PDF version of Section A.
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 expresses it:
“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. 16]
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.” [Op. Cit., pp. 16]
This FAQ is part of the process of changing the commonly-held ideas regarding anarchism and the meaning of anarchy. But that is not all. As well as combating the distortions produced by the “common-sense” idea of “anarchy”, we also have to combat the distortions that anarchism and anarchists have been subjected to over the years by our political and social enemies. For, as Bartolomeo Vanzetti put it, anarchists are “the radical of the radical — the black cats, the terrors of many, of all the bigots, exploiters, charlatans, fakers and oppressors. Consequently we are also the more slandered, misrepresented, misunderstood and persecuted of all.” [Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti, p. 274]
Vanzetti knew what he was talking about. He and his comrade Nicola Sacco were framed by the US state for a crime they did not commit and were, effectively, electrocuted for being foreign anarchists in 1927. So this FAQ will have to spend some time correcting the slanders and distortions that anarchists have been subjected to by the capitalist media, politicians, ideologues and bosses (not to mention the distortions by our erstwhile fellow radicals like liberals and Marxists). Hopefully once we are finished you will understand why those in power have spent so much time attacking anarchism — it is the one idea which can effectively ensure liberty for all and end all systems based on a few having power over the many.
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.” [Anarchism, 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 summary:
“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,” pp. 35-41, 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, the politics of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them . . . What capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does to the spirit. This trinity of absolutism is as baneful in practice as it is in philosophy. The most effective means for oppressing the people would be simultaneously to enslave its body, its will and its reason.” [quoted by Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, pp. 43-44] Thus we find Emma Goldman opposing capitalism as it meant “that man [or woman] must sell his [or her] labour” and, therefore, “that his [or her] inclination and judgement are subordinated to the will of a master.” [Red Emma Speaks, p. 50] 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.” [Op. Cit., p. 158] For Malatesta, anarchism “was born in a moral revolt against social injustice” and that the “specific causes of social ills” could be found in “capitalistic property and the State.” When the oppressed “sought to overthrow both State and property — then it was that anarchism was born.” [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 19]
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 authorities. Such a society would be a true anarchy, a society without rulers.
While we discuss what an anarchy could look like in section I, Noam Chomsky sums up the key aspect when he stated that in a truly free society “any interaction among human beings that is more than personal — meaning that takes institutional forms of one kind or another — in community, or workplace, family, larger society, whatever it may be, should be under direct control of its participants. So that would mean workers’ councils in industry, popular democracy in communities, interaction between them, free associations in larger groups, up to organisation of international society.” [Anarchism Interview] Society would no longer be divided into a hierarchy of bosses and workers, governors and governed. Rather, an anarchist society would be based on free association in participatory organisations and run from the bottom up. Anarchists, it should be noted, try to create as much of this society today, in their organisations, struggles and activities, as they can.
To quote Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism is “the no-government system of socialism.” [Anarchism, 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,”, 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 by Eunice Schuster, Native American Anarchism, 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. As Voltairine de Cleyre summarised:
“Anarchism . . . teaches the possibility of a society in which the needs of life may be fully supplied for all, and in which the opportunities for complete development of mind and body shall be the heritage of all . . . [It] teaches that the present unjust organisation of the production and distribution of wealth must finally be completely destroyed, and replaced by a system which will insure to each the liberty to work, without first seeking a master to whom he [or she] must surrender a tithe of his [or her] product, which will guarantee his liberty of access to the sources and means of production. . . Out of the blindly submissive, it makes the discontented; out of the unconsciously dissatisfied, it makes the consciously dissatisfied . . . Anarchism seeks to arouse the consciousness of oppression, the desire for a better society, and a sense of the necessity for unceasing warfare against capitalism and the State.” [Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth, pp. 23-4]
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 (in his pre-anarchist days) 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.
However, it must be stressed that anarchism is more than just a means of analysis or a vision of a better society. It is also rooted in struggle, the struggle of the oppressed for their freedom. In other words, it provides a means of achieving a new system based on the needs of people, not power, and which places the planet before profit. To quote Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie:
“Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian . . . Anarchism began — and remains — a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.
“Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for the maximum accord between the individual, society and nature. Practically, it aims for us to organise and live our lives in such a way as to make politicians, governments, states and their officials superfluous. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.
“Anarchists are not dreamers obsessed with abstract principles and theoretical constructs . . . Anarchists are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle lasts forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be . . .
“Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice. In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakeable faith, it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.
“Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels of both individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.” [My Granny made me an Anarchist, pp. 162-3]
Anarchism, anarchists argue, is simply the theoretical expression of our capacity to organise ourselves and run society without bosses or politicians. It allows working class and other oppressed people to become conscious of our power as a class, defend our immediate interests, and fight to revolutionise society as a whole. Only by doing this can we create a society fit for human beings to live in.
It is no abstract philosophy. Anarchist ideas are put into practice everyday. Wherever oppressed people stand up for their rights, take action to defend their freedom, practice solidarity and co-operation, fight against oppression, organise themselves without leaders and bosses, the spirit of anarchism lives. Anarchists simply seek to strengthen these libertarian tendencies and bring them to their full fruition. As we discuss in section J, anarchists apply their ideas in many ways within capitalism in order to change it for the better until such time as we get rid of it completely. Section I discusses what we aim to replace it with, i.e. what anarchism aims for.
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. As Vanzetti put it:
“After all we are socialists as the social-democrats, the socialists, the communists, and the I.W.W. are all Socialists. The difference — the fundamental one — between us and all the other is that they are authoritarian while we are libertarian; they believe in a State or Government of their own; we believe in no State or Government.” [Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, The Letters of Sacco and Vanzetti, p. 274]
But is this correct? Considering definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary, we find:
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 distributing goods.
(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. According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social in New York between 1858 and 1861 while the use of the term “libertarian communism” dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it. [Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, p. 75 and 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 whatever. As Rudolf Rocker noted, for anarchists, socialism is “not a simple question of a full belly, but a question of culture that would have to enlist the sense of personality and the free initiative of the individual; without freedom it would lead only to a dismal state capitalism which would sacrifice all individual thought and feeling to a fictitious collective interest.” [quoted by Colin Ward, “Introduction”, Rudolf Rocker, The London Years, p. 1]
Given the anarchist pedigree of the word “libertarian,” few anarchists are happy to see it stolen by an ideology which shares little with our ideas. In the United States, as Murray Bookchin noted, the “term ‘libertarian’ itself, to be sure, raises a problem, notably, the specious identification of an anti-authoritarian ideology with a straggling movement for ‘pure capitalism’ and ‘free trade.’ This movement never created the word: it appropriated it from the anarchist movement of the [nineteenth] century. And it should be recovered by those anti-authoritarians . . . who try to speak for dominated people as a whole, not for personal egotists who identify freedom with entrepreneurship and profit.” Thus anarchists in America should “restore in practice a tradition that has been denatured by” the free-market right. [The Modern Crisis, pp. 154-5] And as we do that, we will continue to call our ideas libertarian socialism.
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 p. 32 and 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” — better called “state capitalism” –, slavery and so on. We 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 (including, it should be stressed, those workplaces which supply services). 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 pp. 215-216]
Therefore all anarchists are anti-capitalist (“If labour owned the wealth it produced, there would be no capitalism” [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 44]). 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 will 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 ensuring 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 forth.
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):
“It 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 Labour Question]
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 issue:
“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.” [Marxism, Anarchism, and Alternative Futures, p. 779]
Anarchism developed in constant opposition to the ideas of Marxism, social democracy and Leninism. Long before Lenin rose to power, Mikhail 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, to which the Social-Democratic fraction of the great Socialist Party is now trying to reduce Socialism.” [Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, 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 discuss of why “anarcho”-capitalism is not anarchist see section F). >
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.” [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, Pierre-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:
“There were never theoreticians of Anarchism as such, though it produced a number of theoreticians who discussed aspects of its philosophy. Anarchism has remained a creed that has been worked out in action rather than as the putting into practice of an intellectual ideas. Very often, a bourgeois writer comes along and writes down what has already been worked out in practice by workers and peasants; he [or she] is attributed by 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 bourgeois leadership.” [Anarchism: Arguments for and against, p. 18]
In Kropotkin’s eyes, “Anarchism had its origins in the same creative, constructive activity of the masses which has worked out in times past all the social institutions of mankind — and in the revolts . . . against the representatives of force, external to these social institutions, who had laid their hands on these institutions and used them for their own advantage.” More recently, “Anarchy was brought forth by the same critical and revolutionary protest which gave birth to Socialism in general.” Anarchism, unlike other forms of socialism, “lifted its sacrilegious arm, not only against Capitalism, but also against these pillars of Capitalism: Law, Authority, and the State.” 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. 19 and 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. He 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.” [Anarchism, 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. Many 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.