hence, as Noam Chomsky argues, a "consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labour must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer." ["Notes on Anarchism", For Reasons of State, p. 158]

Thus, liberty for anarchists means a non-authoritarian society in which individuals and groups practice self-management, i.e. they govern themselves. The implications of this are important. First, it implies that an anarchist society will be non-coercive, that is, one in which violence or the threat of violence will not be used to "convince" individuals to do anything. Second, it implies that anarchists are firm supporters of individual sovereignty, and that, because of this support, they also oppose institutions based on coercive authority, i.e. hierarchy. And finally, it implies that anarchists' opposition to "government" means only that they oppose centralised, hierarchical, bureaucratic organisations or government. They do not oppose self-government through confederations of decentralised, grassroots organisations, so long as these are based on direct democracy rather than the delegation of power to "representatives" (see section A.2.9 for more on anarchist organisation). For authority is the opposite of liberty, and hence any form of organisation based on the delegation of power is a threat to the liberty and dignity of the people subjected to that power.

Anarchists consider freedom to be the only social environment within which human dignity and diversity can flower. Under capitalism and statism, however, there is no freedom for the majority, as private property and hierarchy ensure that the inclination and judgement of most individuals will be subordinated to the will of a master, severely restricting their liberty and making impossible the "full development of all the material, intellectual and moral capacities that are latent in every one of us." [Michael Bakunin, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 261]

(See section B for further discussion of the hierarchical and authoritarian nature of capitalism and statism).
A.2.3 Are anarchists in favour of organisation?
Yes. Without association, a truly human life is impossible. Liberty cannot exist without society and organisation. As George Barrett pointed out:

"To get the full meaning out of life we must co-operate, and to co-operate we must make agreements with our fellow-men. But to suppose that such agreements mean a limitation of freedom is surely an absurdity; on the contrary, they are the exercise of our freedom.

"If we are going to invent a dogma that to make agreements is to damage freedom, then at once freedom becomes tyrannical, for it forbids men to take the most ordinary everyday pleasures. For example, I cannot go for a walk with my friend because it is against the principle of Liberty that I should agree to be at a certain place at a certain time to meet him. I cannot in the least extend my own power beyond myself, because to do so I must co-operate with someone else, and co-operation implies an agreement, and that is against Liberty. It will be seen at once that this argument is absurd. I do not limit my liberty, but simply exercise it, when I agree with my friend to go for a walk.

"If, on the other hand, I decide from my superior knowledge that it is good for my friend to take exercise, and therefore I attempt to compel him to go for a walk, then I begin to limit freedom. This is the difference between free agreement and government." [Objections to Anarchism, pp. 348-9]

As far as organisation goes, anarchists think that "far from creating authority, [it] is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders." [Errico Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 86] Thus anarchists are well aware of the need to organise in a structured and open manner. As Carole Ehrlich points out, while anarchists "aren't opposed to structure" and simply "want to abolish hierarchical structure" they are "almost always stereotyped as wanting no structure at all." This is not the case, for "organisations that would build in accountability, diffusion of power among the maximum number of persons, task rotation, skill-sharing, and the spread of information and resources" are based on "good social anarchist principles of organisation!" ["Socialism, Anarchism and Feminism", Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader, p. 47 and p. 46]

The fact that anarchists are in favour of organisation may seem strange at first, but it is understandable. "For those with experience only of authoritarian organisation," argue two British anarchists, "it appears that organisation can only be totalitarian or democratic, and that those who disbelieve in government must by that token disbelieve in organisation at all. That is not so." [Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer, The Floodgates of Anarchy, p. 122] In other words, because we live in a society in which virtually all forms of organisation are authoritarian, this makes them appear to be the only kind possible. What is usually not recognised is that this mode of organisation is historically conditioned, arising within a specific kind of society -- one whose motive principles are domination and exploitation. According to archaeologists and anthropologists, this kind of society has only existed for about 5,000 years, having appeared with the first primitive states based on conquest and slavery, in which the labour of slaves created a surplus which supported a ruling class.

Prior to that time, for hundreds of thousands of years, human and proto-human societies were what Murray Bookchin calls "organic," that is, based on co-operative forms of economic activity involving mutual aid, free access to productive resources, and a sharing of the products of communal labour according to need. Although such societies probably had status rankings based on age, there were no hierarchies in the sense of institutionalised dominance-subordination relations enforced by coercive sanctions and resulting in class-stratification involving the economic exploitation of one class by another (see Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom).

