views updated


Theory in Depth
Theory in Action
Analysis and Critical Response
Topics for Further Study
See Also


who controls government? No government, the people rule

how is government put into power? Not applicable

what roles do the people have? Keep informed; challenge any authority

who controls production of goods? The people

who controls distribution of goods? The people

major figures Emma Goldman; Mikhail Bukunin

historical example Anti–globalization movement of late 1990s

The political theory of anarchism revolves around the ideal of noncoercion. Born with the rise of the nation–states in the eighteenth century, anarchism has developed four major strains including muualism, anarcho–individualism, anarcho–socialism, and anarcho–communism. In the late twentieth century, anarchism has been adapted to the student, women's, and environmentalist movements, among others. Anarchism has spawned experimental communities, peaceful protest, violent rebellion, and a wide and varied literature dedicated to the achievement of human liberty.


Popular use of the term "anarchy" tends to portray an image of chaos, of bombs and fires and looting, of crisis overtaking order. Hollywood dystopias and fringe rock bands have played into this stereotype with glee. Although some anarchists desired political revolution over political reform, many advocated peace. Equating anarchy with chaos obscures a rich and serious tradition of political thought and the subtle variations that have evolved from it.

The ideas of anarchism began in the distant past. When Plato (428–348 B.C.) wrote his Republic in the fourth century B.C., he advocated a centralized government coordinating a communist society; his fellow Greek philosopher Zeno (c. 335–c. 263 B.C.), founder of the Stoa school, responded by championing a stateless society as the ideal way for humans to live together. The absence of government described by Zeno might be called one of the earliest articulations of anarchism. This theme found repetition among different peoples and eras for centuries.

A later precursor to anarchism developed after the English Civil War in the form of the Digger Movement. The founder of this dissenting group was Gerrard Winstanley (c. 1609–1660), an unorthodox Christian who identified God with reason. In his 1649 pamphlet Truth Lifting Up Its Head Above Scandals, Winstanley proposed principles for the Diggers, principles that later served as foundational assumptions for many anarchists. He noted the following: power corrupts, property hinders freedom, authority and property cause crime, and freedom requires the opportunity

for people to live without laws or rulers according to their own consciences. He and his followers also taught nonviolent activism. In 1649, they occupied an English hillside, created a communist community there, and offered passive resistance to local landlords. Although local opposition eventually crushed the movement and forced Winstanley into obscurity, the Diggers provided a direct antecedent to later anarchist thought and practice.

The term "anarchy" was not used to describe the nonexistence of governmental coercion until 1703, however, when the French traveler Louis Armand de Lahontan (1666–1715) in his book New Voyages in North America described Native American societies that functioned without a state apparatus. He noted that they lived without governments or codified laws: in other words, "in anarchy." Thus the modern sense of the term was born.


1793:      William Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice is published.

1840:      What Is Property? by Pierre–Joseph Proudhon appears.

1843:      Phalanx, New Jersey, becomes the first Fourierist experimental community.

1852:      Josiah Warren's Practical Details in Equitable Commerce appears.

1879:      Peter Kropotkin founds the journal Le Révolté in Switzerland.

1881:      Benjamin Tucker founds the newspaper Liberty, Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order.

1882:      Mikhail Bakunin's God and the State is published.

1923:      Emma Goldman's My Further Disillusionment with Russia appears.

1927:      Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are executed in the United States.

1973:      For A New Liberty by Murray Rothbard appears.

1982:      Murray Bookchin's Ecology of Freedom is completed.

William Godwin

Anarchism as a political theory and movement appeared in the late eighteenth century and paralleled the rise of nationalism tied to the era of great nation–states. The British philosopher and novelist William Godwin (1756–1836) offered the first systematic treatment of anarchist thought in his 1793 work An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. In this book he argued that humans were evolving toward increasing perfection, but institutions such as the government hindered individuals' use of reason. By removing such hindrances as the state, enlightened and educated people could live peacefully in small, cooperative communities and devote themselves to self–betterment. Godwin's work found resonance in the political theory community. It also influenced the literary establishment; Godwin's daughter by the feminist leader Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) was Mary Shelley (1797–1851), author of Frankenstein and wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822). Percy Shelley adopted Godwin's theme in his own work and gave anarchism an influential, poetic voice.

Godwin's concept of small, cooperative communities thriving in the absence of government control inspired French theorist Charles Fourier (1772–1837). Many of his concerns about the coercion, mechanization, dehumanization, and class schism of society previewed concerns later raised by critics of the Industrial Revolution. His belief in channeling humans' natural passions to achieve social harmony, and the practical means he suggested for achieving it, became known as Fourierism.


Unlike other collectivists of the era, who believed the state needed to own the means of production in the economy, Fourier called for anti–authoritarian socialism based on private property ownership and individual needs and desire. He simply wanted a well–ordered agricultural society, one based on cooperation and gender equality. Fourier devised with almost mathematical precision his plan for achieving harmony: the phalanx, an economic unit of 1,620 people who divided labor among themselves according to ability. He wrote and spoke about his blueprint for utopia, and followers and newspapers responded enthusiastically. Unfortunately, Fourier did not live to see his ideas applied in concrete settings. After his death in 1837, adherents such as Albert Brisbane (1809–1890) and Horace Greeley (1811–1872) transplanted Fourierism to the United States and in 1843 founded Phalanx, New Jersey, the first of almost thirty experimental communities based on Fourier's vision. Christian, but nonsectarian, these colonies organized themselves as cooperatives with equalized wages and supported themselves by the work of members and funds from non–resident stockholders. The communities encouraged traditional values such as monogamy and family, but also encouraged gender equality: several directors or presidents of Fourierist communities, in fact, were women.


William Godwin

The English William Godwin originally studied to be a minister but, after several years of practicing the profession, left his preaching due to religious doubts and set out to be a writer. During his day he was known as much for his personal life as for his political views. He was married to Mary Wollstonecraft, a political theorist in her own right, and also an early activist for women's rights. She died in childbirth in 1801; the child she bore grew up to be Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of the 1818 horror classic Frankenstein. The daughter Mary tested her father's liberal views when she fell in love and ran away with Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Romantic poet, who at the time was a married man. The couple was ostracized due to their scandalous behavior. After his wife's suicide, Shelley married Mary, however, and the scandal quieted. Shelley credited his father–in–law with opening his eyes to anarchism; in turn, Godwin's influence gained entrance into the world of poetry and literature.

Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) explored his belief that humans were rational creatures and, through reason, could live together in peace without the need for institutions such as the law and the state. He asserted that humans were perfectible, and any mistakes they made could be traced to mistaken beliefs. With proper information backing true beliefs, he continued, humans would better and eventually perfect themselves. He criticized the state and other coercive institutions for keeping citizens ignorant and thereby denying them the opportunity to become more than what they are. His novels such as Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), St. Leon (1799), and Fleetwood (1805) illustrated his political views and moral theory. Godwin died in London in 1836. His works remain the first comprehensive articulation of anarchism.

The best symbol of Fourierism was Brook Farm, an experimental community in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. The community began in 1841 as a Unitarian venture but converted to a Fourierist phalanx in 1844. Brook Farm gained international celebrity status thanks to its membership, which included some of the era's intellectual elite, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller (1810–1850), and Orestes Brownson (1803–1876). The Fourierist newspaper Harbinger began publication at Brook Farm as well. After the central building was destroyed by fire, the colony fell into economic hardship and eventually disbanded. Its fame lived on, however, in the works and lives of its former members. Though certainly not the only attempts to create utopia through experimental communities, Fourierism did represent one of the earliest and most successful attempts at implementing the kind of non–coercive framework Godwin advocated.

Pierre–Joseph Proudhon

After Godwin's theory and Fourier's practice, the next dramatic step in the story of anarchism appeared with the French journalist Pierre–Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865).

The Frenchman Proudhon was haunted by the spectre of poverty all of his life. Born to a poor family, Proudhon worked hard to obtain scholarships in order to continue his education, but eventually was forced to abandon them in order to work. His later life found him once again with little income or economic opportunities. His experience with financial hardship helped to form his view of property as an exploitative system. He first gained public recognition writing about the abuses inherent in the institution of property and his anarchist solutions to these inequalities in the 1840 work What Is Property? He followed this publication with many other works, the highlights among which are System of Economic Contradictions; or The Philosophy of Poverty (1846), General Idea of Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851), and the three– volume Of Justice in the Revolution and the Church (1858). In his writings he gave the words anarchy and anarchist their modern meaning and opened the door for an identifiable anarchist movement across the West.

Proudhon's activism began as a vocal member of the Constituent Assembly in France, in which he voted against a constitution for the simple fact that it was a constitution. His 1840 What Is Property? used the term "anarchy" to mean the absence of sovereignty and "anarchist" to mean one who advocates anarchy. His later works further explored the subject. Proudhon made waves with his attack on the state in general and representative democracy in particular. To replace these systems, he advocated the cooperation of industrial and agricultural communities and the commercial use of labor checks instead of money; labor checks, he explained, would represent how much labor went into the production of a given product, and thus would assure that the exchange rate of products would be determined by the labor they represent, to the benefit of the workers. He termed this cooperative system with its corresponding labor theory of value "mutualism."


After the Revolution of 1848 in France, Proudhon, who had worked his way up to the editorship of a successful newspaper, was elected to the Constituent Assembly. He sensed an historic opportunity to make changes on behalf of the workers, and therefore proposed establishing a national bank to reorganize the credit system to liberate and empower the working class. His efforts failed. He went on to think outside of the French system and imagine a replacement, one with loosely federated communities uniting by free choice around certain common assumptions about the labor theory of value and the endeavor to reach common societal goals. His work criticized legal government's centralization of authority in officials and fixed, general rules that discouraged individual judgments and broke down communal ties—in short, stunting individuals' growth and their opportunity to cooperate with others for mutual benefit. He is best known as the father of mutualism, the variety of anarchism in between individualism's reliance on private property and collectivism's wariness of it.

Proudhon's mutualist anarchy, with its focus on laboring classes and their emancipation from economic coercion, contrasted with another contemporary version of anarchism, individualism. Individualist anarchists emphasized the emancipation of the individual from the political coercion of the state. Two pioneers of this variation of anarchism included Max Stirner (1806–1856) and Benjamin R. Tucker (1854– 1939). The German philosopher Stirner came to the conclusion that the state should not exist because it deprives individuals of the qualities that make them unique. Any time people are treated as collectives rather than different individuals, he argued, violence is done against them. In order to rule, the state requires servants who obey. Without this obedience, people become individuals and the state ceases to exist. In his 1844 work The Ego and his Own, Stirner set out his views on individuality, collectivity, the will of the state, and the way in which individuals could break free of submission and thus rid themselves of the institutions of coercion such as the state.

Anarchism in the United States

Anarchism crossed the ocean in the nineteenth century and came to the United States in the persons of Josiah Warren (1798?–1874), Lysander Spooner (1808–1887), and Benjamin R. Tucker (1854–1939). Warren had followed the socialist utopian teachings of Robert Owen (1771–1858), but soon became convinced of what he called "the sovereignty of the individual" against the claims of the group. Like Godwin before him, Warren believed that products should be valued by the amount of labor it took to produce them. Based on this conviction, Warren opened several so–called "equity stores" where goods could be exchanged based on the labor they required to produce. Cost, in effect, served as the limit of price. His efforts led him to found several experimental colonies based on his anarchist principles, including the highly visible Modern Times, which endured on Coney Island, New York from 1851 until approximately 1860. He published his views on anarchist theory and practice in his 1852 Practical Details in Equitable Commerce, his 1863 True Civilization, and other works.


Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner was a reformer by nature. Born in Athol, Massachusetts in 1808, Spooner worked on his father's farm until the age of twenty–five. He then began to study law under two prominent Massachusetts jurists, John Davis and Charles A. Allen. When he learned that the law required non–college–educated candidates to the bar to study law for an extra three years above what was required for university students, he campaigned against the statute and ultimately achieved its repeal. As a young lawyer, he took part in the free thought campaign of the times and wrote a popular tract against religious orthodoxy, The Deist's Reply to the Alleged Supernatural Evidences of Christianity (1836).

Spooner's greatest contribution to anarcho–individualist thought was his critique of the U.S. Constitution—and, by implication, all constitutions—as a mechanism of special privileges through which minority groups could exploit others. After the U.S. financial panic of 1837, Spooner observed how political and governmental bodies inserted themselves into private banking through complicated restrictions and legal escape mechanisms. His 1843 work Constitutional Law Relative to Credit, Currency and Banking offered a lasting addition to free banking literature and the anarchist cause. His interest in individual liberty also led him to oppose slavery and write for the abolitionist cause.

He attacked the U.S. government's monopoly on the mail system by noting that the Constitution did not provide the state the sole and exclusive right to establish postal service for the nation. He viewed it not only as a financial evil, but a moral one as well, noting the power it gave the state to be the only conduit for information. Spooner then established a competing business in 1844, the American Letter Mail Company, which promptly proved it could deliver mail faster at a lesser cost. In 1845, a congressional act imposed heavy penalties for independent mail companies and Spooner was forced to close his doors. Spooner continued to publish books and pamphlets prolifically on a number of topics, as well as contribute articles to Benjamin Tucker's anarchist newspaper Liberty. Until his death, his writings on an expansive number of issues and his activism in concert with his publishing ventures made Spooner one of the most important anarcho–individualists in history.

Lysander Spooner Lysander Spooner, like Warren, was both an activist and a political philosopher. A critic of the U.S. system and its legislative process, Spooner believed the Constitution created opportunities for minority groups to exploit others through the use of special privileges. His training and practice as an attorney afforded him the tools to dissect the finer points of statutes. In 1843, he warned that artificial restrictions were closing the door to private, competitive credit in Constitutional Law Relative to Credit, Currency and Banking, which influenced the free banking movement in the United States for decades. He noted that acts of incorporation helped individuals to escape their contractual obligations by hiding behind the fictional face of a corporation. When Spooner formed the American Letter Mail Company in 1844 to compete with the U.S. Post Office, he proved that a private company could deliver mail faster and at a lower price than could a government monopoly—and the United States promptly outlawed his venture. His two–part The Unconstitutionality of Slavery in 1845 and 1846, among his many other publications, explored his understanding of natural law, justice, and government, and set the stage for his criticisms of the institutions of majority rule. His pamphlet series No Treason and 1882's Natural Law further cemented him as a giant of American anarchism.

Benjamin Tucker American journalist Benjamin R. Tucker drew inspiration from Josiah Warren's "sovereignty of the individual" idea and in turn led a publishing venture that supported and galvanized a flourishing anarchist movement in the United States. Tucker's individualist anarchist newspaper Liberty, Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order, with its title taken from a quote from Pierre–Joseph Proudhon, ran from 1881 to 1908. As editor, Tucker wrote for the paper, but he also published the work of Lysander Spooner, Victor Yarros, J. William Lloyd, Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923), and many others. Diverse and visible readers such as Walt Whitman (1819–1892), George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), and H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) praised Liberty for providing a quality forum for American radicalism. The paper served to unify American individualists and had a great impact on U.S. libertarianism through the twentieth century. Due to its popularity and longevity, Liberty remains one of the most thorough and wide– ranging collections of individualist anarchist writing in existence.


The nineteenth century also brought anarchism to Russia. Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876) helped to take anarchist thought from the theory books to the street. He prized human freedom and dismissed its enemies, which he believed included the state—even when it appeared as a representation of the people—and all forms of religion. He predicted that the future of Europe included increasing state powers and economic monopoly unless someone took action. Bakunin tried; he advocated revolution and organized secret societies under the conviction that a few people could change the system and liberate all individuals. His goal was to create a society arranged from the bottom up through collective, social property; he opposed the centralized state necessary for the implementation of communism, however, and instead supported free association. His theories put him in direct opposition to another revolutionary thinker, Karl Marx, and inspired socialist movements in France, Italy, Switzerland, and, most notably, Spain, where it impacted the country's civil war in the late 1930s.

Peter Kropotkin Unlike Bakunin, fellow Russian Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) was an anarcho– communist who believed in the coordination of industry and agriculture; like Bakunin, he feared the power of the centralized state, and so he believed that small communities should control their economies. Kropotkin's main interest rested in finding a scientific justification for anarchism. His 1902 Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution challenged Charles Darwin's (1809–1882) assumptions about evolution and suggested that mutual aid played as important a role in society as the struggle for survival. He saw cooperation as a fundamental aspect of human nature, and expected that any process of self–realization would lead an individual not to isolation, but to greater harmony and solidarity with others. Kropotkin was not impressed with the final result of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and criticized the fact that power continued to be centralized in an impersonal authority, the party dictatorship, rather than in the councils of the workers, peasants, and communities. Kropotkin's voice brought anarchism into the twentieth century.

For a short time at the turn of the century, a phenomenon known as anarcho–syndicalism existed. Based on the French syndicat, or union, the idea was to infuse the movement with stabilizing organization by infiltrating the union system and taking over its infrastructure. The most successful example of anarcho–syndicalism was Fernand Pelloutier's Fédération des Bourses du Travail. These French labor exchanges provided workers the opportunities to seek jobs and, at the same time, receive anarchist propoganda. Beginning in about 1895, this had great success in moving anarchism in a positive direction. The French model inspired similar organizations in Spain and elsewhere. By the time of World War I, however, this movement began its decline everywhere but Spain, where it played a key role in that country's civil war.


In Germany, Gustav Landauer, a generation younger than Kropotkin, felt the impact of the German School of Romanticism as embodied in figures such as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), and Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906). Landauer's contribution to anarchism was the blending of Romantic sensibilities with anarchist politics. He was fascinated by the notion of the human psyche resting beneath consciousness, and he prioritized the spiritual need for rootedness and community that pulled individuals together. He believed the society of the times—cold, mechanical, industrialized, impersonalized, and centralized—could not replace the relationships that had been lost, and he called for an uprising to replace the authoritarian state with the wholeness of folk community. The revolution he supported was not a violent cause of politics, however, but an internal change of attitude, a rebirth within individuals. In his words: "The state is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently." Landauer did participate briefly in the Bavarian Revolution of 1917–1919, but later in 1919 was stoned to death by state troops in Munich.

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman's (1869–1940) activist anarchism is more difficult to assign to a specific country. A native of Lithuania, Goldman immigrated to the United States in 1886 and was deported to Russia in 1919. She took part in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and died in Canada in 1940. This woman of the world is best known for introducing feminism to the anarchist tradition. Her controversial views included promoting birth control and obstructing the draft. Together with Alexander Berkman (1870–1936), Goldman published the short–lived but highly visible anarchist paper Mother Earth. Goldman based her activism on Kropotokin's anarcho–communism but admitted that the theory might be less than successful in actual practice. This did not dissuade Goldman, however, from her attacks on the concentration of political and economic power. She urged women in particular not to be satisfied with a vote that meant little in a system stacked against the individual. In the process, her controversial and public protest brought new sensibilities to the movement.

Sacco and Vanzetti

Often when anarchism is discussed, Nicola Sacco (1891–1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888–1927) are the first names mentioned. The seven–year trial of Sacco and Vanzetti was perhaps the most famous trial in U.S. history; it certainly was the most famous trial of the first half of the twentieth century. One of the keys to the emotions and politics surrounding the case rested in the fact that both Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists.

Both Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian emigrants who came to the United States to practice their trades. Sacco was a shoemaker and Vanzetti was a fishmonger. Both became involved with the American anarchist movement and avoided the draft for World War I. On April 15, 1920, in Braintree, Massachusetts, a shoe company's paymaster and his guard were shot and killed by two men who stole over $15,000 from their victims' company. Local police investigated and linked a car with the crime. When Sacco, Vanzetti, and two others arrived at the garage to claim the car, the police arrested them and charged them with the crime.

