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Types of anarchism

Dominant form of anarchism, and sometimes described as communism or collectivism. Principal proponents = Bakunin and Kropotkin, who presented an alternative to socialism and Marxism in response to the evils of capitalism.

Propose dissolution of state, violently or peacefully, and replacing it with small-scale communes. Various anarcho-communist groups agreed that:

● They would have to be voluntary, might vary in organisation and values but individuals wouldn’t be forced to conform as it's their decision to join.

● They would be self-governing, no overreaching authority to bind them.

● Would be governed by direct democracy, perhaps the most problematic part of such communism - minorities? Anarchists can be seen at most optimistic, arguing the process of democracy would produce unanimous conclusions.

● On the whole, self-sustaining, avoid need for cooperation with other communities. Too much interdependence = capitalist exchange systems?

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Types of anarchism

Principal authority = Max Stirner who had a specific view of human nature (driven principally by egoism). Asserted that notions of individuals being naturally social and cooperative were false, and the state was to be opposed in the grounds that it denied people’s egoism and controlled their behaviour, forcing unnatural social relations. Thus, Stirner rejected the state and human society as denials of human nature. Anarcho-individualists reject the idea that the state should be replaced by a different kind of social order. For them, there should be no replacement of the state. Also reject collectivist form of production proposed by communists, believing this would recreate the state by another name. Economic and social relations should be conducted freely.

Not a movement, usually applied to individuals like Stirner. Believe all forms of social order are unjustifiable denial of individual liberty. Attack all forms of organisation, not merely centralised state. Recommend completely free exercise of egoism and the limitless use of terror. Great deal in common with ‘existentialism’ - life only has meaning if we throw off society’s constraints. If we allow society to impose itself upon us, we are guilty of ‘bad faith’.

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Types of anarchism

The capitalist system of production and exchange is so entrenched that it must be adapted to a circumstance where no state exists. The most prominent of anarcho-capitalists is Rothbard who shared Stirner’s view that we are all self-interested individuals but had a more optimistic view of what a world would be like with everyone free to pursue this self-interest freely.

Believed virtually all functions of the state can be replaced by the activities of the free market. For example, law and order could be maintained if individuals or groups simply purchased security on the open market. All welfare services could be provided by the private enterprises, as could transport and housing.

Furthermore, he argued, if a totally free market system of exchange were introduced, individuals would become enlightened, understanding that if transactions took place on a fair basis, this would benefit everyone in society. When a dispute arose, they could resort to private arbitrators with both parties agreeing to abide by the final decision. The state would therefore become redundant. All needed is a legal code to which all consent.

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Types of anarchism

The doctrine of mutualism was expounded by Proudhon, and bridged the gap between anarcho-communism and anarcho-individualism. ‘All property is theft’ although he was one of the few anarchists who accepted that private property might be tolerated, provided exploitative aspects of capitalism were eliminated. Understood it was essential for small-scale entrepreneurs to own their own means of production, or they would lose their independence.

Proudhon devised a system of exchange that would assign values to goods based on the labour hours to produce them. Money was to be replaced by ‘labour notes’ and free credit be available to all, giving individuals a chance to set up their own enterprises or buy land.

He believed people should live in small, self-governing communities. As long as exploitation of peasants, workers and consumers was gone, people could live in harmony without need for a coercive state. Proudhon attempted to reconcile individual ownership of property with social harmony. There are echoes of Proudhon’s idea of valuing goods by labour input in the current ‘Fair Trade’ scheme.

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Types of anarchism

Syndicalism was the name adopted by some revolutionary socialists to for a movement based on the power and organisation of trade unions. Most syndicalists proposed the overthrow of capitalism by workers and peasants, and the state’s replacement with a worker’s organisation. In practice, this meant industrial democracy, in which each industry was self-governing on the basis of direct democracy. There would be a centralised state organisation, to organise the distribution of goods various security functions.

