Is Anarchy Left Wing?
“In left-right politics, left-wing politics are political positions or activities that accept or support social equality, often in opposition to social hierarchy and social inequality. It typically involves a concern for those in society who are perceived as disadvantaged relative to others and an assumption that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished.” -Wikipedia
Many people, anarchists included, tend to group anarchy in with the so-called “left wing” ideologies. To them, anarchy sits in the left palm of capital, along with its pals communism and democracy. To those who consider themselves a part of the left, anarchism is something thought up by European men, like Proudhon or Godwin. This ignores the fact that for the majority of human history, we lived in anarchism. It was not an ideology to be written about or struggled towards. People did not call it “anarchy” because there was no need. Coercive and hierarchical structures had yet to dominate the face of the planet. Life was without rulers, and life without rulers is anarchy. To place anarchy in the left wing of politics and capital is to dismiss an entire history of people across the globe in favor of the theories of a handful of dead white men.
“The illusion of the political left and right, or left and right of capital, is a Eurocentric construct coming out of pre-revolutionary France. In legislative bodies, the aristocracy would sit to the right of the speaker and the capitalist class, or bourgeoisie (then referred to as “common” people) would sit to the left. Of course now the bourgeoisie is considered to be the political right, and the political left, just as before, dishonestly portrays itself as the vanguard of “the common people…The left is a white construct, by whites, for whites. Leftism is simply an ideology and a method of organizing the political, economic, and social order of white society. Prior to European invasion of places such as Africa and “the Americas” there was no left or right of capital. The political left and right are Eurocentric means to Eurocentric ends. They are a false dichotomy that serves to limit discourse and confine us all to a civilized, Eurocentric paradigm.” -Bison Live Oak
Left and right cannot exist without politics. Politics, the act of deciding what and how to produce, cannot exist without capital. To claim that anarchy is left wing is to claim that anarchists simply want to decide what and how to manage capital. There may be some anarchists that don’t see a problem with this, mainly platformists and syndicalists, but this denies the oppressive nature of production itself. Production and industry are often fetishized by these anarchists, ignoring the fact that industrial work itself is always mind-numbing and dangerous. They believe that if production is structured in just the right way, this oppressiveness can be eliminated. Such left wing anarchists, just as politicians do, wish to control capital and production, and believe that they hold all the answers to all of society’s problems.
Anarchism predates production, capital, and politics. Life without rulers cannot be defined within the terms of a hierarchical society. Centuries ago, Laozi grasped this concept:
“There is a thing inherent and natural, which existed before heaven and earth. Motionless and fathomless, It stands alone and never changes; It pervades everywhere and never becomes exhausted. It may be regarded as the Mother of the Universe. I do not know its name. If I am forced to give it a name, I call it Tao, and I name it as supreme.” -Laozi
It would be an insult to call the later Taoist uprisings in China left wing. The questions of agrarian reform and political corruption were certainly part of the rebellions, but the central aspect was the belief that apocalyptic change was necessary in order to realize these things. The elimination of authority took precedence over more material issues. While these rebellions were eventually crushed by the military professionals of the Han dynasty, the threat that this loose group of peasants and shamans posed to the existing social order cannot be denied. This was all done while completely rejecting the current state of politics, and while building less coercive structures outside of the Han government. Roads were maintained on a much more voluntary basis, free storehouses were erected for travellers, and private property was largely abolished.
Across the world, in the Americas, there are also instances of anarchism before leftism. Roughly a millenium later, we have found traces of a collapsed hierarchical society in the American southwest. Unlike the Chinese rebellions, where authority prevailed, the society of Chaco Canyon collapsed completely, leaving behind no written records or actual history. What we know of these times can only be inferred by archaeological evidence. What we can see, though, is a society built of two starkly different halves. In Pueblo Bonito, the elite lived, supported by poorer members of outlying communities. This lower class was essentially responsible for supporting their rulers. They were tasked with growing food and providing wood for building supplies. The roads they used can still be seen today.
The difference between the revolt at Chaco Canyon and the continuing succession of revolutions we have witnessed since is that is actually eliminated the society it opposed. The civilization collapsed to the point that we must dig in the earth to find out what actually happened. While the rulers lived in luxury, with their macaws, copper, and jewelry, those in outlying communities suffered a high rate of infant mortality, and were physically smaller due to malnutrition. While the collapse of this civilization was devastating to all involved, it may have served as a lesson for those who would attempt to establish hierarchies later on.
