Collectivist Anarchism

What would society look like without a powerful state guiding and ordering it?  What is freedom? What's the best way to achieve a just and fair economic order? These are just some of the questions that collectivist anarchist thought engages with, and the answers that collectivist anarchists come up with aren't always the same. This article looks at the various types of collectivist anarchism and how they relate to anarchist thought in general. 

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Contents
Table of contents

    Collectivist Anarchism Definition

    Anarchy tree, A tree describing anarchism, Study SmarterFig 1. A tree describing anarchism, Author: Joseph Smith, Study Smarter

    As you can see from the "anarchism tree" in Fig. 1, collectivist anarchism shares the same 'roots' as other forms of anarchism - the rejection of state control. However, you can also see that forms of collectivist anarchism grow out of the 'collectivist' branch of the tree, which is influenced by Marxist thought. This makes collectivist anarchism distinct from individualist anarchism, which is influenced more by liberal and libertarian thought.

    In common with Marxist communism, collectivist anarchist thought views capitalism as inherently oppressive, and envisages the transformation of society through proletarian revolution and the collectivisation of the means of production. Unlike mainstream communism, however, collectivist anarchists believe that there can be no role for a state of any kind in ordering social and economic affairs in this post-revolutionary society, arguing that humans beings are naturally rational and collaborative. Exactly what forms of organisation should replace the state is the subject of debate, and the various branches of collectivist anarchism each have their own positions on this issue.

    Collectivist Anarchism Examples

    There are two well-known political ideologies that 'grow' out of this collectivist 'branch' of anarchist thought. These are anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism. On can, however be a follower of collectivist anarchism without subscribing to the specific ideas of anarcho-syndicalism or anarcho-communism. Such a position might be termed anarcho-socialism or simply collectivist anarchism.

    Anarcho-Communism

    Anarcho-Communism is a political ideology that argues for the abolition of the state, as well as capitalism, wage-labour and private ownership of the means of production. Unlike most forms of mainstream communism, anarcho-communism envisages no role for the state in the transition to a communist society, advocating instead for looser forms of voluntary organisation and federalisation. Anarcho-communist thought developed out of the writings of Peter Kropotkin, a revolutionary thinker who is often regarded as the 'Father of Anarcho-Communist'.

    Federalisation is a mixed-mode of government that combines a general government with a regional government in a single political system.

    Peter Kropotkin's most famous works on anarcho-communism are The Conquest of Bread 1892 and Mutual Aid 1902 in which he outlines his distaste for state-led communism and his vision of an anarcho-communist society.

    Collectivist Anarchism, Nestor Makhno Memorial Plaque, StudySmarterFig. 2 Nestor Makhno Memorial Plaque

    The Russian Civil war of 1917-23 was not fought only between communists (Red Army) and monarchist (White Army) factions. Groups of anarchists (known as the 'Black Army') also played an important role in the revolution of 1917, as well as the subsequent conflict. In south-eastern Ukraine, Nestor Makhno and his forces led an anarcho-communist revolution and established the so-called Free Territory of Ukraine ( or 'Makhnovshchina'), which existed between 1918-1921. The Makhovishchina's political system was based on anarcho-communist thought, with trade unions forming the backbone of the system, and decision-making carried out through direct democracy. It is estimated that between 2 million and 7 million people lived under anarcho-communism in the Makhosvishchina during the period of its existence. Eventually, Makhno's forces were defeated by the Soviet Red Army in 1921 and all of Ukraine came under Soviet Communist rule.

    Anarcho-syndicalism

    Anarcho-syndicalism is a collectivist anarchist ideology which views workers' unions (or 'syndicats' as the principle means both of overthrowing the state and capitalism as well as organising society in a post-revolutionary setting. One of the main aims of anarcho-syndicalism is the abolition of wage labour, which is a fundamental element of the capitalist economic system, but which anarcho-syndicalists view as a form of slavery. There are three basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism, these are direct action, solidarity and direct democracy. Anarcho-syndicalism is principlaly influenced by the writings of the French revolutionary theorist Georges Sorel.

    Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which all individuals make political decisions themselves and not through representatives acting on their behalf.

    What's the difference between collectivist anarchism and individualist anarchism?

    Collectivist anarchism and individualist anarchism hold fundamentally different views of human nature, and therefore propose fundamentally different visions for a stateless society.

    Collectivist anarchists hold that human beings are fundamentally cooperative, sociable and altruistic, and therefore, collectivist forms of social organisation are most likely to offer human beings full and authentic freedom. By contrast, individualist anarchists see human beings as naturally self-interested and self-serving, and therefore propose that human beings are most likely to find fulfillment in a society composed of autonomous and full free individuals, participating in a free and unregulated marketed with no legal or orther constraints. Collectivist and individualist visions for a stateless society are fundamentally at odds with each other and totally irreconcilable

    Collectivist Anarchism Core Ideas

    The core ideas of collectivist anarchism are as follows.

    Human Nature

    Collectivist anarchists generally hold quite an optimist view of human nature, viewing people as fundamentally altruistic and cooperative. In collectivist anarchist thought, the state, capitalism and other forms of coercive hierarchical authority are a constraint on the natural altruism of the human character. Living under oppressive hierarchies, such as capitalism, corrupt and undermine this natural empathy and sow divisions and hatred among members of the same social class. It is only when freed from this constraint that human beings are able to practice these virtues fully.

    Anti-Statism

    Anti-statism is a central tenet of all forms of anarchism, including collectivist anarchism. Apart from the effect that coercive state power has on individual behaviour - which is mentioned above - collectivist anarchists also regard the state as being an agent of economic exploitation. From a collectivist anarchist perspective, the state supports the capitalist system, through protection of the the property rights and other interests of the wealthy and privileged. At the same time, the state taxes its working population and coerces them into actions they would otherwise have no part in, such as military conscription.

    Liberty

    Anarchist thought is fundamentally about the search for authentic liberty. Anarchists argue that true liberty is impossible to attain under the rule of a state, since states necessarily impose themselves on the societies they rule through force and coercion. Collectivist anarchism is focused on replacing state power with "collective" forms of political, social and economic organisation. However, owing to the collectivist anarchist view of human nature is fundamentally cooperative and altruistic, these forms of organisation are not seen as suppressing individuality or individual liberty. Rather, they are viewed as the most effective way to bring out these natural human characteristics, achieving the most authentic type of freedom available to human society.

    Order in Anarchy

    The word anarchy has come to be synonymous in everyday speech with chaos, destruction and disorder due to the fear many have of a stateless society. However, anarchy is not so much about imposing chaos as it is about removing the principal barrier (that is, the state) to human freedom and fulfillment.

    Anarchy simply means "without a ruler", but an absence of formal rulers doesn't necessarily mean chaos. In anarchist thought, hierarchical authorities are unnecessary, since human beings are perfectly capable of ordering their own lives. Anarchists believe that the types of social and political order that would develop in the absence of the state would be far more equal and morally legitimate than any state government or authority.

    Collectivist Anarchism Flag

    You may have seen the various types of anarchist flags at strikes and demonstrations or in historical posters and photographs. In the 19th century, anarchists often used a simple red flag, which was associated with a variety of revolutionary and socialist movements. After the October Revolution, however, the red flag became associated largely with Soviet Communism, and so some anarchists adopted a simple black flag. From the 1870s, collectivist anarchists of various schools of thought wanted to adopt a flag that reflected both the anarchist and the socialist-collectivist elements of their political ideology. Collectivist anarchists in Italy and Spain started carrying a diagonally bisected red and black flag, and the flag has since come to be used by anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-communists ever since. The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) - a confederation of anarcho-syndicalist trade unions - adopted a version of this flag in the 20th century and it was often seen during the Spanish Revolution of 1936.

