Anarchist schools of thought and traditions

This post follows on from the anarchist section of the political ideology post. I’ve taken the broad structure from the very useful Wikipedia Anarchist schools of thought page, and have added several traditions that were missing.

Individuals, groups, organisations and movements that see themselves as anarchist or promote anarchism will likely identify with a number of these traditions.

Revolutionary anarchism is a very broad term that includes many of the traditions below. It advocates the complete overthrow of capitalism and the replacement with a stateless society.

Classical anarchism

This is the period from the mid-1800s to the start of World War 2. This includes four broad anarchist schools of thought:

1. Individualist anarchism favours the individual and their will over groups, society, traditions and ideological systems. Individual anarchism has several traditions.

Egoist anarchism by Max Stirner, a 19th-century philosopher and one of the earliest advocates of individual anarchism. He argued that the egoist rejects devotion to “a great idea, a cause, a doctrine, a system, a lofty calling”, saying that the egoist has no political calling but rather “lives themselves out” without regard to “how well or ill humanity may fare thereby”.

Philosophical anarchism focuses on intellectual criticism of authority, especially political power, and the legitimacy of governments.

Mutualism is an anarchist economic theory that advocates a socialist society based on free markets. An example would be a mutual-credit bank that lends to people at a low-interest rate that is just high enough to cover administration costs.

Anarcho-nihilism rejects the idea that hope exists in any form because the idea of hope prevents us from acting. If we believe ‘Things will get better’, then it can lead to inaction. Instead, anarcho-nihilism ignores the future and focuses on the present. If you come to believe that “The world is already fucked”, it is freeing. It isn’t as depressing an ideology as it sounds, and is not stating that nothing matters or that everything is meaningless.

llegalism “is a tendency of anarchism that developed primarily in France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland during the late 1890s and early 1900s as an outgrowth of individualist anarchism. Illegalists embrace criminality either openly or secretly as a lifestyle. Illegalism does not specify the type of crime, though it is associated with theft and shoplifting.”

2. Social anarchism sees an interrelated relationship between individual freedom and mutual aid. Social anarchist thought emphasizes community and social equality as complementary to autonomy and personal freedom. Social anarchism has several traditions.

Collectivist anarchism is a revolutionary form of anarchism, generally associated with Mikhail Bakunin, Johann Most and the anti-authoritarian section of the First International. Unlike mutualists, collectivist anarchists oppose all private ownership of the means of production, instead advocating that ownership be collectivized.

Anarcho-communism advocates the abolition of capitalism, the state, markets, money, private property (while retaining respect for personal property) and in favor of common ownership of the means of production, direct democracy and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers’ councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.

There are similarities between collectivist anarchism and anarchist communism, there are also key differences. These include, “collectivist anarchists believe that the economy and most or all property should be collectively owned by society while anarchist communists by contrast believe that the concept of ownership should be rejected by society and replaced with the concept of usage. Also collectivist anarchists often favor using a form of currency to compensate workers according to the amount of time spent contributing to society and production while anarcho-communists believe that currency and wages should be abolished all together and goods should be distributed ‘to each according to his or her need’” [1]

The document ‘An Anarchist FAQ’, identifies two differences between individual and social anarchists. The first relates to means of action, individual anarchists prefer an evolutionist approach through education and building alternative institutions. Social anarchists advocate this approach and also advocate social revolution as long as it’s libertarian and not authoritarian. The second difference concerns which type of anarchists economy is proposed. Individualists favour a market-based system of distribution, whereas social anarchists prefer a need-based system. [2]

Class struggle anarchism views the working class as the central revolutionary agent. It “continues the traditions of communist anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, and overlaps with libertarian (autonomist) Marxism, such as council communism.” Wayne Price describes how “only the workers (as workers) can actually stop this society altogether. And only the working class can start it up again on a new basis. Our class produces the goods; we transport them; we distribute them; we serve the people’s needs. We have an enormous potential power. Anyone who has been in a city during a major strike knows how true this is. One successful general strike in a major city would transform U.S. politics. Almost the whole of capitalist politics exists to prevent the working class from being aware of this power and using it.” [3]

3. Anarcho-syndicalism arose as a distinct school of thought within anarchism in the early 20th century. It is much more focused on the labour movement than other forms of anarchism and sees radical trade unions as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the state with a new society, democratically self-managed by the workers. Anarcho-syndicalists seek to abolish the wage system and private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Important principles of syndicalism include workers’ solidarity, direct action (such as general strikes and workplace recuperations) and workers’ self-management.

