A Cross-Ideological Survey of Anarchists

In my research into different anarchist philosophies, one of the many things I’ve wanted to learn is what those who think of themselves as anarchists think of one another, who among them might be able to work together, and who among them might be able to coexist on the off chance that nation-states were abolished.

In conversations I have had with a prominent member of our group, whose online alias is Hogeye, my friend has told me that he thinks anarcho-capitalists, (what he thinks of himself as,) anarcho-communists, mutualists, and so on and so forth are mostly “anarchists without adjectives at heart,” and that they could peacefully coexist in a Stateless world. His vision of a Stateless society is one of a variety of enclaves with different property norms, each respecting the norms of the others. He thinks of anarchism, as a philosophy, as being interchangeable with different economic systems, with the core principle being that “the State is an unnecessary evil and should be abolished,” and with the property norms and economic system one prefers to live within being secondary, and merely a matter of preference.

While my impression from reading discussions among those who call themselves “anarchists” has been one of animosity, coming from all sides and going towards almost all others, Hogeye told me some months back that he has done polls of anarchists, and that the data vindicates his beliefs. He suggested that the enmity I observed was that of a vocal minority, rather than any sort of majority.

Recently, in a Facebook group called “Ancap Vs Ancom Debate Group,” Hogeye created another poll similar to those he had told me he’d done in the past. (In fact, he created the poll in response to a comment I had made on one of his others posts in the group, in which he made fun of “Sectarians” and I said “Seems like almost everyone in this group is a sectarian.) In his poll, he asked whether people agreed with the following claim:

In a stateless world, anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists would peacefully coexist. Local resource usage conventions would generally be respected.

The possible choices were as follows:

As far as commentary on this question, I have a few points:

First, one respondent, (who identified as “individualist anarchist,”) said as a comment to this first question: “It is not an ideology.”

Fair enough. I wondered, in using the word “ideology,” if anyone would make a comment like this, since I know some people don’t like the word, thinking of it as implying dogmatism or having other negative connotations. I thought about saying “philosophical position,” but this seems out of place since the division between the listed groups seems more about economics than philosophy. I could have also asked, “What group do you identify with,” but I didn’t want to encourage people to think in terms of in-groups and out-groups. Even with such a seemingly simple question, it’s hard to find a neutral wording.

Second, another comment, (also, perhaps interestingly, from someone who identified with individualist anarchism,) was the following:

Fascinating that this lists only anarchist branches defined by economic takes. No transhumanists or primitivists listed. No insurrrectionary anarchism, no post-left. This reads like someone totally out of touch with the actual anarchist movement.

In my defense, (being the person who came up with the questions, and the possible answers,) I originally came up with a much, (much, much,) longer, more in depth survey, and then started over when I admitted that it was far too long and in depth. I had been going to include at least a few dozen possible answers to pick from when asking what philosophical position people held. A friend suggested that I pick out what I thought might be the top 5, and then let people unsatisfied with any of these pick “other” and elaborate in the comment form. “Transhumanism”, “primitivism”, and “insurrectionary anarchism” were all options I originally included, though “post-left” had not occurred to me.

This being the first survey of this sort that I have conducted, I had no idea how many responses I might receive, or who might be most likely to respond, or how patient those who responded might be. I wanted to keep the survey condensed to try and make sure as many people finished it as possible. If I had offered more possible answers in this list, I might have had fewer people respond, and I doubt the results would have been much clearer, especially since I did include an “other” option and an ability to leave a comment. I think that, no matter how many options I had included, it would almost have been inevitable for me to have left out something.

Third, and most importantly: when I discussed the results of the survey with a few other people in the Ozark Voluntaryists’ September Meetup, (earlier results than I’m discussing here, not including quite as many responses,) someone asked me if I thought that the survey results were a good indication of how many people belonged to each group, relative to the others? Given that slightly more than half of respondents said they were anarcho-capitalists, does this mean ancaps greatly outnumber the rest in real life?

To this question, I give the same answer I did during our in-person get-together: I don’t think so, no.

