From: Alexander Berkman, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism, New York: Vanguard Press, 1929.
What Is Communist Anarchism?
WHAT IS ANARCHISM?
"CAN YOU tell us briefly," your friend asks, "what Anarchism really is?"
I shall try. In the fewest words, Anarchism teaches that we can live in a society where there is no compulsion of any kind.
A life without compulsion naturally means liberty; it means freedom from being forced or coerced, a chance to lead the life that suits you best.
You cannot lead such a life unless you do away with the institutions that curtail your liberty and interfere with your life, the conditions that compel you to act differently from the way you really would like to.
What are those institutions and conditions? Let us see what we have to do away with in order to secure a free and harmonious life. Once we know what has to be abolished and what must take its place, we shall also find the way to do it.
What must be abolished, then, to secure liberty?
First of all, of course, the thing that invades you most, that handicaps or prevents your free activity; the thing that interferes with your liberty and compels you to live differently from what would be your own choice.
That thing is government.
Take a good look at it and you will see that government is the greatest invader; more than that, the worst criminal man has ever known of. It fills the world with violence, with fraud and deceit, with oppression and misery. As a great thinker once said, "its breath is poison." It corrupts everything it touches.
"Yes, government means violence and it is evil," you admit; "but can we do without it?"
That is just what we want to talk over. Now, if I should ask you whether you need government, I'm sure you would answer that you don't, but that it is for the others that it is needed.
But if you should ask any one of those "others," he would reply as you do: he would say that he does not need it, but that it is necessary "for the others."
Why does every one think that he can be decent enough without the policeman, but that the club is needed for "the others"?
"People would rob and murder each other if there were no government and no law," you say.
If they really would, why would they? Would they do it just for the pleasure of it or because of certain reasons? Maybe if we examine their reasons, we'd discover the cure for them.
Suppose you and I and a score of others had suffered shipwreck and found ourselves on an island rich with fruit of every kind. Of course, we'd get to work to gather the foot But suppose one of our number should declare that it all belongs to him, and that no one shall have a single morsel unless he first pays him tribute for it. We would be indignant, wouldn't we? We'd laugh at his pretensions. If he'd try to make trouble about it, we might throw him into the sea, and it would serve him right, would it not?
Suppose further that we ourselves ant our forefathers had cultivated the island and stocked it with everything needed for life and comfort, and that some one should arrive and claim it all as his. What would we say? We'd ignore him, wouldn't we? We might tell him that he could share with us and join us in our work. But suppose that he insists on his ownership and that he produces a slip of paper and says that it proves that everything belongs to him? We'd tell him he's crazy and we'd go about our business. But if he should have a government back of him, he would appeal to it for the protection of "his rights," and the government would send police and soldiers who would evict us and put the "lawful owner in possession."
That is the function of government; that is what government exists for and what it is doing all the time.
Now, do you still think that without this thing called government we should rob and murder each other?
Is it not rather true that with government we rob and murder? Because government does not secure us in our rightful possessions, but on the contrary takes them away for the benefit of those who have no right to them, as we have seen in previous chapters.
If you should wake up to-morrow morning and learn that there is no government any more, would your first thought be to rush out into the street and kill some one? No, you know that is nonsense. We speak of sane, normal men. The insane man who wants to kill does not first ask whether there is or isn't any government. Such men belong to the care of physicians and alienists; they should be placed in hospitals to be treated for their malady.
The chances are that if you or Johnson should awaken to find that there is no government, you would get busy arranging your life under the new conditions.
It is very likely, of course, that if you should then see people gorge themselves while you go hungry, you would demand a chance to eat, and you would be perfectly right in that. And so would every one else, which means that people would not stand for any one hogging all the good things of life: they would want to share in them. It means further that the poor would refuse to stay poor while others wallow in luxury. It means that the worker will decline to give up his product to the boss who claims to "own" the factory and everything that is made there. It means that the farmer will not permit thousands of acres to lie idle while he has not enough soil to support himself and family. It means that no one will be permitted to monopolize the land or the machinery of production. It means that private ownership of the sources of life will not be tolerated any more. It will be considered the greatest crime for some to own more than they can use in a dozen lifetimes, while their neighbors have not enough bread for their children. It means that all men will share in the social wealth, and that all will help to produce that wealth.
It means, in short, that for the first time in history right justice, and equality would triumph instead of law.
You see therefore that doing away with government also signifies the abolition of monopoly and of personal ownership of the means of production and distribution.
It follows that when government is abolished, wage slavery and capitalism must also go with it, because they cannot exist without the support and protection of government. Just as the man who would claim a monopoly of the island, of which I spoke before, could not put through his crazy claim without the help of government.
Such a condition of things where there would be liberty instead of government would be Anarchy. And where equality of use would take the place of private ownership, would be Communism.
It would be Communist Anarchism.
"Oh, Communism," your friend exclaims, "but you said you were not a Bolshevik!"
No, I am not a Bolshevik, because the Bolsheviki want a powerful government or State, while Anarchism means doing away with the State or government altogether.
"But are not the Bolsheviki Communists?" you demand
Yes, the Bolsheviki are Communists, but they want their dictatorship, their government, to compel people to live in Communism. Anarchist Communism, on the contrary, means voluntary Communism, Communism from free choice
"I see the difference. It would be fine, of course;" your friend admits. "But do you really think it possible?"
To Next Chapter
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Anarchy Archives