Anarchists In Power: What It Might Look Like


So, if Anarchists ever DID succeed in “coming to power” (if one can even use that phrase when speaking of Anarchists)… what would an Anarchistic society look like?

Depends on whom you ask…

To say that Anarchists are anti-authoritarian borders on understatement… and yet, Anarchists such as Malatesta and Kropotkin were not against ALL authority.  Yes, they both abhorred that sort of authority based merely on position or tradition, or on power or the threat of violence.  But they were fine with what some have called “natural authority”


There are different kinds of natural authority.  There is the authority of leadership ability.  This is the type of authority possessed by those who are good at coordinating teamwork, inspiring others toward a shared vision, and making the requisite wise choices which improve the chances of final success.

There is also the authority of the expert, which is basically the respect given to the judgment or advice coming from a person who possesses great knowledge and experience in his specific field of endeavor or study.

And then there is what Malatesta called “a purely moral authority,” by which I think he meant that we naturally respect people whom we perceive as virtuous– those who exhibit high ethical and professional standards.



Assuming that some authority is valid, how would Anarchists organize the world if they ever succeeded in toppling the State-system?  What would a world in Anarchy look like?

Kropotkin imagined that, without a State government, people would unite in overlapping Federations.  Some Federations would be geographically based, while others would be based upon common economic interests or upon shared interests of whatever kind.  Supporting the practicability of his idea, Kropotkin noted that “freely constituted societies” already are successfully at work in numerous spheres of activity.  Today, we need only look at a list at the top one hundred NGOs (non-government organizations) in the world to see just how successful non-State interest groups can be.




No More Landlords!  James Guillarme felt that “the essential thing” for an Anarchistic revolution to accomplish is that the land becomes “the property of him who works it,” so that a man “no longer toils in order to profit an Exploiter who lives off his sweat.”


No More Inherited Estates!  For Kropotkin, large inheritances are a primary cause of inequality and unhealthy distortions of society.  On the other hand, Proudhon is okay with large inheritances.


No More Taxes!!  One of the first things Anarchists like Kropotkin would do would be to abolish all taxes.  My guess is that taxes would survive the Revolution in one form or another, though I’m sure their name would be changed (maybe they’d become “dues” paid to the treasuries of the workers’ unions and other interest groups).


Interest Free Loans.  This idea from Proudhon may sound Utopian, but it is actually a very workable concept.  We have tax incentives and such today which already nearly approximate the same net result.  Would be perfect for young home-owners or people starting small businesses.


No State Collusion In The Collection Of Debts.  Kropotkin further insists that, at the time of the Revolution, all documentation of rents, ownership, mortgages, et cetera should be destroyed.  This is a clear demarcation between Anarchism and Libertarian thought.  As much as Libertarians loathe big government, most do concede that a valid job for the government is the enforcement of contracts.


No More Police.  Emile Henry contended that there are mainly only two types of crime:  1) crimes of passion, and  2) crimes of gain.  He said that “no legislation can prevent” crimes of passion… and crimes of gain will disappear “in a setting where property has been abolished.”  The kid makes a good point… but I’ll keep some form of the thin blue line around anyhow, thank you very much.


No More Army.  Though Kropotkin envisioned the complete disbandment of the army, Proudhon thought that Revolutionists could keep a large armed force– but have them perform public works.  My own thinking is, that unless this Anarchy thing roams worldwide, any geographic area without an army will soon get one– the conqueror’s!


No More State-Controlled Schools.  Proudhon suggested that, instead of State-sponsored schools, children should become apprentices.  Personally, I’d love to mix-in this idea with some other needed educational reforms.


No More Big Private Capital.  Kropotkin suggested that all of the following should be owned collectively by the people…  mines, housing, religious buildings, public buildings, raw materials, precious metals & gems… as well as “landed estates” and instruments of labor.  He also included “manufactured products,” — but he wrote this before automobiles and blenders and air conditioners– even before Wal-Mart!– so surely he didn’t mean the term “manufactured products” as we might read it today (?).




If you assumed that Anarchists– because of some of their impractical Utopian notions and their dislike of organization and authority– could never actually achieve power… you’d actually be wrong.


During the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War, some Anarchists joined the Spanish government.  This act of joining outraged many other Anarchists, who felt that participating in State government violated the very core beliefs of Anarchism.  The defense of the joiners was reasonable enough… they said they had grown tired of… “being merely soldiers of the Revolution” while the “Communists and Socialists act as the generals.”   


