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PRICHARD, Alex. Introduction: Anarchism and World Politics
Article published on 30 August 2010
last modification on 27 April 2015

by r-c.
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Despite the re-emergence of anarchism as a political movement with a corresponding outpouring of academic and movement literature, [1] despite IR having been dubbed ‘the political discourse of anarchy’, [2] despite countless papers devoted to the subject of anarchy and international affairs [3]few have seen fit to look to anarchism to help us understand world politics. If for no other reason than for intellectual inclusiveness, this forum is therefore long-overdue. Thankfully there are also compelling intellectual, political and practical reasons for bringing anarchist insights to IR.

Before we turn to these reasons let us consider where anarchism might fit into the discipline. Anarchism, not to be confused with mindless violence or disorder, need not be thought of as antithetical to IR since much of what used to pass as IR, particularly in its statist form, has been superseded, undermined and now increasingly ignored. The critical wing of the discipline provides a natural home for anarchist thought. Consider the ‘dissident’ moment opened up in 1990s by the poststructuralist challenge to the discipline. [4] Consider how this ‘dissident’ challenge to the ethical, ontological and epistemological dominance of a positivist social science in the service of the state was received by the mainstream. [5] Consider how this anxiety was deepened still further by the parallel emergence of a feminist politics and methodology that undermined the patriarchal and sexist exclusions at the heart of world politics and its study. [6] Consider also the ongoing Marxist challenges to the myths that constitute the mainstream and how a focus on class, uneven and combined development [7]and hegemony, [8] has challenged the now ever more spurious statist focus of the traditional mainstream. [9] Consider the explosion of Frankfurt School Critical Theory in IR and the emergence of left/liberal neo-Kantian republicanism and the new moral moment. [10] The challenge these moves presented to the precious impartiality of the mainstream was devastating. This is not to suggest that the state and the prerogatives of the mandarins is the only focus, but it does suggest that their ongoing political and intellectual dominance in the discipline is no longer taken for granted.

Consider this in the context of the rise of activism in IR. [11] Consider not the links between the world’s State Departments and Foreign Offices and the numerous graduate finishing schools of Political Science and IR, an activism we still take for granted, but consider instead the use of scholarship to illuminate base injustice, political corruption, duplicity and ignorance, and consider now the possibility that IR is simply no longer the domain of the diplomat and resident of the discipline’s Ivory Towers. [12]Might we argue that IR has become the discipline of and for the new revolutionary international citizen (or was it always such?). Might IR be the inheritor of the tradition of classical social theory and its universalist, emancipatory intent? Critical IR now has the intellectual tools and conceptual insights to understand the world in which we live to a degree it was never designed to achieve, and can empower those who have traditionally been written out of the narrative of high politics. This is the moment in which we the multitude become empowered. The emergence of anarchism is nothing less than a signifier that critical mass is just around the corner. Expect a backlash.

We might well ask: is anarchism just one more ‘ism’ to add to IR’s heady mix of ‘approaches’ or ‘theories’, ‘methodologies’ or ‘ontologies’? Is there room in our textbooks or teaching schedules for another lecture, seminar or chapter on anarchism? [13] Would anyone elect to teach anarchism in a discipline not traditionally noted for being radical. Clearly, the purpose of adding anarchism and stirring is not to bulk out the anthologies of journal articles, or to speak to core debates kept alive by a dated mainstream. As the papers in this forum show, anarchism provides an ontology, a methodology and praxis for the dispossessed but active citizen. Anarchism is the ideology of the DIY generation, for the activists disenchanted with the trappings of power, for the engaged citizen who feels marginalised by the structures of modern power, for the rebel who yearns to enact change. Anarchism is a praxis for those sick of waiting for others to ameliorate our lives for us and is a demand for the return of the tools for conviviality and the means of our autonomy, now.

No doubt anarchism, anarchy and anarchist each have a bad name. Many simply will not be associated with the moniker, despite being committed to anarchist praxis. [14] Others have affinities with anarchist principles and engage in anarchist practices at a distance. Others still embody ‘anarchy in action’ when they live fates abandoned to them by powerful social cleavages too selfish to care. As April Carrier’s paper in this forum shows, those who live by their wits alone, ignorant of the wider implications and political importance of their own actions, are those who live this ‘anarchy in action’. [15]

