“Campesino, the revolution will give you the land,”
poster by Bauset (1936).
Anarchism, cluster of doctrines and attitudes centred on the belief that government is both harmful and unnecessary. Anarchist thought developed in the West and spread throughout the world, principally in the early 20th century.

Derived from the Greek root (anarchos) meaning “without authority,” anarchism, anarchist, and anarchy are used to express both approval and disapproval. In early usage all these terms were pejorative: for example, during the English Civil Wars (1642–51) the radical Levellers, who called for universal manhood suffrage, were referred to by their opponents as “Switzerising anarchists,” and during the French Revolution the leader of the moderate Girondin faction of Parliament, Jacques-Pierre Brissot, accused his most extreme rivals, the Enragés, of being the advocates of “anarchy”:

Laws that are not carried into effect, authorities without force and despised, crime unpunished, property attacked, the safety of the individual violated, the morality of the people corrupted, no constitution, no government, no justice, these are the features of anarchy.

These words could serve as a model for the denunciations delivered by all opponents of anarchism. The anarchists, for their part, would admit many of Brissot’s points. They deny man-made laws, regard property as a means of tyranny, and believe that crime is merely the product of property and authority. But they would argue that their denial of constitutions and governments leads not to “no justice” but to the real justice inherent in the free development of man’s sociality—his natural inclination, when unfettered by laws, to live according to the principles and practice of mutual aid.

Foundations of anarchist thought
The first person willingly to call himself an anarchist was the French political writer and pioneer socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. In his controversial study of the economic bases of society, Qu’est ce que la propriété? (1840; What Is Property?), Proudhon argued that the real laws of society have nothing to do with authority but rather stem from the nature of society itself, and he foresaw the eventual dissolution of authority and the emergence of a natural social order:

As man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy. Anarchy—the absence of a sovereign—such is the form of government to which we are every day approximating.

The essential elements of Proudhon’s philosophy already had been developed by earlier thinkers. The rejection of political authority has a rich pedigree. It extends back to classical antiquity—to the Stoics and the Cynics—and runs through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as illustrated by dissenting Christian sects such as the medieval Catharists and certain factions of Anabaptists. For such groups—which are often mistakenly claimed as ancestors by modern anarchist writers—the rejection of government was merely one aspect of a retreat from the material world into a realm of spiritual grace, and as part of the search for individual salvation it was hardly compatible with the sociopolitical doctrine of anarchism. In all its forms, that doctrine consists of (1) an analysis of the power relations underlying existing forms of political authority and (2) a vision of an alternative libertarian society based on cooperation, as opposed to competition and coercion, and functioning without the need for government authority.

Capitalism, Humanity, Government,
cover illustration by Man Ray for Mother Earth,
August 1914.

English anarchist thought

The first sketch of an anarchist commonwealth in this sense was developed in England in the years immediately following the English Civil Wars (1642–51) by Gerrard Winstanley, a dissenting Christian and founder of the Digger movement. In his pamphlet of 1649, Truth Lifting Up Its Head Above Scandals, Winstanley laid down what later became basic principles among anarchists: that power corrupts; that property is incompatible with freedom; that authority and property are between them the begetters of crime; and that only in a society without rulers, where work and its products are shared, can men be free and happy, acting not according to laws imposed from above but according to their consciences. Winstanley was not only the pioneer theorist of anarchism but also the forerunner of anarchist activism. In 1649, calling upon the people “to manure and work upon the common lands,” he and a band of followers occupied a hillside in southern England and established a society of agrarian free communism.

The Digger experiment was destroyed by local landowners, and Winstanley vanished into such obscurity that the place and date of his death are unknown. But the principles he defended lingered on in the traditions of English Protestant sects and reached their ultimate flowering in the work of a former dissenting minister, William Godwin. In his masterpiece, Political Justice (1793), Godwin not only presents the classic anarchist argument that authority is against nature and that social evils exist because men are not free to act according to reason, he also sketches out a decentralized society composed of small autonomous communities, or parishes. Within these communities democratic political procedures would be dispensed with as far as possible, because, according to Godwin, they encourage a majoritarian tyranny and dilute individual responsibility. Godwin also condemns “accumulated property” as a source of power over others and envisions a loose economic system in which people would give and take according to their needs. Godwin was a prophet of technological progress, and he believed that industrial development would eventually reduce the necessary working time to half an hour a day, provided people lived simply, and that this arrangement would facilitate the transition to a society without authority.

Godwin enjoyed great celebrity in the 1790s and influenced varied writers such as Percy Bysshe Shelley (whose Queen Mab and Prometheus Unbound are virtually anarchist poems), William Wordsworth, William Hazlitt, and Robert Owen. By the time of his death in 1836, however, he was almost forgotten. Although his ideas had a subterranean influence on the British labour movement through the work of Owen, they had virtually no effect on the quasi-political anarchist movement on the continent of Europe during the mid-19th century.

French anarchist thought
The theoretical foundations of the Continental anarchist movement were laid by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. A brewer’s son of peasant stock from the Franche-Comté region of eastern France, he worked for a time (like many later anarchists) as a printer. In 1838 he won a scholarship to study in Paris, where he earned notoriety as a polemicist and radical journalist. His early works What Is Property? (1840) and System of Economic Contradictions; or, The Philosophy of Poverty (1846) established him as one of the leading theoreticians of socialism, a term that in the early 19th century embraced a wide spectrum of attitudes. In Paris during the 1840s Proudhon associated with Karl Marx and the Russian nobleman-turned-revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin. From his experiences during the Revolutions of 1848 Proudhon developed the theories presented in The Federal Principle (1863) and The Political Capability of the Working Classes (1865).

Proudhon was a complex writer who remained obstinately independent, refusing to consider himself the founder of either a system or a party. Yet he was justly regarded by Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, and other leaders of organized anarchism as their philosophical ancestor.

The main themes of his work were mutualism, federalism, and the power of the working classes to liberate themselves through organized economic action, an idea later known as “direct action.” By mutualism he meant the organization of society on an egalitarian basis. Although he was infamous for declaring (in What Is Property?) that “property is theft,” he did not advocate communism. He attacked the use of property as a means of exploiting the labour of others, but he regarded “possession”—the right of a worker or group of workers to control the land or tools necessary for production—as an essential bulwark of liberty. He therefore envisioned a society formed of independent peasants and artisans, with factories and utilities run by associations of workers, all united by a system of mutual credit founded on people’s banks. In place of the centralized state—the enemy of all anarchists—Proudhon suggested a federal system of autonomous local communities and industrial associations, bound by contract and mutual interest rather than by laws, with arbitration replacing courts of justice, workers’ management replacing bureaucracy, and integrated education replacing academic education. Out of such a network would emerge a natural social unity that would make the existing order seem “nothing but chaos, serving as a basis for endless tyranny.” In The Political Capability of the Working Classes—his final, posthumously published work—Proudhon argued that liberation was the task of the workers themselves. He thereby laid the intellectual foundations of a movement that rejected democratic and parliamentary politics in favour of various forms of direct action.

In the 1860s Proudhon’s working-class followers, unlike Proudhon himself, did not accept the name anarchist; instead, they preferred to call themselves Mutualists, after a working-class secret society to which Proudhon had belonged in Lyons during the 1830s. In 1864, shortly before Proudhon’s death, a group of Mutualists joined with British trade unionists and European socialists exiled in London to found the International Workingmen’s Association (the First International). Within the International, the Mutualists were the first opponents of Karl Marx and his followers, who advocated political action and the seizure of the state in order to create a proletarian dictatorship. Marx’s most formidable opponents, however, were not the Mutualists but the followers of Bakunin, who entered the International in 1868 after a long career as a political conspirator.

Russian anarchist thought
Bakunin had been a supporter of nationalist revolutionary movements in various Slav countries. In the 1840s he had come under the influence of Proudhon, and by the 1860s, when he entered the International, he had not only founded his own proto-anarchist organization—the Social Democratic Alliance, which had a considerable following in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the Rhône valley of France—but had modified Proudhonian teachings into a doctrine later known as collectivism. Bakunin accepted Proudhon’s federalism and his insistence on the need for working-class direct action, but he argued that the modified property rights Proudhon allowed were impractical. Instead, he suggested that the means of production should be owned collectively, though he still held that each worker should be remunerated only according to the amount of work he actually performed. The second important difference between Bakunin and Proudhon lay in their concepts of revolutionary method. Proudhon believed it was possible to create within existing society the mutualist associations that could replace it; he therefore opposed violent revolutionary action. Bakunin, declaring that “the passion for destruction is also a creative urge,” refused to accept a piecemeal approach; a violent revolution, sweeping away all existing institutions, was in his view the necessary prelude to the construction of a free and peaceful society.

Although the individualism and nonviolence implicit in Proudhon’s vision have survived in peripheral currents of the anarchist tradition, Bakunin’s stress on collectivism and violent revolutionary action dominated mainstream anarchism from the days of the First International down to the destruction of anarchism as a mass movement at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

The First International was itself destroyed by the conflict between Marx and Bakunin, a conflict rooted as much in the contradictory personalities of the two leaders as in their rival doctrines—revolution by a disciplined party versus revolution by the spontaneous insurgence of the working class, respectively. When the International finally broke apart at the Hague congress in 1872, Bakunin’s followers were left in control of the working-class movements in the Latin countries—Spain, Italy, southern France, and French-speaking Switzerland—and these movements were to remain the principal bases of anarchism in Europe. In 1873 the Bakuninists set up their own International, which lasted as an active body until 1877; during this period its members finally accepted the name anarchist rather than Mutualist.

Bakunin died in 1876. His ideas had been developed in action as well as in writing, for he was the hero of many barricades, prisons, and meetings. His successor as ideological leader was Peter Kropotkin, who had renounced the title of prince when he became a revolutionary in 1872. Kropotkin is more celebrated for his writing than for his actions, though in his early years he led an eventful career as a revolutionary militant, which he described in a fine autobiography, Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899). Under the influence of Russian revolutionary populist thought as well as a comrade such as the French geographer Élisée Reclus (a former disciple of the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier), Kropotkin developed a variant of anarchist theory known as anarchist communism. Kropotkin and his followers went beyond Bakunin’s collectivism, arguing not only that the means of production should be owned cooperatively but that there should be complete communism in terms of distribution. This theory revived the scheme described in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), involving common storehouses from which everyone would be allowed to take whatever he wished on the basis of the formula “From each according to his means, to each according to his needs.” In The Conquest of Bread (1892), Kropotkin sketched a vision of a revolutionary society organized as a federation of free communist groups. He reinforced this vision in Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution (1902), where he used biological and sociological evidence to argue that cooperation is more natural and usual than competition among both animals and human beings. In his Fields, Factories, and Workshops (1899) he developed ideas on the decentralization of industry appropriate to a nongovernmental society. In recognition of his scholarship, Kropotkin was invited to write an article on anarchism for the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Nestor Makhno with members of the anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary
Army of Ukraine


Anarchism as a movement, 1870–1940
A crucial development in the history of anarchism was the emergence of the doctrine of “propaganda of the deed.” In 1876 Errico Malatesta expressed the belief held by Italian anarchists that “the insurrectionary deed destined to affirm socialist principles by acts, is the most efficacious means of propaganda.” The first acts were rural insurrections intended to arouse the illiterate masses of the Italian countryside. After the insurrections failed, anarchist activism tended to take the form of acts of terrorism by individual protesters, who would attempt to kill ruling figures to make the state appear vulnerable and to inspire the masses with their self-sacrifice. Between 1890 and 1901 several such symbolic murders were carried out; the victims included King Umberto I of Italy, the empress consort Elizabeth of Austria, President Sadi Carnot of France, President William McKinley of the United States, and Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, the prime minister of Spain. This dramatic series of terrorist acts established the image of the anarchist as a mindless destroyer, an image that was further strengthened as anarchist attacks on government officials, as well as on restaurants and other public places, became more widespread.

During the 1890s, especially in France, anarchism was adopted as a philosophy by many avant-garde artistic and literary figures, including the painters Gustave Courbet (who had been a disciple of Proudhon), Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Paul Signac and the writers Paul Adam, Octave Mirbeau, Laurent Tailhade, and Felix Fénéon. The Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé was also a strong sympathizer. In England, the Irish poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde declared himself an anarchist and, under Kropotkin’s inspiration, wrote the essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” (1891).

Artists were attracted by the individualist spirit of anarchism. By the mid-1890s, however, the more militant anarchists in France began to realize that an excess of individualism had detached them from the workers they sought to liberate. Anarchists, indeed, have always found it difficult to reconcile the claims of general human solidarity with the demands—equally insistent—of the individual who desires freedom. Some anarchist thinkers, such as the German Max Stirner, refused to recognize any limitation on the individual’s right to do as he pleases or any obligation to act socially; and even those who accepted Kropotkin’s socially oriented doctrines of anarchist communism have in practice been reluctant to create forms of organization that threatened their freedom of action or seemed likely to harden into institutions.

In consequence, although a number of international anarchist congresses were held—the most celebrated being those in London in 1881 and Amsterdam in 1907—no effective worldwide organization was ever created, even though by the end of the 19th century the anarchist movement had spread to all continents and was united by informal links of correspondence and friendship between leading figures. National federations were weak even in countries where there were many anarchists, such as France and Italy, and the typical unit of organization remained the small group dedicated to propaganda by deed or word. Such groups engaged in a wide variety of activities; in the 1890s many of them set up experimental schools and communities in an attempt to live according to anarchist principles.

Revolutionary syndicalism
In France, where individualist trends had been most pronounced and public reaction to terrorist acts had imperiled the very existence of the movement, anarchists made an effort to acquire a mass following, primarily by infiltrating the trade unions. They were particularly active in the bourses du travail (“labour exchanges”), local groups of unions originally established to find work for their members. In 1892 a national confederation of bourses du travail was formed, and by 1895 a group of anarchists, led by Fernand Pelloutier, Émile Pouget, and Paul Delesalle, had gained effective control of the organization and were developing the theory and practice of working-class activism later known as anarcho-syndicalism, or revolutionary syndicalism.

The anarcho-syndicalists argued that the traditional function of trade unions—to struggle for better wages and working conditions—was not enough. The unions should become militant organizations dedicated to the destruction of capitalism and the state. They should aim to take over factories and utilities, which would then be operated by the workers. In this way the union or syndicate would have a double function—as an organ of struggle within the existing political system and as an organ of administration after the revolution. The anarcho-syndicalists’ strategy called for sustaining militancy by creating an atmosphere of incessant conflict, which would culminate in a massive general strike. Many anarcho-syndicalists believed that such an overwhelming act of noncooperation would bring about what they called “the revolution of folded arms,” resulting in the collapse of the state and the capitalist system. However, although partial general strikes, with limited objectives, were undertaken in France and elsewhere with varying success, the millennial general strike aimed at overthrowing the social order in a single blow was never attempted. Nevertheless, the anarcho-syndicalists acquired great prestige among the workers of France—and later of Spain and Italy—because of their generally tough-minded attitude at a time when working conditions were bad and employers tended to respond brutally to union activity. After the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération Générale du Travail; CGT), the great French trade-union organization, was founded in 1902, the militancy of the anarcho-syndicalists enabled them to retain control of the organization until 1908 and to wield considerable influence on its activities until after World War I.

Like anarchism, revolutionary syndicalism proved attractive to certain intellectuals, notably Georges Sorel, whose Reflections on Violence (1908) was the most important literary work to emerge from the movement. The more purist anarchist theoreticians were disturbed by the monolithic character of syndicalist organizations, which they feared might create powerful interest structures in a revolutionary society. At the International Anarchist Congress in Amsterdam in 1907, a crucial debate on this issue took place between the young revolutionary syndicalist Pierre Monatte and the veteran anarchist Errico Malatesta. It defined a division of outlook that still lingers in anarchist circles, which have always included individualist attitudes too extreme to admit any kind of large-scale organization.

Revolutionary syndicalism transformed anarchism, for a time at least, from a tiny minority current into a movement with considerable mass support, even though most members of syndicalist unions were sympathizers and fellow travelers rather than committed anarchists. In 1922 the syndicalists set up their own International with its headquarters in Berlin, taking the historic name of the International Workingmen’s Association. When it was established, the organizations that formed it could still boast a considerable following. The Italian Trade Union (Unione Sindicale Italiana) had 500,000 members; the Regional Federation of Argentine Workers (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina), 200,000 members; the General Confederation of Labour (Confederação General de Trabalho) in Portugal, 150,000 members; and the Free Workers (Freie Arbeiter) in Germany, 120,000 members. There were also smaller organizations in Chile, Uruguay, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Mexico, and Sweden. In Britain, the influence of syndicalism was shown most clearly in the Guild Socialism movement, which flourished briefly in the early years of the 20th century. In the United States, revolutionary syndicalist ideas were influential in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which in the years immediately before and after World War I played a vital part in organizing American miners, loggers, and unskilled workers. Only a small minority of IWW militants were avowed anarchists, however.

Golden Gated City, ink on scratchboard by Eric Drooker.


Anarchism in Spain
The reconciliation of anarchism and syndicalism was most complete and most successful in Spain; for a long period the anarchist movement in that country remained the most numerous and the most powerful in the world. The first known Spanish anarchist, Ramón de la Sagra, a disciple of Proudhon, founded the world’s first anarchist journal, El Porvenir, in La Coruña in 1845, which was quickly suppressed. Mutualist ideas were later publicized by Francisco Pi y Margall, a federalist leader and the translator of many of Proudhon’s books. During the Spanish revolution of 1873, Pi y Margall attempted to establish a decentralized, or “cantonalist,” political system on Proudhonian lines. In the end, however, the influence of Bakunin was stronger. In 1868 his Italian disciple, Giuseppe Fanelli, visited Barcelona and Madrid, where he established branches of the International. By 1870 they had 40,000 members, and in 1873 the movement numbered about 60,000, organized mainly in working men’s associations. In 1874 the anarchist movement in Spain was forced underground, a phenomenon that recurred often in subsequent decades. Nevertheless, it flourished, and anarchism became the favoured type of radicalism among two very different groups, the factory workers of Barcelona and other Catalan towns and the impoverished peasants who toiled on the estates of absentee owners in Andalusia.

As in France and Italy, the movement in Spain during the 1880s and ’90s was inclined toward insurrection (in Andalusia) and terrorism (in Catalonia). It retained its strength in working-class organizations because the courageous and even ruthless anarchist militants were often the only leaders who would stand up to the army and to the employers, who hired squads of gunmen to engage in guerrilla warfare with the anarchists in the streets of Barcelona. The workers of Barcelona were finally inspired by the success of the French CGT to set up a syndicalist organization, Workers’ Solidarity (Solidaridad Obrera), in 1907. Solidaridad Obrera quickly spread throughout Catalonia, and, in 1909, when the Spanish army tried to conscript Catalan reservists to fight against the Riffs in Morocco, it called a general strike. The work was followed by a week of largely spontaneous violence (“La Semana Tragica,” or the Tragic Week) that left hundreds dead and 50 churches and monasteries destroyed and that ended in brutal repression. The torture of anarchists in the fortress of Montjuich and the execution of the internationally celebrated advocate of free education Francisco Ferrer led to worldwide protests and the resignation of the conservative government in Madrid. These events also resulted in a congress of Spanish trade unionists at Sevilla in 1910, which founded the National Confederation of Labour (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo; CNT).

The CNT, which included the majority of organized Spanish workers, was dominated throughout its existence by the anarchist militants, who in 1927 founded their own activist organization, the Iberian Anarchist Federation (Federación Anarquista Iberica; FAI). While there was recurrent conflict within the CNT between moderates and FAI activists, the atmosphere of violence and urgency in which radical activities were carried on in Spain ensured that the more extreme leaders, such as Garcia Oliver and Buenaventura Durutti, tended to wield decisive influence. The CNT was a model of anarchist decentralism and antibureaucratism: its basic organizations were not national unions but sindicatos únicos (“special unions”), which brought together the workers of all trades and crafts in a certain locality; the national committee was elected each year from a different locality to ensure that no individual served more than one term; and all delegates were subject to immediate recall by the members. This enormous organization, which claimed 700,000 members in 1919, 1,600,000 in 1936, and more than 2,000,000 during the Civil War, employed only one paid secretary. Its day-to-day operation was carried on in their spare time by workers chosen by their comrades. This ensured that the Spanish anarchist movement would not be dominated by the déclassé intellectuals and self-taught printers and shoemakers who were so influential in other countries.

The CNT and the FAI, which remained clandestine organizations under the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, emerged into the open with the abdication of King Alfonso XIII in 1931. Their antipolitical philosophy led them to reject the Republic as much as the monarchy it had replaced, and between 1931 and the military rebellion led by Francisco Franco in 1936 there were several unsuccessful anarchist risings. In 1936 the anarchists, who over the decades had become expert urban guerrillas, were mainly responsible for the defeat of the rebel generals in both Barcelona and Valencia, as well as in country areas of Catalonia and Aragon; and for many early months of the Civil War they were in virtual control of eastern Spain, where they regarded the crisis as an opportunity to carry through the social revolution of which they had long dreamed. Factories and railways in Catalonia were taken over by workers’ committees, and in hundreds of villages in Catalonia, Levante, and Andalusia the peasants seized the land and established libertarian communes like those described by Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread. The internal use of money was abolished, the land was tilled in common, and village products were sold or exchanged on behalf of the community in general, with each family receiving an equitable share of food and other necessities. An idealistic Spartan fervour characterized these communities, which often consisted of illiterate labourers; intoxicants, tobacco, and sometimes even coffee were renounced; and millenarian enthusiasm took the place of religion, as it has often done in Spain. The reports of critical observers suggest that at least some of these communes were efficiently run and more productive agriculturally than the villages had been previously.

The Spanish anarchists failed during the Civil War largely because, expert though they were in spontaneous street fighting, they did not have the discipline necessary to carry on sustained warfare; the columns they sent to various fronts were unsuccessful in comparison with the communist-led International Brigades. In December 1936 four leading anarchists took posts in the cabinet of Francisco Largo Caballero, radically compromising their antigovernment principles. They were unable to halt the trend toward left-wing totalitarianism encouraged by their enemies the communists, who were numerically far fewer but politically more influential, owing to the Soviet Union’s support of the Republican war effort. In May 1937 bitter fighting broke out in Barcelona between communists and anarchists. The CNT held its own on this occasion, but its influence quickly waned. The collectivized factories were taken over by the central government, and many agricultural communes were destroyed by Franco’s advance into Andalusia and by the hostile action of General Enrique Lister’s communist army in Aragon. In January 1939 the Spanish anarchists were so demoralized by the compromises of the Civil War that they were unable to mount a resistance when Franco’s forces marched into Barcelona. The CNT and the FAI became phantom organizations in exile.

Decline of European anarchism
By the time of the Spanish Civil War, the anarchist movement outside Spain had been destroyed or greatly diminished as a result of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of right-wing totalitarian regimes. Although the most famous anarchist leaders, Bakunin and Kropotkin, had been Russian, the anarchist movement had never been strong in Russia, partly because the larger Socialist Revolutionary Party had greater appeal to the peasantry. After the revolution the small anarchist groups that emerged in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) and Moscow were powerless against the Bolsheviks. Kropotkin, who returned from exile in June 1917, found himself without influence, though he did establish an anarchist commune in the village of Dmitrov, near Moscow. A large demonstration of anarchists accompanied Kropotkin’s funeral in 1921. In the south, N.I. Makhno, a peasant anarchist, raised an insurrectionary army that used brilliant guerrilla tactics to hold a large part of Ukraine from both the Red and the White armies; but the social experiments developed under Makhno’s protection were rudimentary, and when he was driven into exile in 1921 the anarchist movement became extinct in Russia.

In other countries, the prestige of the Russian Revolution enabled the new communist parties to win much of the support formerly given to the anarchists, particularly in France, where the CGT passed permanently into communist control. The large Italian anarchist movement was destroyed by the fascist government of Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, and the small German anarchist movement was smashed by the Nazis in the 1930s.

Anarchism in the Americas
In the United States, a native and mainly nonviolent tradition of anarchism developed during the 19th century in the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Josiah Warren, Lysander Spooner, Joseph Labadie, and above all Benjamin Tucker. An early advocate of women’s suffrage, religious tolerance, and fair labour legislation, Tucker combined Warren’s ideas on labour egalitarianism with elements of Proudhon’s and Bakunin’s antistatism. The result was the most sophisticated exposition to date of anarchist ideas in the United States. Much of Tucker’s political influence, especially during the 1880s, derived from his journal Liberty, which he published in both Boston and New York City. Anarchist activism in the United States was mainly sustained by immigrants from Europe, including Johann Most (editor of Die Freiheit; “Freedom”), who justified acts of terrorism on anarchist principles; Alexander Berkman, who attempted to assassinate steel magnate Henry Clay Frick in 1892; and Emma Goldman, whose Living My Life gives a picture of radical activity in the United States at the turn of the century. Goldman, who had immigrated to the United States from tsarist Russia in 1885, soon became a preeminent figure in the American anarchist movement. A follower of Kropotkin, she lectured widely and published numerous essays on anarchist theory and practice in her journal Mother Earth. Most of her campaigns were controversial. She argued on behalf of birth control, defended the bomb throwers of her era as victims of a ruthless capitalist system, opposed women’s suffrage—because, in her view, it would only further bind women to bourgeois reformism—and spoke out against American entry into World War I, which she believed was an imperialist war that was sacrificing ordinary people as cannon fodder.

Although anarchists were more often the victims of violence than its perpetrators, the cartoonists’ stereotype of the long-haired, wild-eyed anarchist assassin emerged in the 1880s and was firmly established in the public mind during the Chicago Haymarket Riot of 1886. Anarchists—many of them German immigrants—were prominent figures in Chicago’s labour movement. After police killed two strikers at a rally at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company on May 3, 1886, a protest meeting was called for Haymarket Square the next day. The demonstration was pronounced peaceful by Mayor Carter Harrison, who attended as an observer. After Harrison and most of the demonstrators had departed, a contingent of police arrived and demanded that the crowd disperse. At that point a bomb exploded among the police, killing one, and the police responded with random gunfire. In the ensuing melee, several people (including six police) were killed and many more injured.

The incident created widespread hysteria against immigrants and labour leaders and led to renewed suppression by police. Although the identity of the bomb thrower was never determined, eight anarchist leaders were arrested and charged with murder and conspiracy. Four members of the “Chicago Eight” were hanged on November 11, 1887; one committed suicide in his cell; and three others were given long prison sentences. Excoriating the trial as unjust, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the three surviving Haymarket prisoners in 1893. May Day—international workers’ day—was directly inspired by the Haymarket affair, and anarchists such as Goldman, Berkman, and Voltairine de Cleyre, as well as socialist Eugene V. Debs, traced their political awakenings to the events at Haymarket.

In 1901 an immigrant Polish anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, assassinated President McKinley. In 1903 Congress passed a law barring all foreign anarchists from entering or remaining in the country. In the repressive mood that followed World War I, anarchism in the United States was suppressed. Berkman, Goldman, and many others activists were imprisoned and deported. In a sensational trial in the spring of 1920, two immigrant Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were convicted of killing a payroll clerk and a guard during a robbery at a Massachusetts shoe factory. In apparent retaliation for the conviction, a bomb was set off in the Wall Street area of New York City, killing more than 30 people and injuring 200 others. Despite worldwide protests that raised serious questions about the guilt of the defendants, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in 1927.

In Latin America, strong anarchist elements were involved in the Mexican Revolution. The syndicalist teachings of Ricardo Flores Magon influenced the peasant revolutionism of Emiliano Zapata. After the deaths of Zapata in 1919 and Flores Magon in 1922, the revolutionary image in Mexico, as elsewhere, was taken over by communists. In Argentina and Uruguay there were significant anarcho-syndicalist movements early in the 20th century, but they too were greatly reduced by the end of the 1930s through intermittent repression and the competition of communism.

George Woodcock

Cartoon from Wildcat Anarchist Comics,
by Donald Rooum.

Anarchism in East Asia

During the first two decades of the 20th century, anarchism was by far the most significant current in radical thinking in East Asia. Although East Asian anarchists did not make significant original contributions to anarchist theory, they did introduce a number of important ideas to the politics and culture of their countries, including universal education, the rights of youth and women, and the need to abolish all divisions of labour—especially those between mental and manual labour and between agricultural and industrial labour. Perhaps the most significant and lasting of their contributions was the idea of “social revolution”—i.e., the idea that revolutionary political change cannot occur without radical changes in society and culture, specifically the elimination of social institutions that are inherently coercive and authoritarian, such as the traditional family. Although some anarchists in East Asia sought to create revolution through violence, others repudiated violence in favour of peaceful means, especially education. Nevertheless, they all believed that politics is determined mainly by society and culture and therefore that society and culture must be the focus of their revolutionary efforts.

The first self-described anarchist in East Asia was the Japanese writer and activist Kotoku Shusui. In 1901 Kotoku, an early advocate of Japanese socialism, helped to found the Social Democratic Party, which was immediately banned by the government. Early in 1905, after the newspaper he published, the Heimin shimbun (“Commoner’s Newspaper”), denounced the Russo-Japanese War, the paper was closed and Kotoku was imprisoned. While in prison he was profoundly influenced by anarchist literature—especially Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories, and Workshops—and adopted anarchism wholeheartedly. As he wrote to a friend at the time, he had “gone [to prison] as a Marxian socialist and returned a radical anarchist.” After five months in prison Kotoku traveled to the United States, where he collaborated with members of the IWW, popularly known as the “Wobblies.” His experiences in the United States led him to abandon parliamentary politics in favour of a violent strategy of “direct action.”

After his return to Japan in June 1906, Kotoku began organizing workers for radical activities. He also managed to persuade the newly founded Socialist Party of Japan to adopt his views on direct action. In 1910 Kotoku was among hundreds arrested for involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate the Meiji emperor. Although he had withdrawn from the conspiracy before his arrest, Kotoku was tried for treason and was executed in 1911. His death marked the beginning of a “winter period” for anarchism in Japan, which was to last until the end of World War I.

Although much diminished, anarchist activity in Japan did not completely cease during this period. Osugi Sakae, the foremost figure in Japanese anarchism in the decade after Kotoku’s death, published anarchist newspapers and led organizing campaigns among industrial workers. His efforts were hampered by continuous police repression, however, and he had very little impact in Japan. Nevertheless, Osugi greatly influenced anarchists in China and, later, Korea.

Shortly after 1900, as part of the reforms that followed the unsuccessful Boxer Rebellion, the Ch’ing Dynasty began to send many young Chinese to study abroad, especially in France, Japan, and the United States. In these places and elsewhere, Chinese students established nationalist and revolutionary organizations dedicated to overthrowing the imperial regime. Two of the most important of these groups—the World Association, founded in Paris in 1906, and the Society for the Study of Socialism, founded in Tokyo in 1907—adopted explicitly anarchist programs.

Between 1907 and 1910 the World Association published a journal, The New Century, that was a major source of information in Chinese on anarchist theory and the European anarchist movement. The journal promoted an individualistic and “futuristic” anarchism and was among the first Chinese-language publications to openly attack native traditions, in particular Confucianism. The Society for the Study of Socialism, on the other hand, favoured an antimodern anarchism influenced by the pacifist radicalism of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, and it stressed the affinity between anarchism and philosophical currents in the Chinese past, especially Taoism. Through its publications, Natural Justice and Balance, the Society advocated Kropotkin’s programs for combining agriculture with industry and mental with manual labour, ideas that were to have a lasting influence on Chinese radicalism.

Significant anarchist activity in China itself did not begin until after the Chinese Revolution (1911–12). Chinese anarchists educated in Paris (the so-called “Paris anarchists”) returned to Beijing and immediately became involved in the reform of education and culture. Convinced of the need for social revolution, the Paris anarchists argued in favour of Western science against religion and superstition, called for the emancipation of women and youth, rejected the traditional family and the Confucian values on which it was based, and organized experimental work-study communities as alternatives to traditional forms of family and working life. These ideas and practices were extremely influential in the New Culture movement of the late 1910s and early 1920s. Led by the generation of intellectuals sent to study abroad, the movement was critical of all aspects of traditional Chinese culture and ethics and called for sweeping reforms in existing political and social institutions.

Anarchists were also active in South China. In Canton, a native school of anarchism emerged around the charismatic revolutionary Liu Shifu, better known by his adopted name Shifu. In 1912 Shifu founded the Cock-Crow Society, whose journal, People’s Voice, was the leading organ of Chinese anarchism in the 1910s. Although not a particularly original thinker, Shifu was a skilled expositor of anarchist doctrine. His polemical exchanges with the socialist leader Jiang Khangu helped to popularize anarchism as a “pure socialism” and to distinguish it from other currents in socialist thought.

Anarchist ideas entered Vietnam through the activities of the early Vietnamese nationalist leader Phan Boi Chau. Phan, who led the struggle against French colonial rule during the first two decades of the 20th century, was introduced to anarchism by Chinese intellectuals in Tokyo in 1905–09. Although Phan was not an anarchist himself, his thinking reflected certain distinctly anarchist themes, notably anti-imperialism and “direct action.” After the Chinese Revolution in 1911, Phan moved to South China, where he joined a number of organizations that espoused or were influenced by anarchism, including the Worldwide League for Humanity. He also received advice and financial support from Shifu. In 1912, with Shifu’s help, he founded the League of the Restoration of Vietnam and the League for the Prosperity of China and Asia, which aimed to build links between revolutionary movements in China and those in colonized countries such as Vietnam, Burma (Myanmar), India, and Korea.

In the early 1920s Korean radicals established anarchist societies in Tokyo and in various locations in China. Like their counterparts in Vietnam, they were drawn to anarchism mostly for its anti-imperialism and its emphasis on direct action, which offered a justification for violent resistance to the Japanese colonial government. For leaders such as Shin Chaoe-ho, anarchism was an attractive democratic alternative to Bolshevik communism, which by this time was threatening to take control of the radical movement in Korea.

By the early 1920s anarchism in most parts of East Asia had entered a decline from which it would not recover. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Bolshevik communists in Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea established their own revolutionary societies, which were eventually transformed into clandestine political parties, and began to compete with anarchists for influence in the labour movements. Faced with the Bolsheviks’ superior organizational abilities and the financial support they received from the newly constituted Soviet Union, the anarchists could offer only weak resistance and were soon eclipsed. By 1927, Chinese anarchists were devoting most of their energies to this losing struggle, sometimes in collusion with reactionary elements in the loosely structured Kuomintang (Nationalist Party). In Japan anarchist activity enjoyed a brief resurgence in the mid-1920s under Hatta Shuzo, who formulated a doctrine of “pure” anarchism in opposition to Marxist influences. A period of conflict between such pure and Marxist-oriented anarchists ended in the early 1930s, when all forms of radicalism were crushed by the military government.

Although politically irrelevant after the early 1920s, anarchists in China continued to work toward social revolution in education and culture. The author Ba Jin wrote novels and short stories on anarchist themes that were widely popular in China in the 1930s and ’40s, and Ba was elected to important literary and cultural organizations after the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War (1945–49). In 1927, a group of Paris anarchists helped to establish a short-lived Labour University in Shanghai, which put into practice the anarchist belief in combining mental and manual labour. This belief lingered long after the anarchist movement itself was gone, influencing debates on economic policy in the communist government in the decades after 1949.

Arif Dirlik

Anarchism in the arts

The central ideals of anarchism—freedom, equality, and mutual aid—have inspired writers and artists throughout history. When anarchism became an organized movement in the mid-19th century, its adherents hailed an impressive number of renowned literary and artistic figures as precursors and allies. In an influential essayessay, “Anarchism in Literature” (published posthumously in 1914), the American anarchist poet Voltairine de Cleyre identified anarchist sensibilities in writers and philosophers as diverse as François Rabelais, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Émile Zola in France; Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman in the United States; Friedrich Nietzsche in Germany; and Leo Tolstoy in Russia.

Many of the central figures of early 20th-century anarchism were passionately interested in the arts. Several of them wrote extensively on artistic themes, including Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Gustav Landauer, and Camillo Berneri. Most anarchist periodicals published original poetry and art, and many of them made culture and the arts their primary focus. The most widely circulated English-language anarchist magazine of the 1960s, Anarchy, devoted entire issues to poetry, science fiction, blues, theatre, and film.

From the time of Proudhon through the 1950s, most anarchists favoured a propagandistic style of art that treated themes of social protest, and they generally avoided art that was self-consciously abstract, inward looking, fantastic, or nihilistic, as was much of Modernist art during this period. Nevertheless, many Modernist artists participated in anarchist groups or aided anarchist causes. Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth, for example, published two political cartoons by the American painter and photographer Man Ray, though it did not publish any of his post-Cubist or Dadaist art.

Poetry and prose
Anarchist presses published an enormous quantity of verse—indeed, before 1960 they published more poetry than all other forms of creative writing put together. Among the finest poets of anarchism was Voltairine de Cleyre, whom Emma Goldman considered the “most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.” Although the anarchist themes of de Cleyre’s work were typical of her generation—tributes to revolutionary martyrs, hymns to anarchist anniversaries, and songs of workers rising against tyranny—her powerful imagery and passionate lyricism distinguished her from all her contemporaries. Other notable American poets of anarchy in the 1910s and ’20s were Irish-born Lola Ridge; Japanese-born Sadakichi Hartmann, reputed to be the first writer of haiku in English; IWW organizer Covington Hall; and IWW songwriter and humorist T-Bone Slim (Matt Valentine Huhta), who was renowned for his anarchist aphorisms (“Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack”).

Sicilian-American Surrealist poet Philip Lamantia belonged to an Italian-language anarchist group in San Francisco in the 1940s and later became a leading member of the Beat movement. Kenneth Rexroth, mentor to many Beats, identified himself as an anarchist from his involvement in the 1920s in Chicago’s Dil Pickle Club, a popular forum for lectures and debates on revolutionary topics. Other anarchist-oriented Beat poets included Diane di Prima and Gary Snyder, whose manifesto “Buddhist Anarchism” (1961) proved to be one of that decade’s most influential anarchist writings. The humorous Abomunist Manifesto (1959), by African American Beat poet Bob Kaufman, also had a markedly anarchist flavour. (According to Kaufman, “Abomunists vote against everyone by not voting for anyone.”) Both the Journal and Kaufman’s Manifesto were published by City Lights press, founded with the City Lights bookshop in San Francisco in the early 1950s by the poet and anarchist sympathizer Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Major anarchist poets writing in other languages included Pietro Gori in Italian; Ernst Toller and the Scottish-born John Henry Mackay in German; the Jewish worker-poet David Edelstadt in Yiddish; and Laurent Tailhade in French. Poetic anarchy was also the hallmark of French Surrealist poets such as Benjamin Péret, who fought in an anarchist brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

Anarchism’s creative writers also produced significant works of fiction. Under the influence of Looking Backward, 2000–1887 (1888), the best-selling socialist utopian novel by the American writer Edward Bellamy, many anarchists devised utopias of their own—notably Lois Waisbrooker, whose A Sex Revolution (1892) blended anarchism and feminism, and J. William Lloyd, whose The Natural Man: A Romance of the Golden Age (1902) prefigured the counterculture of the 1960s. Largely owing to criticism by Kropotkin and other anarchists, Bellamy’s Equality (1897), the sequel to Looking Backward, contained almost none of the earlier story’s statist elements.

The mysterious German-language writer known as B. Traven, author of The Cotton Pickers (1926) and many other novels, may well be the most widely read anarchist storyteller of the 20th century. His tales excoriate statist intrusions upon individual existence, from passports and other bureaucratic paperwork to mass mobilization for war. The Good Soldier Schweik (1920–23), by the Czech author Jaroslav Hašek, is a hilarious satire of military life and bureaucracy and a classic of world literature, as is The Family (1931), by the Chinese anarchist Ba Jin.

Basic anarchist ideas, such as mistrust of state power, also have appeared in works by more mainstream American authors, such as Nelson Algren (who described himself as “basically against government”), Joseph Heller, Ursula Le Guin, and Edward Abbey, whose comic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) inspired Earth First!, the anarchist-oriented environmental movement.

Theatre, film, and music
Emma Goldman’s The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914) popularized the work of Henrik Ibsen and other European playwrights for American readers and helped to inspire the experimental little theatre movement in the United States. The Studio Players, an anarchist theatre company led by Lillian Udell, performed worker-oriented plays at the Radical Bookshop in Chicago throughout the 1920s. More avant-garde was The Living Theatre, founded in New York City in 1947 by Julian Beck and Judith Malina, which spearheaded a resurgence of anarchist theatre in the 1960s. Anarchist street theatre, replete with costumes, giant puppets, and dramatic stunts, became a mainstay of large protest demonstrations, such as those against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in 1999.

An anarchist sensibility, characterized by ridicule of politicians, police, landlords, and other figures of authority, was evident early on in film in the work of Georges Méliès in France and in many American silent comedies of the 1910s and ’20s, such as Cops, by Buster Keaton. More explicitly revolutionary were The Golden Age (1930), by the Surrealist Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel—which provoked a riot and was promptly banned—and works by the French director Jean Vigo, especially Zero for Conduct (1933). In the 1930s and ’40s the film comedies of the French poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert ridiculed all authoritarian values. In the 1950s and ’60s the Greek filmmaker Adonis Kyrou, a collaborator on the Paris anarchist newspaper Libertaire, evoked the misery of war. Argentine-born Nelly Kaplan’s A Very Curious Girl (1969 (1969)—which Pablo Picasso described as “insolence considered as one of the fine arts”—and Néa (1976) are classics of feminist anarchism.

Anarchists also made music. In the 1910s and ’20s Rudolf von Liebich, music director of the Dil Pickle Club, composed songs and other music for the IWW. Avant-garde composer John Cage was an avowed anarchist. From the late 1970s many punk rock bands identified themselves with anarchy, and some—notably Crass and Chumbawumba in England and Fugazi in the United States—were actual anarchist collectives. Revolt and disrespect for authority were among their favourite themes. Anarchist critics and music historians also recognized a strong antiauthoritarian tradition in African American blues.

Painting, graphic art, and cartooning
Many major 20th-century painters, at one time or another, were active in the anarchist movement or acknowledged anarchism as a significant influence, including Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, and the Czech-born Marie Cermínová, known as Toyen, in France; Robert Henri, George Wesley Bellows, the Russian-born Max Weber, and Man Ray in the United States; Max Ernst in Germany; and Enrico Baj in Italy. Anarchist ideas affected all the major movements in painting—from the Ashcan School in the 1910s to Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s.

In the 1960s a new anarchist agitprop art began to flourish, largely inspired by Expressionism, Surrealism, and the work of the Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada. The Italian painter Flavio Costantini’s dramatic portrayals of anarchist history and the graphic art of Carlos Cortez, Eric Drooker, and Josh MacPhee in the United States and Clifford Harper in England were widely reproduced in anarchist magazines and as posters. Also striking are the imaginative collages of American artists Freddie Baer and James Koehnline.

Cartoons, always major weapons in the anarchist arsenal, were more prominent than ever in the movement’s press at the end of the 20th century. Satirical sketches by Roberto Ambrosoli in Italy and Tuli Kupferberg in the United States appeared throughout the world. England’s Freedom Press attracted many comic-strip artists, including Philip Sansom and German-born John Olday in the 1940s and later, from the 1960s through the 1990s, Arthur Moyse. Donald Rooum’s inventive series Wildcat was collected in several volumes.

Franklin Rosemont

Contemporary anarchism
After World War II, anarchist groups and federations reemerged in almost all countries where they had formerly flourished—the notable exceptions being Spain and the Soviet Union—but these organizations wielded little influence compared to that of the broader movement inspired by earlier ideas. This development is not surprising, since anarchists never stressed the need for organizational continuity, and the cluster of social and moral ideas that are identifiable as anarchism always spread beyond any clearly definable movement.

Anarchist ideas emerged in a wider frame of reference beginning with the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, which aimed to resist injustice through the tactic of civil disobedience. In the 1960s and ’70s a new radicalism took root among students and the left in general in the United States, Europe, and Japan, embracing a general criticism of “elitist” power structures and the materialist values of modern industrial societies—both capitalist and communist. For these radicals, who rejected the traditional parties of the left as strongly as they did the existing political structure, the appeal of anarchism was strong. The general anarchist outlook—with its emphasis on spontaneity, theoretical flexibility, simplicity of life, and the importance of love and anger as complementary and necessary components in both social and individual action—attracted those who opposed impersonal political institutions and the calculations of older parties. The anarchist rejection of the state, and the insistence on decentralism and local autonomy, found strong echoes among those who advocated participatory democracy. The anarchist insistence on direct action was reflected in calls for extraparliamentary action and violent confrontation by some student groups in France, the United States, and Japan. And the recurrence of the theme of workers’ control of industry in so many manifestos of the 1960s—especially during the student uprisings in Paris in May 1968—showed the enduring relevance of anarcho-syndicalist ideas.

Beginning in the 1970s, anarchism became a significant factor in the radical ecology movement in the United States and Europe. Anarchist ideas in works by the American novelist Edward Abbey, for example, inspired a generation of eco-anarchists in the United States, including the radical Earth First! organization, to protest urban sprawl and the destruction of old-growth forests. Much influential work in anarchist theory during this period and afterward, such as that of Murray Bookchin, was noteworthy for its argument that statism and capitalism were incompatible with environmental preservation.

Anarchists also took up issues related to feminism and developed a rich body of work, known as anarcha-feminism, that applied anarchist principles to the analysis of women’s oppression, arguing that the state is inherently patriarchal and that women’s experience as nurturers and care-givers reflects the anarchist ideals of mutuality and the rejection of hierarchy and authority.

The most prevalent current in anarchist thinking during the last two decades of the 20th century (at least in the United States) was an eclectic, countercultural mixture of theories reflecting a wide range of artistic, literary, political, and philosophical influences, including Dada, Surrealism, and Situationism; the writers of the Beat movement; the Frankfurt School of Marxist-oriented social and political philosophers—especially Herbert Marcuse—and post-structuralist and postmodern philosophy and literary theory, in particular the work of the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. Other influential figures were the American linguist and political writer Noam Chomsky, the Czech-born American writer and activist Fredy Perlman, and Hakim Bey and other writers associated with the anarchist publisher Autonomedia in New York City. African American anarchism, as represented in the writings of former Black Panther Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin in the late 1970s, was a major influence in the United States and in many other parts of the world.

Although some older varieties of anarchism, such as Proudhonian mutualism, had faded away by the end of the 20th century, others persisted, including the anarchist individualism of Warren, Spooner, and others in the United States and anarchist communism in Europe and Latin America. Anarcho-syndicalism remained a significant movement in Spain, France, Sweden, and parts of Africa and Latin America. As in the 1960s, anarchism continued to exert a strong appeal among students and young people, and a large percentage of those who considered themselves anarchists were in their teens and twenties. From the early 1970s the anarchist emblem consisting of a circled A was an established part of the iconography of global youth culture.

In 1999 anarchist-led demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle provoked wide media attention, as did later related protests against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The unprecedented publicity given to the anarchists’ explicitly revolutionary viewpoint inspired a proliferation of new anarchist groups, periodicals, and Internet sites. Anarchists were also a significant—and in some cases a predominating—influence in many other political movements, including campaigns against police brutality and capital punishment, the gay rights movement, and diverse movements promoting animal rights, vegetarianism, abortion rights, the abolition of prisons, the legalization of marijuana, and the abolition of automobiles.

At the beginning of the 21st century, no anarchist movement posed a serious threat to state power, and anarchists were no closer to achieving their dream of a society without government than they were a century before. Nevertheless, the perceived failure of governments to solve enduring social problems such as racial and gender inequality, poverty, environmental destruction, political corruption, and war increased the appeal of anarchist ideas among many groups. Young people in particular were attracted to the anarchist priorities of creativity and spontaneity—the importance of living the “new society” here and now rather than postponing it indefinitely until “after the Revolution.” For these people and many others around the world, anarchism remained an active and vibrant ferment of criticism, protest, and direct action.

George Woodcock
Martin A. Miller
Franklin Rosemont

Encyclopædia Britannica


A sympathetic engraving by Walter Crane of the executed
"Anarchists of Chicago" after the Haymarket affair.
The Haymarket affair is generally considered the most
significant event for the origin of international May Day observances
William Godwin

William Godwin, "the first to formulate the political and economical
conceptions of anarchism, even though he did not give that name
to the ideas developed in his work".
William Godwin, (born March 3, 1756, Wisbech, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, Eng.—died April 7, 1836, London), social philosopher, political journalist, and religious dissenter who anticipated the English Romantic literary movement with his writings advancing atheism, anarchism, and personal freedom.

William Godwin
  Godwin’s idealistic liberalism was based on the principle of the absolute sovereignty and competence of reason to determine right choice. An optimist regarding man’s future perfectibility, he combined cultural determinism with a doctrine of extreme individualism.

The object of his principal work, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793), was to reject conventional government by demonstrating the corrupting evil and tyranny inherent in its power of manipulation. He proposed in its place small self-subsisting communities.

He argued that social institutions fail because they impose on man generalized thought categories and preconceived ideas, which make it impossible to see things as they are.

It has been claimed that Godwin’s works laid the foundations for the mutually contradictory doctrines of communism and anarchy. In fact their germ, though undeveloped, is to be found in two separate elements in his thinking.

He advocated neither the abolition nor the “communalization” of property; property was to be held, a sacred trust, at the disposal of him whose need was greatest. His most powerful personal belief was that “everything understood by the term co-operation is in some sense an evil,” from which proceeded his most influential anarchic doctrines.

Among his other writings are The Enquirer (1797), a collection of essays; Of Population (1820), a reply to Thomas Malthus’s writings on the subject; Thoughts on Man: His Nature, Production, and Discoveries (1831); and his widely acclaimed ideological novel, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794).

Godwin was married in 1797 to Mary Wollstonecraft, who was the mother of his daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Encyclopædia Britannica
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Portrait of philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865)
by Gustave Courbet. Proudhon was the primary proponent
of anarchist mutualism, and influenced many later individualist
anarchist and social anarchist thinkers.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, (born January 15, 1809, Besançon, France—died January 19, 1865, Paris), French libertarian socialist and journalist whose doctrines became the basis for later radical and anarchist theory.

Early life and education
Proudhon was born into poverty as the son of a feckless cooper and tavern keeper, and at the age of nine he worked as a cowherd in the Jura Mountains. Proudhon’s country childhood and peasant ancestry influenced his ideas to the end of his life, and his vision of the ideal society almost to the end remained that of a world in which peasant farmers and small craftsmen like his father could live in freedom, peace, and dignified poverty, for luxury repelled him, and he never sought it for himself or others.

Proudhon at an early age showed the signs of intellectual brilliance, and he won a scholarship to the college at Besançon. Despite the humiliation of being a child in sabots (wooden shoes) among the sons of merchants, he developed a taste for learning and retained it even when his family’s financial disasters forced him to become an apprentice printer and later a compositor. While he learned his craft, he taught himself Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and in the printing shop he not only conversed with various local liberals and Socialists but also met and fell under the influence of a fellow citizen of Besançon, the utopian Socialist Charles Fourier.

With other young printers, Proudhon later attempted to establish his own press, but bad management destroyed the venture, and it may well have been compounded by his own growing interest in writing, which led him to develop a French prose difficult to translate but admired by writers as varied as Flaubert, Sainte-Beuve, and Baudelaire. Eventually, in 1838, a scholarship awarded by the Besançon Academy enabled him to study in Paris. Now, with leisure to formulate his ideas, he wrote his first significant book, Qu’est-ce que la propriété? (1840; What Is Property?, 1876). This created a sensation, for Proudhon not only declared, “I am an anarchist”; he also stated, “Property is theft!”

This slogan, which gained much notoriety, was an example of Proudhon’s inclination to attract attention and mask the true nature of his thought by inventing striking phrases. He did not attack property in the generally accepted sense but only the kind of property by which one man exploits the labour of another. Property in another sense—in the right of the farmer to possess the land he works and the craftsman his workshop and tools—he regarded as essential for the preservation of liberty, and his principal criticism of Communism, whether of the utopian or the Marxist variety, was that it destroyed freedom by taking away from the individual control over his means of production.

In the somewhat reactionary atmosphere of the July monarchy in the 1840s, Proudhon narrowly missed prosecution for his statements in What Is Property?; and he was brought into court when, in 1842, he published a more inflammatory sequel, Avertissement aux propriétaires (Warning to Proprietors, 1876). In this first of his trials, Proudhon escaped conviction because the jury conscientiously found that they could not clearly understand his arguments and therefore could not condemn them.

In 1843 he went to Lyon to work as managing clerk in a water transport firm. There he encountered a weavers’ secret society, the Mutualists, who had evolved a protoanarchist doctrine that taught that the factories of the dawning industrial age could be operated by associations of workers and that these workers, by economic action rather than by violent revolution, could transform society. Such views were at variance with the Jacobin revolutionary tradition in France, with its stress on political centralism. Nevertheless, Proudhon accepted their views and later paid tribute to his Lyonnais working-class mentors by adopting the name of Mutualism for his own form of anarchism.

Proudhon and his children, by Gustave Courbet, 1865

As well as encountering the obscure working-class theoreticians of Lyon, Proudhon also met the feminist Socialist Flora Tristan and, on his visits to Paris, made the acquaintance of Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, and the Russian Socialist and writer Aleksandr Herzen. In 1846 he took issue with Marx over the organization of the Socialist movement, objecting to Marx’s authoritarian and centralist ideas. Shortly afterward, when Proudhon published his Système des contradictions économiques, ou Philosophie de la misère (1846; System of Economic Contradictions: or, The Philosophy of Poverty, 1888), Marx attacked him bitterly in a book-length polemic La misère de la philosophie (1847; The Poverty of Philosophy, 1910). It was the beginning of a historic rift between libertarian and authoritarian Socialists and between anarchists and Marxists which, after Proudhon’s death, was to rend Socialism’s First International apart in the feud between Marx and Proudhon’s disciple Bakunin and which has lasted to this day.

Early in 1848 Proudhon abandoned his post in Lyon and went to Paris, where in February he started the paper Le Représentant du peuple. During the revolutionary year of 1848 and the first months of 1849 he edited a total of four papers; the earliest were more or less regular anarchist periodicals and all of them were destroyed in turn by government censorship. Proudhon himself took a minor part in the Revolution of 1848, which he regarded as devoid of any sound theoretical basis. Though he was elected to the Constituent Assembly of the Second Republic in June 1848, he confined himself mainly to criticizing the authoritarian tendencies that were emerging in the revolution and that led up to the dictatorship of Napoleon III. Proudhon also attempted unsuccessfully to establish a People’s Bank based on mutual credit and labour checks, which paid the worker according to the time expended on his product. He was eventually imprisoned in 1849 for criticizing Louis-Napoleon, who had become president of the republic prior to declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III, and Proudhon was not released until 1852.

His conditions of imprisonment were—by 20th-century standards—light. His friends could visit him, and he was allowed to go out occasionally in Paris. He married and begat his first child while he was imprisoned. From his cell he also edited the last issues of his last paper (with the financial assistance of Herzen) and wrote two of his most important books, the never translated Confessions d’un révolutionnaire (1849) and Idée générale de la révolution au XIXe siècle (1851; The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, 1923). The latter—in its portrait of a federal world society with frontiers abolished, national states eliminated, and authority decentralized among communes or locality associations, and with free contracts replacing laws—presents perhaps more completely than any other of Proudhon’s works the vision of his ideal society.

After Proudhon’s release from prison in 1852 he was constantly harassed by the imperial police; he found it impossible to publish his writings and supported himself by preparing anonymous guides for investors and other similar hack works. When, in 1858, he persuaded a publisher to bring out his three-volume masterpiece De la justice dans la Révolution et dans l’église, in which he opposed a humanist theory of justice to the church’s transcendental assumptions, his book was seized.

Having fled to Belgium, he was sentenced in absentia to further imprisonment. He remained in exile until 1862, developing his criticisms of nationalism and his ideas of world federation (embodied in Du Principe fédératif, 1863).

On his return to Paris, Proudhon began to gain influence among the workers; Paris craftsmen who had adopted his Mutualist ideas were among the founders of the First International just before his death in 1865. His last work, completed on his death bed, De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières (1865), developed the theory that the liberation of the workers must be their own task, through economic action.

Encyclopædia Britannica

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin, (born May 30 [May 18, Old Style], 1814, Premukhino, Russia—died July 1 [June 19], 1876, Bern, Switzerland), chief propagator of 19th-century anarchism, a prominent Russian revolutionary agitator, and a prolific political writer. His quarrel with Karl Marx split the anarchist and Marxist wings of the revolutionary socialist movement for many years after their deaths.


Nadar - Mikhail Bakunin, russian Anarchist.

Collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin opposed the Marxist aim of dictatorship of the proletariat in favour of universal rebellion, and allied himself with the federalists in the First International before his expulsion by the Marxists.
  Early life
Bakunin was the eldest son of a small landowner in the province of Tver. His lifetime of revolt began when he was sent to the Artillery School in St. Petersburg and later was posted to a military unit on the Polish frontier. In 1835 he absented himself without leave and resigned his commission, an action for which he narrowly escaped arrest for desertion. During the next five years he divided his time between Premukhino, where he plunged into the study of the German philosophers Johann Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Moscow, where he moved in the literary circles of the critic Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky, the novelist Ivan Turgenev, and the publicist Aleksandr Herzen. In 1840, with his opinions still in a fluid and turbulent state, he journeyed to Berlin to complete his education. There he fell under the spell of the Young Hegelians, the radical followers of Hegel.

After moving to Dresden, Bakunin published his first revolutionary credo in a radical journal in 1842, ending with a now-famous aphorism: “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion.” This brought him a peremptory order to return to Russia and, on his refusal, the loss of his passport. After brief periods in Switzerland and Belgium, Bakunin settled in Paris, where he consorted with French and German Socialists, including Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx, and numerous Polish émigrés who inspired him to combine the cause of the national liberation of the Slav peoples with that of social revolution.
The February Revolution of 1848 in Paris gave him his first taste of street fighting, and after a few days of eager participation he traveled eastward in the hope of fanning the flames of revolution in Germany and Poland. In Prague in June 1848, he attended the Slav congress, which ended when Austrian troops bombarded the city. Later that year, in the secure retreat of Anhalt-Köthen in Germany, he wrote his first major manifesto, An Appeal to the Slavs, in which he denounced the bourgeoisie as a spent counterrevolutionary force, called for the overthrow of the Habsburg Empire and the creation in central Europe of a free federation of Slav peoples, and counted on the peasant—especially the Russian peasant—with his tradition of violent revolt, as the agent of the coming revolution.

The young Mikhail Bakunin, illustrated in 1843.

  Tired of inaction, Bakunin once more plunged into revolutionary intrigues and, engaging in the Dresden insurrection of May 1849, was arrested. The Saxon authorities turned him over to Austria, where he was incarcerated and then transferred to Russia. There, in May 1851, he was back on Russian soil in the Peter-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. At the invitation of the chief of police he wrote an enigmatic Confession, which was not published until 1921. It consisted of expressions of repentance for misdeeds and abject appeals for mercy but also included some gestures of defiance, playing heavily on Bakunin’s devotion to the Slavs and hatred of the Germans—sentiments that were noted with interest and approval by the tsar.

Nevertheless, the work did not win Bakunin’s release, and he remained in the Peter-Paul Fortress for three years and in another fortress, the Schlisselburg, for three additional years, during which time his health deteriorated rapidly. In 1857 he was released to live in Siberia, where he contracted a marriage, which was not consummated, with the daughter of a Polish merchant. The governor of Eastern Siberia was a cousin of Bakunin’s mother, and it was probably through this connection that he obtained permission in 1861 to travel down the Amur, ostensibly on commercial business. Having reached the coast in a Russian ship, he transferred to an American vessel bound for Japan and traveled via the United States to Great Britain.
London and Marx
Bakunin’s arrival in London at the end of 1861 reunited him with Herzen, whom he had last seen in Paris in 1847 and who now occupied a preeminent position among Russian émigrés as editor of Kolokol (“The Bell”). Bakunin’s 14-month stay in London led to an irreparable rift with Herzen, who had shed some of the revolutionary ardour of his youth and had already crossed swords with the critic and novelist Nikolay Chernyshevsky and other extreme radicals of the rising Russian generation. Herzen now found Bakunin’s financial and political irresponsibility difficult to bear. When the Polish insurrection broke out early in 1863, Bakunin eagerly embarked with a shipload of Polish volunteers for the Baltic, though he got only as far as Sweden. At the beginning of 1864 he established himself in Italy, which became his residence for four years. While in Italy he framed the main outlines of the anarchist creed that he preached with unsystematic but unremitting vigour for the rest of his life. It was there, too, that he began to weave a complex network—part real, part fictitious—of interlocking secret revolutionary societies that absorbed his energies and bewildered the followers whom he enrolled in them.
The most famous episode of Bakunin’s later years was his quarrel with Marx. While living in Geneva in 1868, he joined the First International, a federation of working-class parties aimed at transforming the capitalist societies into socialist commonwealths and eventually unifying them in a world federation. At the same time, however, he enrolled his followers in a semisecret Social Democratic Alliance, which he conceived as a revolutionary avant-garde within the International. The First International was unable to contain both of the two powerful and incompatible personalities, and at a congress in 1872 at The Hague, Marx, by an intrigue that had little relation to the causes of the quarrel, secured the expulsion of Bakunin and his followers from the International. The resulting split in the revolutionary movement in Europe and the United States persisted for many years.

Two of Bakunin’s major writings, L’Empire knouto-germanique et la révolution sociale (1871; “The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution”) and Statism and Anarchy (1873), directly reflected his conflict with Marx. Bakunin was as uncompromising a revolutionary as Marx and never ceased to preach the overthrow of the existing order by violent means, but he rejected political control, centralization, and subordination to authority (while making an unconscious exception of his own authority within the movement). He denounced what he regarded as characteristically Germanic ways of thought and organization and championed instead the untutored spirit of revolt that he found embodied in the Russian peasant. Bakunin’s anarchism took final shape as the antithesis of Marx’s communism. Both personally and theoretically, Bakunin threatened all Marxists.

Bakunin speaking to members of the IWA at the Basel Congress in 1869
His belief that the first act of a revolutionary movement must be the abolition of the state appealed to rank-and-file revolutionaries, and his criticism of Marx’s readiness to maintain the state until socialism was achieved—until the state led to a bureaucratic tyranny that in turn would spur revolutionary change—proved all too prescient.

During his last years, which he spent in penury in Switzerland, Bakunin reverted to his preoccupation with central and eastern Europe. He was compromised by a short-lived enthusiasm for Sergey Gennadiyevich Nechayev, a young Russian nihilist who paraded his contempt for conventional morality and who achieved notoriety by murdering a fellow conspirator whom he suspected of intending to betray or desert the cause, a crime for which Nechayev was eventually extradited to Russia by the Swiss authorities. Bakunin consorted with Russian, Polish, Serb, and Romanian émigrés—among whom he found eager disciples—drafted proclamations, and planned revolutionary organizations. His health grew worse, and his financial embarrassments became ever more acute, and he was forced to depend on the bounty of a few Italian and Swiss friends.

Proudhon and Bakunin rank as the founders of 19th-century anarchism. Bakunin formulated no coherent body of doctrine, and his voluminous and vigorous writings were often left incomplete. However, his fame and personality inspired a large and widely dispersed following. Small anarchist groups existed in Great Britain, Switzerland, and Germany, though the powerful anarcho-syndicalist wing of the French trade unions owed more to Proudhon than to Bakunin. Anarchist movements owing allegiance to Bakunin continued to flourish in Italy and especially in Spain, where as late as 1936 the anarchists were the strongest revolutionary party.

Edward H. Carr
Alan Ryan

Encyclopædia Britannica


Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin
Kropotkin Peter Alekseyevich

Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin, (born December 21 [December 9, Old Style], 1842, Moscow, Russia—died February 8, 1921, Dmitrov, near Moscow), Russian revolutionary and geographer, the foremost theorist of the anarchist movement. Although he achieved renown in a number of different fields, ranging from geography and zoology to sociology and history, he shunned material success for the life of a revolutionist.

Early life and conversion to anarchism
The son of Prince Aleksey Petrovich Kropotkin, Peter Kropotkin was educated in the exclusive Corps of Pages in St. Petersburg. For a year he served as an aide to Tsar Alexander II and, from 1862 to 1867, as an army officer in Siberia, where, apart from his military duties, he studied animal life and engaged in geographic exploration. On the basis of his observations, he elaborated a theory of the structural lines of mountain ranges that revised the cartography of eastern Asia. He also contributed to knowledge of the glaciation of Asia and Europe during the Ice Age.

Kropotkin’s findings won him immediate recognition and opened the way to a distinguished scientific career. But in 1871 he refused the secretaryship of the Russian Geographical Society and, renouncing his aristocratic heritage, dedicated his life to the cause of social justice. During his Siberian service he already had begun his conversion to anarchism—the doctrine that all forms of government should be abolished—and in 1872 a visit to the Swiss watchmakers of the Jura Mountains, whose voluntary associations of mutual support won his admiration, reinforced his beliefs. On his return to Russia he joined a revolutionary group, the Chaiykovsky Circle, that disseminated propaganda among the workers and peasants of St. Petersburg and Moscow. At this time he wrote “Must We Occupy Ourselves with an Examination of the Ideal of a Future System?,” an anarchist analysis of a postrevolutionary order in which decentralized cooperative organizations would take over the functions normally performed by governments. Caught in a police dragnet, he was imprisoned in 1874 but made a sensational escape two years later, fleeing to western Europe, where his name soon became revered in radical circles. The next few years were spent mostly in Switzerland until he was expelled at the demand of the Russian government after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by revolutionaries in 1881. He moved to France but was arrested and imprisoned for three years on trumped-up charges of sedition. Released in 1886, he settled in England, where he remained until the Russian Revolution of 1917 allowed him to return to his native country.

Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin, 1864

Philosopher of revolution

During his long exile, Kropotkin wrote a series of influential works, the most important being “Paroles d’un révolté” (1885; “Words of a Rebel”), In Russian and French Prisons (1887), The Conquest of Bread (1892), Fields, Factories and Workshops (1899), Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899), Mutual Aid (1902), Russian Literature (1905), and The Great French Revolution 1789–1793 (1909). In recognition of his scholarship, Kropotkin was invited to write an article on anarchism for the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Kropotkin’s aim, as he often remarked, was to provide anarchism with a scientific basis. In Mutual Aid, which is widely regarded as his masterpiece, he argued that, despite the Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest, cooperation rather than conflict is the chief factor in the evolution of species. Providing abundant examples, he showed that sociability is a dominant feature at every level of the animal world. Among humans, too, he found that mutual aid has been the rule rather than the exception. He traced the evolution of voluntary cooperation from the primitive tribe, peasant village, and medieval commune to a variety of modern associations—trade unions, learned societies, the Red Cross—that have continued to practice mutual support despite the rise of the coercive bureaucratic state. The trend of modern history, he believed, was pointing back toward decentralized, nonpolitical, cooperative societies in which people could develop their creative faculties without interference from rulers, clerics, or soldiers.

In his theory of “anarchist communism,” according to which private property and unequal incomes would be replaced by the free distribution of goods and services, Kropotkin took a major step in the development of anarchist economic thought. For the principle of wages he substituted the principle of needs. Each person would be the judge of his own requirements, taking from the common storehouse whatever he deemed necessary, whether or not he contributed a share of the labour. Kropotkin envisioned a society in which people would do both manual and mental work, both in industry and in agriculture. Members of each cooperative community would work from their 20s to their 40s, four or five hours a day sufficing for a comfortable life, and the division of labour would yield a variety of pleasant jobs, resulting in the sort of integrated, organic existence that had prevailed in the medieval city.

To prepare people for this happier life, Kropotkin pinned his hopes on the education of the young. To achieve an integrated society, he called for education that would cultivate both mental and manual skills. Due emphasis was to be placed on the humanities and on mathematics and science, but, instead of being taught from books alone, children were to receive an active outdoor education and to learn by doing and observing firsthand, a recommendation that has been widely endorsed by modern educational theorists. Drawing on his own experience of prison life, Kropotkin also advocated a thorough modification of the penal system. Prisons, he said, were “schools of crime” that, far from reforming the offender, subjected him to brutalizing punishments and hardened him in his criminal ways. In the future anarchist world, antisocial behaviour would be dealt with not by laws and prisons but by human understanding and the moral pressure of the community.

Kropotkin combined the qualities of a scientist and moralist with those of a revolutionary organizer and propagandist. For all his mild benevolence, he condoned the use of violence in the struggle for freedom and equality, and, during his early years as an anarchist militant, he was among the most vigorous exponents of “propaganda by the deed”—acts of insurrection that would supplement oral and written propaganda and help to awaken the rebellious instincts of the people. He was the principal founder of both the English and Russian anarchist movements and exerted a strong influence on the movements in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. But he alienated many of his comrades by supporting the Allied powers during World War I. His action, though prompted by the fear that German authoritarianism might prove fatal to social progress, violated the strong antimilitarist tradition among anarchists and touched off bitter polemics that nearly destroyed the movement for which he had laboured nearly half a century.

Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin, circa1900


Return to Russia
Events took an unexpected turn with the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Kropotkin, by this time age 74, hastened to return to his homeland. When he arrived in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) in June 1917 after 40 years in exile, he was greeted warmly and offered the ministry of education in the provisional government, a post he brusquely declined. Yet his hopes for the future were never brighter, because in 1917 the organizations that he thought might form the basis of a stateless society—the communes and soviets, or soldiers’ and workers’ councils—suddenly began to appear in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

With the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, however, his earlier enthusiasm turned to bitter disappointment. “This buries the revolution,” he remarked to a friend. The Bolsheviks, he said, have shown how the revolution was not to be made—that is, by authoritarian rather than libertarian methods. Kropotkin’s last years were devoted chiefly to writing a history of ethics, one volume of which was completed. He also fostered an anarchist cooperative in the village of Dmitrov, north of Moscow, where he died in 1921. His funeral, attended by tens of thousands of admirers, was the last occasion in the Soviet era when the black flag of anarchism was paraded through the Russian capital.

Kropotkin’s life exemplified the high ethical standard and the combination of thought and action that he preached throughout his writings. He displayed none of the egotism, duplicity, or lust for power that marred the image of so many other revolutionaries. Because of this he was admired not only by his own comrades but by many for whom the label of anarchist meant little more than the dagger and the bomb. The French writer Romain Rolland said that Kropotkin lived what Leo Tolstoy only advocated, and Oscar Wilde called him one of the two really happy men he had known.

Paul Avrich
Martin A. Miller

Encyclopædia Britannica