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anarchism (ănˈərkĭzəm) [Gr.,=having no government], theory that equality and justice are to be sought through the abolition of the state and the substitution of free agreements between individuals. Central to anarchist thought is the belief that society is natural and that people are good but are corrupted by artificial institutions. Also central in anarchism are the belief in individual freedom and the denial of any authority, particularly that of the state, that hinders human development. Since the Industrial Revolution, anarchists have also opposed the concentration of economic power in business corporations.

Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoic philosophy, is regarded as the father of anarchism. In the Middle Ages the anarchist tradition was closely linked to utopian, millenarian religious movements such as the Brethren of the Free Spirit of the 13th cent. and the Anabaptists of the 16th cent. The philosophy of modern political anarchism was outlined in the 18th and 19th cent. by William Godwin, P. J. Proudhon, and others.

Mikhail Bakunin attempted to orient the First International toward anarchism but was defeated by Karl Marx. Bakunin gave modern anarchism a collectivist and violent tone that has persisted despite the revisionary efforts of Piotr Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy. Political anarchism in Russia was suppressed by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution.

Anarchism's only real mass following was in Latin countries, where its doctrines were often combined with those of syndicalism, especially in Spain. In the United States, early anarchists such as Josiah Warren were associated with cooperatives and with utopian colonies. After the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886 and the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 a law was passed forbidding anarchists to enter the country, and Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were among those deported. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case attests to the fear of anarchism in the United States.

As an organized movement, anarchism is largely dead, but it retains importance as a philosophical attitude and a political tendency, and to lesser degree as a source of social protest. In recent years they have mounted highly visible, sometimes violent or destructive public protests at international conferences attended by representives of the governments and corporations of major industrialized nations, such as meetings of the Group of Seven, the World Trade Organization, and the World Economic Forum.


See R. Kedward, The Anarchists (1971); G. Runkle, Anarchism, Old and New (1972); M. Nettlau, History of Anarchism (3 vol., 1978).

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any doctrine that advocates the virtues of social existence without governmental institutions. See also ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a petit bourgeois social and political current hostile to proletarian scientific socialism. Its basic idea is the rejection of all state power and the doctrine of the totally unlimited freedom of each individual person.

Anarchism regards any state (even a state that is implementing the dictatorship of the proletariat) as the primal cause of all social injustices and proposes to abolish the state as a first step toward creating a new society. Thus, anarchists reject all authority (not only state authority), reject social discipline and the necessity of the minority’s submission to the majority, and oppose the political struggle of the working class and the organization of workers into a political party.

With respect to the state, V. I. Lenin indicated three basic distinctions between Marxism and anarchism: (1) Marxists, “. . . while setting as their goal the complete abolition of the state, recognize that this goal can be achieved only after the elimination of classes by the socialist revolution, as the result of the establishment of socialism, which would lead to the withering away of the state”; anarchists “... want the complete abolition of the state overnight, without understanding the conditions under which this is possible”; (2) Marxists “. . . consider it necessary that the proletariat, in winning political power, completely destroy the old state machinery and replace it with a new one . . .”; “anarchists . . . reject the use of state authority by the revolutionary proletariat and its revolutionary dictatorship”; (3) Marxists “… demand the preparation of the proletariat for the revolution through the utilization of the contemporary state; anarchists reject this” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 33, pp. 112–13).

Anarchism proclaims as its ultimate goal a free federation of small, autonomous associations of producers; thus, anarchists preach a crude, primitive leveling.

Along with the petite bourgeoisie, the social base of anarchism includes the declasse elements, the Lumpenproletariat. At the same time, through determined criticism of the defects of bourgeois society, as well as of the reformism and conciliationism waged by some of its representatives, anarchism attracts a certain stratum of participants of the revolutionary movement. Anarchism played a well-known role in stimulating protest among the working masses against exploitation. However, with the development of the workers’ movement, anarchism, which led workers along the wrong path, began objectively to obstruct the proletariat’s class struggle against the bourgeoisie.

Anarchism took shape between the 1840’s and 1870’s. It became most widespread in countries where the proportion of petite bourgeoisie was high—Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, France, Russia, Austria, the Netherlands, and certain Latin American countries. The term itself was introduced by P. J. Proudhon, but the sources of anarchism’s ideas can be traced back to the 17th—18th centuries (W. Godwin and others). The main ideologists of anarchism at different stages of its development were M. Stirner (Germany); M. A. Bakunin and P. A. Kropotkin (Russia); and P. J. Proudhon and J. Grave (France).

