PDF version of Section G.
G.2 Why do individualist anarchists reject social anarchism?
As noted in the last section, the individualist anarchists considered themselves as anti-capitalists and many called themselves mutualists and socialists. It may be objected that they opposed the more obviously socialist types of anarchism like communist-anarchism and, as a consequence, should be considered as supporters of capitalism. This is not the case as can be seen from why they rejected communist-anarchism. The key thing to remember is that capitalism does not equal the market. So while the individualist anarchists advocated a market economy, it “is evident from their writings that they rejected both capitalism and communism — as did Proudhon.” [Brian Morris, “Global Anti-Capitalism”, pp. 170-6, Anarchist Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, p. 175]
It should noted that while Tucker came to excommunicate non-individualist forms of anarchism from the movement, his initial comments on the likes of Bakunin and Kropotkin were very favourable. He reprinted articles by Kropotkin from his paper La Revolte, for example, and discussed “the Anarchistic philosophy, as developed by the great Proudhon and actively propagated by the heroic Bakunin and his successors on both sides of the Atlantic.” [Liberty, no. 26, p. 3] After the rise of the IWPA in the early 1880s and the Haymarket police riot of 1886, Tucker changed his position. Now it was a case that the “Anarchistic social ideal” was “utterly inconsistent with that of those Communists who falsely call themselves Anarchists while at the same time advocating a regime of Archism fully as despotic as that of the State Socialists themselves.” For Tucker, real anarchists did not advocate, like communist anarchists, “forcible expropriation” nor “force as a revolutionary agent and authority as a safeguard of the new social order.” [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 88-9] As will become clear, Tucker’s summation of communist-anarchism leaves a lot to be desired. However, even after the break between individualist and communist anarchism in America, Tucker saw that both had things in common as both were socialists:
“To be sure, there is a certain and very sincere comradeship that must exist between all honest antagonists of the exploitation of labour, but the word comrade cannot gloss over the vital difference between so-called Communist-Anarchism and Anarchism proper.” [Liberty, no. 172, p. 1]
Social anarchists would agree with Tucker in part, namely the need not to gloss over vital differences between anarchist schools but most reject Tucker’s attempts to exclude other tendencies from “Anarchism proper.” Instead, they would agree with Kropotkin and, while disagreeing with certain aspects of the theory, refuse to excommunicate him from the anarchist movement. As we discuss in section G.2.5, few anarchists agreed with Tucker’s sectarianism at the time and communist-anarchism was, and remains, the dominant tendency within anarchism.
It is these disagreements to which we now turn. It should be stressed, though, that the individualist anarchists, while tending to excommunicate social anarchism, also had many inclusive moments and so it makes these objections often seem petty and silly. Yes, there was certainly pettiness involved and it worked both ways and there was a certain amount of tit-for-tat, just as there is now (although to a much lesser degree these days). Anarchist-communist opposition to what some of them sadly called “bourgeois anarchism” was a fact, as was individualist anarchist opposition to communist-anarchism. Yet this should not blind us to what both schools had in common. However, if it were not for some opponents of anarchism (particularly those seeking to confuse libertarian ideas with propertarian ones) dragging these (mostly resolved) disagreements back into the light of day this section would be a lot shorter. As it is, covering these disagreements and showing how they could be resolved is a useful task — if only to show how individualist and communist anarchism are not as alien as some make out.
There were four main objections made to communist-anarchism by the individualists. Firstly, that communist-anarchism was compulsory and any compulsory system could not be anarchist. Secondly, that a revolution would be imposing anarchism and so contradicted its principles. Thirdly, that distribution by need was based on altruism and, consequently, unlikely to succeed. Fourthly, that the communist-anarchists are determining how a free society would be organised which is authoritarian. Needless to say, communist-anarchists rejected these claims as being false and while we have already sketched these arguments, objections and replies in section A.3.1 it is worthwhile to repeat (and expand on) them here as these disagreements are sometimes highlighted by those who fail to stress what both schools have in common and, consequently, distort the debates and issues involved.
We will discuss these objections in the following sections.
Some individualist anarchists argued that communist-anarchists wanted to force everyone to be communists and, as such, this proved they were not anarchists. This objection is, ironically, both the most serious and the easiest to refute. As Tucker noted, “to eliminate the compulsory element from Communism is to remove, in the view of every man who values liberty above aught else, the chief objection to it.” [Liberty, no. 122, p. 5] For Henry Appleton, there was “a class of ranting enthusiasts who falsely call themselves Anarchists” who advocated both violence and “levelling”. “All Communism,” he asserted, “under whatever guise, is the natural enemy of Anarchism and a Communist sailing under the flag of Anarchism is as false a figure as could be invented.” Yet, ironically, A. H. Simpson disproved that particular claim for while attacking communism he ended by stating his “argument applies only to aggressive Communists” and that “[v]oluntary Communism can exist and, if successful, flourish under Anarchy.” So, apparently, some kinds of communism are compatible with anarchism after all! Victor Yarrows, likewise, pointed to “two different schools” of communists, those who support “voluntary Communism, which they intend to reach by the Anarchistic method” and those who “plot the forcible suppression of the entire system” of private property. Only the former was “voluntary or Anarchistic Communism.” [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 89-90, p. 94, p. 95 and p. 96]
This, it should be noted, is more than enough to disprove any claims that genuine anarchists cannot be communists.
So, the question is whether communist-anarchists are in favour of forcing people to be communists. If their communism is based on voluntary association then, according to the Individualist Anarchists themselves, it is a form of anarchism. Unsurprisingly, we discover that communist-anarchists have long argued that their communism was voluntary in nature and that working people who did not desire to be communists would be free not to be.
This position can be found in Kropotkin, from his earliest writings to his last. Thus we discover him arguing that an anarchist revolution “would take care not to touch the holding of the peasant who cultivates it himself . . . without wage labour. But we would expropriate all land that was not cultivated by the hands of those who at present possess the land.” This was compatible with communism because libertarian communists aimed at “the complete expropriation of all those who have the means of exploiting human beings; the return to the community of the nation of everything that in the hands of anyone can be used to exploit others.” Following Proudhon’s analysis, private property was different from individual possession and as long as “social wealth remains in the hands of the few who possess it today” there would be exploitation. Instead, the aim was to see such social wealth currently monopolised by the capitalist class “being placed, on the day of the revolution, at the free disposition of all the workers.” This would “create the situation where each person may live by working freely, without being forced to sell his work and his liberty to others.” [Words of a Rebel, p. 214, pp. 207-8, p. 207 and p. 208] If someone desired to work outside of the commune, then that was perfectly compatible with this aim.
