Definition: anarchy

from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910.

ANARCHISM (from the Gr. αν, and αρχο, contrary to authority), the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being. In a society developed on these lines, the voluntary associations which already now begin to cover all the fields of human activity would take a still greater extension so as to substitute themselves for the state in all its functions. They would represent an interwoven network, composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees, local, regional, national and international temporary or more or less permanent – for all possible purposes: production, consumption and exchange, communications, sanitary arrangements, education, mutual protection, defence of the territory, and so on; and, on the other side, for the satisfaction of an ever-increasing number of scientific, artistic, literary and sociable needs. Moreover, such a society would represent nothing immutable. On the contrary – as is seen in organic life at large – harmony would (it is contended) result from an ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium between the multitudes of forces and influences, and this adjustment would be the easier to obtain as none of the forces would enjoy a special protection from the state.

If, it is contended, society were organized on these principles, man would not be limited in the free exercise of his powers in productive work by a capitalist monopoly, maintained by the state; nor would he be limited in the exercise of his will by a fear of punishment, or by obedience towards individuals or metaphysical entities, which both lead to depression of initiative and servility of mind. He would be guided in his actions by his own understanding, which necessarily would bear the impression of a free action and reaction between his own self and the ethical conceptions of his surroundings. Man would thus be enabled to obtain the full development of all his faculties, intellectual, artistic and moral, without being hampered by overwork for the monopolists, or by the servility and inertia of mind of the great number. He would thus be able to reach full individualization, which is not possible either under the present system of individualism, or under any system of state socialism in the so-called Volkstaat (popular state).

The anarchist writers consider, moreover, that their conception is not a utopia, constructed on the a priori method, after a few desiderata have been taken as postulates. It is derived, they maintain, from an analysis of tendencies that are at work already, even though state socialism may find a temporary favour with the reformers. The progress of modern technics, which wonderfully simplifies the production of all the necessaries of life; the growing spirit of independence, and the rapid spread of &ee initiative and free understanding in all branches of activity – including those which formerly were considered as the proper attribution of church and state – are steadily reinforcing the no-government tendency.

As to their economical conceptions, the anarchists, in common with all socialists, of whom they constitute the left wing, maintain that the now prevailing system of private ownership in land, and our capitalist production for the sake of profits, represent a monopoly which runs against both the principles of justice and the dictates of utility. They are the main obstacle which prevents the successes of modern technics from being brought into the service of all, so as to produce general well-being. The anarchists consider the wage-system and capitalist production altogether as an obstacle to progress. But they point out also that the state was, and continues to be, the chief instrument for permitting the few to monopolize the land, and the capitalists to appropriate for themselves a quite disproportionate share of the yearly accumulated surplus of production. Consequently, while combating the present monopolization of land, and capitalism altogether, the anarchists combat with the same energy the state, as the main support of that system. Not this or that special form, but the state altogether, whether it be a monarchy or even a republic governed by means of the referendum.

The state organization, having always been, both in ancient and modern history (Macedonian Empire, Roman Empire, modern European states grown up on the ruins of the autonomous cities), the instrument for establishing monopolies in favour of the ruling minorities, cannot be made to work for the destruction of these monopolies. The anarchists consider, therefore, that to hand over to the state all the main sources of economical life – the land, the mines, the railways, banking, insurance, and so on – as also the management of all the main branches of industry, in addition to all the functions already accumulated in its hands (education, state-supported religions, defence of the territory, etc.), would mean to create a new instrument of tyranny. State capitalism would only increase the powers of bureaucracy and capitalism. True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound, in lieu of the present hierarchy from the centre to the periphery.

In common with most socialists, the anarchists recognize that, like all evolution in nature, the slow evolution of society is followed from time to time by periods of accelerated evolution which are called revolutions; and they think that the era of revolutions is not yet closed. Periods of rapid changes will follow the periods of slow evolution, and these periods must be taken advantage of – not for increasing and widening the powers of the state, but for reducing them, through the organization in every township or commune of the local groups of producers and consumers, as also the regional, and eventually the international, federations of these groups.

In virtue of the above principles the anarchists refuse to be party to the present state organization and to support it by infusing fresh blood into it. They do not seek to constitute, and invite the working men not to constitute, political parties in the parliaments. Accordingly, since the foundation of the International Working Men’s Association in 1864-1866, they have endeavoured to promote their ideas directly amongst the labour organizations and to induce those unions to a direct struggle against capital, without placing their faith in parliamentary legislation.