But what of those who argue about the meaning of the dreaded ‘A word’? Anarchy, as everyone in IR is already fully aware and as anarchists never tire of telling those who care to listen, does not mean disorder. In fact, anarchy simply signifies the absence of a formal or informal ruler and is a sub-species of order in general, like monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, not its antithesis. [16] Or to reverse the comparison, anarchism, ironically perhaps from an IR theory perspective, is the political philosophy of order in anarchy. [17]Political anarchy, much like the anarchy of the international, is an order constituted without formal leaders but intricately structured by informal hierarchies with their attendant constraining and enabling effects in relation to individual and collective autonomy. Anarchists seek to unpack the effects of hierarchy and domination and the potential for emancipation in, inter alia, the realms of race, incarceration, culture, environmentalism and gender, and even within anarchist movements themselves. A significant number remain focussed on the traditional foci of class, the state, the workplace and property relations as key domains of exploitation constituted by a sovereign, the vanguard, the upper classes and/or the proprietor. [18] Anarchism is therefore a response to the question of domination that seeks to avoid the flaws of representation and mediation and prefers direct action, delegation and prefiguration – or in the words of Ghandi - living the change we want to see in the world.

This wide focus, one that cannot be explored fully here, [19] would suggest wide affinities between anarchism and other intellectual traditions. Indeed, anarchism is a broad church and sometimes the so-called ‘anarchist impulse’ has been found in so many incongruous places, from Lao Tse Tung to Nietzsche, as to make its boundaries almost nonsensical. [20] Conversely, the boundaries of anarchism have been cast so narrowly as to do considerable damage to the richness of the nineteenth and twentieth-century tradition and the plural movements that developed out of it. [21] Naming anarchism, catching it, is a political act and is not a necessary debate to become embroiled in here. That said, anarchism arguably has most meaning when understood in context. The anarchism of the sherry cooperatives of late nineteenth-century Andalucia [22] can only superficially be compared with the anarchism of the Climate Camp and the G20 protests at Gleneagles. We need not be anarchists to understand these movements, but their undeniably anarchist flavour needs to be recognised and engaged with respect. They might not seem to be ‘international issues’ at first glance but they most definitely are. A few words on anarchism in general will help open up how we might apply an anarchist methodology in practice.

Uri Gordon has argued in his powerfully succinct work, that the rejection of ‘regimes of domination’ [23] is central to anarchism. These regimes work in multiple and overlapping ways within and across the nuclear or patriarchal family, the state, the liberal economy, or within our school and intellectual systems, organised labour, direct action and within anarchist groups. Anarchism as a political philosophy is centrally concerned with uncovering these regimes and offering paths to their dismantling that places the autonomy of the individual and the collective at its heart. The tendency of structures to subjugate, to limit and to constrain is the spur that compels anarchists to think through and seek to break through these limits. The desire to do so without recreating the systems which produced these limits in the first place is the key praxis.

The Climate Camp and the anarchists of Andalucia are two very different movements with quite different intentions facing quite different structural constraints and with uneven potentialities. Both were concerned with the imposition and perpetuation of practices which undermine autonomy. Understanding the context is central to understanding what anarchism was for, and reassessing anarchist political theory in the here and now helps us understand what anarchism could be. As Temma Kaplan has shown, British ownership and the industrialisation of sherry production in nineteenth-century Andalucia stripped rural workers of their collective autonomy and livelihoods and control over the product of their labour and the spontaneous reactions this prompted were framed in terms of collective ownership, a rebellion against capitalism and ‘free trade’, and only partially and later described as anarchist. Yet this anarchist movement spread and developed in distinct ways but with the impulse against domination which reached its climax in the doomed Spanish anarchist struggle against Franco, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini during the Civil War in Spain. [24] We might contrast this with how the analysis of consumer society, the corresponding monopolisation of power and wealth and its effects on the environment, have been framed in terms of domination and disempowerment by anarchists and how they articulate a clear understanding of the disabling nature of the formal structures of political power through which ‘legitimate protest’ is supposed to be channelled. Direct action, manifested in such things as protests and the anarchist impulse in the Climate Camp follows inexorably. Whether we name or we act in the name of anarchism, its praxis embodies a general struggle against the domination of the collective and the self by others and the desire to campaign on behalf of causes that would inflict structural inequalities on others that we would not tolerate ourselves.

You don’t have to be an anarchist to see that the state and neo-liberal market logics sustain regimes of domination, [25] but few other than the anarchists have argued that to reform these within the purview of either is to replicate and legitimise these structures by our habitual actions. [26] This is not to suggest that anarchists have found a pristine place of social agency – far from it. Anarchists simply recognise that our actions and interactions are always in a process of sustaining and transforming the structures of modern power and if we want to transform these structures it is probably best to build alternatives in the here and now while actively campaigning to bring down ‘the shell of the old’. The question is whether we do so with our eyes open or closed to the effects of our individual and social agency and whether we chose to ‘change the world without taking power’ [27] or whether we entrench the structures of global and local power by participating in the trappings of liberal democracy.

