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Socialism

The Anarchist Alternative

The anarchists represented one of the strongest non-Marxian currents in the socialist movement and it was their ongoing rivalry with the Marxists that kept alive the doctrinal debates and organizational divisions that characterized both the First (1864–1876) and Second Internationals (1889–1914).

Anarchism was never a homogenous ideological movement. At one time or another in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries anarchists who belonged to the international socialist movement identified themselves as mutualists, collectivists, communists, and syndicalists. Yet, despite their theoretical differences, anarchists of all schools were united in their opposition to Marxism. Above all this was because of their diametrically opposed views of the role of the state. For the Marxists, the state was a necessary vehicle for governing society until full communism had been achieved. Once this stage of history had been reached, the state would, in the words of Engels, cease to be a useful instrument of rule and simply wither away. The anarchists completely rejected the notion that the state could serve any positive function. In sharp contrast to the Marxists, they believed that the working classes would overturn capitalism, not by wresting political power from the middle-classes, but by concentrating their energies in developing and organizing their own social institutions and by engaging continuously in an economic struggle against their oppressors.

Anarchists also opposed Marxism on the grounds that its communist principles were incompatible with the kind of libertarian society they envisaged. The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876) famously declared that he detested communism because, "it is the negation of liberty." He further accused Marx of promoting an authoritarian form of communism that "concentrates and absorbs all the powers of society into the state."

Since the anarchists abstained from politics and thus rejected the ballot box as a means of advancing the workers' cause, they were forced to adopt a revolutionary strategy that also placed them at odds with Marxists and reformist socialists. For this reason there are two main features of the movement that need to be mentioned: direct action tactics and violence. The former included such things as sabotage, strikes, and public demonstrations—May Day celebrations, for example. The anarchists' reliance on a tactic known as "propaganda by the deed" gave rise to the stock image of them—popularized by writers and social scientists like Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), Henry James (1843–1916), and Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909)—as social deviants who were bent on destroying the foundations of civilization. This overblown stereotype was reinforced by several widely publicized anarchist outrages that punctuated the last years of the nineteenth century. Apart from launching small-scale attacks against symbols of class, state, and religious rule, anarchists were responsible for the political assassinations of several heads of state. Within a span of only six years, the presidents of France (1894) and the United States (1901), the empress of Austria (1898), the prime minister of Spain (1897), and the king of Italy (1900) were murdered by anarchists. The stigma that all anarchists were now saddled with obscured the fact that these were isolated acts committed by only a handful of individuals. Most rank-and-file anarchists were strongly opposed to terrorism, and most saw education and trade unions as the main vehicles for conducting their revolutionary activity.

At the turn of the century anarchism, which had nearly died out in most areas of Europe, was revitalized by the development of yet another brand of socialism known as revolutionary syndicalism. When Arturo Labriola (1873–1959), Émile Pouget (1860–1931), José Prat (d. 1932), and other libertarian thinkers began to marry the new doctrine (which emphasized trade unionism and direct action tactics like the general strike) to old anarchist beliefs the result was anarchosyndicalism, a movement that was particularly important in France, Spain, and Italy. In fact, it was the introduction of syndicalism that brought about the phenomenal growth of anarchism in Spain. Over the course of the next two decades, anarchosyndicalism became a mass movement, with its membership peaking at over 1.5 million members during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).

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