This position was followed in later works. The “scope of Expropriation,” Kropotkin argued was clear and would only “apply to everything that enables any man — be he financier, mill-owner, or landlord — to appropriate the product of others’ toil.” Thus only those forms of property based on wage labour would be expropriated. In terms of housing, the same general rule applies (“the expropriation of dwellings contains the whole social revolution”). Kropotkin explicitly discusses the man who “by dint of privation has contrived to buy a house just large enough to hold his family. And we are going to deprive him of his hard-earned happiness, to turn him into the street! Certainly not . . . Let him work in his little garden, too.” Anarchist-communism “will make the lodger understand that he need not pay his former landlord any more rent. Stay where you are, but rent free.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 61, p. 95, pp. 95-6 and p. 96]
Which, incidentally, was exactly the same position as Tucker (see section G.1.2)and so Kropotkin’s analysis of the land monopoly was identical:
“when we see a peasant who is in possession of just the amount of land he can cultivate, we do not think it reasonable to turn him off his little farm. He exploits nobody, and nobody would have the right to interfere with his work. But if he possesses under the capitalist law more than he can cultivate himself, we consider that we must not give him the right of keeping that soil for himself, leaving it uncultivated when it might be cultivated by others, or of making others cultivate it for his benefit.” [Act for Yourselves, p. 104]
For Kropotkin, communism “must be the work of all, a natural growth, a product of the constructive genius of the great mass. Communism cannot be imposed from above; it could not live even for a few months if the constant and daily co-operation of all did not uphold it. It must be free.” [Anarchism, p. 140]
Malatesta agreed. Anarchism, he stressed, “cannot be imposed, both on moral grounds in regard to freedom, as well as because it is impossible to apply ‘willy nilly’ a regime of justice for all. It cannot be imposed on a minority by a majority. Neither can it be imposed by a majority on one or more minorities.” Thus “anarchists who call themselves communists” do so “not because they wish to impose their particular way of seeing things on others” but because “they are convinced, until proved wrong, that the more human beings are joined in brotherhood, and the more closely they co-operate in their efforts for the benefit of all concerned, the greater is the well-being and freedom which each can enjoy.” Imposed communism,” he stressed, “would be the most detestable tyranny that the human mind could conceive. And free and voluntary communism is ironical if one has not the right and the possibility to live in a different regime, collectivist, mutualist, individualist — as one wishes, always on condition that there is no oppression or exploitation of others.” He agreed with Tucker that “State communism, which is authoritarian and imposed, is the most hateful tyranny that has ever afflicted, tormented and handicapped mankind.” [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 21, p. 34, p. 103 and p. 34]
Therefore, arguing that the land and machinery should be common property does not preclude individuals possessing it independently of communes as both are rooted in individual possession (or “occupancy and use”) rather than private property. The key anarchist difference between property and possession explains any perceived contradiction in the communist position. Thus we find Kropotkin arguing that a communist-anarchist society is one “without having the soil, the machinery, the capital in short, in the hands of private owners. We all believe that free organisations of workers would be able to carry on production on the farm and on the factory, as well, and probably much better, than it is conducted now under the individual ownership of the capitalist.” The commune “shall take into possession of all the soil, the dwelling-houses, the manufactures, the mines and the means of communication.” [Act for Yourselves, p. 103 and p. 104]
This in no way contradicts his argument that the individuals will not be forced to join a commune. This is because the aim of anarchist-communism is, to quote another of Kropotkin’s works, 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] Thus individual ownership meant individual ownership of resources used by others rather than individual possession of resources which individuals used. This can be seen from his comment that “some poor fellow” who “has contrived to buy a house just large enough to hold his family” would not be expropriated by the commune (“by all means let him stay there”) while also asserting “[w]ho, then, can appropriate for himself the tiniest plot of ground in such a city, without committing a flagrant injustice?” [Conquest of Bread, p. 90]
Kropotkin’s opposition to private appropriation of land can only be understood in context, namely from his discussion on the “abolition of rent” and the need for “free dwellings”, i.e. the end of landlordism. Kropotkin accepted that land could and would be occupied for personal use — after all, people need a place to live! In this he followed Proudhon, who also argued that “Land cannot be appropriated” (Chapter 3, part 1 of What is Property?). For the French anarchist, the land “is limited in amount” and so “it ought not to be appropriated” (“let any living man dare change his right of territorial possession into the right of property, and I will declare war upon him, and wage it to the death!”). This meant that “the land is indispensable to our existence, — consequently a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation.” Overall, “labour has no inherent power to appropriate natural wealth.” [What is Property?, p. 106, p. 107 and p. 116] Proudhon, it is well known, supported the use of land (and other resources) for personal use. How, then, can he argue that the “land cannot be appropriated”? Is Proudhon subject to the same contradiction as Kropotkin? Of course not, once we take into account the fundamental difference between private property and possession, appropriation and use which underlies both individualist and communist anarchism. As Malatesta argued:
“Communism is a free agreement: who doesn’t accept it or maintain it remains outside of it . . . Everyone has the right to land, to the instruments of production and all the advantages that human beings can enjoy in the state of civilisation that humanity has reached. If someone does not want to accept a communist life and the obligations that it supposes, it is their business. They and those of a like mind will come to an agreement . . . [They] will have the same rights as the communists over the natural wealth and accumulated products of previous generations . . . I have always spoken of free agreement, of free communism. How can there be liberty without a possible alternative?” [our emphasis, At the café, pp. 69-70]
Compare this to individualist anarchist Stephen Byington’s comment that “[t]hose who wish to unite in the communistic enjoyment of their labour will be free to do so; those who wish to hold the products of their labour as private property will be equally free to do so.” [quoted by Wm. Gary Kline, The Individualist Anarchists: A Critique of Liberalism, p. 93] The similarities are as obvious as between Proudhon’s and Kropotkin’s arguments.
