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  • Writer's pictureEda Saridogan

In Defense of Anarchism

I have to admit, every time my phone beeps with a CNN News alert, I am scared to even look at what it says. What is it this time, I think, another mass shooting, another terrifying study on the near-irreversibility of climate change? In this era of social media, it is almost impossible to avoid news coverage on every horrible thing that happens in the world. This may make us more well-informed and “woke”, but seeing the worst of humanity can make us lose hope in the best, and we absolutely need hope if we’re going to even begin trying to fix the mistakes of previous generations. Millennials and Gen Z kids face some great challenges: inequality, poverty, climate change, mass unemployment/underemployment, to name a few. All of these problems share one root, and that is capitalism. That’s right! The world would be a much better place if we got rid of capitalism and corporate greed once and for all. It was useful to us once, but not anymore; today, it’s detrimental to our society.

I want to preface the rest of this article by saying that I am merely discussing political theory on a pretty basic level. There will always be anomalies when talking about specific methods of implementation; a policy that works in one country might not in another, and so on. As I don’t know much about current politics outside of the US, my examples will draw from American capitalism.

Capitalism in definition is the private ownership of the means of production, built on a hierarchical system of wage labor and an incentive to maximize profit in a free market. It is a system which allows for the owner of the means of production to earn more money than the actual laborers. With capitalism, private health insurance companies can exploit clients; private prisons can profit from what can be considered slave-labor; college tuition can be unaffordable for many while it is also deemed necessary for employment.

It’s true that capitalism once was a necessary step in the evolution of our economy. In the 16th century, capitalism essentially did away with feudalism as its free market principle gave people a chance to be autonomous and earn a living through labor or trade. The increasingly money-based economy of the time urged landlords to move away from serf labor to actually employing workers who as a result would aim for higher productivity and profits to be able to compete with other suppliers. With capitalism, people had more freedom to choose who to work for and what work they wanted to do. Industrialization and urbanization led to an age of individual economic freedom never seen before in history; capitalism is to thank for that.

However, in the 21st century, capitalism does more harm than good. Some argue that the current problems with the system are a result of late-stage capitalism, which is capitalist exploitation at its strongest, while others say there have always been fundamental problems within capitalism. Either way, these issues exist, and we can no longer ignore them. The underlying assumption of capitalism has always been that competition between workers will lead to higher productivity, and therefore higher output and revenue. This “survival of the fittest” mentality does not promote equal opportunity; it favors the privileged and condemns the oppressed. In getting rid of feudalism, capitalism didn’t do away with class, it just created new ones: the bourgeoisie and proletariat, which are, in Marx’s terms, the exploiting and the exploited.

We can see this clearly in Kieran Allen’s breakdown of the capitalism of big pharma [1]: ten pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the production of half of all legal drugs in the world. Pfizer controls 1/8th of the drug market, and its board of directors consists of only 15 people with an average age of 69, most of whom are white and male. Added to this is 12 people on an executive team that runs the day-to-day operations. Overall, the exploiting minority make decisions for the exploited majority. We can see this in Pfizer’s choice not to make drugs for tropical illnesses even though they are one of the main killers of the human population. In addition to this, we can also observe how capitalism has turned everything into a commodity in the quest for accumulating wealth. Marcia Angell, in The Truth About Drug Companies (2004) outlines how big pharma focuses a lot more on marketing than on research, thus commodifying health. In 2002, the top 10 big pharma companies spent 31% of their revenue on marketing and only 13% on medical research. This demonstrates Marx’s point: capitalism is not driven by consumer need, but rather corporate greed.

In essence, a system that allows Jeff Bezos to hoard billions of dollars while hundreds of thousands of people in the country can’t even afford shelter, a basic human need, has failed humanity.

So, the question is, where do we go from here? How do we fix this? The current economic system is broken and corrupt, so logically, we need to implement a new one, and my argument is that the new system should be libertarian socialism.

