Responding to Questions


Q: What is your definition of Anarchism?
—asked by a reader from New York City
The editors respond: That is quite a good question. There are many definitions of anarchism, since anarchism includes different movements that may also be at odds with each other. One could say that what most anarchist movements have in common is the struggle for a world where people are free to develop their full potential without hampering that of others. This means the end of authoritarian systems or structures, especially the state. There have been and continue to be debates about the best way to achieve such ends, for example among those who reckon means and ends must be aligned or consistent with each other (prefiguration) and others who aim for violent means to achieve an anarchist world that (perhaps paradoxically) would have to be overwhelmingly non-violent, while still others have more nuanced views. There are anarchists who reject organization, even beyond parties, and anarchists who view organization as crucial to achieve anarchist ends. A good introduction to all this is Ruth Kinna's Anarchism: A Beginner's Guide (available free on-line at:
We think it’s also useful to contrast anarchism as a political theory to Marxism. Like anarchism, Marxism comes in many, often competing, varieties. Some of these, taking their lead from Joseph Stalin and the dictatorship he established in the former Soviet Union, consider the creation and strengthening of a new state as a repressive force over society to be one of the goals of an anti-capitalist revolution. But for Marx himself, and for all those Marxists (there were many) who opposed the Stalinist dictatorship, the goal of an anti-capitalist revolution was “the withering away of the state”—with an end that looks very much the same as that envisioned by anarchists. But anti-authoritarian Marxists, unlike anarchists, believed that a state would still be necessary in the immediate post-revolutionary period. This new state would, for the first time in history, be a repressive tool in the hands of a majority, run democratically by mass organizations of workers and their allies. Without this, new social inequalities and a state once again controlled by the minority would inevitably re-emerge, because the simple overthrow of the old state structure would not, by itself, take away the social power of those who once controlled that state, a power that was based on their ownership of property. Only after the social power of the old ruling classes was successfully abolished could the state begin to truly disappear.
Today this difference still defines ideologies on the left to a significant degree, though there are also attempts at convergence and synthesis, for example by the Zapatistas (EZLN) in Mexico, or the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as by ecosocialists and others. Synthesis and convergence is also the goal of the Old and New project.