The same, it must be stressed, can be said of the “Chicago Anarchists” whom Tucker labelled as authoritarians. Thus we find Albert Parsons, for example, denouncing that kind of private property which allows exploitation to happen. The key problem was that “the necessary means for the existence of all has been appropriated and monopolised by a few. The land, the implements of production and communication, the resources of life, are now held as private property, and its owners exact tribute from the propertyless” (“Wealth is power”). The aim of communist-anarchism was to ensure the “[f]ree access to the means of production [which] is the natural right of every man able and willing to work.” This implied that “[a]ll organisation will be voluntary with the sacred right forever reserved for each individual ‘to think and to rebel.'” This meant that as far as the “final outcome” of social change was involved “many disciples of anarchism believe [it] will be communism — the common possession of the resources of life and the productions of united labour. No anarchist is compromised by this statement, who does not reason out the future outlook in this way.” [Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, p. 97, p. 99, p. 96 ,p. 174 and pp. 174-5] This did not exclude mutualism or individualist anarchism:
“Many expedients will be tried by which a just return may be awarded the worker for his exertions. The time check or labour certificate, which will be honoured at the store-houses hour for hour, will no doubt have its day. But the elaborate and complicated system of book-keeping this would necessitate, the impossibility of balancing one man’s hour against another’s with accuracy, and the difficulty in determining how much more one man owed natural resources, condition, and the studies and achievements of past generations, than did another, would, we believe, prevent this system from obtaining a thorough and permanent establishment. The mutual banking system . . . may be in operation in the future free society. Another system, more simple . . . appears the most acceptable and likely to prevail. Members of the groups . . . if honest producers . . . will be honoured in any other group they may visit, and given whatever is necessary for their welfare and comfort.” [Op. Cit., p. 175]
As we discuss in section G.4, this was the same conclusion that Voltairine de Cleyre reached three decades later. This was rooted in a similar analysis of property as Proudhon and Tucker, namely “possession” or “occupancy and use”: “The workshops will drop into the hands of the workers, the mines will fall to the miners, and the land and all other things will be controlled by those who posses and use them. There will be, there can then be no title to anything aside from its possession and use.” The likes of Parsons supported communism was not because of an opposition between “communism” and “occupancy and use” but rather, like Kropotkin, because of “the utter impossibility of awarding to each an exact return for the amount of labour performed will render absolute communism a necessity sooner or later.” [Op. Cit., p. 105 and p. 176] So while capitalism “expropriates the masses for the benefit of the privileged class . . . socialism teaches how all may possess property . . . [and] establish a universal system of co-operation, and to render accessible to each and every member of the human family the achievements and benefits of civilisation which, under capitalism, are being monopolised by a privileged class.” [August Spies, contained in Parsons, Op. Cit., pp. 63-4]
All of which indicates that Tucker did not really understand communist-anarchism when he argued that communism is “the force which compels the labourer to pool his product with the products of all and forbids him to sell his labour or his products.” [Instead of a Book, p. 400] Rather, communist-anarchists argue that communism must be free and voluntary. In other words, a communist-anarchist society would not “forbid” anything as those who are part of it must be in favour of communism for it to work. The option of remaining outside the communist-anarchist society is there, as (to requote Kropotkin) expropriation would “apply to everything that enables any man [or woman] . . . to appropriate the product of others’ toil.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 61] Thus communist-anarchism would “forbid” exactly what Individualist Anarchism would “forbid” — property, not possession (i.e. any form of “ownership” not based on “occupancy and use”).
Tucker, at times, admits that this is the case. For example, he once noted that “Kropotkin says, it is true, that he would allow the individual access to the land; but he proposes to strip him of capital entirely, and as he declares a few pages further on that without capital agriculture is impossible, it follows that such access is an empty privilege not at all equivalent to the liberty of individual production.” [quoted by George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, The Anarchist Prince, p. 279] However, as two biographers of Kropotkin note, Tucker “partly misinterprets his opponent, as when he suggests that the latter’s idea of communist anarchism would prevent the individual from working on his own if he wished (a fact which Kropotkin always explicitly denied, since the basis of his theory was the voluntary principle).” [Woodcock and Avakumovic, Op. Cit., p. 280] To quote Kropotkin himself:
“when we see a Sheffield cutler, or a Leeds clothier working with their own tools or handloom, we see no use in taking the tools or the handloom to give to another worker. The clothier or cutler exploit nobody. But when we see a factory whose owners claim to keep to themselves the instruments of labour used by 1,400 girls, and consequently exact from the labour of these girls . . . profit . . . we consider that the people . . . are fully entitled to take possession of that factory and to let the girls produce . . . for themselves and the rest of the community . . . and take what they need of house room, food and clothing in return.” [Act for Yourselves, p. 105]
So Kropotkin argued that a communist-anarchist revolution would not expropriate the tools of self-employed workers who exploited no-one. Malatesta also argued that in an anarchist society “the peasant [is free] to cultivate his piece of land, alone if he wishes; free is the shoe maker to remain at his last or the blacksmith in his small forge.” Thus these two very famous communist-anarchists also supported “property” but they are recognised as obviously socialists. This apparent contradiction is resolved when it is understood that for communist-anarchists (like all anarchists) the abolition of property does not mean the end of possession and so “would not harm the independent worker whose real title is possession and the work done” unlike capitalist property. [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 103] Compare this with Yarros’ comment that “[s]mall owners would not suffer from the application of the ‘personal use’ principle, while large owners, who have come into possession of the landed property, or the capital with which they purchased the landed property, by means that equal liberty could not sanction, would have no principle to base any protest on.” [Liberty, no. 197, p. 2] In other words, all anarchists (as we argue in section B.3) oppose private property but support possession (we return to this issue in section I.6.2 as it is an all too common fallacy).
Having shown that communist-anarchist is a valid form of anarchism even in terms of individualist anarchism in the last section, it is now necessary to discuss the issue of methods, i.e., the question of revolution and violence. This is related to the first objection, with Tucker arguing that “their Communism is another State, while my voluntary cooperation is not a State at all. It is a very easy matter to tell who is an Anarchist and who is not. Do you believe in any form of imposition upon the human will by force?” [Liberty, no. 94, p. 4] However, Tucker was well aware that the state imposed its will on others by force and so the question was whether revolution was the right means of ending its oppression.
To a large degree, discussion on the question of revolution was clouded by the fact it took place during the height of the “propaganda by the deed” period in anarchist history (see section A.2.18). As George Woodcock noted, a “cult of violence . . . marked and marred” the IWPA and alienated the individualist anarchists. [Anarchism, p. 393] Johann Most was the focus for much of this rhetoric (see Paul Avrich’s The Haymarket Tragedy, particularly the chapter entitled “Cult of Dynamite”). However, the reason why talk of dynamite found an audience had nothing to do with anarchism but rather because of the violence regularly directed against striking workers and unions. As we discuss more fully in section G.3.1, strikes were habitually repressed by violence (by the state or by the employer’s private police). The massive 1877 strike wave, for example, saw the Chicago Times urge the use of hand grenades against strikers while employers organised “private guards and bands of uniformed vigilantes” which “roamed the streets, attacking and dispersing groups of workers. Business leaders concluded that “the chief lesson of the strike as the need for a stronger apparatus of repression” and presented the city of Chicago with two Gatling guns to aid that task. “The erection of government armouries in the centres of American cities dates from this period.” This repression and the vitriolic ruling class rhetoric used “set a pattern for the future and fuelled the hatreds and passions without which the Haymarket tragedy would not have occurred.” [Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, p. 33 and p. 35]
Given this general infatuation with dynamite and violence which this state and employer violence provoked, the possibility for misunderstanding was more than likely (as well as giving the enemies of anarchism ample evidence to demonise it while allowing the violence of the system they support to be downplayed). Rather than seeing communist-anarchists as thinking a revolution was the product of mass struggle, it was easy to assume that by revolution they meant acts of violence or terrorism conducted by a few anarchists on behalf of everyone else (this false perspective is one which Marxists to this day tend to repeat when dismissing anarchism). In such a situation, it is easy to see why so many individualist anarchists thought that a small group of anarchists sought to impose communism by means of violence. However, this was not the case. According to Albert Parsons, the communist-anarchists argued that the working class “will be driven to use [force] in self-defence, in self-preservation against those who are degrading, enslaving and destroying them.” Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, p. 46] As August Spies put it, “[t]o charge us with an attempt to overthrow the present system on or about May 4th, and then establish anarchy, is too absurd a statement, I think, even for a political office-holder to make . . . Only mad men could have planned such a brilliant scheme.” Rather, “we have predicted from the lessons history teaches, that the ruling classes of to-day would no more listen to the voice of reason than their predecessors; that they would attempt by brute force to stay the wheel of progress.” [contained in Parsons, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, p. 55] Subsequent events have proven that Spies and Parsons had a point!
