The Revolution Without Specificity; A Critique of Anarchism Without Adjectives

A critique of AWA as non-specific sectarianism by Rage Against Capital

Submitted by Ivysyn on January 9, 2016

Since the rise of things like “Anarcho-capitalism” and the modern mutualist/”Left-Libertarian” movement social Anarchists have had to deal with something calling itself “Anarchism Without Adjectives”. Now this term has some historical relevance in the social Anarchist project, however it has since been disconnected from it’s original meaning and offered up in a kind of vague and moralistic manner. Many people who identify with this label come to the view that making any prescription of how the revolution will or should unfold is “authoritarian”. This leads to platformists and syndicalists like myself being viewed as soft Leninists, or Bolsehviks by said people even though both tenancies broke from the Bolshevik and Leninist line. This has left a lot of room for so called “ancaps” to continue their failed campaigns at hijacking political Anarchism for the far right with many of them cloaking their right wing ideology in a thin veil of pragmatism. They usually say something like “Well, we should probably try both Anarchist/Communism and Anarcho-Capitalism to see what works”. These people take on the label of “Anarchist Without Adjectives” when really they are just glorified ancaps. Anacaps already state that if social Anarchism works for many people then they will “let” it prosper. These people have essentially the same “voluntaryist” methodology as ancaps do and often advocate identical views of the market as sacrosanct.

This all means that AWA as it’s called leads to what Kropotkin might call “authoritarian individualism” where adherents reject any kind of social preparation for a revolutionary change in society and instead posit that the only way to do things that is consistent with Anarchist politics is essentially letting the chips fall where they may. If you cross this absolutist form of individualistic politics you are immediately branded as a “Leninist”, “Marxist”, “Bolshevik”, “authoritarian”, ect..

I want to give some historical context so that we can understand AWA fully which it’s modern day advocates seem not to be able to do.

Beginnings Without Adjectives:

AWA was first synthesized by Fernando Tarrida del Marmol in 1890 as a response to particularly, sectarianism among Communist Anarchists and Collectivist Anarchists. Fernando, probably rightly, was tired of the ongoing debates between collectivists and communists, and wanted to square the gap by eradicating both methodologies in favor of a uniform Anarchist methodology which would be based not on preparation for the social revolution, but on performing social struggle and the social revolution in the here and now, Fernando thought that different tenancies within Anarchist thought that attempted to draw up any kind of plan for the future would end up in sectarianism. This new methodology that Fernando proposed never caught on anywhere in the Anarchist scene, and in my humble opinion that is probably a good thing.

There are many problems with Fernando’s proposal, it is a-historical, dated, contradictory, and idealist.


Fernando based his whole proposal off the experience he had among the Communist and Collectivist debates and ignores nearly all of Anarchist history outside of such, his proposal completely overlooks individualist Anarchism, and Mutualism, plus the debates among Anarchists that have historical significance outside of the ones that he himself had observed. As a result there is no way that Fernando’s proposal could possibly serve as a unifying Anarchist method given that it completely overlooks whole bodies of Anarchist thought.


Fernando also failed to account for (like anyone adapting their analysis to the specific time period) the new tenancies that would emerge in Anarchist thought, and the falling out of old tenancies. Anarchist Communism eventually surpassed both Mutualism and Collectivism as it served the interests of the working class more efficiently then either of the other two. Mutualism has made a resurgence with neo-mutualist blogs and publications, but is no longer an active political tenancy and much of the neo-mutualist strand of thought fails to even be Anarchist attempting to synthesize class struggle Anarchism with neo-classical economics. Much of this right-wingification of mutualism can be seen in Kevin Karson’s work which you can find here: However some of the neo-mutualism crowd has stuck to the old tradition, this is what is called the”Neo-Proudhonian” sect of mutualism which often contends that mutualism does not have to advocate market forms of production. Here are some relevant links: I do not wish to portray that I agree with this sect of Neo-Mutualism, or that I “approve” of it, they have their own definite problems and in my opinion, mutualism should be left to the past and not be given a revival. However, this sect is the most consistent with the old tradition of mutualist thought.

Collectivism however has not seemed to make a resurgence, it seems completely absent from the modern international Anarchist movement. I have only met a few people online who consider themselves Collectivist Anarchists. I have seen no contemporary Anarchist organization to this day that identifies with the tradition.

There was also the development of Tuckerite, individualist mutualism which was essentially a form of moralistic bourgioes theory that dipped it’s toes in the socialist pool. I could go on. If Fernando’s proposal ever actually served as a workable model for the movement, it certainly doesn’t anymore.

