Section A - What is Anarchism?
A.1 What is anarchism?
A.1.1 What does "anarchy" mean?
A.1.2 What does "anarchism" mean?
A.1.3 Why is anarchism also called libertarian socialism?
A.1.4 Are anarchists socialists?
A.1.5 Where does anarchism come from?
A.2 What does anarchism stand for?
A.2.1 What is the essence of anarchism?
A.2.2 Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?
A.2.3 Are anarchists in favour of organisation?
A.2.4 Are anarchists in favour of "absolute" liberty?
A.2.5 Why are anarchists in favour of equality?
A.2.6 Why is solidarity important to anarchists?
A.2.7 Why do anarchists argue for self-liberation?
A.2.8 Is it possible to be an anarchist without opposing hierarchy?
A.2.9 What sort of society do anarchists want?
A.2.10 What will abolishing hierarchy mean and achieve?
A.2.11 Why do most anarchists support direct democracy?
A.2.12 Is consensus an alternative to direct democracy?
A.2.13 Are anarchists individualists or collectivists?
A.2.14 Why is voluntarism not enough?
A.2.15 What about Human Nature?
A.2.16 Does anarchism require "perfect" people to work?
A.2.17 Aren't most people too stupid for a free society to work?
A.2.18 Do anarchists support terrorism?
A.2.19 What ethical views do anarchists hold?
A.3 What types of anarchism are there?
A.3.1 What are the differences between individualist and
A.3.2 Are there different types of social anarchism?
A.3.3 What kinds of Green anarchism is there?
A.3.4 Is anarchism pacifistic?
A.3.5 What is anarcha-feminism?
A.3.6 What is Cultural Anarchism?
A.3.7 Are there religious anarchists?
A.3.8 What is "anarchism without adjectives"?
A.4 Who are the major anarchist thinkers?
A.5 What are some examples of "Anarchy in Action"?
A.5.1 The Paris Commune
A.5.2 The Haymarket Martyrs
A.5.3 Building the Syndicalist Unions
A.5.4 Anarchists in the Russian Revolution.
A.5.5 Anarchists in the Italian Factory Occupations
A.5.6 Anarchism and the Spanish Revolution.
A.5.7 The May-June revolt in France, 1968.
Section A - What is Anarchism?
Modern civilisation faces three potentially catastrophic crises:
(1) social breakdown, a shorthand term for rising rates of poverty,
homelessness, crime, violence, alienation, drug and alcohol
abuse, social isolation, political apathy, dehumanisation, the
deterioration of community structures of self-help and mutual
aid, etc.; (2) destruction of the planet's delicate ecosystems on
which all complex forms of life depend; and (3) the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons.
Orthodox opinion, including that of Establishment "experts," mainstream
media, and politicians, generally regards these crises as separable, each
having its own causes and therefore capable of being dealt with on a
piecemeal basis, in isolation from the other two. Obviously, however, this
"orthodox" approach isn't working, since the problems in question are
getting worse. Unless some better approach is taken soon, we are clearly
headed for disaster, either from catastrophic war, ecological Armageddon,
or a descent into urban savagery -- or all of the above.
Anarchism offers a unified and coherent way of making sense of these
crises, by tracing them to a common source. This source is the principle
of *hierarchical authority,* which underlies the major institutions of all
"civilised" societies, whether capitalist or "communist." Anarchist
analysis therefore starts from the fact that all of our major institutions
are in the form of hierarchies, i.e. organisations that concentrate power
at the top of a pyramidal structure, such as corporations, government
bureaucracies, armies, political parties, religious organisations,
universities, etc. It then goes on to show how the authoritarian
relations inherent in such hierarchies negatively affect individuals,
their society, and culture. In the first part of this FAQ (sections A -
E) we will present the anarchist analysis of hierarchical authority and
its negative effects in greater detail.
It should not be thought, however, that anarchism is just a critique of
modern civilisation, just "negative" or "destructive." Because it is much
more than that. For one thing, it is also a proposal for a free society.
Emma Goldman expressed what might be called the "anarchist question" as
follows: "The problem that confronts us today. . . is how to be one's
self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings
and still retain one's own characteristic qualities." [_Red Emma Speaks_,
pp. 133-134] In other words, how can we create a society in which the
potential for each individual is realised but not at the expense of
others? In order to achieve this, anarchists envision a society in which,
instead of being controlled "from the top down" through hierarchical
structures of centralised power, the affairs of humanity will "be managed
by individuals or voluntary associations." [Ben Tucker, _Anarchist Reader_,
p. 149] Later sections of the FAQ (sections I and J) will describe
anarchism's positive proposals for organising society in this way, "from
the bottom up." However, some of the constructive core of anarchism will
be seen even in the earlier sections.
As Clifford Harper elegantly puts it, "[l]ike all great ideas, anarchism is
pretty simple when you get down to it -- human beings are at their best
when they are living free of authority, deciding things among themselves
rather than being ordered about." [_Anarchy: A Graphic Guide_, p. vii]
Due to their desire to maximise individual and therefore social freedom,
anarchists wish to dismantle all institutions that repress people:
"Common to all Anarchists is the desire to free society of all political
and social coercive institutions which stand in the way of the development
of a free humanity" [Rudolf Rocker, _Anarcho-Syndicalism_, p. 16]
As we'll see, all such institutions are hierarchies, and their repressive
nature stems directly from their hierarchical form.
Anarchism is a socio-economic and political theory, but not an ideology.
The difference is *very* important. Basically, theory means you have
ideas; an ideology means ideas have you. Anarchism is a body of ideas,
but they are flexible, in a constant state of evolution and flux, and open
to modification in light of new data. As society changes and develops, so
does anarchism. An ideology, in contrast, is a set of "fixed" ideas which
people believe dogmatically, usually ignoring reality or "changing" it so
as to fit with the ideology, which is (by definition) correct. All such
"fixed" ideas are the source of tyranny and contradiction, leading to
attempts to make everyone fit onto a Procrustean Bed. This will be true
regardless of the ideology in question -- Leninism, Objectivism,
"Libertarianism," or whatever -- all will all have the same effect: the
destruction of real individuals in the name of a doctrine, a doctrine that
usually serves the interest of some ruling elite. Or, as Michael Bakunin
"Until now all human history has been only a perpetual and bloody
immolation of millions of poor human beings in honour of some
pitiless abstraction -- God, country, power of state, national honour,
historical rights, judicial rights, political liberty, public welfare."
[_God and the State_, p. 59]
Dogmas are static and deathlike in their rigidity, often the work of some
dead "prophet," religious or secular, whose followers erect his or her
ideas into an idol, immutable as stone. Anarchists want the living to
bury the dead so that the living can get on with their lives. The living
should rule the dead, not vice versa. Ideologies are the nemesis of
critical thinking and consequently of freedom, providing a book of rules
and "answers" which relieve us of the "burden" of thinking for ourselves.
In producing this FAQ on anarchism it is not our intention to give you
the "correct" answers or a new rule book. We will explain a bit about
what anarchism has been in the past, but we will focus more on its modern
forms and why *we* are anarchists today. The FAQ is an attempt to provoke
thought and analysis on your part. If you are looking for a new ideology,
then sorry, anarchism is not for you.
While anarchists try to be realistic and practical, we are not "reasonable"
people. "Reasonable" people uncritically accept what the "experts" and
"authorities" tell them is true, and so they will always remain slaves!
Anarchists know that, as Bakunin wrote:
"[a] person is strong only when he stands upon his own truth, when he speaks
and acts from his deepest convictions. Then, whatever the situation he may be
in, he always knows what he must say and do. He may fall, but he cannot bring
shame upon himself or his causes." [_Statism and Anarchy_ - cited in Albert
Meltzer, _I couldn't Paint Golden Angels_, p. 2]
What Bakunin describes is the power of independent thought, which is the
power of freedom. We encourage you not to be "reasonable," not to accept
what others tell you, but to think and act for yourself!
One last point: to state the obvious, this is *not* the final word on
anarchism. Many anarchists will disagree with much that is written here,
but this is to be expected when people think for themselves. All we wish
to do is indicate the *basic* ideas of anarchism and give our analysis of
certain topics based on how we understand and apply these ideas. We are
sure, however, that all anarchists will agree with the core ideas we
present, even if they may disagree with our application of them here and
A.1 What is anarchism?
Anarchism is a political theory which aims to create anarchy, "the
absence of a master, of a sovereign." [P-J Proudhon, _What is Property_,
p. 264] In other words, anarchism is a political theory which aims
to create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together
as equals. As such anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical
control -- be that control by the state or a capitalist -- as harmful
to the individual and their individuality as well as unnecessary.
In the words of anarchist L. Susan Brown:
"While the popular understanding of anarchism is of a violent, anti-State
movement, anarchism is a much more subtle and nuanced tradition then a
simple opposition to government power. Anarchists oppose the idea that
power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate
more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and
economic organisation." [_The Politics of Individualism_, p. 106]
However, "anarchism" and "anarchy" are undoubtedly the most misrepresented
ideas in political theory. Generally, the words are used to mean "chaos" or
"without order," and so, by implication, anarchists desire social chaos
and a return to the "laws of the jungle."
This process of misrepresentation is not without historical parallel. For
example, in countries which have considered government by one person
(monarchy) necessary, the words "republic" or "democracy" have been used
precisely like "anarchy," to imply disorder and confusion. Those with a
vested interest in preserving the status quo will obviously wish to imply
that opposition to the current system cannot work in practice, and that a
new form of society will only lead to chaos. Or, as Errico Malatesta
"since it was thought that government was necessary and that without
government there could only be disorder and confusion, it was natural
and logical that anarchy, which means absence of government, should
sound like absence of order." [_Anarchy_, p. 12]
Anarchists want to change this "common-sense" idea of "anarchy," so people
will see that government and other hierarchical social relationships are
both harmful *and* unnecessary:
"Change opinion, convince the public that government is not only
unnecessary, but extremely harmful, and then the word anarchy, just
because it means absence of government, will come to mean for everybody:
natural order, unity of human needs and the interests of all, complete
freedom within complete solidarity." [Ibid., pp. 12-13]
This FAQ is part of the process of changing the commonly-held ideas
regarding anarchism and the meaning of anarchy.
A.1.1 What does "anarchy" mean?
The word "anarchy" is from the Greek, prefix *an* (or *a*), meaning
"not," "the want of," "the absence of," or "the lack of", plus *archos*,
meaning "a ruler," "director", "chief," "person in charge," or "authority."
Or, as Peter Kropotkin put it, Anarchy comes from the Greek words meaning
"contrary to authority." [_Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets_, p. 284]
While the Greek words *anarchos* and *anarchia* are often taken to
mean "having no government" or "being without a government," as can be
seen, the strict, original meaning of anarchism was not simply "no
government." "An-archy" means "without a ruler," or more generally,
"without authority," and it is in this sense that anarchists have
continually used the word. For example, we find Kropotkin arguing
that anarchism "attacks not only capital, but also the main sources
of the power of capitalism: law, authority, and the State." [Op. Cit.,
p. 150] For anarchists, anarchy means "not necessarily absence of
order, as is generally supposed, but an absence of rule." [Benjamin
Tucker, _Instead of a Book_, p. 13] Hence David Weick's excellent
"Anarchism can be understood as the *generic* social and political
idea that expresses negation of *all* power, sovereignty, domination,
and hierarchical division, and a will to their dissolution. . .
Anarchism is therefore more than anti-statism . . . [even if]
government (the state) . . . is, appropriately, the central focus
of anarchist critique." [_Reinventing Anarchy_, p. 139]
For this reason, rather than being purely anti-government or anti-state,
anarchism is primarily a movement against *hierarchy.* Why? Because
hierarchy is the organisational structure that embodies authority. Since
the state is the "highest" form of hierarchy, anarchists are, by definition,
anti-state; but this is *not* a sufficient definition of anarchism. This
means that real anarchists are opposed to all forms of hierarchical
organisation, not only the state. In the words of Brian Morris:
"The term anarchy comes from the Greek, and essentially means 'no
ruler.' Anarchists are people who reject all forms of government
or coercive authority, all forms of hierarchy and domination.
They are therefore opposed to what the Mexican anarchist Flores
Magon called the 'sombre trinity' -- state, capital and the
church. Anarchists are thus opposed to both capitalism and to
the state, as well as to all forms of religious authority. But
anarchists also seek to establish or bring about by varying means,
a condition of anarchy, that is, a decentralised society without
coercive institutions, a society organised through a federation
of voluntary associations." ["Anthropology and Anarchism,"
_Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed_ no. 45, p. 38]
Reference to "hierarchy" in this context is a fairly recent development --
the "classical" anarchists such as Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin did use
the word, but rarely (they usually preferred "authority," which was used as
short-hand for "authoritarian"). However, it's clear from their writings
that theirs was a philosophy against hierarchy, against any inequality of
power or privileges between individuals. Bakunin spoke of this when he
attacked "official" authority but defended "natural influence," and also
when he said:
"Do you want to make it impossible for anyone to oppress his fellow-man?
Then make sure that no one shall possess power." [_The Political Philosophy
of Bakunin_, p. 271]
As Jeff Draughn notes, "while it has always been a latent part of the
'revolutionary project,' only recently has this broader concept of
anti-hierarchy arisen for more specific scrutiny. Nonetheless, the root
of this is plainly visible in the Greek roots of the word 'anarchy.'"
[_Between Anarchism and Libertarianism: Defining a New Movement_]
We stress that this opposition to hierarchy is, for anarchists, not
limited to just the state or government. It includes all authoritarian
economic and social relationships as well as political ones, particularly
those associated with capitalist property and wage labour. This can be
seen from Proudhon's argument that "*Capital* . . . in the political field
is analogous to *government* . . . The economic idea of capitalism . . .
[and] the politics of government or of authority . . . [are] identical . . .
[and] linked in various ways. . . What capital does to labour . . . the
State [does] to liberty . . ." [quoted by Max Nettlau, _A Short History
of Anarchism_, pp. 43-44] Thus we find Emma Goldman opposing capitalism
as it involved people selling their labour and so ensuring that "the
worker's inclination and judgement are subordinated to the will of a
master." [_Red Emma Speaks_, p. 36] Forty years earlier Bakunin made
the same point when he argued that under the current system "the worker
sells his person and his liberty for a given time" to the capitalist
in exchange for a wage [Op. Cit., p. 187].
Thus "anarchy" means more than just "no government," it means opposition
to all forms of authoritarian organisation and hierarchy. In Kropotkin's
words, "the origin of the anarchist inception of society . . . [lies in]
the criticism . . . of the hierarchical organisations and the authoritarian
conceptions of society; and . . . the analysis of the tendencies that are
seen in the progressive movements of mankind." [_Kropotkin's Revolutionary
Pamphlets_, p. 158] Thus any attempt to assert that anarchy is purely
anti-state is a misrepresentation of the word and the way it has been
used by the anarchist movement. As Brian Morris argues, "when one
examines the writings of classical anarchists . . . as well as the
character of anarchist movements . . . it is clearly evident that it
has never had this limited vision [of just being against the state]. It
has always challenged all forms of authority and exploitation, and has
been equally critical of capitalism and religion as it has been of the
state." [Op. Cit., p. 40]
And, just to state the obvious, anarchy does not mean chaos nor do anarchists
seek to create chaos or disorder. Instead, we wish to create a society
based upon individual freedom and voluntary co-operation. In other words,
order from the bottom up, not disorder imposed from the top down by
A.1.2 What does "anarchism" mean?
To quote Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism is "the no-government system of
socialism." [_Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets_, p. 46] In other
words, "the abolition of exploitation and oppression of man by man,
that is the abolition of private property [i.e. capitalism] and
government." [Errico Malatesta, "Towards Anarchism," in _Man!_,
M. Graham (ed.), p. 75]
Anarchism, therefore, is a political theory that aims to create a society
which is without political, economic or social hierarchies. Anarchists
maintain that anarchy, the absence of rulers, is a viable form of social
system and so work for the maximisation of individual liberty and social
equality. They see the goals of liberty and equality as mutually
self-supporting. Or, in Bakunin's famous dictum:
"We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and
injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality."
[_The Political Philosophy of Bakunin_, p. 269]
The history of human society proves this point. Liberty without equality
is only liberty for the powerful, and equality without liberty is
impossible and a justification for slavery.
While there are many different types of anarchism (from individualist
anarchism to communist-anarchism -- see section A.3 for more details),
there has always been two common positions at the core of all of them --
opposition to government and opposition to capitalism. In the words of
the individualist-anarchist Benjamin Tucker, anarchism insists on "the
abolition of the State and the abolition of usury; on no more government
of man by man, and no more exploitation of man by man." [cited in
_Native American Anarchism: A Study of Left-Wing American Individualism_
by Eunice Schuster, p. 140] All anarchists view profit, interest and rent
as *usury* (i.e. as exploitation) and so oppose them and the conditions
that create them just as much as they oppose government and the State.
More generally, in the words of L. Susan Brown, the "unifying link" within
anarchism "is a universal condemnation of hierarchy and domination and
a willingness to fight for the freedom of the human individual." [_The
Politics of Individualism_, p. 108] For anarchists, a person cannot be
free if they are subject to state or capitalist authority.
So Anarchism is a political theory which advocates the creation of
anarchy, a society based on the maxim of "no rulers." To achieve this,
"[i]n common with all socialists, the anarchists hold that the private
ownership of land, capital, and machinery has had its time; that it is
condemned to disappear: and that all requisites for production must, and
will, become the common property of society, and be managed in common
by the producers of wealth. And . . . they maintain that the ideal of the
political organisation of society is a condition of things where the
functions of government are reduced to minimum. . . [and] that the
ultimate aim of society is the reduction of the functions of government
to nil -- that is, to a society without government, to an-archy." [Peter
Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 46]
Thus anarchism is both positive and negative. It analyses and critiques
current society while at the same time offering a vision of a potential
new society -- a society that fulfils certain human needs which the
current one denies. These needs, at their most basic, are liberty,
equality and solidarity, which will be discussed in section A.2.
Anarchism unites critical analysis with hope, for, as Bakunin pointed
out, "the urge to destroy is a creative urge." One cannot build a better
society without understanding what is wrong with the present one.
A.1.3 Why is anarchism also called libertarian socialism?
Many anarchists, seeing the negative nature of the definition of
"anarchism," have used other terms to emphasise the inherently positive
and constructive aspect of their ideas. The most common terms used are
"free socialism," "free communism," "libertarian socialism," and
"libertarian communism." For anarchists, libertarian socialism,
libertarian communism, and anarchism are virtually interchangeable.
Considering definitions from the _American Heritage Dictionary_,
LIBERTARIAN: one who believes in freedom of action and thought;
one who believes in free will.
SOCIALISM: a social system in which the producers possess both
political power and the means of producing and distributing goods.
Just taking those two first definitions and fusing them yields:
LIBERTARIAN SOCIALISM: a social system which believes in
freedom of action and thought and free will, in which the producers
possess both political power and the means of producing and
(Although we must add that our usual comments on the lack of political
sophistication of dictionaries still holds. We only use these definitions
to show that "libertarian" does not imply "free market" capitalism nor
"socialism" state ownership. Other dictionaries, obviously, will have
different definitions -- particularly for socialism. Those wanting to
debate dictionary definitions are free to pursue this unending and
politically useless hobby but we will not).
However, due to the creation of the Libertarian Party in the USA,
many people now consider the idea of "libertarian socialism" to be a
contradiction in terms. Indeed, many "Libertarians" think anarchists are
just attempting to associate the "anti-libertarian" ideas of "socialism"
(as Libertarians conceive it) with Libertarian ideology in order to make
those "socialist" ideas more "acceptable" -- in other words, trying to
steal the "libertarian" label from its rightful possessors.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists have been using the term
"libertarian" to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850's. The
revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published _Le Libertaire, Journal
du Mouvement social_ in New York between 1858 and 1861 [Max Nettlau,
_A Short History of Anarchism_, p. 75]. According to anarchist historian Max
Nettlau, the use of the term "libertarian communism" dates from November,
1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it [Ibid., p. 145]. The use
of the term "Libertarian" by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s
onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist
laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word "anarchy" in the
popular mind (Sebastien Faure and Louise Michel published the paper
_Le Libertaire_ -- _The Libertarian_ -- in France in 1895, for example).
Since then, particularly outside America, it has *always* been associated
with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the
USA, anarchists organised "The Libertarian League" in July 1954, which had
staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. The US-based
"Libertarian" Party, on the other hand has only existed since the early
1970's, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe
their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression "libertarian
communism" was first adopted). It is that party, not the anarchists, who
have "stolen" the word. Later, in Section B, we will discuss why the idea
of a "libertarian" capitalism (as desired by the Libertarian Party) is
a contradiction in terms.
As we will also explain in Section I, only a libertarian-socialist system
of ownership can maximise individual freedom. Needless to say, state
ownership -- what is commonly *called* "socialism" -- is, for anarchists,
not socialism at all. In fact, as we will elaborate in Section H, state
"socialism" is just a form of capitalism, with no socialist content
A.1.4 Are anarchists socialists?
Yes. All branches of anarchism are opposed to capitalism. This is because
capitalism is based upon oppression and exploitation (see sections B and C).
Anarchists reject the "notion that men cannot work together unless they
have a driving-master to take a percentage of their product" and think
that in an anarchist society "the real workmen will make their own
regulations, decide when and where and how things shall be done." By
so doing workers would free themselves "from the terrible bondage of
capitalism." [Voltairine de Cleyre, "Anarchism," pp. 30-34, _Man!_,
M. Graham (ed.), p. 32, p. 34]
(We must stress here that anarchists are opposed to *all* economic forms
which are based on domination and exploitation, including feudalism,
Soviet-style "socialism" and so on. We just concentrate on capitalism
because that is what is dominating the world just now).
Individualists like Benjamin Tucker along with social anarchists like
Proudhon and Bakunin proclaimed themselves "socialists." They did so
because, as Kropotkin put it in his classic essay "Modern Science and
Anarchism," "[s]o long as Socialism was understood in its wide, generic,
and true sense -- as an effort to *abolish* the exploitation of Labour by
Capital -- the Anarchists were marching hand-in-hands with the Socialists
of that time." [_Evolution and Environment_, p. 81] Or, in Tucker's words,
"the bottom claim of Socialism [is] that labour should be put in possession
of its own," a claim that both "the two schools of Socialistic thought . . .
State Socialism and Anarchism" agreed upon. [_The Anarchist Reader_, p. 144]
Hence the word "socialist" was originally defined to include "all those
who believed in the individual's right to possess what he or she produced."
[Lance Klafta, "Ayn Rand and the Perversion of Libertarianism," in
_Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed_, no. 34] This opposition to
exploitation (or usury) is shared by all true anarchists and places
them under the socialist banner.
For most socialists, "the only guarantee not to be robbed of the fruits
of your labour is to possess the instruments of labour." [Peter Kropotkin,
_The Conquest of Bread_, p. 145] For this reason Proudhon, for example,
supported workers' co-operatives, where "every individual employed in the
association . . . has an undivided share in the property of the company"
because by "participation in losses and gains . . . the collective force
[i.e. surplus] ceases to be a source of profits for a small number of
managers: it becomes the property of all workers." [_The General Idea
of the Revolution_, p. 222 and p. 223] Thus, in addition to desiring the
end of exploitation of labour by capital, true socialists also desire a
society within which the producers own and control the means of production.
The means by which the producers will do this is a moot point in anarchist
and other socialist circles, but the desire remains a common one. Anarchists
favour direct workers' control and either ownership by workers' associations
or by the commune (see section A.3 on the different types of anarchists).
Moreover, anarchists also reject capitalism for being authoritarian *as
well as* exploitative. Under capitalism, workers do not govern themselves
during the production process nor have control over the product of their
labour. Such a situation is hardly based on equal freedom for all, nor
can it be non-exploitative, and is so opposed by anarchists. This
perspective can best be found in the work of Proudhon's (who inspired
both Tucker and Bakunin) where he argues that anarchism would see
"[c]apitalistic and proprietary exploitation stopped everywhere
[and] the wage system abolished" for "either the workman. . . will
be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he
will participate . . . In the first case the workman is subordinated,
exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience. . . In the
second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen. . . he forms
part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the
slave . . . we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is
necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without
that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and
there would ensue two. . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which
is repugnant to a free and democratic society." [Op. Cit., p. 233 and
Therefore *all* anarchists are anti-capitalist ("If labour owned the
wealth it produced, there would be no capitalism" [Alexander Berkman,
_What is Communist Anarchism?_, p. 37]). Benjamin Tucker, for example
-- the anarchist most influenced by liberalism (as we will discuss
later) -- called his ideas "Anarchistic-Socialism" and denounced
capitalism as a system based upon "the usurer, the receiver of
interest, rent and profit." Tucker held that in an anarchist,
non-capitalist, free-market society, capitalists will become redundant
and exploitation of labour by capital would cease, since "labour. . .
will. . . secure its natural wage, its entire product." [_The
Individualist Anarchists_, p. 82 and p. 85] Such an economy would
be based on mutual banking and the free exchange of products between
co-operatives, artisans and peasants. For Tucker, and other
Individualist anarchists, capitalism is not a true free market,
being marked by various laws and monopolies which ensure that
capitalists have the advantage over working people, so resulting in
the latters exploitation via profit, interest and rent (see section
G for a fuller discussion). Even Max Stirner, the arch-egoist, had
nothing but scorn for capitalist society and its various "spooks,"
which for him meant ideas that are treated as sacred or religious,
such as private property, competition, division of labour, and so
So anarchists consider themselves as socialists, but socialists of a
specific kind -- *libertarian socialists*. As the individualist
anarchist Joseph A. Labadie puts it (echoing both Tucker and Bakunin):
"[i]t is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake.
Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism,
archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and
free. Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to
increase or decrease the powers of external wills and forces over
the individual. As they increase they are archistic; as they decrease
they are anarchistic." [_Anarchism: What It Is and What It Is Not_]
Labadie stated on many occasions that "all anarchists are socialists,
but not all socialists are anarchists." Therefore, Daniel Guerin's
comment that "Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The
anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the
exploitation of man by man" is echoed throughout the history
of the anarchist movement, be it the social or individualist wings
[_Anarchism_, p. 12]. Indeed, the Haymarket Martyr Adolph Fischer
used almost exactly the same words as Labadie to express the same
fact -- "every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not
necessarily an anarchist" -- while acknowledging that the movement
was "divided into two factions; the communistic anarchists and the
Proudhon or middle-class anarchists." [_The Autobiographies of the
Haymarket Martyrs_, p. 81]
So while social and individualist anarchists do disagree on many
issues -- for example, whether a true, that is non-capitalist,
free market would be the best means of maximising liberty -- they
agree that capitalism is to be opposed as exploitative and oppressive
and that an anarchist society must, by definition, be based on
associated, not wage, labour. Only associated labour will "decrease
the powers of external wills and forces over the individual" during
working hours and such self-management of work by those who do it
is the core ideal of real socialism. This perspective can be seen
when Joseph Labadie argued that the trade union was "the
exemplification of gaining freedom by association" and that
"[w]ithout his union, the workman is much more the slave of
his employer than he is with it." [_Different Phases of the
However, the meanings of words change over time. Today "socialism"
almost always refers to *state* socialism, a system that all anarchists
have opposed as a denial of freedom and genuine socialist ideals.
All anarchists would agree with Noam Chomsky's statement on this
"If the left is understood to include 'Bolshevism,' then I would
flatly dissociate myself from the left. Lenin was one of the greatest
enemies of socialism." ["Anarchism, Marxism & Hope for the Future",
_Red and Black Revolution_, no. 2]
Anarchism developed in constant opposition to the ideas of Marxism,
social democracy and Leninism. Long before Lenin rose to power, Michael
Bakunin warned the followers of Marx against the "Red bureaucracy" that
would institute "the worst of all despotic governments" if Marx's
state-socialist ideas were ever implemented. Indeed, the works of
Stirner, Proudhon and especially Bakunin all predict the horror of
State Socialism with great accuracy. In addition, the anarchists were
among the first and most vocal critics and opposition to the Bolshevik
regime in Russia.
Nevertheless, being socialists, anarchists do share *some* ideas with
*some* Marxists (though none with Leninists). Both Bakunin and Tucker
accepted Marx's analysis and critique of capitalism as well as his
labour theory of value (see section C). Marx himself was heavily
influenced by Max Stirner's book _The Ego and Its Own_, which contains
a brilliant critique of what Marx called "vulgar" communism as well as
state socialism. There have also been elements of the Marxist movement
holding views very similar to social anarchism (particularly the
anarcho-syndicalist branch of social anarchism) -- for example,
Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxembourg, Paul Mattick and others, who are
very far from Lenin. Karl Korsch and others wrote sympathetically of
the anarchist revolution in Spain. There are many continuities from
Marx to Lenin, but there are also continuities from Marx to more
libertarian Marxists, who were harshly critical of Lenin and
Bolshevism and whose ideas approximate anarchism's desire for the
free association of equals.
Therefore anarchism is basically a form of socialism, one that stands
in direct opposition to what is usually defined as "socialism" (i.e.
state ownership and control). Instead of "central planning," which
many people associate with the word "socialism," anarchists advocate
free association and co-operation between individuals, workplaces and
communities and so oppose "state" socialism as a form of state capitalism
in which "[e]very man [and woman] will be a wage-receiver, and the
State the only wage payer." [Benjamin Tucker, _The Individualist
Anarchists_, p. 81] Thus anarchist's reject Marxism (what most
people think of as "socialism") as just "[t]he idea of the State
as Capitalist . . . which the Social-Democratic fraction of the
great Socialist Party is now trying to reduce Socialism." [Peter
Kropotkin, _The Great French Revolution_, p. 31] The anarchist
objection to the identification of Marxism, "central planning"
and State Socialism/Capitalism with socialism will be discussed
in section H.
It is because of these differences with state socialists, and to reduce
confusion, most anarchists just call themselves "anarchists," as it is
taken for granted that anarchists are socialists. However, with the rise
of the so-called "libertarian" right in the USA, some pro-capitalists
have taken to calling themselves "anarchists" and that is why we have
laboured the point somewhat here. Historically, and logically, anarchism
implies anti-capitalism, i.e. socialism, which is something, we stress,
that all anarchists have agreed upon (for a fuller discussion of why
"anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist see section F).
A.1.5 Where does anarchism come from?
Where does anarchism come from? We can do no better than quote the
_The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists_ produced
by participants of the Makhnovist movement in the Russian Revolution
(see Section A.5.4). They point out that:
"The class struggle created by the enslavement of workers and their
aspirations to liberty gave birth, in the oppression, to the idea of
anarchism: the idea of the total negation of a social system based on
the principles of classes and the State, and its replacement by a free
non-statist society of workers under self-management.
"So anarchism does not derive from the abstract reflections of an
intellectual or a philosopher, but from the direct struggle of workers
against capitalism, from the needs and necessities of the workers, from
their aspirations to liberty and equality, aspirations which become
particularly alive in the best heroic period of the life and struggle
of the working masses.
"The outstanding anarchist thinkers, Bakunin, Kropotkin and others,
did not invent the idea of anarchism, but, having discovered it in
the masses, simply helped by the strength of their thought and
knowledge to specify and spread it." [pp. 15-16]
Like the anarchist movement in general, the Makhnovists were a mass
movement of working class people resisting the forces of authority, both
Red (Communist) and White (Tsarist/Capitalist) in the Ukraine from 1917
to 1921. As Peter Marshall notes "anarchism . . . has traditionally
found its chief supporters amongst workers and peasants." [_Demanding
the Impossible_, p. 652]
Anarchism was created in, and by, the struggle of the oppressed for
freedom. For Kropotkin, for example, "Anarchism . . . originated in
everyday struggles" and "the Anarchist movement was renewed each
time it received an impression from some great practical lesson:
it derived its origin from the teachings of life itself" (see also
section J.5). [_Evolution and Environment_, p. 58 and p. 57] For
Proudhon, "the proof" of his mutualist ideas lay in the "current
practice, revolutionary practice" of "those labour associations . . .
which have spontaneously . . . been formed in Paris and Lyon . . .
[show that the] organisation of credit and organisation of labour
amount to one and the same." [_No Gods, No Masters_, vol. 1,
pp. 59-60] Indeed, as one historian argues, there was "close
similarity between the associational ideal of Proudhon . . . and
the program of the Lyon Mutualists" and that there was "a remarkable
convergence [between the ideas], and it is likely that Proudhon was
able to articulate his positive program more coherently because of
the example of the silk workers of Lyon. The socialist ideal that
he championed was already being realised, to a certain extent, by
such workers." [K. Steven Vincent, _Piere-Joseph Proudhon and the
Rise of French Republican Socialism_, p. 164]
Thus anarchism comes from the fight for liberty and our desires to lead
a fully human life, one in which we have time to live, to love and to
play. It was not created by a few people divorced from life, in ivory
towers looking down upon society and making judgements upon it based
on their notions of what is right and wrong. Rather, it was a product
of working class struggle and resistance to authority, oppression and
exploitation. As Albert Meltzer put it, "[t]here were never theoreticians
of Anarchism as such, [a] writer comes along and writes down what has
already been worked out in practice by workers and peasants; he/she is
attributed by bourgeois historians as being a leaders, and by successive
bourgeois historians as being a leader, and by successive bourgeois
writers (citing the bourgeois historians) as being one more case that
proves the working class relies on the bourgeois leaders." [_Anarchism:
Arguments for and against_, pp. 10-12] In Kropotkin's eyes, all
anarchist writers did was to "work out a general expression of
[anarchism's] principles, and the theoretical and scientific basis
of its teachings" derived from the experiences of working class people
in struggle as well as analysing the evolutionary tendencies of society
in general. [Op. Cit., p. 57]
However, anarchistic tendencies and organisations in society have existed
long before Proudhon put pen to paper in 1840 and declared himself an
anarchist. While anarchism, as a specific political theory, was born with
the rise of capitalism (Anarchism "emerged at the end of the eighteenth
century . . .[and] took up the dual challenge of overthrowing both
Capital and the State." [Peter Marshall, Op. Cit., p. 4]) anarchist
writers have analysed history for libertarian tendencies. Kropotkin
argued, for example, that "from all times there have been Anarchists
and Statists." [Op. Cit., p. 16] In _Mutual Aid_ (and elsewhere)
Kropotkin analysed the libertarian aspects of previous societies
and noted those that successfully implemented (to some degree)
anarchist organisation or aspects of anarchism. This was particularly
the case with indigenous peoples, for example most Native American
tribes organised themselves in a very anarchistic manner.