The historical development of anarchism

The conception of society just sketched, and the tendency which is its dynamic expression, have always existed in mankind, in opposition to the governing hierarchic conception and tendency – now the one and now the other taking the upper hand at different periods of history. To the former tendency we owe the evolution, by the masses themselves, of those institutions – the clan, the village community, the guild, the free medieval city – by means of which the masses resisted the encroachments of the conquerors and the power-seeking minorities. The same tendency asserted itself with great energy in the great religious movements of medieval times, especially in the early movements of the reform and its forerunners. At the same time it evidently found its expression in the writings of some thinkers, since the times of Lao-tsze, although, owing to its non-scholastic and popular origin, it obviously found less sympathy among the scholars than the opposed tendency.

As has been pointed out by Prof. Adler in his Geschichte des Sozialismus und Kommunismus, Aristippus (b. c. 430 BC), one of the founders of the Cyrenaic school, already taught that the wise must not give up their liberty to the state, and in reply to a question by Socrates he said that he did not desire to belong either to the governing or the governed class. Such an attitude, however, seems to have been dictated merely by an Epicurean attitude towards the life of the masses.

The best exponent of anarchist philosophy in ancient Greece was Zeno (342-267 or 270 BC), from Crete, the founder of the Stoic philosophy, who distinctly opposed his conception of a free community without government to the state-utopia of Plato. He repudiated the omnipotence of the state, its intervention and regimentation, and proclaimed the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual – remarking already that, while the necessary instinct of self-preservation leads man to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct – that of sociability. When men are reasonable enough to follow their natural instincts, they will unite across the frontiers and constitute the cosmos. They will have no need of law-courts or police, will have no temples and no public worship, and use no money – free gifts taking the place of the exchanges. Unfortunately, the writings of Zeno have not reached us and are only known through fragmentary quotations. However, the fact that his very wording is similar to the wording now in use, shows how deeply is laid the tendency of human nature of which he was the mouthpiece.

In medieval times we find the same views on the state expressed by the illustrious bishop of Alba, Marco Girolamo Vida, in his first dialogue De dignitate reipublicae (Ferd. Cavalli, in Mem. dell’Istituto Veneto, xiii.; Dr E. Nys, Researches in the History of Economics). But it is especially in several early Christian movements, beginning with the ninth century in Armenia, and in the preachings of the early Hussites, particularly Chojecki, and the early Anabaptists, especially Hans Denk (cf. Keller, Ein Apostel der Wiedertaufer), that one finds the same ideas forcibly expressed – special stress being laid of course on their moral aspects.

Rabelais and Fenelon, in their utopias, have also expressed similar ideas, and they were also current in the eighteenth century amongst the French Encyclopaedists, as may be concluded from separate expressions occasionally met with in the writings of Rousseau, from Diderot’s Preface to the Voyage of Bougainville, and so on. However, in all probability such ideas could not be developed then, owing to the rigorous censorship of the Roman Catholic Church.

These ideas found their expression later during the great French Revolution. While the Jacobins did all in their power to centralize everything in the hands of the government, it appears now, from recently published documents, that the masses of the people, in their municipalities and ‘sections’, accomplished a considerable constructive work. They appropriated for themselves the election of the judges, the organization of supplies and equipment for the army, as also for the large cities, work for the unemployed, the management of charities, and so on. They even tried to establish a direct correspondence between the 36,000 communes of France through the intermediary of a special board, outside the National Assembly (cf. Sigismund Lacroix, Actes de la commune de Paris).

It was Godwin, in his Enquiry concerning Political Justice (2 vols., 1793), who 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 remarkable work. Laws, he wrote, are not a product of the wisdom of our ancestors: they are the product of their passions, their timidity, their jealousies and their ambition. The remedy they offer is worse than the evils they pretend to cure. If and only if all laws and courts were abolished, and the decisions in the arising contests were left to reasonable men chosen for that purpose, real justice would gradually be evolved. As to the state, Godwin frankly claimed its abolition. A society, he wrote, can perfectly well exist without any government: only the communities should be small and perfectly autonomous. Speaking of property, he stated that the rights of every one ‘to every substance capable of contributing to the benefit of a human being’ must be regulated by justice alone: the substance must go ‘to him who most wants it’. His conclusion was communism. Godwin, however, had not the courage to maintain his opinions. He entirely rewrote later on his chapter on property and mitigated his communist views in the second edition of Political Justice (8vo, 1796).

