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Anarchism is a generic term describing various political philosophies and social movements that advocate the elimination of the state. These philosophies use anarchy to mean a society based on voluntary co-operation of free individuals. Philosophical anarchist thought does not intend to advocate chaos or anomie — it intends "anarchy" to refer to a manner of human relations that is intentionally established and maintained.

While individual freedom and opposition to the state are primary tenets of anarchism, most anarchists insist that anarchism is much more than that. There is also considerable variation between the anarchist political philosophies, to the point that groups with radically different views may consider themselves anarchist, at the same time denying that other points of view should be called anarchist. Two areas where opinions vary widely are the role of violence in society, and the role of property and/or economics. Egalitarianism is a present, but lesser subject of debate.

As Benjamin Tucker put it, anarchism is the philosophy that "all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the state should be abolished".

Table of contents
1 Anarchy
2 History of anarchism
3 Schools of anarchist thought
4 Conceptions of an anarchist society
5 Anarchism and Marxism
6 Anarchism and the arts
7 Major conflicts within anarchist thought
8 See also
9 External links


One common use of the English word anarchy is "a state of lawlessness or political disorder", otherwise known as anomie. This use of the word implies a broad definition: usually, any situation where there is no internationally recognized government is considered anarchy. The current political situation in Somalia, for example, is referred to as a state of anarchy using this definition, since it is in a state of chaos [1].

However, in anarchist philosophies, anarchy means an "anarchist society", that is, a society where individuals are free from coercion. Few anarchists would point to Somalia as an anarchist ideal, or even as an example of "anarchy" in the first place. They would argue that the warlord system that is dominant in Somalia is ultimately another face of despotism, characterized by brutal use of force by self-appointed rulers. Anarchists do not believe, as Jean-Francois Revel wrote in Democracy against Itself, that "... anarchy leads to despotism ... despotism leads to anarchy ..." [1] -- that may or may not be true of "anarchy" in the sense of disorder, but anarchists do not believe that it is true of "anarchy" in the sense of anarchism.

Anarchist theories have a fundamental critique of government, a vision of a society without government, and a proposed method of reaching such a society. The details of the political, economic, and social organization of an anarchist society vary among different branches of anarchist political thought, as do the proposed means to achieve a society organized along those lines.

Historically, the word "anarchist" has been applied to political opponents as a derogatory term with the meaning of "advocating chaos". For instance, the Levellers of the English Civil War and the Enragés; of the French Revolution were referred to as anarchists by their opponents. These leftist parties advocated social equality and universal suffrage. Still today, social movements may be dismissed as "anarchist" without further comment, and the term still inspires in many an image of a black clad "mad bomber", terrorist, or other troublemaker. Although such anarchists do exist, anarchists also include a number of intellectual and philosophical anarchists, including many who abhor the use of violence.

History of anarchism

Precursors of anarchism

Anarcho-primitivists assert that, for the longest period before recorded history, human society was organized on anarchist principles. However, there is debate over the anthropological evidence to support this.

Taoism, which developed in Ancient China, has been embraced by some anarchists as a source of anarchistic attitudes [1]. Similarly, in the West, anarchistic tendencies can be traced to the philosophers of Ancient Greece, such as Zeno, the founder of the Stoic philosophy, and Aristippus, who said that the wise should not give up their liberty to the state [1]. Later movements -- such as the Free Spirit in the Middle Ages, the Anabaptists, The Diggers and The Levellers -- have also expounded ideas that have been interpreted as anarchist.

The first known usage of the word anarchy appears in the play Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, dated at 467 BC. There, Antigone openly refuses to abide by the rulers' decree to leave her brother Polyneices' body unburied, as punishment for his participation in the attack on Thebes, saying that "even if no one else is willing to share in burying him I will bury him alone and risk the peril of burying my own brother. Nor am I ashamed to act in defiant opposition to the rulers of the city (ekhous apiston tênd anarkhian polei)".

Ancient Greece also saw the first western instance of anarchism as a philosophical ideal, in the form of the stoic philosopher Zeno of Citium, who was, according to Kropotkin, "[t]he best exponent of Anarchist philosophy in ancient Greece". As summarized by Kropotkin, Zeno "repudiated the omnipotence of the state, its intervention and regimentation, and proclaimed the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual". Within Greek philosophy, Zeno's vision of a free community without government is opposed to the state-Utopia of Plato's Republic. Zeno argued that although the necessary instinct of self-preservation leads humans to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct — sociability. Like many modern anarchists, he believed that if people follow their instincts, they will have no need of law courts or police, no temples and no public worship, and use no money (free giftss taking the place of the exchanges). Zeno's beliefs have only reached us as fragmentary quotations. [1]

In Athens, the year 404 BC was commonly referred to as “the year of anarchy”. According to the historian Xenophon, this happened even though Athens was at the time in fact under the rule of the oligarchy of "The Thirty", installed by the Spartans following their victory in the second Peloponesian war, and despite the fact that there was literally an Archon in place, nominated by the oligarchs, in the person of Pythodorus. However, the Athenians refused to apply here their custom of calling the year by that archon's name, since he was elected during the oligarchy, and “preferred to speak of it as the 'year of anarchy'”.

The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle used the term anarchy negatively, in association with democracy which they mistrusted as inherently vulnerable and prone to deteriorate into tyranny. Plato believed that the corruption created by democracy loosens the "natural" hierarchy between social classes, genders and age groups, to the extent that “anarchy finds a way into the private houses, and ends by getting among the animals and infecting them”. ('Republic', book 8). Aristotle spoke of it in book 6 of the 'Politics' when discussing revolutions, saying that the upper classes may be motivated to stage a coup by their contempt for the prevailing “disorder and anarchy (ataxias kai anarkhias) in the affairs of the state. He also connected anarchy with democracy when he saw “democratic” features in tyrannies, namely “license among slaves (anarkhia te doulôn)" as well as among women and children. “A constitution of this sort”, he concludes, “will have a large number of supporters, as disorderly living (zên ataktôs) is pleasanter to the masses than sober living”.

