Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, 1992.


Ends and Means

'Anarchists are simply unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats', as Benjamin Tucker put it.1 They believe that the best government is that which governs least, but better still is no kind of government at all. But what kind of society would they like to see in place of existing governments and States?

Anarchists reject authoritarian organization but not organization itself. They believe that for most of their history people have been able to organize themselves and create their own self-managed institutions in order to satisfy their needs. But they vary considerably in the kind of libertarian institutions they would like to see in the place of the State and government. It is against the nature of anarchism to offer a blueprint for a free society, for free people must decide themselves how they want to live. Nevertheless, they do offer some rough outlines and glimpses of how the economy in a free society might be organized based on the principles of self-management, association, and federation.

In anarchist society, there would no centralized body to impose its will on the people. No political authority would be recognized as legitimate and there would no coercive apparatus to enforce laws. With the dismantling of the State, society would organize itself into a decentralized federation of autonomous districts. The fundamental unit of society varies according to the anarchist thinkers -- for Godwin it is the parish; for Proudhon, the association; for Bakunin and Kropotkin, the commune -- but they all propose a model of society in which power remains in the local assemblies of the sovereign people.

Godwin started from an individualist position and argued that all cooperation to a degree is an evil since it interferes with personal autonomy. He also maintained that the producer has a permanent right to the produce of his labour but argued that he has a duty to distribute any surplus beyond his subsistence needs to the worthiest recipients. But just as a person has a duty to help others, they also in turn have a claim to assistance. We should therefore consider the good things of the world as a trust to be used in the most beneficial way. In the long run, Godwin believed that this form of voluntary distribution would lead to communism.

Proudhon at first sight appears inconsistent in his economic views, but this is because he often used language in an idiosyncratic way and developed his thought as he adapted to changing circumstances in his life. At the time of the 1848 revolution in France, he proposed that the workers should begin to manage their own industries -- an idea far more revolutionary than the prevailing rallying-call, universal suffrage. While his followers, the mutuelistes, tried to retain private ownership for agriculture (because of the individualism of the French peasantry), they accepted collective ownership for transport and proposed a form of industrial self-management. Proudhon himself accepted that in the future, large-scale industry must be the fruit of association, that is to say, the means of production and exchange must be managed by associations of workers themselves. Making a distinction between possession and ownership, he proposed that the workers should possess their means of production, but not be their exclusive owners. They would exchange goods whose value would be measured by the amount of labour necessary to produce them. Workers would receive wages in 'work vouchers' according to the amount of work done. A People's Bank would accept such vouchers and offer free credit.

Adopting the assumptions of capitalism, Proudhon argued that competition and association are interdependent and should be allowed to find their equilibrium. Competition provides an irreplaceable stimulus since it is the 'motive force' of society, as long as it does not lead to monopoly and operates on the basis of fair exchange and in the spirit of solidarity.2 Proudhon wanted to replace political centralization with economic centralization through his People's Bank. Affairs would be managed through 'contracts of mutuality', which he thought would combine the principles of authority and freedom. The producers' associations would finally associate in a great industrial and agricultural federation. Indeed, Proudhon envisaged a greater co-ordinating body, a vast economic federation covering the entire world which would provide information, balance supply and demand, and distribute industrial production.

Josiah Warren came to similarly mutualist conclusions independently of Proudhon. He set up successfully a Time Store where people changed goods directly on the basis of the labour time required to produce them. He insisted on the principle that the price of any good should be the same as its cost, thereby eliminating profit. The individualist Tucker, who was much influenced by Warren, called anarchism 'consistent Manchesterism'. He considered labour to be the only just basis of the right of ownership, but defined that right as 'that control of a thing by a person which will receive either social sanction, or else unanimous individual sanction, when the laws of social expediency shall have been fully discovered'.3 If allowed to be universal and unrestricted, he believed that competition would result in the most perfect peace and the truest co-operation.

