How Will We Thrive in an Anarchist Society?

I cannot emphasise how much I hate this question. It’s something that I find infuriating because it almost never feels like it’s being  asked within the contexts it needs to be. It’s always being used as bait.

From one perspective, it’s something that’s never asked with the intention of actually learning about anarchism. People are attempting a ‘gotcha’, trying to prove that anarchists still need certain structures that “only the State can provide” or pretending that anything we do would create an “anarcho-state” of some sort. The people asking it are looking for concrete answers to everything, refusing to accept that “I don’t know” can be good enough right now. They ignore the fact that all people genuinely don’t know how to solve every problem. They’re people who fail to recognise how the world really works.

From another point of view, generally that taken by self-described anarchists, it’s an assumption that never goes completely explored. It’s something that’s seen as being so obvious that it doesn’t need to be answered even when we demand to think about how society can be structured for the liberation of all people. They’ll tell us that it’s obvious that we’ll thrive because society, when it’s at its best, is anarchic. This is often said by people who haven’t thought much about those who may need a concrete answer of some kind, people who may need reassurances that others will be including them in society. It’s a question that frequently goes ignored by people who’ve rarely ever had to question their safety within general society. Yet, when those of us who are scared of remaining excluded point out how our current existence still draws from the hierarchies we’ve been indoctrinated into, we’re often ignored.

I hate this question, but it’s a question that demands we actually consider it. Not as a gotcha, not in vague speech and pretty slogans, but as a genuine question with many possible answers.

I often feel hopeless, like we’ll never achieve even a modicum of the world where everyone is liberated. This is probably because I spend a lot of time explaining why it is that I think we need to build learning spaces that support everyone, and I waste way too much time explaining why all schools are inherently harmful to children only to be told that we “need” public schools. Hell, I get into so many arguments with people about why we need to ensure that our organising spaces can accommodate anyone of any age. It often feels like I’m screaming at brick walls about how we need to ensure that our movement spaces are accessible in a variety of ways, enabling disabled people, neurodivergent folks, children, and the elderly more opportunities to participate.

It’s so fucking exhausting.

It’s also incredibly demoralising because the response, maybe at its best, is for people to just shrug and continue as they’ve been. Others continue by giving excuses, telling us that there “aren’t enough resources” to make necessary changes or outright claiming that they don’t even need to consider making changes “because no one like that is here” and ignoring how that silences anyone who would dare to contradict them. At its worst, people actively fight back and continue to loudly lambast anyone who would dare change their precious hierarchy.

Of course, they won’t actually claim to be in support of a hierarchy, but it’s beyond obvious that they do. No one who is hostile toward the needs of people, especially marginalised and vulnerable people, can ever claim themselves to be an anarchist. They’re too invested in maintaining the power they have over others while wearing the aesthetic.

It’s too fucking common.

Honestly, it feels as if there are too many people who just absolutely refuse to unlearn any of the hierarchies we were indoctrinated into. It feels as if there are even more who choose to blatantly ignore any systemic oppressions, believing them to be either unimportant or things that we’ve “already dealt with” despite all the evidence to the contrary. It feels like there are too many people out there who are willing to victim blame every single person who has left organising spaces because they were disillusioned with how they were run or never once felt the solidarity of people standing them in their time of need. So many people have given whatever they could to help and had obstacles placed in front of them when trying to even just start projects that mattered to them and others in their lives and would’ve furthered the same goals.

All because someone else wants that credit or wants to be perceived as better than they really are.

So if I were to reflect upon how we could survive in an anarchist society while considering the things I’ve experienced in organising with other anarchists, I would say we couldn’t. We have too many gaping flaws that are just not being worked on, regardless of how often we point them out. There are too many cis men who pretend that the patriarchy was defeated long ago, who continue to push care work on anyone they perceive as feminine. There are too many neurotypical and able-bodied folks who refuse to work with disabled people to ensure that our needs can be adequately met. There are too many people who focus on the superiority of citizens and ignore the needs of migrants. There are too many people who still adhere to racist structures, refusing to recognise even the small ways in which they perpetuate them. And it is still far too common for families to be pushed out of spaces, focusing on adults without children.

These aren’t even all of the problems we need to deal with, either. There are just too many holes for me to confidently say that we could thrive in an anarchist society because it requires actually doing the work to support those around us and their needs.

To put it simply, if people do not make fundamental changes to how they recognise the humanity of others, many of us will not survive in any society let alone an anarchist one.

