Anarchist communism

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Anarcho-communism, or libertarian communism, is a political ideology related to libertarian socialism. However, the terms Anarcho-Communism and Libertarian Communism should not be considered synonyms for libertarian socialism. Anarcho-Communism is a particular branch of libertarian socialism.

Anarcho-Communism was first formulated in the Italian section of the First International, by Carlo Cafiero, Errico Malatesta, Andrea Costa and other ex-Mazzinian Republicans. Out of respect for Mikhail Bakunin, they did not make their differences from standard Anarchism explicit until after the latter's death. In 1876, at the Florence Conference of the Italian Federation of the International (which was actually held in a forest outside Florence, due to police activity), they declared the principles of Anarcho-Communism, beginning with:

"The Italian Federation considers the collective property of the products of labour as the necessary complement to the collectivist programme, the aid of all for the satisfaction of the needs of each being the only rule of production and consumption which corresponds to the principle of solidarity. The federal congress at Florence has eloquently demonstrated the opinion of the Italian International on this point..."

The above report was actually made in an article by Malatesta and Cafiero in the (Swiss) Jura Federation's bulletin later that year.

Anarcho-communism stresses the abolition of money and the introduction of the gift economy to facilitate the exchange of goods.

In anarcho-communism, profit no longer exists. Not only that, but goods are given away as gifts in the certainty that others will also give products back (in an industrial setting, this would occur between worker syndicates as well as between individuals). If one syndicate does not share their products, they will not receive resources from other syndicates, making it in their best interest to share.

Anarcho-communism also advocates the abolition of work in the sense of wage slavery, and recommends worker self management to improve working conditions, increase efficiency, and make working enjoyable.

Development of Ideas

Anarchist communist currents manifested themselves during the English Civil War and the French Revolution of the 1700s. Gerrard Winstanley, who was part of the radical Diggers movement in England, wrote in his 1649 pamphlet, "The New Law of Righteousness," that there "shall be no buying or selling, no fairs nor markets, but the whole earth shall be a common treasury for every man," and "there shall be none Lord over others, but every one shall be a Lord of himself." During the French Revolution, Sylvain Maréchal, in his "Manifesto of the Equals" (1796), demanded "the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth" and looked forward to the disappearance of "the revolting distinction of rich and poor, of great and small, of masters and valets, of governors and governed."

An early anarchist communist was Joseph Déjacque, the first person to describe themself as "libertarian". Unlike Proudhon, he argued that, "it is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature."

The collectivist anarchists advocated remuneration for labor, but held out the possibility of a post-revolutionary transition to a communist system of distribution according to need. As Bakunin's associate, James Guillaume, put it in his essay, Ideas on Social Organization (1876), "When... production comes to outstrip consumption... everyone will draw what he needs from the abundant social reserve of commodities, without fear of depletion; and the moral sentiment which will be more highly developed among free and equal workers will prevent, or greatly reduce, abuse and waste."

First International

Anarchist communism as a coherent, modern economic-political philosophy was first formulated in the Italian section of the First International by Carlo Cafiero, Errico Malatesta, Andrea Costa and other ex-Mazzinian Republicans. Out of respect for Mikhail Bakunin, they did not make their differences with collectivist anarchism explicit until after Bakunin's death.[6] The collectivist anarchists sought to collectivize ownership of the means of production while retaining payment for labor, but the anarcho-communists sought to extend the concept of collective ownership to the products of labor as well. While both groups argued against capitalism, the anarchist communists departed from Proudhon and Bakunin, who maintained that individuals have a right to the product of their labor and to be remunerated for their work, by proposing that individuals should be free to access goods according to their needs without respect to how much labor they exert.

Cafeiro explains in Anarchy and Communism (1880) that private property in the product of labor will lead to unequal accumulation of capital and, therefore, undesirable class distinctions: "If we preserve the individual appropriation of the products of labour, we would be forced to preserve money, leaving more or less accumulation of wealth according to more or less merit rather than need of individuals."[7] At the Florence Conference of the Italian Federation of the International in 1876, held in a forest outside Florence due to police activity, they declared the principles of anarcho-communism, beginning with:

"The Italian Federation considers the collective property of the products of labour as the necessary complement to the collectivist programme, the aid of all for the satisfaction of the needs of each being the only rule of production and consumption which corresponds to the principle of solidarity. The federal congress at Florence has eloquently demonstrated the opinion of the Italian International on this point..."

