What happens when anarchists run a country? History has an answer.

  • Posted on: 4 February 2018
  • By: thecollective

From bigthink.com

When most people hear the word "anarchy", they think of chaos. It brings to mind images of gangs fighting in the streets, looting and rioting, without a police force to help end the madness. It can be hard to grasp why anybody would ever declare themselves to be an "anarchist." After all, most of the news about anarchists in the United States focuses on their violent demonstrations.

But, you might be surprised to learn what happened when Anarchy reigned in Spain.

During the Spanish civil war, a brutal conflict between Franco’s Nationalists and the Republicans, eight million people in Catalonia engaged in their own revolution. Based on anarcho-syndicalism, organized by trade unionists, and briefly very successful, the revolutionaries offer us a possible image of what happens when anarchy reigns.



The fundamental concepts of anarchism are statelessness and opposition to hierarchy. To these ends, the Catalonian revolutionaries organized the region under cooperative and communal principals. Factories became worker cooperatives, farms became communes, and workers even managed their barber shops. This was done without the utilization of state control. Society became increasingly democratic, and everyone was increasingly equal in both principal and practice.

circa 1938: A member of the French frontier troops helps a family of refugees cross the border from Spain during the Spanish Civil War. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)


British author George Orwell, who fought for the Anarchists during the civil war, reflected later on how the anarchist society functioned in his book Homage to Catalonia:

"Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags and with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Señor' or 'Don' or even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' or 'Thou', and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos días'. Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy…… There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine."


He would later have very well thought out ideas on totalitarian states. So well detailed that his name became the word to describe such states. 

If it was so great, what happened? Why did it fail?

Support for the anarchist movement was undermined by Stalinist communists hoping to draw support for their war effort, which they argued was more important than a revolution. This, combined with other factors, meant that the experiment had largely ended by the time that Franco won the war. 

So, it was all sunshine and rainbows? They did reach the dream of hippie communes thirty years early?

It has been pointed out by many sources that coercion was used in many cases to "encourage" the collectivization of rural areas and private property was probably taken by force in urban areas as well. The revolutionaries also never entirely took full power in the areas they controlled. In Barcelona, the city with the most significant anarchist presence, at least 25% of the economy was always outside of syndicalist influence. Rates were higher in other areas. As the revolution only lasted ten months, questions on how the society would have continued to develop remain unanswered.

Are there any examples since the 1930s of how anarchism might work?

Nothing on such a scale, though elements of anarchist thought, such as decentralized power and participatory democracy, were hallmarks of the Occupy Movement. Notable American philosopher Noam Chomsky is a self-declared anarchist who has written several books on the subject. 

And, perhaps as is to be expected with left-wing movements, there is still a multitude of organizations promoting some form of anarchism/libertarian socialism. The trade unions that lead the social revolution in 1937 are still very active organizations in Spain.

While most uses of the word "anarchy" invoke ideas of fear, madness, and disorder, the leading example of an anarchist society was quite the opposite. While questions of how an anarchist society would endure in the long run remain, an example of how it works in the short run shows us that we might need to find a different synonym for "chaos."




stopped reading when it says Orwell fought “for the anarchists.” epic fail

He fought for the commies but regretted it and then wrote fondly of the more anarchist tendencies he encountered while in spain.

that’s certainly a more accurate description, but that’s not what the article says. what the article says is a lie, straight up.

Yeah … I chalk it up to propaganda directed at clueless liberals. Whatever.

In Chomskyist /r/anarchism worldview, being a commie makes you an anarchist by default. So in a way it makes sense. To them.

So basically, clueless liberals with anarchist sympathies. Not even judging though! I started off similarly, reading chomsky as a teen and not knowing much except that I hated the gov't and capitalism. Everybody's on their journey and stuff!

"Notable American philosopher Noam Chomsky is a self-declared anarchist"

Yes, as embarrassing as it is, most rebels begin with Chomsky, mine a fleeting nauseous Wikipedia biography, and then moved on immediately to Stirner.,.

