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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Anarchism Defined

First published as a Blog post on 23 June 2011 when Greek anarchists were rioting. On a world-historical scale, Walter Scheidel's book The Great Leveller ( 2017) is very interesting on the topic of crude re-distribution of wealth.


Anarchists believe that there is such a thing as a Free Lunch. Yours.That really is the only belief anarchists have - but there are different kinds of anarchists.

In poor and unhappy countries, when public order breaks down, the first thing people do is loot what they can. This is called anarchy and this anarchy is understandable. The hugely unequal distribution of wealth and income in such countries is the result of  injustice supported by state repression. Looting brings about an immediate, rough and ready re-distribution. Unfortunately, shop keepers who aren't the worst criminals - and who may indeed be victims of the local regime's protection rackets - are usually the biggest victims. Occasionally, looters get into presidential and royal palaces - they did in Iraq thanks to US government encouragement and they did thanks to the Bolsheviks in Russia back in 1917 (Lenin's slogan, "Loot the Looters"). But in all cases, looting works in favour only of the young and fit - and generally male. 

 If you don't fall into that category, your only hope of getting something for nothing is to get it off the state and rely on the state to make others pay. In Greece back in 2008 -2011, this system broke down , it seems, because the state was useless at getting those others to pay. There were just too many tax breaks and too many tax evaders at the same time that the state was indulging the desire for something for nothing on an unaffordable scale. Borrowing to pay benefits which generate no new economic activity was doomed to come to a sticky end, an end delayed because  BNP Paribas and others went on lending to Greece way past the point when it became seriously sub-prime.

To those in receipt of "something for nothing" it does not always feel like that. A civil servant with a sinecure probably feels they have a job, but even in Europe and most obviously in countries like Greece and Italy, that feeling has quite often been transparently untrue. 

Those with inherited wealth - what used to be called "private means" - rarely consider that someone else is working to keep them in the style to which they accustom themselves "Private means" is really something for nothing, someone else's lunch..

Anarchists as we usually understand them can't get near those "private means" nor can they get into bank accounts held in the world's tax havens for the rich created (mainly) by the US and UK governments, and which owe their success to not being very fastidious about how the money they handle was obtained. Tax havens let you be an anarchist without being young, fit and male. 

There are a lot of those other kind of  anarchist  in the world.

© Trevor Pateman 2011 and 2019


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