Proudhon was the first to use, in 1840 (Qu’est-ce que la propriete? first memoir), the name of anarchy with application to the no government state of society. The name of ‘anarchists’ had been freely applied during the French Revolution by the Girondists to those revolutionaries who did not consider that the task of the Revolution was accomplished with the overthrow of Louis XVI, and insisted upon a series of economical measures being taken (the abolition of feudal rights without redemption, the return to the village communities of the communal lands enclosed since 1669, the limitation of landed property to 120 acres, progressive income-tax, the national organization of exchanges on a just value basis, which already received a beginning of practical realization, and so on).

Now Proudhon advocated a society without government, and used the word anarchy to describe it. Proudhon repudiated, as is known, all schemes of communism, according to which mankind would be driven into communistic monasteries or barracks, as also all the schemes of state or state-aided socialism which were advocated by Louis Blanc and the collectivists. When he proclaimed in his first memoir on property that ‘Property is theft’, he meant only property in its present, Roman-law, sense of ‘right of use and abuse’; in property-rights, on the other hand, understood in the limited sense of possession, he saw the best protection against the encroachments of the state. At the same time he did not want violently to dispossess the present owners of land, dwelling-houses, mines, factories and so on. He preferred to attain the same end by rendering capital incapable of earning interest; and this he proposed to obtain by means of a national bank, based on the mutual confidence of all those who are engaged in production, who would agree to exchange among themselves their produces at cost-value, by means of labour cheques representing the hours of labour required to produce every given commodity. Under such a system, which Proudhon described as ‘Mutuellisme’, all the exchanges of services would be strictly equivalent. Besides, such a bank would be enabled to lend money without interest, levying only something like I per cent, or even less, for covering the cost of administration. Everyone being thus enabled to borrow the money that would be required to buy a house, nobody would agree to pay any more a yearly rent for the use of it. A general ‘social liquidation’ would thus be rendered easy, without violent expropriation. The same applied to mines, railways, factories and so on.

In a society of this type the state would be useless. The chief relations between citizens would be based on free agreement and regulated by mere account keeping. The contests might be settled by arbitration. A penetrating criticism of the state and all possible forms of government, and a deep insight into all economic problems, were well-known characteristics of Proudhon’s work.

It is worth noticing that French mutualism had its precursor in England, in William Thompson, who began by mutualism before he became a communist, and in his followers John Gray (A Lecture on Human Happiness, 1825; The Social System, 1831) and J. F. Bray (Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy, 1839). It had also its precursor in America. Josiah Warren, who was born in 1798 (cf. W. Bailie, Josiah Warren, the First American Anarchist, Boston, 1900), and belonged to Owen’s ‘New Harmony’, considered that the failure of this enterprise was chiefly due to the suppression of individuality and the lack of initiative and responsibility. These defects, he taught, were inherent to every scheme based upon authority and the community of goods. He advocated, therefore, complete individual liberty. In 1827 he opened in Cincinnati a little country store which was the first ‘equity store’, and which the people called ‘time store’, because it was based on labour being exchanged hour for hour in all sorts of produce. ‘Cost – the limit of price’, and consequently ‘no interest’, was the motto of his store, and later on of his ‘equity village’, near New York, which was still in existence in 1865. Mr Keith’s ‘House of Equity’ at Boston, founded in 1855, is also worthy of notice.

While the economical, and especially the mutual-banking, ideas of Proudhon found supporters and even a practical application in the United States, his political conception of anarchy found but little echo in France, where the Christian socialism of Lamennais and the Fourierists, and the state socialism of Louis Blanc and the followers of Saint-Simon, were dominating. These ideas found, however, some temporary support among the left-wing Hegelians in Germany, Moses Hess in 1843, and Karl Grün in 1845, who advocated anarchism. Besides, the authoritarian communism of Wilhelm Weitling having given origin to opposition amongst the Swiss working men, Wilhelm Marr gave expression to it in the 1840S.

On the other side, individualist anarchism found, also in Germany, its fullest expression in Max Stirner (Kaspar Schmidt), whose remarkable works (Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum and articles contributed to the Rheinische Zeitung) remained quite overlooked until they were brought into prominence by John Henry Mackay.

