Anarchism and Socialism

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Anarchism and Socialism


Anarcho-capitalists and Stirnerites reject all elements of socialist ideology and so in our consideration of the relationships between anarchism and socialism we shall be considering the elements of anarchist ideology originating in the work of Godwin, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Warren and Tucker. There is much in the work of these theorists which may reasonably be described as “socialist” and we shall see that these anarchists broadly accept several of the core values of socialism.


However  when anarchists describe themselves as socialists they often use the term “libertarian socialist “ to signal that they believe in socialism without the state and it is this opposition to the state on the grounds that it destroys liberty which distinguishes anarchist socialism from other forms of socialism.


You should now attempt to complete the following schematic outline.


Socialist and anarchist views on human nature


Socialist: very optimistic: individual abilities mainly socially rather than naturally determined; capitalist societies promote self-interest, competitiveness, aggression. Socialist societies promote cooperation and community spirit. Individuals are rational and to a considerable extent can channel their rationality to serve the community.




Most [but not all] anarchists have a very optimistic view of human nature. This is true particularly of the individualist anarchist Godwin and the social anarchists Kropotkin and Bakunin, all of whom argue that individuals have the capacity for good and evil but that their potential altruism can develop best in small-scale, relatively economically equal, commune based societies using participatory consensus-based decision making in which minority interests are protected. Proudhon, Warren and Tucker, although they argue in favour of limited property ownership and a measure of economic inequality nevertheless also have a relatively optimistic view of human nature although we cannot describe anarcho-capitalist and Stirnerite views of human nature as particularly optimistic.




Socialist and anarchist views on individual liberty


Socialist: since individuals are rational it is desirable also that they have a high degree of individual liberty both negative and positive. Individual liberty for all can be achieved only in societies with a high degree of economic equality because otherwise the liberty of the poor is restricted via their lack of material resources. Also only relatively equal societies can be meritocratic




Anarchists oppose all forms of the state because they deny the liberal argument that the state is necessary in order to guarantee social order and thereby to protect individual liberty. Instead they argue that it is the state itself which is responsible for social disorder and that if states were abolished individuals would have even greater freedom to promote their own self-development and use their improved judgment to bring about social harmony and social order. Thus as the anarchist logo suggests, anarchy, [the absence of government], will result in maximum possible individual liberty and much more liberty than is on offer from liberals which in turn will produce social order and harmony. In the theories of Godwin, Bakunin and Kropotkin high levels of economic equality are necessary for the achievement of individual liberty. Proudhon, Warren and Tucker would believe some economic inequality to be consistent with individual liberty while anarcho-capitalists are strong supporters of economic inequality believing that individuals should have the freedom to accumulate as much wealth as their talents will allow.


Socialist and anarchist attitudes to Capitalism


Socialists traditionally opposed the capitalist system on the grounds that it is exploitative, unequal and unjust,  that it is based upon production for private profit rather than social need , that it promotes wasteful competition, that it is subject to periodic economic depressions which increase unemployment










and poverty, that it creates a materialist culture pandering to individual  weakness , that its governing institutions/state operate in the interests of the rich not of society as a whole. This has led some socialists to class for revolution to overthrow the capitalist system.


Other socialists while accepting the above critique of capitalism have argued that it can be reformed by parliamentary means. Yet others have argued that capitalism has changed in the course of the C20th so that some of the criticisms of capitalism are no longer valid and socialism can be achieved via regulation of a mixed economy in which the private sector remains relatively large.


Anarchist view


It is the individualist anarchist Godwin and the social anarchists Kropotkin and Bakunin who reject most strongly both unregulated and regulated laissez faire arguing that the liberal goal of individual liberty can be achieved only if societies are based on a high degree of economic equality of outcome since only then will all individuals have access to the resources necessary to develop their individuality and hence their individual liberty to the full.


This leads Kropotkin and Bakunin to argue in favour of the collective ownership of the means of production and for the distribution of goods and services in accordance with individual need [Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism or in accordance with work done [Bakunin’s collectivism]. These writers have therefore accepted arguments that a high level of economic equality is necessary for the achievement of positive liberty, negative liberty having been achieved via the abolition of the state and in both respects they views depart very considerably from liberalism.