Thus arguments about violence should not result in the assumption that the individualist anarchists were pacifists as the subject usually is not violence as such but rather assassinations and attempts of minorities to use violence to create “anarchy” by destroying the state on behalf of the general population. “To brand the policy of terrorism and assassination as immoral is ridiculously weak,” argued Tucker. “Liberty does not assume to set any limit on the right of an invaded individual to choose his own methods of defence. The invader, whether an individual or a government forfeits all claim to consideration from the invaded. This truth is independent of the character of the invasion.” This meant that the “right to resist oppression by violence is beyond doubt. But its exercise would be unwise unless the suppression of free thought, free speech, and a free press were enforced so stringently that all other means of throwing it off had become hopeless.” Ultimately, though, the “days of armed revolution have gone by. It is too easily put down.” [Instead of a Book, p. 430, p. 439 and p. 440]
Except for a small group of hard-core insurrectionists, few social anarchists think that violence should be the first recourse in social struggle. The ultra-revolutionary rhetoric associated with the 1883-6 period is not feature of the anarchist movement in general and so lessons have been learned. As far as strategy goes, the tactics advocated by social anarchists involve the same ones that individualist anarchists support, namely refusal of obedience to all forms of authority. This would include workplace, rent and tax strikes, occupations, protests and such like. Violence has always been seen as the last option, to be used only in self-defence (or, sometimes, in revenge for greater acts of violence by oppressors). The problem is that any effective protest will result in the protesters coming into conflict with either the state or property owners. For example, a rent strike will see the agents of the property owner trying to evict tenants, as would a workers strike which occupied the workplace. Similarly, in the Seattle protests in 1999 the police used force against the non-violent protesters blocking the roads long before the Black Bloc started breaking windows (which is, in itself, non-violent as it was directed against corporate property, not people — unlike the police action). Unless the rebels simply did what they were told, then any non-violent protest could become violent — but only because private property ultimately rests on state violence, a fact which becomes obvious when people refuse to acknowledge it and its privileges (“There is only one law for the poor, to wit: Obey the rich.” [Parsons, Op. Cit., p. 97]). Thus Adolph Fischer, one of the Haymarket Martyrs:
“Would a peaceful solution of the social question be possible, the anarchists would be the first ones to rejoice over it.
“But is it not a fact that on occasion of almost every strike the minions of the institutions of private property — militia, police, deputy sheriffs; yes, even federal troops — are being called to the scenes of conflict between capital and labour, in order to protect the interests of capital? . . . What peaceful means should the toilers employ? There is, for example, the strike? If the ruling classes want to enforce the ‘law’ they can have every striker arrested and punished for ‘intimidation’ and conspiracy. A strike can only be successful if the striking workingmen prevent their places being occupied by others. But this prevention is a crime in the eyes of the law. Boycott? In several states the ‘courts of justice’ have decided that the boycott is a violation of the law, and in consequence thereof, a number of boycotts have had the pleasure of examining the inner construction of penitentiaries ‘for ‘conspiracy’ against the interests of capital.” [The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, pp. 85-6]
Some individualist anarchists did agree with this position. Dyer Lum, for example, “supported revolutionary violence on practical and historical grounds. Practically speaking, Lum did not believe that ‘wage slavery’ could be ended by non-violence because capitalists would surely use force to resist.” [Frank H. Brooks, “Ideology, Strategy, and Organization: Dyer Lum and the American Anarchist Movement”, pp. 57-83, Labor History, vol. 34, No. 1, p. 71] Spooner’s rhetoric could be as violent sounding as Johann Most at his worse and he called upon the subjects of the British Empire to rise in revolt (see his pamphlet Revolution). Equally, many social anarchists are pacifists or believe that anarchism can come about by means of reform and not revolution. Thus the reform/revolution divide does not quite equal the individualist/social anarchist divide, although it is fair to say that most individualist anarchists were and are reformists.
So, it must be stressed that most individualist anarchists did not oppose revolution as such. Rather they considered it as both unlikely to succeed and unnecessary. They rejected revolutionary expropriation “not because we deem such expropriation unjust, invasive, criminal, but solely because we are we are convinced that there is a better, safer, and wiser way for labour to pursue with a view to emancipation.” With mutual banks, they argued, it became possible “for labour to gradually lift itself into the position to command its full share of wealth, and absorb in the shape of wages all that is now alienated from it in the forms of profit, interest proper, and monopoly rent.” [Yarrows, Liberty, no. 171, p. 5] As such, their aims were the same as communist-anarchism (namely to end exploitation of labour and the abolition of the state) but their means were different. Both, however, were well aware that the capitalism could not be ended by political action (i.e., voting). “That the privileged class”, argued William Bailie “will submit to expropriation, even if demanded at the ballot-box, is a delusion possible only to him who knows not the actual situation confronting the people of this country.” [“The Rule of the Monopolists”, Liberty, no. 368, p. 4]
However, there was one area of life that was excluded from their opposition to expropriation: the land. As Yarros put it, “the Anarchists’ position on the land question, which involves the dispossession of present landlords and the entire abolition of the existing system of land tenure . . . They wish to expropriate the landlords, and allow the landless to settle on land which does not now belong to them.” This “[o]ne exception . . . we are compelled to make” involved “believ[ing] that the landless will, individually and for the purpose of occupying ownership, take possession of the land not personally occupied and used by landlord, and will protect each other in the possession of such lands against any power hostile to them.” [Op. Cit., no. 171, p. 4 and p. 5]
Yet as subsequent history has shown, landlords are just as likely to organise and support violent counter-revolutionary movements in the face of land reform as are industrial capitalists. Both sections of the capitalist class supported fascists like Mussolini, Franco and Pinochet in the face of even moderate attempts at expropriation by either reformist governments or the peasants themselves. So as the history of land reform shows, landlords are more than willing to turn to death squads and fascism to resist it. To suggest that squatting land would provoke less capitalist violence than, say, expropriating workplaces simply cannot be supported in the light of 20th century history. The choice, then, is simply to allow the landlords and capitalists to keep their property and try to but it back from them or use political or revolutionary means to expropriate them. Communist-anarchists thought that the mutual banks would not work and so supported expropriation by means of a mass revolt, a social revolution.