My post soliciting responses in the r/Anarchism subreddit was down-voted and quickly ended up on the second page of results, where I expect few people saw it. While my post in r/AnarchismOnline received some upvotes, the comments there and in the post on r/Anarchism gave me the strong impression that many people perceived the survey as being biased towards an anarcho-capitalist viewpoint. While not everyone in the anarcho-capitalist subbreddits seemed to think I had worded my questions super well either, the overall response in r/GoldandBlack and r/Anarcho_Capitalism seemed more positive. I expect that most anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists frequent r/Anarchism far more often than they do the last two subreddits. This hypothesis explains the lack of results from people who said they held those positions, it seems they were both less likely to see the survey and less likely to be interested in taking it if they did see it.

Similarly, r/mutualism does not permit surveys to be posted, so there I was unable to solicit feedback at all. There is a discussion group on facebook for mutualists in which I posted about my survey, and a few people there seemed to have a good reaction, but even though Mutualism ranked last out of the five main options given, I want to warn against taking this as evidence that not many mutualists exist in the real world, compared to the other groups. This may be the case, but there are problems with basing this conclusion off the results of the present survey.

2) The second question asked, “For each of the following ideologies, please tell us whether or not you would consider it to be a form of anarchism.” Respondents could then answer “yes,” “no,” “unsure,” or “no response,” for each of the five positions from question one.

Below I present the results as bar graphs. Each graph is for what people think of a given ideology, e.g. graph one shows who considered anarcho-capitalism to be a form of anarchism. The x-axis shows which ideology the respondent identified with themselves. Just for clarification:

“Ancaps” shows the respondents who identified with “Anarcho-capitalism”
“Ancoms” – “Anarcho-communism”
“Mutualists” – “Mutualism”
“Individualists” – “Individualist Anarchism”
“Ansyns” – “Anarcho-syndicalism”
“Others” – “Some other form of anarchism”
“Nonanarchists” – “I am not an anarchist”





A few thoughts on these responses:

53 people said they did not consider Mutualism to be a form of anarchism. This worried me a bit, just because the first person to explicitly call himself an “anarchist,” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was also a mutualist. 44 of these respondents identified as anarcho-capitalists, interestingly.

Unfortunately, I did not include a comment box for this question, and so can only speculate on the reasoning behind the responses. I did this for the same reason that I limited the number of included ideologies and the number of questions over all, because I worried that the longer I made the survey the fewer responses I might receive.

Only 1 anarcho-communist said they thought of anarcho-capitalism as a form of anarchism. Two ancoms also responded that they were uncertain, and one anarcho-syndicalist responded that they accepted it as a form of anarchism. The majority of both groups said that they did not consider anarcho-capitalism to be a form of anarchism. This appears to confirm one of the claims that I have read in various places online, that anarcho-communists and similar do not consider anarcho-capitalism to be “real” anarchism, although it seems that for a tiny fraction of them this might not be the case. I am glad to have actual data to look at, now, rather than just having to guess about whether such claims are correct or not.

Another way to look at this data is to ask what percentage of respondents who identified with one of the “anarchist” positions, (“anarcho-capitalism,” “anarcho-communism,” “mutualism,” “individualist anarchism,” “anarcho-syndicalism,” or “some other form of anarchism,”) considered each group to be a form of anarchism. In particular, what happens if we look at these percentages only for respondents who did not identify with a position. In other words, what percentage of “anarchists” other than “ancaps” considered “anarcho-capitalism” to be a form of anarchism, and so on for each position. The following graph provides this information.

What I found most interesting about this was that “individualist anarchism” seems to be the most accepted, while “anarcho-capitalism” is the least accepted, even though most of those who identified as individualist anarchists considered “anarcho-capitalism” to be a form of anarchism. I wonder whether respondents would give the same answers, if they had thought that most “individualists” would say that they thought of “ancaps” as anarchists.

Of course, I have not yet discussed the last two questions.

3)

Question three asked, “Do you believe that anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists could peacefully coexist in a stateless world?”

This was my version of the question which Hogeye asked on Facebook. The results were as follows:

The difference between “Yes” and “No” was only 7 people, while 109 people, over a fifth of respondents, said that they were “uncertain,” and another 5 offered no response.

It’s interesting to speculate about what relation, if any, the different wording between my poll and Hogeye’s Facebook poll had on the answers. Hogeye, recall, asked if people agreed with the statement, “In a stateless world, anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists would peacefully coexist. Local resource usage conventions would generally be respected.” While Hogeye didn’t use the word “enclave” in his question, when I talked with him about the results of our polls in our September meetup he reiterated that a collection of enclaves with different property norms was what he imagined a stateless world having.

Part of the reason I worded the question differently was because I did not want to imply that a stateless world would necessarily be divided up into a collection of enclaves, with the norms one lived within being based on where one resided. The idea of statelessness being reduced to a number of gated communities, and the thought that people would need to physically relocate in order to withdraw from one association or group of people and join another, or in order to stop being bound by the rules of a particular community, bothers me. I want a stateless world where the cost of opting out of one group and joining another is minimized, and moving is costly.

Hogeye suggested, when I brought up these concerns in our meetup this month, that an “enclave” in his idea of statelessness could be as small as a household. This does change my opinion of his proposed social system a bit.

But, in constructing my own survey, I had something of a dilemma. I did not want to launch into an explanation of how the different groups might peacefully coexist, I wanted to know if respondents thought there was any way the groups could peacefully coexist. It’s possible that more people might have been able to form an opinion one way or the other if I had offered some explanation, but my own ideas about how anarchists could resolve disputes is a little bit complicated. Going into detail would have had at least two disadvantages, I think: first, I would expect far fewer people to have made it all the way through the survey, if anyone had, and second, I would be getting people’s opinions on my own proposed dispute resolution system, rather than on whether peaceful coexistence is possible at all.

Another point, question three only mentions anarcho-communists and anarcho-capitalists, no other groups. This is rather problematic, because it fails to get us a great deal of information about whether people think other self-identified “anarchists” could coexist with each other. I did the survey this way, yet again, to try to keep it short. All my ideas for getting better information kept leading me back to “ask more questions, lots more questions,” and I expected that to be a bad idea.

4)

Question four asked, “In a stateless world, would you personally be willing to refrain from engaging in violence against other self-identified anarchists if they agreed not to engage in violence against you, even if you had values that you thought were incompatible with theirs?”

In the results displayed in the following graph, (including the “overall” set,) I omit the answers given by those who chose “I am not an anarchist” in question one. In case anyone wants to know their responses too, though, eight said “Yes,” one said “No,” and two said “Uncertain.”

Even though this last question is the one I was most interested in, personally, it was the one I found most difficult to try and word, and the one that I think I ended up wording the most poorly.

And yet, I am inclined to be happy with the results. Intuitively, my overall impression from the whole survey is that people from different “sides” don’t trust each other, but do not feel a need to start any sort of fight with other groups. People seem to expect others to attack them, but not intend to attack others.

That 401 people, about 85% of respondents, said they would be willing to refrain from violence against other “self-identified” anarchists is already quite interesting, especially in contrast to the uncertainty displayed in the answers to question 3. More interesting still is how various respondents interpreted the question.

On Reddit, one person had the following to say regarding this question:

Even without ancaps I can’t agree with this statement because it ignores third parties. Just because someone isn’t violent towards me doesn’t mean they can’t be violent towards someone else, in which case I might be morally obligated to intervene.

Another Redditor responded in agreement:

Yes. Good point. Makes things a little too individualistic. Anarchists generally also believe in mutual aid, and we shouldn’t exclude safety and security from that.

This is not something that had occurred to me when phrasing the question, and I am glad someone pointed it out. Comments given in the survey itself echo this sentiment:

  • Violence against one is violence against all.
  • This question entirely ignores whether or not the individuals in question were undertaking violence against OTHER PEOPLE. Anyone only concerned with themselves is a mere garden variety sociopath, not an anarchist. Anarchism means seeking freedom for ALL.And it seems to be worded in a way suggesting a very thin and immediate notion of violence. If someone’s slowly building a nuclear bomb with the intent to kill millions he may not be violent in the moment, but his actions are leading towards violence in the future.I’m a consequentialist, not a contractarian. If someone’s set up an ancap island of oligarchical absolute control by a few and defacto impoverished slaves (but no NAP violations) then I’m certainly going to smuggle guns to the defacto slaves and help them overthrow the oligarchs/bosses/capitalists.
  • Two problems, at least: If they promise not to be violent toward me, but insist on, say, enslaving black people, I can’t promise to stay out of their way.I can’t help if others call behavior violent which I don’t consider violent. For example, I don’t believe inanimate objects can experience violence.

I agree with the sentiment here, I would also want to leave myself open to help defend other people, and I would want any agreement made with others to take the possibility of harm done to third parties into account.

These comments actually seem like a small reason for hope, or optimism, to me. Two of the above commenters answered “No” to the question, while one answered “Unsure.” Given their comments, perhaps some of those who answered “No” might have answered “Yes” had the question explicitly taken third parties into account. If so, this might mean that the results actually overestimate the number of people who would pick fights with other anarchists.

On the other hand… There are a variety of other problems with the question.

For one thing, the question specifies “In a stateless world,” yet some people hold that some of the groups discussed in the survey require a State in order to implement their ideal society. Based on the comments given, different respondents seem to have intended different things by their answers, not everyone who answered “Yes” necessarily meant that they would refrain from violence against anyone in the 5 main groups the survey discusses, or against anyone who thought of themselves as an anarchist.

The word “violence” caused the biggest problem, and gave me the biggest surprise, and the most worry.

At the risk of repeating myself, I acknowledge that I could have asked more questions, and made the questions that I did ask more in depth. I could have attempted to describe different possible scenarios in detail, and asked what people would do in the different scenarios, or I could have asked more specific questions about what sorts of things people would consider “aggression” and/or retaliate against, and how they would be willing to retaliate.

I did not ask these sorts of questions, but, given that a lot of people were willing to take this survey, and given the feedback I’ve received, I may try again in the future with different questions.

In any case, I found it interesting that the meaning of the word “violence” seemed so contested, based on the comments given. Some anarcho-capitalists said that they considered theft or violation of property to be a form of violence, while some non-ancaps said that they expected ancaps to consider violation of ancap property norms to be violence, and that they expected this to lead to violent conflict, as they would not respect the ancaps’ “private property.”

Now, in asking the question, I wanted people to answer based on what the word “violence” meant to them. This is why the comment form was available, so that respondents could explain how they interpreted the questions. Yet, I was still surprised by the responses, somehow I had not expected such a varied set of explanations of what “violence” consisted of. I would have expected conceptualizations of “coercion,” “force,” and “aggression” to be all over the place, but I thought the interpretation of “violence” would be narrower, and this is part of why I used the word “violence” rather than these others. So much for that.

I personally think of the word “violence” as meaning only physical violence. E.g.: punching someone, hitting, slapping, pulling their hair, tackling them, shooting them, dragging them from one place to another, pinning them to the ground, pushing them, whacking them with a baseball bat, setting them on fire, tossing paint in their face, and similar.

This narrow conceptualization leaves out a discussion about “property norms” altogether, which makes interpreting the answers already problematic. Yet, people seem to have responded more the way I would have expected if I had said “coercion” instead.

Here are a handful of comments on this question, along with the ideology the respondent identified with in parentheses after their comment:

  • See above regarding “state”. This question is also ambiguous based on how “anarcho-capitalists” define violence. For example, “anarcho-capitalists” believe quite explicitly that violating their assertions of property ownership is “violent/aggressive”; they include private property (that used to exploit others) rather than just personal property in that definition. I would not respect “anarcho-capitalists'” exploitation of others. Their NAP would thus fully justify their use of violence against me and my comrades as we fought for liberation by accessing the resources that they would seek to withhold for the purpose of exploiting others.As Murray Rothbard said (caps added for emphasis), “No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person OR PROPERTY. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence.” (Some other form of anarchism)
  • Sure but holding private property is a violent act (Some other form of anarchism)
  • It really depends on what we define as violence. Wage labor is violence. (Mutualism)
  • Depends how they define violence, economic violence is still violence. (Individualist anarchism, in a comment on q1 they specified “Post-Civ”.)
  • I will engage in violence against those who commit aggression against me, and I include theft of property as aggression, while they do not. Thus I must strictly answer no because our definitions are different. (Anarcho-capitalism)
  • Absolutely. But I would treat negative externalities of capitalist industry as an initiation of violence, and respond accordingly.(Anarcho-communism)
  • Everyone should be able to live however they want as long as they don’t use violence against others. Although, I interpret “use violence against others” as also encompassing “stealing money/goods from capitalists”, which I know some anarchists believe is OK. And I would use violence against those anarchists who would steal from capitalists, if it was necessary. So, this issue might be difficult to handle. Perhaps another survey could be done asking what kind of actions all anarchists consider to be illegal. Such as “Should one be able to use violence in case of…(a) self-defence, (b) protection of personal property, (c) protection of property used in production, (d) protection of land not currently used etc.” (Anarcho-capitalism)

I would like to follow through on the idea given by the last commenter, to do another survey. I think that asking, “What do you consider to be illegal?” may not be the best way to word the question, but I think that I may be able to work with others among the Ozark Voluntaryists to figure out how best to word the questions for any future questionnaires.

Given that 127 people commented on question 3, and 98 people commented on question 4, I will not provide readers with all of the comments that respondents gave right now. I may write another post in the future discussing the comments in more depth, as I think they may be the best source of information, and as I have left a number of excellent, and interesting, comments out of the present post. I think, though, that the present post gives enough information to be thought-provoking, and to get some conversations started.

* * * * *

Conclusion

This survey was a learning experience for me as much as anything. One of the things I wanted to find out was simply how easy it would be to find people willing to fill out the survey. I think that the results of this survey show that in the future I could do more surveys that, perhaps, take a little more time to complete, while still possibly getting enough responses to be useful. In particular, I spent no money on advertising and offered no financial incentive of any sort to those who responded, and yet almost 500 people were still willing to answer the questions, and over a hundred were willing to fill out the comment forms and offer more detailed answers. This is definitely encouraging.

On the other hand, I am unsure of the best way to solicit responses to future surveys. I have done some searching for websites other than Reddit and Facebook where I might be able to post links to such surveys for free, and I haven’t found much. I could spend money on advertising and incentives, but I don’t have the money to spend. I could post links to future surveys in some of the same places that I posted links to this one, but the response to my posts was not positive everywhere I posted, and I am not sure what some of the groups would think about surveys that offered special incentives to respondents, (like a chance to win a copy of a book or some such.)

For now, I will leave open what steps we might take in the future. I would like to discuss the comments given by respondents in this survey in future posts, given that I am sure the comments themselves can provide more information that the numbers alone, which are hard to glean meaning from without the context given by respondents’ explanations. I hope to do more surveys in the future, but I also intend to wait a bit, at least a few months, before doing so. The other members of the Ozark Voluntaryist Network, at the very least, definitely seem to have been interested in the survey’s results, and at our in-person meetup this month we had some good discussion about them. Some people online seem to have been interested in knowing the results of the survey as well. There is interest for these sorts of things, then, something I am glad to know.

I hope this post, and any future posts discussing the results of this survey, can be a good source of information for anarchists, libertarians, and those interested in learning about these movements and the people within them. I also hope I can encourage others to do similar research in the future, only I hope they will do better than I have the skills or resources for.

I know this survey was far from perfect, but it was not intended as a way to settle controversy or end conversations; quite the opposite, I want to stir up (hopefully constructive) controversy and start conversations, and to encourage people to look for information when having discussions rather than being content to make assumptions about other people.

