Chapter Two
Anarchism and Education

I. Introduction
Bookchin’s life and work and the development of this theory of social ecology were
deeply enmeshed with a number of the radical left social movements of his time. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century social anarchist movements were to have a profound impact upon the way he conceived of social change toward a more equitable and ecological society free of domination and hierarchy. In this chapter, I first outline the distinctions between anarchism as a political philosophy and that of liberal democratic theory upon which much of educational philosophy is based. Additionally, I compare/contrast the anarchist perspective on education with that of Marxian critical pedagogy and highlight some of the important overlaps and differences between the two. Secondly, as social ecology is largely rooted in the social anarchist tradition, I briefly sketch out the principles upon which the social anarchist position (on the state, on authority, on human beings’ way of interacting with and relating to one another) rests. Next, I consider some of the anarchist critiques of state-controlled schooling.

Following this discussion of what I call traditional anarchism (largely rooted in late nineteenth and early twentieth century European workers’ movements), I examine some of the foundational principles of contemporary anarchism, beginning in the 1960’s and continuing up through the present.
Finally, I sketch a brief outline of what it might look like to utilize anarchist principles as an organizing framework for education, but save a more detailed discussion of this topic for Chapter Six.

While I will save a more thorough examination of social ecology for later chapters, it is important to identify some of its major tenets as they are specific articulations of anarchist principles within the realms of philosophy, politics, and social relations that have particular relevance for an educational model aimed toward direct democracy. Briefly, these principles include: a contextualist view of human nature; the importance of non-hierarchical, non-coercive relations; radically democratic, participatory decision-making; decentralization of institutions
and decision-making processes; and the direct self-management of community issues and institutions by the individuals that inhabit those communities.
Because it lies outside the liberal, pragmatic philosophical tradition and does not take for granted the necessity of the State, anarchism has been summarily rejected by many academics without serious consideration of its principles, history, or development. Other scholars within the educational community suggest that associations within the popular imagination between anarchism and disorder/violence have resulted in its failure to be taken seriously as a legitimate
theoretical framework for education (Bowen & Purkis, 2005). Additionally, there are those that attribute anarchism’s absence from critical educational discourse to this discourse’s foundation and subsequent development within Marxist and neo-Marxist theory and critique that rely on the possibility of a central state apparatus. While I agree these are legitimate explanations for the lack of consideration of anarchism within the academy, my feeling is that there are related yet
more pragmatic reasons that the history and philosophy of anarchism and its relationship to education have not been more thoroughly explored within radical/critical/progressive education circles. In short, amidst a time of increased centralization and standardization and the persistence of conservative forces at work in the political, economic, and educational realms, I would argue that even those whose thinking might strongly resonate with an anarchist ethic,philosophy, and worldview are reluctant to name it as such for fear of the direct and concrete as well as subtle and less tangible reprisals that might follow from claiming such an affinity.
The essential point I continually return to in my own work and relationships is that a better, more just, more equitable world is possible and that the way we think about and practice education is fundamental in moving toward realizing this world. This is a belief that led me into and sustained my work as an educator and an academic. It is a belief I share with many other anarchists, both living and dead. As explained by Krimerman and Perry (1966), “anarchism has persistently regarded itself as having distinctive and revolutionary implications for education.
Indeed, no other movement whatever has assigned to educational principles, concepts, experiments, and practices a more significant place in its writings and activities” (11) – outside of perhaps nationalists.
In considering and exploring the relationship between anarchism and education, I need to clarify an essential point at the outset. This exploration is not necessarily an exercise in thinking about how to educate or teach young people how to be anarchists. Rather, the premise underlying this work is that anarchist principles, an anarchist ethics, and an anarchist vision of social change and movement toward a more rational and ecological society can serve as a bedrock for reconsidering how schools are organized and structured, the form and function of
relationships within the school setting, and the interrelationship between the means and the ends of educational endeavors. This last point is the most important. That is, a school based upon anarchist principles should be an example of the future social organization community members desire in the present.

