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Definition of Anarchy

Sarah asks “Sorry if I missed this somewhere on your site, I’ve only skimmed through a couple of the questions, but what is your general definition of anarchy? And, what are you imagining that a world with anarchy would look like? I’m not sure if your definition of anarchy is the one I typically imagine when I hear the word (it sounds like probably not 🙂 Thanks! Interesting site!”

The greek origin of the word “Anarchy” means “without ruler.” Anarchists today generally think of it more generally as “without any hierarchies of power” so that also includes being against forms of oppression that give some groups more power like racism, sexism, classism, ablism, etc.
We at Ask an Anarchist believe in one broad branch of anarchism generally called “social anarchism” that has a few principles describing what it is for:

Social Anarchism – A vision of shared resources and community support built around the empowerment of the individual and the decentralization of power.

  • Individual Sovereignty – You are the exclusive controller of your body, energy, and life. You contribute your energy on your own terms.
  • Mutual Aid – Acting together for shared benefit through the voluntary exchange of resources and services.
  • Distributed Power – No one has more power than anyone else. People work together on equal footing.
  • Direct action – Creating change or highlighting issues in a community without relying on government or other indirect methods to accomplish goals.

Where has anarchy been practiced?

Ruth Asks:

“Where has anarchy been practiced in the world on a large scale? For how long? And to what end?”


The largest population and longest time Anarchism has been practiced was in the Catalonia region of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. For over 30 years before the civil war, the anarchist had done a very good job organizing and educating the workers and peasants. So when the military coup by Francisco Franco overthrew the government, the Anarchists were able to immediately take over many of the institutions and run them collectively. They collectivized farms and factories, redistributed land, and organized militias to fight the fascists. Many say that without the early anarchist militias, it would have just been a quick coup and not a two year civil war.

Unfortunately, the anti-fascist forces (anarchists, communists, and democratic capitalists) were ultimately defeated by Franco who had major support from Germany and Italy (who later went on to defeat many western democracies as well). The anti-fascist forces had almost zero support from the western democracies because they feared the radical Anarchist presence. The only outside forces who did help against the fascists was the USSR. However, the Communists turned on the Anarchists near the end of the war, which helped lead to their defeat.

There are many “scholarly tomes” about the Spanish Civil War. But if you’d like to read something more interesting, I’d recommend reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. It’s a memoir of his time as an international volunteer in an Anarchist militia in the war. He paints an excellent picture of what revolutionary Barcelona was like and how the Anarchist militias functioned with minimal hierarchy.

There is also a very thorough BBC documentary about the Spanish Civil War. They interview anarchists, communists, and fascists who were there at the time. Most of the documentary is about the war in general, but there is one section (Part 5: Inside the Revolution) that is about the revolution and it is very interesting.
Know of other times anarchy has been practiced? Write about it in the comments!

Modern Medicine

Jordan asks:

“I’ve always thought that a money less, classless, stateless society would be peaceful and overall better for the human condition, even if it takes a thousand years to accomplish. However, I had a kidney transplant some years ago and so I have to take immuno-suppressant medications to live. How can I truly be an anarchist if I have to rely on prescription drugs?”


I don’t think there’s any conflict between a “moneyless, classless, stateless, society” and life saving medication. Healthcare is a human right and so there is nothing at odds between Anarchy and receiving health care.

I think there is often a misconception that an Anarchist society would have to be primitive. While a lot of industry is destructive and problematic, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would all have to be destroyed. It could be done in a new way or drastically scaled back to sustainable levels. As a society, we would need to prioritize where to put limited resources in a way that is sustainable. I’d imagine we would stop production of many things, but I think healthcare in particular would be an aspect that people would want to prioritize. So immuno-suppressants could still exist in an Anarchist society.

Just because capitalism invented something, doesn’t mean it can’t exist in the Anarchist society. They didn’t destroy all the buildings and inventions when people overthrew Monarchical rule. Capitalism has done enough harm, we might as well benefit from it’s (non-destructive) innovations and put them to better use.

And at this point, almost everyone relies on the capitalist system for something (food, shelter, healthcare, etc). But we don’t have to let that stop us from creating a new world.

I imagine Anarchist society would be supportive of all people and the community would provide everyone with the care they need to thrive. 🙂