African Anarchism: The History of a Movement

African Anarchism: The History of a Movement


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African Anarchism covers a wide range of topics, including anarchistic elements in traditional African socieites, African communalism, Africa's economic and political development, the lintering social, political, and economic effects of colonialism, the development of "African socialism, the failure of "African socialism, and a possible means of resolving Africa's ongoing crises.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781884365058
Publisher: See Sharp Press
Publication date: 09/28/1997
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey are members of The Awareness League, Nigeria's anarcho-syndicalist organization, and militants in Nigeria's labor struggles.

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African Anarchism

The History of a Movement

By Sam Mbah, I.E. Igariwey

See Sharp Press

Copyright © 1997 Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-884365-05-8


What Is Anarchism?

Anarchism as a social philosophy, theory of social organization, and social movement is remote to Africa — indeed, almost unknown. It is underdeveloped in Africa as a systematic body of thought, and largely unknown as a revolutionary movement. Be that as it may, anarchism as a way of life is not at all new to Africa, as we shall see. The continent's earliest contact with European anarchist thought probably did not take place before the second half of the 20th century, with the single exception of South Africa. It is, therefore, to Western thinkers that we must turn for an elucidation of anarchism.

Anarchism derives not so much from abstract reflections of intellectuals or philosophers as from the objective conditions in which workers and producers find themselves. Though one can find traces of it earlier, anarchism as a revolutionary philosophy arose as part of the worldwide socialist movement in the 19th century. The dehumanizing nature of capitalism and the state system stimulated the desire to build a better world — a world rooted in true equality, liberty, freedom and solidarity. The tyrannical propensities of the state — any state — underpinned by private capital, have propelled anarchists to insist on the complete abolition of the state system.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica1 (15th Edition) characterizes anarchism as a social philosophy "whose central tenet is that human beings can live justly and harmoniously without government and that the imposition of government upon human beings is in fact harmful and evil." Similarly, The Encyclopedia Americana2 (International Edition) describes anarchism as a theory of social organization "that looks upon all law and government as invasive, the twin sources of nearly all social evils. It therefore advocates the abolition of all government as the term is understood today, except that originating in voluntary cooperation." Anarchists, it goes on to say, do not conceive of a society without order, "but the order they visualize arises out of voluntary association, preferably through self-governing groups." For its part Collier's Encyclopedic3 conceives anarchism as a 19th-century movement "holding the belief that society should be controlled entirely by voluntarily organized groups and not by the political state." Coercion, according to this line of reasoning, is to be dispensed with in order that "each individual may attain his most complete development." As far as definitions go, these lend some useful, if superficial, insights into anarchist doctrine. But their usefulness in the elucidation of the rich and expansive body of thought known as anarchism is patently limited. The wide gamut of anarchist theory is revealed only in the writings of anarchists themselves, as well as in the writings of a few nonanarchists.

According to Bertrand Russell, anarchism "is the theory which is opposed to every kind of forcible government. It is opposed to the state as the embodiment of the force employed in the government of the community. Such government as anarchism can tolerate must be free government, not merely in the sense that it is that of a majority, but in the sense that it is assented to by all. Anarchists object to such institutions as the police and the criminal law, by means of which the will of one part of the community is forced upon another part. ... Liberty is the supreme good in the anarchist creed, and liberty is sought by the direct road of abolishing all forcible control over the individual by the community."

Russell justifies the anarchist demand for the abolition of government, including government by majority rule, writing, "it is undeniable, that the rule of a majority may be almost as hostile to freedom as the rule of a minority: the divine right of majorities is a dogma as little possessed of absolute truth as any other."

Likewise, anarchism is irreconcilably opposed to capitalism as well as to government. It advocates direct action by the working class to abolish the capitalist order, including all state institutions. In place of state/capitalist institutions and value systems, anarchists work to establish a social order based on individual freedom, voluntary cooperation, and self-managed productive communities.

Toward this end, anarchism posits that every activity currently performed by the state and its institutions could be better handled by voluntary or associative effort, and that no restraint upon conduct is required because of the natural tendency of people in a state of freedom to respect each other's rights.

Anarchists are so implacably opposed to the state system and its manifestations that one of the founding fathers of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, proclaimed: "Governments are the scourge of God." Mikhail Bakunin elaborated on Proudhon's propositions, explaining the goal of anarchism as the full development of all human beings in conditions of liberty and equality:

It is the triumph of humanity, it is the conquest and accomplishment of the full freedom and full development, material, intellectual and moral, of every individual, by the absolutely free and spontaneous organization of economic and social solidarity as completely as possible between all human beings living on the earth.

Bakunin goes on to say that "we understand by liberty, on the one hand, the development, as complete as possible, of all the natural faculties of each individual and, on the other hand, his independence, not as regards natural and social laws but as regards all the laws imposed by other human wills, whether collective or separate. ... What we want is the abolition of artificial privilege, legal, official influences."