Bakunin recognized that it would be difficult for Proudhon's self-managed associations to compete with capitalist enterprises and that the associated workers could eventually themselves become exploiters of other workers. He therefore called for all private property (except that retained for personal use) to be pooled as the collective property of workers' associations (for both agricultural and industrial production) which are freely organized and federated among themselves. He looked to trade unions -- 'the natural organizations of the masses' -- to become the embryo of the administration of the future, and urged workers to think more in terms of co-operatives than of strikes. Federations of unions should also act as planning agencies. Such ideas later became the intellectual basis for anarcho-syndicalism, according to which the syndicate or union was seen as the embryo of the future society.

While Bakunin felt that workers should still be paid according to the amount of work done, anarchist communists like Kropotkin and Malatesta thought that it was more just to distribute according to need. Most wealth, they argue, comes from the accumulated labour of the past and it is difficult to judge the value of labour only according to hours done. Service to the community cannot be measured. Proudhon's competition, even amongst associations, undermines solidarity, while Bakunin's wage system continues the morality of debit, credit and self-interest.

The anarchist communists were also confident that labour in a new society would produce more than enough for all. From Kropotkin to Bookchin, they have been confident that the common ownership of production and the appropriate use of technology will enable humanity to pass from the realm of scarcity to relative abundance. As Kropotkin concluded after investigating different agricultural and industrial methods: 'Well-being for all is not a dream.'4 The geographer Elisee Reclus was also convinced that Malthus's threat of overpopulation was unfounded and that 'the earth is vast enough to support all of us on its breast; it is rich enough to enable us to live in ease.'5

While different anarchists propose different economic arrangements for a free society, many communists like Malatesta would accept that a form of collectivism may well exist in a transitional period. Mutualism, collectivism and communism moreover need not be incompatible; they can be different means to the same end. It would be up to each locality to decide freely what kind of system it would like to adopt and this of course will depend on their degree of economic development and social consciousness.

Although anarchists have carefully outlined their economic proposals, it is not always clear how they think society should organize itself outside the economic sphere. For Godwin the fundamental unit would be the self-governing parish or district although he suggested that a national assembly with delegates from the parishes might be called in emergencies at the national level. Proudhon thought a 'natural group' would emerge at the local level asserting 'itself in unity, independence, and autonomy'.6 It would associate with neighbouring groups and form a higher group for mutual security. The fundamental unit would remain the autonomous commune which should be entirely sovereign with the right to administer itself, to impose taxes, to dispose of its revenue and to provide education.

But what of the relationship between the workers' associations and the communes? Bakunin argued that the former would link up within the communes and the communes federate freely amongst themselves. He saw the task of the commune as being to expropriate the means of production. It should be administered by a council of elected delegates who would be always accountable to the electorate and subject to immediate recall. The elected councils should be working bodies with executive functions; they would also be able to elect from amongst themselves executive committees for each area of the administration of the commune.

Yet Proudhon and Bakunin still continued to see society as a pyramid, even though they spoke of organizing it from the bottom up. As Kropotidn observed of the Paris Commune of 1871, to retain a system of representation is to continue the evils of parliamentarianism and to crush popular initiative. He therefore looked to a form of direct democracy in which all the members of the commune would meet in a general assembly. Only this would be worthy of the name of self-government, of government of oneself by oneself. Unlike the medieval commune, which remained in many respects an isolated State, the commune of the future would not be a territorial agglomeration but rather a 'generic name, a synonym for a grouping of equals, not knowing frontiers, nor walls'.7 The natural sentiment of sociability would then be able to develop itself freely.

The social form proposed by anarchists is therefore of a simplified and decentralized society in which people manage and govern themselves. It would involve overlapping economic and administrative organizations: a federation of self-managing workers' associations within the communes which would federate amongst themselves. The communes could form federation at the regional and national level, with mandated delegates, to resolve disputes, deal with foreign threats, and co-ordinate economic life. Proudhon called for a binding contract between the various communes of a federation in a large territory to ensure unity, but Bakunin insisted that real unity can only derive 'from the freest development of all individuals and groups, and from a federal and absolutely voluntary alliance ... of the workers' associations in the communes and, beyond the communes, in the regions, beyond the regions, the nations'.8 The communes would remain absolutely autonomous.

