Rudolf Rocker

Anarchy: aims and purposes




These are passages from Chapter 1 of Anarcho-Syndacalism. Theory and Practice.



Anarchism is a definite intellectual current in the life of our times, whose adherents advocate the abolition of economic monopolies and of all political and social coercive institutions within society. In place of the present capitalistic economic order Anarchists would have a free association of all productive forces based upon co-operative labour, which would have as its sole purpose the satisfying of the necessary requirements of every member of society, and would no longer have in view the special interest of privileged minorities within the social union.

In place of the present state organisation with their lifeless machinery of political and bureaucratic institutions Anarchists desire a federation of free communities which shall be bound to one another by their common economic and social interest and shall arrange their affairs by mutual agreement and free contract.
Anyone who studies at all profoundly the economic and social development of the present social system will easily recognise that these objectives do not spring from the Utopian ideas of a few imaginative innovators, but that they are the logical outcome of a thorough examination of the present-day social maladjustments, which with every new phase of the existing social conditions manifest themselves more plainly and more unwholesomely. Modern monopoly, capitalism and the totalitarian state are merely the last terms in a development which could culminate in no other results.

The portentous development of our present economic system, leading to a mighty accumulation of social wealth in the hands of privileged minorities and to a continuous impoverishment of the great masses of the people, prepared the way for the present political and social reaction, and befriended it in every way. It sacrificed the general interest of human society to the private interest of individuals, and thus systematically undermined the relationship between man and man. People forgot that industry is not an end in itself, but should only be a means to ensure to man his material subsistence and to make accessible to him the blessings of a higher intellectual culture. Where industry is everything and man is nothing begins the realm of a ruthless economic despotism whose workings are no less disastrous than those of any political despotism. The two mutually augment one another, and they are fed from the same source.

The economic dictatorship of the monopolies and the political dictatorship of the totalitarian state are the outgrowth of the same political objectives, and the directors of both have the presumption to try to reduce all the countless expressions of social life to the mechanical tempo of the machine and to tune everything organic to the lifeless machine of the political apparatus. Our modern social system has split the social organism in every country into hostile classes internally, and externally it has broken the common cultural circle up into hostile nations; and both classes and nations confront one another with open antagonism and by their ceaseless warfare keep the communal social life in continual convulsions. The late World War and its terrible after effects, which are themselves only the results of the present struggles for economic and political power, are only the logical consequences of this unendurable condition, which will inevitably lead us to a universal catastrophe if social development does not take a new course soon enough. The mere fact that most states are obliged today to spend from fifty to seventy percent of their annual income for so-called national defence and the liquidation of old war debts is proof of the untenability of the present status, and should make clear to everybody that the alleged protection which the state affords the individual is certainly purchased too dearly.

The ever growing power of a soulless political bureaucracy which supervises and safeguards the life of man from the cradle to the grave is putting ever greater obstacles in the way of the solidaric co-operation of human beings and crushing out every possibility of new development. A system which in every act of its life sacrifices the welfare of large sections of the people, yes, of whole nations, to the selfish lust for power and the economic interests of small minorities must of necessity dissolve all social ties and lead to a constant war of all against all. This system has been merely the pacemaker for the great intellectual and social reaction which finds its expression today in modern Fascism, far surpassing the obsession for power of the absolute monarchy of past centuries and seeking to bring every sphere of human activity under the control of the state. Just as for the various systems of religious theology, God is everything and man nothing, so for this modern political theology, the state is everything and the man nothing. And just as behind the “will of God” there always lay hidden the will of privileged minorities, so today there hides behind the “will of the state” only the selfish interest of those who feel called to interpret this will in their own sense and to force it upon the people.



