Why Do Individualist Anarchists Reject Social Anarchism?

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Republished with permission.
Source: The Anarchist Library


The individualist anarchists consider themselves as anti-capitalists and many called themselves mutualists and socialists. It may be objected that they opposed the more obviously socialist types of anarchism like communist-anarchism and, as a consequence, should be considered as supporters of capitalism. This is not the case as can be seen from why they rejected communist-anarchism. The key thing to remember is that capitalism does not equal the market. So while the individualist anarchists advocated a market economy, it “is evident from their writings that they rejected both capitalism and communism — as did Proudhon.” [Brian Morris, “Global Anti-Capitalism”, pp. 170–6, Anarchist Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, p. 175]

It should noted that while Tucker came to excommunicate non-individualist forms of anarchism from the movement, his initial comments on the likes of Bakunin and Kropotkin were very favourable. He reprinted articles by Kropotkin from his paper La Revolte, for example, and discussed “the Anarchistic philosophy, as developed by the great Proudhon and actively propagated by the heroic Bakunin and his successors on both sides of the Atlantic.” [Liberty, no. 26, p. 3] After the rise of the IWPA in the early 1880s and the Haymarket police riot of 1886, Tucker changed his position. Now it was a case that the “Anarchistic social ideal” was “utterly inconsistent with that of those Communists who falsely call themselves Anarchists while at the same time advocating a regime of Archism fully as despotic as that of the State Socialists themselves.” For Tucker, real anarchists did not advocate, like communist anarchists, “forcible expropriation” nor “force as a revolutionary agent and authority as a safeguard of the new social order.” [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 88–9] As will become clear, Tucker’s summation of communist-anarchism leaves a lot to be desired. However, even after the break between individualist and communist anarchism in America, Tucker saw that both had things in common as both were socialists:

“To be sure, there is a certain and very sincere comradeship that must exist between all honest antagonists of the exploitation of labour, but the word comrade cannot gloss over the vital difference between so-called Communist-Anarchism and Anarchism proper.” [Liberty, no. 172, p. 1]

Social anarchists would agree with Tucker in part, namely the need not to gloss over vital differences between anarchist schools but most reject Tucker’s attempts to exclude other tendencies from “Anarchism proper.” Instead, they would agree with Kropotkin and, while disagreeing with certain aspects of the theory, refuse to excommunicate him from the anarchist movement. Few anarchists agreed with Tucker’s sectarianism at the time and communist-anarchism was, and remains, the dominant tendency within anarchism.

It is these disagreements to which we now turn. It should be stressed, though, that the individualist anarchists, while tending to excommunicate social anarchism, also had many inclusive moments and so it makes these objections often seem petty and silly. Yes, there was certainly pettiness involved and it worked both ways and there was a certain amount of tit-for-tat, just as there is now (although to a much lesser degree these days). Anarchist-communist opposition to what some of them sadly called “bourgeois anarchism” was a fact, as was individualist anarchist opposition to communist-anarchism. Yet this should not blind us to what both schools had in common. However, if it were not for some opponents of anarchism (particularly those seeking to confuse libertarian ideas with propertarian ones) dragging these (mostly resolved) disagreements back into the light of day this section would be a lot shorter. As it is, covering these disagreements and showing how they could be resolved is a useful task — if only to show how individualist and communist anarchism are not as alien as some make out.

There were four main objections made to communist-anarchism by the individualists. Firstly, that communist-anarchism was compulsory and any compulsory system could not be anarchist. Secondly, that a revolution would be imposing anarchism and so contradicted its principles. Thirdly, that distribution by need was based on altruism and, consequently, unlikely to succeed. Fourthly, that the communist-anarchists are determining how a free society would be organised which is authoritarian. Needless to say, communist-anarchists rejected these claims as being false.




Freedom – Equality – Solidarity


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