The Anabaptists of 16th century Europe are sometimes considered to be as religious forerunners of modern anarchism. Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy, writes that the Anabaptists "repudiated all law, since they held that the good man will be guided at every moment by the Holy Spirit...[f]rom this premiss they arrive at communism...."

Gerrard Winstanley, who published a pamphlet calling for communal ownership and social and economic organization in small agrarian communities in the 17th century, is considered one of the forerunners of modern anarchism. The first modern author to have published a treatise explicitly advocating the absence of government was William Godwin in An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793); though he did not use the word anarchism, he is today regarded by some as the "founder of philosophical anarchism"[1]. The term "anarchist" was used during the French Revolution as a derogatory term against the left, but Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, adopted the term to describe his political philosophy in the 1840s.

Liberals were often labeled "anarchists" by monarchists, even though they did not call for the abolition of the state. Still, they did promote the idea of human equality, individual rights, and the responsibility of the people to judge their governments, which provided a groundwork for the development of anarchist thought. As American political society developed along the liberal model, anarchist thoughts were expressed in the writings of Henry David Thoreau (Civil Disobedience). Anarcho-capitalism arose later as some liberals attemped to reform the ideology of anarchism to make it compatible with capitalism.

Modern anarchism

William Godwin's An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, in which he presents his vision of a free society published in 1793 alongside a critique of government, is considered by some to be the first anarchist treatise. These commentators credit him with founding modern philosophical anarchism although Godwin never used the word anarchism. He is also considered a forebear of utilitarianism. It wasn't until Pierre-Joseph Proudhon published What is Property in 1840 that the term "anarchist" was adopted as a self-description. It is for this reason that some claim Proudhon as the founder of modern anarchist theory.

Individualists, taking much from the writings of Max Stirner, among others, demanded the utmost respect for the liberty of the individual.

Later in the 19th century, Anarchist communist theorists like Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin built on the Marxist critique of capitalism and synthesized it with their own critique of the state, emphasizing the importance of a communal perspective to maintain individual liberty in a social context.

Mikhail Bakunin saw a need to defend the working class against oppression and overthrow the ruling class as a means to dissolve the state. Peter Kropotkin's anarchist communism developed from his scientific theory based on evolution in which co-operation equaled or surpassed competition in importance, as illustrated in (1897).

Some revolutionaries of this time encouraged acts of political violence such as bombingss and the assassinationss of heads of state to further anarchism. However, these actions were regarded by many anarchists as counter-productive or ineffective (see "Violence and non-violence", below).

In the late 19th century Anarchosyndicalism developed as the industrialized form of libertarian communism, emphasizing industrial actions, especially the general strike, as the primary strategy to achieve anarchist revolution, and "build the new society in the shell of the old".

Anarchists played a role in many of the labour movements, uprisings, and revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Russian Revolution (1917). In the United States, many new immigrants were anarchists; an especially notable group was the large number of Jewish immigrants who had left Russia and Eastern Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These groups were disrupted by the Red Scare of 1919.

The anarcho-syndicalist orientation of many early American labor unions played a large part in the formation of the American political spectrum. The United States is the only industrialized former English colony to not have a labor-based political party.

In Europe, in the first quarter of the 20th century anarchist movements achieved relative, if short-lived, successes and were violently repressed by states. However, in the 1920's and 1930's the conflict between anarchism and the state was eclipsed by the one among liberal democracy, fascism and communism, which ended with the defeat of fascism in World War II. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-9), which many consider a prelude to World War II, a widely popular anarchist movement supported by militias loyal to the republic took control of rural areas of north-east Spain in 1936-1937 and collectivized the land, being crushed in short order by the Communist-controlled republican army.

At the end of World War II Europe was mostly divided into a liberal region under United States influence and a communist region under control of the Soviet Union, and the major political dichotomy became that between capitalism and communism. The philosophical influence of anarchism remained latent until it resurfaced in the 1960's.

After World War II a political theory known as anarcho-capitalism developed, mainly in North America. Drawing primarily from classical laissez-faire liberalism in addition to several other political and economic theories, it is disowned by many anarchists who believe that capital relations contradict widely held anarchist tenets. Anarcho-capitalism took the classical liberal critique of government intervention one step further, claiming that free markets can provide not only economic goods, but also justice and security and that the state is not only unnecessary to maintain the market mechanism but harmful to it.

From a very different perspective but also in North America, primitivists like John Zerzan proclaimed that civilization — not just the state — would need to be abolished to foster liberty and a just social order. A rejection of modern Technology is also prominent in the views of many primitivists, such as Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber).

A surge of popular interest in anarchism occurred during the 1960's and 1970's. In Britain this was associated with the punk rock movement; the band Crass is celebrated for its anarchist and pacifist ideas; of note is also the Sex Pistols' hit Anarchy in the UK In Denmark, the Free City of Christiania was created in downtown Copenhagen. The housing and employment crisis in most of Western Europe led to the formation of communes and squatter movements like the one still thriving in Barcelona, Spain.

Through the 20th century anarchists were actively involved in the labour and feminist movements, and later in the fight against fascism. The influence of this on anarchist thought is apparent, as most of the traditional anarchist philosophies emphasize the economic implications of anarchism or arrive at anarchism from economic arguments. Since the last third of the 20th century, anarchists have been involved in student protest movements, peace movements, squatter movements, and the anti-globalization movement, among others.

Anarchism today

Today, traditional anarchist organizations continue to exist across the globe and, in recent years, anarchism as a political philosophy has gained a higher profile as a result of the rise in protest against globalisation.

