Editor’s Note: Understanding Anarchism: The Stone Soup Tale

The media is awash with think pieces on anarchism. What a time to be alive.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought that within my lifetime I would see black bloc or Antifa become household words. But following the Inauguration Day protests in D.C., and in the aftermath of the white supremacist assaults and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, these terms are on the tongues of, or are at least being googled by, average Americans who never before have cracked the spines of a Bakunin volume, or even considered that anarchy has a meaning beyond its being maligned as a synonym for chaos.

The hot takes on the ethics of violence, and the vivisections of community defense strategies are riveting, the kind of sexy that scores the clicks. What’s missing from the conversation is an examination of what the overwhelming bulk of anarchist theory really looks like in practice. The vast majority of everyday anarchists have never slung a Molotov cocktail, and are far, far more likely to regularly wield a soup ladle as their weapon of choice. Your garden-variety anarchist is probably digging in your local community garden as we speak.

In my experience, most of what anarchists do is feed people.

In fact, one of the most elegant illustrations of anarchism is to be found in a pithy folk tale, old and widely known, about a collective feast that burgeons from nothing but a rock.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

Two strangers come tramping into town. They are wretched and lumpen, and they are hungry. They ask the town-folk for something to calm their gnawing bellies, but are turned away, told at each house that there is nothing to spare.

Perhaps some of the householders turn them away because they cringe at the color of the skin the travelers wear, or because the lilt of their mother tongue sounds hateful to their ears. Perhaps some fervently claim that no human deserves food without first having earned it through the selling of their labor or the proving of their virtue. Maybe even most of the neighbors truly believe that they just haven’t got enough to share.

So the hungry two wander to the river, and at least slake their thirst. One of them pulls a soup pot from their satchel and builds a fire. They fill the pot with water and drop in a stone from the riverbed. Before long, there is a pleasant aroma. The strangers begin to laugh, they sing a little. A curious villager approaches, and then another.

We are making this fine soup, they say. If only we had just a sprig of herb to help the flavor.

If only one among you had just a stump of a carrot.

…just a scrap of potato, just a splash of oil, just a sliver of garlic…

a few beans

a golden onion

Soon, there is a lively crowd of villagers eager to make their small contributions to the bubbling pot.

Everybody eats.

Then perhaps somebody brings out their drum, another produces a fiddle. Perhaps there is dancing in rings and telling of stories and nursing of babies and braiding of hair. Maybe one neighbor fetches their hammer to fix another’s wagon. Maybe some older folks teach the children the names of the trees and fungi and wildflowers that grow along the bank.

 

Anarchism is non-hierarchical, non-coercive community organization for mutual aid and benefit. People, as equals, voluntarily sharing and helping and loving their neighbors so that every individual is cared for and the collective thrives.

It may sound like a fairy tale, but it’s happening right now.

 

In hundreds of autonomous chapters across the country, anarchists in Food Not Bombs have been, for thirty-five years, collecting otherwise wasted food from individuals, businesses, and even dumpsters to create free meals for the hungry in their communities.

They make a lot of stone soup, but that’s only the beginning.

Community gardens, medic collectives, Harm Reduction projects, Really Really Free Markets, organizing workers, outlaw road repair, rogue traffic patrols, prisoners’ advocacy, tenants’ unions.

All of these things are anarchy in action.

Prefigurative politics is often described as “building the new world in the shell of the old.”

Our new world has already begun, birthed from a stone in a pot.

We are making this fine soup we say.

If only we had just a sprig of herb to help the flavor…


This editor’s note was written by Tiny Donkey editor Anna Lea Jancewicz.