Anarchists do not abstractly compare a free society with the current one. Rather, we see an organic connection between what is and what could be. In other words, anarchists see the initial framework of an anarchist society as being created under statism and capitalism when working class people organise themselves to resist hierarchy. As Kropotkin argued:
“To make a revolution it is not … enough that there should be … [popular] risings … It is necessary that after the risings there should be something new in the institutions [that make up society], which would permit new forms of life to be elaborated and established.” [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 200]
Anarchists have seen these new institutions as being linked with the need of working class people to resist the evils of hierarchy, capitalism and statism, as being the product of the class struggle and attempts by working class people to resist authority, oppression and exploitation. Thus the struggle of working class people to protect and enhance their liberty under hierarchical society will be the basis for a society without hierarchy. This basic insight allowed anarchists like Bakunin and Proudhon to predict future developments in the class struggle such as workers’ councils (such as those which developed during the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions). As Oskar Anweiler notes in his definitive work on the Russian Soviets (Workers’ Councils):
“Proudhon’s views are often directly associated with the Russian councils … Bakunin …, much more than Proudhon, linked anarchist principles directly to revolutionary action, thus arriving at remarkable insights into the revolutionary process that contribute to an understanding of later events in Russia …
“In 1863 Proudhon declared … ‘All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralisation.’ … Proudhon’s conception of a self-governing state [sic!] founded on producers’ corporations [i.e. federations of co-operatives], is certainly related to the idea of ‘a democracy of producers’ which emerged in the factory soviets. To this extent Proudhon can be regarded as an ideological precursor of the councils …
“Bakunin … suggested the formation of revolutionary committees with representatives from the barricades, the streets, and the city districts, who would be given binding mandates, held accountable to the masses, and subject to recall. These revolutionary deputies were to form the ‘federation of the barricades,’ organising a revolutionary commune to immediately unite with other centres of rebellion …
“Bakunin proposed the formation of revolutionary committees to elect communal councils, and a pyramidal organisation of society ‘through free federation from the bottom upward, the association of workers in industry and agriculture — first in the communities, then through federation of communities into districts, districts into nations, and nations into international brotherhood.’ These proposals are indeed strikingly similar to the structure of the subsequent Russian system of councils …
“Bakunin’s ideas about spontaneous development of the revolution and the masses’ capacity for elementary organisation undoubtedly were echoed in part by the subsequent soviet movement… Because Bakunin … was always very close to the reality of social struggle, he was able to foresee concrete aspects of the revolution. The council movement during the Russian Revolution, though not a result of Bakunin’s theories, often corresponded in form and progress to his revolutionary concepts and predictions.” [The Soviets, pp. 8–11]
“As early as the 1860’s and 1870’s,” Paul Avrich also noted, “the followers of Proudhon and Bakunin in the First International were proposing the formation of workers’ councils designed both as a weapon of class struggle against capitalists and as the structural basis of the future libertarian society.” [The Russian Anarchists, p. 73]
In this sense, anarchy is not some distant goal but rather an aspect of the current struggles against domination, oppression and exploitation (i.e. the class struggle, to use an all-embracing term, although we must stress that anarchists use this term to cover all struggles against domination). “Anarchism,” argued Kropotkin, “is not a mere insight into a remote future. Already now, whatever the sphere of action of the individual, he [or she] can act, either in accordance with anarchist principles or on an opposite line.” It was “born among the people — in the struggles of real life” and “owes its origin to the constructive, creative activity of the people.” [Anarchism, p. 75, p. 150 and p. 149] Thus, “Anarchism is not … a theory of the future to be realised by divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions.” It “stands for the spirit of revolt” and so “[d]irect action against the authority in the shop, direct action against the authority of the law, of direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method of Anarchism.” [Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 63 and p. 66]
Anarchism draws upon the autonomous self-activity and spontaneity of working class people in struggle to inform both its political theory and its vision of a free society. The struggle against hierarchy teaches us not only how to be anarchists but also gives us a glimpse of what an anarchist society would be like, what its initial framework could be and the experience of managing our own activities which is required for such a society to function successfully.
