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Communitarian anarchism

From ICWiki

Communitarian anarchism is the current within anarcho-communism that proposes, supports and founds Intentional Communities and communes that are based on libertarian socialist core principles.


Principles of communitarian anarchism

The core principles of communitarian anarchism include many principles that are shared by other currents in anarcho-communism. The groups and communities have Mutual Aid, cooperation and autonomy as important values. A fully communal internal economy without money, and based on the idea of „from each according to ability, to each according to need“, is usually strived for within the communities, and sometimes between communities. The federation of autonomous groups with one another is also usually proposed. Gustav Landauer wrote that this would be the basis of a stateless form of federal society: “a society made up of societies of societies; a federation of federations of federations; a commonwealth of communities of communes”. The complete equality between men and women, an end to the division of labour based on gender, and free love, are also attempted in many communitarian anarchist projects. As well as living together, most communitarian anarchists propose self-managed collective work within the communities.

Reasons for communitarian anarchism

Communitarian anarchists are unwilling to wait for a revolution based on the overthrow of patriarchal capitalist states. They prefer the pragmatic approach of attempting to create cells of the new society and new culture parallel to the current state institutions and social systems. They are neither „Utopian“ nor do they wish to live in ivory towers within the present systems – the foundation of settlements and communes, self-managed workers’ cooperatives and consumer coops are seen as being practical steps towards the realization of anarcho-communist principles and ideals in the here and now. Communitarian anarchism is a cultural movement rather than a class interest movement, but it is not outside the struggle for freedom and self-determination and against exploitation and repression. Through a change in the social and economic order within each community and a change in behaviour, the dominant order itself is questioned and opposed: changes to the capitalist, patriarchal state system are begun. Communitarian anarchists seek to opt out of the dominant system and set an example to others who are seeking change. Despite this, communitarian anarchists have sometimes been criticized by some militant anarchists as detracting from the revolutionary struggle.

Historical examples

Communitarian anarchists have sought to start communes and settlements in a number of countries in various periods.

The agricultural community of Cittadella at Stagno Lombardo, Lombardy in Italy, existed from November 1887 until November 1890. Founded by the Pisan anarchist, Giovanni Rossi and Giuseppe Mori as a cooperative agricultural association; Associazione Agricola Cooperativa di Cittadella, the community was at the 120 hectare farm owned by Mori, a philanthropist follower of Mazzini. Mori rented out the farm as leasehold to the cooperative. The project came to an end due to the conservative attitudes of the former farm workers who were unwilling to fully organize the farm on anarcho-communist lines as originally proposed by Rossi. Having left Cittadella, Rossi decided to make a further attempt at starting an experimental community. On February 20, 1890, Rossi left Italy with a group of other anarchists and sailed to Palmeiras, Paranà, in Brazil, where they established the anarchist La Cecilia Colony”. In less than a year, its population, primarily male, had about 250 members. This experiment in anarchist communism and free love lasted for about five years, running up against not only material problems, but especially emotional and sexual difficulties (due particularly to the small number of women). In addition, there was hostility from the local community of Polish catholic immigrants and their priest, and from the local administration.

In Great Britain, in 1894, the Tolstoyan „Brotherhood Trust“ was started, with the aim of creating a fund to start anarchist communities. This was funded from profits from cooperative production and retailing. Each member of the trust was supposed to recruit a new member every quarter. The hope was that an alternative society of the future based on communes would spread until capitalism and the state was no more.

The Clousden Hill Free Communist and Cooperative Colony was an anarchist community in Northumberland (GB) which existed from 1895 to 1902. It was formed by followers of Peter Kropotkin, and was the first explicitly anarcho-communist community in Great Britain. The community was started by a group of Kropotkin’s followers who wanted to put his theories into practice by forming a 20 acre farming community organized on anarcho-communist lines. In the same period, Tolstoyan anarchists also started communities in Britain. (See: The Rise of Ethical Anarchism in Britain, 1885-1900 by Mark Bevir, University of California Postprints, Year 1996, Paper 2588).

Later, in Germany, the Socialist Federation (Sozialistische Bund) was founded by a group of anarchists around Gustav Landauer. From 1908 until 1915, the organization proposed the foundation of cooperative communities and gathered funds to support them. However, concrete attempts to start communes came to nothing, as either funds were insufficient or land was not available. After the First World War, a number of communities were started in Germany which were based on anarcho-communist principles. (See: Freie Erde and FAUD communities). Communitarian anarchists were also present in other egalitarian communities of the period, such as Barkenhoff. (See also: Post WW1 German communities)

In modern day Germany, the core principles of the Kommuja Network of Political Communes are largely libertarian socialist. While few of the communes would describe themselves as explicitly communitarian anarchist communities there are many communitarian anarchists within the member communes. One commune which is clearly anarchist is the Kommune Lutter group.


Communitarian anarchist projects come up against a number of problems, many of which are common to other intentional communities. There may be direct state repression of their communities, as in post WW1 Germany. Survival of self-managed cooperative enterprises which are based on the satisfaction of needs rather than on the profit motive is often difficult under capitalist conditions. Internally, the social and working relationships have been changed, but the cooperative community continues to exist in the hierarchical and competitive system which surrounds it. A further problem for communitarian anarchist projects, already identified by Landauer in “Die Siedlung – The Settlement” is “property-less-ness” (die Besitzlosigkeit) – a lack of land and buildings (or enough money to buy these resources). These external problems can heighten problems with the internal group dynamics of the project, as in the Cecilia Colony.


Just as communitarian anarchist communes face the problems cited above (and other problems too), the movement also has a number of unanswered questions facing it. There is no clear answer to the question of the ideal size of an anarchist community. Is small beautiful? (As Colin Ward put it, ‘in small face-to-face groups, the bureaucratising and hierarchical tendencies inherent in organisations have least opportunity to develop’). What is the minimum size for an autarchic community that can largely satisfy its own needs? What are the best forms of decision making within the cooperatives and communes? And how can anarchist intentional communities relate to or take control of large industrial processes? Must communitarian anarchism be, in some way, a part of anarcho-sydicalism? (Study of collectives in the Spanish Revolution may give some clues to what could be possible). And can an anarchist commune have much influence on the wider society or on other currents of anarchism? How can communitarian anarchists coordinate with other forms of anarchist organisation?

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