The anarchist wing of the syndicalist movement had similar objectives, except they opposed retention of the state. Argued self-governing industries and cooperatives would be able to arrange a fair system of exchange, distribution and security without need for a central state. Supporters of this were sometimes called ‘radical syndicalists’.

Anarcho-syndicalists gained a reputation as most violent of anarchism. Leader Sorel asserted that the capitalist state used violence and coercion, so it should be met with even greater violence. Main weapon used was strike – undermining the state where it couldn’t combat. Sorel believed a general strike would bring down the state altogether - 'propaganda by deed'.

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Core values/concepts in anarchism

The sovereignty of the individual
Each individual is completely independent of all other individuals and sovereign. Socialists and communists, on the other hand, see humankind as essentially social and argue that there is natural interdependence.

Mikhail Bakunin disagreed and said we're bound by natural law which dictates that we behave in a social, not individualistic, manner. Most anarchists, however, are convinced that we are total individuals. Furthermore, they insist that this doesn’t conflict with the needs of society. Given free will, any moral human being will either form natural communities with other people or will pursue their own self-interest without interfering with fellow individuals. Rational, moral human beings don’t need to be told to behave with sympathy for others and will naturally do so.

Individualist anarchists, such as Godwin, Stirner and Thoreau, stress individual liberty to a greater extent than communists and are less concerned with the need to create a free and just society, being more concerned with restoring individual liberty. No individual has the right to exercise power over any other, eliminating all possibility that we may be governed.

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Core values/concepts in anarchism

The nature of liberty
Anarchists and liberals begin with the belief that all individuals are born free and should remain so. However, liberals concede that freedom can't be unconditional and if an individual exercising their freedom interferes with someone else’s, it’s unacceptable so we have to submit ourselves to some kind of government and its laws. Anarchists totally reject this, and see negative liberty as external restraint which offends their basic principle of individual sovereignty. How do anarchists explain/avoid ‘if everyone is completely free, why doesn’t the world descend into chaos’?

1. They have an optimistic view of human nature. (There are some exceptions to this among anarcho-individualists but they aren’t in the mainstream). If we’re allowed to live in a moral and enlightened existence, we’ll account for the interests of others and have natural empathy.

2. This positive view allows for the liberal conception of external restraint to be replaced by internal constraint, which Godwin called ‘private judgement’. In a world where we’re all returned to our natural state, uncorrupted by the evils of modern society, artificial laws become unnecessary.

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Core values/concepts in anarchism

The nature of liberty cont..
Critics of the anarchist view of liberty concentrate on their assertion that humankind is naturally ‘good’. If mistaken, the whole anarchist concept of freedom fails. Liberals and conservatives have been united in the belief that the natural goodness of people is an illusion, or at best is inconsistent. Rousseau, Godwin and Bakunin argued that individuals are neither good nor bad; an individual is not born with an internal moral code.

Opposition to property
Not all anarchists have opposed private property. Some anarcho-capitalists such as Nozick have asserted that private property is acceptable as long as it has been legally and justly obtained. Some came to the conclusion that private property is a necessary evil.

Most anarchists believe social justice can only be achieved if private property is abolished. Inequality isn’t only reason - many see state as protector of property interests; without a state, property owners feel vulnerable and insecure. Something that separates anarchism from socialism – the state shouldn’t be vehicle for common ownership. Public ownership being under the control of the state offends core principles. 

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Core values/concepts in anarchism

Anarchist critique of capitalism
Contemporary libertarian anarchists support maintenance of free-market capitalism provided it is genuine but most see capitalism as the root of a number of social ills. Above all, capitalism is opposed because it exploits, and negates, freedom. Working class won't be free til it's overthrown.

Anarcho-syndicalists are the most passionately anti-capitalism. They proposed that the workers should seize control of the instruments of capitalist domination and run them in the interests of all. Violent in their revolutionary outlook, the syndicalists believed that once capitalism was undermined and then destroyed, most functions of the state would become redundant.