4. Insurrectionary anarchism “is a revolutionary theory, practice and tendency within the anarchist movement which emphasizes the theme of insurrection within anarchist practice. It opposes formal organizations such as labor unions and federations that are based on a political programme and periodic congresses. Instead, insurrectionary anarchists support informal organization and small affinity group based organization. Insurrectionary anarchists put value in attack, permanent class conflict and a refusal to negotiate or compromise with class enemies.”

Post-classical anarchism

This is the period from the end of World War 2 to the late 20th century. This includes five broad traditions:

1. Green anarchism is a form of anarchism that focuses on environmental issues and more recently the ecological crisis. Green anarchism has several traditions.

Anarcho-primitivism “is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of civilization. According to anarcho-primitivism, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence gave rise to social stratification, coercion and alienation. Anarcho-primitivists advocate a return to non-“civilized” ways of life through deindustrialisation, abolition of the division of labour or specialization and abandonment of large-scale organization technologies.”

Anarcho-naturism is a combination of anarchist and naturist philosophies and is part of the individualist anarchist tradition. “Anarcho-naturism advocated vegetarianism, free love, nudism, hiking and an ecological world view within anarchist groups and outside them. Anarcho-naturism promoted an ecological worldview, small ecovillages and most prominently nudism as a way to avoid the artificiality of the industrial mass society of modernity. Naturist individualist anarchists saw the individual in his biological, physical and psychological aspects and tried to eliminate social determinations.”

Social ecology “is a philosophy developed by Murray Bookchin in the 1960s which holds that present ecological problems are rooted in deep-seated social problems, particularly in dominatory hierarchical political and social systems. These have resulted in an uncritical acceptance of an overly competitive grow-or-die philosophy. It suggests that this cannot be resisted by individual action such as ethical consumerism, but must be addressed by more nuanced ethical thinking and collective activity grounded in radical democratic ideals. The complexity of relationships between people and with nature is emphasised, along with the importance of establishing social structures that take account of this.”

Anarcho-veganism or veganarchism is the belief that a hierarchy between a human and an animal is as just as invalid as a hierarchy between two humans. It calls for an end to animal consumption, factory farming, livestock, and more.

2. Anarcha-feminism “is a form of anarchism that synthesizes radical feminism and anarchism that views patriarchy (male domination over women) as a fundamental manifestation of involuntary hierarchy which anarchists often oppose. Anarcha-feminists, like other radical feminists, criticize and advocate the abolition of traditional conceptions of family, education and gender roles. Anarcha-feminists are especially critical of marriage. Anrcha-feminists critique the view of some traditional anarchists that patriarchy is a minor problem that will disappear when the state and capitalism are abolished. Instead, Anrcha-feminists “view patriarchy as a fundamental problem in society and believe that the feminist struggle against sexism and patriarchy is an essential component of the anarchist struggle against the state and capitalism.”

3. Anarcho-pacifism “is a form of anarchism which completely rejects the use of violence in any form for any purpose. The main precedent was Henry David Thoreau who through his work Civil Disobedience influenced both Leo Tolstoy and Mohandas Gandhi’s advocacy of nonviolent resistance.”

4. Religious anarchism “is a set of related anarchist ideologies that are inspired by the teachings of (organized) religions, but many anarchists have traditionally been skeptical of and opposed to organized religion. Many different religions have served as inspiration for religious forms of anarchism, most notably Christianity, as Christian anarchists believe that biblical teachings give credence to anarchist philosophy. Non-Christian forms of religious anarchism include Buddhist anarchism, Jewish anarchism and most recently Neopaganism. Neopaganism focuses on the sanctity of the environment and equality and is often of a decentralized nature. This led to a number of Neopagan-inspired anarchists, one of the most prominent of which is Starhawk, who writes extensively about both spirituality and activism.”

5. Anarchism without adjectives emphasizes harmony between various anarchist factions and attempts to unite them around their shared anti-authoritarian beliefs.

Contemporary anarchism

This is the period from the late 20th century to the present. It includes nine broad traditions:

1. Anarcho-transhumanism “is the synthesis of anarchism with transhumanism that is concerned with both social and physical freedom, respectively. Anarcho-transhumanists define freedom as the expansion of one’s own ability to experience the world around them. The philosophy draws heavily from the individualist anarchism of William Godwin and Voltairine de Cleyre as well as the cyberfeminism presented by Donna Haraway in A Cyborg Manifesto. It looks at issues surrounding bodily autonomy, disability, gender, neurodiversity, queer theory science and sexuality.”