Prof. V. Basch, in a very able introduction to his interesting book, L’lndividualisme anarchiste: Max Stirner (1904), has shown how the development of the German philosophy from Kant to Hegel, and ‘the absolute’ of Schelling and the Geist of Hegel, necessarily provoked, when the anti-Hegelian revolt began, the preaching of the same ‘absolute’ in the camp of the rebels. This was done by Stirner, who advocated, not only a complete revolt against the state and against the servitude which authoritarian communism would impose upon men, but also the full liberation of the individual from all social and moral bonds – the rehabilitation of the ‘I’, the supremacy of the individual, complete ‘amoralism’, and the ‘association of the egotists’. The final conclusion of that sort of individual anarchism has been indicated by Prof. Basch. It maintains that the aim of all superior civilization is, not to permit all members of the community to develop in a normal way, but to permit certain better endowed individuals ‘fully to develop’, even at the cost of the happiness and the very existence of the mass of mankind. It is thus a return towards the most common individual ism, advocated by all the would-be superior minorities, to which indeed man owes in his history precisely the state and the rest, which these individualists combat. Their individualism goes so far as to end in a negation of their own starting-point – to say nothing of the impossibility for the individual to attain a really full development in the conditions of oppression of the masses by the ‘beautiful aristocracies’. His development would remain unilateral. This is why this direction of thought, notwithstanding its undoubtedly correct and useful advocacy of the full development of each individuality, finds a hearing only in limited artistic and literary circles.

Anarchism in the International Working Men’s Association

A general depression in the propaganda of all fractions of socialism followed, as is known, after the defeat of the uprising of the Paris working men in June 1848 and the fall of the Republic. All the socialist press was gagged during the reaction period, which lasted fully twenty years. Nevertheless, even anarchist thought began to make some progress, namely in the writings of Bellegarrique (Caeurderoy), and especially Joseph Déjacque (Les Lazareacute’ennes, L ‘Humanisphère, an anarchist-communist utopia, lately discovered and reprinted). The socialist movement revived only after 1864, when some French working men, all ‘mutualists’, meeting in London during the Universal Exhibition with English followers of Robert Owen, founded the International Working Men’s Association. This association developed very rapidly and adopted a policy of direct economical struggle against capitalism, without interfering in the political parliamentary agitation, and this policy was followed until 1871. However, after the Franco-German War, when the Inter national Association was prohibited in France after the uprising of the Commune, the German working men, who had received man hood suffrage for elections to the newly constituted imperial parliament, insisted upon modifying the tactics of the International, and began to build up a Social Democratic political party. This soon led to a division in the Working Men’s Association, and the Latin federations, Spanish, Italian, Belgian and Jurassic (France could not be represented), constituted among themselves a Federal union which broke entirely with the Marxist general council of the Inter national. Within these federations developed now what may be described as modern anarchism. After the names of ‘Federalists’ and ‘Anti-authoritarians’ had been used for some time by these federations the name of ‘anarchists’, which their adversaries insisted upon applying to them, prevailed, and finally it was revindicated.

Bakunin (q.v.) soon became the leading spirit among these Latin federations for the development of the principles of anarchism, which he did in a number of writings, pamphlets and letters. He demanded the complete abolition of the state, which – he wrote is a product of religion, belongs to a lower state of civilization, represents the negation of liberty, and spoils even that which it undertakes to do for the sake of general well-being. The state was an historically necessary evil, but its complete extinction will be, sooner or later, equally necessary. Repudiating all legislation, even when issuing from universal suffrage, Bakunin claimed for each nation, each region and each commune, full autonomy, so long as it is not a menace to its neighbours, and full independence for the individual, adding that one becomes really free only when, and in proportion as, all others are free. Free federations of the communes would constitute free nations.

As to his economical conceptions, Bakunin described himself, in common with his Federalist comrades of the International (César De Paepe, James Guillaume, Schwitzguébel), a ‘collectivist anarchist’ – not in the sense of Vidal and Pecqueur in the 1840s, or of their modern Social Democratic followers, but to express a state of things in which all necessaries for production are owned in common by the labour groups and the free communes, while the ways of retribution of labour, communist or otherwise, would be settled by each group for itself. Social revolution, the near approach of which was foretold at that time by all socialists, would be the means of bringing into life the new conditions.

