Prehistory of the Idea: Part Two


A chapter of a projected book,The Idea: Anarchist Communism Past, Present and Future.

Submitted by Battlescarred on December 9, 2015

Part 1

One of the first to actually develop the idea of communism was the German Wilhelm Weitling. As Rexroth notes: “Quite independently of Hegel, and before Marx, he developed a theory of human self-alienation as the primary evil of capitalist production, and some years before Marx or Proudhon he was an avowed communist. In a sense, Marx and Engels joined his communist movement and took it over” (page 294, Communalism, Rexroth)


Weitling was a tailor who had painstakingly educated himself, had been involved in Blanqui’s insurrections in Paris in the 1830s. He began to form secret groupings in Switzerland. Weitling preached that: “The perfect society had no government, but only an administration, no laws, but only obligations, no punishments, but means of correction”. He attacked both the wages system and property, and in his early writings like Garantien den Harmonie und Freiheit (1842) he advanced a vision of a stateless communist society. Marx was to write of this work in 1844 in the German language paper Vorwärts based in Paris: “Where among the [German] bourgeoisie-including its philosophers and learned scribes- is to be found a work relating to the emancipation of the bourgeoisie-its political emancipation-similar to Weitling’s Guarantees of Harmony and Freedom? If one compares the drab mealy-mouthed mediocrity of German political literature with this vehement and brilliant debut of the German workers, if one compares these gigantic infant shoes of the proletariat with the dwarfish political shoes of the bourgeoisie, one must prophesy that this Cinderella will one day have an athlete’s figure”. However, he had not broken completely with the influences of Saint-Simon and Fourier and there were authoritarian strains in this vision, for example the concept that: “Faculties can only be developed in so far as they do not disrupt the harmony of society”, a concept which Max Stirner, the doyen of individualists, took issue with. At the same time as he preached the idea of as egalitarian and libertarian communist society as enunciated in the quotation above, he believed that a small group of wise men must be in control of this society, at least in the early stages. Like Cabet, he also equated the teachings of Christ with communism, seeing communism as equivalent to the early Christian Church before its degeneration.

Unlike other utopian thinkers of the period, Weitling did not believe that the transition to communism could come about through peaceful means. Armed force would be necessary, something he had imbibed from the traditions of Babeuf and Blanqui. He also believed that the most dispossessed elements, including those derogatorily described as the lumpenproletariat by Marx, would have a key role to play in an expropriating revolution. Bakunin met Weitling in Switzerland and it must be from him that he gets many of his ideas on the revolutionary role of the most dispossessed.

Weitling had belonged to the League of the Just. This secret group of German workers, originally called the League of Outlaws (Bund der Gechteten), was formed in Paris in 1836, after an unsuccessful uprising in Frankfurt in 1833. The League of the Just was in fact a breakaway from the League of Outlaws, described as “democratic-republican” by Engels (On The History of the Communist League). It was influenced by an eclectic group of thinkers- Moses Hess, Weitling, Fourier, Proudhon, Blanqui, Cabet, Owen, Feuerbach, and the Left Hegelians. It had links with the Blanquist Societe des Saisons. In fact Engels regards it as “not much more than the German branch of the French secret societies, especially the Societé des Saisons led by Blanqui and Barbès” (ibid).Following the crushing of the Blanquist uprising in Paris in 1839, one of its members, Carl Schapper, had ended up in London, where he formed the Workers’ Educational Society in February, 1840. The League functioned in a semi-secret fashion within it. Schapper had evolved from “demagogue” to Communist, as Engels remarked (in this context demagogue was the term applied to those actively opposed to the reactionary German states and for the unification of Germany).

