Some Notes for a talk on Panarchism to Anarchists
Note by John Zube
These notes were prepared
for the anarchist festival, May 1986 in Melbourne but not used there, for
lack of interest in such a talk. Only a discussion in a very small circle
In November 1986 I used a German translation of it as the basis for a talk to the Open Mind Festival of the Freenetwork in Kerpen/Buir. There about 30 people were present but not much of a discussion occurred, either, for lack of time - and probably also of interest - since only one person showed serious interest in panarchist literature afterwards.
Panarchist are receptive
to anarchist notions but: are anarchists receptive to panarchist notions?
They ought to be! For panarchism embodies the best of the anarchist notions without being authoritarian about it! It remains tolerant towards dissenters and lets them do their on thing.
Even those panarchists who prefer anarchism for themselves, do not want to impose it upon others. Their voluntaristic, individualistic, cooperative, autonomous, moral, utilitarian scientific and realistic outlook is rather:
Anarchism for anarchists and all kinds of archism for archists.
To each the government or non-governmental society of his or her dreams.
Freedom of action and freedom to experiment belongs to all who are prepared to confine it to their own sphere, their own labours, funds and lives.
Every other and "exclusive" proposal of any supposed ideal, as supposedly being best suited to all people as they are now, in spite of their differences of opinions, preferences and aims, only serves to set them at odds with other and is, basically, authoritarian, even totalitarian by being intolerant towards all other solutions wanted by dissenters for themselves.
Anarchists who are not also panarchists are thus merely a subspecies of totalitarians!
Panarchist try to point out to them this unjustified and remaining totalitarian attitude, one which most of them are not aware of and would, at present, in most cases, deny. I do not deny their good intentions but these are not enough.
Each faith, each ideology, tends to deviate from its original ideas, sometimes in a quite fundamental way and usually without most members being aware of what has happened. They still imagine to be loyal upholders of the traditional doctrines. I mention only the "love thy neighbour" Christians who organized large-scale mutual slaughter, sanctioned by priests on both sides. You can think of many other examples. I only challenge you to consider your own.
Anarchism has not been spared this fate. Not only has it suffered numerous schisms over details, nay, some of these "anarchistic" groupings have rejected, in practice and in theory, some of their original doctrines or insights. They have become heretics towards their own original heresies. They have interpreted, revised, "reformed" and qualified their original creeds so much that with some of them all too little of their original ideas are left.
Possibly this happened because their original prophets and apostles were also human, i.e. not always consistent and swayed by prejudices. Moreover, their holy books are not yet fully accessible to all and still not fully indexed and abstracted now, so that it is not easy to find out what the originators had to say on any particular point - or what they considered to be the most fundamental aspects of their new radical faith.
They also shared some
of their premises with the statists and only very few of them have queried
these premises up to now.
For instance, all too many of them, all supposedly the most radical individualists, have uncritically adopted the doctrine of equality, which in many ways is also the guiding error of the statists. (Equal citizenship, equality under the law, uniformity in a single community.)
Many anarchists have merely, in a totalitarian way, over-extended that error by insisting e.g. on equal property or equal abolition of property or equal poverty, equal earnings, equal votes on all aspects of living etc.
Another common and
unchecked but believed-in doctrine is that of "territorial integrity" or
the "territorial imperative".
The difference merely being that those calling themselves anarchists, want it on a smaller scale, in local communities and intentional communities.
Most anarchists also went along with most of the worst economic errors of the statists. Only they wanted these errors practiced less bureaucratically, in a decentralist and collectivist way.
It is simply not easy and perhaps even impossible to shake off environmental influences, the spirit of the times, the generally accepted prejudices, completely, however radical one imagines one's opposition to be.
Some uncritically adopted
the statist faith in force as the ultimate remedy and expressed it in variations
of "revolutionary libertarian socialism", coming close to struggle and
revolution for their own sake.
Others embraced, in a similarly doctrinaire way, the Christian belief in love, by advocating exclusively non-violent and educational approaches.