Kropotkin recognised this tendency of actual examples of anarchistic
ideas to predate the creation of the "official" anarchist movement
and argued that:
"From the remotest, stone-age antiquity, men [and women] have realised
the evils that resulted from letting some of them acquire personal
authority. . . Consequently they developed in the primitive clan,
the village community, the medieval guild . . . and finally in the
free medieval city, such institutions as enabled them to resist
the encroachments upon their life and fortunes both of those strangers
who conquered them, and those clansmen of their own who endeavoured
to establish their personal authority." [_Kropotkin's Revolutionary
Pamphlets_, pp. 158-9]
Kropotkin placed the struggle of working class people (from which modern
anarchism sprung) on par with these older forms of popular organisation.
He argued that "the labour combinations. . . were an outcome of the same
popular resistance to the growing power of the few -- the capitalists
in this case" as were the clan, the village community and so on, as
were "the strikingly independent, freely federated activity of the
'Sections' of Paris and all great cities and many small 'Communes'
during the French Revolution" in 1793. [Op. Cit., p. 159]
Thus, while anarchism as a political theory is an expression of working
class struggle and self-activity against capitalism and the modern state,
the ideas of anarchism have continually expressed themselves in action
throughout human existence. Most indigenous peoples in North America and
elsewhere, for example, practised anarchism for thousands of years before
anarchism as a specific political theory existed. Similarly, anarchistic
tendencies and organisations have existed in every major revolution --
the New England Town Meetings during the American Revolution, the Parisian
'Sections' during the French Revolution, the workers' councils and factory
committees during the Russian Revolution to name just a few examples (see
Murray Bookchin's _The Third Revolution_ for details). This is to be expected
if anarchism is, as we argue, a product of resistance to authority then
any society with authorities will provoke resistance to them and generate
anarchistic tendencies (and, of course, any societies without authorities
cannot help but being anarchistic).
In other words, anarchism is an expression of the struggle against oppression
and exploitation, a generalisation of working people's experiences and
analyses of what is wrong with the current system and an expression of our
hopes and dreams for a better future. This struggle existed before it was
called anarchism, but the historic anarchist movement (i.e. groups of people
calling their ideas anarchism and aiming for an anarchist society) is
essentially a product of working class struggle against capitalism and
the state, against oppression and exploitation, and *for* a free society
of free and equal individuals.
A.2 What does anarchism stand for?
These words by Percy Bysshe Shelley gives an idea of what anarchism stands
for in practice and what ideals drive it:
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys:
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches, and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanised automaton.
As Shelley's lines suggest, anarchists place a high priority on liberty,
desiring it both for themselves and others. They also consider
individuality -- that which makes one a unique person -- to be a most
important aspect of humanity. They recognise, however, that individuality
does not exist in a vacuum but is a *social* phenomenon. Outside of
society, individuality is impossible, since one needs other people in
order to develop, expand, and grow.
Moreover, between individual and social development there is a reciprocal
effect: individuals grow within and are shaped by a particular society,
while at the same time they help shape and change aspects of that society
(as well as themselves and other individuals) by their actions and thoughts.
A society not based on free individuals, their hopes, dreams and ideas would
be hollow and dead. Thus, "the making of a human being. . . is a collective
process, a process in which both community and the individual *participate.*"
[Murray Bookchin, _The Modern Crisis_, p. 79] Consequently, any political
theory which bases itself purely on the social or the individual is false.
In order for individuality to develop to the fullest possible extent,
anarchists consider it essential to create a society based on three
principles: liberty, equality and solidarity, which are interdependent.
Liberty is essential for the full flowering of human intelligence,
creativity, and dignity. To be dominated by another is to be denied the
chance to think and act for oneself, which is the only way to grow and
develop one's individuality. Domination also stifles innovation and
personal responsibility, leading to conformity and mediocrity. Thus the
society that maximises the growth of individuality will necessarily be
based on voluntary association, not coercion and authority. To quote
Proudhon, "All associated and all free." Or, as Luigi Galleani puts it,
anarchism is "the autonomy of the individual within the freedom of
association" [_The End of Anarchism?_, p. 35] (See further section
A.2.2, "Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?").
If liberty is essential for the fullest development of individuality, then
equality is essential for genuine liberty to exist. There can be no real
freedom in a class-stratified, hierarchical society riddled with gross
inequalities of power, wealth, and privilege. For in such a society only
a few -- those at the top of the hierarchy -- are relatively free, while
the rest are semi-slaves. Hence without equality, liberty becomes a
mockery -- at best the "freedom" to choose one's master (boss), as under
capitalism. Moreover, even the elite under such conditions are not really
free, because they must live in a stunted society made ugly and barren by
the tyranny and alienation of the majority. And since individuality
develops to the fullest only with the widest contact with other free
individuals, members of the elite are restricted in the possibilities for
their own development by the scarcity of free individuals with whom to
interact. (See also A.2.5 "Why are anarchists in favour of equality?)
Finally, solidarity means mutual aid: working voluntarily and
co-operatively with others who share the same goals and interests. But
without liberty and equality, society becomes a pyramid of competing
classes based on the domination of the lower by the higher strata. In
such a society, as we know from our own, it's "dominate or be dominated,"
"dog eat dog," and "everyone for themselves." Thus "rugged individualism"
is promoted at the expense of community feeling, with those on the bottom
resenting those above them and those on the top fearing those below them.
Under such conditions, there can be no society-wide solidarity, but only a
partial form of solidarity within classes whose interests are opposed,
which weakens society as a whole. (See also A.2.6, "Why is solidarity
important to anarchists?")
It should be noted that solidarity does not imply self-sacrifice or
self-negation. As Errico Malatesta makes clear:
"we are all egoists, we all seek our own satisfaction. But the anarchist
finds his greatest satisfaction in struggling for the good of all, for the
achievement of a society in which he [sic] can be a brother among brothers,
and among healthy, intelligent, educated, and happy people. But he who is
adaptable, who is satisfied to live among slaves and draw profit from the
labour of slaves, is not, and cannot be, an anarchist." [_Life and Ideas_,
For anarchists, *real* wealth is other people and the planet on which
Also, honouring individuality does not mean that anarchists are
idealists, thinking that people or ideas develop outside of society.
Individuality and ideas grow and develop within society, in response to
material and intellectual interactions and experiences, which people
actively analyse and interpret. Anarchism, therefore, is a *materialist*
theory, recognising that ideas develop and grow from social interaction
and individuals' mental activity (see Michael Bakunin's _God and the
State_ for the classic discussion of materialism verses idealism).
This means that an anarchist society will be the creation of human beings,
not some deity or other transcendental principle, since "[n]othing ever
arranges itself, least of all in human relations. It is men [sic] who do
the arranging, and they do it according to their attitudes and understanding
of things." [Alexander Berkman, _ABC of Anarchism_, p. 42]
Therefore, anarchism bases itself upon the power of ideas and the ability
of people to act and transform their lives based on what they consider to
be right. In other words, liberty.
A.2.1 What is the essence of anarchism?
As we have seen, "an-archy" implies "without rulers" or "without (hierarchical)
authority." Anarchists are not against "authorities" in the sense of experts
who are particularly knowledgeable, skilful, or wise, though they believe
that such authorities should have no power to force others to follow their
recommendations (see section B.1 for more on this distinction). In a
nutshell, then, anarchism is anti-authoritarianism.
Anarchists are anti-authoritarians because they believe that no human
being should dominate another. Anarchists, in L. Susan Brown's words,
"believe in the inherent dignity and worth of the human individual."
[_The Politics of Individualism_, p. 107] Domination is inherently
degrading and demeaning, since it submerges the will and judgement of
the dominated to the will and judgement of the dominators, thus destroying
the dignity and self-respect that comes only from personal autonomy.
Moreover, domination makes possible and generally leads to exploitation,
which is the root of alienation, inequality, poverty, and social breakdown.
In other words, then, the essence of anarchism (to express it positively)
is free co-operation between equals to maximise their liberty and
Co-operation between equals is the key to anti-authoritarianism. By
co-operation we can develop and protect our own intrinsic value as unique
individuals as well as enriching our lives and liberty for "[n]o individual
can recognise his own humanity, and consequently realise it in his lifetime,
if not by recognising it in others and co-operating in its realisation for
others." [Michael Bakunin, cited by Malatesta in _Anarchy_, p. 27]
While being anti-authoritarians, anarchists recognise that human beings
have a social nature and that they mutually influence each other. We
cannot escape the "authority" of this mutual influence, because, as
Bakunin reminds us:
"[t]he abolition of this mutual influence would be death. And when we
advocate the freedom of the masses, we are by no means suggesting the
abolition of any of the natural influences that individuals or groups
of individuals exert on them. What we want is the abolition of
influences which are artificial, privileged, legal, official."
[quoted by Malatesta, in _Anarchy_, p. 50]
In other words, those influences which stem from hierarchical authority.
A.2.2 Why do anarchists emphasise liberty?
An anarchist can be regarded, in Bakunin's words, as a "fanatic lover
of freedom, considering it as the unique environment within which
the intelligence, dignity and happiness of mankind can develop and
increase." [_Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings_, p. 196] Because
human beings are thinking creatures, to deny them liberty is to deny
them the opportunity to think for themselves, which is to deny their
very existence as humans. For anarchists, freedom is a product of our
"the very fact. . . that a person has a consciousness of self, of being
different from others, creates a desire to act freely. The craving for
liberty and self-expression is a very fundamental and dominant trait."
[Emma Goldman, _Red Emma Speaks_, p. 393]
For this reason, anarchism "proposes to rescue the self-respect and
independence of the individual from all restraint and invasion by authority.
Only in freedom can man [sic] grow to his full stature. Only in freedom
will he learn to think and move, and give the very best of himself. Only
in freedom will he realise the true force of the social bonds which tie
men together, and which are the true foundations of a normal social life."
[Ibid., p. 59]
Thus, for anarchists, freedom is basically individuals pursuing their
own good in their own way. Doing so calls forth the activity and power
of individuals as they make decisions for and about themselves and their
lives. Only liberty can ensure individual development and diversity. This
is because when individuals govern themselves and make their own decisions
they have to exercise their minds and this can have no other effect
than expanding and stimulating the individuals involved.
So, liberty is the precondition for the maximum development of
one's individual potential, which is also a social product and can be
achieved only in and through community. A healthy, free community will
produce free individuals, who in turn will shape the community and enrich
the social relationships between the people of whom it is composed.
Liberties, being socially produced, "do not exist because they have been
legally set down on a piece of paper, but only when they have become the
ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair them will meet
with the violent resistance of the populace . . . One compels respect from
others when one knows how to defend one's dignity as a human being.
This is not only true in private life; it has always been the same in
political life as well." [Rudolf Rocker, _Anarcho-syndicalism_, p. 64]
In short, liberty develops only within society, not in opposition to it.
Thus Murray Bookchin writes:
"What freedom, independence, and autonomy people have in a given
historical period is the product of long social traditions and . . . a
*collective* development -- which is not to deny that individuals play
an important role in that development, indeed are ultimately obliged
to do so if they wish to be free." [_Social Anarchism or Lifestyle
Anarchism_, p. 15]
But freedom requires the right *kind* of social environment in which
to grow and develop. Such an environment *must* be decentralised
and based on the direct management of work by those who do it.
For centralisation means coercive authority (hierarchy), whereas
self-management is the essence of freedom. Self-management
ensures that the individuals involved use (and so develop) all
their abilities -- particularly their mental ones. Hierarchy, in
contrast, substitutes the activities and thoughts of a few for the
activities and thoughts of all the individuals involved. Thus,
rather than developing their abilities to the full, hierarchy
marginalises the many and ensures that their development
It is for this reason that anarchists oppose both capitalism and statism.
As the French anarchist Sebastien Faure noted, authority "dresses
itself in two principal forms: the political form, that is the State;
and the economic form, that is private property." [cited by Peter
Marshall, _Demanding the Impossible_, p. 43] Capitalism, like
the state, is based on centralised authority (i.e. of the boss over
the worker), the very purpose of which is to keep the management
of work out of the hands of those who do it. This means "that the
serious, final, complete liberation of the workers is possible only
upon one condition: that of the appropriation of capital, that is,
of raw material and all the tools of labour, including land, by the
whole body of the workers." [Michael Bakunin, cited by Rudolf
Rocker, _Anarcho-Syndicalism_, p. 45]
Hence, as Noam Chomsky argues, a "consistent anarchist must oppose
private ownership of the means of production and the wage slavery
which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle
that labour must be freely undertaken and under the control of the
producer." ["Notes on Anarchism", _For Reasons of State_, p. 158]
Thus, liberty for anarchists means a non-authoritarian society in
which individuals and groups practice self-management, i.e. they
govern themselves. The implications of this are important. First, it
implies that an anarchist society will be non-coercive, that is, one
in which violence or the threat of violence will not be used to "convince"
individuals to do anything. Second, it implies that anarchists are firm
supporters of individual sovereignty, and that, because of this support,
they also oppose institutions based on coercive authority, i.e. hierarchy.
And finally, it implies that anarchists' opposition to "government" means
only that they oppose centralised, hierarchical, bureaucratic organisations
or government. They do not oppose self-government through confederations
of decentralised, grassroots organisations, so long as these are based on
direct democracy rather than the delegation of power to "representatives."
For authority is the opposite of liberty, and hence any form of organisation
based on the delegation of power is a threat to the liberty and dignity of
the people subjected to that power.
Anarchists consider freedom to be the only social environment within
which human dignity and diversity can flower. Under capitalism and
statism, however, there is no freedom for the majority, as private property
and hierarchy ensure that the inclination and judgement of most individuals
will be subordinated to the will of a master, severely restricting their
liberty and making impossible the "full development of all the material,
intellectual and moral capacities that are latent in every one of us"
[Bakunin, _Bakunin on Anarchism_, p. 261] (see section B for further
discussion of the hierarchical and authoritarian nature of capitalism
A.2.3 Are anarchists in favour of organisation?
Yes. Without association, a truly human life is impossible. Liberty
*cannot* exist without society and organisation. As George Barrett,
in _Objections to Anarchism_, points out:
"[t]o get the full meaning out of life we must co-operate, and to
co-operate we must make agreements with our fellow-men. But to
suppose that such agreements mean a limitation of freedom is surely
an absurdity; on the contrary, they are the exercise of our freedom.
"If we are going to invent a dogma that to make agreements is to damage
freedom, then at once freedom becomes tyrannical, for it forbids men to
take the most ordinary everyday pleasures. For example, I cannot go for a
walk with my friend because it is against the principle of Liberty that I
should agree to be at a certain place at a certain time to meet him. I
cannot in the least extend my own power beyond myself, because to do so I
must co-operate with someone else, and co-operation implies an agreement,
and that is against Liberty. It will be seen at once that this argument is
absurd. I do not limit my liberty, but simply exercise it, when I agree
with my friend to go for a walk."
As far as organisation goes, anarchists think that "far from creating
authority, [it] is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each of
us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in collective
work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders." [Errico
Malatesta, _Life and Ideas_, p. 86]
The fact that anarchists are in favour of organisation may seem strange
at first, but this is because we live in a society in which virtually all
forms of organisation are authoritarian, making them appear to be the
only kind possible. What is usually not recognised is that this mode
of organisation is historically conditioned, arising within a specific
kind of society -- one whose motive principles are domination and
exploitation. According to archaeologists and anthropologists, this kind
of society has only existed for about 5,000 years, having appeared with
the first primitive states based on conquest and slavery, in which the
labour of slaves created a surplus which supported a ruling class.
Prior to that time, for hundreds of thousands of years, human and proto-human
societies were what Murray Bookchin calls "organic," that is, based on
co-operative forms of economic activity involving mutual aid, free access
to productive resources, and a sharing of the products of communal labour
according to need. Although such societies probably had status rankings
based on age, there were no hierarchies in the sense of institutionalised
dominance-subordination relations enforced by coercive sanctions and
resulting in class-stratification involving the economic exploitation of
one class by another (see Murray Bookchin, _The Ecology of Freedom_).
It must be emphasised, however, that anarchists do *not* advocate
going "back to the Stone Age." We merely note that since the
hierarchical-authoritarian mode of organisation is a relatively recent
development in the course of human social evolution, there is no reason to
suppose that it is somehow "fated" to be permanent. We do not think that
human beings are genetically "programmed" for authoritarian, competitive,
and aggressive behaviour, as there is no credible evidence to support this
claim. On the contrary, such behaviour is socially conditioned, or
*learned,* and as such, can be *unlearned* (see Ashley Montagu,
_The Nature of Human Aggression_). We are not fatalists or genetic
determinists, but believe in free will, which means that people can change
the way they do things, including the way they organise society.
And there is no doubt that society needs to be better organised, because
presently most of its wealth -- which is produced by the majority -- and
power gets distributed to a small, elite minority at the top of the social
pyramid, causing deprivation and suffering for the rest, particularly for
those at the bottom. Yet because this elite controls the means of coercion
through its control of the state (see B.2.4), it is able to suppress the
majority and ignore its suffering -- a phenomenon that occurs on a smaller
scale within all hierarchies. Little wonder, then, that people within
authoritarian and centralised structures come to hate them as a denial of
their freedom. As Alexander Berkman puts it:
"capitalist society is so badly organised that its various members suffer:
just as when you have a pain in some part of you, your whole body aches
and you are ill. . . , not a single member of the organisation or union
may with impunity be discriminated against, suppressed or ignored. To do
so would be the same as to ignore an aching tooth: you would be sick all
over." [Alexander Berkman, Op. Cit., p. 53]
Yet this is precisely what happens in capitalist society, with the result
that it is, indeed, "sick all over."
For these reasons, anarchists reject authoritarian forms of organisation
and instead support associations based on free agreement. Free agreement
is important because, in Berkman's words, "[o]nly when each is a free and
independent unit, co-operating with others from his own choice because of
mutual interests, can the world work successfully and become powerful."
[Op. Cit., p. 53] In the "political" sphere, this means direct democracy
and confederation, which are the expression and environment of liberty.
Direct (or participatory) democracy is essential because liberty and
equality imply the need for forums within which people can discuss and
debate as equals and which allow for the free exercise of what Murray
Bookchin calls "the creative role of dissent."
Anarchist ideas on libertarian organisation and the need for direct
democracy and confederation will be discussed further in sections
A.2.9 and A.2.10.
A.2.4 Are anarchists in favour of "absolute" liberty?
No. Anarchists do not believe that everyone should be able to "do
whatever they like," because some actions invariably involve the
denial of the liberty of others.
For example, anarchists do not support the "freedom" to rape,
to exploit, or to coerce others. Neither do we tolerate authority.
On the contrary, since authority is a threat to liberty, equality,
and solidarity (not to mention human dignity), anarchists
recognise the need to resist and overthrow it.
The exercise of authority is not freedom. No one has a "right" to rule
others. As Malatesta points out, anarchism supports "freedom for
everybody. . .with the only limit of the equal freedom for others;
which does *not* mean. . . that we recognise, and wish to respect, the
'freedom' to exploit, to oppress, to command, which is oppression and
certainly not freedom." [Errico Malatesta, _Life and Ideas_, p. 53]
In a capitalist society, resistance to all forms of hierarchical authority
is the mark of a free person -- be it private (the boss) or public (the
state). As Henry David Thoreau pointed out in his essay on "Civil
"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves."
A.2.5 Why are anarchists in favour of equality?
As mentioned in A.2, anarchists are dedicated to social equality because
it is the only context in which individual liberty can flourish. However,
there has been much nonsense written about "equality," and much
of what is commonly believed about it is very strange indeed. Before
discussing what anarchist *do* mean by equality, we have to indicate
what we *do not* mean by it.
Anarchists do *not* believe in "equality of endowment," which is not
only non-existent but would be *very* undesirable if it could be brought
about. Everyone is unique. Biologically determined human differences
not only exist but are "a cause for joy, not fear or regret." Why? Because
"life among clones would not be worth living, and a sane person will
only rejoice that others have abilities that they do not share." [Noam
Chomsky, "Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future", _Red and Black
Revolution_, No. 2]
That some people *seriously* suggest that anarchists mean by "equality"
is at everyone should be *identical* is a sad reflection on the state of
present-day intellectual culture and the corruption of words -- a corruption
used to divert attention from an unjust and authoritarian system and
side-track people into discussions of biology.
Nor are anarchists in favour of so-called "equality of outcome." We
have *no* desire to live in a society were everyone gets the same
goods, lives in the same kind of house, wears the same uniform, etc.
Part of the reason for the anarchist revolt against capitalism and
statism is that they standardise so much of life (see George Reitzer's
_The McDonaldization of Society_ on why capitalism is driven
towards standardisation and conformity, for example). In the
words of Alexander Berkman:
"The spirit of authority, law, written and unwritten, tradition
and custom force us into a common grove and make a man [or woman]
a will-less automation without independence or individuality. . .
All of us are its victims, and only the exceptionally strong succeed
in breaking its chains, and that only partly." [_The ABC of
Anarchism_, p., 26]
Anarchists, therefore, have little to desire to make this "common
grove" even deeper. Rather, we desire to destroy it and every social
relationship and institution that creates it in the first place.
"Equality of outcome" can only be introduced and maintained by force,
which would *not* be equality anyway, as some would have more power
than others! "Equality of outcome" is particularly hated by anarchists,
as we recognise that every individual has different needs, abilities,
desires and interests. To make all consume the same would be tyranny.
Obviously, if one person needs medical treatment and another does not,
they do not receive an "equal" amount of medical care. The same is
true of other human needs. As Alexander Berkman put it:
"equality does not mean an equal amount but equal *opportunity*. . . Do
not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced
equality of the convict camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom,
not quantity. It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear
the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from
it: the very reverse in fact." He goes on to argue that "[i]ndividual
needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is *equal opportunity*
to satisfy them that constitutes true equality. . . Free opportunity of
expressing and acting out your individuality means development of natural
dissimilarities and variations." [Op. Cit., p. 25]
For anarchists, the "concepts" of "equality" as "equality of outcome"
or "equality of endowment" are meaningless. However, in a hierarchical
society, "equality of opportunity" and "equality of outcome" *are*
related. Under capitalism, for example, the opportunities each
generation face are dependent on the outcomes of the previous ones.
This means that under capitalism "equality of opportunity" without
a rough "equality of outcome" (in the sense of income and resources)
becomes meaningless, as there is no real equality of opportunity for
the off-spring of a millionaire and that of a road sweeper. Those
who argue for "equality of opportunity" while ignoring the barriers
created by previous outcomes indicate that they do not know what
they are talking about -- opportunity in a hierarchical society
depends not only on an open road but also upon an equal start.
From this obvious fact springs the misconception that anarchists
desire "equality of outcome" -- but this applies to a hierarchical
system, in a free society this would not the case (as we will see).
Equality, in anarchist theory, does not mean denying individual
diversity or uniqueness. As Bakunin observes:
"once equality has triumphed and is well established, will various
individuals' abilities and their levels of energy cease to differ? Some
will exist, perhaps not so many as now, but certainly some will
always exist. It is proverbial that the same tree never bears two
identical leaves, and this will probably be always be true. And
it is even more truer with regard to human beings, who are much
more complex than leaves. But this diversity is hardly an evil. On
the contrary. . . it is a resource of the human race. Thanks to this
diversity, humanity is a collective whole in which the one individual
complements all the others and needs them. As a result, this infinite
diversity of human individuals is the fundamental cause and the
very basis of their solidarity. It is all-powerful argument for
equality." ["All-Round Education", _The Basic Bakunin_, pp. 117-8]
Equality for anarchists means *social* equality, or, to use Murray
Bookchin's term, the "equality of unequals" (some like Malatesta
used the term "equality of conditions" to express the same idea). By
this he means that an anarchist society recognises the differences in
ability and need of individuals but does not allow these differences to
be turned into power. Individual differences, in other words, "would
be of no consequence, because inequality in fact is lost in the
collectivity when it cannot cling to some legal fiction or institution."
[Michael Bakunin, _God and the State_, p. 53]
If hierarchical social relationships, and the forces that create them,
are abolished in favour of ones that encourage participation and
are based on the principle of "one person, one vote" then natural
differences would not be able to be turned into hierarchical power.
For example, without capitalist property rights there would not be
means by which a minority could monopolise the means of life
(machinery and land) and enrich themselves by the work of
others via the wages system and usury (profits, rent and interest).
Similarly, if workers manage their own work, there is no class of
capitalists to grow rich off their labour. Thus Proudhon:
"Now, what can be the origin of this inequality?
"As we see it, . . . that origin is the realisation within society of
this triple abstraction: capital, labour and talent.
"It is because society has divided itself into three categories of
citizen corresponding to the three terms of the formula. . . that
caste distinctions have always been arrived at, and one half of
the human race enslaved to the other. . . socialism thus consists
of reducing the aristocratic formula of capital-labour-talent into
the simpler formula of labour!. . . in order to make every
citizen simultaneously, equally and to the same extent capitalist,
labourer and expert or artist." [_No Gods, No Masters_, pp. 57-8]
Like all anarchists, Proudhon saw this integration of functions
as the key to equality and freedom and proposed self-management
as the means to achieve it. Thus self-management is the key to
social equality. Social equality in the workplace, for example,
means that everyone has an equal say in the policy decisions on
how the workplace develops and changes. Anarchists are strong
believers in the maxim "that which touches all, is decided by all."
This does not mean, of course, that expertise will be ignored or that
everyone will decide everything. As far as expertise goes, different
people have different interests, talents, and abilities, so obviously they
will want to study different things and do different kinds of work. It is
also obvious that when people are ill they consult a doctor -- an expert
-- who manages his or her own work rather than being directed by a
committee. We are sorry to have to bring these points up, but once the
topics of social equality and workers' self-management come up, some
people start to talk nonsense. It is common sense that a hospital managed
in a socially equal way will *not* involve non-medical staff voting on how
doctors should perform an operation!
In fact, social equality and individual liberty are inseparable. Without
the collective self-management of decisions that affect a group (equality)
to complement the individual self-management of decisions that affect
the individual (liberty), a free society is impossible. For without both,
some will have power over others, making decisions *for* them (i.e.
governing them), and thus some will be more free than others.
Social equality is required for individuals to both govern and express
themselves, for the self-management it implies means "people working
in face-to-face relations with their fellows in order to bring the
uniqueness of their own perspective to the business of solving
common problems and achieving common goals." [George Benello,
_From the Ground Up_, p. 160] Thus equality allows the expression
of individuality and so is a necessary base for individual liberty.
Section F.3 ("Why do 'anarcho'-capitalists generally place little or no
value on 'equality,' and what do they mean by that term?) discusses
anarchist ideas on equality further.
A.2.6 Why is solidarity important to anarchists?
Solidarity, or mutual aid, is a key idea of anarchism. It is the link
between the individual and society, the means by which individuals can
work together to meet their common interests in an environment that
supports and nurtures both liberty and equality. For anarchists, mutual
aid is a fundamental feature of human life, a source of both strength and
happiness and a fundamental requirement for a fully human existence.
Erich Fromm, noted psychologist and socialist humanist, points out that the
"human desire to experience union with others is rooted in the specific
conditions of existence that characterise the human species and is one
of the strongest motivations of human behaviour." [_To Be or To Have_,
p. 107] Therefore anarchists consider the desire to form "unions" (to use
Max Stirner's term) with other people to be a natural need. These unions,
or associations, must be based on equality and individuality in order to
be fully satisfying to those who join them -- i.e. they must be organised
in an anarchist manner, i.e. voluntary, decentralised, and
Solidarity -- co-operation between individuals -- is necessary for life and
is far from a denial of liberty. "What wonderful results this unique
force of man's individuality has achieved when strengthened by co-operation
with other individualities," Emma Goldman observes. "Co-operation -- as
opposed to internecine strife and struggle -- has worked for the survival
and evolution of the species. . . . [O]nly mutual aid and voluntary
co-operation. . . can create the basis for a free individual and
associational life." [_Red Emma Speaks_, p. 95]
Solidarity means associating together as equals in order to satisfy our
common interests and needs. Forms of association not based on solidarity
(i.e. those based on inequality) will crush the individuality of those
subjected to them. As Ret Marut points out, liberty needs solidarity, the
recognition of common interests:
"The most noble, pure and true love of mankind is the love of oneself. *I*
want to be free! *I* hope to be happy! *I* want to appreciate all the
beauties of the world. But my freedom is secured *only* when all other
people around me are free. I can only be happy when all other people
around me are happy. I can only be joyful when all the people I see and
meet look at the world with joy-filled eyes. And *only* then can I eat my
fill with pure enjoyment when I have the secure knowledge that other
people, too, can eat their fill as I do. And for that reason it is a
question of *my own contentment,* only of *my own self,* when I rebel
against every danger which threatens my freedom and my happiness. . ."
[Ret Marut (a.k.a. B. Traven), _The BrickBurner_ magazine quoted by
Karl S. Guthke, _B. Traven: The life behind the legends_, pp. 133-4]
To practice solidarity means that we recognise, as in the slogan of
Industrial Workers of the World, that "an injury to one is an injury to
all." Solidarity, therefore, is the means to protect individuality and
liberty and so is an expression of self-interest. As Alfie Kohn points out:
"when we think about co-operation. . . we tend to associate the concept
with fuzzy-minded idealism. . . This may result from confusing co-operation
with altruism. . . Structural co-operation defies the usual egoism/altruism
dichotomy. It sets things up so that by helping you I am helping myself at
the same time. Even if my motive initially may have been selfish, our fates
now are linked. We sink or swim together. Co-operation is a shrewd and highly
successful strategy - a pragmatic choice that gets things done at work and
at school even more effectively than competition does. . . There is also
good evidence that co-operation is more conductive to psychological health
and to liking one another." [_No Contest: The Case Against Competition_,
And, within a hierarchical society, solidarity is important not only
because of the satisfaction it gives us, but also because it is necessary
to resist those in power. By standing together, we can increase our
strength and get what we want. Eventually, by organising into groups, we
can start to manage our own collective affairs together and so replace the
boss once and for all. "*Unions* will. . . multiply the individual's
means and secure his assailed property." [Max Stirner, _The Ego and Its
Own, p. 258] By acting in solidarity, we can also replace the current
system with one more to our liking. There is power in "union."
Solidarity is thus the means by which we can obtain and ensure our own
freedom. We agree to work together so that we will not have to work for
*another.* By agreeing to share with each other we increase our options so
that we may enjoy *more,* not less. Mutual aid is in my self-interest --
that is, I see that it is to my advantage to reach agreements with others
based on mutual respect and social equality; for if I dominate someone,
this means that the conditions exist which allow domination, and so in
all probability I too will be dominated in turn.
As Max Stirner saw, solidarity is the means by which we ensure that our
liberty is strengthened and defended from those in power who want to rule
us: "Do you yourself count for nothing then?", he asks. "Are you bound to
let anyone do anything he wants to you? Defend yourself and no one will
touch you. If millions of people are behind you, supporting you, then you
are a formidable force and you will win without difficulty." [quoted in
in Luigi Galleani's _The End of Anarchism?_, p. 79 -- different translation
in _The Ego and Its Own_, p. 197]
Solidarity, therefore, is important to anarchists because it is the means
by which liberty can be created and defended against power. Solidarity is
strength and a product of our nature as social beings. However, solidarity
should not be confused with "herdism," which implies passively following a
leader. In order to be effective, solidarity must be created by free people,
co-operating together as *equals.* The "big WE" is *not* solidarity, although
the desire for "herdism" is a product of our need for solidarity and union.
It is a "solidarity" corrupted by hierarchical society, in which people are
conditioned to blindly obey leaders.
A.2.7 Why do anarchists argue for self-liberation?
Liberty, by its very nature, cannot be given. An individual cannot
be freed by another, but must break his or her own chains through
their own effort. Of course, self-effort can also be part of collective
action, and in many cases it has to be in order to attain its ends. As
Emma Goldman points out:
"history tells us that every oppressed class [or group or individual]
gained true liberation from its masters by its own efforts."
[_Red Emma Speaks_, p. 142]
Anarchists have long argued that people can only free themselves
by their own actions. The various methods anarchists suggest to aid this
process will be discussed in section J ("What Do Anarchists Do?") and
will not be discussed here. However, these methods all involve people
organising themselves, setting their own agendas, and acting in ways that
empower them and eliminate their dependence on leaders to do things for
them. Anarchism is based on people "acting for themselves" (performing
what anarchists call "direct action").
Direct action has an empowering and liberating effect on those involved
in it. Self-activity is the means by which the creativity, initiative,
imagination and critical thought of those subjected to authority can be
developed. It is the means by which society can be changed. As Errico
Malatesta points out "[b]etween man and his social environment there is a
reciprocal action. Men make society what it is and society makes men what
they are, and the result is therefore a kind of vicious circle. . . .
Fortunately existing society has not been created by the inspired will of
a dominating class, which has succeeded in reducing all its subjects to
passive and unconscious instruments. . . . It is the result of a thousand
internecine struggles, of a thousand human and natural factors. . ."
[_Life and Ideas_, p. 188]
Society, while shaping all individuals, is also created by them, through
their actions, thoughts, and ideals. Challenging institutions that
limit one's freedom is mentally liberating, as it sets in motion the
process of questioning authoritarian relationships in general. This
process gives us insight into how society works, changing our ideas and
creating new ideals. To quote Emma Goldman again: "True emancipation
begins. . . in woman's soul." And in a man's too, we might add. It is
only here that we can "begin [our] inner regeneration, [cutting] loose
from the weight of prejudices, traditions and customs." [Op. Cit., p.
142] But this process must be self-directed, for as Max Stirner notes,
"the man who is set free is nothing but a freed man. . . a dog dragging
a piece of chain with him." [Max Stirner, Op. Cit., p. 168]
In an interview during the Spanish Revolution, the Spanish anarchist
militant Durutti said, "we have a new world in our hearts." Only
self-activity and self-liberation allows us to create such a vision
in our hearts and gives us the confidence to try to actualise it in
the real world.
Anarchists, however, do not think that self-liberation must wait
for the future, after the "glorious revolution." The personal is
political, and given the nature of society, how we act in the here
and now will influence the future of our society and our lives.