Contradiction and Idealism:

Fernando ultimately failed to asses the materiel reality of Anarchist methodology and practice which lead him to develop a disconnected and contradictory theory of Anarchist organization. He rejected that one could develop pre-figurative ideas of how an Anarchist society would work but in identifying with Anarchism he himself did this, his Anarchism lead him to openly state that he desired a federative, free-society where things are owned in common and on this basis he rejected his own principle of social struggle in the here and now. Unfortunately the capitalist class works off a materiel plan for how it expects society to push forward and how it enforces it’s interest and influence. Because of this we must have a concrete plan for the elimination of the capitalist class if we are to create a decent society, this means replacing the institutions that the bourgioes thrive off with institutions that we have drawn up, which we know will provide a world that allows us to control our own lives.

Voltairine de Cleyre:

Voltairine de Cleyre is often associated with AWA, I have never seen her use the word to describe herself or anything she believed, but she certainly had a methodology that some what fits with the AWA mantra. The way she viewed Anarchism was pluralistic in that she sought to include all relevant strands of Anarchism at any given time which in her time were the mutualists, communists, collectivists, tuckerite individualists, and what she called “Anarcho-Socialists” which seems to just mean social Anarchists. She had many disagreements with these forms of Anarchism which she made clear, especially with Communist Anarchism which I will not get into here. However she envisioned a non-sectarian social set up that would allow all strands of Anarchistic thought to be openly practiced which in her view would eventually lead to the “best kind of Anarchism”, meaning the kind of Anarchism which satisfied the needs of the public, becoming the predominantly practiced form.

The ultimate problem with her Anarchism was that it couldn’t make tactical and theoretical distinctions that are needed to produce an Anarchist social movement. To develop an Anarchist social movement one needs to work out a clear set of tactics as distinct from other sets of tactics and a clear set of goals as distinct from other sets of goals. Cleyre is essentially ignoring the problem of tactical and goal oriented issues and for no real reason assuming that things will just eventually work themselves out in the most coherent and efficient way possible. To use a widely used quote from Karl Marx; “the emancipation of the working class is the work of the working class itself”. This goes for all oppressed groups and communities as only the oppressed in society have a direct interest in the overthrow of oppression, without the development of specific and distinct tactics and goals that further the interests of the oppressed the oppressed cannot liberate themselves.

What’s Left? :

Today AWA is really just a vague adulation of “diversity of tactics” that aims to crush out any form of politics with a concrete plan. The historical rots of AWA have been forgotten for much more practical organizational forms in the international Anarchist movement, ones that tend to either center around Syndicalism or Especifismo Platformism. Modern AWA is usually reserved for methodologies that are only really found on the internet and don’t have any real experience in real world organization, one could imagine the cartoonish situations that would be produced if this mantra of alienating anyone with a specific plan was actually enacted in organizations. The only people that would end up being allowed into said organizations would probably be post-leftists who openly push the idea that there is no plan for a free-society to be drawn up. Ultimately this term today has little meaning and should only be looked at in it’s historical context, people on the internet who actually think you can have a communist and capitalist mode of production sitting side by side interacting with a barter Island economy need not be taken seriously.

Anarchist Communism Or Barbarism:

The historical and ideological failure of anything toting the AWA line is yet more evidence that what we need is a militant Anarchist-Communist movement that aims to abolish all forms of oppression and actively struggles against them. We can not leave the specifics to be ironed out later, at least not all the time. It is true that often the biggest advances in working class organization come from the activity of the working class on the ground, spontaneously, but it is also true that these advances are put to use and developed through conscious theory and practice that aims to put forward a specific plan. What we need is a careful balance between spontaneous discovery, and a specific plans of action, aiming to plan out everything we do is obviously completely ridicules, however, waving any and all planning off as “sectarian” or “Bolsehvik” is equally ridicules. In my opinion, only Anarchist Communism can provide the basis for such a balance of practice and theory.



8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by akai on January 10, 2016

l don't think this article is very useful. As a matter of fact, l think it has many elements that more show the problems that some people from some tendencies of anarchism have with presenting their ideas in a more relevant and productive way.