In other words, generalizations, polarizations, oversimplifications, various secondary ideas and doctrines led them astray, away from their original and basic ones. They often see this process operating among their enemies - but hardly ever among themselves.
I will not attempt to prove to you in detail what the original and basic doctrines of anarchism were. Read and abstract original writings yourself to check my assertions on this out.
I do assert, however, that the main and basic aim of anarchism was to do away with COMPULSORY association with and subjection to others. To do away e.g. with tyrants and absolutist kings, authoritarian, aristocratic or democratic governments - institutions obviously not based on unanimous consent. Most were rather vague on what was to follow. (Societies of egoists, according to Stirner, a cooperative society, according to Engels and Marx, a society based on contract, according to Proudhon, etc.)
But when you analyze their various proposals and notions of a society without coercion, privileges and monopolies, or coercive "rule" of man over man, the only common basic feature was
Voluntarism,All too many did then jump to the conclusion that sooner or later all would or should share this preference and that nothing that somehow reeked of statism and hierarchy and rule or government or orthodox or modern economics ought to be permitted to continue, NOT EVEN AMONG VOLUNTEERS, because they wrongly assumed that all would volunteer or should volunteer not only for a voluntaristic society but would, within it, realize the same secondary ideals or preferences
Voluntary Cooperation and
Voluntary Resistance and Defence against those who would not permit these.
But people as they
are, different and prejudiced and misled, are likely, given individual
choice, to make now, in the foreseeable future and many of them probably
in the far future, different voluntary choices for themselves than anarchists
Panarchists assert that according to the basic anarchist doctrines of individualism, voluntarism, choice, consent, rights and liberties, they ought to be given that right even to the extent of choosing slavery and despotism - FOR THEMSELVES - as long as they can stand them, or any mixed bag of statist or religious welfarism, etc.
Instead of opposing
all such different choices, anarchists should fundamentally (for moral
and utilitarian reasons) welcome and even advocate them - because when
these choices become generally recognized, then their own would likewise
be recognized. To each his own.
They would then no longer have to convert their opponents to anarchism but would merely have to make their own choices while letting others do their own.
That is a much easier task - because it respects other people with their different choices.
Each to his own tastes. And that applies, naturally, to the potential victims of those cannibalistically inclined.
Instead, anarchists have set themselves up - in opposition to their basic doctrines - as enemies of all states, of all governments, even those that would only rule over volunteers and would not invade the rights of non-members. They have also set themselves up as enemies not only of legalized monopolies but also as enemies of laissez faire, laissez passer (let people produce, let them exchange) or free enterprise and free trade capitalism, i.e. of the free market, - or of "capitalism" among consenting adults.
Do such non-coercive
governments (towards outsiders) exist? For precedents you have to look
no further than to your nearest Rugby League or Rugby Union Clubs. They
do all organize violence- but by members and to members only, and to members
of voluntarily competing clubs, who similarly subscribe to violence as
a "game", a violence that leaves non-combatants unhurt.
Tennis players, golfers swimmers and other sportsmen are not conscripted. They have sorted themselves out according to their preferences and in this respect they are already panarchists, although unconscious ones and do keep the peace with practitioners or viewers of other sports.
Is there something fundamentally different between football clubs and coercive governments? I see their only fundamental difference as consisting in voluntary membership, which also means non-territorial rule ( apart from ownership or lease of playing fields ) and which leads, automatically, to voluntary taxation or dues and fees.
Coercive governments are just bigger football clubs with COERCIVE membership which use us as footballs and tax slaves and a whole country as their playing fields and do not make escape easy or dependent upon their discretion. But mind you, they only abuse US in this way. They are such monsters only for the dissenters and nonconformists. For their voluntary members they are jolly good shows and they should be recognized by as such FOR THEM.