The above report was made in an article by Malatesta and Cafiero in the (Swiss) Jura Federation's bulletin later that year.

Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin, often seen as the most important theorist of anarchist communism, outlined his economic ideas in The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops. Kropotkin felt that co-operation is more beneficial than competition, arguing in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution that this was illustrated in nature. He advocated the abolition of private property through the "expropriation of the whole of social wealth" by the people themselves, and for the economy to be co-ordinated through a horizontal network of voluntary associations where goods are distributed according to the physical needs of the individual, rather than according to labor. He further argued that these "needs," as society progressed, would not merely be physical needs but "as soon as his material wants are satisfied, other needs, of an artistic character, will thrust themselves forward the more ardently. Aims of life vary with each and every individual; and the more society is civilized, the more will individuality be developed, and the more will desires be varied."

He maintained that, in anarcho-communism:

"...houses, fields, and factories will no longer be private property, and that they will belong to the commune or the nation and money, wages, and trade would be abolished.|Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread

Individuals and groups would use and control whatever resources they needed, as the aim of anarchist-communism was to place "the product reaped or manufactured at the disposal of all, leaving to each the liberty to consume them as he pleases in his own home." He supported the expropriation of property to ensure that everyone would have access to what they needed without being forced to sell their labour to get it.

"We do not want to rob any one 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...|Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread

He said that a "peasant who is in possession of just the amount of land he can cultivate," and "a family inhabiting a house which affords them just enough space... considered necessary for that number of people" and the artisan "working with their own tools or handloom" would not be interfered with, arguing that "the landlord owes his riches to the poverty of the peasants, and the wealth of the capitalist comes from the same source."

While many anarcho-communists are opposed to trade, some post-left and post-scarcity anarcho-communists, and ones with syndicalist sympathies, are not opposed to trade. Some support a non-monetary form of trade in the form of non-monetary commons. Others such as Tiziana Terranova easily see anarcho-communism being compatible with a non-hierarchical, open access, free association, non-monetary form of trade such as P2P.


Anarchist communism stresses egalitarianism and the abolition of social hierarchy and class distinctions that arise from unequal wealth distribution, the abolition of capitalism and money, and the collective production and distribution of wealth by means of voluntary associations. In anarchist communism, the state and property would no longer exist. Each individual and group would be free to contribute to production and to satisfy their needs based on their own choice. Systems of production and distribution would be managed by their participants.

The abolition of wage labor is central to anarchist communism. With distribution of wealth being based on self-determined needs, people would be free to engage in whatever activities they found most fulfilling and would no longer have to engage in work for which they have neither the temperament nor the aptitude. Anarchist communists argue that there is no valid way of measuring the value of any one person's economic contributions because all wealth is a collective product of current and preceding generations. For instance, one could not measure the value of a factory worker's daily production without taking into account how transportation, food, water, shelter, relaxation, machine efficiency, emotional mood etc. contributed to their production. To truly give numerical economic value to anything, an infinite amount of externalities and contributing factors would need to be taken into account. Especially current or past labor that contributes to the ability to utilize future labor.

Anarchist communists argue that any economic system based on wage labor and private property requires a coercive state apparatus to enforce property rights and to maintain the unequal economic relationships that inevitably arise from differences in wages or amount of property. They further argue that markets and systems of currency divide labor into classes and assign artificial numerical values to an individual's work and attempt to regulate production, consumption and distribution. They argue that money restricts an individual's ability to consume the products of their labor by limiting their intake with prices and wages. They believe that production, consumption and distribution should be self-determined by each individual without arbitrary value assigned to labor tasks by others. In place of a market, most anarcho-communists support a currency-less gift economy where goods and services are produced by workers and distributed in community stores where everyone (including the workers who produced them) is entitled to consume whatever they want or need as "payment" for their production of goods and services. A gift economy does not necessarily involve an immediate return (such as with remuneration), compensation comes in the form of whatever the person decides is of equal value to their products of labor.