Since Bakunin most anarchists have envisaged the whole social organization as a network of local groups which associate freely: the commune or council as a territorial nucleus, and the syndicate or workers' council as the economic organization. These would federate together not so much like a pyramid but like a net, with the knots forming the communes. They would be based on the principles of autonomy, self-management, decentralization and federalism. In this way, a living unity could emerge which respected and encouraged local and regional differences. Freed from the strait-jacket of the State, society would be able to develop more, spontaneously and individuals become more fully themselves. Anarchists are confident that the natural solidarity of interests and the advantages of a free and communal life will be enough to maintain social order, and with the principal causes of strife -- imposed authority and unequal property -- eradicated, social harmony will prevail.


The anarchists do not agree on the means to achieve their common goal of a stateless society, although most believe that it is wrong to separate the means from the end. Anarchists have often be accused of relying in a voluntaristic way on 'the instincts of the masses' to mount a social revolution which would somehow turn violence into its opposite.9 Anarchism moreover is often linked in the popular imagination with terrorism. Despite the evidence to the contrary, the anarchist continues to be seen more as a savage terrorist than as a gentle dreamer or quiet philosopher. The image of the anarchist as a bomb-throwing desperado in a black cloak has stuck. It is an image immortalized in literature, by Henry James in The Princess Casamassima (1886) and by Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent (1907). It was an image forged in the desperate 1880s and 1890s when there were a series of political assassinations and bombings in Europe linked to the anarchist-movement.

In fact, anarchists have contributed far less to the sum of human violence than nationalists, monarchists, republicans, socialists, fascists and conservatives, not to mention the Mafia, organized crime, and banditry. They have never organized the indiscriminate slaughter that is war or practised genocide as governments have. They have never coolly contemplated the complete nuclear annihilation of the earth as nuclear scientists, generals and presidents have. They have never adopted a deliberate policy of terror in power as Robespierre, Stalin, or Pol Pot did. While most anarchists would accept some violent action which might involve damage to a person, or property as part of an insurrection, very few indeed have advocated terror in the form of premeditated acts of violence. At its most violent their action has typically not gone much beyond throwing up barricades or entering a village armed with rudimentary weapons. And yet the terrorist reputation sticks, and the very word 'anarchist' continues to evoke a shiver of anxiety among the respectable and well-off. Of the leftist political groups, the police still believe that 'the anarchists are usually the most violent of all'.10

It is easy to see why those who control the State should fear the anarchists for they have most to lose from their success. The myth that anarchists are the most violent of all no doubt stems from the fact that they question the need for the State with its coercive apparatus. They not only believe that rulers, standing armies and professional police forces are harmful, bu argue that they would no longer be necessary in a free society. Few people feel sympathy towards those who would like to see them abolished.

But even a superficial acquaintance with the classic anarchist texts demonstrates that anarchists are remarkable not for their violence but fo the varied tactics they recommend to realize the goal of a free society.

There is little justification for violent action amongst the early thinkers. Godwin wrote as a philosopher concerned with universal principles rather than their practical application. He sought to bring about gradual change through reasoned discussion, not physical action; his was a revolution in opinion, not on the barricades. Since government is founded on opinion, all that is necessary is to change people's opinions through education and enlightenment. But while Godwin opposed violent revolution, and called for gradual change, he was not an absolute pacifist for he believed that reason was not yet sufficiently developed to persuade an assailant to drop his sword.

Proudhon used the motto Destruam ut Aedificabo ('I destroy in order to build up') in his System of Economic Contradictions (1846) but that was to emphasize the need to create new libertarian institutions to replace existing ones. He not only sought to bring about reform through instruction (hence his journalism and books) but also through co-operative experiments like the People's Bank and worker associations. During his life, he employed a whole range of different tactics. At first he employed reasoned argument alone. Then he tried the parliamentary road by entering parliament as a deputy during the 1848 revolution. After the failure of the revolution, he even appealed to Louis Napoleon to become the 'general' of the social revolution. In the end, he advocated abstention from parliamentary politics and urged the working class to emancipate itself through the labour movement by building its own economic institutions.

