When it comes to the ideologies of socialism and anarchism, many people seem to think that they are mutually exclusive. Philosophies tend to set down diverse beliefs, but this does not mean that similarities cannot be found between two different philosophies. In the case of socialists being anarchists, there are notable differences and similarities. This article will explore how socialists can be anarchists and what makes them different.
What is a Socialist?
A socialist is a person who is influenced by the philosophy of socialism. Socialism “is a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole” [Source]. Socialists dismiss social classes and propagate equality in society with collective ownership.
Under this ideology, every person contributes to wealth production and gets returns based on one’s contribution. A government or state is given authority to control and own means of production, so the planning is fixed on central planners in the government. Such a government or state is usually elected into office through democratic processes. Socialists argue that society is a united organ that thrives on unity. This happens since it would have toppled a capitalist movement.
Socialists exert a lot of effort in stamping out social stratifications caused by capitalists, allowing freedom of religion. With the implementation of socialist policies, the priority is the public, and everyone should benefit.
What is an Anarchist?
An anarchist is an individual who derives their lifestyle from the philosophy of anarchism. Anarchism refers to a “philosophy and movement that is skeptical of authority and rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy” [Source]. It calls “for the abolition of the state, which it holds to be unnecessary, undesirable, and harmful.”
Anarchists believe that a government is harmful and unnecessary. The etymology is derived from the Greek root “Anarchos meaning ‘without authority, anarchism, anarchist, and anarchy are used to express both approval and disapproval” [Source].
Anarchists “deny man-made laws, regard property as a means of tyranny, and believe that crime is merely the product of property and authority.” They deny constitutions and governments because real justice only comes in the free development of human sociality and argue for people to live by the principles and practice of mutual aid.
French political writer and pioneer socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is the first to call himself an anarchist. He argued that “real laws of society have nothing to do with authority but rather stem from the nature of society itself, and he foresaw the eventual dissolution of authority and the emergence of a natural social order.” He said “as man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy. Anarchy – the absence of a sovereign – such is the form of government to which we are every day approximating”.
Can Socialists be Anarchists?
The major view is that socialists believe in the existence of a government or state, whether it’s Marx or Bismark’s version, while anarchists are totally against a government, which means that a socialist cannot be an anarchist operating without a government. It is argued that “Socialism and Anarchism are antithetical to each other. The belief that they can coexist is an excellent example of cognitive dissonance” [Source].
But other views state that anarchism is a form of socialism that brings in liberty in society. It was noted that “In fact, you were not permitted to join the anarchist federation set up by Bakunin and Proudhon unless you were a socialist,” meaning socialism laid the foundation of anarchist. A person had to believe in both philosophies.
The core of anarchism is anti-capitalism and seeks economic alternatives, including “community ownership of the means of production, decentralized and worker-owned markets, or trade union ownership of the economy.” From this perspective, a linkage between socialist and anarchist is seen as their objectives are related, and one can belong to both parties.
Anarchists are defined as socialists, that is, libertarian socialists, and Proudhon is believed to have identified himself as a socialist. Some anarchists describe themselves as anarchists as being ‘revolutionary socialists.’
The existence of social anarchism also means that both socialism and anarchism have diverse branches which intertwine in certain aspects. These connections will probably create a single unit at some point; hence a socialist can be an anarchist.
Lance Martin concludes this issue by saying that “People forget that socialism is a huge umbrella philosophy that encompasses many forms of economic and political systems.” And on whether a person can be both a socialist and an anarchist, Martin says, “Yes, you can technically be both a socialist and anarchist. Essentially this would mean that you advocate for individual freedom from the state while also advocating for collective access to wealth and property”.