Gian Piero de Bellis

Anarcho-communism & anarcho-capitalism: a critical assessment




A critical reflection on two ideologies that narrow the anarchists' field of choice and blur the image of anarchy as a conception and practice open to multiple lifestyles and voluntary forms of social organisation.



The diatribes, past and present, between anarcho-communists and anarcho-capitalists demand a reflection to see if they have a reason to exist, both as two opposing conceptions and as two opposing camps.

The labels
First, let us see if these two labels have a real function.
Communism, in the formulation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, means a society without the state. Capitalism, in the formulation of its advocates, means freedom of production, of exchanges, of movement.
To add in front of these two terms the prefix anarcho doesn’t seem at all necessary, if we refer to the original aspirations of the classic exponents of those ideologies, who wanted the state to disappear or, at least, to be put radically on the side-line.
However, it could be said that, because neither those supporting communism nor those in favour of capitalism did abide by their lofty principles and aims, we need a better qualification by the addition of the prefix anarcho, to fill gap between ideals and reality. We should then ask if it is sufficient to add a prefix to change things and, through anarcho-communism or anarcho-capitalism, move forward to a society where everybody is free, and no one is exploited. For that, it is necessary to examine and highlight the basic features and tendences of communism and capitalism.

The basic tenet of communism, the one advocated incessantly by all its supporters, is “economic equality”. To realise it three actions seem to be required:

  • Expropriation of current wealth. The first act to be accomplished to realize “economic equality” is to take the property of those who own to much. Even the bourgeoisie did it when expropriated the property of the Church and of the aristocracy.
  • Elimination of unruly individuals. Clearly, to carry out that expropriation, some-many individuals need to be eliminated, and that culling should include not only the rich but also those supporting a different ideology.
  • Redistribution of resources. The final act is the redistribution, necessarily made by a central power to avoid unbalances between regions and between workers of different industries or between large and small agricultural plots of land.

Anarcho-communism, like communism tout court, requires then the presence of a dirigiste power, endowed with weapons (an army, called "people's" army) to perform the expropriations, and force (police) to control-eliminate the unruly individuals (the "counter-revolutionary" elements). This sort of Big Brother could be called the Committee (as in the Spanish Revolution), the People’s Commissariat (as in the Russian Revolution) or in some other way. The result is always the survival of a dominant power, with all the privileges and inequalities that derive from holding power.
But all of this has nothing to do with anarchy.       

The basic tenet of capitalism, the one advocated incessantly by all its supporters, is “economic freedom”. Right from the beginning, this economic freedom was not something enjoyed by and granted to everybody. In fact, as remarked even by Adam Smith, while the capitalists could cooperate amongst them to keep the wages low, the combinations between workers were forbidden by law. In other words, the proclaimed laissez-faire laissez-passer was intended, by the strongest individuals, as laissez-nous faire, laissez-nous passer.
To realise it three actions seem to be required:

  • Protection of current wealth. Having expropriated the resources of the Church and of the aristocracy, the capitalists receive from the state, controlled by them, all sorts of privileges (protection of the internal market, patents, commissions).
  • Elimination of unruly individuals. Capitalism, by way of the state, is responsible for the killings of an incredible number of individuals whose only guilt was that they were against privileges and exploitation. To give only one example, in 1965 around one million civilians labelled “communists” were massacred by the state in Indonesia.
  • Redistribution of resources. The financial resources collected by the state are then redistributed. A big quota goes to the capitalists as subsidies, state loans, rescue packages to avoid bankruptcy (too big to fail), etc. and the rest, the crumbles, to people in need, to keep them under control.

As we can see, the Big Brother, i.e., the state with all its might (the army, the police, the prison system), is necessary also for the survival of capitalism, whatever proclaimed by the capitalists themselves. The addition of the prefix anarcho doesn’t change the nature of capitalism and so, anarcho-capitalism for all has nothing to do with anarchy.

It is then clear that communism and capitalism are merely ideal-types, good for ideological propaganda but never meant to be fully realized and implemented as projects for universal emancipation. In both cases what prevails is the state and its ideology, statism, based on centralism and dirigisme, in one word, authoritarianism.
And in both cases, those in charge of expropriation and redistribution, become the new class of rich and powerful. All pretence of equality and freedom are condemned. Equality is qualified as a petty-bourgeois absurdity (Stalin) and freedom for all is equated to anarchy, presented as disorder and chaos.
The similarities between communism and capitalism are striking, as far as behaviour and results are concerned. They both share a materialistic-economicistic outlook and both advocate one single model to be accepted by (or better imposed on) everybody.
For this reason, both communism and capitalism are inevitably based on:

  • domination (centralisation of power to avoid that another ideology prevails)
  • repression (to fight and eliminate those who do not share those views)
  • exploitation (the power to dominate and repress leads to huge inequalities in all spheres of life and so to full exploitation by the powerful of the powerless).

The pretence that, by adding the term anarcho to communism and capitalism you suppress their authoritarian exploitative nature is ludicrous if not downright idiotic.
The views of reality and the strategies based on those pretended anarchist views are functional to the permanence of a dominant centre of power. In fact:

  • the anarcho-communists are against capitalism and cunningly forget that the state is not only the main capitalist but the comité d'affaires of capitalism.
  • the anarcho-capitalists are against statism and cunningly sweep under the carpet the fact that without the state, their crony capitalism (the only one ever practiced) would not exist or would have gone bankrupt long time ago.

The reason for upholding these views and strategies is because the exponents of these two ideologies are not really interested in a society without masters, but in a society in which they are the new unquestioned masters, the good dad (communism) or the good mum (capitalism) providing to the presumed welfare of all.

On the basis of what said so far, it is possible to draw the conclusion that anarcho-communists and anarcho-capitalists are playing a silly game of fake contrapositions that has nothing to do with anarchy. State communism and state capitalism have dominated the scene all along the 20th century as the two faces of the same statist coin. To attack one remaining silent about the other (or even being favourable to the other) means to protect-support both (the state and capitalism).
As a matter of fact, it could be said that:

  • most current anarcho-communists resemble the old social-democrats (against capitalism, for the welfare state).
  • most current anarcho-capitalists resemble the old liberal-aristocrats (against welfarism, for the corporatist state).

If they succeed, they will be the new crutches for the perpetuation of a system based on privileges and inequities.
What is needed, now more than ever, is an anarchy without adjectives because anarchy, that is absence of domination, does not require further qualifications that restrict people’s choices.
Anarchy means:

  • liberty = autonomy of the individuals and their voluntary communities
  • equality = equity as absence of privileges
  • solidarity = mutual aid
  • variety = to each his/her favourite social model and personal style of life

We do not need expropriation & redistribution. We need overcoming the current socio-economic paradigm and building different personal and social relations.
Before being brutally assassinated, Gustav Landauer wrote: “The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently… we will be the state as long as we are nothing different; as long as we have not yet created the forms necessary for a true community and a true society of human beings. »



[Home] [Top]