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Anarchism is a radical political movement that is highly skeptical towards authority and rejects all forms of unjust hierarchy. It calls for the abolition of the state which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful. Anarchism advocates for the replacement of the state with stateless societies or other forms of free associations.
Anarchism's timeline stretches back to prehistory when people lived in anarchistic societies long before the establishment of formal states, kingdoms or empires. With the rise of organised hierarchical bodies, skepticism towards authority also rose, but it was not until the 19th century a self-conscious political movement was formed. During the latest half of 19th and the first decades of 20th century, the anarchist movement flourished to most parts of the world, and had a significant role in worker's struggles for emancipation. Various branches of anarchism were espoused during those times. Anarchists took part in several revolutions, most notably in the Spanish Civil War, where they were crushed by the fascists forces in 1939, marking the end of the classical era of anarchism. In the latest decades of the 20th century, the anarchist movement nonetheless became relevant and vivid once more.
Anarchism employ various tactics in order to meet their ideal ends; these can be broadly separated in revolutionary and evolutionary tactics. There is significant overlap between the two legs which are merely descriptive. Revolutionary tactics aim to bring down authority and state, and have taken a violent turn in the past. Evolutionary tactics aim to prefigure what an anarchist society would be like. Anarchism's thought, criticism and praxis has played a part in diverse fields of human society.
The etymological origin of the word "anarchism" is from the ancient Greek word "anarkhia", meaning "without a ruler", composed of the prefix "an-" (i.e. "without") and the word "arkhos" (i.e. "leader" or "ruler"). The suffix -ism denotes the ideological current that favours anarchy. The word "anarchism" appears in English from 1642 as "anarchisme" and the word "anarchy" from 1539. Various factions within the French Revolution labelled their opponents as "anarchists", although few such accused shared many views with later anarchists. Many revolutionaries of the 19th century such as William Godwin (17561836) and Wilhelm Weitling (18081871) would contribute to the anarchist doctrines of the next generation, but they did not use the word "anarchist" or "anarchism" in describing themselves or their beliefs.
The first political philosopher to call himself an "anarchist" () was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (18091865), marking the formal birth of anarchism in the mid-19th century. Since the 1890s and beginning in France, the term "libertarianism" has often been used as a synonym for anarchism and its use as a synonym is still common outside the United States. On the other hand, some use "libertarianism" to refer to individualistic free-market philosophy only, referring to free-market anarchism as libertarian anarchism.
While opposition to the state is central to anarchist thought, defining anarchism is not an easy task as there is a lot of talk among scholars and anarchists on the matter and various currents perceive anarchism slightly differently. Hence, it might be true to say that anarchism is a cluster of political philosophies opposing authority and hierarchical organization (including the state, capitalism, nationalism and all associated institutions) in the conduct of all human relations in favour of a society based on voluntary association, on freedom and on decentralisation, but this definition has the same shortcomings as the definition based on etymology (which is simply a negation of a ruler), or based on anti-statism (anarchism is much more than that) or even the anti-authoritarian (which is an "a posteriori" conclusion). Nonetheless, major elements of the definition of anarchism include the following:
During the prehistoric era of mankind, an established authority did not exist. It was after the creation of towns and cities that institutions of authority were established and anarchistic ideas espoused as a reaction. Most notable precursors to anarchism in the ancient world were in China and Greece. In China, philosophical anarchism (i.e the discussion on the legitimacy of the state) was delineated by Taoist philosophers Zhuangzi and Lao Tzu. Likewise, anarchic attitudes were articulated by tragedians and philosophers in Greece. Aeschylus and Sophocles used the myth of Antigone to illustrate the conflict between rules set by the state and personal autonomy. Socrates questioned Athenian authorities constantly and insisted to the right of individual freedom of consciousness. Cynics dismissed human law ("nomos") and associated authorities while trying to live according to nature ("physis"). Stoics were supportive of a society based on unofficial and friendly relations among its citizens without the presence of a state.