This forum is by no means the first time these issues have been discussed within IR. Consider Chomsky’s prolific engagement with US foreign policy, and the corresponding silence in IR that accompanies it. [28] Prichard’s work on Proudhon’s international political theory has been an attempt to bring back to the foreground one of the most prolific pre-disciplinary theorists of international relations. [29] In the 1970s Richard Falk and Thomas Weiss, now the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestine and the previous President of the International Studies Association respectively, published two exploratory pieces on the virtues of anarchist political philosophy for students of world affairs. [30] Since then, Scott Turner has shown the merits of an anarchist ethic of mutual aid to counter the Hobbesian egoism so prevalent in mainstream apologies for domination, and outlined an anarchist approach to human rights. [31] Shorter fragments can be found in Fred Parkinson’s survey of pre-disciplinary approaches to world politics, [32] while it escapes many that Ken Booth’s call for an ‘utopian realism’ was crafted with an anarchistic global ‘community of communities’ in mind. [33] Andrew Linklater, while by no means an anarchist himself, [34] has called for a turn to anarchism to help think through conceptions of citizenship in a post-statist order and Thomas Hugelin has asked whether the current resurgence in post-statist understandings of federalism suggests that this is ‘yet the age of anarchism’? [35]

This forum does quite different things. This forum is a collection of five papers drawn from a series of sixteen on the subject of anarchism and world politics presented at the University of Bristol in the summer of 2010. Responding to a general call, the papers presented were both surprising in their scope and heartening in their analytical novelty and depth. Since it was impossible to publish everything together and the editors at Millennium generously offered the forum in advance of the conference, the papers collected here constitute a cross section of the four approaches investigated in the conference and capture a flavour of that event. The four emergent areas of analysis were: international political theory, history of ideas, empirical or case-study-driven analysis and theory-driven analysis of specific cases. [36]

Adam Goodwin’s paper provides an important correction or counterpoint to the Malthusian and Social Darwinist tendency in Bradley Thayer’s bolstering of Realism by turning to Kropotkin’s mutual aid theory. The paper illustrates how re-orienting analysis of the global from the perspective of the social can correct the individualist and reductionist bias in Thayer’s analysis. His turn to the political ontology of critical realism to support this methodology has the political consequence of eroding the normative and analytical centrality of the state in IR and making more room for other more localised understandings of collective autonomy and agency. Erika Cudworth and Steve Hobden illustrate the affinities between anarchist theory and complexity theory and how the two bring into question some of the standard assumptions in IR theory, particularly surrounding the regulation of complex systems by the state and the questioning of the centrality of the state to analysis of the global. Prichard’s paper provides an ethical and normative justification for an anarchist international political theory by drawing parallels between the work of David Held and wider anarchist writings on autonomy and social emancipation. The paper argued that Held’s global social democratic project underestimated the tendency of the state to erode autonomy and that anarchist critiques of the state could act as an important corrective to Held’s theory while also initiating a debate between anarchist and post-Marxist theories of autonomy.

Chris Rossdale’s case-study-driven paper took up the issue of agency in IR and in Critical Security Studies in particular and argued that a focus on grass roots social activisms helps us reconfigure how we understand the relationship between the local and the global. By looking at how anti-arms trade activists confront militarism and foreign policy in their direct actions, we can see alternative ways through which international political agency can be exercised by ordinary people. Daniel Murray’s paper was a theoretically-driven analysis of the newest social movements in which he developed a three-part taxonomy of different aspects and moments of anarchist organising, from the local affinity group to the network to the social forum, to suggest how we might see anarchism as a lived global practice in its own right. April Carriere’s paper presents a fascinating analysis of the intricate and highly coordinated activities of indigenous movements in Bolivia. Their anarchic practices and autonomous social organisation has achieved huge material gains that are actively defended against the encroachments of state or capital. A telling example is the case of failed attempts to privatise water supplies autonomously and collectively established and controlled and the pressuring of the Bolivian state by the same communities who successfully defended themselves against a subsidiary of Coca Cola to renege on IMF deals that would have been damaging to these same autonomous populations.

