Max Nettlau, “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist? Both” (1914)


  1. M. N., “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist? Both,”  Freedom 28 no. 299 (March 1914): 20-21.
  2. W. J. R., “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?,” Freedom 28 no. 300 (April 1914): 31. [reply]
  3. Egalite, “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?,” Freedom 28 no. 300 (April 1914): 31. [reply]
  4. C. W., “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?,” Freedom 28 no. 300 (April 1914): 31. [reply]
  5. G., “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?,” Freedom 28 no. 300 (April 1914): 31. [reply]
  6. M. N., “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?,” Freedom 28 no. 301 (May 1914): 39. [clarification]
  7. P. Ramus, “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?,” Freedom 28 no. 301 (May 1914): 39. [reply]
  8. John Nicholson, “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?,” Freedom 28 no. 303 (July 1914): 51. [reply]
  9. Max Netlau [sic], “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist? Both,” Mother Earth 9 no. 5 (July, 1914): 170-176. [reprint]
  10. [French translation in E. Armand’s Refractaires and response by Tucker (1919?)]
  11. M. N., “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist? Both,”  Road to Freedom 1 no. 8 (June, 1925).
  12. Max Nettlau, “Anarchismo. Comunista o individualista? L’une e l’altro,” Pensiero e Volontà 3 no. 5 (aprile 1926): 101-103. [reprint of previous entry]
  13. Errico Malatesta, “Comunismo e individualismo,” Pensiero e Volontà 3 no. 5 (aprile 1926): 104-106. [reply]
  14. Max Nettlau, “Internazionale collettiva e comunismo anarchico,” Fede! 126 (15 luglio 1925). [clarification]
  15. Max Nettlau, “Anarchisme : Communiste ou Individualiste ? L’un et l’Autre,” L’en dehors 5 no. 85 (mid-July, 1926): 5. [French translation, with note by E. Armand]
  16. Max Nettlau and Errico Malatesta, “Internazionale collettiva e comunismo anarchico,” Pensiero e Volontà 3 no. 14 (agosto 1926): 313-319. [reprint from Fede! and reply]
  17. Max Nettlau, “Internationale collectiviste ou communisme anarchiste,” L’en dehors 5 no. 85 (mid-July, 1926): 5. [Partial French translation, edited by E. Armand]
  18. Max Nettlau, “Individualism (or Communism?),” Anarchist Encyclopedia (1934). [revision]

Anarchism: Communist or Individualist? Both.

Anarchism is no longer young, and it may be time to ask ourselves why, with all the energy devoted to its propaganda, it does not spread more rapidly. For even where local activity is strongest, the results are limited, whilst immense spheres are as yet hardly touched by any propaganda at all. In discussing this question, I will not deal with the problem of Syndicalism, which, by absorbing so much of Anarchist activity and sympathies, cannot by that very fact be considered to advance the cause of Anarchism proper, whatever its other merits may be. I will also try not to repeat what I put forward in other articles in years gone by as possible means of increasing the activity of Anarchists. As my advice was not heeded, it cannot, in any case, be considered to have hampered the progress of our ideas.

I will consider the theories of Anarchism only; and here I have been struck for a long time by the contrast between the largeness of the aims of Anarchism — the greatest possible realization of freedom and well-being for all — and the narrowness, so to speak, of the economic program of Anarchism, be it Individualist or Communist. I am inclined to think that the feeling of the inadequacy of this economic basis — exclusive Communism or exclusive Individualism, according to the school — hinders people from acquiring practical confidence in Anarchism, the general aims of which appeal as a beautiful ideal to many. I feel myself that neither Communism nor Individualism, if it became the sole economic form, would realize freedom, which always demands a choice of ways, a plurality of possibilities. I know that Communists, when asked pointedly, will say that they should have no objection to Individualists who wished to live in their own way without creating new monopolies or authority, and vice versa. But this is seldom said in a really open and friendly way; both sections are far too much convinced that freedom is only possible if their particular scheme is carried out. I quite admit that there are Communists and Individualists to whom their respective doctrines, and these alone, give complete satisfaction and leave no problem unsolved (in their opinion); these would not be interfered with, in any case, in their lifelong constancy to one economic ideal. But they must not imagine that all people are constituted after their model and likely to come round to their views or remain “unreclaimed” adversaries on whom no sympathy is to be wasted. Let them but look on real life, which is bearable at all only by being varied and differentiated, in spite of all official uniformity. We all see the survivals of earlier Communism, the manifold workings of present-day solidarity, from which new forms of future Communism may develop — all this in the teeth of the cut-throat capitalist Individualism which predominates. But this miserable bourgeois Individualism, if it created a desire for solidarity, leading to Communism, certainly also created a desire for a genuine, free, unselfish Individualism, where freedom of action would no longer be misused to crush the weaker and to form monopolies, as to-day.