Eco-anarchists see the degradation of the natural environment as a direct consequence of capitalism. On a more philosophical level, anarchists have argued that capitalism creates inequality. Inequality is, in itself, a threat to freedom, since those who enjoy greater prosperity have the opportunity to dominate the less well off. Capitalism and the state, which supports it, sponsor inequality and have celebrated it so is opposed.

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Core values/concepts in anarchism

Anarchist critique of the state:

The state is oppressive, represents few who oppress the many. Close to Marxist view, describing state as ‘management committee’ of ruling class.

The state removes freedom and subjects us to laws and controls that are artificial, offending the basis principle of individual sovereignty. Like liberals, anarchists see an incompatibility between the power of the state and the freedom of the individual. The more powerful the state, the more liberty is threatened. ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

The state is corrupting - anarchists believe the act of governing is corrupting. Those who govern might good motives, but lose them along the way.

The state is unnatural and an artificial form of society. Either humankind should be free to form voluntary, natural communities or the individual should be free to withdraw altogether. Political state denies this freedom and creates an unnatural community.

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Core values/concepts in anarchism

Anarchist responses to consent theory – useful to confront anarchist opposition to state with liberal argument. Liberals understand that states, by nature, threaten individual liberty, and since the days of Locke have developed a theory of political consent ('social contract theory') to overcome this. If people come together voluntarily to set up government over themselves, the state won’t be seen as an imposition and will be accepted. The people consent to obey the laws of the state, and the state is bound to protect their liberties. If the state fails, the contract can be dissolved.

Anarchists have 3 main problems with social contract theory:
1. Liberty is a birthright, it can’t be conceded. Its abandonment would be denial of our humanity.

2. Consent theory implies that there will be a majority and a minority. Thoreau said ‘a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice’. Only ok if all people offer their consent (unlikely).

3. Even if consent is justly, can’t bind on future generations so to be legitimate it must be subject to continuous consent (too impractical).

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Key thinkers in anarchism

William Godwin (British, 1756-1836)
Rejected concept of original sin, believing that people are born neither good nor bad. Optimistic that each individual could be made into a perfectly moral human being and govt would have no purpose in a rational, moral society. In its place would be a natural society dominated by reason and based on cooperation. Criticism: utopian and unsystematic in alternative to state?

Mikhail Bakunin (Russian, 1814-76)
Leading exponent of anarcho-communism. Theories began with the belief that individuals are neither good nor bad and a perfect society can create perfect humans. Only be free when living cooperatively, with no self-interest.

Peter Kropotkin (Russian, 1842-1921)
Scientific, based theories on the animal kingdom. Humankind would naturally form small-scale cooperative communities. Modern state destroyed these natural formations, creating an oppressive, unnatural society. Rejected Darwinian theory, argued that more successful species lived in cooperative communities. Supported his call for mutual aid with small, self-governing communities who would only negotiate on a mutually beneficial basis. 

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Key thinkers in anarchism

Georges Sorel (French, 1847-1922)
Anarcho-syndicalist, believed the ability of the revolutionary was to act in a decisive way, uninhibited by traditional morals. Best known the ‘great myth’ theory: rise of the proletariat, transforms view of the world, and consciousness.

Henry Thoreau (US, 1817-62)
Believed human fulfilment was best achieved through creative work, hated industrialisation and capitalism as they take individual’s natural creativity. By withdrawing from society and becoming self-sufficient, the creative way of life could be restored. Another aspect was hatred of the oppressive state, which removes individual’s freedom. No state = natural, creative way of life.

Murray Rothbard (US, 1926-95)
Key representative of anarcho-capitalism. Suggests that all services can be provided by private enterprise, so no need for a state. Natural rights doctrine - if we're born with natural rights, there's no justification for the state interfering. We should be free to exchange goods with who ever, on whatever basis. Rothbard asserted that popular democracy is a myth - it's tyranny of majority.