Therefore, even in pre-anarchist society anarchists try to create,
as Bakunin puts it, "not only the ideas but also the facts of the
future itself." We can do so by creating alternative social
relationships and organisations, acting as free people in a
non-free society. Only by our actions in the here and now can
we lay the foundation for a free society. Moreover, this process
of self-liberation goes on all the time:
"Subordinates of all kinds exercise their capacity for critical
self-reflection every day -- that is why masters are thwarted,
frustrated and, sometimes, overthrown. But unless masters are
overthrown, unless subordinates engage in political activity,
no amount of critical reflection will end their subjection and
bring them freedom." [Carole Pateman, _The Sexual Contract_,
Anarchists aim to encourage these tendencies in everyday life
to reject, resist and thwart authority and bring them to their
logical conclusion -- a society of free individuals, co-operating
as equals in free, self-managed associations. Without this process
of critical self-reflection, resistance and self-liberation a
free society is impossible. Thus, for anarchists, anarchism comes
from the natural resistance of subordinated people striving to
act as free individuals within a hierarchical world. This process
of resistance is called by many anarchists the "class struggle" (as
it is working class people who are generally the most subordinated
group within society) or, more generally, "social struggle." It is
this everyday resistance to authority (in all its forms) and the
desire for freedom which is the key to the anarchist revolution.
It is for this reason that "anarchists emphasise over and over
that the class struggle provides the only means for the workers
[and other oppressed groups] to achieve control over their
destiny." [Marie-Louise Berneri, _Neither East Nor West_,
Revolution is a process, not an event, and every "spontaneous
revolutionary action" is usually results from and is based upon
the patient work of many years of organisation and education by
people with "utopian" ideas. The process of "creating the new
world in the shell of the old" (to use another I.W.W. expression),
by building alternative institutions and relationships, is but one
component of what must be a long tradition of revolutionary
commitment and militancy.
As Malatesta made clear, "to encourage popular organisations of
all kinds is the logical consequence of our basic ideas, and
should therefore be an integral part of our programme. . .
anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the
people to emancipate themselves. . . , we want the new way of
life to emerge from the body of the people and correspond to
the state of their development and advance as they advance."
[Op. Cit. p. 90]
Unless a process of self-emancipation occurs, a free society is
impossible. Only when individuals free themselves, both materially
(by abolishing the state and capitalism) and intellectually (by
freeing themselves of submissive attitudes towards authority),
can a free society be possible. We should not forget that capitalist
and state power, to a great extent, is power over the minds of those
subject to them (backed up, of course, with sizeable force if the
mental domination fails and people start rebelling and resisting). In
effect, a spiritual power as the ideas of the ruling class dominate
society and permeate the minds of the oppressed. As long as this
holds, the working class will acquiesce to authority, oppression
and exploitation as the normal condition of life. Minds submissive
to the doctrines and positions of their masters cannot hope to win
freedom, to revolt and fight. Thus the oppressed must overcome the
mental domination of the existing system before they can throw
off its yoke (and, anarchists argue, direct action is the means
of doing both -- see sections J.2 and J.4). Capitalism and statism
must be beaten spiritually and theoretically before it is beaten
materially (many anarchists call this mental liberation "class
consciousness" -- see section B.7.3). And self-liberation through
struggle against oppression is the only way this can be done. Thus
anarchists encourage (to use Kropotkin's term) "the spirit of
Self-liberation is a product of struggle, of self-organisation,
solidarity and direct action. Direct action is the means of creating
anarchists, free people, and so "Anarchists have always advised
taking an active part in those workers' organisations which carry
on the *direct* struggle of Labour against Capital and its protector,
-- the State." This is because "[s]uch a struggle . . . better than
any indirect means, permits the worker to obtain some temporary
improvements in the present conditions of work, while it opens his
[or her] eyes to the evil that is done by Capitalism and the State
that supports it, and wakes up his [or her] thoughts concerning the
possibility of organising consumption, production and exchange without
the intervention of the capitalist and the state," that is, see the
possibility of a free society. Kropotkin, like many anarchists,
pointed to the Syndicalist and Trade Union movements as a means of
developing libertarian ideas within existing society (although he,
like most anarchists, did not limit anarchist activity exclusively
to them). Indeed, any movement which "permit[s] the working men
[and women] to realise their solidarity and to feel the community
of their interests . . . prepare[s] the way for these conceptions" of
communist-anarchism, i.e. the overcoming the spiritual domination of
existing society within the minds of the oppressed. [_Evolution and
Environment_, p. 83 and p. 85]
For anarchists, in the words of a Scottish Anarchist militant, the
"history of human progress [is] seen as the history of rebellion and
disobedience, with the individual debased by subservience to authority
in its many forms and able to retain his/her dignity only through
rebellion and disobedience." [Robert Lynn, _Not a Life Story, Just a
Leaf from It_, p. 77] This is why anarchists stress self-liberation
(and self-organisation, self-management and self-activity). Little
wonder Bakunin considered "rebellion" as one of the "three fundamental
principles [which] constitute the essential conditions of all
human development, collective or individual, in history." [_God
and the State_, p. 12] This is simply because individuals and
groups cannot be freed by others, only by themselves. Such
rebellion (self-liberation) is the *only* means by which existing
society becomes more libertarian and an anarchist society a possibility.
A.2.8 Is it possible to be an anarchist without opposing hierarchy?
No. We have seen that anarchists abhor authoritarianism. But if one is
an anti-authoritarian, one must oppose all hierarchical institutions,
since they embody the principle of authority. The argument for this
(if anybody needs one) is as follows:
A hierarchy is a pyramidally-structured organisation composed of a series
of grades, ranks, or offices of increasing power, prestige, and (usually)
remuneration. Scholars who have investigated the hierarchical form have
found that the two primary principles it embodies are domination and
exploitation. For example, in his article "What Do Bosses Do?" (_Review
of Radical Political Economics_, Vol. 6, No. 2), a study of the modern
factory, Steven Marglin found that the main function of the corporate
hierarchy is not greater productive efficiency (as capitalists claim),
but greater control over workers, the purpose of such control being
more effective exploitation.
Control in a hierarchy is maintained by coercion, that is, by the threat
of negative sanctions of one kind or another: physical, economic,
psychological, social, etc. Such control, including the repression of
dissent and rebellion, therefore necessitates centralisation: a set
of power relations in which the greatest control is exercised by the
few at the top (particularly the head of the organisation), while those
in the middle ranks have much less control and the many at the bottom
have virtually none.
Since domination, coercion, and centralisation are essential
features of authoritarianism, and as those features are embodied in
hierarchies, all hierarchical institutions are authoritarian. Moreover,
for anarchists, any organisation marked by hierarchy, centralism and
authoritarianism is state-like, or "statist." And as anarchists oppose
both the state and authoritarian relations, anyone who does not seek to
dismantle *all* forms of hierarchy cannot be called an anarchist. This
applies to capitalist firms. As Noam Chomsky points out, the structure
of the capitalist firm is extremely hierarchical, indeed fascist, in
"a fascist system. . . It's absolutist. Power goes from top down. . .
the ideal state is top down control with the public essentially
"Let's take a look at a corporation. . . [I]f you look at
what they are, power goes strictly top down, from the board of
directors to managers to lower managers to ultimately the people
on the shop floor, typing messages, and so on. There's no flow
of power or planning from the bottom up. People can disrupt and
make suggestions, but the same is true of a slave society. The
structure of power is linear, from the top down." [_Keeping the
Rabble in Line_, p. 237]
David Deleon indicates these similarities between the company
and the state well when he writes:
"Most factories are like military dictatorships. Those at the
bottom are privates, the supervisors are sergeants, and on up
through the hierarchy. The organisation can dictate everything
from our clothing and hair style to how we spend a large portion
of our lives, during work. It can compel overtime; it can require
us to see a company doctor if we have a medical complaint; it
can forbid us free time to engage in political activity; it
can suppress freedom of speech, press and assembly -- it can use
ID cards and armed security police, along with closed-circuit
TVs to watch us; it can punish dissenters with 'disciplinary
layoffs' (as GM calls them), or it can fire us. We are forced,
by circumstances, to accept much of this, or join the millions
of unemployed. . . In almost every job, we have only the 'right'
to quit. Major decisions are made at the top and we are expected
to obey, whether we work in an ivory tower or a mine shaft."
["For Democracy Where We Work: A rationale for social
self-management", _Reinventing Anarchy, Again_, Howard J.
Ehrlich (ed.), pp. 193-4]
Thus the consistent anarchist must oppose hierarchy in all its
forms, including the capitalist firm. Not to do so is to support
*archy* -- which an anarchist, by definition, cannot do. In other
words, for anarchists, "[p]romises to obey, contracts of (wage)
slavery, agreements requiring the acceptance of a subordinate
status, are all illegitimate because they do restrict and
restrain individual autonomy." [Robert Graham, "The Anarchist
Contract", _Reinventing Anarchy, Again_, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.),
Some argue that as long as an association is voluntary, whether it
has an hierarchical structure is irrelevant. Anarchists disagree.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, under capitalism workers are
driven by economic necessity to sell their labour (and so liberty)
to those who own the means of life. This process re-enforces the
economic conditions workers face by creating "massive disparities
in wealth . . . [as] workers. . . sell their labour to the
capitalist at a price which does not reflect its real value."
[Robert Graham, Op. Cit., p. 70] Therefore:
"To portray the parties to an employment contract, for example, as
free and equal to each other is to ignore the serious inequality of
bargaining power which exists between the worker and the employer.
To then go on to portray the relationship of subordination and
exploitation which naturally results as the epitome of freedom
is to make a mockery of both individual liberty and social
It is for this reason that anarchists support collective action
and organisation: it increases the bargaining power of working
people and allows them to assert their autonomy (see section J).
Secondly, if we take the key element as being whether an association
is voluntary or not we would have to argue that the current state
system must be considered as "anarchy" - no one forces an individual
to live in a specific state. We are free to leave and go somewhere
else. By ignoring the hierarchical nature of an association, you
can end up supporting organisations based upon the denial of
freedom (including capitalist companies, the armed forces,
states even) all because they are "voluntary." As Bob Black
argues, "[t]o demonise state authoritarianism while ignoring
identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements
in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy
is fetishism at its worst." [_Libertarian as Conservative_] Anarchy
is more than being free to pick a master.
Therefore opposition to hierarchy is a key anarchist position,
otherwise you just become a "voluntary archist" - which is hardly
anarchistic. For more on this see section A.2.14 (Why is voluntarism
Anarchists argue that organisations do not need to be hierarchical, they
can be based upon co-operation between equals who manage their own
affairs directly. In this way we can do without hierarchical structures
(i.e. the delegation of power in the hands of a few). Only when an
association is self-managed by its members can it be considered truly
We are sorry to belabour this point, but some capitalist apologists,
apparently wanting to appropriate the "anarchist" name because of its
association with freedom, have recently claimed that one can be both a
capitalist and an anarchist at the same time (as in so-called "anarcho"
capitalism). It should now be clear that since capitalism is based on
hierarchy (not to mention statism and exploitation), "anarcho"-capitalism
is a contradiction in terms. (For more on this, see section F)
A.2.9 What sort of society do anarchists want?
Anarchists desire a decentralised society, based on free association. We
consider this form of society the best one for maximising the values we
have outlined above -- liberty, equality and solidarity. Only by a
rational decentralisation of power, both structurally and territorially,
can individual liberty be fostered and encouraged. The delegation of power
into the hands of a minority is an obvious denial of individual liberty
and dignity. Rather than taking the management of their own affairs away
from people and putting it in the hands of others, anarchists favour
organisations which minimise authority, keeping power at the base, in
the hands of those who are affected by any decisions reached.
Free association is the cornerstone of an anarchist society. Individuals
must be free to join together as they see fit, for this is the basis of
freedom and human dignity. However, any such free agreement must be based
on decentralisation of power; otherwise it will be a sham (as in capitalism),
as only equality provides the necessary social context for freedom to
grow and development. Therefore anarchists support directly democratic
collectives, based on "one person one vote" (for the rationale of direct
democracy as the political counterpart of free agreement, see section
A.2.11, "Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?").
We should point out here that an anarchist society does not imply some
sort of idyllic state of harmony within which everyone agrees. Far from
it! As Luigi Galleani points out, "[d]isagreements and friction will
always exist. In fact they are an essential condition of unlimited progress.
But once the bloody area of sheer animal competition - the struggle for
food - has been eliminated, problems of disagreement could be solved
without the slightest threat to the social order and individual liberty."
[_The End of Anarchism?_, p. 28]
Therefore, an anarchist society will be based upon co-operative conflict
as "[c]onflict, per se, is not harmful. . . disagreements exist [and should
not be hidden] . . . What makes disagreement destructive is not the fact of
conflict itself but the addition of competition." [Alfie Kohn, _No Contest:
The Case Against Competition_, p. 156] Indeed, "a rigid demand for
agreement means that people will effectively be prevented from contributing
their wisdom to a group effort." [Ibid.] It is for this reason that most
anarchists reject consensus decision making in large groups (see section
So, in an anarchist society associations would be run by mass assemblies
of all involved, based upon extensive discussion, debate and co-operative
conflict between equals, with purely administrative tasks being handled by
elected committees. These committees would be made up of mandated, recallable
and temporary delegates who carry out their tasks under the watchful eyes of
the assembly which elected them. If the delegates act against their mandate
or try to extend their influence or work beyond that already decided by the
assembly (i.e. if they start to make policy decisions), they can be instantly
recalled and their decisions abolished. In this way, the organisation remains
in the hands of the union of individuals who created it.
This self-management by the members of a group at the base and the power
of recall are essential tenets of any anarchist organisation. The *key*
difference between a statist or hierarchical system and an anarchist
community is who wields power. In a parliamentary system, for example,
people give power to a group of representatives to make decisions for
them for a fixed period of time. Whether they carry out their promises
is irrelevant as people cannot recall them till the next election. Power
lies at the top and those at the base are expected to obey. Similarly,
in the capitalist workplace, power is held by an unelected minority of
bosses and managers at the top and the workers are expected to obey.
In an anarchist society this relationship is reversed. No one individual
or group (elected or unelected) holds power in an anarchist community
or association. Instead decisions are made using direct democratic
principles and, when required, the community can elect or appoint
delegates to carry out these decisions. There is a clear distinction
between policy making (which lies with everyone who is affected) and
the co-ordination and administration of any adopted policy (which is
the job for delegates).
These egalitarian communities, founded by free agreement, also freely
associate together in confederations. Such a free confederation would
be run from the bottom up, with decisions following from the elemental
assemblies upwards. The confederations would be run in the same manner
as the collectives. There would be regular local regional, "national"
and international conferences in which all important issues and problems
affecting the collectives involved would be discussed. In addition,
the fundamental, guiding principles and ideas of society would
be debated and policy decisions made, put into practice, reviewed,
Action committees would be formed, if required, to co-ordinate and
administer the decisions of the assemblies and their congresses, under
strict control from below as discussed above. Delegates to such bodies
would have a limited tenure and, like the delegates to the congresses,
have a fixed mandate -- they are not able to make decisions on behalf
of the people they are delegates for. In addition, like the delegates
to conferences and congresses, they would be subject to instant recall
by the assemblies and congresses from which they emerged in the first
place. In this way any committees required to co-ordinate join activities
would be, to quote Malatesta's words, "always under the direct control
of the population." [_Life and Ideas_, p. 175]
Most importantly, the basic community assemblies can overturn any decisions
reached by the conferences and withdraw from any confederation. Any
compromises that are made by a delegate during negotiations have to go
back to a general assembly for ratification. Without that ratification
any compromises that are made by a delegate are not binding on the
community that has delegated a particular task to a particular individual
or committee. In addition, the assemblies can call confederal conferences
to discuss new developments and to inform action committees about changing
wishes and to instruct them on what to do about any developments and ideas.
In other words, any delegates required within an anarchist organisation
or society are *not* representatives (as they are in a democratic
government). Kropotkin makes the difference clear:
"The question of true delegation versus representation can be better
understood if one imagines a hundred or two hundred men [and women],
who meet each day in their work and share common concerns . . . who
have discussed every aspect of the question that concerns them and
have reached a decision. They then choose someone and send him [or
her] to reach an agreement with other delegates of the same kind. . .
The delegate is not authorised to do more than explain to other
delegates the considerations that have led his [or her] colleagues
to their conclusion. Not being able to impose anything, he [or she]
will seek an understanding and will return with a simple proposition
which his mandatories can accept or refuse. This is what happens
when true delegation comes into being." [_Words of a Rebel_, p. 132]
Unlike in a representative system, *power* is not delegated into the
hands of the few. Rather, any delegate is simply a mouthpiece for
the association that elected (or otherwise selected) them in the
first place. All delegates and action committees would be mandated
and subject to instant recall to ensure they express the wishes of
the assemblies they came from rather than their own. In this way
government is replaced by anarchy, a network of free associations
and communities co-operating as equals based on a system of mandated
delegates, instant recall, free agreement and free federation from
the bottom up.
This network of anarchist communities would work on three levels. There
would be "independent Communes for the territorial organisation, and of
federations of Trade Unions [i.e. workplace associations] for the
organisation of men [and women] in accordance with their different
functions. . . [and] free combines and societies . . . for the
satisfaction of all possible and imaginable needs, economic, sanitary,
and educational; for mutual protection, for the propaganda of ideas,
for arts, for amusement, and so on." [Peter Kropotkin, _Evolution and
Environment_, p. 79] All would be based on self-management, free
association, free federation and self-organisation from the bottom up.
By organising in this manner, hierarchy is abolished in all aspects of
live, because the people at the base of the organisation are in control,
*not* their delegates. Only this form of organisation can replace
government (the initiative and empowerment of the few) with anarchy
(the initiative and empowerment of all). This form of organisation
would exist in all activities which required group work and the
co-ordination of many people. It would be, as Bakunin said, the
means "to integrate individuals into structures which they could
understand and control." For individual initiatives, the individual
involved would manage them.
As can be seen, anarchists wish to create a society based upon structures
that ensure that no individual or group is able to wield power over others.
Free agreement, confederation and the power of recall, fixed mandates and
limited tenure are mechanisms by which power is removed from the hands of
governments and placed in the hands of those directly affected by the
decisions. For a fuller discussion on what an anarchist society would
look like see section I.
A.2.10 What will abolishing hierarchy mean and achieve?
The creation of a new society based upon libertarian organisations will
have an incalculable effect on everyday life. The empowerment of millions
of people will transform society in ways we can only guess at now.
However, many consider these forms of organisation as impractical and
doomed to failure.
To those who say that such confederal, non-authoritarian organisations
would produce confusion and disunity, anarchists maintain that the
statist, centralised and hierarchical form of organisation produces
indifference instead of involvement, heartlessness instead of solidarity,
uniformity instead of unity, and privileged elites instead of equality.
More importantly, such organisations destroy individual initiative and
crush independent action and critical thinking. (For more on hierarchy,
see section B.1, "Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?" and
That libertarian organisation can work and is based upon (and promotes)
liberty was demonstrated in the Spanish Anarchist movement. Fenner
Brockway, Secretary of the British Independent Labour Party, when visiting
Barcelona during the 1936 revolution, noted that "the great solidarity that
existed among the Anarchists was due to each individual relying on his [sic]
own strength and not depending upon leadership. . . . The organisations
must, to be successful, be combined with free-thinking people; not a
mass, but free individuals" [quoted by Rudolf Rocker, _Anarcho-syndicalism_,
As sufficiently indicated already, hierarchical, centralised structures
restrict freedom. As Proudhon noted: "the centralist system is all very
well as regards size, simplicity and construction: it lacks but one
thing -- the individual no longer belongs to himself in such a system, he
cannot feel his worth, his life, and no account is taken of him at all."
[quoted in _Paths in Utopia_, Martin Buber, p. 33]
The effects of hierarchy can be seen all around us. It does not work.
Hierarchy and authority exist everywhere, in the workplace, at home, in
the street. As Bob Black puts it, "If you spend most of your waking life
taking orders or kissing ass, if you get habituated to hierarchy, you will
become passive-aggressive, sado-masochistic, servile and stupefied, and
you will carry that load into every aspect of the balance of your life."
[_The Libertarian as Conservative_]
This means that the end of hierarchy will mean a *massive* transformation
in everyday life. It will involve the creation of individual-centred
organisations within which all can exercise, and so develop, their
abilities to the fullest. By involving themselves and participating
in the decisions that affect them, their workplace, their community and
society, they can ensure the full development of their individual
Only self-determination and free agreement on every level of society
can develop the responsibility, initiative, intellect and solidarity
of individuals and society as a whole. Only anarchist organisation
allows the vast talent which exists within humanity to be accessed
and used, enriching society by the very process of enriching and
developing the individual. Only by involving everyone in the process of
thinking, planning, co-ordinating and implementing the decisions that
affect them can freedom blossom and individuality be fully developed and
protected. Anarchy will release the creativity and talent of the mass of
people enslaved by hierarchy.
Anarchy will even be of benefit for those who are said to benefit from
capitalism and its authority relations. Anarchists "maintain that *both*
rulers and ruled are spoiled by authority; *both* exploiters and exploited
are spoiled by exploitation." [Peter Kropotkin, _Act for Yourselves_, p.
83] This is because "[i]n any hierarchical relationship the dominator as
well as the submissive pays his dues. The price paid for the 'glory of
command' is indeed heavy. Every tyrant resents his duties. He is relegated
to drag the dead weight of the dormant creative potential of the
submissive all along the road of his hierarchical excursion." [For
Ourselves, _The Right to Be Greedy_]
A.2.11 Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?
For most anarchists, direct democratic voting on policy decisions within
free associations is the political counterpart of free agreement. The
reason is that "many forms of domination can be carried out in a 'free.'
non-coercive, contractual manner. . . and it is naive. . . to think that
mere opposition to political control will in itself lead to an end of
oppression." [John P. Clark, _Max Stirner's Egoism_, p. 93]
It is obvious that individuals must work together in order to lead a
fully human life. And so, "[h]aving to join with others humans . . . [the
individual has three options;] he [or she] must submit to the will of
others (be enslaved) or subject others to his will (be in authority) or
live with others in fraternal agreement in the interests of the greatest
good of all (be an associate). Nobody can escape from this necessity."
[Errico Malatesta, _The Anarchist Revolution_, p. 85]
Anarchists obviously pick the last option, association, as the only means
by which individuals can work together as free and equal human beings,
respecting the uniqueness and liberty of one another. Only within direct
democracy can individuals express themselves, practice critical thought and
self-government, so developing their intellectual and ethical capacities
to the full. In terms of increasing an individual's freedom and their
intellectual, ethical and social faculties, it is far better to be sometimes
in a minority than be subject to the will of a boss all the time. So what
is the theory behind anarchist direct democracy?
Once an individual joins a community or workplace, he or she becomes a
"citizen" (for want of a better word) of that association. The association
is organised around an assembly of all its members (in the case of large
workplaces and towns, this may be a functional sub-group such as a specific
office or neighbourhood). In this assembly, in concert with others, the
content of his or her political obligations are defined. In acting within
the association, people must exercise critical judgement and choice, i.e.
manage their own activity. This means that political obligation is not
owed to a separate entity above the group or society, such as the state
or company, but to one's fellow "citizens."
Although the assembled people collectively legislate the rules governing
their association, and are bound by them as individuals, they are also
superior to them in the sense that these rules can always be modified or
repealed. Collectively, the associated "citizens" constitute a political
authority, but as this authority is based on horizontal relationships
between themselves rather than vertical ones between themselves and an
elite, the "authority" is non-hierarchical ("rational" or "natural," see
section B.1, "Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?" for
more on this). Thus Proudhon:
"In place of laws, we will put contracts [i.e. free agreement]. - No
more laws voted by a majority, nor even unanimously; each citizen,
each town, each industrial union, makes its own laws." [_The General
Idea of the Revolution_, pp. 245-6]
Such a society would be based upon industrial democracy, for within the
workers' associations "all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject
to the approval of the members." [Op. Cit., p. 222] Instead of capitalist
or statist hierarchy, self-management (i.e. direct democracy) would be the
guiding principle of the freely joined associations that make up a free
Of course it could be argued that if you are in a minority, you are
governed by others ("Democratic rule is still rule" [L. Susan Brown,
_The Politics of Individualism_, p. 53]). Now, the concept of direct
democracy as we have described it is not necessarily tied to the concept
of majority rule. If someone finds themselves in a minority on a particular
vote, he or she is confronted with the choice of either consenting or
refusing to recognise it as binding. To deny the minority the opportunity
to exercise its judgement and choice is to infringe its autonomy and to
impose obligation upon it which it has not freely accepted. The coercive
imposition of the majority will is contrary to the ideal of self-assumed
obligation, and so is contrary to direct democracy and free association.
Therefore, far from being a denial of freedom, direct democracy within the
context of free association and self-assumed obligation is the only means
by which liberty can be nurtured. Needless to say, a minority, if it remains
in the association, can argue its case and try to convince the majority of
the error of its ways.
And we must point out here that anarchist support for direct democracy does
not suggest we think that the majority is always right. Far from it! The case
for democratic participation is not that the majority is always right, but
that no minority can be trusted not to prefer its own advantage to the
good of the whole. History proves what common-sense predicts, namely that
anyone with dictatorial powers (by they a head of state, a boss, a husband,
whatever) will use their power to enrich and empower themselves at the
expense of those subject to their decisions.
Anarchists recognise that majorities can and do make mistakes and that is
why our theories on association place great importance on minority rights.
This can be seen from our theory of self-assumed obligation, which bases
itself on the right of minorities to protest against majority decisions
and makes dissent a key factor in decision making. Thus Carole Pateman:
"If the majority have acted in bad faith. . . [then the] minority will
have to take political action, including politically disobedient action
if appropriate, to defend their citizenship and independence, and the
political association itself. . . Political disobedience is merely one
possible expression of the active citizenship on which a self-managing
democracy is based . . . The social practice of promising involves the
right to refuse or change commitments; similarly, the practice of
self-assumed political obligation is meaningless without the practical
recognition of the right of minorities to refuse or withdraw consent,
or where necessary, to disobey." [_The Problem of Political Obligation_,
Moving beyond relationships within associations, we must highlight how
different associations work together. As would be imagined, the links
between associations follow the same outlines as for the associations
themselves. Instead of individuals joining an association, we have
associations joining confederations. The links between associations in
the confederation are of the same horizontal and voluntary nature as
within associations, with the same rights of "voice and exit" for members
and the same rights for minorities. In this way society becomes an
association of associations, a community of communities, a commune of
communes, based upon maximising individual freedom by maximising
participation and self-management.
The workings of such a confederation are outlined in section A.2.9 (What
sort of society do anarchists want?) and discussed in greater detail in
section I (What would an anarchist society look like?).
This system of direct democracy fits nicely into anarchist theory. Malatesta
speaks for all anarchists when he argued that "anarchists deny the right of
the majority to govern human society in general." [Op. Cit., p. 100] As can
be seen, the majority has no right to enforce itself on a minority -- the
minority can leave the association at any time and so, to use Malatesta's
words, do not have to "submit to the decisions of the majority before they
have even heard what these might be." [Op. Cit., p. 101] Hence, direct
democracy within voluntary association does not create "majority rule"
nor assume that the minority must submit to the majority no matter what.
In effect, anarchist supporters of direct democracy argue that it
fits Malatesta's argument that:
"Certainly anarchists recognise that where life is lived in common it
is often necessary for the minority to come to accept the opinion of
the majority. When there is an obvious need or usefulness in doing
something and, to do it requires the agreement of all, the few should
feel the need to adapt to the wishes of the many . . . But such
adaptation on the one hand by one group must be on the other be
reciprocal, voluntary and must stem from an awareness of need and
of goodwill to prevent the running of social affairs from being
paralysed by obstinacy. It cannot be imposed as a principle and
statutory norm. . ." [Op. Cit., p. 100]
As the minority has the right to secede from the association as well as
having extensive rights of action, protest and appeal, majority rule
is not imposed as a principle. Rather, it is purely a decision making
tool which allows minority dissent and opinion to be expressed (and
acted upon) while ensuring that no minority forces its will on the
majority. In other words, majority decisions are not binding on the
minority. After all, as Malatesta argued:
"one cannot expect, or even wish, that someone who is firmly convinced
that the course taken by the majority leads to disaster, should sacrifice
his [or her] own convictions and passively look on, or even worse, should
support a policy he [or she] considers wrong." [_Life and Ideas_, p. 132]
Even the Individual Anarchist Lysander Spooner acknowledged that direct
democracy has its uses when he noted that "[a]ll, or nearly all, voluntary
associations give a majority, or some other portion of the members less
than the whole, the right to use some *limited* discretion as to the
*means* to be used to accomplish the ends in view." However, only the
unanimous decision of a jury (which would "judge the law, and the justice
of the law") could determine individual rights as this "tribunal fairly
represent[s] the whole people" as "no law can rightfully be enforced
by the association in its corporate capacity, against the goods, rights,
or person of any individual, except it be such as *all* members of the
association agree that it may enforce" (his support of juries results
from Spooner acknowledging that it "would be impossible in practice" for
*all* members of an association to agree) [_Trial by Jury_, p. 130-1f,
p. 134, p. 214, p. 152 and p. 132]
Thus direct democracy and individual/minority rights need not clash.
In practice, we can imagine direct democracy would be used to make most
decisions within most associations (perhaps with super-majorities required
for fundamental decisions) plus some combination of a jury system and
minority protest/direct action and evaluate/protect minority claims/rights
in an anarchist society. The actual forms of freedom can only be created
through practical experience by the people directly involved.
Lastly, we must stress that anarchist support for direct democracy does
not mean that this solution is to be favoured in all circumstances. For
example, many small associations may favour consensus decision making
(see the next section on consensus and why most anarchists do not think
that it is a viable alternative to direct democracy). However, most
anarchists think that direct democracy within free association is the
best (and most realistic) form of organisation which is consistent with
anarchist principles of individual freedom, dignity and equality.
A.2.12 Is consensus an alternative to direct democracy?
The few anarchists who reject direct democracy within free associations
generally support consensus in decision making. Consensus is based
upon everyone on a group agreeing to a decision before it can be put
into action. Thus, it is argued, consensus stops the majority ruling
the minority and is more consistent with anarchist principles.
Consensus, although the "best" option in decision making, as all
agree, has its problems. As Murray Bookchin points out in describing
his experience of consensus, it can have authoritarian implications,
"[i]n order. . . to create full consensus on a decision, minority
dissenters were often subtly urged or psychologically coerced to decline
to vote on a troubling issue, inasmuch as their dissent would essentially
amount to a one-person veto. This practice, called 'standing aside' in
American consensus processes, all too often involved intimidation of
the dissenters, to the point that they completely withdrew from the
decision-making process, rather than make an honourable and continuing
expression of their dissent by voting, even as a minority, in accordance
with their views. Having withdrawn, they ceased to be political beings
-- so that a 'decision' could be made. . . . '[C]onsensus' was ultimately
achieved only after dissenting members nullified themselves as participants
in the process.
"On a more theoretical level, consensus silenced that most vital aspect of
all dialogue, *dissensus*. The ongoing dissent, the passionate dialogue that
still persists even after a minority accedes temporarily to a majority
decision, . . . [can be] replaced. . . . by dull monologues -- and the
uncontroverted and deadening tone of consensus. In majority decision-making,
the defeated minority can resolve to overturn a decision on which they have
been defeated -- they are free to openly and persistently articulate reasoned
and potentially persuasive disagreements. Consensus, for its part, honours
no minorities, but mutes them in favour of the metaphysical 'one' of the
'consensus' group." ["Communalism: The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism",
_Democracy and Nature_, no. 8, p.8]
Bookchin does not "deny that consensus may be an appropriate form of
decision-making in small groups of people who are thoroughly familiar
with one another." But he notes that, in practical terms, his own
experience has shown him that "when larger groups try to make decisions
by consensus, it usually obliges them to arrive at the lowest
common intellectual denominator in their decision-making: the least
controversial or even the most mediocre decision that a sizeable assembly
of people can attain is adopted-- precisely because everyone must agree
with it or else withdraw from voting on that issue." [Op. Cit., p. 7]
Therefore, due to its potentially authoritarian nature, most anarchists
disagree that consensus is the political aspect of free association.
While it is advantageous to try to reach consensus, it is usually
impractical to do so -- especially in large groups -- regardless of its
other, negative effects. Often it demeans a free society or association
by tending to subvert individuality in the name of community and dissent
in the name of solidarity. Neither true community nor solidarity are
fostered when the individual's development and self-expression are aborted
by public disapproval and pressure. Since individuals are all unique,
they will have unique viewpoints which they should be encouraged to
express, as society evolves and is enriched by the actions and ideas of
In other words, anarchist supporters of direct democracy stress the
"*creative* role of dissent" which, they fear, "tends to fade away in
the grey uniformity required by consensus." [Op. Cit., p. 8]
We must stress that anarchists are *not* in favour of a mechanical decision
making process in which the majority just vote the minority away and
ignore them. Far from it! Anarchists who support direct democracy see
it as a dynamic debating process in which majority and minority listen
to and respect each other as far possible and create a decision which
all can live with (if possible). They see the process of participation
within directly democratic associations as the means of creating common
interests, as a process which will encourage diversity, individual and
minority expression and reduce any tendency for majorities to marginalise
or oppress minorities by ensuring discussion and debate occurs on important
A.2.13 Are anarchists individualists or collectivists?
The short answer is: neither. This can be seen from the fact that liberal
scholars denounce anarchists like Bakunin for being "collectivists" while
Marxists attack Bakunin and anarchists in general for being "individualists."
This is hardly surprising, as anarchists reject both ideologies as nonsense.
Whether they like it or not, non-anarchist individualists and collectivists
are two sides of the same capitalist coin. This can best shown be by
considering modern capitalism, in which "individualist" and "collectivist"
tendencies continually interact, often with the political and economic
structure swinging from one pole to the other. Capitalist collectivism
and individualism are both one-sided aspects of human existence, and like
all manifestations of imbalance, deeply flawed.
For anarchists, the idea that individuals should sacrifice themselves
for the "group" or "greater good" is nonsensical. Groups are made up of
individuals, and if people think only of what's best for the group, the
group will be a lifeless shell. It is only the dynamics of individual
interaction within groups which give them life. "Groups" cannot think,
only individuals can. This fact, ironically, leads authoritarian
"collectivists" to a most particular kind of "individualism," namely the
"cult of the personality" and leader worship. This is to be expected,
since such collectivism lumps individuals into abstract groups, denies
their individuality, and ends up with the need for someone with enough
individuality to make decisions -- a problem that is "solved" by the
leader principle. Stalinism and Nazism are excellent examples of this
Therefore, anarchists recognise that individuals are the basic unit of
society and that only individuals have interests and feelings. This
means they oppose "collectivism" and the glorification of the group.