Now, none of this is to say that an anarchist society will not support everyone. Without a doubt, I believe that the only way we’ll ever really be able to thrive and have a healthy future where everyone’s liberation is on the table is through anarchism. The problem is less with anarchism as a set of principles that many people share, but it most certainly falls with anarchists as a flawed group of people with a lot to (un)learn.

That is truly our biggest obstacle.

We’ve all grown up with these hierarchies drilled into our heads from birth. We can’t just simply denounce them and pretend we’ve done everything there is to do. This is why, despite so many of us pointing out the ways that patriarchy continues to harm everyone, it is able to persist through the blatant denials of those who refuse to listen to its victims. This is why we still have a culture that supports abusers, giving them multiple chances and a ridiculous amount of space within our spaces, while victims are left to struggle in almost every way possible. It’s why, even through the claims of anti-racism, so many people gaslight others into pretending that it has all been solved.

We say that we support victims, we say that we’re anti-racist, we say that we support all genders. But do we actually believe that? Have we done any of the work to dismantle those structures in our own brains? Do we do anything when we see injustices happening?

If I were to base it on what I see now, I would be inclined to say no. Far too many people are comfortable in stating they hold beliefs that they act counter to.

It is a lot of work to remove these hierarchies from our own brains, and much of this is part of a personal journey. This doesn’t mean we have to do all of it alone, but it is something that we need to be willing to work on. There are far too many people who think they’ve ‘finished’ their journey just because they’ve recognised that they maintain harmful views about a demographic of people. The recognition is only the beginning of the journey. We need to be able to question the thoughts and beliefs that we have as we go along, and we need to do that in real-time. We need to be able to think about the choices we make. We need to be able to listen when someone tells us we’re fucking up and not fight so goddamned hard because we intended to do well.

For me, this is the first step to being able to successfully create and live in an anarchist society. Yet so many people have missed this crucial step in their learning processes, and it often creates hostile environments for the rest of us.

Supposing people finally get past that point, the rest of it is uncertain. I don’t know what, precisely, that ‘anarchist future’ will look like or how we even get there. This is something that frustrates many people, particularly non-anarchists. They want exact and concrete answers to problems, rather than merely possible solutions that we could use.

I get that. Too many people have been burned by lack of inclusion, by people making decisions for them and either being forced to rely upon either a system that was designed to fail or a very small handful of people they trust. And this is something that far too many anarchists fail to recognise, particularly if they don’t find themselves struggling under that specific oppression. Many barely see it in their own actions and thoughts, maintaining that they don’t have any bigotries because of their political alignments. This is particularly common among people who, wherever they may be, are part of the local hegemonic demographic and haven’t had to interact with some of the most oppressive structures around them.

But the people who really weaponise this supposed “uncertainty” are those who seek to undermine it in bad faith. Uncertainty is normal, but there are those who use it as one more element to attempt to play gotcha games. This applies to both non-anarchists and self-described “anarchists” alike, and the primary reason is to score ‘political points’ for their specific party or view. They want to pretend that we have “no plans” and “no goals” because we don’t have concrete solutions that can be enacted immediately or everywhere. This is an intentional misrepresentation of how anarchists tend to think, which is largely why many of us tend to be drawn to anarchism in the first place.

This bit is going to be anecdotal because I don’t have formal research or evidence to claim that it’s the truth, but there are patterns that I tend to notice in the anarchists I spend time with both offline and online. There are consistently appearing traits that I observe in the people that I organise with, and it’s the reason I continue to both work with and develop relationships with them.

These characteristics include that we tend to be very fluid thinkers, often willing to quickly integrate new knowledge and adapt to tactics and strategies that work better. When someone presents us with criticisms about how something is happening, we are more likely to stop and figure out how we can address them. If we encounter problems that we’ve not encountered, we are likely to stop and reflect upon how we can deal with it. Is there something we’ve done before that could work? Let’s try it. Did it fail? Let’s see what we can do instead.

The anarchist folks I spend the most time with recognise that we can’t just do the same things all the time. They are full of incredibly creative people who want to use that creativity to improve other people’s lives and material realities.

It’s impossible to turn these kinds of responses to problems into policy. It wouldn’t make sense to have legislation about, for example, disabilities that includes phrases like “we’ll just wing it” or “we’ll see when we get there” for problems we haven’t previously encountered or haven’t yet found solutions to, but that’s how the world works. What policy did we have that created the curb cut? How have dyslexic people figured out how to read, even as specialists have failed to help many of us? How have people with ADHD learned to exist, even when they’re prevented from taking medications they may need?