Therefore, as is clear, anarchists have long had a clear vision of what an anarchist society would look like and, equally as important, where such a society would spring from (as we proved in section H.1.4 Lenin’s assertion that anarchists “have absolutely no clear idea of what the proletariat will put in its [the states] place” is simply false). It would, therefore, be useful to give a quick summary of anarchist views on this subject.
Proudhon, for example, looked to the self-activity of French workers, artisans and peasants and used that as the basis of his ideas on anarchism. While seeing such activity as essentially reformist in nature, like subsequent revolutionary anarchists he saw the germs of anarchy “generating from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labour, a greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and the State and subjugate them” as “it is of no use to change the holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave.” [System of Economical Contradictions, p. 399 and p. 398] Workers should follow the example of those already creating co-operatives:
“Do not the workmen’s unions at this moment serve as the cradle for the social revolution … ? Are they not always the open school, both theoretical and practical, where the workman learns the science of the production and distribution of wealth, where he studies, without masters and without books, by his own experience solely, the laws of … industrial organisation … ?” [General Idea of the Revolution, p. 78]
Attempts to form workers associations, therefore, “should be judged, not by the more or less successful results which they obtain, but only according to their silent tendency to assert and establish the social republic.” The “importance of their work lies, not in their petty union interests, but in their denial of the rule of capitalists, money lenders and governments.” They “should take over the great departments of industry, which are their natural inheritance.” [Op. Cit., p. 98–9]
This linking of the present and the future through the self-activity and self-organisation of working class people is also found in Bakunin. Unlike Proudhon, Bakunin stressed revolutionary activity and so he saw the militant labour movement, and the revolution itself, as providing the basic structure of a free society. As he put it, “the organisation of the trade sections and their representation in the Chambers of Labour … bear in themselves the living seeds of the new society which is to replace the old one. They are creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself.” [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 255]
The needs of the class struggle would create the framework of a new society, a federation of workers councils, as “strikes indicate a certain collective strength already, a certain understanding among the workers … each strike becomes the point of departure for the formation of new groups.” [The Basic Bakunin, pp. 149–50] This pre-revolutionary development would be accelerated by the revolution itself:
“the revolution must set out from the first to radically and totally destroy the State … The natural and necessary consequence of this destruction will be … [among others, the] dissolution of army, magistracy, bureaucracy, police and priesthood… confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers’ associations, who are to put them to use … the federative Alliance of all working men’s associations … [will] constitute the Commune … [the] Communal Council [will be] composed of … delegates … vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates… all provinces, communes and associations … by first reorganising on revolutionary lines … [will] constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces … [and] organise a revolutionary force capable defeating reaction … [and for] self-defence … [The] revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations … organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation.” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 170–2]
Like Bakunin, Kropotkin stressed that revolution transformed those taking part in it. As he noted in his classic account of the French Revolution, “by degrees, the revolutionary education of the people was being accomplished by the revolution itself.” Part of this process involved creating new organisations which allowed the mass of people to take part in the decision making of the revolution. He pointed to “the popular Commune,” arguing that “the Revolution began by creating the Commune … and through this institution it gained … immense power.” He stressed that it was “by means of the ‘districts’ [of the Communes] that … the masses, accustoming themselves to act without receiving orders from the national representatives, were practising what was to be described later as Direct Self-Government.” Such a system did not imply isolation, for while “the districts strove to maintain their own independence” they also “sought for unity of action, not in subjection to a Central Committee, but in a federative union.” The Commune “was thus made from below upward, by the federation of the district organisations; it spring up in a revolutionary way, from popular initiative.” Thus the process of class struggle, of the needs of the fighting against the existing system, generated the framework of an anarchist society for “the districts of Paris laid the foundations of a new, free, social organisation.” Little wonder he argued that “the principles of anarchism … already dated from 1789, and that they had their origin, not in theoretical speculations, but in the deeds of the Great French Revolution” and that “the libertarians would no doubt do the same to-day.” [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 261, p. 200, p. 203, p. 206, p. 204 and p. 206]
Similarly, as we noted in section H.2.6 we discover him arguing in Mutual Aid that strikes and labour unions were an expression of mutual aid in capitalist society. Elsewhere, Kropotkin argued that “labour combinations” like the “Sections” of French revolution were one of the “main popular anarchist currents” in history, expressing the “same popular resistance to the growing power of the few.” [Anarchism, p. 159] For Kropotkin, like Bakunin, libertarian labour unions were “natural organs for the direct struggle with capitalism and for the composition of the future social order.” [quoted by Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, p. 81]
As can be seen, the major anarchist thinkers pointed to forms of organisation autonomously created and managed by the working class as the framework of an anarchist society. Both Bakunin and Kropotkin pointed to militant, direct action based labour unions while Proudhon pointed towards workers’ experiments in co-operative production and mutual credit. Later anarchists followed them. The anarcho-syndicalists, like Bakunin and Kropotkin, pointed to the developing labour movement as the framework of an anarchist society, as providing the basis for the free federation of workers’ associations which would constitute the commune. Others, such as the Russians Maximov, Arshinov, Voline and Makhno, saw the spontaneously created workers’ councils (soviets) of 1905 and 1917 as the basis of a free society, as another example of Bakunin’s federation of workers’ associations.