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Issues in anarchism

Are anarchists utopians?
Main criticisms of anarchists is that they are unscientific and utopian. Key criticisms:

● Anarchists have an over-optimistic view of human nature. Conservatives argue human nature is unpredictable, flawed, and too self interested to establishing a society with no political authority. 

Anarcho-communists suggest it’s possible to set up a social system based on equality and social justice, with collective ownership of means of production. Conservatives assert that private property is an essential element in a stable society, while liberals have always seen property as a natural right. A system without would be unstable/unnatural.

Many critics from different ideoligies suggest that the drive to power is a natural instinct of humankind. Conservatives view people as naturally unequal; some will succeed, some don't, some lead, some follow. Abolishing the state or any other form of political authority is unnatural so won’t succeed.

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Issues in anarchism

Are anarchists utopians? cont..
The anarchist response to these criticisms varies. The radical individualists are unconcerned and believe individuals should simply be given liberty, and the outcome of the free exercise of that liberty will be natural and justifiable.

Anarcho-communists offer a more specific response. The nature of humankind may appear to be inconsistent, selfish and unreliable, but this is because we have been corrupted by a flawed society. If we’re the products of our social environment, as Bakunin claimed, then it’s inevitable that a society without morality creates people without morality. If we create a society based on cooperation, morality and justice, its inhabitants will display those qualities.

A third view, held by Godwin, is that if individuals are provided with a rational and moral education, they will spontaneously create a just society without the need of government. If individuals can learn to govern their own actions in such a way as to produce good outcomes, then government becomes unnecessary. Through re-educating people and establishing a new consciousness, we'll learn to govern ourselves successfully.

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Issues in anarchism

Can anarchists reconcile individualism and collectivism?
Anarcho-individualists say collectivism and individualism can't be reconciled, so reject collectivist ideas, but anarcho-communists think they can. Anarcho-communist argue that free individuals will naturally form into social groups without compulsion to do so – therefore retaining their freedom. As long as everyone is equally free and rational, they'll live harmoniously.

Kropotkin takes it further. He saw human freedom in terms of collective identity, arguing that we are only truly free if we live in natural social units. If we are left to live as individuals, we lose our liberty because we will come into conflict with others - ‘free communism'.

Godwin believed the answer lay in who was doing the restraining. As long as we're rational and moral, we won't need to be compelled to behave in a collectivist, cooperative way. By exercising ‘private judgement’, we'll express our freedom by restraining ourselves, not by being restrained. ‘Each man should be wise enough to govern himself’. Individuals would govern by themselves ‘to promote the general happiness’. So we can live in freedom without government in a collectivist social environment.

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Issues in anarchism

Can anarchists reconcile individualism and collectivism? cont..
Marx was sceptical of this argument. After the revolution, the working class couldn’t expect both individualism and socialism immediately. There would have to be a prolonged period of dictatorship by the proletariat until people’s consciousness had changed. Eventually, said Marx, the state would wither away and a new communist age of freedom would be ushered in.

Unlike anarchists, he believed that freedom and communism would not be able to coexist for some time to come. The outright opponents of anarchism, of course, claim that communism and freedom will always be irreconcilable.

However, the main objection to anarchist claims that individualism and collectivism can be reconciled is that any form of collectivism involves a loss of liberty. Collectivism simply can’t work, say critics, without the need for some system of authority in which some individual liberty would be sacrificed.


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Issues in anarchism

Is anarchism a single ideology?
Yes and no. Anarchism is a single movement in that all anarchists share the same basic principles, which are:

1. All individuals have the right to absolute personal sovereignty.
2. No person has the right to exercise power over another.
3. The existence of the political state can’t ever be tolerated.

Individuals who subscribe to these 3 principles are justified in describing themselves as anarchists. However, it’s impossible to put all those who have described themselves as anarchist into the same political tradition.