Panarchists merely want states and free societies to be run as differently and tolerantly as sports clubs are: Football for some, cricket, tennis, golf gymnastics, weight lifting, running or swimming, etc. for others, each according to the own preferences
Perhaps I should and, with a special effort, I could, quote to you hundreds of references from classical anarchists, proving my case that their basic notion was voluntarism and that they objected mainly to the coercive nature of states and churches and other vested interests and pressure groups and to imposed privileges.
I do hope that, for my purposes here, just some such quotes, still in the classical anarchist tradition, will serve:
1.) "Protection and taxation without consent is itself invasion; anarchism favors a system of voluntary taxation and protection." - said Victor Yarros, as quoted by J. J. Martin, Men Against the State, p. 237.
2.) "Anarchism, as I see it, admits of any kind of organization, so long as membership is not compulsory." - Joseph A. Labadie, quoted ibid, p. 245.
3.) "If we, in any way, dominate the lives of others and prevent them from doing what they wish to do, then for all practical purposes, we cease to be anarchists. - E. Malatesta, "La Question Sociale", Nov. 25, 1889.
4.) "I am in favour of free competition in all human enterprises, and to the utmost limit." - H. L. Mencken, Prejudices, 3rd. series, article: "The Dismal Science", p. 280.. (Admittedly, he probably did not mean it in a panarchistic way.)
and every individual has the unquestionable and unabridgeable right of
free and voluntary association with other equally sovereign individuals
for economic, political, social and all other purposes,..." - Emma Goldman,
Mother Earth, Vo. IV, 1909-1910. (Alas, she concluded that this would
require the abolition of property rights rather than their establishment
and maintenance. In "Anarchism and other Essays", p. 62, she speaks of
the "sovereignty of the individual". But would she have favoured it being
expressed in panarchies, even by proprietary anarchists? )
(See also Kropotkin, Gegenseitige Hilfe, S. 134)
While anarchists WISHED
that everyone would sooner or later subscribe to their own ideals, what
they really opposed was only the coercive imposition of the ideals of others
upon themselves and upon other victims of the State, i. e. RULE against
one's will, over oneself or over others against their will, when those
ruled over have not acted invasively but merely want to be left alone to
do their own thing.
The original anarchists did not demand that any rule that is FULLY BASED ON CONSENT ought not to be tolerated.
Otherwise, to be consistent, they should not have tolerated either, that their followers followed their examples and teachings. Then those confused anarchists would be right who never even appoint a minute-taker, chair-person or other official for their meetings and organizations, "on principle", no matter how disorganized and fruitless their meetings may become.
(Indeed, the anti-organizational approach is ONE anarchist method, if ALL agree upon it. But OTHER anarchistic methods are also possible and right, provided the basic anarchist requirement is fulfilled, namely unanimous consent to the method, even if that method grants 51 voluntary members a degree of temporary rule over the remaining 49 voluntary members. The rule of 51 consenters over 49 dissenters would only be ended when the latter would prefer to be rather outside than within that association. As long as they prefer to remain in it, they are still giving their primary consent and differ only on details that are secondary to them.)
This basic issue of voluntarism became rather confused because the anti-property anarchists saw in the State a protector of property rights (rather than a protector of privileges and exploiter of property rights) and, their animosity to property being their first priority and interpreting the State in this way, they, naturally, wanted to do away with it altogether, in all forms, as seemingly ONLY upholding imposed PRIVILEGES. All who were consenting to it or demanding it , were merely classed either as privileged people, oppressors and exploiters or as fools, with the wishes of neither of these to be respected.
The possibility that people might voluntarily uphold contractual property relationships between themselves was not considered by them - although it should have been. Only the individualist anarchists saw and preferred that option.
The special place that
landed property has among other property, either as genuine and natural
property or as a privilege and monopoly and the various zealously represented
theories on "the ideal and only right" land tenure system, helped to muddle
the situation further.
If any state did represent, inseparably, a single and completely wrong land tenure system, then that State, naturally, ought to be abolished, in order to get rid of that land tenure system. So they thought.
The fact that many
of the somewhat liberal States permitted extensive experimentation with
landownership and use by various ideological groups, was often conveniently
overlooked by the zealots.
