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Anarchism is a libertarian socialist political tendency based on a skepticism towards all forms of authority, formal or informal, and an opposition to unjust hierarchy. Anarchism has its origins in the theory of the 19th-century French radical Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and was first codified by the Russian activist Mikhail Bakunin along with his followers in the International Workingmen's Association. In the late 1860s, Bakunin and his followers in the organization became involved in a bitter struggle with the faction of Karl Marx, whose formulation of scientific socialism upheld the importance of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the eventual withering away of the state over an immediate abolition of all hierarchic relationships. The Bakunin-Marx split was a factor in the dissolution of the IWMA in 1876.

Anarchists most often oppose capitalism, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, and the state as the most egregious forms of unjust hierarchy.[citation needed] Anarchists argue that these can only be ended by an overthrow, typically forcible, of these relations and other implicit forms of domination such as ideology.[citation needed] While anarchists are united in their opposition to the capitalist system, their prescriptions for its replacement vary significantly, typically involving consensus-based decision making, de-centralized or self-organized forms of stateless government, and in some cases, markets.

While some anarchists take influence from Marxist theory, others find Marxist thought and practice to be seriously flawed, and almost all anarchists criticize the actions of V. I. Lenin and Marxist-Leninist leaders such as Joseph Stalin. Although Bakunin was opposed to communism,[citation needed][clarification needed] most modern strains of anarchism are influenced by the example of anarcho-communists like Peter Kropotkin.[citation needed]

Definition and etymology

Anarchism as a term is derived from the Latin anarchia, which itself originates from the Greek ἀναρχία. Therefore, anarchy and anarchism literally mean "without rulers."[1]

Kropotkin defined anarchism as "the no-government system of socialism." Errico Malatesta elaborates on this point, stating that "the abolition of exploitation and oppression of man by man, that is the abolition of private property [capitalism] and government."[2]

Anarchism, therefore, is a political theory that aims to create a society which is without political, economic or social hierarchies. Anarchists maintain that anarchy, the absence of rulers, is a viable form of social system and so work for the maximization of individual liberty and social equality. They see the goals of liberty and equality as mutually self-supporting.[3]



Bakunin-Marx split

Kropotkin and Russian anarchism

Anarchism in the world wars


Spanish Civil War

Anarchism after the Cold War

Seattle WTO protests

Global South anarchist movements


Enclosed A, a common symbol used by anarchists.


Anarchists, especially anarcho-syndicalists,[dubious ] emphasize the importance of direct action and revolutionary praxis to a successful abolition of hierarchy and of the capitalist system.


Marxist critique

Marxist communists criticize anarchists for what they perceive to be theoretical flaws as well as issues in praxis.

A common Marxist critique is that while revolutionary movements following Marxist doctrine have been able to conquer state-power and build successful socialist societies, anarchist self-organizations tend to collapse within a few years (with their most cited examples of the Ukrainian Free Territory and Anarchist Catalonia only being able to exist as small war-time entities).


Marxist-Leninists are strongly opposed to anarchism and often hold that anarchist tactics are inherently ineffective or even unproductive. Without a centralized vanguard party to secure revolutionary gains, organize militant workers, coordinate actions, etc. anarchists are left only with ineffective "direct action" (largely street-violence and terrorism) as usable tactics. Further, even if anarchists were ever to overthrow the bourgeois state in one area, bourgeois states would still exist in other parts of the world. While Marxists would be able to defend a revolution from the forces of external capitalist states and internal counter-revolution via the development and empowerment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, anarchists, on account of their inflexible idealist notions, would (and have) quickly be defeated. As Joseph Stalin wrote in Foundations of Leninism:

The victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat signifies the suppression of the bourgeoisie, the smashing of the bourgeois state machine and the substitution of proletarian democracy for bourgeois democracy. That is clear. But by means of what organisation can this colossal work be carried out? The old forms of organisation of the proletariat, which grew up on the basis of bourgeois parliamentarism, are inadequate for this work—of that there can hardly be any doubt. What, then, are the new forms of organisation of the proletariat that are capable of serving as the gravediggers of the bourgeois state machine, that are capable not only of smashing this machine, not only of substituting proletarian democracy for bourgeois democracy, but also of becoming the foundation of the proletarian state power?

The more abstract explanation for the inferiority of anarchism in comparison to Marxism would be its aforementioned idealist views. Anarchism, like other petite-bourgeois and bourgeois ideology, views the ideals of people as dominate to actual material circumstances. Therefore, anarchists believe that the state can be entirely abolished in a short period so long as the people are "convinced" in the need to abolish the state, rather than accounting for the material circumstances (that being of class struggle) which result in the state existing in the first place.[4]

Anarchists, in addition, are individualists; believing that true liberation comes from "liberating" the individual first and foremost. Whereas Marxists understand that liberation can only be attained via destroying the exploitive class system and liberating the exploited classes in order to achieve liberation of individuals.[4]

Anarchist communities

Freetown Christiania

Freetown Christiania is a squatters' organization based in Copenhagen, Denmark. They thrive particularly in Francophone countries as well as in Spain and Greece[citation needed][clarification needed] (especially Exarcheia). Christiania is associated with the trade of cannabis products, which are illegal in Denmark. This movement[clarification needed] is more rooted in the hippie counterculture than in anarchism proper. It is not even a commune[citation needed] and has private enterprise and carries out no revolutionary activity.[citation needed]

Variants of anarchism



Market and right-wing

See also


  1. "anarchism" English etymology Wiktionary
  2. Kropotkin, P. Revolutionary pamphlets (PDF)
  3. The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 269
  4. 4.0 4.1 Anarchism or Socialism? Josef Stalin


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Generally not considered to be a variant of anarchism, largely due to its reactionary and otherwise right-wing views.