An Anarchist FAQ
"An Anarchist FAQ" is a FAQ written by an international work group of social anarchists connected through the internet. It documents anarchist theory and ideas and argues in favor of social anarchism. It also explores other debates internal to the anarchist movement, and counters common arguments against anarchism. It has been in constant evolution since 1995. While it was started as a critique of anarcho-capitalism, by the time it was officially released it had become a general introduction to anarchism.
The FAQ is published under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (copyleft) and it is dedicated "to the millions of anarchists, living and dead, who tried and are trying to create a better world." It was officially released online on July 19, 1996 "to celebrate the Spanish Revolution of 1936 and the heroism of the Spanish anarchist movement."
The FAQ was started in 1995 when a group of anarchists got together in order to write an FAQ arguing against capitalist claims of being anarchists. Those who were involved in the project had spent many hours in on-line debate with self-described anarcho-capitalists concerning whether or not capitalism and anarchism are compatible. Eventually, a group of net-activists decided an FAQ explaining their thoughts on why anarchism and capitalism are incompatible. While the FAQ was written by many collaborators, the main contributors are listed in the introduction as Iain McKay (primary contributor and editor), Gary Elkin, Dave Neal and Ed Boraas, who refer to themselves as "The Anarchist FAQ Editorial Collective." However, the editors eventually decided that an Anarchist FAQ which focused on anarchism itself would be a better idea than one solely devoted to refuting the notion of anarcho-capitalism, and so the Anarchist FAQ was born. The authors acknowledge that "it still bears some of the signs of its past-history. For example it gives the likes of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and so on, far too much space outside of Section F - they really are not that important."
The FAQ thanks the following people for their contributions: Andrew Flood, Mike Ballard, Francois Coquet, Jamal Hannah, Mike Huben, Greg Alt, Chuck Munson, Pauline McCormack, Nestor McNab, Kevin Carson, Shawn Wilbur, "and our comrades on the anarchy, oneunion and organise! mailing lists." A 2003 Critical Studies in Media Communication study declared the FAQ the most prominent core anarchist website, finding that it received incoming links from 20% of the anarchist websites studied.
An Anarchist FAQ as book
An Anarchist FAQ was published in paperback in two volumes by AK Press, Oakland/Edinburgh:
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The editors of the FAQ identify themselves as belonging to the social anarchist branch of anarchism (defined as anarchist-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, collectivist-anarchism and Proudhon's mutualism.) Despite this, the FAQ presents and describes other anarchist schools of thought such as individualist anarchism, anarcha-feminism, and some lesser known theories like platformism and anarcho-primitivism. It cites references from a variety of authors from these schools, and its bibliography contains over five hundred sources. According to the FAQ, anarchism is synonymous with "libertarian socialism", "free socialism", "libertarian communism" and "free communism".
Given the wide range of anarchist ideas, the authors acknowledge that many anarchists will not agree with everything that the FAQ says. However, they express their belief that "most anarchists will agree with most of what we present and respect those parts with which they do disagree with as genuine expressions of anarchist ideas and ideals."
The FAQ also explains disputes within anarchist thought, such as where and why social anarchists and individualist anarchists disagree. As social anarchists, the writers also explain their own views on individualist anarchism, arguing that while individualist anarchism has importance it has contradictions and "many flaws", and stating that it would lead to a "hierarchical and non-anarchist" society. They also defend against individualist anarchists' criticisms of social anarchism, claiming that "much of this opposition was rooted in misunderstandings and, at times, outright distortion."
The FAQ does not accept anarcho-capitalism as part of individualist anarchism, nor of anarchism in general. The FAQ writers explain and criticise anarcho-capitalism in sections F and, to some extent, G of the FAQ. They claim that "outside the net [anarcho-capitalists] are irrelevant and on the net they are just annoying" and call the arguments of anarcho-capitalists "inane'". A critique of Bryan Caplan's "Anarchism Theory FAQ" is also presented in the first appendix, along with arguments that Caplan's FAQ distorts anarchism's relationship with anarcho-capitalism.