As such, communist-anarchists are not revolutionaries by choice but rather because they do not think capitalism can be reformed away nor that the ruling class will freely see their power, property and privileges taken from them. They reject the mutualist and individualist anarchist suggestion that mutual banks could provide enough credit to compete capitalism away and, even if it could, the state would simply outlaw it. This perspective does not imply, as many enemies of anarchist suggest, that social anarchists always seek to use violence but rather that we are aware that the state and capitalists will use violence against any effective protest. So, the methods social anarchists urge — strikes, occupations, protests, and so forth — are all inherently non-violent but resistance by the state and capitalist class to these acts of rebellion often results in violence (which is dutifully reported as violence by the rebels, not the powerful, in the media). That the capitalist class will use violence and force to maintain its position “is demonstrated in every strike which threatens their power; by every lock-out, by every discharge; by every black-list.” [Parsons, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, p. 105] Ultimately, the workings of capitalism itself provokes resistance to it. Even if no anarchist participated in, or help organise, strikes and protests they would occur anyway and the state would inevitably intervene to defend “law and order” and “private property” — as the history of every class system proves. So communist-anarchism does not produce the class war, the class war produces communist-anarchism.
In addition, Tucker thought that a violent revolution would not succeed for without an awareness of anarchist ideals in the general public, the old system would soon return. “If government should be abruptly and entirely abolished tomorrow,” he argued, “there would probably ensue a series of physical conflicts about land and many other things, ending in reaction and a revival of the old tyranny.” [Instead of a Book, p. 329] Almost all revolutionary anarchists would agree with his analysis (see section A.2.16). Such anarchists have always seen revolution as the end of a long process of self-liberation and self-education through struggle. All anarchists reject the idea that all that was required was to eliminate the government, by whatever means, and the world would be made right. Rather, we have seen anarchism as a social movement which, like anarchy itself, requires the participation of the vast majority to be viable. Hence anarchist support for unions and strikes, for example, as a means of creating more awareness of anarchism and its solutions to the social question (see section J.1). This means that communist-anarchists do not see revolution as imposing anarchism, but rather as an act of self-liberation by a people sick of being ruled by others and act to free themselves of tyranny.
So, in summary, in terms of tactics there is significant overlap between the strategies advocated by both social and individualist anarchists. The key difference is that the former do not think that the latter’s mutual banks make expropriation unnecessary while the individualist anarchists think that expropriation of capital would provoke the state into attacking and it would be unlikely that the rebels would win. Both, however, can agree that violence should only be used in self-defence and that for most of the time it is not required as other forms of resistance are far more effective.
Then there is the desirability of communism as such. A. H. Simpson argued that “Anarchism is egoism; Communism is altruism” and altruism in any form will involve “the duty of the individual to sacrifice himself to God, the State, the community, the ’cause’ of anything, superstition that always makes for tyranny. This idea, whether under Theocracy or Communism, will result in the same thing — always authority.” He did, though, argue that in a free society people who “desire to have their individuality submerged in the crowd” would be free to set up their own communes. [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 92 and p. 94] This flows from Joshua Warren’s experiences on Robert Owen’s co-operative community New Harmony and the conclusions he drew from its collapse. Warren essentially began the individualist anarchist tradition by concluding that any sort of collective emphasis was bound to fail because it prevented people from sufficiently addressing individual concerns, since supposed collective concerns would inevitably take their place. The failure of these communities was rooted in a failure to understand the need for individual self-government. Thus, for Warren, it “seemed that the differences of opinion, tastes, and purposes increased just in proportion to the demand for conformity” and so it “appeared that it was nature’s own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us . . . Our ‘united interests’ were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances.” [quoted by George Woodcock, Anarchism, p. 390] Thus, property within the limits of occupancy and use, and within an economy dominated by the cost principle or some close equivalent, had to be a necessary protection for the individual from both the potential tyranny of the group (communism) and from inequalities in wealth (capitalism).
In return, communist-anarchists would agree. “Phalansteries, argued Kropotkin, “are repugnant to millions of human beings.” While most people feel “the necessity of meeting his [or her] fellows for the pursue of common work . . . it is not so for the hours of leisure” and such communities “do not take this into account.” Thus a commune system does not imply communal living (although such arrangements “can please some”). Rather it was a case of “isolated apartments . . . Isolation, alternating with time spent in society, is the normal desire of human nature.” [The Conquest of Bread, pp. 123-4] Kropotkin in his discussion on why intentional communities like that of Owen’s failed repeated many of Warren’s points and stressed that they were based on the authoritarian spirit and violated the need for individual liberty, isolation and diversity (see his Small Communal Experiments and Why They Fail). The aim of communist-anarchism is to create a communist society based on individual liberty and freely joined functional groups. It does not aim to burden individuals with communal issues beyond those required by said groupings. Thus self-managed communities involve managing only those affairs which truly rest in joint needs, with the interests of individuals and other groups only being discussed if they are harming others and other means of resolving disputes have failed. Whether this can actually happen, of course, will be discovered in a free society. If it did not, the communist-anarchists would be the first to seek alternative economic and social arrangements which guaranteed liberty.
It should also go without saying that no communist-anarchist sought a system by which individuals would have their personality destroyed. As Kropotkin stressed:
“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, god the king, and god the parliament, to give himself unto himself a god more terrible than any of the preceding — god the Community, or to abdicate upon its alter his independence, his will, his 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! Do not seek to modify society by imposing upon it an authority which shall make everything right; if you do you will fail . . . abolish the conditions which allow some to monopolise the fruit of labour of others.'” [The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution, pp. 14-5]
Of course, denying that communist-anarchists seek such a regime is not the same as saying that such a regime would not be created by accident. Unsurprisingly, communist-anarchists have spent some time arguing that their system would not be subject to such a degeneration as its members would be aware of the danger and act to stop it (see, for example, section I.5.6). The key to understanding communist-anarchism is to recognise that it is based on free access. It does not deny an individual (or even a group of individuals) the ability to work their own land or workplace, it simply denies them the ability to exclude others from it unless they agree to be their servant first. The sharing of the products of labour is considered as the means to reduce even more any authority in society as people can swap workplaces and communities with ease, without worrying about whether they can put food on their table or not.