“Potawatomi storytellers of the Great Lakes told of a certain Wiske, an ancient trickster who, long ago, almost became Archon over Nesh-nabe, over free people…This Wiske was not altogether villainous to the Potawatomi. In ceremonies enacting his deeds, he wore the long-eared mask of the Hare totem. It was said that he helped the destitute, the trapped and the lost. His nephews said he gave the people webbed shoes so they could traverse the snow, canoes so they could float on water, as well as spears and arrows so they could feed themselves…The free people of the lush woodlands of Kichigami were happy without an Archon. They were happy because they were free. The good uncle was told to take his gift-giving disposition to a northern land of ice or to a southern land of fire, to a place where, it was thought, he might find people who were destitute, trapped and lost.” -Fredy Perlman
It is clear that other native cultures recognized the inherent oppressiveness of production and hierarchy. To these cultures, Wiske was not a legend of old, but a constant threat to their society, and this story was reenacted countless times. Again, to call this rejection of authority and production “left wing” is an insult to those people. This rejection of the trickster, which spans many native cultures, is a startlingly clear view of hierarchy. While there may be some benefits in the short term, upon close examination, these benefits do not come without a cost. These cultures realized that this cost, the cost of being subjugated by one’s own decision to embrace technology and hierarchy, was simply not worth it. Can this be called left wing?
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the later inhabitants of the Chaco Canyon area were able to once again eliminate those who sought to oppress them. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the “Taos” Pueblo was one of those that took part in the rebellion. When the Spaniards arrived around 1540, a period of almost constant warfare between the pueblos and invaders ensued. It wasn’t until 1680 that the Spanish were eventually expelled from the region, not to return until 1692. It is notable that while Santa Fe was founded in 1610, the earliest surviving map dates from 1767, as all previous records have been destroyed.
Also notable is the 12 year period while the Spanish were not present in the area. The leader of the rebellion, Popé, while promising a period of prosperity, was unable to bring this to fruition, possibly because he died during the expulsion Another possible reason that the Europeans were eventually able to dominate the area is the fact that Popé and his lieutenants attempted to enact a code of laws for the pueblos to follow. While the pueblos were united in their desire to rid themselves of the Spanish, they could not be united after this goal was achieved.
“All crosses, churches, and Christian images were to be destroyed. The people were ordered to cleanse themselves in ritual baths, to use their Pueblo names, and to destroy all vestiges of the Roman Catholic religion and Spanish culture, including Spanish livestock and fruit trees. Popé, it was said, forbade the planting of wheat and barley and commanded those Indians who had been married according to the rites of the Catholic Church to dismiss their wives and to take others after the old native tradition.” -Wikipedia
Popé’s attempt to enforce politics on the pueblos was most likely the beginning of his undoing. His attempt to enforce what he viewed as a return "to the state of their antiquity” could not eliminate the problems his society faced, just as left or right wing ideologies have failed to do the same to ours. While the pueblos were largely self governing, they could not unite against drought and raids by neighboring tribes. It is possible that their reliance on Popé and his politics reduced their ability to act independently against the encroaching Spanish.
It is also possible that our reliance on left wing politics has eliminated our ability to act independently against the structures that oppress us. Politics has replaced our ability to do things with an ability to vote on how to do things. Instead of empowering ourselves and building a bridge, for instance, we vote for people to decide what to build the bridge out of, or who should be hired to build the bridge. We have become so infatuated with “opposition to social hierarchy and social inequality” that we have forgotten that we have the power to end these things ourselves. We can feed and clothe each other, rather than vote or donate towards political programs that feed and clothe people. The “anarchists” that existed before European anarchism realized this, and did just these things. They fought against hierarchy in a tangible way, instead of in the abstract field of politics. Rather than being concerned with reducing inequality, as the left wing does, these communities created equality with their own hands. They did not need unions, voting, or welfare, as these things can end up replacing the hierarchy they seek to eliminate. These proto-anarchists were absolutely not left-wing. They were “no-wing” in the sense that they rejected working within the system to correct the problems of the system. They were not concerned with what side of politics they stood on because they wanted to eliminate ideology and politics. If anarchists of today wish to replicate even a small amount of the success of these movements, they would be wise to reject the left-wing label just as much as they do that of the right.