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Anarchism is the name of a political philosophy or a group of doctrines and attitudes that are centered on rejection of any form of compulsory government (" state") and supporting its elimination. The term "anarchism" is derived from the Greek αναρχία ("without archons" or "without rulers"). Thus "anarchism," in its most general meaning, is the belief that all forms of rulership are undesirable and should be abolished.

There is a variety of types and traditions of anarchism with various points of difference. Other than being opposed to the state, "there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance." Preferred economic arrangements are one of the many areas of disagreement for anarchists.


Pre-Nineteenth Century

Opposition to the state and hierarchical authority had a long history prior to the formation of the anarchist movement in nineteenth century Europe. Some claim that anarchist themes can be detected in works as old as those of the Taoist sage Lao Tzu, though this is a controversial topic. Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism also introduced topics which contain anarchist themes.

Anarchism in the modern sense, however, has its roots in the secular political thought of the Enlightenment, particularly Rousseau's arguments for the moral centrality of freedom. The word "anarchist" was originally used as a term of abuse, but by the French Revolution some groups such as the Enragés had started to use the term in a positive sense, seeing the Jacobin concept of a "revolutionary government" as an oxymoron. It was in this political climate that William Godwin would develop his philosophy, which is considered by many to be the first expression of modern anarchist thought.

William Godwin

William Godwin
William Godwin

According to Peter Kropotkin, William Godwin, in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (2 vols., 1793), was "the first to formulate the political and economical conceptions of anarchism, even though he did not give that name to the ideas developed in his work." Charles A. Madison writes, "The first modern systematic exponent of anarchism was William Godwin. . . . Strongly influenced by the sentiments of the French Revolution, he argued that since man is a rational being he must not be hampered in the exercise of his pure reason. Moreover, since all forms of government have irrational foundations and are consequently tyrannical in nature, they must be swept away."

Godwin felt that the evil of man was the result of societal corruption, and his view was that government would become unnecessary as the human race is perfected. "Above all we should not forget, that government is an evil, an usurpation upon the private judgment and individual conscience of mankind; and that, however we may be obliged to admit it as a necessary evil for the present, it behoves us, as the friends of reason and the human species, to admit as little of it as possible, and carefully to observe whether, in consequence of the gradual illumination of the human mind, that little may not hereafter be diminished." Godwin felt that discrimination on any grounds besides ability was intolerable. Godwin is also well known for marrying the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Their daughter, Mary Shelley, achieved fame as the author of Frankenstein.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Proudhon and his children, by Gustave Courbet, 1865
Proudhon and his children, by Gustave Courbet, 1865

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is the first self-proclaimed anarchist, a label which he adopted in his 1840 treatise What is Property?. It is for this reason that some declare Proudhon the founder of modern anarchist theory. He developed the theory of spontaneous order in society, whereby organization emerges without any central authority, a "positive anarchy" in which order arises from every individual "doing what he wishes and only what he wishes." He saw anarchy as:

"a form of government or constitution in which public and private consciousness, formed through the development of science and law, is alone sufficient to maintain order and guarantee all liberties. In it, as a consequence, the institutions of the police, preventive and repressive methods, officialdom, taxation, etc., are reduced to a minimum. In it, more especially, the forms of monarchy and intensive centralization disappear, to be replaced by federal institutions and a pattern of life based on the commune."

His opposition to capitalism, the state, and organized religion inspired subsequent anarchists and made him one of the leading socialist theorists of his time. However, he was also opposed to "communism, whether of the utopian or the Marxist variety, [the criticism being] that it destroyed freedom by taking away from the individual control over his means of production."

Schools of Anarchist Thought


While mutualism as a body of economic ideas began in English and French labor movements of the 18th century, it later took on an anarchist form mostly associated with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon was the first to call himself and his politics anarchist. In his landmark book What is Property? (Qu'est-ce que la propriété?, published in 1840), he criticized existing theories of private property and expounded an economic theory based on a labor theory of value, stating that, "The price of every product in demand should be its cost in time and outlay—neither more nor less. . ." However, "every product not in demand is a loss to the producer—a commercial non-value." According to Proudhon, "It is labor, labor alone, that produces all the elements of wealth... according to a law of variable, but certain, proportionality." He was also careful to advise, however, that "The value of labor is a figurative expression, an anticipation of effect from cause." Mutualist economics is characterised by a dedication to free association, a democratically run mutualist bank, and voluntary contract/federation.

Many mutualists believe that a market without government intervention would result in prices paid for labor to align with its true worth, as determined by the labor theory of value, because firms would be forced to compete over workers just as workers compete over firms, which would raise wages. As William B. Greene put it:

"Under the mutual system, each individual will receive the just and exact pay for his work; services equivalent in cost being exchangeable for services equivalent in cost, without profit or discount; and so much as the individual laborer will then get over and above what he has earned will come to him as his share in the general prosperity of the community of which he is an individual member."

