Can the communist vision of a just, fair and equal society for all be realised without the guidance of the state? Can justice and freedom be guaranteed in a post-revolutionary society? Are human beings naturally inclined to share possessions, cooperate with each other and consume no more of a commodity than they actually require? Anarcho-communism is a political ideology that gives a resounding “yes” to all of these questions; but has it ever been tried in practice? Let's find out!

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Table of contents

    Anarcho-communism Definition

    Anarcho Communism A tree diagram showing how various schools of anarchist thought relate to each other StudySmarterFig. 1 How various schools of anarchist thought relate to each other

    Anarcho-communism is a branch of collectivist anarchist thought. As you can see in the graphic above, anarcho-communist shares common 'roots' with other anarchist movements in its fundamental rejection of the state. As a branch of collectivist anarchism, anarcho-communism is profoundly influenced by Marxist thought, and actually accepts the Marxist doctrine of Communism. Like mainstream Marxist communists, anarcho-communists believe in the necessity of a workers' revolution to overthrow capitalism, the collectivisation of the means of production and the fair distribution of resources according to the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

    The collectivisation of the means of production is a fundamental concept in communist thought and refers to the collective ownership of productive facilities and infrastructure, such as factories, land and machinery. Under communism, this would result in the means of production being placed into the hands of the workers' state (in theory, only during a transitional period before a stateless, classless communist society is achieved). In anarcho-communist thought, there is no transitional state and so the means of production are placed into the hands of the people directly.

    However, anarcho-communism departs from Marxist communism on a number of key points, which we examine below, including the role of the state and political parties in the transition to communism and how the product of human labour is distributed.

    Anarcho-Communism Theory

    Anarcho-communism Peter Kropotkin StudySmarterFig. 2 Peter Kropotkin

    Peter Kropotkin is often regarded as the founding father of anarcho-communism. Born in 1842 into an aristocratic family in Russia, Kropotkin rejected his class background from an early age, and after studying at a military school in St Petersburg, he spent his adult life pursuing his dual interests of geology and anarchist thought. In The Conquest of Bread (1892), Kropotkin outlines his critique of state-led communism. In another influential text, Mutual Aid (1902), Kropotkin rejects the Darwinian thesis that human beings are fundamentally competitive creatures, arguing instead that the human species is naturally empathetic, cooperative and inclined towards mutual assistance. For Kropotkin, these attributes mean that the organisation of society by means of a state is unnecessary, as human beings are naturally capable of organising themselves.

    Kropotkin shared Marx's vision of a communist society without private property, social class or wage labour, in which property - especially the means of production - is communally-owned and resources fairly distributed according to need. However, Kropotkin's view departed from that of Karl Marx in that he saw no role for the state in any part of this transition to communism. Marx envisaged the formation of a political party which would unite workers and allow them to gain political control of the state, managing the transition to communism until such time as the state became redundant. On the other hand, Kropotkin believed that the innate human leaning towards cooperation and mutual support meant that no state was required for society to move towards its communist future. Furthermore, the state, having nurtured and supported capitalism in its most oppressive form, could only corrupt and hinder the process of transforming society.

    Another key anarcho-communist thinker is Errico Malatesta. Italian-born Errico Malatesta was an important figure in the anarcho-communist and anarcho-syndicalist movements in Europe. Aside from organising anarchist revolutionary groups in Italy, Malatesta worked with anarchist groups across Europe and North Africa.

    In addition to the idea of ending private ownership of land, Malatesta supported the abolition of all institutions that imposed laws as well as the abolition of private property. Malatesta believed that society should be based on voluntary cooperation between those who produce and those who consume. Malatesta also sought an end to nationalism and patriotism which he believed were divisive and encourage competition and rivalry between nation-states. He believed it would be better for society as a whole if divisions such as borders were removed and that, in order to achieve these aims, the capitalist state must be overthrown. Malatesta's opposition to the state resulted in him being imprisoned and exiled numerous times throughout his life.

