History of anarchism

This is a short post with an overview of the history of anarchism.

History of anarchism

The Wikipedia page ‘History of anarchism‘ gives the clearest history of anarchism that I can find and easily summarise.

  1. prehistoric and the ancient era, the middle ages, the renaissance and the early modern era.
  2. ‘early anarchism’: the 18th century, Proudhon and Stirner, and the Revolutions of 1848.
  3. ‘classical anarchism’: the First international and Paris Commune, the emergence of anarcho-communism, organised labour and syndicalism, propaganda of the deed, the revolutionary wave, rise of fascism, the Spanish Revolution, and anarchism in the colonial world.
  4. ‘individualist anarchism’: in the United States and Europe.
  5. post-war and contemporary anarchism.

Wikipedia also has a great list of anarchist movements through history by region in the world.

Several books give a history of anarchism. [1]

Waves of anarchism

Michael Schmidt in ‘Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism’ (2013) describes fives waves of revolutionary anarchism. Schmidt describes revolutionary anarchism as the ‘broad anarchist tradition’, that aims to “dissolve the centralist, hierarchical, coercive power of capital and the state, replacing it with a devolved, free-associative, horizontally federated counter-power.” (p2)

The fives waves are:

  1. The first wave, 1868-1894 – The rise of the broad anarchist/syndicalist movement in the era of state and capitalist expansion.
  2. The second wave, 1895-1923 – Consolidation of syndicalism and specific anarchist organisation in a time of war and reaction.
  3. The third wave, 1924-1949 – The anarchist revolutions against imperialism, fascism, and bolshevism.
  4. The fourth wave, 1950-1989 – Rearguard actions in the shadow of the cold war and decolonisation in Africa and Asia.
  5. The firth wave, 1990-today – The anarchist movement’s resurgence in the era of Soviet collapse and neoliberal hegemony.

In ‘The Government of No One: The Theory and Practice of Anarchism’ by Ruth Kinna (2019) she describes the second wave of anarchism as the new wave in the 1960s. And the third wave was the ‘alter-globalization’ social justice movement and Occupy. She does not explain what the first wave was but I guess we can assume this is classical anarchism as listed in the section above.


  1. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall, 2007; Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism, Michael Schmidt, 2013; Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, George Woodcock, 1975; Facing The Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation from Proudhon to May ’68, Alexandre Skirda, 2001; Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, Lucien van der Walt, Michael Schmidt, 2009