Anarchist Methods

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Anarchist Methods


All anarchists oppose the state but beyond this there are important variations among anarchists in their analyses of contemporary non-anarchist societies and the methods by which the transition to anarchism is to be achieved.


William Godwin hoped that the transition to anarchism could be achieved gradually and peacefully via education and rational persuasion although he also believed that state education would promote respect for the state rather than anarchistic opposition to the state so that an anarchistic approach to education would also be required. Tolstoy and Gandhi also had considerable sympathy with anarchist objectives and hoped that small scale rural communes might be set up peacefully and organised in accordance with anarchist principles, a tradition which has continued in the contemporary  commune movement.


Anarchists who support a peaceful transition to anarchism nevertheless reject parliamentary politics for a variety of reasons.


Revolutionary anarchists, following in the tradition of Bakunin, Kropotkin and others have argued that capitalism is a powerful and deeply entrenched system of economic and political domination which must be abolished via revolution which will inevitably involve some violence. Bakunin did have some connections with Russian nihilists such as Nechaev some of whom did support the selective assassination of members of the capitalist class and it is Bakunin who has been linked especially with the violent tradition within anarchism.


However it is also possible that Bakunin’s support for political violence has been overstated and Kropotkin emphasised that revolutionary violence must be kept to a minimum on the grounds that the transition to a peaceful, harmonious anarchist society cannot be achieved by violent means. Nevertheless there were outbreaks of anarchist violence especially in the 1890s and 1970s as some anarchists came to believe that this was the only way of destroying the capitalist system but the vast majority of anarchisst have agreed that anarchist- inspired violence would only undermine large scale political support for anarchism.


Revolutionary anarchists  they emphasise the central principles that the revolutionary abolition of exploitation and oppression must be undertaken by the exploited classes themselves and that the organisational methods used to end oppression should prefigure the broad characteristics of the anarchist societies which are to be introduced. Marxists have come to believe that the organisation of a small tight knit party of revolutionary Marxist intellectuals [such as Lenin’s Bolsheviks] is necessary to accelerate the revolution. However anarchists have argued that the revolutionary party will itself take control of the state and by so doing undermine the prospects for real revolutionary change. Instead the anarchists believe that the revolution should develop out of a more spontaneous uprising of the people and that it is necessary to abolish the state in the first stage of the revolution so that it does not come to dominate society. Conversely the Marxists argue the state must initially be controlled by the proletariat after the revolution to prevent the possibility of counter-revolution although it can be allowed to wither away in the transition from socialism to communism.


According to anarchists Ii the state is not abolished quickly it will not wither away in the future as the Marxists claim and on this point the post -revolutionary history of the USSR suggests that the anarchists were right.


Nevertheless the anarchist theory of revolution has been criticised on the grounds that a spontaneous revolutionary uprising is unlikely to occur if there is no political party to organise it. However some anarchists defend themselves against this criticism by arguing that opposition to capitalism can evolve gradually within the trade union movement as in the theory of anarcho-syndicalism


Propaganda by deed—not just bombs but possibility of violence always there…1890s …1970s …nowadays…discussion of violence…lot of anarchists repelled by violence in the 1890s and subsequently. Some anarchists continue to believe that violence necessary and that lifestyle anarchism is a cop out.

Guerrilla warfare…seen as appropriate in third world struggles  mexico, china, cuba, vietman…but these have not been anarchist struggles…but the example is seen as useful by some..idea of anarchist urban guerrillas. Guerrilla warfare as seen as a preparation and provocation of revolutionary action…but doesn’t necessarily work.

Maybe use the U.G  formula for when violence acceptable. Incompatibility with anarchist principles. Don’t necessarily accept that redbrigade and RAF =anarchist inspired



General strike

Syndicalists argued that trade unions [or syndicats] should aim to improve workers wages and working conditions through orthodox political methods but that they should aim also to educate their workers and prepare them to take political power via general strikes which would bring socialist governments to power which would provide for the ownership and control of industry and land by the workers and peasants themselves. The anarcho-syndicalists accepted the principle of worker/peasant ownership and control but argued further that the central state should itself be abolished.

Some supporters of anarcho-syndicalism were associated with sporadic outbreaks of individual anarchist terror in the 1890s and it was recognized also that any attempt to overthrow the state via general strike was likely to involve violence. However anarcho-syndicalists also accepted many of the more positive ideas of anarchism about a free and equal society without a government and state.

In most advanced industrial countries trade unions were gradually integrated, via their links with mainstream socialist parties, into conventional politics and anarcho-syndicalism declined as a political force although anarcho- syndicalists did play an important role in the Spanish Civil War when syndicates temporarily took over most of the industries in the Spanish region of Catalonia and ran them effectively bearing in mind the difficult civil war conditions in which they were operating.

Andrew Heywood comments that anarchists were attracted to anarcho-syndicalism because it could potentially avoid the corruption associated with conventional politics and because they could see “a model for the decentralized non –hierarchic society of the future.” On the other hand he argues that anarcho-syndicalists had no clear revolutionary strategy and also that other anarchists have claimed that there would always be a danger that anarcho-syndicalists would be incorporated into conventional corrupt politics.

Peter Marshall states that “To date Spain is the only country in the modern era where anarchism can credibly be said to have developed into a major social movement and to have seriously threatened the state.” Anarcho-syndicalists played a significant role in these events but as with other anarchists their future political role may be limited. Or will it?


Idea of emancipation through practical action…idea that this is better than education or propaganda by word

Link to anarcho-syndicalism here  give understanding of theory of revolution…learn the techniques necessary to organise the future socierty…non –hierarchical organisation

Use of a variety of methods of direct action…sabotage,boycott,occupation,slow-downs,work to rule

Crits…unions moderate; protect own workers only; unions hierarchical;

General strikes…achieved little in uk 1926…but 1968 …current weakness of union movement. Idea that unions are not anarchist organisations but anarchists can work within them… at ledast give some contact with w/c


The mutualist anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon and the American individualist anarchists Josiah Warren and Benjamin Tucker supported the abolition of the state but recommended the setting up of small scale anarchist communities which would nevertheless allow for the ownership of limited amounts of property and limited economic inequality as a means of guaranteeing individual liberty. Proudhon supposed that revolution might be necessary to achieve his objective while Warren and Tucker hoped that once anarchist communities were set up increasing numbers of people would wish to follow the example. Anarcho-capitalists hope also for the gradual withering away of the state as increasing numbers of people come to accept the anarcho-capitalist view that that the answer to all of our problems is unregulated laissez –faire.


Anarchist principles have been introduced on a large scale only briefly in parts of Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s  but contemporary anarchists believe that they have an important role to play in the evolution of modern societies.


Practical anarchism…associated eg with colin ward

Revolution to be achieved by evolutionary means…could have a sentence or two on the meaning of revolution…a total transformation of the structures of society…not necessarily a big bang struggle.

Anarchy current in our every day lives…job of anarchist =help individuals and groups to express their natural tendencies

This does not demand final rupture with state in form of civil war or insurrection ; 1960s..this idea recommended  cos it is non-violent…also was believed that it was more realistic..then 1968 …some reassessment of rev possibilities…but things have settled down…may be practical anarchism is the answer… ward says…that “ in trying to create aselforganising society, a network of autonomous free associations for the satisfaction pof human needs is a struggle against capitalism, bureaucracy and monopoly and it inevitably makes anar`chists advocates of social revoluition

Education is v. important in ward’s scheme..currently it just reinforces class disadvantage and encourages people to accept  authority.need for free to Godwin

Also more should be done to make town plan sensitive to the needs of lovcal communities..true but you have to get control of local government. Also ward admits that there are aspects of the welfare state provision which are good but it undermines local autonomy.

Criticism is that this kind of anarchism is practical but limiting.


Importance of protest

Some anarchists now see protest as the only form of revolutionary action.

Ruth kina distinguishes 4 kinds of protest…constitutional action, symbolic action, direct action, civil disobedience

Constitutional action

Anarchists against rep.democ so not usually associated with const asct. But do use freeom of speech and association letters, books articles, lectures, summer schools, demos, use of internet..even primitivists use it

Symbolic action

Aqcts aiming to raise awareness of injustice without trying to reolve it…vigils, marches, slogans, songs; bearing witness by going to past sits of oppression; obstruction…prevent road building, stop tee clearinfg…use iof activists bodies to block unjust or oppressive actions; general strike can be symbolic so can killing a tyrant.

Direct action

2 defining characteristics…empowerment..= breaking from dependency on others to run our lives; action intended to succed, not just gain publicity; often associated with illegality and sometimes criminality; usually has an overly political character even if it is illehgal; although direct action is meant to move beyond symbolism it may still have a symbolic element;squatting = a good example..attempted solution to the prob of homelessnees, also leads to experiments in community living..example pure genius squat  turned into an eco village of 50-100 people…symbolic to a large extent but was also experimental; sabotage…a well known gform of direct action…once pioneered by syndicalists ‘’’now haking new forms…infiltration of corporate computing systems; monkey wrenching…used bu eco-anarchists…non violent…disable machinery used to pollute environment; defacing adverisedments.. subvertising or adbusting; street parties as direct action against the rts…involves whole neighbourhoods…therefore get b igger audience

However some class struggle anarchists denounce a loft of this as middle class posuring.

Civil disobedience

=an acft of non violent resistance ebven in the face of violence for which participants anticipate arrest… so sectet direct actors are not rally resisting arrest.. but if you do it publically you are doing civil disobedience. Popular with non-anarchists as well as anarchists

But the difference is that with anarchism there is the will to destroy the state. Civil disobedience associated with Thoreau, Tolstoy, Ghandi, ml  king; may be violent or non – john brown abolitionist killed 5 unarmed pro slavery settlers 1859..thoreau defends this. But Tolstoy, Ghandi, mlk rejected violence…Tolstoy..v strong believer that violence perpetuates violence…cannot overcome it. Anarchists have supported both violent and non violent civil disobedience..some have defended the Unabomber for example.

But most anarchists go with the tolstoyan view…partly because in post war period civil disobedience was mainly used by peace capaigners and cnd…commitment to non violence was central to the opposition stance and most anarchists accepted this.

There is a strand of anarchism called anarch-pacifism…eg in the committeeof 100 a group within cnd

So the divisions between anarcho-pacifists and other anarchists have not been resolved.




The current environmental, anti-globalisation, feminist, gay rights and animal liberation movements are no specifically anarchist movements but anarchists do participate in these movements in the hope of emphasising the relevance of anarchist principles within these movements. The acknowledged analyst Ruth Kinna has provided a very useful summary of the role of anarchism within the anti globalisation movement. She argues that anarchists “have been” encouraged by the apparent “unconscious” anarchism of the anti-globalisation movement: both the appeal that decentralist and anti-hierarchical principles exercise across the movement as a whole and the unity of action demonstrated by activists. As Naomi Klein argues there is a general consensus within the ant1 globalisation movement that” building community-based decision making power –whether through unions, neighbourhoods, farms villages, anarchist collectives or aboriginal self –government- is essential to countering the might of multinational corporations.” Whilst new social movements, non-governmental organisations and political parties channel these ideas to state agencies, anarchist anti-globalisers contend that the mobilisation of popular opinion against neo-liberal corporate economics is the movement’s greatest strength. For them the anti-globalisation movement has opened up a new sphere of democratic participation and, through this participation, it has drawn ordinary citizens across the globe into anarchistic action. The promise of the anti-globalisation movement is that it avoids the “staging” and “workerism” of syndicalist strike actions and extends beyond the sprayings, brickings, glueings and bombings undertaken by disparate “guerrilla groups.” The challenge of the anti-globalisation movement is to discover how to translate intuitive anarchistic practice into anarchist action”.


[Some discussion of this long quotation from Ruth Kinna may be useful.”]


We have seen that attitudes to violence vary considerably within the anarchist movement and these variations are reflected in the different types of anarchist activity within the globalisation movement. Some anarchists have been ready to accept the primarily non-violent strategies of the anti-globalisation movement as a whole sometimes seeking to enliven demonstrations with their own “fluffy” or non-violent forms of protest but there are also so-called “spiky” black blocs committed to violent confrontation with the police and to violence against capitalist institutions such as banks, department stores and fast food outlets.


Anti-globalisation protests have certainly attracted considerable media coverage but national political leaders have attempted to denigrate the movement as no more than a “travelling circus” and the prospects for anarchism may appear limited because many individuals living in capitalist societies seem content with the standards of living generated in such societies.


It also continues to be claimed that globalisation can be a force for Third World development or that even if some of the criticisms of globalisation are accurate anarchist theory can contribute little to the solution of the problems caused by globalisation and that the solutions are to found more within the more popular mainstream ideologies of conservatism, liberalism and social democracy.


Yet anarchist principles do, to some extent feed into the ideologies of liberalism and socialism [and even into conservatism in the form of anarcho-capitalism.] Also it is conceivable as awareness increases of the possibly negative consequences of globalisation for Third World and the environment and the limitations of modern capitalism are more clearly demonstrated in the current international economic that the popularity of anarchist ideas will increase.


Political controversy continues!