It must be emphasised, however, that anarchists do not advocate going "back to the Stone Age." We merely note that since the hierarchical-authoritarian mode of organisation is a relatively recent development in the course of human social evolution, there is no reason to suppose that it is somehow "fated" to be permanent. We do not think that human beings are genetically "programmed" for authoritarian, competitive, and aggressive behaviour, as there is no credible evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, such behaviour is socially conditioned, or learned, and as such, can be unlearned (see Ashley Montagu, The Nature of Human Aggression). We are not fatalists or genetic determinists, but believe in free will, which means that people can change the way they do things, including the way they organise society.

And there is no doubt that society needs to be better organised, because presently most of its wealth -- which is produced by the majority -- and power gets distributed to a small, elite minority at the top of the social pyramid, causing deprivation and suffering for the rest, particularly for those at the bottom. Yet because this elite controls the means of coercion through its control of the state (see section B.2.3), it is able to suppress the majority and ignore its suffering -- a phenomenon that occurs on a smaller scale within all hierarchies. Little wonder, then, that people within authoritarian and centralised structures come to hate them as a denial of their freedom. As Alexander Berkman puts it:

"Any one who tells you that Anarchists don't believe in organisation is talking nonsense. Organisation is everything, and everything is organisation. The whole of life is organisation, conscious or unconscious . . . But there is organisation and organisation. Capitalist society is so badly organised that its various members suffer: just as when you have a pain in some part of you, your whole body aches and you are ill. . . , not a single member of the organisation or union may with impunity be discriminated against, suppressed or ignored. To do so would be the same as to ignore an aching tooth: you would be sick all over." [Op. Cit., p. 198]

Yet this is precisely what happens in capitalist society, with the result that it is, indeed, "sick all over."

For these reasons, anarchists reject authoritarian forms of organisation and instead support associations based on free agreement. Free agreement is important because, in Berkman's words, "[o]nly when each is a free and independent unit, co-operating with others from his own choice because of mutual interests, can the world work successfully and become powerful." [Op. Cit., p. 199] As we discuss in section A.2.14, anarchists stress that free agreement has to be complemented by direct democracy (or, as it is usually called by anarchists, self-management) within the association itself otherwise "freedom" become little more than picking masters.

Anarchist organisation is based on a massive decentralisation of power back into the hands of the people, i.e. those who are directly affected by the decisions being made. To quote Proudhon:

"Unless democracy is a fraud and the sovereignty of the People a joke, it must be admitted that each citizen in the sphere of his [or her] industry, each municipal, district or provincial council within its own territory . . . should act directly and by itself in administering the interests which it includes, and should exercise full sovereignty in relation to them." [The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 276]

It also implies a need for federalism to co-ordinate joint interests. For anarchism, federalism is the natural complement to self-management. With the abolition of the State, society "can, and must, organise itself in a different fashion, but not from top to bottom . . . The future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom upwards, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal. Then alone will be realised the true and life-giving order of freedom and the common good, that order which, far from denying, on the contrary affirms and brings into harmony the interests of individuals and of society." [Bakunin, Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 205-6] Because a "truly popular organisation begins . . . from below" and so "federalism becomes a political institution of Socialism, the free and spontaneous organisation of popular life." Thus libertarian socialism "is federalistic in character." [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, pp. 273-4 and p. 272]

Therefore, anarchist organisation is based on direct democracy (or self-management) and federalism (or confederation). These are the expression and environment of liberty. Direct (or participatory) democracy is essential because liberty and equality imply the need for forums within which people can discuss and debate as equals and which allow for the free exercise of what Murray Bookchin calls "the creative role of dissent." Federalism is necessary to ensure that common interests are discussed and joint activity organised in a way which reflects the wishes of all those affected by them. To ensure that decisions flow from the bottom up rather than being imposed from the top down by a few rulers.

Anarchist ideas on libertarian organisation and the need for direct democracy and confederation will be discussed further in sections A.2.9 and A.2.11.
A.2.4 Are anarchists in favour of "absolute" liberty?
No. Anarchists do not believe that everyone should be able to "do whatever they like," because some actions invariably involve the denial of the liberty of others.

For example, anarchists do not support the "freedom" to rape, to exploit, or to coerce others. Neither do we tolerate authority. On the contrary, since authority is a threat to liberty, equality, and solidarity (not to mention human dignity), anarchists recognise the need to resist and overthrow it.