Thus, for all anarchists, the structural framework of an anarchist society was created by the class struggle, by the needs of working class people to resist oppression, exploitation and hierarchy. As Kropotkin stressed, “[d]uring a revolution new forms of life will always germinate on the ruins of the old forms … It is impossible to legislate for the future. All we can do is vaguely guess its essential tendencies and clear the road for it.” [Evolution and Environment, pp. 101–2] These essential tendencies were discovered, in practice, by the needs of the class struggle. The necessity of practising mutual aid and solidarity to survive under capitalism (as in any other hostile environment) makes working people and other oppressed groups organise together to fight their oppressors and exploiters. Thus the co-operation necessary for a libertarian socialist society, like its organisational framework, would be generated by the need to resist oppression and exploitation under capitalism. The process of resistance produces organisation on a wider and wider scale which, in turn, can become the framework of a free society as the needs of the struggle promote libertarian forms of organisation such as decision making from the bottom up, autonomy, federalism, mandated delegates subject to instant recall and so on.
For example, a strikers’ assembly would be the basic decision-making forum in a struggle for improved wages and working conditions. It would create a strike committee to implement its decisions and send delegates to spread the strike. These delegates inspire other strikes, requiring a new organisation to co-ordinate the struggle. This results in delegates from all the strikes meeting and forming a federation (a workers’ council). The strikers decide to occupy the workplace and the strike assemblies take over the means of production. The strike committees become the basis for factory committees which could administer the workplaces, based on workers’ self-management via workplace assemblies (the former strikers’ assemblies). The federation of strikers’ delegates becomes the local communal council, replacing the existing state with a self-managed federation of workers’ associations. In this way, the class struggle creates the framework of a free society.
This, obviously, means that any suggestions of how an anarchist society would look like are based on the fact that the actual framework of a free society will be the product of actual struggles. This means that the form of the free society will be shaped by the process of social change and the organs it creates. This is an important point and worth repeating.
So, as well as changing themselves while they change the world, a people in struggle also create the means by which they can manage society. By having to organise and manage their struggles, they become accustomed to self-management and self-activity and create the possibility of a free society and the organisations which will exist within it. Anarchy is not a jump into the dark but rather a natural progression of the struggle for freedom in an unfree society. The contours of a free society will be shaped by the process of creating it and, therefore, will not be an artificial construction imposed on society. Rather, it will be created from below up by society itself as working class people start to break free of hierarchy. The class struggle thus transforms those involved as well as society and creates the organisational structure and people required for a libertarian society.
This clearly suggests that the means anarchists support are important as they are have a direct impact on the ends they create. In other words, means influence ends and so our means must reflect the ends we seek and empower those who use them. As the present state of affairs is based on the oppression, exploitation and alienation of the working class, any tactics used in the pursuit of a free society must be based on resisting and destroying those evils. This is why anarchists stress tactics and organisations which increase the power, confidence, autonomy, initiative, participation and self-activity of oppressed people. As we indicate in section J (“What Do Anarchists Do?”) this means supporting direct action, solidarity and self-managed organisations built and run from the bottom-up. Only by fighting our own battles, relying on ourselves and our own abilities and power, in organisations we create and run ourselves, can we gain the power and confidence and experience needed to change society for the better and, hopefully, create a new society in place of the current one.
