Anarchist-communism has been regarded by other anarchist currents as a poor and despised relation, an ideological trophy to be exhibited according to the needs of hagiography or polemic before moving on to “serious things” (the collectivisations of Spain, anarcho-syndicalism, federalism or self-management), and as an “infantile utopia” more concerned with dogmatic abstractions than with “economic realities”. Yet, anarchist communism has been the only current within the anarchist movement that has explicitly aimed not only at ending exchange value but, among its most coherent partisans, at making this the immediate content of the revolutionary process. We are speaking here, of course, only of the current that explicitly described itself as “anarchist-communist”, whereas in fact the tendency in the nineteenth century to draw up a stateless communism “utopia” extended beyond anarchism properly so-called.
Anarchist-communism must be distinguished from collectivism, which was both a diffuse movement (see, for example, the different components of the International Working Men’s Association, the Guesdists, and so on) and a specific anarchist current. As far as the latter was concerned, it was Proudhon who supplied its theoretical features: an open opponent of communism (which, for him, was Etienne Cabet’s “communism”), he favoured instead a society in which exchange value would flourish — a society in which workers would be directly and mutually linked to each other by money and the market. The Proudhonist collectivists of the 1860’s and 1870’s (of whom Bakunin was one), who were resolute partisans of the collective ownership of the instruments of work and, unlike Proudhon, of land, maintained an essence of this commercial structure in the form of groups of producers, organised either on a territorial basis (communes) or on an enterprise basis (co-operatives, craft groupings) and linked to each other by the circulation of value. Collectivism was thus defined — and still is — as an exchange economy where the legal ownership of the instruments of production is held by a network of “collectivities” which are sorts of workers’ jointstock companies. Most contemporary anarchists (standing, as they do, for a self-managed exchange economy) are collectivists in this nineteenth-century sense of the term, even though the term has now come to have a somewhat different meaning (state ownership, i.e. “state capitalism”, rather than ownership by any collectivity).
In the 1870’s and the 1880’s the anarchist-communists, who wanted to abolish exchange value in all it’s forms, broke with the collectivists, and in so doing revived the tradition of radical communism that had existed in France in the 1840’s.
In 1843, under the Rabelaisian motto “Do what you will!”, and in opposition to Etienne Cabet, Théodore Dézamy’s Code de la Communauté laid the basis for the principles developed later in the nineteenth century by communist and anarchist-communist theoreticians such as Joseph Déjacque, Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels, William Morris and Peter Kropotkin. These principles involved the abolition of money and commercial exchange; the subordination of the economy to the satisfaction of the needs of the whole population; the abolition of the division of labour (including the division between the town and country and between the capital and the provinces); the progressive introduction of attractive work; and the progressive abolition of the state and of the functions of government, as a separate domain of society, following the communisation of social relations, which was to be brought about by a revolutionary government. It should be noted that Dézamy advocated the ‘community of goods’ and resolutely opposed the specifically collectivist slogan of ‘socialisation of property.’ In doing so, he anticipated the critical analysis of property which Amadeo Bordiga made more than a century later.
Besides rejecting Cabet’s utopia, because it maintained the division of labour — in particular that between town and country — and sought to organise it rigidly in the name of economic ‘efficiency,’ Dézamy also refused to insert between the capitalist mode of production and communist society a transitional period of democracy which would have pushed communism into the background. By seeking to establish a direct link between the revolutionary process and the content of communism, so that the dominant class within capitalism would be economically and socially expropriated through the immediate abolition of monetary circulation, Dézamy anticipated what was to be the source of the basic originality of anarchist-communism, in particular in its Kropotkinist form. This feature was the rejection of any ‘transition period’ that did not encompass the essence of communism: the end of the basic act of buying and selling. At about the same time, the communists around the journal L’Humanitaire, Organe de la Science Sociale (of which two issues appeared in Paris in 1841) advocated a program of action very close to that of Dézamy, proposing, among other things, the abolition of marriage. In addition, they made travel one of the principal characteristics of communist society, because it would bring about mixing of the races and interchange between industrial and agricultural activities. This group also identified itself with the Babouvist Sylvain Maréchal for having proclaimed ‘anti-political and anarchist ideas’. However, it was above all the house-painter Joseph Déjacque (1822–64) who, up until the foundation of anarchist communism properly so-called, expressed in a coherent way the radical communism which emerged in France from the 1840s as a critical appropriation of Fourierism, Owenism and neo-Babouvism. Déjacque’s work was an examination of the limits of the 1848 revolution and the reasons for its failure. It was developed around a rejection of two things: the state, even if ‘revolutionary,’ and collectivism of the Proudhonist type. Déjacque reformulated communism in a way that sought to be resolutely free from the dogmatism, sectarianism and statism exhibited by those such as Cabet and La Fraternité de 1845. Déjacque spoke of: “Liberty! Which has been so misused against the community and which it is true to say that certain communist schools have held cheap.”