With Bakunin however the emphasis was more on destruction than innovation. Bakunin more than any other anarchist thinker is responsible for the violent and menacing shadow of anarchism. Intoxicated with the 'poetry of destruction', he not only sided with Satan ('the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds') in his rebellion against God, but declared that the 'The passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!'11 To further the cause of freedom, he was willing to resort to secret societies, manipulation and deceit and called for an invisible dictatorship once the revolutionary storm broke out. Under his influence the Jurassian Federation in Switzerland adopted the principle of class dictatorship in 1874, although they specified: 'The dictatorship that we want is one which the insurgent masses exercise directly, without intermediary of any committee or government.'12 Although Bakunin was against systematic terror and suggested that 'there will be no need to destroy men' he welcomed civil war as a prelude to social revolution.13 He undoubtedly contributed to the sinister side of anarchism which has attracted disturbed and criminal elements, individuals who delight more in illegality and conspiracy than in building and creating.

Bakunin further enhanced his reputation as a destructive revolutionary by his association in the 1870s with the young Russian student Sergei Nechaev who partly inspired the character of Stavrogin in Dostoevsky's The Possessed (1871-2). Nechaev was not only involved in the political murder of a student but wrote a series of pamphlets arguing that the revolution justifies any means, however destructive. In his Catechism of a Revolutionary, he declared of the revolutionary: 'Day and night he must have one thought, one aim -- merciless destruction.' In his Principles of Revolution, he went even further:

We recognise no other activity but the work of extermination, we admit that the form in which this activity will show itself will be extremely varied - the poison, the knife, the rope, etc. In this struggle, revolution sanctifies everything alike.14
But while Nechaev was no anarchist, and it is now known that Bakunin was not the author of the pamphlet, the stance came to be seen as characteristically anarchist. Marx and Engels tried to associate Bakunin with Nechaev's amoral position, and describe his anarchism as synonymous with terrorism: 'There [in Russia] anarchy means universal, pan destruction; the revolution, a series of assassinations, first individual and then en masse; the sole rule of action, the Jesuit morality intensified; the revolutionary type, the brigand.'15 The victim could plead innocence but the accusation stuck.

After the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune of 1871, and the repressive measures of governments throughout Europe against radicals, it is true that some anarchists grew impatient with gradual reform through education and participation in the labour movement and began to adopt a strategy of 'propaganda by the deed' to speed up the advent of the revolution. The doctrine had been advocated earlier by the Italian Republican Carlo Pisacane, a follower of Garibaldi and Proudhon. In his political testament, he wrote:

The propaganda of the idea is a chimera. Ideas result from deeds, not the latter from the former, and the people will not be free when they are educated, but educated when they are free. The only work a citizen can do for the good of the country is mat of co-operating wim the material revolution.16

Another Italian, Carlo Cafiero, who had once been Marx's and Engels' trusted agent, came under the spell of Bakunin and developed the doctrine in a more destructive direction. After the failure of the Bologna rising in 1874, Cafiero and Errico Malatesta decided to resort to symbolic actions like taking over a village to encourage the Italian peasantry to revolt. They also led the move in the international anarchist movement towards more violent forms of action. After attending, in October 1876, the Bern Congress of the International, they urged that 'the insurrectionary deed designed to affirm socialist principles by actions, is the most effective means of propaganda'.17 In Le Revolte in Switzerland in 1880, Cafiero went even further by arguing like Nechaev that the revolutionary end justifies any means:

Our action must be permanent rebellion, by word, by writing, by dagger, by gun, by dynamite, sometimes even by ballot . . . We are consistent, and we shall use every weapon which can be used for rebellion. Everything is right for us which is not legal.18