Here are some of the highlights of the system that the Anarchists set up in their government of Catalonia.  The set of rules they issued is usually known as the “Decree Of Catalonia” (the full name being, the Decree Of Collectivization Of Catalonia’s Industry)…


  1. Business shall be split into Big and Small [I’ll be paraphrasing most of this];  Small Businesses (below a hundred workers) are to be left mostly alone and can remain privatized;  however, even Small Businesses must establish a Worker’s Committee  [I find it interesting that we in the U.S. have a similar theme, with many Federal mandates exempting small businesses; in fact, the more I think of it, our large corporations operate within de facto public/private control]

1-A.  There is at least one ominous condition imposed upon Small Businesses…  According Article Two of the Decree, “seditious” business owners risk having their businesses “collectivized.”

  1. Each Collectivized Business (the Big Businesses) will be managed by the workers through Enterprise Councils.
  1. Each entire industry will be overseen by a General Council.  The General Council, not the Enterprise Councils, will actually establish the business plans for each Collectivized Business, with each E-Council apparently relegated to merely implementing said plans.  [Although this sounds like a terrible idea, our own major corporations are not run so dissimilarly]
  1. Over all of this is the granddaddy overseer, the Council Of The Economy, which is responsible for the general economic health of the entire region
  1. Enterprise Council members can be fired by workers [perhaps through a Worker’s Committee?] or by the General Council from above.  Fired E-Council members can appeal to the Council Of Economy.  The Decree stipulates that the acceptable reasons for firing an E-Council member are:  1) “manifest incompetence”, or  2) “default from the prescribed norms”.  [the first acceptable reason, taken with the right of appeal, seems to insulate the E-Council members fairly well;  and the second– well, it just gives me a headache to even contemplate enforcing “default” from “norms”]
  1. Each Collectivized Business will have a “Director” appointed by the General Council of that industry (if the business is a particularly vital one, the Director must be approved by the over-arching Council Of The Economy).  [Article Fourteen]
  1. Like the Enterprise Councilmembers, company Managers are to be responsible to the workers.  Managers are also subject to the oversight of the General Council of the relevant industry.

[This may at first sound like a Ridiculous Sandwich force-fed to the poor Managers, placing them in an impossible situation.  However, the U.S. system is not set up so very dissimilarly… today we have Managers responsible to Ownership… but they must also follow the rules set-forth by the different government agencies regulating their particular industry (Health Department, FDA, SEC, etc).  The main difference is that in our U.S. system, the Boards and Managers are responsible to shareholders, whereas the “shareholders” in the Catalonian system were the workers— Which leads me to wonder… What would be wrong with operating a MIXED system, wherein half the “shareholder” rights were given to owners of stock, and half to the workers?]

  1. In one of my least favorite parts of the Catalonian Decree [Article Twelve], the Enterprise Council of each Collectivized Business is to be responsible for the “moral well-being” of its employees.  The Enterprise Council, says the Decree, “shall engage in intense cultural and educational endeavors, sponsoring the creation of clubs, recreation centers, sports centers, cultural centers, etc.”  [Actually, we in the U.S. assign similar responsibilities (often merely by custom) to local governments;  these local governments provide facilities to workers and their families in the jurisdiction (and, as any eye can see, to non-workers as well) ]
  1. Each Enterprise Council is to establish a “constitution” for the business.   [We have “By-Laws”].  In Article Thirteen, the Anarchists provide E-Councils with a “model constitution”– and (sounding very Leninesque), they demand that each Collectivized Business adhere to the Party-provided model-constitution. 
  1. Article Fifteen assigns an “Auditor General” to each Enterprise Council, who [it seems] is responsible, not to the E-Council, but the to the Council Of the Economy.  Furthermore, Article Fifteen stipulates that all minutes of the E-Councils shall be sent upstream (politically speaking) so that the higher authorities shall be better aware of when any local intervention is necessary.  All this sounds particularly USSR-ish.

—   —   —   —   —

Many Spanish Anarchists came away from their experience in power disturbed and disatisfied.  Anarchist Federica Montseny said that while the Anarchists had been participating in the government of Spain, they “had lost the workers’ trust, and the movement’s unity had been whittled away.”  The experience taught her that it was difficult to maintain a strong sympathetic connection with the common people after obtaining power…  “We were in the government, but the streets were slipping away from us.”   The time spent in government, said Montseny, cured Spanish Anarchists of any political yearnings.  “Only direct action by the workers can bring about the social transformation that frees man and does away with the class society,” she stated.  “Honestly and sincerely, all who had a taste of military, administrative, and political leadership positions emerged from them nauseated and more opposed to the State than ever.”

[Yeah, the real world’s a bitch, ain’t it Federica?]

The Toulouse Congress Of Anarchists in 1947, basing their resolution partly on the unsuccessful experience of Anarchists in Spain during the 1930s,  passed a motion discouraging any further Anarchist participation in, and collaboration with, established government.  “All concessions made to the State have resulted only in consolidation” of State power, said the resolution.

To my understanding, to this day, the general Anarchist position remains one of total non-participation in government.


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