Proudhon's mutualism, introduced into the United States in 1848 by Charles A. Dana, supplemented a native American form already worked out by Josiah Warren. Proudhon's mutualism was adapted to American conditions by Greene, who introduced it to Benjamin R. Tucker. Unlike the American individualist anarchists, Proudhon emphasises associations amongst producers; thus, some see mutualism as being situated somewhere between individualism and collectivism. This sense seems confirmed by the mutualists' own writings. In What Is Property?, Proudhon develops a concept of "liberty," equivalent to "anarchy," which is the dialectical "synthesis of communism and property." Greene, influenced by Pierre Leroux, sought mutualism in the synthesis of three philosophies—communism, capitalism and socialism. Although later individualist anarchists used the term mutualism to describe their economic philosophy, they retained little if any of this emphasis on synthesis.

Collectivist Anarchism

Mikhail Bakunin
Mikhail Bakunin

Collectivist anarchism is most commonly associated with Mikhail Bakunin and the anti-authoritarian section of the First International (1864-1876). Unlike mutualists, collectivist anarchists oppose all private ownership of the means of production, instead advocating that ownership be collectivized. Workers would be compensated for their work on the basis of the amount of time they contributed to production, rather than goods being distributed "according to need" as in anarcho-communism. By the early 1880s, most of the European anarchist movement had adopted an anarcho-communist position, advocating the abolition of wage labour and distribution according to need rather than labor, although the early anarchist movement in Spain is sometimes associated with collectivism. Although the collectivist anarchists advocated compensation for labor, they held out the possibility of a post-revolutionary transition to a communist system of distribution according to need. Collective anarchism arose contemporary with Marxism but was opposed to it, despite Marxism striving for a collectivist stateless society, because of an opposition to the Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat.

Anarchist communism

Joseph Déjacque was an early anarchist communist and the first person to describe himself as " socialist libertarian". Unlike Proudhon, he argued that "it is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature." Other important anarchist communists include Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and Errico Malatesta. Many in the anarcho-syndicalist movements (see below) saw anarchist communism as their objective. Isaac Puente's 1932 El comunismo libertario was adopted by the Spanish CNT as its manifesto for a post-revolutionary society.

Anarchist communists propose that a society composed of a number of self-governing communes with collective ownership of the means of production, ruled by direct democracy, and related to other communes through federation would be the freest form of social organisation. In anarchist communism, individuals would not receive direct compensation for labour (through share of profits, payment or any other compensation), but would instead have free access to the resources of the commune. Some commentators believe that this would require an essentially communitarian human nature, but, according to the view developed by Kropotkin and later by Murray Bookchin, the members of such a society will spontaneously perform all necessary labour because they will recognize the benefits of communal enterprise and mutual aid. It is often characterised as Utopianism, a claim some do not deny, but anarchist communism is portrayed by its supporters as an achievable goal, if not an inevitability, rather than an impossible ideal.

Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin, often seen as the most important theorist of anarchist communism, outlined his economic ideas in The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops. Kropotkin felt that co-operation is more beneficial than competition, arguing in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution that this was illustrated in nature. He advocated the abolition of private property through the "expropriation of the whole of social wealth" by the people themselves, and for the economy to be co-ordinated through a horizontal network of voluntary associations where goods are distributed according to the physical needs of the individual, rather than according to labor. He further argued that these "needs," as society progressed, would not merely be physical needs but "[a]s soon as his material wants are satisfied, other needs, of an artistic character, will thrust themselves forward the more ardently. Aims of life vary with each and every individual; and the more society is civilized, the more will individuality be developed, and the more will desires be varied."

He maintained that, in anarcho-communism:

"...houses, fields, and factories will no longer be private property, and that they will belong to the commune or the nation and money, wages, and trade would be abolished."

Individuals and groups would use and control whatever resources they needed, as the aim of anarchist-communism was to place "the product reaped or manufactured at the disposal of all, leaving to each the liberty to consume them as he pleases in his own home." He supported the expropriation of property to ensure that everyone would have access to what they needed without being forced to sell their labour to get it.

"We do not want to rob any one of his coat, but we wish to give to the workers all those things the lack of which makes them fall an easy prey to the exploiter, and we will do our utmost that none shall lack aught, that not a single man shall be forced to sell the strength of his right arm to obtain a bare subsistence for himself and his babes. This is what we mean when we talk of Expropriation..."

He said that a "peasant who is in possession of just the amount of land he can cultivate," and "a family inhabiting a house which affords them just enough space... considered necessary for that number of people" and the artisan "working with their own tools or handloom" would not be interfered with, arguing that "[t]he landlord owes his riches to the poverty of the peasants, and the wealth of the capitalist comes from the same source."


Platformism is a tendency within the wider anarchist communist movement which shares an affinity with organising in the tradition of Nestor Makhno's Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft). The Platform came from the experiences of Russian anarchists in the 1917 October Revolution, which lead eventually to the victory of Bolshevik party dictatorship rather than workers' and peasants' self-management. It argued for the "vital need of an organization which, having attracted most of the participants in the anarchist movement, would establish a common tactical and political line for anarchism and thereby serve as a guide for the whole movement."