    Anarcho-Communism Flag

    Like many branches in anarchist thought, anarcho-communists use a flag to represent their ideology. Like other anarchist flags, the anarcho-communist flag is divided diagonally, with the lower right side being black - symbolising anarchism - and the upper left side being red, as it is in other forms of collectivist anarchism - representing revolutionary, socialist and communist ideas. Anarcho-communists might further distinguish themselves from other groups by using a version of the anarchist 'A' symbol that also incorporates the hammer and sickle of Communism.

    Anarcho-Communism flag for anarcho communism StudySmarterFig. 3 flag for anarcho-communism

    Anarcho-Communist Beliefs

    Anarcho-Communists subscribe to a number of core beliefs about human society and the best way to organise it in order to achieve universal justice and freedom:

    • An optimistic view of human nature - human beings are naturally cooperative, sociable and altruistic. Free from the coercion of the state, human beings would be able to organise themselves into a society based on these attributes.

    • Anarcho-communists believe that direct democracy is the best way to reach decisions. Large-scale representative democracies inevitably result in some communities being left out, or their needs not being met.

    • Without the state, individuals would form themselves into voluntary communities. These voluntary communities would be the basic unit of political, social and economic organisation.

    • Anarcho-communism views not only the means of production but also the product of labour, as communal property. There are no wages in an anarcho-communist system and individuals are recompensed for their labour only in proportion to their needs.

    • The abolition of private property, (whilst respecting personal property). Personal property refers to items of everyday use, such as clothing and household items. Private property refers to real estate or land, in an anarcho-communist system, all land, infrastructure and major enterprises would be under common ownership.

    Placing private property into the hands of a collective is known as expropriation.

    “We do not want to rob anyone of his coat, but we wish to give to the workers all those things the lack of which makes them fall an easy prey to the exploiter, and we will do our utmost that none shall lack aught, that not a single man shall be forced to sell the strength of his right arm to obtain a bare subsistence for himself and his babes. This is what we mean when we talk of Expropriation.1

    Anarcho-communism vs Anarchism

    Anarchist thought begins with the fundamental rejection of the state. Beyond this, however, there is a great deal of variation in terms of what certain groups of anarchists believe should replace the state as an organising system for society and its political and economic activities.

    Collectivist anarchists would argue that the state supports and maintains capitalism and all its oppressive consequences, and would argue for a revolution to bring about the end of both state and capitalism and place the means of production under communal ownership.

    At the other end of the anarchist spectrum, there are anarcho-capitalists, who would argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with a capitalist economy. Their main argument against the state would be that it places constraints on the free exercise of commerce.

    With its emphasis on revolution and collectivisation, anarcho-communism belongs very clearly to the collectivist branch of anarchist thought. However, unlike other collectivist ideologies, such as anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communists believe that the product of labour should be communal property and not just the means of production. This means that individuals are not paid according to the amount or intensity of labour they perform, but rather the product of their labour is distributed to them according to need. Kropotkin argued that it's almost impossible to calculate a fair estimation of the “cost” of an individual's labour anyway since one would need to take into account a variety of factors which can't be easily measured.

    Kropotkin believes it would be hard to calculate the cost of individual labour because of immeasurable factors such as the emotional or psychological cost of the labour performed, the physical health and wellbeing of the individual worker, and the cost of other inputs such as transportation or technical knowledge which were not necessarily contributed by the worker. Therefore, anarcho-communism shifts the emphasis from measuring individual productivity to ensuring that everyone has what they need, thereby fulfilling the communist maxim of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

    Anarcho-Communism vs Communism

    Karl Marx predicted that capitalist systems would experience increasing volatility, with economic crashes and recessions becoming more frequent. He believed that eventually, the workers would rise up and seize both the means of production (factories, farms etc) and the institutions of the state (the army, the courts, the police etc) and form what he termed the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. This socialist state would need to exist long enough to prevent a comeback by capitalist elements, but once this threat had passed, the state would become increasingly redundant as it came to be replaced by a classless communist system of organisation. Communists have often viewed this “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a necessary transitional stage between capitalism and communism, and this was the ideological justification for the formation of communist political parties and, eventually, of communist states like the Soviet Union.