Weitling, expelled from Switzerland, joined Schapper in London. Schapper and his associates the shoemaker Heinrich Bauer and the watchmaker Joseph Moll had fallen under the influence of Robert Owen and the emerging British labour movement. The London Working Men’s Association had called for increased international solidarity, as a result of which William Lovett set up the Society of the Democratic Friends of All Nations in 1844. Its slogan was All Men are Brethren. In the same period the group around Julian George Harney, secretary of the Democratic Association, which held republican views and orientated itself to artisans and workers, set up the Fraternal Democrats two years later in 1846. It broke with the classless humanism of the Lovett grouping by calling for the oppressed countries of each land to come together. The League of the Just had loose links with both groups and they represented a first attempt at international organisation, calling for the coming together of revolutionaries of all nationalities, the strengthening of brotherhood among peoples, and the conquest of political and social rights.

The German Workers Educational Society adopted the slogan of Lovett’s group- Alle Menschen sind Brueder and started emphasing the central role of the international proletariat. Through it, the Central Committee of the League of the Just in London was able to establish supremacy over other groups of the League in France, Germany and Switzerland.

Weitling had profound disagreements with this group. He denied the notion that the proletariat was a separate class with its own class interests. As far as he was concerned, it was only a section of the great mass of the oppressed. He reiterated his ideas that the poorest sections, including robbers and bandits, were its most revolutionary sections.

In later years, after the collapse of the revolutionary hopes of 1848, and Weitling’s exile in the United States, he turned increasingly away from communist ideas towards Proudhonist mutualism. After disillusionment with the colony of Communia set up mostly by German immigrants from the 1848 Revolution, his ideas became increasingly eccentric.

In a later chapter we will deal with the clash between Weitling on one hand and Marx and Engels on the other.


The 1848 upsurge produced other currents. Anselme Bellegarrigue published a pamphlet and series of articles followed by the first periodical that termed itself anarchist: L’Anarchie: journal de l’ordre which was first published in 1850. He was one of the first of that period to offer any criticisms of the dominant centralising and Statist trends within the radical movement. However, his rejection of communistic concepts meant that he put himself outside of that current, in his forthright statement that the free person: “ works and therefore he speculates; he speculates and therefore he gains; he gains and therefore he possesses; he possesses and therefore he is free. By possession he sets himself up in an opposition of principle to the State, for the logic of the State rigorously excludes individual possession.”

Joseph Déjacque also participated in the 1848 events as well as in the insurrection the following year. In often extremely violent and poetic language, he attacked religion, property, the family and the State, and advocated action by small groups who would hasten the end of the old hierarchical order. The massacres of June 1848 brought him not only to a rejection of exploitation and economic privilege, but equally to a rejection of all forms of authority. In exile in the States he produced a journal in French, Le Libertaire, the first recorded use of the term libertarian as an alternative to that of anarchist. He continued the trailblazing work of the Humanitaire Group in his development of a kind of anarchist communism –“the anarchist community” (communauté anarchique). He rejected the strategy of Blanquism with its secret societies. Unlike Proudhon, he was able to reject the idea of the family. Indeed, he was able to offer fraternal criticisms of Proudhon himself, for his failure to carry his thoughts through to their ultimate conclusion. He rejects Proudhon’s mutualism as much as he rejects the Statism of the inheritors of the Jacobin tradition. In reply to Proudhon’s belief in the individual ownership of the products of labour, Déjacque replied that “ 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"("l'Echange", article in Le Libertaire no 6, September 21, 1858, New York). It is true that he owed a great debt to Fourier, - and this becomes apparent in his pamphlet L’Humanisphere: utopie anarchique- but his Fourierism is one stripped of all its reformist and authoritarian traits and he often makes criticisms of the prophet of social harmony. He may be correctly cited as one of the grandfathers of anarchist communism, his project of collective class emancipation was linked to complete liberty for the individual, thus being one of the first to re-define communism in opposition to the authoritarian concepts of Cabet et al.

Importantly, in opposition to Proudhon, he was deeply concerned with linking the emancipation of women to that of the working class. Castigating Proudhon for his rampant misogyny he was to say: Is it possible, great publicist, that under your lion’s skin so much of the ass may be found?...Father Proudhon, shall I say it? When you talk of women you appear like a college boy who talks very loudly and in a high key, at random and with impertinence, in order to appear learned, as you do to your callow hearers, and who like you knows not the first thing of the matter he is talking about …Listen, Master Proudhon! Before you talk of woman, study her; go to school. Stop calling yourself an anarchist, or be an anarchist clear through. Talk to us, if you wish to, of the unknown and the known, of God who is evil, of property which is robbery; but when you talk of man do not make him an autocratic divinity, for I will answer you that man is evil. Attribute not to him a stock of intelligence which belongs to him only by right of conquest, by the commerce of love, by usury on the capital that comes entirely from woman and is the product of the soul within her. Dare not to attribute to him that which he has derived from another or I will answer you in your own words: “Property is robbery!”…Raise your voice, on the contrary, against the exploitation of woman by man”. …"centre right anarchist,, liberal and not libertarian you want free trade for cotton and the candle, and you advocate protective systems of man against woman in the movement of human passions; you shout against the barons of capital, and you want to rebuild the high barony of male over female vassal; ... " (On The Human Being, Male and Female, 1857).

At the speech he gave at the graveside of the feminist poet Louise Julien, who died in exile in Jersey, he said:

"Socialism does not take revenge; it destroys obstacles—whether men or things—without regard for their past. It does not chastise, it clears away. But, victim that we mourn, I wish at least to embalm you with this wish that I form; and it is to labour without rest and with all my strength for the realization of my dream, the edification of your idea; it is, — contrary to paganism which denies one of the faces of human nature, to Christianity which denies the other, — it is – according to the new science which understands the individual with all its physical and moral sensations, the entire human being — it is, I say, to unite everywhere and always the cause of the proletarians to that of women, the emancipation, the liberation of the first to the emancipation, the liberation of the others; it is to push all those oppressed with the sabre and the strong-box, with the toga and the aspergillum, the disinherited of our terrestrial hell, to the hatred and scorn of the exploiters; it is to employ in the service of the social revolution, at the triumph of the egalitarian idea, thoughts and words, arms and action, ink and saltpetre; it is to march, finally, to the overturning of the old society and the promised land of liberty and harmony, the torch in one hand and the blade in the other: the light in one hand in order to spread it, and iron in the other, to guard the worker’s way."

Déjacque also frequented the Club Des Femmes, set up by the feminist Eugenie Niboyet in Paris in 1848. This was a club open to both men and women for a small admission charge. Unfortunately there was heckling from men when women gave speeches there. We must assume that Déjacque was not among the hecklers!

Déjacque and the International Association

Déjacque removed from Jersey to the United States in 1853, from where he edited his afore-mentioned newspaper. He was soon to support the founding of what can be seen as the precursor of the First International, the International Association.
An International Committee had been created in London, representing English, French, German, Polish and Italian sections. One of its members, the ex-Chartist Ernest Jones, described the committee as having a dual function, to propagate democracy in Europe and to attack capitalism. After French workers went to London in April 1856 to meet English workers and European exiles, the Committee called for the establishment of an International Association to coordinate the activity of “socialist and revolutionary national societies. As a result several sections of the International Association were set up in Europe and the United States. Déjacque joined the International Association and propagated his views within it.
Anti-authoritarian and anarchist ideas were strong among the French workers in London and the USA. The International Association under their influence began also to develop anti-authoritarian perspectives. In its statement To The Republicans, Democrats and Socialists of Europe it declare that whether there was an absolute monarchy or a bourgeois republic, if there was still a class system, then there were “slavery and despotism”. It went on to criticise the Italian nationalist for his advocacy of support for bourgeois republicans. Similarly the old triad of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were rejected as events had transcended them, and they were worthless whilst capital and class rule existed.

