Varieties of Anarchism

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Varieties of Anarchism


All anarchists believe that social order will arise only if individuals have maximum possible individual liberty to make their own decisions and that this will be possible only if the state is abolished and no individual has the power to restrict the individual liberty of others.


However in order to analyse the anarchism in more detail we must also consider the differences which exist within the broad ideology of anarchism and in this respect the most significant broad division is said to be between individualist and social or collectivist anarchism. However we must also recognise the divergences within individualist anarchism such as those between Maw Stirner and William Godwin and that although the term “collectivist anarchism” is often used in a broad sense to encompass Proudhon’s mutualism, Bakunin’s collectivism, Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, it is sometimes used more narrowly to refer specifically to Bakunin’s collectivist theories.


Individualist Anarchism


Individualist anarchism is identified primarily with the theories of William Godwin, Max Stirner, Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker and various anarcho-capitalists such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman. All of these theorists wish to abolish the state but what also unites them is a strong commitment to the individual liberty.


Individualist anarchists believe in maximum possible individual liberty and fear that it will be sacrificed in any organised community. They believe that all states must be abolished [see other notes for reasons] and argue also for minimum possible community regulation of individuals’ private lives. Most but not all individualist anarchists support the continued existence of limited private property as a defence of individual freedom and limited economic inequality as reward for hard work.


In these respects individual anarchists can be seen to accept several of the principles of liberalism but also to move beyond liberalism in their total rejection of the state rather than support for a limited state. Also, especially in William Godwin’s rejection of private property and support for allocation of goods and services according to social need and ain Warren and Tucker’s rejection of the profit motive, the exploitation of labour and extreme economic inequality we see that individualist anarchists do also move in the direction of socialism. For example Warren and Tucker have been described by David Miller as “market socialists.” Anarcho- capitalists support an extreme liberal version of totally laissez faire but combined with the abolition of the state. They are not remotely influenced by socialist ideology.


For William Godwin all forms of social cooperation presented a potentially unacceptable threat to individual liberty but he did nevertheless believe that small scale communal life involving the communal ownership of the means of production and allocation of resources according to social need could be consistent with maximum possible individual liberty. This was because of his optimistic views that in an anarchist society individuals would develop so as to use their individual freedom voluntarily in the interests of the community in most cases and that in exceptional cases they could be persuaded to do so via friendly rational argument. In this way Godwin believed that individual liberty could be reconciled with the interests of the community.


It would be fair to say that Max Stirner’s individualism differs very significantly to that of William Godwin. Stirner mounts an extremely powerful critique of the state but also rejects as essentially meaningless the concepts of equality and social justice as essentially meaningless which Godwin considers so important .In his study “The Ego and His Own [1843]  Stirner argues for a stateless society of individualist “egoists” following their own self- interest but recognising that they face other highly developed individual egoists well able to defend their own interests so that a state of social balance could prevail in which all individuals exercise a high degree of individual freedom but recognise that their self interest demands that they must not infringe the liberty of others for fear of reprisals. His critics have argued that the achievement of social balance is far from certain. If the egoist Hitler faced the egoist Stalin there could be trouble ahead…. but what would happen if Jeremy Paxman, Jose Mourinho, Madonna and Lady Thatcher met up? Do not refer to this hypothetical example in your examination! We can discuss this issue a little more in class.


The early American anarchists Josiah Warren and Benjamin Tucker may similarly be described as individualist anarchists in that they wish to protect individuals’ liberty from the constraints of communal living. Their views could be set in the context of the traditional USA belief in the importance of private property ownership as a safeguard of individual liberty. Thus both Warren and Tucker proposed that small scale communities should consist of independent producers owning limited amounts of their own property who would exchange goods and services on the basis of their costs of production [mainly their labour costs] thus abolishing private profit and the exploitation of labour.


Nevertheless they supported a measure of inequality and, in Tucker’s case, limited economic competition as a means of encouraging hard work and defending the individual freedom to make economic progress by one’s own efforts. In both the Warren and Tucker schema the community would be served by the abolition of private profit but beyond that individuals would be free to organise their work and their leisure activities as they saw fit with minimum interference from the community as a whole. Community rules should be kept to a minimum and according to Tucker the most important community rule should be, “Mind your own business.”