During the desperate social unrest of the 1880s many anarchists felt that the only way to speed up the collapse of the capitalist State and bring about the revolution was to go on the attack. They felt justified in opposing the 'State terrorism' of the masses with acts of individual terrorism against the agents of the State or the owners and managers of industry, arguing that the force which maintained the existing order had to be overthrown by force. Others decided that they wanted to defend the workers against the State, to demoralize the ruling class, and to create a revolutionary consciousness amongst the workers. They did not expect the acts themselves to overthrow capitalism or the State: assassinating a despot would not get rid of despotism. But as Alexander Berkman observed 'terrorism was considered a means of avenging a popular wrong, inspiring fear in the enemy, and also calling attention to the evil against which the act of terror was directed.'19

The anarchist practice of 'propaganda by the deed' reached its apogee in the 1880s and 1890s when kings, presidents and ministers were attacked throughout Europe. The perpetrators were often motivated by a sense of retribution.

These acts of terrorism not only sparked off repressive measures against anarchists in general but gave the anarchist cause a reputation for violence which it has never been able to live down. It has consequently done enormous harm to the movement. It even became the fashion for criminals to claim a link with anarchism after being caught for a sensational crime.

In the midst of the terrorist outrages and growing class war at the end of the nineteenth century, Kropotkin appeared to many of his contemporaries to rise above the anarchist movement as a kind of gentle saint. Oscar Wilde pronounced Kropotkin's life one of the two most perfect lives he had come across: 'a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia'.20 But Kropotkin's attitude to revolutionary violence was ambivalent at best, and there is an uncomfortable mixture of quietist and aggressive elements in his thinking which is typical of many an anarchist. He certainly rejected Bakunin's tendency to resort to deceit and manipulation, and went beyond Godwin's reliance on an intellectual elite; he stressed the need to propagandize amongst the people. He had a great confidence in the capacity of even illiterate peasants and workers for clear thinking. In his early days, he offered a limited defence of terror and felt that illegal protest and violent struggle are acceptable if the people involved have a clear idea of what they are doing and aiming at.21 Indeed, like Sorel, he even suggested that violent revolution can have a beneficial effect on the oppressed: 'revolutionary whirlwind . . . revive[s] sluggish hearts'.22

Towards the end of his life, Kropotkin was repelled by the spate of terrorist acts and the disastrous effect they were having on the anarchist movement. And yet he still tried to explain them as the inevitable outcome of repressive social conditions. 'Personally', he wrote to a friend, 'I hate these explosions, but I cannot stand as a judge to condemn those who are driven to despair.'23 In a speech commemorating the Paris Commune in London, Kropotkin further rejected the slur that anarchism was the party of violence, arguing that all parties resort to violence when they lose confidence in other means. On the contrary, he maintained:

Of all parties I now see only one party -- the Anarchist -- which respects human life, and loudly insists upon the abolition of capital punishment, prison torture and punishment of man by man altogether. All other parties teach every day their utter disrespect of human life.24
Eventually, by the 1890s, he came to disapprove of acts of violence except those undertaken in self-defence during the revolution. He now argued that conditions favoured peaceful evolution rather than violent revolution. As his friend Elisee Reclus wrote: 'Evolution and revolution are two successive acts of the same phenomenon, evolution preceding revolution, and the latter preceding a new evolution born of a future revolution.'25 Kropotkin therefore increasingly sought to encourage existing libertarian and voluntary tendencies in society.

Of all the great anarchist thinkers, Tolstoy was of course the most uncompromising in his pacifist rejection of violence. His position was based on a strict interpretation of the Christian commandment: 'Thou shalt not kill'; he even interpreted the principle to mean that you should not kill a criminal who seems about to murder a child. It is precisely because government is ultimately based on violence -- the soldier's gun -- that Tolstoy wanted to see it abolished; it is nothing less than 'an organization for the commission of violence and for its justification'.26 The means he adopted was to refuse to co-operate with the violence of government through civil disobedience and non-resistance.

Gandhi, who called himself a kind of anarchist and looked to an ideal of 'enlightened anarchy', developed Tolstoy's method of non-violent action into an effective means of mass struggle, and managed to break the British hold on India. His declared that 'The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy.'27 By being prepared to break the law and to be punished accordingly, Gandhi's followers wielded enormous moral power which proved greater than the force of the bayonet. Such a course of action of course relies on widespread public sympathy and at least a minimal moral sensibility on the part of the oppressing authorities. The Sarvodaya movement has continued his strategy of non-violent direct action.

