Although Gerard Winstanley (The New Law of Righteousness, 1649) and William Godwin (Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793) had begun to unfold the philosophy of anarchism in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that anarchism emerged as a coherent theory with a systematic, developed programme. This work was mainly started by four people -- a German, Max Stirner (1806-1856), a Frenchman, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), and two Russians, Michael Bakunin (1814-1876) and Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921). They took the ideas in common circulation within sections of the working population and expressed them in written form.
Born in the atmosphere of German romantic philosophy, Stirner's anarchism (set forth in The Ego and Its Own) was an extreme form of individualism, or egoism, which placed the unique individual above all else -- state, property, law or duty. His ideas remain a cornerstone of anarchism. Stirner attacked both capitalism and state socialism, laying the foundations of both communist and individualist anarchism by his egoist critique of capitalism and the state that supports it.
In place of capitalism, Max Stirner urges the "union of egoists," free associations of unique individuals who co-operate as equals in order to maximise their freedom and satisfy their desires (including emotional ones for solidarity, or "intercourse" as Stirner called it).
Individualism by definition includes no concrete programme for changing social conditions. This was attempted by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first to describe himself openly as an anarchist. His theories of mutualism and federalism had a profound effect on the growth of anarchism as a mass movement and spelled out clearly how an anarchist world could function and be co-ordinated. Proudhon's ideas are the immediate source for both social and individualist anarchism, with each thread emphasising different aspects of mutualism. Proudhon's major works include What is Property, Economic Contradictions, and The Political Capacity of the Working Classes.
Michael Bakunin, the central figure in the development of modern anarchist activism and ideas, emphasised the role of collectivism, mass insurrection, and spontaneous revolt in the launching of a free, classless society. He also emphasised the social nature of humanity and individuality, rejecting the abstract individualism of liberalism as a denial of freedom. His ideas become dominant in the 20th century among large sections of the radical labour movement. Many of his ideas are almost identical to what would later be called syndicalism. Bakunin influenced many union movements -- especially in Spain, where a major anarchist social revolution took place. His works include God and the State, The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State, and many others. Bakunin on Anarchism, edited by Sam Dolgoff is an excellent collection of his major writings.
Peter Kropotkin, a scientist by training, fashioned a sophisticated and detailed anarchist analysis of modern conditions linked to a thorough-going prescription for a future society -- communist-anarchism -- which continues to be the most widely-held theory among anarchists. He identified mutual aid as the best means by which individuals can develop and grow, pointing out that competition within humanity (and other species) was often not in the best interests of those involved. His major works included Mutual Aid, The Conquest of Bread, Fields, Factories, and Workshops, Modern Science and Anarchism, Act for Yourselves, The State: Its Historic Role, and many others.
The various theories proposed by these "founding anarchists" are not, however, mutually exclusive: they are interconnected in many ways, and to some extent refer to different levels of social life. Individualism relates closely to the conduct of our private lives: only by recognising the uniqueness and freedom of others and forming unions with them can we protect and maximise our own uniqueness and liberty; mutualism relates to our general relations with others: by mutually working together and co-operating we ensure that we do not work for others. Production under anarchism would be collectivist, with people working together for their own, and the common, good, and in the wider political and social world decisions would be reached communally.
Anarchist ideas of course did not stop developing when Kropotkin died. Neither are they the products of just four men. Anarchism is by its very nature an evolving theory, with many different thinkers and activists. Of the many other anarchists who could be mentioned here, we can mention but a few.
In the United States Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were two of the leading anarchist thinkers and activists. Goldman united Stirner's egoism with Kropotkin's communism into a passionate and powerful theory which combined the best of both. She also placed anarchism at the centre of feminist theory and activism (see Anarchism and Other Essays and Red Emma Speaks). Alexander Berkman, Emma's lifelong companion, produced a classic introduction to anarchist ideas called What is Communist Anarchism? (also known as the ABC of Anarchism). Both he and Goldman were expelled by the US government to Russia after the 1917 revolution there as they were considered too dangerous to be allowed to remain in the land of the free. Voltairine de Cleyre also played an important role in the US anarchist movement, enriching both US and international anarchist theory with her articles, poems and speeches. Her work includes such classics as Anarchism and American Traditions and Direct Action.
Italy, with its strong and dynamic anarchist movement, has produced some of the best anarchist writers. Errico Malatesta spent over 50 years fighting for anarchism across the world and his writings are amongst the best in anarchist theory (see Anarchy or The Anarchist Revolution and Malatesta: Life and Ideas, both edited by Vernon Richards). Luigi Galleani produced a very powerful anti-organisational anarchist-communism which proclaimed that "Communism is simply the economic foundation by which the individual has the opportunity to regulate himself and carry out his functions." [The End of Anarchism?] Camillo Berneri, before being murdered by the Communists during the Spanish Revolution, continued the fine tradition of critical, practical anarchism associated with Italian anarchism.
As far as individualist anarchism goes, the undoubted "king" was Ben Tucker. Tucker in his Instead of Book used his intellect and wit to attack all who he considered enemies of freedom (mostly capitalists, but also a few social anarchists as well!). Tucker was followed by Lawrence Labadie who carried the individualist-anarchist torch after Tucker's death, believing that "that freedom in every walk of life is the greatest possible means of elevating the human race to happier conditions."
Undoubtedly the Russian Leo Tolstoy is the most famous writer associated with religious anarchism and has had the greatest impact in spreading the spiritual and pacifistic ideas associated with that tendency. Influencing such notable people as Gandhi and the Catholic Worker Group around Dorothy Day, Tolstoy presented a radical interpretation of Christianity which stressed individual responsibility and freedom above the mindless authoritarianism and hierarchy which marks so much of mainstream Christianity. Tolstoy's works, like those of that other radical libertarian Christian William Blake, have inspired many Christians towards a libertarian vision of Jesus' message which has been hidden by the mainstream churches. Thus Christian Anarchism maintains, along with Tolstoy, that "Christianity in its true sense puts an end to government" (see, for example, Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is within you and Peter Marshall's William Blake: Visionary Anarchist).
More recently, Noam Chomsky (in Deterring Democracy, Necessary Illusions, World Orders, Old and New and many others) and Murray Bookchin (Post-Scarcity Anarchism, The Ecology of Freedom, Towards an Ecological Society, and Remaking Society, among others) have kept the social anarchist movement at the front of political theory and analysis. Bookchin's work has placed anarchism at the centre of green thought and has been a constant threat to those wishing to mystify or corrupt the movement to create an ecological society. Colin Ward in Anarchy in Action and elsewhere has updated Kropotkin's Mutual Aid by uncovering and documenting the anarchistic nature of everyday life even within capitalism. His work on housing has emphasised the importance of collective self-help and social management of housing against the twin evils of privatisation and nationalisation.
We could go on; there are many more writers we could mention. But besides these, there are the thousands of "ordinary" anarchist militants who have never written books but whose common sense and activism have encouraged the spirit of revolt within society and helped build the new world in the shell of the old. As Kropotkin put it, "anarchism was born among the people; and it will continue to be full of life and creative power only as long as it remains a thing of the people." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 146]