Feminism has always been a part of the anarchist movement, in the form of anarcha-feminism. North American anarchism also takes strong influences from the American Civil Rights Movement and the movement against the war in Vietnam. European anarchism has developed out of the labour movement, and both have incorporated animal rights activism. Globally, anarchism has also grown in popularity and influence as part of the anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalisation movements. Recently, anarchists have been known for their involvement in protests against World Trade Organization and Group of Eight meetings, and the World Economic Forum; protests which are generally portrayed in mainstream media coverage as violent riots. Many anarchists are part of the black blocs at these protests and some engage in rioting, vandalism, and violent confrontations with police. Others peacefully protested, upholding non-violent principles.

Anarchists and others might say that recent technological developments have made the anarchist cause both easier to advance and more conceivable to people. Many people use cell phones or the internet to form loose communities which could be said to be organized along anarchist lines. Some of these communities have as their purpose the production of information in a non-commodified or use-value format, a goal made attainable by the availability of personal computing, desktop publishing and digital media. These things have made it possible for individuals to share music files over the internet, without economic incentive, and even with a certain amount of risk. There are also open source programming communities, who donate their time, and offer their product freely as well. Examples include Usenet, the free software movement (including the GNU/Linux community and the wikiwiki paradigm), and Indymedia. A book analyzing how this new "anarchic" mode of production is possible is Eric S. Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Traditional historical materialist analysis, used by many libertarian socialists, is one means of interpreting the above, and would describe it as a "political economy of non-commodity information production".

Examples of "successful" anarchies

In recent history there have been numerous instances of collapse of state authority, sometimes prompted by war but also often due to implosion of the state. In some cases, state collapse is followed by lawlessness, rioting, looting and, if disarray lasts long enough, eventually warlordism; such societies are often described as anarchy.

In some rare cases, society spontaneously and peacefully organizes itself without a government along philosophical anarchist lines. A functioning anarchy would then be a society maintaining stability and civil society without hierarchies. There are some examples, usually small and/or short-lived, which are considered successful anarchies in this sense.


The Free City of Christiania is a quarter of Copenhagen that became semi-independent and self-governing in the 1970s after an anarchist commune took over army barracks in the center of the city. While in principle governed by the laws of Denmark, it is usually left alone by the authorities. For a third of a century, this self-described social experiment has successfully resolved conflicts threatening its continued existence, arising both internally and from the Danish state.

Argentina (2001-2002)

After the non-violent collapse of the Argentinean government in 2001/2002, the social and economic organization of Argentina has undergone major changes, though how important these changes are remains to be seen. Worker occupations of factories and popular assemblies have both been seen functioning in Argentina, and both are the kind of action endorsed by anarchists: the first is a case of direct action and the latter a case of direct democracy. An alternate description by the CIA of present-day Argentinean politics is available here [1].

Hungarian Revolution (1956)

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 can be seen as an excellent example of a functioning anarchy, perhaps even of successful communism. From October 22 1956 Hungarian workers refused to obey their managers or their government. Claiming sovereignty for their own workers councils they organized economic, military and social production on an increasing scale. An example of the anarchic social organization was that vast sums of money were freely donated for injured revolutionary fighters; and that this money was left unattended in the street for days at a time. Peasants supplied the workers with food on a voluntary basis. Between October 22 and December 14 Hungary's economy and society was governed by the democratic opinion of workers councils and voluntary associations. These councils constantly increased in scope and depth, eventually forming a Central Workers Council of Greater Budapest (CWC-GB), with intellectual and student associations affiliated to the body. The attempts to form a national Workers Council were crushed by Soviet military violence. The workers councils fought off one invasion by the Soviet Union between October 23 and 28, and fought a second invasion to an armistice of exhaustion between November 3 and November 10. After this time the Soviet Union negotiated directly with the Workers Councils. However, arrests of the primary and reserve leaderships of the CWC-GB, and massive reprisal executions and deportations of Hungarian revolutionaries lead to voluntary dissolution of the CWC-GB as it was no longer able to uphold its aims and ideals. Sporadic resistance by Hungarian revolutionaries and workers continued until mid 1957. Only one self-proclaimed anarchist, the Marxist playwright Julius Hay (Hay Gyulia), was involved in organizing the revolution. Most revolutionary Hungarians adopted their own "anarchist" way of organizing spontaneously.

Spanish revolution (1936-1939)

In 1936, against the background of the fight against fascism, was a profound libertarian revolution throughout Spain.

Much of Spain's economy was put under worker control; in anarchist strongholds like Catalonia, the figure was as high as 75%, but lower in areas with heavy Socialist influence. Factories were run through worker committees, agrarian areas became collectivized and run as libertarian communes. Even places like hotels, barber shops, and restaurants were collectivized and managed by their workers. George Orwell describes a scene in Aragon during this time period, in his book, Homage to Catalonia:

"I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life--snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc.--had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money--tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master."

The communes were run according to the basic principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," of course without the attached Marxist dogma. In some places, money was entirely eliminated. Despite the critics clamoring for maximum efficiency, anarchic communes often produced more than before the collectivization. The newly liberated zones worked on entirely libertarian principles; decisions were made through councils of ordinary citizens without any sort of bureaucracy (it should be noted that the CNT-FAI leadership was at this time not nearly as radical as the rank and file members responsible for these sweeping changes).

In addition to the economic revolution, there was a spirit of cultural revolution. Oppressive traditions were done away with. For instance, women were allowed to have abortions, and the idea of "free love" became popular. In many ways, this spirit of cultural liberation was similar to that of the "New Left" movements of the 1960s.

Examples of organizations with anarchist qualities

Amongst the instances in which anarchism arose there are many examples that share some of the qualities of anarchist organizations.

Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities

The indigenous peoples of Southern Mexico rebelled in 1994, partially in response to the signing of NAFTA, reclaiming their lands in what is called "a war against oblivion." They established various municipalities which are, in practice, outside the realm of Mexican law.