Flag used by Anarcho-syndicalists.
Flag used by Anarcho-syndicalists.

The early twentieth century saw the rise of anarcho-syndicalism as a distinct school of thought within the anarchist tradition. More heavily focused on the labour movement than previous forms of anarchism, syndicalism posits trade unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the state with a new society that is democratically self-managed by workers. Anarcho-syndicalists seek to abolish the wage system and private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Three important principles of syndicalism are workers' solidarity, direct action (such as general strikes and workplace recuperations), and workers' self-management. Anarcho-syndicalism and other communitarian branches of anarchism are not mutually exclusive: anarcho-syndicalists often subscribe to communist or collectivist schools of anarchism. Its advocates propose labour organization as a means to create the foundations of a non-hierarchical anarchist society within the current system and bring about social revolution.

Rudolf Rocker was one of the most popular voices in the anarcho-syndicalist movement. He outlined a view of the origins of the movement, what it sought, and why it was important to the future of labour in his 1938 pamphlet Anarchosyndicalism. Although more frequently associated with labor struggles of the early twentieth century (particularly in France and Spain), many syndicalist organizations are active today.

Individualist anarchism

Individualist anarchism is an anarchist philosophical tradition that has a strong emphasis on equality of liberty and individual sovereignty, drawing much from the tradition of classical liberalism. Individualist anarchists believe that "individual conscience and the pursuit of self-interest should not be constrained by any collective body or public authority." Individualist anarchism is not a single philosophy but refers to a group of individualistic philosophies; there are "several traditions of individualist anarchism." Some individualists are market anarchists, which are individualists that believe that security of individuals and their property should be provided by the market itself (such as by supplying private police and courts).


Max Stirner was the author of a form of individualist anarchism called "Egoism." Stirner's "name appears with familiar regularity in historically-orientated surveys of anarchist thought as one of the earliest and best-known exponents of individualist anarchism." In 1844, Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own (sometimes translated as "The Individual and His Property") was published, which is considered to be "a founding text in the tradition of individualist anarchism." Stirner believed that most commonly accepted social institutions—including the concept of the state, property as a right, natural rights, and the very notion of society—were mere illusions or ghosts in the mind, saying of society that "the individuals are its reality." He advocated egoism and a form of amoralism, in which individuals would unite in "associations of egoists" only when it was in their self interest to do so. For him, property simply comes about through might: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property." And, "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing."

Stirner never called himself an anarchist; he accepted only the label "egoist". Nevertheless, he is considered by most to be an anarchist because of his rejection of the state, law, and government. Also, his ideas influenced many anarchists, although interpretations of his thought are diverse. Anarchists including Benjamin Tucker, Federica Montseny, and the Bonnot Gang claimed him as an influence, while Emma Goldman gave lectures on his thought.

Individualist anarchism in the United States

Josiah Warren is generally considered "the first American anarchist."
Josiah Warren is generally considered "the first American anarchist."

Individualist anarchism in the American tradition began with nineteenth century figures such as Josiah Warren, William B. Greene, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Victor Yarros, and Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau's individualist anarchism proclaimed "the inevitability of self-government accompanied by atrophy of the State" and argued that the state had no power other than what individuals accede to it, but included no practical program for social change. Other individualist anarchists pursued a more comprehensive theory and practice.

Also known as the "Boston anarchists," the nineteenth century individualists supported private property and a free market, also advocating that protection of liberty and property should be provided by private contractors voluntarily funded in a free market rather than by the state. Victor Yarros explained the understanding of the word "anarchism" of the market anarchists such as Tucker, himself, and others:

"Anarchism means no government but it does not mean no laws and no coercion. This may seem paradoxical, but the paradox vanishes when the Anarchist definition of government is kept in view. Anarchists oppose government, not because they disbelieve in punishment of crime and resistance to aggression, but because they disbelieve in compulsory protection. Protection and taxation without consent is itself invasion; hence Anarchism favors a system of voluntary taxation and protection."

Unlike anarcho-communists, they supported the exchange of labor for wages. Benjamin Tucker said, "Not to abolish wages, but to make every man dependent upon wages and secure to every man his whole wages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism." (Note that Tucker used the word "socialism" in a non-standard sense; he supported private ownership of the means of production.) They argued that the state prevents true free competition in the market, which they thought prevented labor from receiving its true value in exchange. Spooner, however, argued that "each man should be his own employer, or work directly for himself, and not for another for wages; because, in the latter case, a part of the fruits of his labor go to his employer, instead of coming to himself" while Dyer Lum argued that a free market would see the end of wage labour by co-operatives. They accepted a labor theory of value, believing that free-market competition would cause what they believed to be non-labor income (profit, rent and interest) to disappear. They believed that unregulated "free banking" and the use of local, mutual currencies would cause interest rates to decline to a nominal rate, as a result of intensified competition in lending.