II. Points of Departure: Beyond ‘Liberal’ Education and Marxian Critical Pedagogy, Towards Anarchistic Learning Communities

The ways in which we conceive of the role of education in both fostering democratic selfgovernance and of expanding democratization into the everyday social life of individuals is going to depend heavily upon how we conceive of or envision democracy itself. While we often assume to share a common understanding of what democracy is and what democracy looks like
in practice, I would posit that there is a particular normative understanding of democracy upon which most discussions of politics, citizenship, and education are based. That is, the hegemonic construction of democracy most often rests upon the assumptions of a centralized state, a representative form of government elected by the populace yet often far removed (geographically, socially, and economically) from those it claims to represent, liberal notions of the primacy of individual rights, and the primary role of the citizen as voter, taxpayer, and ‘productive’ (i.e. working) member of the polis. When citizenship is discussed beyond the
confines of simply voter, taxpayer, and worker, as in the case of the ‘participatory’ or ‘active’ citizen, this is most often done within the same commonly understood framework of democracy laid out above. As explained by Claudia W. Ruitenberg (2008), many scholars in the area of citizenship education have, as the starting point for their discussions, the idea of deliberative democracy, as developed in the political philosophy of John Rawls and furthered by educational theorists such as Amy Gutmann (see Gutmann, 1987) and Eamon Callan (see Callan, 1997).

My intention, however, is not to provide an exhaustive account of either liberalism or deliberative democratic theory. Rather, I would like to briefly explore some relevant scholarly literature that takes as its starting point something other than deliberative democracy because it is the normative foundation of liberalism and deliberative democracy and their relationship to politics and citizenship that anarchism seeks to question and challenge. As such, this section
attempts to distinguish anarchism from other radical discourses in education based primarily on the fact that it offers not only critique of existing institutions but also principles by which to reimagine both the political and educational landscape. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) defines democracy in terms of two fundamental principles: that
democracy is characterized by “popular control over public decision making and decision makers” and “equality between citizens in the exercise of that control” (Beetham et al. 2001, 3).
How often this definition is used in discussing democracy and education, not to mention how often it is practiced, is difficult to say. However, this definition is broad enough to encompass a number of different conceptions of the ‘good life’ and specific enough to begin to suggest how schools and what kind of schools might more meaningfully contribute to realizing democracy in
its purest sense – direct democracy (demos + kratia=rule by the people).
Critical pedagogy has been the most widely recognized radical strand within educational thought. Critical pedagogical thought and its explicators have been the most ardent critics of the status quo, capitalist domination, inequality based upon race, gender, sexual orientation, and the like. Critical pedagogues generally focus their examination on “the mediations that link the institutions and activities of everyday life with the logic and commanding forces that shape the
larger social totality” (Giroux, 2009). In other words, the attention of critical pedagogues tends to fall on these “commanding forces” that are often difficult to identify in one’s everyday life but that nonetheless affect one’s thought, behavior, and the possibilities for the full unfolding of one’s individuality and potential.

Generally speaking, critical pedagogues, like their Frankfurt School predecessors, have been strongly influenced by Marxian analyses of society and culture through a more narrow economic lens and tend to view the fragmented human subject as the outcome of the alienation created in and through capitalism. While often negated or consciously overlooked, Paulo Freire’s own commitment to and grounding in Marxist-Socialist thought is most obvious in his early works such as Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970/1993). As Antonia Darder (2009) explains, “Without question, when Freire spoke of the ruling class or the oppressors, he was
referring to historical class distinctions and class conflict within the structure of capitalist society – capitalism was the root of domination” (570).3 In a cyclical process, capitalism feeds off of this void and fragmentation by producing needs and desires that the subject is conditioned to fill through consumption of the products of capitalism (Marcuse, 1964; Fromm, 1976/1997).
Because the material products of capitalism are inadequate and incapable of filling the void that accompanies existence and self-awareness, individuals continually search for more and/or more advanced products to fill the (W)hole. This leaves the process of production and consumption intact, ever expanding, and self-sustaining and renders capitalism the dominant system structuring individual and social experience. Pepi Leistyna and Loretta Alper (2009) articulately
explain this relationship:
While capitalism consists of a structural reality built on political and economic
processes, institutions, and relationships, its proponents also rely on the formative
power of culture to shape the kinds of meaning, desire, subjectivity, and thus
identity that can work to ensure the maintenance of its logic and practice. (501)