The case seemed problematic: Sacco and Vanzetti were armed when arrested, but neither had a criminal record and no sign of the stolen money could be traced to them. Sentiment against such so–called "radicals" as anarchists ran high, however, and circumstantial evidence—much of which was later discredited— mounted against Sacco and Vanzetti. The trial received further controversy due to the conduct of Judge Webster Thayer. Nonetheless, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court stood behind the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti and the governor chose not to pardon them. Despite worldwide sympathy demonstrations and political protests, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 22, 1927. Their true guilt or innocence remains uncertain. Their death made them anarchist martyrs, however, and their story was translated into songs such as Joan Baez's "The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti" (an anthem of the 1960s U.S. counterculture), plays such as Maxwell Anderson's Gods of the Lightning, novels such as Upton Sinclair's Boston, and poems such as the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

The Twentieth Century

The twentieth century brought feminist and environmental variations on the anarchist theme, among others. Longer–lived strains such as individualist anarchism also gained a second wind. Murray Rothbard (1926–1995) was one of the theorists who brought individualist anarchism to public attention in the late twentieth century. Rothbard came of age intellectually in the Austrian School of Economics, which was pioneered by Carl von Menger (1840–1921) and Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He took that school's emphasis on human unpredictability and spontaneous order, as well as its condemnation of centralized planning, and followed it to an anarchist conclusion. Believing that all state intervention is not only disastrous but also based on unconscionable force, Rothbard produced such works of theory as Man, Economy and State (1962), Power and the Market (1970), For A New Liberty (1973), and Ethics of Liberty (1982). His work brought him great prominence in the emerging American Libertarian Movement before his death in 1995.

From its roots in ancient times through its development in France, England, and the United States, as well as its relationship with revolts such as the Russian Revolution and Spanish Civil War, anarchism has been a theory of many manifestations. As a coherent movement, however, anarchism is relatively young, which has meant that theorists and activists have influenced each other significantly, even when writing or working in other countries and situations. As new concerns such as environmentalism confront individuals, the tradition evolves to encompass new voices and positions. Despite the movement's adaptability, the repudiation of coercion holds all of anarchism's diverse strains together across the years and miles.


Anarchist theorists have covered the spectrum from those who believed property is theft to those who believed property is an inalienable natural right, from those who wished to stir revolution to those who embraced pacifism. Others incorporated the agendas of other movements: anarcho–feminism appeared in hand with the women's suffrage movement, and anarcho–environmentalism emerged with the Green Movement. At its core, all strains of anarchism deal with the question of how to eliminate coercion. The four principle divisions of anarchist theory that sprang up in answer to this question were individualism, mutualism, socialism, and communism.

Godwin and Noncoercion

The first systematic exploration of the anarchist theme of noncoercion appeared in William Godwin's 1793 English work An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. Any examination of anarchism must begin there. The former minister set out his vision of the ideal community and explained that its existence implied the dissolution of government. Godwin's vision of societies based on consent, cooperating with one another, and working and sharing the wealth equally, sounded almost utopian. With the members in agreement, no external state or mechanism of law would be necessary:

Government can have no more than two legitimate purposes, the suppression of injustice against individuals within the community, and the common defence against external invasion. The first of these purposes, which alone can have an uninterrupted claim upon us, is sufficiently answered, by an association of a jury, to decide upon the offences of individuals within the community, and upon the questions and controversies, respecting property, which may chance to arise…. But there will be no need of any express compact, and still less of any common center of authority, for this purpose. General justice, and mutual interest, are found more capable of binding men, than signatures and seals…. This is one of the most memorable stages of human improvement. With what delight must every well informed friend of mankind look forward, to the auspicious period, the dissolution of political government, of that brute engine, which has been the only perennial cause of the vices of mankind…


Anarchist individualist theory begins with the individual as the building block of the world. Individualists believe that each person has rights—some would call these natural rights—that no other person or group of people can ever violate. These often include rights such as the individual's right to live, to control his or her body, and to speak his or her mind. Theorists in this tradition also believe that people have rights to certain actions around them, including the rights to be creative and to own what they have produced. If people are independent thinkers and producers, then, the main way individuals interact socially is through exchange—buying, selling, and/or trading—and contract, where two or more individuals agree to an action with reciprocal duties, responsibilities, and gains.

Warren's Vision

Josiah Warren's vision of anarcho–individualism may have been the first fully articulated version of the theory, but it was not indicative of the tradition as a whole for two reasons. First, Warren argued that the individual should follow his or her wishes only; other individualists recognized that religious, moral, and social rules might have a part to play in individuals' decision making. Second, Warren remained tied to the labor theory of value and its idea of using cost to determine just price for items.

Josiah Warren was concerned with the inequities and imbalances of power created by property ownership. In his 1852 book Practical Details in Equitable Commerce, he offered a different interpretation of legitimate property: individuals owned the products of their own labor. This eliminated more passive earnings such as rent on lands or interests on loans and leveled the playing field for individuals within the framework. Warren reiterated that his blueprint for a new system held individuality as its highest goal:

I will not now delay to detail the reasonings which led to the conclusion that SOCIETY MUST BE SO RECONSTRUCTED AS TO PRESERVE the sovereignty of every individual inviolate. That it must avoid all combinations and connections of persons and interests, and all other arrangements, which will not leave every individual at all times at LIBERTY to dispose of his or her person, and time, and property, in any manner in which his or her feelings or judgement may dictate, WITHOUT INVOLVING THE PERSONS OF OTHERS.

There must be:

Individuality of Interests,

Individuality of Responsibilities,

Individuality in the deciding power; and, in one sense,

Individuality of action.

The idea of the sovereignty of each over his own property made it necessary to determine what is truly and legitimately one's property. The answer would seem to be, the whole product or results of his own labor.

Other individualists alternately ignored or refuted Warren's understanding of economics. Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, and Murray Rothbard better represent the consensus of anarchist individualist theory. Tucker, for example, put some restraints on a person's liberty. In his 1893 collection Instead of A Book, he explained that an individual should exercise the greatest possible amount of freedom that allows an equal amount of freedom to all other people.

Tucker's Liberty

Tucker remains best known for editing the anarchist newspaper Liberty, but he also wrote works independent of the publication. His 1888 book State Socialism and Anarchism demonstrates the breadth of the anarchists' attention; whereas Spooner was concerned with close legal readings of the Constitution, for example, Tucker explained how a broad belief in noncoercion might affect the most intimate relationships between adults and their families. Even the relationships that form the building blocks of society were liberated, according to Tucker, by anarchist theory:

In the manner of the maintenance and rearing of children, the Anarchists would neither institute the communistic nursery which the State Socialists favour, or keep the communistic school system which now prevails. The nurse and teacher, like the doctor and the preacher, must be selected voluntarily, and their services must be paid for by those who patronize them. Parental rights must not be taken away, and parental responsibilities must not be foisted on them. Even in so delicate a matter as that of the relation between the sexes the Anarchists do not shrink from the application of their principle. They acknowledge and defend the right of any man and woman, or any men and women, to love each other for as long or as short a time as they can, will, or may. To them legal marriage and legal divorce are equal absurdities. They look forward to the time when every individual, whether man or woman, shall be self–supporting, and when each shall have an independent home of his or her own, whether it be a separate house or rooms in a house with others: when the love relations between these independent individuals shall be as varied as are individual inclinations and attractions; and when the children born of these relations shall belong exclusively to the mothers until old enough to belong to themselves.

Spooner and the Constitution

Spooner's view of anarcho–individualism led him to celebrate private property as one of the natural rights of individuals. He explored contemporary authorities and questioned their legitimacy. One source of illegitimate power, the American believed, was the U.S. Constitution. He often explained that the Constitution was used by the few who were favored by its founders or who had discovered its loopholes in order to accumulate more power for themselves. In the sixth tract of his No Treason series, entitled "The Constitution of No Authority" and published in 1870, Spooner went further by pointing out that the Constitution as a contract was impotent, since the past generation could not bind future ones without their express consent. Since Spooner himself and his contemporaries had not agreed to the contract, he argued, it did not apply to them:

The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the Constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children.

All of the anarcho–individualists criticize monopolies, especially those created and upheld by the state, for wielding coercive power against individuals and limiting their decision–making capabilities. Despite some of the earlier individualists' sympathies with socialism, many later individualists have looked to the free market for models to follow. Since they support the expansive right of the individual to obtain and sell goods in the marketplace, some call themselves anarcho–capitalists rather than anarcho–individualists, thus focusing attention on the metaphor of the market as a key to their philosophy. These anarchist individualists often have taken part in the movement of libertarianism, which is based on similar claims of individual rights and distrust toward centralized state authority.

Mutualism and Pierre–Joseph Proudhon

Mutualism, the second version of anarchism, splits the difference between individualism on one side and socialism and communism on the other. Pierre–Joseph Proudhon coined the term to describe the economic system he devised. He did not do away with private property; instead, his model allowed individuals to own the tools of production. In the case of manufacturing, these tools might be the equipment used to make products. In the case of agriculture, these tools might be the land itself as well as the implements necessary to plant and harvest crops. Proudhon believed that individuals should only be rewarded for their labor, however. This eliminated rewards such as rent or profit and maintained a form of equality among all people regardless of what they owned.

Proudhon took Godwin's theory of noncoercion a step further. Where Godwin focused on consent, Proudhon asserted that there could be no consent while property, a great inequalizer and therefore oppressor, existed. He advocated changing the nature of private property and holding all goods in common. Proudhon was not a traditional communist, however. He believed that communism failed to recognize independence and proportionality, and without those balancing instincts the theory became tyrannical and unjust. He concluded that communism's focus on equality could be saved by infusing it with the individualism often provided by property: by mixing the two, he created mutualism. He described this combination in his 1840 work What Is Property?:

Anarchy—the absence of a master, of a sovereign—such is the form of government to which we are every day approximating, and which our accustomed habit of taking man for our rule, and his will for law, leads us to regard as the height of disorder and the expression of chaos… Then, no government, no public economy, no administration, is possible, which is based on property. Communism seeks equality and law. Property, born of the sovereignty of reason, and the sense of personal merit, wishes above all things independence and proportionality. But communism, mistaking uniformity for law, and levelism for equality, becomes tyrannical and unjust. Property, by its despotism and encroachments, soon proves itself oppressive and anti–social. The objects of communism and property are good—their results are bad. And why? Because both are exclusive, and each disregards two elements of society. Communism rejects independence and proportionality; property does not satisfy equality and law. Now if we imagine a society based on these four principles—equality, law, independence, and proportionality… this third form of society, this synthesis of communism and property, we will call liberty.

Rather than bargaining for profit, as many did and do in the marketplace, Proudhon imagined individuals would bargain only for direct equivalents to what they were offering—he called this "ethical" exchange. As so often happened in anarchist thought, much of the implementation of his ideas required a different kind of banking. Proudhon imagined a kind of mutual credit bank, a non–profit institution, which would lend money to producers at a rate of interest high enough to cover the bank's operational costs only. Although Proudhon's experiments did not succeed, his vision of mutualism continued to have currency in France for some time. Nonetheless, anarcho–mutualism became perhaps the shortest–lived of the various forms of anarchism.

Socialist Anarchism

Socialist anarchism did not make the same concessions to property as mutualism did, but it retained the sense of voluntary cooperation absent in the more coercive forms of state–centralized socialism experienced across the globe. Charles Fourier's experimental communities in the United States did allow some property ownership, and these small agricultural colonies fit the bill as attempts at socialist societies, complete with collective decision making and communal work for the community's maintenance and upkeep. Participation in such societies remained voluntary.

Mikhail Bakunin Under Mikhail Bakunin, anarcho–socialism became the dominant form of anarchist thought, at least for a time. Bakunin and his compatriots had experienced too much centralized control and coercive force under the old Russian regime of the tsars—they did not wish to wield the same kind of control over individuals by forcing them into a socialist system. If, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, control could have been divided among community groups such as representatives of the workers and peasants, and these bodies could have devised collective governance led by free association, Bakunin and his contemporaries would have considered the rebellion a success. Instead, another form of government, Marxist communism, became just as coercive as the former had been.

Mikhail Bakunin represented the collectivist end of the anarchist spectrum. In his influential 1882 work God and the State, he questioned the nature of power and set out why universal authorities—whether they come from the government, the church, or other institutions—did not deserve submission. He relied on his reason to determine when he should be subordinate, and to whom. His dismissal of state, religion, and even family hierarchy fed anarchist rebellions across Europe:

I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed upon me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive developments, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labour. I receive and I give—such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination. This same reason forbids me, then, to recognize a fixed, constant and universal authority, because there is no universal man, no man capable of grasping in that wealth of detail, without which the application of science to life is impossible, all the sciences, all the branches of social life. And if such universality could ever be realized in a single man, and if he wished to take advantage thereof to impose his authority upon us, it would be necessary to drive this man out of society, because his authority would inevitably reduce all the others to slavery and imbecility.

Unlike the Russian variety of Marxist communism, anarcho–socialism, had it been instituted, would have been a voluntary system, because even communist anarchists believe in the rule of non–coercion. Peter Kropotkin, among others, argued for communities to hold resources in common instead of privately, so each member of the society could draw upon these resources according to his or her need. In such a system, Kropotkin believed, people would work without the need for material incentives to motivate them; moreover, without scarcity, crime would all but disappear and, with it, the need for centralized institutions such as the law. Workers would unify of their own free will to do work, and each community would determine what work was necessary for the good of all. Large infrastructure projects—roads, bridges, railroads—would evolve due to the voluntary cooperation of smaller communities working together for a common goal.


Peter Kropotkin, a Russian like Bakunin, followed a scientific program to arrive at anarcho–communism. Despite his reasoned approach, however, he was also an inspirational and emotionally charged leader. This side of Kropotkin appeared most clearly in his 1895 work The Commune of Paris, in which he described the rise and fall of revolutionary protest and experimental communities in Paris. The work captured a snapshot of anarchism in action and the brutal force of the state used to combat and subdue it. By writing his book, Kropotkin helped to create and remember martyrs for the anarchist cause.


Mikhail Bakunin

Mikhail Bakunin was a revolutionary. Although he was born into a wealthy family, he left the Russian aristocracy behind in order to push for new systems of government to replace the old. In 1848 and 1849 he participated in the revolutions in France and Saxony. When he was sent back to Russia, his home country exiled him to Siberia. He escaped in 1861 and went to London, where he met Russian revolutionary leader and writer Aleksandr Herzen (1812–1870). Herzen believed the peasant communes of the Russian countryside foretold a new socialist society soon to dawn on Russia. Bakunin was greatly influenced by Herzen. Bakunin articulated his own political views in the 1882 work God and the State. He argued that human nature was inherently good, and cooperative socialist anarchism, without the interference of the state, would allow people to better themselves. If it required revolution to overthrow the current system in favor of socialist anarchism, so be it. Bakunin devoted himself to the creation of secret societies for the purposes of future revolution, and experimented with their organization and makeup.

Bakunin's thought further solidified in contrast to the communism of Karl Marx. In 1864, the International Workingmen's Association, also known as the First International, formed in London in order to unite all workers for the achievement of political power. Both Marx and Bakunin imagined using the apparatus of the First International as a conduit for revolution, but each wanted something very different from a revolution. As a result, the association became a battleground between Marx's totalitarian communism and Bakunin's socialist anarchism. Eventually, the power struggle spelled the end to the group in 1876. The debate about the role of the state and the individual helped Bakunin to articulate his position, though it never appeared in any completely systematic kind of way. Interestingly enough, the debate also led to fame for Bakunin, who in the nineteenth century managed to offer an insightful and prophetic critique of the potential consequences of Marxist communism applied to the real world, foresight not proved correct until the twentieth century. Bakunin is best remembered as one of the most famous advocates for anarchists and the inspiration for numerous revolutions around the world.

The Commune of Paris, the child of a period of transition, born beneath the Prussian guns, was doomed to perish. But by its eminently popular character it began a new series of revolutions, by its ideas it was the forerunner of the social revolution. Its lesson has been learned, and when France once more bristles with communes in revolt, the people are not likely to give themselves a government and expect that government to initiate revolutionary measures. When they have rid themselves of the parasites who devour them, they will take possession of all social wealth to share according to the principles of anarchist communism. And when they have entirely abolished property, government, and the state, they will form themselves freely, according to the necessities indicated by life itself. Breaking its chains, overthrowing its idols, humanity will march onward to a better future, knowing neither masters nor slaves, keeping its veneration for the noble martyrs who bought with their blood and suffering those first attempts at emancipation which have enlightened our march toward the conquest of liberty. At the heart of the main opposition in the anarchist tradition, that between individualism and collectivism such as socialism and communism, rests a fundamental disagreement over the core of human nature. Individualists assume that the primary motivation that moves people to act is self–interest, and that people will naturally choose to interact with others when this interaction benefits them. When an impersonal mechanism such as the market exists, a number of individuals can act for their own self–interest and these decisions will form a natural harmony of interests that allows everyone to benefit. Collectivists assume that individuals are drawn to interact with each other naturally, and the desire for cooperation and fellowship is the primary motivation that moves people to act. Individualists hold that the state or any other institution or group should not coerce people because this coercion infringes on individual rights. Although most collectivists would agree with the notion of rights in some limited way, they would argue that coercion is wrong primarily because it interferes with the harmony of free association and the opportunities for cooperation.

Emma Goldman and the Russian Revolution

Just as Kropotkin captured his memories of Paris, Emma Goldman wrote of what she witnessed in Russia after the revolution. The United States deported Emma Goldman to Russia in 1919; she could only bear to stay for two years. Two years after she left, she published My Further Disillusionment with Russia. This critique of the revolution was all the more poignant for the fact that Goldman seemed to see an opportunity for greatness after the abdication of the tsar and the overthrow of the monarchy. Instead, she witnessed another kind of tyranny. Her warnings about the means of rebellion matching the ends of rebellion resonated in the anarchist movement and particularly were repeated in the 1960s and 1970s during the first phase of anarcho–feminism.


Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin was born into the Russian nobility and even went into the service of Tsar Alexander II (1818–1881) as a young man. His travels away from court, especially in Siberia, helped to cement his views about the failures of centralized government. He traveled to Western Europe and then returned to Russia to join the radical Chaikovsky Circle political group; this association landed him in prison in 1874, but he escaped to Western Europe in 1876. He immediately joined the anarchist movement and founded the anarchist paper Le Révolté, for which he wrote articles outlining the foundational ideas of anarcho–communism. He was imprisoned for his political views again, this time in France in 1883, and after release he relocated to England. He wrote several works on anarcho–capitalist themes, including the well–known Mutual Aid (1897). He returned to Russia right before the revolution and died shortly thereafter; his funeral, in fact, was the last occasion at which opponents of the Bolshevik regime were allowed to demonstrate in public.

Unlike Bakunin, who devised secret cells with an eye toward revolution, Kropotkin believed his role was to discuss theory. He believed that the ideas he and others explained would take hold of the people and dovetail with their revolutionary tendencies almost spontaneously. He focused on exploring the basic tenets of anarchism in general and the specific case for anarcho–communism. Kropotkin had a scientific mind, and he looked to justify the political theory he advocated through scientific means. He challenged Darwin's assumption that the struggle for survival was the primary theme of society; instead, Kropotkin believed that cooperation, mutual aid, and social interaction formed just as strong an impulse in the human animal. He counted on this cooperative drive, in fact, to motivate people to produce once all property belonged to the commons and material incentives for work disappeared. Kropotkin's efforts cemented his place as the father of anarcho–communism.

Today is the parent of tomorrow. The present casts its shadow far into the future. That is the law of life, individual and social. Revolution that divests itself of ethical values thereby lays the foundation of injustice, deceit and oppression for the future society. The means used to prepare the future become its cornerstone. Witness the tragic condition of Russia. The methods of State centralization have paralysed individual initiative and effort;

the tyranny of the dictatorship has cowed the people into slavish submission and all but extinguished the fires of liberty; organized terrorism has depraved and brutalized the masses and stifled every idealistic life, and all sense of dignity of man and the value of life has been eliminated; coercion at every step has made effort bitter, labour a punishment, has turned the whole of existence into a scheme of mutual deceit, and has revived the lowest and most brutal instincts of man. A sorry heritage to begin a new life of freedom and brotherhood. It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that revolution is in vain unless inspired by its ultimate ideal. Revolutionary methods must be in tune with revolutionary aims.

After Emma Goldman's disillusionment with the Russian Revolution, it seemed as if anarchism had lost its moment. Then the Austrian School of Economics, which moved from Europe to the United States due to World War II, infused anarcho–individualism, also known as a form of libertarianism, with a new vitality. One of the most prolific writers to come out of this reemergence was Murray Rothbard. He published a number of books, the most notable of which is 1973's For A New Liberty. He used the terms "individualist" and "libertarian" interchangeably to refer to those who sought to live without coercion. His work attacked the state as the chief agent of corruption and called for a dissolution of all state apparatus:


Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman was more of an activist than a theorist. She is best known for introducing feminism to anarchist thought and leading a famous and remarkable life in the process. As a woman, a Jew, and an anarchist, Goldman was a minority to the third power. Born in Lithuania, Goldman came to the United States at the age of seventeen and worked in clothing factories. Three years after her arrival, she began participating in the anarchist movement. Her passionate speeches attracted a great deal of national attention; in 1893, she was arrested for inciting her audience to riot. In 1906, she partnered with Alexander Berkman to publish the anarchist paper Mother Earth. Her repudiation of institutionalized coercion went hand in hand with her feminism, and in 1916, after a speech urging women to bear children only when they wanted to be mothers and not before, she was arrested for advocating birth control in public. The next year she was imprisoned again, this time for obstructing the draft.

