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Do anarchists have their own theory of revolution?

+1 vote
Do anarchists have their own theory of revolution? If so, does anyone know of writings that describe said theory? Or do they just refer to or use a variation of marxist theory?

I'm not really asking on whether an anarchist revolution is plausible or not. Thanks
asked Feb 21 by Zubaz (4,030 points)

2 Answers

+1 vote
not sure exactly what you mean by "theory of revolution" but i'll take a stab at it (ha!)...

as i understand it, some anarchists, in days of the divine right of kings, thought that if the common people understood that royalty were human and killable like other folks, then TCP would stop putting up with being oppressed, and rise up. this was, i think, the reasoning behind propaganda of the deed.

then there is anarcho-primitivism, which is perhaps the most familiar of a category one could call... collapsist, i guess? the premise is that while it would be great if people would rise up and voluntarily stop using the tools that allow for our oppression as well as the oppression of the rest of the earth, people don't seem to be doing that, so big change will come when the system collapses. (edit: and when that happens, people will go back to doing things the way that so-called human nature tends towards, which is wild and free...) that's a guess, really. i haven't read anything that coherently argues what a best case scenario is from anarcho-primitivists.

then there's the insurrection model, which, like the sindicalist one, mostly focuses on tactics. insurrectos think that if people understand that the mechanics of society are vulnerable and fragile, then people will stop putting up with being oppressed and rise up. so they focus on actions that are easily reproduced and that jog people out of their ruts, perhaps.

sindicalists think that all power comes from workers, so if workers realize that they are powerful, then they will stop putting up with being oppressed and rise up. sindicalists call themselves anarchists, but obviously they're the most heavily influenced by marx, so maybe they don't count for your question?

anyway, that's what i got. maybe i'm all wrong, and someone will kindly weigh in and educate me!
answered Feb 24 by dot (52,310 points)
edited Feb 25 by dot
By theory of revolution I meant is the hypothesis that revolution will likely happen when certain factors they believe fall into place.
Here's an example of what I mean called the modernization theory. It holds that as technology and economics change, it mobilizes new and/or previously apathetic groups by raising their economic ambitions and their demands for inclusion in the state or political system. Revolution is then likely if the state is unable and/or unwilling to meet the demands of these mobilized groups to "modernize."

You spelled syndicalism wrong ;^)
i think trying to apply those sorts of theories to real world events is severely misguided.  to simplify particular situations and times to general concepts necessarily obscures details.  not every technological and economic change leads to revolution.

my moving away from those kind of generalized theories coincided with my growing interest in anarchy and anarchists.  what i have often found refreshing about anarchy is the relative lack of these grand theories.  i am especially drawn to tendencies within the anarchist ... *sigh* ... milieu that are critical of 'revolution', its practice, or even its very category.

i think @dot gives a pretty good summary of some broad anarchist 'theories' of revolution, but as i said thats not a part of anarchy i am particularly interested.  what is it you are looking for in an anarchist theory of revolution?  do you have one?  do you think an accurate theory of revolution is possible?  what is it you mean when you say revolution?  soo many questions
I wasn't really asking about folks personal feels on revolution or about applying any ideas. I didn't say technological and economic changes lead to revolution. As I've read about a variety of revolutions, I haven't came across an anarchist theory of revolution on why they think revolution occurs or may occur in the future that significantly differs from the marxist theory..So, what better place to ask than anarchy101 as I was curious if anyone knew if anarchists had their own.
i think much like shin about this sort of question.

how do i know when "a revolution" has taken place? if "x" percent of the population in a given location do particular things? only if the entire government no longer exists - no central banks, no police, no compulsory education, etc.?

as someone who desires and attempts to create anarchic relations, i don't even know if anyone would call my actions/lack of particular actions "revolt", or part of a "revolution". the vagueness and grandness of such an idea don't appeal to me....but living as much as i can against (in words and actions) authoritarian and hierarchical relationships/institutions does.
I don't think there is a particular theory, dot did a good job of laying out some tendencies relating to various streams of anarchist thinking. None of them are plans, but more ideas that inform an anarchist from that perspective on how to engage in various situations or conflicts that arise.