To be sure, l do not espouse the ways of the synthesist anarchists, or the mutualists (or many of the platformists). But this article l find to be a bit simplistic, somewhat incorrect and in general, in bad tone. For example, much as l disagree with mutualism, l find it hypocritical to call them a "sect". This word is certainly overused to stigmatize people that the users don't like, instead of giving more intelligent criticism. The result is that we have many people that know how to throw around words like this but don't know how to make good arguments for their ideas. And anarchists get stuck in really idiotic and simplistic accusations instead of getting more into the meat of their arguments.

l would venture to guess that the author is writing from a US perspective. The US anarchist movement always had a strong and diverse individualist movement and a movement of collectivists. While l don't think these types of movements are sufficient for combatting modern-day capitalism, l also think it is a little wierd to take the situation of 19th century American anarchism, sort of compare it to the current world and make such a simplistic criticism of Voltarine de Cleyre. (Not that l think she is off-limits to criticism, just this one is in the idee fixe of the author and doesn't say much.) For example, one could certainly write a piece criticising her defense of private property - although she changed her mind on this and had mixed views. She defended the right of poor people to steal, so this defense was not absolute, she espoused mutualism later on in life and even criticized the Paris Commune for not having instilled communism. Many different anarchist thinkers and historians have pointed out these different ideas, which l supposed lived together in many anarchists.

Despite the fact that there has been a concerted effort by some to eliminate these types of anarchists from the anarchist tradition, we see that these continue on and also are organized.
But maybe going back to the tradition for some second, we have to see the early debates of the synthesists and their contemporaries as something that probably had a positive, not negative motivation. When reading Mella or even Malatesta, one can see that the main thing they wanted to achieve was bringing anarchists together, so they were not just arguing all the time. ln certain points of history, one could see that this might be hugely important - for example, when Voline took up the idea and tried to make a synthesist program for Nabat. lf we look at what was happening in Russia at the time, where there was a deep problem that some anarchists joined the Bolsheviks, some participated in or approved of the repression of other anarchists who were not in favour of Bolshevism and accused them of being individualists elements, then you can see that Voline's ideas had some basis on a real dilemna.

The current day lFA, which is the largest international confederation of anarchist organizations, is synthesist. This is not exactly my cup of tea (synthesist organization), but there are lots of good comrades there and they are a serious organization.

But one reason it is not for me is that l would like to build fighting workers' organizations that and horiztonal and operate outside the state and fight to build libertarian communism, The lFA as a whole does not have any clear position on it, although their are some tendencies inside the national affiliates. But in some national affiliates the activists are espousing boring within the mainstream unions, working in reformist structures, left unions, anarchosyndicalist ones.... in other words, there is not one thought about that. Historically - and this is something that few people ever talk about - you had an extremely bad line taken by lFA anarchists towards anarchosyndicalism after the WWll, when they encouraged anarchists not to try to reform the anarchosyndicalist movements decimated by fascism, but to go into CGT in France and CGlL in ltaly. This was extremely bad, especially in the case of France, which was the only place where there were tens of thousands of people left, many of them exiles from Spain. But less about history...

My personal opinion is that if we are gonna build a mass movement which goes in the direction we want, we need to have some clarity about the goals and means we need to achieve them. At least on an organizational level. So l also prefer working in that kind of org.

However, l really don't think that this sort of hyper-intellectualized and sectarian behaviour of some proponents of platformism is very helpful - it certainly is not my cup of tea either. ln particular, l do not like when there is any issue in hand and somebody uses fucking labels instead of arguments. An example is what happened around the Schmidt incident where on the one hand, we get some people saying he's a "syndicalist" and those people are fascists and on the other hand, we get people brushing his shit under the carpet because they claim criticism comes from people who want to undermine class struggle anarchism. Or MS himself arguing in one article where he is defending "neo-Makhnovists" that people who criticize them (including myself) are "synthesist anarchists" .

This type of defending of anarchist tendencies - by using labels instead of arguments - seems to be growing and l don't find it an attractive development.

Connor Owens

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Connor Owens on January 10, 2016

While the author isn't wrong to say that collectivist anarchism is by far a minority among those who identify with social anarchism, it's slightly larger than you may think when you consider that libertarian socialist economic models such as

1) participatory economics (Parecon) and

2) Inclusive Democracy (ID)

are basically modern-day versions of it - given their advocacy of an economy which is stateless and marketless, but not fully libertarian communist as it retains prices for certain (non-essential) goods and remuneration for formal labour.

And perhaps still wider when you include those, such as myself, who see a libertarian collectivist economic set-up as a (probably) necessary transitional phase in between capitalist-statism and libertarian communism; with incomes and prices (perhaps with a system of digital labour vouchers rather than traditional money) being needed to help allocate consumer products until production becomes automated and localised enough to be able to do without them completely.