2. Post-anarchism “is articulated by Saul Newman as a theoretical move towards a synthesis of classical anarchist theory and poststructuralist thought. Although it first received popular attention in his book From Bakunin to Lacan, it has taken on a life of its own subsequent to Newman’s use of the term and a wide range of ideas including post-modernism, autonomism, post-left anarchy, situationism, post-colonialism and Zapatismo. By its very nature, post-anarchism rejects the idea that it should be a coherent set of doctrines and beliefs. As such it is difficult, if not impossible, to state with any degree of certainty who should or should not be grouped under the rubric.”

3. Post-left anarchy “is a recent current in anarchist thought that promotes a critique of anarchism’s relationship to traditional leftism. Some post-leftists seek to escape the confines of ideology in general also presenting a critique of organizations and morality. Influenced by the work of Max Stirner and by the Situationist International, post-left anarchy is marked by a focus on social insurrection and a rejection of leftist social organisation.”

4. Queer anarchism “suggests anarchism as a means of queer liberation and solution to the issues faced by the LGBT community such as homophobia, lesbophobia, transmisogyny, biphobia, transphobia, heteronormativity, patriarchy and the gender binary.”

5. Black anarchism is a term applied to a group of people of African descent who identify with the principles of anarchism. Individuals who subscribe to this tradition “oppose the existence of the state, the subjugation and domination of Black people and other ethnic groups and favor a non-hierarchical organization of society. In general, these individuals argue for class struggle while stressing the importance of ending racial and national oppression, opposing capitalism, patriarchy, the state, and white supremacy.”

6. Cultural anarchism promotes “anti-authoritarian values through those aspects of society traditionally regarded as belonging to the sphere of “culture” rather than “economics” or “politics” — for example, through art, music, drama, literature, education, child-rearing practices, sexual morality, technology, and so forth.

7. Lifestyle anarchism “A term coined by anarchist Murray Bookchin in his essay “Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm”. Lifestyle anarchism is the attitude of an individual that calls himself an anarchist by being heavily individualistic without giving any thought to class struggle and an end to oppression.”

8. Small ‘a’ anarchism focuses on social movements and moves away from theory and big ‘A’ anarchism of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin. It promotes ‘horizontalism’ organisation structures and rejects big ‘A’ anarchism leftism that advocates programmatic change through say anarcho-syndicalism. It “mobilizes networked groups and associations in mass demonstrations, using self-organization, direct action, revolutionary union strike tactics and consensual participatory democracy as tools to content capitalism.” The small ‘a’ is understood in several ways: “sometimes to show the evolution of anarchist principles and aspirations over time, sometimes with greater emphasis on the obsolescence of revolution in a post-materialist, post industrial era. It is sometimes used to expose the limitations of nineteenth-century anarchist theory, sometimes to emphasize anarchism’s ethical core. However, running through all this is the idea that historical anarchism is an ideology-to-rival-Marxism and that anarchist activism should be understood as protean and plural.” [4]

9. Postcolonial anarchism uses anarchist concepts and principles and re-envisions them from the perspective of colonised people in the world, in an anti-imperialist framework. It is highly critical of the established anarchist movement. “The tendency is strongly influenced by indigenism, anti-state forms of nationalism and Anarchist People of Color, among other sources.” “Between 1994 and 2004 White wrote a series of essays reflecting on experiences in the anarchist movement. He identifies racial isolation and tokenism as important features of the experience of people of color in the anarchist movement and attributes this to the prevalence European universalism and an approach to class struggle as a binary relationship between workers and capitalists which does not take account of the cultural aspects of imperialism.”

Anarchist organisation

There are three broad types of anarchist organisation.

1. Synthesis anarchism “is a form of anarchist organization which tries to join anarchists of different tendencies under the principles of anarchism without adjectives. It intends to bring together anarchists of the anarchists main tendencies, namely individualist anarchism, anarchist communism and mutualism.”

2. Platformism is a tendency within the wider anarchist movement which shares an affinity with organising in the tradition of Dielo Truda’s Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft). The document was based on the experiences of Russian anarchists in the 1917 October Revolution which led eventually to the victory of Bolsheviks over the anarchists and other like-minded groups. The Platform attempted to explain and address the anarchist movement’s failures during the Russian Revolution. As a controversial pamphlet, the document drew both praise and criticism from anarchists worldwide. Today, platformism is an important current in international anarchism.”

3. Anarcho-syndicalism as described above in the classical anarchism section.


  3. also see The Government of No One: The Theory and Practice of Anarchism, Ruth Kinna, 2019, page 136
  4. The Government of No One, pages 145-49