Laws in the Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities are not passed by "leaders," as such, but by "Good Government Councils" and by the will of the people (representatives in these councils are truly representative of their communities, rather than professional politicians). They serve not as traditional governing bodies but as instruments of the people to provide medicine, education, food, and other essentials. The "laws" passed by the Good Government Councils are not enforced with policeman and prisons, but in a way that respects "criminals" as members of the community. For example, it was decided to ban alcohol and drugs, due to their nefarious influence on Indians in the past. Violation of this law is surprisingly rare; those who do may be required, for example, to help build something his community needs. Some anarchists believe this to be a decentralized, non-authoritarian style similar to what they advocate, having always loathed prisons, police power, and capital punishment.

The Zapatistas do not claim to be anarchists, but through their actions and words, have shown some similarites to self-proclaimed anarchists and have become a cause celebre of the global left and the "anti-globalization movement".

Schools of anarchist thought

From William Godwin's utilitarian anarchism to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's mutualism, to Max Stirner's egoism, to Benjamin Tucker's radical individualism, to Peter Kropotkin's anarchist communism, the roots of anarchist thought in modern political philosophy are varied, with many different views of what a society without government should be like. Anarcho-capitalism has roots in classical laissez-faire liberalism but also draws inspiration from the individualist anarchists, despite the latter's rejection of capitalist economics. Primitivism, advocating the dissolution of civilization, is reminiscent of, if not inspired by, the early 19th century Luddite movement. Some would argue that ecoterrorism is a form of anarchism. There are also a number of feminist anarchist theories, including anarcha-feminism, eco-feminism, and individualist feminism. National-anarchism is a recent web phenomena, with close ties to fascist politics, that advocates isolated nationalism. The compatability between nationalism and anarchism is challenged by most anarchists as a serious distortion of anarchist theory.

That said, grouping these together in one category is a difficult endeavor at best. For instance, there are very few similarities in belief between a libertarian socialist and an anarcho-capitalist. Indeed, the two groups are probably more radically different from each other than either one is from mainstream political thought.


Anarcho-syndicalism is the anarchist wing of the labor union movement. Its primary aim is the end of the wage system. It functions on principles of workers solidarity, direct action, and self-management.

Workers' solidarity means that anarcho-syndicalists believe all workers, no matter what their race, gender, or ethnic group are in a similar situation vis-a-vis their bosses. Furthermore, it means that, within capitalism, any gains or losses made by some workers in their relation to bosses will eventually impact all workers. Therefore, it says that in order to gain liberation, all workers must support one another in their struggle against bosses.

Anarcho-syndicalists only believe in direct action -- that is, action directly designed to confront a problem. Direct action can range from traditional strikes to active sabotage.

Furthermore, anarcho-syndicalists believe that workers' organizations -- the organizations which struggle against the wage system and which, in anarcho-syndicalist theory, will eventually form the basis of a new society--should be self-managing. They should not have bosses or "business agents"; rather, the workers should be able to make decisions which effect them amongst themselves.

The International Workers Association is an international anarchosyndicalist federation of various labor unions from different countries. The Industrial Workers of the World, a once-powerful, still active, and again growing labor union, is considered a leading organ of the anarcho-syndicalist philosophy in the United States. The Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo played a major role in the Spanish civil war. Other major anarcho-syndicalist organizations include the Workers Solidarity Alliance, and the Solidarity Federation in Britain.

Ecological anarchism

There is a significant anarchist element to the environmental movement, including those that are known as eco-anarchists and green-anarchists. These two, though similar, are not quite the same because the political label 'Green' has implications beyond ecology (see Green Party). Green anarchists accept some restrictions on individual freedom as a means of preserving natural capital (for example, farmland and water) and often promote limited forms of social ecology. Eco-anarchists, by contrast, are more extreme and advocate a sort of fusion with nature (see also: eco-village and primitivism). Green anarchism, in North America at least, is also linked with anarcho-primitivism. Eco-feminism is also sometimes considered a form of anarchism.

Technological anarchism

Some anarchists see information technology as the way to replace hierarchy, defeat monopoly, and prevent war, and support culture jamming in particular as a way to do so. Some writers — particularly Iain M. Banks, who has written quite extensively in the science fiction genre about The Culture, a futuristic society which has disposed of government — have theorised that anarchism would be inevitable with the technological advances that would make travelling and living in space plausible [1].

It has also been argued that the free software movement is an example of anarchist organization, this being an example not of hierarchical business, but of voluntary association for the production of a good.

See also Crypto-anarchism and Cypherpunk.

Feminist anarchism

Radical feminism espouses the belief that patriarchy is a fundamental problem in our society. Feminist anarchism, or anarcha-feminism (a term allegedly created during the 1960's second-wave feminism), views patriarchy as the first manifestation of hierarchy in human history; thus, the first form of oppression occurred in the dominance of male over female.

Anarcha-feminism is most often associated with early 20th-century authors and theorists such as Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, although even early first-wave feminist Mary Wollstonecraft held proto-anarchist views. In the Spanish Civil War, an anarcha-feminist group, "Free Women", organized to defend both anarchist and feminist ideas.

Wendy McElroy is an example of a contemporary individualist anarchist feminist.


Anarcho-capitalism is a view that regards the state, which it defines as a monopoly on force, as unnecessary and harmful, including, and characteristically, in matters of justice and self-defense. As mentioned above, it emerged in the 1950s out of the tradition of classical liberalism (see libertarianism), arguably with the addition or influence of certain ideas from individualist anarchism as well. In its embrace of capitalist economics, anarcho-capitalism is very different from the rest of anarchism, which has historically been anti-capitalist. Anarchists opposed to capitalism argue that "anarcho-capitalism" isn't a form of anarchism at all.