In anarchist theory the group exists only to aid and develop the
individuals involved in them. This is why we place so much stress on
groups structured in a libertarian manner -- only a libertarian
organisation allows the individuals within a group to fully express
themselves, manage their own interests directly and to create social
relationships which encourage individuality and individual freedom.
So while society and the groups they join shapes the individual, the
individual is the true basis of society. Hence Malatesta:
"Much has been said about the respective roles of individual initiative
and social action in the life and progress of human societies . . .
[E]verything is maintained and kept going in the human world thanks to
individual initiative . . . The real being is man, the individual. Society
or the collectivity - and the *State* or government which claims to
represent it - if it is not a hollow abstraction, must be made up of
individuals. And it is in the organism of every individual that all
thoughts and human actions inevitably have their origin, and from being
individual they become collective thoughts and acts when they are or
become accepted by many individuals. Social action, therefore, is neither
the negation nor the complement of individual initiatives, but is the
resultant of initiatives, thoughts and actions of all individuals who
make up society . . . [T]he question is not really changing the
relationship between society and the individual . . . [I]t is a question
of preventing some individuals from oppressing others; of giving
all individuals the same rights and the same means of action; and of
replacing the initiative to the few [which Malatesta defines as a
key aspect of government/hierarchy], which inevitably results in the
oppression of everyone else . . . " [_Anarchy_, pp. 36-37]
These considerations do not mean that "individualism" finds favour with
anarchists. As Emma Goldman pointed out, "'rugged individualism'. . .
is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his
individuality. . . . [It] has inevitably resulted in the crassest class
distinctions. . . [and] has meant all the 'individualism' for the masters,
while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of
self-seeking 'supermen.'" [_Red Emma Speaks_, p. 89]
While groups cannot think, individuals cannot live or discuss by
themselves. Groups and associations are an essential aspect of
individual life. Indeed, as groups generate social relationships
by their very nature, they help *shape* individuals. In other words,
groups structured in an authoritarian way will have a negative impact
on the freedom and individuality of those within them. However, due to
the abstract nature of their "individualism," capitalist individualists
fail to see any difference between groups structured in a libertarian
manner rather than in an authoritarian one -- they are both "groups".
Because of their one-sided perspective on this issue, "individualists"
ironically end up supporting some of the most "collectivist" institutions
in existence -- capitalist companies -- and, moreover, always find a
need for the state despite their frequent denunciations of it. These
contradictions stem from capitalist individualism's dependence on
individual contracts in an unequal society, i.e. *abstract* individualism.
In contrast, anarchists stress *social* "individualism" (another, perhaps
better, term for this concept could be "communal individuality"). Anarchism
"insists that the centre of gravity in society is the individual -- that he
[sic] must think for himself, act freely, and live fully . . . If he is to
develop freely and fully, he must be relieved from the interference and
oppression of others . . . [T]his has nothing in common with . . . 'rugged
individualism.' Such predatory individualism is really flabby, not rugged.
At the least danger to its safety, it runs to cover of the state and wails
for protection . . . Their 'rugged individualism' is simply one of the
many pretences the ruling class makes to mask unbridled business and
political extortion." [Ibid., p. 397]
Anarchism rejects the *abstract* individualism of capitalism, with its
ideas of "absolute" freedom of the individual which is constrained by
others. This theory ignores the social context in which freedom exists
A society based on "individual contracts" usually results in an inequality
of power between the contracting individuals and so entails the need for
an authority based on laws above them and organised coercion to enforce the
contracts between them. This consequence is evident from capitalism and,
most notably, in the "social contract" theory of how the state developed.
In this theory it is assumed that individuals are "free" when they are
isolated from each other, as they allegedly were originally in the
"state of nature." Once they join society, they supposedly create a
"contract" and a state to administer it. However, besides being a fantasy
with no basis in reality (human beings have *always* been social animals),
this "theory" is actually a justification for the state's having extensive
powers over society; and this in turn is a justification of the capitalist
system, which requires a strong state. It also mimics the results of the
capitalist economic relations upon which this theory is built. Within
capitalism, individuals "freely" contract together, but in practice the
owner rules the worker for as long as the contract is in place. (See
sections A.2.14 and B.4 for further details).
In practice, both individualism and collectivism lead to a denial of both
individual liberty and group autonomy and dynamics. In addition, each
implies the other, with collectivism leading to a particular form of
individualism and individualism leading to a particular form of
Collectivism, with its implicit suppression of the individual, ultimately
impoverishes the community, as groups are only given life by the
individuals who comprise them. Individualism, with its explicit
suppression of community (i.e. the people with whom you live or work),
ultimately impoverishes the individual, since individuals do not exist
apart from society but can only exist within it. In addition, individualism
ends up denying the "select few" the insights and abilities of the
individuals who make up the rest of society, and so is a source of
self-denial. This is Individualism's fatal flaw (and contradiction),
namely "the impossibility for the individual to attain a really full
development in the conditions of oppression of the mass by the 'beautiful
aristocracies'. His [or her] development would remain uni-lateral." [Peter
Kropotkin, _Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets_, p. 293]
True liberty and community exist elsewhere.
A.2.14 Why is voluntarism not enough?
Voluntarism means that association should be voluntary in order to maximise
liberty. Anarchists are, obviously, voluntarists, thinking that only in
free association, created by free agreement, can individuals develop,
grow, and express their liberty. However, it is evident that under
capitalism voluntarism is not enough in itself to maximise liberty.
Voluntarism implies promising (i.e. the freedom to make agreements), and
promising implies that individuals are capable of independent judgement
and rational deliberation. In addition, it presupposes that they can
evaluate and change their actions and relationships. Contracts under
capitalism, however, contradict these implications of voluntarism. For,
while technically "voluntary" (though as we show in section B.4, this is
not really the case), capitalist contracts result in a denial of liberty.
This is because the social relationship of wage-labour involves promising
to obey in return for payment. And as Carole Pateman points out, "to promise
to obey is to deny or to limit, to a greater or lesser degree, individuals'
freedom and equality and their ability to exercise these capacities [of
independent judgement and rational deliberation]. To promise to obey
is to state, that in certain areas, the person making the promise
is no longer free to exercise her capacities and decide upon her own
actions, and is no longer equal, but subordinate." [_The Problem of
Political Obligation_, p. 19] This results in those obeying no longer
making their own decisions. Thus the rational for voluntarism (i.e.
that individuals are capable of thinking for themselves and must be
allowed to express their individuality and make their own decisions) is
violated in a hierarchical relationship as some are in charge and the
many obey (see also section A.2.8). Thus any voluntarism which generates
relationships of subordination is, by its very nature, incomplete and
violates its own justification.
This can be seen from capitalist society, in which workers sell their
freedom to a boss in order to live. In effect, under capitalism you are
only free to the extent that you can choose whom you will obey! Freedom,
however, must mean more than the right to change masters. Voluntary
servitude is still servitude. To paraphrase Rousseau:
Under capitalism the worker regards herself as free;
but she is grossly mistaken; she is free only when
she signs her contract with her boss. As soon as it
is signed, slavery overtakes her and she is nothing
but an order taker.
Hence Proudhon's comment that "Man may be made by property a slave
or a despot by turns." [_What is Property?_, p. 371] Little wonder
we discover Bakunin rejecting "any contract with another individual on
any footing but the utmost equality and reciprocity" as this would
"alienate his [or her] freedom" and so would be a "a relationship of
voluntary servitude with another individual." Anyone making such a
contract in a free society (i.e. anarchist society) would be "devoid of
any sense of personal dignity." [_Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings_,
pp. 68-9] Only self-managed associations can create relationships of
equality rather than of subordination between its members.
Therefore anarchists stress the need for direct democracy in voluntary
associations in order to ensure that the concept of "freedom" is not a
sham and a justification for domination, as it is under capitalism.
Any social relationships based on abstract individualism are likely to be
based upon force, power, and authority, *not* liberty. This of course
assumes a definition of liberty according to which individuals exercise
their capacities and decide their own actions. Therefore, voluntarism is
*not* enough to create a society that maximises liberty. This is why
anarchists think that voluntary association *must* be complemented by
self-management (direct democracy) *within* these associations. For
anarchists, the assumptions of voluntarism imply self-management. Or,
to use Proudhon's words, "as individualism is the primordial fact of
humanity, so association is its complementary term." [_System of
Economical Contradictions_, p. 430]
Of course, it could be objected that anarchists value some forms of social
relationships above others and that a true libertarian must allow people
the freedom to select their own social relationships. To answer the second
objection first, in a society based on private property (and so statism),
those with property have more power, which they can use to perpetuate
their authority. And why should we excuse servitude or tolerate those who
desire to restrict the liberty of others? The "liberty" to command is the
liberty to enslave, and so is actually a denial of liberty.
Regarding the first objection, anarchists plead guilty. We *are*
prejudiced against the reduction of human beings to the status of
robots. We are prejudiced in favour of human dignity and freedom.
We are prejudiced, in fact, in favour of humanity and individuality.
Section A.2.9 discusses why direct democracy is the necessary social
counterpart to voluntarism (i.e. free agreement). Section B.4 discusses
why capitalism cannot be based on equal bargaining power between property
owners and the propertyless.
A.2.15 What about "human nature"?
Anarchists, far from ignoring "human nature," have the only political
theory that gives this concept deep thought and reflection. Too often,
"human nature" is flung up as the last line of defence in an argument
against anarchism, because it is thought to be beyond reply. This is not
the case, however.
First of all, human nature is a complex thing. If, by human nature, it is
meant "what humans do," it is obvious that human nature is contradictory
-- love and hate, compassion and heartlessness, peace and violence, and so
on, have all been expressed by people and so are all products of "human
nature." Of course, what is considered "human nature" can change with
changing social circumstances. For example, slavery was considered part of
"human nature" and "normal" for thousands of years, and war only become
part of "human nature" once states developed. Therefore, environment
plays an important part in defining what "human nature" is.
This does not mean that human beings are infinitely plastic, with each
individual born a *tabula rasa* (blank slate) waiting to be formed by
"society" (which in practice means those who run it). We do not wish to
enter the debate about what human characteristics are and are not
"innate." All we will say is that human beings have an innate ability to
think and learn -- that much is obvious, we feel -- and that humans are
sociable creatures, needing the company of others to feel complete and to
These two features, we think, suggest the viability of an anarchist
society. The innate ability to think for oneself automatically
makes all forms of hierarchy illegitimate, and our need for social
relationships implies that we can organise without the state. The deep
unhappiness and alienation afflicting modern society reveals that the
centralisation and authoritarianism of capitalism and the state is
denying some innate needs within us.
In fact, as mentioned earlier, for the great majority of its existence
the human race *has* lived in anarchic communities, with little or no
hierarchy. That modern society calls such people "savages" or "primitive"
is pure arrogance. So who can tell whether anarchism is against "human
nature"? Anarchists have accumulated much evidence to suggest that it may
As for the charge the anarchists demand too much of "human nature," it
is often *non* anarchists who make the greatest claims on it. For "while
our opponents seem to admit there is a kind of salt of the earth -- the
rulers, the employers, the leaders -- who, happily enough, prevent those
bad men -- the ruled, the exploited, the led -- from becoming much worse
than they are. . . , there is [a] difference, and a very important one.
*We* admit the imperfections of human nature, but we make no exception for
the rulers. *They* make it, although sometimes unconsciously" [Peter
Kropotkin, _Act for Yourselves_, p. 83] If human nature is so bad, then
giving some people power over others and hoping this will lead to justice
and freedom is hopelessly utopian.
Today, however, with the rise of "sociobiology," some claim (with very
little *real* evidence) that capitalism is a product of our "nature,"
which is determined by our genes. These claims have been leapt upon by
the powers that be. Considering the dearth of evidence, their support for
this "new" doctrine must be purely the result of its utility to those in
power -- i.e. the fact that it is useful to have an "objective" and
"scientific" basis to rationalise that power. Like the social Darwinism
that preceded it, sociobiology proceeds by first projecting the dominant
ideas of current society onto nature (often unconsciously, so that
scientists mistakenly consider the ideas in question as both "normal" and
"natural"). Then the theories of nature produced in this manner are
transferred *back* onto society and history, being used to "prove" that
the principles of capitalism (hierarchy, authority, competition, etc.) are
eternal *laws,* which are then appealed to as a justification for the
status quo! Amazingly, there are many supposedly intelligent people who
take this sleight-of-hand seriously.
This sort of apologetics is natural, of course, because every ruling class
has always claimed that their right to rule was based on "human nature,"
and hence supported doctrines that defined the latter in ways appearing to
justify elite power -- be it sociobiology, divine right, original sin,
etc. Obviously, such doctrines have always been wrong . . . until now,
of course, as it is obvious our current society truly conforms to "human
nature" and it has been scientifically proven by our current scientific
The arrogance of this claim is truly amazing. History has not stopped. One
thousand years from now, society will be completely different from what it
is presently or from what anyone has imagined. No government in place at the
moment will still be around, and the current economic system will not exist.
The only thing that may remain the same is that people will still be claiming
that their new society is the "One True System" that completely conforms to
human nature, even though all past systems did not.
Of course, it does not cross the minds of supporters of capitalism that
people from different cultures may draw different conclusions from the
same facts -- conclusions that may be *more* valid. Nor does it occur to
capitalist apologists that the theories of the "objective" scientists may
be framed in the context of the dominant ideas of the society they live
in. It comes as no surprise to anarchists, however, that scientists
working in Tsarist Russia developed a theory of evolution based on
*co-operation* within species, quite unlike their counterparts in
capitalist Britain, who developed a theory based on *competitive struggle*
within and between species. That the latter theory reflected the dominant
political and economic theories of British society (notably competitive
individualism) is pure coincidence, of course. Kropotkin's _Mutual Aid_
was written in response to the obvious inaccuracies that British Social
Darwinism projected onto nature and human life.
A.2.16 Does anarchism require "perfect" people to work?
No. Anarchy is not a utopia, a "perfect" society. It will be a *human*
society, with all the problems, hopes, and fears associated with human
beings. Anarchists do not think that human beings need to be
"perfect" for anarchy to work. They only need to be free.
Obviously, though, we think that a free society will produce people who
are more in tune with both their own and others individuality and needs,
thus reducing individual conflict. Remaining disputes would be solved by
reasonable methods, for example, the use of juries, mutual third parties,
or community and workplace assemblies.
Like the "anarchism-is-against-human-nature" argument (see section
A.2.15), opponents of anarchism usually assume "perfect" people -- people
who are not corrupted by power when placed in positions of authority,
people who are strangely unaffected by the distorting effects of
hierarchy, privilege, and so forth. However, anarchists make no such
claims about human perfection. We recognise that vesting power in the
hands of one person or an elite is never a good idea, as people are not
perfect and need to be accountable to others.
It should be noted that the idea that anarchism requires a "new" man or
woman is often raised by the right-wing "anarcho"-capitalists to discredit
real anarchism and justify the retention of hierarchical authority,
specifically in capitalist relations of production. However, a moment's
reflection will show that their "objection" discredits their own claim to
be anarchists for they explicitly assume an anarchist society without
anarchists! Needless to say, an "anarchy" made up of people who still
needed authority and statism would soon become authoritarian and statist
(i.e. non-anarchist) again.
This is because even if the government were overthrown tomorrow, the same
system would soon grow up again, because "the strength of the government
rests not with itself, but with the people. A great tyrant may be a fool
and not a superman. His strength lies not in himself, but in the
superstition of the people who think that it is right to obey him. So
long as that superstition exists it is useless for some liberator to cut
off the head of tyranny; the people will create another, for they have
grown accustomed to rely on something outside themselves." [George Barret,
_Objections to Anarchism_]
In other words, anarchy needs *anarchists* in order to be created and
survive. But these anarchists need not be perfect, just people who have
freed themselves, by their own efforts, of the superstition that
command-and-obedience relations are necessary. The implicit assumption in
the idea of a "new" anarchist person is that freedom will be given, not
taken; hence the obvious conclusion follows that an anarchy requiring
"perfect" people will fail. But this argument ignores the need for
self-activity and self-liberation in order to create a free society.
Anarchists do not conclude that "perfect" people are necessary, because
the anarchist is "no liberator with a divine mission to free humanity,
but he is a part of that humanity struggling onwards towards liberty.
"If, then, by some external means an Anarchist Revolution could
be, so to speak, supplied ready-made and thrust upon the people, it is
true that they would reject it and rebuild the old society. If, on the
other hand, the people develop their ideas of freedom, and they themselves
get rid of the last stronghold of tyranny --- the government -- then
indeed the revolution will be permanently accomplished." [Ibid.]
A.2.17 Aren't most people too stupid for a free society to work?
We are sorry to have to include this question in an anarchist FAQ, but we
know that many political ideologies explicitly assume that ordinary people
are too stupid to be able to manage their own lives and run society. All
aspects of the capitalist political agenda, from Left to Right, contain
people who make this claim. Be it Leninists, Fabians or Objectivists, it
is assumed that only a select few are creative and intelligent and that
these people should govern others. Usually, this elitism is masked by
fine, flowing rhetoric about "freedom," "democracy" and other platitudes
with which the ideologues attempt to dull people's critical thought by
telling them want they want to hear.
It is, of course, also no surprise that those who believe in "natural"
elites always class themselves at the top. We have yet to discover an
"objectivist", for example, who considers themselves part of the great
mass of "second-handers" or who will be a toilet cleaner in the unknown
"ideal" of "real" capitalism. Everybody reading an elitist text will
consider him or herself to be part of the "select few." It's "natural" in
an elitist society to consider elites to be natural and yourself a
potential member of one!
Examination of history shows that there is a basic elitist ideology which
has been the essential rationalisation of all states and ruling classes
since their emergence at the beginning of the Bronze Age. This ideology
merely changes its outer garments, not its basic inner content.
During the Dark Ages, for example, it was coloured by Christianity, being
adapted to the needs of the Church hierarchy. The most useful "divinely
revealed" dogma to the priestly elite was "original sin": the notion that
human beings are basically depraved and incompetent creatures who need
"direction from above," with priests as the conveniently necessary
mediators between ordinary humans and "God." The idea that average people
are basically stupid and thus incapable of governing themselves is a
carry over from this doctrine, a relic of the Dark Ages.
In reply to all those who claim that most people are "second-handers" or
cannot develop anything more than "trade union consciousness," all we can
say is that it is an absurdity that cannot withstand even a superficial
look at history, particularly the labour movement. The creative powers
of those struggling for freedom is often truly amazing, and if this
intellectual power and inspiration is not seen in "normal" society, this
is the clearest indictment possible of the deadening effects of hierarchy
and the conformity produced by authority. (See also section B.1 for more
on the effects of hierarchy). As Bob Black points outs:
"You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work, chances
are you'll end up boring, stupid, and monotonous. Work is a much better
explanation for the creeping cretinisation all around us than even such
significant moronising mechanisms as television and education. People who
are regimented all their lives, handed to work from school and bracketed by
the family in the beginning and the nursing home in the end, are habituated
to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is
so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally
grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into
the families *they* start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than
one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the
vitality from people at work, they'll likely submit to hierarchy and
expertise in everything. They're used to it." [_The Abolition of Work_]
When elitists try to conceive of liberation, they can only think of it
being *given* to the oppressed by kind (for Leninists) or stupid (for
Objectivists) elites. It is hardly surprising, then, that it fails. Only
self-liberation can produce a free society. The crushing and distorting
effects of authority can only be overcome by self-activity. The few examples
of such self-liberation prove that most people, once considered incapable
of freedom, are more than up for the task.
Those who proclaim their "superiority" often do so out of fear that their
authority and power will be destroyed once people free themselves from the
debilitating hands of authority and come to realise that, in the words
of Max Stirner, "the great are great only because we are on our knees."
As Emma Goldman remarks about women's equality, "[t]he extraordinary
achievements of women in every walk of life have silenced forever the
loose talk of women's inferiority. Those who still cling to this fetish do
so because they hate nothing so much as to see their authority challenged.
This is the characteristic of all authority, whether the master over his
economic slaves or man over women. However, everywhere woman is escaping
her cage, everywhere she is going ahead with free, large strides."
[_Vision on Fire_, p. 256]
The same comments are applicable, for example, to the very successful
experiments in workers' self-management during the Spanish Revolution, To
quote Rousseau: "when I see multitudes of entirely naked savages scorn
European voluptuousness and endure hunger, fire, the sword, and death to
preserve only their independence, I feel that it does not behove slaves
to reason about freedom." [quoted by Noam Chomsky, "Anarchism, Marxism and
Hope for the Future", _Red and Black Revolution_, issue 2]
A.2.18 Do anarchists support terrorism?
No, and this is for three reasons. Terrorism means either targeting or not
worrying about killing innocent people. For anarchy to exist, it must be
created by ordinary people. One does not convince people of one's ideas
by blowing them up. Secondly, anarchism is about self-liberation. One
cannot blow up a social relationship. Freedom cannot be created by the
actions of an elite few destroying rulers *on behalf of* the majority.
For so long as people feel the need for rulers, hierarchy will exist (see
section A.2.16 for more on this). As we have stressed earlier, freedom
cannot be given, only taken. Lastly, anarchism aims for freedom. Hence
Bakunin's comment that "when one is carrying out a revolution for the
liberation of humanity, one should respect the life and liberty of
men [and women]." [quoted by K.J. Kenafick, _Michael Bakunin and
Karl Marx_, p. 125] For anarchists, means determine the ends and
terrorism by its very nature violates life and liberty of individuals
and so cannot be used to create an anarchist society.
Moreover anarchists are *not* against individuals but the institutions
and social relationships that cause certain individuals to have power
over others and abuse (i.e. use) that power. Therefore the anarchist
revolution is about destroying structures, not people. As Bakunin
pointed out, "we wish not to kill persons, but to abolish status
and its perquisites" and anarchism "does not mean the death of
the individuals who make up the bourgeoisie, but the death of the
bourgeoisie as a political and social entity economically distinct
from the working class." [_The Basic Bakunin_, p. 71 and p. 70] In
other words, "You can't blow up a social relationship" (to quote
the title of an anarchist pamphlet which presents the anarchist
case against terrorism).
How is it, then, that anarchism is associated with violence? Partly
this is because the state and media insist on referring to terrorists
who are *not* anarchists as anarchists. For example, the German
Bader-Meinhoff gang were often called "anarchists" despite their
self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninism. Smears, unfortunately, work.
Similarly, as Emma Goldman pointed out, "it is a known fact known
to almost everyone familiar with the Anarchist movement that a
great number of [terrorist] acts, for which Anarchists had to
suffer, either originated with the capitalist press or were
instigated, if not directly perpetrated, by the police."
[_Red Emma Speaks_, p. 216]
This does not mean that Anarchists have not committed acts of
violence. They have (as have members of other political and
religious movements). The main reason for the association of
terrorism with anarchism is because of the "propaganda by the
deed" period in the anarchist movement.
This period -- roughly from 1880 to 1900 -- was marked by a small
number of anarchists assassinating members of the ruling class
(royalty, politicians and so forth). At its worse, this period saw
theatres and shops frequented by members of the bourgeoisie targeted.
These acts were termed "propaganda by the deed." Anarchist support for
the tactic was galvanised by the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in
1881 by Russian Populists (this event prompted Johann Most's famous
editorial in _Freiheit_, entitled "At Last!", celebrating regicide
and the assassination of tyrants). However, there were deeper reasons
for anarchist support of this tactic: firstly, in revenge for acts
of repression directed towards working class people; and secondly,
as a means to encourage people to revolt by showing that their
oppressors could be defeated.
Considering these reasons it is no coincidence that propaganda by
the deed began in France after the 20 000-plus deaths due to the
French state's brutal suppression of the Paris Commune, in which
many anarchists were killed. It is interesting to note that while
the anarchist violence in revenge for the Commune is relatively well
known, the state's mass murder of the Communards is relatively unknown.
Similarly, it may be known that the Italian Anarchist Gaetano Bresci
assassinated King Umberto of Italy in 1900 or that Alexander Berkman
tried to kill Carnegie Steel Corporation manager Henry Clay Frick in
1892. What is often unknown is that Umberto's troops had fired upon
and killed protesting peasants or that Frick's Pinkertons had also
murdered locked-out workers at Homestead.
Such downplaying of statist and capitalist violence is hardly
surprising. "The State's behaviour is violence," points out
Max Stirner, "and it calls its violence 'law'; that of the
individual, 'crime.'" [_The Ego and Its Own_, p. 197] Little
wonder, then, that anarchist violence is condemned but the
repression (and often worse violence) that provoked it ignored
We can get a feel of the hypocrisy surrounding condemnation of
anarchist violence by non-anarchists by considering their response
to state violence. For example, many capitalist papers and individuals
in the 1920s and 1930s celebrated Fascism as well as Mussolini and
Hitler. Anarchists, in contrast, fought Fascism to the death and
tried to assassinate both Mussolini and Hitler. Obviously supporting
murderous dictatorships is not "violence" and "terrorism" but
resisting such regimes is! Similarly, non-anarchists can support
repressive and authoritarian states, war and the suppression of
strikes and other forms of unrest by violence ("restoring law and
order") and not be considered "violent." Anarchists, in contrast,
are condemned as "violent" and "terrorist" because a few of them
tried to revenge such acts of oppression and state/capitalist
It must be noted that the majority of anarchists did not support
this tactic. Of those who committed "propaganda by the deed"
(sometimes called "attentats"), as Murray Bookchin points out,
only a "few . . . were members of Anarchist groups. The majority
. . . were soloists." [_The Spanish Anarchists_, p. 102] Needless
to say, the state and media painted all anarchists with the same
brush. They still do, sometimes inaccurately (such as blaming
Bakunin for such acts even though he had been dead 5 years before
the tactic was even discussed in anarchist circles!).
All in all, the "propaganda by the deed" phase of anarchism was
a failure, as the vast majority of anarchists soon came to see.
Kropotkin can be considered typical. He initially approved acts
of violence directed against repressive members of the ruling class.
However, by the 1890s he came to disapprove of acts of violence
unless committed in self-defence during the defence of a revolution.
This was partly due to simple revulsion at the worse of the acts
(such as the Barcelona Theatre bombing in response to the state
murder of anarchists involved in the Jerez uprising of 1892 and
Emile Henry's bombing of a cafe in response to state repression)
and partly due to the awareness that it was hindering the anarchist
cause. More and more anarchists came to see "propaganda by the deed"
as giving the state an excuse to clamp down on both the anarchist
and labour movements. Moreover, it gave the media (and opponents of
anarchism) a chance to associate anarchism with mindless violence,
thus alienating much of the population from the movement. This
false association is renewed at every opportunity, regardless of
the facts (for example, even though Individualist Anarchists
rejected "propaganda by the deed" totally, they were also
smeared by the press as "violent" and "terrorists").
In addition, the assumption behind propaganda by the deed,
i.e. that everyone was waiting for a chance to rebel, was
false. In fact, people are products of the system in which
they live; hence they accepted most of the myths used to
keep that system going. With the failure of propaganda by
deed, anarchists turned back to what most of the movement
had been doing anyway: encouraging the class struggle and
the process of self-liberation. This turn back to the roots
of anarchism can be seen from the rise in anarcho-syndicalist
unions after 1890 (see section A.5.3).
Despite most anarchists' tactical disagreement with propaganda by
deed, few would consider it to be terrorism or rule out assassination
under all circumstances. Bombing a village during a war because there
*might* be an enemy in it is terrorism, whereas assassinating a murdering
dictator or head of a repressive state is defence at best and revenge
at worst. As anarchists have long pointed out, if by terrorism it is
meant "killing innocent people" then the state is the greatest terrorist
of them all (as well as having the biggest bombs and other weapons of
destruction available on the planet). If the people committing "acts
of terror" are really anarchists, they would do everything possible
to avoid harming innocent people and never use the statist line that
"collateral damage" is regrettable but inevitable. This is why the
vast majority of "propaganda by the deed" acts were directed towards
individuals of the ruling class, such a Presidents and Royalty, and
were the result of previous acts of state and capitalist violence.
So "terrorist" acts have been committed by anarchists. This is a fact.
What is often forgotten is that members of *other* political and religious
groups have also committed such acts. As the Freedom Group of London
"There is a truism that the man [or woman] in the street seems
always to forget, when he is abusing the Anarchists, or whatever
party happens to be his *bete noire* for the moment, as the
cause of some outrage just perpetrated. This indisputable
fact us that homicidal outrages have, from time immemorial,
been the reply of goaded and desperate classes, and goaded
and desperate individuals, to wrongs from their fellowmen [and
women], which they felt to be intolerable. Such acts are the
violent recoil from violence, whether aggressive or repressive
. . . their cause lies not in any special conviction, but in the
depths of . . . human nature itself. The whole course of history,
political and social, is strewn with evidence of this." [quoted by
Emma Goldman, Op. Cit., p. 213]
Terrorism has been used by many other political, social and
religious groups and parties. For example, Christians, Marxists,
Hindus, Nationalists, Republicans, Moslems, Sikhs, Marxists, Fascists,
Jews and Patriots have all committed acts of terrorism. Few of these
movements or ideas have been labelled as "terrorist by nature" or
continually associated with violence -- which shows anarchism's
threat to the status quo. There is nothing more likely to discredit
and marginalise an idea than for malicious and/or ill-informed
persons to portray those who believe and practice it as
"mad bombers" with no opinions or ideals at all, just an
insane urge to destroy.
Of course, the vast majority of Christians and so on have opposed terrorism
as morally repugnant and counter-productive. As have the vast majority of
anarchists, at all times and places. However, it seems that in our case
it is necessary to state our opposition to terrorism time and time again.
So, to summarise - only a small minority of terrorists have ever been
anarchists, and only a small minority of anarchists have ever been
terrorists. The anarchist movement as a whole has always recognised that
social relationships cannot be assassinated or bombed out of existence.
Compared to the violence of the state and capitalism, anarchist violence
is a drop in the ocean. Unfortunately most people remember the acts of
the few anarchists who have committed violence rather than the acts of
violence and repression by the state and capital that prompted those acts.
A.2.19 What ethical views do anarchists hold?
Anarchist viewpoints on ethics vary considerably, although all share
a common belief in the need for an individual to develop within themselves
their own sense of ethics. All anarchists agree with Max Stirner that
an individual must free themselves from the confines of existing morality
and question that morality - "I decide whether it is the *right thing* for
me; there is no right *outside* me." [_The Ego and Its Own_, p. 189]
Few anarchists, however, would go so far as Stirner and reject *any* concept
of social ethics at all (saying that, Stirner does value some universal
concepts although they are egoistic ones). Such extreme moral relativism
is almost as bad as moral absolutism for most anarchists (moral relativism
is the view that there is no right or wrong beyond what suits an individual
while moral absolutism is that view that what is right and wrong is
independent of what individuals think).
It is often claimed that modern society is breaking up because of excessive
"egoism" or moral relativism. This is false. As far as moral relativism goes,
this is a step forward from the moral absolutism urged upon society by various
Moralists and true-believers because it bases itself, however slimly, upon
the idea of individual reason. However, as it denies the existence (or
desirability) of ethics it is but the mirror image of what it is rebelling
against. Neither option empowers the individual or is liberating.
Consequently, both of these attitudes hold enormous attraction to
authoritarians, as a populace that is either unable to form an opinion about
things (and will tolerate anything) or who blindly follow the commands of
the ruling elite are of great value to those in power. Both are rejected by
most anarchists in favour of an evolutionary approach to ethics based upon
human reason to develop the ethical concepts and interpersonal empathy to
generalise these concepts into ethical attitudes within society as well as
within individuals. An anarchistic approach to ethics therefore shares the
critical individual investigation implied in moral relativism but grounds
itself into common feelings of right and wrong. As Proudhon argued:
"All progress begins by abolishing something; every reform rests upon
denunciation of some abuse; each new idea is based upon the proved
insufficiency of the old idea."
Most anarchists take the viewpoint that ethical standards, like life itself,
are in a constant process of evolution. This leads them to reject the various
notions of "God's Law," "Natural Law," and so on in favour of theory of
ethical development based upon the idea that individuals are entirely
empowered to question and assess the world around them - in fact, they
require it in order to be truly free. You cannot be an anarchist and blindly
accept *anything*! Michael Bakunin, one of the founding anarchist thinkers,
expressed this radical scepticism as so:
"No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will
save the world. I cleave to no system. I am a true seeker."
Therefore Anarchists take, essentially, a scientific approach to problems.
Anarchists arrive at ethical judgements without relying on the mythology of
spiritual aid, but on the merits of their own minds. This is done through
logic and reason, and is a far better route to resolving moral questions
than obsolete, authoritarian systems like orthodox religion and certainly
better than the "there is no wrong or right" of moral relativism.
So, what are the source of ethical concepts? For Kropotkin, "nature has thus
to be recognised as the *first ethical teacher of man.* The social instinct,
innate in men as well as in all the social animals, - this is the origin
of all ethical conceptions and all subsequent development of morality."
[_Ethics_, p. 45]
Life, in other words, is the basis of anarchist ethics. This means that,
essentially (according to anarchists), an individual's ethical viewpoints
are derived from three basic sources:
1) from the society an individual lives in. As Kropotkin pointed out,
"Man's conceptions of morality are completely dependent upon the form that
their social life assumed at a given time in a given locality. . . this
[social life] is reflected in the moral conceptions of men and in the moral
teachings of the given epoch." [Op. Cit., p. 315] In other words, experience
of life and of living.
2) A critical evaluation by individuals of their society's ethical norms,
as indicated above. This is the core of Erich Fromm's argument that "Man
must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only using his
own powers can he give meaning to his life. . .*there is no meaning to life
except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by
living productively.*" [_Man for Himself_, p. 45] In other words, individual
thought and development.
3) The feeling of empathy - "the true origin of the moral sentiment.. .[is]
simply in the feeling of sympathy." ["Anarchist Morality", _Kropotkin's
Revolutionary Pamphlets_, p. 94] In other words, an individual's ability to
feel and share experiences and concepts with others.
This last factor is very important for the development of a sense of
ethics. As Kropotkin argued, "[t]he more powerful your imagination, the
better you can picture to yourself what any being feels when it is made
to suffer, and the more intense and delicate will your moral sense be. . .