Neither Communism nor Individualism will ever disappear; and if by some mass action the foundations of some rough form of Communism were laid, Individualism would grow stronger than ever in opposition to this. Whenever a uniform system prevails, Anarchists, if they have their ideas at heart, will go ahead of it and never permit themselves to become fossilised upholders of a given system, be it that of the purest Communism.

Will they, then, be always dissatisfied, always struggling, never enjoying rest? They might feel at ease in a state of society where all economic possibilities had full scope, and then their energy might be applied to peaceful emulation and no longer to continuous struggle and demolition. This desirable state of things could be prepared from now, if it were once for all frankly understood among Anarchists that both Communism and Individualism are equally important, equally permanent; and that the exclusive predominance of either of them would be the greatest misfortune that could befall mankind. From isolation we take refuge in solidarity, from too much society we seek relief in isolation: both solidarity and isolation are, each at the right moment, freedom and help to us. All human life vibrates between these two poles in endless varieties of oscillations.

Let me imagine myself for a moment living in a free society. I should certainly have different occupations, manual and mental, requiring strength or skill. It would be very monotonous if the three or four groups with whom I would work (for I hope there will be no Syndicates then!) would be organized on exactly the same lines; I rather think that different degrees or forms of Communism will prevail in them. But might I not become tired of this, and wish for a spell of relative isolation, of Individualism? So I might turn to one of the many possible forms of “equal exchange” Individualism. Perhaps people will do one thing when they are young and another thing when they grow older. Those who are but indifferent workers may continue with their groups; those who are efficient will lose patience at always working with beginners and will go ahead by themselves, unless a very altruist disposition makes it a pleasure to them to act as teachers or advisers to younger people. I also think that at the beginning I should adopt Communism with friends and Individualism with strangers, and shape my future life according to experience. Thus, a free and easy change from one variety of Communism to another, thence to any variety of Individualism, and so on, would be the most obvious and elementary thing in a really free society; and if any group of people tried to check this, to make one system predominant, they would be as bitterly fought as revolutionists fight the present system.

Why, then, was Anarchism cut up into the two hostile sections of Communists and Individualists? I believe the ordinary factor of human shortcomings, from which nobody is exempt, accounts for this. It is quite natural that Communism should appeal more to some, Individualism to others. So each section would work out their economic hypothesis with full ardour and conviction, and by-and-by, strengthened in their belief by opposition, consider it the only solution, and remain faithful to it in the face of all. Hence the Individualist theories for about a century, the Collectivist and Communist theories for about fifty years, acquired a degree of settledness, certitude, apparent permanency, which they never ought to have assumed, for stagnation — this is the word — is the death of progress. Hardly any effort was made in favor of dropping the differences of schools; thus both had full freedom to grow, to become generalized, if they could. With what result?

Neither of them could vanquish the other. Wherever Communists are, Individualists will originate from their very midst; whilst no Individualist wave can overthrow the Communist strongholds. Whilst here aversion or enmity exists between people who are so near each other, we see Communist Anarchism almost effacing itself before Syndicalism, no longer scorning compromise by accepting more or less the Syndicalist solution as an inevitable stepping-stone. On the other hand, we see Individualists almost relapse into bourgeois fallacies — all this at a time when the misdeeds of authority, the growth of State encroachments, present a better occasion and a wider field than ever for real and outspoken Anarchist propaganda.

It has come to this, that at the French Communist Anarchist Congress held in Paris last year Individualism was regularly stigmatised and placed outside the pale of Anarchism by a formal resolution. If ever an international Anarchist Congress was held on these lines, endorsing a similar attitude, I should say good-bye to all hopes placed in this kind of sectarian Anarchism.