Conceptions of an anarchist society

Many political philosophers justify support of the state as a means of regulating violence, so that the destruction caused by human conflict is minimized and fair relationships are established. Anarchists argue that pursuit of these ends do not justify the establishment of a state, and in fact many argue that the state is incompatible with those goals. Much effort has been dedicated to explaining how anarchist societies would promote these values. While anarchists recognize that the use of violence is ultimately an individual decision, some have proposed mechanisms by which an anarchist society could influence that decision.

Anarchists who have renounced violence in all forms have the simplest answer. Since the state relies on violence to enforce all of its laws, even those that promote its own survival such as taxation, if a large proportion of a society ceases to provide moral or material support to any use of violence, then the state would inevitably collapse, resulting in anarchy. Since this view of anarchy presupposes the renunciation of violence by the bulk of a society, the problem of discouraging the use of violence is not an issue. From this perspective, the main challenge facing anarchists is not to devise institutions, but to convince individuals to renounce the use of violence.

However, other anarchists believe that violence is an unfortunate but inevitable part of human existence. These anarchists emphasize that violence is only justified in self-defense, though the definition of self-defense can vary widely. Various institutions have been proposed to ensure that aggressive violence is met with an overwhelming response. These institutions seek to encourage the community to intervene on behalf of the wronged person, or at least not intervene on behalf of the aggressor. For civil disputes, juries or mediatorss may be called upon to rule on the dispute. Refusal to submit to the decision of the jury or mediator would reflect poorly on that individual.

Larger conflicts would be addressed with larger organizations. Confederation is a popular model for such organization. Any such organization would have a “bottom up” structure, recognizing the right of individuals and small groups to leave the larger group at any time. In such a situation, it is unlikely that everyone in a country would decide to participate in the same organization. Anarchists hope that this would result in the co-existence of multiple associations with individuals changing their associations as the saw fit. Robert Paul Wolff represents those who argue for a unanimous consent democracy.

Anarchist social organization

By rejecting existing political structures, anarchists also reject many of the practices that have been designed with the intent of promoting social cohesion. How anarchists propose that an anarchist society would replace these practises varies widely. Some anarchists believe that the society only needs to be concerned with the use of violence. Others believe that more extensive rules of conduct are necessary, but that these should be enforced by passive punishments, such as economic or social exclusion. Still others take a deontological stance on the issue, arguing that the practical tasks of promoting social cohesion are beside the point, and that anarchism is a moral imperative that should be pursued regardless of consequence.

Anarchist economic organization

The modern state is deeply involved in the economic activities of its society, ranging from the protection of property, to the regulation of markets, and even the provision of goods. While anarcho-capitalists view anarchy largely as an opportunity for existing economic institutions to operate without interference by the state, others view anarchism as necessitating a radical restructuring of existing economic systems. For example, Bob Black proposed that anarchy would allow for "the abolition of work"[1].

Socialist anarchists advocate the use of collectives and co-operatives for organizing small-scale production. These units would be co-ordinated by voluntary associations that could range from market arrangements to tightly co-ordinated confederacies. An example of a large-scale communist system is "The Industrial Commonwealth" proposed by the Industrial Workers of the World. Workers, through their unions organized by type of product, would democratically govern productive output. The model assumes that benefits arise by organizing workers based on the type of good produced (health, agricultural goods, communication, domestic labour). Means and tools of production would be held in common, through the possession of relevant unions. The Industrial Commonwealth was initially focused on the six sectors of Agriculture, Transport, Construction, Manufacturing, Government Services and Non-Government Services: a model which omitted to recognise particular industries like domestic labour or sex-work. The contemporary model of the Industrial Commonwealth more explicitly recognises this work.

In terms of its model of social change, the new "Industrial Commonwealth" economy was to grow within the belly of the old capitalist one. As unions became more powerful, and more workers worked in worker controlled industries, society would be gradually transformed by a constant struggle.

While the day to day methods of accounting and resource allocation for the Industrial Commonwealth have never been proposed, the IWW's suggestion that workers learn how to run their factories indicates that much of the contemporary economy's management and allocation strategies at the firm level would largely be taken over.

Capitalist models are offered by anarcho-capitalist groups, and are based on laissez-faire economic models, in which the proliferation of private property and individual wealth is seen as a social good. On top of “freeing” everyday economic activities, they anticipate the development of a market in services such as security, which have traditionally been provided by the state.

Anarchism and Marxism

The most obvious difference between anarchism and Marxism can be seen in a comparison of anarcho-capitalism to Marxism. The two philosophies could hardly be more different - whereas Marxism wants to get away from the entire structure of capital, believing that it is a dangerous form of control, the anarcho-capitalists belive that free market capitalism is a necessary part of freedom.

Even leftist anarchism and Marxism are two very different political philosophies, however, although there is some similarity between the methodology and ideology of some anarchists and some Marxists, and the history of the two have often been intertwined.

The International Workingmen's Association, at its founding, was an alliance of socialist groups, including both anarchists and Marxists. Both sides had a common aim (stateless communism) and common political opponents (conservatives and other right-wing elements). But each was critical of the other, and the inherent conflict between the two groups soon embodied itself in an ongoing argument between Mikhail Bakunin, representative of anarchist ideas, and Karl Marx himself. In 1872, the conflict in the First International climaxed with the expulsion of Bakunin and those who had become known as the "Bakuninists" when they were outvoted by the Marx Party at the Hague congress.

Arguments surrounding the issue of the state

Marxism has a very precise definition of the state: that the state is an organ of one class's repression of all other classes. To Marxists any state is necessarily a dictatorship by one class over all others. Within this definition the idea of a "dictatorship of the proletariat" can mean anything from the monopoly of force by armed working people's councils, through to a monopoly of force by a party composed of intellectuals claiming to be the leadership of the working people. Within Marxist theory, should the differentiation between classes disappear, so too will the state disappear.

Anarchism has a broader series of definitions of the state, varying from the bourgeois state formation of army, bureaucracy and representative parliament through to an idea of the state as a monopoly of violence. Left wing anarchists disagree amongst themselves if democratic workers councils with a monopoly of violence constitutes a state or not.