After Goldman's numerous arrests for promoting various political positions in public, the United States deported her to Russia in 1919. Disappointed and disillusioned with the Bolshevik government that came to power after the Russian Revolution, she left in 1921. In 1926 Goldman married James Colton, a Welshman. The United States finally allowed Goldman reentry into the country in 1934 on the condition that she did not discuss politics in public. In 1936, Goldman took part in the Spanish Civil War, which offered a unique living experiment in anarchist philosophy. She died four years later. Goldman's articles and treatises could not compete with her persona: she was the most widely–known anarchist and feminist of her era, whose speeches and statements were years ahead of their time in terms of sexual culture and politics. Her outspoken ways made her notorious—at one time, she was even implicated in the assassination of U.S. President William McKinley in 1901—and she used that notoriety to express her ideas about noncoercion and liberty.

The State! Always and ever the government and its rulers and operators have been considered above the general moral law. The 'Pentagon Papers' are only one recent instance among innumerable instances in history of men, most of whom are perfectly honorable in their private lives, who lie in their teeth before the public. Why? For 'reasons of State.' Service to the State is supposed to excuse all actions that would be considered immoral or criminal if committed by 'private' citizens…. In fact, if you wish to know how libertarians regard the State and any of its acts, simply think of the State as a criminal band…

Although they originated in different assumptions and carried with them different conclusions, the variations on the theme of anarchism all embrace noncoercion as the highest political and social value. In practice, anarchism has appeared violent and peaceful, secretive and overt, male and female, and informed other movements during their development. Its many faces make anarchism a dynamic and living political theory even in the twenty–first century.


Anarchism has always been something of a fringe theory, meaning that at any given time its proponents never led a regime or successfully held majority power in any nation. Much of this is due to the theory itself: if anarchists did come to power, their goals would not be to force specific policies into action, but rather to end force altogether. In general, manifestations of anarchism have differed due to the individuals involved—the influence of Spooner, for example, or Bakunin—as opposed to the regions in which they were practiced, although the broad tendency has been for anarchism to be increasingly individualistic the further west it traveled and increasingly collectivist the further east it traveled. Exceptions to this trend do exist, however. Scattered anarchists have thrown bombs, plotted assassinations, preached peace, and practiced nonviolent protest. Few anarchist actions have been well–coordinated enough, lasted a significant amount of time, or drawn enough individuals together to warrant calling them an example of theory in action.

The Spanish Civil War

One exception might be the case of the Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936 to 1939. Spain had been an eager recipient of the French model of anarcho–syndicalism, and Spanish anarchists looked for ways in their own country to use the infrastructure of trade unions to provide stability and order for the movement. The Confederación Nacional de Trabajo, for example, formed in 1910. Thanks to organizations such as these, anarcho–syndicalist groups began to gain a wide following, especially among lower classes in places like the industrial Catalonia, rural Andalusia, and mining Asturias districts. The revolutionary form of anarchism and socialism of the time had the flavor of Mikhail Bakunin and his secret societies.

The Spanish–American War in 1898 marked the end of Spain's empire era, but this defeat spawned a new moment of self–reflection and cultural rebirth. When World War I erupted, King Alfonso XIII (1886–1941) kept Spain neutral. The wartime economy flourished and the industrialists' profits swelled. The anarchist and socialist workers responded with strikes and uprisings, which the state beat down often with brutal force. The church sided with the landowners and prompted bitter anti–clerical feelings among the revolutionaries. Even greater unrest occurred after the end of the war. Rebellions flared. One movement in Catalonia in 1923 resulted in a military dictatorship over the area, but massive opposition eventually led to his resignation, followed by municipal elections. In 1931, Alfonso XIII was deposed and the second republic was born. Alcalá Zamora became the new president and enacted reforms meant to please the anarchist and socialist groups; for example, church property was redistributed to the people. These reforms were only skin deep, however, and more anarcho–syndicalist uprisings followed in Catalonia. By 1934, the new government behaved as the old one had, quelling revolt with force and bloodshed.

The anarchists had more than rebellion, however; they, along with republican, socialist, and communist allies, had a majority in Spain. Together they won the 1936 Spanish elections and chose a new government under Manuel Azaña (1880–1940). Before the newly– elected administration could act, however, a military rebellion led by General Francisco Franco (1892–1975) swept the nation and instigated civil war. On the one side was social and political change—anarchists, socialists, communists—and on the other was the establishment—the military, the church, the landowners. The Nationalists under Franco received military support from Germany and Italy. France and England both observed noninterventionist policies toward Spain, so the Popular Front, including the anarcho–syndicalists, had little support save meager aid from Russia. Anarchist leaders from across the world, including Emma Goldman, traveled to Spain to lend support. The Popular Front made determined stands, especially in central Spain, but eventually fell to the Nationalists' superior military forces. Many of the survivors fled to France as Franco's government took control of Spain.

The experience of the Spanish Civil War was important for several reasons. First and foremost, it showed how popular the principles of anarchism could be to a widespread audience. The financial inequities in Spain led to a schism between labor and landowners/producers, and anarchism appealed to the laboring class due to its emphasis on equality, especially as reflected in the labor theory of value. The Bakunin– inspired rhetoric of revolution against the institutionalized interests such as the aristocracy and clergy also played well with the masses; not only did they listen, but they also participated. The Spanish example further proved the staying power of anarchism once it was organized. By using the trade union structure to create anarcho–syndicalist societies, anarchists were able to reach and mobilize a number of people effectively.

Moreover, these anarchist leaders proved to be practical in mindset, willing to compromise the rigidity of their political beliefs in order to ally themselves with similarly minded activists from the socialist and communist camps. The resulting coalition sacrificed some anarchist principles, but managed to move a fair portion of anarchist thought, if ever so briefly, into the mainstream. Finally, the response from anarchists outside of Spain who joined in the efforts either in person or through the power of the pen underscored the close anarchist community that transcended national boundaries and united theorists across the miles.

Since the Spanish Civil War, other movements, although perhaps less visible on the world front, have continued to demonstrate the adaptability and energy of anarchist thought. Toward the end of the first half of the twentieth century, anarchist thought often fueled the work of pacifists, who were concerned with military build–up at the onset of the Cold War. Refusal to serve in the military, as well as civil disobedience, was common in the pacifist wing most allied with anarchism.

Other Movements

The second half of the twentieth century offered three specific examples of anarchist variations across the world: the student movement, anarcho–feminism, and anarcho–environmentalism. The first of these appeared in the 1960s in the form of the student movement.

The student movement The student movement stretched across the globe from the United States to France to Japan to Mexico. After World War II and the escalation of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, interest in communism waned. In the United States, for example, some students found fault with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organization due to its strong links with communism. These students wanted to distance themselves from the dogmatic, centralized activism of the SDS and other such groups and link their protests of the establishment and the Vietnam situation with issues of lifestyle, including experimentation with sexuality and drugs.

When the antiwar movement and the counterculture movement united in the United States and elsewhere, the agenda broadened to include not only new attitudes toward sex and drugs, but also new exploration of mystical religions and rock music. Those involved criticized the nuclear family, the corporate economy, the consumer ethic, the bigotry of sexism and racism, and the hierarchies of university, church, and career life; in short, they rebelled against what they saw as agents of coercion in favor of freedom and equality. The values of community and spontaneity manifested themselves in gatherings such as the Woodstock music festival of 1969 in New York and the creation of communes such as The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee.

The revolution discussed by such youth usually contained a pacifist, nonviolent tone, although a terrorist fringe also existed. The United States' Weathermen faction of the SDS and Italy's Red Brigade, among other groups, had collectivist predecessors in anarchism. Daniel Cohn–Bendit (born 1945) gained notoriety for the mini–revolution of May 1968 in France, in which students liberated their schools and called for student, black, woman, and gay power as ends to traditional hierarchies. He wrote in his 1968 work Obsolete Communism: The Left–Wing Alternative that he saw this action in the tradition of Nestor Makhno's (1889–1934) uprising in the Ukraine and the Kronstadt revolt against the Bolshevik Party, both of which were primarily anarchist movements. As the personal became political, few youth overtly called themselves anarchist, but the movement's concern with obliterating coercion against the individual made the 1960s brand of collectivism a distinctly anarchist moment.

Feminism On the heels of the student movement came the feminist anarchists. The momentum behind their cause grew out of the sexual experimentation and freedom of the 1960s. Some called themselves "anarcho–feminists" up front as they criticized what they perceived as the two faces of coercion: male–dominated government in the public sphere and male–dominated family in the personal sphere. They believed the aggression in the world sprang from the aggression in nations' states and homes. Inherent in their protests was the assumption that men objectified both nature and the Other—regardless if the Other's difference came from gender, race, religion, or beliefs—and thus coerced them; women's approach to relationships on grand or intimate scales was more egalitarian, empathetic, and cooperative.

Anarcho–feminists sought to counter male dominance even in the anarchist movement itself and highlighted past women leaders such as Emma Goldman as true embodiments of the anarchist ideal.

Following the anarcho–feminist strain of anarchism that emerged in the West in the 1960s and 1970s came anarcho–environmentalists, also known as eco–anarchists. These thinkers moved beyond the mindset of many communists, for example, who leaned on industrialism as the main window into the world. In contrast, these anarchist thought in post–industrialist, information age terms about global economy and society of the twentieth and twenty–first century. Unlike traditional environmentalists who saw humans and nature often in unfortunate opposition, eco–anarchists viewed the world as an interdependent whole including animal and plant life, humanity, and its setting.

Murray Bookchin American anarchist Murray Bookchin (born 1921) authored two key texts in this movement: 1971's Post–Scarcity Anarchism and 1982's The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. With a scientific approach reminiscent of Kropotkin, Bookchin criticized authoritarian reason and its coercive tendency to view the world in hierarchies, to objectify and to dominate. He called for a more symbiotic relationship with nature and each other, nurturing and cooperating with the ecology of the planet and society. On a more radical note, green groups such as Earth First! have developed a form of anarchist eco–terrorism to support their environmentalist agenda around the world. Though they, too, have clear roots in anarchist activism, theorists such as Bookchin denounce them as coercive in their own right.

In practice, anarchism has collaborated with other similar political theories for momentary success, as in the case of Spain before and during that nation's civil war, and also split apart from other movements to focus criticism on a particular form of coercion, as in the case of the student movement, anarcho–feminism, and eco–anarchism. The adaptability of the tradition and its applicability to new issues ensures that the young theory will endure in a number of variations for years to come. Perhaps the latest incarnation is the anti–globalization movement.

The Anti–Globalization Movement

Many of the young activists at the heart of the current anti–globalization and anti–corporate movements consider themselves anarchists, but as Barbara Epstein writes in her article "Anarchism and the Anti–Globalization Movement" in the September 2001 Monthly Review, "these circles might be better described as an anarchist sensibility than as anarchism per se." The current radical ideology holds decentralized organizational structure, decision–making by consensus, and opposition and/or suspicion of authority as its key principles. They are more aligned with socialist thought than the individualist strains of anarchism envisioned by Benjamin Tucker.

The activists connected with the anti–globalization movement express their perspectives through action. For perhaps the best example of this, one can look at the mobilization against the World Trade Organization (WTO) that took place in Seattle in late November and early December of 1999. Over the course of several days, the activists blocked the meetings of the WTO, fought with police, and aligned themselves with trade unionists and environmentalists, groups with similar aims. They succeeded in bringing a great deal of media attention to their cause.

Similar demonstrations—against the WTO, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank— have taken place elsewhere. In addition, stronger ties are being forged between the movement and like– minded individuals and groups. The anti–globalization movement and the anti–corporate movement are beginning to overlap, particularly in protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the use of sweatshops by major corporations, and the destruction of natural environments. Viewpoints on how to deal with corporations vary. Some activists want regulation of large companies, while others would like to see them destroyed altogether.

Perhaps the biggest issue in the current movement is the question of violence to achieve desired ends. Some factions in the anti–globalization movement believe violence toward corporate property and police authority furthers the cause. There was violence in Seattle as well as at demonstrations in Quebec City in May 2001. What must be determined by these activists is if the violence they carry out is according an ethical vision, rather than simply an expression of frustration or rage.


Anarchism must be analyzed and judged on two criteria: as a theory in the abstract, and as a political plan in action. The first of these categories, as a theory in the abstract, is somewhat difficult, considering the fact that individualism, mutualism, socialism, and communism, the four contributing wings of the theory, start from different philosophical assumptions. All forms of anarchism hold coercion as wrong and undesirable, but on other fundamental issues—the natural perfectibility or depravity of humanity, the sociability or independence of human nature—diverge greatly.

Nonetheless, certain things can be said of the theory of anarchism. First, it seems at times to be more about what it denounces, namely coercion, than what it espouses. In other words, it is sometimes difficult to gain a concrete vision of what world anarchists would prefer to substitute for the one in which they live. Cooperation and harmony sound like good things, but what, exactly, do they mean? What do they look like? When, in the defense of these values, would coercion be justified? If the anarchist theorists wanted to reform the world, they needed to provide clear recipes not only for how to dismantle a contemporary system, but what to erect in its place.

When descriptions were forthcoming, they often seemed more like utopias, or ideal communities, than real blueprints for actual life. For example, the collectivist anarchists' vision included communal property and work without material reward, but the theorists insisted that these societies would be based on free will and consent. What, then if someone in the community chose not to give up private property? Would that person be relocated so that those who agreed could live together in harmony? Removing an individual would be coercion, however. What if an individual was not motivated by neighborly feelings and therefore did not work, but instead became a freeloader on the labor of others? How could the system be implemented without some kind of force mechanism? Collectivists assumed that everyone would be in agreement and see the wisdom of the anarchist model. This seems idyllic at times, not practical. What if agreement and cooperation never appeared?

Coordinating Communities

The problem of coordinating multiple communities posed another obstacle to tranquil life in free association societies. Theorists assumed that groups of communities would work together for the common good, from the establishment of trade to the construction of roads, bridges, and other forms of infrastructure. What mechanism ensured that each community agreed or, if they agreed, carried its own weight in the arrangement? What if one community decided to take over another? These small communities, communist or individualist, for that matter, offered the opportunity for outside groups that had opted out of the communal lifestyle to divide and conquer them due to their lack of centralized force. In the same way that feudal era Western Europe found itself vulnerable to invasions from the south, north, and east, these communities faced difficulty in provided a common action or a common defense.

The communes and experimental communities engaged with this theory solved these problems by founding small settlements of like–minded people located away from others. They did not face the challenge of incorporating many individuals of dissimilar backgrounds and convictions in preexisting societies. Even then, infighting, philosophical disagreements, and economic challenges threatened and often ended the fledgling groups. Imagining the harmony of many such communities banding together across countries and continents out of natural agreement seems somewhat naïve.

Anarchists on the individualistic side of the anarchist spectrum faced comparable problems. According to these theorists, individuals primarily relate to one another in terms of contracts. If institutions such as governments and laws wither away from disuse, however, what mechanism would enforce contracts? Who would settle disputes about them? Without some manner of protecting the private property and transactions of individuals, a list of "playing rules" everyone one must observe, the very foundation of the free market might crumble. What system would protect individuals from theft, fraud, and abandonment in the face of contractual obligations? Again, the theorists seem to rely on a naïve belief that everyone would choose to live in the same way and behave themselves while doing so. Like the collectivist anarchists, anarcho–capitalists face difficulties in explaining how to get there from here and how to maintain the ideal system once it is in place.


The generality or elasticity of the idea of anarchy also has led it to be misused and stretched beyond all proportion. When the British band the Sex Pistols begged for "Anarchy in the U.K." in 1975, anarchy seemed to mean rebellion—and scandalous, dangerous rebellion at that, they implied, as they rhymed "anarchist" with "antichrist." A listen and look at the band suggested that they in fact did not subscribe to anarchism as much as nihilism, the conviction that life is useless and senseless. When they screamed or sang or wore t–shirts proclaiming anarchy, what did they mean? Why did they choose that term? The symbol for anarchy remains a punk staple and has filtered into the underground of other forms of music and art, but what does it mean in this context?

The term has been modified by casual use to such a degree that "anarchy" has become synonymous with chaos, destruction, and bewildering confusion. Newscasters use it to describe natural and planned disasters, and pundits use it to forecast doom if the wrong policy is adopted. Certainly this is not the anarchy desired by the anarchist political theorists. The very vagueness and open–endedness of the theory, however, leaves the term susceptible to being appropriated and misused by others. In other words, if the theory were more concrete, perhaps the term would not have been available to take on multiple, misleading meanings.

Conversely, the breadth of the noncoercion foundation of anarchism has allowed the theory to evolve in new and relevant directions across the years. Not only has the coercion in question been that of authoritarian states, but it has also been understood to mean the coercion of the institution of slavery, according to Lysander Spooner, organized religion, according to Mikhail Bakunin, gender discrimination, according to Emma Goldman, and ecological domination, according to Murray Bookchin. The open–endedness of anarchism has allowed it to be adapted to the concerns of agriculture, manufacturing, students, and those who wished for the freedom to experiment with sexuality, drugs, and alternative lifestyles. The same vagueness that can be the Achilles' heel of anarchism also allows the theory its longevity.

Anarchy in Practice?

Anarchism in practice has yielded mixed results. One could say anarchism proper has never been practiced, except perhaps in small, temporary, experimental communities outside of the mainstream West. The actions of activists, however, can be judged. On the one hand, the legacy of anarchism in action is one of compassion, egalitarianism, and nobility. In challenging coercion, anarchists have championed the oppressed, the ones against whom the weight of the social, economic, and/or political system rested. In trying to liberate the laborers, empower the women, and preserve the ecology, among other things, anarchists have approached heroic status. The strand of anarchist thought opposing all violence in principle fed the pacifist tradition and helped to inform the practice of civil disobedience; again, the scales tip favorably on the side of anarchy.

The popular image of anarchism is not that of pacifism, however. In the late nineteenth century, some anarchists across the world adopted the notion of "propaganda by the deed," meaning that the anarchist message could be communicated best by taking dramatic, public action. This often translated into violence. On May 4, 1886, for instance, anarchists in Chicago staged a protest for an eight–hour workday. When policemen tried to disband the crowd of approximately 1,500 people, a bomb exploded and killed seven policemen and four crowd members and wounded more than 100 people. Although individual guilt was hard to determine in the case, four anarchists were executed, and four others were imprisoned. Other bombings, fights, and assassinations followed. On September 6, 1901, for example, anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz shot and killed U.S. President William McKinley, saying he was "an enemy of good working people." Such violence occurred in Europe as well and became linked with anarchism in the popular mind. Revolutionaries like Bakunin encouraged this perspective.

Arguably, the U.S. execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927 for murder had less to do with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt presented against them than with the stereotype of the violent, bloodthirsty anarchist that had grown in the public mind by that time due to bombings, assassinations, and attempted violence across the West. Anarchist terrorists reveal how the theory could derail into something destructive. In the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, unfortunately, the anarchist violence of others returned to haunt possibly innocent anarchists.

The Future

Though the many faces of anarchism make analysis challenging, they also ensure that the theory will adapt itself to new issues and eras. If the pattern holds, theorists will propose ideas that inspire new anarchist variations and inform other movements in the process. As some activists find constructive ways to use the theory, however, others will wield it in more destructive ways. The diversity of anarchism remains its strength and its weakness.


  • What other twentieth and twenty–first century movements besides feminism and environmentalism reflect some form of anarchist thought?
  • In what ways did Lysander Spooner's postal business embody the anarchist ideal? What kind of enterprise today might be similarly symbolic?
  • Investigate the Romantic poets and novelists. How did Percy Shelley and other Romantics reflect anarchist thought in literature?
  • Read about the Transcendentalists in the nineteenth century such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In what ways did their beliefs in civil disobedience and spirituality have roots in anarchist thought?



