Home » A People’s Queering of 20th Century Counter Culture » Anarchism – A Brief History

Anarchism – A Brief History


-Around 300 CE anarchist philosophy and lifestyle was first embraced amongst the people of ancient China when the Taoist Sage Lao Zi developed a non-ruled society.

Ancient Communitarian Philosophy (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) along with Stoic Philosophy (Zeno and Aristippus) are known to have started the philosophies that brought anarchism to the West. It was Aristippus who wisely said “the wise should not give up their liberty to the state.”

-Zeno argued that although the necessary instinct of self-preservation leads humans to egotism, nature has supplied a corrective to it by providing man with another instinct – sociability. Like many modern anarchists, he believed that if people follow their instincts, they will have no need of law courts or police, no temples and no public worship, and use no money (free gifts taking the place of the exchanges). Zeno’s beliefs have only reached us as fragmentary quotations.

 -Zeno argued that the human instinct to survive can lead to “crimes” or killings as we have seen for centuries, though humans have an inherent ability to be empathic with one another that tends to combat any necessary situations without the use of force. He argued people could get along with one another without the use of laws, police, courts, religion, church, or money by following their instincts and tapping into this inherent empathy. Unfortunately, Zeno’s arguments seem to only have reached few of us in “fragmentary quotations.”

-404 BC Known as the year of anarchy is athens

first time anarchy was used politically was in 467 BC in the play “Seven Against Thebes” by Aeschylus

Late 1700’s The Age of Enlightenment and William Godwin who is generally regarded as the founder of philosophical Anarchism. Sensing as well as predicting the horrors, brutal beatings and killings of our people to come in the future, in attempt to normalize and neutralize them, Godwin advocated for change via a “peaceful evolution” rather than resorting to “the use of revolutionary tactics for removing the government from power.” This belief specifically is what is powerful to modern anarchism, as most modern anarchists truly believe that a revolution will never take place if it is not already taking place now, every day, and that we can all live by our ideals the way we want to right now, without having to wait for any revolution or mass change. Living how one wants will ultimately bring on the mass change, as if most were just living how they pleased the system and capitalism would crumble under its own weight without anyone supporting and working to uphold it any longer. He regarded law, property rights and the marriage institution to be “a manifestation of the people’s mental enslavement” and was very adomant that “government and its institutions are shown to constrain the development of our capacity to live wholly in accordance with the full and free exercise of private judgment.” Godwin seems to have perhaps lay the groundwork for Foucaultian thought as he heavily emphasizes the inherent constraint society places on “the natural development of individuals.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_anarchism).

19th century

-1833 was the first anarchist periodical published known as The Peaceful Revolutionist which was edited by Josiah Warren who is considered to be one of, if not the first American Anarchist.

-Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience. He was an important early figure in Individualist Anarchist thought in US and Europe. Free Love and its importance was first very emphasized by him as well as Individualist Anarchist thinkers.

-M.E. Lazarus was an important American individualist anarchist who promoted free love around the same time as Thoreau.

-1883-1907 Lucifer the Lightbearer, the most influential American Free Love Journal that also advocated free thought was published and sold.

-1895-1904 Free Society, a major American Anarchist newspaper that greatly advocated and heavily emphasized the concepts of free love, womens rights, and often critiqued “Comstockery” (also known as the withholding of sexual information) was published. See Anthony Comstock in Biographies for more about “Comstockery”/Comstock Law.

-Late 19th Century, early 20th century the radical and openly bi Edna st. Vincent Millay and queer anarchist Margaret Anderson were the first figureheads of Greenwich Village’s bohemian Feminists and Anarchists who advocated for self-realization for women and men in the here and now as well as advocating for pleasure to play a role in women’s everyday lives and the importance of that. Emma Goldman was one who frequented the discussion groups that such people as Millay and Anderson attended, and became the first and only american woman to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public.

Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian revolutionary generally regarded as the first philosopher of Collectivist Anarchism due to disputes which ended up defining the core differences between Anarchism and Marxism. Marxism proposes a dictatorship of the proletariat as being essential before evolving to a stateless society; however Bakunin and anarchism advocated a more abolitionist perspective where the system, all states, power and capital are to be abolished and the universal rebellion advocated for. Bakunin also opposed Marx’s ideas as centralist and “predicted that if a Marxist party came to power, its leaders would simply take the place of the ruling they had fought against.”

-Marxism as being encompassed within the anarchist perspective is a fundamental misunderstanding amongst the left at times. In a nutshell, Marxism’s main policies are as follows: capitalism is end all destructor, where no one can live how they want until capitalism is overthrown. Communism and dictatorship of the proletariat to turn into a stateless society, as well as advocating for communism and “mastery of nature” . People often have included Marxism as a part of Anarchism, however this is incorrect because any power of the state, whether it is a dictatorship of the elite of the proletariat is centralized power and therefore contradictory to anarchy’s main tenets, as we know power seeks to sustain itself and corrupts anyone who would possess it. Early 1900’s Marx expelled his former partner Bakunin from the International when he opposed his proletariat plan and called his views “centralized”.

Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Syndicalism: developed out of the Italian section of the First International as well as radical communist currents after the French Revolution. “Anarcho-communism proposes that the freest form of social organization would be a society composed of self managing communes with collective use of the means of production, organised democratically, and related to other communes through federation.” Anarcho Syndicalism “proposes building a leaderless mass movement of laborers using direct action to take control of the workplace away from the bosses”(Dixon 2010).

