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Peaceful Anarchy In A Nutshell


-- by Sachio Ko-Yin
Embracing the dignity of all living things, we feel that each individual is precious. Faced with historic displays of power, capitalism, government and militarism, we seek instead a more fluid social structure that most fully honors individual life. We are inspired by ideals of freedom and a communal society where all can participate in decisions that effect them. We are anxious to explore a model where the necessary functions of community life are administered through cooperatives and collectives, owned and democratically run by their constituents; and where communities are connected through a regional, national, and international federation of communes and other voluntary groups. Through these, communication, coordination, and mutual aid can be effected, but always with decisions flowing from the community upward, so the federation is an instrument of facilitation, and not an entity unto itself. We hope our activities now might lead to just conditions, and allow us to reach maturity, and that compassion and freedom might be the very fabric of our culture.
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On August 6, 1998, Sachio Ko-Yin and Daniel Sicken (pronounced Sicken) symbolically disarmed a nuclear missile silo in Colorado. They called themselves the Minuteman III Plowshares. After a jury trial in which they were able to speak a lot about the weaponry they attempted to disarm, they received federal prison sentences of 30 months and 41 months respectively. Sachio, an anarcho-pacifist who serves on the Executive Committee of the War Resisters League, wrote the above statement about anarchism. His activism comes from a place of deeply held commitment to the principles of non-violence and non-hierarchy, which are embodied in the work of groups such as WRL and actions such as Plowshares. As the reader reflects on what is written here, we welcome feedback. You can write to Sachio at the following: O. Sachio Coe, 28361-013, Unit A-D, FPC Allenwood, P.O.B. 1000, Montgomery, PA 17752.
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The above is a taste of a certain school of thought called anarchism. It is a rich and varied historical movement, ranging from intentional communities such as New Harmony in America (late 18th century) to sizable revolutions such as the Maknovachim in Ukraine and the anarchist collectives in Spain (earlier 20th century)-not to mention every variety of social protest and labor agitation across the world. In the world of philosophy, it seems that every idea imaginable has been offered to the public on how such a free society might be arrived at or what it might look like, ranging from the more communally minded (Bakunin, Kropotkin) to lovers of personal property as distinct from private property (such as Benjamin Tucker), from prophets of non hierarchical organization (Malatesta) to individualists who distrust organization as hampering the purity of the person (Max Stirner). But this is wonderful, all this diversity and debate which is I think a strength of anarchist history and practice. . . we all agree that capitalism and government are domination of the few over the many, and that equality and freedom are treasures. This beautiful ideal of "no one before another" (anarchy) can be expressed in a thousand different ways, provided that dominance is not sanctioned. No doubt humility and open-mindedness are good traits in a revolutionist, as the best guards against sectarianism and dogmatism, but at the same time it behooves us to make known our beliefs and how we arrived at them, as our unique contribution to debate, and in being faithful to truth as we understand it. Especially if we think our ideas can benefit society. While much of anarchist history has been in the context of armed liberation, there has always existed another tendency dating all the way back to the Damapada Buddha and the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tsu, that allude to a connection between compassion and libertarianism (non-punishment, non-governing). And in the West, it is a recurrent theme among pacifist Christians, finding the best expression among the great abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison and Adin Ballou, whose understanding of renouncing violence had made them "no-government men." These ideas were very influential in Leo Tolstoy, who gave them their most systematic expression, showing that government, far from stopping violence, creates a monopoly on violence, and holds it in its most concentrated and lethal form. (In our age of the nuclear state, it seems indisputable.) Tolstoy influenced a whole movement of Slavic "Tolstoyans," and his legacy in a sense lives on today in the rambunctious Catholic Worker movement, which, as perhaps we all should do, lives its anarchism in soup kitchens, farms, and resistance to war. Outside of Christianity, two of the earliest expounders of modern anarchy, William Godwin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, were both of the peaceful turns of mind, if not pacifists. They clearly saw violent revolution as leading to tyranny in newer forms. Among American individualists, such as Josiah Warren, who found the New Harmony community, peace was also very much a treasure. The list could go on. . . and should. These contributors are so important, and shouldn't be forgotten. Two last sources are seminal to nonviolent anarchism, though ironically, the first was not a pacifist and the second a sort of quasi-anarchist. These are the giants Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1949). Kropotkin was a Russian prince and scientist who renounced all privileges for the life of a revolutionist. His understanding of biology was very influential on his social criticism-for example, showing that sociability is a dominant feature at every level of the animal world, he said that the survival of a species is often dependent on the degree of mutual aid, which we ourselves are slowly evolving toward. In human history, we can trace two distinct tendencies, the libertarian, which found expression, for example, in the free commune of medieval Europe, and all manner of groups for mutual support; and the authoritarian tendency, which is most brutally expressed in the modern state, and the power of the wealthy it protects. Implicit in all of this is the way of nonviolence as the highest form of mutual aid. At least we can say so in retrospect. Mahatma Gandhi, besides writing some inspiring passages about enlightened anarchy and the autonomous village, gave the world and the future of anarchism the greatest gift imaginable: a method of mass struggle that does not involve violence or vengeance, and which is still capable of wresting power from the oppressor, either by general strike and complete non-cooperation (immobilizing powers dependent on the functioning oppressed). Or, greatest of all, through the transformation of his consciousness. Not that these tactics did not exist before, (anarchist unionism foreshadowed the bloodless general strike), but in the Indian independence movement, they all were brought together, with the most revolutionary attitude of loving your opponent. The social criticism of Kropotkin and the method of Gandhi are beautiful complements, as mutual aid is the very hair of anarchy, and nonviolence is the most libertarian form of struggle. Nonviolent revolution in both its tactics and attitude of compassion, has the potential to end the reign of authority and violence, since it uses nonviolence and freedom as a method as well as an end. This also is a very exciting to people like myself, who see a vital need for revolution (rapid transformation) but who are also pacifists. In the end, violence is inherently authoritarian, and hatred and revenge are the very seeds of exclusion. As Kropotkin explains, "In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origins of ethical conceptions; we can affirm that in the ethical progress of humans, mutual support-not mutual struggle-has had the leading part. Oh beloved Kropotkin, the nonviolent movement is the finishing rhyme of your poem, and so surely the way to our survival. Nonviolent anarchism has a wonderful foundation. Now for the joy of practice! Back to Archive