Peter Kropotkin - flickr

My neighbor across the street came over to inform me about the rules here concerning ones garbage containers. When they are supposed to be put out and taken in and where they are to be placed etc. It seems the property owner can be fined if these rules are not followed. I rent and the can in question belonged to the downstairs tenet. I moved it to the back garaged area and will inform them the next time I see them.

All of this reminded me of how this kind of thing is only necessary on a society that is hierarchically and authoritarian based and would not be necessary or not as necessary on a cooperative community based system with little or no hierarchy or authoritarian control.

Dmitri Orlov has done two parts of a series on anarchy with a third part do next week. In the first part he goes into the history of anarchy concentrating on Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin who was prince in Russia before the 1917 revolution and the establishment of the Soviet state. Kropotkin denounced his royal heritage and was in fact raised mostly by the peasants in the area, having been essentially abandoned by his father and losing his mother while quite young. He eventually became a renowned scientist and a historian of revolutionary states as well the the theoretician of anarchism.

People who bother to read Kropotkin’s lucid and unpretentious writings quickly realize that he is first of all a natural scientist, who approached the study of both nature and human nature using the same scientific method. He was also a great humanist, and chose the path of anarchy because, as a scientist, he saw it as the best way to improve society based on successful patterns of cooperation he observed in nature. He had no use at all for the vague metaphysics of Hegel, Kant or Marx. He also had no use at all for the imperial state, be it communist or capitalist.

Which is pretty much where I am right now myself. Finding all forms of hierarchical and authoritarian rule unacceptable and unnecessary. Orlov continues…..

Kropotkin was an advocate of communism at the level of the commune, and based his advocacy on its demonstrated superior effectiveness in organizing both production and consumption. His examples of communist production were the numerous communist communities that were all the rage in the United States at the time, where the numbers showed that they produced far better results with less effort and in less time than individuals or family farms. His examples of communist consumption included various clubs, all-inclusive resorts and hotels and various other formal and informal associations where a single admission or membership fee gave you full access to whatever was on offer to everyone. Again, the numbers showed that such communist patterns of consumption produced far better results at a much lower overall expense than various capitalist pay-as-you-go schemes.

Kropotkin, in his usual data-driven way, was definitely in favor of grass roots communism, but I could not find any statements that he had made in favor of communist governance. He spoke of the revolutionary change—change that required a break with the past—as necessary in order to improve society, but he wished that it would be a spontaneous process that unleashed the creative energies of the people at the local level, not a process that could be controlled from the top. He wrote: “The rebuilding [perestroïka] of society requires the collective wisdom of multitudes of people working on specific things: a cultivated field, an inhabited house, a running factory, a railroad, a ship, and so on.” Another of his more memorable quotes is: “The future cannot be legislated. All that can be done is to anticipate its most important movements and to clear the path for them. That is exactly what we try to do.” (Here and elsewhere the translations from Kropotkin’s quaint pre-revolutionary Russian are my own.)

This also follows my own thinking as well.

Orlov also goes on to show how Kropotkin drew his insights from his observation of nature. That with the exception of those species who live individualistic lives – which are actually few – that they all worked in common and cooperation with one another in various ways to further the group and provide for the groups survival. You can read Kropotkin’s book on Mutual Aid here.

Kropotkin saw revolution as like an earthquake beginning with small tremors IE revolts, then the quake itself – the revolution. But he himself had little use of revolutionary governments.

“As far as the government, whether it seized power by force or through elections… we pin absolutely no hopes on it. We say that it will be unable to do anything, not because these are our sympathies, but because our entire history tells us that never have the people whom a revolutionary wave pushed into government turned out to be up to the task.” – [Orlov’s translation]

Orlov goes on to explain his own thoughts on anarchism – which con-inside with mine to a large degree – as one of non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian. That is anarchy with a small “a” rather than a large “A” and communism with a small “c” as in a communal, cooperative mutual aid situation.

The etymology of the word is ?? (not, without) + ????? (ruler). Kropotkin’s own definition is as follows: “Anarchy represents an attempt to apply results achieved using the scientific method within the natural sciences to the evaluation of human institutions.” You see, there are no Commie subversives here, no bomb-throwing Anarchists with a capital ‘A’—just some scientists doing some science and then attempting to apply their very interesting results to the scientific study of human social institutions.

Or as Kropotkin himself said.

As to the method followed by the anarchist thinker, it differs to a great extent from that followed by the Utopists. The anarchist thinker does not resort to metaphysical conceptions (like the ‘natural rights,’ the ‘duties of the State,’ and so on) for establishing what are, in his opinion, the best conditions for realizing the greatest happiness of humanity. He follows, on the contrary, the course traced by the modern philosophy of evolution—without entering, however, the slippery route of mere analogies so often resorted to by Herbert Spencer. He studies human society as it is now and was in the past; and, without either endowing men altogether, or separate individuals, with superior qualities which they do not possess, he merely considers society as an aggregation of organisms trying to find out the best ways of combining the wants of the individual with those of co-operation for the welfare of the species. He studies society and tries to discover its tendencies, past and present, its growing needs, intellectual and economical; and in his ideal he merely points out in which direction evolution goes. He distinguishes between the real wants and tendencies of human aggregations and the accidents (want of knowledge, migrations, wars, conquests) which prevented these tendencies from being satisfied, or temporarily paralysed them. And he concludes that the two most prominent, although often unconscious, tendencies thought our history were: a tendency towards integrating our labour for the production of all riches in common, so as finally to render it impossible to discriminate the part of the common production due to the separate individual; and a tendency towards the fullest freedom of the individual for the prosecution of all aims, beneficial both for himself and for society at large. The ideal of the anarchist is thus a mere summing-up of what he considers to be the next phase of evolution. It is no longer a matter of faith; it is a matter for scientific discussion. – Kropotkin , THE SCIENTIFIC BASES OF ANARCHY

[Collective works of Kropotkin here.]

That social Darwinism as advanced by Herbert Spencer as being at best bad science and at worst a distortion of Darwin’s theories.

In the second part on his series on anarchy, Orlov goes on to explain how through his study of animal societies and their structure that mutual aid and cooperation was the rule rather than the exception within the species and groups. That competition within a species was very, very rarely seen – if at all.  He goes on to give his own personal examples of how hierarchical authoritarian groups are less efficient, less creative and less likely to come up with new ideas than those that are not hierarchical and authoritarian. That cooperation and mutual aid gives better results with greater efficiency. And I might add less oppressive as well.

I myself can give numerous examples of how cooperative efforts payed off with the development of nearly all of out technological and and scientific advances. Though some of these groups existed under an authoritarian environment, the groups themselves were run in a cooperative manner. Ones being the research in DARPA which led to the TCP/IP protocol we now take for granted and the World Wide WEB developed by the folks at CERN. Indeed Linix and BSD versions of the Unix operating systems were developed and are maintained in this way. Being the most robust and up to date OS we currently have.

I could go on and on. Orlov then goes on to show how anarchy based systems – in society and nature – are scalable but hierarchical systems are not and are destined to collapse at some point. Indeed there are numerous examples of how non-hierarchical societies have thrived for thousands of years but like the tribes under Soviet rule came to near ruin when collectivized under some hierarchical umbrella. That all life and all living things are organized under and anarchical system of some sort.

If all life on Earth follows this pattern, then what about our current socioeconomic systems? What about huge nation-states and giant megacities? What about the global economy? The short answer is that they are all hierarchically organized systems, and that this makes them scale badly: the increase in their metabolic cost always outpaces their growth rate, plus their growth is unbounded, so they always collapse. Next week we will take a brief look at contemporary complexity theory, which will take us beyond what Prof. Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute, an authority on complexity theory, likes to call “qualitative bullshit.”

I look forward to his third part and will bet it will be even more enlightening and inspiring.


After writing this original diary and reading some others on this subject and the comments there in, it occurred to me the reasons why anarchism is so broadly rejected. Even by the extreme left. As my father was so find of saying, “Americans do not want a government, what they really want is a surrogate father.”

I believe this to be true since we tend to create governments along with religions in the image of the environment in which were we raised. We want to substitute government for our family. Leaders for our parents.  We look for a situation where if we obey the rules, do our home work and mow the lawn, all will be provided by a benevolent authority.

Anarchism however requires that we take the ultimate personal responsibility for ourselves and to be generous to others as well.  It also requires one other thing that both the right and the left really wholly despise and that is complete equality. Neither wants this. Neither wants or would except a situation in that regardless of ones abilities, education, status or any thing else – that they would have to regard and be regarded as equals.

So anarchism is denigrated and ridiculed and set up with straw men even by those who see themselves as progressive.