Benjamin Tucker
Benjamin Tucker

Benjamin Tucker, who was one of the most prominent individualist anarchists, opposed what he called four "monopolies": the money monopoly (state control over currency, credit, and banks); the land monopoly of land-titles that remained in effect if individuals were not using their land; patents, which prohibit competition; tariffs, which restrict competition in favour of established firms. There was also agreement among the early American individualists on the permissibility of employment ("wage labour"). The nineteenth century individualists disagreed on various things, so there is not one philosophy of "individualist anarchism." For example, Spooner supported intellectual property rights and permitted absentee ownership of land. Steven T. Byington also opposed Tucker's ideas on occupancy and use requirements for land titles.


Anarcho-capitalism (also known as private property anarchism or market anarchism) is a form of individualist anarchism lying outside the mainstream of anti-capitalistic anarchism, which has a significant following in the United States. Like their predecessors, anarcho-capitalists would like for all services, including law enforcement and security, to be performed by multiple private providers all competing for business, rather than by a monopolist state agency funded by taxation. Anarcho-capitalism's leading proponents are Murray Rothbard, David Friedman and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. It has been influenced by libertarians such as Gustave de Molinari, Frederic Bastiat, Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick.

Although anarcho-capitalism was also influenced by Tucker and Spooner, it rejects their labor theory of value in favour of the modern neo-classical marginalist view. Thus, anarcho-capitalists, like modern economists, do not believe that prices in a free market are, or would be, proportional to labor times (nor do they think that "usury," "exploitation," or "profit" is taking place if that does not happen). Economically-inclined anarcho-capitalists, such as Rothbard, believe that different prices of goods and services in a market, whether completely free or not, are the result of individuals making subjective judgements on the marginal utility of goods and services rather than on the amounts of labor embodied in them. Also anarcho-capitalists disagree with Tucker that interest would disappear with unregulated banking and money issuance. Rothbard believed that people in general do not wish to lend their money to others without compensation, so there is no reason why this would change just because banking is unregulated (nor does he agree that unregulated banking would increase the supply of money in the first place). Anarcho-capitalism has a theory of legitimacy that supports private property as long as it was obtained by labor, trade, or gift. Most anarcho-capitalists believe that in the absence of aggression, including the instutionalized aggression carried on by the state, free capitalism would naturally and inevitably develop. Hence, Rothbard's statement that "capitalism is the fullest expression of anarchism, and anarchism is the fullest expression of capitalism."

Anarchism without adjectives

Voltairine de Cleyre
Voltairine de Cleyre

Anarchism without adjectives, in the words of historian George Richard Esenwein, "referred to an unhyphenated form of anarchism, that is, a doctrine without any qualifying labels such as communist, collectivist, mutualist, or individualist. For others, ... [it] was simply understood as an attitude that tolerated the coexistence of different anarchist schools." . It arose as the result of being troubled by the "bitter debates" between the different movements and was a call for more tolerance. Anarchism without adjectives emphasizes harmony between various anarchist factions and attempts to unite them around their shared anti-authoritarian beliefs. The expression was coined by Cuban-born Fernando Tarrida del Marmol, who used it in November 1889 in Barcelona.

To these anarchists, economic preferences are considered to be of secondary importance to abolishing all coercive authority. Rudolf Rocker, who was one of these anarchists, said that the different types of anarchism presented "only different methods of economy, the practical possibilities of which have yet to be tested, and that the first objective is to secure the personal and social freedom of men no matter upon which economics basis this is to be accomplished."

Voltairine de Cleyre was one of the most prominent "anarchists without adjectives". Although she initially identified herself as an individualist anarchist, she later espoused a collectivist form of anarchism, while refusing to identify herself with any of the contemporary schools. She commented that "Socialism and Communism both demand a degree of joint effort and administration which would beget more regulation than is wholly consistent with ideal Anarchism; Individualism and Mutualism, resting upon property, involve a development of the private policeman not at all compatible with my notion of freedom." In The Making of an Anarchist, she wrote, "I no longer label myself otherwise than as 'Anarchist' simply."

Errico Malatesta was another proponent of anarchism-without-adjectives, stating that "[i]t is not right for us, to say the least, to fall into strife over mere hypotheses."

Anarchism as a Social Movement

Individualist anarchism does not represent the majority of anarchists; most anarchists favour some form of communitarianism or collectivism. Advocacy of collectivism and violent revolution dominated mainstream anarchism from the days of the First International until the destruction of anarchism as a mass movement at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

The First International

The Masonic "level in a circle" as used by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workingmen's Association. Note the inclusion of the Plumb, one of the working tools of a operative masonry, and a symbol of rectitude of conduct
The Masonic "level in a circle" as used by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workingmen's Association. Note the inclusion of the Plumb, one of the working tools of a operative masonry, and a symbol of rectitude of conduct

In Europe, harsh reaction followed the revolutions of 1848. Twenty years later in 1864 the International Workingmen's Association, sometimes called the 'First International', united some diverse European revolutionary currents, including French followers of Proudhon, Blanquists, English trade unionists, socialists and social democrats. Due to its genuine links to active workers' movements, the International became a significant organization.