Peter Kropotkin surfaces as a follower of Bakunin and front runner of anarcho communist thought

-By the 1880’s “Propganda of the Deed” was a well known and widely used term that referred to the occasionally violent resistance anarchists would carry out.

1905 onward politically motivated expropriations aka individual reappropriations occurred from anarchists due to the widespread distribution of dynamite, attempting to continue sustaining themselves in a capitalist society while still fighting full-fledged for the people and their freedom. There was much sympathy amongst the people for such groups in the 70’s, for example with the Red Army Faction (RAF) people admitted they sympathized with their tactics and to harboring them illegally (hide them from police/give them shelter in their homes) if given the chance.

-Frances Bonnot Gang was the first to really embrace violent resistance tactics

-1892 Berkman attempts to assassinate Henry Clay Frick as an act of the Propaganda of The Deed, which he served 14 years in prison for as a result.

May 3rd 1886 Haymarket riot, chicago’s haymarket square

A painting done after the Haymarket Riot by Walter Crane

A painting done after the Haymarket Riot by Walter Crane

20th Century

1921 Kronstadt rebellion – Bolshevicks turn against left wing groups and anarchists. as a result, anarchists were then either imprisoned or driven underground

-First supportive of the Bolsheviks in the times of the Russian Revolution, Berkman soon opposed Soviet use of terror after seizing power and their oppression of fellow anarchists.

-Emma goldman puts out her books: Anarchism and Other Essays in 1910, The Social Significance of the Modern Drama in 1914, My Disillusionment in Russia in 1923, My Further Disillusionment in Russia in 1924, and Living My Life in 1931.

Alexander Berkman releases his account of dismay in russia “The Bolshevik Myth” and emphasized how much control Bolsheviks exercised amongst the people, where for both him and goldman, bakunin’s predictions about marxists and socialists becoming the new elite group of socialists.

Revolutionary wave of 1917-1923
-Russian Revolution: Bolshevik victory at the October Revolution and resulting Russian civil war severely damaged anarchist population internationally, sending anarchists further into hiding in fear that others would respond to anarchists as brutally as bolsheviks had. some abandoned their true beliefs altogether and joined other groups such as the communist and socialist movements. communist parties grew extensively at the expense of anarchism declining
-Mckinley’s assasination by Leon Czolgosz was said to be motivated by Emma Goldman but was proved to be fabrications of police later and turned out not be at all attached to her influences.
-1918-1921 Biennio Rosso : Italian Factory occupations, Italian anarcho-syndicalist trade union workers in events such as the biennio rosso were the first to occupy workplaces in protest.
-Mexican revolution/mexican liberal party lead militant operations to occupy towns such as Baja california under anarcho-communist Ricardo Flores Magon’s rule
-Longtime Italian anarchist Luigi Fabri was one of the first to openly criticize the rise in fascism in Europe, describing it as “the preventative counter-culture”
1936-1939 Spanish civil war: a movement of peasants and workers supported by armed militants, inspired by anarchists, collectivized or abolished private ownership on certain parts of the land of spain such as Barcelona and large rural areas. Anarchist historian Sam Dolgoff estimated that about eight million people participated directly or at least indirectly in the Spanish Revolution, which he claimed “came closer to realizing the ideal of the free stateless society on a vast scale than any other revolution in history.”
In 1945 the Mexican Anarchist Federation was established.

Regrouping of Anarchism/anarchists after war:
Early 1940’s Antifascist International Solidarity and Federation of Anarchist Groups of Cuba merge into the large national organization Asociación Libertaria de Cuba (Cuban Libertarian Association)

1944-1947 Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation makes comeback as an aly for Worker Movement
France 1945 Federation Anarchiste is established
1945 Federazione Anarchica Italiana is established in Italy
September 1945 League of Free Social Constructors established in Korea
1946 Japanese Anarchist Federation established
May 1948 people gathered from all across Europe at the International Anarchist Congress which was held in Paris
1956 Uruguayan Anarchist Federation established

1947, Rudolf Rocker published Zur Betrachting der Lage in Deutschland (Regarding the Portrayal of the Situation in Germany)

-1950’s and 60’s Anarchism became popular amongst the counter-culture generation, especially for its feminist tendencies and served as the basis or foundation of the free love and free democracy theories and mentalities of the culture and time. Anarchism actually helped strengthen feminism, enriching it with a new vengeance and establishing the term anarcha-feminism.

-Punk is born out of Anarchism in the early 70’s with bands such as Death, The Sex Pistols, and Crass.

-70’s In Denmark, Freetown Christiania “an autonomous haven in central copenhagen” is established by squatters put out in Western Europe by the housing and employment crisis.

-late 70’s Naturism, primitivism and animal rights are recognized as associated with anarchism due to its egalitarian perspectives towards nature especially

-1979 The Direct Action Movement(DAM) established as an anarcho-syndicalist movement in Britain
-1986 Anarchist Communist Federation established in Great Britain and Ireland

21st Century
-majority of present day anarchists shaped by indigenous, naturist and primitivist theories
-Anarchism splits into many deviations via numerous new schools of thought/theory


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