Illustration by Lindsay
Charalambos Tsekeris is Visiting Lecturer in Social Research at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens, Greece. His major areas of research include contemporary social theory and methodology, post-colonial cultural studies, and the critical sociology of technology and scientific knowledge.
Theodore Tsekeris is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Planning and Economic Research (KEPE) in Athens, Greece.
Social anarchism can be described as a radical philosophical and political movement, strategically aimed to abolish all forms of injustice, coercion and authority – especially state’s authority. That is, societies should exist without rulers. It can be roughly distinguished into two great streams of thought, within economic and political fields, which overwhelmingly characterize the nineteenth century (particularly, its second part). The first stream emphatically advocates peaceful means of free human co-operation as the ultimate path to a potential anarchist social order. Its chief representatives are Proudhon and Kropotkin. The second stream alternatively champions the route of physical violence in the destruction of all authoritative relations. Its main spokesmen are Bakunin and Sorel.
Social anarchism has been significantly influential to both urban and regional planning. Its greatest influence is particularly associated with the non-violent and reformist process of social transformation suggested within the theories of Proudhon and Kropotkin. The “Garden City” movement and the plans for metropolitan decentralization are strongly related to Kropotkin’s radical ideas about self-relied, autonomous communities. The ideals of regionalism, as formed by Proudhon and Reclus, are closely connected to modern territorial struggles for regional self-determination, as well as a specific tradition within regional planning that looks upon regions as physico-cultural entitles.
In terms of planning theory, anarchism represents the ultimate limit of a process of structural reform within community. This process aims at the abolition of the state as an instrument of class coercion and inequality. The aim here is the formation of autonomous (self-governed) units of “associated labour”, which are organically linked to larger ensembles by following the Proudhonian principle of federation. The establishment of the “non-acquisitive society” is to take place in a regional setting, practicing self-reliance. Small, decentralized units of production, organized on mutualist or cooperative principles, predominantly serve local and regional markets. Social control is from within the community and occurs spontaneously through the practice of fair exchange.
The objective of the anarchist movement is the creation, on the margins of the still existing state, of an alternative society, rather than the destruction of the physical infrastructure of the capitalist state. The “autonomous units of associated labour” in workshops and factories would be spatially based on small localities, or “communes”. However, there is no organization for the unity of revolutionary thought and action. Participatory and nonhierarchical groups of workers would merge to carry out the revolution and establish units of associated labour by their free consent as the basic form of anarchist society. Freely chosen productive work is essential to the realization of one’s full humanity from the repressive institutions of organized violence (e.g. the state).
The early visions of the planning movement, particularly those of Howard and Geddes, have decisively stemmed from the anarchist movement. Their ideas, somehow similar to those of the anarchist pioneers, were not only related to an alternative built form but also to an alternative society. This society should depart from any sort of capitalist or bureaucratic–socialist state. It should be based on the voluntary co-operation among men and women, peacefully working and living in small self–governing commonwealths. The need for the emergence of such an alternative society can be ascribed to the high housing densities, intensive competition for space, increasing land rents and transportation problems raised in large cities during the Victorian Age. In addition to the so called “land question” in urban areas, the depression and poor conditions of living in rural areas was acute.
Howard’s plan for the provision of locally–managed and self-governed working communities is closely related to the anarchist concepts of the state of total liberty. The strategy and organization of such communities were based on the mobilization of the community or group itself. Services would be provided by the municipality, or private contractors. Every man and woman would be an entrepreneur. These anarchist influences were certainly opposite with any form of organization and sponsorship by the state. However, the mechanisms suggested for the development of “Garden City” societies would not provide the sufficient impulse for an effective mobilization of the community. These processes required an intervention of “organizers” from outside, and others who could teach both a new awareness and the necessary skills for a self-reliant practice. Though the anarchist movement provided the foundation of some sort of planning “from below”, it did not fully succeed to provide the appropriate means of qualitatively changing the philosophy of planning implementation.
Nevertheless, the anarchist movement substantially contributed to the emergence and development of the concept of regional planning. According to the anarchist concepts, the self–governed communes should be joined to one another through a principle of federation. In this principle, the lower-order units retain more powers than they relinquish, and dissociation is always possible. The natural unit above the commune is the province or region, which is governed autonomously through its constituent communes. In this anarchist ideal vision, money would be in circulation, and there would be little trade beyond the immediate region which, in most respects, remains a self–sufficient entity.
The innovative ideas generated by Proudhon and Bakunin about a society based on a decentralized and non-hierarchical system of federal government, which subsequently influenced Kropotkin and Reclus, were crucial on how Howard and Geddes visioned society. Geddes was particularly influenced from Kropotkin to develop his plan about the combination of industrial with agricultural work (town with country), as a response to the dissipation of resources and energies by the spreading cities. Such ideas as industrial decentralization could be viewed within the anarchist concept of social reconstruction. Geddes’s position was comprehensively aiming at encouraging the collective power of individuals and the self–management of the community within the entire city region. Similar anarchist ideas did also influence the members of the group – and, in particular, Mumford – that founded the Regional Planning Association of America. Mumford’s ideas are clearly connected with Geddes’s formulations. These refer to the need for decentralization of city’s industries in order to prevent economic recession and exploit the benefits of the technological revolution (as Kropotkin had also stated).
At the beginning of the 20th century, anarchistic types of housing developments appeared around the periphery of London (southwards and westwards, in particular). This cheap kind of housing scheme was an articulated response to the low quality of living conditions for a great number of inhabitants in the wider London area. The Anti-Marxist movements of the Fabian society and the Social Democratic Foundation significantly contributed to these plot–developments, or piece-meal developments.
By opposing to the historical materialistic ideas about the need for state intervention in order to finally achieve the free and good society, they suggested the use of the collective power of London inhabitants to deal with the social problem of housing. This anarchist–like idea influenced the establishment of appropriate legal acts which enabled the building of “working class tenements” on green–field sites at the edge of the London region boundaries, and even beyond them.
The development of the plotlands in Southern England can be seen as an expression of revolt against the social inequities of the urban-based capitalism, as well as a preference for political and geographical dispersal. From this standpoint, the association of plot-ownership with freedom rests less on the material fact of ownership as an end in itself, and more on opportunities to create a small world of one’s own choosing. Similarly with the “Garden City” concept, the development of plotlands became an innovative way of rejecting urban society as it had emerged.
Influences on these types of concepts and developments should be ascribed to the long tradition of ideas and social movements related to anarchist thought. In particular, the influence of Proudhon’s model of peasant proprietorship that rekindled the hopes of those who saw a future in limited property ownership should be explicitly recognized and acknowledged. Though only few self-consciously linked the acquisition of property with these broader political arguments, the perspective of a world of plots surprisingly offered a wide variety of new ways for a better life. According to social anarchist thinking, the possession of land was not considered as a source of material wealth but as a symbolic break with landlords and authority.
Summing up, it could be said that concepts developed in the regionalist movement, the “Garden City” and the plotlands development did embrace powerful elements of persisting popular currents about property of one’s own, house built with one’s own hands, and mutual aid instead of external controls. However, such developments were for many people the best that was temporarily available rather than self-reflexive anarchist or utopian expressions.