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Basic forms of Government
Source of power
Democracy (rule by many)
Oligarchy (rule by few)
Autocracy (rule by one)
Anarchism (rule by none)
Power ideology
Monarchy - Republic
Authoritarian - Libertarian
Religious - Secular
Global - Local
Power structure
International relations
Administrative division

Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that is skeptical of all justifications for authority and seeks to abolish the institutions it claims maintain unnecessary coercion and hierarchy, typically including, though not necessarily limited to, governments, nation states, and capitalism. Anarchism advocates for the replacement of the state with stateless societies or other forms of free associations. As a historically left-wing movement, usually placed on the farthest left of the political spectrum, it is usually described alongside communalism and libertarian Marxism as the libertarian wing (libertarian socialism) of the socialist movement.

Anarchists argue that humans lived in societies without formal hierarchies long before the establishment of formal states, realms, or empires. With the rise of organized hierarchical bodies, scepticism toward authority also rose. Although traces of anarchist thought are found throughout history, modern anarchism emerged from the Enlightenment. During the latter half of the 19th and the first decades of the twentieth century, the anarchist movement flourished in most parts of the world and had a significant role in workers' struggles for emancipation. Various anarchist schools of thought formed during this period. Anarchists have taken part in several revolutions, most notably in the Paris Commune, the Russian Civil War and the Spanish Civil War, whose end marked the conclusion of the classical era of anarchism. In the last decades of the 20th and into the twenty-first century, the anarchist movement has been resurgent once more, growing in popularity and influence within anti-capitalist, anti-war and anti-globalization movements.

Anarchism employs a diversity of tactics in order to meet its ideal ends which can be broadly separated into revolutionary and evolutionary tactics. Revolutionary tactics aim to bring down authority and state, having taken a violent turn in the past, while evolutionary tactics aim to prefigure what an anarchist society would be like.

Etymology, terminology, and definition


Anarchy symbol
Wilhelm Weitling is an example of a writer who added to anarchist theory without using the exact term.[1]

The etymological origin of anarchism is from the Ancient Greek anarkhia, meaning "without a ruler," composed of the prefix an- ("without") and the word arkhos ("leader" or "ruler"). The suffix -ism denotes the ideological current that favors anarchy.[2] Anarchism appears in English from 1642 as anarchisme and anarchy from 1539. Early English usages emphasized a sense of disorder.[3] Various factions within the French Revolution labeled their opponents as anarchists, although few such accused shared many views with later anarchists. Many revolutionaries of the nineteenth century, such as William Godwin (1756–1836) and Wilhelm Weitling (1808–1871), would contribute to the anarchist doctrines of the next generation but did not use anarchist or anarchism in describing themselves or their beliefs.[4]


The first political philosopher to call himself an anarchist (French: anarchiste) was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), marking the formal birth of anarchism in the mid-nineteenth century. Since the 1890s and beginning in France,[5] libertarianism has often been used as a synonym for anarchism.[6] and its use as a synonym is still common outside the United States.[7] Some usages of libertarianism refer to individualistic free-market philosophy only, and free-market anarchism in particular is termed libertarian anarchism.[8]

There is no consensus on what the term means. While the term libertarian has been largely synonymous with anarchism, [9] its meaning has more recently been altered by wider adoption from ideologically disparate groups, including both the New Left and libertarian Marxists, who do not associate themselves with authoritarian socialists or a vanguard party, and extreme cultural liberals, who are primarily concerned with civil liberties. Additionally, some anarchists use libertarian socialist [10] to avoid anarchism's negative connotations and emphasize its connections with socialism.

Ties to Socialism

Anarchism is broadly used to describe the anti-authoritarian wing of the socialist movement.[11]Anarchist historian Daniel Guérin described it as a synonym for libertarian socialism, and wrote that anarchism "is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man. Anarchism is only one of the streams of socialist thought, that stream whose main components are concern for liberty and haste to abolish the State."[6] In his many works on anarchism, such as Chomsky on Anarchism (2005),[10] Noam Chomsky describes anarchism, alongside libertarian Marxism, as the libertarian wing of socialism.[12]

Anarchism is contrasted to socialist forms which are state-oriented or from above.[13] Scholars of anarchism generally highlight anarchism's socialist credentials[14] and criticize attempts at creating dichotomies between the two.[15] while most scholars reject anarcho-capitalism as a misunderstanding of anarchist principles.[16] [Herbert L. Osgood]] claimed that anarchism is "the extreme antithesis" of authoritarian communism and state socialism.[13] Peter Marshall states that "[i]n general anarchism is closer to socialism than liberalism. ... Anarchism finds itself largely in the socialist camp, but it also has outriders in liberalism. It cannot be reduced to socialism, and is best seen as a separate and distinctive doctrine."[9] According to Jeremy Jennings, "[i]t is hard not to conclude that these ideas," (anarcho-capitalism), "are described as anarchist only on the basis of a misunderstanding of what anarchism is." Jennings adds that "anarchism does not stand for the untrammelled freedom of the individual (as the 'anarcho-capitalists' appear to believe) but, as we have already seen, for the extension of individuality and community."[17] Nicolas Walter wrote that "anarchism does derive from liberalism and socialism both historically and ideologically. ... In a sense, anarchists always remain liberals and socialists, and whenever they reject what is good in either they betray anarchism itself. ... We are liberals but more so, and socialists but more so."[18] Michael Newman includes anarchism as one of many socialist traditions, especially the more socialist-aligned tradition following Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin.[14] Brian Morris argues that it is "conceptually and historically misleading" to "create a dichotomy between socialism and anarchism."[15]


While opposition to the state is central to anarchist thought, defining anarchism is not an easy task for scholars, as there is a lot of discussion among scholars and anarchists on the matter, and various currents perceive anarchism slightly differently.[19]One common definition adopted by anarchists is that anarchism is a cluster of political philosophies opposing authority and hierarchical organization, including capitalism, nationalism, the state, and all associated institutions, in the conduct of all human relations in favor of a society based on decentralization, freedom, and voluntary association.[20] Scholars highlight that this definition has the same shortcomings as the definition based on anti-authoritarianism (a posteriori conclusion), anti-statism (anarchism is much more than that),[21][16] and etymology (negation of rulers).[19] Major definitional elements include the will for a non-coercive society, the rejection of the state apparatus, the belief that human nature allows humans to exist in or progress toward such a non-coercive society, and a suggestion on how to act to pursue the ideal of anarchy.[22]


Pre-modern era

Zeno of Citium (c. 334 – c. 262 B.C.E.), whose Republic inspired Peter Kropotkin[9]

Before the creation of towns and cities, established authority did not exist. It was after the institution of authority that anarchistic ideas were espoused as a reaction.[23] The most notable precursors to anarchism in the ancient world were in China and Greece. In China, philosophical anarchism (the discussion on the legitimacy of the state) was delineated by Taoist philosophers Zhuang Zhou and Laozi.[9] Alongside Stoicism, Taoism has been said to have had "significant anticipations" of anarchism.[3]

Anarchic attitudes were also articulated by tragedians and philosophers in Greece. Aeschylus and Sophocles used the myth of Antigone to illustrate the conflict between laws imposed by the state and personal autonomy. Socrates questioned Athenian authorities constantly and insisted on the right of individual freedom of conscience. Cynics dismissed human law (nomos) and associated authorities while trying to live according to nature (physis). Stoics were supportive of a society based on unofficial and friendly relations among its citizens without the presence of a state.[9]

In medieval Europe, there was no anarchistic activity except some ascetic religious movements. These, and other Muslim movements, later gave birth to religious anarchism. In the Sasanian Empire, Mazdak called for an egalitarian society and the abolition of monarchy, only to be executed by Emperor Kavad I.[9]

In Basra, religious sects preached against the state.[24] In Europe, various sects developed anti-state and libertarian tendencies.[5] Renewed interest in antiquity during the Renaissance and in private judgment during the Reformation restored elements of anti-authoritarian secularism, particularly in France.[9] Enlightenment challenges to intellectual authority (secular and religious) and the revolutions of the 1790s and 1848 all spurred the ideological development of what became the era of classical anarchism.[11]

Modern era

Eighteenth/nineteenth centuries

During the French Revolution, partisan groups such as the Enragés and the sans-culottes saw a turning point in the fermentation of anti-state and federalist sentiments.[9] The first anarchist currents developed throughout the eighteenth century as William Godwin espoused philosophical anarchism in England, morally delegitimizing the state, Max Stirner's thinking paved the way to individualism and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's theory of mutualism found fertile soil in France. By the late 1870s, various anarchist schools of thought had become well-defined and a wave of then unprecedented globalization occurred from 1880 to 1914.[25] This era of classical anarchism lasted until the end of the Spanish Civil War and is considered the golden age of anarchism.[9]

Mikhail Bakunin opposed the Marxist aim of dictatorship of the proletariat and allied himself with the federalists in the First International before his expulsion by the Marxists.

Drawing from mutualism, Mikhail Bakunin founded collectivist anarchism and entered the International Workingmen's Association, a workers union later known as the First International that formed in 1864 to unite diverse revolutionary currents. The International became a significant political force, with Karl Marx as a leading figure and a member of its General Council. Bakunin's faction (the Jura Federation) and Proudhon's followers (the mutualists) opposed state socialism, advocating political abstentionism and small property holdings.[26] After bitter disputes, the Bakuninists were expelled from the International by the Marxists at the 1872 Hague Congress.[27] Anarchists were treated similarly in the Second International. They were ultimately expelled in 1896.[25] Bakunin famously predicted that if revolutionaries gained power by Marx's terms, they would end up the new tyrants of workers. In response to their expulsion from the First International, anarchists formed the St. Imier International. Under the influence of Peter Kropotkin, a Russian philosopher and scientist, anarcho-communism overlapped with collectivism.[9] Anarcho-communists, who drew inspiration from the 1871 Paris Commune, advocated for free federation and for the distribution of goods according to one's needs.[23]

Twentieth century

At the turn of the century, anarchism had spread all over the world.[28] It was a notable feature of the international syndicalism movement.[25] In China, small groups of students imported the humanistic pro-science version of anarcho-communism.[9] Tokyo was a hotspot for rebellious youth from countries of the far east, travelling to the Japanese capital to study.[29] In Latin America, Argentina was a stronghold for anarcho-syndicalism, where it became the most prominent left-wing ideology. During this time, a minority of anarchists adopted tactics of revolutionary political violence. This strategy became known as propaganda of the deed.[9] The dismemberment of the French socialist movement into many groups and the execution and exile of many Communards to penal colonies following the suppression of the Paris Commune favored individualist political expression and acts.[30] Even though many anarchists distanced themselves from these terrorist acts, infamy came upon the movement and attempts were made to exclude them from American immigration, including the Immigration Act of 1903, also called the Anarchist Exclusion Act.[31] Illegalism (deliberate lawbreaking) was another strategy which some anarchists adopted during this period.[32]

Nestor Makhno seen with members of the anarchist Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine

Despite concerns, anarchists enthusiastically participated in the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War in support of the Bolsheviks in opposition to the White movement, especially in the Ukrainian Makhnovist movement. Later they met harsh suppression after the Bolshevik government was stabilized, including during the Kronstadt rebellion.[33]After the anarchists were crushed in Russia, two new antithetical currents emerged, namely platformism and synthesis anarchism. The former sought to create a coherent group that would push for revolution while the latter were against anything that would resemble a political party. Seeing the victories of the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution and the resulting Russian Civil War, many workers and activists turned to communist parties which grew at the expense of anarchism and other socialist movements. In France and the United States, members of major syndicalist movements such as the General Confederation of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World left their organizations and joined the Communist International.[34]

During the Spanish Civil War of 1936, anarchists and syndicalists (CNT and FAI) once again allied themselves with various currents of leftists. A long tradition of Spanish anarchism led to anarchists playing a pivotal role in the war. In response to the army rebellion, an anarchist-inspired movement of peasants and workers, supported by armed militias, took control of Barcelona and of large areas of rural Spain, where they collectivized the land.[35] The Soviet Union provided some limited assistance at the beginning of the war, but the result was a bitter fight among communists and anarchists at a series of events named May Days as Joseph Stalin tried to seize control of the Republicans.[9]

Post-war era

Rojava's support efforts for workers to form cooperatives is exemplified in this sewing cooperative.

By the end of World War II, the anarchist movement had been severely weakened. The 1960s witnessed a revival of anarchism in response to the failure of Marxism–Leninism and tensions built by the Cold War. During this time, anarchism found a presence in other movements critical towards both capitalism and the state, such as the anti-nuclear, environmental, and peace movements, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the New Left. It also saw a transition from its previous revolutionary nature to provocative anti-capitalist reformism.[25] Anarchism became associated with punk subculture as exemplified by bands such as Crass and the Sex Pistols. The established feminist tendencies of anarcha-feminism returned with vigor during the second wave of feminism.[9] Black anarchism began to take form at this time and influenced anarchism's move from a Eurocentric demographic.[36] This coincided with its failure to gain traction in Northern Europe and its unprecedented height in Latin America.[37]

Around the turn of the twenty-first century, anarchism grew in popularity and influence within anti-capitalist, anti-war and anti-globalization movements. Anarchists became known for their involvement in protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Group of Eight and the World Economic Forum. During the protests, ad hoc leaderless anonymous cadres known as black blocs engaged in rioting, property destruction and violent confrontations with the police. Other organizational tactics pioneered at this time include affinity groups, security culture and the use of decentralized technologies such as the Internet. A significant event of this period was the confrontations at the 1999 Seattle WTO conference.[38] Anarchist ideas have been influential in the development of the Zapatistas in Mexico and the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, more commonly known as Rojava, a de facto autonomous region in northern Syria.[29]

While having revolutionary aspirations, many forms of anarchism are not currently confrontational. Instead, they are trying to build an alternative way of social organization, based on mutual interdependence and voluntary cooperation. Scholar Carissa Honeywell takes the example of Food not Bombs group of collectives, to highlight some features of how anarchist groups work: direct action, working together and in solidarity with those left behind. They inform about the rising rates of world hunger, suggest policies to tackle hunger, ranging from de-funding the arms industry to addressing Monsanto seed-saving policies and patents, helping farmers and commodification of food and housing.[39] Honeywell also emphasizes that contemporary anarchists are interested in the flourishing not only of humans, but non-humans and the environment as well. Honeywell argues that escalation of problems such as continuous wars and world poverty show that the current framework not only can not solve those pressing problems for humanity, but are causal factors as well, resulting in the rejection of representative democracy and the state as a whole.


Anarchist schools of thought have been generally grouped into two main historical traditions, social anarchism and individualist anarchism, owing to their different origins, values and evolution. [40] The individualist current emphasizes negative liberty in opposing restraints upon the free individual, while the social current emphasizes positive liberty in aiming to achieve the free potential of society through equality and social ownership.[41] In a chronological sense, anarchism can be segmented by the classical currents of the late nineteenth century and the post-classical currents (anarcha-feminism, green anarchism, and post-anarchism) developed afterward.[11]

Beyond the specific factions of anarchist movements which constitute political anarchism lies philosophical anarchism which holds that the state lacks moral legitimacy, without necessarily accepting the imperative of revolution to eliminate it.[42] Especially a component of individualist anarchism,[40] philosophical anarchism may tolerate the existence of a minimal state but claims that citizens have no moral obligation to obey government when it conflicts with individual autonomy.[43] Anarchism pays significant attention to moral arguments since ethics have a central role in anarchist philosophy.[44] Anarchism's emphasis on anti-capitalism, egalitarianism, and for the extension of community and individuality sets it apart from anarcho-capitalism and other types of economic libertarianism.[16]

Anarchism is usually placed on the far-left of the political spectrum.[45] Much of its economics and legal philosophy reflect anti-authoritarian, anti-statist, libertarian, and radical interpretations of left-wing and socialist politics[6] such as collectivism, communism, individualism, mutualism, and syndicalism, among other libertarian socialist economic theories. As anarchism does not offer a fixed body of doctrine from a single particular worldview,[9] many anarchist types and traditions exist and varieties of anarchy diverge widely.[3] One reaction against sectarianism within the anarchist milieu was anarchism without adjectives, a call for toleration and unity among anarchists first adopted by Fernando Tarrida del Mármol in 1889 in response to the bitter debates of anarchist theory at the time.[46] Belief in political nihilism has been espoused by anarchists.[18] Despite separation, the various anarchist schools of thought are not seen as distinct entities but rather as tendencies that intermingle and are connected through a set of uniform principles such as individual and local autonomy, mutual aid, network organization, communal democracy, justified authority and decentralization.[47]


Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is the primary proponent of mutualism and influenced many future individualist anarchist and social anarchist thinkers.[48]

Inceptive currents among classical anarchist currents were mutualism and individualism. They were followed by the major currents of social anarchism (collectivist, communist and syndicalist). They differ on organizational and economic aspects of their ideal society.[11]

Mutualism is an eighteenth-century economic theory that was developed into anarchist theory by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Its aims include reciprocity, free association, voluntary contract, federation and monetary reform of both credit and currency that would be regulated by a bank of the people.[48] Mutualism has been retrospectively characterized as ideologically situated between individualist and collectivist forms of anarchism.[46] In What Is Property? (1840), Proudhon first characterized his goal as a "third form of society, the synthesis of communism and property."[49] Collectivist anarchism is a revolutionary socialist form of anarchism[50] commonly associated with Mikhail Bakunin.[51] Collectivist anarchists advocate collective ownership of the means of production which they theorize is to be achieved through violent revolution[46] and that workers be paid according to time worked, rather than goods being distributed according to need as in communism. Collectivist anarchism arose alongside Marxism but rejected the dictatorship of the proletariat despite the stated Marxist goal of a collectivist stateless society.[52]

Anarcho-communism is a theory of anarchism that advocates a communist society with common ownership of the means of production,[53] direct democracy and a horizontal network of voluntary associations, workers' councils and worker cooperatives, with production and consumption based on the guiding principle "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."[54] Anarcho-communism developed from radical socialist currents after the French Revolution[23] but was first formulated as such in the Italian section of the First International.[55] It was later expanded upon in the theoretical work of Peter Kropotkin, whose specific style would go onto become the dominating view of anarchists by the late nineteenth century.[25] Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism that views labor syndicates as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the state with a new society democratically self-managed by workers. The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are direct action, workers' solidarity and workers' self-management.[56]

Individualist anarchism is a set of several traditions of thought within the anarchist movement that emphasize the individual and their will over any kinds of external determinants.[57] Early influences on individualist forms of anarchism include William Godwin, Max Stirner, and Henry David Thoreau. Through many countries, individualist anarchism attracted a small yet diverse following of Bohemian artists and intellectuals[9] as well as young anarchist outlaws in what became known as illegalism and individual reclamation.[58]

Post-classical and contemporary

Lawrence Jarach (left) and John Zerzan (right) are two prominent contemporary anarchist authors, with Zerzan being a prominent voice within anarcho-primitivism and Jarach a notable advocate of post-left anarchy.

Anarchist principles undergird contemporary radical social movements of the left. Interest in the anarchist movement developed alongside momentum in the anti-globalization movement, whose leading activist networks were anarchist in orientation.[59] As the movement shaped twenty-first century radicalism, wider embrace of anarchist principles signaled a revival of interest. Anarchism has continued to generate many philosophies and movements, at times eclectic, drawing upon various sources and combining disparate concepts to create new philosophical approaches.[60] The anti-capitalist tradition of classical anarchism has remained prominent within contemporary currents.[61]

Contemporary news coverage which emphasizes black bloc (wearing black clothing and masks) demonstrations has reinforced anarchism's historical association with chaos and violence. Its publicity has also led more scholars in fields such as anthropology and history to engage with the anarchist movement, although contemporary anarchism favors actions over academic theory.[47] Various anarchist groups, tendencies, and schools of thought exist today, making it difficult to describe the contemporary anarchist movement. While theorists and activists have established "relatively stable constellations of anarchist principles," there is no consensus on which principles are core and commentators describe multiple anarchisms, rather than a singular anarchism, in which common principles are shared between schools of anarchism while each group prioritizes those principles differently. Gender equity can be a common principle, although it ranks as a higher priority to anarcha-feminists than anarcho-communists.[16]

Anarchists are generally committed against coercive authority in all forms, namely "all centralized and hierarchical forms of government (e.g., monarchy, representative democracy, state socialism, etc.), economic class systems (e.g., capitalism, Bolshevism, feudalism, slavery, etc.), autocratic religions (e.g., fundamentalist Islam, Roman Catholicism, etc.), patriarchy, heterosexism, white supremacy, and imperialism."[21] Anarchist schools disagree on the methods by which these forms should be opposed. The principle of equal liberty is closer to anarchist political ethics in that it transcends both the liberal and socialist traditions. This asserts that liberty and equality cannot be implemented within the state, resulting in the questioning of all forms of domination and hierarchy.[42]


Anarchists' tactics take various forms but in general serve two major goals, namely to first oppose the Establishment and secondly to promote anarchist ethics and reflect an anarchist vision of society, illustrating the unity of means and ends.[62] A broad categorization can be made between aims to destroy oppressive states and institutions by revolutionary means on one hand and aims to change society through evolutionary means on the other.[61] Evolutionary tactics embrace nonviolence, reject violence and take a gradual approach to anarchist aims, although there is significant overlap between the two.[63]

Anarchist tactics have shifted during the course of the last century. Anarchists during the early twentieth century focused more on strikes and militancy while contemporary anarchists use a broader array of approaches.

Classical era

The relationship between anarchism and violence is a controversial subject among anarchists as shown by anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinating William McKinley.

