Before I formally begin my introduction I’d like to refer my viewer/reader to these three pieces, first a recent book I’ve read by Harold Barclay called People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy, this lecture by Darian Worden in the most recent Porcfest about the
History of Anarchism which can also be found in MP3 format. The final piece is a great essay Murray Rothbard did on early individualist type societies that were in America that I shall review along the way in this four part series. That piece can be found here. All pieces will be referenced in one way or another and as well I shall use my basic knowledge of historical events in anarchism to outline a very basic scheme of what the anarchist should reflect on and look back on with disdain or praise and why.
With that all out of the way I do not propose to be an expert on anarchist history nor a history expert in general I just happen to be an anarchist who loves history and so I've decided to mix two things I love into this four part series. I will tell the tale of early anarchist history, 20th century anarchist history and current history within the movement and then discuss whether the movement itself has any steam left in it as an added bonus and conclusion to the series. I shall focus on several notable thinkers, places, times, activities, acts, writings and so forth as I deem so if you're favorite anarchist or place or what have you is not included you should know why.
If you want to know why you should study or look at anarchist history Worden's first 4 minutes of his presentation gives a good idea (or many ideas) of why it's something worth doing.
Early Tribal Anarchism
Most of the work here is derived from Harold Barclay's wonderful People Without Government which in turn draws a lot of his work from fellow anthropologists which whether on purpose or not drew the conclusions that many early societies had highly egalitarian, non-hierarchical and monopolized societies in which there was no central authority. Of course in most of the societies there were some inequalities among women and men but even this was solved in a few societies by a dual leading societies in which women could also have leading roles in society. It's important to note that in such societies the only sort of leaders were not any sort of coercively imposed rulers but there because of their wisdom, age, stength or persuasive taking skils or perhaps it was for religious reasons and they were the local shaman or some other sort of religious figure. Nonetheless most communities of tribal influences specifically the hunter-gatherer societies were farily free especially compared to the society of today. A though again this is not to say they were perfect.
The fact that the hunter-gatherer society was one of the longest running sort of types in human history it logically follows that anarchism is the most natural and longest lasting idea in human history of social organization historically speaking. Such societies were horizontals organized for the most part and as Barclay points out,
"Anarchy is the order of the day among hunter-gatherers. Indeed, critics will ask why a small face-to-face group needs a government anyways. And certainly any which may be called fully egalitarian according to Fried's definition are anarchic.
If this is so we can go further and say that since the egalitarian hunting-gathering societies is the oldest type of human society and prevailed for the longest period of time - over thousands of decades - then anarchy must be the oldest and one of the most enduring kinds of polity. Ten thousands years ago everyone was an anarchist." (p. 42)
For specific tribes I'll generally just use the one I like the best or use a good example (good being whatever I consider useful in the specific situation or topic at hand) so as not to get too bogged down in specifics. So in this case I could use almost any tribe that Barclay uses, from the Inuits to the Yuroks, I could pick any one of these and more and have a good example of a relatively egalitarian and free small-scale society. The great thing about these early and "primitive" societies (even though many of them were structured around one concept yet had many advanced variations of them within their small communities that were largely autonomous) is that most of them if not all were completely or nearly anarchistic in all aspects. The trading of women in some societies and the holdings of slaves obviously denotes a lack of equality but this was not widespread and was only a short amount of time and only in rare cases of warfare of major offense such as in Northwest Coast Indians,
"Thus society was divided into three groups: those who held one or more ranks; freemen who held no rank but who were kinsmen of those who did and were expected to assist in amassing wealth for potlatch part engagements; and, finally, at the bottom there were slaves. There were persons captured in war or others giv
en to pay damages for offenses. This ranking system should not be confused with a class system. Ranking involves differential status of individuals; class involved differential status of groups. this among individuals; class involves differential status of groups. Thus among the Northwest Coast Indians a man might acquire many titles and be of highest rank. Yet other members of his family might well not have this status at all. An eldest song would inherit 'nobility' from his father, while the youngest son with little more than a commoner."
This system was one of the more mixed Hunter-Gatherer societies and clearly had it's inequalities but even through that the inequalities are not solid and the slaves I presume could be released and freed once the offense was paid. Though it should be noted this is obviously not the most anarchist type friendly of restitution and justice. Nevertheless early societies were by and large anarchic in their social organizations.
Past the hunter-gatherer societies there were herding societies, gardening societies and agricultural societies that all had anarchist elements in some way and will be using Barclay and Worden as main insights to these societies with an emphasis on Barclay.
In societies such as this like gardner societies are usually done through human labor as Barclay there can be specialists such as religious shamans or craftsmen and the majority of them are still egalitarian for the most part with a few hiccups here and there. Some have petty chiefs or some other kinds of ruler but is generally gotten this privilege through their skills or persuasiveness and not through coercion or force and any sort of ruler that manages to get such a position through such means usually loses their place as the head soon. Though it should be noted the fact that leaders can be coercive imposed at all means that society is becoming (if just marginally) more centralized in the grand scheme of things.
Because of the closeness of these societies many measures are done to prevent violence and hostile feelings this can go from shamans putting "spells" or "curses" on the offending member of the society or perhaps an animal of the offender will be donated to the victim or his or her family. In other societies your rank my be stripped or you may have to leave the community altogether, in only the worst scenarios is further violence generally considered a good option by the largely egalitarian society whether hunter-gatherer or horticultural violence is generally not used as a solution to previous violence. Elders can also sometimes come in and help settle disputes though in most cases such arbitration is voluntary and therefore bears little to no resemblance of the current state-enforced court system.