    Collectivist Anarchism The flag of collectivist anarchism StudySmarter Fig 3. The flag of collectivist anarchism

    Collectivist Anarchism Books

    There are many writers on collectivist anarchism, but most of them derive their ideas from a few key works which formed the theoretical basis for collectivist anarchist thought:

    Mikhail Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, 1873

    In Statism and Anarchy, Bakunin critiques the contemporary political configuration of Europe as well as those forms of governance proposed by Marxist Communists. Bakunin's critique of Marxist Communism is centred on the argument that rule by the proletariat would eventually lead to rule over the proletariat. In other words, if the proletariat were to gain power of the state and its institutions, they would simply form a new political elite and ultimately engage in the same types of coercive behaviour as the capitalist political class before them. Whilst Bakunin believes that communism is indeed the only legitimate form of social organisation, he argues that authentic communism can only be achieved without the state, arguing that the revolution must be both proletarian and anarchist. Bakunin's ideas significantly influenced anarchist movements at the time and inspired many thinkers within the Russian populist movement.

    Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, 1892

    In The Conquest of Bread, Peter Kropotkin examines the flaws within Europe's contemporary economic systems, arguing against both capitalism and feudalism. Kropotkin argued that these systems depended ultimately on the existence of poverty, suggesting that capitalism and feudalism sought to maintain poverty rather than eradicate it, in order to preserve the power of their own ruling class. He believed that capitalism and feudalism should be replaced by political and economic systems that could nurture mutual aid (see below).

    The Conquest of Bread has become a classical text in anarchist literature and serves as an ideological foundation of anarcho-communist ideologies today.

    Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, 1902

    Published in 1902, Kropotkin wrote Mutual Aid as a response to Darwinism. Darwin’s theory of evolution depicted human nature as fundamentally competitive and self-serving, arguing that this gave humans a competitive edge over other species. Kropotkin, by contrast, suggested that mutual aid and cooperation were essential to the survival of species. It follows from this view that, to be truly fulfilled and content in life, human beings much live in a society that nourishes this cooperativ and self-sacrificing instinct. For Kropotkin, this idea led naturally to collectivism and anarchism.

    Collectivist anarchism - Key takeaways

    • Collectivist anarchist thought proposes the abolition of the state, and the transformation of society through collectivist forms of political, social and economic organisation.
    • Philosophically, collectivist anarchism is heavily influenced by socialism.
    • Collectivist anarchism can, in some ways, be understood as socialism without the presence of a state.
    • Like all other anarchists, collectivist anarchists view the state as coercive, forcing its citizens to act in ways that are not of their choosing.
    • There are two main forms of collectivist anarchism. These are anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism.
    • Anarcho-syndicalism proposes that the creation of self-governing and internally democratic unions of workers - or 'syndicats' - are essential for both bringing about an anti-capitalist revolution, and replacing the capitalist state with a more equitable alternative.
    • Anarcho-communism is concerned with the abolition of both state and capitalism in favour of common ownership of the means of production.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Collectivist Anarchism

    What is collectivist anarchism?

    Collectivist anarchism is an umbrella for many different anarchist branches Collectivist anarchism is concerned with the human capacity for social solidarity within an anarchist structure. 

    What is the difference between individualist anarchism and collectivist anarchism?

    Individualist anarchism prioritises the well-being of the individual whereas collectivist anarchism prioritising collective well-being over individual well-being and has more of an emphasis on the human capacity for social solidarity. 

    What is the similarity between synthesis and collectivist anarchism?

    Collectivist anarchism is unified in its prioritisation of the collective over the individual and therefore its ideals work in line with this. Synthesis anarchism is embracing of diversity and calls for the unification of all types of anarchists be it individual, collective or others. 

    What is modern collectivist anarchism

    Modern collectivist anarchism is concerned with the human capacity for social solidarity within an anarchist structure in the modern-day. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How do anarcho-syndicalists view the state?

    What was the name of Georges Sorel’s 1908 work?

    What are the three basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism?

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