During the classical era, anarchists had a militant tendency. Not only did they confront state armed forces, as in Spain and Ukraine, but some of them also employed terrorism as propaganda of the deed. Assassination attempts were carried out against heads of state, some of which, as Alexander II of Russia, were successful. Anarchists also took part in revolutions.[62] Many anarchists, especially the Galleanists, believed that these attempts would be the impetus for a revolution against capitalism and the state.[64] Many of these attacks were done by individual assailants and the majority took place in the late 1870s, the early 1880s and the 1890s, with some still occurring in the early 1900s.[25] Their decrease in prevalence was the result of further judicial power and targeting and cataloging by state institutions.[37]

Anarchist perspectives towards violence have always been controversial. Anarcho-pacifists advocate for non-violence means to achieve their stateless, nonviolent ends.[65] Other anarchist groups advocate direct action, a tactic which can include acts of sabotage or terrorism. This attitude was quite prominent a century ago when some anarchists believe the state was a tyrant, giving them every right to oppose its oppression by any means possible.[63] Emma Goldman and Errico Malatesta, who were proponents of limited use of violence, stated that violence is a necessary evil in response to state violence.[66]

Anarchists took an active role in strike actions, although they tended to be antipathetic to formal syndicalism, seeing it as reformist. They saw it as a part of the movement which sought to overthrow the state and capitalism. Anarchists also reinforced their propaganda within the arts, some of whom practiced naturism and nudism. Those anarchists also built communities which were based on friendship and were involved in the news media.[62]


Black bloc protesters parading anarcho-communism imagery such as the motto "No War but the Class War"

In the current era, Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonanno, a proponent of insurrectionary anarchism, has reinstated the debate on violence by rejecting the nonviolence tactic adopted since the late nineteenth century by Kropotkin and other prominent anarchists thereafter. Both Bonanno and the French group The Invisible Committee advocate for small, informal affiliation groups, in which each member is responsible for their own actions but works together to bring down oppression utilizing sabotage and other violent means against state, capitalism, and other enemies. Members of The Invisible Committee were arrested in 2008 on various charges, including terrorism.[63]

Overall, contemporary anarchists are much less violent and militant than their ideological ancestors. They mostly engage in confronting the police during demonstrations and riots, especially in countries such as Canada, Greece, and Mexico. Militant black bloc protest groups are known for clashing with the police. Anarchists not only clash with state operators, groups such as Antifa also engage in the struggle against those they deem fascists and racists, taking "anti-fascist" action and mobilizing to prevent "hate rallies" from happening.[62]


Anarchists commonly employ direct action. This can take the form of disrupting and protesting against unjust hierarchy, or the form of self-managing their lives through the creation of counter-institutions such as communes and non-hierarchical collectives.[61] Decision-making is often handled in an anti-authoritarian way, with everyone having equal say in each decision, an approach known as horizontalism.[62] Contemporary-era anarchists have been engaging with various grassroots movements that are more or less based on horizontalism, although not explicitly anarchist, respecting personal autonomy and participating in mass activism such as strikes and demonstrations. In contrast with the big-A anarchism of the classical era, the newly coined term small-a anarchism signals their tendency not to base their thoughts and actions on classical-era anarchism or to refer to classical anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to justify their opinions. These anarchists would rather base their thought and praxis on their own experience which they will later theorize.[63]

The decision-making process of small anarchist affinity groups plays a significant tactical role. Anarchists have employed various methods in order to build a rough consensus among members of their group without the need of a leader or a leading group. One way is for an individual from the group to play the role of facilitator to help achieve a consensus without taking part in the discussion themselves or promoting a specific point of view. Minorities usually accept rough consensus, except when they feel the proposal contradicts anarchist ethics, goals and values. Anarchists usually form small groups (5–20 individuals) to enhance autonomy and friendships among their members. These kinds of groups more often than not interconnect with each other, forming larger networks. Anarchists still support and participate in strikes, especially wildcat strikes as these are leaderless strikes not organized centrally by a syndicate.[62]

As in the past, newspapers and journals are used, and anarchists have gone online in the World Wide Web to spread their message. Anarchists have found it easier to create websites because of distributional and other difficulties, hosting electronic libraries and other portals. Anarchists were also involved in developing various software that are available for free. The way these "hacktivists" work to develop and distribute resembles the anarchist ideals, especially when it comes to preserving users' privacy from state surveillance.[62]

Anarchists organize themselves to squat and reclaim public spaces. During important events such as protests and when spaces are being occupied, they are often called Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ), spaces where art, poetry, and surrealism are blended to display the anarchist ideal.[61] As seen by anarchists, squatting is a way to regain urban space from the capitalist market, serving pragmatical needs and also serving as an exemplary direct action.[67] Acquiring space enables anarchists to experiment with their ideas and build social bonds.[62] The diversity of goals and tactics creates a carnivalesque atmosphere that is part of contemporary anarchist expression.[68]

Key issues

As anarchism is a philosophy that embodies many diverse attitudes, tendencies, and schools of thought, disagreement over questions of values, ideology, and tactics is common. Its diversity has led to widely different uses of identical terms among different anarchist traditions which has created a number of definitional concerns in anarchist theory. The compatibility of capitalism,[9] nationalism, and religion with anarchism is widely disputed. Anarchism has a complex relationship with ideologies such as communism, collectivism, Marxism, and trade unionism. Anarchists may be motivated by humanism, divine authority, enlightened self-interest, veganism, or any number of alternative ethical doctrines. Phenomena such as civilization, technology (e.g. within anarcho-primitivism), and the democratic process are sharply criticized within some anarchist tendencies and simultaneously lauded in others.