The exercise of authority is not freedom. No one has a "right" to rule others. As Malatesta points out, anarchism supports "freedom for everybody . . . with the only limit of the equal freedom for others; which does not mean . . . that we recognise, and wish to respect, the 'freedom' to exploit, to oppress, to command, which is oppression and certainly not freedom." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 53]

In a capitalist society, resistance to all forms of hierarchical authority is the mark of a free person -- be it private (the boss) or public (the state). As Henry David Thoreau pointed out in his essay on "Civil Disobedience" (1847)

"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves."

A.2.5 Why are anarchists in favour of equality?
As mentioned in above, anarchists are dedicated to social equality because it is the only context in which individual liberty can flourish. However, there has been much nonsense written about "equality," and much of what is commonly believed about it is very strange indeed. Before discussing what anarchist do mean by equality, we have to indicate what we do not mean by it.

Anarchists do not believe in "equality of endowment," which is not only non-existent but would be very undesirable if it could be brought about. Everyone is unique. Biologically determined human differences not only exist but are "a cause for joy, not fear or regret." Why? Because "life among clones would not be worth living, and a sane person will only rejoice that others have abilities that they do not share." [Noam Chomsky, Marxism, Anarchism, and Alternative Futures, p. 782]

That some people seriously suggest that anarchists means by "equality" that everyone should be identical is a sad reflection on the state of present-day intellectual culture and the corruption of words -- a corruption used to divert attention from an unjust and authoritarian system and side-track people into discussions of biology. "The uniqueness of the self in no way contradicts the principle of equality," noted Erich Fromm, "The thesis that men are born equal implies that they all share the same fundamental human qualities, that they share the same basic fate of human beings, that they all have the same inalienable claim on freedom and happiness. It furthermore means that their relationship is one of solidarity, not one of domination-submission. What the concept of equality does not mean is that all men are alike." [The Fear of Freedom, p. 228] Thus it would be fairer to say that anarchists seek equality because we recognise that everyone is different and, consequently, seek the full affirmation and development of that uniqueness.

Nor are anarchists in favour of so-called "equality of outcome." We have no desire to live in a society were everyone gets the same goods, lives in the same kind of house, wears the same uniform, etc. Part of the reason for the anarchist revolt against capitalism and statism is that they standardise so much of life (see George Reitzer's The McDonaldisation of Society on why capitalism is driven towards standardisation and conformity). In the words of Alexander Berkman:

"The spirit of authority, law, written and unwritten, tradition and custom force us into a common grove and make a man [or woman] a will-less automation without independence or individuality. . . All of us are its victims, and only the exceptionally strong succeed in breaking its chains, and that only partly." [What is Anarchism?, p. 165]

Anarchists, therefore, have little to desire to make this "common grove" even deeper. Rather, we desire to destroy it and every social relationship and institution that creates it in the first place.

"Equality of outcome" can only be introduced and maintained by force, which would not be equality anyway, as some would have more power than others! "Equality of outcome" is particularly hated by anarchists, as we recognise that every individual has different needs, abilities, desires and interests. To make all consume the same would be tyranny. Obviously, if one person needs medical treatment and another does not, they do not receive an "equal" amount of medical care. The same is true of other human needs. As Alexander Berkman put it:

"equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity. . . Do not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity. It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it: the very reverse in fact."

"Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality.

"Far from levelling, such equality opens the door for the greatest possible variety of activity and development. For human character is diverse . . . Free opportunity of expressing and acting out your individuality means development of natural dissimilarities and variations." [Op. Cit., pp. 164-5]

For anarchists, the "concepts" of "equality" as "equality of outcome" or "equality of endowment" are meaningless. However, in a hierarchical society, "equality of opportunity" and "equality of outcome" are related. Under capitalism, for example, the opportunities each generation face are dependent on the outcomes of the previous ones. This means that under capitalism "equality of opportunity" without a rough "equality of outcome" (in the sense of income and resources) becomes meaningless, as there is no real equality of opportunity for the off-spring of a millionaire and that of a road sweeper. Those who argue for "equality of opportunity" while ignoring the barriers created by previous outcomes indicate that they do not know what they are talking about -- opportunity in a hierarchical society depends not only on an open road but also upon an equal start. >From this obvious fact springs the misconception that anarchists desire "equality of outcome" -- but this applies to a hierarchical system, in a free society this would not the case (as we will see).