Supporters of anarcho-capitalism such as Murray Rothbard and David Friedman show some ideological similarities with classical liberalism and with the neo-liberalism which is one component of New Right thinking. Whereas classical liberals traditionally argued in support of laissez faire combined with a limited state which was necessary to provide courts, police and prisons to promote internal order and to provide armies for defence against aggressors  and neo-liberals now argue for the expansion of laissez faire and the rolling back of the state anarcho-capitalists argue not only that economic production should be based entirely on private enterprise and laissez faire but that social order also can best be achieved by privately organised courts, private security firms and private armies and that the state should involve itself far less in foreign affairs which would mean that the state armed forces could be replaced by much smaller private militia.


Anarcho-capitalists believe further that state health, education, housing, transport and social security systems are all organised inefficiently mainly in the interests of the producers rather than the consumers of these services. Thus it is argued that professionals working in theses state services are reasonably well paid but that they do not necessarily provide a good service for their clients because they know that their clients have “nowhere else to go.” In a more competitive privately organised system services would be far better the anarcho-capitalists [and some sections of the New Right] claim and so all would gain if the state were abolished in its entirety. [There are also other theorists such as Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick who are sympathetic to some extent with anarcho-capitalist views but they are better described as right-wing libertarians since they believe in private enterprise with a minimum state rather than with no state at all.]


Anarcho-capitalists are therefore strong supporters of private enterprise and of the abolition of the state and it is clear that with their emphasis on individual self – interest, private profit and private enterprise they are certainly best described as individualist anarchists. However anarcho-capitalism is subject to the entire range of socialist criticisms of capitalism so that many socialist-supporting anarchists actually deny that anarcho-capitalism is a form of anarchism at all.


Social or Collectivist Anarchism


Social or collectivist anarchists do recognise the tension between individual autonomy and social existence but they are rather more optimistic than individualist anarchists that social living can be organised in the interests of the commune as a whole while at the same time protecting individual liberty.


They are likely to see the individualism supported by individualist anarchists as a rather atomistic form of individualism which neglects the interests of the community and prevents the development of a fuller individualism in which individuals come to recognise that solidarity and cooperation are necessary for the full development of individual liberty. In their view we develop fully as part of society not as atomistic individuals.


As examples of social or collectivist anarchism we shall consider the anarcho-communism of Kropotkin, the collectivism of Bakunin and the mutualism of Proudhon.


Both Kropotkin and Bakunin argue that the abolition of the state will help individuals to develop their individuality to the full but that individual self –development for all also demands a high level 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.


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.


Whereas the individualist anarchists Warren and Tucker advanced arguments in support of limited private ownership and limited community rules as a means of guaranteeing individual liberty both Kropotkin and Bakunin suggest that individuals can learn to exercise their freedom in accordance with the needs of the community so that there should eventually be no great tension between individual freedom and the commune’s economic rules relating to communal ownership and the distribution of resources. However Bakunin did certainly suggest that conflicts could arise in the short term and that a minority of individuals might need to be forced to comply with the rules of the community.


Thus Peter Marshall states that in Bakunin’s schema, “Everyone shall work and everyone shall be educated” whether they like it or not and ….the pressure of public opinion should make “parasites” impossible but exceptional cases of idleness would be regarded as “special maladies to be subjected to clinical treatment”. Such authoritarian statements open up a potential world of tyranny and oppression in Bakunin’s so-called free society.”


The ideas of Michael Bakunin are also identified to some extent with the development from the 1890s onwards of anarcho-syndicalism as is shown in the following quotation:

"The [libertarian labour unions] ... bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old world. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself."

Furthermore, according to another anarchist source

" ... The army of production must be organised, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organising industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old."


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?

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.


Proudhon further believed that goods and services could be exchanged on the basis of their costs [primarily their labour costs] excluding any profit which therefore removed the possibility of the exploitation of labour although he also believed that some economic inequality was justified as a means of rewarding the more industrious workers. He therefore 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”.


Further useful information on Proudhon is provided by Ian Adams [Political Ideology Today 2002] who 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.”


Let us thank Ian Adams for that: we may note also that this implies also that Proudhon might be seen as an anarchist theorist who to some extent appears as a bridge between individualist and social anarchism.