For Us, Nothing... For All, Everything: The Communist Tradition In Anarchism

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For Us, Nothing... For All, Everything:
The Communist Tradition in Anarchism
by Camille

[From the Northeastern Anarchist #3. Winter 2002.]

In NEFAC's 'Aims and Principles', it is said that the
federation is "an organization of revolutionaries
coming from different movements of resistance who
identify with the communist tradition within anarchism
(1)". This may raise eyebrows when read by many
people as they ask themselves what the hell we
mean by that. Anarcho-communists, libertarian
communists, communist-anarchists... Is this a
contradiction? Was there a secret alliance between
Marx and Bakunin, Lenin and Makhno, Mao and Pa
kin? Are we Bolsheviks in disguise aiming to subvert
anarchism and recruit little soldiers for 'The Party'
(whichever it is)? Of course not! Let's look at it closer.

What does the word communism really means?
Communism is the doctrine that says we should put
all means of production and distribution, as well as
the socially produced wealth, in common. It's the
dream of the abolition of class system and wage
slavery, replaced by a worldwide community, without
classes. In our opinion, real communism can only
aim at the destruction of the State, because the State
is the political organization based on the domination
and class rule. As long as there is a State, there can
be no communism because there is necessarily a
system of classes (at least one: bureaucrats!).

While everyone does not agree on this, there can
be communism and centralization (like there can be
self-management and centralisation). Communism
can adapt to many political and organizational
frameworks. We are for a federalist organizational
framework, based on direct democracy. This said, an
anarchist framework does not necessarly imply a
communist framework (and the contrary). There are
individualist anarchists, collectivist anarchists,
mutualist anarchists, etc. Just like there are
autoritarian communists, council communists,
primitive communists, etc. We are anarchist
communists. That's why we say "anarcho-communists"
or "libertarian communists". One word defines the other.

The Roots of Anarchism

Anarchism was born, and developed, in the
International Working People Association (IWPA, or
First International, 1864-72). In the beginning, the
International was conceived as a pact between
British and French trade unionists so that French
workers would not be used to break strikes in Britain
(which was a common tactic used by British bosses
at the time). The organization spread and rapidly
grew to include more than two million workers in its
midst. It was acting as much as a solidarity center -
organizing collections in various countries to help
strikers of others, for example -as a revolutionary
laboratory where many socialists tendencies where
present. Even if there was theoreticians and social
movements that led the way - such as Proudhon -
anarchism as a doctrine and movement crystalised in
it's midst around activists like Mikhail Bakunin, Carlo
Cafiero or James Guillaume and movements like the
watch makers of the Swiss Jura, the Italian and
French craftsman and the Spanish workers.

The first anarchists where generally collectivists
and were opposed to the 'communism' defended by
Marx and others. There idea was that the workers of
a given work place where to seize the means of
production and manage them together. They were to
become the collective owners of the factory by the
mean of their associations (a little bit like a
cooperative). The distribution of the wealth was to be
done essentialy by a remuneration based on the
amount of work given by each worker. The problem
was that this way we risked to end up in a sort of
collective capitalism. What's more, there was no
garantee of solidarity, and those who were not actual
'workers' didn't have a say and were essentially
dependant upon the workers. The situation of
children, the eldery, the phisically challenged, etc., in
this system would not have been much better than
their situation in the old one.

The criticism of the collectivist model developed in
the 1870's. "The type of anarchism which appears
when collectivism is worked out in more detail is
communism. This is the view that it is not enough for
the instruments of labor to be held in common, but
that the products of labor should also be held in
common and distributed on the principle of the
slogan, "From each according to ability, to each
according to needs." The communist argument is
that, while people are entitled to the full value of their
labor, it is impossible to calculate the value of any
one person's labor, for the work of each is involved in
the work of all, and different kinds of work have
different kinds of value. It is therefore better for the
entire economy to be in the hands of society as a
whole and for the wage and price system to be

Compared to collectivism, which is only interested
in producers and only gave rights and a voice to
people as such, communism had the advantage, by
abolishing the idea of a family wage, to free women
who wanted independence from their husbands and
open the door to the recognition of 'women's labor'
which has been traditionally relegated to the home,
and therefore hidden. In other words, while
collectivism only gave value to the social production
of wealth, communism reconized both social
production and reproduction and so say that all,
without exception, have an equal right to socially
produced wealth, whether they directly participate in
it's production or not.

It's in 1880, at the conference of Jura Federation
[the anti-authoritarian worker's federation of the
mainly French-speaking Swiss Jura], that for the first
time an anarchist conference opted in favor of
communism as a mode of economic organization.
Here's how the Italian revolutionnary Carlo Cafiero
was defending the communist thesis at this
conference: "One cannot be an anarchist without
being a communist. Indeed, the slightest hint of
limitation carries with it the seeds of authoritarism. It
could not show itself without promptly spawning law,
judge and gendarme. We have to be communists,
because the people, who do not understand the
collectivists' sophisms, have a perfect grasp of
communism, as friends Reclus and Kropotkin have
already indicated. We must be communists, because
we are anarchists, because anarchy and
communism are the two essential terms of the

"The leading figures of the anarchist movement at
the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning
of the twentieth century - such as Kropotkin,
Malatesta, Reclus, Grave, Faure, Goldman,
Berkman, and so on - were communists. Going on
from collectivism and reacting against Marxism, they
postulated a more sophisticated form of revolutionary
anarchism - an anarchism containing the most
carefully considered criticism of present society and
proposals for future society. This is an anarchism for
those who accept the class struggle but have a wider
view of the world. [...] Since the 1870s, the principle of
communism has been accepted by most anarchist
organizations favoring revolution.(4)"

Seen this way, we may seem to be simply living in
the past. But we also draw some of our aspirations
from what the anarcho-communist current became
since. Among our more recent influences, lets quote:
the journal Noir et Rouge, a magazine published in
France in the 1950's that tried to actualize anarchism,
the organization of revolutionary anarchists in the
1970's that tried, in the post-may 1968 context, to
have an organized platformist practise, the
anarcho-punk explosion (mainly for the DIY
experience) and different contemporary anarchist
organizations such as Alternative Libertaire and the
Organisation Communiste Libertaire in France, the
Anarchist Federation in the UK, or the Workers
Solidarity Movement in Ireland. Among the
non-anarchist influence (but still libertarian in our
mind) we find influences in the surrealists, the
Situationists (mainly Vaneigem), Socialisme ou
Barbarie and Castoriadis, the German and Italian
autonomists movements, the social ecology movem!
ent, the various feminist currents and the different
ultra-left and council communist currents.

To know more...

On anarchism and anarchist-communism:

- Anarchism, Daniel Guerin (Monthly Review)
- No Gods No Masters: An Anarchist Anthology, also
Daniel Guerin (AK Press)
- A Short History of Anarchism, Max Nettlau
(Freedom Press)
- Anarchism and Anarchist Communism, Peter
Kropotkin (Freedom Press)
- The Conquest of Bread and Other Essays, Peter
Kropotkin (Cambridge University Press)
- What is Communist Anarchism, Alexander Berkman
(Phoenix Press)
- The End of Anarchism?, Luigi Galleani (Cienfuegos

Some web site with good texts :


1) NEFAC Aims and Principles are available on the
web at
2) About Anarchism, Nicolas Walter, Freedom Press.
3) Carlo Cafiero, Anarchy and Communism (report to
the Jura Federation's Congress of 1880). Quoted in
No Gods, No Masters.
4) Walter, op cit.


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