"Proletarians of the world, look into the depths of your own
beings, seek out the truth and realise it yourselves: you
will find it nowhere else"
- Peter Arshinov
_The History of the Makhnovist Movement_
Welcome to our FAQ on anarchism.
This FAQ was written by anarchists across the world in an attempt to
present anarchist ideas and theory to those interested in it. It is
a co-operative effort, produced by a (virtual) working group and it
exists to present a useful organising tool for anarchists on-line and,
hopefully, in the real world. It desires to present arguments on why you
should be an anarchist as well as refuting common arguments against
anarchism and other proposed solutions to the social problems we face.
As anarchist ideas seem so at odds with "common-sense" (such as "of course
we need a state and capitalism") we need to indicate *why* anarchists
think like they do. Unlike many political theories, anarchism rejects
flip answers and instead bases its ideas and ideals in an in-depth analysis
of society and humanity. In order to do both anarchism and the reader
justice we have summarised our arguments as much as possible without making
them simplistic. We know that it is a lengthy document and may put off
the casual observer but its length is unavoidable.
Readers may consider our use of extensive quoting as being an example
of a "quotation [being] a handy thing to have about, saving one the
trouble of thinking for oneself." (A.A. Milne) This is not the case of
course. We have included extensive quotations by many anarchist figures
for three reasons. Firstly, to indicate that we are *not* making up our
claims of what certain anarchists thought or argued for. Secondly, and
most importantly, it allows us to link the past voices of anarchism
with its present adherents. And lastly, the quotes are used for their
ability to convey ideas succinctly rather than as an appeal to "authority."
In addition, many quotes are used in order to allow readers to investigate
the ideas of those quoted and to summarise facts and so save space. For
example, a quote by Noam Chomsky on the development of capitalism by state
protection ensures that we base our arguments on facts without having to
present all the arguments, facts and references Chomsky uses. Interested
readers can read the cited text if they desire to discover more.
We should also indicate the history of this FAQ. It was started in 1995
when a group of anarchists got together in order to write an FAQ refuting
Libertarian Capitalist claims of being anarchists. Those who were involved
in this project had spent many an hour on-line refuting claims by these
people that capitalism and anarchism could go together. Finally, a group
of net-activists decided the best thing was to produce an FAQ explaining
why anarchism hates capitalism and why "anarcho" capitalists are not
However, after the suggestion of Mike Huben (who maintains the
"Critiques of Libertarianism" web-page) it was decided that a pro-Anarchist
FAQ would be a better idea than an anti-"anarcho"-capitalist one. So the
Anarchist FAQ was born. It still bears some of the signs of its past-history.
For example it gives the likes of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and so on,
far too much space outside of Section F - they really are not that important.
However, as they present extreme examples of everyday capitalist ideology
and assumptions, they do have their uses - they state clearly the authoritarian
implications of capitalist ideology which its more moderate supporters try
to hide or minimise.
We think that we have produced a useful on-line resource for anarchists and
other anti-capitalists to use. Perhaps, in light of this, we should dedicate
this anarchist FAQ to the many on-line "libertarian" capitalists who, because
of their inane arguments, prompted us to start this work. Then again, perhaps
not, as that would give them too much credit. Outside the net they are
irrelevant and on the net they are just annoying. As you may guess, sections
F and G contain the bulk of this early anti-Libertarian FAQ and are
included purely to refute the claim that an anarchist can be a supporter
of capitalism that is relatively common on the net (in the real world this
would not be required as almost all anarchists think that "anarcho"-capitalism
is an oxymoron and that its supporters are not part of the anarchist movement).
So, while coming from a very specific reason, the FAQ has expanded into
more than we originally imagined. It has become a general introduction
about anarchism, its ideas and history. Because anarchism recognises
that there are no easy answers and that freedom must be based on individual
responsibility the FAQ is quite in-depth. As it also challenges a lot of
assumptions, we have had to cover a lot of ground. We also admit that some
of the "frequently asked questions" we have included are more frequently
asked than others. This is due to the need to include relevant arguments
and facts which otherwise may not have been included.
We are sure that many anarchists will not agree 100% with what we have
written in the FAQ. That is to be expected in a movement based upon
individual freedom and critical thought. However, we are sure that most
anarchists will agree with most of what we present and respect those
parts with which they do disagree with as genuine expressions of
anarchist ideas and ideals. The anarchist movement is marked by
wide-spread disagreement and argument about various aspects of anarchist
ideas and how to apply them (but also, we must add, a wide-spread
tolerance of differing viewpoints and a willingness to work together
in spite of minor disagreements). We have attempted to reflect this
in the FAQ and hope we have done a good job in presenting the ideas
of all the anarchist tendencies we discuss.
We have no desire to write in stone what anarchism is and is not. Instead
the FAQ is a starting point for people to read and learn for themselves
about anarchism and translate that learning into direct action and
self-activity. By so doing, we make anarchism a living theory, a product
of individual and social self-activity. Only by applying our ideas in
practice can we find their strengths and limitations and so develop
anarchist theory in new directions and in light of new experiences.
We hope that the FAQ both reflects and aids this process of self-activity
We are sure that there are many issues that the FAQ does not address.
If you think of anything we could add or feel you have a question and
answer which should be included, get in contact with us. The FAQ is
not our "property" but belongs to the whole anarchist movement and so
aims to be an organic, living creation. We desire to see it grow and
expand with new ideas and inputs from as many people as possible. If
you want to get involved with the FAQ then contact us. Similarly, if
others (particularly anarchists) want to distribute all or part of
it then feel free. It is a resource for the movement. For this reason
we have "copylefted" the FAQ(see http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/copyleft.html
for details). By so doing we ensure that the FAQ remains a free product,
available for use by all.
One last point. Language has changed a lot over the years and this applies to
anarchist thinkers too. The use of the term "man" to refer to humanity is
one such change. Needless to say, in today's world such usage is inappropriate
as it effectively ignores half the human race. For this reason the FAQ has
tried to be gender neutral. However, this awareness is relatively recent and
many anarchists (even the female ones like Emma Goldman) used the term
"man" to refer to humanity as a whole. When we are quoting past comrades
who use "man" in this way, it obviously means humanity as a whole rather
than the male sex. Where possible, we add "woman", "women", "her" and
so on but if this would result in making the quote unreadable, we have
left it as it stands. We hope this makes our position clear.
So we hope that this FAQ entertains you and makes you think. Hopefully it
will produce a few more anarchists and speed up the creation of an anarchist
society. If all else fails, we have enjoyed ourselves creating the FAQ
and have shown why anarchism to a viable, coherent political idea.
We dedicate this work to the millions of anarchists, living and dead, who
tried and are trying to create a better world. The FAQ was officially
released on July 19th, 1996 for that reason -- to celebrate the Spanish
Revolution of 1936 and the heroism of the Spanish anarchist movement.
We hope that our work here helps make the world a freer place.
The following self-proclaimed anarchists are (mostly) responsible for this
We would like to thank the following for their contributions and feedback:
and our comrades on the anarchy, oneunion and organise! mailing lists.
"An Anarchist FAQ", Version 9.0
Copyright (C) 1995-2001 The Anarchist FAQ Editorial Collective:
Iain McKay, Gary Elkin, Dave Neal, Ed Boraas
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1
or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.
See the GNU Free Documentation License for more details at