And the more you are accustomed by circumstances, by those surrounding you,
or by the intensity of your own thought and your imagination, to *act* as
your own thought and imagination urge, the more will the moral sentiment
grow in you, the more will it became habitual" [Op. Cit., p. 95]
So, anarchism is based (essentially) upon the ethical maxim "treat others as
you would like them to treat you under similar circumstances." Anarchists
are neither egoists nor altruists when it come to moral stands, they are
As Kropotkin noted, "egoism" and "altruism" both have their roots in the
same motive -- "however great the difference between the two actions in
their result of humanity, the motive is the same. It is the quest for
pleasure." [Op. Cit., p. 85]
For anarchists, a person's sense of ethics must be developed by themselves
and requires the full use of an individual's mental abilities as part of
a social grouping, as part of a community. As capitalism and other forms
of authority weaken the individual's imagination and reduce the number of
outlets for them to exercise their reason under the dead weight of hierarchy
as well as disrupting community, little wonder that life under capitalism
is marked by a stark disregard for others and lack of ethical behaviour.
Combined with these factors is the role played by inequality within
society. Without equality, there can be no real ethics for "Justice
implies Equality. . . only those who consider *others* as their
*equals* can obey the rule: 'Do not do to others what you do not wish
them to do to you.' A serf-owner and a slave merchant can evidently
not recognise . . . the 'categorial imperative' [of treating people as
ends in themselves and not as means] as regards serfs [or slaves] because
they do not look upon them as equals." Hence the "greatest obstacle
to the maintenance of a certain moral level in our present societies
lies in the absence of social equality. Without *real* equality, the
sense of justice can never be universally developed, because *Justice
implies the recognition of Equality.*" [_Peter Kropotkin, _Evolution
and Environment_, p. 88 and p. 79]
Capitalism, like any society, gets the ethical behaviour it deserves.
In a society which moves between moral relativism and absolutism it is
little wonder that egoism becomes confused with egotism. By disempowering
individuals from developing their own ethical ideas and instead encouraging
blind obedience to external authority (and so moral relativism once
individual's think that they are without that authority's power), capitalist
society ensures an impoverishment of individuality and ego. As Erich Fromm
"The failure of modern culture lies not in its principle of individualism,
not in the idea that mortal virtue is the same as the pursuit of
self-interest, but in the deterioration of the meaning of self-interest;
not that they are *not concerned with their self-interest,* but that they
are *not* concerned enough with the interest of their real self; *not* in
the fact that they are too selfish, but that they do not love themselves."
[_Man for Himself_, p. 139]
Therefore, strictly speaking, anarchism is based upon an egoistic frame
of reference -- ethical ideas must be an expression of what gives us pleasure
as a whole individual (both rational and emotional, reason and empathy).
This leads all anarchists to reject the false division between egoism and
altruism and recognise that what many people (for example, capitalists)
call "egoism" results in individual self-negation and a reduction of
individual self-interest. As Kropotkin argues:
"What was it that morality, evolving in animal and human societies, was
striving for, if not for the opposition to the promptings of narrow
egoism, and bringing up humanity in the spirit of the development of
altruism? The very expressions 'egoism' and 'altruism' are incorrect,
because there can be no pure altruism without an admixture of personal
pleasure - and consequently, without egoism. It would therefore be more
nearly correct to say that ethics aims at *the development of social
habits and the weakening of the narrowly personal habits.* These last
make the individual lose sight of society through his regard for his own
person, and therefore they even fail to attain their object, i.e. the
welfare of the individual, whereas the development of habits of work
in common, and of mutual aid in general, leads to a series of beneficial
consequences in the family as well as society." [_Ethics_, pp. 307-8]
Therefore anarchism is based upon the rejection of moral absolutism
(i.e. "God's Law," "Natural Law," "Man's Nature," "A is A") and the
narrow egotism which moral relativism so easily lends itself to. Instead,
anarchists recognise that there exists concepts of right and wrong which
exist outside of an individual's evaluation of their own acts.
This is because of the social nature of humanity. The interactions between
individuals does develop into a social maxim which, according to Kropotkin,
be summarised as " Is it useful to society? Then it is good. Is it hurtful?
Then it is bad." ["Anarchist Morality", Op. Cit., p. 91] What acts human
beings think of as right or wrong is not, however, unchanging and the
"estimate of what is useful or harmful . . .changes, but the foundation
remains the same." [Op. Cit., p. 92]
This sense of empathy, based upon a critical mind, is the fundamental basis
of social ethics - the 'what-should-be' can be seen as an ethical criterion
for the truth or validity of an objective 'what-is.' So, while recognising
the root of ethics in nature, anarchists consider ethics as fundamentally a
*human* idea -- the product of life, thought and evolution created by
individuals and generalised by social living and community.
So what, for anarchists, is unethical behaviour? Essentially anything
that denies the most precious achievement of history: the liberty,
uniqueness and dignity of the individual.
Individuals can see what actions are unethical because, due to empathy,
they can place themselves into the position of those suffering the
behaviour. Acts which restrict individuality can be considered
unethical for two (interrelated) reasons:
Firstly, the protection and development of individuality in all enriches the
life of every individual and it gives pleasure to individuals because of
the diversity it produces. This egoist basis of ethics reinforces the
second (social) reason, namely that individuality is good for society for
it enriches the community and social life, strengthening it and allowing
it to grow and evolve. As Bakunin constantly argued, progress is marked by
a movement from "the simple to the complex" or, in the words of Herbert
Read, it "is measured by the degree of differentiation within a society.
If the individual is a unit in a corporate mass, his [or her] life will be
limited, dull, and mechanical. If the individual is a unit on his [or her]
own, with space and potentiality for separate action . . .he can develop -
develop in the only real meaning of the word -- develop in consciousness
of strength, vitality, and joy." ["The Philosophy of Anarchism," in
_Anarchy and Order_, p. 37]
This defence of individuality is learned from nature. In an ecosystem,
diversity is strength and so biodiversity becomes a source of basic ethical
insight. In its most basic form, it provides a guide to "help us distinguish
which of our actions serve the thrust of natural evolution and which of them
impede them." [Murray Bookchin, _The Ecology of Freedom_, p. 342]
So, the ethical concept "lies in the feeling of sociality, inherent in the
entire animal world and in the conceptions of equity, which constitutes one
of the fundamental primary judgements of human reason." [_Ethics_, pp. 311-2]
Therefore anarchists embrace "the permanent presence of a *double tendency*
-- towards greater development on the one side, of *sociality*, and, on the
other side, of a consequent increase of the intensity of life which results
in an increase of happiness for the *individuals*, and in progress --
physical, intellectual, and moral. [Op. Cit., pp. 19-20]
Anarchist attitudes to authority, the state, capitalism, private property
and so on all come from our ethical belief that the liberty of individuals
is of prime concern and that our ability to empathise with others,
to see ourselves in others (our basic equality and common individuality,
in other words).
Hence anarchism combines the subjective evaluation by individuals of a given
set of circumstances and actions with the drawing of objective interpersonal
conclusions of these evaluations based upon empathic bounds and discussion
between equals. Hence anarchism is based on a humanistic approach to ethical
ideas, one that evolves along with society and individual development.
Hence an *ethical* society is one in which "[d]ifference among people
will be respected, indeed fostered, as elements that enrich the unity of
experience and phenomenon . . . [the different] will be conceived of as
individual parts of a whole all the richer because of its complexity."
[Murray Bookchin, _Post Scarcity Anarchism_, p. 82]
A.3 What types of anarchism are there?
Anarchists, while all sharing a few key ideas, can be grouped into broad
categories, depending on the economic arrangements that they consider to
be most suitable to human freedom. However, all types of anarchists share
a basic approach. To quote Rudolf Rocker:
"In common with the founders of Socialism, Anarchists demand the
abolition of all economic monopolies and the common ownership of
the soil and all other means of production, the use of which must
be available to all without distinction; for personal and social
freedom is conceivable only on the basis of equal economic advantages
for everybody. Within the Socialist movement itself the Anarchists
represent the viewpoint that the war against capitalism must be at
the same time a war against all institutions of political power, for
in history economic exploitation has always gone hand in hand with
political and social oppression. The exploitation of man by man and
the domination of man over man are inseparable, and each is the
condition of the other." [_Anarcho-Syndicalism_, pp. 17-18]
It is within this general context that anarchists disagree. The main
differences are between "individualist" and "social" anarchists,
although the economic arrangements each desire are not mutually
exclusive. Of the two, social anarchists (communist-anarchists,
anarcho-syndicalists and so on) have always been the vast majority,
with individualist anarchism being restricted mostly to the United
States. In this section we indicate the differences between these
main trends within the anarchist movement. As will soon become clear,
while social and individualist anarchists both oppose the state and
capitalism, they disagree on the nature of a free society (and how to
get there). In a nutshell, social anarchists prefer communal solutions
to social problems and a communal vision of the good society (i.e. a
society that protects and encourages individual freedom). Individualist
anarchists, as their name suggests, prefer individual solutions and have
a more individualistic vision of the good society. However, we must
not let these difference cloud what both schools have in common, namely
a desire to maximise individual freedom and end state and capitalist
domination and exploitation.
In addition to this major disagreement, anarchists also disagree
over such issues as syndicalism, pacifism, "lifestylism," animal
rights and a whole host of other ideas, but these, while important,
are only different aspects of anarchism. Beyond a few key ideas,
the anarchist movement (like life itself) is in a constant state of
change, discussion and thought -- as would be expected in a movement
that values freedom so highly.
To put our cards on the table, the writers of this FAQ place
themselves firmly in the "social" strand of anarchism. This
does not mean that we ignore the many important ideas associated
with individualist anarchism, only that we think social anarchism
is more appropriate for modern society, that it creates a stronger
base for individual freedom, and that it more closely reflects the
sort of society we would like to live in.
A.3.1 What are the differences between individualist and social anarchists?
While there is a tendency for individuals in both camps to claim that
the proposals of the other camp would lead to the creation of some
kind of state, the differences between individualists and social
anarchists are not very great. Both are anti-state, anti-authority
and anti-capitalist. The major differences are twofold.
The first is in regard to the means of action in the here and now
(and so the manner in which anarchy will come about). Individualists
generally prefer education and the creation of alternative institutions,
such as mutual banks, unions, communes, etc. They usually support
strikes and other non-violent forms of social protest (such as rent
strikes, the non-payment of taxes and so on). Such activity, they
argue, will ensure that present society will gradually develop out
of government into an anarchist one. They are primarily evolutionists,
not revolutionists, and dislike social anarchists' use of direct action
to create revolutionary situations. They consider revolution as being
in contradiction to anarchist principles as it involves the expropriation
of capitalist property and, therefore, authoritarian means. Rather they
seek to return to society the wealth taken out of society by property by
means of an new, alternative, system of economics (based around mutual
banks and co-operatives). In this way a general "social liquidation" would
be rendered easy, with anarchism coming about by reform and not by
Most social anarchists recognise the need for education and to create
alternatives (such as libertarian unions), but most disagree that this
is enough in itself. They do not think capitalism can be reformed piece
by piece into anarchy, although they do not ignore the importance of reforms
by social struggle that increase libertarian tendencies within capitalism.
Nor do they think revolution is in contradiction with anarchist principles
as it is not authoritarian to destroy authority (be it state or capitalist).
Thus the expropriation of the capitalist class and the destruction of the
state by social revolution is a libertarian, not authoritarian, act by
its very nature as it is directed against those who govern and exploit
the vast majority. In short, social anarchists are usually evolutionists
*and* revolutionists, trying to strengthen libertarian tendencies within
capitalism while trying to abolish that system by social revolution. However,
as some social anarchists are purely evolutionists too, this difference is
not the most important one dividing social anarchists from individualists.
The second major difference concerns the form of anarchist economy
proposed. Individualists prefer a market-based system of distribution
to the social anarchists need-based system. Both agree that the current
system of capitalist property rights must be abolished and that use
rights must replace property rights in the means of life (i.e. the
abolition of rent, interest and profits -- "usury," to use the
individualist anarchists' preferred term for this unholy trinity).
In effect, both schools follow Proudhon's classic work _What is
Property?_ and argue that possession must replace property in a
free society (see section B.3 for a discussion of anarchist
viewpoints on property).
However, within this use-rights framework, the two schools of anarchism
propose different systems. The social anarchist generally argues for
communal (or social) ownership and use. This would involve social
ownership of the means of production and distribution, with personal
possessions remaining for things you use, but not what was used to
create them ("your watch is your own, but the watch factory belongs
to the people." [Alexander Berkman, _The ABC of Anarchism_, p. 68]).
"Actual use," argues Berkman, "will be considered the only title --
not to ownership but to possession. The organisation of the coal
miners, for example, will be in charge of the coal mines, not as
owners but as the operating agency . . . Collective possession,
co-operatively managed in the interests of the community, will
take the place of personal ownership privately conducted for profit."
[Op. Cit., p. 69] This system would be based on workers' self-management
of their work and (for most social anarchists) the free sharing of
the product of that labour (i.e. an economic system without money).
Some social anarchists, like mutualists, are against such a system
of libertarian (or free) communism, but, in general, the vast majority
of social anarchists look forward to the end of money and, therefore,
of buying and selling.
In contrast, the individualist anarchist denies that this system of
use-rights should include the product of the workers labour. Instead of
social ownership, individualist anarchists propose a more market based
system in which workers would possess their own means of production and
exchange the product of their labour freely with other workers. They
argue that capitalism is not, in fact, a truly free market. Rather, by
means of the state, capitalists have placed fetters on the market to create
and protect their economic and social power (market discipline for the
working class, state aid for the ruling class in other words). These state
created monopolies (of money, land, tariffs and patents) and state
enforcement of capitalist property rights are the source of economic
inequality and exploitation. With the abolition of government, *real*
free competition would result and ensure the end of capitalism and
capitalist exploitation (see Benjamin Tucker's essay _State Socialism
and Anarchism_ for an excellent summary of this argument).
The Individualist anarchists argue that the means of production (bar land)
are the product of individual labour and so they accept that people should
be able to sell the means of production they use, if they so desire.
However, they reject capitalist property rights and instead favour an
"occupancy and use" system. If the means of production, say land, is not
in use, it reverts back to common ownership and is available to others
for use. They think this system, called mutualism, will result in
workers control of production and the end of capitalist exploitation
This second difference is the most important. The individualist fears
being forced to join a community and thus losing his or her freedom
(including the freedom to exchange freely with others). Max Stirner
puts this position well when he argues that "Communism, by the
abolition of all personal property, only presses me back still
more into dependence on another, to wit, on the generality or
collectivity . . . [which is] a condition hindering my free
movement, a sovereign power over me. Communism rightly revolts
against the pressure that I experience from individual proprietors;
but still more horrible is the might that it puts in the hands of
the collectivity." [_The Ego and Its Own_, p. 257] Proudhon also
argued against communism, stating that the community becomes the
proprietor under communism and so capitalism and communism are
based on property and so authority (see the section "Characteristics
of communism and of property" in _What is Property?_). Thus the
Individualist anarchist argues that social ownership places the
individual's freedom in danger as any form of communism subjects
the individual to society or the commune. They fear that as well
as dictating individual morality, socialisation would effectively
eliminate workers' control as "society" would tell workers what to
produce and take the product of their labour. In effect, they argue
that communism (or social ownership in general) would be similar to
capitalism, with the exploitation and authority of the boss replaced
with that of "society."
Needless to say, social anarchists disagree. They argue that
Stirner's and Proudhon's comments are totally correct -- but
only about authoritarian communism. As Kropotkin argued, "before
and in 1848, the theory [of communism] was put forward in such
a shape as to fully account for Proudhon's distrust as to its
effect upon liberty. The old idea of Communism was the idea of
monastic communities under the severe rule of elders or of men
of science for directing priests. The last vestiges of liberty
and of individual energy would be destroyed, if humanity ever
had to go through such a communism." [_Act for Yourselves_, p. 98]
Kropotkin always argued that communist-anarchism was a *new*
development and given that it dates from the 1870s, Proudhon's
and Stirner's remarks cannot be considered as being directed
against it as they could not be familiar with it.
Rather than subject the individual to the community, social
anarchists argue that communal ownership would provide the
necessary framework to protect individual liberty in all aspects
of life by abolishing the power of the property owner, in whatever
form it takes. In addition, rather than abolish *all* individual
"property," communist anarchism acknowledges the importance of
individual possessions and individual space. Thus we find Kropotkin
arguing against forms of communism that "desire to manage the
community after the model of a family . . . [to live] all in
the same house and . . . thus forced to continuously meet the
same 'brethren and sisters' . . . [it is] a fundamental error to
impose on all the 'great family' instead of trying, on the contrary,
to guarantee as much freedom and home life to each individual."
[_Small Communal Experiments and Why They Fail_, pp. 8-9] The aim
of anarchist-communism is, to again quote Kropotkin, to place "the
product reaped or manufactured at the disposal of all, leaving to
each the liberty to consume them as he pleases in his own home."
[_The Place of Anarchism in the Evolution of Socialist Thought_,
p. 7] This ensures individual expression of tastes and desires and
so individuality -- both in consumption *and* in production, as
social anarchists are firm supporters of workers' self-management.
Thus, for social anarchists, the Individualist Anarchist opposition
to communism is only valid for state or authoritarian communism and
ignores the fundamental nature of communist-anarchism. Communist
anarchists do not replace individuality with community but rather
use community to defend individuality. Rather than have "society"
control the individual, as the Individualist Anarchist fears, social
anarchism is based on importance of individuality and individual
"Anarchist Communism maintains that most valuable of all conquests
-- individual liberty -- and moreover extends it and gives it a
solid basis -- economic liberty -- without which political liberty
is delusive; it does not ask the individual who has rejected god,
the universal tyrant, god the king, and god the parliament, to
give unto himself a god more terrible than any of the proceeding
-- god the Community, or to abdicate upon its alter his [or her]
independence, his [or her] will, his [or her] tastes, and to renew
the vow of asceticism which he formally made before the crucified
god. It says to him, on the contrary, 'No society is free so long
as the individual is not so! . . .'" [Op. Cit., pp. 14-15]
In addition, social anarchists have always recognised the need for
voluntary collectivisation. If people desire to work by themselves,
this is not seen as a problem (see Kropotkin's _The Conquest of
Bread_, p. 61 and _Act for Yourselves_, pp. 104-5 as well as Malatesta's
_Life and Ideas_, p. 99 and p. 103). In addition, for social anarchists
an association exists solely for the benefit of the individuals that
compose it; it is the means by which people co-operate to meet their
common needs. Therefore, *all* anarchists emphasise the importance
of free agreement as the basis of an anarchist society. Thus all
anarchists agree with Bakunin:
"In a free community, collectivism can only come about through the
pressure of circumstances, not by imposition from above but by a
free spontaneous movement from below." [_Bakunin on Anarchism_,
If individualists desire to work for themselves and exchange goods
with others, social anarchists have no objection. Hence our comments
that the two forms of anarchism are not mutually exclusive. Social
anarchists support the right of individual's *not* to join a commune
while Individualist Anarchists support the rights of individuals to
pool their possessions as they see fit, including communistic
associations. However, if, in the name of freedom, an individual
wished to claim property rights so as to exploit the labour of others,
social anarchists would quickly resist this attempt to recreate statism
in the name of "liberty." Anarchists do not respect the "freedom" to
be a ruler! In the words of Luigi Galleani:
"No less sophistical is the tendency of those who, under the comfortable
cloak of anarchist individualism, would welcome the idea of domination
. . . But the heralds of domination presume to practice individualism
in the name of their ego, over the obedient, resigned, or inert ego of
others." [_The End of Anarchism?_, p. 40]
Moreover, for social anarchists, the idea that the means of production
can be sold implies that private property could be reintroduced in an
anarchist society. In a free market, some succeed and others fail. If
the "unsuccessful" competitors are forced into unemployment they may have
to sell their labour to the "successful" in order to survive. This would
create authoritarian social relationships and the domination of the few
over the many via "free contracts." The enforcement of such contracts
(and others like them), in all likelihood, "opens . . . the way for
reconstituting under the heading of 'defence' all the functions of
the State." [Peter Kropotkin, _Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets_,
Benjamin Tucker, the anarchist most influenced by liberalism and
free market ideas, also faced the problems associated with all
schools of abstract individualism -- in particular, the acceptance
of authoritarian social relations as an expression of "liberty."
This is due to the similarity of property to the state. Tucker
argued that the state was marked by two things, aggression and
"the assumption of authority over a given area and all within
it, exercised generally for the double purpose of more complete
oppression of its subjects and extension of its boundaries."
[_Instead of a Book_, p. 22] However, the boss and landlord also
has authority over a given area (the property in question) and
all within it (workers and tenants). The former control the
actions of the latter just as the state rules the citizen or
subject. In other words, individual ownership produces the
same social relationships as that created by the state, as it
comes from the same source (monopoly of power over a given
area and those who use it).
Social anarchists argue that the Individualist Anarchists acceptance
of individual ownership and their individualistic conception of individual
freedom can lead to the denial of individual freedom by the creation
of social relationships which are essentially authoritarian/statist in
nature. "The individualists," argued Malatesta, "give the greatest
importance to an abstract concept of freedom and fail to take into
account, or dwell on the fact that real, concrete freedom is the
outcome of solidarity and voluntary co-operation." [_The Anarchist
Revolution_, p. 16] Thus wage labour, for example, places the
worker in the same relationship to the boss as citizenship places
the citizen to the state, namely of one of domination and subjection.
Similarly with the tenant and the landlord.
Such a social relationship cannot help but produce the other aspects
of the state. As Albert Meltzer points out, this can have nothing but
statist implications, because "the school of Benjamin Tucker -- by
virtue of their individualism -- accepted the need for police to
break strikes so as to guarantee the employer's 'freedom.' All this
school of so-called Individualists accept . . . the necessity of
the police force, hence for government, and the prime definition
of anarchism is *no government.*" [_Anarchism: Arguments For and
Against_, p. 8] It is partly for this reason social anarchists
support social ownership as the best means of protecting individual
Accepting individual ownership this problem can only be "got round"
by accepting, along with Proudhon (the source of Tucker's economic
ideas), the need for co-operatives to run workplaces that require
more than one worker. This naturally complements their support
for "occupancy and use" for land, which would effectively abolish
landlords. Only when the people who use a resource own it can
individual ownership not result in hierarchical authority (i.e.
statism/capitalism). This solution, as we argue in section G, is
the one Individualist Anarchists *do* seem to accept. For example,
we find Joseph Labadie writing to his son urging him to get away
from wage earning and "the dominion of others." [quoted by Carlotta
Abderson, _All American Anarchist_, p. 222] As Wm. Gary Kline correctly
points out, the US Individualist anarchists "expected a society of
largely self-employed workmen with no significant disparity of wealth
between any of them." [_The Individualist Anarchists_, p. 104] It is
this vision of a self-employed society that ensures that their ideas
are truly anarchist.
Moreover, while the individualists attack "usury," they usually
ignore the problem of capital accumulation, which results in
*natural* barriers of entry into markets and so recreates usury
in new forms (see section C.4 "Why does the market become dominated
by big business?"). Hence a "free market" in banks, as advocated by
Tucker and other Individualist Anarchists, could result in a few big
banks dominating, with a direct economic interest in supporting
capitalist rather than co-operative investment (as they would ensure
higher returns than co-operatives). The only real solution to this
problem would be to ensure community ownership and management of
banks, as originally desired by Proudhon.
It is this recognition of the developments within the capitalist
economy which make social anarchists reject individualist anarchism
in favour of communalising, and so decentralising, production by
freely associated and co-operative labour. (For more discussion on
the ideas of the Individualist anarchists, see section G - "Is
individualist anarchism capitalistic?")
A.3.2 Are there different types of social anarchism?
Yes. Social anarchism has four major trends -- mutualism, collectivism,
communism and syndicalism. The differences are not great and simply
involve differences in strategy. The one major difference that does exist
is between mutualism and the other kinds of social anarchism. Mutualism is
based around a form of market socialism -- workers' co-operatives exchanging
the product of their labour via a system of community banks. This mutual
bank network would be "formed by the whole community, not for the especial
advantage of any individual or class, but for the benefit of all . . .
[with] no interest . . . exacted on loans, except enough to cover risks
and expenses." [Charles A. Dana, _Proudhon and his "Bank of the People"_,
pp. 44-45] Such a system would end capitalist exploitation and oppression
for by "introducing mutualism into exchange and credit we introduce it
everywhere, and labour will assume a new aspect and become truly democratic."
[Op. Cit., p. 45]
The social anarchist version of mutualism differs from the individualist
form by having the mutual banks owned by the local community (or commune)
instead of being independent co-operatives. This would ensure that they
provided investment funds to co-operatives rather than to capitalistic
enterprises. Another difference is that some social anarchist mutualists
support the creation of what Proudhon termed an "agro-industrial federation"
to complement the federation of libertarian communities (called communes
by Proudhon). This is a "confederation . . . intended to provide
reciprocal security in commerce and industry" and large scale developments
such as roads, railways and so on. The purpose of "specific federal arrangements
is to protect the citizens of the federated states [sic!] from capitalist
and financial feudalism, both within them and from the outside." This is
because "political right requires to be buttressed by economic right." Thus
the agro-industrial federation would be required to ensure the anarchist
nature of society from the destabilising effects of market exchanges (which
can generate increasing inequalities in wealth and so power). Such a
system would be a practical example of solidarity, as "industries are
sisters; they are parts of the same body; one cannot suffer without the
others sharing in its suffering. They should therefore federate, not
to be absorbed and confused together, but in order to guarantee mutually
the conditions of common prosperity . . . Making such an agreement
will not detract from their liberty; it will simply gives their liberty
more security and force." [_The Principle of Federation_, p. 70, p. 67
and p. 72]
The other forms of social anarchism do not share the mutualists support
for markets, even non-capitalist ones. Instead they think that freedom is
best served by communalising production and sharing information and products
freely between co-operatives. In other words, the other forms of social
anarchism are based upon common (or social) ownership by federations of
producers' associations and communes rather than mutualism's system of
individual co-operatives. In Bakunin's words, the "future social organisation
must be made solely from the bottom upwards, by the free association or
federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes,
regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and
universal" and "the land, the instruments of work and all other capital
may become the collective property of the whole of society and be
utilised only by the workers, in other words by the agricultural and
industrial associations." [_Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings_, p. 206
and p. 174] Only by extending the principle of co-operation beyond individual
workplaces can individual liberty be maximised and protected (see section
I.1.3 for why most anarchists are opposed to markets). In this they share
some ground with Proudhon, as can be seen. The industrial confederations
would "guarantee the mutual use of the tools of production which are
the property of each of these groups and which will by a reciprocal
contract become the collective property of the whole . . . federation.
In this way, the federation of groups will be able to . . . regulate
the rate of production to meet the fluctuating needs of society."
[James Guillaume, _Bakunin on Anarchism_, p. 376]
These anarchists share the mutualists support for workers' self-management
of production within co-operatives but see confederations of these
associations as being the focal point for expressing mutual aid, not
a market. Workplace autonomy and self-management would be the basis
of any federation, for "the workers in the various factories have not
the slightest intention of handing over their hard-won control of the
tools of production to a superior power calling itself the 'corporation.'"
[Op. Cit., p. 364] In addition to this industry-wide federation, there
would also be cross-industry and community confederations to look after
tasks which are not within the exclusive jurisdiction or capacity of any
particular industrial federation or are of a social nature. Again, this
has similarities to Proudhon's mutualist ideas.
Social anarchists share a firm commitment to common ownership of the means
of production (excluding those used purely by individuals) and reject the
individualist idea that these can be "sold off" by those who use them. The
reason, as noted earlier, is because if this could be done, capitalism and
statism could regain a foothold in the free society. In addition, other
social anarchists do not agree with the mutualist idea that capitalism can
be reformed into libertarian socialism by introducing mutual banking. For
them capitalism can only be replaced by a free society by social revolution.
The major difference between collectivists and communists is over the
question of "money" after a revolution. Anarcho-communists consider the
abolition of money to be essential, while anarcho-collectivists consider
the end of private ownership of the means of production to be the key.
As Kropotkin noted, collectivist anarchism "express[es] a state of things
in which all necessaries for production are owned in common by the labour
groups and the free communes, while the ways of retribution of labour,
communist or otherwise, would be settled by each group for itself."
[_Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets_, p. 295] Thus, while communism
and collectivism both organise production in common via producers'
associations, they differ in how the goods produced will be distributed.
Communism is based on free consumption of all while collectivism is
more likely to be based on the distribution of goods according to the
labour contributed. However, most anarcho-collectivists think that,
over time, as productivity increases and the sense of community becomes
stronger, money will disappear. Both agree that, in the end, society
would be run along the lines suggested by the communist maxim: "From each
according to their abilities, to each according to their needs." They
just disagree on how quickly this will come about.
For anarcho-communists, they think that "communism -- at least partial --
has more chances of being established that collectivism" after a revolution.
[Op. Cit., p. 298] They think that moves towards communism are essential
as collectivism "begins by abolishing private ownership of the means of
production and immediately reverses itself by returning to the system
of remuneration according to work performed which means the re-introduction
of inequality." [Alexander Berkman, _The ABC of Anarchism_, p. 80] The
quicker the move to communism, the less chances of new inequalities
developing. Needless to say, these positions are *not* that different
and, in practice, the necessities of a social revolution and the level
of political awareness of those introducing anarchism will determine which
system will be applied in each area.
Syndicalism is the other major form of social anarchism. Anarcho-syndicalists,
like other syndicalists, want to create an industrial union movement based on
anarchist ideas. Therefore they advocate decentralised, federated unions that
use direct action to get reforms under capitalism until they are strong
enough to overthrow it. In many ways anarcho-syndicalism can be considered
as a new version of collectivist-anarchism, which also stressed the
importance of anarchists working within the labour movement and creating
unions which prefigure the future free society.
Thus, even under capitalism, anarcho-syndicalists seek to create "free
associations of free producers." They think that these associations would
serve as "a practical school of anarchism" and they take very seriously
Bakunin's remark that the workers' organisations must create "not only
the ideas but also the facts of the future itself" in the pre-revolutionary
Anarcho-syndicalists, like all social anarchists, "are convinced that a
Socialist economic order cannot be created by the decrees and statutes
of a government, but only by the solidaric collaboration of the workers
with hand and brain in each special branch of production; that is,
through the taking over of the management of all plants by the producers
themselves under such form that the separate groups, plants, and branches
of industry are independent members of the general economic organism and
systematically carry on production and the distribution of the products
in the interest of the community on the basis of free mutual agreements."
[Rudolf Rocker, _Anarcho-syndicalism_, p. 55]
The difference between syndicalists and other revolutionary social
anarchists is slight and purely revolves around the question of
anarcho-syndicalist unions. Collectivist anarchists agree that
building libertarian unions is important and that work within the
labour movement is essential in order to ensure "the development and
organisation . . . of the social (and, by consequence, anti-political)
power of the working masses." [Bakunin, _Michael Bakunin: Selected
Writings_, p. 197] Communist anarchists usually also acknowledge
the importance of working in the labour movement but they generally think
that syndicalistic organisations will be created by workers in struggle,
and so consider encouraging the "spirit of revolt" as more important than
creating syndicalist unions and hoping workers will join them. They also
do not place as great an emphasis on the workplace, considering struggles
within it to be equal in importance to other struggles against hierarchy
and domination outside the workplace (most anarcho-syndicalists would
agree with this, however, and often it is just a question of emphasis).
A few communist-anarchists reject the labour movement as hopelessly
reformist in nature and so refuse to work within it, but these are
a small minority.
Both communist and collectivist anarchists recognise the need for
anarchists to unite together in purely anarchist organisations.
They think it is essential that anarchists work together as
anarchists to clarify and spread their ideas to others. Syndicalists
often deny the importance of anarchist groups and federations, arguing
that revolutionary industrial and community unions are enough in themselves.
Syndicalists think that the anarchist and union movements can be fused
into one, but most other anarchists disagree. Non-syndicalists point
out the reformist nature of unionism and urge that to keep syndicalist
unions revolutionary, anarchists must work within them as part of an
anarchist group or federation. Most non-syndicalists consider the fusion
of anarchism and unionism a source of potential *confusion* that would
result in the two movements failing to do their respective work correctly.
In practice, few anarcho-syndicalists totally reject the need for an
anarchist federation, while few anarchists are totally anti-syndicalist.
For example, Bakunin inspired both anarcho-communist and anarcho-syndicalist
ideas, and anarcho-communists like Kropotkin, Malatesta, Berkman and Goldman
were all sympathetic to anarcho-syndicalist movements and ideas.
For further reading on the various types of social anarchism, we would
recommend the following: mutualism is usually associated with the
works of Proudhon, collectivism with Bakunin's, communism with Kropotkin's,
Malatesta's, Goldman's and Berkman's. Syndicalism is somewhat different,
as it was far more the product of workers' in struggle than the work of a
"famous" name (although this does not stop academics calling George Sorel
the father of syndicalism, even though he wrote about a syndicalist movement
that already existed. The idea that working class people can develop their
own ideas, by themselves, is usually lost on them). However, Rudolf Rocker
is often considered a leading anarcho-syndicalist theorist and the work's
of Fernand Pelloutier and Emile Pouget are essential reading to understand
anarcho-syndicalism. For an excellent overview of the development of social
anarchism and key works by its leading lights, Daniel Guerin's excellent
anthology _No Gods No Masters_ cannot be bettered.
A.3.3 What kinds of green anarchism are there?
An emphasis on anarchist ideas as a solution to the ecological crisis is a
common thread in most forms of anarchism today. The trend goes back to
Peter Kropotkin who argued that an anarchist society would be based on
a confederation of communities that would integrate manual and brain
work as well as decentralising and integrating industry and agriculture (see
his classic work _Fields, Factories, and Workshops_). This idea of an
economy in which "small is beautiful" (to use the title of E.F. Schumacher's
Green classic) was proposed nearly 70 years before it was taken up by what
was to become the green movement. In addition, in _Mutual Aid_ Kropotkin
documented how co-operation within species and between them and their
environment is usually of more benefit to them than competition. Kropotkin's
work, combined with that of William Morris, the Reclus brothers (both of
whom, like Kropotkin, were world-renowned geographers), and many others
laid the foundations for the current anarchist interest in ecological issues.
