Anarchy: Breaking Up with Socialism

By Bobby Whittenberg-James

For well over a century, some anarchists have aligned themselves with socialists of various shades, even fighting on the same side for different periods of time in several failed revolutions. We do not wish to rewrite history or to downplay this alliance, but to learn from it, challenge it, and question its role in the fight for anarchy today while advocating for its immediate and total annulment.

We can define socialism loosely as an economic system in which wealth and property are held either in common or by the state and/or party, in which the means of production and control of distribution are held by the state and/or party, workers, or the whole of society. Socialism can range from leninist totalitarianism to social democracy, to libertarian socialism and social anarchism.

Even under these broad strokes, anarchy escapes. Anarchy is not production and consumption, federations and councils, meetings, and voting and it certainly isn’t the state. Such institutions are authoritarian. Anarchy is autonomous individuals associating with others voluntarily to fulfill their needs and desires. This is probably best exemplified among hunter/gatherer bands. Socialism, like capitalism is an economic system, and anarchy seeks to abolish economics altogether.


Leninism is a form of socialism largely characterized by a vanguard party seizing power and imposing the dictatorship of the proletariat (sic) upon the masses, allegedly to guide them through socialism into communism.

There are some things that most leninists know that most anarchists don’t seem to and should. They know that anarchists are enemies of leninism and that anarchy and leninism are antithetical to one another. They understand that authority is a key issue. They will not budge in their defense of it. We should not budge in our opposition to it. Leninists know too that anarchists have a history of trusting them. They know that they have always been able to fool us with rhetoric for as long as they need us, and lock us up or shoot us when they no longer find us useful.

Many an anarchist has been deceived at one time or another (and this writer is no exception) by rhetoric to the tune of “we want the same things, we just have different ideas about how to get there.” While it may be true that many of the rank and file socialists truly believe that their program will lead to a liberated, classless society, the methods they use are statist and authoritarian and traditionally include the respression, incarceration, and execution of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians.

Libertarian/Anarcho- Socialism and Authoritarian Socialism?

A trotskyist acquaintance once said something about it not being helpful to distinguish between authoritarian and libertarian socialism. At the time I disagreed, but now I think he is right. Socialism is inherently authoritarian. Even with anarcho-prefixes and red and black flags, socialism subjugates the individual, EVERY individual, to the authority of the masses, the headless, unaccountable bureaucracy and separates each individual from the masses, from society as a whole. Each individual must struggle then against the whole of society for freedom, for anarchy. What good is it to free society if each individual is not free from society? From economics? From the commune? From the federation? It is not anarchy if it is not free of bureaucracy, no matter how “directly democratic” it is purported to be.

A highly organized society of councils, unions, and federations just replaces one impersonal, bureaucracy with another and renders people cogs in a new machine. Granted they are cogs in a self organized machine, but cogs in a machine they remain, slaves to a phantom.

Standing on Our Own Ground

The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend. All too often I hear anarchists defending or supporting socialist regimes past or present. Those are the very same regimes that would have us imprisoned or killed. Rather than defending leninist or other left/socialist regimes out of some perceived sense of obligatory allegiance to the left, we should instead be honest and forthcoming with an anarchist critique. We should make it very clear that we oppose both capitalism and socialism. In doing so, we stand on our own ground rather than defending someone else’s indefensible ideology and history. We should not back away from anarchy to defend socialism, an ideology that is inconsistent with our wills and desires and one that has consistently systematically oppressed our comrades. It is not our job to be apologists for leninism or socialism. Rest assured the socialists are not spending their time defending anarchy.