    As mentioned above, anarcho-communists hold that human nature is intrinsically sociable and cooperative and, as a result, human society has no need for the state. For this reason, the Marxist concept of a workers' state to defend the revolution and help manage the transition to communism is totally unacceptable to anarcho-communists. Even a socialist, worker-led state would eventually replicate the same sort of hierarchies and coercive structures that allowed capitalism to flourish in the first place. This is one of the principal points of difference between Marxist communist and anarcho-communist ideology.

    Anarcho-Communism in History

    While there are no examples of long-lived, sustained and successful attempts to implement anarcho-communism in the modern wordl, there are a few well-known examples of anarcho-communist projects in history.

    The 'Makhnovshchina' or Free Territory of Ukraine was established in 1918 after the Insurrectionary Army of Nestor Makhno captured the city of Huliaipole. Huliaipole became the unofficial capital of the Free Territory, in which Ukrainian people established an anarcho-communist society organised into communes. Workers in these territories seized land formerly owned by the state and the communes organised the redistribution and management of these assets. Many Ukrainian workers also stopped paying rent in rebellion against private property ownership. The anarchist force of this revolution was known as the Black Army. The Free Territory existed only until 1921, when the White Army (Russian Nationalists) began occupying and pushing back Makhno's Black Army. The region eventually came under Bolshevik Control.

    During the Spanish Revolution, the region of Catalonia was governed in line with anarcho-communist ideals between 1936 and 1939. Trade unions took the responsibility for economic and social affairs, with the National Confederation of Labor (CNT) being the largest trade union in revolutionary Catalonia. The rights of women and the collectivisation of various enterprises was emphasised by Catalan revolutionaries, who were often directly inspired by the works of Peter Kropotkin. Revolutionary Catalonia was eventually brought under the control of nationalist forces led by General Franco in 1939.

    Anarcho-Communism - Key takeaways

    • Anarcho-communism is concerned with the abolition of the state and capitalism in favour of common ownership of the means of production.
    • Anarcho-communism is an anarchist ideology and it is distinct from Marxist communism ideology. This is because Marxist communism is achieved through state structures, whereas anarcho-communism rejects the state in its entirety.
    • Peter Kropotkin is the most influential thinker in the field of anarcho-communism and is often referred to as the founder of the ideology.

    • According to Kropotkin anarcho-communism could grant economic freedom more so than other ideologies because under anarcho-communism one could achieve wellbeing and even luxury by just committing oneself to a few hours of work a day.

    • An anarcho-communist society would be free of state control and state authority. After the abolition of the state, society would be made up of local communities that are voluntarily established.

    • An anarcho-communist society rejects the use of representative democracy as this form of democracy does not accurately represent the desires of everyone in society. Direct democracy is the only legitimate form of decision-making.

    • Anarcho-communism is opposed not only to the state but also to capitalism. Capitalism creates inequality and the state and capitalism are intrinsically linked as the state helps to sustain and reinforce capitalism.

    • Anarcho-communism seeks to abolish the ownership of private property whilst still maintaining respect for individual rights, including personal property (clothing etc).


    1. Kropotkin, Peter, The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 4. Accessed at website
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Anarcho-Communism

     What is anarcho-communism?

     Anarcho-communism is a branch of collectivist anarchism and is concerned with the abolition of the state and capitalism in favour of common ownership of the means of production.  

    What are the principles of Anarcho-communism?

     The rejection of the state, and the establishment of common, or collective, ownership of the means of production. 

    Is there a difference between socialism and communism?

    In communism property and economic resources are owned and controlled by the state. In socialism, all citizens share equally in economic resources as allocated by an elected government.

    What are the advantages of anarcho-communism?

    Anarcho-communism claims to be able to grant economic freedom more efficiently than other ideologies. Anarcho-communists suggest that one could achieve wellbeing and even live in luxury just by committing oneself to a few hours of work a day. 

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