G.V. Plekhanov

Anarchism and Socialism

The Smaller Fry

Among our present-day Anarchists some, like John Mackay, the author of Die Anarchisten, Kulturgemalde aus dem Ende des xix. Jahrhunderts, declare for individualism, while others – by far the more numerous – call themselves Communists. These are the descendants of Bakounine in the Anarchist movement. They have produced a fairly considerable literature in various languages, and it is they who are making so much noise with the help of the “propaganda by deed.” The prophet of this school is the Russian refugee, P.A. Kropotkine.

I shall not here stop to consider the doctrines of the Individualist-Anarchists of today, whom even their brethren, the Communist-Anarchists, look upon as “bourgeois.” We will go straight on to the Anarchist-“Communist.”

What is the standpoint of this new species of Communism? “As to the method followed by the Anarchist thinker, it entirely differs from that of the Utopists,” Kropotkine assures us. “The Anarchist thinker does not resort to metaphysical conceptions (like ’natural rights,’ the ’duties of the State’ and so on) to establish what are, in his opinion, the best conditions for realizing the greatest happiness of humanity. He follows, on the contrary, the course traced by the modern philosophy of evolution. He studies human society as it is now, and was in the past; and, without either endowing men altogether, or separate individuals, with superior qualities which they do not possess, he merely considers society as an aggregation of organisms trying to find out the best ways of combining the wants of the individual with those of co-operation for the welfare of the species. He studies society and tries to discover its tendencies, past and present, its growing needs, intellectual and economical, and in this he merely points out in which direction evolution goes.”

So the Anarchist-Communists have nothing in common with the Utopians. They do not, in the elaborating of their “ideal,” turn to metaphysical conceptions like “natural rights,” “duties of the State,” etc. Is this really so?

So far as the “duties of the State” are concerned, Kropotkine is quite right; it would be too absurd if the Anarchists invited the State to disappear in the name of its own “duties.” But as to “natural rights” he is altogether mistaken. A few quotations will suffice to prove this.

Already in the Bulletin de la Federation Jurasienne (No.3, 1877), we find the following very significant declaration: “The sovereignty of the people can only exist through the most complete autonomy of individuals and of groups.” This “most completely autonomy,” is it not also a “metaphysical conception”?

The Bulletin de la Fédération Jurasienne was an organ of Collectivist Anarchism. At bottom there is no difference between “Collectivist” and “Communist” Anarchism. And yet, since it might be that we are making the Communists responsible for the Collectivists, let us glance at the “Communist” publications, not only according to the spirit but the letter. In the autumn of 1892 a few “companions” appeared before the Assize Court of Versailles in consequence of a theft of dynamite at Soisy-sous-Etiolles, Among others there was one G. Etiévant, who drew up a declaration of Anarchist-Communist principles. The tribunal would not allow him to read it, whereupon the official organ of the Anarchists, La Révolte, undertook to publish this declaration, having taken great pains to secure an absolutely correct copy of the original. The Declaration of G. Etievant made a sensation in the Anarchist world, and even “cultured” men like Octave Mirbeau quote it with respect along with the works of the “theorists,” Bakounine, Kropotkine, the “unequalled Proudhon,” and the “aristocratic Spencer” (!). Now this is the line of Etiévant’s reasoning:

No idea is innate in us; each idea is born of infinitely diverse and multiple sensations, which we receive by means of our organs. Every act of the individual is the result of one or several ideas. The man is not therefore responsible. In order that responsibility should exist, will would have to determine the sensations, just as these determine the idea, and the idea, the act. But as it is, on the contrary, the sensations which determine the will, all judgment becomes impossible, every reward, every punishment unjust, however great the good or the evil done may be. “Thus one cannot judge men and acts unless one has a sufficient criterion. Now no such criterion exists. At any rate it is not in the laws that it could be found, for true justice is immutable and laws are changeable. It is with laws as with all the rest (!). For if laws are beneficent what is the good of deputies and senators to change them? And if they are bad what is the good of magistrates to apply them?”

Having thus “demonstrated” “liberty,” Etiévant passes on to “equality.”