Although she collaborated as a young woman with Alexander Berkman in his attempt on an industrialist's life, Emma Goldman became an anarchist precisely because she felt human beings are capable of leading peaceful, ordered, and productive lives when unrestricted by the violence of man-made law. Indeed, she defined anarchism as 'the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary'.28 Towards the end of her life, she increasingly felt that the Tolstoyans who renounced all violence were right.

Although by the turn of the century, propaganda by the deed in the form of isolated acts of terror was largely abandoned in favour of education and industrial action, it had done great harm to the anarchist movement. It not only meant that governments introduced severe measures against anarchists, but the fear of anarchism continued long after, as the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti in the 1920s in America demonstrated.

While the terrorist strand within the anarchist tradition has been significant, it has always been a minority trend. The advocates of terrorism are more than balanced by a pacifist wing. Godwin was not the only anarchist to recognize that war is 'the inseparable ally of political institutions'.29 Claiming to be the supreme authority within a territory, the State is ready to use its monopoly of force in the form of its police and armed services against its dissenting citizens as well as foreign peoples. Since a State compels its people to fight the people of another State, the war of one State against another State invariably becomes a war of the State and its military apparatus against its own people. It was on these grounds that Tolstoy opposed the State and government. To deliver men from the terrible evils of armaments and wars, Tolstoy called for 'the destruction of those instruments of violence which are called Governments, and from which humanity's greatest evils flow'.30 .

The carnage of the First World War led Randolph Bourne to conclude that 'War is the health of the State.' The experience of war has disastrous psychological consequences:

The State is the organization of the herd to act offensively or defensively against another herd similarly organised. War sends the current of purpose and activity flowing down to the lowest level of the herd, and to its most remote branches ... The slack is taken up, the crosscurrents fade out, and the nation moves lumberingly and slowly, but with ever accelerated speed and integration, towards the great end, towards that peacefulness of being at war.31
Bourne further noted how in wartime the State achieves a uniformity of feeling and hierarchy of values which it finds difficult to realize in peacetime. The herd instinct drives people into conformity and obedience to the State and encourages a kind of filial mysticism.

Other pacifist anarchists began to stress that violence is the most authoritarian and coercive way of influencing others, and authoritarian means cannot be used to achieve libertarian ends. The use of violence encourages authoritarian and hierarchical organization, as standing armies show only too vividly. A violent person moreover is unlikely to develop a libertarian character. As the Dutch anarchist Bart de Ligt wrote:

the violence and warfare which are characteristic conditions of the imperialist world do not go with the liberation of the individual and society, which is the historic mission of the exploited classes. The greater the violence, the weaker the revolution, even where violence has deliberately been put at the service of the revolution.32
Violence always produces the results of violence. The result in the victim is either resentful hostility, leading ultimately to counter-violence, or abject subjection. In the perpetrator, it encourages a habit of brutality and a readiness to resort to further violence. A violent revolution is therefore unlikely to bring about any fundamental change in human relations.

There has therefore been a highly ambivalent attitude to violence and revolution in the anarchist tradition. All anarchists have recognized the State as perpetrating 'organized violence', and most have taken part in anti-militarist agitation and opposed wars between States. But there has been a terrorist wing of anarchism, as well as a pacifist wing, and the defenders of minimum use of violence have probably predominated.33 Bakunin and Kropotkin both accepted the violence of a popular uprising, believing that it differed from the violence of the State since it benefited the poor and powerless and would lead to a free society. In addition, they would have been unable to carry out the widespread expropriation they advocated without recourse to some violence against property and persons. They defended their position by a kind of 'just war' theory which accepts the discriminate use of violence as a regrettable necessity for a just end.