Before I justify my stance and get into the complications of implementing a whole new economic system, I should explain: what is libertarian socialism? Some people seem to think this is an oxymoronic term, because libertarianism is associated with freedom and socialism with centralization and authoritarianism, but this is not the case. A quick look at Merriam-Webster gives us the definition of both: libertarianism is the upholding of the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action, and socialism is the economic and political theory advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. The key word here is “or”; some branches of socialism (such as the one implemented in Soviet Russia) advocate for state ownership of the means of production, while others don’t [2]. Libertarian socialism is a branch of socialism that rejects state ownership and rather advocates for the producers to own the means of production; in other words, it advocates for self-governance, which fits in perfectly with libertarianism. Ultimately, this libertarian branch of socialism is also called anarchism.

Before you start dismissing this ideology, let me clarify: the word “anarchist” has generally been synonymous with “rebel”, “agitator”, “insurrectionist”, and even “terrorist”. Let me tell you that this is far from reality. An actual anarchist is just a person that believes in and promotes anarchism, i.e. what I just described with libertarian socialism.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the father of anarchism, was the first person to proudly proclaim himself an anarchist in the early 19th century, even though at the time it was pretty much synonymous with disorder and chaos. He defined anarchism as “the absence of a master or sovereign”. That said, it was anarchist activist Adolf Fischer who claimed that every anarchist must be a socialist; as a branch of socialism, anarchism adheres to some fundamental socialist beliefs such as overthrowing bourgeois supremacy, acquiring political power for the proletariat, and the abolition of private property. Proudhon was vehemently opposed to private property, and hence came up with the slogan “La propriété, c’est le vol”! [3]

Proudhon was also one of the first to compare wage labor to slavery along with Karl Marx. This is due to the fact that according to Marx, wage labor doesn’t create property for the laborer but rather creates capital for the bourgeoisie, thus giving them social and political power. Marx thought labor shouldn’t be the only means of life, but rather “the highest want in life”. That is the core concept of socialism: to work because we want to, not because we depend on it to survive. Especially today, our entire lives revolve around finding and keeping a job so we don’t starve. Even education isn’t for self-betterment anymore; its purpose is to make us employable. Instead of learning how to be well-rounded and well-informed individuals, we concentrate on a specific area of labor so that one day we will be able to work for someone who will profit off of our labor. This division of labor dehumanizes workers, Marx claims. His goal is to replace these fragments of people with fully-formed individuals who are capable of a variety of labors.

On top of these fundamentally socialist beliefs, anarchists also advocate for the abolition of all hierarchical structures and inequalities of power. In the context of labor, it goes against the libertarian idea of self-governance to work for a boss, as it promotes inequality. Anarcho-syndicalist Emile Pouget claims that any power given, or abdicated to a group makes that group privileged. Thus, it is the anarchist’s goal to not only overthrow the bourgeoisie and redistribute power to the proletariat, but also to make sure that the means of production are collectivized and owned by the producers themselves.

What sets apart anarchism from other branches of socialism is that other branches promote the idea that freeing the masses is the main condition for freeing the individual, while anarchism promotes the opposite. One of the most prominent contemporary anarchists, Noam Chomsky, claims that anarchism is the inheritor of the libertarian ideas of the Enlightenment. Libertarianism carries forward to the 21st century the humanist ideas of Rousseau, Humbolt and Kant, in that “freedom is the precondition for acquiring the maturity for freedom, not a gift to be granted when such maturity is achieved” [4]. In that sense, anarchists believe that the socialist revolution starts with the individual. Freedom of thought and action is the basic right of any person, and practices such as wage slavery, competitiveness and division of labor that are all a part of the capitalist system are inherently anti-humanist. In the words of Marxist historian Arthur Rosenberg, “socialism can only be realized in a world enjoying the highest possible measure of individual freedom” [5].

This may seem utopian to a lot of people, with one of the many criticisms of socialism being that without competition and private property, people will be too lazy and disincentivized to work. Marx rebuts this in The Communist Manifesto by saying if that were true, the bourgeoisie would have long collapsed. After all, it is the proletariat who work while the bourgeoisie reap the rewards. Personally, I believe it is too cynical to say that people are inherently lazy and disincentivized. We’ve had too many great philosophers, scientists and poets incentivized by the desire to advance human intellect and knowledge to accept that claim as true.

