Anarcho-pacifism: Wikis


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The white and black bisected flag of anarcho-pacifism (and sometimes of Christian anarchism)

Anarcho-pacifism (also pacifist anarchism or anarchist pacifism) is a form of anarchism which completely rejects the use of violence in any form for any purpose. Important proponents include Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and Bart de Ligt. Mohandas Gandhi and Jesus of Nazareth are important influences.



The main precedent was Henry David Thoreau, who, through his work Civil Disobedience, influenced both Leo Tolstoy and Mohandas Gandhi's advocacy of Nonviolent resistance.[1]

At some point anarcho-pacifism had as its main proponent Christian anarchism. The first large-scale anarcho-pacifist movement was the Tolstoyan peasant movement in Russia. They were a predominantly peasant movement that set up hundreds of voluntary anarchist pacifist communes based on their interpretation of Christianity as requiring absolute pacifism and the rejection of all coercive authority. They were active throughout Russia and followed a strict Vegetarian diet. Because of their refusal to recognize the authority of the Tsarist state they were targeted for severe repression and many were killed outright or relocated to Siberia. After the Bolshevik Revolution they were again targeted for repression because they refused to recognize the authority of the new socialist state, just as they had refused to recognize the authority of its predecessor. Most of them were killed in the purges under Lenin and Stalin.

Violence has always been controversial in anarchism. While many anarchists during the 19th century embraced propaganda of the deed, Tolstoy and other anarcho-pacifists directly opposed violence as a means for change. He argued that anarchism must be nonviolent since it is, by definition, opposition to coercion and force, and that since the state is inherently violent, meaningful pacifism must likewise be anarchistic. His philosophy was cited as a major inspiration by Mohandas Gandhi, an Indian independence leader and pacifist who self-identified as an anarchist. Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis was also instrumental in establishing the pacifist trend within the anarchist movement.[2] In France anti-militarism appeared strongly in individualist anarchist circles as Émile Armand founded "Ligue Antimilitariste" in 1902 with Albert Libertad and George Mathias Paraf-Javal.

Bart de Ligt

"Dutch anarchist-pacifist Bart de Ligt’s 1936 treatise The Conquest of Violence (with its none too subtle allusion to Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread) was also of signal importance."[3] "Gandhi's ideas were popularised in the West in books such as Richard Gregg's The Power of Nonviolence (1935), and Bart de Ligt's The Conquest of Violence (1937). The latter is particularly important for anarchists since, as one himself, de Ligt specifically addressed those who lust for revolution. 'The more violence, the less revolution,' he declared. He also linked Gandhian principled nonviolence with the pragmatic nonviolent direct action of the syndicalists. (The General Strike is an expression of total nonco-operation by workers, though it should be added that most syndicalists believed that the revolution should be defended by armed workers.)"[4]

As a global movement, anarchist pacifism emerged shortly before World War II in Holland, Great Britain and the United States and was a strong presence in the subsequent campaigns for nuclear disarmament. A leading British anarcho-pacifist was Alex Comfort who considered himself "an aggressive anti-militarist," and he believed that pacifism rested "solely upon the historical theory of anarchism."[5][6] He was an active member of CND.

Among the works on anarchism by Comfort is Peace and Disobedience (1946), one of many pamphlets he wrote for Peace News and the Peace Pledge Union, and Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State (1950).[5] He exchanged public correspondence with George Orwell defending pacifism in the open letter/poem "Letter to an American Visitor" under the pseudonym "Obadiah Hornbrooke."[7]

"In the 1950s and 1960s anarcho-pacifism began to gel, tough-minded anarchists adding to the mixture their critique of the state, and tender-minded pacifists their critique of violence."[1]. Within the context of the emergence of the New Left and the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) "several themes, theories, actions, all distinctly libertarian, began to come to the fore and were given intellectual expression by the American anarcho-pacifist, Paul Goodman."[1]

Among late 20th-century anarcho-pacifists was autarchist Robert LeFevre, who based his pacifism on his belief in the inviolability of property rights.[8][9] LeFevre also spoke out against war, which he considered to be a product of the state, and was convinced of the power of non-violent resistance.[10]

Other notable anarcho-pacifist historical figures include Ammon Hennacy and, for a brief period between 1939 and 1940, Jean-Paul Sartre.[11] Ursula K. Le Guin has identified pacifist anarchism as the major utopic element in her novel The Dispossessed.[12]

Ideological variance

While anarcho-pacifism is most commonly associated with religious anarchism such as Tolstoyan Christian anarchism and Buddhist anarchism, irreligious or even anti-religious tendencies have emerged. The anarcho-punk band Crass polemicised a variant of anarcho-pacifism whilst at the same time explicitly rejecting all religions, especially the symbols of 'establishment' Christian mythology.[13] Opposition to the use of violence has not prohibited anarcho-pacifists from accepting the principle of resistance or even revolutionary action provided it does not result in violence; in fact it was their approval of such forms of opposition to power that lead anarcho-pacifists to endorse the anarcho-syndicalist concept of the general strike as the great revolutionary weapon.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Resiting the Nation State, the pacifist and anarchist tradition" by Geoffrey Ostergaard
  2. ^ a b Woodcock, George (2004). Anarchism: a History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Peterborough: Broadview Press. ISBN 1551116294. 
  3. ^ "Anarchism and the Movement for a New Society: Direct Action and Prefigurative Community in the 1970s and 80s" by Andrew Cornell
  4. ^ Resisting the Nation State. The pacifist and anarchist tradition by Geoffrey Ostergaard
  5. ^ a b Rayner, Claire (28 March 2000). "News: Obituaries: Alex Comfort". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  6. ^ For discussions of Comfort's political views, see Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (1992) by Peter Marshall, and Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow (2006) by David Goodway.
  7. ^ Complete Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell volume II, pg. 294-303
  8. ^ Doherty 2007, p. 312
  9. ^ Doherty 2007, p. 316
  10. ^ Doherty 2007, p. 319
  11. ^ Taylor, John, "Abandoning Pacifism: The Case of Sartre", Journal of European Studies, Vol. 89, 1993
  12. ^ Le Guin, Ursula K. (1989). "A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be", Dancing at the Edge of the World. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978080211105
  13. ^ Aitch, Iain. "'Why should we accept any less than a better way of doing things?'". Guardian Unlimited Arts. The Guardian.,,2193622,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 


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