The state

Objection to the state and its institutions is the sine qua non of anarchism.[69] Anarchists consider the state as a tool of domination and believe it to be illegitimate regardless of its political tendencies. Instead of individuals controlling their lives, major decisions are taken by a small elite. Authority ultimately rests solely on power, regardless of whether that power is open or transparent, as it still has the ability to coerce people. Another anarchist argument against states is that the people constituting a government, even the most altruistic among officials, will unavoidably seek to maximize their power, leading to the potential of corruption. Anarchists consider the idea that the state is the Rousseaun collective will of the people to be an unachievable fiction due to the fact that the ruling class is distinct from the rest of society.[69]>

Specific anarchist attitudes towards the state vary. Robert Paul Wolff believed that the tension between authority and autonomy would mean the state could never be legitimate. Bakunin saw the state as meaning "coercion, domination by means of coercion, camouflaged if possible but unceremonious and overt if need be." A. John Simmons and Leslie Green, who leaned toward philosophical anarchism, believed that the state could be legitimate if it is governed by consensus, although they saw this as highly unlikely. Beliefs on how to abolish the state also differ.[70]

Gender, sexuality, and free love

Collection of anarcha-feminist protests, symbols, and flags
Émile Armand was a French individualist anarchist who propounded the virtues of free love in the Parisian anarchist milieu of the early twentieth century.

As gender and sexuality are considered by anarchists to be implicated in the dynamics of hierarchy, many anarchists address, analyze, and oppose the suppression of one's autonomy imposed by gender roles.[71].

A historical current that arose and flourished during 1890 and 1920 within anarchism was free love. In contemporary anarchism, this current survives as a tendency to support polyamory and queer anarchism. Free love advocates were against marriage, which they saw as a way of men imposing authority over women, largely because marriage law greatly favored the power of men. The notion of free love was much broader and included a critique of the established order that limited women's sexual freedom and pleasure. Those free love movements contributed to the establishment of communal houses, where large groups of travelers, anarchists and other activists slept in beds together. Free love had roots both in Europe and the United States; however, some anarchists struggled with the jealousy that arose from free love.[72] Anarchist feminists were advocates of free love, against marriage, and pro-choice (utilizing a contemporary term), and had a similar agenda. Anarchist and non-anarchist feminists differed on suffrage but were supportive of one another.[63]

During the second half of the twentieth century, anarchism intermingled with the second wave of feminism, radicalizing some currents of the feminist movement and were influenced by it as well. By the latest decades of the twentieth century, anarchists and feminists were advocating for the rights and autonomy of women, gays, queers and other groups deemed to be marginalized, with some feminist thinkers suggesting a fusion of the two currents. With the third wave of feminism, sexual identity and compulsory heterosexuality became a subject of study for anarchists, yielding a post-structuralist critique of sexual normality. Some anarchists distanced themselves from this line of thinking, suggesting that it leaned towards an individualism that was dropping the cause of social liberation.[71]


Anarchist vs. statist perspectives on education
Ruth Kinna (2019)[63]
Anarchist education State education
Concept Education as self-mastery Education as service
Management Community based State run
Methods Practice-based learning Vocational training
Aims Being a critical member of society Being a productive member of society

The interest of anarchists in education stretches back to the first emergence of classical anarchism. Anarchists consider proper education, one which sets the foundations of the future autonomy of the individual and the society, to be an act of mutual aid.[73] Anarchist writers such as William Godwin (Political Justice) and Max Stirner ("The False Principle of Our Education") attacked both state education and private education as another means by which the ruling class replicate their privileges.[73][9]

In 1901, Catalan anarchist and free thinker Francisco Ferrer established the Escuela Moderna in Barcelona as an opposition to the established education system which was dictated largely by the Catholic Church. Ferrer's approach was secular, rejecting both state and church involvement in the educational process while giving pupils large amounts of autonomy in planning their work and attendance. Ferrer aimed to educate the working class and explicitly sought to foster class consciousness among students. The school closed after constant harassment by the state and Ferrer was later arrested. Nonetheless, his ideas formed the basis for a series of modern schools around the world. Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy, who published the essay Education and Culture, also established a similar school. Its founding principle was that "for education to be effective it had to be free."[73] In England A. S. Neill founded what became the Summerhill School in 1921, promoting "Freedom, not License."

Anarchist education is based largely on the idea that a child's right to develop freely and without manipulation ought to be respected and that rationality would lead children to morally good conclusions, but there has been little consensus among anarchist figures as to what constitutes manipulation. Ferrer believed that moral indoctrination was necessary and explicitly taught pupils that equality, liberty and social justice were not possible under capitalism, along with other critiques of government and nationalism.[73]

Late twentieth century and contemporary anarchist writers (Paul Goodman, Herbert Read, and Colin Ward) intensified and expanded the anarchist critique of state education, largely focusing on the need for a system that focuses on children's creativity rather than on their ability to attain a career or participate in consumerism as part of a consumer society.[63] Contemporary anarchists such as Ward claim that state education serves to perpetuate socioeconomic inequality.[74]

While few anarchist education institutions have survived to the modern-day, major tenets of anarchist schools, among them respect for child autonomy and relying on reasoning rather than indoctrination as a teaching method, have spread among mainstream educational institutions. Judith Suissa names three schools as explicitly anarchists schools - the Free Skool Santa Cruz in the United States which is part of a wider American-Canadian network of schools, the Self-Managed Learning College in Brighton, England, and the Paideia School in Spain.[73]

The arts

Les chataigniers a Osny (1888) by anarchist painter Camille Pissarro is a notable example of blending anarchism and the arts.[75]

The connection between anarchism and art was quite profound during the classical era of anarchism, especially among artistic currents that were developing during that era such as futurists and surrealists among others.[76] In literature, anarchism was mostly associated with the New Apocalyptics and the neo-romanticism movement.[77] Anarchists such as Leo Tolstoy and Herbert Read stated that the border between the artist and the non-artist, what separates art from a daily act, is a construct produced by the alienation caused by capitalism and it prevents humans from living a joyful life.

Other anarchists advocated for or used art as a means to achieve anarchist ends.[76] In his book Breaking the Spell: A History of Anarchist Filmmakers, Videotape Guerrillas, and Digital Ninjas, Chris Robé claims that "anarchist-inflected practices have increasingly structured movement-based video activism."[78] In music, anarchism has been associated with music scenes such as punk.[9]

Throughout the twentieth century, many prominent anarchists (Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Gustav Landauer and Camillo Berneri) and publications such as Anarchy wrote about matters pertaining to the arts. Three overlapping properties made art useful to anarchists. It could depict a critique of existing society and hierarchies, serve as a prefigurative tool to reflect the anarchist ideal society and even turn into a means of direct action such as in protests. As it appeals to both emotion and reason, art could appeal to the whole human and have a powerful effect.[76] The nineteenth-century neo-impressionist movement had an ecological aesthetic and offered an example of an anarchist perception of the road towards socialism. In Les chataigniers a Osny by anarchist painter Camille Pissarro, the blending of aesthetic and social harmony prefigures an ideal anarchistic agrarian community.[75]


While anarchists have undertaken successful campaigns of collective action, including strikes and even assassination of prominent political figures, there is no example of this leading to the creation of a society based on anarchist principles. This has led to criticism of anarchist ideas and movements on many fronts.


Marxist critique

Friedrich Engels, co-founder of Marxism, criticized anarchism's anti-authoritarianism as inherently counter-revolutionary because in his view a revolution is necessarily authoritarian.[79] Academic John Molyneux argues in Anarchism: A Marxist Criticism that "anarchism cannot win," because it lacks the ability to properly implement its ideas.[80] The Marxist criticism of anarchism is that it has a utopian character. All individuals should have anarchist views and values for anarchism to succeed. Anarchists assumed that social ideal would follow naturally from this human ideal and out of the free will of every individual. This was the essence of anarchism which was responsible for their inability to act to create its utopian ideal.

Internal contradictions

Philosophically, non-Marxists note that the theory of anarchism is problematic on multiple fronts. While the Marxists criticize it for shying away from embracing revolutionary violence, others point nonetheless to anarchism's connection to violence and destruction without embracing full-blown revolution. Anarchism also calls for collective action while endorsing the autonomy of the individual, which would mean that no collective action would be possible. Another line of critique sees anarchism as unfeasible or utopian since there is no practical way for the state to be defeated. Further, anarchism is self-contradictory as a ruling theory since it has no ruling theory. Others critique philosophical anarchism as ineffective (all talk and thoughts), while capitalism and bourgeois class remains strong.[65] While anarchism is frequently associated with socialism, its connection to socialism appears problematic, as anarchism is anti-state, while socialism requires a large administrative state.

The state is useful

Anarchist perception of human nature, rejection of the state, and commitment to social revolution has been criticized by academics as naïve, overly simplistic, and unrealistic, respectively.[81] Classical anarchism has been criticized for relying too heavily on the belief that the abolition of the state will lead to the prospering of human cooperation.

On the contrary, many argue that humans cannot self-govern and so a state is necessary for human survival. Philosopher Bertrand Russell supported this critique, stating that "[p]eace and war, tariffs, regulations of sanitary conditions and the sale of noxious drugs, the preservation of a just system of distribution: these, among others, are functions which could hardly be performed in a community in which there was no central government."[82] Another common criticism of anarchism is that it fits a world of isolation in which only the small enough entities can be self-governing, although some major anarchist thinkers advocated anarchist federalism.[7]


