2. In Search of a New Society

Submitted by libcom on October 29, 2005

2 In Search of a New Society


Because anarchism is constructive, anarchist theory emphatically rejects the charge of utopianism. It uses the historical method in an attempt to prove that the society of the future is not an anarchist invention, but the actual product of the hidden effects of past events. Proudhon affirmed that for 6,000 years humanity had been crushed by an inexorable system of authority but had been sustained by a "secret virtue": "Beneath the apparatus of government, under the shadow of its political institutions, society was slowly and silently producing its own organization, making for itself a new order which expressed its vitality and autonomy."

However harmful government may have been, it contained its own negation. It was always "a phenomenon of collective life, the public exercise of the powers of our law, an expression of social spontaneity, all serving to prepare humanity for a higher state. What humanity seeks in religion and calls 'God' is itself. What the citizen seeks in government . . . is likewise himself - it is liberty." The French Revolution hastened this inexorable advance toward anarchy: "The day that our fathers . . . stated the principle of the free exercise of all his faculties by man as a citizen, on that day authority was repudiated in heaven and on earth, and government, even by delegation, became impossible."

The Industrial Revolution did the rest. From then on politics was overtaken by the economy and subordinated to it. Government could no longer escape the direct competition of producers and became in reality no more than the relation between different interests. This revolution was completed by the growth of the proletariat. In spite of its protestations, authority now expressed only socialism: "The Napoleonic code is as useless to the new society as the Platonic republic: within a few years the absolute law of property will have everywhere been replaced by the relative and mobile law of industrial cooperation, and it will then be necessary to reconstruct this cardboard castle from top to bottom." Bakunin, in turn, recognized "the immense and undeniable service rendered to humanity by the French Revolution which is father to us all." The principle of authority has been eliminated from the people's consciousness forever and order imposed from above has henceforth become impossible. All that remains is to "organize society so that it can live without government." Bakunin relied on popular tradition to achieve this. "In spite of the oppressive and harmful tutelage of the State," the masses have, through the centuries, "spontaneously developed within themselves many, if not all, of the essential elements of the material and moral order of real human unity."


Anarchist theory does not see itself as a synonym for disorganization. Proudhon was the first to proclaim that anarchism is not disorder but order, is the natural order in contrast to the artificial order imposed from above, is true unity as against the false unity brought about by constraint. Such a society "thinks, speaks, and acts like a man, precisely because it is no longer represented by a man, no longer recognizes personal authorities; because, like every organized living being, like the infinite of Pascal, it has its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere." Anarchy is "organized, living society," "the highest degree of liberty and order to which humanity can aspire." Perhaps some anarchists thought otherwise but the Italian Errico Malatesta called them to order:

"Under the influence of the authoritarian education given to them, they think that authority is the soul of social organization and repudiate the latter in order to combat the former .... Those anarchists opposed to organization make the fundamental error of believing that organization is impossible without authority. Having accepted this hypothesis they reject any kind of organization rather than accept the minimum of authority .... If we believed that organization could not exist without authority we would be authoritarians, because we would still prefer the authority which imprisons and saddens life to the disorganization which makes it impossible."

The twentieth-century anarchist Voline developed and clarified this idea:

"A mistaken - or, more often, deliberately inaccurate - interpretation alleges that the libertarian concept means the absence of all organization. This is entirely false: it is not a matter of "organization" or "nonorganization," but of two different principles of organization .... Of course, say the anarchists, society must be organized. However, the new organization . . . must be established freely, socially, and, above all, from below. The principle of organization must not issue from a center created in advance to capture the whole and impose itself upon it but, on the contrary, it must come from all sides to create nodes of coordination, natural centers to serve all these points .... On the other hand, the other kind of "organization," copied from that of the old oppressive and exploitative society, . . . would exaggerate all the blemishes of the old society . . . . It could then only be maintained by means of a new artifice."

In effect, the anarchists would be not only protagonists of true organization but "first-class organizers," as Henri Lefebvre admitted in his book on the Commune. But this philosopher thought he saw a contradiction here - "a rather surprising contradiction which we find repeatedly in the history of the working-class movement up to present times, especially in Spain." It can only "astonish" those for whom libertarians are a priori disorganizers.


When Marx and Engels drafted the Communist Manifesto of 1848, on the eve of the February Revolution, they foresaw, at any rate for a long transitional period, all the means of production centralized in the hands of an all-embracing State. They took over Louis Blanc's authoritarian idea of conscripting both agricultural and industrial workers into "armies of labor." Proudhon was the first to propound an anti-statist form of economic management.

During the February Revolution workers' associations for production sprang up spontaneously in Paris and in Lyon. In 1848 this beginning of self-management seemed to Proudhon far more the revolutionary event than did the political revolution. It had not been invented by a theoretician or preached by doctrinaires, it was not the State which provided the original stimulus, but the people. Proudhon urged the workers to organize in this way in every part of the Republic, to draw in small property, trade, and industry, then large property and establishments, and, finally, the greatest enterprises of all ( mines, canals, railways, etc. ), and thus "become masters of all."

The present tendency is to remember only Proudhon's naive and passing idea of preserving small-scale trade and artisans' workshops. This was certainly naive, and doubtless uneconomic, but his thinking on this point was ambivalent. Proudhon was a living contradiction: he castigated property as a source of injustice and exploitation and had a weakness for it, although only to the extent that he saw in it a guarantee of the independence of the individual Moreover, Proudhon is too often confused with what Bakunin called "the little so-called Proudhonian coterie" which gathered around him in his last years. This rather reactionary group was stillborn. In the First International it tried in vain to put across private ownership of the means of production against collectivism. The chief reason this group was short-lived was that most of its adherents were all too easily convinced by Bakunin's arguments and abandoned their so-called Proudhonian ideas to support collectivism.