A codified anarchist theory on revolution doesn't exist, though several anarchists (mostly leftists, but sometimes green) have proposed them. I think this is a strength for anarchists, in that there is nothing proscribed.

We can use tactics from the syndicalists (yuk!), we can create conflicts that create what insurrectionists might refer to as ruptures or signals of disorder. We can wait for the (in my opinion, inevitable) collapse, or work to sabotage the mechanisms of the megamachine.

It isn't a theory, it is a tool box. As much as I hate syndicalism, there are places in my life right now where keeping some tools from that part of my toolkit in my pocket is helpful. There are some pro-collapse ideas I very much agree with, in theory, and that have not a damn thing to do with my life.

We are anarchists, we steal what we need, we adapt technics to meet our needs, and we burn shit that we don't like.
+2 votes

I think there's roughly two possibilities:

1.Anarchists who see anarchism as primarily an ethical-political discourse, less interested in determining the course of large scale transformation than in thinking about immediate questions of life, in an immediate way. I'm not dismissing this but it seems clear to me that this tendency is fundamentally critical of the idea of revolution.

2.Anarchists who are interested in some version of large scale social transformation, almost always via some modification of Marxist theory. As you might know, this is what Marxist thought is most essentially about: trying to think plausibly about whether there is a chance of emancipating human beings from capitalism, and it's a really rich intellectual tradition with many different mutually incompatible ways of addressing this question. But in very broad strokes, the argument is that if we think about an "idealized" version of capitalism, how capital according to its own logic ought to develop, we can predict that capitalism must end. Marx thinks this is true because (to paraphrase very brutally) firms are compelled to make technical changes to their production process which minimize the need for human labor, but since all other firms will follow suit, the gain in profits is always temporary. Meaning that even though capitalism is entirely premised upon wage labor it also tends to make wage labor obsolete. The concrete result is that capitalism will be able to produce lots of goods very cheaply but will also produce as a side effect huge numbers of unemployed or tenuously employed people who cannot afford those goods -- leading capital to search for new markets where it can sell the goods, etc. The question that this raises is whether the people who have been made unnecessary by capitalism will see this in time.

To my mind the worthwhile recent thinking about these questions is the kind that asks about what forms social upheaval is likely to take in the next decades/century, and guesses that it will have a lot to do with the possibilities that are visible to people excluded from the wage, and to people forced to migrate by changes in the climate etc. I reckon Joshua Clover's book "Riot. Strike. Riot." is a good book about this, which argues that we've entered a period where riots and not strikes will be the significant form for social movements against capital. Endnotes 2 is very much about these questions. In my opinion much of insurrectional/insurrectionary anarchism, as well as what is called "communization theory," is a response to these questions whether self-consciously or not. I've been meaning to read this collection of writings that Ill Will Editions put out: http://ill-will-editions.tumblr.com/post/183682422114/insurrectional-anarchism-a-reader-2019-print. There was a good collection called "Communization and its Discontents" which I think is worth engaging with. I'd also suggest that the ideas promoted by "Open Marxism" should be of interest to anarchists who want to think about revolution. John Holloway I think of as being its main contemporary thinker -- I recommend his book, "Change the World Without Taking Power."

Obviously there have been other anarchist approaches to this question, which have emphasized other factors like the situation of peasants, the industrial proletariat, etc., usually in some kind of dialogue with Marxism. To me these are historically interesting. 

answered Apr 15 by asker (8,190 points)
this is a pretty compelling answer, yesterday i caught myself being hopeful about a "spiritual revolution", which to me would kind of look like a stirnerian realization plus an awakening that a lot of famous gurus have mentioned, but that won't happen all at once and probably won't happen at all except on a very personal basis for a few people...

Also, as much as i hate to admit it, a large extinction event for the human race would probably do more good than harm in the long run :-/