All of these movements propose the abolition of the state but there are fundamental differences in the kind of social order desired to replace it. For some, there'd be no state; for others, there'd be one to represent transformed society. Anarchist have disagreed on human nature. Stirners see us as egotistical and self-interested, Bakunin sees us as naturally driven to cooperation. Sorel and is pessimistic about human nature, Godwin and Kropotkin are optimistic.

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Issues in anarchism

Is anarchism a single ideology? cont..
Anarchists have also disagreed over the means of bringing about the anarchist utopia. Most anarchists have been revolutionaries and accept the need for a dramatic transformation of society into stateless existence. Some, however, have been pacifists and some individualists, like Thoreau, have recommended we simply withdraw from society and so free ourselves from the oppression of the state.

In summary, therefore, anarchists are united on three basic principles. However, they disagree fundamentally both about the preferable form of social order and the means by which this can be brought about. 

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Anarchism and liberalism

Is anarchism an extreme form of liberalism?

Liberals say the most important kind of liberty involves the absence of external restraint (negative liberty). Anarchists agree it's essential.

However, liberals accept there must be laws and limitations on individuals to ensure their freedom doesn’t interfere with others, but anarchists say in their perfectly moral society, all will have internal restraint (private judgement).

Here, anarchism might be an extreme form of liberalism, as there would be a greater degree of personal freedom in an anarchist’s world, although both would be similar in being remarkably free. Anarchists think laws are incompatible with freedom, liberals argue we can’t be free without laws.

They agree on positive freedom. Both claim they can maximise individualism, personal progress and creativity, liberate individuals from restraints which restrict choice/opportunity and self-realisation. In that sense, liberation has a positive outcome and the anarchist aim of creating total liberation goes much further than liberalism. 

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Anarchism and liberalism

Is anarchism an extreme form of liberalism? cont..

The state
There's an affinity regarding views of state. Both oppose excessive exercise of power and see state as enemy of freedom. But there's a distinction:

Liberals see the state as necessary to preserve liberty. It protects individuals from each other accumulations of power. Anarchists see all forms of state as unacceptable. It is inevitable they argue that the state will exercise power of the few over the many - 'power corrupts'. It must use force against citizens to perform its functions, and so even if it is used for goods ends, anarchists reject it.

This is clearly not a difference of degree, but a fundamental distinction. Liberals accept the existence of a limited state; anarchists will never support this kind of state and argue that even a limited state will eventually become too powerful. Ironically, anarchists find it easier than liberals do to support Lord Acton’s ‘all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. That was originally a liberal motto.

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Anarchism and liberalism

Is anarchism an extreme form of liberalism? cont..

The free society
Anarcho-individualists and anarcho-capitalists share with liberals a desire to see a society that is as free as possible. All believe that freedom of individual should stand above social constraints. Anarchists expect individuals to use liberty for good ends, whereas liberals accept individuals are likely to pursue self-interest and create a highly competitive world. However it could be argued that some extreme liberals see a world similar to an anarchist one in which autonomous individuals are motivated by egoism. The world of evolutionary competition, Spencer, seems similar to Stirner’s conception of complete absence of social order with individualism being granted full rein.

However, when collectivist forms of anarchism are considered, crucial distinctions emerge. The liberal community comes about through an agreement among the people to set up a government over themselves - social contract. For anarchists, communities must be voluntary and therefore natural. Liberals see existence of property as a right enjoyed by all. Almost all anarchists (Proudhon excluded) oppose private property.

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Anarchism and liberalism

It is an extreme form of liberalism:
● Both the liberal and anarchist ideal is one with a greater personal freedom.
● Agree on positive liberty and want to maximise individual’s chances etc.
● Anarcho-individualists, anarcho-capitalists and liberals want a society as free as possible.
● Classical liberals, social Darwinists and anarchists share the belief that every individual can only reach his or her potential in a free society.
● Some extreme liberals see a world similar to an anarchist one in which autonomous individuals are motivated by egoism - Spencer and Stirner.