Separate Trajectories-

Liberalism, Social Democracy, and Leninism make up a good chunk of what is commonly referred to as “the left.” All of them are characterized by authoritarian rule and bureaucracy. Nowhere along such a trajectory would anarchy fall. Liberalism (at least in rhetoric) and social democracy offer a large, bloated, bureaucratic welfare state and leninism offers a bureacratic totalitarian dictatorship. The pattern along this trajectory shows an increase in the strength, might, and authority of the state. How does one arrive at the conclusion that anarchy, the absence of all government falls somewhere further along this trajectory? How close do we expect to get to anarchy following a trajectory that leads to an all powerful, authoritarian state? How long do we fight alongside the socialists, and the rest of the left advancing their cause at the expense of the fight for anarchy?

We should not view socialists as folks who “just need to take their beliefs a bit farther” because regardless of what lies beyond leninism on that trajectory, of this we can be certain: it is not anarchy. In all likelihood they have already taken their beliefs as far as they intend to.

Because anarchy and socialism are on different trajectories and have such vastly different means of revolutionary practice it is inevitable that we will reach an impasse. The longer we misalign ourselves, the more devastating it will be when we reach that impasse. If you do not understand what happens at this impasse, just ask the ghosts of the anarchists of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions or the Spanish Civil War who were either incarcerated or executed at the hands of “comrades.”

Fight For Anarchy!

Many times allegiance to the left or to socialism manifests itself as anarchists constantly placing themselves in a role where they leave the fight for anarchy to fight for leftism. The socialist doesn’t leave the fight for socialism to fight for anarchy out of “solidarity.” They know what they are fighting for, and it is certainly not anarchy.

But do we know what we are fighting for? Are we so enchanted by co-opted language and pseudo-radical rhetoric, so desperate for allies that we continue to repeat past mistakes knowing full well the consequences? Do we really think think that anarchy is anything remotely like leninism or social democracy, and that if we tag along with lefties long enough, we’ll end up there?

It is true that some early anarchists called themselves socialists or communists. Some still do. It is true that some early anarchists even carried the red flag. We are not frozen in time, however. Since that time, the red flag has been stained with the blood of many an anarchist, autonomist, and other anti-authoritarians. We did not sign a lifetime commitment, for better or worse, to socialism. We are not married to these ideas or these organizations. Perhaps we are historic allies with the socialists, but that brand of nostalgia and unquestioning allegiance has no place in a revolution and has proven to lead us to jails, prison camps, and death at the hand of the socialists.

In the days ahead and the uncertainty they hold, it would behoove us to question our tactics and our allegiances and make sure that we really are aligning ourselves with people who want the same things we do. We set ourselves up to fail again when we align ourselves with and invest trust in authoritarians. The have shown us over and over again what they will do when we ally ourselves with them. To continue to do so in the face of all evidence is sycophancy at best. Anarchy has nothing to concede to authority or statism and we have nothing to concede in the fight for anarchy.


Guerrilla News contributor Bobby Whittenberg-James is an Iraq war veteran turned Post-Left Eco-Anarchist. He offers a unique veteran’s perspective combined with an anarchist critique. He can be found online at his blog, Veter(A)narchy!


9 Responses to “Anarchy: Breaking Up with Socialism”

  1. Thank you for this post and I really agree with you. It’s time for anarchism to get rid of socialism and hopefully embrace more individualism. A^3!

  2. veteranarchist Says:

    Right on. I see anarchists identifying with economics, the left/right dichotomy, particular methods of organizing, or any other prefabricated ideology as problematic. Such things cause division and are ultimately irrelevant since anarchy aims to abolish economics, organization, and ideology in favor of voluntary association, mutual aid, and individual autonomy.

  3. If you favor voluntary association, mutual aid, and individual autonomy, then aren’t parts of society going to wind up with the kind of organizations that are so vilified in the above post?

  4. veteranarchist Says:

    No… those organizations are antithetical to mutual aid, voluntary association, and individual autonomy. If you have mutual aid, voluntary association, and individual autonomy, then you don’t have organizations. If you have organizations, then you don’t have those things. It’s really pretty much either, or.

    • m3talsmith Says:

      Voluntary association creates organizations. You are free to come and go from these organizations and organizations can be closed by the groups, but they are still organizations. The structure looks different, that’s all. The same is true for mutual aid.