From the zoophytes to men, all beings are provided with more or less perfect organs destined to serve them. All these beings have therefore the right to make use of their organs according to the evident will of mother Nature. “So for our legs we have the right to all the space they can traverse; for our lungs to all the air we can breathe; for our stomach to all the food we can digest; for our brain to all we can think, or assimilate of the thoughts of others; for our faculty of elocution to all we can say; for our ears to all we can hear; and we have a right to all this because we have a right to life, and because all this constitutes life. These are the true rights of man ! No need to decree them, they exist as the sun exists. They are written in no constitution, in no law, but they are inscribed in ineffaceable letters in the great book of Nature and are imprescriptible. From the cheese-mite to the elephant, from the blade of grass to the oak, from the atom to the star, everything proclaims it.”

If these are not “metaphysical conceptions,” and of the very worst type, a miserable caricature of the metaphysical materialism of the eighteenth century, if this is the “philosophy of evolution,” then we must confess that it has nothing in common with the scientific movement of our day.

Let us hear another authority, and quote the now famous book of Jean Grave, La societe mourante et l’Anarchie, which was recently condemned by French judges, who thought it dangerous, while it is only supremely ridiculous.

“Anarchy means the negation of authority. Now, Government claims to base the legitimacy of its existence upon the necessity of defending social institutions: the family, religion, property, etc. It has created a vast machinery in order to assure its exercise and its sanction. The chief are: the law, the magistracy, the army, the legislature, executive powers, etc. So that the Anarchist idea, forced to reply to everything, was obliged to attack all social prejudices, to become thoroughly penetrated by all human knowledge, in order to demonstrate that its conceptions were in harmony with the physiological and psychological nature of man, and in harmony with the observance of natural laws, while our actual organization has been established in contravention of all logic and all good sense..... Thus, in combating authority, it has been necessary for the Anarchists to attack all the institutions which the Government defends, the necessity for which it tries to demonstrate in order to legitimate its own existence.”

You see what was “the development” of the “Anarchist Idea.” This Idea “denied” authority. In order to defend itself, authority appealed to the family, religion, property. Then the “Idea” found itself forced to attack institutions, which it had not, apparently, noticed before, and at the same time the “Idea,” in order to make the most of its “conceptions,” penetrated to the very depths of all human knowledge (it is an ill wind that does not blow some good!) All this is only the result of chance, of the unexpected turn given by “authority” to the discussion that had arisen between itself and the “Idea.”

It seems to us that however rich in human knowledge it may be now, the “Anarchist Idea” is not at all communistic; it keeps its knowledge to itself, and leaves the poor “companions” in complete ignorance. It is all very well for Kropotkine to sing the praises of the “Anarchist thinker”; he will never be able to prove that his friend Grave has been able to rise even a little above the feeblest metaphysics.

Kropotkine should read over again the Anarchist pamphlets of Elisée Reclus – a great “theorist” this – and then, quite seriously tell us if he finds anything else in them but appeals to “justice,” “liberty,” and other “metaphysical conceptions.”

Finally, Kropotkine himself is not so emancipated from metaphysics as he fancies he is. Far from it! Here, e.g., is what he said at the general meeting of the Federation of the Jura, on the 12th October, 1879, at Chaux-de-Fonds:–

“There was a time when they denied Anarchists even the right to existence. The General Council of the International treated us as factious, the press as dreamers; almost all treated us as fools; this time is past. The Anarchist party has proved its vitality; it has surmounted the obstacles of every kind that impeded its development; today it is accepted.” [By whom!] “To attain to this, it has been necessary, above all else, for the party to hold its own in the domain of theory, to establish its ideal of the society of the future, to prove that this ideal is the best; to do more than this – to prove that this ideal is not the product of the dreams of the study, but flows directly from the popular aspirations, that it is in accord with the historical progress of culture and ideas. This work has been done,” etc. ...

The hunt after the best ideal of the society of the future, is not this the Utopian method “par excellence”? It is true that Kropotkine tries to prove “that this ideal is not the product of dreams of the study, but flows directly from the popular aspirations, that it is in accord with the historical progress of culture and ideas.” But what Utopian has not tried to prove this equally with himself? Everything depends upon the value of the proofs, and here our amiable compatriot is infinitely weaker than the great Utopians whom he treats as metaphysicians, while he himself has not the least notion of the actual methods of modern social science. But before examining the value of these “proofs,” let us make the acquaintance of the “ideal” itself. What is Kropotkine’s conception of Anarchist society?