It is impossible to foresee the impact these papers will have, but it is clear that they engage with debates current in the broad church that is IR and can find a comfortable home here. Anarchism, as an inspiring social praxis and intellectual tool kit, brings a new perspective to the global discipline, the heir of classical social theory, which can empower the disempowered and shame the dominating. Much of this terrain has been opened up by feminist, Marxist and poststructutralist IR theory, [37] and in the wider anarchist literatures critical theory, feminism, poststructuralism (and even Marxism [38]) has had an equal impact. But a widespread academic anarchist engagement with the global has yet to capture the imagination of students of the field and pique the curiosity of our more open-minded colleagues, indeed, much of this terrain remains to be charted by the anarchistically inclined. While this is for the future, I hope I have made clear that this is not the beginning, nor is this an opening statement of intent. There is and always has been much more out there and there is far more to come. We are everywhere. [39]

*Special thanks to all the participants and paper-givers at the ‘Anarchism and World Politics’ colloquium held at the University of Bristol in June 2010. Thanks also Paul Kirby, Marta Higenzi and Jasmine, the editors at Millennium, for their enthusiastic support and intellectual input in this forum. The forum and the cooloquium which proceeded it was made possible by generous support from the ESRC. Grant code: ????

[1]Herring Forum on Chomsky (RIS) and Activism (Millennium). Day, Graeber (the new anarchists), Gordon, Epstein, Jun (ed) Amster et al (ed) Purkis (ed)

[2] Schmidt

[3] See Robert Powell

[4] (ISQ 1990)

[5] Jarvis

[6] Male Paranoia – Keohane (BJPIR 2009)

[7] (CRIA 2009)

[8] Jonathan Joseph, Gramscians etc.

[9] Teschke

[10] Linklater and RIS special ed.

[11] NASPIR and forum in Millennium 35:1 2006).

[12] Monks Mandarins and Technocrats

[13] Yes. See Oliver Daddow –IR Theory

[14] Simon Luck

[15] Colin Ward, James Scott

[16] Uri Gordon AS article. Proudhon Principle of Federation (Pg…)

[17] Marshal, Iain McKay AFAQ

[18] Contemp Anarchist Studies, 21st Century Anarchism, New Perspectives on Anarchism, Anarchism (Kinna), Anarchism and Ethics; Anarchism and Christianity; Anarchism and Syndicalism; etc.

[19] See Kinna

[20] Max Cafard, I am Dynamite

[21] Black Flame; cf. Robert Graham Anarchism: documentary history of lib ideas.

[22] Temma Kaplan

[23] Uri 33

[24] Thomas

Notes :

[1Herring Forum on Chomsky (RIS) and Activism (Millennium). Day, Graeber (the new anarchists), Gordon, Epstein, Jun (ed) Amster et al (ed) Purkis (ed)


[3,See Robert Powell

[4(ISQ 1990)


[6Male Paranoia – Keohane (BJPIR 2009)

[7(CRIA 2009)

[8Jonathan Joseph, Gramscians etc.


[10Linklater and RIS special ed.

[11NASPIR and forum in Millennium 35:1 2006).

[12Monks Mandarins and Technocrats

[13Yes. See Oliver Daddow –IR Theory

[14Simon Luck

[15Colin Ward, James Scott

[16Uri Gordon AS article. Proudhon Principle of Federation

[17Marshal, Iain McKay AFAQ

[18Contemp Anarchist Studies, 21st Century Anarchism, New Perspectives on Anarchism, Anarchism (Kinna), Anarchism and Ethics; Anarchism and Christianity; Anarchism and Syndicalism; etc.

[19See Kinna

[20Max Cafard, I am Dynamite

[21Black Flame; cf. Robert Graham Anarchism: documentary history of lib ideas.

[22Temma Kaplan

[23Uri 33


[25David Harvey, George Monbiot, Naomi Klein



[28Chomsky’s books on IR:…. See Herring and Robinson forum on Chomsky and also guy in RIS. See also Brown on Chomsky in UIR.


[30Weiss and Falk

[31Turner a and b



[34Interview with Shan


[36These papers are available [[http://www.anarchist-studies-network.org.uk/Rethinking_Anarchy%3A_Anarchism_and_International_Relations along with audio files of the presentations and Q&A

[37See ISQ on Posties, RIS special issue on critical theory, International Affairs on Marxism and IR, Feminism and IR, activism and IR forum in Millennium. See post-anarchist literature. Newman, May, Call. Anarchist-communist writings, anarcha-feminism

[38See Berry, Kinna et al forthcoming.

[39We Are Everywhere

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