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History of anarchism

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Christian anarchism
collectivist anarchism
egoist anarchism
green anarchism
individualist anarchism

Anarchism in culture

anarchism and religion
anarchism and society
anarchism and the arts
criticisms of anarchism
history of anarchism

Anarchist theory

origins of anarchism
anarchist economics
anarchism and capitalism
anarchism and Marxism
anarchism w/o adjectives
anarchist symbolism
propaganda of the deed
post-left anarchy

Anarchism by region

anarchism in Africa
anarchism in Americas
anarchism in Asia
anarchism in Europe
anarchism in Oceania

Associated concepts

anomie, anti-racist action
autonomism, black blocs
Copwatch, Consensus
Diggers, DIY
direct democracy
Indymedia, infoshops
squatting, wikis

Relevant lists

Anarchists | Books
Communities | Concepts

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

Precursors of anarchism[edit]

Taoism, which developed in Ancient China, has been embraced by some anarchists as a source of anarchistic attitudes.[1] Similarly, in the West, anarchistic tendencies can be traced to the philosophers of Ancient Greece, such as Zeno, the founder of the Stoic philosophy, and Aristippus, who said that the wise should not give up their liberty to the state.[2] Later movements — such as the Free Spirit in the Middle Ages, the Anabaptists, the Diggers and the Levellers — have also expounded ideas that have been interpreted as anarchist.

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

Ancient Greece also saw the first Western instance of anarchism as a philosophical ideal, in the form of the stoic philosopher Zeno of Citium, who was, according to Kropotkin, "[t]he best exponent of Anarchist philosophy in ancient Greece". As summarized by Kropotkin, Zeno "repudiated the omnipotence of the state, its intervention and regimentation, and proclaimed the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual". Within Greek philosophy, Zeno's vision of a free community without government is opposed to the state-Utopia of Plato's Republic. Zeno argued that although the necessary instinct of self-preservation leads humans to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct — sociability. Like many modern anarchists, he believed that if people follow their instincts, they will have no need of law courts or police, no temples and no public worship, and use no money (free gifts taking the place of the exchanges). Zeno's beliefs have only reached us as fragmentary quotations.[3]

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

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

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

Gerrard Winstanley, who published a pamphlet calling for communal ownership and social and economic organization in small agrarian communities in the 17th century, is considered one of the forerunners of modern anarchism. The first modern author to have published a treatise explicitly advocating the absence of government was William Godwin in An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793); though he did not use the word anarchism, he is today regarded by some as the "founder of philosophical anarchism" as a derogatory term against the Left, but Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, adopted the term to describe his political philosophy in the 1840s.[4]

Liberals were often labeled "anarchists" by monarchists, even though they did not call for the abolition of hierarchy. Still, they did promote the idea of human equality, individual rights, and the responsibility of the people to judge their governments, which provided a groundwork for the development of anarchist thought. As American political society developed along the liberal model, anarchist thoughts were expressed in the writings of Henry David Thoreau (Civil Disobedience). Like him, some classic liberals who become radicals are considered part of the libertarian socialist tradition.

Anarcho-capitalism arose later as some liberals attempted to reform the ideology of anarchism to make it compatible with capitalism. Many anarchists, however, consider anarcho-capitalism an oxymoron, arguing that capitalism is a hierarchal system that violates the non-hierarchal tenets of anarchist philosophy.

Modern anarchism[edit]

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

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

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

Mikhail Bakunin saw a need to defend the working class against oppression and overthrow the ruling class as a means to dissolve the state. Peter Kropotkin's anarchist communism developed from his study of zoology and evolution in which he concluded that co-operation far surpasses competition in its importance to the survival of species. He published these conclusions and his critiques of the then emerging ideas of Social Darwinism in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902).

Some revolutionaries of this time encouraged acts of violence such as sabotage or even assassination of heads of state to further spark a revolution. However, these actions were regarded by many anarchists as counter-productive or ineffective (see "Violence and non-violence", below).

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

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

Emma Goldman was a very influential anarchist and feminist during this period. She traveled around the country and the world spreading anarchist ideas and attempting to live out an anarchist life.