      There is nothing wrong with organizations. I think the problem you have with organizations is you equate them with hierarchy. You do not need hierarchy to have an organization. In fact, the only way we will get things done is to organize, and that inherently means creating and disbanded organizations at will.

      • at a certain point i think these conversations devolve into mere matters of semantics. not that words and semantics are in any way “mere” but just that words are auditory symbols to communicate ideas, and are thus malleable. to take a stance against the formation organizations is a semantic argument revolving around a specific articulation regarding what is meant by an organization. in a critique attempting to subvert and overcome the (false) individualist/collectivist dichotomy, a crystalized “organization” is typically articulated as something to which the individual will must submit itself to a process of compromise. but another semantic understanding/articulation of “organization” might very well pre-suppose, accept, and support the individual initiative of perpetual renewal of free association (which pre-supposes it’s polarity, free DIS-association). collectivism and individualism, rather than being dichotomous, must counter-balance one another in order to create true and genuine organization through free association. if the individualist initiative of free DISassociation is not always present, “free association” is but an illusion. true collectivism is empowered and given agency through the individual initiative of all involved, and if ever one compromises their will for the collective, true free association is lost.

      • veteranarchist Says:

        @M3talsmith: Voluntary association does not create organizations. If one looks into the lives of hunter/gatherers and other post capitalist egalitarian peoples, one will find no separate organizations separate from the people themselves. They do not make the business of coming together and practicing mutual aid as something separate from life itself, done under the watch and authority of an organization. I would say that the Kung! people and the Mbuti people have been able to “get things done” pretty well without organizations. Their cultures have survived for thousands of years. Lets see if the CNT last that long.

        When you and 5 friends decide to go out for the evening and you all come together to decide what to do, that is not an organization, that is voluntary association. NEFAC is an organization. The CNT was/is an organization. ARA is an organization. There are rules, structures, by-laws, disciplinary standards, etc.

        I do not equate organizations with hierarchy, and I understand quite well how non-hierarchical organizations can be organized. I also understand that regardless of whether an organization is hierarchical or not that it is a separate entity, something outside of the needs and desires of the people involved. For example, hang around organizations long enough and you’ll hear people talk about views they can or can’t express as members of an organization. There are things huge numbers of people in organizations would love to do, but they are restricted by by-laws, codes of conduct, and so on ad infinitum, whereas people who simply come together voluntarily forming affinity groups, action networks, etc are not limited in these ways.

        Are you saying that people can’t just association voluntarily without having an organization to impose rules, structure, guidelines, etc? As in, there can be no anarchy without an organization like the CNT or the FAI? Or are you conflating the idea of “organization” with any coming together of people to coordinate activities?

  5. Traditional anarchism was itself born of socialism, and I am of course thinking of Kropotkin. However, I tend to agree what calls itself the “modern” left often seeks institutional power as the means of effecting social and economic change. This I would argue often produces ludicrously self-compromised groups as well as being a dead end. Nor can you do top-down socialism, it has to happen in society first and at the bottom by peer economics otherwise the democratic element of democratic economics is itself lost. Hence, I like articles that do clearly explore how and why the two have diverged rather than choosing to pretend the two are fully interchangeable.

    Of course, as we are speaking of the development of social science, ideas like socialism itself were never meant to be a fixed or absolute, but rather the best theory and scientific approximation possible at the time, subject to further and continual improvement. When theory stagnates into dogma it is no longer science, but rather in a realm like religion. I think too many today also have a religious view of socialism rather than a scientific one.

  6. real connections with socialist comrades in local struggles are forged render these broad strokes essentially meaningless. as far as liberals go, the support for anarchist activity in the last 6 months was built entirely off the radicalization of liberals during the anti-OWS crackdowns. this article dabs at the same sensationalism that the MSM is using to define anarchists right now and serves the same purpose…appealing to dogmas to divide anti-capitalist unity.

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