Such privileges are necessarily the prerogative of the state. And thus Bakunin characterizes the state as nothing but domination, oppression, and exploitation, "regularized" and "systematized":

The state is government from above downwards of an immense number of men, very different from the point of view of the degree of their culture, the nature of the countries or localities that they inhabit, the occupation they follow, the interests and the aspirations directing them — the state is the government of all those by some or other minority; this minority, even if it were a thousand times elected by universal suffrage and controlled in its acts by popular institutions, unless it were endowed with the omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence which the theologians attribute to God, it is impossible that it could know and foresee the needs or satisfy with an even justice the most legitimate and pressing interests in the world. There will always be discontented people because there will always be some who are sacrificed.

As Bakunin further observes, the state was an historically necessary evil, but its complete extinction will be, sooner or later, equally necessary. He repudiates all laws, including those made under universal suffrage, arguing that freedom does not mean equal access to coercive power (i.e., government via "free" elections), but rather that it means freedom from coercive power — in other words, one becomes really free only when, and in proportion as, all others are free.

It is Peter Kropotkin, however, who provides both systematic and penetrating insight into anarchism as a practical political and social philosophy. In two seminal essays, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism, he declares that the private ownership of land, capital and machinery has had its time and shall come to an end, with the transformation of all factors of production into common social property, to be managed in common by the producers of wealth. Under this dispensation, the individual reclaims his/her full liberty of initiative and action through participation in freely constituted groups and federations, that will come to satisfy all the varied needs of human beings. "The ultimate aim of society is the reduction of the functions of government to nil — [that] is, to a society without government, to Anarchy."

He elaborates:

You cannot modify the existing conditions of property without deeply modifying at the same time the political organization. You must limit the powers of government and renounce parliamentary rule. To each new economical phase of life corresponds a new political phase. Absolute monarchy — that is, court-rule — corresponded to the system of serfdom. Representative government corresponds to capital-rule. Both, however, are class-rule.

But in a society where the distinction between capitalist and laborer has disappeared, there is no need of such a government; it would be an anachronism, a nuisance. Free workers would require a free organization, and this cannot have another basis than free agreement and free cooperation, without sacrificing the autonomy of the individual to the all-pervading interference of the state. The no-capitalist system implies the no-government system. Meaning thus the emancipation of man from the oppressive power of capitalist and government as well, the system of Anarchy becomes a synthesis of the two powerful currents of thought which characterize our century.

Kropotkin posits that representative government (democracy) has accomplished its historical mission to the extent that it delivered a mortal blow to court-rule (absolute monarchy). And since each economic phase in history necessarily involves its own political phase, it is impossible to eliminate the basis of present economic life, namely private property, without a corresponding change in political organization. Conceived thus, anarchism becomes the synthesis of the two chief desires of humanity since the dawn of history: economic freedom and political freedom.

An excursion into history reveals that the state has always been the property of one privileged class or another: a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a capitalist class, and, finally, a bureaucratic (or "new") class, as in the Soviet Union and China. The existence of a privileged class is absolutely necessary for the preservation of the state. "Every logical and sincere theory of the state," Bakunin asserts, "is essentially founded on the principle of authority — that is to say, on the eminently theological, metaphysical and political idea that the masses, always incapable of governing themselves, must submit at all times to the benevolent yoke ... which in one way or another, is imposed on them from above."

This phenomenon is the virtual equivalent of slavery — a practice with deep statist roots. This is illustrated by the following passage from Kropotkin:

We cry out against the feudal barons who did not permit anyone to settle on the land otherwise than on payment of one quarter of the crops to the lord of the manor; but we continue to do as they did — we extend their system. The forms have changed, but the essence has remained the same."

Bakunin expresses this thought even more poignantly:

Slavery can change its form and its name — its basis remains the same. This basis is expressed by the words: being a slave is being forced to work for other people — as being a master is to live on the labor of other people. In ancient times as today in Asia and Africa, slaves were simply called slaves. In the Middle Ages, they took the name of "serfs," today they are called "wage-earners." The position of the latter is much more honorable and less hard than that of slaves, but they are nonetheless forced by hunger, as well as by the political and social institutions, to maintain by very hard work the absolute or relative idleness of others. Consequently, they are slaves. And, in general, no state, either ancient or modern, has ever been able, or ever will be able, to do without the forced labor of the masses, whether wage-earners or slaves."

The primary distinguishing factor between the wage worker and the slave is, perhaps, that the wage worker has some capacity to withdraw his or her labor while the slave cannot.

G. P. Maximoff does not see things any differently. To him, the essence of anarchism consists of the abolition of private property relations and the state system, the principal agent of capital. He states that "capitalism in its present stage has reached the full maturity of imperialism ... beyond this point, the road of capitalism is the road of deterioration."