Of course, there is slight irony to Simpson’s diatribe against communism in that it implicitly assumes that private property is not a god and that individuals should respect it regardless of how it impacts on them and their liberty. Would it not be altruism of the worse kind if working class people did not simply take the land and capital they need to survive rather than sell their labour and liberty to its owners? So why exclude private property (even in a modified form) from individualist anarchist scorn? As we argue in section G.6 this was Max Stirner’s position and, fundamentally, the communist-anarchist one too. Communist-anarchists oppose private property as it generates relationships of authority and these harm those subject to them and, as a consequence, they argue that it is in the self-interest of the individuals so oppressed to expropriate private property and share the whole world.
The issue of sharing and what it implied also caused some individualist anarchists to oppose it. Henry Appleton argued that “all communism rests upon an artificial attempt to level things, as against a social development resting upon untrammelled individual sovereignty.” The “true Anarchist . . . is opposed to all manner of artificial levelling machines. How pitiful the ignorance which accuses him of wanting to level everything, when the very integral thought of Anarchism is opposed to levelling!” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 89] However, as we have indicated in section A.2.5, all genuine anarchists, including communist-anarchists, are opposed to making or treating people as if they were identical. In fact, the goal of communist-anarchism has always been to ensure and protect the natural diversity of individuals by creating social conditions in which individuality can flourish. The fundamental principle of communism is the maxim “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” There is nothing there about “levelling” or (which amounts to the same thing), “equality of outcome.” To make an obvious point: “If one person need medical treatment and another is more fortunate, they are not to be granted an equal amount of medical care, and the same is true of other human needs. Hence Chomsky talks of the “authentic left” who recognise that individuals “will differ in their aspirations, their abilities, and their personal goals” and seek a society which allows that diversity to fully flourish. [The Chomsky Reader, p. 191 and p. 192] In the words of Rudolf Rocker:
“a far greater degree of economic equality . . . would . . . be no guarantee against political and social oppression. Economic equality alone is not social liberation. It is just this which Marxism and all the other schools of authoritarian Socialism have never understood. Even in prison, in the cloister, or in the barracks one finds a fairly high degree of economic equality, as all the inmates are provided with the same dwelling, the same food, the same uniform, and the same tasks . . . [this was] the vilest despotism . . . the human being was merely the automation of a higher will, on whose decisions he had not the slightest influence. It was not without reason that Proudhon saw in a ‘Socialism’ without freedom the worst form of slavery. The urge for social justice can only develop properly and be effective, when it grows out of man’s sense of personal freedom and is based on that. In other words Socialism will be free, or it will not be at all. In its recognition of this lies the genuine and profound justification for the existence of Anarchism.” [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 14]
Therefore, 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. [Op. Cit., p. 11] As Kropotkin stressed, anarchists recognise that there are two types of communism, libertarian and authoritarian and “our communism, is not that of the authoritarian school: it is anarchist communism, communism without government, free communism. It is a synthesis of the two chief aims pursued by humanity since the dawn of its history — economic freedom and political freedom.” It is based on “everybody, contributing for the common well-being to the full extent of his [or her] capacities . . . enjoy[ing] also from the common stock of society to the fullest possible extent of his [or her] needs.” Thus it is rooted in individual tastes and diversity, on “putting the wants of the individual above the valuation of the services he [or she] has rendered, or might render, to society.” Thus communism was “the best basis for individual development and freedom” and so “the full expansion of man’s faculties, the superior development of what is original in him, the greatest fruitfulness of intelligences, feeling and will.” It would ensure the “most powerful development of individuality, of individual originality.” The “most powerful development of individuality, of individual originality . . . can only be produced when the first needs of food and shelter are satisfied” and this was why “communism and anarchism” are “a necessary complement to one another.” [Anarchism, p. 61, p. 59, p. 60 and p. 141]
So, communist-anarchists would actually agree with individualist anarchists like Simpson and oppose any notion of “levelling” (artificial or otherwise). The aim of libertarian communism is to increase diversity and individuality, not to end it by imposing an abstract equality of outcome or of consumption that would utter ignore individual tastes or preferences. Given that communist-anarchists like Kropotkin and Malatesta continually stressed this aspect of their ideas, Simpson was simply confusing libertarian and authoritarian forms of communism for polemical effect rather than presenting a true account of the issues at hand.
A firmer critique of communist-anarchism can be found when Tucker argued that “Kropotkinian anarchism means the liberty to eat, but not to cook; to drink, but not to brew; to wear, but not to spin; to dwell, but not to build; to give, but not to sell or buy; to think, but not to print; to speak, but not to hire a hall; to dance, but not to pay the fiddler.” [quoted by George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, Op. Cit., p. 279] Yet even this contains a distortion, as it is clear that communist-anarchism is based on the assumption that members of a communist society would have to contribute (if physically able, of course) to the common resources in order to gain access to them. The notion that Kropotkin thought that a communist society would only take into account “to each according to their needs” while ignoring “from each according to their abilities” seems hard to square with his published arguments. While it is true that individual contributions would not be exactly determined, it is false to suggest that communist-anarchism ignores the obvious truism that in order to consume you first need to produce. Simply put, if someone seeks to live off the work of others in a free society those within it would be asked to leave and provide for themselves. By their actions, they have shown that they do not want to live in a communist commune and those who do wish to live as communists would feel no particular need to provide for those who do not (see section I.4.14).
This can be seen when Tucker quoted Freedom saying that “in the transitional revolutionary period communities and individuals may be obliged in self-defence to make it their rule that ‘He who will not work neither shall he eat.’ It is not always possible for us to act up to our principles and . . . expediency may force us to confine our Communism to those who are willing to be our brothers and equals.” Somewhat incredibly, Tucker stated “I am not quite clear as to the meaning of this, and would ask to be enlightened on the question whether those objectionable individuals are to be let alone to live in their own way, or whether the State Socialistic plan would be pursued in dealing with them.” [Liberty, no. 149, p. 1] Clearly, his anti-communism got in the way of any attempt to build bridges or acknowledge that communist-anarchists had no desire (as noted above) to force people to be communists nor to have the “communism” of those unwilling (rather than unable) to contribute imposed on them!
The other differences are not as major. Some individualist anarchists took umbrage because the communist-anarchists predicted that an anarchist society would take a communal form, so prescribing the future development of a free society in potentially authoritarian ways. As James Martin summarised, it was Tucker’s “belief that ‘in all subsequent social co-operation no manner of organisation or combination whatsoever shall be binding upon any individual without his consent,’ and to decide in advance upon a communal structure violated this maxim from the start.” [Men Against the State, p. 222] Others took umbrage because the communist-anarchists refused to spell out in sufficient detail exactly how their vision would work.