Pre-occupied with the reorganizing of the governmental machine, the revolutionist-politicans, the “Jacobins” (Kropotkine detests the Jacobins even more than our amiable Empress, Catherine II, detested them) allowed the people to die of hunger. The Anarchists will act differently. They will destroy the State, and will urge on the people to the expropriation of the rich. Once this expropriation accomplished, an “inventory” of the common wealth will be made, and the “distribution” of it organized. Everything will be done by the people themselves. “Just give the people elbow room, and in a week the business of the food supply will proceed with admirable regularity. Only one who has never seen the hard-working people at their labor, only one who has buried himself in documents, could doubt this. Speak of the organizing capacity of the Great Misunderstood, the People, to those who have.seen them at Paris on the days of the barricades” (which is certainly not the case of Kropotkine) “or in London at the time of the last great strike, when they had to feed half a million starving people, and they will tell you how superior the people is to all the hide-bound officials.”

The basis upon which the enjoyment in common of the food. supply is to be organized will be very fair, and not at all “Jacobin.” There is but one, and only one, which is consistent with sentiments of justice, and is really practical. The taking in heaps from what one possesses abundance of! Rationing out what must be measured, divided ! Out of 350 millions who inhabit Europe, 200 millions still follow this perfectly natural practice – which proves, among other things, that the Anarchist ideal “flows from the popular aspirations.”

It is the same with regard to housing and clothing. The people will organize everything according to the same rule. There will be an upheaval; that is certain. Only this upheaval must not become mere loss, it must be reduced to a minimum. And it is again – we cannot repeat it too often – by turning to those immediately interested and not to bureaucrats that the least amount of inconvenience will be inflicted upon everybody.”

Thus from the beginning of the revolution we shall have an “organization”; the whims of sovereign “individuals” will be kept within reasonable bounds by the wants of society, by the logic of the situation. And, nevertheless, we shall be in the midst of full-blown Anarchy; individual liberty will be safe and sound. This seems incredible, but it is true; there is anarchy, and there is organization, there are obligatory rules for everyone, and yet everyone does what he likes. You do not follow? ’Tis simple enough. This organization-it is not the “authoritarian” revolutionists who will have created it; – these rules, obligatory upon all, and yet anarchical, it is the People, the Great Misunderstood, who will have proclaimed them, and the People are very knowing as anyone who has seen, – what Kropatkine never had the opportunity of seeing – days of barricade riots, knows.”

But if the Great Misunderstood had the stupidity to create the “bureaux” so detested of Kropotkine? If, as it did in March, 1871, it gave itself a revolutionary Government? Then we shall say the people is mistaken, and shall try to bring it back to a better state of mind, and if need be we will throw a few bombs at the “hidebound officials.” We will call upon the People to organize, and will destroy all the organs it may provide itself with.

This then is the way in which we realize the excellent Anarchist ideal – in imagination. In the name of the liberty of individuals all action of the individuals is done away with, and in the name of the People we get rid of the whole class of revolutionists; the individuals are drowned in the mass. If you can only get used to this logical process, you meet with no more difficulties, and you can boast that you are neither “authoriatarian” nor “Utopian.” What could be easier, what more pleasant?

But in order to consume, it is necessary to produce. Kropotkine knows this so well that he reads the “authoritarian” Marx a lesson on the subject.

“The evil of the present organization is not in that the ’surplus value’ of production passes over to the capitalist – as Rodbertus and Marx had contended – thus narrowing down the Socialist conception, and the general ideas on the capitalist regime. Surplus value itself is only a consequence of more profound causes. The evil is that there can be any kind of ’surplus value,’ instead of a surplus not consumed by each generation; for, in order that there may be ’surplus value,’ men, women, and children must be obliged by hunger to sell their labor powers, for a trifling portion of what these powers produce, and, especially of what they are capable of producing.” [Poor Marx, who knew nothing of all these profound truths, although so confusedly expounded by the learned Prince!] ... “It does not, indeed, suffice to distribute in equal shares the profits realized in one industry, if, at the same time, one has to exploit thousands of other workers. The point is to produce with the smallest possible expenditure of human labor-power the greatest possible amount of products necessary for the well being of all.”