K. Marx and F. Engels exposed the theoretical flimsiness and social nature of anarchism. In the First International, they struggled persistently against Proudhonism, whose advocates sought to perpetuate the small, splintered system of production. After it was destroyed, they struggled against Bakunin and his followers (the dissident International Alliance of Social Democrats, created in 1868), who reduced revolution to “spontaneous action”—that is, the spontaneous rebellion of the masses, primarily the déclassé elements and peasantry. In 1872, the Hague Congress of the First International expelled the anarchist leaders Bakunin and J. Guillaume from the International. That same year, the Bakuninists created the so-called Anarchist International, which survived until 1878. In 1873, the General Council of the International resolved that all organizations which refused to recognize the common decisions of the Hague Congress would not be considered members of the International; in essence this meant the expulsion of the Bakuninists from its ranks.

In the second half of the 19th century, anarchists seriously harmed the socialist movement with their tactic of “direct action” (terrorist acts and sabotage) and opposition to political struggle and the proletariat’s political party. Anarchists attempted to disorganize the work of the Second International, which expelled them from its ranks in 1891. At the end of the 19th century, anarchism provided the source for anarchosyndicalism, which attained its greatest influence at the start of the 20th century. The dissatisfaction of the working class with the opportunistic policies of Social Democratic leaders aided the spread of anarchist moods even among a portion of the working class engaged in large-scale industry. During these years, the works of V. I. Lenin, directed against anarchistic and right-wing opportunistic distortions of proletarian theory and tactics, were extremely important in the ideological struggle against anarchism. During World War I (1914–18), many anarchist leaders (G. Hervé, P. A. Kropotkin, and others) maintained a chauvinistic position in direct contradiction to the antimilitarist doctrines which they had advanced earlier.

After the October Revolution, anarchism in the Soviet Republic lost its class basis; it degenerated into a counterrevolutionary current and was liquidated in the 1920’s. During the upsurge in the revolutionary struggle of the working class, anarchism also deteriorated in other countries. The only country in which anarchism continued to exert perceptible influence was Spain, where in 1926 an anarchist political organization, the Federation of Anarchists of Iberia (FAI), was established. During the National Revolutionary War in Spain of 1936–39 (Spanish Civil War), some anarchists and their leaders (B. Durruti and others) entered into organized struggle against fascism. Other leaders rejected the necessity of revolutionary discipline during the war. They withdrew certain units from the fronts, arranged rowdy disturbances and provocations in the rear, and demanded “immediate revolution” and “libertarian communism” (that is, communism free from state power). These actions weakened the Spanish Republic. After World War II (1939–45), anarchists showed some activity only in Spain, Italy, and certain Latin American countries. Congresses of anarchists held periodically in France since the war have been extremely small. The émigré organization of the FAI has played the leading role; only isolated individuals from Italy, Argentina, and other countries where there are small groups of adherents of anarchism have participated in the congresses. However, the attraction of ever-wider strata of the population (in particular, student youth) to the anticapitalist struggle of the 1960’s has been accompanied by a revival of ideas more or less akin to anarchism. Elements hostile to communism and sometimes outright imperialist agents have tried to exploit this phenomenon.

Anarchism in Russia Anarchism arose in Russia around 1870. In the 1870’s, up to the formation of Narodnaia Volia (People’s Will), a segment of the Populists was under the influence of M. A. Bakunin’s anarchist ideas. The programmatic and tactical lines of the Russian anarchists were formulated by Bakunin in his book Statism and Anarchism (1873). Characteristic features of anarchism in that period were the denial of the necessity for political struggle against the government, the rejection of parliamentarism, faith in the socialist “instincts” of the Russian peasantry, faith in the peasant commune as the basis of socialism, and the belief in an imminent social revolution in Russia which would allegedly result from a general peasant uprising. Bakunin persuaded the youth of the deep and inexhaustible revolutionary attitude of the peasant masses, believing that “it required no effort to incite a given village” to rebellion. Under Bakunin’s influence, a contumacious Bakuninist current developed in the revolutionary Populist movement of the 1870’s. In the 1870’s, anarchism expressed the interests of the petite bourgeoisie and part of the peasantry. “Going to the people” showed the futility of the Russian anarchists’ hopes that the peasantry was ready for revolution. The contradictions inherent in Bakunin’s doctrine were revealed. In the 1870’s, anarchism was able “... to develop with extraordinary luxuriance and reveal its ultimate incorrectness and unsuitability to serve as the guiding theory for the revolutionary class” (Ibid., vol. 41, p. 15). In the 1880’s, anarchism played essentially no role in the Russian liberation movement.

At the turn of the 20th century, P. A. Kropotkin emerged as an ideologist of anarchism. His works Anarchy, Its Philosophy, Its Ideal and Anarchy and Its Place in the Socialist Revolution appeared in St. Petersburg in 1906. In 1903 the anarchist journal Khleb i Volia (Bread and Freedom) appeared in Switzerland with Kropotkin’s participation. In Russia anarchist groups formed in Odessa, Ekaterinoslav, Belostok, and elsewhere. During these years anarchism’s social base was the backward strata of the working class and the petite bourgeoisie.