The Jurassic, the Spanish and the Italian federations and sections of the International Working Men’s Association, as also the French, the German and the American anarchist groups, were for the next years the chief centres of anarchist thought and propaganda. They refrained from any participation in parliamentary politics, and always kept in close contact with the labour organizations. However, in the second half of the ‘eighties and the early ‘nineties of the nineteenth century, when the influence of the anarchists began to be felt in strikes, in the 1st of May demonstrations, where they promoted the idea of a general strike for an eight hours’ day, and in the anti-militarist propaganda in the army, violent prosecutions were directed against them, especially in the Latin countries (including physical torture in the Barcelona Castle) and the United States (the execution of five Chicago anarchists in 1887). Against these prosecutions the anarchists retaliated by acts of violence which in their turn were followed by more executions from above, and new acts of revenge from below. This created in the general public the impression that violence is the substance of anarchism, a view repudiated by its supporters, who hold that in reality violence is resorted to by all parties in proportion as their open action is obstructed by repression, and exceptional laws render them outlaws. (Cf. Anarchism and Outrage, by C. M. Wilson, and Report of the Spanish Atrocities Committee, in ‘Freedom Pamphlets’; A Concise History of the Great Trial of the Chicago Anarchists, by Dyer Lum (New York, 1886); The Chicago Martyrs: Speeches, etc.).

Anarchism continued to develop, partly in the direction of Proudhonian ‘mutuellisme’, but chiefly as communist-anarchism, to which a third direction, Christian-anarchism, was added by Leo Tolstoy, and a fourth, which might be ascribed as literary-anarchism, began amongst some prominent modern writers.

The ideas of Proudhon, especially as regards mutual banking, corresponding with those of Josiah Warren, found a considerable following in the United States, creating quite a school, of which the main writers are Stephen Pearl Andrews, William Grene, Lysander Spooner (who began to write in 1850, and whose unfinished work, Natural Law, was full of promise), and several others, whose names will be found in Dr Nettlau’s Bibliographie de l’anarchie.

A prominent position among the individualist anarchists in America has been occupied by Benjamin R. Tucker, whose journal Liberty was started in 1881 and whose conceptions are a combination of those of Proudhon with those of Herbert Spencer. Starting from the statement that anarchists are egotists, strictly speaking, and that every group of individuals, be it a secret league of a few persons, or the Congress of the United States, has the right to oppress all mankind, provided it has the power to do so, that equal liberty for all and absolute equality ought to be the law, and ‘mind every one your own business’ is the unique moral law of anarchism, Tucker goes on to prove that a general and thorough application of these principles would be beneficial and would offer no danger, because the powers of every individual would be limited by the exercise of the equal rights of all others. He further indicated (following H. Spencer) the difference which exists between the encroachment on somebody’s rights and resistance to such an encroachment; between domination and defence: the former being equally condemnable, whether it be encroachment of a criminal upon an individual, or the encroachment of one upon all others, or of all others upon one; while resistance to encroachment is defensible and necessary. For their self-defence, both the citizen and the group have the right to any violence, including capital punishment. Violence is also justified for enforcing the duty of keeping an agreement. Tucker thus follows Spencer, and, like him, opens (in the present writer’s opinion) the way for reconstituting under the heading of ‘defence’ all the functions of the state. His criticism of the present state is very searching, and his defence of the rights of the individual very powerful. As regards his economical views B. R. Tucker follows Proudhon.

The individualist anarchism of the American Proudhonians finds, however, but little sympathy amongst the working masses. Those who profess it – they are chiefly ‘intellectuals’ – soon realize that the individualization they so highly praise is not attainable by individual efforts, and either abandon the ranks of the anarchists, and are driven into the liberal individualism of the classical economist or they retire into a sort of Epicurean amoralism, or superman theory, similar to that of Stirner and Nietzsche. The great bulk of the anarchist working men prefer the anarchist-communist ideas which have gradually evolved out of the anarchist collectivism of the International Working Men’s Association. To this direction belong – to name only the better known exponents of anarchism Elisée Reclus, Jean Grave, Sebastien Faure, Emile Pouget in France; Errico Malatesta and Covelli in Italy; R. Mella, A. Lorenzo, and the mostly unknown authors of many excellent manifestos in Spain; John Most amongst the Germans; Spies, Parsons and their followers in the United States, and so on; while Domela Nieuwenhuis occupies an intermediate position in Holland. The chief anarchist papers which have been published since 1880 also belong to that direction; while a number of anarchists of this direction have joined the so-called syndicalist movement- the French name for the non-political labour movement, devoted to direct struggle with capitalism, which has lately become so prominent in Europe.