Based upon Freire’s (1997) own insistence that his pedagogical project be reconstructed and re-envisioned within different cultural and historical contexts, a number of educational scholars and theorists have critiqued and problematized his work and that of his North American proponents so as to make it more inclusive and to broaden its ability to address the contemporary
constellation of issues related to power, oppression, and liberation (Bowers, 2003; Ellsworth, 1989; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Luke and Gore, 1992; Weiler, 1991) . These critiques have come from a variety of sources and theoretical perspectives (i.e. feminist, post-structural, psychoanalytic, Critical Race Theory, and ecological, to name a few). However, like critical pedagogy itself, these critiques rarely question or offer alternatives to the nexus of centralized power, hierarchy, and monopolized violence that is the state.
As Peter Marshall (1992/2010) describes in his comprehensive historical account of
anarchism, ‘the stream of anarchy’ can be said to reach back as far as pre-historical huntergatherer societies and the ancient Taoism of China. However, as a historically significant and coherent political ideology that took rise in the nineteenth century, any consideration of social anarchism must begin with its fundamental rejection of the state and the multiple layers of hierarchical forms of government associated with it. I would argue it is this characteristic that
most outsiders associate with the word, but it is clear from the wide-ranging theoretical articulations and historical accounts of anarchism ‘in action’ that, as a social doctrine, anarchism goes far beyond a simple rejection of the state and institutionalized forms of authority and offers nothing short of an entirely new way for human beings to relate to one another based upon a particular view of human nature and particular notions of authority, freedom, and community.

While some of these important ideas will be examined more thoroughly later in the
chapter, I would like to provide a few brief comments on each of them here. First, anarchism tends to view human nature as having a roughly equal capacity for competition as it does for cooperation. The social and cultural context in which one is raised and the discourses through which one comes to understand the workings of the world and his/her place within it is what reinforces or provides credence to one of the two tendencies while undermining the other.
Authority, or what might also be called power over, is viewed by anarchists as essentially illegitimate unless it can be sufficiently justified for the specific individual(s) upon which it exerts its influence. For example, a police force may be able to justify its authority over a population upon the basis of providing for that population’s safety and security; however, for any single individual that does not directly consent to that authority, said authority is entirely illegitimate.4 Conversely, freedom is regarded as having its foundation in one’s ability to have a
direct, participatory role in the decisions that most intimately affect one’s life.5 Finally, the anarchist conception of community is generally not something vague or abstract or defined based upon some shared characteristic without spatial or temporal limit (i.e. ‘community of believers’).
Rather, ‘community’, from the anarchist perspective, is defined by the place one lives and the people with which one associates and mutually depends upon for one’s physical and emotional well-being. Community is small, local, and conceived of on the human-scale. In short, community is one’s immediate surroundings and the variety of relationships within those surroundings upon which one depends for survival and consociation.

While the anarchist critique of existing social relations, institutions, and political and economic structures is comprehensive and its vision of a freer and more just and equitable society far-reaching, it is wrong to think that anarchists are indifferent to addressing important social issues within the nation-state and under capitalism and the hierarchical relationships that exist in most realms of public life. A free society is not something that will only be realized after
the ‘revolution’. Individuals and communities, taking direct control of and participating on an equal footing within the realms of social life by which they are most directly affected in the present, will help usher in a more equitable, free, and just society. As explained on the Anarchist FAQ website:
It is this organic evolution that anarchists promote when they create anarchist
alternatives within capitalist society. The alternatives anarchists create (be they
workplace or community unions, co-operatives, mutual banks, and so on) are
marked by certain common features such as being self-managed, being based
upon equality and decentralization and working with other groups and
associations within a confederal network based upon mutual aid and solidarity. In
other words, they are anarchist in both spirit and structure and so create a practical bridge between what is and what is possible.
(, retrieved September 23,