Also, while there may be problems with Kevin Carson's voluntaryist-inspired version of mutualism and market anarchism, most of his ideas are still workable through a social anarchist framework provided every time you see the word "market" being used in a positive sense, you replace it in your mind with "commons". Indeed, other than all the silly "free market" stuff, his theoretical work has been magnificent - especially his exhaustive empirical research on the virtues of decentralism and self-management over centralisation and hierarchy; and his work updating Kropotkin, Mumford, and Bookchin's ideas on liberatory technology.


8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Whatever-ism on January 10, 2016

Anarchism Without Adjectives as a tendency which just says "lets not spend too much time arguing with other anarchists" is probably quite helpful as long as we recognise what is and isn't anarchism. Clearly neither Anarcho-Capitalism nor Agorism (which are remarkably similar) have a place within the anarchist tradition. Followers of this market- fundamentalist ideology use the word 'anarchism' very differently to us and it's unhelpful and confusing.

As a mutualist anarchist I'm totally committed to the idea that the means of production must be socialised and the state must be abolished and replaced with a federation of free communities. That is a given. What I have not been fully convinced of is the idea that it's fundamentally necessary to also socialise the product of the workers' labour.

In a post-revolutionary world I can see myself gravitating towards a community which was maximising it's use of a communist gift economy. I also agree that a situation of super-abundance where we participate only in the work we choose to do and take the resources we need from 'the big pile' is an absolutely desirable end goal (who wouldn't want that?) I'm not sure I qualify as an anarcho-communist because I will be completely content to deal with people/ or leave people alone who choose to operate differently post-revolution (again, assuming they're anarchists, of course).

I know mutualism isn't a separate movement in itself. I've always tended to just join in with anarcho-communist stuff when it comes to activism and it's rarely even necessary to mention mutualism in that context. On the other hand when it comes to discussing theory (yes, often online) I think mutualism provides some worthwhile contributions.

Also, I don't think it's fair to characterise Kevin Carson as right wing. He seemed to be making a fairly decisive move towards a more 'neo-proudhonist' approach last time I read an article by him (admittedly I've forgotten the title). The fact that he accepts markets in theory seems to have forced him to explore actually existing capitalistic markets in greater detail than the average anarcho-commnist who is able to simply dismiss the whole idea. For me the dissection of capitalism that he gives in his book 'Studies in Mutualist Political Economy' is probably the best I've seen.

I think it's worth accepting that mutualism is back. We're not trying to replace anarcho-communism or really even make converts, we just think we've got some stuff to contribute.


8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Anarcho on January 16, 2016

I think this is mistaken on many levels.

Yes, the notion of "Anarchism without Adjectives" has been misused by the "anarcho"-capitalists as a means of getting a hearing in the movement -- but if we let them monopolise terms then we would have to stop calling ourselves libertarians and anarchists!

However, it is basically correct -- we should be concentrating on what unites us, seeing what we have in common and working on shared tactics rather than discussing what may or may not be the economic system of the future. That was Malatesta's position and it makes sense.

Needless to say, the whole point of "Anarchism without Adjectives" is about actual anarchists working together -- so that precludes phony ones like "private state propertarians". It also means working with those who share a common strategy rather than trying to get everyone together in one organisation. Thus Malatesta worked with Spanish collectivists because they shared a common strategy on the labour movement -- unlike many of the Spanish anarcho-communists in the 1880s/1890s.

As for mutualism, well, as the editor of Property is Theft!, I think it is ahistoric to exclude it or ignore it. Proudhon's ideas have shaped revolutionary anarchism in many ways and it would be silly to ignore it. In terms of modern day mutualists, we can and should work together when it makes sense -- but, again, there is little point in having everyone in one organisation if there is a clash between reformism and revolution.

As for Voltairine de Cleyre, well, she started as an individualist, became a mutualist (in the Proudhonist sense rather than the Tuckerite sense) and ended up a communist-anarchist -- see my review article Voltairine De Cleyre: Her revolutionary ideas and legacy.

As a communist-anarchist, I think we need to recognise that regardless of our hopes or wishes, any revolution -- when it does appear -- will be diverse and variable in its outcomes. Nothing will be perfect nor will it always match our ideals. So there will be a diversity of economic systems and political systems -- and anarchist areas will be marked by a diversity. Look at Spain even with decades of anarchist propaganda, organising and struggle.


8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Sleeper on January 16, 2016

For me being 'an anarchist without adjectives' is being an anarchist, an anti state socialist or communist, who has decided to support working class resistance wherever and whenever it occurs. It's not about this or that methodology. It's always about grass roots resistance...

Errico Malatesta has been used by us and with good reason. I would also argue that Proudhon should serve a similar position for any modern day anarchists who have yet to realise our way through this..