Anarchist FAQ/What is Anarchism?/4.3

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A.4.3 Are there any socialist thinkers close to anarchism?

Anarchism developed in response to the development of capitalism and it is in the non-anarchist socialist tradition which anarchism finds most fellow travellers.

The earliest British socialists (the so-called Ricardian Socialists) following in the wake of Robert Owen held ideas which were similar to those of anarchists. For example, Thomas Hodgskin expounded ideas similar to Proudhon's mutualism while William Thompson developed a non-state, communal form of socialism based on "communities of mutual co-operative" which had similarities to anarcho-communism (Thompson had been a mutualist before becoming a communist in light of the problems even a non-capitalist market would have). John Francis Bray is also of interest, as is the radical agrarianist Thomas Spence who developed a communal form of land-based socialism which expounded many ideas usually associated with anarchism (see "The Agrarian Socialism of Thomas Spence" by Brian Morris in his book Ecology and Anarchism). Moreover, the early British trade union movement "developed, stage by stage, a theory of syndicalism" 40 years before Bakunin and the libertarian wing of the First International did. [E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, p. 912] Noel Thompson's The Real Rights of Man is a good summary of all these thinkers and movements, as is E.P. Thompson's classic social history of working class life (and politics) of this period, The Making of the English Working Class.

Libertarian ideas did not die out in Britain in the 1840s. There was also the quasi-syndicalists of the Guild Socialists of the 1910s and 1920s who advocated a decentralised communal system with workers' control of industry. G.D.H. Cole's Guild Socialism Restated is the most famous work of this school, which also included author's S.G. Hobson and A.R. Orage (Geoffrey Osteregaard's The Tradition of Workers' Control provides an good summary of the ideas of Guild Socialism). Bertrand Russell, another supporter of Guild Socialism, was attracted to anarchist ideas and wrote an extremely informed and thoughtful discussion of anarchism, syndicalism and Marxism in his classic book Roads to Freedom.

While Russell was pessimistic about the possibility of anarchism in the near future, he felt it was "the ultimate idea to which society should approximate." As a Guild Socialist, he took it for granted that there could "be no real freedom or democracy until the men who do the work in a business also control its management." His vision of a good society is one any anarchist would support: "a world in which the creative spirit is alive, in which life is an adventure full of joy and hope, based upon the impulse to construct than upon the desire to retain what we possess or to seize what is possessed by others. It must be a world in which affection has free play, in which love is purged of the instinct for domination, in which cruelty and envy have been dispelled by happiness and the unfettered development of all the instincts that build up life and fill it with mental delights." [quoted by Noam Chomsky, Problems of Knowledge and Freedom, pp. 59-60, p. 61 and p. x] An informed and interesting writer on many subjects, his thought and social activism has influenced many other thinkers, including Noam Chomsky (whose Problems of Knowledge and Freedom is a wide ranging discussion on some of the topics Russell addressed).

Another important British libertarian socialist thinker and activist was William Morris. Morris, a friend of Kropotkin, was active in the Socialist League and led its anti-parliamentarian wing. While stressing he was not an anarchist, there is little real difference between the ideas of Morris and most anarcho-communists (Morris said he was a communist and saw no need to append "anarchist" to it as, for him, communism was democratic and liberatory). A prominent member of the "Arts and Crafts" movement, Morris argued for humanising work and it was, to quoted the title of one of his most famous essays, as case of Useful Work vrs Useless Toil. His utopia novel News from Nowhere paints a compelling vision of a libertarian communist society where industrialisation has been replaced with a communal craft-based economy. It is a utopia which has long appealed to most social anarchists. For a discussion of Morris' ideas, placed in the context of his famous utopia, see William Morris and News from Nowhere: A Vision for Our Time (Stephen Coleman and Paddy O'Sullivan (eds.))

Also of note is the Greek thinker Cornelius Castoriadis. Originally a Trotskyist, Castoriadis evaluation of Trotsky's deeply flawed analysis of Stalinist Russia as a degenerated workers' state lead him to reject first Leninism and then Marxism itself. This led him to libertarian conclusions, seeing the key issue not who owns the means of production but rather hierarchy. Thus the class struggle was between those with power and those subject to it. This led him to reject Marxist economics as its value analysis abstracted from (i.e. ignored!) the class struggle at the heart of production (Autonomist Marxism rejects this interpretation of Marx, but they are the only Marxists who do). Castoriadis, like social anarchists, saw the future society as one based on radical autonomy, generalised self-management and workers' councils organised from the bottom up. His three volume collected works (Political and Social Writings) are essential reading for anyone interested in libertarian socialist politics and a radical critique of Marxism.

Special mention should also be made of Maurice Brinton, who, as well as translating many works by Castoriadis, was a significant libertarian socialist thinker and activist as well. An ex-Trotskyist like Castoriadis, Brinton carved out a political space for a revolutionary libertarian socialism, opposed to the bureaucratic reformism of Labour as well as the police-state "socialism" of Stalinism and the authoritarianism of the Leninism which produced it. He produced numerous key pamphlets which shaped the thinking of a generation of anarchists and other libertarian socialists. These included Paris: May 1968, his brilliant eyewitness account of the near-revolution in France, the essential The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control in which he exposed Lenin's hostility to workers' self-management, and The Irrational in Politics, a restatement and development of the early work of Wilhelm Reich. These and many more articles have been collected in the book For Workers' Power: The Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton, edited by David Goodway.

The American radical historian Howard Zinn has sometimes called himself an anarchist and is well informed about the anarchist tradition (he wrote an excellent introductory essay on "Anarchism" for a US edition of a Herbert Read book) . As well as his classic A People's History of the United States, his writings of civil disobedience and non-violent direct action are essential. An excellent collection of essays by this libertarian socialist scholar has been produced under the title The Zinn Reader. Another notable libertarian socialists close to anarchism are Edward Carpenter (see, for example, Sheila Rowbotham's Edward Carpenter: Prophet of the New Life) and Simone Weil (Oppression and Liberty)

It would also be worthwhile to mention those market socialists who, like anarchists, base their socialism on workers' self-management. Rejecting central planning, they have turned back to the ideas of industrial democracy and market socialism advocated by the likes of Proudhon (although, coming from a Marxist background, they generally fail to mention the link which their central-planning foes stress). Allan Engler (in Apostles of Greed) and David Schweickart (in Against Capitalism and After Capitalism) have provided useful critiques of capitalism and presented a vision of socialism rooted in co-operatively organised workplaces. While retaining an element of government and state in their political ideas, these socialists have placed economic self-management at the heart of their economic vision and, consequently, are closer to anarchism than most socialists.