By Anushka Mittal

(Note – this article is back-dated to April 2014)

Anarchy is Order without Power

-Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, The Confessions of a Revolutionary

The foreword to the book, ‘Anarchism- A very short introduction’ by Colin Ward states that Anarchism is a social and political ideology which, despite a history of defeat, continually re-emerges in a new guise or in a new country, so that another chapter has to be added to its chronology, or another dimension to its scope. This is an attempt to add that dimension and chapter, one which seeks to draw distinctions between the philosophy and its perception and similarities between its father and current flag bearer.

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Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Arvind Kejriwal, the erstwhile CM of Delhi and the face of Aam Aadmi Party proclaimed that he is an anarchist ahead of the Republic Day celebrations in the capital. But so did Proudhon. The father of anarchism proclaimed himself an anarchist in 1848, in his revolutionary book ‘What is Property?’ He was the first and perhaps the only person to do so. He was a French thinker from a poor background. He scraped his way through institutions of learning, became a printer and finally an established thinker. He was an influential figure in the world of political thought, attracting the attention of Karl Marx and the likes of him. His idea of anarchism, apart from being brought about by a political revolution (which he initially resisted), was also an economic thought.

There are some fundamental questions to be asked and answered. What is anarchism or anarchy? Is anarchy the same as anarchism? Is Kejriwal anarchic or a disciple of anarchism?

However anarchy cannot be said to be the outcome of anarchism. Any change which stirs, life or people into action might be termed as anarchic.

The word ‘anarchy’ comes from the Greek anarkhia, meaning contrary to authority or without a ruler. It was used in a derogatory sense until 1840, when it was adopted by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to describe his political and social ideology.[1]This criticism, however, left an impression in the minds of all and is still used to imply chaos and disorder. As has been elucidated by Proudhon, it started out as the dream of a situation which has order but no power. Anarchism is, therefore, a political order which secures an individual without controlling one. It is a situation where there is freedom without excessive control and intervention. Anarchy simply means lawlessness, chaos and disorder. Proudhon proposed anarchism, anarchy was observed by us. However anarchy cannot be said to be the outcome of anarchism. Any change which stirs, life or people into action might be termed as anarchic. The activities of AAP were termed as anarchic in nature. After coming to power it was lauded for its electioneering and campaigning and mostly derided for its governance. The popular perception is that its governance is tinged with anarchism and is thus stained. This reinforces the pertinence of the third question. This is the most difficult one but can be answered a little easily in the light of similarities between Kejriwal and Proudhon.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon stressed on the fact that political change must precede social change. “Unless democracy is a fraud, and the sovereignty of the people a joke, it must be admitted that each citizen in the sphere of his industry, each municipal, district or provincial council within its own territory, is the only natural and legitimate representative of the Sovereign.”[2] This is how Proudhon perceived decentralisation, stressing on the existence of a representative government at each and every level.

“The revolution must be conducted from below and not from above.” This matches the demands of the AAP and their governance objective. The means of governance are definitely different and undefined probably leading to the label of anarchic. Over years it seems that they might be categorised as ideologically anarchic.

AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal takes oath as Delhi Chief MinisterProudhon thought that “the social revolution is seriously compromised if it comes about through the political revolution.” “We must make war on all the old parties together, using parliament as a legal battlefield, but staying outside it.” “Universal suffrage is the counter-revolution,” and to constitute itself a class the proletariat must first “secede from” bourgeois democracy. This is what Kejriwal believed in, initially. This might be due to his loyalty to the civil society, the Anti-Corruption movement and his aversion to the functioning of the political system in the country. It is interesting to note how the beliefs of both-Kejriwal and Proudhon, changed in a similar fashion after some time.

The militant Proudhon frequently departed from his position of principle. In June 1848 he let himself be elected to parliament and was briefly stuck in the parliamentary glue. Similarly Kejriwal was elected and became part of the political establishment. Even his period of rule was brief!

Much later, in 1863 and 1864, he did advocate returning blank ballot papers, but as a demonstration against the imperial dictatorship, not in opposition to universal suffrage, which he now christened “the democratic principle par excellence.”[3] This is the same chord that Kejriwal has struck. His (or the party’s ) idea of Right to Reject allows the people the choice of refusal to vote which is innovative for the functioning of a democracy because at the end of the day it reflects the popular sentiment and teaches the political establishment a thing or two. It is a measure of the disillusionment of the masses.

Just as Proudhon, even Kejriwal believes that politics is the best platform to bring about a social change which he has envisioned.

In The Principle of Federation (1863) he modified his earlier anti-state position, arguing for “the balancing of authority by liberty” and put forward a decentralised “theory of federal government”. He also defined anarchy differently as “the government of each by himself”. AAP tries to implement this by trying to put power into the hands of the people through Mohalla Sabhas that decentralise power. Just as Proudhon, even Kejriwal believes that politics is the best platform to bring about a social change which he has envisioned.

The anarchists as a lot were not rejecting “politics,” but only bourgeois politics. They did not disapprove of a political revolution unless it was to come before the social revolution. They steered clear of other movements only if these were not directed to the immediate and complete emancipation of the workers which was their goal when the idea was conceived. What they feared and denounced were ambiguous electoral alliances with radical bourgeois parties of the 1848 type, or “popular fronts,” as they would be called today. They also feared that when workers were elected to parliament and translated into bourgeois living conditions, they would cease to be workers and turn into Statesmen, becoming bourgedownload (2)ois, perhaps even more bourgeois than the bourgeoisie itself.  Due to the similarity of the sequence of events and personalities of Kejriwal and Proudhon, similar concerns and sentiments emerged. He opposes the present system of establishment which is characterised by money and muscle power. This can be directly linked to bourgeois politics where money and influence reigned in power as well. He stresses on the need for politics, only and only to bring about social change in terms of eradication of corruption.  They reject coalition politics and alliances as they discount their set goals. (They formed the government in Delhi with outside and external support of the Indian National Congress. This was in accordance with a referendum which was conducted following the Delhi elections). AAP workers, supporters, voters and fence-sitters also fear their ominous rise to power as this brings with it the curse of conversion to bourgeoisie. Proudhon feared that election to the Parliament will entail bourgeois living conditions. This is one concern which AAP raised itself in its manifesto and renounced too. It rejected government accommodation and the privileges associated with the same.

Anarchism, ideologically, believes in doing away with the existing structures of establishment.

Anarchy is popularly believed to be a situation of lawlessness, chaos and disorder. Proudhon did not attempt to define it as such and later went onto redefine it when he knew that his robot had turned into a Frankenstein. Anarchism, ideologically, believes in doing away with the existing structures of establishment. Contemporarily it can only achieve replacement of the existing establishment wherein more power can be attributed to the people or citizen through another structure. A simple observation would conclude that anarchy would be caused whenever a new idea or model of governance would emerge and threaten to do away with the existing structure. By the same logic, the Jasmine Revolution is anarchic wherein the monarchy is being done away with and the power will rest with the people via the establishment of democracy. Thus Kejriwal like Proudhon is an anarchist, not anarchic. 

(Anarchy is) The government of each by himself

-Pierre Joseph Proudhon, The Principle of Federation

[1] Anarchism- A Very Short Introduction, Collin Ward, pg. 14


[3] Ibid

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind