Anarchy: Can we live in the absence of a Government?

When most people hear the word “anarchy”, it’s common to relate to chaos. It recalls images of gangs fighting in the streets, looting, and rioting, without a police force to help end the madness. It can be hard to grasp why anybody would ever declare themselves to be an “anarchist.” After all, most of the news about anarchists focuses on violence.

In the age where one is disposed to question everything, it may be taken as a maxim of international law that a nation must possess a government. It would be hard to dispute the fact as it would seem necessary for a state to continue being a state, the people must continue to have a government. To be a state, with the rights of a state, it requires a permanent population to occupy a territory, and they must have a government which can represent them and has the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

This is what state is defined as according to Article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention. No doubt, however, that doesn’t have to be an unchallenged government. As civil war does not simply destroy a state. That a government is weak, or is faced by rebellion, is no grounds for saying that it has ceased to be a government, or that another state can simply waltz in and perform its function as a government there to its own satisfaction.

According to Thomas Baty, International law expert, there exist the proverbial three courses: we can scrupulously respect each other’s boundaries, however little we like what’s going on inside. We can have a super-state for the world. Or we can have a gradually increasing anarchy. This, according to Thomas Baty, leaves untouched the preposition that the entire absence of government is incompatible with the nature of a state. If a recognized government falls, and no single new government at once succeeds it throughout the whole extent of its territory, the state must be ipso facto cease to exist.

Thomas Baty’s article “Can an Anarchy Be a State?”  published in The American Journal of International Law Vol. 28 No. 3 (Jul. 1934), also stated that up until then, there was not a single historical evidence that anarchy, the absence of government, can exist in a state. Thomas Baty would also draw a distinction that while “Anarchy” may mean the absence of all government, it may also mean the presence of several competing governments without one government to truly take place in a state. This pays homage to Russia’s government after the fall of Kerensky’s government, where several authorities arose in Moscow, Riga, Warsaw, Vilna, Helsinki, Vladivostok, Chita and Tallinn. Most of these became established governments, and the new States of Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Republic arose.

However, the Spanish Revolution of 1936 begs to differ, 2 years after Thomas Baty published his article. The Spanish Revolution showed a glimpse of what happens when anarchy reigns. The Spanish Revolution was a workers’ social revolution that began during the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and resulted in the widespread implementation of anarchist and more broadly libertarian socialist organizational principles throughout various portions of the country for two to three years, primarily Catalonia, Aragon, Andalusia, and parts of the Valencian Community. The fundamental concepts of anarchism are statelessness and opposition to hierarchy. To these ends, the Catalonian revolutionaries organized the region under cooperative and communal principals. Factories became worker cooperatives, farms became communes, and workers even managed their barbershops. This was done without the utilization of state control. Society became increasingly democratic, and everyone was increasingly equal in both principal and practice.

British author George Orwell, who fought for the Anarchists during the civil war, reflected later on how the anarchist society functioned in his book Homage to Catalonia:

“Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags and with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said ‘Señor’ or ‘Don’ or even ‘Usted’; everyone called everyone else ‘Comrade’ or ‘Thou’, and said ‘Salud!’ instead of ‘Buenos días’. Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy…… There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.”

While Catalonia paid their homage to show a glimpse of what anarchy in practice would have been, most uses of the word “anarchy” invoke ideas of fear, madness, and disorder. While the leading example of an anarchist society was quite the opposite. There’s still a lot of questions of how an anarchist society would endure in the long run. But an example of how it works in the short run shows us that we might need to find a different synonym for “chaos.”

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Wibi Irbawanto Written by:

A lot of my shower thoughts becomes articles I write. I dabble in International Relations, Law, Politics, Games, and Literature. 23 y.o., Bachelor of Law

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