In the last analysis, this group, who called themselves mutuellistes, were only partly opposed to collectivism: they rejected it for agriculture because of the individualism of the French peasant, but accepted it for transport, and in matters of industrial self-management actually demanded it while rejecting its name. Their fear of the word was largely due to their uneasiness in the face of the temporary united front set up against them by Bakunin's collectivist disciples and certain authoritarian Marxists who were almost open supporters of state control of the economy.

Proudhon really moved with the times and realized that it is impossible to turn back the clock. He was realistic enough to understand that "small industry is as stupid as petty culture" and recorded this view in his Carnets. With regard to large-scale modern industry requiring a large labor force, he was resolutely collectivist: "In future, large-scale industry and wide culture must be the fruit of association." "We have no choice in the matter," he concluded, and waxed indignant that anyone had dared to suggest that he was opposed to technical progress.

In his collectivism he was, however, as categorically opposed to statism. Property must be abolished. The community (as it is understood by authoritarian communism) is oppression and servitude. Thus Proudhon sought a combination of property and community: this was association. The means of production and exchange must be controlled neither by capitalist companies nor by the State. Since they are to the men who work in them "what the hive is to the bee," they must be managed by associations of workers, and only thus will collective powers cease to be "alienated" for the benefit of a few exploiters. "We, the workers, associated or about to be associated," wrote Proudhon in the style of a manifesto,

"do not need the State .... Exploitation by the State always means rulers and wage slaves. We want the government of man by man no more than the exploitation of man by man. Socialism is the opposite of governmentalism .... We want these associations to be . . . the first components of a vast federation of associations and groups united in the common bond of the democratic and social republic.

Proudhon went into detail and enumerated precisely the essential features of workers' serf-management:

# very associated individual to have an indivisible share in the property of the company.

# Each worker to take his share of the heavy and repugnant tasks.

# Each to go through the gamut of operations and instruction, of grades and activities, to insure that he has the widest training. Proudhon was insistent on the point that "the worker must go through all the operations of the industry he is attached to."

# Office-holders to be elected and regulations submitted to the associates for approval.

# Remuneration to be proportionate to the nature of the position held, the degree of skill, and the responsibility carried. Every associate to share in the profits in proportion to the service he has given.

# Each to be free to set his own hours, carry on his duties, and to leave the association at will.

# The associated workers to choose their leaders, engineers, architects, and accountants. Proudhon stressed the fact that the proletariat still lacks technicians: hence the need to bring into workers' self-management programs "industrial and commercial persons of distinction" who would teach the workers business methods and receive fixed salaries in return: there is "room for all in the sunshine of the revolution."

This libertarian concept of self-management is at the opposite pole from the paternalistic, statist form of self-management set out by Louis Blanc in a draft law of September 15, 1849. The author of The Organization of Labor wanted to create workers' associations sponsored and financed by the State. He proposed an arbitrary division of the profits as follows: 25 percent to a capital amortization fund; 25 percent to a social security fund; 25 percent to a reserve fund; 25 percent to be divided among the workers. [13]

Proudhon would have none of self-management of this kind. In his view the associated workers must not "submit to the State," but "be the State itself." "Association . . . can do everything and reform everything without interference from authority, can encroach upon authority and subjugate it." Proudhon wanted "to go toward government through association, not to association through government." He issued a warning against the illusion, cherished in the dreams of authoritarian socialists, that the State could tolerate free self-management. How could it endure "the formation of enemy enclaves alongside a centralized authority"? Proudhon prophetically warned: "While centralization continues to endow the State with colossal force, nothing can be achieved by spontaneous initiative or by the independent actions of groups and individuals."

It should be stressed that in the congresses of the First International the libertarian idea of self-management prevailed over the statist concept. At the Lausanne Congress in 1867 the committee reporter, a Belgian called Cesar de Paepe, proposed that the State should become the owner of undertakings that were to be nationalized. At that time Charles Longuet was a libertarian, and he replied: "All right, on condition that it is understood that we define the State as 'the collective of the citizens' . . ., also that these services will be administered not by state functionaries . . . but by groupings of workers." The debate continued the following year (1868) at the Brussels Congress and this time the same committee reporter took care to be precise on this point: "Collective property would belong to society as a whole, but would be conceded to associations of workers. The State would be no more than a federation of various groups of workers." Thus clarified, the resolution was passed.

However, the optimism which Proudhon had expressed in 1848 with regard to self-management was to prove unjustified. Not many years later, in 1857, he severely criticized the existing workers' associations; inspired by naive, utopian illusions, they had paid the price of their lack of experience. They had become narrow and exclusive, had functioned as collective employers, and had been carried away by hierarchical and managerial concepts. All the abuses of capitalist companies "were exaggerated further in these so-called brotherhoods." They had been tom by discord, rivalry' defections, and betrayals. Once their managers had learned the business concerned, they retired to "set up as bourgeois employers on their own account." In other instances, the members had insisted on dividing up the resources. In 1848 several hundred workers' associations had been set up; nine years later only twenty remained.

