12 anarchists who changed the world

Anarchists UnitedThe 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

Mahatma GandhiWhile 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.

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes maskOne 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.


buddhaThere 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!

Oscar Wilde

oscar-wildeWilde 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.

Bhagat Singh

Bhagat SinghIf 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.

Martin Luther King JuniorOne 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.

John Lennon

john-lennon-peaceIt’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

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 DayalLala 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.

Leo Tolstoy

Leo TolstoyThere 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.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand RusselA 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.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson MandelaMandela 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.

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  • Boudhayan Bhattacharyya

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. I’m stunned to see the list of the anarchists…. if nelson mandella, leo tolstoy, MK Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Gautam Buddha, Oscar Wilde, John Lennon are anarchist, then Jesus Christ, Chaitanya Maha Prabhu, Swami Vivekananda and even Mother Teresa were ANARCHISTS !!!!!!! Bullshit Article !!!!

    • Nirmalya Dutta

      Ummm they definitely were :) All of the mentioned individuals were anarchists who revolutionised things!

      • Boudhayan Bhattacharyya

        sorry… I do not agree that revolution means anarchy… anarchy leads to class struggle and thereafter revolution…not the other way round !!!

        • Ashish Shetty

          Anarchism is a political ideology… regardless of whether a class struggle or revolution has occurred individuals can subscribe to this political ideology.
          Most of the people on this list espoused views that firmly put them in the anarchist camp.
          I fail to see what it is in this article you disagree with, and would be genuinely thankful if you could share those views.

          • Boudhayan Bhattacharyya

            Anarchism is a political ideology.. agreed… but that ideology speaks of a state less society…under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being…. now the question is this whether any of these people believed in a truly Government-less society???? I do not think so… even Jesus/Nazareth is considered to be the first Anarchist according to the Christian Anarchist Church… but that is a religious doctrine having nothing to do with political theories… do you really believe that Gautam Buddha did not believe in the concept of “State” !!! Do you think Nelson Mandella advocated the theory of statelessness!!!! Is it very plausible to believe Che Guevara believed in ‘free units constituted for production and consumption’… when being a communist he supported trade by the STATE… thereby also subscribing to the theory of “state”, letting alone Statelessness… !!!! that is why I do not subscribe to the view expressed in this article. Thanks for your question though !!

          • Real Indian

            Go read a book and find the true meaning of Ananchy Bache!! This is real stuff you won’t get it.

          • Boudhayan Bhattacharyya

            @ Real Indian: didn’t quite grasp what u wanted to say … could u be a bit more specific !!!

          • vedic anarchist

            anarchy is any society without HIERARCHY. HIERARCHY being the key word, not STATE

          • Anonymous

            There are hierarchies in Vedic Anarchism.

            The only reason a person of the lower caste does the menial jobs is because he believes in “dharma” and that he will be reincantated into upper caste in next life. It was a sort of mass brainwash.
            Not saying that Vedic Anarchism was not a form of Anarchism, just pointing out the idiocity of your statement.

          • Bemel Mesre

            Anarchy is a state without a functioning Government. U R talking Commie crap.

        • Bemel Mesre

          In parts of Syria we R having a state of Anarchy. where is the class struggle?

      • Bemel Mesre

        How can U called MK Gandhi an anarchist he founded the Nehru Dynasty.

    • Bemel Mesre

      Tolstoy was a power hungry Commie. He was assassinated by Stalin henchmen in Mexico. Hardly and anarchist.

  • Anonymous

    Guy Fawkes was a Monarchist.
    Che was a violent sick red psychopath.
    Mandela was so not an Anarchist.

    Also I would be skeptical of giving the Anarchist card to Gandhi. He concluded that anarchy is a perfectly ordered society but said that “we are not ready yet”. But yeah … there are faults with all Anarchists, no need to pick on him.

    • Bemel Mesre

      Mendela was Head of state of South Africa. The exact opposite of Anarchist.

  • Saarthak Tomar

    What the?

  • Tutty huff

    Che Guevara was a stalinist turned maoist who had anarchists imprisoned, put into exile and shot. Guy Fawkes was indeed a monarchist. Martin Luther King was a social-democrat. Nelson Mandela was a capitalist who introduced the free market into the ANC government. Bertrand Russell was a libertarian socialist and not an anarchist.

  • Tutty huff

    Ernesto Guevara was no anarchist- he was a member of a one party, totalitarian government that was Stalinist and aligned to the USSR. Later on he became a Maoist. It was his idea to crush the cuban anarcho-syndicalist movement which was the last remaining anarchist movement in that part of the world. Guevara was also fond of Juan Peron, the Argentinian, Fascist dictator.
    As I say, King, Fawkes, Mandela and Russell were not anarchists either. Though Russell’s views were close to anarchism but as I understand it he believed in keeping a small state. The rest of those you mention were indeed anarchists as far as I am aware.

    • Bemel Mesre

      How is MK Gandhi an anarchist? He founded the Nehru Dynasty.

  • http://nonanarchist.org/ Strobe Fischbyne

    “I am not an anarchist. I believe in the intelligent use of police force.” – Martin Luther King Jr., 1957

  • sachin

    Did gandhi declared him selfe an anarchist. This not written in his biography anywhere.

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