Ignorant Marxists that we are! We have never heard that a Socialist society pre-supposes a systematic organization of production. Since it is Kropotkine who reveals this to us, it is only reasonable that we should turn to him to know what this organization will be like. On this subject also he has some very interesting things to say.

“Imagine a Society comprising several million inhabitants engaged in agriculture, and a great variety of industries – Paris, for example, with the Department of Seine-et-Oise. Imagine that in this Society all children learn to work with their hand as well as with their brain. Admit, in fine, that all adults, with the exception of the women occupied with the education of children, undertake to work five hours a day from the age of twenty or twenty-two to forty-five or fifty, and that they spend this time in any occupations they choose, in no matter what branch of human labor considered necessary. Such a Society could, in return, guarantee well-being to all its members, i.e., far greater comfort than that enjoyed by the bourgeoisie today. And every worker in this Society would moreover have at his disposal at least five hours a day, which he could devote to science, to art, and to those individual needs that do not come within the category of necessities, while later on, when the productive forces of man have augmented, everything may be introduced into this category that is still today looked upon as a luxury or unattainable.”

In Anarchist Society there will be no authority, but there will be the “Contract” (oh! immortal Monsieur Proudhon, here you are again; we see all still goes well with you!) by virtue of which the infinitely free individuals “agree” to work in such or such a “free commune.” The contract is justice, liberty, equality; it is Proudhon, Kropotkine, and all the Saints. But, at the same time, do not trifle with the contract ! It is a thing not so destitute of means to defend itself as would seem. Indeed, suppose the signatory of a contract freely made does not wish to fulfil his duty? He is driven forth from the free commune, and he runs the risk of dying of hunger – which is not a particularly gay outlook.

I suppose a group of a certain number of volunteers combining in some enterprise, to secure the success of which all rival each other in zeal, with the exception of one associate, who frequently absents himself from his post. Should they, on his account, dissolve the group, appoint a president who would inflict fines, or else, like the Academy, distribute attendance-counters ? It is evident that we shall do neither the one nor the other, but that one day the comrade who threatens to jeopardize the enterprise will be told: “My friend, we should have been glad to work with you, but as you are often absent from your post, or do your work negligently, we must part. Go and look for other comrades who will put up with your off-hand ways.” This is pretty strong at bottom; but note how appearances are saved, how very “Anarchist” is his language. Really, we should not be at all surprised if in the “Anarchist-Communist” society people were guillotined by persuasion, or, at any rate, by virtue of a freely-made contract.

But farther, this very Anarchist method of dealing with lazy “free individuals” is perfectly “natural,” and “is practiced everywhere today in all industries, in competition with every possible system of fines, stoppages from wages, espionage, etc.; the workman may go to his shop at the regular hour, but if he does his work badly, if he interferes with his comrades by his laziness or other faults, if they fall out, it is all over. He is obliged to leave the workshop.” Thus is the Anarchist “Ideal” in complete harmony with the “tendencies” of capitalist society.

For the rest, such strong measures as these will be extremely rare. Delivered from the yoke of the State and capitalist exploitation, individuals will of their own free motion set themselves to supply the wants of the great All of society. Everything will be done by means of “free arrangement”.

“Well, Citizens, let others preach industrial barracks, and the convent of ‘Authoritarian’ Communism, we declare that the tendency of societies is in the opposite direction. We see millions and millions of groups constituting themselves freely in order to satisfy all the varied wants of human beings, groups formed, some by districts, by streets, by houses; others holding out hands across the walls (!) of cities, of frontiers, of oceans. All made up of human beings freely seeking one another, and having done their work as producers, associating themselves, to consume, or to produce articles of luxury, or to turn science into a new direction. This is the tendency of the nineteenth century, and we are following it; we ask only to develop it freely, without let or hindrance on the part of governments. Liberty for the individual! ’Take some pebbles,’ said Fourier, ’put them into a box and shake them; they will arrange themselves into a mosaic such as you could never succeed in producing if you told off some one to arrange them harmoniously.’”