Has anybody watched these dvds seeing that we're talking 'roots' of people and ideas? I get the feeling that anarchists are mainly White and I wondering if I am wrong on this? Well, White and Male?

Troll harder

Troll harder? I'm not trolling? I'm watching some of the work by Tariq Naseed and it looks very good but I don't know for sure, so I'm asking if anyone has watched the dvds as his work seems powerful stuff. Sorry for breathing!

Alright, I apologize. It's unfair IMO to say "most anarchists are white males" unless you're talking about a very specific locality and even then, I would still question the relevancy of denigrating a political position based on identity. Also, the reason I assumed you were trolling is because this argument is often deployed to discredit anarchists by their many enemies.

i.e. "You're just a bunch of white male thrill-seekers putting other people at risk with your black bloc!!!"

But it is true that 99.9 % of the black block are mostly white males, and also usually disgruntled bourgeoisie with a chip on their shoulder and too much testestterone coursing through their minds,.,

Emmm not the ones I’ve been in..

I wouldn't know I stay clear of violent posturing, it's so 20th Century underdeveloped awareness.

So you've never been near a black bloc but you still chirp on the subject, hey? Cute!

Still talking .. Still openly admitting to knowing nothing about topic ...

I have some Spanish genes in me if that counts for anything.,.:p

Tariq Nasheed dvds (as far as I know) present a deep critical look at the 'whitening' of Black history as I was hoping that people who use this site may have watched it and am interested in any opinions. History is so often not what people think it is. Similarly, people don't believe anarchy can work because they are told by 'the powerful story-tellers' that that is a fact...which it isn't. People, by and large, don't bother going under the surface of what they're told to believe.

I'm the same anon who apologized FYI, and of course Nasheed has a larger point that is quite valid but unfortunately I think this person got taken in by a typical smear that gets levelled at young militants of all different identities. For example, when the kids mask up in Chile and riot, you can't accuse them of all just "being white" so part of the reason that this criticism is dubious, is that it only works in the US context.

It's just an attempt to foster divisions. Black bloc is a tactic, not a group, so saying "the black bloc is [blank]" is almost always a bad argument.

If you read this, I'm wondering why there isn't more black people, or visible black voices, in the anarchist world? I mean, he talks about the world as an anarchist does. His work is new to me as a European so maybe people in the USA know of him?

Is there a breakdown of who makes up the anarchist 'movement' in, for example, the USA and the UK? I'm just got some material of Lucy Parsons and I think it would be useful information as to whether anarchism is dominated by whites (males) and thus, blacks keep away which I understand if that's the case but not useful to either blacks or whites or females. Is there a demographic breakdown or would it be useful as a TOTW? I did read this quote by Pedro Ribeiro:'Revolution is not a game in which you can pretend to listen to the voice of the people of color only when is convenient and shut them off when they start questioning your privilege.' and ' We are still having to disguise ourselves, call whitey “Massa” and chain ourselves to the wall. No, don't talk about racism unless is in that very abstract sense of “we-are-all-equal-let's-sing-kumbayas-and-pretend-the-color-of-our-skin-does-not-matter” racism. While there might be nobody yelling “die, nigger, die!*”, you can hear a very clear “shut the fuck up, nigger, just shut the fuck up.”

I personally would be very interested in your TOTW submission, and we'd happily post it next week. My personal opinion is that you should feel free to go all out, of course you probably understand that yts gonna yt, but some of us will try our best to move the dialogue forward.

if we're aiming to increase our audience of people who use the term "yts" unironically maybe a TOTW about privilege politics just the ticket

Odd that you're so fixated on trying to isolate this theoretical demographic so that a crappy argument that only serves to discredit anarchists might appear to be valid to other people who rely on crappy arguments based on identity.