However, while there are many themes of an ecological nature within
classical anarchism, it is only relatively recently that the similarities
between ecological thought and anarchism has come to the fore (essentially
from the publication of Murray Bookchin's classic essay "Ecology and
Revolutionary Thought" in 1965). Indeed, it would be no exaggeration
to state that it is the ideas and work of Murray Bookchin that has placed
ecology and ecological issues at the heart of anarchism and anarchist ideals
and analysis into many aspects of the green movement.
Before discussing the types of green anarchism (also called eco-anarchism)
it would be worthwhile to explain exactly *what* anarchism and ecology
have in common. To quote Murray Bookchin, "both the ecologist and the
anarchist place a strong emphasis on spontaneity" and "to both the
ecologist and the anarchist, an ever-increasing unity is achieved by
growing differentiation. *An expanding whole is created by the
diversification and enrichment of its parts.*" Moreover, "[j]ust
as the ecologist seeks to expand the range of an eco-system and
promote free interplay between species, so the anarchist seeks to
expand the range of social experiments and remove all fetters to
its development." [_Post-Scarcity Anarchism_, p. 72, p. 78]
Thus the anarchist concern with free development, decentralisation,
diversity and spontaneity is reflected in ecological ideas and concerns.
Hierarchy, centralisation, the state and concentrations of wealth reduce
diversity and the free development of individuals and their communities
by their very nature, and so weakens the social eco-system as well as
the actual eco-systems human societies are part of. As Bookchin argues,
"the reconstructive message of ecology. . . [is that] we must conserve
and promote variety" but within modern capitalist society "[a]ll that
is spontaneous, creative and individuated is circumscribed by the
standardised, the regulated and the massified." [Op. Cit., p. 76,
p. 65] So, in many ways, anarchism can be considered the application
of ecological ideas to society, as anarchism aims to empower individuals
and communities, decentralise political, social and economic power so
ensuring that individuals and social life develops freely and so becomes
increasingly diverse in nature.
So what kinds of green anarchism is there? The eco-anarchist thread within
anarchism has two main focal points, Social Ecology and "primitivist"
anarchism. In addition, some anarchists are influenced by Deep Ecology,
although not many. Undoubtedly Social Ecology is the most influential
current. Social Ecology is associated with the ideas and works of Murray
Bookchin, who has been writing on ecological matters since the 1950's
and, from the 1960s, has combined these issues with revolutionary
social anarchism. His works include _Post-Scarcity Anarchism_, _Toward
an Ecological Society_, _The Ecology of Freedom_ and a host of others.
Social Ecology locates the roots of the ecological crisis firmly in
relations of domination between people. The domination of nature is
seen as a product of domination within society, but this domination
only reaches crisis proportions under capitalism. In the words of
"The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the
domination of man by man. . . But it was not until organic community
relations. . . dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself
was reduced to a resource for exploitation. This centuries-long tendency
finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing to
its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans
against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity against the nature
world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of
nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured
and merchandised wantonly." [Op. Cit., p. 63]
"The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled
by the plundering of the earth by capital." [Ibid., p. 65]
Therefore social ecologists consider it essential to attack hierarchy
and capitalism, not civilisation as such as the root cause of ecological
problems. This is one of the key areas in which they disagree with
"Primitivist" Anarchist ideas, who tend to be far more critical of
*all* aspects of modern life, with some going so far as calling for
"the end of civilisation" including, apparently, all forms of technology
and large scale organisation.
At its most extreme, "Primitivist" anarchists argue in favour of a
return to "Hunter-Gatherer" forms of human society, opposing
technology as being hierarchical by its very nature. The British
based "Green Anarchist" magazine is a vocal supporter of this idea.
However, very few anarchists go this far. Indeed, most anarchists actually
argue that such "Primitivism" is not anarchist at all, as the return to
a "Hunter-Gatherer" society would result in mass starvation in almost all
countries as the social infrastructure collapses. Due to the inherent
unattractiveness of such "Primitivist" ideas for most people, it could
never come about by libertarian means (i.e. by the free choice of
individuals who create it by their own acts) and so cannot be anarchist
as very few people would actually voluntarily embrace such a situation.
This leads to "Green Anarchist" developing a form of eco-vanguardism in
order, to use Rousseau's expression, to "force people to be free" (as can
be seen from articles published in it in 1998 celebrating terrorist acts).
In addition, such a position of "turning back the clock" is deeply flawed,
for while aboriginal societies are generally very anarchistic, certain of
these societies did develop into statist, propertarian ones implying that
such "primitive anarchist" systems are not the answer.
However, few eco-anarchists take such an extreme position. Most "Primitivist"
anarchists rather than being anti-technology and anti-civilisation as such
instead (to use David Watson's expression) believe it is a case of the
"affirmation of aboriginal lifeways" and of taking a far more critical
approach to issues such as technology, rationality and progress than that
associated with Social Ecology. These eco-anarchists reject "a dogmatic
primitivism which claims we can return in some linear way to our primordial
roots" just as much as the idea of "progress," "*superseding* both Enlightenment
and Counter-Enlightenment" ideas and traditions. For these eco-anarchists,
Primitivism "reflects not only a glimpse at life before the rise of the
state, but also a legitimate response to real conditions of life under
civilisation" and so we should respect and learn from "palaeolithic and
neolithic wisdom traditions" (such as those associated with Native American
tribes and other aboriginal peoples). While we "cannot, and would not want
to abandon secular modes of thinking and experiencing the world. . . we
cannot reduce the experience of life, and the fundamental, inescapable
questions *why* we live, and *how* we live, to secular terms. . . Moreover,
the boundary between the spiritual and the secular is not so clear. A
dialectical understanding that we are our history would affirm an
inspirited reason that honours not only atheistic Spanish revolutionaries
who died for *el ideal,* but also religious pacifist prisoners of
conscience, Lakota ghost dancers, taoist hermits and executed sufi
mystics." [David Watson, _Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a future
social ecology_, p. 240, p. 103, p. 240, pp. 66-67]
Such "Primitivist" anarchism is associated with a range of magazines, mostly
US -based, like _Fifth Estate_. For example, on the question of technology,
such eco-anarchists argue that "[w]hile market capitalism was a spark
that set the fire, and remains at the centre of the complex, it is only part
of something larger: the forced adaptation of organic human societies to
an economic-instrumental civilisation and its mass technics, which are
not only hierarchical and external but increasingly 'cellular' and internal.
It makes no sense to layer the various elements of this process in a
mechanistic hierarchy of first cause and secondary effects." [David
Watson, Op. Cit., pp. 127-8]
For this reason "Primitivist" anarchists are more critical of all
aspects of technology, including calls by social ecologists for the
use of *appropriate* technology essential in order to liberate
humanity and the planet. As Watson argues:
"To speak of technological society is in fact to refer to *the technics
generated within capitalism,* which in turn generate new forms of
capital. The notion of a distinct realm of social relations that
determine this technology is not only ahistorical and undialectical,
it reflects a kind of simplistic base/superstructure schema." [Ibid.,
Thus it is not a case of who *uses* technology which determines its
effects, rather the effects of technology are determined to a large
degree by the society that creates it. In other words, technology is
selected which tends to re-enforce hierarchical power as it is those
in power who generally select which technology is introduced within
society (saying that, oppressed people have this excellent habit of
turning technology against the powerful and technological change
and social struggle are inter-related -- see section D.10). Thus even
the use of appropriate technology involves more than selecting from
the range of available technology at hand, as these technologies have
certain effects regardless of who uses them. Rather it is a question of
critically evaluating all aspects of technology and modifying and rejecting
it as required to maximise individual freedom, empowerment and happiness.
Few Social Ecologists would disagree with this approach, though, and
differences are usually a question of emphasis rather than a deep
Finally, "Primitivist" anarchists, like most other anarchists, are
deeply critical of Social Ecology's support for running candidates in
municipal elections. While Social Ecologists see this as a means of
creating popular self-managing assemblies and creating a counter
power to the state, few anarchists agree. Rather they see it as inherently
reformist as well as being hopelessly naive about the possibilities of
using elections to bring about social change (see section J.5.14 for
a fuller discussion of this). Instead they propose direct action as the
means to forward anarchist and ecological ideas, rejecting electioneering
as a dead-end which ends up watering down radical ideas and corrupting
the people involved (see section J.2 -- What is Direct Action?).
For more on "Primitivist" Anarchism see John Zerzan's _Future
Primitive_ and the excellent _Elements of Refusal_ as well as
David Watson's _Beyond Bookchin_ and _Against the Mega-Machine_.
Lastly, there is "deep ecology," which, because of its bio-centric nature,
many anarchists reject as anti-human. There are few anarchists who think
that *people,* as people, are the cause of the ecological crisis, which
many deep ecologists seem to suggest. Murray Bookchin, for example, has
been particularly outspoken in his criticism of deep ecology and the
anti-human ideas that are often associated with it (see _Which Way for
the Ecology Movement?_, for example). David Watson has also argued
against Deep Ecology (see his _How Deep is Deep Ecology?_ written
under the name George Bradford). Most anarchists would argue that
it is not people but the current system which is the problem, and that
only people can change it. In the words of Murray Bookchin:
"[Deep Ecology's problems] stem from an authoritarian streak in a crude
biologism that uses 'natural law' to conceal an ever-diminishing sense of
humanity and papers over a profound ignorance of social reality by
ignoring the fact it is *capitalism* we are talking about, not an abstraction
called 'Humanity' and 'Society.'" [_The Philosophy of Social Ecology_,
To submerge ecological critique and analysis into a simplistic protest
against the human race ignores the real causes and dynamics of ecological
destruction and, therefore, ensures an end to this destruction cannot be
found. Simply put, it is hardly "people" who are to blame when the vast
majority have no real say in the decisions that affect their lives,
communities, industries and eco-systems. Rather, it is an economic
and social system that places profits and power above people and
planet. By focusing on "Humanity" (and so failing to distinguish
between rich and poor, men and women, whites and people of colour,
exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed) the system we live
under is effectively ignored, and so are the institutional causes of
Faced with a constant anarchist critique of certain of their spokes-persons
ideas, many Deep Ecologists have turned away from the anti-human ideas
associated with their movement. Deep ecology, particularly the organisation
Earth First! (EF!), has changed considerably over time, and EF! now has a
close working relationship with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW),
a syndicalist union. While deep ecology is not a thread of eco-anarchism, it
shares many ideas and is becoming more accepted by anarchists as EF! rejects
its few misanthropic ideas and starts to see that hierarchy, not the human
race, is the problem (for a discussion between Murray Bookchin and
leading Earth Firster! Dave Foreman see the book _Defending the Earth_).
A.3.4 Is anarchism pacifistic?
A pacifist strand has long existed in anarchism, with Leo Tolstoy
being one of its major figures. This strand is usually called "anarcho-pacifism"
(the term "non-violent anarchist" is sometimes used, but this term is
unfortunate because it implies the rest of the movement are "violent,"
which is not the case!). The union of anarchism and pacifism is not
surprising given the fundamental ideals and arguments of anarchism.
After all, violence, or the threat of violence or harm, is a key means by
which individual freedom is destroyed. As Peter Marshall points out,
"[g]iven the anarchist's respect for the sovereignty of the individual, in the
long run it is non-violence and not violence which is implied by anarchist
values." [_Demanding the Impossible_, p.637] Malatesta is even
more explicit when he wrote that the "main plank of anarchism is the
removal of violence from human relations" and that anarchists "are
opposed to violence." [_Life and Ideas_, p. 53]
However, although many anarchists reject violence and proclaim pacifism,
the movement, in general, is not essentially pacifistic (in the sense of opposed
all forms of violence at all times). Rather, it is anti-militarist, being
against the organised violence of the state but recognising that there are
important differences between the violence of the oppressor and the
violence of the oppressed. This explains why the anarchist movement has
always placed a lot of time and energy in opposing the military machine
and capitalist wars while, at the same time, supporting and organising
armed resistance against oppression (as in the case of the Makhnovist
army during the Russian Revolution which resisted both Red and White
armies and the militias the anarchists organised to resist the fascists
during the Spanish Revolution -- see sections A.5.4 and A.5.6,
On the question of non-violence, as a rough rule of thumb, the movement
divides along Individualist and Social lines. Most Individualist anarchists
support purely non-violent tactics of social change, as do the Mutualists.
However, Individualist anarchism is not pacifist as such, as many support
the idea of violence in self-defence against aggression. Most social anarchists,
on the other hand, do support the use of revolutionary violence, holding
that physical force will be required to overthrow entrenched power and to
resist state and capitalist aggression (although it was an anarcho-syndicalist,
Bart de Ligt, who wrote the pacifist classic, _The Conquest of Violence_).
As Malatesta put it, violence, while being "in itself an evil," is "justifiable
only when it is necessary to defend oneself and others from violence" and
that a "slave is always in a state of legitimate defence and consequently,
his violence against the boss, against the oppressor, is always morally
justifiable." [Op. Cit., p. 55, pp. 53-54] Moreover, they stress that, to use
the words of Bakunin, since social oppression "stems far less from individuals
than from the organisation of things and from social positions" anarchists aim
to "ruthlessly destroy positions and things" rather than people, since the
aim of an anarchist revolution is to see the end of privileged classes
"not as individuals, but as classes." [quoted by Richard B. Saltman,
_The Social and Political Thought of Michael Bakunin_ p. 121, p. 124
and p. 122]
Indeed, the question of violence is relatively unimportant to most anarchists,
as they do not glorify it and think that it should be kept to a minimum
during any social struggle or revolution. All anarchists would agree with
the Dutch pacifist anarcho-syndicalist Bart de Ligt when he argued that
"the violence and warfare which are characteristic conditions of the
capitalist world do not go with the libertarian of the individual, which
is the historic mission of the exploited classes. The greater the violence,
the weaker the revolution, even where violence has deliberately been put
at the service of the revolution." [_The Conquest of Violence_, p. 75]
Similarly, all anarchists would agree with de Ligt on, to use the name of one
of his book's chapters, "the absurdity of bourgeois pacifism." For de Ligt,
and all anarchists, violence is inherent in the capitalist system and any
attempt to make capitalism pacifistic is doomed to failure. This is because,
on the one hand, war is often just economic competition carried out by other
means. Nations often go to war when they face an economic crisis, what they
cannot gain in economic struggle they attempt to get by conflict. On the other
hand, "violence is indispensable in modern society. . . [because] without it
the ruling class would be completely unable to maintain its privileged position
with regard to the exploited masses in each country. The army is used first and
foremost to hold down the workers. . . when they become discontented." [Bart de
Ligt, Op. Cit., p. 62] As long as the state and capitalism exist, violence is
inevitable and so, for anarcho-pacifists, the consistent pacifist must be an
anarchist just as the consistent anarchist must be a pacifist.
For those anarchists who are non-pacifists, violence is seen as an
unavoidable and unfortunate result of oppression and exploitation as
well as the only means by which the privileged classes will renounce
their power and wealth. Those in authority rarely give up their power
and so must be forced. Hence the need for "transitional" violence "to
put an end to the far greater, and permanent, violence which keeps the
majority of mankind in servitude." [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 55] To
concentrate on the issue of violence versus non-violence is to ignore
the real issue, namely how do we change society for the better. As
Alexander Berkman pointed out, those anarchists who are pacifists
confuse the issue, like those who think "it's the same as if rolling
up your sleeves for work should be considered the work itself." To
the contrary, "[t]he fighting part of revolution is merely rolling
up your sleeves. The real, actual task is ahead." [_ABC of
Anarchism_, p. 40] And, indeed, most social struggle and
revolutions start relatively peaceful (via strikes, occupations
and so on) and only degenerate into violence when those in power
try to maintain their position (a classic example of this is in
Italy, in 1920, when the occupation of factories by their workers
was followed by fascist terror -- see section A.5.5).
As noted above, all anarchists are anti-militarists and oppose both the
military machine (and so the "defence" industry) as well as statist/capitalist
wars (although a few anarchists, like Rudolf Rocker and Sam Dolgoff,
supported the anti-fascist capitalist side during the second world war
as the lesser evil). The anti-war machine message of anarchists and
anarcho-syndicalists was propagated long before the start of the first world
war, with syndicalists and anarchists in Britain and North America reprinting
a French CGT leaflet urging soldiers not to follow orders and repress their
striking fellow workers. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman where both
arrested and deported from America for organising a "No-Conscription League"
in 1917 while many anarchists in Europe where jailed for refusing to join the
armed forces in the first and second world wars. The anarcho-syndicalist
influenced IWW was crushed by a ruthless wave of government repression
due to the threat its organising and anti-war message presented to the powerful
elites who favoured war. More recently, anarchists, (including people like
Noam Chomsky and Paul Goodman) have been active in the peace movement
as well as contributing to the resistance to conscription where it still exists.
Anarchists took an active part in opposing such wars as the Vietnam War,
the Falklands war as well as the Gulf war (including, in Italy, helping to
organise strikes in protest against it). And it was during this last conflict
when many anarchists raised the slogan "No war but the class war" which
nicely sums up the anarchist opposition to war -- namely an evil
consequence of any class system, in which the oppressed classes of
different countries kill each other for the power and profits of their
rulers. Rather than take part in this organised slaughter, anarchists
urge working people to fit for their own interests rather than those
of their masters:
"More than ever we must avoid compromise; deepen the chasm between
capitalists and wage slaves, between rulers and ruled; preach expropriation
of private property and the destruction of states such as the only means of
guaranteeing fraternity between peoples and Justice and Liberty for all;
and we must prepare to accomplish these things." [Malatesta, Op. Cit.,
(We must note here that Malatesta's words were written in part against
Peter Kropotkin who, for reasons best known to himself, rejected everything
he had argued for decades and supported the allies in the First World War
as a lesser evil against German authoritarianism and Imperialism. Of course,
as Malatesta pointed out, "all Governments and all capitalist classes" do
"misdeeds . . . against the workers and rebels of their own countries."
[Op. Cit., p. 246])
Thus, the attraction of pacifism to anarchists is clear. Violence *is*
authoritarian and coercive, and so its use does contradict anarchist
principles. That is way anarchists would agree with Malatesta when he
argues that "[w]e are on principle opposed to violence and for this reason
wish that the social struggle should be conducted as humanely as possible."
[Op. Cit., p. 57] Most, if not all, anarchists who are not strict pacifists
agree with pacifist-anarchists when they argue that violence can often be
counterproductive, alienating people and giving the state an excuse to
repress both the anarchist movement and popular movements for social
change. All anarchists support non-violent direct action and civil
disobedience, which often provide better roads to radical change.
So, to sum up, anarchists who are pure pacifists are rare. Most accept the
use of violence as a necessary evil and advocate minimising its use. All
agree that a revolution which *institutionalises* violence will just
recreate the state in a new form. They argue, however, that it is not
authoritarian to destroy authority or to use violence to resist violence.
Therefore, although most anarchists are not pacifists, most reject violence
except in self-defence and even then kept to the minimum.
A.3.5 What is Anarcha-Feminism?
Although opposition to the state and all forms of authority had a strong
voice among the early feminists of the 19th century, the more recent
feminist movement which began in the 1960's was founded upon anarchist
practice. This is where the term anarcha-feminism came from, referring
to women anarchists who act within the larger feminist and anarchist
movements to remind them of their principles.
Anarchism and feminism have always been closely linked. Many outstanding
feminists have also been anarchists, including the pioneering Mary
Wollstonecraft (author of _A Vindication of the Rights of Woman_), the
Communard Louise Michel, Voltairine de Cleyre and the tireless champion
of women's freedom, Emma Goldman (see her famous essays "The Traffic in
Women", "Woman Suffrage", "The Tragedy of Woman's Emancipation", "Marriage
and Love" and "Victims of Morality", for example). _Freedom_, the world's
oldest anarchist newspaper, was founded by Charlotte Wilson in 1886. In
addition, all the major anarchist thinkers (bar Proudhon) were supporters
of women's equality. The "Free Women" movement in Spain during the Spanish
revolution is a classic example of women anarchists organising themselves
to defend their basic freedoms and create a society based on women's
freedom and equality (see _Free Women of Spain_ by Martha Ackelsberg
for more details on this important organisation).
Anarchism and feminism have shared much common history and a concern
about individual freedom, equality and dignity for members of the female
sex (although, as we will explain in more depth below, anarchists have
always been very critical of mainstream/liberal feminism as not going
far enough). Therefore, it is unsurprising that the new wave of feminism
of the sixties expressed itself in an anarchistic manner and drew much
inspiration from anarchist figures such as Emma Goldman. Cathy Levine
points out that, during this time, "independent groups of women began
functioning without the structure, leaders, and other factotums of the
male left, creating, independently and simultaneously, organisations
similar to those of anarchists of many decades and regions. No accident,
either." [quoted by Clifford Harper, _Anarchy: A Graphic Guide_, p. 182]
It is no accident because, as feminist scholars have noted, women were
among the first victims of hierarchical society, which is thought to have
begun with the rise of patriarchy and ideologies of domination during the
late Neolithic era. Marilyn French argues (in _Beyond Power_) that the
first major social stratification of the human race occurred when
men began dominating women, with women becoming in effect a "lower"
and "inferior" social class.
Peggy Kornegger has drawn attention to the strong connections between
feminism and anarchism, both in theory and practice. "The radical feminist
perspective is almost pure anarchism," she writes. "The basic theory
postulates the nuclear family as the basis of all authoritarian systems.
The lesson the child learns, from father to teacher to boss to god, is
to *obey* the great anonymous voice of Authority. To graduate from
childhood to adulthood is to become a full-fledged automaton, incapable
of questioning or even of thinking clearly." [Ibid.] Similarly, the
Zero Collective argues that Anarcha-feminism "consists in recognising
the anarchism of feminism and consciously developing it." [_The Raven_,
no. 21, p. 6]
Anarcha-feminists point out that authoritarian traits and values,
for example, domination, exploitation, aggressiveness, competitiveness,
desensitisation etc., are highly valued in hierarchical civilisations and
are traditionally referred to as "masculine." In contrast, non-authoritarian
traits and values such as co-operation, sharing, compassion, sensitivity,
warmth, etc., are traditionally regarded as "feminine" and are devalued.
Feminist scholars have traced this phenomenon back to the growth of
patriarchal societies during the early Bronze Age and their conquest of
co-operatively based "organic" societies in which "feminine" traits and
values were prevalent and respected. Following these conquests, however,
such values came to be regarded as "inferior," especially for a man, since
men were in charge of domination and exploitation under patriarchy. (See
e.g. Riane Eisler, _The Chalice and the Blade_; Elise Boulding, _The
Underside of History_). Hence anarcha-feminists have referred to the
creation of a non-authoritarian, anarchist society based on co-operation,
sharing, mutual aid, etc. as the "feminisation of society."
Anarcha-feminists have noted that "feminising" society cannot be achieved
without both self-management and decentralisation. This is because the
patriarchal-authoritarian values and traditions they wish to overthrow
are embodied and reproduced in hierarchies. Thus feminism implies
decentralisation, which in turn implies self-management. Many feminists
have recognised this, as reflected in their experiments with collective
forms of feminist organisations that eliminate hierarchical structure and
competitive forms of decision making. Some feminists have even argued
that directly democratic organisations are specifically female political
forms [see e.g. Nancy Hartsock "Feminist Theory and the Development of
Revolutionary Strategy," in Zeila Eisenstein, ed., _Capitalist Patriarchy
and the Case for Socialist Feminism_, pp. 56-77]. Like all anarchists,
anarcha-feminists recognise that self-liberation is the key to women's
equality and thus, freedom. Thus Emma Goldman:
"Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and
through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and
not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right of anyone over
her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them, by
refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the
family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That
is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its
complexities; by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and
public condemnation." [_Anarchism and Other Essays_, p. 211]
Anarcha-feminism tries to keep feminism from becoming influenced and
dominated by authoritarian ideologies or either the right or left. It
proposes direct action and self-help instead of the mass reformist
campaigns favoured by the "official" feminist movement, with its
creation of hierarchical and centralist organisations and its illusion
that having more women bosses, politicians, and soldiers is a move
towards "equality." Anarcha-feminists would point out that the so-called
"management science" which women have to learn in order to become
mangers in capitalist companies is essentially a set of techniques
for controlling and exploiting wage workers in corporate hierarchies,
whereas "feminising" society requires the elimination of capitalist
wage-slavery and managerial domination altogether. Anarcha-feminists
realise that learning how to become an effective exploiter or oppressor
is not the path to equality (as one member of the Mujures Libres put
it, "[w]e did not want to substitute a feminist hierarchy for a
masculine one" [quoted by Martha A. Ackelsberg, _Free Women of Spain_.
p.2] -- also see section B.1.4 for a further discussion on patriarchy
Hence anarchism's traditional hostility to liberal (or mainstream)
feminism, while supporting women's liberation and equality. Federica
Montseny (a leading figure in the Spanish Anarchist movement) argued
that such feminism advocated equality for women, but did not challenge
existing institutions. She argued that (mainstream) feminism's "only
ambition is to give to women of a particular class the opportunity to
participate more fully in the existing system of privilege" and if these
institutions "are unjust when men take advantage of them, they will still
be unjust if women take advantage of them." [quoted by Martha A. Ackelsberg,
Op. Cit., pp. 90-91, p. 91]
So, in the historic anarchist movement, as Martha Ackelsberg notes,
liberal/mainstream feminism was considered as being "too narrowly
focused as a strategy for women's emancipation; sexual struggle
could not be separated from class struggle or from the anarchist
project as a whole." [Op. Cit., p. 91] Anarcha-feminism continues
this tradition by arguing that all forms of hierarchy are wrong,
not just patriarchy, and that feminism is in conflict with its
own ideals if it desires simply to allow women to have the same
chance of being a boss as a man does.
Anarcha-feminists, therefore, like all anarchists oppose capitalism
as a denial of liberty. The ideal that an "equal opportunity" capitalism
would free women ignores the fact that any such system would still see
working class women oppressed by bosses (be they male or female). For
anarcha-feminists, the struggle for women's liberation cannot be
separated from the struggle against hierarchy *as such.* As L. Susan
Brown puts it:
"Anarchist-feminism, as an expression of the anarchist sensibility
applied to feminist concerns, takes the individual as its starting
point and, in opposition to relations of domination and subordination,
argues for non-instrumental economic forms that preserver individual
existential freedom, for both men and women." [_The Politics of
Individualism_, p. 144]
Anarcha-feminists have much to contribute to our understanding of the
origins of the ecological crisis in the authoritarian values of
hierarchical civilisation. For example, a number of feminist scholars
have argued that the domination of nature has paralleled the domination
of women, who have been identified with nature throughout history (See,
for example, Carline Merchant, _The Death of Nature_, 1980). Both women
and nature are victims of the obsession with control that characterises
the authoritarian personality. For this reason, a growing number of both
radical ecologists and feminists are recognising that hierarchies must be
dismantled in order to achieve their respective goals.
In addition, anarcha-feminism reminds us of the importance of treating
women equally with men while, at the same time, respecting women's
differences from men. In other words, that recognising and respecting
diversity includes women as well as men. Too often many male anarchists
assume that, because they are (in theory) opposed to sexism, they are
not sexist in practice. Such an assumption is false. Anarcha-feminism
brings the question of consistency between theory and practice to the
front of social activism and reminds us all that we must fight not
only external constraints but also internal ones.
A.3.6 What is Cultural Anarchism?
For our purposes, we will define cultural anarchism as the promotion of
anti-authoritarian values through those aspects of society traditionally
regarded as belonging to the sphere of "culture" rather than "economics"
or "politics" -- for example, through art, music, drama, literature,
education, child-rearing practices, sexual morality, technology, and so
Cultural expressions are anarchistic to the extent that they
deliberately attack, weaken, or subvert the tendency of most
traditional cultural forms to promote authoritarian values and
attitudes, particularly domination and exploitation. Thus a
novel that portrays the evils of militarism can be considered as
cultural anarchism if it goes beyond the simple "war-is-hell" model
and allows the reader to see how militarism is connected with
authoritarian institutions (e.g. capitalism and statism) or methods
of authoritarian conditioning (e.g. upbringing in the traditional
patriarchal family). Or, as John Clark expresses it, cultural anarchism
"implies the development of arts, media, and other symbolic forms that
expose various aspects of the system of domination and contrast them
with a system of values based on freedom and community." [_The Anarchist
Moment: Reflections on Culture, Nature and Power_]
Cultural anarchism is important -- indeed essential -- because
authoritarian values are embedded in a total system of domination with
many aspects besides the political and economic. Hence those values
cannot be eradicated even by a combined economic and political revolution
if there it is not also accompanied by profound psychological changes in
the majority of the population. For mass acquiescence in the current
system is rooted in the psychic structure of human beings (their
"character structure," to use Wilhelm Reich's expression), which is
produced by many forms of conditioning and socialisation that have
developed with patriarchal-authoritarian civilisation during the past five
or six thousand years.
In other words, even if capitalism and the state were overthrown
tomorrow, people would soon create new forms of authority in their place.
For authority -- a strong leader, a chain of command, someone to give
orders and relieve one of the responsibility of thinking for oneself --
are what the submissive/authoritarian personality feels most comfortable
with. Unfortunately, the majority of human beings fear real freedom, and
indeed, do not know what to do with it -- as is shown by a long string of
failed revolutions and freedom movements in which the revolutionary ideals
of freedom, democracy, and equality were betrayed and a new hierarchy and
ruling class were quickly created. These failures are generally
attributed to the machinations of reactionary politicians and capitalists,
and to the perfidy of revolutionary leaders; but reactionary politicians
only attract followers because they find a favourable soil for the growth
of their authoritarian ideals in the character structure of ordinary
Hence the prerequisite of an anarchist revolution is a lengthy period of
consciousness-raising in which people gradually become aware of
submissive/authoritarian traits within themselves, see how those traits
are reproduced by conditioning, and understand how they can be mitigated
or eliminated through new forms of culture, particularly new child-rearing
and educational methods. We will explore this issue more fully in section
B.1.5 (What is the mass-psychological basis for authoritarian
civilisation?), J.6 (What methods of child rearing do anarchists
advocate?), and J.5.13 (What are Modern Schools?).
Cultural anarchist ideas are shared by almost all schools of anarchist thought
and consciousness-raising is considered an essential part of any anarchist
movement. For anarchists, its important to <i>"build the new world in the
shell of the old"</i> in all aspects of our lives and creating an anarchist
culture is part of that activity. Few anarchists, however, consider
consciousness-raising as enough in itself and so combine cultural anarchist
activities with organising, using direct action and building libertarian
alternatives in capitalist society. The anarchists movement is one
that combines practical self-activity with cultural work, with both
activities feeding into and supporting the other.
A.3.7 Are there religious anarchists?
Yes, there are. While most anarchists have opposed religion and the
idea of God as deeply anti-human and a justification for earthly
authority and slavery, a few believers in religion have taken their
ideas to anarchist conclusions. Like all anarchists, these religious
anarchists have combined an opposition to the state with a critical
position with regards to private property and inequality. In other
words, anarchism is not necessarily atheistic. Indeed, according to
Jacques Ellul, "biblical thought leads directly to anarchism, and
that this is the only 'political anti-political' position in
accord with Christian thinkers." [quoted by Peter Marshall,
_Demanding the Impossible_, p. 75]
There are many different types of anarchism inspired by religious ideas.
As Peter Marshall notes, the "first clear expression of an anarchist
sensibility may be traced back to the Taoists in ancient China from
about the sixth century BC" and "Buddhism, particularly in its Zen
form, . . . has . . . a strong libertarian spirit." [Op. Cit., p. 53,
p. 65] Some combine their anarchist ideas with Pagan and Spiritualist
influences. However, religious anarchism usually takes the form of
Christian Anarchism, which we will concentrate on here.
Christian Anarchists take seriously Jesus' words to his followers
that "kings and governors have domination over men; let there be
none like that among you." Similarly, Paul's dictum that there
"is no authority except God" is taken to its obvious conclusion
with the denial of state authority within society. Thus, for a
true Christian, the state is usurping God's authority and it is
up to each individual to govern themselves and discover that
(to use the title of Tolstoy's famous book) _The Kingdom of
God is within you_.
Similarly, the voluntary poverty of Jesus, his comments on the
corrupting effects of wealth and the Biblical claim that the
world was created for humanity to be enjoyed in common have all
been taken as the basis of a socialistic critique of private
property and capitalism. Indeed, the early Christian church (which
could be considered as a liberation movement of slaves, although
one that was later co-opted into a state religion) was based upon
communistic sharing of material goods, a theme which has continually
appeared within radical Christian movements (indeed, the Bible
would have been used to express radical libertarian aspirations
of the oppressed, which, in later times, would have taken the form
of anarchist or Marxist terminology). Thus clergyman's John Ball's
egalitarian comments during the Peasant Revolt in 1381 in England:
"When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then a gentleman?"
The history of Christian anarchism includes the *Heresy of the
Free Spirit* in the Middle Ages, numerous Peasant revolts and the
*Anabaptists* in the 16th century. The libertarian tradition within
Christianity surfaced again in the 18th century in the writings of
William Blake and the American Adam Ballou reached anarchist conclusions
in his _Practical Christian Socialism_ in 1854. However, Christian
anarchism became a clearly defined thread of the anarchist movement
with the work of the famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
Tolstoy took the message of the Bible seriously and came to consider
that a true Christian must oppose the state. From his reading of
the Bible, Tolstoy drew anarchist conclusions:
"ruling means using force, and using force means doing to him whom
force is used, what he does not like and what he who uses force would
certainly not like done to himself. Consequently ruling means doing
to others what we would not they should do unto us, that is, doing
wrong." [_The Kingdom of God is Within You_, p. 242]
Thus a true Christian must refrain from governing others. From this
anti-statist position he naturally argued in favour of a society
self-organised from below:
"Why think that non-official people could not arrange their life for
themselves, as well as Government people can arrange it nor for
themselves but for others?" [_The Anarchist Reader_, p. 306]
Tolstoy urged non-violent action against oppression, seeing a spiritual
transformation of individuals as the key to creating an anarchist
society. As Max Nettlau argues, the "great truth stressed by Tolstoy
is that the recognition of the power of the good, of goodness, of
solidarity - and of all that is called love - lies within *ourselves*,
and that it can and must be awakened, developed and exercised *in our
own behaviour.*" [_A Short History of Anarchism_, pp. 251-2]
Like all anarchists, Tolstoy was critical of private property and
capitalism. Like Henry George (whose ideas, like those of Proudhon,
had a strong impact on him) he opposed private property in land,
arguing that "were it not for the defence of landed property, and
its consequent rise in price, people would not be crowded into such
narrow spaces, but would scatter over the free land of which there
is still so much in the world." Moreover, "in this struggle [for
landed property] it is not those who work in the land, but always
those who take part in government violence, who have the advantage."