A wit has said that the profession of faith of the Anarchists reduces itself to two articles of a fantastic law: (1) There shall he nothing. (2) No one is charged with carrying out the above article. This is not correct. The Anarchists say:

(1) There shall be everything. (2) No one is held responsible for seeing that there is anything at all.

This is a very seductive “Ideal”, but its realization is unfortunately very improbable.

Let us now ask, what is this “free agreement” which, according to Kropotkine, exists even in capitalist society? He quotes two kinds of examples by way of evidence: (a) those connected with production and the circulation of commodities; (b) those belonging to all kinds of societies of amateurs – learned societies, philanthropic societies, etc.

“Take all the great enterprises: the Suez Canal, e.g., TransAtlantic navigation, the telegraph that unites the two Americas. Take, in fine, this organization of commerce, which provides that when you get up in the morning you are sure to find bread at the bakers’ ... meat at the butchers’, and everything you want in the shops. Is this the work of the State? Certainly, today we pay middlemen abominably dearly. Well, all the more reason to suppress them, but not to think it necessary to confide to the Government the care of providing our goods and our clothing.”

Remarkable fact! We began by snapping our fingers at Marx, who only thought of suppressing surplus value, and had no idea of the organization of production, and we end by demanding the suppression of the profits of the middleman, while, so far as production is concerned, we preach the most bourgeois “laissez-faire, laissez passer” Marx might, not without reason, have said, he laughs best who laughs last!

We all know what the “free agreement” of the bourgeois “entrepreneur” is, and we can only admire the “absolute” naivete of the man who sees in it the precursor of communism. It is exactly this Anarchic “arrangement” that must be got rid of in order that the producers may cease to be slaves of their own products.

As to the really free societies of “savants”, artists, philanthropists, etc., Kropotkine himself tells us what their example is worth. They are “made up of human beings freely seeking one another after having done their work as producers.” Although this is not correct – since in these societies there is often not a single producer – this still farther proves that we can only be free after we have settled our account with production. The famous “tendency of the nineteenth century”, therefore, tells us nothing on the main question – how the unlimited liberty of the individual can be made to harmonize with the economic requirements of a communistic society. And as this “tendency” constitutes the whole of the scientific equipment of our “Anarchist thinker”, we are driven to the conclusion that his appeal to science was merely verbiage, that he is, in spite of his contempt for the Utopians, one of the least ingenious of these, a vulgar hunter in search of the “best Ideal”.

The “free agreement” works wonders, if not in Anarchist society, which unfortunately does not yet exist, at least in Anarchist arguments. “Our present society being abolished, individuals no longer needing to hoard in order to make sure of the morrow, this, indeed being made impossible, by the suppression of all money or symbol of value – all their wants being satisfied and provided for in the new society, the stimulus of individuals being now only that ideal of always striving toward the best, the relations of individuals or groups no longer being established with a view to those exchanges in which each contracting party only seeks to ’do’ his partner” (the “free agreement” of the bourgeois, of which Kropotkine has just spoken to us) “these relations will now only have for object the rendering of mutual services, with which particular interests have nothing to do, the agreement will be rendered easy, the causes of discord having disappeared.”

Question: How will the new society satisfy the needs of its members! How will it make them certain of the morrow?

Answer: By means of free agreements.

Question: Will production be possible if it depends solely upon the free agreement of individuals?

Answer: Of course! And in order to convince yourself of it, you have only to assume that your morrow is certain, that all your needs are satisfied, and, in a word, that production, thanks to free agreement, is getting on swimmingly.

What wonderful logicians these “companions” are, and what a beautiful ideal is that which has no other foundation than an illogical assumption!

“It has been objected that in leaving individuals free to organize as they like, there would arise that competition between groups which today exists between individuals. This is a mistake, for in the society we desire money would be abolished, consequently there would no longer be any exchange of products, but exchange of services. Besides, in order that such a social revolution as we contemplate can have been accomplished we must assume that a certain evolution of ideas will have taken place in the mind of the masses, or, at the least, of a considerable minority among them. But if the workers have been sufficiently intelligent to destroy bourgeois exploitation, it will not be in order to re-establish it among themselves, especially when they are assured all their wants will be supplied.”

It is incredible, but it is incontestably true: the only basis for the “Ideal” of the Anarchist-Communists, is this “petitio principii”, this “assumption” of the very thing that has to be proved. Companion Grave, the “profound thinker”, is particularly rich in assumptions. As soon as any difficult problem presents itself, he “assumes” that it is already solved, and then everything is for the best in the best of ideals.

The “profound” Grave is less circumspect than the “learned” Kropotkine. And so it is only he who succeeds in reducing the “ideal” to “absolute” absurdity.

He asks himself what will be done if in “the society of the day after the revolution” there should be a papa who should refuse his child all education. The papa is an individual with unlimited rights. He follows the Anarchist rule, “Do as thou wouldst.” No one has any right, therefore, to bring him to his senses. On the other hand, the child also may do as he likes, and he wants to learn. How to get out of this conflict, how resolve the dilemma without offending the holy laws of Anarchy? By an “assumption”. “Relations” (between citizens) “being much wider and more imbued with fraternity than in our present society, based as it is upon the antagonism of interests, it follows that the child by means of what he will see passing before his eyes, by what he will daily hear, will escape from the influence of the parent, and will find every facility necessary for acquiring the knowledge his parents refuse to give him. Nay more, if he finds himself too unhappy under the authority they try to force upon him, he would abandon them in order to place himself under the protection of individuals with whom he was in greater sympathy. The parents could not send the gendarmes after him to bring back to their authority the slave whom the law today gives up to them.”

It is not the child who is running away from his parents, but the Utopian who is running away from an insurmountable logical difficulty. And yet this judgment of Solomon has seemed so profound to the companions that it has been literally quoted by Emile Darnaud in his book La Société Future (Foix, 1890, p. 26) – a book especially intended to popularize the lucubrations of Grave.

“Anarchy, the No-government system of Socialism, has a double origin. It is an outgrowth of the two great movements of thought in the economical and the political fields which characterize our century, and especially its second part. In common with all Socialists, the Anarchists hold that the private ownership of land, capital, and machinery has had its time; that it is condemned to disappear; and that all requisites of production must, and will, become the common property of society, and be managed in common by the producers of wealth. And, in common with the most advanced representative of political Radicalism, they maintain that the ideal of the political organization of society is a condition of things where the functions of government are reduced to a minimum, and the individual recovers his full liberty of initiative and action for satisfying, by means of free groups and federations – freely constituted – all the infinitely varied needs of the human being. As regards Socialism, most of the Anarchists arrive at its ultimate conclusion, that is, at a complete negation of the wage-system, and at Communism. And with reference to political organization, by giving a farther development to the above-mentioned part of the Radical programme, they arrive at the conclusion that the ultimate aim of society is the reduction of the functions of governments to “nil” – that is, to a society without government, to Anarchy. The Anarchists maintain, moreover, that such being the ideal of social and political organization they must not remit it to future centuries, but that only those changes in our social organization which are in accordance with the above double ideal, and constitute an approach to it, will have a chance of life and be beneficial for the commonwealth.”

Kropotkine here reveals to us, with admirable clearness the origin and nature of his “Ideal”. This Ideal, like that of Bakounine, is truly “double”; it is really born of the connection between bourgeois Radicalism, or rather that of the Manchester school, and Communism; just as Jesus was born in connection between the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary. The two natures of the Anarchist ideal are as difficult to reconcile as the two natures of the Son of God. But one of these natures evidently gets the better of the other. The Anarchists “want” to begin by immediately realizing what Kropotkine calls “the ultimate aim of society”, that is to say, by destroying the “State” Their starting point is always the unlimited liberty of the individual. Manchesterism before everything. Communism only comes in afterwards. But in order to reassure us as to the probable fate of this second nature of their Ideal, the Anarchists are constantly singing the praises of the wisdom, the goodness, the forethought of the man of the “future”. He will be so perfect that he will no doubt be able to organize Communist production. He will be so perfect that one asks oneself, while admiring him, why he cannot be trusted with a little “authority”.


Last updated on 19.7.2004