What is anarchism?


Anarchism is a political and economic philosophy on the far libertarian left of the political spectrum. Specifically, it calls for radical economic democracy, with workers owning the means of production and making decisions cooperatively or by consensus. Anarchism is a form of socialism, but works outside of the political system and does not seek state power in implementing worker social control. Anarchists fear that government control would create a "red bureaucracy," an elite class of people within the party that replaces the previous bourgeois elites of capitalist society. This was essentially true of the Soviet Union, though many socialists will argue the Soviet system did not resemble socialism at all, and was in fact, state capitalism.

Anarchism seeks voluntary associations of workers, cooperatives, and mutual aid organizations. On a simple level, this can mean a workers' cooperative with a non-hierarchical structure. On a very complex level, this can resemble a corporation, except with the very top responsive to democratic decision-making from the majority. Mondragon is the classic example of a Spanish worker-owned corporation, which emerged from the suppression of anarchist social revolution in Spain. The occupied factory movement in Argentina is similar and more explicitly anarchist.1

Who are some famous anarchists?

There is a Liberal tradition in Anarchism and a Marxist tradition, though the distinction is rather unimportant. Famous anarchists include Pyotr Kroptokin, a Russian anthropologist responsible for discovering that humans survived through cooperation2, Murray Boochkin, Mikhail Bakunin, Voltarine de Claire, and Emma Goldman (along with her lover and famous Chicago physician Ben Reichman.) In the 1930s, Buenaventura Durruti led Spanish anarchists against Franco's fascist armies while simultaneously fighting the communists in the Spanish Civil War. This period of Spanish history is known for mass voluntary collectivization of anything from farms to barber shops to militias. This incredible experiment in radical politics is captured in George Orwell's classic Homage to Catalonia.3

Everyone's favorite American dissident Noam Chomsky is an anarchist, as was Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States.

What is anarchism's relevance to public health?

Anarchism is often connected to feminism, prison abolition, queer rights, and environmentalism. Anarchists are the reason we have an eight-hour work week4, and arguably the reason we have birth control5. Anarchists have been at the forefront of the anti-globalization movement and anti-corporate movement. Anarchism is also a major current of Occupy Wallstreet.6

Anarchism is a useful lens for critiquing the political system and offering solutions that empower communities instead of relying on the state or foundation funding. Community gardens, community-run schools, cooperative social enterprise, and socialized, participatory health care are all "anarchist" grassroots responses to food deserts, education deficits, unemployment, and health inequity respectively. These and many other initiatives have all been run successfully by the Black Panther Party, in addition to other smaller community groups.

Despite being a utopian political philosophy, anarchism has existed in varying degrees in the US, Mexico, Spain, Ukraine, Israel, and (arguably) the former Yugoslavia. People who think the State should be gone no matter what aren't anarchists — those are extreme libertarians. It's very possible to support universal state-run healthcare and be an anarchist, as Chomsky has argued in the past.

A long but useful exploration of anarchism's relevance to public health can be found here.

Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN), who are anarcho-socialists in Chiapas, Mexico, have a robust, well-functioning public health system described here.


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