During the Middle Ages, there was no anarchistic activity except some ascetic religious movements in the Islamic world or in Christian Europe. This kind of tradition later gave birth to religious anarchism. In Persia, Mazdak called for an egalitarian society and the abolition of monarchy, only to be soon executed by the king. In Basra, religious sects preached against the state. In Europe, various sects developed anti-state and libertarian tendencies. Libertarian ideas further emerged during the Renaissance with the spread of reasoning and humanism through Europe. Novelists fictionalised ideal societies that were based not on coercion but voluntarism. The Enlightenment further pushed towards anarchism with the optimism for social progress.
During the French Revolution, the partisan groups of Enrags and saw a turning point in the fermentation of anti-state and federalist sentiments. The first anarchist currents developed throughout the 18th centuryWilliam Godwin espoused philosophical anarchism in England, morally delegitimizing the state, Max Stirner's thinking paved the way to individualism, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's theory of mutualism found fertile soil in France. This era of classical anarchism lasted until the end of the Spanish Civil War of 1936 and is considered the golden age of anarchism.
Drawing from mutualism, Mikhail Bakunin founded collectivist anarchism and entered the International Workingmen's Association, a class worker union later known as the First International that formed in 1864 to unite diverse revolutionary currents. The International became a significant political force, and Karl Marx a leading figure and a member of its General Council. Bakunin's faction, the Jura Federation and Proudhon's followers, the mutualists, opposed Marxist state socialism, advocating political abstentionism and small property holdings. After bitter disputes the Bakuninists were expelled from the International by the Marxists at the 1872 Hague Congress. Bakunin famously predicted that if revolutionaries gained power by Marxist's terms, they would end up the new tyrants of workers. After being expelled, anarchists formed the St. Imier International. Under the influence of Peter Kropotkin, a Russian philosopher and scientist, anarcho-communism overlapped with collectivism. Anarcho-communists, who drew inspiration from the 1871 Paris Commune, advocated for free federation and distribution of goods according to one's needs.
At the turning of the century, anarchism had spread all over the world. In China, small groups of students imported the humanistic pro-science version of anarcho-communism. Tokyo was a hotspot for rebellious youth from countries of the far east, pouring into the Japanese capital to study. In Latin America, So Paulo was a stronghold for anarcho-syndicalism where it became the most prominent left-wing ideology. During this time, a minority of anarchists adopted tactics of revolutionary political violence. This strategy became known as propaganda of the deed. The dismemberment of the French socialist movement into many groups and the execution and exile of many Communards to penal colonies following the suppression of the Paris Commune favoured individualist political expression and acts. Even though many anarchists distanced themselves from these terrorist acts, infamy came upon the movement. Illegalism was another strategy which some anarchists adopted these same years.
Anarchists enthusiastically participated in the Russian Revolutiondespite concernsin opposition to the Whites. However, they met harsh suppression after the Bolshevik government was stabilized. Several anarchists from Petrograd and Moscow fled to Ukraine, notably leading to the Kronstadt rebellion and Nestor Makhno's struggle in the Free Territory. With the anarchists being crushed in Russia, two new antithetical currents emerged, namely platformism and synthesis anarchism. The former sought to create a coherent group that would push for the revolution while the latter were against anything that would resemble a political party. Seeing the victories of the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution and the resulting Russian Civil War, many workers and activists turned to communist parties which grew at the expense of anarchism and other socialist movements. In France and the United States, members of major syndicalist movements, the General Confederation of Labour and Industrial Workers of the World, left their organisations and joined the Communist International.
In the Spanish Civil War, anarchists and syndicalists (CNT and FAI) once again allied themselves with various currents of leftists. A long tradition of Spanish anarchism led to anarchists playing a pivotal role in the war. In response to the army rebellion, an anarchist-inspired movement of peasants and workers, supported by armed militias, took control of Barcelona and of large areas of rural Spain where they collectivised ''';