Déjacque was a fierce opponent of all the political gangs of the period. He rejected Blanquism, which was based on a division between the ‘disciples of the great people’s Architect’ and ‘the people, or vulgar herd,’ and was equally opposed to all the variants of social republicanism, to the dictatorship of one man and to ‘the dictatorship of the little prodigies of the proletariat.’ With regard to the last of these, he wrote that: ‘a dictatorial committee composed of workers is certainly the most conceited and incompetent, and hence the most anti-revolutionary, thing that can be found...(It is better to have doubtful enemies in power than dubious friends)’. He saw ‘anarchic initiative,’ ‘reasoned will’ and ‘the autonomy of each’ as the conditions for the social revolution of the proletariat, the first expression of which had been the barricades of June 1848. In Déjacque’s view, a government resulting from an insurrection remains a reactionary fetter on the free initiative of the proletariat. Or rather, such free initiative can only arise and develop by the masses ridding themselves of the ‘authoritarian prejudices’ by means of which the state reproduces itself in its primary function of representation and delegation. Déjacque wrote that: ‘By government I understand all delegation, all power outside the people,’ for which must be substituted, in a process whereby politics is transcended, the ‘people in direct possession of their sovereignty,’ or the ‘organised commune.’ For Déjacque, the communist anarchist utopia would fulfil the function of inciting each proletarian to explore his or her own human potentialities, in addition to correcting the ignorance of the proletarians concerning ‘social science.’
However, these views on the function of the state, both in the insurrectionary period and as a mode of domination of man by man, can only be fully understood when inserted into Déjacque’s global criticism of all aspects of civilisation (in the Fourierist sense of the term). For him, ‘government, religion, property, family, all are linked, all coincide.’ The content of the social revolution was thus to be the abolition of all governments, of all religions, and of the family based on marriage, the authority of the parents and the husband, and inheritance. Also to be abolished were ‘personal property, property in land, buildings, workshops, shops, property in anything that is an instrument of work, production or consumption.’ Déjacque’s proposed abolition of property has to be understood as an attack on what is at the heart of civilisation: politics and exchange value, whose cell (in both senses) is the contract. The abolition of the state, that is to say of the political contract guaranteed by the government (legality), for which anarchy is substituted, is linked indissolubly with the abolition of commerce, that is to say of the commercial contract, which is replaced by the community of goods: ‘Commerce,... this scourge of the 19th century, has disappeared amongst humanity. There are no longer either sellers or sold.’
Déjacque’s general definition of the ‘anarchic community’ was:
“the state of affairs where each would be free to produce and consume at will and according to their fantasy, without having to exercise or submit to any control whatsoever over anything whatever; where the balance between production and consumption would establish itself, no longer by preventive and arbitrary detention at the hands of some group or other, but by the free circulation of the faculties and needs of each.”
Such a definition implies a criticism of Proudhonsim, that is to say of the Proudhonist version of Ricardian socialism, centred on the reward of labour power and the problem of exchange value. In his polemic with Proudhon on women’s emancipation, Déjacque urged Proudhon to push on ‘as far as the abolition of the contract, the abolition not only of the sword and of capital, but of property and authority in all their forms,’ and refuted the commercial and wages logic of the demand for a ‘fair reward’ for ‘labour’ (labour power). Déjacque asked: ‘Am I thus... right to want, as with the system of contracts, to measure out to each — according to their accidental capacity to produce — what they are entitled to?’ The answer given by Déjacque to this question is unambiguous: ‘it is not the product of his or her labour that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature.’
The ‘direct exchange’ theorised by Proudhon corresponded to supposed ‘abolition’ of the wages system which in fact would have turned groups of producers or individual producers into the legal agents of capital accumulation. For Déjacque, on the other hand, the communal state of affairs — the phalanstery ‘without any hierarchy, without any authority’ except that of the ‘statistics book’ — corresponded to ‘natural exchange,’ i.e. to the ‘unlimited freedom of all production and consumption; the abolition of any sign of agricultural, individual, artistic or scientific property; the destruction of any individual holding of the products of work; the demonarchisation and the demonetarisation of manual and intellectual capital as well as capital in instruments, commerce and buildings.
The abolition of exchange value depends on the answer given to the central question of ‘the organisation of work’ or, in other words, on the way in which those who produce are related to their activity and to the products of that activity. We have already seen that the answer Déjacque gave to the question of the distribution of products was the community of goods. But the community had first of all to be established in the sphere of productive activities themselves. Although the disappearance of all intermediaries (parasites) would allow an increase in production, and by this means would guarantee the satisfaction of needs, the essential requirement was the emancipation of the individual producer from ‘enslaving subordination to the division of labour’ (Marx) and, primarily, from forced labour. This is why the transformation of work into ‘attractive work’ was seen by Déjacque as the condition for the existence of the community: ‘The organisation of attractive work by series would have replaced Malthusian competition and repulsive work.’ This organisation was not to be something exterior to productive activity. Déjacque’s communist anthropology was based on the liberation of needs, including the need to act on the world and nature, and made no distinction between natural-technical necessities and human ends. Although its vocabulary was borrowed from Fourier (harmony, passions, series and so on), it aimed at the community of activities more than the organised deployment of labour power: ‘The different series of workers are recruited on a voluntary basis like the men on a barricade, and are completely free to stay there as long as they want or to move on to another series or barricade.’ Déjacque’s ‘Humanisphere’ was to have no hours of work nor obligatory groupings. Work could be done in isolation or otherwise.
As to the division of labour, Déjacque proposed its abolition in a very original way. What he advocated was a reciprocal process of the integration of the aristocracy (or rather of the aristocratic intelligentsia) and the proletariat, each going beyond its own unilateral intellectual or manual development.
Although he recognised the futility of palliatives, Déjacque was perhaps exasperated by the gulf between the results of his utopian research and the content of the class struggle in the 1850s, and tried to bridge this gulf with a theory of transition. This theory aimed to facilitate the achievement of the state of community, while taking into account the existing situation. Its three bases were, first, ‘direct legislation by the people’ (‘the most democratic form of government, while awaiting its complete abolition’); second, a range of economic measures which included ‘direct exchange’ (even though Déjacque admitted that this democratised property without abolishing exploitation), the establishment of Owenite-type ‘labour bazaars,’ ‘circulation vouchers’ (labour vouchers) and a gradual attack on property; and third, a democratisation of administrative functions (revocability of public officials, who would be paid on the basis of the average price of a day’s work) and the abolition of the police and the army.
It is an undeniable fact that this programme anticipated that of the Paris Commune of 1871, at least on certain points. But this is the weak side of Déjacque where he accepts the ‘limits’ of the 1848 Revolution, against which he had exercised his critical imagination. The ‘right to work’ appeared along with the rest, and with it the logic of commerce. It should be noted that, on the question of the transition, Déjacque singularly lacked ‘realism’ since, even if the insoluble problems posed by the perspective of workers managing the process of value-capital are ignored, he proposed giving not only women, but ‘prisoners’ and the ‘insane’ the right to vote, without any age limit. But the transition was only a second best for Déjacque and he explicitly recognised it as such. There was no abandoning of utopian exploration in favour of the transition, but a tension between the two, the opposite to what was to be the case with Errico Malatesta, with whom he could be superficially compared.
The tenor of Déjacque’s utopia, its move towards breaking with all commercial and political constraints, its desire to revive the insurrectionary energy of the proletariat, and its imaginative depth (comparable to that of William Morris) enable one to see that it made a fundamental contribution to the critical element in anarchist-communism. Déjacque provided anarchist-communism during the first cycle of its history with an iconoclastic dimension, the glimmers of which are not found again until the Kropotkin of the 1880’s or until Luigi Galleani in the twentieth century.
The Reformulation of Communist Anarchism in the ‘International Working Men’s Association’ (IWMA)
The First International, or International Working Men’s Association, was organised in 1864 and was active for several years before splitting into acrimonious factions in the aftermath of the Paris Commune of 1871. The split that occurred in the IWMA was essentially over the details of collectivism and over the ways of arriving at a ‘classless society’ whose necessarily anti-commercial nature was never stated (except in Marx’s Capital), or rather never played any part in shaping the practice of the organisation. Bakunin himself, a left-wing Proudhonist for whom the abolition of exchange value would have been an aberration, purely and simply identified communism with a socialistic Jacobin tendency and, moreover, generally used the term ‘authoritarian communism’ as a pleonasm to describe it.
In August 1876, a pamphlet by James Guillaume entitled Idées sur L’organisation Sociale was published in Geneva. The importance of this text lies not in its succinct presentation of the framework of a collectivist society, but in the relation set out by Guillaume between such a society and communism. Starting out from the collective ownership of the instruments of production, that is to say from the ownership of by each ‘corporation of workers in such and such an industry’ and by each agricultural grouping, and hence from the ownership by each of these groups of their own products, Guillaume ends up at ‘communism’, or — since he does not employ this term — at the substitution of free distribution for exchange. The transition to free distribution is supposed to be organically linked to the society described by Guillaume, even though it is a society organised around the exchange of products at their value, because of the guarantee represented by the collective ownership of the means of production. The essential point here is that communism is reduced to the status of a moral norm, which it would be a good thing to move towards, and is made to appear as the natural development of a collectivist (and wage) society, with its rigid division between industrial and agricultural producers, its policy of full employment and its payment of labour power.
In making the precondition for communism a social relationship built on wage system, and by seeing this as the basis for the state becoming superfluous, Guillaume laid the foundation for the regression that was to overtake anarchist-communism and of which Malatesta was to be one of the principle representatives. According to Guillaume, the preconditions for communism were a progressive appearance of an abundance of products, which would allow calculation in terms of value to be abandoned and an improvement in the ‘moral sense’ of the workers to occur. This in turn would enable the principle of ‘free access’ to be implemented. Guillaume envisaged this train of events as being brought about by the development of commercial mechanisms, with the working class acting as their recognised agent by virtue of the introduction of collective property and the guaranteed wage. What underlay all this was the implication that the act of selling is no longer anything but a simple, technical, transitional, rationing measure.
It was precisely in opposition to this variant of Proudhonism that anarchist-communism asserted itself in what was left of the IWMA towards the end of the 1870’s. In February 1876, Savoyard François Dumartheray (1842–1931) published in Geneva a pamphlet Aux Travailleurs Manuals Partisans de L’action Politique, ‘corresponding to the tendencies of the section “L’Avenir”, an independent group of refugees from in particular Lyons... For the first time anarchist-communism was mentioned in a printed text.’ On March 18-19th of the same year, at a meeting organised in Lausanne by members of the IWMA and Communalists, Elisée Reclus delivered a speech in which he recognised the legitimacy of anarchist-communism. Still in 1876, a number of Italian anarchists also decided to adopt anarchist-communism, but the way they formulated this change indicated their limitations as far as the question of collectivism was concerned: ‘The Italian Federation considers the collective ownership of the product of labour as the necessary complement of the collectivist programme.’ Also, in the spring of 1877, the Statuten der Deutscheienden Anarchischkommunistischen Partei appeared in Berne.
The question of communism remained unsettled at the Verviers Congress of the ‘anti-authoritarian’ IWMA in September 1877, when the partisans of communism (Costa, Brousse) and the Spanish collectivists confronted each other, with Guillaume refusing to commit himself. However, the Jura Federation, which was an anarchist grouping that had been active in the French-speaking area of Switzerland throughout the 1870’s, was won over to the views of Reclus, Cafiero and Kropotkin, and integrated communism into its programme at its Congress in October 1880. At this Congress, Carlo Cafiero presented a report that was later published in Le Révolté under the title ‘Anarchie et Communisme’. In this report, Cafiero succinctly exposed the points of rupture with collectivism: rejection of exchange value; opposition to transferring ownership of the means of production to workers’ corporations; and elimination of payment for productive activities. Furthermore, Cafiero brought out the necessary character of communism, and hence demonstrated the impossibility of a transitional period of the type envisaged by Guillaume in his 1876 pamphlet. Cafiero argued that, on the one hand, the demand for collective ownership of the means of production and ‘the individual appropriation of the products of labour’ would cause the accumulation of capital and the division of society into classes to reappear. On the other hand, he maintained that retaining some form of payment for individual labour power would conflict with the socialised character (indivisibility of productive activities) already imprinted on production by the capitalist mode of production. As to the need for rationing products, which might occur after the revolutionary victory, nothing would prevent such rationing from being conducted ‘not according to merits, but according to needs’.
