Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age

By Jonathan Purkis; James Bowen | Go to book overview

Dave Morland


1
Anti-capitalism and poststructuralist
anarchism1

Introduction

Social anarchism has a long reputation as a disparate and incoherent ideology. Commentators, sympathetic and objective alike, have frequently accused social anarchism of being too diverse to constitute a singular, recognisable ideology at all (Chomsky, 1970; Miller, 1984; Ball and Dagger, 1991). To a degree this is true: social anarchism is a loose and diverse ideology that may be too elusive for some commentators to categorise neatly and clearly. However, other commentators, myself included, have taken the view that there is sufficient rigour and coherence within social anarchism to label this as an identifiable ideology (Morland, 1997; Woodcock, 1975). Notwithstanding that social anarchism is fraught with difficulties as an agreed academic construct, the task of defining anarchy itself remains problematic. Having progressed from nineteenth-century social anarchism, the last century witnessed the proliferation of a number of divergent strands within anarchist thought. Principal among these is social ecology, expounded largely by Murray Bookchin, but there are many other strands, including primitivism (e.g., John Zerzan) and poststructuralist anarchism (e.g., Todd May).

Differences concerning the definition of anarchy and social anarchism permeate anarchist thought and writings. Consensus is usually achieved, however, over what anarchists oppose. A common starting point is the issue of power. Drawing on rational choice theory, Michael Taylor (1982: 11–13) defines power as the ability to change the range of available actions that face people. In this respect, threats or rewards are instances of power. However, as Taylor acknowledges, power is also to do with the position of groups within society and their capacity to secure their own preferred outcomes. This corresponds to Marshall's understanding of the types of power within society: traditional power based on custom; newly acquired power grounded in the law, the State or the military, for example; and revolutionary power, frequently associated with vanguard political parties (Marshall, 1992: 45–6). Certainly, power is central to anarchist theory, and anarchists, whether old or new, are united in their belief that it should, wherever possible, be uprooted and eliminated. In particular, social anarchists have

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