As one of the anarchist-communist direction, the present writer for many years endeavoured to develop the following ideas: to show the intimate, logical connection which exists between the modern philosophy of natural sciences and anarchism; to put anarchism on a scientific basis by the study of the tendencies that are apparent now in society and may indicate its further evolution; and to work out the basis of anarchist ethics. As regards the substance of anarchism itself, it was Kropotkin’s aim to prove that communism at least partial – has more chances of being established than collectivism, especially in communes taking the lead, and that free, or anarchist-communism is the only form of communism that has any chance of being accepted in civilized societies; communism and anarchy are therefore two terms of evolution which complete each other, the one rendering the other possible and acceptable. He has tried, moreover, to indicate how, during a revolutionary period, a large city – if its inhabitants have accepted the idea could organize itself on the lines of free communism; the city guaranteeing to every inhabitant dwelling, food and clothing to an extent corresponding to the comfort now available to the middle classes only, in exchange for a half-day’s, or five-hours’ work; and how all those things which would be considered as luxuries might be obtained by everyone if he joins for the other half of the day all sorts of free associations pursuing all possible aims – educational, literary, scientific, artistic, sports and so on. In order to prove the first of these assertions he has analysed the possibilities of agriculture and industrial work, both being combined with brain work. And in order to elucidate the main factors of human evolution, he has analysed the part played in history by the popular constructive agencies of mutual aid and the historical role of the state.

Without naming himself an anarchist, Leo Tolstoy, like his predecessors in the popular religious movements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Chojecki, Denk and many others, took the anarchist position as regards the state and property rights, deducing his conclusions from the general spirit of the teachings of the Christ and from the necessary dictates of reason. With all the might of his talent he made (especially in The Kingdom of God in Yourselves) a powerful criticism of the church, the state and law altogether, and especially of the present property laws. He describes the state as the domination of the wicked ones, supported by brutal force. Robbers, he says, are far less dangerous than a well-organized government. He makes a searching criticism of the prejudices which are current now concerning the benefits conferred upon men by the church, the state and the existing distribution of property, and from the teachings of the Christ he deduces the rule of non-resistance and the absolute condemnation of all wars. His religious arguments are, however, so well combined with arguments borrowed from a dispassionate observation of the present evils, that the anarchist portions of his works appeal to the religious and the non-religious reader alike.

It would be impossible to represent here, in a short sketch, the penetration, on the one hand, of anarchist ideas into modern literature, and the influence, on the other hand, which the libertarian ideas of the best contemporary writers have exercised upon the development of anarchism. One ought to consult the ten big volumes of the Supplément Littéraire to the paper La Révolte and later the Temps Nouveaux, which contain reproductions from the works of hundreds of modern authors expressing anarchist ideas, in order to realize how closely anarchism is connected with all the intellectual movement of our own times. J. S. Mill’s Liberty, Spencer’s Individual versus the State, Marc Guyau’s Morality without Obligation or Sanction, and Fouillée’s La Morale, I’art et la religion, the works of Multatuli (E. Douwes Dekker), Richard Wagner’s Art and Revolution, the works of Nietzsche, Emerson, W. Lloyd Garrison, Thoreau, Alexander Herzen, Edward Carpenter and so on; and in the domain of fiction, the dramas of Ibsen, the poetry of Walt Whitman, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Zola’s Paris and Le Travail, the latest works of Merezhkovsky, and an infinity of works of less known authors, are full of ideas which show how closely anarchism is interwoven with the work that is going on in modern thought in the same direction of enfranchisement of man from the bonds of the state as well as from those of capitalism.

Anarchism: A Matter of Words

(Where the words “Anarchism” and “Libertarian” come from)

From Chapter 1, part 1 of the book “Anarchism”, by Daniel Guerin

The word anarchy is as old as the world. It is derived from to ancient Greek words, “an”, “arkhe^”, and means something like the absence of authority or government. However, for millennia the presumption has been accepted that man cannot dispense with one or the other, and anarchy has been understood in a pejorative sense, as a synonym for disorder, chaos, and disorganization.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was famous for his quips (such as “property is theft”) and took to himself the word anarchy. As if his purpose were to shock as much as possible, in 1840 he engaged in the following dialogue with the “Philistine”.

“You are a republican.”
“Republican, yes; but that means nothing. Res publica is ‘the State.’ Kings, too, are republicans.”
“Ah well! You are a democrat?”
“What! Perhaps you are a monarchist?”
“Constitutionalist then?”
“God forbid.”
“Then you are an aristocrat?”
“Not at all!”
“You want a mixed form of government?”
“Even less.”
“Then what are you?”
“An Anarchist.”