Déjacque and his associates pushed for equal status for women in the International Association. They successfully argued for the replacement of the Association’s Central Council with a secretariat that would act only as a correspondence committee to coordinate communication and activity between the different sections. This was adopted on 4th January 1859. The newly organised Association called for social revolution, “absolute negation of all privileges; absolute negation of all authority; liberation of the proletariat”. Government would be replaced by administration created and controlled by the people and subject to recall at all times.

Opponents of these ideas within the Association set up the Central Council anew with the old rules, after the secession of the Polish section, the Polish Revolutionary Commune on 11th January, this section gathering around it those who dissented with the views of the decentralisers. After the amnesty of August 1859 in France, many French exiles returned there and both Associations withered away, in a chain of events that mirrored what was to happen in later years with the First International.
After the collapse of the International Association, the anti-authoritarian/anarchist French members in London set up the Club De La Discussion Libre (Club of Free Discussion). It held meetings on Sundays at 4 Marshall Street, Gordon Square. Its secretary was one A. Herben who had been a signatory of the statement To the Republicans, Democrats and Socialists of Europe. Later Herben emigrated to America where he joined the First International. He was a member of the French section in 1873). It also held regular public meetings. At its twelfth public meeting, on the 1848 Revolution,” first stage of the proletariat towards real social progress” where the speakers remain anonymous, on 25th June 1860, the slogan, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity was rejected, and the provisional government , born on the barricades, was denounced for its cowardice and treason and held responsible for the June massacre.
A report of the meeting appeared in Le Libertaire which ended with the words: “Long live the People, everything through labour, no more exploitation of the human being under any form that it can be represented. Long live anarchy!” Nettlau regards the Club as the unification of the French anti-authoritarians, in which Déjacque’s followers “also participated”, seeming to draw a certain distinction between the two.

Couerderoy and Pignal

Like Déjacque, Ernest Couerderoy died in appalling conditions of poverty. Again one of those moving from radical Jacobinism into Blanquism, he ended up rejecting the secret societies and conspiracies of these currents, and called for collective and mass insurrection as the means of bringing about a new civilisation.

Félix Pignal was a French exile in New York who in 1854 wrote Philosophie de L’insoumission ou pardon à Cain . Here he states that: “To cut off the head of a king, but allow the principle which requires him to remain, a principle which demands that so many other kinglets fatten themselves at the expense of the proletariat, is just like trying to stop the current in a rapidly flowing river with a sabre blow!…”. He exhorted workers to: “Establish yourselves in revolutionary communes; even in the smallest places always cry: Down with the governments! Let each of you participate in the discussions in their town, in order to debate their interests.” He talks about producers freely exchanging their products and thus his concepts of a future society are closest to the mutualism of Proudhon than to the communist outlook of Déjacque, implying a self-managed market economy and the use of money. He later returned to France where in 1900, he was apparently a mayor in a village near Cluny.

The libertarian outlook of quarantehuitards like Bellegarrigue, Déjacque, Couerderoy and Pignal owe a lot to the desperation and depression of the failed 1848 revolutions and the long and gloomy period of reaction that set in. At the same time just as after the defeat of the Enrages, the reversals of uprisings and insurrections of the 1830s, the collapse of 1848 engendered new waves of thinking.

But as Skirda points out: “To best measure the merit and the interest of these libertarian convictions, let us remember the context of the moment; the reaction of Louis Napoleon raged in France; black slavery continued in the United States; that of the Russian “white blacks” was not suppressed until 1861 in the Empire of the tsars; industrial mechanisation developed at a great pace, the prison of the factory too; the flattest academicism, and among the most advanced social doctrines, the church party and state socialism predominated.”(My translation- see Paul Sharkey’s translation of Skirda, Facing the Enemy).


Graham, Robert. We Do Not fear Anarchy We invoke It: the First International and the origins of the anarchist movement
Lehning, Arthur. From Buonarotti to Bakunin: studies in international socialism
Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism
Pengam, Alain Anarchist-communism on
Rexroth, Kenneth. Communalism
Pignal, Felix. The Philosophy of defiance: