The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. – Dante Alighieri
Arvind Kejriwal’s statement that he’s an anarchist might have got a lot of flak from the media and opposition parties but we have to remember that some of the greatest revolutionaries have been labelled anarchists from time to time. The concept too has diluted over the years – nowadays it’s far common to use the term to describe anyone who agitates against authority but anarchism has been around since the Vedic era though the term has never been used in India.
The rishis who gave us the Vedas lived in anarchist societies, in forests which were outside the control of states and rulers, but unlike Western anarchism, Vedic anarchism was more about a balance between man and nature. The modern concept of anarchism came from the works of William Godwin – a journalist, novelist and political philosopher who gave birth to the concept. Here are the greatest anarchists the world has ever seen:
Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi
While our politicians may decry Kejriwal’s anarchist stance, we forget that the father of our nation, the man who helped us gain independence from colonial rule was an anarchist. He followed a non-violent strain of anarchism called anarcho-pacifism (civil disobedience) which finally forced our political leaders to leave! Gandhi’s movement sparked similar movements around the world and two of his biggest followers were Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
One of the earliest revolutionaries (born 1570) was the most well-known member of the group which planned the Gunpowder Plot to overthrow the protestant King James and bring about Catholic rule in England. He was caught guarding explosives and was tortured but jumped to his death before his execution so that he ended life on his own terms. V from the classic V for Vendetta used a stylised version of the mask where he destroys parliament in a parallel world and the mask’s symbolism has stuck in real life and is associated with loads of anti-authoritarian movements including Occupy Wall Street and is also the symbol of the hacker group Anonymous.
There are many who believe the tenets of Buddhism are completely in sync with anarchy. This would make the Buddha with his philosophy of denouncing everything, one of the oldest anarchists in the world! Buddhist anarchists argue that both the state (authority) and capitalism causes suffering – one creating desire for power and other desire for money. Buddhism after all considers the need to consume goods to be inherently destructive and unnecessary!
Wilde was a witty novelist and playwright and an extremely witty man, who had extremely no time for societal morality. A man who was openly gay, something that led to his dying in extreme poverty in exile because being homosexual was a crime back then, was another famous anarchist. His essay The Soul of Man under Socialism, argues that under capitalism, most people waste their lives and would be better off following a social anarchist lifestyle.
If Gandhi wanted to get rid of the British with anarco-pacifism and civil disobedience, Bhagat Singh believed you had to fight violence with violence. To avenge Lala Lajpat Rai’s death, he and his group killed the superintendent of police who ordered the lathi charge. Also, inspired by a French anarchist who bombed the French Chamber of Deputies, he bombed the Central Legislative Assembly but made sure there were no deaths and only showered leaflets to protest Lala Lajpat Rai’s death. He has rightly remembered as one of India’s greatest revolutionaries.
Martin Luther King Jr.
One of the world’s greatest orators, Martin Luther King Jr. led a non-violent struggle for racial equality in the United States and his ‘I have a dream speech’ is unmatched. He also had a reputation of being a radical and was the subject of FBI investigations for the rest of his life. J.Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI was absolutely obsessed with him and believed he was a communist. To put this into context, that’s like being labelled anti-Kim Jong-un in North Korea.
It’s definitely difficult to picture a man with so much wealth as an anarchist but go through any of Lennon’s later works and you will see that he calls for a state of anarchy. These lines from his cult classic Imagine has practically become the anarchists’ anthem:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Perhaps the most photogenic anarchist of them all, he was a major figure in the Cuban Revolution and would go on to hold important posts in the government before going on to die in Bolivia while leading an insurgency in Bolivia. Che was known for hating all that authority encompassed and as the Finance Minister and President of the National Bank of Cuba, he simply signed notes with his nickname Che, reiterating his distaste for money and the class distinctions it caused. Che would go on to become a global icon who would appear on everything from ear studs to teeshirts all over the world!
Lala Har Dayal
Lala Har Dayal was an expatriate who lived in Philadelphia and closely identified with anarchism. He inspired many Indians based in North America to fight against during the First World War. He was eventually arrested by the US government for spreading anarchist literature and fled to Germany and would live in Sweden for a decade. He died in Philadelphia in 1939 and many of his friends believed that he was poisoned.
There seems to be a certain disregard for the rules of governance among individuals with two brain cells to rub together and Tolstoy certain had them. Considered one of the greatest novelists to walk the face of the earth, he turned into a Christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist in his later years and espoused the views of non-violent resistance. His works greatly influenced the likes of Gandhi and Luther King Jr.
A noted philosopher in the 20th Century, he led a revolt against British idealism along with his mentor Gottlob Frege and his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein. He championed anti-war activities, went to prison for his anarcho-pacifist activities during World War I, campaigned against Hitler, criticised Stalin and also attacked the Vietnam War. He would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Mandela passed away on December 5 2013 and his anarchist youth self would have been aghast at the number of world leaders that turned up at his funeral. Before he became the President of South Africa, he fought his whole life against the apartheid regime of inequality and spent 27 years in prison. While some called him a communist terrorist, he also received numerous honours including the Nobel Peace Prize, US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Soviet Order of Lenin and the Bharat Ratna.