As opposed to this narrow and particularist attitude, Proudhon advocated a "universal" and "synthetic" concept of self-management. The task of the future was far more than just "getting a few hundred workers into associations"; it was "the economic transformation of a nation of thirty-six million souls." The workers' associations of the future should work for all and not "operate for the benefit of a few." Self-management, therefore, required the members to have some education: "A man is not born a member of an association, he becomes one." The hardest task before the association is to "educate the members." It is more important to create a "fund of men" than to form a "mass of capital."

With regard to the legal aspect, it had been Proudhon's first idea to vest the ownership of their undertaking in the workers' associations but now he rejected this narrow solution. In order to do this he distinguished between possession and ownership. Ownership is absolute, aristocratic, feudal; possession is democratic, republican, egalitarian: it consists of the enjoyment of an usufruct which can neither be alienated, nor given away, nor sold. The workers should hold their means of production in alleu like the ancient Germains, [14] but would not be the outright owners. Property would be replaced by federal, cooperative ownership vested not in the State but in the producers as a whole, united in a vast agricultural and industrial federation.

Proudhon waxed enthusiastic about the future of such a revised and corrected form of self-management: "It is not false rhetoric that states this, it is an economic and social necessity: the time is near when we shall be unable to progress on any but these new conditions .... Social classes ... must merge into one single producers' association." Would self-management succeed? "On the reply to this . . . depends the whole future of the workers. If it is affirmative an entire new world will open up for humanity; if it is negative the proletarian can take it as settled.... There is no hope for him in this wicked world."


How were dealings between the different workers' associations to be organized? At first Proudhon maintained that the exchange value of all goods could be measured by the amount of labor necessary to produce them. The workers were to be paid in "work vouchers"; trading agencies or social shops were to be set up where they would buy goods at retail prices calculated in hours of work. Large-scale trade would be carried on through a compensatory clearinghouse or People's Bank which would accept payment in work vouchers. This bank would also serve as a credit establishment lending to workers' associations the sums needed for effective operation. The loans would be interest free.

This so-called mutuelliste scheme was rather utopian and certainly difficult to operate in a capitalist system. Early in 1849 Proudhon set up the People's Bank and in six weeks some 20,000 people joined, but it was short-lived. It was certainly farfetched to believe that mutuellisme would spread like a patch of oil and to exclaim, as Proudhon did then: "It really is the new world, the promised society which is being grafted on to the old and gradually transforming it!"

The idea of wages based on the number of hours worked is debatable on many grounds. The libertarian communists of the Kropotkin school - Malatesta, Elise Reclus, Carlo Cafiero - did not fail to criticize it. In the first place, they thought it unjust. Cafiero argued that "three hours of Peter's work may be worth five of Paul's." Other factors than duration must be considered in determining the value of labor: intensity, professional and intellectual training, etc. The family commitments of the workers must also be taken into account. [15] Moreover, in a collectivist regime the worker remains a wage slave of the community that buys and supervises his labor. Payment by hours of work performed cannot be an ideal solution; at best it would be a temporary expedient. We must put an end to the morality of account books, to the philosophy of "credit and debit." This method of remuneration, derived from modified individualism, is in contradiction to collective ownership of the means of production, and cannot bring about a profound revolutionary change in man. It is incompatible with anarchism; a new form of ownership requires a new form of remuneration. Service to the community cannot be measured in units of money. Needs will have to be given precedence over services, and all the products of the labor of all must belong to all, each to take his share of them freely. To each according to his need should be the motto of libertarian communism.

Kropotkin, Malatesta, and their followers seem to have overlooked the fact that Proudhon had anticipated their objections and revised his earlier ideas. In his Theorie de la Propriete, published after his death, he explained that he had only supported the idea of equal pay for equal work in his "First Memorandum on Property" of 1840: "I had forgotten to say two things: first, that labor is measured by combining its duration with its intensity; second, that one must not include in the worker's wages the amortization of the cost of his education and the work he did on his own account as an unpaid apprentice, nor the premiums to insure him against the risks he runs, all of which vary in different occupations." Proudhon claimed to have "repaired" this "omission" in his later writings in which he proposed that mutual insurance cooperative associations should compensate for unequal costs and risks. Furthermore, Proudhon did not regard the remuneration of the members of a workers' association as "wages" but as a share of profits freely determined by associated and equally responsible workers. In an as yet unpublished thesis, Pierre Haubtman, one of Proudhon's most recent exponents, comments that workers' self-management would have no meaning if it were not interpreted in this way.

The libertarian communists saw fit to criticize Proudhon's mutuellisme and the more logical collectivism of Bakunin for not having determined the way in which labor would be remunerated in a socialist system. These critics seemed to have overlooked the fact that the two founders of anarchism were anxious not to lay down a rigid pattern of society prematurely. They wanted to leave the self-management associations the widest choice in this matter. The libertarian communists themselves were to provide the justification for this flexibility and refusal to jump to conclusions, so different from their own impatient forecasts: they stressed that in the ideal system of their choice "labor would produce more than enough for all" and that "bourgeois" norms of remuneration could only be replaced by specifically "communist" norms when the era of abundance had set in, and not before. In 1884 Malatesta, drafting the program for a projected anarchist international, admitted that communism could be brought about immediately only in a very limited number of areas and, "for the rest," collectivism would have to be accepted "for a transitional period."

For communism to be possible, a high stage of moral development is required of the members of society, a sense of solidarity both elevated and profound, which the upsurge of the revolution may not suffice to induce. This doubt is the more justified in that material conditions favorable to this development will not exist at the beginning.

Anarchism was about to face the test of experience, on the eve of the Spanish Revolution of 1936, when Diego Abad de Santillan demonstrated the immediate impracticability of libertarian communism in very similar terms. He held that the capitalist system had not prepared human beings for communism: far from developing their social instincts and sense of solidarity it tends in every way to suppress and penalize such feelings.

Santillan recalled the experience of the Russian and other revolutions to persuade the anarchists to be more realistic. He charged them with receiving the most recent lessons of experience with suspicion or superiority. He maintained that it is doubtful whether a revolution would lead directly to the realization of our ideal of communist anarchism. The collectivist watchword, "to each the product of his labor," would be more appropriate than communism to the requirements of the real situation in the first phase of a revolution' when the economy would be disorganized, production at a low ebb, and food supplies a priority. The economic models to be tried would, at best, evolve slowly toward communism. To put human beings brutally behind bars by imprisoning them in rigid forms of social life would be an authoritarian approach which would hinder the revolution. Mutuellisme, communism, collectivism are only different means to the same end. Santillan turned back to the wise empiricism of Proudhon and Bakunin, claiming for the coming Spanish Revolution the right to experiment freely: "The degree of mutuellisme, collectivism, or communism which can be achieved will be determined freely in each locality and each social sphere." In fact, as will be seen later, the experience of the Spanish "collectives" of 1936 illustrated the difficulties arising from the premature implementation of integral communism [16].


Competition is one of the norms inherited from the bourgeois economy which raises thorny problems when preserved in a collectivist or self-management economy. Proudhon saw it as an "expression of social spontaneity" and the guarantee of the "freedom" of the association. Moreover, it would for a long time to come provide an "irreplaceable stimulus" without which an "immense slackening off" would follow the high tension of industry. He went into detail:

"The working brotherhood is pledged to supply society with the goods and services asked from it at prices as near as possible to the cost of production .... Thus the workers' association denies itself any amalgamation [of a monopolistic type], subjects itself to the law of competition, and keeps its books and records open to society, which reserves the power to dissolve the association as the ultimate sanction of society's right of supervision." "Competition and association are interdependent .... The most deplorable error of socialism is to have considered it [competition] as the disorder of society. There can . . . be ... no question of destroying competition .... It is a matter of finding an equilibrium, one could say a policing agent."

Proudhon's attachment to the principle of competition drew the sarcasm of Louis Blanc: "We cannot understand those who have advocated the strange linking of two contrary principles. To graft brotherhood onto competition is a wretched idea: it is like replacing eunuchs by hermaphrodites." The pre-Marxian Louis Blanc wanted to "reach a uniform price" determined by the State, and prevent all competition between establishments within an industry. Proudhon retorted that prices "can only be fixed by competition, that is, by the power of the consumer . . . to dispense with the services of those who overcharge ...." "Remove competition . . . and you deprive society of its motive force, so that it runs down like a clock with a broken spring."

Proudhon, however, did not hide from himself the evils of competition, which he described very fully in his treatise on political economy. He knew it to be a source of inequality and admitted that "in competition, victory goes to the big battalions." It is so "anarchic" (in the pejorative sense of the term) that it operates always to the benefit of private interests, necessarily engenders civil strife and, in the long run, creates oligarchies. "Competition kills competition."

In Proudhon's view, however, the absence of competition would be no less pernicious. Taking the tobacco administration, [17] he found that its products were too dear and its supplies inadequate simply because it had long been a monopoly free from competition. If all industries were subject to such a system, the nation would never be able to balance its income and expenditures. The competition Proudhon dreamed of was not to be the laissez-faire competition of the capitalist economic system, but competition endowed with a higher principle to "socialize" it, competition which would function on the basis of fair exchange, in a spirit of solidarity, competition which would both protect individual initiative and bring back to society the wealth which is at present diverted from it by capitalist appropriation.

It is obvious that there was something utopian in this idea. Competition and the so-called market economy inevitably produce inequality and exploitation, and would do so even if one started from complete equality. They could not be combined with workers' self-management unless it were on a temporary basis, as a necessary evil, until (1) a psychology of "honest exchange" had developed among the workers; (2) most important, society as a whole had passed from conditions of shortage to the stage of abundance, when competition would lose its purpose.

Even in such a transitional period, however, it seems desirable that competition should be limited, as in Yugoslavia today, to the consumer-goods sector where it has at least the one advantage of protecting the interests of the consumer.

The libertarian communist would condemn Proudhon's version of a collective economy as being based on a principle of conflict; competitors would be in a position of equality at the start, only to be hurled into a struggle which would inevitably produce victors and vanquished, and where goods would end up by being exchanged according to the principles of supply and demand; "which would be to fall right back into competition and the bourgeois world." Some critics of the Yugoslav experiment from other communist countries use much the same terms to attack it. They feel that self-management in any form merits the same hostility they harbor toward a competitive market economy, as if the two ideas were basically and permanently inseparable.


At all events, Proudhon was aware that management by workers' associations would have to cover large units. He stressed the "need for centralization and large units" and asked: "Do not workers' associations for the operation of heavy industry mean large units?" "We put economic centralization in the place of political centralization." However, his fear of authoritarian planning made him instinctively prefer competition inspired by solidarity. Since then, anarchist thinkers have become advocates of a libertarian and democratic form of planning, worked out from the bottom up by the federation of self-managing enterprises.

Bakunin foresaw that self-management would open perspectives for planning on a world-wide scale:

"Workers' cooperative associations are a new historical phenomenon; today as we witness their birth we cannot foresee their future, but only guess at the immense development which surely awaits them and the new political and social conditions they will generate. It is not only possible but probable that they will, in time, outgrow the limits of today's counties, provinces, and even states to transform the whole structure of human society, which will no longer be divided into nations but into industrial units."

These would then "form a vast economic federation" with a supreme assembly at its head. With the help of "world-wide statistics, giving data as comprehensive as they are detailed and precise," it would balance supply and demand, direct, distribute, and share out world industrial production among the different countries so that crises in trade and employment, enforced stagnation, economic disaster, and loss of capital would almost certainly entirely disappear.


There was an ambiguity in Proudhon's idea of management by the workers' associations. It was not always clear whether the self-management groups would continue to compete with capitalist undertakings - in other words, whether a socialist sector would coexist with a private sector, as is said to be the present situation in Algeria and other newly independent countries - or whether, on the other hand, production as a whole would be socialized and made subject to self-management.

Bakunin was a consistent collectivist and clearly saw the dangers of the coexistence of the two sectors. Even in association the workers cannot accumulate the necessary capital to stand up to large-scale bourgeois capital. There would also be a danger that the capitalist environment would contaminate the workers' associations so that "a new class of exploiters of the labor of the proletariat" would arise within them. Self-management contains the seeds of the full economic emancipation of the working masses, but these seeds can only germinate and grow when "capital itself, industrial establishments, raw materials, and capital equipment . . . become the collective property of workers' associations for both agricultural and industrial production, and these are freely organized and federated among themselves." "Radical, conclusive social change will only be brought about by means affecting the whole society," that is, by a social revolution which transforms private property into collective property. In such a social organization the workers would be their own collective capitalists, their own employers. Only "those things which are truly for personal use" would remain private property.

Bakunin admitted that producers' cooperatives served to accustom the workers to organizing themselves, and managing their own affairs, and were the first steps in collective working-class action, but he held that until the social revolution had been achieved such islands in the midst of the capitalist system would have only a limited effect, and he urged the workers "to think more of strikes than of cooperatives."


Bakunin also valued the part played by trade unions, "the natural organizations of the masses," "the only really effective weapon" the workers could use against the bourgeoisie. He thought the trade-union movement could contribute more than the ideologists to organizing the forces of the proletariat independently of bourgeois radicalism. He saw the future as the national and international organization of the workers by trade.

Trade unionism was not specially mentioned at the first congresses of the International. From the Basel Congress in 1869 onward, it became a prime issue, owing to the influence of the anarchists: after the abolition of the wage system, trade unions would become the embryo of the administration of the future; government would be replaced by councils of workers' organizations.

In 1876 James Guillaume, a disciple of Bakunin, wrote his Ide'es sur l`Organisation Sociale, in which he made self-management incorporate trade unionism. He advocated the creation of corporate federations of workers, in particular trades which would be united "not, as before, to protect their wages against the greed of the employers, but . . . to provide mutual guarantees for access to the tools of their trade, which would become the collective property of the whole corporate federation as the result of reciprocal contracts." Bakunin's view was that these federations would act as planning agencies, thus filling one of the gaps in Proudhon's plan for self-management. One thing had been lacking in his proposals: the link which would unite the various producers' associations and prevent them from running their affairs egotistically, in a parochial spirit, without care for the general good or the other workers' associations. Trade unionism was to fill the gap and articulate self-management. It was presented as the agent of planning and unity among producers.


During his early career Proudhon was entirely concerned with economic organization. His suspicion of anything political led him to neglect the problem of territorial administration. It was enough for him to say that the workers must take the place of the State without saying precisely how this would come about. In the latter years of his life he paid more attention to the political problem, which he approached from the bottom up in true anarchist style. On a local basis men were to combine among themselves into what he called a "natural group" which "constitutes itself into a city or political unit, asserting itself in unity, independence, and autonomy." "Similar groups, some distance apart, may have interests in common; it is conceivable that they may associate together and form a higher group for mutual security." At this point the anarchist thinker saw the specter of the hated State: never, never should the local groups "as they unite to safeguard their interests and develop their wealth . . . go so far as to abdicate in a sort of self-immolation at the feet of the new Moloch." Proudhon defined the autonomous commune with some precision: it is essentially a "sovereign being" and, as such, "has the right to govern and administer itself, to impose taxes, to dispose of its property and revenue, to set up schools for its youth and appoint teachers," etc. "That is what a commune is, for that is what collective political life is .... It denies all restrictions, is self-limiting; all external coercion is alien to it and a menace to its survival." It has been shown that Proudhon thought self-management incompatible with an authoritarian State; similarly, the commune could not coexist with authority centralized from above:

"There is no halfway house. The commune will be sovereign or subject, all or nothing. Cast it in the best role you can; as soon as it is no longer subject to its own law, recognizes a higher authority, [and] the larger grouping . . . of which it is a member is declared to be superior . . ., it is inevitable that they will at some time disagree and come into conflict. As soon as there is a conflict the logic of power insures victory for the central authority, and this without discussion, negotiation, or trial, debate between authority and subordinate being impermissible, scandalous, and absurd."

Bakunin slotted the commune into the social organization of the future more logically than Proudhon. The associations of productive workers were to be freely allied within the communes and the communes, in their turn, freely federated among themselves. "Spontaneous life and action have been held in abeyance for centuries by the all-absorbing and monopolistic power of the State; its abdication will return them to the communes."

How would trade unionism relate to the communes? In 1880 the Courtelary district of the Jura Federation [18] was sure of its answer: "The organ of this local life will be a federation of trades, and this local federation will become the commune." However, those drafting the report, not fully decided on this point, raised the question: "Is it to be a general assembly of all the inhabitants, or delegations from the trades . . . which will draw up the constitution of the commune?" The conclusion was that there were two possible systems to be considered. Should the trade union or the commune have priority? Later, especially in Russia and Spain, this question divided the "anarcho-communists" from the "anarcho-syndicalists."

Bakunin saw the commune as the ideal vehicle for the expropriation of the instruments of production for the benefit of self-management. In the first stage of social reorganization it is the commune which will give the essential minimum to each "dispossessed" person as compensation for the goods confiscated. He described its internal organization with some precision. It will be administered by a council of elected delegates with express positive mandates; these will always be responsible to the electorate and subject to recall. The council of the commune may elect from among its number executive committees for each branch of the revolutionary administration of the commune. Dividing responsibility among so many has the advantage of involving the greatest number of the rank and file in management. It curtails the disadvantages of a system of representation in which a small number of elected delegates could take over all the duties, while the people remained almost passive in rarely convoked general assemblies. Bakunin instinctively grasped that elected councils must be "working bodies," with both regulatory and executive duties - what Lenin was later to call "democracy without parliamentarianism" in one of his libertarian moods. Again the Courtelary district made this idea more explicit:

"In order to avoid falling back into the errors of centralized and bureaucratic administration, we think that the general interests of the commune should be administered by different special commissions for each branch of activity and not by a single local administrative body .... This arrangement would prevent administration from taking on the character of government."

The followers of Bakunin showed no such balanced judgment of the necessary stages of historical development. In the 1880's they took the collectivist anarchists to task. In a critique of the precedent set by the Paris Commune of 1871, Kropotkin scolded the people for having "once more made use of the representative system within the Commune," for having "abdicated their own initiative in favor of an assembly of people elected more or less by chance," and he lamented that some reformers "always try to preserve this government by proxy at any price." He held that the representative system had had its day. It was the organized domination of the bourgeoisie and must disappear with it. "For the new economic era which is coming, we must seek a new form of political organization based on a principle quite different from representation." Society must kind forms of political relations closer to the people than representative government, "nearer to self-government, to government of oneself by oneself."

For authoritarian or libertarian socialists, the ideal to be pursued must surely be this direct democracy which, if pressed to the limits in both economic self-management and territorial administration, would destroy the last vestiges of any kind of authority. It is certain, however, that the necessary condition for its operation is a stage of social evolution in which all workers would possess learning and skills as well as consciousness, while at the same time abundance would have taken the place of shortage. In 1880, long before Lenin, the district of Courtelary proclaimed: "The more or less democratic practice of universal suffrage will become decreasingly important in a scientifically organized society." But not before its advent.


The reader knows by now that the anarchists refused to use the term "State" even for a transitional situation. The gap between authoritarians and libertarians has not always been very wide on this score. In the First International the collectivists, whose spokesman was Bakunin, allowed the terms "regenerate State," "new and revolutionary State," or even "socialist State" to be accepted as synonyms for "social collective." The anarchists soon saw, however, that it was rather dangerous for them to use the same word as the authoritarians while giving it a quite different meaning.

They felt that a new concept called for a new word and that the use of the old term could be dangerously ambiguous; so they ceased to give the name "State" to the social collective of the future.

The Marxists, for their part, were anxious to obtain the cooperation of the anarchists to make the principle of collective ownership triumph in the International over the last remnant of neo-Proudhonian individualism. So they were willing to make verbal concessions and agreed halfheartedly to the anarchists' proposal to substitute for the word "State" either federation or solidarisation of communes. In the same spirit, Engels attacked his friend and compatriot August Bebel about the Gotha Programme of the German social democrats, and thought it wise to suggest that he "suppress the term 'State' throughout, using instead Gemeinwesen, a good old German word meaning the same as the French word 'Commune.'" At the Basel Congress of 1869, the collectivist anarchists and the Marxists had united to decide that once property had been socialized it would be developed by communes solidarisees. In his speech Bakunin dotted the i's:

"I am voting for collectivization of social wealth, and in particular of the land, in the sense of social liquidation. By social liquidation I mean the expropriation of all who are now proprietors, by the abolition of the juridical and political State which is the sanction and sole guarantor of property as it now is. As to subsequent forms of organization . . . I favor the solidarisation of communes . . . with all the greater satisfaction because such solidarisation entails the organization of society from the bottom up."


The compromise which had been worked out was a long way from eliminating ambiguity, the more so since at the very same Basel Congress the authoritarian socialists had not felt shy about applauding the management of the economy by the State. The problem subsequently proved especially thorny when discussion turned to the management of large-scale public services like railways, postal services, etc. By the Hague Congress of 1872, the followers of Marx and those of Bakunin had parted company. Thus the debate on public services arose in the misnamed "anti-authoritarian" International which had survived the split. This question created fresh discord between the anarchists and those more or less "statist" socialists who had chosen to detach themselves from Marx and remain with the anarchists in the International.

Since such public services are national in scale, it is obvious that they cannot be managed by the workers' associations alone, nor by the communes alone. Proudhon tried to solve the problem by "balancing" workers' management by some form of "public initiative," which he did not explain fully. Who was to administer the public services? The federation of the communes, answered the libertarians; the State, the authoritarians were tempted to reply.