Godwin’s overall stance is certainly individualist but his economic beliefs that the output of goods and services should be allocated according to individual need demonstrates his commitment to economic equality of outcome and in this respect places him close to the anarcho-communism of Kropotkin.







We can see some limited similarity between the economic views of Proudhon, Warren and Tucker and the economic views associated with liberalism. The French anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon famously argued that “All property is theft” implying that the accumulation of property could derive only from the exploitation of the work force but he then went on to draw an important distinction between property and possessions.


For Proudhon massive inequalities in the ownership of property could not be justified but, at the same time, it was desirable that individual workers should own a limited amount of land and working implements since this would provide them with a measure of independence and liberty which would not be available if all land and work implements were under common ownership.


The individualist anarchists Warren and Tucker both feared that communal living could result in the denial of individuality and both also supported the ownership of a limited amount of property as a means of protecting individual independence and liberty while Tucker believed also in the value of economic competition and some economic inequality which would generate incentives and allow individuals to enjoy the benefits of their own hard work. Anarchism was “consistent Manchesterism,” he said which pointed to his support for a modified form of laissez faire which could result in some economic inequality.


However Proudhon, Warren and Tucker parted company with economic liberalism in their desire to organise economic systems in which profit and the exploitation of labour would be abolished and good and services would be exchanged on the basis of their costs of production [primarily their labour costs] which obviously challenged the core principles of liberal laissez faire.


Proudhon argued in support of a system of “Mutualism” which Heywood describes as “a cooperative productive system geared toward need rather than profit and organised within self-governing communities” and in Political Ideology Today [2002]  Ian Adams  states that “Proudhon’s ideal world was a world of small independent producers- peasant farmers and craftsmen who associated and made contracts with each other freely for their mutual benefit





and for whom a centralised coercive state was an unnecessary evil. We can certainly see elements of socialism in Proudhon’s rejection of large inequalities of wealth and income and of the profit motive but in his rejection of the central state and his support for self-governing communities, individual ownership of possessions and acceptance of a measure of economic inequality we can also see important links to liberal ideology.” It may be argued that his comments apply equally to the ideas of Warren and Tucker.







Anarcho-capitalists support an extreme version of neo-liberal ideology in which the state will be abolished and the entire economy is organised in accordance with the principles of unregulated laissez faire. Their arguments are s that human beings are economically rational but also motivated by self-interest, that economic inequality of outcome is natural, inevitable and justifiable because the resultant financial incentives promote harder work, faster economic growth and rising living standards for al and that liberty can best be achieved via the abolition of the state.



Socialist and anarchist attitudes to private property


Socialist: May seek revolutionary abolition of all private property and state ownership of all means of production; may seek mixed economy with large nationalised, state owned sector.; or may seek very limited public ownership in the belief that a state regulated private sector can result in rapid economic growth, rising living standards for combined with some redistribution of income and wealth to the poor.







Anarchist views


The various attitudes to private property may be derived directly from the previous section on anarchist attitudes to capitalism. You could complete the following table to check your understanding.



Anarchist Theorist Attitude to private property
P.J Proudhon  
Max Stirner Has little to say about economic questions but it is likely that his society of egoists would generate substantial inequality unless all are equally able to defend their own self-interest.





Socialist and Anarchist attitudes to economic equality of outcome



Socialist view: All socialists believe in relatively high levels of economic equality on the grounds that this promotes individual liberty, creates the conditions necessary for meritocracy, provides reasonable living standards for all and promotes social cohesion. Some socialists argue for allocation of resources according to need [= “communism”] or according to work done. Others argue for some economic inequality of outcome in order to increase incentives and generate faster economic growth as a means of improving the living standards of the poor.









Anarchist views


Again Anarchist attitudes to equality can be derived from the section on capitalism and again you could fill in the above table to check your understanding on this point.


Anarchist Theorist Attitude to equality and its relationship to liberty
P.J Proudhon  
Max Stirner Has little to say about economic questions but it is likely that his society of egoists would generate substantial inequality unless all are equally able to defend their own self-interest.