Communist anarchism shares many traits with collectivist anarchism but has defining differences. Collectivist anarchism believes in collective ownership but communist anarchism negates the entire concept of ownership in favor of the concept of usage. Thus, things are seen as either private possessions used by an individual, or social possessions used to produce for society. Anarcho-communists believe that means of production should not be owned by any person or entity, leaving it free to be used by individuals for their own self-determined needs and wants. The land used by an individual for themself or their family or productive property used to produce for an individual would be considered private possessions rather than social possessions in anarcho-communist theory. In that regard, anarcho-communism could be considered to be a compromise between collective and individual ownership, in that one would own what they had created unless it is used to produce for society in which case it would become a social possession. The individual would be perfectly free to create it again and keep it as long as it is not being used as a means of production for the community or general public.

Anarcho-communists reject mutualist economics because they believe that market competition, even non-capitalist markets, inherently create inequalities in wealth and land which would lead to inequalities of power - thus the recreation of the State and capitalism as some workers would have more access to capital and defence force than others. They reject collectivist economics arguing that remuneration would require a type of currency, which anarcho-communists reject as an artificial measurement of the value of labor. They further argue that those who are not part of collective groups or unions in workers' councils and collectives could be alienated from access to capital, and thus promote common ownership over ownership by collective groups.

Philosophical Arguments

Anarchist communists reject the claim that wage labor is necessary because people are by "nature" lazy and selfish. They point out that even the so-called "idle rich" sometimes find useful things to do despite having all their needs satisfied by the labour of others. Anarcho-communists generally do not agree with the belief in a pre-set 'human nature', arguing that human culture and behavior is very largely determined by socialization. Many, like Peter Kropotkin, also believe that human evolutionary tendency is for humans to cooperate with each other for mutual benefit and survival instead of existing as lone competitors.

Anarchist communists support communism as a means for ensuring the greatest freedom and well-being for everyone, rather than only the wealthy and powerful. In this sense, anarchist communism is a profoundly egalitarian philosophy. Anarchist communists do not think that anyone has the right to be anyone else's master, or 'boss' as this is a concept of capitalism and the state. Some contemporary anarchist communists and advocates of post-left anarchy such as Bob Black reject the concept of work altogether in favor of turning necessary subsistence tasks into voluntary free play.

Many anarcho-communists (and collectivist anarchists as well) reject "individualism" and "collectivism" as illusory concepts. They argue that an individual sacrificing themself for the "greater good" or being ruled by the "community" or "society" is not possible because society is composed of individuals rather than being a cohesive unit separate from the individual, and argue that collective control over the individual is tyrannical and un-anarchistic.

In Practice

There have been several attempts both successful and unsuccessful at creating anarchist-communist societies throughout much of the world. Some anarchist-communists and some green anarchists (Especially Anarcho-primivists) argue that tribal societies are early forms of anarchist-communism. Egalitarian religious communities such as the Diggers Movement during the English Revolution could arguably be the first anarchist communist societies in modern history. Large communities and federations of communities such as Anarchist Catalonia and the Free Territory of revolutionary Ukraine are examples of anarchist-communism in 20th century Europe. The free territories of Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 could be seen as another example of large-scale successful anarcho-communism.

The Korean Anarchist Movement in North and South Korea led by Kim Jwa Jin showed a temporary success in bringing anarcho-communism to Korea. However, the success was short-lived and not nearly as widely spread as the anarchism in Spain or Hungary. Some consider the current existing anarchist nature of communities in Argentina and the Zapatista councils in Mexico to be anarcho-communist in nature. Others consider them to be collectivist or syndicalist.

Some parts of the free software community, the GNU movement and parts of the copyleft movement are a type of information and software gift economy (a gift economy being the preferred economic system of anarcho-communists). Programmers make their source code available, allowing anyone to copy and modify/improve the code. Individual programmers gain prestige and respect, and the community as a whole benefits from better software. Markus Giesler in his ethnography "Consumer Gift Systems" has developed music downloading as a system of social solidarity based on gift transactions. Some organizations such as online commons (such as the Wikimedia Commons), wikis and Indymedia are held up as examples of functioning anarcho-communistic organizations.

See also


Further Reading

The Principals of Anarcho-Communism

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