The social anarchist approach to this activity is that of localized and collective action of groups to directly intervene in and change certain aspects of their lives. Social anarchism takes many different forms in many different areas but most often these different forms share the same basic aspects of “collective direct action, self-organization, self-management, solidarity, and mutual aid” (Anarchism FAQ) – all of which are intended to support direct, face-to-face deliberation, discussion, and management of community affairs by members of the community.
I believe the anarchist approach to social change, broadly speaking, and to education more specifically offers new and exciting possibilities for the way we think about pedagogy,
teaching/learning, the philosophical foundations, and school reform and restructuring for civic education centered upon direct democracy. In essence, I am looking to anarchism and social ecology more specifically for a set of structuring principles for education toward direct democracy that go beyond and approach from a different angle those principles/frameworks grounded in the liberal tradition and discussed extensively in the literature concerned with the
link between education and democracy.
Anarchism shares the assumptions of Marxian critical educational discourse regarding the structural inequality of capitalist society, and the possibility of subverting this by means of a critical pedagogy. Explaining some points of convergence between anarchism and critical pedagogy, Judith Suissa (2001) states:

Indeed, the Platonic ideal of education as freedom from illusion is one that
underlies much of the tradition of radical and critical pedagogy, reflecting yet
another point of convergence between liberalism, Marxism and anarchism. Yet
anarchist thinkers would reject both the theory of social reproduction and the
ideas of the socially constructed nature of knowledge implicit in much
contemporary work in critical pedagogy. As an Enlightenment ovement,anarchism involves a great deal of faith in progress and universal values. It is
this, indeed, that separates it from postmodernist theories, in spite of its
decentralist, anti-hierarchical stance. (640)
That said, the fundamental difference between the two schools of thought is the anarchists’ fundamental rejection of the state apparatus.
In his article, “Analytical Anarchism: Some Conceptual Foundations”, Alan Carter
(2000) postulates that clarification of foundational concepts within anarchist political philosophy could aid in helping this perspective gain a foothold in academia similar to that enjoyed by Marxism. He begins with a working definition of anarchism that defines the philosophy as one opposed to substantive political inequalities as well as substantive economic inequalities. From the anarchist perspective, most significant political inequalities, Carter (2000) argues, “are those
that flow from centralized, authoritarian forms of government” (1). According to Carter (2000), anarchism consists of a normative opposition to substantive political inequalities along with an empirical belief that political equality is unavoidably undermined by state power (1).

The opposition to political inequality and the belief that political equality is undermined by centralized authority necessarily makes all anarchists opposed to the state as such. However, Carter reminds us, opposition to the state and, thus, rule is not the same as opposition to society and rules used to structure that society. As he explains,What is surely crucial to any version of anarchism worth its salt is that the anarchist structures it proposes be empowering to those within them and do not lead to a centralization of power or decision-making. Even with those restrictions, the possibilities for anarchist social organization are clearly far
greater than most opponents of anarchism realize or than is portrayed in popular
stereotypes of anarchist practice. (232) Carter (2000) goes on to outline the significant distinctions between anarchism and
Marxism. The first and foremost difference is that Marxists are willing to adopt a vangaurdist approach to revolutionary change and a transitional form of government leading toward a socialist society while anarchists argue that this vanguard would itself develop into a state-like form and that no state-like form could be relied upon to bring about the transition to an egalitarian society (232). In essence, Carter argues that the most sophisticated articulations of Marxist theory draw their focus upon economic forces, economic relations, and political relations
yet ignore political forces (i.e. police and military) that are drawn upon to secure economic control (i.e. ownership of the means of production – tools and raw materials). It is the failure of Marxist theory, according to Carter (2000), to distinguish between political relations and political forces that is the first primary distinction between it and anarchist theory. In other words, just as there is a distinction between relations of production (i.e. relations of effective
control of forces of production) and the forces of production (i.e. labor-power of producing agents and means of production), there should also be a distinction between political relations and political forces (i.e. the forces that empower the state). As Carter (2000) explains:

Included within the set of political relations, constituting the political structure,
are these power relations, essential for enabling and preserving the relations of
control over production and exchange and that are embodied in the various legal and political institutions. The political institutions are relations of…effective
control of the defensive forces. In the modern state, these political forces are
coercive in nature. And such forces of coercion can comprise political laborpower
and means of coercion. (235)
With technological development (i.e. developments in the means of production) comes the transformation of legal and political structures to stabilize required economic relations. Carter (2000) introduces a third factor to help explain “the features of society that otherwise appear to fall outside the ambit of historical materialism (i.e. nationalism). This third important factor can be characterized as (c) self-definition within a community” (238). Insofar as individuals identify
with different groups and that it is within these groups that rational individuals face scarcity, they may choose to plunder the surpluses created by other groups rather than rationally choosing to develop the productive forces. For those that choose systematic plunder of other groups in the face of scarcity, development of the forces of coercion would be of great benefit.

Rather than viewing the nature of a set of production relations as explained by the level of development of the productive forces, Carter explains that a set of production relations in a society is explained by state interests. In order to protect their interests and develop their ability to defend themselves (political forces), state actors have an interest “in selecting and stabilizing appropriate economic relations” through the political forces under their control thereby further
developing these very forces. Finally, Carter argues, it is neither the legal and political institutions nor simply the political actors or individuals but the “rational choices taken by individuals who act within certain relationships to one another” that select economic relations.
The primary implication of Carter’s (2000) State-Primacy Theory flows from this:

given that states select relations of production that are in their interests rather than
egalitarian relations that are in the interests of the mass of the population, then a
necessary (though not necessarily sufficient) condition for human emancipation
and equality must be the abolition of the state by the citizens themselves. (249)
In short, whereas critical pedagogy often argues for the reform of, greater access to, recognition from, and equality within the existing state apparatus, anarchism finds as its starting point an outright rejection of centralized authority, manifested most clearly in the centralized state. While anarchists and Marxian/Neo-Marxian critical pedagogues most certainly share much common ground, this important point of divergence raises an essential question in a discussion of the relationship between education, democracy, and citizenship.
This question asks whether the theories, analyses, and praxis of critical educators and pedagogues are aimed toward providing each human being with greater access to and more equitable distribution of the fruits of modern industrialization, technological development, and political power or if they are more interested in articulating, pursuing, and realizing a completely new (maybe not so new as it may have existed in the past) way of life that has at its center “learning, sociality, community, ‘autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the
intercourse of persons with their environment’” – all of which “work to produce a more democratic and sustainable society that is ‘simple in means and rich in ends’” (Kahn, 2009 quoting Illich, 1977, 44).

In summary, the anarchist perspective differs from Marxian-inspired critical pedagogues’ efforts at social transformation in a number of different ways. Broadly speaking, anarchism stands in opposition to central ownership of the economy and state control of production. It maintains the belief that a transition to a free and classless society is possible without any intermediate period of dictatorship. As Judith Suissa (2010) explains, anarchist opposition to Marxism is rooted in the belief that “by using the state structure to realize their goals, revolutionaries will…inevitably reproduce all its negative features” (Suissa, 2001). Finally,
anarchists commonly hold that the Marxist claim to create a scientific theory of social change will invariably lead to a form of elitism. In contrast, a fundamental aspect of the anarchist position is the belief that the exact form of the future society can never be determined in advance as it involves “as constant, dynamic process of self-improvement, spontaneous organization and free experimentation” (Suissa, 2001, 631).


By Kevin J. Holohan


Submitted to
Michigan State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of


3 That said, a frequent tendency within critical pedagogy is to transmogrify Marxist theories without serious and sustained engagement with Marxism proper. Therefore, the two schools of thought should not necessarily be conflated with one another.

4 Some anarchists go so far as to claim even majority decision-making violates the freedom of or rules over the minority and is, thus, also illegitimate. I, however, do not subscribe to this belief but feel that, while consensus may be the most desirable means of making decisions, there may be instances where the endorsement of the majority must win out.
5 Like notions of human nature and authority, there are as many definitions of ‘freedom’ as there are anarchists. There are really no authoritative definitions of any of these concepts. Their many articulations fall across a wide spectrum that have individualist anarchism at one pole and social anarchism at the other.

About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
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