Communist-anarchists reply in four main ways. Firstly, the individualist anarchists themselves predicted roughly how they thought a free society would look and function, namely one on individual ownership of production based around mutual banks. Secondly, communist-anarchists presented any vision as one which was consistent with libertarian principles, i.e., their suggestions for a free society was based on thinking about the implication of anarchist principles in real life. There seemed little point in advocating anarchism if any future society would be marked by authority. To not discuss how a free society could work would result in authoritarian solutions being imposed (see section I.2.1). Thirdly, they were at pains to link the institutions of a free society to those already being generated within capitalism but in opposition to its hierarchical nature (see section I.2.3). Fourthly, presenting more than a sketch would be authoritarian as it is up to a free people to create their own society and solve their problems themselves (see section I.2).
Clearly, A. H. Simpson was wrong when he asserted that communist-anarchists argued thusly: “Abolish private property by instituting compulsory Communism, and the State will go.” No communist-anarchist has ever argued for compulsory communism. Somewhat ironically, Simpson went on to argue that “difference between Communism and Anarchy is plainly observable in their methods. Abolish the State . . . that bulwark of the robber system . . . says the Anarchist. Abolish private property, the source of all evil and injustice, parent of the State, says the Communist.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 92] Yet communist-anarchists do not subscribe to the position of abolishing private property first, then the state. As we note when refuting the opposite assertion by Marxists in section H.2.4, anarchists like Kropotkin and Malatesta followed Bakunin in arguing that both needed to be abolished at the same time. Kropotkin, for example, did not divide economic and political issues, for him it was a case of “the political and economic principles of Anarchism.” [Anarchism, p. 159]
This unity of economic and political aspects of anarchism exists within Individualist Anarchism too, but it is hidden by the unfortunately tendency of its supporters of discussing certain forms of private property as state enforced monopolies. So to a large degree many of the disagreements between the two schools of anarchism were rooted in semantics. Thus we find William Bailie arguing that the anarchist-communist “assumption that rent and interest are due to private property is not proven” as “both rent and interest are the result of monopoly, of restricted individual liberty.” [Liberty, no. 261, p. 1] In other words, rent is caused because the state enforces property rights which the individualist anarchists disagree with. Thus when individualist anarchists argue they seek to get rid of the state, they also mean the end of capitalist property rights (particularly in land). That this can lead to confusion is obvious as, in the usual sense of the word, rent is caused by private property. The communists-anarchists, in contrast, generally used the term “private property” and “property” in the same way that Proudhon used it in 1840, namely property which allows its owner to exploit the labour of another. As such, they had no problem with those who laboured by themselves on their own property.
The lack of a market in communist-anarchism led some individualist anarchists like William Bailie to argue that it “ignores the necessity for any machinery to adjust economic activities to their ends.” Either its supporters “exalt a chaotic and unbalanced condition” or they will produce an “insufferable hierarchy.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 116] Thus, to use modern terms, either communist-anarchists embrace central planning or their system simply cannot produce goods to meet demand with over-production of unwanted goods and under-production of desired ones. Needless to say, communist-anarchists argue that it is possible to bring the demand and production of goods into line without requiring centralised planning (which would be inefficient and a dire threat to individual freedom — Kropotkin’s arguments against state capitalism were proved right in Soviet Russia). It would require a system of horizontal links between self-managed workplaces and the transmission of appropriate information to make informed decisions (see section I for a discussion of some possibilities).
Another objection to communist-anarchism was raised by Proudhon during his debates with the state communists of his time who also raised the slogan “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” For Proudhon, wages in the sense of payment for labour would still exist in a anarchist society. This was because of two main reasons. Firstly, rewarding labour for its actual work done would be a great incentive in ensuring that it was efficiently done and meet the consumers requirements. Secondly, he considered communism as being potentially authoritarian in that society would determine what an individual should contribute and consume. As he put it:
“Who then shall determine the capacity? who shall be the judge of the needs?
“You say that my capacity is 100: I maintain that it is only 90. You add that my needs are 90: I affirm that they are 100. There is a difference between us of twenty upon needs and capacity. It is, in other words, the well-known debate between demand and supply. Who shall judge between the society and me?
“If the society persists, despite my protests, I resign from it, and that is all there is to it. The society comes to an end from lack of associates.
“If, having recourse to force, the society undertakes to compel me; if it demands from me sacrifice and devotion, I say to it: Hypocrite! you promised to deliver me from being plundered by capital and power; and now, in the name of equality and fraternity, in your turn, you plunder me. Formerly, in order to rob me, they exaggerated my capacity and minimised my needs. They said that products cost me so little, that I needed so little to live! You are doing the same thing. What difference is there then between fraternity and the wage system?” [The General Idea of the Revolution, pp. 96-7]
Yet even here Proudhon shows the libertarian communist solution to this possible problem, namely free association. If there were a conflict between individuals within a free commune in terms of their contributions and consumption then the individual is free to leave (and, conversely, the commune is free to expel an individual). Said individuals can seek another communist commune and join it or, conversely, work for themselves in their present location. Ultimately, free association means the freedom not to associate and libertarian communism is rooted in that truism. Thus, communist-anarchists would agree with the French anarchism when he “conclude[d] that a single association can never include all the workmen in one industry, nor all industrial corporations, nor, a fortiori, a nation of 36 millions of men; therefore that the principle of association does not offer the required solution.” [Op. Cit., p. 85] Like Proudhon, communist-anarchists base their anarchism on federations of associations and communes, with these federations and associations formed as and when they were required for joint activity. Thus the federation of communist communes and workplaces would play a similar role as Proudhon’s “agro-industrial federation,” namely to end “wage labour or economic servitude” and “to protect” against “capitalist and financial feudalism, both within them and from the outside” as well as ensuring “increasing equality” and the “application of application on the largest possible scale of the principles of mutualism” and “economic solidarity.” [The Principle of Federation, p. 70 and p. 71]
The key difference, of course, between Proudhon’s mutualism and Kropotkin’s communism was (as latter stressed) that the former supported payment for labour in terms of money or labour-cheques while the latter argued that this would be a modification of the wages system rather than its total abolition. Yet by divorcing payment for labour from its consumption, Proudhon argued that communism, like monopoly, made it difficult to determine exactly the costs involved in producing goods. The French anarchist argued that there was no way of knowing the real cost of anything produced outside the market. This could be seen from monopolies within capitalism:
“How much does the tobacco sold by the administration cost? How much is it worth? You can answer the first of these questions: you need only call at the first tobacco shop you see. But you can tell me nothing about the second, because you have no standard of comparison and are forbidden to verify by experiment the items of cost of administration…. Therefore the tobacco business, made into a monopoly, necessarily costs society more than it brings in; it is an industry which, instead of subsisting by its own product, lives by subsidies.” [System of Economical Contradictions, pp. 232-3]
Communist-anarchists reply by noting that the price of something is not independent of the degree of monopoly of an industry and so natural barriers to competition can skew prices. Equally, competition can be a race to the bottom and that competitors can undermine their own working conditions and enjoyment of life in order to gain an advantage (or, more often, simply survive) on the market. As we argue in section I.1.3, markets have a tendency to undermine equality and solidarity and, over time, erode the basis of a free society.