Karl Marx became a leading figure in the International and a member of its General Council. Proudhon's followers, the Mutualists, opposed Marx's state socialism, advocating political abstentionism and small property holdings. Mikhail Bakunin joined in 1868, allying with the anti-authoritarian socialist sections of the International, who advocated the revolutionary overthrow of the state and the collectivization of property. At first, the collectivists worked with the Marxists to push the First International in a more revolutionary socialist direction. Subsequently, the International became polarized into two camps, with Marx and Bakunin as their respective figureheads.

Bakunin characterised Marx's ideas as authoritarian and predicted that, if a Marxist party came to power, its leaders would simply take the place of the ruling class they had fought against. In 1872, the conflict climaxed with a final split between the two groups, when, at the Hague Congress, Marx engineered the expulsion of Bakunin and James Guillaume from the International and had its headquarters transferred to New York. In response, the anti-authoritarian sections formed their own International at the St. Imier Congress, adopting a revolutionary anarchist program.

Anarchism and organized labor

CNT poster from April 2004. Reads: Don't let the politicians rule our lives/ You vote and they decide/ Don't allow it/ Unity, Action, Self-management.
CNT poster from April 2004. Reads: Don't let the politicians rule our lives/ You vote and they decide/ Don't allow it/ Unity, Action, Self-management.

The anti-authoritarian sections of the First International were the precursors of the anarcho-syndicalists, seeking to "replace the privilege and authority of the State" with the "free and spontaneous organization of labor."

The Confédération Générale du Travail (General Confederation of Labour, CGT), formed in France in 1895, was the first major anarcho-syndicalist movement, but it had been preceded by the Spanish Workers Federation in 1881. Anarchist trade union federations were of special importance in Spain. The most successful was the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour: CNT), founded in 1910. Before the 1940s, the CNT was the major force in Spanish working class politics and played a major role in the Spanish Civil War. The CNT was affiliated with the International Workers Association, a federation of anarcho-syndicalist trade unions founded in 1922, with delegates representing two million workers from 15 countries in Europe and Latin America.

The largest organised anarchist movement today is in Spain, in the form of the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) and the CNT. CGT membership was estimated to be around 100,000 for the year 2003. Other active syndicalist movements include the US Workers Solidarity Alliance and the UK Solidarity Federation. The revolutionary industrial unionist Industrial Workers of the World, claiming 2,000 paying members, and the International Workers Association, an anarcho-syndicalist successor to the First International, also remain active.

The Russian Revolution

Anarchists participated alongside the Bolsheviks in both February and October revolutions, many anarchists initially supporting the Bolshevik coup. However, the Bolsheviks soon turned against the anarchists and other left-wing opposition, a conflict that culminated in the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion. Anarchists in central Russia were either imprisoned or driven underground or joined the victorious Bolsheviks. In the Ukraine, anarchists fought in the civil war against Whites and then the Bolsheviks as part of the Makhnovshchina peasant army led by Nestor Makhno.

Expelled American anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were amongst those agitating in response to Bolshevik policy and the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising, before they left Russia. Both wrote classic accounts of their experiences in Russia, aiming to expose the reality of Bolshevik control. For them, Bakunin's predictions about the consequences of Marxist rule had proved all too true.

The victory of the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution and the resulting Russian Civil War did serious damage to anarchist movements internationally. Many workers and activists saw Bolshevik success as setting an example; Communist parties grew at the expense of anarchism and other socialist movements. In France and the US, for example, the major syndicalist movements of the CGT and IWW began to realign themselves away from anarchism and towards the Communist International.

In Paris, the Dielo Truda group of Russian anarchist exiles, which included Nestor Makhno, concluded that anarchists needed to develop new forms of organisation in response to the structures of Bolshevism. Their 1926 manifesto, called the Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft) , was supported by some communist anarchists, though opposed by many others. Platformist groups today include the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland and the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists of North America.

The fight against fascism

Spain, 1936. Members of the CNT construct armoured cars to fight against the fascists in one of the collectivised factories.
Spain, 1936. Members of the CNT construct armoured cars to fight against the fascists in one of the collectivised factories.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the familiar dynamics of anarchism's conflict with the state were transformed by the rise of fascism in Europe. Italy saw the first struggles between anarchists and fascists. Anarchists played a key role in the anti-fascist organisation Arditi del Popolo. This group was strongest in areas with anarchist traditions and marked up numerous successful victories, including driving back Blackshirts in the anarchist stronghold of Parma in August 1922.

In France, where the fascists came close to insurrection in the February 1934 riots, anarchists divided over a 'united front' policy. In Spain, the CNT initially refused to join a popular front electoral alliance and abstention by CNT supporters led to a right wing election victory. But in 1936, the CNT changed its policy and anarchist votes helped bring the popular front back to power. Months later, the ruling class responded with an attempted coup, and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was underway.