Kropotkin’s contribution in favour of communism at the 1880 Congress was the culmination of a slow evolution of his position from strict collectivism to communism, by way of an intermediate position where he saw collectivism as a simple transitional stage. Kropotkin’s theory of anarchist-communism, which was drawn up in its essentials during the 1880’s, is an elaboration of the theses presented by Cafiero in 1880 on the conditions making communism possible and on the necessity of achieving this social form, from which exchange value would disappear. Anarchist-communism is presented as a solution to crisis-ridden bourgeois society, which is torn between the under-consumption of the proletariat, under-production and socialised labour. At the same time, anarchist-communism is seen as the realisation of tendencies towards communism and the free association of individuals which are already present in the old society. In this sense, anarchist-communism is a social form, which re-establishes the principle of solidarity that exists in tribal societies.
Kropotkin’s anarchist-communism has the general characteristic of being based on the satisfaction of the needs — ‘necessities’ and ‘luxuries’ — of the individual, i.e., on the right to the ‘entire product of one’s labour’, which featured in the collectivists’ policy of full employment and the guaranteed wage. This satisfaction of needs was to be guaranteed by a number of measures: free distribution of products was to replace commodity exchange; production was to become abundant; industrial decentralisation was to be implemented; the division of labour was to be overcome; and real economies were to be realised by the reduction of working time and the elimination of waste caused by the capitalist mode of production. Kropotkin wrote: ‘a society, having recovered the possession of all riches accumulated in its midst, can liberally assure abundance to all in return for four or five hours effective manual work a day, as far as regards production.’
Yet the question arises whether the appropriation of the instruments of production by the producers, as consumers, and by consumers, as producers, referred to a new legal form of property ownership or to the abolition of property in all forms. Although the Anarchist Congress held in London in 1881 pronounced in favour of ‘the abolition of all property, including collective’, and although Kropotkin himself contrasted ‘common use’ to ‘ownership’, he still did not go beyond the collectivist perspective of the transfer of property to a new agent (i.e., for him, to society as a whole, rather than to industrial and trading commercial collectives). Hence, he wrote: ‘For association to be useful to the workers, the form of property must be changed’.
The same ambiguity is found over the related question of the abolition of the division of labour. Certainly, the description which Kropotkin gave of the content of communist society in this respect is perfectly clear: integration of manual and intellectual labour; attractive and voluntary work; and fusion of agriculture, industry and art within ‘industrial villages’. But a revolutionary strategy which puts forward the corporatist slogan of ‘The land to those who cultivate it, the factory to the workers’, presupposes maintaining the division of labour and the institution of the enterprise and can be said not to go beyond the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ society which would still be a form of collectivism.
The organisation of the new society, in its two aspects — communist and anarchist (in view of the necessary connection between a mode of production and its political form) — was to be based on the ‘communist commune’ (rather than on the ‘free commune’ of the Communalists), federalism (decentralization and economic self-sufficiency of regions or producing areas) and neighbourhood assemblies. Kropotkin distinguished three possible methods of organisation: on a territorial basis (federation of independent communes); on a basis of social function (federation of trades); and that which he gave all his attention, and which he hoped would expand, on the basis of personal affinity. In fact, the ‘free and spontaneous grouping of individuals functioning in harmony’ seemed to him to be the essential characteristic of the particular social relationship of anarchist-communism.
But the important point lies more in the forms and content of the revolutionary process, of which all this was to be the end result. The revolution was seen as an international process, starting with a long period of insurrection, whose model Kropotkin found in the repeated peasant insurrections that had preceded the French Revolution. Such a revolutionary process would end in a phase of general expropriation, which would mark the beginning of ‘the reconstruction of society’:
“Expropriation, such then is the problem which history has put before the people of the twentieth century: the return to Communism in all that ministers to the well-being of humanity... by taking immediate and effective possession of all that is necessary to ensure the well-being of all.”
Immediate expropriation defined the whole logic of the revolutionary process for Kropotkin. Basically, it is here that the essence of his work lies. The real answer to the objection that can be made against him (regarding his optimistic assumptions about human nature, the abundance of products, and so on) lies in the alternatives that he posed: either the immediate communisation of social relations or the wages system in one form or another. If proof of the stark nature of these alternatives was ever required, history has provided such proof in abundance. For Kropotkin, the critique of the wages system was indissolubly linked with the critique of collectivism (Proudhonist or Guesdist). He wrote: ‘The most prominent characteristic of our present capitalism is the wage system’. Kropotkin saw the wages system as presupposing the separation of the producers from the means of production and as being based on the principle ‘to each according to their deeds’:
“It was by proclaiming this principle that wagedom began, to end in the glaring inequalities and all the abominations of the present society; because, from the moment work done began to be appraised in currency, or in any other form of wage... the whole history of a State-aided Capitalist society was as good as written.”
The collectivists favoured the ‘right to work’, which is ‘industrial penal servitude’. In Kropotkin’s view, their pro-worker policy sought to ‘harness to the same cart the wages system and collective ownership’, in particular through their theory of labour vouchers. Kropotkin opposed labour vouchers on the grounds that they seek to measure the exact value of labour in an economy that, being socialised, tends to eliminate all distinctions as far as contribution of each worker considered in isolation is concerned. Furthermore, the existence of labour vouchers would continue to make society ‘a commercial company based on debit and credit’. Hence he denounced labour vouchers in the following terms: ‘The idea... is old. It dates from Robert Owen. Proudhon advocated it in 1848. Today, it has become “scientific socialism”.
Kropotkin made equally stringent criticisms of the collectivists’ attitudes towards the division of labour and the State. With regard to the division of labour, he wrote: ‘Talk to them [the collectivist socialists] about the organisation of work during the Revolution, and they answer that the division of labour must be maintained.’ As for the State, it was significant that as soon as Kropotkin had come out in favour of ‘direct, immediate communist anarchism at the moment of the social revolution’, he criticised the Paris Commune as an example of a revolution where, in the absence of the communist perspective, the proletariat had become bogged down in problems of power and representation. Kropotkin believed that the Paris Commune illustrated well how the ‘revolutionary state’ acts as a substitute for communism and provides a new form of domination linked to the wages system. In contrast to this, ‘it is by revolutionary socialist acts, by abolishing individual property, that the Communes of the coming revolution will affirm and establish their independence’. Further, communism would transform the nature of the Commune itself:
“For us, ‘Commune’ is no longer a territorial agglomeration; it is rather a generic noun, synonym of a grouping of equals which knows neither frontiers nor walls. The social commune will soon cease to be clearly-defined whole.”
For Kropotkin, what characterises the revolutionary process is, in the first place, general expropriation, the taking possession of all ‘riches’ (means of production, products, houses and so on), with the aim of immediately improving the material situation of the whole population. He wrote: ‘with this watchword of Bread for All the Revolution will triumph’. Since Kropotkin foresaw that a revolution would in the beginning make millions of proletarians unemployed, the solution would be to take over the whole of production so as to ensure the satisfaction of food and clothing needs. First of all, the population ‘should take immediate possession of all food of the insurgent communes’, draw up an inventory, and organise a provisions service by streets and districts which would distribute food free, on the principle: ‘no stint of limit to what the community possesses in abundance, but equal sharing and dividing of those things which are scarce or apt to run short’. As for housing:
“If the people of the Revolution expropriate the houses and proclaim free lodgings — the communalising of houses and the right of each family a decent dwelling — then the Revolution will have assumed a communistic character from the first... the expropriation of dwellings contains in germ the whole social revolution.”
A second characteristic of Kropotkin’s vision of the revolutionary process was to integrate the countryside into the process of communisation, by making an agreement ‘with the factory workers, the necessary raw materials given them, and the means of subsistence assured to them, while they worked to supply the needs of the agricultural population’. Kropotkin regarded the integration of town and country as of fundamental importance, since it bore on the necessity to ensure the subsistence of the population and would be accomplished by the beginning of the abolition of the division of labour, starting from the industrial centres. He thought that ‘The large towns, as well as the villages, must undertake to till the soil’, in a process of improvement and extension of cultivated areas. In Kropotkin’s view, the agrarian question was thus decisive right from the beginning of the revolution. Kropotkin’s exposition of the expropriation of the land for the benefit of society (the land to belong to everyone) was not, however, free from the ambiguity we mentioned above. To make land — as with all else — a property question amounts to placing productive activity above the satisfaction of needs, to inserting a social actor between the population and the satisfaction of their needs. Property can only be private.
This inability to break definitively with collectivism in all its forms also exhibited itself over the question of the workers’ movement, which divided anarchist-communism into a number of tendencies. To say that the industrial and agricultural proletariat is the natural bearer of the revolution and communisation does not tell us under what form it is or should be so. In the theory of the revolution which we have just summarised, it is the risen people who are the real agent and not the working class organised in the enterprise (the cells of the capitalist mode of production) and seeking to assert itself as labour power, as a more ‘rational’ industrial body or social brain (manager) than the employers. Between 1880 and 1890, the anarchist-communists, with their perspective of an immanent revolution, were opposed to the official workers’ movement, which was then in the process of formation (general Social Democratisation). They were opposed not only to political (statist) struggles but also to strikes which put forward wage or other claims, or which were organised by trade unions. While they were not opposed to strikes as such, they were opposed to trade unions and the struggle for the eight-hour day. This anti-reformist tendency was accompanied by an anti-organisational tendency, and its partisans declared themselves in favour of agitation amongst the unemployed for the expropriation of foodstuffs and other articles, for the expropriatory strike and, in some cases, for ‘individual recuperation’ or acts of terrorism.
From the 1890’s, however, the anarchist-communists, and Kropotkin in particular, were to begin to integrate themselves directly into the logic of the workers’ movement (reproduction of waged labour power). In 1890, Kropotkin ‘was one of the first to declare the urgency of entering trade unions’, as a means of trying to overcome the dilemma in which, according to him, anarchist-communism risked trapping itself. Kropotkin saw this dilemma in terms of either joining with the reformist workers’ movement or sterile and sectarian withdrawal. ‘Workmen’s organisations are the real force capable of accomplishing the social revolution’, he was to declare later.
Coinciding with the birth of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism, three tendencies emerged within anarchist-communism. First, there was the tendency represented by Kropotkin himself and Les Temps Nouveaux (Jean Grave). Second, there were a number of groups which were influenced by Kropotkin but which were less reserved than him towards the trade unions (for example, Khleb i Volia in Russia). Finally, there was the anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists, who in France were grouped around Sebastien Faure’s Le Libertaire. From 1905 onwards, the Russian counterparts of these anti-syndicalist anarchist-communists become partisans of economic terrorism and illegal ‘expropriations’.
Certainly, it would be an ‘illusion to seek to discover or to create a syndicalist Kropotkin’, at least in the strict sense of the term, if only because he rejected the theory of the trade union as the embryo of future society — which did not prevent him from writing a preface in 1911 for the book written by the anarcho-syndicalists Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget, Syndicalism and the Co-operative Commonwealth (How We Shall Bring About The Revolution). But he saw the trade-union movement as a natural milieu for agitation, which it would be possible to use in the attempt to find a solution to the reformism-sectarianism dilemma. As an alternative to the strategy of the Russian ‘illegalist’ anarchist-communists, Kropotkin envisaged the formation of independent anarchist trade unions whose aim would be to counteract the influence of the Social Democrats. He defined his strategy in one sentence in the 1904 introduction to the Italian edition of Paroles d’un Révolté: ‘Expropriation as the aim, and the general strike as the means to paralyse the bourgeois world in all countries at the same time.’
At the end of his life Kropotkin seems to have abandoned his previous reservations and to have gone so far as to see in syndicalism the only ‘groundwork for the reconstruction of Russian economy’. In May 1920, he declared that: ‘the syndicalist movement... will emerge as the great force in the course of the next fifty years, leading to the creation of the communist stateless society’. He was equally optimistic about the prospects facing the co-operative movement. Remarks such as these opened the way for theoretical regression that was to make anarchist-communism a simple variant of anarcho-syndicalism, based on the collective management of enterprises. Reduced to the level of caricature, ‘anarchist-communism’ even became an empty phrase like the Spanish ‘libertarian communism’ of the 1930’s, to say nothing of the contemporary use to which this latter term is put.
