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+1 vote
I'm very new to anarchism, and I just wanted to know if anarchists would generally prefer a democratic capitalist government (like say the United States or the UK) or an authoritarian communist government (like say the Soviet Union). I was genuinely very curious because much of the writings I've read recently by anarchists (Peter Gelderloos, especially) seem to paint anarchism as fundamentally opposed to the concept of authority and very supportive of many democratic principles (everyone has control in society, not just one person/small group of people, etc.). But at the same time, anarchism is also considered far-left, like communism, and anarchists seem to agree with communists on many things. So basically, is either democracy > authoritarianism or communism > capitalism more important for anarchists?
by (130 points)

3 Answers

+3 votes

as a purely practical matter, there are anarchists who would argue over this question (some would rather live and fight in the u.s., others prefer the more socialist option of France, etc.) but mostly anarchists reject the practical option(s) and refuse both examples, since we are, after all, by definition against governments of any kind. 

also, i (for one) disagree with the democracy vs authoritarianism and communism vs capitalism continuums. democracy (certainly as it is in the u.s.) is quite authoritarian. and i am not a communist, so i'm not one of the people who associates communism with good things. both communism and capitalism are negatives to me, although i am friends with people who disagree with me about communism, and not so much with people who disagree with me about capitalism (i think there's more confusion and disagreement about what communism means than there is about capitailsm is).

by (52.5k points)
+1 vote
As dot alluded, my personal preference is specific to my conditions, and are pretty well detailed in my answer to the question Lawrence linked to in his comment. I do, however think there are ways of exploring what makes them different that can help someone figure out under which system they might prefer to operate.

I think what is important about thinking about living in a democratic versus a totalitarian (which I think might be a more accurate word for what you called authoritarian? I could be wrong) state is that the tactics and forms of organizing (little "o" organizing) will vary based on the nature of the regime. The potential repercussions of conflict with the state are often far less severe in a democratic state (I am presuming some things abut the nature of the legal system in said state) than in a totalitarian one. I don't place a value judgment on this, it is an observation. In a democracy people often get more time using contestation as a sort of play where we can sharpen our skills and experiment over time with different tactics. In a totalitarian regime, it is more likely that groups will organize quietly  and under the radar, biding their time until attack is feasible. One of these risks becoming rote ritual, one threatens to possibly never materialize. Neither is better, or necessarily preferable, just different

Similarly, a capitalist society provides certain advantages to an anarchist over a communist one, but the converse is also true. As an example: in a communist economy, the grim realities of centrally managed distribution of both production and products lays bare the inefficiencies of state control while in a capitalist one, people are easily distracted/appeased with new shiny things, or pacified with the perception of being middle class and upwardly mobile. On the other hand, a capitalist economy often creates such stark contrast between the very rich and their access to power (versus all the rest of us), while in a communist state, this might be somewhat more obscured (although obviously party officials almost always end up being an oligarchy).
by (22.1k points)
edited by
+1 vote
I think there are a few semantic discrepancies to clear up that will elucidate on their own what anarchists are generally supportive of:

Communism != Authoritarian Marxism - Leninism, Marxist-Leninism, etc. It's an economic system where private property is abolished and all commodities and means of production are held in common by the workers, who self-manage.

Far-left != The Soviet Union and similar failures in liberating people from hierarchy. The "Left" is more of a broad body of theories which ultimately aim to liberate people from hierarchy and that all failed to do so. There are varying stances on how to do this, with the Marxists traditionally believing that class is the foremost locus of revolutionary activity, and anarchists extending the issue to attacking hierarchy as such rather than something like capitalism which seems to be the most significant reproducer of hierarchy.

Democracy != Libertarianism. The two are often conflated, and it's a tricky distinction to make, but democracy is more an organizational tool which has traditionally resulted in the opposite of its intent: The rule of the people.

That being said: There are some anarchists - mainly the lefty anarchists who are influenced primarily by classical anarchists like Kropotkin and Bakunin (and the holdover of classical anarchism, Bookchin) - who would argue that dialectically we should suppport the movement from outright fascist brutality to liberal democracy, and the movement from liberal democracy to a nicer kind of capitalism - state capitalism. This of course carries with it the presumptions of dialectical, progressive thinking - that history will move in the manner we think it will, and that we can gradually, incrementally create the new world in the shell of the old.

Most anarchists who are of the post-left variety, the second generation of anarchists, tend to disagree with this. Liberation from private waged slavery is not liberation from state-subsidized wage slavery. Reproducing the logic of hierarchy by using authoritarian means to liberate people from hierarchy is pretty self-evidently contradictory, as far as I'm concerned. Some might argue that the classical lefty anarchists tend to be more practical in this regard by being less "sectarian" towards their Marxist "comrades" - and to them I would say that it's more practical for me to be against ideologies which have time and time again purged any strains of anarchism after capitalism had been overthrown, than to support at best a marginal increase in my material conditions at the risk of being put up against a wall or otherwise having my views entirely subjugated under the all-knowing and well-meaning Party.
by (610 points)
for those who don't know,  != stands for "doesn't equal."