How many times have we had to solve our own problems because the systems refused it? Because a policy said we couldn’t do it? Because, even though a law existed, obstacles were put into place to deny access to things we needed?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve never received services I was told I could get, regardless of how correct my paperwork was. We’ve all had to solve our own problems, individually and through sharing our experiences. We don’t need formal policies to do that because we can do and have done that on our own. I have been forced to solve so many of my own problems through trial and error, through interactions with other people who’ve had to go through the same issues. We don’t need the legislation. We’ve never needed it.

But we do need people to listen to our needs and be willing to work with us to address them. We need them to understand our fears about being, once again, left out. I understand why so many marginalised people bristle at the lack of concrete solutions, especially because that gives them a perception of safety. They know that a tool, however useless it might be, exists. It’s something they can point to when they need to really find ways to push people to treat them correctly. These wouldn’t exist in an anarchist society.

But we would, and we have to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. “No one is left behind” should be far more than a pithy slogan. It should be reality.

This kind of treatment is also clear in how people view children. When conversations of youth liberation are brought up, the initial response of many is to make fun of bedtime discourse in order to bait people into arguing about it or claim that anarchists  who support getting rid of homework “just didn’t want to do it” when they were kids. They want to make it clear how “immature” we are for thinking that children should have more of a say in their own lives, and they do this by exaggerating what they perceive as being the “most absurd” opinions that anarchists have.

Never do they stop and actually consider how strictly enforced bedtimes can hurt a child’s health or how the excuse of a child who “isn’t obeying” their bedtime (for whatever reason) can be folded into the logic that enables some parents and caregivers to abuse or neglect them. They don’t stop to consider how homework interferes in the lives of children (who have already put in a full and completely pointless workday, for free) and how it prepares them for taking on unpaid overtime in the future. These things have many legitimate criticisms—far more than those I used—and people, just to gain their political ‘gotcha’ points, love to denigrate them without even taking time to consider the issues.

Rarely do people stop and consider the ways in which children are treated by their families and society at large as property and how we continue to oppress them, removing so much of their ability to have agency in their own lives. We fail to acknowledge that there are serious conversations to be had around the ways that children exist within our societies and how adult supremacy continues to push them out and away from spaces that should support them. We continue to exclude children from our organising spaces by focusing on the needs of adults without children. They are treated as if the only thing they can ever be to anyone is a nuisance or an inconvenience.

We give them no space to genuinely learn or make decisions for themselves. We provide them little safety, especially for those who live with dangers in their own homes. They are used as pawns by nearly every political movement. We even force them into institutions that will never support them and try to coerce them into whatever is most profitable, ignoring how unsafe those spaces are to their mental and physical health.

But should we finally be able to live in an anarchist society, we have to acknowledge that all people should have agency in their own lives. Everyone needs access to the tools and strategies that enable them to live their lives to the fullest, regardless of how old they are. We cannot continue to exclude anyone on the flimsiest of circumstances. We must create spaces where everyone can learn, where learning is seen to be continuous and never-ending, where we can change our own paths to whatever we want or whatever is needed.

We need to imagine a world where everyone is understood to be a whole person and part of the community.

I hate this question, but It’s a necessary question that needs some kind of answers. It’s a question that prompts reflection about the ways in which we relate to others around us and whether or not the ways we engage in them are healthy. It’s a question that lets us think about our context, about solutions that we have already seen, and how they might be adapted to our own context should it seem right.

It gives us time to pause, reconsider, adapt, integrate, and create. We need that more than anything right now.

The unfortunate part is that these answers may never be pleasing to hear because so many of them will be vague and sound uncertain, but that uncertainty is required. There are so many options we have never considered because we haven’t dared to dream beyond what’s currently available. For many of us, we’ve been punished for thinking “outside the box.” And even when there are options we’ve been aware of, we haven’t even bothered to do them because there are far more excuses that enable us to do nothing than even putting forth what little we have to try.

But we need people to think differently, to expand beyond what’s currently believed to be possible. We need everyone to admit that there are times where they don’t have the answers, where they don’t know something, where they can admit that they might be wrong. We need them to do this because it means that people who might have an idea of how to solve a problem, especially one that isn’t flashy or worthy of publicity, can actually be heard rather than spoken over. We need this because that helps us to learn and grow, and it helps us to better understand others and what they know.

We know what little the State has done to placate us while others are ignored and silenced. We can do it ourselves.

But just as much as we need to be willing to (un)learn and be willing to act, we also need to listen. We need to be silent, to hear hard truths, to integrate new knowledge even if it might be painful.

And I think genuinely asking how we can thrive in an anarchist society is what we need to do, but not as a ‘gotcha’.

We need to ask it as a way to understand where we are and how we keep going.