In modern anarchism we have the confluence of the two great currents which during and since the French Revolution have found such characteristic expression in the intellectual life of Europe: Socialism and Liberalism. Modern Socialism developed when profound observers in social life came to see more and more clearly that political constitutions and changes in the form of government could never get to the bottom of that great problem that we call “the social question.” Its supporters recognised that a social equalising of human beings, despite the loveliest of theoretical assumptions, is not possible so long as people are separated into classes on the basis of their owning or not owning property, classes whose mere existence excludes in advance any thought of a genuine community. And so there developed the recognition that only by elimination of economic monopolies and common ownership of the means of production, in a word, by a complete transformation of all economic conditions and social institutions associated with them, does a condition of social justice become thinkable, a status in which society shall become a genuine community, and human labour shall no longer serve the ends of exploitation, but shall serve to assure abundance to everyone. But as soon as Socialism began to assemble its forces and became a movement, there at once came to light certain differences of opinion due to the influence of the social environment in different countries. It is a fact that every political concept from theocracy to Cæsarism and dictatorship have affected certain factions in the Socialist movement. Meanwhile, there have been two great currents in political thought which have been of decisive significance for the development of Socialistic ideals: Liberalism, which powerfully stimulated advanced minds in the Anglo-Saxon countries and Spain, in particular, and Democracy in the later sense to which Rousseau gave expression in his Social Contract, and which found its most influential representatives in French Jacobinism. While liberation in its social theorising started off from the individual and wished to limit the state’s activities to a minimum, Democracy took its stand on an abstract collective concept, Rousseau’s “general will,” which it sought to fix in the national state.

Liberalism and Democracy were preeminently political concepts, and since the great majority of the original adherents of both maintained the right of ownership in the old sense, these had to renounce them both when economic development took a course which could not be practically reconciled with the original principles of Democracy, and still less with those of Liberalism. Democracy, with its motto of “all citizens equal before the law,” and Liberalism with its “right of man over his own person,” both shipwrecked on the realities of the capitalist economic form. So long as millions of human beings in every country had to sell their labour-power to a small minority of owners, and to sink into the most wretched misery if they could find no buyers, the so-called “equality before the law” remains merely a pious fraud, since the laws are made by those who find themselves in possession of the social wealth. But in the same way there can also be no talk of a “right over one’s own person,” for that right ends when one is compelled to submit to the economic dictation of another if he does not want to starve.

Anarchism has in common with Liberalism the idea that the happiness and prosperity of the individual must be the standard of all social matters. And, in common with the great representatives of Liberal thought, it has also the idea of limiting the functions of government to a minimum. Its supporters have followed this thought to its ultimate logical consequences, and wish to eliminate every institution of political power from the life of society. When Jefferson clothes the basic concept of Liberalism in the words: “that government is best which governs least,” then Anarchists say with Thoreau: “That government is best which governs not at all.”

In common with the founders of socialism, Anarchists demand the abolition of all economic monopolies and the common ownership of the soil and all other means of production, the use of which must be available for all without distinction; for personal and social freedom is conceivable only on the basis of equal economic advantages for everybody. Within the socialist movement itself the Anarchists represent the viewpoint that the war against capitalism must be at the same time a war against all institutions of political power, for in history economic exploitation has always gone hand in hand with political and social oppression. The exploitation of man by man and the dominion of man over man are inseparable, and each is the condition of the other.

As long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges. When this condition of social injustice vanishes to give place to a higher order of things, which shall recognise no special rights and shall have as its basic assumption the community of social interests, government over men must yield the field to the to the administration of economic and social affairs, or to speak with Saint-Simon: “The time will come when the art of governing man will disappear. A new art will take its place, the art of administering things.”

And this disposes of the theory maintained by Marx and his followers that the state, in the form of a proletarian dictatorship, is a necessary transitional stage to a classless society, in which the state after the elimination of all class conflicts and then of classes themselves, will dissolve itself and vanish from the canvas. This concept, which completely mistakes the real nature of the state and the significance in history of the factor of political power, is only the logical outcome of so-called economic materialism, which sees in all the phenomena of history merely the inevitable effects of the methods of production of the time. Under the influence of this theory people came to regard the different forms of the state and all other social institutions as a “juridical and political superstructure” on the “economic edifice” of society, and thought that they had found in that theory the key to every historical process. In reality every section of history affords us thousands of examples of the way in which the economic development of a country has been set back for centuries and forced into prescribed forms by particular struggles for political power.



Anarchism is no patent solution for all human problems, no Utopia of a perfect social order, as it has so often been called, since on principle it rejects all absolute schemes and concepts. It does not believe in any absolute truth, or in definite final goals for human development, but in an unlimited perfectibility of social arrangements and human living conditions, which are always straining after higher forms of expression, and to which for this reason one can assign no definite terminus nor set any fixed goal. The worst crime of any type of state is just that it always tries to force the rich diversity of social life into definite forms and adjust it to one particular form, which allows for no wider outlook and regards the previously exciting status as finished. The stronger its supporters feel themselves, the more completely they succeed in bringing every field of social life into their service, the more crippling is their influence on the operation of all creative cultural forces, the more unwholesomely does it affect the intellectual and social development of any particular epoch.

