By Judy Berman, July 8, 2022
Anarchy has a bad reputation. But if you’ve taken a look at the state of the world recently—from the rise of authoritarianism and the acceleration of climate change to the devolution of the Supreme Court and this past week’s roller-coaster ride with Boris Johnson in the UK—then you might well have found yourself wondering whether anyone, anywhere, is really fit to lead their fellow human beings. In doing so, you opened your mind, maybe just a crack, to anarchism.
In that sense, the spirit that animates Anarchapulco, the annual conference of self-identified anarchists that is the subject of HBO’s messily made but often fascinating documentary series The Anarchists, is as mainstream as it’s ever been. For American individualists, the macho strain of anarcho-capitalism (ancap to its adherents) that galvanized a community of expats in the glamorous and dangerous Mexican city might seem especially appealing. Unlike its socialist forerunner, this Randian vision for smashing the state requires no interdependence, mutual aid, or renunciation of private wealth; in fact, one common ancap goal is to amass enough cash to keep the government off your back. This convergence of individual liberty and unchecked greed raises the show’s most compelling, if not its most rigorously investigated, questions: Can a group of people unbound by shared legal or financial obligations ever really function as a community? Is you can’t tell me what to do, in practice, a viable political philosophy?
Premiering July 10, The Anarchists—another title to add to the long list of intriguing docuseries that probably would’ve made better focused, feature-length docs—circles loosely around these dilemmas throughout six episodes that alternate between origin story, character study, true crime, and trend report. Filmmaker Todd Schramke spent six years documenting the ancap scene in Acapulco, beginning with the first-ever Anarchapulco, a scrappy gathering of some 150 people eager to liberate themselves from such “statist” institutions as taxes, the military, and central banks. In chronological fashion, with early episodes structured around each year’s conference rather than any larger argument or theme, the series traces Anarchapulco’s meteoric, crypto-fueled rise and the equally rapid dissolution of the community that grew up around it.