Equality, in anarchist theory, does not mean denying individual diversity or uniqueness. As Bakunin observes:

"once equality has triumphed and is well established, will various individuals' abilities and their levels of energy cease to differ? Some will exist, perhaps not so many as now, but certainly some will always exist. It is proverbial that the same tree never bears two identical leaves, and this will probably be always be true. And it is even more truer with regard to human beings, who are much more complex than leaves. But this diversity is hardly an evil. On the contrary. . . it is a resource of the human race. Thanks to this diversity, humanity is a collective whole in which the one individual complements all the others and needs them. As a result, this infinite diversity of human individuals is the fundamental cause and the very basis of their solidarity. It is all-powerful argument for equality." ["All-Round Education", The Basic Bakunin, pp. 117-8]

Equality for anarchists means social equality, or, to use Murray Bookchin's term, the "equality of unequals" (some like Malatesta used the term "equality of conditions" to express the same idea). By this he means that an anarchist society recognises the differences in ability and need of individuals but does not allow these differences to be turned into power. Individual differences, in other words, "would be of no consequence, because inequality in fact is lost in the collectivity when it cannot cling to some legal fiction or institution." [Michael Bakunin, God and the State, p. 53]

If hierarchical social relationships, and the forces that create them, are abolished in favour of ones that encourage participation and are based on the principle of "one person, one vote" then natural differences would not be able to be turned into hierarchical power. For example, without capitalist property rights there would not be means by which a minority could monopolise the means of life (machinery and land) and enrich themselves by the work of others via the wages system and usury (profits, rent and interest). Similarly, if workers manage their own work, there is no class of capitalists to grow rich off their labour. Thus Proudhon:

"Now, what can be the origin of this inequality?

"As we see it, . . . that origin is the realisation within society of this triple abstraction: capital, labour and talent.

"It is because society has divided itself into three categories of citizen corresponding to the three terms of the formula. . . that caste distinctions have always been arrived at, and one half of the human race enslaved to the other. . . socialism thus consists of reducing the aristocratic formula of capital-labour-talent into the simpler formula of labour!. . . in order to make every citizen simultaneously, equally and to the same extent capitalist, labourer and expert or artist." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, pp. 57-8]

Like all anarchists, Proudhon saw this integration of functions as the key to equality and freedom and proposed self-management as the means to achieve it. Thus self-management is the key to social equality. Social equality in the workplace, for example, means that everyone has an equal say in the policy decisions on how the workplace develops and changes. Anarchists are strong believers in the maxim "that which touches all, is decided by all."

This does not mean, of course, that expertise will be ignored or that everyone will decide everything. As far as expertise goes, different people have different interests, talents, and abilities, so obviously they will want to study different things and do different kinds of work. It is also obvious that when people are ill they consult a doctor -- an expert -- who manages his or her own work rather than being directed by a committee. We are sorry to have to bring these points up, but once the topics of social equality and workers' self-management come up, some people start to talk nonsense. It is common sense that a hospital managed in a socially equal way will not involve non-medical staff voting on how doctors should perform an operation!

In fact, social equality and individual liberty are inseparable. Without the collective self-management of decisions that affect a group (equality) to complement the individual self-management of decisions that affect the individual (liberty), a free society is impossible. For without both, some will have power over others, making decisions for them (i.e. governing them), and thus some will be more free than others. Which implies, just to state the obvious, anarchists seek equality in all aspects of life, not just in terms of wealth. Anarchists "demand for every person not just his [or her] entire measure of the wealth of society but also his [or her] portion of social power." [Malatesta and Hamon, No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 20] Thus self-management is needed to ensure both liberty and equality.

Social equality is required for individuals to both govern and express themselves, for the self-management it implies means "people working in face-to-face relations with their fellows in order to bring the uniqueness of their own perspective to the business of solving common problems and achieving common goals." [George Benello, From the Ground Up, p. 160] Thus equality allows the expression of individuality and so is a necessary base for individual liberty.

Section F.3 ("Why do 'anarcho'-capitalists place little or no value on equality?") discusses anarchist ideas on equality further. Noam Chomsky's essay "Equality" (contained in The Chomsky Reader) is a good summary of libertarian ideas on the subject.
A.2.6 Why is solidarity important to anarchists?
Solidarity, or mutual aid, is a key idea of anarchism. It is the link between the individual and society, the means by which individuals can work together to meet their common interests in an environment that supports and nurtures both liberty and equality. For anarchists, mutual aid is a fundamental feature of human life, a source of both strength and happiness and a fundamental requirement for a fully human existence.

Erich Fromm, noted psychologist and socialist humanist, points out that the "human desire to experience union with others is rooted in the specific conditions of existence that characterise the human species and is one of the strongest motivations of human behaviour." [To Be or To Have, p.107]

Therefore anarchists consider the desire to form "unions" (to use Max Stirner's term) with other people to be a natural need. These unions, or associations, must be based on equality and individuality in order to be fully satisfying to those who join them -- i.e. they must be organised in an anarchist manner, i.e. voluntary, decentralised, and non-hierarchical.