It isn’t an extreme form of liberalism:
● Liberals argue we can’t be free without laws; anarchists saw laws stop us being free and are incompatible with freedom.
● Liberals accept the existence of a limited state; anarchists never will.
● Liberals see the existence of property as a right enjoyed by all individuals but almost all anarchists oppose it saying it creates inequality.
● The liberal community comes about through social contract agreement; anarchist communities must be totally voluntary and natural.

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Anarchism, socialism and Marxism

On what grounds do socialists and anarchists conflict?

Socialists insist that humans are social animals whose instincts for cooperation and mutual sympathy are stronger than their egoism. For socialists, the pursuit of self-interest is unnatural and the result of capitalism rather than a prerequisite for it.

By contrast, anarcho-individualists believe that egoism is a fundamental feature of human character and that any form of social organisation restrains egoism and is therefore unnatural. However, collectivist forms of anarchism have a good deal in common with socialism, making comparisons between the ideologies more complex. 

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Anarchism, socialism and Marxism

Points of similarity include the following:
● Both see major problems arising from the existence of private property. Both Marxists and anarcho-communists oppose private property altogether.

● Anarcho-communists and socialists hold similar views of human nature. Both accept individuals can achieve much of self-realisation through collective action.

● Both have a strong sense of equality, support equal rights and equality of opportunity, and share a sense that each individual has equal worth. Marxists and quasi-Marxist socialists agree with anarchists that there should be an equal distribution of rewards in society according to need.

Thus, anarcho-communism and socialism have a lot in common and in many ways have common roots – the opposition to capitalism, inequality and dominance of the state by a ruling class. However, this shouldn’t disguise their fundamental differences.

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Anarchism, socialism and Marxism

Most striking contrast concerns the state. All anarchists would abolish the state as a dangerous denial of liberty. Doesn’t matter that a socialist state might abolish private property and impose social and economic equality.

In the 1870s, the role of the state split Marxists and anarchists. Anarchists insisted revolution that was to overthrow capitalism would lead immediately into a stateless society. Marxists foresaw an interim period to build socialism and protect the achievements of the revolution. State socialists, including Fabians, all see the state as a vital component for the realisation of socialist goals (welfare, equality). For anarcho-communists, equality would naturally follow from establishment of voluntary communities.

A more philosophical distinction - socialists believe freedom and individualism are developed by establishment of equality. Principal enemy of freedom is inequality. Liberty isn’t an individualist concept. Equality can’t guarantee such freedom; only total abolition of state can. Natural anarchist communities can combine individual liberty with equality and mutual cooperation. Anarchists complain socialism requires too much compulsion.  On the other hand, socialists argue that anarchism is utopian and unrealistic.

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Anarchism, socialism and Marxism

Is anarchism merely unscientific socialism?
A detailed critique of anarcho-communism would include:
● lack of a theory of history, coherent view of humankind or of class
● incoherent view of a social order

Anarchism doesn’t have a theorist to demonstrate natural historical progress towards a no-state society, and they differ greatly in views of human nature. Bakunin believed there's no such thing as human nature and we're moulded by society. Kropotkin believed we're naturally social, but individualists like Stirner see us as solitary and egotistical. A lack of unanimity over human nature makes it difficult to accept an ideological position.

Argued anarchism lacks scientific explanation of nature of society and role of social class. This suggests that anarchists are simplistic in social vision, looking no further than excessive authority, oppression and exploitation. This may be over critical. Most anarchists share set of fully identifiable distinct values with socialists. These include equality, community, cooperation, common ownership. In this regard, anarchism can be seen as a form of socialism that opposes the institution of the state.

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Old Sir


A very good set of revision cards. - Could form the basis of beginning to revise this topic. Users will need to do follow-up research on any ideas of people with whom they are unfamiliar. This should be followed up with your own version of the cards.

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