At the Brussels Congress of the International in 1874, the Belgian socialist Cesar de Paepe tried to bring about a compromise between the two conflicting views. Local public services would go to the communes to be run under the direction of the local administrative body itself, nominated by the trade unions. Public services on a larger scale would be managed by a regional administration consisting of nominees of the federation of communes and supervised by a regional chamber of labor, while those on a national scale would come under the "Workers' State," that is, a State "based on a combination of free workers' communes." The anarchists were suspicious of this ambiguous organization but de Paepe preferred to take this suspicion as a misunderstanding: was it not after all a verbal quarrel? If that was so he would be content to put the word "State" aside while keeping and even extending the actual thing "under the more pleasant disguise of some other term."

Most of the libertarians thought that the report from the Brussels Congress amounted to a restoration of the State: they saw the "Workers' State" turning inevitably into an "authoritarian State." If it was only a verbal quarrel they could not see why they should christen the new society without government by the very name used to describe the organization which was to be abolished. At a subsequent congress at Berne, in 1876, Malatesta admitted that the public services required a unique, centralized form of organization; but he refused to have them administered from above by a State. His adversaries seemed to him to confuse the State with society, that "living organic body." In the following year, 1877, at the Universal Socialist Congress in Ghent, Cesar de Paepe admitted that his precious Workers' State or People's State "might for a period be no more than a State of wage earners," but that "must be no more than a transitional phase imposed by circumstances," after which the nameless, urgent masses would not fail to take over the means of production and put them in the hands of the workers' associations. The anarchists were not appeased by this uncertain and distant perspective: what the State took over it would never give up.


To sum up: the future libertarian society was to be endowed with a dual structure: economic, in the form of a federation of self-managing workers' associations; administrative, in the form of a federation of the communes. The final requirement was to crown and articulate this edifice with a concept of wider scope, which might be extended to apply to the whole world: federalism.

As Proudhon's thought matured, the federalist idea was clarified and became predominant. One of his last writings bore the title Du Principe Federatif et de la Necessite de Reconstituer de Parti de la Revolution (1863) and, as previously mentioned, toward the end of his life he was more inclined to call himself a federalist than an anarchist. We no longer live in the age of small, ancient cities which, moreover, even in their time, sometimes came together on a federal basis. The problem of our time is that of administering large countries. Proudhon commented: "If the State were never to extend beyond the area of a city or commune I would leave everyone to make his own judgment, and say no more. But we must not forget that it is a matter of vast conglomerations of territory within which cities, towns, and villages can be counted by the thousand." No question of fragmenting society into microcosms. Unity is essential.

It was, however, the intention of the authoritarians to rule these local groups by the laws of "conquest," to which Proudhon retorted: "I declare to them that this is completely impossible, by virtue of the very law of unity."

"All these groups . . . are indestructible organisms . . . which can no more divest themselves of their sovereign independence than a member of the city can lose his citizenship or prerogatives as a free man .... All that would be achieved ... would be the creation of an irreconcilable antagonism between the general sovereignty and each of the separate sovereignties, setting authority against authority; in other words, while supposedly developing unity one would be organizing division."

In such a system of "unitary absorption" the cities or natural groups "would always be condemned to lose their identity in the superior agglomeration, which one might call artificial." Centralization means "retaining in governmental relationship groups which are autonomous by their nature"; ". . . that is, for modem society, the true tyranny." It is a system of imperialism, communism, absolutism, thundered Proudhon, adding in one of those amalgamations of which he was a master: "All these words are synonyms."

On the other hand, unity, real unity, centralization, real centralization, would be indestructible if a bond of law, a contract of mutuality, a pact of federation were concluded between the various territorial units:

"What really centralizes a society of free men . . . is the contract. Social unity ... is the product of the free union of citizens .... For a nation to n~anifest itself in unity, this unity must be centralized . . . in all its functions and faculties; centralization must be created from the bottom up, from the periphery to the center, and all functions must be independent and self-governing. The more numerous its foci, the stronger the centralization will be."

The federal system is the opposite of governmental centralization. The two principles of libertarianism and authoritarianism which are in perpetual conflict are destined to come to terms: "Federation resolves all the problems which arise from the need to combine liberty and authority. The French Revolution provided the foundations for a new order, the secret of which lies with its heir, the working class. This is the new order: to unite all the people in a 'federation of federations."' This expression was not used carelessly: a universal federation would be too big; the large units must be federated between themselves. In his favorite prophetic style Proudhon declared: "The twentieth century will open the era of federations."

Bakunin merely developed and strengthened the federalist ideas of Proudhon. Like Proudhon, he acclaimed the superiority of federal unity over authoritarian unity: "When the accursed power of the State is no longer there to constrain individuals, associations, communes, provinces, or regions to live together, they will be much more closely bound, will constitute a far more viable, real, and powerful whole than what they are at present forced into by the power of the State, equally oppressive to them all." The authoritarians "are always confusing . . . formal, dogmatic, and governmental unity with a real and living unity which can only derive from the freest development of all individuals and groups, and from a federal and absolutely voluntary alliance . . . of the workers" associations in the communes and, beyond the communes, in the regions, beyond the regions, in the nations."

Bakunin stressed the need for an intermediate body between the commune and the national federal organ: the province or region, a free federation of autonomous communes. It must not, however, be thought that federalism would lead to egoism or isolation. Solidarity is inseparable from freedom: "While the communes remain absolutely autonomous, they feel . . . solidarity among themselves and unite closely without losing any of their freedom." In the modem world, moral, material, and intellectual interests have created real and powerful unity between the different parts of one nation, and between the different nations; that unity will outlive the State.