Boaz, David, ed. The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao–Tzu to Milton Friedman. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

Brown, L. Susan. The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism and Anarchism. New York: Black Rose Books, 1993.

Epstein, Barbara. "Anarchism and the Anti–Globalization Movement." Monthly Review, September 2001, 1.

Godwin, William. The Anarchist Writings of William Godwin. Peter Marshall, ed. London: Freedom Press, 1986.

Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays. New York: Dover Publications, 1969.

Heider, Ulrike. Anarchism: Left, Right, and Green. San Francisco: City Lights, 1994.

Martin, James J. Men Against The State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827–1908. Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles, 1970.

Miller, David, ed. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Cambridge, Blackwell, 1991.

Sonn, Richard D. Anarchism. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Sturgis, Amy H., Nathan D. Griffith, Melissa English, Joshua B. Johnson, and Kevin D. Weimer, eds. Great Thinkers in Classical Liberalism: The LockeSmith Review. Nashville: The LockeSmith Institute, 1994.

Wiener, Philip P., ed. Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas. Volume I. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968.

Woodcock, George, ed. The Anarchist Reader. Atlantic Highlands, NY: Humanities Press, 1977.

Further Readings

Avrich, Paul. Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. An anarchist historian takes a new look at the famous 1920s trial.

Bakunin, Mikhail. God and the State. Mikhail Bakunin's 1882 work sets out to dismiss universal authorities such as the government and the church.

Bookchin, Murray. To Remember Spain: The Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution of 1936. San Francisco: AK Press, 1994. A history of the anarchist revolutionary movement in a Spain on the brink of civil war.

Glassgold, Peter. Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint Press, 2001. A fine collection of important pieces that appeared in the radical periodical Mother Earth from 1906 through 1917.

Wolff, Robert Paul. In Defense of Anarchism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. Wolff attempts to break through the stereotypes and present a clear explanation and analysis the anarchist philosophy.


Communism, Marxism, Pacifism, Utopianism


views updated


The term anarchy comes from an ancient Greek word meaning "without a leader or ruler." However, proponents of anarchism have most often used the term to refer to a natural state of society in which people are not governed by submission to human-made laws or to any external authority. Anarchism is above all a moral doctrine concerned with maximizing the personal freedom of individuals in society. To achieve this end, leading anarchist social theorists have tended to offer critical analyses of (1) the state and its institutional framework; (2) economics; and (3) religion. Anarchist hostility to the state is reflected in the rejection of the view popularized by contract theorists that a government's sovereignty is legitimated by the consent of its subjects. Anarchists contend that no contractual arrangement among human beings justifies the establishment of a ruling body (government) that subordinates individuals to its authority. From their observations of the historical development of the state, anarchist thinkers such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (18091865) and Peter Kropotkin (18421921) concluded that all forms of government have been used as instruments for establishing monopolies that favor the propertied and privileged. Anarchists also argue that the all-encompassing authority of the state allows it to exercise undue influence over the lives of its citizens. It is further maintained by anarchists that the state, using laws and the organs of power at its disposal, can control not only citizens' public and private behavior but also their economic lives. As such, the state, in all its forms, is condemned as an unnecessary evil.

From an economic standpoint, most anarchists have identified themselves as members of the anticapitalist socialist movement. In common with socialists, anarchists see capitalism as a system ruled by elites, one that exploits the working or productive members of society economically and represses them culturally and spiritually. Accordingly, anarchists argue that the emancipation of the worker will only be achieved by completely destroying the pillars of capitalism.

Anarchists differ as to what form of economic arrangements should replace capitalism. Collectivists and mutualists insist that private ownership of the fruits of individuals' labor is desirable, while anarchist communists maintain that individual freedom can only be achieved in a society where all material goods and natural resources are placed under common ownership. Still another group of anarchists known as individualists have advocated a system of "labor for labor" exchange, which they believe could operate in accordance with natural market forces.

Anticlericalism is another important dimension of anarchist thinking. Though most anarchists are materialists, they are not opposed to spirituality per se: indeed anarcho-pacifists such as Leo Tolstoy (18281910) were self-identified as Christians. Rather, anarchists condemn organized religion, which they see as an agent of cultural repression. They have, for example, attacked the Catholic Church among other religious institutions on the grounds that it has historically served as a means of empowering church government and not of enriching the spiritual lives of its adherents. Anarchists further contend that the church has consistently acted as an ally of secular governments and therefore forms part of the general system of state repression that operates against the common person.

Because the heyday of anarchism as an ideological movement was during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the focus here will be on the core beliefs of key anarchist theorists in this period. Thus a discussion of other, less historically significant anarchist strands such as pacifism and individualism will be mentioned only in passing. The impact that classical anarchist theory has had on recent political and social movements will be summarized in the concluding section.

Anarchist Principles in Context

The ideas associated with modern anarchism can be traced to the period of the French Revolution (17891799), although they did not crystallize into a formal political doctrine until the middle part of the nineteenth century. The first book that offered the clearest intimation of the anarchist conception of society was William Godwin's An Enquiry concerning Political Justice and Its Influence upon General Virtue and Happiness (London, 1793). In this, Godwin identifies the state as the main source of all social ills. In order for humans to live freely and harmoniously, Godwin advocates the establishment of a stateless society in which individuals are no longer subject to the economic exploitation of others. Despite its antistatist message, the ideas found in Godwin's magnum opus belong to a tradition of British political radicalism that cannot be classified as anarchist. In fact his work had its greatest influence on the liberal thinkers of his age as well as on Robert Owen, John Gray, and other early socialist reformers.

Of far greater significance to the development of modern anarchist ideology is the French social philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, whose indictment of private property under capitalism was made famous in his book What is Property? (1840). Proudhon's main contributions to the anarchist view of society lay in his theories of mutualism and federalism. In the former he argued that the exploitative capitalist system could be undermined by creating economic organizations such as the People's Bank, an institution of mutual credit meant to restore the equilibrium between what individuals produce and what they consume. Because he believed that concentrating political power in the hands of the state militated against the economic forms he was proposing, Proudhon argued for a society in which power radiated from the bottom upward and was distributed along federal or regional lines.

Though he himself never belonged to any party or political organization, Proudhon's writings inspired a substantial following among freethinkers, liberal intellectuals, and workers across Europe, particularly in France and Spain. One of his most famous disciples was the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (18141876). Like Proudhon, Bakunin was an eclectic thinker who was constantly revising and reformulating his views on society. More so than Proudhon, who did not believe that the transition to an anarchist society demanded violent and sweeping changes, Bakunin gave both physical and ideological expression to the view that revolutionary upheaval was a necessary and unavoidable process of social development, a view summed up in his oft-quoted dictum, "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge." At the core of his creed was collectivism, by which he meant that the land and means of production should be collectively owned and that future society should be organized around voluntary associationssuch as peasant communes or trade unionsthat were not regulated or controlled by any form of government. Too impatient to set forth a systematic exegesis of his antiauthoritarian beliefs, Bakunin tended to express his concepts in tracts that could be used by revolutionary bodies (for example, the Alliance of Social Democracy) with which he was associated. Indeed Bakunin's most enduring legacy to anarchism resides in his conception of revolutionary transformation. According to him, the dispossessed and most repressed elements of societyparticularly the working classes and peasantry in economically backward countries such as Spain, Italy, and Russiawere by nature revolutionary and only needed proper leadership to rise up against their oppressors. Because he adamantly rejected the Marxian notion that conquering political power was a precondition for overthrowing capitalism, Bakunin was convinced that the exploited masses should be led into revolt by a small and dedicated group of individuals who were acting in their interests. It was his belief that revolution could not be achieved until the state was completely abolished, which brought him into conflict with Karl Marx and his followers, who insisted that a "dictatorship of the proletariat" was a necessary phase in the transition to a stateless society (communism).

Bakunin's antipolitical conception of revolutionary change as well as his forceful repudiation of the authoritarian communist principles embodied in the Marxism of his day drove a wedge between his adherents in the First International (18641876) and those of Karl Marx, thus establishing a divide in the European socialist movement that would never be bridged.

However, not all anarchists were hostile toward the idea of communism. Another Russian aristocrat turned revolutionary, Peter Kropotkin, developed over the course of his lifetime a sociological theory of anarchism that combined the antiauthoritarian beliefs espoused by his predecessors in the anarchist movement with those of communism. Unlike Proudhon and Bakunin, both of whom believed in the right of individual possession of products produced from one's labor, Kropotkin advocated an economic system based on the communal ownership of all goods and services that operated on the socialist principle "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." By distributing society's wealth and resources in this way, Kropotkin and other anarchist communists believed that everyone, including those who were unproductive, would be able to live in relative abundance.

Kropotkin's greatest contributions to anarchist theory, however, were his attempts to present anarchism as an empirically verifiable worldview, one that was based on "a mechanical explanation of world phenomena, embracing the whole of nature." Following in the positivist tradition laid down by Auguste Comte (17981857), Herbert Spencer (18201903), and other forerunners of modern social science, Kropotkin believed that the study of society was analogous to that of the world of nature. In Modern Science and Anarchism (1912), for example, Kropotkin contends that the anarchist method of sociological enquiry is that of the exact natural sciences. "Its aim," he says, "is to construct a synthetic philosophy comprehending in one generalization all the phenomena of natureand therefore also the life of societies." In developing his views on human nature, Kropotkin went farther in extending the analogy between society and the natural world. Like the Social Darwinists of his era, Kropotkin maintained that all human behavior was a reflection of our biological condition. But while most Social Darwinists argued that a "tooth and nail" impulse in the struggle for existence was the dominant natural law governing the evolution of human behavior, Kropotkin insisted that the instinct of cooperation was an even more important factor in this process. According to him, it is the species in nature that shows the greatest tendency toward mutual aidnot cutthroat competitionthat is the one most likely to survive and flourish over time. By arguing in this way, Kropotkin was attempting to demonstrate that anarchism was a highly evolved state of human nature but one that could not be obtained until the state and other coercive institutions were completely abolished.

The relationship between anarchism and violence.

The efforts of Kropotkin and other anarchist thinkers to define anarchism as a rational and practicable doctrine were overshadowed by the negative publicity generated by the violence-prone elements of the movement. Beginning with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and continuing up to the turn of the century, when the American president William McKinley was murdered in 1901 by a lone gunman, anarchists everywhere were viewed as sociopaths who terrorized society by throwing bombs and assassinating heads of state. The fact that not all of these public outrages were committed by anarchists (Alexander II was killed by nihilists) or individuals who were representative of the movement as a whole did little to dispel the exceedingly negative image of anarchists that was being projected by the popular press and government authorities.

The violent practices that were now associated with anarchism were largely the product of an ill-defined tactic known as "propaganda by the deed," a direct-action policy advocated by some anarchists from the late 1870s on. That violent and even criminal deeds were necessary to advance the anarchist movement appealed especially to a small number of disaffected idealists who were convinced that the only way to intimidate the ruling classes and overturn the capitalist system was to disrupt the daily routines of bourgeois society. Killing public figures close to the centers of political and religious power was one way of doing this. Bombing cafés, robbing banks, and destroying churches and similar hierarchical institutions were also seen as justifiable means to a revolutionary end.

A number of the perpetrators of "propaganda by the deed" were influenced by a highly individualistic strain of anarchist thought that became popular among déclassé intellectuals and artists around the turn of the twentieth century. A seminal figure in the individualist branch of anarchist thinking was the German philosopher Max Stirner (18061856). In his The Ego and His Own (1845), Stirner espoused a philosophy that was premised on the belief that all freedom is essentially derived from self-liberation. Because he identified the "ego" or "self" as the sole moral compass of humankind, he condemned government, religion, and any other formal institution that threatened one's personal freedom. It was his abiding concern with the individual's uniqueness and not his views as a social reformer that made Stirner attractive to certain segments of the anarchist community at the end of the nineteenth century. This was particularly true not just of the devotees of violence in Europe but also of the nonrevolutionary individualist anarchists in the United States. For example, the foremost representative of this strand of anarchism in the United States, Benjamin R. Tucker (18541939), took from Stirner's philosophy the view that self-interest or egoistic desire was needed to preserve the "sovereignty of the individual."

Spiritual anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism.

Parallel to the terrorist acts committed at this time, the Christian pacifist Leo Tolstoy (18281910) was developing an antiauthoritarian current of thinking that, in its broadest sense, can be regarded as belonging to the anarchist tradition. Tolstoy promoted a form of religious anarchism that was based on the "law of supreme love" as defined by his personal (anti-doctrinal) reading of the Scriptures. Though he did not see himself as an anarchist, he nevertheless believed that in order for men and women to live in a morally coherent world it was necessary to destroy the state and its institutions. Because of his rejection of the use of force and violence, Tolstoy and his followers advocated civil disobedience, or nonviolent resistance, as a means of achieving the stateless and communally based society they envisioned.

It was also around this time that anarchist doctrine experienced another significant metamorphosis. From the late 1890s until the 1930s, anarchist activity was increasingly centered in working-class cultural and economic organizations, and the tactics and strategy of the movement were grounded in the theory of revolutionary syndicalism. While not wholly abandoning the use of violence, the anarcho-syndicalists believed that, against the organized forces of big government and monopoly capitalism, the revolutionary élan of the workers could be most effectively channeled through trade union organizations. Using tactics such as the general strike, which was meant to paralyze the economy by linking shutdowns in different industries, the anarcho-syndicalists believed that it would be possible to create the general conditions for a complete collapse of capitalism and the state. Anarcho-syndicalism became an important force in the labor movements in parts of Latin America (Mexico, Argentina) and in European countries such as Italy, France, and Spain. Its greatest impact was felt in Spain. During the Second Republic (19311936) and continuing through the civil war period (19361939), anarchosyndicalism developed into a powerful mass movement. At its peak the anarcho-syndicalist organizations known as the CNTFAI (National Confederation of Workers and Federation of Iberian Anarchists) counted more than 1.5 million adherents. Their influence over the course of events during the civil war was most dramatically illustrated by the fact that they set up and ran thousands of industrial and agricultural collectives throughout the Republican zone. The triumph of Franco's Nationalist forces in 1939, followed by the outbreak of another global world war that same year, sounded the death knell for anarcho-syndicalism not only in Spain but in other Western European countries as well.

It deserves mention here that, by the time World War II began, anarchism's reach extended across the globe. Besides taking root in the Americas, the doctrine had penetrated parts of East Asia and even the subcontinent. In both China and Japan, for example, Western anarchist ideas influenced leading social thinkers such as Mao Zedong and labor organizers who were seeking to establish socialism in those countries. However, the emergence of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes of both the right and left in the 1930s and late 1940s effectively quashed the libertarian tendencies that had been developing up to then. It would take another forty years before anarchist ideas would be resurrected by tiny protest groups (mostly in Japan) that wanted to express their cultural and intellectual dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Contemporary Anarchism

While the Spanish Civil War, World War II (19391945), and the rise of totalitarian communist regimes after 1949 were events that effectively ended the further development of the historical anarchist movement, anarchist ideas and sensibilities were not as easily repressed. The political and cultural protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the Americas saw a resurgence of interest in anarchism. Feminists, ecologists, student radicals, pacifists, and others who were eager to question the prevailing social and moral preconceptions of modern society held by both the left and the right were drawn above all to the doctrine's iconoclasm. At this time, elements from a variety of nonlibertarian groupsthe Situationists in France, for examplefreely borrowed anarchist ideas in developing their own ideological positions.

Anarchism has also been enriched by the thinking of some of the twentieth century's leading philosophers, political activists, artists, and intellectuals. Bertrand Russell, Herbert Read, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Buber, Albert Camus, Michel Foucault, Paul Goodman, Lewis Mumford, and Noam Chomsky are among the notable figures who have been associated with anarchist beliefs and values.

From the late twentieth century on, anarchism has continued to branch out in different directions. Anarchist ideas have been influential in the development of radical feminism and the Green and antiglobalist movements that have spread across Europe and the Americas. Contemporary anarcho-feminism has its roots in the writings and activism of historically important figures like Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, and Federica Montseny. Goldman was among the first female anarchists to emphasize that the emancipation of women in society must begin with psychological change within women themselves. By calling on women to struggle against the repressive and hierarchical structures that dominated their personal lives, Goldman anticipated late-twentieth-century anarcho-feminists, who have insisted that the "personal is political" and have developed a radical critique of everyday life. Anarchist principles also have been adopted by some of the more radical ecological movements of postindustrial societies. Libertarian social ecologists such as Murray Bookchin have attempted to extend the traditional anarchist demand to emancipate society from government rule to our natural environment, calling for an end to human beings' dominating and exploitative relationship with nature.

Perhaps because of its shock value in an age crowded by political neologisms, the anarchist label has also been applied to groups that do not properly belong to the anarchist tradition. For example, the term "anarcho-capitalism" is sometimes used to refer to libertarian economic and social thinkers such as Ayn Rand, David Friedman, and other pro-capitalists who hold strong antistatist views. But even though they share the anarchist's contempt for state authority, their commitment to free enterprise and laissez-faire principles places them completely at odds with classical anarchist thinking and practice.

Ever since the Cold War ended in 1991, small groups of anarchists around the world have been in the forefront of the antiglobalization movement. Like their predecessors, modern anarchist activists seek to expose the adverse power relationships that affect our daily lives. They are particularly concerned with the impact that the global expansion of corporate leviathans has had on society, not least because of the seemingly unlimited ways in which this advanced form of capitalism can manipulate and control the lives of individuals. While a few anarchist groups still resort to direct-action methods to get their revolutionary message across, a growing number are turning to advanced technologies like the Internet to promote their cause. In short, whether one admires or abhors anarchist principles, it cannot be denied that anarchism offers a critical perspective of authority that appears to be endlessly relevant to those who want to sharpen their awareness of the boundaries of personal freedom.

See also Communism ; Feminism ; Marxism ; Protest, Political ; Social Darwinism ; Socialism .



Bakunin, Mikhail. Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings. Edited by Arthur Lehning. Translated by Steven Cox and Olive Stevens. New York: Grove Press, 1973.

Bookchin, Murray. Post-Scarcity Anarchism. 1971. 3rd ed., Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2004.

Chomsky, Noam. Radical Priorities. 1981. Edited and introduced by Carlos Otero. Exp. 3rd ed. Edinburgh and Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2003.

Cohn-Bendit, Daniel, and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit. Obsolete Communism: The Leftwing Alternative. Translated by Arnold Pomerans. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1968.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. 1973. Reprint, New York: Zone Books, 1994.

De Cleyre, Voltairine. Anarchism and American Traditions. Chicago: n.p., 1932.

Goldman, Emma.. Anarchism, and Other Essays. 1910. Reprint, with a new introduction by Richard Drinnon, New York: Dover, 1969.

Goodman, Paul. Growing Up Absurd. New York: Random House, 1960.

Kropotkin, Peter. The Conquest of Bread. 1906. In The Conquest of Bread and Other Writings, edited by Marshall Shatz. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

. Modern Science and Anarchism. Translated from the Russian by David A. Modell. Philadelphia: The Social Club of Philadelphia, 1903. 2nd ed., London: Freedom Press, 1923.

. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. London: Heinemann, 1902.

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. What Is Property: An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government. 1890. Translated by Donald R. Kelley and Bonnie G. Smith. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Puente, Isaac. Libertarian Communism. 1932. Sydney: Monty Miller Press, 1985.

Reclus, Élisée. An Anarchist on Anarchy. London: Liberty Press, 1897.

Rocker, Rudolf. Anarchosyndicalism. London: Secker and Warburg, 1938.

Stirner, Max. The Ego and His Own. Translated by Steven T. Byington. New York: Benj. R. Tucker, 1907.

Tolstoy, Leo. What I Believe. Translated by Constantine Popoff. London: Elliot Stock, 1885.

Tucker, Benjamin J. Instead of a Book. 1893. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1972.


Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism. Translated by Mary Klopper. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.

Joll, James. The Anarchists. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Marshall, Peter H. Demanding the Impossible. London: Fontana, 1991.

Miller, David. Anarchism. London: Dent, 1984.

Pennock, J. Roland, and John W. Chapman, eds. Anarchism. New York: New York University Press, 1978.

Sonn, Richard D. Anarchism. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Woodcock, George. Anarchism. New ed. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.