Moreover, most land-reformes opposed to the private "land monopoly" have turned a blind eye to the most dangerous land monopoly, the large-scale collectivist one, the land tenure of nations and nation states, of "territories" - that now constitute nuclear targets.
For others the State was not embodied in "private property" in general or in "rent" in particular, as the first enemy of mankind but in "interest". To drive out this, to them primary evil, this Satan, as seen by them, they believed that they had to aim at doing away with the State completely, even for volunteers. Thus, again, they came away from voluntarism and often became even statists, although not as comprehensive ones as the totalitarian communists are, in order to liberate mankind from what they considered to be primary evils. There was no room for voluntarism in their scheme, either and yet they still considered themselves as "anarchists.."
But neither "equality",
nor "no property", nor "abolition of private land or rent or interest"
are primary anarchist ideals - even though some anarchists put them first.
They are all deviations from the primary voluntaristic, associationist, autonomous and individualist ideal, one of personal independence even sovereignty and autonomy, one of contractual and voluntary association only - with individual secession or withdrawal always to be free after all rightful contractual obligations have been fulfilled.
the chances to realize this kind of voluntaristic anarchism, embracing
anarchism for volunteers and archism for volunteers, peacefully coexisting,
exterritorially, at the same time and in the same territory, we do already,
in many, mostly MINOR ways, but that are HIGH in the value scale of the
average person, live in an age of freedom of action, of independence from
customs, rituals and traditions of others.
This expresses itself e.g. in different choices of professions, of crafts and hobby activities, in various schools and practices of music, painting, fashion, architecture, plays, sports, dancing, diets, games religions practices, memberships in various associations and clubs etc. etc. In all these spheres we have already largely become panarchistic anarchists.
To that extent the desired revolution or fundamental reform is already 90% ACHIEVED and this with the consent of most conservatives and radicals.
(This did possibly result from our extensive migrations on this globe, and mixing in the past, which to some extent continues, although over-regulated. These on their own do largely invalidate the claims of a "territorial imperative" as opposed to a "nesting" and "proximity" instinct among humans.)
Moreover, we mostly
favour rightful and sensible experimentation, i.e. at the own cost and
risk, in science and technology, in the arts, in private life styles, in
business and at work ( at least to some extent ) and in intentional alternative
Nevertheless, most of us have so far failed to GENERALIZE AND INSTITUTIONALIZE that kind of tolerance, experimentation and practised diversity. We have failed to extend it into the most important and large spheres, especially those of politics and economics. However, panarchists, as opposed to anarchists, did just that. Starting from the basic premises of the classical anarchists, they want to apply voluntarism, contracts, tolerance, diversity, in these spheres, too, quite independent of the territorial location of individuals and groups and of the dissenting views of other and larger minority groups and even of majority groups living around and between them, independent of the current territorial constitutions, institutions, laws and jurisdictions, customs and practices.
Their aim is minority autonomy for all minorities, for archists and anarchists alike, autonomy for the largest majorities as well as for the smallest minorities and the absolutely smallest minority, the individual. For this they advance moral as well as utilitarian reasons, political, economic and even military and pacifist arguments as well as revolutionary and reformist ones.
They hold themselves to be consistent anarchists and those presently calling themselves anarchists to be still partly authoritarians.
Moreover, they hold that this panarchist approach is also the only moral and practicable way to achieve anarchism for all - IF AND WHEN THESE forms of social arrangements should ever become the preference of every single individual that is of age (however unlikely that may be).
Who is right, the modern
anarchists, who are relatively numerous compared with panarchists, or the
That question has not yet been settled. Matter of fact, it has rarely even been raised. I raise it whenever I do get the opportunity.
For panarchism to win
- i.e. EVERYBODY TO WIN HIS IDEAL FOR HIMSELF AND AT HIS OWN EXPENSE AND
RISK ONLY - anarchists have to be won over first.