As an aside, Proudhon’s argument has obvious similarities with von Mises’ much later attack on communism which is usually called the “socialist calculation argument” (see section I.1.1). As discussed in section I.1.2, von Mises’ argument was question begging in the extreme and our critique of that applies equally to Proudhon’s claims. As such, communist-anarchists argue that market prices usually do not reflect the real costs (in terms of their effects on individuals, society and the planet’s ecology) — even those prices generated by non-capitalist markets. Moreover, due to Proudhon’s opposition to rent and interest, his own argument could be turned against mutualism and individualist anarchism as followers of von Mises have done. Without rent and interest, they argue, there is no way of identifying how much land or credit is worth and so resource use will be inefficient. Of course, this assumes that capitalist definitions of efficiency and “cost” are the only valid ones which is not the case. So, arguing that markets are required to correctly value goods and services is a two-edged sword, argue communist-anarchists.
One of the joys of Proudhon is that he provides material to critique both Kropotkin’s communist-anarchism and Tucker’s individualist anarchism for while opposed to communism he was equally opposed to wage labour, as we indicate in section G.4.2 (as such, those who quote Proudhon’s attacks on communism but fail to note his attacks on wage slavery are extremely dishonest). Under mutualism, there would not be wage labour. Rather than employers paying wages to workers, workers would form co-operatives and pay themselves a share of the income they collectively produced. As Robert Graham put it, “[t]hat both Tucker and Bakunin could claim Proudhon as their own illustrates the inherent ambiguity and elusiveness of his thought . . . With his death, that synthesis broke down into its conflicting parts.” [“Introduction”, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, The General idea of the Revolution, p. xxxi] Social anarchism emphasised the self-management, associational and federalist aspects of Proudhon’s ideas along with his critique of private property while individualist anarchism tended to stress his support for possession, “wages” (i.e., labour income), competition and markets.
No, far from it. Most anarchists in the late nineteenth century recognised communist-anarchism as a genuine form of anarchism and it quickly replaced collectivist anarchism as the dominant tendency.
So few anarchists found the individualist solution to the social question or the attempts of some of them to excommunicate social anarchism from the movement convincing. Across the world, including in America itself, communist anarchism became the bulk of the movement (social anarchism is the “mainstream of anarchist theory” and in the “historical anarchist movement” where anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism have been “predominating.” [John Clark, The Anarchist Moment, p. 143]). That is still the situation to this day, with individualist anarchism being a small part of the movement (again, it mostly exists in America and, to an even lesser degree, Britain). Moreover, with the notable exception of Johann Most, most leading communist-anarchists refused to respond in kind and recognised individualist anarchism as a form of anarchism (usually one suited to conditions in pre-industrial America). Kropotkin, for example, included Individualist Anarchism in his 1911 account of Anarchism for the Encyclopaedia Britannica as well as his pamphlet Modern Science and Anarchism.
It should also be stressed that not all individualist anarchists followed Tucker’s lead in refusing to call communist anarchism a form of anarchism. Joseph Labadie, Dyer Lum and Voltairine de Cleyre (when she was an individualist), for example, recognised the likes of Albert and Lucy Parsons, Kropotkin, Goldman and Berkman as fellow anarchists even if they disagreed with some of their methods and aspects of their preferred solution to the social problem. For Labadie, “[o]ne may want liberty to advance the interests of Communism, another to further the cause of individualism” and so nothing can “stand in the way of uniting with other Anarchists who believe in Communism to get more liberty” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 260 and p. 262] Today, few (if any) individualist anarchists try to excommunicate other anarchists from the movement, thankfully leaving the diatribes and sectarianism of a few individuals in the nineteenth century where they belong.
Suffice to say, an account of anarchism which excluded social anarchism would be a very short work indeed and, unsurprisingly, all serious accounts of anarchism concentrate on social anarchism, its thinkers and its organisations. Which, unfortunately, ensures that the diversity and richness of individualist anarchism is somewhat lost, as are its social roots and context (which, in turn, allows some academics to confuse individualist anarchism with “anarcho”-capitalism based on a superficial analysis of words like “property” and “markets”). This predominance of social anarchism is reflected in the movements journals.
While some of its admirers stress that Liberty was the longest lasting American anarchist paper, in fact a social anarchist paper has that claim to fame. Fraye Arbeter Shtime (The Free Voice of Labour) was a Yiddish language anarchist periodical which was first published in 1890 and lasted until 1977. This was followed by the Italian anarchist paper L’Adunata dei Refrattari which was published between 1922 and 1971. So when James Martin stated that Liberty was “the longest-lived of any radical periodical of economic or political nature in the nation’s history” in 1953 he was wrong. [Men Against the State, p. 208] In terms of the English language, the London based communist-anarchist journal Freedom has existed (in various forms) from 1886 and so beats any claim made for Liberty as being the longest lasting English language anarchist journal by several decades. The anarcho-syndicalist Black Flag, another British based journal, began publication in 1971 and was still being published over 30 years later. As far as the longest running US-based anarchist journal, that title now goes to the social anarchist magazine Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed which was founded in 1980 and is still going strong. This is, we stress, not to diminish Liberty and its achievement but simply to put it into the context of the wider movement and the fact that, outside of America, social anarchism is the anarchist movement (and even within America, social anarchism was and is the bulk of it).
In summary, then, while individualist anarchism opposed communist-anarchism much of this opposition was rooted in misunderstandings and, at times, outright distortion. Once these are corrected, it becomes clear that both schools of anarchism share significant ideas in common. This is unsurprisingly, given the impact of Proudhon on both of them as well as their common concerns on the social question and participation in the labour and other popular movements. As both are (libertarian) socialists inspired by many of the same intellectual and social influences, this should come as no surprise. That a few individualist and communist anarchists tried to deny those common influences should not blind us to them or the fact that both schools of anarchism are compatible.
Ultimately, though, anarchism should be wide enough and generous enough to include both communist and individualist anarchism. Attempts to excommunicate one or the other seem petty given how much each has in common and, moreover, given that both are compatible with each other as both are rooted in similar perspectives on possession, capitalist property rights and voluntary association. Once the differences in terminology are understood, the differences are not impossible to reconcile.