Needless to say, a revolutionary movement will never, at its start, be purely anarchist:
“All of the workers’ and peasants’ movements which have taken place … have been movements within the limits of the capitalist regime, and have been more of less tinged with anarchism. This is perfectly natural and understandable. The working class do not act within a world of wishes, but in the real world where they are daily subjected to the physical and psychological blows of hostile forces … the workers continually feel the influence of all the real conditions of the capitalist regime and of intermediate groups … Consequently it is natural that the struggle which they undertake inevitably carries the stamp of various conditions and characteristics of contemporary society. The struggle can never be born in the finished and perfected anarchist form which would correspond to all the requirements of the ideas … When the popular masses engage in a struggle of large dimensions, they inevitably start by committing errors, they allow contradictions and deviations, and only through the process of this struggle do they direct their efforts in the direction of the ideal for which they are struggling.” [Peter Arshinov, The History of the Makhnovist Movement, pp. 239–40]
The role of anarchists is “to help the masses to take the right road in the struggle and in the construction of the new society” and “support their first constructive efforts, assist them intellectually.” However, the working class “once it has mastered the struggle and begins its social construction, will no longer surrender to anyone the initiative in creative work. The working class will then direct itself by its own thought; it will create its society according to its own plans.” [Arshinov, Op. Cit., pp. 240–1] All anarchists can do is help this process by being part of it, arguing our case and winning people over to anarchist ideas (see section J.3 for more details). Thus the process of struggle and debate will, hopefully, turn a struggle against capitalism and statism into one for anarchism. In other words, anarchists seek to preserve and extend the anarchistic elements that exist in every struggle and to help them become consciously libertarian by discussion and debate as members of those struggles.
Lastly, we must stress that it is only the initial framework of a free society which is created in the class struggle. As an anarchist society develops, it will start to change and develop in ways we cannot predict. The forms in which people express their freedom and their control over their own lives will, by necessity, change as these requirements and needs change. As Bakunin argued:
“Even the most rational and profound science cannot divine the form social life will take in the future. It can only determine the negative conditions, which follow logically from a rigorous critique of existing society. Thus, by means of such a critique, social and economic science rejected hereditary individual property and, consequently, took the abstract and, so to speak, negative position of collective property as a necessary condition of the future social order. In the same way, it rejected the very idea of the state or statism, meaning government of society from above downward … Therefore, it took the opposite, or negative, position: anarchy, meaning the free and independent organisation of all the units and parts of the community and their voluntary federation from below upward, not by the orders of any authority, even an elected one, and not by the dictates of any scientific theory, but as the natural development of all the varied demands put forth by life itself.
“Therefore no scholar can teach the people or even define for himself how they will and must live on the morrow of the social revolution. That will be determined first by the situation of each people, and secondly by the desires that manifest themselves and operate most strongly within them.” [Statism and Anarchy, pp. 198–9]
So while it will be reasonable to conclude that, for example, the federation of strike/factory assemblies and their councils/committees will be the framework by which production will initially be organised, this framework will mutate to take into account changing production and social needs. The actual structures created will, by necessity, be transformed as industry is transformed from below upwards to meet the real needs of society and producers as both the structure and nature of work and industry developed under capitalism bears the marks of its economic class, hierarchies and power (“a radical social ecology not only raises traditional issues such as the reunion of agriculture with industry, but also questions the very structure of industry itself.” [Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p. 408]). Therefore, under workers’ self-management industry, work and the whole structure and organisation of production will be transformed in ways we can only guess at today. We can point the general direction (i.e. self-managed, ecologically balanced, decentralised, federal, empowering, creative and so on) but that is all. Similarly, as cities and towns are transformed into ecologically integrated communes, the initial community assemblies and their federations will transform along with the transformation of our surroundings. What they will evolve into we cannot predict, but their fundamentals of instant recall, delegation over representation, decision making from the bottom up, and so on will remain.
So, while anarchists see “the future in the present” as the initial framework of a free society, we recognise that such a society will evolve and change. However, the fundamental principles of a free society will not change and so it is useful to present a summary of how such a society could work, based on these principles.