I thank everyone who took the survey and helped me spread the word about it. Thank you all immensely! I also thank everyone who provided feedback on Reddit and Facebook. Even though I haven’t personally responded to everyone, I find the comments extremely helpful. If you want to help make more research like this possible in the future, I hope you will bookmark our site, read through some of our other content, tell your friends about this and other posts we’ve made on our blog and forum, and perhaps sign up for a free account here and join in the discussions on the forum yourself. On the off chance anyone wants to send our group funds to help us do more similar surveys, you can purchase books or other goods through amazon after following this affiliate link. (If you follow the affiliate link there, you can purchase other products besides the book linked to, and we’ll still get a small percentage for most things you buy, though I do recommend Proudhon’s work for anyone interested in anarchism.)

If you want to contact me with questions about this survey, about helping with future research, or anything else, you can send an email to scarlet (at) ozarkvoluntaryists (period) org

Thanks again. Peace to you.

5 thoughts on “A Cross-Ideological Survey of Anarchists

  • Very interesting results. Maybe the notion of enclaves can be bypassed with the idea of jurisdiction. E.g. If people have, through emergent norms, agreed upon and ‘worked out’ what property norms apply where (on jurisdictions) then different property systems could coexist peacefully.

    I see people having two radically different framings if you simply ask whether ancoms and ancaps can coexist. One framing is the Mad Max framing, where there are no existing property norms, and there is in effect a battle of all against all. Naturally, this framing favors sectarian answers like: “No, we must kill the enemy and all those with their evil ideology.” Another framing is the Natural Law framing, where legal and cultural norms evolve through customary or polycentric law. This framing favors non-sectarianism. I think that a good poll question would frame it the same say for all respondents, otherwise (as you said, Jacob) you are really just asking how much you trust or fear ‘the other guys.’

  • Something to think about on the force/violence being used against others that are using force/violence against third parties.

    That exact argument is what the US uses when it deploys the military all over the world. Protecting “others” from “others” is why we are going around the world killing people all the time and why we have pretty much been in a state of non-ending warfare since WWII.

    Where would that responsibility start and end?

  • Cool stuff! I’ve spent a good bit of time trying to understand AnCom over the past few months, so this is immensely helpful.

    One thing I didn’t realize was how few AnComs there are. Looking at Google Trends, social media groups, forums, etc., I’d guess that all the AnComs in the world could have their convention in a phone booth, so to speak. You mentioned the total numbers came up in discussion — I’d love to know what the guesses are on total number of AnComs and/or AnCaps out there? Did you happen to get a feel for any totals while putting all this together?

    Either way, thanks for your hard work, and also: well done!

    • I’m quite glad that you found it helpful! Makes it worth doing. 🙂

      I’m not sure how to find accurate numbers. One could look at the number of subscribers to different groups and try to use that as an estimate, but I’m not sure how close it would get us in terms of either sheer numbers or proportions.

      For example, r/Anarchism on Reddit has, (at time of commenting and according to the Reddit sidebar,) 82,705 subscribers and 212 people currently online. I expect most of the subscribers there are socialists and few are ancaps as ancaps who post there or debate are often banned, I believe. Of the three anarcho-capitalist subreddits I know of, (r/anarchocapitalism/ r/Anarcho_Capitalism/ and r/GoldandBlack/), r/Anarcho_Capitalism/ has the most subscribers at 38,783. (166 people are online there, right now.)

      That, by itself, would indicate that anti-capitalist anarchists outnumber anarcho-capitalists by about 2 to 1.

      Of course, there are problems with that estimate. I think ancoms simply try to avoid ancaps and that this leads people on both sides to underestimate the numbers of the other. I think something like this happened here, ancoms often just didn’t bother doing my survey or didn’t see it because it was downvoted or deleted in the groups they frequent. I don’t think the proportion of people who took this particular survey is a good indicator of the proportion of people in the different groups in general.

      It’s an interesting question, just not one I know a great answer for.

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