Solidarity -- co-operation between individuals -- is necessary for life and is far from a denial of liberty. Solidarity, observed Errico Malatesta, "is the only environment in which Man can express his personality and achieve his optimum development and enjoy the greatest possible wellbeing." This "coming together of individuals for the wellbeing of all, and of all for the wellbeing of each," results in "the freedom of each not being limited by, but complemented -- indeed finding the necessary raison d'etre in -- the freedom of others." [Anarchy, p. 29] In other words, solidarity and co-operation means treating each other as equals, refusing to treat others as means to an end and creating relationships which support freedom for all rather than a few dominating the many. Emma Goldman reiterated this theme, noting "what wonderful results this unique force of man's individuality has achieved when strengthened by co-operation with other individualities . . . co-operation -- as opposed to internecine strife and struggle -- has worked for the survival and evolution of the species. . . . only mutual aid and voluntary co-operation . . . can create the basis for a free individual and associational life." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 118]

Solidarity means associating together as equals in order to satisfy our common interests and needs. Forms of association not based on solidarity (i.e. those based on inequality) will crush the individuality of those subjected to them. As Ret Marut points out, liberty needs solidarity, the recognition of common interests:

"The most noble, pure and true love of mankind is the love of oneself. I want to be free! I hope to be happy! I want to appreciate all the beauties of the world. But my freedom is secured only when all other people around me are free. I can only be happy when all other people around me are happy. I can only be joyful when all the people I see and meet look at the world with joy-filled eyes. And only then can I eat my fill with pure enjoyment when I have the secure knowledge that other people, too, can eat their fill as I do. And for that reason it is a question of my own contentment, only of my own self, when I rebel against every danger which threatens my freedom and my happiness. . ." [Ret Marut (a.k.a. B. Traven), The BrickBurner magazine quoted by Karl S. Guthke, B. Traven: The life behind the legends, pp. 133-4]

To practice solidarity means that we recognise, as in the slogan of Industrial Workers of the World, that "an injury to one is an injury to all." Solidarity, therefore, is the means to protect individuality and liberty and so is an expression of self-interest. As Alfie Kohn points out:

"when we think about co-operation. . . we tend to associate the concept with fuzzy-minded idealism. . . This may result from confusing co-operation with altruism. . . Structural co-operation defies the usual egoism/altruism dichotomy. It sets things up so that by helping you I am helping myself at the same time. Even if my motive initially may have been selfish, our fates now are linked. We sink or swim together. Co-operation is a shrewd and highly successful strategy - a pragmatic choice that gets things done at work and at school even more effectively than competition does. . . There is also good evidence that co-operation is more conductive to psychological health and to liking one another." [No Contest: The Case Against Competition, p. 7]

And, within a hierarchical society, solidarity is important not only because of the satisfaction it gives us, but also because it is necessary to resist those in power. Malatesta's words are relevant here:

"the oppressed masses who have never completely resigned themselves to oppress and poverty, and who . . . show themselves thirsting for justice, freedom and wellbeing, are beginning to understand that they will not be able to achieve their emancipation except by union and solidarity with all the oppressed, with the exploited everywhere in the world." [Anarchy, p. 33]

By standing together, we can increase our strength and get what we want. Eventually, by organising into groups, we can start to manage our own collective affairs together and so replace the boss once and for all. "Unions will. . . multiply the individual's means and secure his assailed property." [Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, p. 258] By acting in solidarity, we can also replace the current system with one more to our liking: "in union there is strength." [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 74]

Solidarity is thus the means by which we can obtain and ensure our own freedom. We agree to work together so that we will not have to work for another. By agreeing to share with each other we increase our options so that we may enjoy more, not less. Mutual aid is in my self-interest -- that is, I see that it is to my advantage to reach agreements with others based on mutual respect and social equality; for if I dominate someone, this means that the conditions exist which allow domination, and so in all probability I too will be dominated in turn.