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

In Europe, in the first quarter of the 20th century anarchist movements achieved relative, if short-lived, successes and were violently repressed by states. However, in the 1920s and 1930s the conflict between anarchism and the state was eclipsed by the one among liberal democracy, fascism and communism, which ended with the defeat of fascism in World War II. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), which many consider a prelude to World War II, a widely popular anarchist movement supported by militias loyal to the republic took control of rural areas of north-east Spain in 19361937 and collectivized the land, being crushed in short order by the Communist-controlled republican army.

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

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

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

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

Anarchism today[edit]

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

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

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

Historical examples of societies successfully organized according to anarchist principles[edit]

In recent history there have been numerous instances of collapse of state authority, sometimes prompted by war but also often due to implosion of the state. In some cases, state collapse is followed by lawlessness, rioting, looting and, if disarray lasts long enough, eventually warlordism; present-day Somalia is often used as one such example. Although such societies are often described as anarchy, they are not organised according to anarchist principles.

However, there are instances in which a society peacefully organizes itself without a government or other form of centralised power, along philosophical anarchist lines. A functioning anarchy would then be a society maintaining stability and civil society without hierarchies. There are some examples, usually small and/or short-lived (many were overrun by outside forces), which are considered successful anarchies in this sense.

Spanish revolution (1936–1939)[edit]

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

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

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

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

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


Freetown Christiania is a quarter of Copenhagen that became independent and self-governing in the 1970s after an anarchist commune took over army barracks in the center of the city. While in theory governed by the laws of Denmark, it is left alone by the authorities. For a third of a century, this self-described social experiment has successfully resolved conflicts threatening its continued existence, arising both internally and from the Danish state. However, it is alleged that Christiania derives income from the sale of illegal drugs such as Hashish and Marijuana to non-residents. This has created problems for the community, notably between supporters and opponents of recreational drug use.

Examples of organizations with anarchist qualities[edit]

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

Hungarian Revolution (1956)[edit]

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

Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities[edit]

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

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

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

Argentina (2001–present)[edit]

After the non-violent collapse of the Argentinean government in 2001/2002, the social and economic organization of Argentina has undergone major changes, though how important these changes are remains to be seen. Worker occupations of factories and popular assemblies have both been seen functioning in Argentina, and both are the kind of action endorsed by anarchists: the first is a case of direct action and the latter a case of direct democracy. An alternate description by the CIA of present-day Argentinean politics is available here.[5] Approximately 200 "recovered" factories (fábricas recuperadas) are now self-managed and collectively owned by workers. In the large majority of them, pay is completely egalitarian; generally no professional managers are employed, or managers are collectively controlled in the other cases. These co-operatives have organised themselves into networks. Solidarity and support from external groups such as neighborhood assemblies and unemployed (piquetero) groups have often been important for the survival of these factories. Similar developments have taken place in Brazil and Uruguay.[6] In 2004, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein (author of No Logo) released the documentary The Take, which is about these events.

Free Software Movement[edit]

The Free Software movement is an example of anarchist characteristics. The nature of the GPL which is the most widely used Free Software license in the world and most all Open Source licenses is such that there is a collective sharing of resources (in this case, source code) between all developers, thus putting into practice the theories behind social anarchists' perspective on private property and economic organization.


Although not an anarchist project, some have pointed out that Wikipedia has many anarchist qualities: Wikipedians co-operate freely for their own benefit as well as the benefit of all (mutual aid), it is self-managed in large part, and the use of a copyleft licence restricts private property rights and guarantees public use.[7]

External Links[edit]


  1., "Taoism & Anarchism," April 14, 2002 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  2. ^ Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchism," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  3. ^ Ibid
  4. ^ Mark Philp, "William Godwin," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  5. ^ CIA, "Argentina," The World Factbook (accessed June 6, 2005).
  6. ^ Raúl Zibechi, "Worker-Run Factories: From Survival to Economic Solidarity," Citizen Action in the Americas, no. 12, August 2004 (accessed June 6, 2005).
  7. ^ yozzee, "Wikipedia—Anarchy in Action?," July 12, 2004 (accessed June 6, 2005).

See also[edit]

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