George Esenwein


views updated


"Anarchism" is a social philosophy that rejects authoritarian government and maintains that voluntary institutions are best suited to express man's natural social tendencies. Historically the word anarchist, which derives from the Greek an archos, meaning "no government," appears first to have been used pejoratively to indicate one who denies all law and wishes to promote chaos. It was used in this sense against the Levelers during the English Civil War and during the French Revolution by most parties in criticizing those who stood to the left of them along the political spectrum. The first use of the word as an approbatory description of a positive philosophy appears to have been by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon when, in his Qu'est-ce-que la propriété? (What is property ?, Paris, 1840), he described himself as an anarchist because he believed that political organization based on authority should be replaced by social and economic organization based on voluntary contractual agreement.

Nevertheless, the two uses of the word have survived together and have caused confusion in discussing anarchism, which to some has appeared a doctrine of destruction and to others a benevolent doctrine based on a faith in the innate goodness of man. There has been further confusion through the association of anarchism with nihilism and terrorism. In fact, anarchism, which is based on faith in natural law and justice, stands at the opposite pole to nihilism, which denies all moral laws. Similarly, there is no necessary connection between anarchism, which is a social philosophy, and terrorism, which is a political means occasionally used by individual anarchists but also by actionists belonging to a wide variety of movements that have nothing in common with anarchism.

Anarchism aims at the utmost possible freedom compatible with social life, in the belief that voluntary cooperation by responsible individuals is not merely more just and equitable but is also, in the long run, more harmonious and ordered in its effects than authoritarian government. Anarchist philosophy has taken many forms, none of which can be defined as an orthodoxy, and its exponents have deliberately cultivated the idea that it is an open and mutable doctrine. However, all its variants combine a criticism of existing governmental societies, a vision of a future libertarian society that might replace them, and a projected way of attaining this society by means outside normal political practice. Anarchism in general rejects the state. It denies the value of democratic procedures because they are based on majority rule and on the delegation of the responsibility that the individual should retain. It criticizes utopian philosophies because they aim at a static "ideal" society. It inclines toward internationalism and federalism, and, while the views of anarchists on questions of economic organization vary greatly, it may be said that all of them reject what William Godwin called accumulated property.

Attempts have been made by anarchist apologists to trace the origins of their point of view in primitive nongovernmental societies. There has also been a tendency to detect anarchist pioneers among a wide variety of teachers and writers who, for various religious or philosophical reasons, have criticized the institution of government, have rejected political activity, or have placed a great value on individual freedom. In this way such varied ancestors have been found as Laozi, Zeno, Spartacus, Étienne de La Boétié, Thomas Münzer, François Rabelais, François Fénelon, Denis Diderot, and Jonathan Swift; anarchist trends have also been detected in many religious groups aiming at a communalistic order, such as the Essenes, the early Christian apostles, the Anabaptists, and the Doukhobors. However, while it is true that some of the central libertarian ideas are to be found in varying degrees among these men and movements, the first forms of anarchism as a developed social philosophy appeared at the beginning of the modern era, when the medieval order had disintegrated, the Reformation had reached its radical, sectarian phase, and the rudimentary forms of modern political and economic organization had begun to appear. In other words, the emergence of the modern state and of capitalism is paralleled by the emergence of the philosophy that, in various forms, has opposed them most fundamentally.


Although Proudhon was the first writer to call himself an anarchist, at least two predecessors outlined systems that contain all the basic elements of anarchism. The first was Gerrard Winstanley (1609c. 1660), a linen draper who led the small movement of the Diggers during the Commonwealth. Winstanley and his followers protested in the name of a radical Christianity against the economic distress that followed the Civil War and against the inequality that the grandees of the New Model Army seemed intent on preserving. In 16491650 the Diggers squatted on stretches of common land in southern England and attempted to set up communities based on work on the land and the sharing of goods. The communities failed, but a series of pamphlets by Winstanley survived, of which The New Law of Righteousness (1649) was the most important. Advocating a rational Christianity, Winstanley equated Christ with "the universal liberty" and declared the universally corrupting nature of authority. He saw "an equal privilege to share in the blessing of liberty" and detected an intimate link between the institution of property and the lack of freedom. In the society he sketched, work would be done in common and the products shared equally through a system of open storehouses, without commerce.

Like later libertarian philosophers, Winstanley saw crime as a product of economic inequality and maintained that the people should not put trust in rulers. Rather, they should act for themselves in order to end social injustice, so that the land should become a "common treasury" where free men could live in plenty. Winstanley died in obscurity and, outside the small and ephemeral group of Diggers, he appears to have wielded no influence, except possibly over the early Quakers.


A more elaborate sketch of anarchism, although still without the name, was provided by William Godwin in his Enquiry concerning Political Justice (1793). Godwin differed from most later anarchists in preferring to revolutionary action the gradual and, as it seemed to him, more natural process of discussion among men of good will, by which he hoped truth would eventually triumph through its own power. Godwin, who was influenced by the English tradition of Dissent and the French philosophy of the Enlightenment, put forward in a developed form the basic anarchist criticisms of the state, of accumulated property, and of the delegation of authority through democratic procedure. He believed in a "fixed and immutable morality," manifesting itself through "universal benevolence"; man, he thought, had no right "to act anything but virtue and to utter anything but truth," and his duty, therefore, was to act toward his fellow men in accordance with natural justice. Justice itself was based on immutable truths; human laws were fallible, and men should use their understandings to determine what is just and should act according to their own reasons rather than in obedience to the authority of "positive institutions," which always form barriers to enlightened progress. Godwin rejected all established institutions and all social relations that suggested inequality or the power of one man over another, including marriage and even the role of an orchestra conductor. For the present he put his faith in small groups of men seeking truth and justice; for the future, in a society of free individuals organized locally in parishes and linked loosely in a society without frontiers and with the minimum of organization. Every man should take part in the production of necessities and should share his produce with all in need, on the basis of free distribution. Godwin distrusted an excess of political or economic cooperation; on the other hand, he looked forward to a freer intercourse of individuals through the progressive breaking down of social and economic barriers. Here, conceived in the primitive form of a society of free landworkers and artisans, was the first sketch of an anarchist world. The logical completeness of Political Justice, and its astonishing anticipation of later libertarian arguments, make it, as Sir Alexander Gray said, "the sum and substance of anarchism."

Nineteenth-Century European Anarchism

Despite their similarities to later libertarian philosophies, however, the systems of Winstanley and Godwin had no perceptible influence on nineteenth-century European anarchism, which was an independent development and which derived mainly from the peculiar fusion of early French socialist thought and German neo-Hegelianism in the mind of Proudhon, the Besancon printer who has been called the father of anarchism. This tradition centered largely on a developing social revolutionary movement that attained mass dimensions in France, Italy, and Spain (where anarchism remained strong until the triumph of Franco in 1939), and to a lesser extent in French-speaking Switzerland, the Ukraine and Latin America. Apart from Proudhon, its main advocates were Michael Bakunin, Prince Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Sebastien Faure, Gustav Landauer, Elisée Reclus, and Rudolf Rocker, with Max Stirner and Lev Tolstoy on the individualist and pacifist fringes, respectively. Also, there arose among nineteenth-century anarchists a mystique that action and even theory should emerge from the people. Libertarian attitudes, particularly in connection with the anarchosyndicalism of France and Spain, were influenced by the rationalization and even romanticization of the experience of social struggle; the writings of Fernand Pelloutier and Georges Sorel in particular emanate from this aspect of the anarchist movement. Nineteenth-century anarchism assumed a number of forms, and the points of variation between them lie in three main areas: the use of violence, the degree of cooperation compatible with individual liberty, and the form of economic organization appropriate to a libertarian society.

individualist anarchism

Individualist anarchism lies on the extreme and sometimes dubious fringe of the libertarian philosophies since, in seeking to assure the absolute independence of the person, it often seems to negate the social basis of true anarchism. This is particularly the case with Max Stirner, who specifically rejected society as well as the state and reduced organization to a union of egoists based on the mutual respect of "unique" individuals, each standing upon his "might." French anarchism during the 1890s was particularly inclined toward individualism, which expressed itself partly in a distrust of organization and partly in the actions of terrorists like "Ravachol" and Émile Henry, who alone or in tiny groups carried out assassinations of people over whom they had appointed themselves both judges and executioners. A milder form of individualist anarchism was that advocated by the American libertarian writer Benjamin Tucker (18541939), who rejected violence in favor of refusal to obey and who, like all individualists, opposed any form of economic communism. What he asked was that property should be distributed and equalized so that every man should have control over the product of his labor.


Mutualism, developed by Proudhon, differed from individualist anarchism in its stress on the social element in human behavior. It rejected both political action and revolutionary violencesome of Proudhon's disciples even objected to strikes as a form of coercionin favor of the reform of society by the peaceful spread of workers' associations, devoted particularly to mutual credit between producers. A recurrent mutualist plan, never fulfilled, was that of the people's bank, which would arrange the exchange of goods on the basis of labor notes. The mutualists recognized that workers' syndicates might be necessary for the functioning of industry and public utilities, but they rejected large-scale collectivization as a danger to liberty and based their economic approach as far as possible on individual possession of the means of production by peasants and small craftsmen united in a framework of exchange and credit arrangements. The mutualists laid great stress on federalist organization from the local commune upward as a substitute for the national state. Mutualism had a wide following among French artisans during the 1860s. Its exponents were fervently internationalist and played a great part in the formation of the International Workingmen's Association in 1864; their influence diminished, however, with the rise of collectivism as an alternative libertarian philosophy.


Collectivism is the form of anarchism associated with Michael Bakunin. The collectivist philosophy was developed by Bakunin from 1864 onward, when he was forming the first international organizations of anarchists, the International Brotherhood and the International Alliance of Social Democracy. It was collectivist anarchism that formed the principal opposition to Marxism in the International Workingmen's Association and thus began the historic rivalry between libertarian and authoritarian views of socialism. Bakunin and the other collectivists agreed with the mutualists in their rejection of the state and of political methods, in their stress on federalism, and in their view that the worker should be rewarded according to his labor. On the other hand, they differed in stressing the need for revolutionary means to bring about the downfall of the state and the establishment of a libertarian society. Most important, they advocated the public ownership and the exploitation through workers' associations of the land and all services and means of production. While in mutualism the individual worker had been the basic unit, in collectivism it was the group of workers; Bakunin specifically rejected individualism of any kind and maintained that anarchism was a social doctrine and must be based on the acceptance of collective responsibilities.

anarchist communism

Collectivism survived as the dominant anarchist philosophy in Spain until the 1930s; elsewhere it was replaced during the 1870s by the anarchist communism that was associated particularly with Kropotkin, although it seems likely that Kropotkin was merely the most articulate exponent of a trend that grew out of discussions among anarchist intellectuals in Geneva during the years immediately after the Paris Commune of 1871. Through Kropotkin's literary efforts anarchist communism was much more elaborately worked out than either mutualism or collectivism; in such books as La conquête du pain (The conquest of bread, 1892) and Fields, Factories and Workshops (1899) Kropotkin elaborated the scheme of a semiutopian decentralized society based on an integration of agriculture and industry, of town life and country life, of education and apprenticeship. Kropotkin also linked his theories closely with current evolutionary theories in the fields of anthropology and biology; anarchism, he suggested in Mutual Aid (1902), was the final stage in the development of cooperation as a factor in evolution.

Anarchist communism differed from collectivism on only one fundamental pointthe way in which the product of labor should be shared. In place of the collectivist and mutualist idea of remuneration according to hours of labor, the anarchist communists proclaimed the slogan "From each according to his means, to each according to his needs" and envisaged open warehouses from which any man could have what he wanted. They reasoned, first, that work was a natural need that men could be expected to fulfill without the threat of want and, second, that where no restriction was placed on available goods, there would be no temptation for any man to take more than he could use. The anarchist communists laid great stress on local communal organization and even on local economic self-sufficiency as a guarantee of independence.


Anarchosyndicalism began to develop in the late 1880s, when many anarchists entered the French trade unions, or syndicates, which were just beginning to reemerge after the period of suppression that followed the Paris Commune. Later, anarchist militants moved into key positions in the Confédération Générale du Travail, founded in 1895, and worked out the theories of anarchosyndicalism. They shifted the basis of anarchism to the syndicates, which they saw as organizations that united the producers in common struggle as well as in common work. The common struggle should take the form of "direct action," primarily in industry, since there the workers could strike most sharply at their closest enemies, the capitalists; the highest form of direct action, the general strike, could end by paralyzing not merely capitalism but also the state.

When the state was paralyzed, the syndicates, which had been the organs of revolt, could be transformed into the basic units of the free society; the workers would take over the factories where they had been employees and would federate by industries. Anarchosyndicalism created a mystique of the working masses that ran counter to individualist trends; and the stress on the producers, as distinct from the consumers, disturbed the anarchist communists, who were haunted by the vision of massive trade unions ossifying into monolithic institutions. In France, Italy, and Spain, however, it was the syndicalist variant that brought anarchism its first and only mass following. The men who elaborated the philosophy of anarchosyndicalism included militants, such as Fernand Pelloutier, Georges Yvetot, and Émile Pouget, who among them created the vision of a movement arising from the genius of the working people. There were also intellectuals outside the movement who drew theoretical conclusions from anarchosyndicalist practice; the most important was Sorel, the author of Réflexions sur la violence (Reflections on violence, 1908), who saw the general strike as a saving "social myth" that would maintain society in a state of struggle and, therefore, of health.

pacifist anarchism

Pacifist anarchism has taken two forms. That of Tolstoy attempted to give rational and concrete form to Christian ethics. Tolstoy rejected all violence; he advocated a moral revolution, its great tactic the refusal to obey. There was much, however, in Tolstoy's criticisms of contemporary society and his suggestions for the future that paralleled other forms of anarchism. He denounced the state, law, and property; he foresaw cooperative production and distribution according to need.

Later a pacifist trend appeared in the anarchist movement in western Europe; its chief exponent was the Dutch ex-socialist, Domela Nieuwenhuis. It differed from strict Tolstoyism by accepting syndicalist forms of struggle that stopped short of violence, particularly the millenarian general strike for the abolition of war.

Despite their differences, all these forms of anarchism were united not merely in their rejection of the state, of politics, and of accumulated property, but also in certain more elusive attitudes. In its avoidance of partisan organization and political practices, anarchism retained more of the moral element than did other movements of protest. This aspect was shown with particular sharpness in the desire of its exponents for the simplification of life, not merely in the sense of removing the complications of authority, but also in eschewing the perils of wealth and establishing a frugal sufficiency as the basis for life. Progress, in the sense of bringing to all men a steadily rising supply of material goods, has never appealed to the anarchists; indeed, it is doubtful if their philosophy is at all progressive in the ordinary sense. They reject the present, but they reject it in the name of a future of austere liberty that will resurrect the lost virtues of a more natural past, a future in which struggle will not be ended, but merely transformed within the dynamic equilibrium of a society that rejects utopia and knows neither absolutes nor perfections.

The main difference between the anarchists and the socialists, including the Marxists, lies in the fact that while the socialists maintain that the state must be taken over as the first step toward its dissolution, the anarchists argue that, since power corrupts, any seizure of the existing structure of authority can only lead to its perpetuation. Anarchosyndicalists, however, regard their unions as the skeleton of a new society growing up within the old.

The problem of reconciling social harmony with complete individual freedom is a recurrent one in anarchist thought. It has been argued that an authoritarian society produces antisocial reactions, which would vanish in freedom. It has also been suggested, by Godwin and Kropotkin particularly, that public opinion will suffice to deter those who abuse their liberty. George Orwell, however, has pointed out that the reliance on public opinion as a force replacing overt coercion might lead to a moral tyranny which, having no codified bounds, could in the end prove more oppressive than any system of laws.

See also Bakunin, Mikhail Aleksandrovich; Communism; Diderot, Denis; Fénelon, François de Salignac de la Mothe; Godwin, William; Kropotkin, Pëtr Alekseevich; Laozi; Pacifism; Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph; Sorel, Georges; Stirner, Max; Swift, Jonathan; Tolstoy, Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich.


Avrich, Paul. Anarchist Portraits. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Bakunin, Michael. Michael Bakunin: Statism and Anarach. Translated and edited by Marshall S. Shatz. Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Crowder, George. Classical Anarchism: The Political Thought of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Eltzbacher, Paul. Anarchism. Translated by Steven T. Byington. New York: Tucker, 1908.

Gans, Chaim. Philosophical Anarchism and Political Disobedience. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Godwin, William. Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin, 7 vols. Edited by Mark Philp. London: Pickering, 1993.

Gray, Alexander. The Socialist Tradition, Moses to Lenin. London: Longmans, Green, 1946.

Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. Translated by Mary Klopper. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.

Joll, James. The Anarchists. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964.

May, Todd. The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

Miller, David. Anarchism. London: Dent, 1984.

Nettlau, Max. Der Anarchismus von Proudhon zu Kropotkin. Berlin: Syndikalist, 1927.

Nettlau, Max. Anarchisten und Social-Revolutionäre. Berlin: Syndikalist, 1931.

Nettlau, Max. Der Vorfrühling der Anarchie. Berlin: Syndikalist, 1925.

Ritter, Alan. Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Rocker, Rudolf. Anarcho-Syndicalism. London: Secker and Warburg, 1938.

Russell, Bertrand. "Bakunin and Anarchism." In Proposed Roads to Freedom. New York: Holt, 1919.

Wolff, Robert Paul. In Defense of Anarchism. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Woodcock, George. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1962.

Zenker, E. V. Anarchism. London: Methuen, 1898.

George Woodcock (1967)

Bibliography updated by Philip Reed (2005)


views updated


American anarchism has a paradoxical history. It is often treated as foreign—theorized in Russia by Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin and enacted in the United States by the Irish Molly Maguires, Germans such as Johann Most, eastern European Jews such as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, and Italians such as Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Yet Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were anarchist heroes, William James was influenced by anarchism, and both the American artist and critic Robert Henri and the philosopher Will Durant carried the anarchist teachings of the modern school into the mainstream of American culture.

American developments in the modern arts and progressive education before 1920 were deeply influenced by anarchism. Its history seems discontinuous, marked only by eruptions of violence—Haymarket, the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 by the Polish anarchist Leon Czolgosz, the riots accompanying Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) direct action—yet anarchism may provide the cultural logic that joins late-nineteenth-century realism to early-twentieth-century modernism. Immigration, labor, reformist social movements, the addition of western voices to the national debate, and science's challenges to religion interacted with anarchist thinking during this period to inaugurate new freedoms and a sense of social upheaval that eventually suffered from a severe counterreaction at the end of World War I.

The most newsworthy events of anarchism in the United States before the 1960s occurred between the 1870s and the 1920s, but sensationalism gave misleading prominence to the violence linked with anarchism. This period, in which millions of European immigrants came to the United States, also saw the publication of a flood of anarchist books and pamphlets and visits by anarchists both prominent and obscure—influences that found a welcoming tradition of individualistic and libertarian impulses already established in a country whose intellectual roots in the Enlightenment were based on similar utopian thinking and whose Revolution of 1776 stood as a historical exemplar of democracy and revolutionary action. The best-known American anarchist, Benjamin Tucker (1854–1939), published the American anarchist journal Liberty from 1881 to 1908. He was perhaps more individualistic than Bakunin or Kropotkin and their followers, but he welcomed them and translated and published their writings. Anarchism located the history of the United States in an international context.

The following is an extract from Emma Goldman's "Patriotism."

We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone, who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that it will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.

Such is the logic of patriotism.

Emma Goldman, "Patriotism," in Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Dover, 1969), p. 136. First published in 1917.


The impact of anarchism on American culture was both direct and indirect, and it was substantial. The native tradition, from Josiah Warren and Benjamin Tucker on, was individualistic. When radical advocates of "propaganda by the deed" seized the center stage with dynamite and bombs, newspapers sensationalized the threat of wild-eyed foreigners. Newspaper accounts often made no clear distinctions among the various revolutionary and progressive groups, so the anarchist support of workers or craftspeople could seem a vague and arbitrary terrorism.

The Molly Maguires, for example, were an Irish group in the complicated setting of Pennsylvania mining, where immigrants came with their own traditions of secret societies and where the Irish in particular were subject to discrimination that limited their opportunities for economic advancement. The first violence occurred during the Civil War: between 1862 and 1868 the Molly Maguires assassinated six mine owners and superintendents over issues of draft resistance and labor organizing. The second wave of violence between 1874 and 1875, with eight more assassinations, was in opposition to another labor union. Distinctions disappeared in subsequent representations, and the term "Molly Maguires" labeled first all Irish labor unions and then all workers as anarchist/terrorist organizations.