As Max Stirner saw, solidarity is the means by which we ensure that our liberty is strengthened and defended from those in power who want to rule us: "Do you yourself count for nothing then?", he asks. "Are you bound to let anyone do anything he wants to you? Defend yourself and no one will touch you. If millions of people are behind you, supporting you, then you are a formidable force and you will win without difficulty." [quoted in Luigi Galleani's The End of Anarchism?, p. 79 - different translation in The Ego and Its Own, p. 197]

Solidarity, therefore, is important to anarchists because it is the means by which liberty can be created and defended against power. Solidarity is strength and a product of our nature as social beings. However, solidarity should not be confused with "herdism," which implies passively following a leader. In order to be effective, solidarity must be created by free people, co-operating together as equals. The "big WE" is not solidarity, although the desire for "herdism" is a product of our need for solidarity and union. It is a "solidarity" corrupted by hierarchical society, in which people are conditioned to blindly obey leaders.
A.2.7 Why do anarchists argue for self-liberation?
Liberty, by its very nature, cannot be given. An individual cannot be freed by another, but must break his or her own chains through their own effort. Of course, self-effort can also be part of collective action, and in many cases it has to be in order to attain its ends. As Emma Goldman points out:

"History tells us that every oppressed class [or group or individual] gained true liberation from its masters by its own efforts." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 167]

Anarchists have long argued that people can only free themselves by their own actions. The various methods anarchists suggest to aid this process will be discussed in section J ("What Do Anarchists Do?") and will not be discussed here. However, these methods all involve people organising themselves, setting their own agendas, and acting in ways that empower them and eliminate their dependence on leaders to do things for them. Anarchism is based on people "acting for themselves" (performing what anarchists call "direct action" -- see section J.2 for details).

Direct action has an empowering and liberating effect on those involved in it. Self-activity is the means by which the creativity, initiative, imagination and critical thought of those subjected to authority can be developed. It is the means by which society can be changed. As Errico Malatesta pointed out:

"Between man and his social environment there is a reciprocal action. Men make society what it is and society makes men what they are, and the result is therefore a kind of vicious circle. To transform society men [and women] must be changed, and to transform men, society must be changed . . . Fortunately existing society has not been created by the inspired will of a dominating class, which has succeeded in reducing all its subjects to passive and unconscious instruments of its interests. It is the result of a thousand internecine struggles, of a thousand human and natural factors . . .

"From this the possibility of progress . . . We must take advantage of all the means, all the possibilities and the opportunities that the present environment allows us to act on our fellow men [and women] and to develop their consciences and their demands . . . to claim and to impose those major social transformations which are possible and which effectively serve to open the way to further advances later . . . We must seek to get all the people . . . to make demands, and impose itself and take for itself all the improvements and freedoms it desires as and when it reaches the state of wanting them, and the power to demand them . . . we must push the people to want always more and to increase its pressures [on the ruling elite], until it has achieved complete emancipation." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, pp. 188-9]

Society, while shaping all individuals, is also created by them, through their actions, thoughts, and ideals. Challenging institutions that limit one's freedom is mentally liberating, as it sets in motion the process of questioning authoritarian relationships in general. This process gives us insight into how society works, changing our ideas and creating new ideals. To quote Emma Goldman again: "True emancipation begins. . . in woman's soul." And in a man's too, we might add. It is only here that we can "begin [our] inner regeneration, [cutting] loose from the weight of prejudices, traditions and customs." [Op. Cit., p. 167] But this process must be self-directed, for as Max Stirner notes, "the man who is set free is nothing but a freed man. . . a dog dragging a piece of chain with him." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 168] By changing the world, even in a small way, we change ourselves.

In an interview during the Spanish Revolution, the Spanish anarchist militant Durutti said, "we have a new world in our hearts." Only self-activity and self-liberation allows us to create such a vision and gives us the confidence to try to actualise it in the real world.

Anarchists, however, do not think that self-liberation must wait for the future, after the "glorious revolution." The personal is political, and given the nature of society, how we act in the here and now will influence the future of our society and our lives. Therefore, even in pre-anarchist society anarchists try to create, as Bakunin puts it, "not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself." We can do so by creating alternative social relationships and organisations, acting as free people in a non-free society. Only by our actions in the here and now can we lay the foundation for a free society. Moreover, this process of self-liberation goes on all the time:

"Subordinates of all kinds exercise their capacity for critical self-reflection every day -- that is why masters are thwarted, frustrated and, sometimes, overthrown. But unless masters are overthrown, unless subordinates engage in political activity, no amount of critical reflection will end their subjection and bring them freedom." [Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, p. 205]

Anarchists aim to encourage these tendencies in everyday life to reject, resist and thwart authority and bring them to their logical conclusion -- a society of free individuals, co-operating as equals in free, self-managed associations. Without this process of critical self-reflection, resistance and self-liberation a free society is impossible. Thus, for anarchists, anarchism comes from the natural resistance of subordinated people striving to act as free individuals within a hierarchical world. This process of resistance is called by many anarchists the "class struggle" (as it is working class people who are generally the most subordinated group within society) or, more generally, "social struggle." It is this everyday resistance to authority (in all its forms) and the desire for freedom which is the key to the anarchist revolution. It is for this reason that "anarchists emphasise over and over that the class struggle provides the only means for the workers [and other oppressed groups] to achieve control over their destiny." [Marie-Louise Berneri, Neither East Nor West, p. 32]

Revolution is a process, not an event, and every "spontaneous revolutionary action" usually results from and is based upon the patient work of many years of organisation and education by people with "utopian" ideas. The process of "creating the new world in the shell of the old" (to use another I.W.W. expression), by building alternative institutions and relationships, is but one component of what must be a long tradition of revolutionary commitment and militancy.