Once they have been won over, they will then CEASE TO ANTAGONIZE and can BEGIN TO BEFRIEND their present opponents and begin a COMMON STRUGGLE with them against INSTITUTIONALISED INTOLERANCE, against the SUPPRESSION OF FREEDOM OF ACTION AND OF TOLERANCE in the most important social spheres, in politics and in economics.
Their close bond with their former enemies would then be an agreement on DOING THE OWN THING and an awareness of the potential of voluntary and non-territorial autonomy. Their common enemies would be totalitarians, dictators etc. and their fanatic followers. Often that would mean merely a narrow upper crust and their secret police members.
Even towards these the aim ought to be not to exterminate them as PERSONS but merely to end their POWERS. Towards that aim panarchists ought to combine e.g. outlawry and tyrannicide threats (while dictators persistently threaten "proletarians" with "proletarian nuclear weapons") with amnesty, asylum, anonymity and protection offers - once they abdicate, flee and surrender to us, preferably after destroying at least one of the "modern" anti-people "weapons".
In such and many related
defensive efforts, panarchistic anarchists could even cooperate with the
best intentions of the better types of democratic governments, appearing
as patriots rather than as traitors or terrorists.
They could e.g. become spokesmen for very important new allies for democratic governments, namely governments in exile that represent only volunteer groups without claims to territorial rule.
They could advise them on many personal law solutions for large problems and trouble spots today, where there exists no territorial solution.
Yes, indeed, as panarchists anarchists they could become the friends and allies of many of the better governments - and could finally turn them into governments that are quite acceptable, even to them, because they are only accepted by volunteers and dissenters are free to leave them, without having to leave their homes, native land, jobs, friends and relatives.
In other words, consistent
panarchists could use the opportunities provided by many of today's problems
and trouble spots to act as friends and advisors to their own democratic
governments rather than as their irreconcilable enemies. They can propose
practicable, because panarchistic, methods to settle the present wars and
civil wars in and between other countries.
They can increase the defensive strength of the own. They could rally friends and allies for attacked democratic governments from the ranks of the first victims of enemy regimes, who prefer being liberated to being forced to act as executioners and oppressors for others.
They can help democratic governments to reduce terrorism.
They can offer the only comprehensive programme to overcome the threat of nuclear war or war with chemical and biological weapons.
Their experimental freedom approach holds the solution, or the road to the solution, to every social problem that can be solved.
Thus I do assert that panarchism is very practicable, indeed, and does not have to be afraid of democratic or dictatorial regimes - to the extent that panarchists are not directly living under dictatorial regimes.
It can peacefully and educationally transform democratic regimes into panarchistic ones (truly democratic ones, with self-rule or popular rule for all, even minority groups).
It can expect the support of all aspiring politicians and of those temporarily out of office, whilst those in office, knowing their opinion polls, would not be afraid of losing power altogether but would know that they could retain it over their remaining voluntary supporters and voters, if they act no worse than they did so far.
It has the greatest
potential to defeat the aggressive and oppressive regimes in other countries,
even with the support of democratic governments.
All that is needed would be an understanding, acceptance and application of panarchistic principles, which by their very nature tend to minimize opposition and friction (once understood).
But so far they are
so misunderstood that there is much opposition to them and numerous misunderstandings
even in anarchist and libertarian circles.
I am speaking to you in the hope of dissolving some of these, aware that it would require many more such efforts to fully convince you.
So far, I see in anarchists and libertarians the primary obstacle for the realization of panarchy. Only you could convince me that my impression is wrong.
I think I have by now talked enough on this and would rather engage with you in a discussion, now or at later opportunities, of your questions, doubts and objections.
If I have offended
you in any way, it was not intentional.
Remember, however you disagree with me, I want full liberty for you to practise your beliefs among yourselves - at your own risk and expense.
That ought to be at least a suitable platform for rational negotiations between us.
John Zube, 23.4.1986.
Slightly corrected version of Jan.
Slightly revised again: 24.8.2004.