Federalism, however, is a two-edged weapon. During the French Revolution the "federalism" of the Girondins was reactionary, and the royalist school of Charles Maurras advocated it under the name of "regionalism." In some countries, like the United States, the federal constitution is exploited by those who deprive men of color of their civil rights. Bakunin thought that socialism alone could give federalism a revolutionary content. For this reason his Spanish followers showed little enthusiasm for the bourgeois federalist party of Pi y Margall, which called itself Proudhonist, and even for its "cantonalist" left wing during the brief, and abortive, episode of the republic of 1873. [19]


The federalist idea leads logically to internationalism, that is to say, the organization of nations on a federal basis into the "large, fraternal union of mankind." Here again Bakunin showed up the bourgeois utopianism of a federal idea not based on international and revolutionary socialism. Far ahead of his time, he was a "European," as people say today; he called for and desired a United States of Europe, the only way "of making a civil war between the different peoples in the European family impossible." He was careful, however, to issue a warning against any European federation based on states "as they are at present constituted."

"No centralized, bureaucratic, and hence military State, albeit called a republic, could enter seriously and sincerely into an international federation By its very constitution, such a State will always be an overt or covert denial of internal liberty, and hence, necessarily, a permanent declaration of war, a menace to the existence of neighboring countries." Any alliance with a reactionary State would be a "Betrayal of the revolution." The United States of Europe, first, and later, of the world, can only be set up after the overthrow of the old order which rests from top to bottom on violence and the principle of authority. On the other hand, if the social revolution takes place in any one country, any foreign country which has made a revolution on the same principles should be received into a revolutionary federation regardless of existing state frontiers.

True internationalism rests on self-determination, which implies the right of secession. Following Proudhon, Bakunin propounded that "each individual, each association, commune, or province, each region and nation, has the absolute right to determine its own fate, to associate with others or not, to ally itself with whomever it will, or break any alliance, without regard to so-called historical claims or the convenience of its neighbors." "The right to unite freely and separate with the same freedom is the most important of all political rights, without which confederation win always be disguised centralization."

Anarchists, however, did not regard this principle as leading to secession or isolation. On the contrary, they held "the conviction that once the right to secede is recognized, secession will, in fact, become impossible because national units will be freely established and no longer the product of violence and historical falsehood." Then, and then only, will they become "truly strong, fruitful, and permanent."

Later, Lenin, and the early congresses of the Third International, adopted this concept from Bakunin, and the Bolsheviks made it the foundation of their policy on nationalities and of their anti-colonialist strategy - until they eventually belied it to turn to authoritarian centralization and disguised imperialism.


It is noteworthy that logical deduction led the originators of federalism to a prophetic anticipation of the problems of decolonization. Proudhon distinguished the unit "based on conquest" from the "rational" unit and saw that "every organization that exceeds its true limits and tends to invade or annex other organizations loses in strength what it gains in size, and moves toward dissolution." The more a city (i.e., a nation) extends its population or its territory, the nearer it comes to tyranny and, finally, disruption:

"If it sets up subsidiaries or colonies some distance away, these subsidiaries or colonies will, sooner or later, change into new cities which will remain linked to the mother city only by federation, or not at all ....

When the new city is ready to support itself it will itself declare its independence: by what right should the parent city presume to treat it as a vassal, as property to be exploited?

Thus in our time we have seen the United States emancipate itself from England; and Canada likewise in fact, if not in name; Australia set out on the road to separation by the consent, and with the approval, of the mother country. In the same way Algeria will, sooner or later, constitute itself an African France unless for abominable, selfish motives we keep it as a single unit by means of force and poverty."

Bakunin had an eye on the underdeveloped countries and doubted whether "imperialist Europe" could keep 800 million Asiatics in servitude. "Two-thirds of humanity, 800 million Asians asleep in their servitude will necessarily awaken and begin to move. But in what direction and to what end?" He declared "strong sympathy for any national uprising against any form of oppression" and commended to the subject peoples the fascinating example of the Spanish uprising against Napoleon. In spite of the fantastic disproportion between the native guerrillas and the imperial troops, the occupying power failed to put them down, and the French were driven out of Spain after a five-year struggle.

Every people "has the right to be itself and no one is entitled to impose its costume, its customs, its language, its opinions, or its laws." However, Bakunin also believed that there could be no true federalism without socialism and wished that national liberation could be achieved "as much in the economic as in the political interests of the masses" and "not with ambitious intent to set up a powerful State." Any revolution for national independence "will necessarily be against the people . . . if it is carried out without the people and must therefore depend for success on a privileged class," and will thus become "a retrogressive, disastrous, counter-revolutionary movement."

It would be regrettable if the decolonized countries were to cast off the foreign yoke only to fall into indigenous political or religious servitude. Their emancipation requires that "all faith in any divine or human authority be eradicated among the masses." The national question is historically secondary to the social question and salvation depends on the social revolution. An isolated national revolution cannot succeed. The social revolution inevitably becomes a world revolution.

Bakunin foresaw that decolonization would be followed by an ever expanding federation of revolutionary peoples: "The future lies initially with the creation of a European-American international unit. Later, much later, this great European-American nation will merge with the African and Asiatic units."

This analysis brings us straight into the middle of the twentieth century.