As Malatesta made clear, "to encourage popular organisations of all kinds is the logical consequence of our basic ideas, and should therefore be an integral part of our programme. . . anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves. . . , we want the new way of life to emerge from the body of the people and correspond to the state of their development and advance as they advance." [Op. Cit., p. 90]

Unless a process of self-emancipation occurs, a free society is impossible. Only when individuals free themselves, both materially (by abolishing the state and capitalism) and intellectually (by freeing themselves of submissive attitudes towards authority), can a free society be possible. We should not forget that capitalist and state power, to a great extent, is power over the minds of those subject to them (backed up, of course, with sizeable force if the mental domination fails and people start rebelling and resisting). In effect, a spiritual power as the ideas of the ruling class dominate society and permeate the minds of the oppressed. As long as this holds, the working class will acquiesce to authority, oppression and exploitation as the normal condition of life. Minds submissive to the doctrines and positions of their masters cannot hope to win freedom, to revolt and fight. Thus the oppressed must overcome the mental domination of the existing system before they can throw off its yoke (and, anarchists argue, direct action is the means of doing both -- see sections J.2 and J.4). Capitalism and statism must be beaten spiritually and theoretically before it is beaten materially (many anarchists call this mental liberation "class consciousness" -- see section B.7.4). And self-liberation through struggle against oppression is the only way this can be done. Thus anarchists encourage (to use Kropotkin's term) "the spirit of revolt."

Self-liberation is a product of struggle, of self-organisation, solidarity and direct action. Direct action is the means of creating anarchists, free people, and so "Anarchists have always advised taking an active part in those workers' organisations which carry on the direct struggle of Labour against Capital and its protector, -- the State." This is because "[s]uch a struggle . . . better than any indirect means, permits the worker to obtain some temporary improvements in the present conditions of work, while it opens his [or her] eyes to the evil that is done by Capitalism and the State that supports it, and wakes up his [or her] thoughts concerning the possibility of organising consumption, production and exchange without the intervention of the capitalist and the state," that is, see the possibility of a free society. Kropotkin, like many anarchists, pointed to the Syndicalist and Trade Union movements as a means of developing libertarian ideas within existing society (although he, like most anarchists, did not limit anarchist activity exclusively to them). Indeed, any movement which "permit[s] the working men [and women] to realise their solidarity and to feel the community of their interests . . . prepare[s] the way for these conceptions" of communist-anarchism, i.e. the overcoming the spiritual domination of existing society within the minds of the oppressed. [Evolution and Environment, p. 83 and p. 85]

For anarchists, in the words of a Scottish Anarchist militant, the "history of human progress [is] seen as the history of rebellion and disobedience, with the individual debased by subservience to authority in its many forms and able to retain his/her dignity only through rebellion and disobedience." [Robert Lynn, Not a Life Story, Just a Leaf from It, p. 77] This is why anarchists stress self-liberation (and self-organisation, self-management and self-activity). Little wonder Bakunin considered "rebellion" as one of the "three fundamental principles [which] constitute the essential conditions of all human development, collective or individual, in history." [God and the State, p. 12] This is simply because individuals and groups cannot be freed by others, only by themselves. Such rebellion (self-liberation) is the only means by which existing society becomes more libertarian and an anarchist society a possibility.
A.2.8 Is it possible to be an anarchist without opposing hierarchy?
No. We have seen that anarchists abhor authoritarianism. But if one is an anti-authoritarian, one must oppose all hierarchical institutions, since they embody the principle of authority. For, as Emma Goldman argued, "it is not only government in the sense of the state which is destructive of every individual value and quality. It is the whole complex authority and institutional domination which strangles life. It is the superstition, myth, pretence, evasions, and subservience which support authority and institutional domination." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 435] This means that "there is and will always be a need to discover and overcome structures of hierarchy, authority and domination and constraints on freedom: slavery, wage-slavery [i.e. capitalism], racism, sexism, authoritarian schools, etc." [Noam Chomsky, Language and Politics, p. 364]