While left-wing anarchists and Marxists both agree on the desirability of a stateless Communism, they have deep arguments about phases of a revolution between now and that ideal. Anarchists often wish to "smash" the state, replacing it with workers' councils, syndicates and/or other methods of organisation that are not a governmental body as such. Marxists often wish to "smash" the bourgeois state, but they wish to replace it with a new kind of state run by the workers. This Marxist desire is often referred to as "seizing state power." These arguments are often seen as critical, because they involved the autonomy of workers councils, the existence of secret police, and the transparency of justice. As the argument between these conceptions often hides an argument about whose ideas lead the revolution, Anarchists and Marxists have on a number of occasions tried to eliminate each other during revolutions.

The issue of the state, and the idea of seizing the state for a party, brings up the issue of political parties, which also often divides Anarchists and Marxists. In general, anarchists refuse to participate in governments, and so do not form political parties. Marxists, on the other hand, see political parties as tools for seizing power, which they believe is necessary to effect any meaningful political change.

Arguments concerning the method of historical materialism

Marxism uses a strong and persuasive form of dialectical analysis of human societies called historical materialism. At the crux of historical materialist analysis is the idea that people find themselves in a predetermined material world, and act to produce changes upon that world within the limits of what changes they can conceive of. An example of historical materialism would be that a feudal peasant would find themself with a lord above them, and imagine religious, instead of political, solutions to the problem of their unfree status. Underlying these processes is an idea that contradictions and opposed social groups will naturally form and drive social progress.

However, Marxism also contains another method of analysis called dialectical materialism. This method claims that all physical and non-physical elements of the world have contradictary properties within them, driving things forward through change. Dialectical materialism claims that all natural phenomena, not simply human society, are governed by dialectics. This analysis is more tenuously established than historical materialism, and is often associated with Frederick Engels and Stalinism.

Anarchists use a wide variety of tools of social analysis. However, most anarchists recognise the value of historical materialism as a tool for social analysis. Some anarchist organisations like the Irish Workers Solidarity Movement make agreeing with the historical materialist method's value a central point of unity. Anarchists use historical materialism for the same reason that Marxists do: it gives them a materially supportable insight into how society currently works.

Anarchists were one of the first groups to criticise the dialectical materialist trend, on the basis that it dehumanises social and political analysis, and is not sustainable as a universal methodology. Anarchists have, however, pointed out when dialectics seem to govern the behaviour of natural phenomena, as Peter Kropotkin does in regarding the structure of bee hives and rabbit populations.

Points of political commonality

Marxism and anarchism are not always incompatible. At the beginning of the 20th century many Marxists and Anarchists were united within syndicalist movements for militant revolutionary trade unions (see: De Leonism, IWW). Many Marxists have participated honestly in anarchist revolutions, and many Anarchists have participated honestly in Marxist revolutions. More over, a large number of political groups attempt a synthesis of Marxist and Anarchist traditions with the aim of a liberated workers society. Examples would include Autonomist Marxism and Situationism.

Anarchism and the arts

Like socialism, communism and even fascism, Anarchism has a plethora of imagery and symbolism which have become associated with a variety of groups and movements, and co-opted (or "recuperated) by capitalist industry. The influence of anarchism is not always directly a matter of specific imagery or public figures, but may be seen in a certain stance towards the liberation of the total human being and the imagination.

Anarchism had a large influence on French Symbolism of the late 19th century, such as that of Mallarme, who was quoting as saying "La vraie bombe c'est le livre" (the true bomb is the book) and infiltrated the cafes and cabarets of turn of the century Paris (see the Drunken Boat #2).

More significantly, anarchists claim that 'strains' may be found in the works of the Dada group, whose anti-bourgeois art antics saw them wreaking havoc in war neutral Switzerland during World War I. However on closer analysis the Dadaists were much closer to the Council Communists, having much of their material published in Die Aktion.

Many American artists of the early 20th century were influenced by anarchist ideas, if they weren't anarchists themselves. The Ashcan School of American realism included anarchist artists, as well as artists such as Rockwell Kent and George Bellows that were influenced by anarchist ideas. Abstract expressionism also included anarchist artists such as Mark Rothko and painters such as Jackson Pollock, who had adopted radical ideas during his experience as a muralist for the Works Progress Administration. Pollock's father had also been a Wobbly.

In the late 20th century, anarchism and the arts could primarily be associated with the collage works by James Koehnline, Freddie Baer, Johan Humyn Being, and others, whose work was being published in anarchist magazines, including and Fifth Estate. Freddie Baer is noteworthy for her work as a book designer for AK Press and for her contributions to the feminist science fiction milieu. Baer has contributed art to the annual WisCon conference, a convention featuring feminist science fiction which awards the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. Freddie Baer has been nominated several times for the Hugo Award for her work as a fan artist.

In the 1990s, anarchists were involved in the mail art movement, which can be described as "art which uses the postal service in some way." This is related to the involvement of many anarchists in the zine movement. And many contemporary anarchists are involved in making art in the form of flyposters, stencils, and radical puppets.


As anarchism has traditionally emphasized the liberation of the imagination and subjectivity from the constraints of the present social order, many anarchists are attracted to the work of the surrealists, even though few surrealists advocate anarchism. The most popular surrealist, Salvador Dali, was openly in support of fascism, the idelogical enemy of anarchism.

Surrealism is both an artistic and political movement aimed at the liberation of the human being from the constraints of capitalism, the state, and the cultural forces that limit the reign of the imagination. The movement developed in France in the wake of WWI with Andre Breton as its main theorist and poet. Originally it was tied closely to the Communist Party. Later Breton, a close friend of Leon Trotsky broke with the Communist Party.


A number of performers and artists have either been inspired by anarchist concepts, or have used the medium of music and sound in order to promote anarchist ideas and politics.