There's no way to "prove" that anarchists are disproportionately white, there's many that aren't and why would this be constructive anyway? Seems like you're just trolling, which would be the actual reason to tell you to fuck off with this noise.

Minor correction, Orwell was not in an anarchist militia. Although that was his original intent when he arrived in Spain he instead joined a militia of the POUM (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification). The POUM were Marxist-Leninist's that despite their ideological differences with anarchism maintained a relatively fraternal relationship with the anarchists during the civil war. Most of the rank and file of the POUM were workers and were also members of the CNT anarcho-syndicalist trade union. The POUM became especially close to the anarchist political organization the Friends Of Durruti (FOD) and the two groups came to share similar positions as to revolutionary strategy and their militants coordinated their efforts to push for 'Fresh Revolution' during the tragic 'May Days' of 1937.

Soon after the events of the May Days and the capitulation of the anarchist CNT and FAI to the anti-fascist Popular Front the POUM were branded as 'Trotskist's' and 'Fifth Columnists' (closet fascists) by the Stalinist and Liberal dominated Popular Front and were brutally persecuted by the Russian NKVD and the repressive apparatus of the Republican State. The POUM leader Andres Nin was taken prisoner by the Stalinist's and tortured to death by NKVD agents in an unsuccessful attempt of eliciting a confession of treachery from him. Those of the POUM who were not taken prisoner on trumped up charges were compelled to go into hiding or exile, George Orwell being among these.

major falsifications.
1. it was not Orwell’s “original intent” to join an anarchist militia. he mentions in “Homage to Catalonia” that if he hadn’t been as naive prior to his arrival in Spain he would have liked to have been in one since he saw them “despite their indiscipline” as the best fighters. this is his after the fact assessment, not a pre-participation “intent.”

2. the POUM and “the anarchists” (presumably you mean the CNT-FAI-FIJL) did not enjoy a “relatively fraternal relationship” during the civil war and revolution. the mutual criticisms and denunciations began prior to the formation of the POUM. the defection from the CNT of Maurín in 1924, who would later support the right opposition of Bukharin, would never be forgiven; the rancor towards Nin came as a result of his defection to the Profintern in 1921 after traveling to the Soviet Union as a CNT delegate while a secret member of the PSOE. both Nin and Maurin, who co-founded the POUM in 1935, rejected and denounced the CNT’s abstentionism and general non-political stance. the divisions hardened when the POUM, despite their anti-stalinism, joined the Popular Front. this confirmed to the rank and file of the POUM and the CNT-FAI that there was little common cause that could come from the members of their respective organizations (typically, individual relationships among rank and filers were cordial, but officially they were rivals and not at all “fraternal”). during the initial stages of the stalinist moves against the POUM, most CNTistas were indifferent, dismissing it as infighting between marxists.

3. it is a complete fabrication to say that most POUMista workers were members of the CNT. while it is true that certain sections of the CNT defected to the POUM in 1935-36, they did so by affiliating with the FOUS, the POUM’s own union federation.

3. the “especially close” relations with the FoD were limited to the former allowing the POUM to use their clandestine printing press. all overtures and negotiations to create some sort of common front were perfunctory and went nowhere, despite their alleged similarities. whatever common strategies existed during the May Days were those of individuals, and were nowhere and at no time undertaken by officials in the POUM or the CNT-FAI , of which the FoD were still members (despite being denounced as traitors and provocateurs by the CNT leadership). the POUM definitely were indifferent to the message of “Towards a Fresh Revolution” and any imputation of support is not borne out by contemporary or subsequent history.

4. the stalinist labeling of the POUM as “Trotskyite” and “fascist” and “fifth columnists” had already begun in the autumn/winter of 1936.

it seems to me that, like too many anarcho-leftists, you’re desperate to find or induct or manufacture marxist allies. that you have gotten so many facts wrong makes me extra suspicious

When anarchists run a country, all the Catholic churches get burned down hnn?

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