Influence and reception
The FAQ has been complimented by several sources. The anarcho-syndicalist Solidarity Federation called it an "invaluable resource" and "highly recommended" for people wishing "to gain a better understanding of anarchism". Flint Jones, a member of NEFAC, hailed the FAQ as "the most comprehensive [anarchist] resource available" The Workers Solidarity Movement, an Irish anarchist group, called it "the primary source of information about anarchism on the world wide web". Quebecer anarchist Normand Baillargeon calls it a "monumental and essential FAQ dedicated to anarchism" The FAQ has been cited by Harvard resident fellow Joseph Reagle "[as] an exemplar of the principles [of community governance]."
In recent years the FAQ has been cited in various published works, such as Viable Utopian Ideas: Shaping a Better World (2003) by Arthur B Shostak, and Utopia and Organization (2002) by Michael Parker. It has been described as "very comprehensive", by Paul Graham and John Hoffman in their Introduction to Political Ideologies (2006). Various versions of the FAQ have been translated into 8 languages, and it has been included in every stable Debian release since 1999.
Richard A. Garner wrote a detailed response to the FAQ, challenging both the history and the rationale for rejecting anarcho-capitalism as "true" anarchism.
An older version of the FAQ was once criticised by one of the anarcho-capitalists it was written to oppose. Writing in 1997 and referring to the 1996 version of the FAQ, David Friedman complained about what he called the authors' "irresponsibility" in making errors in their account of Icelandic history, and by attributing to him a position which he did not hold. He claimed that the authors' methodology was to first "make up their facts," then correct errors as he points them out, hoping that they eventually come up with a true account. The authors corrected their misstatement of Friedman's view in later versions when they became aware of his criticism. While they acknowledged that the 1996 version of the FAQ did contain some errors concerning medieval Iceland and was poorly fact-checked, they denied that this represents a "disregard for the truth", and they argue their critique was still valid despite "some serious errors in details." Friedman has not replied.
Mutualist and individualist anarchist Kevin A. Carson, called the FAQ a "[m]onumental compendium on anarchist history, theory and practice". Carson however disagreed with the FAQ's analysis of anarcho-capitalism. He referred to the FAQ's treatment of anarcho-capitalism as "probably the FAQ's weakest spot", continuing "[While] I consider anarcho-capitalism to be considerably diverged from classical individualist anarchism, [I] also reject any blanket assertion that they can't be 'real anarchists'."
- — Starhawk. "An Anarchist FAQ - Introduction | Kill Capitalism Before it Kills You!". Infoshop.org. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- "A.1 What is anarchism?". Archived from the original on 2009-10-25.
- Section G4 "individualist anarchists...a form of anarchism...with many flaws..." Section A3 "we think social anarchism is more appropriate for modern society"
- "An Anarchist FAQ - Introduction". Infoshop.org. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- "An Anarchist FAQ - Introduction | Kill Capitalism Before it Kills You!". Infoshop.org. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Owens, Lynn; L. Kendall Palmer (2003). "Making the News: Anarchist Counter-Public Relations on the World Wide Web". Critical Studies in Media Communication 20 (4): 335–361. doi:10.1080/0739318032000142007.
- Iain McKay, ed. (2008). An Anarchist FAQ. Stirling: AK Press. ISBN 1-902593-90-1. OCLC 182529204.
- "An Anarchist FAQ - A.3 What types of anarchism are there?". Infoshop.org. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Section A.1
- Section G.4
- "Section G2". Infoshop.org. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Direct Action, no. 44, page 30
- "Anarchist Organization: an Oxymoron, or Not?". Infoshop.org. 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Workers Solidarity, no. 62
- L'order moins le pouvoir: Histoire et actualité de l'anarchisme
- Joseph Reagle. "Why the Internet is Good - Community governance that works well". Cyber.law.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Shostak, Arthur (2003). Viable Uptopian Ideas. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-0-7656-1104-8.
- Parker, Martin (2002). Utopia and Organization. Cambridge: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 978-1-4051-0072-4.
- Hoffman, John (2006). Introduction to Political Ideologies. New York: Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-2439-2.
- Debian Webmaster, firstname.lastname@example.org. "Debian - Details of package anarchism". Packages.debian.org. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Friedman, David D. "Iceland Anarch FAQ2 reply". Retrieved 2007-08-12.
- "An Anarchist FAQ after ten years". Infoshop.org. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- An Anarchist FAQ, David Friedman and Medieval Iceland. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
- Carson, Kevin A. "Mutualist. Org: Free Market Anti-Capitalism: Links". Archived from the original on 18 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-14.