The Haymarket affair left a lasting impression on the public. The unfairness of the events and the subsequent trial also radicalized those who were supportive of labor. On 4 May 1886 a meeting was called by labor leaders (many German immigrants) to protest the deaths of two strikers killed by police at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago the day before. A bomb exploded, killing a policeman. When the police then opened fire, six more policemen and others in the crowd were killed. Eight anarchist leaders were tried, and in spite of widespread conviction that they were not guilty, four were hanged and one died by suicide. However, three others were pardoned after serving six years because Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld thought the trial had been unjust. Again, the rhetorical legacy of the event endured and outstripped the facts, resulting both in public outrage over the treatment of workers and in public outcry against the violent foreigners.

Alexander Berkman (1870–1936) and Emma Goldman (1869–1940) were among those who found Haymarket a turning point in their convictions. Berkman subsequently attempted to assassinate Andrew Carnegie's associate Henry Clay Frick and was imprisoned, while Goldman carried on alone. She had arrived in the United States in 1885 and was deported in 1919. In those thirty-four years she risked jail again and again, speaking in support of labor and birth control and, later, against the war. Her journal, Mother Earth, argued that artists, educators, and activists should join in a common purpose. Another important woman, Voltairine de Cleyre, also promoted anarchist politics, tracing historical continuities in Anarchism and American Traditions (1908).

In 1905 in Chicago, Big Bill Haywood gaveled into order the first convention of the Industrial Workers of the World or "Wobblies." Their belief in "direct action" and the general strike rather than negotiation through leaders and contracts made them both feared and effective, even though smaller in number than other labor organizations. Their confrontations across the country left a legacy of struggle for free speech that endures, including Joe Hill's songs. Roger Baldwin founded the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 as a response to violations of civil liberties he saw during Emma Goldman's speaking tour with the IWW.

The year 1920 also saw the sensational trial of the Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, accused of two murders during a robbery. After their conviction, a bomb in Wall Street killed more than thirty and injured hundreds. Many believed that they were possibly innocent because fear of anarchy biased the procedures and denied them justice. Worldwide protests followed, involving many artists and writers—among them Edna St. Vincent Millay, who subsequently wrote a poem in protest, "Justice Denied in Massachusetts."

Far from being rejected, the anarchist philosophy of free speech, individual responsibility, and mutual aid in a small-scale community entered the mainstream of cultural traditions in the United States. A rich anarchist counterculture grew up in a number of American regions, with social activities, lectures, newspapers (more than five hundred between 1870 and 1940), dramatic societies and theater groups, unions, clubs, cooperatives, mutual aid societies, picnics, concerts, and Ferrer schools. Francisco Ferrer established Modern Schools in Spain according to anarchist principles of a community-centered education. These inspired the creation of similar Modern School experiments in the United States. There were memorials of Haymarket and the Paris Commune held during the year. The Paris Commune arose in 1871, when the Prussians invaded and the working people of the city seized power and installed popular governance for a brief period.


Anarchism also influenced the history of American literature and the arts in the development of a modernist—revolutionary—aesthetic, joining American innovations to the British and Continental avant-garde. Americans such as James Whistler and the critic Sadakichi Hartman (Sidney Allan) were part of Stéphane Mallarmé's circle, who identified themselves with anarchist politics as well as aesthetics (Louise Michel, the anarchist heroine of the Paris Commune, was considered an ally; she thought herself a poet of violence). Events in the 1880s prompted literary responses, including a major novel, The Princess Casamassima by Henry James (1843–1916), which ambiguously joined the question of international anarchic politics and the question of the artist as activist. William Dean Howells (1837–1920), like so many, found the Haymarket affair distressing, though he did not carry through with this idea in a particular work. Still, as Arthur Redding argues, perhaps the anarchist visions of August Spies or Johann Most influenced Howells's sympathetic portrayal of the socialist character Lindau in A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890). Howells printed Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist in the Atlantic Monthly.

James's The Princess Casamassima (first published in 1885–1886 in the Atlantic Monthly) tells the story of an anarchist group in London and the tragic involvement of the talented bookbinder Hyacinth Robinson. Hyacinth's death by suicide seems to demonstrate that the artist should not try to practice "propaganda of the deed." However, James's book does not seem entirely unfriendly to the anarchists, who include the appealing (and foreign) bookbinder Poupin and the determined professional anarchist Paul Muniment. James shows aspects of class structure, including the interest of aristocrats such as the Princess Casamassima, whose sympathy for the underclasses is represented with irony. Appearing at a time when the London Times equated the violence of Irish acts and news of anarchist organizations from the Continent, promoting a widespread fear of underground terrorist activities, the novel conveyed to readers of the Atlantic Monthly the internationalism of anarchist themes and perhaps an individualist or psychological perspective that would have been consonant with American habits of mind.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, visits to the United States by Kropotkin himself as well as traveling troupes presenting the latest plays by Henrik Ibsen and other Continental dramatists, spread the ideas of anarchism and the challenge to tradition not only in New York but also in small towns across the country—reaching even to North Dakota, for example. The ideas from urban working-class and communal anarchism intermingled with American agrarian populism and the immigrant populations of the Great Plains. Little theater groups, many prompted by anarchist advocates of Ferrer Center practices such as Emma Goldman, sprang up in many locations, accompanying not only social work in the cities, such as that of Jane Addams in Chicago, but also western encounters with Native American and Spanish cultures, such as that of Mary Austin in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

William James (1842–1910) was early interested in anarchism and praised the anarchist Morrison Swift. The intellectual and theoretical influence of anarchism on William James's pragmatism is significant. In particular, his ideas of a radical empiricism seem to take up the anarchist reliance not on authority but on the discovery of truth through individual observation. William James influenced key figures in modern poetry (T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens as well as the less-experimental Mary Austin) and in African American cultural history (W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Zora Neale Hurston).

Modernist circles in the United States in the years leading up to 1920 included a number of anarchists. Alfred Stieglitz's 291 circle and his journal Camera Work promoted the work of a number of anarchist artists. Man Ray created covers for Goldman's Mother Earth. John Weichsel and Robert Henri were teachers at the Ferrer Center, and Weichsel established the People's Art Guild to allow artists to sell their works outside the markets. The sculptor Adolf Wolff advocated formalism as the method of achieving freedom for the individual artist. Randolph Bourne's idea of the "beloved community" was anarchist. Bourne, one of the Young American Critics (with Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, and Lewis Mumford), envisioned a culture of democratic community rather than corporate individualism. Margaret Anderson, editor of the Little Review, supported Goldman in its pages.

Anarchist principles affected American modernist aesthetics, but the political lineage ranged from the right to the left. Ezra Pound (1885–1972) energetically imported a Max Stirner–influenced version of an anarchist-individualist libertarianism that had grown up in Great Britain in the movement associated with Wyndham Lewis's Blast (1914 and 1915), Dora Marsden's Egoist (1914–1919), and the New Age (1907–1922). The Others circle—Alfred Kreymborg, William Carlos Williams, Marcel Duchamp, Albert Gleizes, Mina Loy—all gathered at a Ridgefield, New Jersey, colony in 1915, and the journal was published by an anarchist printer. The anarchist Revolt group published its journal from January to March 1916; it included Hippolyte Havel, Neith Boyce, Margaret Sanger, Robert Minor, Hutchins Hapgood, and the artists Max Weber, Abraham Walkowitz, and Ben Benn. The next-to-last issue was censored by the post office for immorality and violence, and almost all the copies were confiscated.

There may be an analogy between the federalist structure of anarchist political organization and the disjunctive structures of modernist aesthetics, a resistance to authoritarian history, narrative, and form. Ezra Pound's interest in Chinese ideogram and juxtaposition as a formal principle is an example. However, many have argued that the political implications of anarchism itself are lost in moving from propaganda of the deed to poetic practice. Can poetic language be revolutionary? This is an enduring critical issue that accompanies the influence of anarchism.

See alsoHaymarket Square; Immigration; Jurisprudence; Law Enforcement; Socialism; Violence


Primary Works

Baldwin, Roger, ed. Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets: A Collection of Writings. 1927. New York: Dover Publications, 1970.

Capouya, Emile, and Keitha Tompkins, eds. The Essential Kropotkin. New York: Liveright, 1975.

Dolgoff, Sam, ed. Bakunin on Anarchy: Selected Works by the Activist-Founder of World Anarchism. New York: Knopf, 1972. Printed as Bakunin on Anarchism, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980.

Woodcock, George, ed. The Anarchist Reader. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1977.

Secondary Works

Antliff, Allan. Anarchist Modernism: Art, Politics, and the First American Avant-Garde. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Avrich, Paul. Anarchist Portraits. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Avrich, Paul. The Haymarket Tragedy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Blatt, Martin Henry. Free Love and Anarchism: The Biography of Ezra Heywood. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Chicago Historical Society. "Evidence from the Haymarket Affair." Available at

Coughlin, Michael E., Charles H. Hamilton, and Mark A. Sullivan, eds. Benjamin R. Tucker and the Champions of "Liberty": A Centenary Anthology. St. Paul, Minn.: Michael E. Coughlin and Mark Sullivan, 1986.

Crowder, George. Classical Anarchism: The Political Thought of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

DeLeon, David. American as Anarchist. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Joll, James. The Anarchists. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Kadlec, David. Mosaic Modernism: Anarchism, Pragmatism, Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Kenny, Kevin. Making Sense of the Molly Maguires. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London: HarperCollins, 1992.

Miller, Martin A., ed. Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1970.

Nelson, Bruce C. Beyond the Martyrs: A Social History of Chicago's Anarchists, 1870–1900. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988.

Redding, Arthur F. Raids on Human Consciousness: Writing, Anarchism, and Violence. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Roediger, Dave, and Franklin Rosemont, eds. Haymarket Scrapbook. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1986.

Sonn, Richard D. Anarchism. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Tilley, W. H. The Background of "The Princess Casamassima." University of Florida Monograph 5. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1960.

Woodcock, George. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing/Meridian, 1962.

Suzanne Clark


views updated



Throughout the nineteenth century there was a sense of shared values that linked the anarchist, the socialist, the Marxist, the syndicalist, and even the social reformer. Itinerant figures who crossed among parties, groups, and campaigns were probably more typical of this period than were dedicated, dogmatic one-party militants. Anarchism was therefore one aspect of an eclectic and varied political milieu. For example, one could cite the political biography of Madeleine Pelletier (1874–1939). She is best remembered for her campaigns for women's contraceptive rights, but the story of her changing political allegiances is revealing. While a teenager, Pelletier attended anarchist and feminist meetings. She joined a women's Masonic lodge in 1904 and enrolled in both a Republican group and a socialist organization in 1906. In the same vein, one could cite figures such as William Morris (1834–1896), Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), Georges Sorel (1847–1922), and Octave Mirbeau (1850–1917): all activists and writers whose political values defy the more precise descriptions that were to come into use during the twentieth century.

However, during the nineteenth century a number of tendencies developed that later came to be seen as distinctively anarchist. The most important of these related to the role of authority in the political process. While Marxists and Blanquists (followers of the veteran revolutionary Auguste Blanqui [1805–1881]) defended the idea of a temporary revolutionary dictatorship to guide oppressed people to a better society, anarchists stressed the need to start the construction of non-authoritarian structures immediately. From this point flowed a number of lesser, but still significant, differences. Marxists linked political processes to economic cycles; anarchists showed a more flexible or more naive faith in the imminent possibility of revolution in even the most adverse circumstances. Correspondingly, Marxists stressed the central political importance of the working class. Many nineteenth-century anarchists accepted this, but there remained skeptics who would also consider the political potential of the peasant community, or of artistic and literary circles. Marxists could defend colonialism as bringing primitive societies, based on irrational, archaic myths, into the world of modernity. Anarchists were often more skeptical about claims that a colonial state could guide such societies along a progressive path—although even they found it difficult to identify the native peoples of Africa or Asia as their equals. Another small, but telling, detail was an attitude to language. Marxists tended to demand that the workers' press should be written grammatically, with correct spelling and syntax. Anarchists were fascinated by the subversive potential of slang and some—such as the veteran French anarchosyndicalist propagandist Emile Pouget (1860–1931)—wrote columns of newspaper prose in the vivid, earthy tones of proletarian patois. Finally, some important economic issues distinguished the two strands.


Twentieth-century anarchist history can be structured around four key dates: 1921, 1936, 1968, and 1999.

The separation and clarification of the loose strands of nineteenth-century leftist thought occurred between 1914 and 1917. The outbreak of World War I divided patriots from revolutionaries: significantly, even Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921), one of the greatest late nineteenth-century anarchist political philosophers, chose to back the western allies against Germany, seeing this as an alliance of liberal societies against authoritarian states. Few anarchist militants followed him, but many found themselves as isolated antiwar critics, cut off from all mass movements. The second great political division came in 1917: the Bolshevik Revolution.

The years after 1917 were unsettled. Following the slaughter that occurred during World War I and the censorship and repression of dissident leftist voices across Europe, the Bolshevik Revolution seemed like the answer to many prayers. Anarchist responses ranged from the enthusiastic to the cautious, but very few made any immediate criticisms. Across Europe, the creation of communist parties divided and confused anarchists. Frequently, anarchists joined. In most cases, they then grew disillusioned with the ethics and practices of bolshevism. However, there was no single, stark turning point in European anarchists' analyses and attitudes regarding the communist state. The experience of Victor Serge (1890–1947), a Belgian-Russian militant with a record of anarchist activism in France and Spain, is a good example of the anarchist experience. He crossed into Soviet Russia in 1919. He was appalled by the grim, bureaucratic, authoritarian ethos of the Communist Party, but felt constrained to support it against its reactionary enemies. However, he continued to voice criticisms of the new regime. He was imprisoned in 1933 and then released and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1936 as a gesture by the Soviet government to the Popular Front coalitions in France and Spain. While Serge never returned to anarchism, his post-1936 criticisms of the Soviet Union, both in the form of pamphlets and astonishingly powerful novels, are some of the most eloquent libertarian analyses of communist society. Serge died in exile in Mexico.

The revolt in the port of Kronstadt (opposite Petrograd) in March 1921, was a key indication of the deep difference between anarchist and communist forms of organization and political philosophies. The ports' sailors and soldiers, previously militant communists, revolted against the dictatorship of the Communist Party and demanded more libertarian forms of political organization. Their revolt was put down by the Red Army under Leon Trotsky (1879–1940). A few desperate dissidents crossed the Gulf of Finland to spread the news about the crushing of the revolt, but few anarchists heard their message clearly. Instead, in each country, an awkward, emotionally charged argument continued sporadically over the 1920s. In many European countries (such as Germany and Great Britain), the new communist organizations effectively replaced the older syndicalist and anarchist groups. In Italy, the anarchosyndicalist USI (Unione Sindacale Italiana—Italian Syndicalist Union) retained some working-class presence, but was then crushed by Benito Mussolini's (1879–1940) dictatorship. In France, anarchosyndicalism only survived as a fractured tendency, maintaining a marginal existence within both the Socialist CGT (Confédération Générale de Travail) and the Communist CGTU (Confédération Générale de Travail unifiée) and—confusingly—also represented by the small CGTSR (Confédération Génerale de Travail Syndicaliste Révolutionnaire) after 1926.

Few of the pre–World War I anarchosyndicalist movements survived into the 1930s. One of the exceptions was the Swedish SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation—Central Organization of the Workers of Sweden), which, having drifted into moderate, reformist politics in the 1930s, and Cold War anti-Sovietism in the 1950s, is at the beginning of the twenty-first century experiencing a modest revival in its numbers. However, the most important of the remaining organizations was the Spanish CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo—National Confederation of Labor), created in 1911. About half a million workers were members in 1931; it seems possible that late in 1936 there were more than a million, making the CNT the largest anarchist organization in history.

The trajectory of Spanish anarchism was central to the overall development of mid-twentieth-century anarchism. The CNT attracted the support of the most advanced workers in Spain (the textile factory workers of Barcelona), but it also attracted much support from the poor landless laborers of Andalusia and from intellectuals, artists, and writers. An anarcho-feminist organization, Mujeres Libres (Free Women) developed alongside it. In July 1936 a reactionary coup was launched by conservative generals terrified by the prospect of radical social reform. Its immediate consequence was the collapse of parliamentary government, and for a few brief months the tried and tested anarchist arguments became the common sense of democratic Spain. Workers' militias beat back soldiers and the police, preserving about two-thirds of Spain from the coup. The CNT effectively ran Barcelona, which, with more than a million inhabitants, was the biggest city in Spain. They also controlled much of Catalonia, Valencia, and Aragon. Peasants seized the land, expelled landowners and priests, and ran their own communities.

By 1937 the situation had changed. Italian and German military aid to the rebel generals made them into a much more serious fighting force. The more meager Russian military aid, often sent directly to the Spanish Communist Party, transformed it from a tiny far-left sect into a serious political force, uniting moderate Republicans, liberal officers, and committed militants. The CNT, by comparison, seemed almost alone in the world. Small anarchist groups revived across Europe, desperately attempting to provide solidarity and aid. But the anarchosyndicalists were outgunned: many joined the great wave of a half a million refugees who fled from Catalonia to France in January and February 1939, when the Spanish Republic was finally extinguished.


The next three decades were desperate times for anarchist movements. The political polarization typical of the Cold War left little room for libertarian thought. A few tiny anarchosyndicalist groups survived in France and Sweden; some libertarian magazines and papers continued. Significantly, Cornelius Castoriadis (1922–1997), a genuinely innovative Greek French thinker who moved closer to anarchist principles in this period, and who contributed much to the later revival of anarchist thought, never used the term anarchist to describe his own thinking. There was a type of generational renewal of anarchist principles: the next generation of militants were more likely to have drawn their inspiration from radical art movements, such as the surrealists, or from ecological ideals, rather than from the labor movement.

May 1968 began the breakdown of the rigid structures of Cold War politics. Anewfar-left emerged. It was sometimes as authoritarian, as worker-oriented, as the old communism, but sometimes more eclectic and more willing to draw inspiration from heterodox sources. It was significant that, for example, the participatory ideals of the women's liberation movement often resembled the older anarchist antiauthoritarian practices. Green activists were more inspired by Kropotkin's Mutual Aid (1902) than by Karl Marx's (1818–1883) Capital. But within this tapestry of new thinking, anarchism was just one strand among many. While there was some re-foundation of anarchist organizations, none of them ever acquired the status or the mass membership of the early twentieth-century groups.

After the death of Francisco Franco (1892–1975) and the reestablishment of democratic rule in Spain there was a widespread expectation that the CNT would revive as a powerful force in Spanish politics. This never happened. Instead, the movement split, with one tendency aggressively defending a legacy of syndicalist hyper-militancy (still known as "CNT"), while another, the CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo), adopting a self-consciously "pragmatic" stance. At the end of the twentieth century this second tendency was quite successful in recruiting disillusioned militants from communist and socialist trade unions, but often its explicitly anarchosyndicalist identity seems to have been diluted. Similar processes are at work in France, with two rival CNTs, plus a somewhat larger organization, SUD (Solidaires, Unitaires, et Démocratiques—Solidarity, Unity, and Democracy), with a rather distant, indirect link to the older anarchosyndicalist tradition.

Elsewhere anarchists have contributed to a diverse range of causes: antinuclear and antiwar activism, squatters' movements, animal rights, free schools, and solidarity campaigns. In such cases, anarchism has worked best as a strand of critical, independent thought, invigorating and radicalizing other movements. The movement's intellectual center of gravity seems to have moved across the Atlantic. After the intriguing postsurrealist utopianism of the Parisian Situationists, the most significant recent anarchist thinkers are mainly based in the United States. They include Noam Chomsky (b. 1928), Ursula le Guin (b. 1929), Murray Bookchin (b. 1921), and John Zerzan (b. 1943). They have proposed a variety of ideas: Chomsky has achieved a worldwide reputation as a critic of U.S. foreign policy, Le Guin is a gifted science fiction writer and a committed Daoist, Bookchin has synthesized ecological thinking with more traditional anarchist concerns, and Zerzan proposes an anti-industrial, antitechnological utopianism. There is some tension between European anarchist political culture, within which the legacy and ethos of anarchosyndicalism still commands respect, and the "post-leftist" ideas that circulate in the United States.

