I.2 Is this a blueprint for an anarchist society?

No, far from it. There can be no such thing as a "blueprint" for a free society. All we can do here is indicate those general features that we believe a free society must have in order qualify as truly libertarian. For example, a society based on hierarchical management in the workplace (like capitalism) would not be libertarian, nor would it remain anarchist for long, as private or public states would soon develop to protect the power of those in the top hierarchical positions. Beyond such general considerations, however, the specifics of how to structure a non-hierarchical workplace must remain open for discussion and experimentation.

So, this section of the anarchist FAQ should not be regarded as a detailed plan. Anarchists have always been reticent about spelling out their vision of the future in too much detail. For it would be contrary to anarchist principles to dogmatise about the precise forms the new society must take. Free people will create their own alternative institutions in response to conditions specific to their area, and it would be presumptuous of us to attempt to set forth universal policies in advance. Not only that, given the ways in which our own unfree society has shaped our ways of thinking, it's probably impossible for us to imagine what new forms will arise once humanity's ingenuity and creativity is unleashed by the removal of its present authoritarian fetters.

Nevertheless, anarchists have been willing to specify some broad principles indicating the general framework within which they expect the institutions of the new society to grow. It is important to emphasize that these principles are not the arbitrary creations of intellectuals in ivory towers. Rather, they are based on the actual political and economic structures that have arisen spontaneously whenever the working class has attempted to throw off its chains during eras of heightened revolutionary activity, such as the Paris Commune, the Spanish Revolution, and the Hungarian uprising of 1956, to name a few. Thus, for example, it is clear that democratic workers' councils are basic libertarian-socialist forms, since they have appeared during all revolutionary periods -- a fact that is not surprising considering that they are rooted in traditions of communal labor, shared resources, and participatory decision making that stretch back tens of thousands of years, from the clans and tribes of prehistoric times through the "barbarian" agrarian village of the post-Roman world to the free medieval city, as Kropotkin documents in his classic study Mutual Aid.

So, when reading these sections, please remember that this is just an attempt to sketch the outline of a possible future. It is in no way an attempt to determine exactly what a free society would be like, for such a free society will be the result of the actions of all of society, not just anarchists. As Malatesta argues, "None can judge with certainty who is right and who is wrong, who is nearest to the truth, or which is the best way to achieve the greatest good for each and everyone. Freedom coupled by experience, is the only way of discovering the truth and what is best; and there is no freedom if there is a denial of the freedom to err" [Malatesta: Life and Ideas, p. 49]

I.2.1 Why discuss what an anarchist society would be like at all?

Partly, in order to indicate why people should become anarchists. Most people do not like making jumps in the dark, so an indication of what anarchists think a desirable society would look like may help those people who are attracted intellectually by anarchism, inspiring them to become committed as well to its practical realization. Partly, it's a case of learning from past mistakes. There have been numerous anarchistic social experiments on varying scales, and its useful to understand what happened, what worked and what did not. In that way, hopefully, we will not make the same mistakes twice.

However, the most important reason for discussing what an anarchist society would look like is to ensure that the creation of such a society is the action of as many people as possible. As Errico Malatesta indicated in the middle of the Italian "Two Red Years" (see section A.5.5), "either we all apply our minds to thinking about social reorganisation, and right away, at the very same moment that the old structures are being swept away, and we shall have a more humane and more just society, open to future advances, or we shall leave such matters to the 'leaders' and we shall have a new government." [The Anarchist Revolution, p. 69]

Hence the importance of discussing what the future will be like in the here and now. The more people who have a fairly clear idea of what a free society would look like, the easier it will be to create that society and ensure that no important matters are left to the "leaders" to decide for us. The example of the Spanish Revolution comes to mind. For many years before 1936, the CNT and FAI put out publications discussing what an anarchist society would look like (for example, After the Revolution by Diego Abel de Santallian and Libertarian Communism by Isaac Puente). In fact, anarchists had been organising and educating in Spain for almost seventy years before the revolution. When it finally occurred, the millions of people who participated already shared a similar vision and started to build a society based on it, thus learning firsthand where their books were wrong and which areas of life they did not adequately cover.

So, this discussion of what an anarchist society might look like is not a drawing up of blueprints, nor is it an attempt to force the future into the shapes created in past revolts. It is purely and simply an attempt to start people discussing what a free society would be like and to learn from previous experiments. However, as anarchists recognise the importance of building the new world in the shell of the old, our ideas of what a free society would be like can feed into how we organise and struggle today. And vice versa; for how we organise and struggle today will have an impact on the future.

As Malatesta pointed out, such discussions are necessary and essential, for "[i]t is absurd to believe that, once government has been destroyed and the capitalists expropriated, 'things will look after themselves' without the intervention of those who already have an idea on what has to be done and who immediately set about doing it. . . . [for] social life, as the life of individual's, does not permit of interruption" [Op. Cit. , p. 121]

We hope that this Section of the FAQ, in its own small way, will encourage as many people as possible to discuss what a libertarian society would be like and use that discussion to bring it closer.

I.2.2 Will it be possible to go straight to an anarchist society from capitalism?

Possibly. It depends on the social situation and what anarchists you ask. For example, Bakunin and other collectivists have doubted the possibility of introducing a communistic system instantly after a revolution. Some anarchists, like the individualists, do not support the idea of revolution and instead see anarchist alternatives growing within capitalism and slowly replacing it. For Kropotkin and many other anarcho-communists, communistic anarchy can, and must, be introduced at once in order to ensure a successful revolution.

One thing that all anarchists do agree on is that it's essential for both the state and capitalism to be undermined as quickly as possible. It's true that in the course of social revolution we anarchists may not be able to stop a new state being created or the old one surviving. It all depends on the balance of support for anarchist ideas in the population and how willing people are to introduce them. There is no doubt, though, that for a social revolt to be fully anarchist, the state and capitalism must be destroyed and new forms of oppression and exploitation not put in their place.

Most anarchists, however, agree that an anarchist society cannot be created overnight, for to assume so would be to imagine that anarchists could enforce their ideas on a pliable population. Libertarian socialism can only be created from below, by people who want it and understand it, organising and liberating themselves. The results of the Russian Revolution should have cleared away long ago any contrary illusions about how to create "socialist" societies. The lesson from every revolution is that the mistakes made by people in liberating themselves are always minor compared to the results of creating authorities, who eliminate such "ideological errors" by destroying the freedom to make mistakes. For freedom is the only real basis on which socialism can be built.

Therefore, most anarchists would support Malatesta's claim that "[t]o organise a [libertarian] communist society on a large scale it would be necessary to transform all economic life radically, such as methods of production, of exchange and consumption; and all this could not be achieved other than gradually, as the objective circumstances permitted and to the extent that the masses understood what advantages could be gained and were able to act for themselves" [Malatesta: Life and Ideas, p. 36]

One thing is certain: an anarchist social revolution or mass movement will need to defend itself against attempts by statists and capitalists to defeat it. Every popular movement, revolt, or revolution has had to face a backlash from the supporters of the status quo. An anarchist revolution or mass movement will face (and indeed has faced) such counter-movements.

However, this does not mean that the destruction of the state and capitalism need be put off until after the forces of reaction are defeated (as Marxists usually claim). A social revolution can only be defended by anti-statist means, for example arming the people and organising popular militias, as the Mexican, Ukrainian, and Spanish anarchists did.

So, given an anarchist revolution which destroys the state, the type and nature of the economic system created by it will depend on local circumstances and the level of awareness in society. The individualists are correct in the sense that what we do now will determine how the future develops. Obviously, any "transition period" starts in the here and now, as this helps determine the future. Thus, while social anarchists usually reject the idea that capitalism can be reformed away, we agree with the individualists that it is essential for anarchists to be active today in constructing the ideas, ideals and new liberatory institutions of the future society within the current one. The notion of waiting for the "glorious day" of total revolution is not one held by anarchists.

Thus, all the positions outlined at the start of this section have a grain of truth in them. This is because, as Malatesta put it, "We are, in any case, only one of the forces acting in society, and history will advance, as always, in the direction of the resultant of all the [social] forces." [Op. Cit.. p. 109] This means that different areas will experiment in different ways, depending on the level of awareness which exists there -- as would be expected in a free society which is created by the mass of the people.

Ultimately, the most we can say about the timing and necessary conditions of revolution is that an anarchist society can only come about once people liberate themselves (and this implies an ethical and psychological transformation), but that this does not mean that people need to be "perfect" nor that an anarchist society will come about "overnight," without a period of self-activity by which individuals reshape and change themselves as they are reshaping and changing the world about them.