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+4 votes
I was reading this article to understand the differences between left vs right wing politics:


Anarchism is left but from what I read, left wing is more liberal while right wing is conservative. Also, it seems that Liberals promote more government and also advocate discrimination.

So, why is Anarchism considered left and of the two, is it more liberal or conservative by nature? I'm new to politics in general and would love any answers. I'm an Anarchist and to me, liberal and conservative, are just words that keep getting changed along with America's society, but I'm wondering how, specifically, Anarchism falls towards the left, which is marked more "Liberal". Any help would be awesome!
I actually used to believe anarchists were right-wing for this very reason, and therefore looked upon them the same as I do neo-cons.


This is actually a pretty nifty site. Basically, it rejects the one-axis "Left-to-Right" political spectrum in favor of a two-axis kind of chart. The X-axis is the 'economic' spectrum, with collectivism/communism on the left and neo-liberalism/free-market libertarianism on the right. On the Y-axis, the top is authoritarianism/fascism and the bottom is libertarianism/anarchism. It provides a much more accurate depiction of where one stands politically/economically -- if one were to look at Ghandi and Stalin on the typical one-line scale, they'd be around the same spot, whereas they're clearly not anywhere close in this two-axis approach. Obviously it's not perfect, but I think it's a hell of a lot better than the usual narrow depiction of the spectrum. It might help you get an idea as to where anarchism stands.

4 Answers

+3 votes
a partial answer is that some people (probably most people) consider anarchists to be part of the left first because anarchists have frequently (especially historically) called themselves "anarcho-communists" (referring to the desire for communism - a state-free society, without the interim stages usually insisted on by people who call themselves just "communists"). communists and anarchists are both considered to be part of the left because of a focus on how the state and context influences individuals. ironically, conservatives usually focus more on individual will power and responsibility (which, in a society that is set up to be inequal, absolves institutions of responsibility...).
but there is definitely a significant (and growing?) segment of anarchists who call themselves neither right nor left. but the media likes to separates everything into binaries, so that will continue to be  a fight.
by (52.8k points)
Okay, but I have a few more questions regarding this:

Anarchism is liberal in that it promotes Socialism but Conservative in it's anti-state tendencies? Just seems to be so many contradictions with this.

Also, being that Conservatives are for more individuality, would Anarcho-individualism be considered right wing? From what I read, both Social and Individual Anarchism are opposed to capitalism, making it more left wing?

Sorry for the repetition. I'm just super lost right now, especially since I didn't know the difference between left and right wing till today. ==\
yea, it is confusing. i am probably not the best to answer, either, but i'll keep working at it.
anarchists are not promoting socialism as socialism is currently understood. that is, socialism is now associated (like communism) with the states that have called themselves socialist and communist, and anarchists are not (in general) promoting transitions that go through states.
it's probably clearer to say that anarchism is neither liberal nor conservative, since both liberalism and conservatism are labels for groups of people (as well as labels for collections of ideas), with which anarchists usually have little in common. (part of the confusion is that more anarchists come out of the "progressive", leftist traditions than out of the conservative ones -- another reason why so-called anarcho-capitalists are odd folks out, i think. but that's a different conversation).  all anarchists are against capitalism, it is one of the fundamentals of anarchism. (people who call themselves anarcho-capitalists are basically playing word games.) and yes, anarcho-individualism has been attacked by leftists as being right-wing in its effects if not in intention.
we are against capitalism, but that does not make us left-wing. most people on the left wouldn't say that they're against capitalism at all, just that they want a kinder, gentler capitalism.
don't worry about repeating, just keep asking til it's clear... that what we're here for. :)
+1 vote
The word LIBERAL is related to the word 'liberty' and was originally used to mean generous or unrestrained. In modern political parlance, it has come to mean many things, but it usually implies progressivism; the promotion of change. The word CONSERVATIVE comes from the root word 'conserve' and suggests maintenance and preservation. This word too has been bastardized, bent for propagandistic purposes, but it still implies reverence for the old ways. Thus, liberal politicians advocate reform and development while conservative ones call for a return to "traditional values."

In the sense that anarchists reject "traditional values" and in the sense that they agitate for a NEW society that is radically different from the norm, they are leftists. Further, many people today consider marxist movements to be a product of the left and capitalist protractors a part of the right. So, since many anarchists are socialists, communists, etc.; anarchy--especially European anarchy--is often placed within the leftist milieu.

I should point out that, to my mind, anarchy is most potent when it exists outside of the left/right paradigm; when it rejects ALL societal proscriptions, when anarchists realize that none of them will be a miracle cure but only fingers in the dam. Of course anarchists can fight for social reform if it is beneficial (or if they really want to), but they should understand that no society will ever be perfect. Eternal war between society and the individual is, I think, inevitable.

Some anarchists understand this. They understand that all societies and communities necessarily present certain norms of behavior, certain shared ideals; that every society explicitly (and implicitly) pressures the individual into subsumption, into becoming a mere mechanism in the machine. These anarchists are neither left nor right; they are free.
by (1.6k points)
edited by
+1 vote
I actually don't think the spatial metaphor implicit in the distinction between left and right is very helpful to anyone.  It comes from where people actually literally stood relative to the king in revolutionary France. From wikipedia:

One deputy, the Baron de Gauville explained, "We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp."

The terms have been morphing and expanding over time in some really bizzarre ways that you could spend years studying.  Usually, anarchists are considered to be on 'the left,' albeit very very far to the left.  This kind of makes sense at least in that anarchists tend to (arguably) be communists of some sort, but there are some very important differences between anarchists and regular communists.  

As dot mentioned, there are anarchists who consider themselves to be neither left nor right. I think that this is probably the most sensible position to take, especially because it tends to confuse people. It kind of depends, though, on what kind of anarchist you are. For instance I can't see an individualist or a Tiqqunist calling themselves a leftist, but that label might make a little bit of sense for an anarcho-syndicalist.

As for liberal, that's a term that came out of the French revolution as well - it's the ideology that overthrew monarchies, basically.  I consider everyone involved in state politics to be a liberal in the sense that they support liberal democratic states.  Most people, though, use the term liberal to refer to e.g. members of the Democratic party, which is different. Either way, I don't think anarchists can possibly count as liberals. Some of us might count as leftists, but not liberals.
by (7.9k points)
–2 votes
The Leftist association of anarchists dates back to the 19th century. It's the difference between revolutionaries and reactionaries. Liberal and Conservatives are generally people in the center that are not revolutionary nor reactionary. In the United States, because the political spectrum is so thin, Liberals are often identified as Leftists and Conservatives as Rightists.  

However, there are moments in history where anarchists are seen as the left-wing response to Bolshevism, statism, etc. Hard-line socialists used to refer to anarchists as liberals, because of their inability to maintain the vanguard's party line. To this day (even in anarchist circles) "liberals" are people who don't support the vanguard (the avant-garde, or newer, spiffier forms of leftism/anarchy).
by (190 points)