[Op. Cit., p. 307] Thus Tolstoy recognised that property rights in
anything beyond use require state violence to protect them (possession
is "always protected by custom, public opinion, by feelings of justice
and reciprocity, and they do not need to be protected by violence."
[Ibid.]). Indeed, he argues that:
"Tens of thousands of acres of forest lands belonging to one proprietor
-- while thousands of people close by have no fuel -- need protection
by violence. So, too, do factories and works where several generations
of workmen have been defrauded and are still being defrauded. Yet more
do the hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain, belonging to one
owner, who has held them back to sell at triple price in time of
Tolstoy argued that capitalism morally and physically ruined individuals
and that capitalists were "slave-drivers." He considered it impossible
for a true Christian to be a capitalist, for a "manufacturer is a man
whose income consists of value squeezed out of the workers, and whose
whole occupation is based on forced, unnatural labour" and therefore,
"he must first give up ruining human lives for his own profit." [_The
Kingdom Of God is Within You_, p. 338, p. 339] Unsurprisingly, Tolstoy
argued that co-operatives were the "only social activity which a moral,
self-respecting person who doesn't want to be a party of violence can
take part in." [quoted by Peter Marshall, Op. Cit., p. 378]
From his opposition to violence, Tolstoy rejects both state and
private property and urged pacifist tactics to end violence within
society and create a just society. In Nettlau's words, he "asserted
. . . *resistance to evil*; and to one of the ways of resistance -
by active force - he added another way: *resistance through
disobedience, the passive force.*" [Op. Cit., p. 251] In his
ideas of a free society, Tolstoy was clearly influenced by rural
Russian life *and* the works of Peter Kropotkin (such as _Fields,
Factories and Workshops_), P-J Proudhon and the non-anarchist Henry
Tolstoy's ideas had a strong influence on Gandhi, who inspired his
fellow country people to use non-violent resistance to kick Britain
out of India. Moreover, Gandhi's vision of a free India as a federation
of peasant communes is similar to Tolstoy's anarchist vision of a
free society (although we must stress that Gandhi was not an anarchist).
The *Catholic Worker Group* in the United States was also heavily
influenced by Tolstoy (and Proudhon), as was Dorothy Day a staunch
Christian pacifist and anarchist who founded the paper the _Catholic
Worker_ in 1933. The influence of Tolstoy and religious anarchism in
general can also be found in *Liberation Theology* movements in Latin
and South America who combine Christian ideas with social activism
amongst the working class and peasantry (although we should note that
Liberation Theology is more generally inspired by state socialist
ideas rather than anarchist ones).
In countries where Churches hold *de facto* political power, such as in
Ireland, in parts of South America, in nineteenth and early twentieth
century Spain and so forth, typically anarchists are strongly anti-religious
because the Church has the power to suppress dissent and class struggle.
So, while most anarchists are atheists (and so agree with Bakunin that
if God existed it would be necessary, for human freedom and dignity,
to abolish it) there is a minority tradition within anarchism which
draws anarchist conclusions from religion. In addition, most social
anarchists consider Tolstoyian pacifism as dogmatic and extreme, seeing
the need (sometimes) for violence to resist greater evils. However,
most anarchists would agree with Tolstoyians on the need for individual
transformation of values as a key aspect of creating an anarchist
society and on the importance of non-violence as a general tactic
(although, we must stress, that few anarchists totally reject the
use of violence in self-defence, when no other option is available).
A.3.8 What is "anarchism without adjectives"?
In the words of historian George Richard Esenwein, "anarchism without
adjectives" in its broadest sense "referred to an unhyphenated form
of anarchism, that is, a doctrine without any qualifying labels such
as communist, collectivist, mutualist, or individualist. For others,
. . . [it] was simply understood as an attitude that tolerated the
coexistence of different anarchist schools." [_Anarchist Ideology and
the Working Class Movement in Spain, 1868-1898_, p. 135]
The originator of the expression was Cuban born Fernando Tarrida del
Marmol who used it in November, 1889, in Barcelona. He directed his
comments towards the communist and collectivist anarchists in Spain
who at the time were having an intense debate over the merits of
their two theories. "Anarchism without adjectives" was an attempt
to show greater tolerance between anarchist tendencies and to be
clear that anarchists should not impose a preconceived economic
plan on anyone -- even in theory. Thus the economic preferences
of anarchists should be of "secondary importance" to abolishing
capitalism and the state, with free experimentation the one rule
of a free society.
Thus the theoretical perspective known as "anarquismo sin adjetives"
("anarchism without adjectives") was one of the by-products of a
intense debate within the movement itself. The roots of the argument
can be found in the development of Communist Anarchism after Bakunin's
death in 1876. While not entirely dissimilar to Collectivist Anarchism
(as can be seen from James Guillaume's famous work "On Building the
New Social Order" within _Bakunin on Anarchism_, the collectivists did
see their economic system evolving into free communism), Communist
Anarchists developed, deepened and enriched Bakunin's work just as Bakunin
had developed, deepened and enriched Proudhon's. Communist Anarchism
was associated with such anarchists as Elisee Reclus, Carlo Cafiero,
Errico Malatesta and (most famously) Peter Kropotkin.
Quickly Communist-Anarchist ideas replaced Collectivist Anarchism as the
main anarchist tendency in Europe, except in Spain. Here the major issue
was not the question of communism (although for Ricardo Mella this played
a part) but a question of the modification of strategy and tactics implied
by Communist Anarchism. At this time (the 1880s), the Communist Anarchists
stressed local (pure) cells of anarchist militants, generally opposed
trade unionism (although Kropotkin was not one of these as he saw the
importance of militant workers organisations) as well as being somewhat
anti-organisation as well. Unsurprisingly, such a change in strategy
and tactics came in for a lot of discussion from the Spanish Collectivists
who strongly supported working class organisation and struggle.
This conflict soon spread outside of Spain and the discussion found its
way into the pages of _La Revolte_ in Paris. This provoked many anarchists
to agree with Malatesta's argument that "[i]t is not right for us, to say
the least, to fall into strife over mere hypotheses." [quoted by Max
Nettlau, _A Short History of Anarchism_, pp. 198-9] Over time, most
anarchists agreed (to use Nettlau's words) that "we cannot foresee the
economic development of the future" [Op. Cit., p. 201] and so started to
stress what they had in common (opposition to capitalism and the state)
rather than the different visions of how a free society would operate.
As time progressed, most Communist-Anarchists saw that ignoring the
labour movement ensured that their ideas did not reach the working
class while most Collectivist-Anarchists stressed their commitment to
communist ideals and their arrival sooner, rather than later, after
Similarly, in the United States there was also an intense debate at the
same time between Individualist and Communist anarchists. There Benjamin
Tucker was arguing that Communist-Anarchists were not anarchists while
John Most was saying similar things about Tucker's ideas. Just as people
like Mella and Tarrida put forward the idea of tolerance between anarchist
groups, so anarchists like Voltairine de Cleyre "came to label herself
simply 'Anarchist,' and called like Malatesta for an 'Anarchism without
Adjectives,' since in the absence of government many different
experiments would probably be tried in various localities in order
to determine the most appropriate form." [Peter Marshall, _Demanding
the Impossible_, p. 393]
These debates had a lasting impact on the anarchist movement, with such
noted anarchists as de Cleyre, Malatesta, Nettlau and Reclus adopting
the tolerant perspective embodied in the expression "anarchism without
adjectives" (see Nettlau's _A Short History of Anarchism_, pages 195 to
201 for an excellent summary of this). It is also, we add, the dominant
position within the anarchist movement today with most anarchists
recognising the right of other tendencies to the name "anarchist"
while, obviously, having their own preferences for specific types
of anarchist theory and their own arguments why other types are
flawed. However, we must stress that the different forms of anarchism
(communism, syndicalism, religious etc.) are not mutually exclusive and
you do not have to support one and hate the others. This tolerance
is reflected in the expression "anarchism without adjectives."
One last point, some "anarcho"-capitalists have attempted to use the
tolerance associated with "anarchism without adjectives" to argue
that their ideology should be accepted as part of the anarchist
movement. After all, they argue, anarchism is just about getting rid
of the state, economics is of secondary importance. However, such a
use of "anarchism without adjectives" is bogus as it was commonly
agreed at the time that the types of economics that were being
discussed were *anti-capitalist* (i.e. socialistic). In other
words, it was agreed that capitalism had to be abolished along
with the state and once this was the case free experimentation
would develop. In other words, the struggle against the state was
just one part of a wider struggle to end oppression and exploitation
and could not be isolated from these wider aims. As "anarcho"-capitalists
do not seek the abolition of capitalism along with the state they are not
anarchists and so "anarchism without adjectives" does not apply to the
so-called "anarchist" capitalists (see section F on why "anarcho"-capitalism
is not anarchist).
A.4 Who are the major anarchist thinkers?
Although Gerard Winstanley (_The New Law of Righteousness_, 1652) 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_, _Field, 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
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:
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]
A.5 What are some examples of "Anarchy in Action"?
Anarchism, more than anything else, is about the efforts of millions of
revolutionaries changing the world in the last two centuries. Here we
will discuss some of the high points of this movement, all of them of a
profoundly anti-capitalist nature.
Anarchism *is* about radically changing the world, not just making the
present system less inhuman by encouraging the anarchistic tendencies
within it to grow and develop. While no purely anarchist revolution has
taken place yet, there have been numerous ones with a highly anarchist
character and level of participation. And while these have *all* been
destroyed, in each case it has been at the hands of outside force
brought against them (backed either by Communists or Capitalists),
not because of any internal problems in anarchism itself. These
revolutions, despite their failure to survive in the face of
overwhelming force, have been both an inspiration for anarchists
and proof that anarchism is a viable social theory and can be
practised on a large scale.
What these revolutions share is the fact they are, to use Proudhon's
term, a "revolution from below" -- they were examples of "collective
activity, of popular spontaneity." It is only a transformation of
society from the bottom up by the action of the oppressed themselves
that can create a free society. As Proudhon asked, "[w]hat serious
and lasting Revolution was not made *from below,* by the people?"
For this reason an anarchist is a "revolutionary *from below.*"
Thus the social revolutions and mass movements we discuss in this
section are examples of popular self-activity and self-liberation
(as Proudhon put it in 1848, "the proletariat must emancipate itself").
[quoted by George Woodcock, _Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography_,
p. 143 and p. 125] All anarchists echo Proudhon's idea of revolutionary
change from below, the creation of a new society by the actions of
the oppressed themselves. Bakunin, for example, argued that anarchists
are "foes . . . of all State organisations as such, and believe that
the people can only be happy and free, when, organised from below by
means of its own autonomous and completely free associations, without
the supervision of any guardians, it will create its own life."
[_Marxism, Freedom and the State_, p. 63] In section J.7 we discuss
in more detail what anarchists think a social revolution is and
what it involves.
It is important to point out that these examples are of wide-scale social
experiments and do not imply that we ignore the undercurrent of anarchist
practice which exists in everyday life, even under capitalism. Both Peter
Kropotkin (in _Mutual Aid_) and Colin Ward (in _Anarchy in Action_) have
documented the many ways in which ordinary people, usually unaware of
anarchism, have worked together as equals to meet their common interests.
As Colin Ward argues, "an anarchist society, a society which organises
itself without authority, is always in existence, like a seed beneath the
snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism
and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal
loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism."
[_Anarchy in Action_, p. 14]
Anarchism is not only about a future society, it is also about the social
struggle happening today. It is not a condition but a process, which we
create by our self-activity and self-liberation.
By the 1960's, however, many commentators were writing off the anarchist
movement as a thing of the past. Not only had fascism finished off
European anarchist movements in the years before and during the war, but
in the post-war period these movements were prevented from recovering by
the capitalist West on one hand and the Leninist East on the other. Over
the same period of time, anarchism had been repressed in the US, Latin
America, China, Korea (where a social revolution with anarchist content
was put down before the Korean War), and Japan. Even in the one or two
countries that escaped the worst of the repression, the combination of
the Cold War and international isolation saw libertarian unions like the
Swedish SAC become reformist.
But the 60's were a decade of new struggle, and all over the world the
'New Left' looked to anarchism as well as elsewhere for its ideas. Many
of the prominent figures of the massive explosion of May 1968 in France
considered themselves anarchists. Although these movements themselves
degenerated, those coming out of them kept the idea alive and began to
construct new movements. The death of Franco in 1975 saw a massive
rebirth of anarchism in Spain, with up to 500,000 people attending the
CNT's first post-Franco rally. The return to a limited democracy in some
South American countries in the late 70's and 80's saw a growth in
anarchism there. Finally, in the late 80's it was anarchists who struck
the first blows against the Leninist USSR, with the first protest march
since 1928 being held in Moscow by anarchists in 1987.
Today the anarchist movement, although still weak, organises tens of
thousands of revolutionaries in many countries. Spain, Sweden and Italy all
have libertarian union movements organising some 250,000 between them.
Most other European countries have several thousand active anarchists.
Anarchist groups have appeared for the first time in other countries,
including Nigeria and Turkey. In South America the movement has recovered
massively. A contact sheet circulated by the Venezuelan anarchist group
_Corrio A_ lists over 100 organisations in just about every country.
Perhaps the recovery is slowest in North America, but there, too, all the
libertarian organisations seem to be undergoing significant growth. As
this growth accelerates, many more examples of anarchy in action will be
created and more and more people will take part in anarchist organisations
and activities, making this part of the FAQ less and less important.
However, it is essential to highlight mass examples of anarchism working
on a large scale in order to avoid the specious accusation of "utopianism."
As history is written by the winners, these examples of anarchy in action are
often hidden from view in obscure books. Rarely are they mentioned in the
schools and universities (or if mentioned, they are distorted). Needless to
say, the few examples we give are just that, a few.
Anarchism has a long history in many countries, and we cannot attempt to
document every example, just those we consider to be important. We are also
sorry if the examples seem Eurocentric. We have, due to space and time
considerations, had to ignore the syndicalist revolt (1910 to 1914) and the
shop steward movement (1917-21) in Britain, Germany (1919-21), Portugal (1974),
the Mexican revolution, anarchists in the Cuban revolution, the struggle
in Korea against Japanese (then US and Russian) imperialism during and after
the Second World War, Hungary (1956), the "the refusal of work" revolt
in the late 1960's (particularly in "the hot Autumn" in Italy, 1969),
the UK miner's strike (1984-85), the struggle against the Poll
Tax in Britain (1988-92), the strikes in France in 1986 and 1995,
the Italian COBAS movement in the 80's and 90's, and numerous other major
struggles that have involved anarchist ideas of self-management (ideas
that usually develop from the movement themselves, without anarchists
necessarily playing a major, or "leading", role). For anarchists,
revolutions and mass struggles are "festivals of the oppressed," when
ordinary people start to act for themselves and change both themselves
and the world.
A.5.1 The Paris Commune
The Paris Commune of 1871 played an important role in the development of
both anarchist ideas and the movement. As Bakunin commented at the time:
"revolutionary socialism [i.e. anarchism] has just attempted its first
striking and practical demonstration in the Paris Commune." [_Bakunin on
Anarchism_, p. 263]
The Paris Commune was created after France was defeated by Prussia in the
Franco-Prussian war. The French government tried to send in troops to
regain the Parisian National Guard's cannon to prevent it from falling into
the hands of the population. The soldiers refused to fire on the jeering
crowd and turned their weapons on their officers. This was March 18th; the
Commune had begun.
In the free elections called by the Parisian National Guard, the
citizens of Paris elected a council made up of a majority of Jacobins
and Republicans and a minority of socialists (mostly Blanquists --
authoritarian socialists -- and followers of the anarchist Proudhon).
This council proclaimed Paris autonomous and desired to recreate France
as a confederation of communes (i.e. communities). Within the Commune,
the elected council people were recallable and paid an average wage. In
addition, they had to report back to the people who had elected them
and were subject to recall by electors if they did not carry out their
Why this development caught the imagination of anarchists is clear --
it has strong similarities with anarchist ideas. In fact, the example of
the Paris Commune was in many ways similar to how Bakunin had predicted
that a revolution would have to occur -- a major city declaring itself
autonomous, organising itself, leading by example, and urging the rest of
the planet to follow it (See "Letter to Albert Richards" in _Bakunin on
Anarchism_). The Paris Commune began the process of creating a new
society, one organised from the bottom up.
Many anarchists played a role within the Commune -- for example Louise
Michel, the Reclus brothers, and Eugene Varlin (the latter murdered in the
repression afterwards). As for the reforms initiated by the Commune, such
as the re-opening of workplaces as co-operatives, anarchists can see their
ideas of associated labour beginning to be realised. By May, 43 workplaces
were co-operatively run and the Louvre Museum was a munitions factory
run by a workers' council. Echoing Proudhon, a meeting of the Mechanics
Union and the Association of Metal Workers argued that "our economic
emancipation . . . can only be obtained through the formation of workers'
associations, which alone can transform our position from that of wage
earners to that of associates." They instructed their delegates to the
Commune's Commission on Labour Organisation to support the following
"The abolition of the exploitation of man by man, the last vestige
"The organisation of labour in mutual associations and inalienable
In this way, they hoped to ensure that "equality must not be an empty
word" in the Commune. [_The Paris Commune of 1871: The View from the
Left_, Eugene Schulkind (ed.), p. 164] The Engineers Union voted at
a meeting on 23rd of April that since the aim of the Commune should
be "economic emancipation" it should "organise labour through
associations in which there would be joint responsibility" in order
"to suppress the exploitation of man by man." [quoted by Stewart
Edwards, _The Paris Commune 1871_, pp. 263-4]
Thus in the commune the theory of associated production expounded by
Proudhon and Bakunin became consciously revolutionary practice. In
the Commune's call for federalism and autonomy, anarchists see their
"future social organisation. . . [being] carried out from the bottom
up, by the free association or federation of workers, starting with
associations, then going into the communes, the regions, the nations,
and, finally, culminating in a great international and universal
federation." [Bakunin, Ibid., p. 270] This can be seen by the Commune's
"Declaration to the French People" echoing anarchist ideas. It saw
the "political unity" of society as being based on "the voluntary
association of all local initiatives, the free and spontaneous
concourse of all individual energies for the common aim, the
well-being, the liberty and the security of all." [quoted by
Edwards, Op. Cit., p. 218] The new society envisioned by the
communards was one based on the "absolute autonomy of the
Commune. . . assuring to each its integral rights and to each
Frenchman the full exercise of his aptitudes, as a man, a citizen
and a labourer. The autonomy of the Commune will have for its
limits only the equal autonomy of all other communes adhering to
the contract; their association must ensure the liberty of France."
["Declaration to the French People", quoted by George Woodcock,
_Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography_, pp. 276-7] With its vision
of a confederation of communes, Bakunin was correct to assert that
the Paris Commune was "a bold, clearly formulated negation of the
State." [_Bakunin on Anarchism_, p. 264]
Moreover, the Commune's ideas on federation obviously reflected the
influence of Proudhon on French radical ideas. Indeed, its vision of
a communal France based on a federation of delegates bound by imperative
mandates issued by their electors and subject to recall at any moment
echoes Proudhon's ideas (Proudhon had argued in favour of the
"implementation of the binding mandate" in 1848 [_No Gods, No
Masters_, p. 63] and for federation of communes in his work _The
Principle of Federation_). Thus both economically and politically
the Paris Commune was heavily influenced by anarchist ideas.
However, for anarchists the Commune did not go far enough. It did not
abolish the state within the Commune, as it had abolished it beyond it.
The Communards organised themselves "in a Jacobin manner" (to use
Bakunin's cutting term). As Peter Kropotkin pointed out, it did not
"break with the tradition of the State, of representative government,
and it did not attempt to achieve within the Commune that organisation
from the simple to the complex it inaugurated by proclaiming the
independence and free federation of the Communes." [_Fighting the
Revolution_, vol. 2, p. 16] In other words, "if no central government
was needed to rule the independent Communes, if the national Government
is thrown overboard and national unity is obtained by free federation,
then a central *municipal* Government becomes equally useless and
noxious. The same federative principle would do within the Commune."
[Kropotkin, _Evolution and Environment_, p. 75] In addition, its
attempts at economic reform did not go far enough, making no attempt
to turn all workplaces into co-operatives (i.e. to expropriate capital)
and forming associations of these co-operatives to co-ordinate and
support each other's economic activities. As the city was under
constant siege by the French army, it is understandable that the
Communards had other things on their minds. However, for Kropotkin
such a position was a disaster:
"They treated the economic question as a secondary one, which would be
attended to later on, *after* the triumph of the Commune . . . But
the crushing defeat which soon followed, and the blood-thirsty
revenge taken by the middle class, proved once more that the triumph
of a popular Commune was materially impossible without a parallel
triumph of the people in the economic field." [Op. Cit., p. 74]
Instead of abolishing the state within the commune by organising
federations of directly democratic mass assemblies, like the Parisian
"sections" of the revolution of 1789-93 (see Kropotkin's _Great French
Revolution_ for more on these), the Paris Commune kept representative
government and suffered for it. "Instead of acting for themselves . . .
the people, confiding in their governors, entrusted them the charge of
taking the initiative. This was the first consequence of the inevitable
result of elections." The council soon became "the greatest obstacle
to the revolution" thus proving the "political axiom that a government
cannot be revolutionary." [_Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets_,
p. 240, p. 241 and p. 249]
The council become more and more isolated from the people who elected
it, and thus more and more irrelevant. "Shut up in the City Hall,"
argued Kropotkin, "charged to proceed after the forms established by
preceding governments, these ardent revolutionists, these reformers
found themselves smitten with incapacity and sterility . . . but it
was not the men who were the cause of this failure -- it was the
system." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 240] And as its irrelevance grew, so
did its authoritarian tendencies, with the Jacobin majority creating a
"Committee of Public Safety" to "defend" (by terror) the "revolution."
The Committee was opposed by the libertarian socialist minority and
was, fortunately, ignored in practice by the people of Paris as they
defended their freedom against the French army, which was attacking
them in the name of capitalist civilisation and "liberty." On May
21st, government troops entered the city, followed by seven days of
bitter street fighting. Squads of soldiers and armed members of the
bourgeoisie roamed the streets, killing and maiming at will. Over 25,000
people were killed in the street fighting, many murdered after they had
surrendered, and their bodies dumped in mass graves.
For anarchists, the lessons of the Paris Commune were threefold. Firstly,
a decentralised confederation of communities is the necessary political
form of a free society ("*This was the form that the social revolution
must take* -- the independent commune." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 163]).
Secondly, "there is no more reason for a government inside a Commune
than for government above the Commune." [Peter Kropotkin, _Fighting
the Revolution_, vol 2., p. 19] This means that an anarchist society
will be based on a confederation of neighbourhood and workplace
assemblies freely co-operating together. Thirdly, it is critically
important to unify political and economic revolutions into a *social*
revolution. "They tried to consolidate the Commune first and put off
the social revolution until later, whereas the only way to proceed was
*to consolidate the Commune by means of the social revolution!*" [Peter
Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 19]
For more anarchist perspectives on the Paris Commune see Kropotkin's
essay "The Paris Commune" in _Words of a Rebel_ (and _The Anarchist
Reader_) and Bakunin's "The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State"
in _Bakunin on Anarchism_.
A.5.2 The Haymarket Martyrs
May 1st is a day of special significance for the labour movement. While
it has been hijacked in the past by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the
Soviet Union and elsewhere, the labour movement festival of May Day
is a day of world-wide solidarity. A time to remember past struggles
and demonstrate our hope for a better future. A day to remember that
an injury to one is an injury to all.
The history of Mayday is closely linked with the anarchist movement
and the struggles of working people for a better world. Indeed, it
originated with the execution of four anarchists in Chicago in 1886
for organising workers in the fight for the eight-hour day. Thus
May Day is a product of "anarchy in action" -- of the struggle of
working people using direct action in labour unions to change the
It began in the 1880s in the USA. In 1884, the Federation of Organised
Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada (created in
1881, it changed its name in 1886 to the American Federation of Labor)
passed a resolution which asserted that "eight hours shall constitute
a legal day's work from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to
labour organisations throughout this district that they so direct their
laws as to conform to this resolution". A call for strikes on May 1st,
1886 was made in support of this demand.
In Chicago the anarchists were the main force in the union movement, and
partially as a result of their presence, the unions translated this call
into strikes on May 1st. The anarchists thought that the eight hour day
could only be won through direct action and solidarity. They considered
that struggles for reforms, like the eight hour day, were not enough in
themselves. They viewed them as only one battle in an ongoing class
war that would only end by social revolution and the creation of a free
society. It was with these ideas that they organised and fought.
In Chicago alone, 400 000 workers went out and the threat of strike
action ensured that more than 45 000 were granted a shorter working
day without striking. On May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of
pickets at the McCormick Harvester Machine Company, killing at least
one striker, seriously wounding five or six others, and injuring
an undetermined number. Anarchists called for a mass meeting the
next day in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality. According
to the Mayor, "nothing had occurred yet, or looked likely to occur to
require interference." However, as the meeting was breaking up a column
of 180 police arrived and ordered the meeting to end. At this moment a
bomb was thrown into the police ranks, who opened fire on the crowd.
How many civilians were wounded or killed by the police was never
A reign of terror swept over Chicago. Meeting halls, union offices,
printing shops and private homes were raided (usually without warrants).
Such raids into working-class areas allowed the police to round up all
known anarchists and other socialists. Many suspects were beaten up and
some bribed. "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards" was
the public statement of J. Grinnell, the States Attorney, when a question
was raised about search warrants. ["Editor's Introduction", _The
Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs_, p. 7]
Eight anarchists were put on trial for accessory to murder. No pretence
was made that any of the accused had carried out or even planned the
bomb. Instead the jury were told "Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial.
These men have been selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted
because they were leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousands who
follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of
them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society." [Op. Cit.,
p. 8] The jury was selected by a special bailiff, nominated by the
State's Attorney and was composed of businessmen and the relative of
one of the cops killed. The defence was not allowed to present evidence
that the special bailiff had publicly claimed "I am managing this case
and I know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as
certain as death". [Ibid.] Not surprisingly, the accused were convicted.
Seven were sentenced to death, one to 15 years' imprisonment.
An international campaign resulted in two of the death sentences being
commuted to life, but the world wide protest did not stop the US state.
Of the remaining five, one (Louis Lingg) cheated the executioner and
killed himself on the eve of the execution. The remaining four (Albert
Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer) were hanged
on November 11th 1887. They are known in Labour history as the
Haymarket Martyrs. Between 150,000 and 500,000 lined the route taken
by the funeral cortege and between 10,000 to 25,000 were estimated to
have watched the burial.
In 1889, the American delegation attending the International Socialist
congress in Paris proposed that May 1st be adopted as a workers' holiday.
This was to commemorate working class struggle and the "Martyrdom of the
Chicago Eight". Since then Mayday has became a day for international
solidarity. In 1893, the new Governor of Illinois made official what
the working class in Chicago and across the world knew all along and
pardoned the Martyrs because of their obvious innocence and because
"the trail was not fair".
The authorities had believed at the time of the trial that such
persecution would break the back of the labour movement. They were
wrong. In the words of August Spies when he addressed the court after
he had been sentenced to die:
"If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement . . .
the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil
in misery and want, expect salvation -- if this is your opinion, then
hang us! Here you will tread on a spark, but there and there, behind
you -- and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a
subterranean fire. You cannot put it out." [Op. Cit., pp. 8-9]
At the time and in the years to come, this defiance of the state and
capitalism was to win thousands to anarchism, particularly in the US
itself. Since the Haymarket event, anarchists have celebrated May Day
(on the 1st of May -- the reformist unions and labour parties moved
its marches to the first Sunday of the month). We do so to show our
solidarity with other working class people across the world, to
celebrate past and present struggles, to show our power and remind
the ruling class of their vulnerability. As Nestor Makhno put it:
"That day those American workers attempted, by organising themselves,
to give expression to their protest against the iniquitous order
of the State and Capital of the propertied . . .
"The workers of Chicago . . . had gathered to resolve, in common,
the problems of their lives and their struggles. . .
"Today too . . . the toilers . . . regard the first of May as
the occasion of a get-together when they will concern themselves
with their own affairs and consider the matter of their emancipation."
[_The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays_, pp. 59-60]
Anarchists stay true to the origins of May Day and celebrate its
birth in the direct action of the oppressed. Oppression and exploitation
breed resistance and, for anarchists, May Day is an international symbol
of that resistance and power -- a power expressed in the last words of
August Spies, chiselled in stone on the monument to the Haymarket martyrs
in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago:
"The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the
voices you are throttling today."
To understand why the state and business class were so determined to hang
the Chicago Anarchists, it is necessary to realise they were considered
the "leaders" of a massive radical union movement. In 1884, the Chicago
Anarchists produced the world's first daily anarchist newspaper, the
_Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeiting_. This was written, read, owned and published
by the German immigrant working class movement. The combined circulation
of this daily plus a weekly (_Vorbote_) and a Sunday edition (_Fackel_) more
than doubled, from 13,000 per issues in 1880 to 26,980 in 1886. Anarchist
weekly papers existed for other ethnic groups as well (one English, one
Bohemian and one Scandinavian).
Anarchists were very active in the Central Labour Union (which included
the eleven largest unions in the city) and aimed to make it, in the words
of Albert Parsons (one of the Martyrs), "the embryonic group of the
future 'free society.'" The anarchists were also part of the _International
Working People's Association_ (also called the "Black International") which
had representatives from 26 cities at its founding convention. The I.W.P.A.
soon "made headway among trade unions, especially in the mid-west" and its
ideas of "direct action of the rank and file" and of trade unions "serv[ing]
as the instrument of the working class for the complete destruction of
capitalism and the nucleus for the formation of a new society" became
known as the "Chicago Idea" (an idea which later inspired the Industrial
Workers of the World which was founded in Chicago in 1905). ["Editor's
Introduction," Op. Cit., p. 4]
This idea was expressed in the manifesto issued at the I.W.P.A.'s
Pittsburgh Congress of 1883:
"First -- Destruction of the existing class rule, by all means,
i.e. by energetic, relentless, revolutionary and international
"Second -- Establishment of a free society based upon co-operative
organisation of production.
"Third -- Free exchange of equivalent products by and between
the productive organisations without commerce and profit-mongery.
"Fourth -- Organisation of education on a secular, scientific
and equal basis for both sexes.
"Fifth -- Equal rights for all without distinction to sex or race.
"Sixth -- Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between
autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on
a federalistic basis." [Op. Cit., p. 42]
In addition to their union organising, the Chicago anarchist movement
also organised social societies, picnics, lectures, dances, libraries
and a host of other activities. These all helped to forge a distinctly
working-class revolutionary culture in the heart of the "American Dream."
The threat to the ruling class and their system was too great to allow
it to continue (particularly with memories of the vast uprising of labour
in 1877 still fresh. As in 1886, that revolt was also meet by state
violence -- see _Strike!_ by J. Brecher for details of this strike
movement as well as the Haymarket events). Hence the repression, kangaroo
court, and the state murder of those the state and capitalist class
considered "leaders" of the movement.
A.5.3 Building the Syndicalist Unions
Just before the turn of the century in Europe, the anarchist movement
began to create one of the most successful attempts to apply
anarchist organisational ideas in everyday life. This was in response
to the disastrous "propaganda by deed" period, in which individual
anarchists assassinated government leaders in attempts to provoke a
popular uprising and in revenge for the mass murders of the Communards. In
response to this failed and counterproductive campaign, anarchists went
back to their roots and to the ideas of Bakunin, beginning to build mass
revolutionary unions (syndicalism and anarchosyndicalism).
In the period from the 1890's to the outbreak of World War I, anarchists
built revolutionary unions in most European countries, which became most
widespread in Italy and France. In addition, anarchists in South and North
America were also successful in organising syndicalist unions. Almost all
industrialised countries had some syndicalist movement, although Europe and
South America had the biggest and strongest ones. These unions were
organised in a confederal manner, from the bottom up, along anarchist
lines. They fought with capitalists on a day-to-day basis around the issue
of better wages and working conditions, but they also sought to overthrow
capitalism through the revolutionary general strike.
That anarchist organisational techniques encouraged member participation,
empowerment and militancy, and that they also successfully fought for
reforms and promoted class consciousness, can be seen in the growth of
anarcho-syndicalist unions and their impact on the labour movement. The
Industrial Workers of the World, for example, still inspires union
activists and has, throughout its long history, provided many union songs
Most of the syndicalist unions were severely repressed during World War I,
but in the immediate post-war years they reached their height. This wave
of militancy was known as the "red years" in Italy, where it attained its
high point with factory occupations (see section A.5.5). But these years
also saw the destruction of these unions in country after county, through
two influences. On the one hand, the apparent success of the Russian
revolution led many activists to turn to authoritarian politics. The
Communist parties deliberately undermined the libertarian unions,
encouraging fights and splits. More importantly, however, these years saw
capitalism go on the offensive with a new weapon -- fascism. Fascism arose
in Italy and Germany as an attempt by capitalism to physically smash the
widespread organisations the working class had built. In both these
countries, anarchists were forced to flee into exile, vanish from sight, or
became victims of assassins or concentration camps. In the USA, the IWW
was crushed by a wave of repression backed whole-heartedly by the media, the
state, and the capitalist class.
In Spain, however, the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist union, continued to
grow, claiming one and a half million members by 1936. The capitalist class
embraced fascism to save their power from the dispossessed, who were
becoming confident of their power and their right to manage their own
lives (see section A.5.6). Elsewhere, capitalists supported authoritarian
states in order to crush the labour movement and make their countries
safe for capitalism. Only Sweden escaped this trend, where the syndicalist
union the SAC is still organising workers (and is, in fact, like many
other syndicalist unions, growing as workers turn away from bureaucratic
unions whose leaders seem more interested in protecting their privileges
and cutting deals with management than defending their members).
A.5.4 Anarchists in the Russian Revolution.
