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anarchism without adjectives

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Anarchism without adjectives in the words of historian George Richard Esenwein, "referred to an unhyphenated form of anarchism, that is, a doctrine without any qualifying labels such as communist, collectivist, mutualist, or individualist. For others, . . . [it] was simply understood as an attitude that tolerated the coexistence of different anarchist schools." [Anarchist Ideology and the Working Class Movement in Spain, 1868-1898, p. 135] One of the more popular tendencies in contemporary American anarchism.


The originator of the expression was Cuban-born Fernando Tarrida del Marmol, who used it in November 1889, in Barcelona. He directed his comments towards the communist and collectivist anarchists in Spain, who at the time were having an intense debate over the merits of their two theories. Anarchism without adjectives was an attempt to show greater tolerance between anarchist tendencies and to be clear that anarchists should not impose a preconceived economic plan on anyone -- even in theory. Anarchists without adjectives tended either to reject all particular anarchist economic models as faulty, or take a pluralist position of embracing them all to a limited degree in order that they may keep one another in check. Regardless, to these anarchists the economic preferences are considered to be of "secondary importance" to abolishing all authority, with free experimentation the one rule of a free society.


The theoretical perspective known as "anarquismo sin adjetivos" was one of the by-products of an intense debate within the movement of anarchism itself. The roots of the argument can be found in the development of anarcho-communism after Bakunin's death in 1876. While not entirely dissimilar to collectivist anarchism (as can be seen from James Guillaume's famous work "On Building the New Social Order" within Bakunin on Anarchism, the collectivists did see their economic system evolving into free communism), Communist Anarchists developed, deepened and enriched Bakunin's work just as Bakunin had developed, deepened and enriched Proudhon's. Communist Anarchism was associated with such anarchists as Élisée Reclus, Carlo Cafiero, Errico Malatesta and (most famously) Peter Kropotkin.

Anarcho-communist ideas replaced Collectivist Anarchism as the main anarchist tendency in Europe, except in Spain. Here the major issue was not the question of communism (although for Ricardo Mella this played a part) but a question of the modification of strategy and tactics implied by Communist Anarchism. At this time (the 1880s), the anarcho-communists stressed local cells of anarchist militants, generally opposed trade unionism as were characterized by a degree of anti-organisation. Unsurprisingly, such a change in strategy and tactics came in for a lot of discussion from the Spanish Collectivists who strongly supported working class organisation and struggle.

This conflict soon spread outside of Spain and the discussion found its way into the pages of La Revolte in Paris. This provoked many anarchists to agree with Malatesta's argument that "[i]t is not right for us, to say the least, to fall into strife over mere hypotheses." [quoted by Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, pp. 198-9] Over time, most anarchists agreed (to use Nettlau's words) that "we cannot foresee the economic development of the future" [Op. Cit., p. 201] and so started to stress what they had in common, rather than the different visions of how a free society would operate. As time progressed, most anarcho-communists saw that ignoring the labour movement ensured that their ideas did not reach the working class while most anarcho-communists stressed their commitment to communist ideals and their arrival sooner, rather than later, after a revolution.

Similarly, in the United States, there was an intense debate at the same time between Individualist and Communist anarchists. There, Benjamin Tucker was arguing that anarcho-communists were not anarchists while Johann Most was saying similar things about Tucker's ideas. Just as people like Mella and Tarrida put forward the idea of tolerance between anarchist groups, so anarchists like Voltairine de Cleyre "came to label herself simply 'Anarchist,' and called like Malatesta for an 'Anarchism without Adjectives,' since in the absence of government many different experiments would probably be tried in various localities in order to determine the most appropriate form." [Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 393]

These debates had a lasting impact on the anarchist movement, with such noted anarchists as de Cleyre, Malatesta, Nettlau and Reclus adopting the tolerant perspective that is embodied in the expression "anarchism without adjectives".


Many contemporary anarchists identify themselves as "anarchists without adjectives." This tendency is similar to the practice of many anarchists to eschew labels of any kind. The ideas of this tendency roughly follow the ideas behind small "a" anarchism described by Dave Neal and others.

Prominent "anarchists without adjectives"[edit]

While a great number of anarchists could be said to fall under the category of anarchists without adjectives to one degree or another, those expressly advocating the title include:

Further reading[edit]

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