During the Revolution of 1905–07, anarchist organizations appeared in almost all the large industrial centers, especially in southern Russia, and in the fleet. However, their influence was negligible. Lenin, noting the harm of the anarchists’ theoretical views and their tactics for the proletariat, wrote in December 1905: “. . . We will use . . . every means of ideological struggle in order to ensure that the influence of the anarchists on Russian workers remains as negligible as it has been up to this point” (Ibid., vol. 12, p. 132). Along with the Mensheviks, the anarchists in 1906–07 propagandized the summoning of a nonparty “workers’ congress.” The Fifth Congress of the RSDLP adopted a special resolution declaring such a congress useless. A number of trends developed among the anarchists at this time: the Khleb i Volia faction, which rejected expropriation and acknowledged the usefulness of workers’ organizations; the “anarchosyndicalists,” who regarded syndicates—the organization of workers into trade unions on the basis of their professional interests—as units of the future stateless society and who published the journal Burevestnik (Stormy Petrel) abroad; and the beznachal’tsy (leaderless) and cheroznamentsy (black flag) factions (some of whom later split off into the bezmotivniki—terrorists without motive—group), who stressed terror and expropriation. Almost all the anarchist groups were smashed by the police.

After the February Revolution of 1917, amid the awakening to political life of broad masses of the petite bourgeoisie, the anarchists revived; they created “federations” in many cities and formed factions in a number of soviets (for example, the Kronstadt Soviet).

In large measure, the anarchist movement of 1917 amounted to expropriations and terrorism. Bandits and adventurists often acted in the guise of anarchists and helped to compromise anarchism completely as a political trend. The October Revolution, which deprived the bourgeoisie of political rights, eliminated the grounds for anarchist agitation. Some of the anarchists accepted Soviet authority. Another segment began to spread propaganda against Soviet power as the Soviet state grew stronger; they alleged that it constituted a “reestablishment of state oppression.” During the Civil War, some armed anarchist bands fought the Soviet government. The All-Russian Organization of Anarchists of the Underground formed in Moscow in 1919. It committed a series of terrorist acts. For example, with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, it blew up the building of the Moscow Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) on Leont’evskii Pereulok on Sept. 25, 1919. This and other similar organizations of anarchists were uncovered by organs of the Cheka. Some small legal groups or circles of anarchists attempting to propagandize their ideas (the Golos Truda Publishing House) continued to exist up to the mid-1920’s. Losing its class base, anarchism was eliminated in the USSR.


Marx, K. “Nishcheta filosofii.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Marx, K. “Konspekt knigi Bakunina ‘Gosudarstvennost’ i anarkhiia’.” Ibid., vol. 18.
Engels, F. “Bakunisty za rabotoi.” Ibid.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. “Al’ians sotsialisticheskoi demokratii i Mezhdunarodnoe Tovarishchestvo Rabochikh.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Anarkhizm i sotsializm.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 5.
Lenin, V. I. “Sotsializm i anarkhizm.” Ibid., vol. 12.
Lenin, V. I. “Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia.” Ibid., vol. 33.
Plekhanov, G. V. “Nashi reznoglasiia.” In his book Izbrannye filosofskie proizvedeniia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956.
Bakunin, M. A. Sobr. soch. ipisem., vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1934–35.
Kropotkin, P. A. Sobr. soch., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1918.
Iaroslavskii, E. Anarkhizm v Rossii. Moscow, 1939.
Leibzon, B. M. Melkoburzhuaznyi revoliutsionarizm. Moscow, 1939.
Kosichev, A. D. Bor’ba marksizma-leninizma s ideologiei anar-khizma i sovremennost’. Moscow, 1964.
Komin, V. V. Anarkhizm v Rossii. Kalinin, 1969.
Stirner, M. Edinstvennyi i ego sobstvennost’, parts 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1907–09. (Translated from German.)
Proudhon, P. Chto takoe sobstvennost’. . . St. Petersburg, 1919. (Translated from French.)
Stammler, R. Anarkhizm. St. Petersburg, 1906. (Translated from German.)
Reclus, E. Evoliutsiia, revoliutsiia, anarkhicheskii ideal. Moscow, 1906. (Translated from French.)
Godwin, W. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, vols. 1–2. London, 1793.
Read, H. Anarchy and Order. London, 1954. Nettlau, M. Der Anarchismus von Proudhon zu Kropotkin. Berlin, 1927.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Political theory a doctrine advocating the abolition of government
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005