Slides in this set
Roots of collectivist anarchism lie in socialism!
Collectivism = The belief that human beings are social animals, better suited to working together for the
common good than striving for individual self-interest.
Collectivist anarchism stresses the human capacity for social solidarity or what Kropotkin
termed `mutual aid'.
This highlights the potential for goodness that resides withinall human beings.
Human beings are at heart sociable, gregarious and cooperative creatures.
This means that the natural and proper relationship between and amongst people is one of
sympathy, affection and harmony.
When people are linked together by the recognition of a common humanity, they have no
need to be regulated or controlled by government.
As Bakunin proclaimed, `Social solidarity is the first human law; freedom is the second law'.
Not only is government unnecessary, but in replacing freedom with oppression, it also makes
social solidarity impossible.
A number of clear theoretical parallels can be identified between collectivist anarchism and Marxism:
1. Both fundamentally reject capitalism, regarding it as a system of class exploitation and structural
2. Both have endorsed revolution as the preferred means of bringing about political change.
3. Both exhibit a preference for the collective ownership of wealth and the communal organization of
4. Both believe that a fully communist society would be anarchic, expressed by Marx in the theory of the
`withering away' of the state.
5. Both, therefore, agree that human beings have the ultimate capacity to order their affairs without the
need for political authority.…read more
Nevertheless, anarchism and socialism diverge at a number of points. This occurs most clearly in
relation to parliamentary socialism:
1. Parliamentary socialists have long since lost faith in the revolutionary potential of the working masses,
believing instead the numerical strength of the working class has make a `socialism though the ballot
box' possible, if not inevitable.
2. In addition, they see the state in a positive light, as the principal means through which capitalism is
reformed or `humanized'. Anarchists, on the other hand, dismiss parliamentary socialism as a
contradiction in terms.
3. Not only is it impossible to advance the cause of socialism through the corrupt and corrupting
mechanisms of government, but also any expansion in the role and responsibilities of the state can only
serve to entrench oppression, albeit in the name of equality and social justice.
The bitterest disagreement between collectivist anarchists and Marxists centres upon their rival conceptions
of the transition from capitalism to communism.
Marxists have called for a `dictatorship of the proletariat', a transitional period between a proletarian
revolution and the achievement of full communism, during which the proletariat will have to arm and
organize itself against the threat of counter-revolution. This proletarian state will nevertheless `wither away'
as capitalist class antagonisms abate. In this view, state power is nothing but a reflection of the class system,
the state being, in essence, an instrument of class oppression.
Anarchists, on the other hand, regard the state as evil and oppressive in its own right: it is a corrupt and
Anarchists therefore draw no distinction between bourgeois states and proletarian states.
Genuine revolution, for an anarchist, requires not only the overthrow of capitalism but also the
immediate and final overthrow of state power.
The state cannot be allowed to `wither away'; it must be abolished.…read more
Mutualism is a system of fair and equitable exchange, in which individuals or groups can bargain
with one another, trading goods and services without profiteering or exploitation.
The anarchist belief in social solidarity has been used to justify various forms of cooperative
At one extreme, it has led to a belief in pure communism, but it has also generated the more
modest ideas of mutualism, associated with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
In a sense Proudhon's libertarian socialism stands between the individualist and collectivist
traditions of anarchism, Proudhon's ideas sharing much in common with those of US
individualists such as Josiah Warren (17981874).
In What is Property?, Proudhon came up with the famous statement that `Property is theft',
and condemned a system of economic exploitation based upon the accumulation of capital.
Nevertheless, unlike Marx, Proudhon was not opposed to all forms of private property,
distinguishing between property and what he called `possessions'.
In particular, he admired the independence and initiative of smallholding peasants, craftsmen
and artisans.…read more
Proudhon therefore sought, through mutualism, to establish a system of property
ownership that would avoid exploitation and promote social harmony.
Social interaction is therefore voluntary, mutually beneficial and harmonious, requiring no
regulation or interference by government.
Proudhon's followers tried to put these ideas into practice by setting up mutual credit
banks in France and Switzerland, which provided cheap loans for investors and charged a
rate of interest only high enough to cover the cost of running the bank but not so high that it
made a profit.
Proudhon's own views were largely founded upon his admiration for small communities of
peasants or craftsmen, notably the watchmakers of Switzerland, who had traditionally
managed their affairs on the basis of mutual cooperation.…read more
Anarchism only developed into a mass movement in its own right in the form of anarcho-
syndicalism. Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary trade unionism meaning union or group.
Syndicalism emerged first in France and embraced by the powerful CGT union in the period before
Syndicalist ideas spread to Italy, Latin America, the United States and, most significantly, Spain,
where the country's largest union, the CNT, supported them.
Syndicalist theory drew upon socialist ideas and advanced a crude notion of class war.
Workers and peasants were seen to constitute an oppressed class, and industrialists, landlords,
politicians, judges and the police were portrayed as exploiters.
Workers could defend themselves by organizing syndicates or unions, based upon particular crafts,
industries or professions.
In the short term, these syndicates could act as conventional trade unions, raising wages, shortening
hours and improving working conditions.
However, syndicalists were also revolutionaries, who looked forward to the overthrow of capitalism
and the seizure of power by the workers.
In Reflections on Violence, Georges Sorel argued that such a revolution would come about
through a general strike, a `revolution of empty hands'.
Sorel believed that the general strike was a `myth', a symbol of working-class power, capable
of inspiring popular revolt.
Although syndicalist theory was at times unsystematic and confused, it nevertheless exerted a
strong attraction for anarchists who wished to spread their ideas among the masses.
As anarchists entered the syndicalist movement they developed the distinctive ideas of
Two features of syndicalism inspired particular anarchist enthusiasm:
1. Syndicalists rejected conventional politics as corrupting and pointless.
· Working-class power, they believed, should be exerted through direct action, boycotts,
sabotage and strikes, and ultimately a general strike.
2. Anarchists saw the syndicates as a model for the decentralized, non-hierarchic society of
· Syndicates typically exhibited a high degree of grassroots democracy and formed federations
with other syndicates, either in the same area or in the same industry.
· Although anarcho-syndicalism enjoyed genuine mass support, at least until the Spanish Civil
War, it failed to achieve its revolutionary objectives.
· Beyond the rather vague idea of the general strike, anarcho-syndicalism did not develop a
clear political strategy or a theory of revolution, relying instead upon the hope of a
spontaneous uprising of the exploited and oppressed.
Other anarchists have criticized syndicalism:
For concentrating too narrowly upon short-term trade union goals...
therefore for leading anarchism away from revolution and towards reformism .…read more