God gave the earth to the human race; why then have I received none?
–PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON, What Is Property?
Introduction: The making of ‘classical anarchism’
In September 1872, Mikhail Bakunin and James Guillaume were expelled from the International Workingmen’s Association, known to posterity as ‘the First International’.2
Bakunin was Russian, a member of the minor gentry, son of a diplomat and a legendary revolutionary.3
Guillaume was a Swiss schoolteacher who later became a printer.4
The expulsion of these two men from an international socialist organization which in its own time was at best highly marginal to the experience of working-class people whether in Europe or beyond was nonetheless to have profound implications for the development of socialism as both ideology and movement. The expulsion, orchestrated by Karl Marx, represented a fundamental ideological division on the nature of socialism. Was socialism to be achieved
through political means and the seizure of the state through the ballot box if necessary? Or was it to be achieved through the destruction of the state itself, with socialism instead realized through a ‘social’ revolution, creating a non-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian socialist society, decentralized and organized through voluntary federation?
Bakunin and Guillaume, firm friends and political allies, found themselves expelled at the behest of Marx as they represented what would become known later as the ‘anarchist wing’ of the First International, those members and sections who believed in and argued for non-state socialism organized on cooperative and non-hierarchical lines.5
Upon their expulsion the majority of the International’s ‘sections’ – those local and regional groups which belonged to the International – defected to form an anti-authoritarian International at St. Imier in Switzerland.6
As the historian of the International Robert Graham has commented, it was in the anti-authoritarian International that the movement and corresponding ideology today referred to as anarchism was formulated and developed.7
In the words of another historian of the International, this was ‘the first socialist schism’, which marked the parting of the ways between Marxism and anarchism.8
Anarchism was forged as a coherent school of political ideologies and a movement out of the exchanges in the International, but it did not emerge simply as a reaction to Marx, nor did it have its origins exclusively in Europe. Bakunin may have been the founder of the ‘anarchist movement’ as Woodcock argued, but he was not the founder of anarchism, and like many early protagonists in the development of anarchism, the influences on him were diverse.9
Eleven years before the Hague Congress expelled him from the International, he had escaped from exile in Siberia by ship, following which (in the words of Sho Konishi) ‘he would spend over a month wandering about revolutionary Japan’.10
Bakunin’s famed revolutionary exploits and escapes took him to France, Germany, England, the United States and Japan amongst other places before he developed his ideas within the First International and the anti-authoritarian International which succeeded it.11
Originally a revolutionary advocating the cause of pan-Slav nationalism against Russian imperialism, it was comparatively late in life that Bakunin – arguably the most iconic of anarchists – became a declared anarchist.12
In Paris he met someone who had claimed the title earlier and who, according to legend, was the first to have done so. In 1840, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a former printer from the rural town of Besancon in the French Jura, had written baldly in his book What Is Property?
the claim ‘I am an anarchist’.13
Proudhon denied that his meaning was to be taken ‘satirically’; this was no rhetorical flourish.14
Proudhon was a decidedly post-Enlightenment thinker, with a typically nineteenth-century belief in societal progress and in science. For him, ‘the authority of man over man’ was ‘invers ely proportional to the stage of intellectual development which that society has reached’; ‘royalty – the government of man by man’ he saw as an ‘absurd’ order.15
With the advance of science – and the science of society – it was no longer possible for ‘enlightened’ society to submit to such an order; ‘as society seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy’.16
Bakunin met Proudhon in Paris in 1844.17
In the words of his biographer E. H. Carr, ‘it was Proudhon more than any other man who was responsible for transforming Bakunin’s instinctive revolt against authority into a regular anarchistic creed’.18
Guillaume, for his part, would later translate much of Bakunin’s work after his death and secure his written legacy.19
In turn, Guillaume in 1872 met another Russian exile, the escaped revolutionist prince Peter Kropotkin in Switzerland. It was during his stay with Guillaume and his comrades in Switzerland that Kropotkin – who would become the most important theorist in the anarchist tradition – experienced his own conversion:
the equalitarian relations which I found in the Jura Mountains, the independence of thought and expression which I saw developing in the workers, and their unlimited devotion to the cause appealed even more strongly to my feelings; and when I came away from the mountains, after a week’s stay with the watchmakers, my views upon socialism were settled. I was an anarchist.20
The period between the 1840s and the 1870s was fundamental to the development of what historians and political theorists have typically characterized as ‘classical anarchism’ and the birth of the anarchist movement itself. But as the earlier stories illustrate, this was no simple translation of ideas into practice, and for all the names cited, it was
a process in which thousands were involved across national borders, within and without Europe. To paraphrase the title of a recent book, anarchism was
This chapter will introduce the key ideas of the period and the ways in which these were embedded in the context of the development of anarchist practices and movements, and their relationship to the broader socialist tradition. It will aim to demythologize the key ‘canonical’ events which have characterized this period in anarchism’s history and link the development of anarchism to broader debates in global history.