The End of Anarchist-Communism?
Kropotkin’s last contribution, not to anarchist-communism but to its transformation into an ideology, was the introduction of the mystifying concept of Russian ‘state communism’. Faced with the events of the Russian Revolution and the establishment of a capitalist state freed from the fetters of Tsarism, Kropotkin should logically have seen the new state as a form of collectivism. He should have recognised that its character was determined by the wages system, as with other varieties of collectivism that he had previously exposed. In fact, he limited himself to criticising the Bolsheviks’ methods, without drawing attention to the fact that the object towards which those methods were directed had nothing to do with communism. A good example of this is the question that he directed at Lenin in the autumn of 1920:
“Are you so blind, so much a prisoner of your authoritarian ideas, that you do not realize that, being at the head of European Communism, you have no right to soil the ideas which you defend by shameful methods...?”
After Kropotkin’s death, the theory of anarchist-communism survived, but was consigned to isolation by the unfolding counter-revolution from the 1920’s onwards. Unlike the Italian Left and the German-Dutch council communists (the latter above all, with their criticism of the whole workers’ movement and their analysis of the general tendency for a unification of labour, capital and the state), the partisans of anarchist-communism did not really try to discover the causes of this counter-revolution; nor did they perceive its extent. As a result, their contributions amounted to little more than a formal defence of principles, without any critical depth. Moreover, these contributions ceased rapidly. Sebastien Faure’s Mon Communisme appeared in 1921, Luigi Galleani’s The End of Anarchism? in 1925 and Alexander Berkman’s What is Communist Anarchism? (better known in its abridged form as the ABC of Anarchism) in 1929.
From this date on, if we exclude the minority current in the General Confederation of Labor, Revolutionary Syndicalist (CGTSR), whose positions were made clear by Gaston Britel, the critical force that anarchist-communism had represented left the anarchist movement to reappear with the dissident Bordigist Raoul Brémond (see his La Communauté, which was first published in 1938) and certain communist currents that arose in the 1970’s. Representative of these latter was the group that published in Paris in 1975 the pamphlet Un Monde sans Argent: Le Communisme.
As a practical movement, anarchist-communism came to an end in Mexico and Russia. In Mexico before the First World War, the Patrido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) of the brothers Enrique and Ricardo Florés Magon, supported by a movement of peasants and indigenous peoples, which aimed to expropriate the land, tried to achieve anarchist-communism. The PLM’s objective was to revive the community traditions of the ejidos — common lands — and ultimately to extend the effects of this essentially agrarian rebellion to the industrial areas. The PLM came to control the greater part of Lower California and was joined by a number of IWW ‘Wobblies’ and Italian anarchists. But it was unable to implement its project of agricultural co-operatives organised on anarchist-communist principles and was eventually defeated militarily.
The 1917 revolution in Russia gave impetus to a process that had begun before, whereby anarchist-communism was absorbed or replaced by anarcho-syndicalism. In addition to this, in certain cases anarchist-communists allowed themselves to be integrated into the Bolshevik State. It is true that a few groups refused all support, even ‘critical’, for the Bolsheviks and combated them with terrorism, but they experienced increasing isolation. For the last time in the twentieth century a social movement of some size — in particular in Petrograd where the Federation of Anarchists (Communists) had considerable influence before the summer of 1917, the date when the exiled syndicalists returned — consciously proposed to remove ‘government and property, prisons and barracks, money and profit’ and usher in ‘a stateless society with a natural economy’. But their programme of systematic expropriations (as opposed to workers’ control), ‘embracing houses and food, factories and farms, mines and railroads’, was limited in reality to several anarchist-communist groups after the February Revolution expropriating ‘a number of private residences in Petrograd, Moscow, and other cities’.
As for the Makhnovist insurrectionary movement, although it was in favour of communism in the long run, and although it declared that ‘all forms of the wages system must be irredeemably abolished’, it nevertheless drew up a transitional program which preserved the essential features of the commodity economy within a framework of co-operatives. Wages, comparison of products in terms of value, taxes, a ‘decentralised system of genuine people’s banks’ and direct trade between workers were all in evidence in this transitional programme.
As a conclusion, we will recall Kropotkin’s warning: ‘The Revolution must be communist or it will be drowned in blood.’