He sometimes made the concession of spelling anarchy “an-archy” to put the packs of adversaries off the scent. By this term he understood anything but disorder. Appearances notwithstanding, he was more constructive than destructive, as we shall see. He held government responsible for disorder and believed that only a society without government could restore the natural order and re-create social harmony. He argued that the language could furnish no other term and chose to restore to the old word anarchy its strict etymological meaning. In the heat of his polemics, however, he obstinately and paradoxically also used the word anarchy in its pejorative sense of disorder, thus making confusion worse confounded. His disciple Mikhail Bakunin followed him in this respect.

Proudhon and Bakunin carried this even further, taking malicious pleasure in playing with the confusion created by the use of the two opposite meanings of the word: for them, anarchy was both the most colossal disorder, the most complete disorganization of society and, beyond this gigantic revolutionary change, the construction of a new, stable, and rational order based on freedom and solidarity. The immediate followers of the two fathers of anarchy hesitated to use a word so deplorably elastic, conveying a negative idea to the un- initiated, and lending itself to ambiguities which could be annoying to say the least. Even Proudhon became more cautious toward the end of his brief career and was happy to call himself a “federalist.” His petty-bourgeois descendants preferred the term mutuellisme to anarchisme and the socialist line adopted collectivisme, soon to be displaced by communisme. At the end of the century in France, Sebastien Faure took up a word originated in 1858 by one Joseph Dejacque to make it the title of a journal, Le Liberataire. Today the terms “anarchist” and “libertarian” have become interchangeable.

Most of these terms have a major disadvantage: they fail to express the basic characteristics of the doctrines they are supposed to describe. Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man. Anarchism is only one of the streams of socialist thought, that stream whose main components are concern for liberty and haste to abolish the State. Adolph Fischer, one of the Chicago martyrs, (1) claimed that “every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist.”

Some anarchists consider themselves to be the best and most logical socialists but they have adopted a label also attached to the terrorists, or have allowed others to hang it around their necks. This has often caused them to be mistaken for a sort of “foreign body” in the socialist family and has led to a long string of misunderstandings and verbal battles– usually quite purposeless. Some contemporary anarchists have tried to clear up the misunderstanding by adopting a more explicit term: they align themselves with libertarian socialism or communism.


[1] In 1883 an active nucleus of revolutionary socialists founded an International Working Men’s Association in the United States. They were under the influence of the International Anarchist Congress, held in London in 1881, and also of Johann Most, a social democrat turned anarchist, who reached America in 1882. Albert R. Parsons and Adolph Fischer were the moving spirits in the association, which took the lead in a huge mass movement concentrated on winning an eight-hour day. The campaign for this was launched by the trade unions and the Knights of Labor, and May 1, 1886, was fixed as the deadline for bringing the eight-hour day into force. During the first half of May, a nationwide strike involved 190,000 workers, of whom 80,000 were in Chicago. Impressive mass demonstrations occurred in that city on May 1 and for several days thereafter. Panic-stricken and terrified by this wave of rebellion, the bourgeoisie resolved to crush the movement at its source, resorting to a bloody provocation if need be. During a street meeting on May 4, 1885, in Haymarket Square, a bomb thrown at the legs of the police in an unexplained manner provided the necessary pretext. Eight leaders of the revolutionary and libertarian socialist movement were arrested, seven of them sentenced to death, and four subsequently hanged (a fifth committed suicide in his cell the day before the execution). Since then the Chicago martyrs– Parsons, Fischer, Engel, Spies, and Lingg– have belonged to the international proletariat, and the universal celebration of May Day (May 1)still commemorates the atrocious crime committed in the United States.


Anarchism is an ideology that regards abolition of government as the necessary precondition for a free and just society. The term itself comes from the Greek words meaning “without a ruler.” Anarchism rejects all forms of hierarchical authority, social and economic as well as political. What distinguishes it from other ideologies, however, is the central importance it attaches to the state. To anarchists, the state is a wholly artificial and illegitimate institution, the bastion of privilege and exploitation in the modern world.

Anarchist Thought

Although the roots of anarchist thought can be traced at least as far back as the 18th-century English writer William GODWIN, anarchism as a revolutionary movement arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its immediate objective was annihilation of the state and of all authority imposed “from above downward.” Once liberated from political oppression, society would spontaneously rebuild itself “from below upward.” A multitude of grass-roots organizations would spring up to produce and distribute economic goods and to satisfy other social needs. Where necessary, these primary associations would form regional and even nation-wide federations. The state, with its impersonal laws and coercive bureaucracies, would be supplanted by a dense web of self-governing associations and free federations.

