What is Collectivist Anarchism?
The philosophical roots of Collectivist anarchism lie in socialism rather than liberalism. It is also referred to as anarcho-collectivism or social anarchism.
Anarchist conclusions can come from pushing socialist collectivism to its absolute limits. Collectivist anarchism stresses the human capacity for cooperation and sociability, what Kropotkin famously termed 'mutual aid'. This is not a belief in 'natural goodness', but a highlighting of the potential for goodness which lies within all humans. Human beings are seen as naturally sociable and gregarious. The natural relationship between humans therefore is one of sympathy, affection and harmony.
When people are linked together by recognition of their common humanity, they have no need to be regulated or controlled by a government. As Bakunin claimed, 'social solidarity is the first human law, freedom is the second'. Not only is government unnecessary, by replacing freedom with oppression it makes social solidarity impossible.
Overlaps with Socialism
Philosophical and ideological overlaps between anarchism and socialism, particularly Marxism, are evident through anarchists work within broadly revolutionary socialist movements. For example, the First International (1864-72) was set up by supporters of Proudhon (anarchist) and Marx (communist).
Both Collectivist Anarchism and Marxism:
- fundamentally reject capitalism, regarding it as a system of class exploitation and structural injustice
- endorse revolution as their preferred means of bringing about change
- support the collective ownership of wealth and the communal organisation of life
- believe that a fully communist society would be anarchic (Marx's 'state withering away')
- agree that humans are capable of self-government without the need for authority
Differences from Socialism
Anarchism and socialism nevertheless have major differences:
- Anarchists see parliamentary socialism as a contradiction of terms. Not only is it impossible to reform capitalism through the corrupt methods of govermnent, but any expansion of the role of the state can only serve to further oppression (even if it is done in the name of equality and justice).
- Anarchists also reject Marx's theory of the transition from capitalism to communism. Marx proposed a revolutionary 'dictatorship of the proletariat', which would wither away as capitalist class antagonism subsides. In this view, the state would no longer be oppressive as it is no longer used as an instrument of class exploitation. However, anarchists regard the state in itself as an evil entity, which is corrupt and corrupting by nature. There is therefore no difference between a bourgeois or a proletariat state.
- Genuine revolution for an anarchist requires not only the overthrowing of capitalism, but also the complete and final abolition of state power. The state cannot be trusted to 'wither away', it must be destroyed.
Mutualism - a system of fair and equitable exchange in which individuals or groups bargain with one another, trading goods and services without profit or exploitation.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's libertarian socialism stands between Individualist and Collectivism anarchism. His ideologies have much in common with those of US individualists such as Josiah Warren. In 'What is Property?', Proudhon proclaimed that 'Property is theft' and condemned a system of economic exploitation based on the accumulation of capital.
However, unlike Marx, Proudhon was not opposed to all forms of private property. He distinguished between what he called 'possessions' and property. He admired the small communities such as craftsmen and artisans, who traditionally managed their affairs on the basis of mutual cooperation. Proudhon therefore thought that through mutualism, he could establish a system of property ownership that would avoid exploitation and promote social harmony.
In Proudhon's system, social interaction would be voluntary, mutually beneficial and harmonious, thus requiring no government interference. For example, mutual credit banks were set up in France and Switzerland, running without profit.
Syndicalism is a form of revolutionary trade unionism, first embraced in France in the period before 1914. Syndicalist ideas spread to Italy, Latin America, the USA and Spain, where the CNT supported them (Spain's largest union). Their theories drew on socialist ideas and an advanced notion of class war. Workers could defend themselves either by organising syndicates or unions and basing them on particular crafts, industries or professions. These would work both long and short term. In the short term, they could act as conventional trade unions, raising wages, shortening hours and improving working conditions. In the long term, syndicalists were also revolutionaries who looked to overthrow capitalism and seize power for the workers. General strikes were a popular political myth used by syndicalists, who believed they could inspire popular revolt. Anarcho-syndicalists such as Georges Sorel argued for a 'revolution of empty hands', i.e. a strike as a symbol of working class power.
Syndicalists rejected politics as corrupting and pointless, believing working class power should be exercised through direct action. They also believed in a model of decentralised non-heirarchical power, used by syndicates through the promotion of democracy and federations with other syndicates. Many have criticised it, however, for focusing too much on short-term goals and therefore becoming more reformist than revolutionary.
In its most radical form, the belief in social solidarity leads to the conclusion of collectivism and full communism. Sociable and gregarious humans should lead a shared and communal existance. Labour should be a sociable activity, where people work in harmony, and produce should therefore be owned communally rather than by any one individual. In this sense all forms of private property are theft. Private property is selfish and promotes conflict and social disharmony: Inequality fosters greed, envy and resentment and therefore is to blame for crime and disorder.
Anarcho-communism is rooted in optimism about the human nature, such as that seen in Peter Kropotkin's philosohpy of 'mutual aid'. Whereas some have used Darwinism to show how humans are naturally competitive and aggressive, Kropotkin argued that humans have survived because of their capacity for cooperation. He noted that while mutual aid had flourished in Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe, it had been subverted by competitive capitalism and therefore the entire evolution of the species was under threat.
Despite Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's suggestion that communism could only be brought on by an authoritarian state, anarcho-communists such as Errico Malatesta argued that true communism requires the abolition of the state. Anarcho-communist society would consist of self-sufficient communes, each communally owning its wealth.
From an anarcho-communist perspective, communal economic life has three main advantages:
- Communes are based on the principles of sharing and collective effort, and therefore strengthen the bonds of compassion and solidarity whilst keeping greed and selfishness at bay
- Communes make decisions through a process of direct democracy, which guarantees political equality and participation. Popular self-government is the only form of government acceptable to anarchists
- Communes are small, 'human-scale' communities which allow people to manage their own affairs through face-to-face interaction. According to anarchists, centralisation depersonalises and beaurocratises social interaction.