Thursday, May 5, 2011

Health Care in a Social Anarchist Society

Recently I had a discussion about anarchism which brought up some questions that I was not immediately able to answer. The main question being, in an Anarchist society, what would happen to those with disabilities? What would happen to social services, health services, and mental health services? It took some reflection on my part, and then some research.

My first reaction is that people are inherently good, and there are so many  people in the world (myself included) whose drive is to help people. This would not disappear. So many of the services to people with disabilities and mental health needs are non-profit. While they still have paid workers, many have several volunteers. I can think of several examples here in Eugene, Oregon: OSLP (where I work), Looking Glass, White Bird Clinic, Mind Freedom and SAFE, inc. (run by people who have mental illnesses for people who have mental illnesses), and those are just a few. I suppose it would look a little different in an anarchist society, but I do not believe that these services would disappear.

Another very important point: Anarchy is based on community and cooperation! Many anarchists envision a socialized system of health care in an anarchist society. This is an important aspect of Social Anarchism. There would be public services, and this would vary from one community to another based on the needs and desires of those communities.  Here is a great article on this topic--the last section focuses on what future anarchist health care might look like: An Anarchist Vision of Universal Health Care: Mutual Aid Through Self-Managed Health Cooperatives.

It is  often beneficial to look at the past to see how these ideas work in action. During the Spanish Civil War, there was a collective anarchist movement providing free health care to people. Doctors from rural areas joined village collectives. They built hospitals. Take away the government, and all you're really taking away from health care is politics, restrictions, and inequality. People naturally take care of people. Some recent examples of anarchist health care in the United States are:  the Anarchist Black Cross, which provides first aid, health care, and trainings to protestors (see "How to Deal with Pepper Spray at Protests," Peacework March 2008). There are Black Cross Support Groups around the country.  There is also the Common Ground Collective, which began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (see "Military in New Orleans Requests Help from Anarchist Relief Project," Peacework, October 2005). And from 1969 to 1973,  there was the Jane Collective, which provided safe abortions to women during the years that abortions illegal.

There is also the view that our society is the cause of much of mental health problems we have today. I believe there is some truth in that. Our society is fast-paced, and not catered at all to the uniqueness of individuals. The media constantly makes us feel bad about ourselves, and the government instills fear in us. Still, a revolutionary society will not make mental illnesses or developmental disabilities disappear. What we need as a society is more acceptance. We need to embrace people who have mental illenesses/disabilities/autism/personality disorders, etc., into our communities. This not only needs  to happen in our present society (check out the "Look Me In The Eye Campaign" in Eugene and Springfield,  OR), but also within the anarchist community (this article pleeing for acceptance within the anarchist community rang true for me based on past experiences: "Making Room for Difference: An Anarchist Response to Disability").

This is a great article answering to many common arguments to anarchism, and also explaining the reason for the misconceptions of anarchism: "Everything you ever wanted to know about anarchism but were afraid to ask."


  1. i would be pleased if u did a post on the political model u wish 2 c realized. i m from india, n looking at the way corruption has eaten up the system, i definitely think a revolution is very necessary. nowhere in the world can we stagnate. a democracy can't b the ultimate solution. the world moves on with time, so should our ideas and systems- they r supposed 2 evolve, improve. something beyond democracy is much required. now i haven't read on anarchism before. i would really like 2 read ur take on it- how n where it works better than the current systems, n how the flaws in the classical concept of anarchism, if any, can b bettered today.
    great blog, btw! :) the first of its kind i came across!

  2. The other aspect about disability in an anarchist society would hopefully be that since humans are not comodified, their contributions to the community based on their abilities and desires would be recognized by the community as having worth and value-like much work that is engaged in within a capitalist society that is also not monetarily valued (such as parenting, and many volunteer activities). Personally as a healthcare worker, I would continue to want to provide healthcare as one of my primary activities in a society without capitalism-and would feel as if I could be a freer and better provider in such a society. Often one of the more frustrating aspects of being a healthcare worker is the inability to truly help a patient not only because they cannot afford to care for their illness, but because of a lack of ability to fix the larger systemic problems in their lives (such as inability to buy proper food, lack of good housing, transportation, etc). I appreciate this post, I often find a lack of discussion on healthcare from an Anarchist perspective, and have also been searching for ways to practice healthcare ethically as an Anarchist in a capitalist system. Thank you again for your post.
    Kyle, BSN, EMT-B.