When the opportunity to put his theory into action occurred during the Spanish Civil War, the anarchist leader Buenaventura Durruti did not shrink from executing landowners. Like Proudhon and Bakunin, he felt it was necessary to destroy the old world in order to create anew:

We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie may blast and ruin their own world before they leave the stage of history. But we carry a new world in our hearts.34

All anarchists look forward to a peaceful and non-violent society, even those who see it as necessary to use violence to end the violence of the State with its coercive apparatus of police, army and prisons. They are not naive. They see like Hobbes that the force of the State rests on the sword and observe that in time of war and social conflict the State comes into its own and reveals its violent nature. They see the State claiming a monopoly of violence in society, with its wars as mass murder, its soldiers as assassins, its conscription as slavery, and its taxation as physical aggression. They are repelled by the inhumanity of the State's mass executions and deportations and the cruel absurdity of war which it unleashes upon the world.

Anarchists also recognize that violence is not only physical force but constitutes the foundation of institutionalized forms of domination. As Alexander Berkman pointed out the lawful world is itself violent: 'our entire life is built on violence or fear of it. From earliest childhood you are subjected to the violence of parents or elders. At home, in school, in the office, factory, field, or shops, it is always someone's authority which keeps you obedient and compels you to do his will.'35 People are so invaded and violated that they subconsciously revenge themselves by invading and violating others over whom they have authority. Indeed, the word violence comes from the Latin violare and etymologically means violation. Strictly speaking, to act violently means to treat others without respect. All forms of domination are inherently disrespectful and violent -- economical exploitation, political authoritarianism, as well as sexual and racial discrimination.

Given the anarchists' respect for the sovereignty of the individual, in the long run it is non-violence and not violence which is implied by anarchist values. As April Carter has written: 'The utopianism of anarchism logically entails also the utopianism of pacifism, in the sense of rejecting all forms of organized violence.'36 Unfortunately, the association of anarchism with violence, both in a brief period of its history, and in the popular imagination, has left a dilemma for its adherents. On the one hand, its reputation for illegality has undoubtedly attracted certain individuals who are interested in mindless violence for its own sake. On the other, its philosophical rigour and idealism appeal to those who are most repelled by indiscriminate acts of violence. '

The nineteenth-century anarchists were part of the tradition of revolutionary violence forged by the success of the American and French Revolutions. In this they were at one with the Jacobins, the followers of Mazzini and Garibaldi, the Russian populists and the Marxists who saw non-violence as either ineffectual or as objectively supporting the existing order. Engels spoke on behalf of most socialist revolutionaries when he wrote:

a revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon -- authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries.37

The Russian and Spanish Revolutions saw the last great outbursts of anarchist violence on a large scale. Since the Second World War, the modern anarchist movement, inspired by Tolstoy, Gandhi and de Ligt, has tended to be non-violent and constructive. Most anarchists recognize that not only do the means influence the ends, but means are ends-in-the-making. In a nuclear era of total war, anarchists have tried to undermine the State by refusing to obey or co-operate with its immoral demands. They seek to create free zones and libertarian institutions rather than to overthrow the State in a cataclysmic revolution. To raise consciousness and challenge authorities, they have adopted a whole range of tactics from passive to active non-violent resistance, including demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, occupations, and refusing to pay taxes.38 They hope to change the public opinion on which the legitimacy of the State rests so that people will come to realize that it is not only harmful but also unnecessary. They see like Godwin that government is founded on opinion as well as the sword: if enough people stop believing that it is right for the State to use violence, the moral authority of the State will disintegrate, and the sword will become useless.

While their long-term goal is to replace the State by a federation of self-managing communes, contemporary anarchists are not content to dream of a mythic future and endeavour to transform everyday life, here and now. As such, the strategy of most anarchists of 'dropping out' to create an alternative lifestyle is closer to Stirner's view of insurrection rather than Bakunin's view of revolution:

The Revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on 'institutions'. It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only the working forth of men out of the established.39
This does not mean that some anarchists are not prepared to take to the streets and even raise barricades, as in May 1968 in France. Anarchists also joined in the riot against the Poll Tax in London in March 1990. But the vast majority of modern anarchists prefer, like the Provos in Holland, to provoke rather man to destroy; they choose to work in the Green, peace and women's movements, not underground. After their somewhat apocalyptic past, they have come to realize the ultimate folly of trying to realize peaceful ends through violent means. Violence is undoubtedly the method of the ignorant and the weak, and the more enlightened people become, the less they will resort to compulsion and coercion.


