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Study notes

Anarcho-communism

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, IB

Anarcho-communists call for the abolition of the state, private property and capitalism, and the introduction of liberty, economic freedom and natural order.

Under anarcho-communism, society would be radically restructured, being based on human cooperation and solidarity, freely-formed small-scale autonomous communities, local direct democracy, common ownership of the wealth produced and economic equality. In short, this collectivist version of anarchism embraces full communism.

Important anarcho-communist thinkers include Peter Kropotkin, Carlo Cafiero (1846-92) and Errico Malatesta (1853-1932). Anarcho-communism attracted some support during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in countries (such as France, Italy and Spain) where small-scale workshop production was an important part of the economy. This variant of anarchism gained ground because self-educated workers in this sector were receptive to such ideas and anarcho-communism appeared to be practical option in a small-scale economic environment.

Kropotkin and other anarcho-communists put forward highly optimistic views about human nature. They reject the social Darwinist view that humans are winners in the struggle for existence because they are self-seeking and competitive. Instead, anarcho-communists argue that humans are naturally empathetic, sociable and cooperative – and it is these characteristics that account for the long-term survival of humankind and other successful species. As a result, people are capable of peaceful and harmonious self-government and therefore they do not need to be ruled ‘from above’ or subjected to state control. By practising Kropotkin’s theory of mutual aid (cooperation not competition), humans can create a decentralised society of communities founded on progress, social solidarity and voluntary participation.

Under anarcho-communism, once the state has been abolished, local voluntary communities would make decisions collectively using a grass-roots form of direct democracy to promote popular participation and political equality. Representative democracy and national forms of direct democracy are rejected since neither system would necessarily reflect the wishes of a specific community. Within these freely-formed communities, natural order would prevail, making laws and coercion unnecessary. Furthermore, this small-scale communal organisation would ‘personalise’ all forms of human relations, strengthen human cooperation and solidarity, and act as a barrier against greedy or selfish behaviour. These communities would be linked together in voluntary federations that would operate at every level from the local to the international.

Anarcho-communist economic arrangements would abandon capitalism and private property because of the oppression and inequality they create. Instead, all land, means of production and wealth would be held under common ownership by the communities. In a departure from collectivism, the communities would also hold the product of individuals’ labour in common. Production and distribution would be organised according to the principle of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’, thereby reinforcing the human capacity for cooperation and altruism. These communities would trade with each other in a mutually beneficial way based on the true labour value that has gone into making goods and products.

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