Socialist and anarchist attitudes to revolution


With regard to socialist views we must distinguish between evolutionary and revolutionary socialism. Evolutionary socialists believe that the introduction of socialism is possible via gradual parliamentary methods. They assume that voters can be persuaded by the logic of socialist arguments to vote socialist parties into government and that the state , which is assumed to be a neutral state, will be prepared to work with socialist governments to introduce a socialist programme.


Revolutionary socialists are influenced by Marxism or anarchism. In the Marxist view capitalism cannot be reformed but must be abolished. Marx also developed so-called scientific theories to explain why capitalism contained the seeds of its own downfall…polarisation of the social classes,




increasing poverty, from class in itself to class for itself. In the Marxist-Leninist view the revolutionary process could be accelerated by a small dedicated revolutionary party in which Marxist intellectuals determined the strategy and tactic most likely to secure revolution. The revolution would be followed by the capture of the state by the working class [the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat designed to prevent opponents of the revolution from organising counter-revolution], the abolition of private property, the gradual transition from socialism to communism and the withering away of the state. It did not happen like this in practice.


Anarchist views


Although Godwin had economic views similar to the anarcho-communist views of Kropotkin he did not support revolutionary methods, hoping instead that rational argument and persuasion could result in desired social change…wrongly as it happened. Kropotkin and particularly Bakunin did believe that revolution would be necessary to introduce anarchist society but they claimed that reliance on a secret revolutionary party of intellectuals would restrict the meaningful participation of the workers in the revolution and create the conditions for the dominance of the revolutionary party after the revolution resulting in the denial of individual liberty and therefore in the denial of the fundamental aim of revolutionary socialism.


Additional important points:

  • Bakunin has been accused of hypocrisy…he too was organising a secret society exactly at the time he criticised the role of revolutionary parties.


  • If political parties are not organised how can a revolution be organised? The problem for anarchists is that their belief in individual liberty may prevent them from organising effectively because they believe organisations restrict liberty. However we need also to discuss anarcho-syndicalism in this respect.


  • Bakunin argued that once the revolution had occurred the state should immediately be abolished because otherwise it would solidify not wither away gradually as Marx suggested.


  • What about the views of Proudhon, Warren and Tucker on revolution?




Socialist and anarchist attitudes to the state


In the Marxist view capitalist states serve the interests of the Bourgeoisie [the property owning class] not those of society as whole. This is one reason why capitalism must be overthrown but in the course of the revolution the revolutionary party working on behalf of the working class should take control of the state. A powerful state is necessary in the immediate post revolutionary period but it will gradually wither away in the transition from socialism to communism.


In the evolutionary socialist view the state can be relied upon to help introduce socialist measures and the socialist state will play a major role in the collective delivery of socialist measures.


Some industries may be state owned and controlled; others may be regulated by the state; the state will manage the economy to secure full employment, rising economic growth and rising living standards; the state will organise the collective provision of health care, social housing, education, social security, social services, transport, law and order and defence; the state will use the taxation and social security systems to alleviate poverty and increase economic equality.


Hence the evolutionary socialist of social democratic state plays a major role in the organisation of a socialist society.


Anarchist views


Anarchists argue that states are the fundamental cause of social disorder so that it is necessary to abolish the state in all its forms as a means of securing maximum possible individual liberty which will itself result in maximum possible social order and harmony.


Anarchists reject the Marxist theory of the state passing from the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat to socialism to communism and the withering away of the state. Solidification of the state and the destruction of individual liberty are inevitable in the Marxist schema, they claim.


Anarchists also reject evolutionary socialist arguments. The growth of the state under evolutionary socialism merely softens the edges of capitalism which means economic inequality and low levels of individual liberty will remain. Centralised state ownership of industry does not increase the liberty of the workers in their place of work; state education systems help to create unthinking respect for authority; state health services seek to improve our health via increased use of drugs while the organisation of society as a whole which is the cause of most of our illness is allowed to continue with little modification. For example if we are depressed [and millions of people are] we are likely to be prescribed anti-depressants to cope …the causes of our depression are not being addressed….or so it is said.


In this respect you can see a slight linkage between anarchism and support for alternative medicine and alternative schools, although of course not all supporters of alternative medicine and alternative schools are anarchists.




Socialist and anarchist attitudes to liberal democracy.  [For you]