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ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Avrich, Paul. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. 978-0691044941
  • Avrich, Paul. The Russian Anarchists. Chico, CA: AK Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1904859482
  • Bakunin, Mikhail. Statism and Anarchy, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, translated by Marshall Shatz. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990 (original 1873). ISBN 978-0521361828
  • Bolloten, Burnett. The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0807819067
  • Carlson, Andrew R. Anarchism in Germany; Vol. 1: The Early Movement. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1972. ISBN 978-0810804845
  • Chaliand, Gerard, and Arnaud Blin (eds.). The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al-Quaeda]. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0520247093
  • Chomsky, Noam. Chomsky on Anarchism, edited by Barry Pateman. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1904859260
  • Dagger, Tristan J. Playing Fair: Political Obligation and the Problems of Punishment. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0199388837.
  • Egoumenides, Magda. Philosophical Anarchism and Political Obligation. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-1441124456
  • Evren, Süreyyya. "How New Anarchism Changed the World (of Opposition) after Seattle and Gave Birth to Post-Anarchism," in Post-Anarchism: A Reader, edited by Duane Rousselle and Süreyyya Evren. London, U.K.: Pluto Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0745330860
  • Fiala, Andrew. "Anarchism," in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford, CA: Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2017. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  • Franks, Benjamin. "Anarchism," The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (August 2013): 385–404.
  • Gans, Chaim. Philosophical Anarchism and Political Disobedience. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0521414500
  • Graham, Robert. Anarchism: a Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas: from Anarchy to Anarchism]. Montréal, CN: Black Rose Books, 2005. ISBN 978-1551642505
  • Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press, 1970. ISBN 978-0853451280
  • Harrison, Kevin, and Tony Boyd. Understanding Political Ideas and Movements.. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0719061516
  • Honeywell, C. Anarchism, Key Concepts in Political Theory. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2021. ISBN 978-1509523900
  • Jennings, Jeremy. "Anarchism," in Contemporary Political Ideologies, edited by Roger Eatwell and Anthony Wright. 2nd ed. London, U.K.: A & C Black, 1999. ISBN 978-0826451736
  • Joll, James. The Anarchists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964. ISBN 978-0674036420
  • Kinna, Ruth (ed.). The Bloomsbury Companion to Anarchism. London, U.K.: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012, ISBN 978-1628924305.
  • Kinna, Ruth, The Government of No One: The Theory and Practice of Anarchism. New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2019. ISBN 978-0241396551
  • Klosko, George. Political Obligations. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0199551040
  • Krimerman, Leonard I., and Lewis Perry (eds.). Patterns of Anarchy: A Collection of Writings on the Anarchist Tradition. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1966. ISBN 978-0384599352
  • Levy, Carl, and Matthew S. Adams (eds.). The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. ISBN 978-3319756196
  • Long, Roderick T. The Routledge Companion to Social and Political Philosophy edited by Gerald F. Gaud and Fred D'Agostino. London, U.K.: Routledge, 2013. ISBN 978-0415874564
  • Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 1993. ISBN 978-1604860641
  • Mayne, Alan James. From Politics Past to Politics Future: An Integrated Analysis of Current and Emergent Paradigms. Boston, MA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999 ISBN 978-0275961510
  • McLaughlin, Paul. Anarchism and Authority: A Philosophical Introduction to Classical Anarchism. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2007. ISBN 978-0754661962
  • Morland, Dave. "Anti-capitalism and poststructuralist anarchism," in Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age, edited by Jonathan Purkis and James Bowen. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0719066948
  • Morris, Brian. Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom. Toronto, CN: Black Rose Books, 1993. ISBN 978-1895431667
  • Morris, Brian, and Peter Marshall. Anthropology, Ecology, and Anarchism: A Brian Morris Reader. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1604860931
  • Morris, Christopher W. An Essay on the Modern State. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0521524070
  • Moya, Jose C. "Transference, culture, and critique The Circulation of Anarchist Ideas and Practices," in In Defiance of Boundaries: Anarchism in Latin American History, edited by Geoffroy de Laforcade and Kirwin R. Shaffer. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2015. ISBN 978-0813051383
  • Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London, U.K.: Freedom Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0900384899
  • Newman, Michael. Socialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0192804310
  • Nicholas, Lucy. "Anarchism and Sexuality," in The SAGE Handbook of Global Sexualities, edited by Zowie Davy, et. al., Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publishing, 2020. ISBN 978-1529721942
  • Nomad, Max. "The Anarchist Tradition," in Revolutionary Internationals 1864–1943, edited by Milorad M. Drachkovitch. Standord, CA: Stanford University Press, 1966. ISBN 978-0804702935
  • Ostergaard, Geoffrey. "Anarchism," in The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Social Thought, 2nd. ed., edited by William Outhwaite. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. ISBN 978-0631221647
  • Otero, Carlos Peregrín. Noam Chomsky: Critical Assessments, Volume 2–3. London, U.K.: Routledge, 1994. ISBN 978-0415010054
  • Pernicone, Nunzio. Italian Anarchism, 1864–1892. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0691632681
  • Pierson, Christopher. Just Property: Enlightenment, Revolution, and History. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0199673292
  • Robé, Chris. Breaking the Spell: A History of Anarchist Filmmakers, Videotape Guerrillas, and Digital Ninjas. PM Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1629632339
  • Rogers, Tristan J. The Authority of Virtue: Institutions and Character in the Good Society. London, U.K.: Routledge, 2020. ISBN 978-1000222647
  • Rupert, Mark, and M. Scott Solomon. Globalization and International Political Economy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006. ISBN 978-0742529434
  • Sylvan, Richard. "Anarchism," in A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, 2nd ed., Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Volume 5, edited by Robert E. Goodin, Philip Pettit and Thomas Pogge. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1405136532
  • Tucker, Robert C. (ed.). The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978. ISBN 0393056848
  • Ward, Colin Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0192804778
  • Walter, Nicholas. About Anarchism. London, U.K.: Freedom Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0900384905

Further reading

  • Barclay, Harold B. People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy. Buckinghamshire, U.K.: Kahn & Averill, 1990 ISBN 978-0939306091
  • Edmundson, William A. Three Anarchical Fallacies: An Essay on Political Authority. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0521037518
  • Harper, Clifford. Anarchy: A Graphic Guide. Chico, CA: AK Press, 1987. ISBN 978-0948491221
  • Huemer, Michael. The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey. London, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ISBN 978-1137281647. A defense of philosophical anarchism, stating that "both kinds of 'anarchism' [i.e. philosophical and political anarchism] are philosophical and political claims."
  • Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 978-0061796883. Anarchistic popular fiction novel.
  • Kinna, Ruth. Anarchism: A Beginners Guide. London, U.K.: OneWorld, 2005. ISBN 978-1851683703
  • Sartwell, Crispin. Against the State: An Introduction to Anarchist Political Theory. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0791474471
  • Scott, James C. Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0691155296
  • Wolff, Robert Paul. In Defense of Anarchism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0520215733
  • Woodcock, George. "Anarchism in Spain," History Today 12(1) (January 1962): 22–32. Retrieved March 28, 2023.

External links

Links retrieved March 9, 2023.

  • Anarchy Archives. Anarchy Archives is an online research center on the history and theory of anarchism.


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