1 Tucker, Instead of a Book, op. cit., p. 14

2 Proudhon, quoted in Guerin, Anarchism, op. cit., p. 53

3 Tucker, Instead of a Book, op. cit., pp. 404, 131

4 Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, op. cit., p. 35

5 Elisee Reclus, L 'Evolution, la revolution, et l'ideal anarchique, op. cit., p. 135

6 Proudhon, quoted in Guerin, Anarchism, op. cit.,' p. 57

7 Kropotkin, Les Paroles d'un revoke, op. cit., p. 117

8 Bakunin, quoted in Guerin, Anarchism, op. cit., p. 65

9 See Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists, op. cit., pp. 2, 9

10 Richard Clutterbuck, 'Lecture to the Silver Jubilee Meeting of International Police', The Police Journal (July, 1975), p. 204

11 'The Reaction in Germany', Bakunin on Anarchy, op. cit:, p. 57

12 Bulletin de la Federation Jurassienne, 38 (12 July 1874)

13 Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, op. cit., p. 168

14 Sergei Nechaev, Catechism of a Revolutionary (1869) and Principles of Revolution, quoted in Carr, Michael Bakunin (1937 edn.), op. cit., p. 380

15 Marx and Engels, 'The Alliance of the Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men's Association' in Marx, Engels & Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, op. cit., p. 117

16 Quoted in Woodcock, Anarchism, op. cit., p. 308

17 Bulletin de la Federation Jurassienne (3 December, 1876)

18 Carlo Cafiero, Action et communisme (1880), quoted in Nicolas Walter, 'Carlo Cafiero on Action and Communism', The Raven, II, 2 (October 1988), 177

19 Berkman, ABC of Anarchism (1973 edn.), op. cit., p. 6

20 Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, op. cit., p. 180

21 See Miller, Kropotkin, op. cit., pp. 146, 174-5

22 Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, op. cit., p. 36

23 Kropotkin to Mrs Dryhurst, 1893, quoted in Woodcock & Avakumovic, The Anarchist Prince, op. cit., p. 248

24 Kropotkin, quoted in The Anarchist Reader, op. cit., p. 184

25 Elisee Reclus, L'Evolution et la revolution, et l'ideal anarchique, op. cit., p. 15

26 Tolstoy, 'Patriotism and Government', Works, op. cit, XLVI, 1, 252

27 Quoted in Woodcock, Gandhi, op. cit., p. 86

28 Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays, op. cit., p. 51

29 Godwin, Anarchist Writings, op. cit., p. 55

30 Tolstoy, 'Patriotism and Government', op. cit., 252

31 Bourne, 'The State', op. cit., quoted in Ward, Anarchy in Action, op. cit, p. 22

32 Bart de Ligt, The Conquest of Violence, op. cit, p. 75

33 See April Carter, 'Anarchism and Violence', Nomos XIX: Anarchism, op. cit, p. 320. See also Qstergaard, 'Resisting the Nation State', The Nation-State, op. cit, p. 188

34 Buenaventura Durruti, Montreal Star (30 October 1936), quoted in Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1961), p. 289

35 Berkman, ABC of Anarchism, op. cit, P. 8

36 See Carter, 'Anarchism and Violence', op. cit, p. 334. See also Ostergaard, 'Resisting the Nation State', op. cit, p. 188; Ronald Sampson, The Anarchist Basis of Pacifism (Peace Pledge Union, 1970)

37 Engels, 'On Authority', Marx, Engels & Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, op. cit., p. 105

38 See April Carter, 'Direct Action, Law, and Anarchism', Anarchism and the Law, op. cit., 141-3

39 Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, op. cit., p. 316

40 Berkman, ABC of Anarchism, op. cit., p. 8