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Fire Departments

Lois asks:

“If there was a fire, would anarchists call the fire department?”

Yes. I can’t think of any reason why an Anarchist wouldn’t call the fire department.

Fire Departments are actually a good service that exist solely to help people and communities. They save people, put out fires, and stop fires from spreading. It’s a social service that everyone benefits from.

In an anarchist society, there would probably be a volunteer firefighter system, or maybe even fire departments in larger cities. It makes sense for there to be specially trained people to deal with fires.

The police are completely different and will be discussed in a future post.


Alternate answer from A.K. Applegate:

Absolutely! Unless we’re the ones who started it, of course.

When it comes to matters of life and death, insisting on some sort of authenticity by refusing to enlist the state’s help would be foolish. Consider yourself lucky to live under a state that at least gives away some crumbs in the form of public services as your compensation for submitting to their exploitation.

That aside, a fire department is an extension of the principle of solidarity, but for a social organization as large as a city. Since time immemorial, neighbors have always helped each other out in emergencies, including fires. I see no reason why a stateless society wouldn’t have them. Anarchists are not opposed to organized civilization (well, anarcho-primitivists are, but that’s another question), and fire departments are necessary for organized civilization. And really, fire departments are probably one of the easier problems to solve in a stateless society. They would work basically the same as they do now, except instead of being funded via coercive taxation, the needs of the firefighters, like the needs of all workers, would be provided via a system of free distribution. People would choose jobs that interest them, and some people are interested in being firefighters.

But I think this question gets at a matter a lot of people are concerned about when it comes to anarchism. People need social services that governments usually provide, like roads and fire departments. But it’s only because of an arbitrary distinction that is a result of capitalist ideology that we look at the state-provided social services as being any different than market-provided social services. We need roads and fire departments, but we also need food, shelter, healthcare, and energy. There’s no reason to conceptually split these goods into goods that the state provides and goods that the market provides; they’re just goods. And as anarchists, we want all goods to be provided free to all. Civilization, in order to function, needs many state employees just as it needs many private sector employees, but it needs neither the state nor capitalism to provide these employees. Every worker (and “worker” includes the unemployed and the retired) is a part of society, we all provide something that society needs in order to operate. We need firefighters to fight the fires just like we need people to pick the crops, care for the children, scrub the toilets, heal the sick, wash the clothes, build the houses. These are all things that we, as humans, are intrinsically motivated to provide for ourselves, and therefore each other, because these things can often only be acquired through collective action and the division of labor. We want to live well, and care for one another. What we don’t need (nor should we want) are states or the capitalist class employing coercive systems like private property and taxation to get in the way, and insert themselves needlessly into the equation so they can run the system for their benefit at the expense of everyone else.


Do Anarchists Vote?

Thanks to Lois for the question!

Generally, Anarchists are against voting. For a number of reasons:

On principle, it provides legitimacy to the government and the system.

Anarchists don’t believe there should be rulers who decide things for others. Representative democracies try to solve this by allowing the people to choose who makes the decisions. But voting is still choosing the rulers, it just feels nicer.

Participating in that system by voting provides it with legitimacy and approval. It allows those in government to say “See? The system works. The people are voting”.

Voting pacifies the people.

Voting gives people the illusion that the rulers are representing them, are working for them, or that the government is them (“A government of the people, by the people, and for the people”). When in reality it is clear that most politicians represent corporate “persons” more than their living, breathing constituents.

And for many people voting is the only legitimate way to engage in the system. And governments like it that way because it is a release valve for discontent: “Oh something is wrong? Don’t change the system, just change the people. It’s the [Republican’s, Democrat’s, Fill-in-the-blank-party-here] fault! Just vote for us!”

“For non-corporate human citizens there’s a ‘Democracy Theme Park’ where we can pull levers on voting machines and talk into microphones at hearings. But don’t worry, they’re not connected to anything and nobody’s listening except us”. – Jane Ann Morris

It doesn’t change much either way

Beyond the theory and the principle, I think the main reasons Anarchists don’t vote is because we don’t see it change much and we don’t see much of a difference between candidates.

When your politics are so different than the main parties, the candidates look more and more similar. Do you want the left wing or right wing of the Capitalist Party?

It’s like voting between two Republicans or two Democrats. Imagine choosing between McCain and Romney for President. Yes, you could find some differences. And I bet in a campaign they would seem huge and important. But really, the differences are small. So why spend a lot of energy choosing?

Alternate answer from A.K. Applegate:

Yes! And also no! Anarchists have historically had a variety of views about whether or not one should vote. Some say you might as well because it only takes five minutes and there’s at least a slight chance you will advance our goals of a world based on liberty, equality, ecology, and solidarity. Others say that voting means you’re consenting to this intolerable system and if you wish to maintain your moral integrity, you can’t take part willingly in the state’s legitimizing procedures at all.

The one point almost all anarchists agree on is that the state and the capitalist class will never let us vote away their power. Our dreams cannot fit in their ballot boxes and voting is, at best, only going to win small reforms; at worst, it siphons away energy and attention from efforts that can really change things: direct action and revolution. Emma Goldman said, “If voting did anything, they’d make it illegal.” Every two years we have a national election in the United States and things always seem to go the same way they’ve always gone, the elites do whatever they want and urgent reforms that solid majorities of the population want never materialize. It’s not that anarchists oppose democracy, far from it; it’s that we think the electoral “democracies” in the world aren’t real, and participating in them is a waste of time.

So what do you do on election day? Whatever the fuck you want, whatever you think will help and can still sleep at night after doing. The important thing is what you do every other day besides election day. Are you waiting for the next election, or are you getting people together to force change, whether the powers that be like it or not?

What do you think? Do you vote? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for Collaborators

I am restarting Ask an Anarchist soon! Yay!

And it would be way more fun and interesting to do this with a team (or at least a partner). Would you or someone you know be interested in answering questions about Anarchism?

If so, please contact me here. Thank you! 🙂