This the second in a series of essays originally written by Carlos Clemente as assignments for an introductory course to market anarchism that he took at C4SS’s Stateless University. For the third essay, click here. For the first, here.


My very first assignment in the Introduction to Anarchism course at C4SS is a reflection on the concept of aggression.

For me, aggression is the initiation of violent action against a person or their property. Initiating a fist fight, robbery, fraud, and wars of conquest are all obvious forms of aggression, and they are obviously different from other forms of undesirable influence on others. I might be annoyed by my neighbor’s playing loud music at night, disgusted by the bad table manners of a dinner companion, or dismayed by someone else’s addiction to porn. But I wouldn’t say any of these are aggressive actions against me. This is how I have always seen the issue, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it matches the anarchist stance.

What constitutes an aggression is influenced by culture. Let’s suppose that the members of a hypothetical nation, for religious reasons, unanimously consider adultery an aggression, and therefore condone anyone’s violent action against his/her adulterer spouse.

This practice would be clearly unacceptable from an anarchist perspective. Moreover, the anarchist would urge us to take a closer look at that nation and determine whether aggression against adultery is truly embraced unanimously by its citizens, or is it a case of a group of them controlling the state and therefore aggressively imposing it on the rest.

Furthermore, an anarchist would say that despite adultery being a morally unacceptable practice, the intervention of a foreign state in such a nation with the stated objective of stopping the practice is bound to cause more problems than it can solve. In particular, the venture can easily be politically co-opted by those who control the state of the invading nation, turning it into an aggressive adventure of conquest bound to benefit them at the expense of the citizens of both the invaded and the invading nation.

Faced with an extreme case, like the Nazi holocaust during World War II, an anarchist might have found herself supporting the allied invasion of Hitler for purely pragmatic reasons: In a world where states have overwhelming military power, they might be the only entities that can stop the horrendous massacres perpetrated by any of them. But even then, the anarchist would tend to be particularly vigilant of the invading states’ use of the situation for less noble political ends.

There is an even more fundamental way in which the concept of aggression is related to a community’s culture in which anarchists are particularly interested — the propaganda machines that states use to shape the way in which people perceive certain aggressive actions as non-aggressive. The current US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were aggressively publicized by the invaders as a legitimate defense against an imminent wave of terrorist attacks to be sponsored by the states of the invaded nations — a message that the public was particularly receptive to due to the shock produced by the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York city.

Crony capitalists all over the world work hand in hand with politicians to promote the neo-liberal idea of “free markets”, when in reality what they impose is an aggressive system of subsidies, licenses, patents and other forms of statist privilege that concentrates economic power in a few firms in each industry at the expense of workers, consumers and tax-payers. For a particularly poignant example that illustrates the state’s use of propaganda to hide its aggressive imperial and crony-capitalist policies simultaneously, see this recent piece by Glenn Greenwald on the American role in the ongoing political crisis in Egypt.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory