let it all collapse, the icon for the www.punkerslut.com website
Home Articles Critiques Books Video
About Graphics CopyLeft Links Music

The School of Thought
Known as
Social Anarchism

A Unique Approach to
Liberty and Society

By Punkerslut

By Punkerslud, Based on Concepts by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer in 'The Floodgates of Anarchy'
Image: By Punkerslut,
Based on Concepts by
Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer
in 'The Floodgates of Anarchy'

Start Date: February 26, 2010
Finish Date: February 26, 2010

Introduction to the Philosophy of Social Anarchism

"It is the private dominion over things that condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities, living corpses without originality or power of initiative, human machines of flesh and blood, who pile up mountains of wealth for others and pay for it with a gray, dull and wretched existence for themselves."
          --Emma Goldman, 1908
          "What I Believe," New York World

     Anarchism is a philosophy that is based on rejecting official positions and absolutes about human, social organization. Following from this, there are naturally many forms and styles of Anarchism. Each form of anarchy wants to abolish the state and to make every person their own self-ruling master. But there are individualist and capitalist forms, as well as some based on communism and workers' self-management.

     Social Anarchism is a broad region of social and economic thought that encompasses several different styles. The phrase Social is attached to the title, because it indicates an anti-state ideal that wants to replace the world with a more social humanity. The abolishment of government isn't going to mean that people will interact less, that they'll become completely independent and self-reliant for absolutely everything. The end of governors and rulers is going to mean people working together, and forming cooperative organizations to satisfy their needs in a voluntary and collective fashion.

     By mutual and reciprocal relationships, the people will be able to provide community defense, free education, scientific development, and all of their own needs. Our social and cooperative instincts will take over any responsibilities that the state claimed to be watching over. Social Anarchism, then, includes many philosophies; as long as they advocate overthrowing the government, and replacing it with a voluntary, social organization. This ethic of social and cooperative organizing tends to come with the Anti-Capitalist idea.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the founder of Anarcho-Mutualism
Image: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon,
the founder of Anarcho-Mutualism

Anarcho-Mutualism, or "Mutualist Anarchism"

"The purchaser draws boundaries, fences himself in, and says, 'This is mine; each one by himself, each one for himself.' Here, then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has a right to step, save the proprietor and his friends; which can benefit nobody, save the proprietor and his servants. Let these sales multiply, and soon the people who have been neither able nor willing to sell, and who have received none of the proceeds of the sale will have nowhere to rest, no place of shelter, no ground to till. They will die of hunger at the proprietor's door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright; and the proprietor, watching them die, will exclaim, 'So perish idlers and vagrants!'"
          --Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1840
          "What is Property?" Chapter 3

     The first person to call themself an "Anarchist" was the French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. [*1] And, only after some years, he adopted the title "Federalist" in 1848. [*2] However, Proudhon's philosophy of Mutualism still receives some interest and attention in alternative, economic circles. In the mainstream, it is entirely forgotten.

     Mutualism as an economic theory -- it is the new form that Proudhon was going to use to replace the functions of the state. Private property was maintained, and you were entirely allowed to own as many castles as you wanted. The market economy, too, was kept free and unregulated. [*3] But, there was a heavy restriction placed on this ownership. There was a central bank, that set prices, so that no producer or manufacturer could exploit merchants or laborers. [*4] This is where the Mutual in Mutualism comes from.

     No longer could an employer pay their laborers subsistence wages, since all of the currency was controlled by a bank which guaranteed mutual, economic relationships. This is how Capitalism and private property can be curbed in their evils: profit is abolished, and while people can freely enter into contracts, the central bank sets prices.

     Mutualism was the first theory of Social Anarchism, because it developed a plan for how people can live without government. It provided a way to maintain the benefits of civilized society, while living without authority, domination, or exploitation. But there are still proprietors and the dispossessed. The decisions on how land is used is still up to those who have the property rights to it. There were certainly many faults with Anarcho-Mutualism, and this is why many Anarchist Revolutions would occur under different banners. But, the idea and the form of Anarcho-Mutualism is essential to anyone who wants to truly understand Anarchism.

Mikhail Bakunin, the founder of Anarcho-Collectivism
Image: Mikhail Bakunin,
the founder of Anarcho-Collectivism

Anarcho-Collectivism, or "Collectivist Anarchism"

"Slavery can change its form and its name--its basis remains the same. This basis is expressed by the words: being a slave is being forced to work for other people--as being a master is to live on the labour of other people. In ancient times, as to-day in Asia and Africa, slaves were simply called slaves. In the Middle Ages, they took the name of 'serfs', to-day they are called 'wage-earners'. The position of these latter is much more honourable and less hard than that of slaves, but they are none the less forced by hunger as well as by the political and social institutions, to maintain by very hard work the absolute or relative idleness of others. Consequently, they are slaves. And, in general, no State, either anacient or modern, has ever been able, or ever will be able to do without the forced labour of the masses, whether wage-earners or slaves, as a principal and absolutely necessary basis of the liberty and culture of the political class: the citizens."
          --Mikhail Bakunin, ~1870's
          "Marxism, Freedom, and the State," Chapter 3

     The father of Anarcho-Collectivism, Mikhail Bakunin, had met Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in Dresden, Germany, in 1844. There they exchanged political ideas, while Bakunin became educated on economics. These two Anarchists also had some provocative conversations with a person whose name is synonymous with Statism: Karl Marx. [*5] Both Marx and Bakunin had spent years opposing each other's ideas at the First International Workingmen's Association. Marx responded to the dissent of opinion: Bakunin and his followers were expelled in 1872. [*6]

     Collectivism has a more radical approach to economic organization than Mutualism. In the Collectivist economy, every worker is also the owner and manager of their tools. Factories are collectively and managed operated by the assembly line workers, just as the mines are organized and regulated by the miners themselves. It is not enough to have a central bank that guarantees fair prices and an end to exploitation, as Mutualism suggests. The workers themselves must be in control of the industries and the businesses. This is the only way to guarantee that there will be work enough for all, that the land is managed for the interest of the people, and that no longer can there be poverty generated by monopoly.

     The only way to guarantee economic independence is for everyone to be their own master of their tools. Otherwise, those who possess will rent their tools to others, on the condition that they can extract a profit out of them -- on the condition that it is only to rent, and that the owner can withdraw their property when "risk" comes about, sending the worker into unemployment and poverty. Real independence, within a highly socialized civilization, means everyone having equal access to our productive forces. It is the only way to prevent exploitation or economic domination.

     James Guillaume was one of the early followers of Bakunin, who had also contributed significant ideas about Collectivist theory. In his essay Ideas on Social Organization, published 1876, he wrote, "...it is evident that collective labor is imposed by the very nature of the work and, since the tools of labor are no longer simple individual tools but machines that must be tended by many workers, the machines must also be collectively owned..." [*7]

Peter Kropotkin, the Great Advocate of Anarcho-Communism
Image: Peter Kropotkin,
the Great Advocate of Anarcho-Communism

Anarcho-Communism, or "Communist Anarchism"

"The coming Revolution can render no greater service to humanity than to make the wage system, in all its forms, an impossibility, and to render Communism, which is the negation of wage-slavery, the only possible solution."
          --Peter Kropotkin, 1892
          "The Conquest of Bread," Chapter 5, Part III

     There have always been communal forms of human organization, going back thousands of years, such as the Essene people. [*8] The idea of Communism comes from Karl Marx, the person to coin the phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." [*9] But Marx's idea of communal living required a controlling, coercive, and top-down government. Communism, according to the Marxist ideas, could only be accomplished by an unquestionable authority governing every aspect of society.

     Some of the earliest advocates of Anarchist-Communism were admirers and friends of Bakunin at the First International. Such individuals included Errico Malatesta, Carlo Cafiero, Emilio Covelli, and Andrea Costa. [*10] The most significant figures of this train of thought, though, include Emma Goldman, as well as Peter Kropotkin, for his contributions in the Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops.

     Unlike other strains of Anarchism, Anarcho-Communism has been the driving force of revolutions that have abolished government. In Catalonia, the ideas of Libertarian Communism were tried out on a massive scale. [*11] Anarcho-Capitalism and Anarcho-Individualism can only call themselves literary and social movements. They have not been able to lead the people in overthrowing the state and creating anarchy.

     The economic organization of the Communist model is more simplified than Collectivism. Instead of wages being distributed for contribution, everyone has an equal right to every job and to its productions. The products of labor are not owned directly by the laborer, but by the community. Arguments against such a theory suggest that this will lead to lack of ambition -- that geniuses would choose mopping floors because it was easier than developing Calculus-based Physics, and people might decide to hoard or waste their commodities. Some Social Anarchists regard it as the ultimate destination of humanity, while other Social Anarchists consider it unrealistic in interpreting human nature.

Rudolf Rocker, the Theorist of Anarcho-Syndicalism
Image: Rudolf Rocker,
the Theorist of Anarcho-Syndicalism,
from Anarchists & Left-Libertarians Image Archive,
published by Flag.Blackened.Net

Anarcho-Syndicalism, or "Syndicalist Anarchism"

"... according to the Unionist's view, the trade unions are the unified organization of labour and have for their purpose the defence of the producers within the existing society and the preparing for and practical carrying out of the reconstruction of social life in the direction of Socialism. They have, therefore, a double purpose: 1. To enforce the demands of the producers for the safeguarding and raising of their standard of living; 2. To acquaint the workers with the technical management of production and economic life in general and prepare them to take the socio-economic organism into their own hands and shape it according to socialist principles."
          --Rudolf Rocker, ~ Middle 1900's
          "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism,"
          Section: "The Role of the Trade Unions: Anarcho-Syndicalist View"

     Within the ideals of Anarcho-Collectivism and Anarcho-Communism, interesting models are set up for dealing with peoples' social needs in the new world. However, there is no real unified opinion on achieving that world. Some Anarchists had adopted insurrectionary revolution as the best means, organizing the people in arms to overthrow the state and capitalism violently. Such thinkers include Johann Most, the advocate of "propaganda of the deed." Peter Kropotkin was more optimistic, believing that people would spontaneously form the new society when the old world was suffering a crisis. [*12]

     Anarcho-Syndicalism was developed as a method and a tool of revolution. According to the philosophy of Anarchism, authority is an inherent evil. The authority of economy, the Capitalist class, create poverty and force the many to work for miserable pay. If there is going to be a revolution, that creates a world organized from the bottom to the top, the revolution itself must demonstrate these characters. Our Anarchist Revolution must be organized by the people themselves, those who are going to be improved by the abolishment of Capitalism and the state. By preparing the workers for a General Strike, that pulls all the energy and power out of the structure of authority, we are preparing the people themselves to overthrow government and privilege.

     Anarcho-Syndicalism is neither Collectivist nor Communist. It is a form for resisting Capitalism and the state. When there is no longer any rule or law, there will be only anarchy. The people, organized into unions and federations of unions, will be in a situation where they can start managing society immediately. They have possession of the tools of industry, and the people are already organized according to their profession and place of work. The new world can start producing and feeding the people without missing a beat. And, the new, reconstruction of society based on Socialism can start: councils can be formed for road plans, construction of housing, where to dig new mines or place new buildings.

     Revolutionary Syndicalism is the last, major development in Social Anarchism. It considers every person as a worker, since everyone needs to labor to live. And by understanding people for their needs, how they live and rely on each other for trade and labor, we can develop the most social system -- we can make the world that most sufficiently defends and advances the interests of the individual.

'Being an Anarchist Means Becoming an Individual' from PeaceLibertad Blog
Image: From PeaceLibertad Blog,
"Anarchia" Gallery

Similarities, Differences

"Abolition of private property in land, in raw materials and the instruments of labour, so that no one shall have the means of living by the exploitation of the labour of others, and that everybody, being assured of the means to produce and to live, shall be truly independent and in a position to unite freely among themselves for a common objective and according to their personal sympathies."
          --Errico Malatesta
          "Anarchist Propaganda"

     All anarchist philosophy develops with the individual as having their own interests and their own goals -- important to themself, in a way that may not always reach other people. But in human society, we need each other to live, and existence outside of this arrangement would be unbearable. Social Anarchism is an attempt to create a harmony between people, where everyone can still benefit from their relationship with each other -- without anyone's individual interests being compromised or threatened. This was the intention of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in creating Anarcho-Mutualism, just as it was the intention of Rudolf Rocker in outlining Anarcho-Syndicalism.

     Just as we are always evolving as a species, we are always evolving as a society. And the best means and methods for approaching social justice will have to change, too, if we wish to succeed. Perhaps not any one of these theories alone will bring us to the Social Revolution -- but they each have something valuable to offer those societies that are fighting for freedom.

"Underpinning these visions of Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin was a communalist ethic -- mutualist in Proudhon, collectivist in Bakunin, and communist in Kropotkin -- that corresponds to a sense of civic virtue and commitment."
          --Murray Bookchin, 1994
          "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism"



*1. "Anarchism", BBC Radio 4 program, In Our Time, Thursday 7 December 2006. Hosted by Melvyn Bragg of the BBC, with John Keane, Professor of Politics at University of Westminster, Ruth Kinna, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Loughborough University, and Peter Marshall, philosopher and historian.
*2. Binkley, Robert C. Realism and Nationalism 1852-1871. Read Books. p. 118.
*3. Mutualist.Org: Free Market Anti-Capitalism, Introduction, Mutualist.org.
*4. Miller, David. 1987. "Mutualism." The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Blackwell Publishing. p. 11.
*5. "Recollections on Marx and Engels," 1869 - 71, Bakunin on Anarchy, p. 25-6 (by James Guillaume), George Allen & Unwin Ltd, UK, 1971, Marxists.org.
*6. "The Philosophical Roots of the Marx-Bakunin Conflict," by Ann Robertson, First Published: What's Next, December 2003; Marxists.org.
*7. "Ideas on Social Organization," by James Guillaume, 1876, section III; Marxists.org.
*8. Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.127, resource from Wikipedia.
*9. "Critique of the Gotha Program," by Karl Marx, Part I, 1875.
*10. Nunzio Pernicone, "Italian Anarchism 1864 - 1892", pp. 111-113, AK Press 2009, resource from Wikipedia.
*11. See "Workers' Power and the Spanish Revolution," by Tom Wetzel; Uncanny.net.
*12. "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropoktin, chapter 12, part III.

join the punkerslut.com
mailing list!

copyleft notice and
responsibility disclaimer