In response to the army rebellion, an anarchist-inspired movement of peasants and workers, supported by armed militias, took control of Barcelona and of large areas of rural Spain where they collectivized the land. But even before the eventual fascist victory in 1939, the anarchists were losing ground in a bitter struggle with the Stalinists. The CNT leadership often appeared confused and divided, with some members controversially entering the government. According to George Orwell and other foreign observers, Stalinist-led troops suppressed the collectives and persecuted both dissident Marxists and anarchists.

Issues in anarchism

Ends and means

Generally, anarchists advocate direct action and oppose voting in elections. Most anarchists feel that real change is not possible through voting. Further, many argue that voting is equivalent to condoning the state, while others advocate a more pragmatic approach, including voting in referendums.

Direct action may be violent or non-violent. Although some anarchists believe that violence is justified in overthrowing existing authority, most anarchists reject terrorism as authoritarian. Mikhail Bakunin and Errico Malatesta, for example, wrote of violence as necessary in revolutionary settings, but denounced terrorism as counter-revolutionary.

Anarchists have often been portrayed as dangerous and violent, due mainly to a number of high-profile violent acts, including riots, assassinations, insurrections, and terrorism by some anarchists, as well as persistently negative media portrayals. Many anarchists do not see the destruction of property as a violent act. Anarchists see war, however, as an activity in which the state seeks to gain and consolidate power, both domestically and in foreign lands, and subscribe to Randolph Bourne's view that "war is the health of the state."

Many anarchists participate in subversive organizations as a means to undermine the Establishment, such as Food Not Bombs, radical labor unions, alternative media, and radical social centers. This is in accordance with the anarchist concept of Dual Power: creating the structures for a new anti-authoritarian society in the shell of the old, hierarchical one.


Most anarchist traditions not only seek rejection of the state, but also of capitalism, which they perceive as authoritarian, coercive, and exploitative.

The American individualist anarchists were "fervent anti-capitalists" who "saw no contradiction between their individualist stance and their rejection of capitalism." However, this opposition did not include opposition to the product of labor or capital goods ("means of production") run by individuals, but only " usury", i.e. rent, interest, and profit from other's labor (profit being defined as labor not receiving its "full product" under the labor theory of value). Such individualist anarchists support free trade, free competition, and varying levels of private property, like in mutualism and homesteading. As Anarcho-capitalists support free-market capitalism without a state, which Murray Rothbard defines as "peaceful voluntary exchange" as opposed to state capitalism which he calls "violent expropriation."

Non-individualist anarchists, in contrast, follow Proudhon in opposing ownership of workplaces by capitalists and aim to replace wage labour by workers associations. These anarchists agree with Kropotkin's comment that "the origin of the anarchist inception of society" lies in "the criticism . . . of the hierarchical organisations and the authoritarian conceptions of society" rather than simply opposition to the state or government. They argue that wage labour is hierarchical and authoritarian in nature and, consequently, capitalism cannot be anarchist. Such anarchists would agree with scholar Jeremy Jennings when he argues that it is "hard not to conclude that these ideas [i.e. anarcho-capitalism] -- with roots deep in classical liberalism -- are described as anarchist only on the basis of a misunderstanding of what anarchism is."'

In Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall argues that "few anarchists would accept the 'anarcho-capitalists' into the anarchist camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social justice. . . Anarcho-capitalists, even if they do reject the State, might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists."


The majority of anarchists oppose neoliberal globalization as an attempt to use coercion on a global scale, carried out through institutions such as the World Bank, World Trade Organization, G8 and World Economic Forum. Anarchist groups, such as Reclaim the Streets, were among the instigators of the so-called anti-globalization movement. The Carnival Against Capitalism on 18 June 1999 is generally regarded as the first of the major anti-globalization protests. Anarchists, such as the WOMBLES, often played a major role in planning, organising and participating in the subsequent protests. The protests tended to be organised on anarchist direct action principles with a general tolerance for a range of different activities ranging from those who engage in tactical frivolity to the black blocs.


While communism is proposed as a form of social and economic organisation by many anarchists, other anarchists consider it a danger to the liberty and free development of the individual. Individualist anarchists oppose communism in all its forms. Individualist such as Benjamin Tucker, Victor Yarros, and Henry Appleton have denied that anarcho-communism is a genuine form of anarchism. They rejected its strategies and argued that it is inherently authoritarian. The socialist Proudhon also opposed communism, "whether of the utopian or the Marxist variety, [the criticism being] that it destroyed freedom by taking away from the individual control over his means of production." Anarchist communists reject the criticism, pointing to the principle of voluntary association that underpins the theory.