But capitalism is not alone here. Marxist state socialism as expressed in the former Soviet Union, from its very inception, provided ample evidence for the anarchist argument. Says Maximoff:

The Russian Revolution ... revealed the nature of state socialism and its mechanism, demonstrating that there is no great difference in principle between a state socialist and a bourgeois society ... between these societies, seemingly so irreconcilable and so antagonistic to each other, there is really only a quantitative, not a qualitative, difference. And the attempt to solve the social problem by utilizing the methods inherent in rigid, logically consistent power communism, as in the Russian Revolution, demonstrates that even quantity is not always on the side of authoritarian communism and that, on the contrary, when logically pursued to the end, it resembles despotism in many ways.

Thus, says Maximoff, anarchism is the only social force capable of destroying private property and its mainstay, the state; of establishing public ownership and a stateless, federalist organization of society on the basis of the free association of productive units both in factories and towns. Anarchism alone "can assure liberty, i.e., the well-being and the free development of the individual in society, and of society itself. It alone will stop the division of society into classes and will abolish every possibility of the exploitation or rule of man by man."

The International Workers Association (IWA) is a federation of anarchist labor groups in dozens of countries around the world. While it terms its goals "revolutionary syndicalist," they are in fact virtually identical with anarchist goals. The IWA's statutes state in part:

Revolutionary syndicalism is the pronounced enemy of all economic and social monopoly. It aims at the abolition of privilege by the establishing of economic communes and administrative organs run by the workers in the fields and factories, forming a system of free councils without subordination to any power or political party. Revolutionary Syndicalism poses as an alternative to the politics of states and parties, the economic reorganization of production. It is opposed to the governing of people by others and poses self-management as an alternative.

Consequently, the goal of revolutionary syndicalism is not the conquest of political power, but the abolition of all state functions in the life of society. Revolutionary Syndicalism considers that the disappearance of the monopoly of property must also be accompanied by the disappearance of all forms of domination. Statism, however camouflaged, can never be an instrument for human liberation and, on the contrary, will always be the creator of new monopolies and privileges.

Based on the foregoing, we may summarize the theoretical aspects of anarchism: anarchism seeks the abolition of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production — this includes the social relations it engenders, its market processes, and the commodity and wage systems. This is not possible to accomplish, however, without the simultaneous abolition of the state system together with its value systems and institutions, including the legal and school systems, mass media, bureaucracy, police, patriarchal family, organized religion, etc.

The state system is, of course, neither peculiar to nor exclusive to capitalism; it is also a cardinal feature of state socialism, that is, marxist socialism as represented by both the Soviet and Chinese systems. And the state system everywhere displays the same authoritarian and hierarchical features that serve to circumscribe the freedom of the individual, and thus that of society at large.

Anarchism derives from the class struggle engendered by the enslavement of workers and from their historical aspirations toward freedom. Class in this sense is not just an economic concept, nor does it relate merely to the ownership of the means of production: it in fact represents the unwholesome amount of power which a tiny group wields and exercises over the rest of society.

The instrument of this tiny elite, the state, is simultaneously the organized violence of the owning class and the system of its executive will. As the Dielo Trouda group further puts it, authority is always dependent on the exploitation and enslavement of the majority of the people. And authority without hierarchy, without exploitation and loss of freedom, loses its reason for being. "The state and authority take from the masses all initiative, kill the spirit of creation and free activity, cultivate in them the servile psychology of submission."

The strength of anarchism is predicated on the fact that humans throughout history have been propelled by the quest for equality and vice versa. This desire seems to stem from the fact that human beings are basically cooperative rather than competitive.

In place of a society organized along class lines, marked by hierarchy and authority, anarchism advocates a self-managed, self-reliant society based on cooperative, voluntary mutual aid and association, and devoid of government (i.e., coercion). In such a society the ownership of the means of production is not the exclusive preserve of any individual or group, and wage labor is nonexistent, allowing the individual ample freedom and initiative for full development. "There will be no demi-gods, but there will also be no slaves. Demi-gods and slaves will both become men; the former will have to step down from their Olympian heights, the latter will have to move up considerably." In the broad sweep of history, anarchism will take its place as a social order founded on and geared toward a post-capitalist, post-government society.

Importantly, anarchism does not imply the absence of organization. In contrast to the irrational, hierarchical, centralized authority of government and corporations, anarchists accept and indeed respect the rational authority of the expert — an authority of a different type: one based upon expertise and experience, not coercive power.


Excerpted from African Anarchism by Sam Mbah, I.E. Igariwey. Copyright © 1997 Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey. Excerpted by permission of See Sharp Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1. What Is Anarchism?,
2. Anarchism in History,
3. Anarchistic Precedents in Africa,
4. The Development of Socialism in Africa,
5. The Failure of Socialism in Africa,
6. Obstacles to the Development of Anarchism in Africa,
7. Anarchism's Future in Africa,

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