In addition to this, there is Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek’s “economic calculation problem” that allegedly proves socialism is virtually impossible to implement. The allocation of resources in a free market system is through the price mechanism, where consumers are given the choice to buy goods depending on their price, which informs both producers and consumers of the levels of supply and demand. Mises and Hayek argue that without the information provided by this price mechanism, socialism cannot efficiently allocate resources. However, many economists have rebutted their claims. Firstly, Mises and Hayek’s claim that a free market can efficiently allocate resources is in itself is incorrect; we can see this in the latest economic crash. Many economists have argued that estimating monetary value is indeed possible in a socialist economy, so there is no reason why socialism should be impossible. That is the problem with Mises’s argument; he deems socialism impossible, while his argument merely presents certain difficulties in implementing a socialist economy. Yes, socialism is not perfect, but we’ve also clearly established that neither is capitalism.

Marx suggests that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”. This is where we move from theory to implementation. Marx aimed for a social revolution (Workers of the world, unite!), where instead of waiting for some big change, the proletariat would actively engage in the class struggle. Although, it is crucial to point out that all of the proletariat must revolt against the system, for according to Engels, if change is achieved through a small revolutionary minority, it will be followed by the dictatorship of said minority, which is what we saw with the Bolsheviks in Soviet Russia. Rather, with the power of the masses, through strikes and insurrection, we can move towards revolution.

Once the proletariat have taken control of the factors of production, there will need to be a provisional government, a transition period, wherein the new socialist economy will build on the foundations of the old capitalist economy while changing its priorities from accumulation of wealth to communal interests. For instance, with universal access to education, workers can become engineers, doctors, architects, or choose whichever profession they like. However, the key difference is that this move from physical labor to what is considered mental labor would not have a higher monetary reward. This way, each person can choose a profession according to their own wants and abilities.

In addition, with the elimination of corporate greed and the implementation of planning, dependency on fossil fuel will be reduced. Since the main goal of a socialist society is not profit maximization but rather the fulfillment of the interest of the majority, the strive for knowledge and for betterment will flourish. It is in the interest of everyone to save the planet, after all. Information on technology to cut carbon emissions will be shared and improved upon; investment into renewable energies will increase. Therefore, shifting the priority of the economic system from the interest of the few to the needs of the many is extremely crucial if we want to remediate climate change.

Like I said, we live in a world where injustice and inequality are the norm. The minority in power exploit the majority they govern, which is why any system that tolerates and supports such a big power imbalance should be replaced. Noam Chomsky states that at every stage of history we must dismantle the authoritative and oppressive systems that were justified at the time for survival and security reasons, but are now socially and culturally detrimental, such as capitalism. Hence, we have anarchism: a movement by the immense majority, for the immense majority.

I want to emphasize that anarchism and socialism are not perfect. There are flaws and difficulties in implementation, much like in any other economic system. Not one person can come up with how to implement a whole new economic system; we must do it through trial and error. We’ve already attempted socialism in Soviet Russia and Maoist China, and evidently, we weren’t successful. So, we need new approaches. We must at least start discussions on an alternative to capitalism, and undo misconceptions concerning anarchism that many people have. This is important especially for our generation, because we are the ones that have to deal with the worst capitalism has to offer. Mikhail Bakunin, one of the most influential figures of this specific theory, predicted that the youth will take on “the cause of the people”. Let’s not let him down.


[1] Kieran Allen, Marx: The Alternative to Capitalism (2017)

[2] On the other hand, Irish socialist James Connolly claims that “public ownership by the State is not Socialism—it is only State capitalism” (1899). In that sense, the USSR or Maoist China, while they claimed to be socialist, were not socialist at all. This goes to show that even within a certain branch of socialism there is disagreement.

[3] (“Property is theft!”). Although, it is important to note that he defined property as it originated in Roman law, as in the right of the proprietor to do with his property as he pleases. Essentially, Proudhon was against the exploitation of workers by their bosses, and he excluded property acquired through labor-made wealth in his proclamation.

[4] Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism (2005)

[5] Arthur Rosenberg, A History of Bolshevism (1934)

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