Thinking About Anarchism: But People Are Selfish


“Human nature being what it is, you could never have an anarchist society – not one in which both individual freedom and co-operation exist anyway”.  How often have people who are fighting for real change heard statements like that?

It is constantly put to you that people are naturally short-sighted, apathetic or prone to violence, and are incapable of creating anything better than the present mess we live in.
The idea that there is some abstract and eternally flawed ‘human nature’ that we can’t do much about gets plenty of plugging from the churches and others with an interest in the present set-up.  But for anarchists the way people behave reflects the type of environment they find themselves in, and not the after-effects of some mythical original sin.

The reason selfishness and self-centred behaviour are so common is because we live in a society where in order to succeed or even survive people must take part in a system of ruthless competition for jobs, money, etc.  Apathy is the result of the lack of power which most of us have over our own lives.  War, crime and poverty all have their roots in the system which puts the accumulation of profits before all else, rather than in some undefined ‘human nature’.

Yet in spite of all the madness of the capitalist system human beings remain social animals (otherwise any form of society would be impossible).  When people are motivated they show themselves capable of tremendous acts of solidarity, such as when they support the struggles of others.  And we can look at the huge public response towards the disasters in Haiti and Pakistan. Although charities cannot tackle the root causes of world poverty, they do show that people are not ‘naturally’ or irredeemably selfish.

However it is during periods of mass struggle that the most striking changes in the everyday attitudes of people take place.  Faced with the struggle against the ruling class, if we are to win, we must act as a class rather than as individuals and must strive to involve as many people as possible.  It is through struggle that we learn the value of group action and co-operation, thereby laying the basis for a new kind of society.

It is the struggle for a better world that creates the spirit of solidarity and the attitudes necessary for an anarchist society to exist.  It is this that makes a new society possible and it is why no small elite or conspiracy can make the revolution.  An anarchist society can only be created by the activity of masses of ordinary people.