Like other radical ideologies of its time, anarchism intended to complete the “unfinished business” of the French Revolution. It placed special emphasis on the third of the values expressed in the rallying cry “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Anarchists had an enduring faith in the natural solidarity and social harmony of human beings. They believed that the creation of the future society should be entrusted to the free play of popular instincts, and any attempt by anarchists themselves to offer more than technical assistance would impose a new form of authority. They tended to concentrate, therefore, on the task of demolishing the existing state order rather than on social blueprints of the future.

While battling the established order, anarchists also battled the alternatives proposed by liberalism and socialism. Like Marxism, anarchism was anticapitalist and scorned liberalism’s dedication to political liberty on the grounds that only the propertied classes could afford to enjoy it. They rejected with equal vehemence, however, the Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat,” the idea of capturing and using the capitalist state to achieve a classless society. Political institutions were seen as inherently corrupting, and even the most selfless revolutionaries would inevitably succumb to the joys of power and privilege. Instead of the state “withering away,” as the Marxists anticipated, it would simply perpetuate a new bureaucratic elite. This disagreement led to a bitter conflict between Marx and the Russian anarchist Michael BAKUNIN in the early 1870s, after which Marxism and anarchism went their separate ways.

Anarchism in Practice

Anarchism attracted a following mainly in the countries of eastern and southern Europe, where the state’s repressiveness was especially pronounced and communal traditions remained strong. There were some exceptions: the ideas of the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph PROUDHON left a permanent mark on the French industrial labor movement, and Bakunin’s views found adherents among the watchmakers of Switzerland’s Jura region. Anarchism had its greatest impact in Russia, where numerous anarchist groups participated in the revolutionary movement both before and during 1917. The two outstanding anarchist theorists also were Russians: Bakunin, whose advocacy of popular revolution had considerable influence, and Prince Peter KROPOTKIN, whose writing spelled out some of the constructive sides of the anarchist social vision. Spain and Italy also had vigorous anarchist movements. In only two instances did anarchists have a real opportunity to put their social ideals into practice. During the Russian civil war of 1917-21, (see RUSSIAN REVOLUTIONS OF 1917), the peasant partisan movement led by Nestor Makhno in the Ukraine tried to implement anarchist principles, and in the SPANISH CIVIL WAR of 1936-39 anarchism was a significant force in the regions of Catalonia and Andalusia. The results of these experiments were limited and inconclusive. In the United States, anarchism’s influence was confined largely to some of the European immigrant communities, but it did produce a striking representative of American radicalism in the person of Emma GOLDMAN.

Because anarchism regarded doctrinal and organizational discipline as contradictions of its principles, it gave rise to a wide variety of interpretations. Anarchist-communists shared many of the collectivist principles of socialism but sought to realize them in autonomous local communities. Anarcho-SYNDICALISM was an adaptation of anarchist ideas to modern industrial conditions. It advocated the running of factories by the workers themselves rather than by owners or managers, with trade unions (in French, syndicats) forming the building blocks of a regenerated society. The novelist Leo Tolstoi formulated a kind of Christian anarchism that rejected the state on religious grounds, and there were anarchist-individualists who proclaimed the sovereignty of the individual personality.

Contrary to widespread belief, terrorism was never an integral part of anarchist theory or practice. Some anarchists, however, did engage in what they called “propaganda by the deed,” acts of terror and assassination against state officials and property owners.

Except in Spain, anarchism as an organized movement virtually ceased to exist after the Russian Revolutions. Anarchist ideas, however, have had a longer life. In the 1960s and 1970s, currents of the New left rediscovered anarchist theory, particularly the writings of Kropotkin, and drew from it inspiration for some of their communitarian and antibureaucratic impulses. They also found new merit in the anarchist critique of Marxian socialism. At least some elements of the outlook proved to have a surprising vitality and contemporary relevance.

Marshall S. Shatz

Bibliography: Avrich, Paul, Anarchist Portraits (1988) and The Russian Anarchists (1967; repr. 1980); Guillet de Monthoux, Pierre, Action and Existence (1983); Joll, James, the Anarchists (1964); Shatz, Marshall S., ed., The Essential Works of Anarchism (1971); Woodcock, George, Anarchism (1962).

Copyright 1995 by Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

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