Thus the consistent anarchist must oppose hierarchical relationships as well as the state. Whether economic, social or political, to be an anarchist means to oppose hierarchy. The argument for this (if anybody needs one) is as follows:

A hierarchy is a pyramidally-structured organisation composed of a series of grades, ranks, or offices of increasing power, prestige, and (usually) remuneration. Scholars who have investigated the hierarchical form have found that the two primary principles it embodies are domination and exploitation. For example, in his classic article "What Do Bosses Do?" (Review of Radical Political Economy, Vol. 6, No. 2), a study of the modern factory, Steven Marglin found that the main function of the corporate hierarchy is not greater productive efficiency (as capitalists claim), but greater control over workers, the purpose of such control being more effective exploitation.

Control in a hierarchy is maintained by coercion, that is, by the threat of negative sanctions of one kind or another: physical, economic, psychological, social, etc. Such control, including the repression of dissent and rebellion, therefore necessitates centralisation: a set of power relations in which the greatest control is exercised by the few at the top (particularly the head of the organisation), while those in the middle ranks have much less control and the many at the bottom have virtually none.

Since domination, coercion, and centralisation are essential features of authoritarianism, and as those features are embodied in hierarchies, all hierarchical institutions are authoritarian. Moreover, for anarchists, any organisation marked by hierarchy, centralism and authoritarianism is state-like, or "statist." And as anarchists oppose both the state and authoritarian relations, anyone who does not seek to dismantle all forms of hierarchy cannot be called an anarchist. This applies to capitalist firms. As Noam Chomsky points out, the structure of the capitalist firm is extremely hierarchical, indeed fascist, in nature:

"a fascist system. . . [is] absolutist - power goes from top down . . . the ideal state is top down control with the public essentially following orders.

"Let's take a look at a corporation. . . [I]f you look at what they are, power goes strictly top down, from the board of directors to managers to lower managers to ultimately the people on the shop floor, typing messages, and so on. There's no flow of power or planning from the bottom up. People can disrupt and make suggestions, but the same is true of a slave society. The structure of power is linear, from the top down." [Keeping the Rabble in Line, p. 237]

David Deleon indicates these similarities between the company and the state well when he writes:

"Most factories are like military dictatorships. Those at the bottom are privates, the supervisors are sergeants, and on up through the hierarchy. The organisation can dictate everything from our clothing and hair style to how we spend a large portion of our lives, during work. It can compel overtime; it can require us to see a company doctor if we have a medical complaint; it can forbid us free time to engage in political activity; it can suppress freedom of speech, press and assembly -- it can use ID cards and armed security police, along with closed-circuit TVs to watch us; it can punish dissenters with 'disciplinary layoffs' (as GM calls them), or it can fire us. We are forced, by circumstances, to accept much of this, or join the millions of unemployed. . . In almost every job, we have only the 'right' to quit. Major decisions are made at the top and we are expected to obey, whether we work in an ivory tower or a mine shaft." ["For Democracy Where We Work: A rationale for social self-management", Reinventing Anarchy, Again, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.), pp. 193-4]

Thus the consistent anarchist must oppose hierarchy in all its forms, including the capitalist firm. Not to do so is to support archy -- which an anarchist, by definition, cannot do. In other words, for anarchists, "[p]romises to obey, contracts of (wage) slavery, agreements requiring the acceptance of a subordinate status, are all illegitimate because they do restrict and restrain individual autonomy." [Robert Graham, "The Anarchist Contract, Reinventing Anarchy, Again, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.), p. 77] Hierarchy, therefore, is against the basic principles which drive anarchism. It denies what makes us human and "divest[s] the personality of its most integral traits; it denies the very notion that the individual is competent
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Stop spamming us, Chuck Munson.
05 Oct 2005
You do have your own website, don't you (you troll).
Re: What does anarchism stand for?
06 Oct 2005
What are you complaining about? Has the above piece been published here before? If so, the IMC can hide it as a duplicate. Otherwise, perhaps you need to review what the mission of Indymedia is about. DIY media. Independent media. Or, as the slogan says above: "a public media outlet for the radical, accurate and passionate tellings of the truth."
What does anarchism stand for?
06 Oct 2005
Anarchism stands for no power to the people.

Anarchism is nothing but honest capitalism -- an impossibility in the age of imperialist monopolies.

Furthermore, "anarchism" in the USA is mostly a radical cover for the most ignorant and crude anti-communism. Chuck Munson is in bed with Joe McCarthy.

Victory to the world-wide socialist revolution!