Antiglobalization—or "alternative globalization"—has become a key theme in contemporary anarchist political culture. The inspiration for this turn came from the Zapatista revolt in Chiapas in 1994 and from the street protests in Seattle, Washington, during the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999. While never simply and straightforwardly anarchist in character, this new wave of protest demonstrated close affinities to both the older ideals of the anarchosyndicalists and to an eclectic range of sympathies demonstrated by the late-twentieth-century and early-twenty-first-century anarchist thinkers.

See alsoAnarchosyndicalism; Communism; Feminism; Labor Movements; Russian Revolutions of 1917; Socialism; Spanish Civil War.


Ackelsberg, Martha A. Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women. Bloomington, Ind., 1991.

Avrich, Paul. Kronstadt, 1921. Princeton, N.J., 1970.

Baschet, Jerôme. L'Etincelle Zapatiste: Insurrection indienne et résistance planétaire. Paris, 2002.

Berry, David. A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917–1945. Westport, Conn., 2002.

Casanova, Julián. De la calle al frente; el anarcosindicalismo en España (1931–1939). Barcelona, 1997.

Gemie, Sharif. "The Ballad of Bourg-Madame: Memory, Exiles and the Spanish Republic Refugees of the 'Retirada.'" International Review of Social History 51 (2006): 1–40.

Graeber, David. "The New Anarchists." New Left Review 13 (2002): 61–73.

Kinna, Ruth. Anarchism: A Beginner's Guide. Oxford, U.K., 2005.

Levy, Carl. " Currents of Italian Syndicalism before 1926." International Review of Social History 45, no. 2 (2000): 209–250

Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London, 1993.

Serge, Victor. Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Translated by Peter Sedgwick. London, 1984.

Sharif Gemie


views updated


moving toward a stateless society
anarchist movements

The belief that justice requires the abolition of states and other authoritarian institutions not based on some form of cooperative agreement between autonomous individuals—often referred to as anarchism—can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium (c. 335–c. 263 b.c.e.) and followed through utopian and millenarian religious movements like the Brethren of the Free Spirit of the thirteenth century and the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. Modern anarchism, however, is rooted in the reorientation of sociopolitical thought that took place in Europe following the outbreak of the French Revolution. Stimulated by revolutionary hopes for fundamental moral and sociopolitical regeneration, anarchists argued that human beings possessed sufficient moral and rational capacities to hold societies together without traditional political institutions like the state and without political practices like elections.

This does not mean that anarchists rejected all organizations that coordinated collective action or that they denied the significance of all interactions that one would consider "political." They were antipolitical in their rejection of traditional political institutions, but they remained political in their concern to foster human communities dedicated to justice. Characteristically, they looked for ways to bring individuals together in voluntary associations in order to coordinate production and to provide social solidarity for specific purposes. In the words of Jean Grave (1854–1939), the most prominent French anarchist journalist of the late nineteenth century, anarchists wished to demonstrate "that individuality cannot develop except in the community; that the latter cannot exist unless the former evolves freely; and that they mutually complement each other. "States, however, were unacceptable associations in their eyes because they were coercive, punitive, exploitative, and destructive. And because state action was identified with politics, hopes for progress were predicated on the absorption of this political realm into the moral and economic realms.

Though champions of liberty vis-à-vis the state, anarchists were not advocates of an absolute ideal of liberty that implied the absence of impediments to whatever the individual wished to do. Though advocates of "negative liberty," to use the English philosopher Isaiah Berlin's (1909–1997) terminology, anarchists were also dedicated to an ideal of "positive liberty," which evaluated actions in accordance with conceptions of the true or essential self; that is, in terms of obedience to normative conceptions of reason and morality. The failure to recognize the moral dimension of anarchist thought has led some to assume that anarchists were dedicated to disorder. In fact, most anarchists disliked chaos and argued that anarchy was, in the words of the French anarchist geographer Jean-Jacques-Élisée Reclus (1830–1905), "the highest expression of order." Anarchists believed that stateless societies did not imply disorder because, in their eyes, humans could most successfully achieve rational and moral fulfillment in arenas of human interaction not identified with the state.

Different anarchist theorists looked to different institutions to stimulate cooperation and community. The Englishman William Godwin (1756–1836), the first modern writer to make a reputation condemning government, argued that close interpersonal discussion or conversation was the best means to foster the growth of reason that makes individuals independent and the expansion of sincerity that ties individuals together. The French theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), who was the first to call himself an anarchist (in his 1840 book What Is Property?), favored the association of the workshop and, in his later, federalist phase, regional communities as the appropriate loci for stimulating respect and the altruistic concern for others. The famous Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876), and the other anarchists connected with the Jura Federation during the 1870s, like Reclus and Paul Brousse (1844–1912), also searched for social solidarity in the context of trade and industrial groupings (corps de métier or la corporation), organized federally and by contract. Brousse, however, distinguished himself by emphasizing that the Commune (1871) was the privileged agent for the achievement of a stateless society. During the 1890s, Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921), Reclus, and Grave translated anarchism into a language of solidarity and mutual aid, emphasizing extended neighborhoods that fostered benevolence and reciprocal support. After the mid-1890s, anarchist-syndicalists like Paul Delesalle (1870–1948) looked to working-class syndicats as the context for education and libertarian organization. Central to all anarchist visions was the conviction that the growth of solidarity, neighborhoods, free associations, syndicats, and so forth, would lead to the development of moral and rational individuality and would stimulate cooperation and community.

Where anarchists obviously differed from other sociopolitical thinkers was in their belief that the rational and moral capacities of individuals were vigorous enough—or could be improved sufficiently through education—to permit the elimination of the threat and use of force associated with states. There is an obvious assumption here that morality and rationality are not related to state politics; indeed, they are diametrically opposed. Anarchists viewed states as poisons that contaminated social relations with impersonality, distrust, and resentment. And they argued that it was the inherent nature of states that produced the evil, not a particular form of state control, as might be suggested by liberal or socialist theorists. "Under whatever form that the state exists and functions,"

wrote Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau (1850–1917), "it is degrading and deadly to human activity: because it prevents the individual from developing his normal sense." Bakunin put it succinctly when he wrote that "despotism lies less in the form of the state or of power than in their very principle."

moving toward a stateless society

There was significant divergence among anarchists concerning how to move toward the goal of a stateless society. Many placed high hopes in education. Proudhon, for example, insisted on the importance of articulating the "worker idea." Reclus conceived in the 1870s a plan for a "scientific socialist education." Grave wrote of the need to disseminate "propaganda" to emancipate people from prejudice, ignorance, and the intellectual supports of the bourgeois system. Beyond calls for education, anarchists proposed a wide variety of means. Early anarchists like Godwin and Proudhon disapproved of revolution, believing that rational discussion, education, and (for Proudhon) credit reform and productive cooperation based on contracts were the appropriate means for ushering in the stateless society of their dreams. Later anarchists like Bakunin, Brousse, Kropotkin, Reclus, and Grave believed that education, monetary reform, and workers' associations were insufficient and that, therefore, spontaneous popular revolt was necessary.

Some advocated "propaganda by the deed," a controversial concept that can be traced to anarchists in Italy and Switzerland during the 1870s, and that was formally adopted as a tactic at an international meeting of anarchists and social revolutionaries held in London in 1881. Whether propaganda by the deed sanctioned acts of terrorism, or whether it should be confined to periods of insurrection, was a much-debated issue. This became a central issue during the l'ère des attentats (1892–1894) when self-professed anarchists in France—like Ravachol, Auguste Vaillant, and Émile Henry—set off bombs in public places and in the homes of public figures. Anarchists assassinated six heads of state between 1881 and 1901, including the French president Sadi Carnot in 1894 and the U.S. president William McKinley in 1901. Many anarchist writers were embarrassed with the association and condemned these acts, even though they were reluctant to condemn the actors, whom they depicted as driven to action by circumstances. In 1891, Kropotkin wrote that "it is not by heroic acts that revolutions are made…. Revolution, above all, is a popular movement." And Jean Grave defensively stated that "we are not among those who preach acts of violence." But, it is equally clear that Kropotkin and Grave were disturbed only by violence directed at individuals; violent acts that destroyed institutions or that were part of a widespread revolution were entirely justified. "Once the struggle has begun," wrote Grave, "sentimentality will have no place, the multitude will distrust all phrase makers and unmercifully crush all who try to stand in the way." Many late-nineteenth-century anarchists believed in the necessity of violent insurrection, but most did not support individual acts of political terrorism.

Reclus and the majority of Italian anarchists refused to make these distinctions between

insurrection and terrorism. They advocated propaganda by the deed in the late 1870s; they defended anarchist thefts in the 1880s; they wrote admiringly of the terrorists in the 1890s. The popular image of the anarchist as a bomb-throwing extremist, not surprisingly, grew accordingly.

anarchist movements

European anarchist movements were strongest in Italy and Spain. In the late 1860s, young Italian radicals became dissatisfied with Mazzini's conservative stance on social change, and they sided with Bakunin and the other "nonauthoritarians" against Karl Marx (1818–1883) within the International Workingmen's Association (IWA) when it split in 1872. The rapid growth of the IWA in Italy during the early 1870s was due to the activities of young militants like Carlo Cafiero (1846–1892), Andrea Costa (1851–1910), and Errico Malatesta (1853–1932). These men were enchanted by Bakunin, and won over by his writings that extolled the virtues of labor, attacked capitalists, defended atheism, proposed social revolution, and denounced the state. In August 1874, Italian anarchists made plans for a coordinated series of uprisings in Bologna, Rome, Florence, and other cities, but lack of popular support and early detection by the authorities led to the easy suppression of the uprising and the quick arrest of most of the anarchist leaders. Three years later, in April 1877, there was a second attempt in the mountain villages of the Campagna; again it failed and led to a cycle of government repression.

Anarchism was vigorous on the Iberian peninsula during the same years. It was propagated by representatives of the nonauthoritarian wing of the IWA in the late 1860s, especially in the years following the September Revolution of 1868, which overthrew Queen Isabella II (r. 1833–1868). Until the Bourbon Restoration of 1875, there was intense social turmoil in Spain, which allowed radicals of various ideological colorations (including collectivist anarchists, who called for workers to receive the integral product of their labor, and communist anarchists, who called for a communal system of economic distrubition) to bid for influence among disaffected rural and urban workers. The repression that accompanied the Restoration forced anarchist groups underground, giving proponents of insurrection and terrorism a stronger voice. With the establishment of the right of association in 1881, syndicalist forces within the anarchist movement became stronger. The most vocal and visible anarchists—writers like Fernando Tárrida del Mármol (1861–1915) and Ricardo Mella (1861–1925)—embraced an anarchism that appealed to the strong Spanish tradition of working-class associations, unions, circulos, ateneos, and similar organizations. Their so-called anarquismo sin adjetivos (anarchism without adjectives) converged with the ideal of the general strike to form the anarchosyndicalist ideology of the Confederción Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), founded in 1910.

In England, there was a split in 1884 between left-wing theorists who advocated political action and those who opposed parliamentarianism. In this year, William Morris (1834–1896) and others broke off from the Social Democratic Federation to form the Socialist League. For the next five years, Morris and his close associates advocated a radical change of the economy and society through education and revolution. In Commonweal, the paper of the Socialist League, workers were warned against compromising with contemptible politics and advised to put their faith in militant trade-unionism. The battles of "Bloody Sunday" between police and demonstrators at Trafalgar Square on 13 November 1887, and the success of the great Dock Strike of 1889 led some British militants to imagine that revolutionary change could be achieved through a universal strike.

Anarchism in France was usually associated with militant labor organizations (syndicats) that called for class war, the suppression of government, and the turning of workshops and factories over to the workers. This anarchosyndicalism, as it is sometimes called, was the orientation, for example, of Fernand Pelloutier (1867–1901), a young anarchist journalist who inspired and organized labor exchanges (Bourses du Travail) in the last years of the nineteenth century. In 1902, the Bourses merged with the Confédération Générale du Travail (General Confederation of Labor—CGT), and their doctrine, called revolutionary syndicalism, remained radical, violent, and directed against politicians and the state. The 1906 CGT congress at Amiens voted overwhelmingly for workers to shun politics and to prepare for the general strike for their "integral emancipation."

Like all nineteenth-century anarchists, French revolutionary syndicalists believed that states were immoral, coercive, bureaucratic machines responsible for the many oppressions and injustices of the modern age. For humans to achieve moral fulfillment and social justice, states must be replaced by interpersonal conversations, working-class associations, and local communities.

See alsoAnarchosyndicalism; Bakunin, Mikhail; Kropotkin, Peter; Labor Movements; Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph; Ravachol (François Claudius Koenigstein-Ravachol); Socialism; Syndicalism.


Crowder, Georges. Classical Anarchism: The Political Thought of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin. New York, 1991.

Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. Translated by Mary Klopper. New York, 1970.

Joll, James. The Anarchists. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1980.

Maitron, Jean. Le mouvement anarchiste en France. 2 vols. Paris, 1975.

Préposiet, Jean. Histoire de l'anarchisme. Paris, 1993.

Ritter, Alan. Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1980.

Sonn, Richard D. Anarchism. New York, 1992.

Woodcock, George. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Cleveland, Ohio, 1962.

K. Steven Vincent


views updated



Anarchism, like liberalism and democracy, carries more than a single connotation. This is because it has produced both a body of theoretical literature and a series of activist parties, the two only remotely related. The anarchism of Godwin, Proudhon, and Kropotkin, known to the scholarly community, stands at a far remove from the images of the Haymarket rioters, Sacco and Vanzetti, and the Spanish Civil War, familiar to the popular mind. Yet if relationships must be established, it may be said that both the literary and the activist traditions share a common view of man, society, and the state.

Any definition of anarchism must be derived more from its literature than from its record of political action. Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President McKinley, and the Andalusian peasants who fought against Franco were probably stirred by the same impulses as were Godwin and Kropotkin. But the latter figures articulated their beliefs, and it is on the written work that we must rely. The major tenets of anarchist doctrine may be summarized under five major heads. Emphases may differ with different proponents, but most of the elements are at least implicit in all serious anarchist writings.

(1) Man is essentially a benign creature. He was born good, or with a potentiality for goodness, but has been corrupted by the habits and institutions of authority. Religion, education, politics, and economic life have all served to warp the natural goodness that inheres in mankind.

(2) Man is a social animal, and men reach their fulfillment when voluntarily and spontaneously cooperating with one another. Society is natural, the state is not; and the quest for the communal life is instinctive to all men.

(3) Prevailing institutions of society—particularly private property and the state—are artificial agencies through which men exploit and corrupt each other. Authority in any form, even democratic government or a socialist economy, stultifies the individual.

(4) Social change must be spontaneous, direct, and mass-based. Political parties, trade unions—indeed, all organized movements—are themselves creatures of authority. While pursuing reform or even revolution, they are so constituted as ultimately to replace one evil with another of a similar sort. Significant change, then, must express the natural sentiments of a mass of autonomous individuals acting without outside direction.

(5) Industrial civilization, no matter what the form of ownership of the means of production, warps the human spirit. Machines master men, narrowing their personalities and blocking creativity. Any society built on an industrial structure is bound to debase the motives and impulses of those who live in it.

The literature of anarchism. While elements of anarchist doctrine can be found as far back as the Stoics, the first meaningful exposition could not come until the advent of the industrial revolution. William Godwin’s Political Justice (1793), appearing in the first and grimmest generation of that revolution, attacked the exploitation of man by man resulting from tyrannical government and unequal ownership of property. It is interesting to note that Godwin did not exhort men to revolutionary action, but hoped rather that people would educate themselves to a realization that justice would be secured only if they replaced the state with a network of voluntary arrangements.

Far more widely read was Pierre Joseph Proudhon, whose What Is Property? (1840) gave the notorious reply that “property is theft.” Proudhon emphasized that society is a natural organism and the individual is a social creature. He, too, did not advocate revolutionary violence, but his call for the abolition of the state and the prevailing economic system implied that a forceful overturn was bound to come. Throughout his writings he elaborated many plans for setting up independent associations, decentralizing authority, and circumscribing the power of the state. The theoretical clash between anarchist and communist doctrine can be seen most vividly in Marx’s attack on Proudhon, one of those rare cases where Marx displayed respect for the arguments of an antagonist.

Perhaps the most attractive of anarchist authors was P’etr Kropotkin, whose Mutual Aid (1890–1896) sought to rebut social Darwinism. Nature does not live under laws that permit only the fittest to survive, Kropotkin argued; not only in primitive societies, but also in the animal world, the basis of organization is mutual cooperation and help. With this “scientific” underpinning he proceeded to call for a thoroughgoing communist society, based on communes and devoid of either a division of labor or a money economy. He was explicit in advocating removal of the state by revolutionary means, but he was a “pure” anarchist in that he rejected any organized movement or party as the vehicle of change.

Of the major anarchist writers, Georges Sorel seemed least concerned with the goodness of man or the question of individual freedom. His Reflections on Violence (1908) is closest to the popular image of an anarchist handbook, detailing the various methods by which the working class can undermine and overthrow the capitalist state. The chief weapon is the “general strike,” a rising of the proletariat that brings the wheels of the old order to a precipitous halt. Sorel was prepared to use existing trade unions as the vehicle for revolution, giving rise to the term “anarchosyndicalism.” In making such a concession, he was, unlike Kropotkin, willing to use at least one institutional mechanism of the old regime to bridge the gap to the new society.

Anarchism as utopianism. It is easy enough to see how anarchism has remained a sectarian doctrine. Its tenets, taken singly, have much in common with those of other ideologies. Anarchism shares with liberalism an exaltation of the individual, a rejection of authority, and assumes a natural harmony of interests in society. Like both socialism and communism, it abjures private property and a state that supports the capitalist system; its stress on the need for revolutionary change clearly parallels the communist prescription. Anarchism has a democratic strand in its emphasis on human equality, and it is also in the classical conservative tradition in its suspicion of industrial society. Yet anarchism is the sum of its several parts, and the whole recipe is too rich a mixture for most. Those who rebel against authority may be attracted by parts of the anarchist creed; however, all but a handful balk when they learn that the entire doctrine must be regarded as an interlocking edifice.

Quite plainly, anarchists wish to have it all ways at once. If foremost priority is apparently accorded to the free and uncoerced individual, equal value is assigned to the harmonious social organism. Revolutionary violence is advocated, or at least implied, but unlike the communist variety it is to come to pass without benefit of a hierarchical party or leaders who impose their will on an organized movement. And the society of the postrevolutionary epoch, unlike any the modern world has ever known, will exist without law, state, or authority and will witness the flowering of hitherto unknown human potentialities.

Anarchism must be understood as a variety of utopianism—although differing from other Utopian thought in that it considers not only ends but also means to the achievement of those ends. Like all utopianism, it is at least partly an attitude of mind rather than a rigorous theory. There is no difficulty in finding instances of ingenuousness in anarchist doctrine. It is easy enough to point out that coercion, real or threatened, is a necessary element in human relations; that revolutionary action can lead to dictatorial tyranny no less than to the promised land; that man has a propensity for evil as well as for good; that the anarchist Utopia will be a monotonous plateau. But none of these objections, all based on common sense, attack the basic impulse that gives rise to the anarchist protest.

Anarchism, like any Utopian doctrine, is first a critique of existing social arrangements, and second a blueprint for a problemless future. The principle that man is naturally good, for example, cannot be undermined by allusion to the evil behavior that has recurred throughout human history. For the reply is simply that man has never been given the chance to realize his potential, that his benign nature has heretofore been corrupted by institutional authority. Nor, by the same token, can the drabness of an equalitarian and conflictless society be used as a stick with which to beat Utopian projections. To say that we, the corrupted products of an immoral era, would be bored is a myopic judgment on the conditions of society best conducive to the highest development of the human spirit. If anarchism is Utopian, if its analysis and prescriptions seem unsophisticated, it nevertheless represents one of the fundamental expressions of dissatisfaction with the way men have chosen to order their lives up to the present.

Anarchism in the modern world. It is tempting to say that there is a little of the anarchist in everyone. Most individuals are sufficiently unquestioning to accept authority, at least as a necessary evil. But there is hardly a person who has not, perhaps in one moment of his life, stopped to wonder what he might have made of himself if agencies of coercion had not restricted his behavior at every turn. The businessman objecting to government intervention in his affairs, the factory worker resentful of the discipline imposed by management, the citizen who feels powerless in the face of party machines, even the adolescent chafing under regulations laid down by school authorities—all yearn for the freedom to be and to become themselves. To be sure, much of what sometimes passes as the spirit of anarchism is simply rationalization for a style of life an individual or group wishes to attain or preserve.

A good deal of the renewed interest in “alienation,” “anomie,” and personal “identity” stems from the assumption that men seek to be free of restrictions and are thwarted in their quest by the impersonal rules and personal relationships arising in the modern world. Critiques of corporations, trade unions, political parties, and even suburban life seem at first glance to reflect the anarchist temper. But in the final analysis it would be a grave error to confuse this social criticism with the anarchist tradition. For above all else the anarchist stands outside his society. He has no vested interests in it, and he is prepared to witness its destruction. The businessman, the politician, the intellectual, all of these may want the world shaped somewhat differently, but they still wish to preserve what are for them critical elements of that world. Few are so dedicated to freedom that they reject out of hand all organized forms of action and wait instead for the day when spontaneous and leaderless uprisings overthrow the social structure.

There may be concern with the kinds of problems that constitute anarchist doctrine, but there is a shortage of actual anarchists. This has been the case throughout history. Dedicated believers arise from time to time to assassinate princes and presidents, to encourage labor unrest, and to man a barricade in a civil war. But if states and economies have been overturned by revolutionary means, it has been by other movements acting under other inspirations.

Andrew Hacker

[See alsoSocialism; Syndicalism; Utopianism. Other relevant material may be found in the biographiesKropotkin; Proudhon; Sorel.]


Fleisher, David 1951 William Godwin: A Study in Liberalism. London: Allen & Unwin.

Godwin, William (1793) 1946 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness. 3 vols., 3d rev. ed. Univ. of Toronto Press.

Horowitz, Irving L. 1961 Radicalism and the Revolt Against Reason: The Social Theories of Georges Sorel. London: Routledge; New York: Humanities.

Kropotkin, P’etr (1890–1896) 1955 Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Boston: Extending Horizons. → Thomas Huxley’s “The Struggle for Existence” is included in this book.

Lubac, Henri de (1945) 1948 The Un-Marxian Socialist: A Study of Proudhon. New York: Sheed & Ward. → First published in French.

Proudhon, Pierre Joseph (1840) 1876 What Is Property? An Inquiry Into the Principle of Right and of Government. Princeton, Mass.: Tucker. → First published in French.

Sorel, Georges (1908) 1950 Reflections on Violence. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published in French as Réflexions sur la violence. A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Collier.

Woodcock, George 1962 Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. New York: Meridian.

Woodcock, George; and Avakumovic, Ivan 1950 The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin. New York: Boardman.


views updated


A doctrine that teaches the necessity to eliminate political authority in order to realize social justice and individual freedom. It is usually accompanied by opposition to private property and organized religion. Anarchism is rooted in these assumptions: (1) that man is good and essentially altruistic by nature; (2) that he is free only when he follows his powers and prescribes a rule to himself; (3) that he has been corrupted by the state and by law, which are always instruments of class or personal exploitation and oppression; and (4) that a natural, interpersonal harmony of interests exists in the economic and the moral order in the absence of the state. These assumptions lead to the following conclusions: (1) that social injustice and moral evil can neither be cured nor diminished by state action; (2) that the division of labor should always be on a voluntary basis; (3) that the state should be replaced by voluntary cooperation arising from below, that is, proceeding from individuals to groups, and, on the federal principle, to higher forms of human association; and (4) that voluntary association implies the right of secession.

History. Anarchist ideas extend back at least as far as Zeno (c. 320c. 250 b.c.), the founder of stoicism. Building on the principle of self-sufficiency, Zeno prescribed an ideal society wherein men would live without family, property, or courts of law. In medieval Europe the pantheistic brothers and sisters of the free spirit rejected all authority and advocated communism of goods and women. During the Hussite wars, Petr Chelčický (c. 1390c. 1460) taught that since all compulsion is from the devil, the state is evil and must disappear along with class distinctions. anabaptists of the 16th century believed themselves freed from all law by Christ's grace, refused to pay taxes or tithes, and held wives and property in common. The French writers Rabelais (c. 14951553) and fÉnelon (16511715) expressed anarchist ideas that were later shared by some 18th-century philosophes. A couplet of Diderot is typical: "La nature n'a fait ni serviteurs ni maitres/Je ne veux ni donner ni recevoir des lois."

Systematic Anarchism. Modern anarchist thought draws on the classical liberal belief in a natural economic order and on the philosophy of Ludwig feuerbach (180472), which emphasizes the need to eliminate man's alienation from his true self by a reduction of all barriers and a reclamation of the material world. William Godwin (17561836), in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice (1793), considered government and property acquired by exploitation as basic evils, and he advocated a stateless society of self-governing communities with goods in common. He conceded that if the most natural and just associations were established, the conduct of some men would need to be restrained for a lengthy period until their corrupted instincts were corrected. The left-wing Hegelian Max Stirner (180656), in his Der Einziger und sein Eigentum (1844), argued that only the individual is real and that restraints such as the state, property, religion, and philosophical abstractions are detrimental to his self-realization. He advocated replacing the state with a voluntary association of egoists. The term anarchism was used for the first time by a systematic anarchist thinker, Pierre Joseph Proudhon (180965), in his Questce que la propriété? (1840). He defined property, in the sense of goods obtained by usurpation and monopoly, as theft. He urged its elimination not by expropriation but by the establishment of banks of exchange that would operate on a basis of mutuality of individual services calculated in units of labor. He thought that such banks would lead to further free associations of persons having the same interests, which would ultimately eliminate the exploitative economic order and the state. Proudhon recognized that a complete removal of the state could not be readily realized, and he argued that the practical aim should be a minimization of coercion and decentralization, and the encouragement of voluntary groups.

Collectivist Form. With Michael Bakunin (181476), anarchism assumed a decidedly collectivist form. He argued that political authority, private property, and religion are natural institutions in the lower stages of human evolution, and proclaimed: "L'Eglise et l'Etat sont mes deux bête noires." The state is harmful because it supports an exploitative economic order and acts by coercion. Bakunin held that society should be built on voluntary association and cooperation, with common ownership in land and the means of production"there will be a free union of individuals into communes, of communes into provinces, of provinces into nations, and finally of nations into the United States of Europe, and later of the whole world." Bakunin introduced into the anarchist movement an emphasis on terroristic violence that was brought to Russia and merged with nihilism by his pupil Sergei Netschayev. Prince Peter Kropotkin (18421921) wedded anarchism to a communism based on the commune, an autonomous unit owning all means of production and consumption. He believed coercive authority unnecessary because the new society would accord with the natural cooperative impulse in man and because free agreements need not be enforced. That modern anarchist thought is not uniformly antithetical to religion is evidenced in the thought of Count Leo tolstoi (18281910). Although he rejected the divinity of Christ and personal immortality, Tolstoi taught that the Gospels indicate that religion means altruistic love of neighbor and that this is negated by political authority, which proceeds from egoism and violence.

Contemporary Significance. Proponents of anarchism have differed over means of implementation. Godwin rejected violence and advocated education; Proudhon did not preach violence but believed outbreaks to be inevitable; the collectivists Bakunin and Kropotkin preached its necessity while Tolstoi repudiated it, emphasizing noncooperation with the state. With the spread of the ideas of Bakunin and Kropotkin, propaganda by the deed of terroristic violence was accepted by many and rationalized as a proper means to capture the imagination of the masses. Unquestionably the invidious connotation given the term anarchist in the popular mind is due principally to acts of terror, such as the assassination of Pres. William McKinley. Generally speaking, violence (and atheism) has been most associated with anarchism in the Latin countries. Allied with syndicalism as a mass movement, it reached a high point for a short period in the Spanish Civil War in Catalonia when anarchosyndicalists assumed authority. In the contemporary world, however, anarchism has little significance as a political movement. It survives principally in intellectual circles as an ideal to be approximated, if not realized, and as a means of protest against the mass society and centralized economic and political order.

Critique. Anarchism's fundamental assumption of man's natural goodness is contradicted not only by the theological doctrine of original sin but also by historical experience. Although the antagonistic tendencies in men may be less strong than the cooperative, it is unwarranted to attribute the former solely to the institutional environment while deeming the latter completely natural. Further, legal power subserving the common good is not an avoidable hindrance to, but a necessary precondition of, the full development of human freedom and the attainment of social justice. Finally, it is inconceivable that the state can be destroyed without violence; if violence is used, a new coercive state will necessarily succeed.

Bibliography: m. nettlau, Bibliographie de l'anarchie (Brussels 1897); Der Anarchism von Proudhon zu Kropotkin (Berlin 1927). e. v. zenker, Anarchism (New York 1897). e. h. carr, Michael Bakunin (London 1937). r. rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism (London 1938). h. read, The Philosophy of Anarchism (London 1940). g. d. h. cole, Socialist Thought: Marxism and Anarchism (London 1954). j. joll, The Anarchists (London 1964). i. l. horowitz, ed., The Anarchists (New York 1964). d. novak, "Place of Anarchism in the History of Political Thought," Review of Politics 20 (1958) 30729.

[a. j. beitzinger]


views updated



Anarchism is a theory and way of life rooted in the belief that the individual should be free to pursue his or her own interests without coercion, especially by the state and its laws and institutions. The term is derived from the ancient Greek word anarkhia, meaning no ruler, and originally was used to denote a disruption of the normal civic order that often implied a condition of civil war. As with democracy and democrat, the words anarchy and anarchist were typically used as terms of abuse until the nineteenth century, when with the rise of commercial society and the decline of feudalism the idea of self-rule by the people became increasingly accepted.

The political theory of anarchism properly begins only with William Godwin (1756-1836) and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), though important elements of anarchist thought can be found in the ancient Greeks, among them Aristippus of Cyrene (c. 435c. 360 BCE) and the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium (c. 334-262 BCE). Strains of anarchist thought can also be found in the medieval era, in the Anabaptists of the Reformation, and in the Diggers of the English Revolution of the mid-seventeenth century. However, Godwin is the first exponent of the philosophic doctrine of anarchism, though he does not use the term anarchist to describe himself; it is Proudhon who first calls himself an anarchist. In Proudhons What Is Property? (1840) he lays out a vision of socialism in which the individual is liberated from the shackles of capitalist property relations, and is instead free to reap the benefits of his labor under a form of communal production. Anarchism became increasingly relevant to the political world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, first through the writings of Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), who opposed the overly centralized socialism of Karl Marx (1818-1883), and later through Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and Emma Goldman (1869-1940).

Anarchist thought is extremely diverse, but is generally characterized by opposition to the state, capitalism, and religion. Rather than seeing the legal apparatus of the state as a means of protecting individual freedom, anarchists contend that the state and its laws merely represent the self-serving interests of powerful groups in society. In this view, law is a means of oppressing the vast majority of the people, and the best way to eliminate this oppression is to do away with the institutions that create and reinforce itespecially the state and private property. Private property is a particular concern for anarchists, in that it corrupts the democratic process by controlling the inputs and outputs to the political system, and also because it directs people to think merely about their own self-interest rather than about how to cooperate with their fellow citizens. Because private property uses the state to benefit the members of the ruling class or elite, anarchists are not in favor of representative democracy as it is currently practiced.

Anarchists promote their goals by multiple means, including sometimes violent revolution, but also through democratic evolution and the creation of independent communal societies that function outside the domain of the state. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists (linked industrial worker-councils) formed an important element in the opposition to Francisco Francos fascist coup, and shared governmental authority with a socialist coalition, particularly in Barcelona. This experiment, though short-lived, provided an example of anarchist government in practice, and was characterized by the liquidation of the landed estates and the parceling of the land into agricultural cooperatives, the establishment of a federation of worker-controlled factories, and the elimination of the social indications of class status that had marked Bourbon Spain. Although defeated in the war, Spanish anarchism continues to be a model for other nations, because it is here that one of the largest worker-run cooperatives in the world, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, has been functioning for more than fifty years.

Among anarchists in the early part of the twenty-first century there are several prominent trends, some of which are substantially in tension with one another. Libertarian anarchists such as Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) defend capitalism, arguing that the protection of private property under capitalism provides the surest foundation for promoting individual liberty. Unlike most libertarians, Rothbard claims that even the most minimal state is an unnecessary evil, but this is almost the only thing that unites him with anarchist-socialists such as the protesters at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and G8 meetings in Seattle in 1999 and Geneva in 2001. Though not united by a systematic program, these protesters represented groups that are dissatisfied with the current system of neoliberal trade promoted by the WTO, which to them represents an extension of the rule of private property over the globe.

Anarchism is not highly visible in most developed western nations, but it remains a powerful underground current that both the Left and the Right continue to find useful as a stimulant to political thought and political action. Anarchism will continue to be relevant as long as the meaning of the terms democracy, property, and freedom is not self-evident.

SEE ALSO Austrian Economics; Capitalism; Democracy; Fascism; Franco, Francisco; Freedom; Harris, Abram L., Jr.; Liberty; Mill, John Stuart; Political Theory; Politics; Property, Private; Religion; Socialism; Spanish Civil War; State, The; Syndicalism


Bakunin, Mikhail. 1990. Statism and Anarchy, ed. Marshall Shatz. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Guerin, Daniel. 1970. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Kropotkin, Peter. [1970] 2002. Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings, ed. Roger Baldwin. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Orwell, George. [1938] 1969. Homage to Catalonia. San Diego: Harvest Books.

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. [1840] 1994. What Is Property? eds. Donald Kelley and Bonnie Smith. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Wolff, Robert Paul. [1970] 1998. In Defense of Anarchism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Stefan Dolgert


views updated


The theory espousing a societal state in which there is no structured government or law or in which there is resistance to all current forms of government.

Anarchists promote the absence of rules, which leads to the absence of any identifiable social structure beyond that of personal autonomy. When anarchy becomes defined by one anarchist, other anarchists may feel bound to change it.

Anarchism thus means different things to different believers. Anarchists do not hold common views on subjects such as desirable levels of community cooperation and the role of large industry in society. Another matter of continuing debate is whether anarchy is an end unto itself or simply the best means to a better government. To all anarchists, though, anarchy is the best refuge from political dogma and authority. Moreover, many anarchists agree that anarchism begins with the notion that people are inherently good, or even perfect, and that external authority—laws, governments, institutions, and so forth—limits human potential. External authority, they suggest, brings a corruption of the innocent human spirit and a ceiling on achievement.

Commentators on anarchism differentiate between "classical" theories of anarchy and more modern movements. Classical anarchists focused more heavily on the opposition to state control and capitalist society. Their strongest opposition was directed at government and the church. Many of the early anarchists were essentially socialists, and anarchist theories played a significant part in the socialist movements during the early twentieth century.

Beginning in about the 1960s, anarchism shifted its focus to a more general opposition to public and private hierarchy and domination of the working class. Modern anarchists tend to focus upon such issues as those related to patriarchy, racism, nature, and technology, and the effects these concepts have on society. One camp of anarchist theorists advocates a theory of anarcho-syndicalism, and those that subscribe to this theory promote a massive, leaderless movement of the working class intended to take control from those with public and private authority.

Modern anarchists directed their opposition against such pro-capitalist and quasi-governmental entities as the World Trade Organization, the world bank, and the international monetary fund. Anarchists became the focus of national attention in the late 1990s and early 2000s when they staged massive protests against World Trade Organization meetings in such U.S. cities as Seattle, Washington, and Eugene, Oregon. Although anarchists claim these protests were peaceful until law enforcement officers disrupted them, others consider these anarchists to be violent and unruly revolutionaries.

William Godwin (1756–1836) is widely regarded as the first to give anarchy a comprehensive intellectual foundation. Godwin, the son of a Calvinist minister, argued that the state and its laws were enslaving people instead of freeing them. According to Godwin, government was necessary only to prevent injustice and external invasion. With every person educated in sincerity, independence, self-restraint, and seriousness, any more governmental activity would be unnecessary.

Godwin opposed the rise of liberal democracy in the late 1700s. In the wake of the American and French Revolutions, he observed, "electioneering is a trade so despicably degrading, so eternally incompatible with moral and mental dignity that I can scarcely believe a truly great mind capable of the dirty drudgery of such vice." Godwin's observations and proposals were largely ignored during his lifetime, but they informed anarchists several decades later, when the brutal working conditions and "wage slavery" of industrialism began to present new reasons for revolt.

Two well-known anarchists, emma goldman (1869–1940) and Alexander Berkman (1870–1936), gained recognition in the 1890s. Goldman, the daughter of Jewish merchants, immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1885 at the age of 16. In Rochester, New York, Goldman worked in a sweat shop—a large, unsafe factory that paid low wages and demanded long hours. The experience radicalized Goldman, and with her natural flair for public speaking, she soon became a spokes-woman for anarchism. Goldman worked extensively for the industrial workers of the world (IWW), an organization dedicated to anarcho-syndicalism, which seeks to use the industrial union as the basis for a reorganization of society. Goldman's cross-country lecture tours, in which she addressed a broad range of social topics in German and English, earned her a reputation as a witty speaker and provocative thinker. A voracious reader and a magazine publisher, Goldman gave voice to ideas on sexuality, free love, birth control, and family structures that shocked members of her generation, including fellow anarchists.

Like many devout anarchists, Goldman had trouble with the law. She was imprisoned for a year for allegedly inciting a riot during a New York City hunger demonstration in 1893. Goldman also served a two-week sentence for distributing illegal birth control information. She was jailed on suspicion of complicity in the assassination of President william mckinley, in 1901. In 1917, she was arrested with Berkman for participating in antiwar protests, and both were charged with violating the Selective Service Act of 1917 (40 Stat. 76) by inducing young men to resist the draft. Goldman and Berkman were convicted, and, despite appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, both served prison terms. Upon release in 1919, they were deported to Russia.

Berkman, Goldman's ally, shared Goldman's passion for breaking social barriers and inspiring creative thought. He also possessed a violent streak. In 1892, he was arrested for attempting to assassinate steel magnate Henry Clay Frick during a steel strike. After serving a 14-year prison sentence, Berkman devoted the rest of his life to freeing imprisoned political radicals and promoting

workers' rights. He remained a close companion of Goldman until his death in 1936.

Goldman and Berkman cut dashing figures as romantic, intellectual anarchists, and they played no small part in a modest rise of anarchism in the early 1900s. Although anarchism still gains followers in colleges and universities and among self-styled intellectuals, it has been mostly dormant as a social force since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Many anarchists have suffered the bemusing fate of being convicted for breaking laws in which they do not believe. However, the justice system does occasionally protect the anarchist. In Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U.S. 380, 47 S. Ct. 655, 71L. Ed. 1108 (1927), Harold B. Fiske was charged in Rice County, Kansas, with violating the Kansas Criminal Syndicalism Act (Laws Sp. Sess. 1920, c. 37). Fiske had been arrested for promoting the Workers' Industrial Union (WIU), an organization devoted in part to establishing worker control of industry and the abolition of the wage system.

Under the syndicalism statute in Kansas, any person advocating "the duty, necessity, propriety or expediency of crime, criminal syndicalism, or sabotage … is guilty of a felony" (1920 Kan. Sess. Laws ch. 37, § 3). Criminal syndicalism was defined as the advocation of crime, physical violence, or destruction of property "as a means of effecting industrial or political revolution, or for profit" (§ 1). Kansas authorities charged Fiske with criminal syndicalism, citing only the preamble to the constitution of the IWW, the parent organization of Fiske's WIU. This preamble stated, in part, that "a struggle must go on until the workers of the World organize as a class, take possession of the earth, and the machinery of production and abolish the wage system" (Fiske).

The U.S. Supreme Court found insufficient evidence against Fiske to warrant conviction of criminal syndicalism. According to the Court, there was no suggestion that "getting possession of the machinery of production and abolishing the wage system, was to be accomplished by other than lawful means." The Court confirmed that a state may enact legislation to protect its government from insurrection, but it may not be arbitrary or unreasonable in policing its citizens who advocate changes in the social order.

further readings

Brailsford, Henry N. 1931. Shelley, Godwin, and their Circle. London Press.

Goldman, Emma. 1982. Living My Life. Reprint, Salt Lake City: G.M. Smith.

Joll, James. 1964 The Anarchists. Boston: Little, Brown.

Nozick, Robert. 1975. Anarchy, State and Utopia. New York: Basic Books.

Sonn, Richard D. 1992. Anarchism. New York: Twayne.


Chicago Eight; Freedom of Speech; Goldman, Emma; Industrial Workers of the World; Rousseau, Jean Jacques.