Anarcha-feminism is a kind of radical feminism that espouses the belief that patriarchy is a fundamental problem in society. However, it was not explicitly formulated as anarcha-feminism until early 1970s, during the second-wave feminist movement. Anarcha-feminism views patriarchy as the first manifestation of hierarchy in human history; thus, the first form of oppression occurred in the dominance of male over female.


Black anarchism opposes the existence of a state, capitalism, and subjugation and domination of people of colour, and favours a non-hierarchical organization of society. Theorists include Ashanti Alston, Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, and Sam Mbah.

Since the late 1970s some anarchists have been involved in fighting the rise of neo-fascist groups. In Germany and Great Britain some anarchists worked within militant anti-fascist groups alongside members of the Marxist left. They advocated directly combating fascists with physical force rather than relying on the state. Since the late 1990s, a similar tendency has developed within US anarchism.

The environment

The environment and sustainability have been an issue for anarchists from at least as far back as Kropotkin's ' Fields, Factories and Workshops, but since the late 1970s anarchists in Anglosphere and European countries have been agitating for the natural environment. Eco-anarchists or green anarchists believe in deep ecology. This is a worldview that embraces biodiversity and sustainability. Eco-anarchists often use direct action against what they see as earth-destroying institutions. Of particular importance is the Earth First! movement, that takes action such as tree sitting. The more militant Earth Liberation Front, which grew out of Earth First!, also has connections with the anarchist movement. Another important component is ecofeminism, which sees the domination of nature as a metaphor for the domination of women.

Anarcho-Primitivism is a predominantly Western philosophy that advocates a return to a pre-industrial and usually pre-agricultural society. It develops a critique of industrial civilization. In this critique technology and development have alienated people from the natural world. This philosophy develops themes present in the political action of the Luddites and the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Some primitivists advocate a complete process of ' rewilding' and a return to nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles while others only wish to see an end to industrial society and do not oppose domestication or agriculture. Key theorists in the former category include Derrick Jensen and John Zerzan while the 'Unabomber' Theodore Kaczynski belongs in the latter. Today there is much conflict between primitivists and followers of more traditional forms of class struggle anarchism, such as the social ecology of Murray Bookchin.


The novelist and Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy
The novelist and Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy

From Proudhon and Bakunin to the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, Anarchists have traditionally been skeptical about and opposed to organized religion, believing that most organized religions are hierarchical in nature and, more often than not, aligned with contemporary power structures like state and capital. Nonetheless, there are those who reconcile anarchism with religion.

Christian anarchists believe that there is no higher authority than God, and oppose earthly authority such as government and established churches. They believe that Jesus' teachings and the practice of the early church were clearly anarchistic, but were corrupted when "Christianity" was declared the official religion of Rome. Though he did not call himself an anarchist because he applied the term to those who wanted to change society through violence, Leo Tolstoy is considered to be the most famous Christian anarchist whose ' The Kingdom of God Is Within You' is considered a key Christian anarchist text. The Catholic Worker Movement is a modern Christian anarchist organisation.

Buddhist anarchism originated in the Chinese Anarchist movement of the 1920s. Taixu, one of the leading thinkers and writers of this school, was deeply influenced by the work of christian anarchists like Tolstoy and by the ancient Chinese well-field system. A much more recent incarnation of this school of thought was popularized by Jack Kerouac in his book The Dharma Bums.

In the late 1800's the Ghadar movement in India (see Har Dayal), influenced by Buddhist thought and by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (founder of Arya Samaj), saw anarchism as a way of propagating the ancient culture of the Arya. (Not to be confused with the much later appropriation of "Aryan" identity by German Fascists). .

Recent Developments within Anarchism

Anarchism generates many eclectic and syncretic philosophies and movements. Since the Western social ferment in the 1960's and 1970's a number of new movements and schools have appeared. Most of these stances are limited to even smaller numbers than the schools and movements listed above.

  • Especifismo - Especifismo emerged out of nearly 50 years of anarchist experiences in South America starting with the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU), founded in 1956 by anarchists who saw the need for an organization which was specifically anarchist. It has been summmarised as;

"The need for specifically anarchist organization built around a unity of ideas and praxis. The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorize and develop strategic political and organizing work. Active involvement in and building of autonomous and popular social movements, which is described as the process of "social insertion." Other organisations that hold to Especifismo include Federação Anarquista Gaúcha (FAG), the Federação Anarquista Cabocla (FACA), and the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) (all in Brazil), and the Argentinean organization Auca (Rebel). Especifismo is considered to have come to broadly similar conclusions to the Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft) leading to the argument that it is properly considered a new form of Platformism