Punk rock is one movement that has taken much inspiration from the often potent imagery and symbolism associated with anarchism and situationist rhetoric, if not always the political theory. In the past few decades, anarchism has been closely associated with the punk rock movement, and has grown because of that association (whatever other effects that has had on the movement and the prejudiced pictures of it). Indeed, many anarchists were introduced to the ideas of Anarchism through that symbolism and the anti-authoritarian sentiment which many punk songs expressed.

Anarcho-punk, on the other hand, is a current that has been more explicitly engaged with anarchist politics, particularly in the case of bands such as Crass, Poison Girls, (early) Chumbawamba, The Ex, Flux of Pink Indians, Riot/Clone, Conflict, Propagandhi, etc. Many other bands, especially at the local level of unsigned groups, have taken on what is known as a "punk" or "DIY" ethic: that is, Doing It Yourself, indeed a popular Anarcho-punk slogan reads "DIY not EMI", a reference to a conscious rejection of the major record company. Some groups who began as 'anarcho-punk' have attempted to move their ideas into a more mainstream musical arena, for instance, Chumbawamba, who continue to support and promote anarchist politics despite now playing more dance music and pop influenced styles.

Major conflicts within anarchist thought

Private property

There is a great divide among the modern schools of anarchism about the question of private property and economic organization. The debate is most frequently engaged in between libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists, with socialists claiming that the existence of property results in wage slavery, while capitalists assert that self-ownership is impossible without property.

The libertarian socialist perspective

Libertarian socialists argue that private property is a fiction enforced by illegitimate institutions which do not account for the needs and desires of the individuals they affect, and that beyond "personal possession" of immediate goods, the idea of property is only maintained by institutions which enforce property laws. When a business hierarchy enforces these rules, it is no different than a government enforcing such rules.

They propose that beyond personal possession, resources should be collectively managed, particularly capital goods used as means of economic production. The form of this collective management can vary greatly, but in all cases those affected by economic decisions have some representation in them. On one end of the spectrum lie the syndicalists, who propose a planned economy based on a series of collectives that rely fundamentally on consensus and free association. On the other end are the individualists, who advocate a free market without the constraints of usury, wage, and rent. They believe that property beyond personal possession should be handled by mutualist banks which print their own money and loan it free of interest.

The anarcho-capitalist perspective

Anarcho-capitalists consider that private property emerges from natural law, and is a paradigmatic way to respect individual rights, to avoid and resolve conflict, and to promote creation. Anarcho-capitalists think that any property that is not consumed immediately becomes capital, so that capital goods and means of production are in no way particular to a governmental system. Many anarcho-capitalists are actively opposed to "left-anarchism.

However, some anarcho-capitalists believe that some forms of property, such as intellectual property are artifacts of the state and not a natural form of property.

Other anarchist traditions with respect to private property

Anarchists of other traditions vary in their appreciation of the respective socialist and classical liberal arguments above. Some of them will consistently side with some of the above arguments, thus adopting the socialist or classical liberal tradition, though without forcibly doing it formally. Others will mildly side with some of the arguments above, though without considering them a defining stance for their flavor of anarchism, and will consider the question as secondary. Still others do not care about this debate, and consider it a waste of time; they think that by getting rid of government, such problems find a natural solution.

Wage labor

Like private property, the concept of wage labor is hotly debated between libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists.

The libertarian socialist perspective

Most libertarian socialists consider that the employer-employee relationship is based on coercion by the employer. They think that the oppressive restrictions of public and private property, upheld variously by states, corporations, and individuals, allow employers to blackmail employees into working for use of resources that they would otherwise have free access to either individually through mutualist banks or collectively through voluntarily associated communes and syndicates. Libertarian socialists claim that such oppression should be resisted. However, they generally follow Kant in maintaining that freedom can not be given as a privilege by some third party, but must instead be won through the struggles of the oppressed themselves. As such, libertarian socialists encourage employees to resist and obstruct economics based on hierarchical power and what they consider to be a form of wage slavery. This is known as direct action. Many also believe it is the obligation of anarchists to come to the aid of such groups when they call for help in their struggles. Ultimately, libertarian socialists believe that all forms of hierarchy must be resisted, due to their coercive nature.

Libertarian socialists argue that as no ordinary person (as opposed to someone who is independently wealthy) can refuse to work, so there is no freedom involved in the negotiation of a contract with an employer who has the ability to dictate the terms of any contract to dispossessed employees who amount to little more than wage slaves living at the whim of the wealthy.

Libertarian socialists reject the claim that their objection to capitalist economics is based on the necessity of labor. They almost universally agree that some form of manual labor (which they often distinguish from work) is currently necessary. However, they do not agree that the necessity for manual labor requires that the form of this labor be dictated by privileged individuals who control the wealth and resources of the society. Instead, they argue that individual liberty requires that the laborers themselves control the means and mode of their labor, rather than having their actions dictated by others. Thus, those who are required to labor for survival should have representation in the use and distribution of the resources they interact with and distribute. Libertarian socialists do not believe that the mere ability to disassociate from a given employer is an adequate form of representation, given that the employers as a class can continue to dictate use of resources and compel others into wage-slavery once the association is disbanded.

However, there are some libertarian socialists who are anti-capitalist, pro-free market anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker (who identified his Individualist Anarchism as Anarchistic Socialism) who did not see a problem with wage labor as long as the employers and employees were paid equally for equal hours worked (a similar approach was put into action through Time Store which was organized by Josiah Warren) thus eliminating the economic parasitism of the boss class and therefore being anti-capitalist. Benjamin Tucker described the non-exploitive employer-employee relationship as "the workers natural wage, being their full product."

The anarcho-capitalist perspective

Anarcho-capitalists, think that an employer-employee relationship is basically an elaborate and mutually profitable form of voluntary association. They resent government as a parasite that corrupts, biases, impedes and distorts what would otherwise be peaceful fair and free associations.

