Linking with the state - an anarchist perspective

Presentation at the WRI Seminar at Hill End, 29/30 July 2000

I could make it easy and simple, because anarchists aim to abolish the state – any state – and so why even think about linking with the state? Why even think of linking with an institution, that – from my perspective – is one of the main »causes of war« WRI seeks to abolish? Isn’t the state just an institutions that needs to be fought against? Surely it is, and surely states need to be abolished, if we take WRI’s declaration to strive for the removal of all causes of war serious. But – Germans never can do without a „but" – but even as an anarchist I have to face reality, and obviously states are one important part of todays reality – if I like it or not. So anarchists who are involved in more than just agitating for anarchism, but who want to work politically within social movements need to deal with this reality.

State and war

From my point of view, state and war somehow are twins. Almost all the states we know today came into existence through war, and having a military is the most important sign of a state’s souvereignity. If I distinguish between actions against war and the military on the one hand, and the development of constructive alternatives on the other hand, I don’t see any need to link with the state in our actions against militarism. Clearly, the state is one of the main targets for activism, the military the most important symbol. This sounds easier that it is in practise. Isn’t it a good thing if some states agree on some sort of disarmament? Isn’t it a good thing to have these different treaties on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, this ban on nuclear testing, limits for numbers of different kinds of weapons, the ban on land mines etc...? Well, firstly I would argue that all these treaties are at least ambivalent. Through limiting the use of some weapons, they at the same time legitimize the very existance of weapons and military in general. They are deeply rooted in militarist logic, and militarist »security policy«. However, still it’s good to have those treaties, but although campaigning against the use of some specific weapons might be useful (if it is used to delegitimize the whole military system), and to put pressure on some states might be useful as well, this is still no »linking with states«. And what I think is dangerous is to try to convince some state governments that signing to this or that agreement might be useful, as to do so you have to argue within the logic of military security policy – let social democrats do this, but that’s not our task as antimilitarists. Conscientious objection is a classical anarchist action. Today, through the introduction of substitute service in many countries, it lost a lot of its radical appeal. Well, total objection from my point of view is the more appropriate answer to this, but at the same time I never would dare to demand from anybody to do this – although it should be a collective action, the decision remains with each individual. In reality in most states with some CO laws we have many COs performing substitute service. Quite some CO organisations employ COs doing their substitute service. This for me is a way of linking with the state which is inappropriate for an antimilitarist organisation. Luckily, WRI doesn’t do this, and if it would probably I won’t be it’s Treasurer any more. Substitute service not only is organised and financed by the state, it also is a more or less direct result of »military slavery« and legitimizes conscription, a system of forced labour that we want to abolish.

State and »peace«

Still the question of linking with the state is more or less easy to answer as far as antimilitarist activities are concerned. It gets more difficult if we try to develop our own constructive alternatives, like civilian conflict resolution, nonviolent intervention and any kind of peace services. Still I would insist that states are not capable of peace – peace in the sense of a just society, and of more than just absence of war. To talk of states and peace somehow for me is a contradiction. But – again this German »but« – still there is a huge area between absence of war and what could be called a real and just peace, a huge area, where we have to deal with all sorts of contradictions. Nowadays states increasingly get involved in the field of civilian settlement of conflict, through the United Nations, OSCE and even through cooperation with peace organisations. Linking with the state here can mean to cooperate with state organisations, or to accept funding from state bodies, etc... It would somehow be easy to demand a clear cut anarchist solution of »no cooperation with any state bodies«, but even this sounds easier that it is in practise. Many foundations are (partly) state funded, so would it be allowed to asks for grants from such foundations? Or is this not some sort of cooperation with the state, as we don’t interact with the state directly? So I don’t think this anarchist slogan is a real answer to the problem. Of course, I might say that there is no nead to develop constructive alternatives, but that – from my point of view – is a totally different debate. I cannot offer any clear-cut solution here, but maybe some guidelines:

  • If we cooperate with state agencies, how much are we still independend and can work towards our own goals, even if this means acting against the interest of the state we accept some funding from? If we loose our indepence, we should consider ending the cooperation.

  • Is the state’s programme for civilian conflict resolution part of a wider programme which also involves military means? If so, do we only add a new civilian component to the state’s foreign policy? In this case, we shouldn’t get involved.

  • How much resources of our own are left if we start cooperating with state programmes? If there are no resources left to organise other independent activities, more closely linked to peace movements and more critical to the state, we should at least reconsider cooperation, and from my point of view search for some ways which enable us to do both, and not to give up our independent and anti-state activities.

Linking with the state always is a dangerous field. Only if we remain independent and strong enough to say »no« if necessary, to abandon this cooperation at any time, we can avoid becoming an instrument of the state’s policy. We need to be very clear that we want to develop our alternatives, and not alternatives for state policy. So we need to be the ones in control.


Krippendorff, a German peace researcher, wrote in his book „State and War – the historical logic of political unreasonableness", that we have to learn »against what we have to work and need to work, in order to address the right thing not from the wrong actor, but do demand it from ourselves and to promote it by ourselves« (Krippendorff 1985: 12). A clear analysies of the role of the state in war and peace therefore is the best guide if we discuss linking with the state. Even more than in cases where we just fight against something this is important if we are fighting and working for our constructive alternatives.