What does it mean to be an anarchist? Ask a conservative, you’ll probably get some sort of reactionary rant about undermining society or whatever. Ask a progressive liberal, and they’ll probably say that anarchists are unrealistic utopians. Ask a statist leftist, and they’ll give one of two answers. The less sympathetic ones will give basically the same answer the liberal did. The more sympathetic ones, I think, would say that anarchists are radicals reacting directly to the realities of state repression, albeit in their minds unstrategically.
For me, anarchism isn’t just different from statist ideologies. For me, it’s even defined differently. Statist ideologies are mostly defined by their programs and detailed strategies. Even if you pull back all the way to a huge umbrella like “Marxism,” there are specific programs that define the label. But anarchism isn’t defined by its program, it’s defined by what it refuses to accept.
When I call myself an anarchist, I’m not saying I think a completely stateless society is possible. I honestly don’t know whether it is or not, nobody does. The world we live in today is so different from an anarchist world that we can’t even see the peaks of that world’s mountains over the horizon. We can’t imagine what would or wouldn’t work because we don’t even know what it looks like.
Instead, what I’m saying is that that I can’t accept a world of domination, a world where some individuals hold power over others and some groups are empowered at the expense of those around them. It doesn’t matter whether the complete destruction of the state is possible a thousand years from now, because the struggle in front of us all today is so clearly a struggle against these things. The evils of the world today are all systems of power and domination: power over workers, power over colonized peoples, power over queers and women, power over marginalized ethnic groups, and so on.
Fighting for anarchy means always fighting to end the oppression in front of us even if we don’t have a plan for what comes after, because ending the oppression in front of us is the end goal. We’re not trying to end it as part of some broader strategy to build some particular society; we just can’t accept oppression, so we fight to end it when we see it.
Strategy is still important, because it’s not always easy or clear how to end the oppression in front of us. But our strategy is focused on the problems directly in front of us. The primary reason we do mutual aid is just that (as it’s showing all too clearly this spring) the state fails people in need. Sure it helps longer-term goals around autonomy as well and that’s a plus, but in my experience that’s almost never the motivating factor when anarchists organize mutual aid efforts.
When I say I’m an anarchist, it’s exactly the opposite of the abstract, anti-pragmatic utopianism anarchists are accused of. It’s because anarchism and the libertarian socialist & communist movements closest to it are focused on fixing the problems in front of us right now, and in 2020 there are so many life-or-death problems staring us in the face. Reasonable people can disagree, but I don’t think we’re in a position to know in any detail what comes next. There’s just too much that needs to change before we get anywhere near “next.”