The so-called totalitarian state, which now rests like a mountain-weight upon whole peoples and tries to mould every expression of their intellectual and social life to the lifeless pattern set by a political providence, suppresses with ruthless and brutal force every effort at alteration of the existing conditions. The totalitarian state is a dire omen for our time, and shows with frightful clarity whither such a return to the barbarity of past centuries must lead. It is the triumph of the political machine over mind, the rationalising of human thought, feeling and behaviour according to the established rules of the officials. It is consequently the end of all intellectual culture.

Anarchism recognises only the relative significance of ideas, institutions and social forms. It is therefore not a fixed, self-enclosed social system, but rather a definite trend in the historic development of mankind, which, in contrast with the intellectual guardianship of all clerical and governmental institutions, strives for the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life. Even freedom is only a relative, not an absolute concept, since it tends constantly to become broader and affect wider circles in more manifold ways. For the Anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account. The less this natural development of man is influenced by ecclesiastical or political guardianship, the more efficient and harmonious will human personality become, the more will it become the measure of the society in which it has grown.

This is the reason why all great culture periods in history have been periods of political weakness. And that is quite natural, for political systems are always set upon the mechanising and not upon the organic development of social forces. State and culture are in the depth of their being irreconcilable opposites. Nietzsche recognised this very clearly when he wrote:
“No one can finally spend more than he has. That holds good for individuals; it holds good for peoples. If one spends oneself for power, for high politics, for husbandry, for commerce, parliamentarism, military interests — if one gives away that amount of reason, earnestness, will, self-mastery, which constitutes one’s real self for one thing, he will not have it for the other. Culture and the state — let no one be deceived about this — are antagonists: the ‘Culture State’ is merely a modern idea. The one lives on the other, the one prospers at the expense of the other. All great periods of culture are periods of political decline. Whatever is great in a cultured sense is non political, is even anti-political.”

A powerful state mechanism is the greatest hindrance to any higher cultural development. Where the state has been attacked by internal decay, where the influence of political power on the creative forces of society is reduced to a minimum, there culture thrives best, for political rulership always strives for uniformity and tends to subject every aspect of social life to its guardianship. And in this it finds itself in inescapable contradiction to the creative aspirations of cultural development, which is always on the quest after new forms and fields of social activity, and for which freedom of expression, the manysidedness and the kaleidoscopic changes of things, are just as vitally necessary as rigid forms, dead rules and the forcible suppression of every manifestation of social life which are in contradiction to it.

Every culture, if its natural development is not too much affected by political restrictions, experiences a perpetual renewal of the formative urge, and out of that comes an ever growing diversity of creative activity. Every successful piece of work stirs the desire for greater perfection and deeper inspiration; each new form becomes the herald of new possibilities of development. But the state creates no culture, as is so often thoughtlessly asserted; it only tries to keep things as they are, safely anchored to stereotypes. That has been the reason for all revolutions in history.

Power operates only destructively, bent always on forcing every manifestation of life into the straitjacket of its laws. Its intellectual form of expression is dead dogma, its physical form brute force. And this unintelligence of its objectives sets its stamp on its supporters also and renders them stupid and brutal, even when they were originally endowed with the best of talents. One who is constantly striving to force everything into a mechanical order at last becomes a machine himself and loses all human feeling.

It was from the understanding of this that modern Anarchism was born and now draws its moral force. Only freedom can inspire men to great things and bring about social and political transformations. The art of ruling men has never been the art of educating men and inspiring them to a new shaping of their lives. Dreary compulsion has at its command only lifeless drill, which smothers any vital initiative at its birth and can bring forth only subjects, not free men. Freedom is the very essence of life, the impelling force in all intellectual and social development, the creator of every new outlook for the future of mankind. The liberation of man from economic exploitation and from intellectual and political oppression, which finds its finest expression in the world-philosophy of Anarchism, is the first prerequisite for the evolution of a higher social culture and a new humanity.


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