The emergence of anarchism in Europe, 1840–64
The publication of Proudhon’s What Is Property? in 1840 has been taken as a traditional point of departure for historians attempting to chronicle the development of anarchism as an ideology and a political force. Apart from its author’s avowal of anarchism – which distinguished him sharply from earlier ‘philosophical’ anarchists such as William Godwin – the book as an intervention was of profound significance for the anarchist movement which would subsequently develop, in part due to the book’s central focus on property and the iniquities of capitalism. Proudhon’s book did not merely represent an explicit anarchism but also ensured that the anarchist movement which would follow, largely though not solely due to the work of Mikhail Bakunin, would be a socialist one.
As such Proudhon’s work existed within and was a product of a European socialist milieu in the nineteenth century which had developed as part of the legacies of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the rise of industrial capitalism.22
In G. D. H. Cole’s classic A History of Socialist Thought
, he argues that the early socialists stood for
collective regulation of men’s affairs on a co-operative basis, with the happiness and welfare of all as the end in view, and with the emphasis not on ‘politics’ but on the production and distribution of wealth and on the strengthening of ‘socialising’ influences in
the lifelong education of the citizens in cooperative, as against competitive, patterns of behaviour and social attitudes and beliefs.23
As Cole noted, socialism had not yet gained the language and vocabulary of class warfare that would characterize it after Marx, but the questions at the heart of Marxism and anarchism were already present.24
Though industrial capitalism had brought the transformation of societies across Europe, its benefits had been far from equally shared. Urbanization in Britain – which by 1851 was a predominantly urban society – brought with it poverty, disease and shorter lifespans to workers.25
In British cities of over 100,000 inhabitants, ‘life expectancy at birth dropped from thirty-five years in the 1820s to twenty-nine in the 1830s’ with ‘life expectancy in the slums the lowest since the Black Death’.26
Thomas Malthus, an English political economist and ordained vicar, laid the blame for any worsening conditions for the population on that population itself; the issue, for Malthus, lay in overpopulation. His Essay on the Principle of Population
argued that population would always multiply at a faster rate than the food required for its subsistence and would only be checked by disaster or starvation. One modern scholar sees Malthus’s intervention as ‘an anti-Jacobin defence of property rights embedded in the religious world-view and theological framework of eighteenth-century Anglican Christianity’.27
Seen in this light, Malthus’s legitimization of property rights was a response to the events of the French Revolution and ideas which circulated in Britain in the decade following; his Essay
was first published anonymously in 1798, in response to an article by William Godwin.28
Godwin for his part is a figure occasionally regarded by historians of anarchism as the first anarchist in all but name; for George Woodcock he was ‘the man of reason’ who ‘stands at the head of the tradition’.29
By Woodcock’s own acknowledgement, Godwin’s major work, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice
, which sketched out the contours of a possible ‘libertarian’ society, both ‘embraced all the essential features of an anarchistic doctrine’ and was the response to the ‘immediate impulse’ of the French Revolution, though Woodcock is quick to note that Godwin’s thinking predated it.30
Modern socialism had its origins in the ‘radical democratic ambience’ of the French Revolution which so terrorized defenders
of hierarchy across Europe.31
Kropotkin – always fascinated by the French Revolution and who wrote a history of it – wrote later that
the French Revolution, apart from its political significance, was an attempt made by the French people, in 1793 and 1794, in three different directions more or less akin to socialism. It was, first, the equalization of fortunes
, by means of an income tax and succession duties, both heavily progressive, as also by a direct confiscation of the land in order to subdivide it, and by heavy war taxes levied upon the rich only. The second attempt was a sort of municipal communism
, as regards the consumption of some objects of first necessity, bought by the municipalities, and sold by them at cost price. And the third attempt was to introduce a wide national system of rationally established prices of all commodities
In the debate that raged between Malthus’s successors and socialist evangelists in the course of the nineteenth century, familiar battle lines were drawn. Malthusian arguments typically rested on the idea of politics and economics as arts of the possible – and ensuring that the limits of the possible were narrowly drawn and scientifically delineated. Socialist arguments rested on a number of premises from firstly Malthus being flat wrong to (as in Marx’s view) the view that starvation and penury were products of the denial of the means of subsistence and the competitive ethic of capitalism over and above anything else.33
For Proudhon, ostensibly the first person to call himself an anarchist, Malthus was wrong inasmuch as he represented a rationalization of the defence of property, rather than a sincere argument about the nature of politics and society, and the implications of this were profound. Proudhon would later write that ‘the theory of Malthus is the theory of political murder; of murder from motives of philanthropy and for love of God’.34
Proudhon’s critique of Malthus was acute; Malthus provided what modern political scientists describe as a ‘logic of inevitability’ – he narrowed the political imagination. In Proudhon’s words, this meant that Malthus’s followers, the classical political economists, ‘establish[ed] as a providential dogma the theory of Malthus’.35
Proudhon’s opposition to Malthus lay at least in part in lived experience. He claimed to be, as Marx later conceded, of humb...