The Russian revolution of 1917 saw a huge growth in anarchism in that
country and many experiments in anarchist ideas. However, in popular
culture the Russian Revolution is seen not as a mass movement by ordinary
people struggling towards freedom but as the means by which Lenin imposed
his dictatorship on Russia. The Russian Revolution, like most history, is
a good example of the maxim "history is written by those who win." Both
capitalist and Leninist histories of the period between 1917 and 1921
ignore what the anarchist Voline called "the unknown revolution" -- the
revolution called forth from below by the actions of ordinary people.
The initial overthrow of the Tsar came from the direct action of the
masses, and the revolution carried on in this vein until the new,
"socialist" state was powerful enough to stop it. For the Left, the end
of Tsarism was the culmination of years of effort by socialists and
anarchists everywhere, representing the progressive wing of human thought
overcoming traditional oppression, and as such was duly praised by leftists
around the world.
In the workplaces and streets and on the land, more and more people became
convinced that abolishing feudalism politically was *not* enough. The
overthrow of the Tsar made little real difference if feudal exploitation
still existed in the economy, so workers started to seize their workplaces
and peasants, the land. All across Russia, ordinary people started to
build their own organisations, unions, co-operatives, factory committees
and councils (or "soviets" in Russian). These organisations were initially
organised in anarchist fashion, with recallable delegates and being
federated with each other.
The anarchists participated in this movement, encouraging all tendencies
to self-management. As Jacques Sadoul (a French officer) noted in early
"The anarchist party is the most active, the most militant of the
opposition groups and probably the most popular. . . .The Bolsheviks are
anxious." [quoted by Daniel Guerin, _Anarchism_, pp. 95-6]
Anarchists were particularly active in the movement for workers
self-management of production (see M. Brinton, _The Bolsheviks and
But by early 1918, the authoritarian socialists of the Bolshevik party,
once they had seized power, began the physical suppression of their
anarchist rivals. Initially, anarchists had supported the Bolsheviks,
since the Bolshevik leaders had hidden their state-building ideology
behind support for the soviets.
However, this support quickly "withered away" as the Bolsheviks showed
that they were, in fact, not seeking true socialism but were instead securing
power for themselves and pushing not for collective ownership of land and
productive resources but for government ownership. The Bolsheviks,
for example, systematically destroyed the workers' control movement, even
though it was successfully increasing production in the face of difficult
Lenin suppressed workers' control on the spurious grounds that it would
reduce the productivity of labour -- an argument that has subsequently
been shown to be false by cases where workers' control has been established
(see section C.2.4). It's interesting to note that today's capitalist
apologists, who often claim workers' control would reduce productivity,
are actually using a discredited Leninist argument.
While eliminating the workers' control movement, the Bolsheviks also
systematically undermined, arrested, and killed their most vocal
opponents, the anarchists, as well as restricting the freedom of the
masses they claimed to be protecting. Independent unions, political
parties, the right to strike, self-management in the workplace and
on the land -- all were destroyed in the name of "socialism." For
insiders, the Revolution had died a few months after the Bolsheviks
took over. To the outside world, the Bolsheviks and the USSR came to
represent "socialism" even as they systematically destroyed the
basis of real socialism. The Bolsheviks put down the libertarian
socialist elements within their country, the crushing of the uprisings
at Kronstadt and in the Ukraine being the final nails in the coffin of
socialism and the subjugation of the soviets.
The Kronstadt uprising of February, 1921, was, for anarchists, of immense
importance. This is because it was the first major uprising of ordinary
people for real socialism.
"Kronstadt was the first entirely independent attempt of the people to free
themselves of all control and carry out the social revolution: this attempt
was made directly. . . by the working classes themselves, without political
shepherds, without leaders, or tutors." [Voline, _The Unknown Revolution_,
quoted by Guerin, Ibid., p. 105]
In the Ukraine, anarchist ideas were most successfully applied. In areas
under the protection of the Makhnovist movement, working class people
organised their own lives directly, based on their own ideas and needs --
true social self-determination. Under the leadership of Nestor Makhno, a
self-educated peasant, the movement not only fought against both Red and
White dictatorships but also resisted the Ukrainian nationalists.
In opposition to the call for "national self-determination," i.e. a new
Ukrainian state, Makhno called instead for working class self-determination
in the Ukraine and across the world. The Makhnovists organised worker and
peasant conferences (some of which the Bolsheviks tried to ban) as well
as free soviets, unions and communes. He became known as the Ukrainian
The Makhnovists argued that the "freedom of the workers and peasants is
their own, and not subject to any restriction. It is up to the workers and
peasants themselves to act, to organise themselves, to agree among themselves
in all aspects of their lives, as they see fit and desire. . .The Makhnovists
can do no more that give aid and counsel. . .In no circumstances can they,
nor do they wish to, govern." [Peter Arshinov, quoted by Guerin, Ibid.,
In Alexandrovsk, the Bolsheviks proposed to the Makhnovists spheres of
action - their Revkom (Revolutionary Committee) would handle political
affairs and the Makhnovists military ones. Makhno advised them "to go and
take up some honest trade instead of seeking to impose their will on the
workers." [Peter Arshinov in _The Anarchist Reader_, p. 141]
The Makhnovists rejected the Bolshevik corruption of the soviets and
instead proposed "the free and completely independent soviet system of
working people without authorities and their arbitrary laws." Their
proclamations stated that the "working people themselves must freely choose
their own soviets, which carry out the will and desires of the working
people themselves, that is to say. ADMINISTRATIVE, not ruling soviets."
Economically, capitalism would be abolished along with the state -
the land and workshops "must belong to the working people themselves, to
those who work in them, that is to say, they must be socialised." [_The
History of the Makhnovist Movement_, p. 271 and p. 273]
The anarchist experiment of self-management in the Ukraine came to a bloody
end when the Bolsheviks turned on the Makhnovists (their former allies
against the "Whites," or pro-Tsarists) when they were no longer needed.
The last anarchist march in Moscow until 1987 took place at the funeral
of Kropotkin in 1921, when some 10,000 marched behind his coffin. Many of
these had been released from prison for the day and were to be murdered by
Leninists in later years. From about 1921 on, anarchists started
describing the USSR as a "state-capitalist" nation to indicate that
although individual bosses might have been eliminated, the Soviet state
bureaucracy played the same role as individual bosses do in the West.
For more information on the Russian Revolution and the role played by
anarchists, the following books are recommended: _The Unknown Revolution_
by Voline; _The Guillotine at Work_ by G.P. Maximov; _The Bolshevik Myth_
and _The Russian Tragedy_, both by Alexander Berkman; _The Bolsheviks and
Workers Control_ by M. Brinton; _The Kronstadt Uprising_ by Ida Mett; _The
History of the Makhnovist Movement_ by Peter Arshinov. Many of these books
were written by anarchists active during the revolution, many imprisoned
by the Bolsheviks and deported to the West due to international pressure
exerted by anarcho-syndicalist delegates to Moscow who the Bolsheviks were
trying to win over to Leninism. The majority of such delegates stayed
true to their libertarian politics and convinced their unions to
reject Bolshevism and break with Moscow. By the early 1920's all
the anarcho-syndicalist union confederations had joined with the
anarchists in rejecting the "socialism" in Russia as state capitalism
and party dictatorship.
A.5.5 Anarchists in the Italian Factory Occupations
After the end of the First World War there was a massive radicalisation
across Europe and the world. Union membership exploded, with strikes,
demonstrations and agitation reaching massive levels. This was partly
due to the war, partly to the apparent success of the Russian Revolution.
This enthusiasm for the Russian Revolution even reached Individualist
Anarchists like Joseph Labadie, who like many other anti-capitalists,
saw "the red in the east [giving] hope of a brighter day" and the
Bolsheviks as making "laudable efforts to at least try some way out
of the hell of industrial slavery." [quoted by Carlotta R. Anderson,
_All-American Anarchist_ p. 225 and p. 241]
Across Europe, anarchist ideas became more popular and anarcho-syndicalist
unions grew in size. For example, in Britain, the ferment produced the
shop stewards' movement and the strikes on Clydeside; Germany saw the
rise of IWW inspired industrial unionism and a libertarian form of
Marxism called "Council Communism"; Spain saw a massive growth in the
anarcho-syndicalist CNT. In addition, it also, unfortunately, saw the
rise and growth of both social democratic and communist parties. Italy
was no exception.
In August, 1920, there were large-scale stay-in strikes in Italy in
response to an owner wage cut and lockout. These strikes began in the
engineering factories and soon spread to railways, road transport, and
other industries, with peasants seizing land. The strikers, however, did
more than just occupy their workplaces, they placed them under workers'
self-management. Soon over 500 000 "strikers" were at work, producing for
themselves. Errico Malatesta, who took part in these events, writes:
"The metal workers started the movement over wage rates. It was a strike
of a new kind. Instead of abandoning the factories, the ideas was to
remain inside without working . . . Throughout Italy there was a
revolutionary fervour among the workers and soon the demands changed
their characters. Workers thought that the moment was ripe to take
possession once [and] for all the means of production. They armed for
defence. . . and began to organise production on their own. . . . It was
the right of property abolished in fact . . .; it was a new regime, a
new form of social life that was being ushered in. And the government
stood by because it felt impotent to offer opposition." [_Life and Ideas_,
During this period the Italian Syndicalist Union (USI) grew in size to
nearly one million members and the influence of the Italian Anarchist
Union (UAI) with its 20 000 members and daily paper (_Umanita Nova_)
grew correspondingly. As the Welsh Marxist historian Gwyn A. Williams
points out "Anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists were the most
consistently and totally revolutionary group on the left . . . the most
obvious feature of the history of syndicalism and anarchism in 1919-20:
rapid and virtually continuous growth. . .The syndicalists above all
captured militant working-class opinion which the socialist movement
was utterly failing to capture." [_Proletarian Order_, pp. 194-195]
Daniel Guerin provides a good summary of the extent of the movement:
"The management of the factories . . . [was] conducted by technical
and administrative workers' committees. Self-management went quite a
long way: in the early period assistance was obtained from the banks,
but when it was withdrawn the self-management system issued its own
money to pay the workers' wages. Very strict self-discipline was required,
the use of alcoholic beverages forbidden, and armed patrols were organised
for self-defence. Very close solidarity was established between the
factories under self-management. Ores and coal were put into a common
pool, and shared out equitably." [_Anarchism_, p. 109]
Over the occupied factories flew "a forest of red and black flags" as
"the council movement outside Turin was essentially anarcho-syndicalist.00"
[Williams, Op. Cit., p. 241, p. 193] Railway workers refused to transport
troops, workers went on strike against the orders of the reformist unions
and peasants occupied the land. Such activity was "either directly led or
indirectly inspired by anarcho-syndicalists." [Ibid., p. 193] Which is
unsurprising as the "occupation of the factories and the land suited
perfectly our programme of action." [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 135]
However, after four weeks of occupation, the workers decided to leave the
factories. This was because of the actions of the socialist party and the
reformist trade unions. They opposed the movement and negotiated with the
state for a return to "normality" in exchange for a promise to extend
workers' control legally, in association with the bosses. This promise was
not kept. The lack of independent inter-factory organisation made workers
dependent on trade union bureaucrats for information on what was going on
in other cities, and they used that power to isolate factories, cities,
and factories from each other. This lead to a return to work, "in spite
of the opposition of individual anarchists dispersed among the factories."
[Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 136] The local syndicalist union confederations
could not provide the necessary framework for a fully co-ordinated
occupation movement as the reformist unions refused to work with them;
and although the anarchists were a large minority, they were still a
This period of Italian history explains the growth of Fascism in Italy. As
Tobias Abse points out, "the rise of fascism in Italy cannot be detached
from the events of the *biennio rosso,* the two red years of 1919 and
1920, that preceded it. Fascism was a preventive counter-revolution . . .
launched as a result of the failed revolution." ["The Rise of Fascism in
an Industrial City", p. 54, in _Rethinking Italian Fascism_, David Forgacs
(ed.), pp. 52-81] The term "preventive counter-revolution" was originally
coined by the leading anarchist Luigi Fabbri.
As Malatesta argued at the time of the factory occupations, "[i]f we do
not carry on to the end, we will pay with tears of blood for the fear we
now instil in the bourgeoisie." [quoted by Tobias Abse, Op. Cit., p. 66]
Later events proved him right, as the capitalists and rich landowners
backed the fascists in order to teach the working class their place. In
the words of Tobias Abse:
"The aims of the Fascists and their backers amongst the industrialists
and agrarians in 1921-22 were simple: to break the power of the organised
workers and peasants as completely as possible, to wipe out, with the
bullet and the club, not only the gains of the *biennio rosso*, but
everything that the lower classes had gained . . . between the turn
of the century and the outbreak of the First World War." [Op. Cit.,
The fascist squads attacked and destroyed anarchist and socialist meeting
places, social centres, radical presses and Camera del Lavoro (local trade
union councils). However, even in the dark days of fascist terror, the
anarchists resisted the forces of totalitarianism. "It is no coincidence
that the strongest working-class resistance to Fascism was in . . . towns
or cities in which there was quite a strong anarchist, syndicalist or
anarcho-syndicalist tradition." [Tobias Abse, Op. Cit., p. 56]
The anarchists participated in, and often organised sections of,
the _Arditi del Popolo_, a working-class organisation devoted to the
self-defence of workers' interests. The Arditi del Popolo organised and
encouraged working-class resistance to fascist squads, often defeating
larger fascist forces (for example, "the total humiliation of thousands
of Italo Balbo's squadristi by a couple of hundred Arditi del Popolo
backed by the inhabitants of the working class districts" in the
anarchist stronghold of Parma in August 1922 [Tobias Abse, Op. Cit.,
The Arditi del Popolo was the closest Italy got to the idea of a
united, revolutionary working-class front against fascism, as had
been suggested by Malatesta and the UAI. This movement "developed
along anti-bourgeois and anti-fascist lines, and was marked by the
independence of its local sections." [_Red Years, Black Years:
Anarchist Resistance to Fascism in Italy_, p. 2] Rather than being
just an "anti-fascist" organisation, the Arditi "were not a movement
in defence of 'democracy' in the abstract, but an essentially
working-class organisation devoted to the defence of the interests
of industrial workers, the dockers and large numbers of artisans
and craftsmen." [Tobias Abse, Op. Cit., p. 75]
However, both the socialist and communist parties withdrew from the
organisation. The socialists signed a "Pact of Pacification" with
the Fascists in August 1921. The communists "preferred to withdraw
their members from the Arditi del Popolo rather than let them work
with the anarchists." [_Red Years, Black Years_, p. 17] As Abse notes,
"it was the withdrawal of support by the Socialist and Communist parties
at the national level that crippled" the Arditi [Op. Cit., p. 74]. The
leaders of the authoritarian socialists preferred defeat and fascism
than risk their followers becoming "infected" by anarchism. Thus "social
reformist defeatism and communist sectarianism made impossible an armed
opposition that was widespread and therefore effective; and the isolated
instances of popular resistance were unable to unite in a successful
strategy." [_Red Years, Black Years_, p. 3]
In the end, fascist violence was successful and capitalist power
"The anarchists' will and courage were not enough to counter the
fascist gangs, powerfully aided with material and arms, backed by
the repressive organs of the state. Anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists
were decisive in some areas and in some industries, but only a similar
choice of direct action on the parts of the Socialist Party and the
General Confederation of Labour [the reformist trade union] could
have halted fascism." [Op. Cit., pp. 1-2]
After helping to defeat the revolution, the Marxists helped ensure the
victory of fascism.
Even after the fascist state was created, anarchists resisted both
inside and outside Italy. Many Italians, both anarchist and non-anarchist,
travelled to Spain to resist Franco in 1936 (see Umberto Marzochhi's
_Remembering Spain: Italian Anarchist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil
War_ for details). During the Second World War, anarchists played a
major part in the Italian Partisan movement. It was the fact that the
anti-fascist movement was dominated by anti-capitalist elements that
led the USA and the UK to place known fascists in governmental positions
in the places they "liberated" (often where the town had already been
taken by the Partisans, resulting in the Allied troops "liberating"
the town from its own inhabitants!).
Given this history of resisting fascism in Italy, it is surprising
that some claim Italian fascism was a product or form of syndicalism.
This is even claimed by some anarchists. According to Bob Black the
"Italian syndicalists mostly went over to Fascism" and references
David D. Roberts 1979 study _The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian
Fascism_ to support his claim [_Anarchy after Leftism_, p. 64]. Peter
Sabatini in a review in _Social Anarchism_ makes a similar statement,
saying that syndicalism's "ultimate failure" was "its transformation
into a vehicle of fascism." [_Social Anarchism_, no. 23, p. 99] What
is the truth behind these claims?
Looking at Black's reference we discover that, in fact, most of the
Italian syndicalists did not go over to fascism, if by syndicalists
we mean members of the USI (the Italian Syndicalist Union). Roberts
"The vast majority of the organised workers failed to respond
to the syndicalists' appeals and continued to oppose [Italian]
intervention [in the First World War], shunning what seemed to
be a futile capitalist war. The syndicalists failed to convince
even a majority within the USI . . . the majority opted for the
neutralism of Armando Borghi, leader of the anarchists within
the USI. Schism followed as De Ambris led the interventionist
minority out of the confederation." [_The Syndicalist Tradition
and Italian Fascism_, p. 113]
However, if we take "syndicalist" to mean some of the intellectuals
and "leaders" of the pre-war movement, it was a case that the "leading
syndicalists came out for intervention quickly and almost unanimously"
[Roberts, Op. Cit., p. 106] after the First World War started. Many
of these pro-war "leading syndicalists" did become fascists. However,
to concentrate on a handful of "leaders" (which the majority did
not even follow!) and state that this shows that the "Italian
syndicalists mostly went over to Fascism" staggers belief. What is
even worse, as seen above, the Italian anarchists and syndicalists
were the most dedicated and successful fighters against fascism. In
effect, Black and Sabatini have slandered a whole movement.
What is also interesting is that these "leading syndicalists" were
not anarchists and so not anarcho-syndicalists. As Roberts notes the
"syndicalists genuinely desired -- and tried -- to work within the
Marxist tradition." [Op. Cit., p. 79] According to Carl Levy, in his
account of Italian anarchism, "[u]nlike other syndicalist movements,
the Italian variation coalesced inside a Second International party.
Supporter were partially drawn from socialist intransigents . . .
the southern syndicalist intellectuals pronounced republicanism . . .
Another component . . . was the remnant of the Partito Operaio."
["Italian Anarchism: 1870-1926" in _For Anarchism: History, Theory,
and Practice_, David Goodway (Ed.), p. 51]
In other words, the Italian syndicalists who turned to fascism were,
firstly, a small minority of intellectuals who could not convince the
majority within the syndicalist union to follow them, and, secondly,
Marxists and republicans rather than anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists
or even revolutionary syndicalists.
According to Carl Levy, Roberts' book "concentrates on the syndicalist
intelligentsia" and that "some syndicalist intellectuals . . . helped
generate, or sympathetically endorsed, the new Nationalist movement . . .
which bore similarities to the populist and republican rhetoric of the
southern syndicalist intellectuals." He argues that there "has been far
too much emphasis on syndicalist intellectuals and national organisers"
and that syndicalism "relied little on its national leadership for its
long-term vitality." [Op. Cit., p. 77, p. 53 and p. 51] If we do look
at the membership of the USI, rather than finding a group which "mostly
went over to fascism," we discover a group of people who fought fascism
tooth and nail and were subject to extensive fascist violence.
To summarise, Italian Fascism had nothing to do with syndicalism
and, as seen above, the USI fought the Fascists and was destroyed
by them along with the UAI, Socialist Party and other radicals. That
a handful of pre-war Marxist-syndicalists later became Fascists and
called for a "National-Syndicalism" does not mean that syndicalism
and fascism are related (any more than some anarchists latter becoming
Marxists makes anarchism "a vehicle" for Marxism!).
It is hardly surprising that anarchists were the most consistent and
successful opponents of Fascism. The two movements could not be further
apart, one standing for total statism in the service of capitalism while
the other for a free, non-capitalist society. Neither is it surprising
that when their privileges and power were in danger, the capitalists and
the landowners turned to fascism to save them. This process is a common
feature in history (to list just four examples, Italy, Germany, Spain
A.5.6 Anarchism and the Spanish Revolution.
Spain in the 1930's had the largest anarchist movement in the world. At
the start of the Spanish "Civil" war, over one and one half million
workers and peasants were members of the CNT (the National Confederation
of Labour), an anarcho-syndicalist union federation, and 30,000 were
members of the FAI (the Anarchist Federation of Iberia). The total
population of Spain at this time was 24 million.
The social revolution which met the Fascist coup on July 18th, 1936, is
the greatest experiment in libertarian socialism to date. Here the last
mass syndicalist union, the CNT, not only held off the fascist rising but
encouraged the widespread take-over of land and factories. Over seven million
people, including about two million CNT members, put self-management into
practise in the most difficult of circumstances and actually improved both
working conditions and output.
In the heady days after the 19th of July, the initiative and power truly
rested in the hands of the rank-and-file members of the CNT and FAI. It
was ordinary people, undoubtedly under the influence of Faistas (members
of the FAI) and CNT militants, who, after defeating the fascist uprising,
got production, distribution and consumption started again (under more
egalitarian arrangements, of course), as well as organising and
volunteering (in their tens of thousands) to join the militias, which were
to be sent to free those parts of Spain that were under Franco. In every
possible way the working class of Spain were creating by their own
actions a new world based on their own ideas of social justice and freedom
-- ideas inspired, of course, by anarchism and anarchosyndicalism.
George Orwell's eye-witness account of revolutionary Barcelona in late
December, 1936, gives a vivid picture of the social transformation that had
"The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution
was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it
probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was
ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was
something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever
been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every
building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red
flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was
scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the
revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images
burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs
of workman. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been
collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes
painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and
treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had
temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Senor' or 'Don' or even
'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' or 'Thou', and said
'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos dias'. . . Above all, there was a belief in the
revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era
of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings
and not as cogs in the capitalist machine." [_Homage to Catalonia_, pp. 2-3]
The full extent of this historic revolution cannot be covered here. It will
be discussed in more detail in section I.8 of the FAQ. All that can be done
is to highlight a few points of special interest in the hope that these
will give some indication of the importance of these events and encourage
people to find out more about it.
All industry in Catalonia was placed either under workers' self-management
*or* workers' control (that is, either totally taking over *all* aspects of
management, in the first case, or, in the second, controlling the old
management). In some cases, whole town and regional economies were
transformed into federations of collectives. The example of the Railway
Federation (which was set up to manage the railway lines in Catalonia,
Aragon and Valencia) can be given as a typical example. The base of the
federation was the local assemblies:
"All the workers of each locality would meet twice a week to examine all
that pertained to the work to be done... The local general assembly named a
committee to manage the general activity in each station and its annexes. At
[these] meetings, the decisions (direccion) of this committee, whose members
continued to work [at their previous jobs], would be subjected to the
approval or disapproval of the workers, after giving reports and answering
The delegates on the committee could be removed by an assembly at any time
and the highest co-ordinating body of the Railway Federation was the
"Revolutionary Committee," whose members were elected by union assemblies in
the various divisions. The control over the rail lines, according to Gaston
Leval, "did not operate from above downwards, as in a statist and centralised
system. The Revolutionary Committee had no such powers. . . The members of
the. . . committee being content to supervise the general activity and to
co-ordinate that of the different routes that made up the network."
[Gaston Leval, _Collectives in the Spanish Revolution_, p. 255]
On the land, tens of thousands of peasants and rural day workers created
voluntary, self-managed collectives. The quality of life improved as
co-operation allowed the introduction of health care, education, machinery
and investment in the social infrastructure. As well as increasing
production, the collectives increased freedom. As one member puts it, "it
was marvellous. . . to live in a collective, a free society where one could
say what one thought, where if the village committee seemed unsatisfactory
one could say. The committee took no big decisions without calling the
whole village together in a general assembly. All this was wonderful."
[quoted by Ronald Frazer, _Blood of Spain_, p. 360]
On the social front, anarchist organisations created rational schools, a
libertarian health service, social centres, and so on. The Mujeres Libres
(free women) combated the traditional role of women in Spanish society,
empowering thousands both inside and outside the anarchist movement (see
_The Free Women of Spain_ by Martha A. Ackelsberg for more information on
this very important organisation). This activity on the social front only
built on the work started long before the outbreak of the war; for
example, the unions often funded rational schools, workers centres,
and so on.
The voluntary militias that went to free the rest of Spain from Franco
were organised on anarchist principles and included both men and women.
There was no rank, no saluting and no officer class. Everybody was equal.
George Orwell, a member of the POUM militia, makes this clear:
"The essential point of the [militia] system was the social equality
between officers and men. Everyone from general to private drew the
same pay, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and mingled on
terms of complete equality. If you wanted to slap the general
commanding the division on the back and ask him for a cigarette,
you could do so, and no one thought it curious. In theory at any
rate each militia was a democracy and not a hierarchy. It was
understood that orders had to be obeyed, but it was also understood
that when you gave an order you gave it as comrade to comrade and not
as superior to inferior. There were officers and N.C.O.s, but there
was no military rank in the ordinary sense; no titles, no badges, no
heel-clicking and saluting. They had attempted to produce within the
militias a sort of temporary working model of the classless society.
Of course there was not perfect equality, but there was a nearer
approach to it than I had ever seen or that I would have though
conceivable in time of war. . . " [Op. Cit., p. 26]
In Spain, however, as elsewhere, the anarchist movement was smashed
between Leninism (the Communist Party) and Capitalism (Franco) on the
other. Unfortunately, the anarchists placed anti-fascist unity before
the revolution, thus helping their enemies to defeat both them and the
revolution. Whether they were forced by circumstances into this position
or could have avoided it is still being debated.
Orwell's account of his experiences in the militia's indicates why the
Spanish Revolution is so important to anarchists:
"I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size
in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism
were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragon one was among tens
of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin,
all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory
it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There
is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a
foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental
atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilised
life -- snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. -- had simply
ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared
to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England;
there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned
anyone else as his master. . . One had been in a community where hope was
more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word 'comrade' stood for
comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the
air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that
Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world
a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy 'proving'
that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the
grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of
Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men
to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the 'mystique'
of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people
Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all . . . In
that community where no one was on the make, where there was a shortage of
everything but no boot-licking, one got, perhaps, a crude forecast of what
the opening stages of Socialism might be like. And, after all, instead of
disillusioning me it deeply attracted me. . ." [Op. Cit., pp. 83-84]
For more information on the Spanish Revolution, the following books are
recommended: _Lessons of the Spanish Revolution_ by Vernon Richards;
_Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution_ by Jose Peirats; _Free Women of
Spain_ by Martha A. Ackelsberg; _The Anarchist Collectives_ edited by Sam
Dolgoff; "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship" by Noam Chomsky (in _The
Chomsky Reader_); _The Anarchists of Casas Viejas_ by Jerome R. Mintz; and
_Homage to Catalonia_ by George Orwell.
A.5.7 The May-June Revolt in France, 1968.
The May-June events in France placed anarchism back on the radical
landscape after a period in which many people had written the movement off
as dead. This revolt of ten million people grew from humble beginnings.
Expelled by the university authorities of Nanterre in Paris for
anti-Vietnam War activity, a group of anarchists (including Daniel
Cohn-Bendit) promptly called a protest demonstration. The arrival of 80
police enraged many students, who quit their studies to join the battle
and drive the police from the university.
Inspired by this support, the anarchists seized the administration
building and held a mass debate. The occupation spread, Nanterre was
surrounded by police, and the authorities closed the university down.
The next day, the Nanterre students gathered at the Sorbonne University in
the centre of Paris. Continual police pressure and the arrest of over 500
people caused anger to erupt into five hours of street fighting. The
police even attacked passers-by with clubs and tear gas.
A total ban on demonstrations and the closure of the Sorbonne brought
thousands of students out onto the streets. Increasing police violence
provoked the building of the first barricades. Jean Jacques Lebel, a
reporter, wrote that by 1 a.m., "[l]iterally thousands helped build
barricades. . . women, workers, bystanders, people in pyjamas, human
chains to carry rocks, wood, iron." An entire night of fighting left 350
police injured. On May 7th, a 50,000-strong protest march against the police
was transformed into a day-long battle through the narrow streets of the
Latin Quarter. Police tear gas was answered by molotov cocktails and the
chant "Long Live the Paris Commune!"
By May 10th, continuing massive demonstrations forced the Education
Minister to start negotiations. But in the streets, 60 barricades had
appeared and young workers were joining the students. The trade unions
condemned the police violence. Huge demonstrations throughout France
culminated on May 13th with one million people on the streets of Paris.
Faced with this massive protest, the police left the Latin Quarter.
Students seized the Sorbonne and created a mass assembly to spread the
struggle. Occupations soon spread to every French University. From the
Sorbonne came a flood of propaganda, leaflets, proclamations, telegrams,
and posters. Slogans such as "Everything is Possible," "Be Realistic,
Demand the Impossible," "Life without Dead Times," and "It is Forbidden to
Forbid" plastered the walls. "All Power to the Imagination" was on everyone's
lips. As Murray Bookchin pointed out, "the motive forces of revolution
today. . . are not simply scarcity and material need, but also *the
quality of everyday life,.. the attempt to gain control of one's own
destiny.*" [_Post-Scarcity Anarchism_, pp. 249-250]
On May 14th, the Sud-Aviation workers locked the management in its offices
and occupied their factory. They were followed by the Cleon-Renault,
Lockhead-Beauvais and Mucel-Orleans factories the next day. That night
the National Theatre in Paris was seized to become a permanent assembly
for mass debate. Next, France's largest factory, Renault-Billancourt, was
occupied. Often the decision to go on indefinite strike was taken by the
workers without consulting union officials. By May 17th, a hundred Paris
Factories were in the hands of their workers. The weekend of the 19th of
May saw 122 factories occupied. By May 20th, the strike and occupations
were general and involved six million people. Print workers said they did
not wish to leave a monopoly of media coverage to TV and radio, and agreed
to print newspapers as long as the press "carries out with objectivity the
role of providing information which is its duty." In some cases
print-workers insisted on changes in headlines or articles before they
would print the paper. This happened mostly with the right-wing papers
such as 'Le Figaro' or 'La Nation'.
With the Renault occupation, the Sorbonne occupiers immediately prepared
to join the Renault strikers, and led by anarchist black and red banners,
4,000 students headed for the occupied factory. The state, bosses,
unions and Communist Party were now faced with their greatest nightmare --
a worker-student alliance. Ten thousand police reservists were called up
and frantic union officials locked the factory gates. The Communist Party
urged their members to crush the revolt. They united with the government
and bosses to craft a series of reforms, but once they turned to the
factories they were jeered out of them by the workers.
The struggle itself and the activity to spread it was organised by
self-governing mass assemblies and co-ordinated by action committees. The
strikes were often run by assemblies as well. As Murray Bookchin argues,
the "hope [of the revolt] lay in the extension of self-management in all
its forms -- the general assemblies and their administrative forms, the
action committees, the factory strike committees -- to all areas of the
economy, indeed to all areas of life itself." [Ibid., pp. 251-252] Within
the assemblies, "a fever of life gripped millions, a rewaking of senses
that people never thought they possessed." [Ibid., p. 251] It was not a
workers' strike or a student strike. It was a *peoples'* strike that cut
across almost all class lines.
On May 24th, anarchists organised a demonstration. Thirty thousand
marched towards the Palace de la Bastille. The police had the Ministries
protected, using the usual devices of tear gas and batons, but the Bourse
(Stock Exchange) was left unprotected and a number of demonstrators set
fire to it.
It was at this stage that some left-wing groups lost their nerve. The
Trotskyist JCR turned people back into the Latin Quarter. Other groups
such as UNEF and Parti Socialiste Unife (United Socialist Party) blocked
the taking of the Ministries of Finance and Justice. Cohn-Bendit said of
this incident "As for us, we failed to realise how easy it would have
been to sweep all these nobodies away. . . .It is now clear that if, on 25
May, Paris had woken to find the most important Ministries occupied,
Gaullism would have caved in at once. . . . " Cohn-Bendit was forced into
exile later that very night.
As the street demonstrations grew and occupations continued, the state
prepared to use overwhelming means to stop the revolt. Secretly, top
generals readied 20,000 loyal troops for use on Paris. Police occupied
communications centres like TV stations and Post Offices. By Monday, May
27th, the Government had guaranteed an increase of 35% in the industrial
minimum wage and an all round-wage increase of 10%. The leaders of the
CGT organised a march of 500,000 workers through the streets of Paris two
days later. Paris was covered in posters calling for a 'Government of the
People.' Unfortunately the majority still thought in terms of changing
their rulers rather than taking control for themselves.
By June 5th most of the strikes were over and an air of what passes for
normality within capitalism had rolled back over France. Any strikes
which continued after this date were crushed in a military-style operation
using armoured vehicles and guns. On June 7th, they made an assault on the
Flins steelworks which started a four-day running battle which left one
worker dead. Three days latter, Renault strikers were gunned down by
police, killing two. In isolation, those pockets of militancy stood no
chance. On June 12th, demonstrations were banned, radical groups
outlawed, and their members arrested. Under attack from all sides, with
escalating state violence and trade union sell-outs, the General Strike
and occupations crumbled.
So why did this revolt fail? Certainly not because "vanguard" Bolshevik
parties were missing. It was infested with them. Fortunately, the
traditional authoritarian left sects were isolated and outraged. Those
involved in the revolt did not require a vanguard to tell them what to do,
and the "workers' vanguards" frantically ran after the movement trying to
catch up with it and control it.
No, it was the lack of independent, self-managed confederal organisations
to co-ordinate struggle which resulted in occupations being isolated from
each other. So divided, they fell. In addition, Murray Bookchin argues
that "an awareness among the workers that the factories had to be
*worked,* not merely occupied or struck," was missing [Ibid., p. 269].
This awareness would have been encouraged by the existence of a strong
anarchist movement before the revolt. The anti-authoritarian left, though
very active, was too weak among striking workers, and so the idea of
self-managed organisations and workers self-management was not
widespread. However, the May-June revolt shows that events can change
very rapidly. The working class, fused by the energy and bravado of the
students, raised demands that could not be catered for within the confines
of the existing system. The General Strike displays with beautiful clarity
the potential power that lies in the hands of the working class. The mass
assemblies and occupations give an excellent, if short-lived, example of
anarchy in action and how anarchist ideas can quickly spread and be
applied in practice.