Many points could be made about these societies in Sub-Saharan Africa many societies are roughly egalitarian but with patriarchal authorities abound, slave and women trade (although minimal) taking place it is as Barclay puts it hardly a oases of freedom even though there is no central government or state. This marks the important point that the culture like the general political situation must be free, anti-statism and opposition to force is not enough to secure a society. Just as Anna Morgenstern as pointed out in her recent article in C4SS how anarchsim is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a free society. While the Lugbara have many non-violent tactics for dealing with offenders within the society.
Some societies are kept through religious ties and no actual leaders possibly giving some anarchists of the social kind how religion may still exist in a free society and yet not exploit people or act as a state by itself. For example in the society of the Plateau Tonga Barclay comments that,
"...they have no leaders. From the Tonga point of view, however, they are held together by a mystical bond with the ancestral ghosts." (p. 67)
Furthermore the societies organization is somewhat unique in that it is matrillineal meaning that it is based off of women instead of men predominately meaning women are seen as more important or just as important as the men are and so goes against many early societies.
Society then becomes a bit more complex as these societies focus on the gathering of domesticated wildlife for human exploitation and use of their resources. Generally pastoral societies rely on four legged animals, such as llama herders in the highlanders of South America, reindeer herders of Arctic and Sub Arctic Eurasia, Central Asiastic herders of mixed kinds and so forth are noted by Barclay along with a few others (p. 83).
An ugly side of such a society is that protection rackets and warfaring tribes and so froth become fairly popular and start to look like the early callings of what Franz Oppenheimer described in his book The State.
As society becomes more condensed societies like The Nuer which have many trapping of an anarchic society which actually still exist according to Barclay at probably around 400,000 people and relies on a localized and decentralized village system of freely association people. Each community is self-sufficient and usually contains from 5 to 45,000 people. Disputes are usually brought to a chief though he has no real chief like powers and so the name is deceiving because he has no monopoly on such a service and generally speaking people bring him to arbitrate a dispute. Though sometimes it is done under threats of curses and so forth but this is only to keep the family the chief belongs to good standing in the community as someone who can solve issues fast and would seem not to result in violence generally speaking. There are also specializes in this society but hardly any of them have any special political privileges and if they do they are not monopolized. And while all of this sounds nice the Nuer are one in few who have retained so many anarchic qualities after all of these years.
Anarchism and Agricultural Societies
In the last category of this blog I shall discuss the ideas of anarchism in agricultural societies which are next to current societies in recent developments, however our current type of society will not be discussed until the next two posts. But for now several societies will be discussed there were during the time of agricultural, this will include three popular examples of anarchism namely Celtic Ireland, Midevil Iceland and the Not So Wild, Wild West.
Obviously as Barclay notes no societies during the agricultural period is pure and there were problems in this society such as in others for this society but eventually power accumulated was enough for kings to be made and rulers coercively imposed. Part of this instability was due to the invasions that took place and kingdoms trying to rise up but it was difficult as fringe points out there was no central authority to really help them take place. There was centralization but it was weak and so societies like these agricultural ones generally reflect minimal states or if you will minimal archies existing in society even if weakly imposed.
Medieval Iceland (930-1262)
For more information about Iceland there was this paper by David Friedman and this article on Mises by Thomas Wiston draws from the Freidman paper and others. Fringe also did two videos on Iceland as well which can be found here and here.
Medieval Iceland was in ways very similar to Ireland and vice versa except that laws and so forth were applied different and in different ways as Ryan Faulk notes (Fringe's real name which it may be more useful to call him by).
Barclay also discussed Iceland and noted among other things the way authority was handled in Iceland,
"Thus a good chief was one respected and admired by his followers so that they supported him. A bad chief would find his will frustrated, his following declining and ultimately his own gory demise. Individual freemen who disliked their chief might renounce their allegiance to him and accept another. Because of this a given chiefdom was not characterized by a true notion of territorial sovereignty, since a govern territory identifies wirth one chief might actually be dotted wit farms whose owners adhered to another." (p. 94)
Another important note is that there was no real executive power at the top and social pressures were used instead of state violence or violence in general and were voluntary contracts and not forced on the Icelandic people.
The Western United States (Mid 1800s-1920)
The Old West was not the disaster a lot of people or namely Hollywood names it to be, instead voluntary associations of land claims and law and protection and so forth was at the forefront of the society and most people were heavily armed leading to minimal deaths in most western societies especially compared to the east. Such societies relied on voluntary associations in place of the state for societal organization because the people there were claimed to be trespassing on the governments land such as if they were in a theocracy and were on God's lands because all land belongs to God as Faulk points out.
Many of the associations that were formed however were under the influence of the government and so in a sense there was government present if only minimal in most senses which leads Donnelly to say,
"Mining camps appear to be the only serious contender for the title of anarcho-capitalist society. While cattlemens’ associations employed private defense agencies, they carried out punishment without any kind of due process and demonstrate little else in the way of qualifications. Land clubs and wagon trains could just as easily be infant local limited constitutional governments, even if they do appear to have explicit consent from their governed. Many of these organizations would not have been feasible without their members’ shared respect for property rights."
In the next part I will talk about the history of the anarchist schools of thought and thinkers in the 19th and 20th century.