  • Post-left anarchy - Post-left anarchy seeks to distance itself from the traditional "left" - communists, socialists, social democrats, etc. - and to escape the confines of ideology in general. Post-leftists argue that anarchism has been weakened by its long attachment to contrary "leftist" movements and single issue causes ( anti-war, anti-nuclear, etc.). It calls for a synthesis of anarchist thought and a specifically anti-authoritarian revolutionary movement outside of the leftist milieu. Important groups and individuals associated with Post-left anarchy include: CrimethInc, the magazine Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed and its editor Jason McQuinn, Bob Black, Hakim Bey and others.
  • Post-Anarchism - The term post-anarchism was originated by Saul Newman, first receiving popular attention in his book From Bakunin to Lacan to refer to a theoretical move towards a synthesis of classical anarchist theory and poststructuralist thought. Subsequent to Newman's use of the term, however, it has taken on a life of its own and a wide range of ideas including autonomism, post-left anarchy, situationism, post-colonialism and Zapatismo. By its very nature post-anarchism rejects the idea that it should be a coherent set of doctrines and beliefs. As such it is difficult, if not impossible, to state with any degree of certainty who should or should not be grouped under the rubric. Nonetheless key thinkers associated with post-anarchism include Saul Newman, Todd May, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.
  • Insurrectionary anarchism - Insurrectionary anarchism is a form of revolutionary anarchism critical of formal anarchist labor unions and federations. Insurrectionary anarchists advocate informal organization, including small affinity groups, carrying out acts of resistance in various struggles, and mass organizations called base structures, which can include exploited individuals who are not anarchists. Proponents include Wolfi Landstreicher and Alfredo M. Bonanno, author of works including "Armed Joy" and "The Anarchist Tension". This tendency is represented in the US in magazines such as Willful Disobedience and Killing King Abacus.
  • Small 'a' anarchism - Small 'a' anarchism is a term used in two different, but not unconnected contexts. Dave Neal posited the term in opposition to big 'A' Anarchism in the article Anarchism: Ideology or Methodology?. While big 'A' Anarchism referred to ideological Anarchists, small 'a' anarchism was applied to their methodological counterparts; those who viewed anarchism as "a way of acting, or a historical tendency against illegitimate authority." As an anti-ideological position, small 'a' anarchism shares some similarities with post-left anarchy. David Graeber and Andrej Grubacic offer an alternative use of the term, applying it to groups and movements organising according to or acting in a manner consistent with anarchist principles of decentralisation, voluntary association, mutual aid, the network model, and crucially, "the rejection of any idea that the end justifies the means, let alone that the business of a revolutionary is to seize state power and then begin imposing one's vision at the point of a gun."

Criticisms of anarchism

The theory and practice of anarchism has been controversial since it came to prominence in the 19th century. Some of the criticisms made of anarchism come from the interests it opposes, such as governments. Other criticisms have been made internally of other anarchists or by political movements that appear to share similar goals, such as Marxism. Many question the idealist nature of anarchism, and have misgivings about its practical application in the real world. Some point to anarchism's inability to establish a viable anti-state. Some social scientists note that hierarchies appear to be synonymous with human civilization, although others note that many indigenous societies have been largely egalitarian.

Cultural phenomena

Noam Chomsky (1928–)
Noam Chomsky (1928–)

The kind of anarchism that is most easily encountered in popular culture is represented by well-known figures who publicly identify themselves as anarchists. The following figures are examples of prominent publicly self-avowed anarchists:

  • the MIT professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky
  • the social historian Howard Zinn
  • author Edward Abbey
  • author and speaker Murray Bookchin
  • author and philosopher Robert Anton Wilson
  • graphic novelist Alan Moore
  • UFC fighter and champion Jeff Monson
  • feminist, author and critic Germaine Greer
  • Hans Alfredson, actor, film director, writer and comedian.
  • Hip Hop musician Emcee Lynx

In Denmark, the Freetown Christiania was created in downtown Copenhagen. The housing and employment crisis in most of Western Europe led to the formation of communes and squatter movements like the one still thriving in Barcelona, in Catalonia. Although not always explicitly anarchist, militant resistance to neo-Nazi groups in places like Germany, and the uprisings of autonomous Marxism, situationist, and Autonomist groups in France and Italy also helped to give popularity to anti-authoritarian, non-capitalist ideas.

In various musical styles, anarchism rose in popularity. Most famous for the linking of anarchist ideas and music has been punk rock, although in the modern age, hip hop, and folk music are also becoming important mediums for the spreading of the anarchist message. In the UK this was associated with the punk movement; the band Crass are celebrated for their anarchist and pacifist ideas, while Chumbawamba are the arguably the best known UK anarchist band, having made some inroads into the realms of ' popular chart music' with the single Tubthumping and the album Tubthumper. The post-rock, modern classical band Godspeed You! Black Emperor has often associated itself with anarchism proved by their dislike of people trying to claim one or another member the band's leader.

Recent technological developments have made the transmission of anarchist ideas accessible to a wider public. Many people use the Internet to form on-line communities. Intellectual property has been undermined to some extent and a gift-culture supported by sharing music files, collaborative software development, and free software ( also called open-source software) has arisen. These cyber-communities include those that support GNU, Linux, Indymedia, and Wikis. Others use technology to remain anonymous, communicate securely using public key cryptography, and maintain financial privacy through digital currency. See also: Crypto-anarchism and Cypherpunk.

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