Anarcho-capitalists consider that the consent to a contract that each party was free to refuse is evidence and guarantee that the contract is legitimate and beneficial. They claim that any external power capable of preventing such relationship is itself an oppression to be fought.

Anarcho-capitalists argue that, no matter what social organization may or may not exist, social organizations will never eliminate the basic human requirement to work in order to support themselves. Therefore an objection based on a constraint that cannot be overcome is useless to argue about, and not a rational objection at all. They also argue that while someone may not be able to refuse to work in general, one has the largest choice of employers with the diversity of a free market economy, and that what matters is that no given employer/employee contract in particular be coercive.

Anarcho-capitalists are mostly isolated from the rest of the anarchist community, which is traditionally anti-capitalist. Anarcho-capitalism is considered a paradox by some, who place the theory closer to right-wing libertarianism than to other currents of anarchist thought.

Violence and non-violence

Anarchists have often been portrayed as dangerous and violent, due mainly to a number of high-profile violent acts including riots, assassinations, and insurrections involving anarchists. Since the 1970s, the punk image of irresponsible youths has also been associated with anarchist symbolism, so furthering the association with violence.

The use of terrorism and assassination, however, is condemned by most anarchist ideology, though there remains no consensus on the legitimacy or utility of violence.

Some anarchists share Leo Tolstoy's Christian anarchist belief in non-violence. These anarcho-pacifists advocate non-violent resistance as the only method of achieving a truly anarchist revolution. They often see violence as the basis of government and coercion and argue that, as such, violence is illegitimate, no matter who is the target. Some of Proudhon's French followers even saw strike action as coercive and refused to take part in such traditional socialist tactics.

Other Non-Violent anarchists advocate Marshall Rosenberg's non-violent communication that relates to peoples fundamental needs and feelings using strategies of requests, observations and empathy yet providing for the use of protective force while rejecting pacifism as a compromising strategy of the left that just perpetuates violence.

Other anarchists, such as Mikhail Bakunin and Errico Malatesta saw violence as a necessary and sometimes desirable force. Malatesta took the view that it is "necessary to destroy with violence, since one cannot do otherwise, the violence which denies [the means of life and for development] to the workers" (Umanità Nova;, number 125, September 6, 1921[1]).

Between 1894 and 1901, individual anarchists assassinated numerous heads of state, including:

Such "propaganda of the deed" was not a popular tactic among anarchists, and many in the movement did condemn the tactic. For example, McKinley's assassin, Leon Czolgosz, claimed to be a disciple of Emma Goldman, but she disavowed any association with Czolgosz.

Goldman included in her definition of anarchism the observation that all governments rest on violence, and this is one of the many reasons they should be opposed. Goldman herself didn't oppose tactics like assassination until she went to Russia, where she witnessed the violence of the Russian state and the Red Army. From then on she condemned the use of terrorism, especially by the state, and advocated violence only as a means of self-defense.

Depictions in the press and popular fiction (for example, a malevolent bomb-throwing anarchist in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent) helped create a lasting public impression that anarchists are violent terrorists. This perception was enhanced by events such as the Haymarket Riot, where anarchists were blamed for throwing a bomb at police who came to break up a public meeting in Chicago.

More recently, anarchists have been involved in protests against World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings across the globe, which have often turned violent (being described by some as "riots"). Traditionally, Mayday in London has been a day of marching, but in recent years the Metropolitan Police have warned that a "hardcore of anarchists" are intent on causing violence. Anarchists often respond that it is the police who initiate violence at these demonstrations, with the anarchist intent being only to defend themselves. The anarchists involved in such protests often formed black blocs at these protests and some engaged in property destruction, vandalism, or in violent conflicts with police, though others stuck to non-violent principles.


Pacifism, referring to opposition to the practice of war, is considered by most anarchists to be inherent in their philosophy. Some anarchists take it further and follow Leo Tolstoy's belief in non-violence (note, however, that these anarcho-pacifists are not necessarily Christian anarchists as Tolstoy was), advocating non-violent resistance as the only method of achieving a truly anarchist revolution.

Wars are often portrayed in anarchist literature as an activity of the state in which the state seeks to gain and consolidate power, both domestically and in foreign lands. Many anarchists subscribe to the view expressed by Randolph Bourne that "war is the health of the state"[1]. Anarchists believe that if they were to support a war they would, by default, be strengthening the state — indeed, Peter Kropotkin was alienated from other anarchists when he expressed support for the British side in World War I.

Just as they are very critical and distrustful of most government endeavours, anarchists often view the stated reasons for war with a cynical eye. Since the Vietnam War protests in North America and, most recently, the protests against the war in Iraq, much anarchist activity has been anti-war based.

Sexual relations

For most anarchists, marriage and sex are private matters to be resolved between consenting adults. In their opinion, authorities like governments, lawmakers, churches, mullahs, etc., have no business meddling with private affairs of individuals who do not voluntarily desire to follow their commands — at which point they are no longer authorities and have no power to command those who dissent, only the opportunity to advise those who consent.

Others, however, believe that the concept of marriage is a fundamentally coercive institution, pointing to the wealth of assumptions about what gender pairings can be acceptable partners, the number of people that can be involved in a relationship, and the proper roles for members of a relationship to have. They argue that marriage is ultimately a heteronormative concept, and that it is a particularly subtle form of control.

Some anarchists in Spain viewed love as a dangerous concept and advocated "change of commune" for those experiencing "the sickness of love." This, however, is a minority view, and is more typical of Marxist thinkers. Many anarchists, including Emma Goldman, believe that love between people is at the core a powerful and benign force, though possibly corrupted by institutions or traditions.

See also

Historical events




Theoretical concepts

Anarchist organizations

While all of these organizations have anarchists as members, many are inclusive beyond anarchist and include anti-authoritarians and greens.

Anarchism by region/culture

External links