By this I intend neither to defend nor to combat Communism or Individualism. Personally, I see much good in Communism; but the idea of seeing it generalized makes me protest. I should not like to pledge my own future beforehand, much less that of anybody else. The Question remains entirely open for me; experience will show which of the extreme and of the many intermediate possibilities will be the best on each occasion, at each time. Anarchism is too dear to me that I should care to see it tied to an economic hypothesis, however plausible it may look to-day. Unique solutions will never do, and whilst everybody is free to believe in and to propagate his own cherished ideas, he ought not to feel it right to spread them except in the form of the merest hypothesis, and every one knows that the literature of Communist and Individualist Anarchism is far from keeping within these limits; we have all sinned in this respect.

In the above I have used the terms “Communist” and “Individualist” in a general way, wishing to show the useless and disastrous character of sectional exclusiveness among Anarchists. If any Individualists have said or done absurd things (are Communists impeccable?), to show these up would not mean to refute me. All I want is to see all those who revolt against authority work on lines of general solidarity instead of being divided into little chapels because each one is convinced he possesses a correct economic solution of the social problem. To fight authority in the capitalist system and in the coming system of State Socialism, or Syndicalism, or of both, or all the three combined, an immense wave of real Anarchist feeling is wanted, before ever the question of economic remedies comes in. Only recognize this, and a large sphere of solidarity will be created, which will make Communist Anarchism stand stronger and shine brighter before the world than it does now.

M. N.

P. S. — Since writing the above I have found an early French Anarchist pamphlet, from which I translate the following:

“Thus, those who feel so inclined will unite for common life, duties, and work, whilst those to whom the slightest act of submission would give umbrage will remain individually independent. The real principle [of Anarchism] is this far from demanding integral Communism. But it is evident that for the benefit of certain kinds of work many producers will unite, enjoying the advantages of co-operation. But I say once more, Communism will never be a fundamental [meaning unique and obligatory] principle, on account of the diversity of our intellectual faculties, of our needs, and of our will.”

This quotation (the words in brackets are mine) is taken from p. 72 of what may be one of the scarcest Anarchist publications, on which my eye lit on a bookstall ten days after writing the above article: “Philosophie de l’lnsoumission ou Pardon a Cain,” par Felix P. (New York, 1854, iv. 74 pp., 12mo) — that is, “Philosophy of Non-Submission,” the author’s term for Anarchy. I do not know who Felix P. was; apparently one of the few French Socialists, like Dejacque, Bellegarrigue, Coeurderoy, and Claude Pelletier, whom the lessons of 1848 and other experiences caused to make a bold step forward and arrive at Anarchism by various ways and independent of Proudhon. In the passage quoted he put things into a nutshell, leaving an even balance between the claims of Communism and Individualism. This is exactly what I feel in 1914, sixty years after. The personal predilections of everybody would remain unchanged and unhurt, but exclusivism would be banished, the two vital principles of life allied instead of looking askance at each other.

Authority and ordinary selfishness are far too powerful and common enemies to all of us that we can afford to waste energy on internal struggles which, by establishing dogmatism, would sap the very roots of Anarchism.

M. N.



(To the Editor of Freedom)

Dear Comrade—Because I see, in the existence of two opposing schools of Anarchism, one exclusively Communistic and the other exclusively Individualistic, who “never speak as we pass by,” a division that distracts its disputants from their proper task of organizing a public force for the overthrow of their common enemy, the State, I am no longer inclined to stand under the dual definitions of either Anarchist Communism or Individualist Anarchism. For, from out of the above two schools of thought I see the necessity and probability of the emergence of a third party, whose members, recruited both from Anarchist Communism and Individualist Anarchism, standing squarely upon the principle of individual, that is equal liberty, shall centralize their attacks upon the institution of government, leaving liberty to decide as to the best economic formula, or formulas, of future society. And, from the tenor of his timely article, I take it that our comrade “M. N.” is the first member of this third party, to whom I may say: “Your hand on it, comrade!” unless, better still, we can succeed in persuading the devotees of the former two schools to throw aside their economic bigotry and march forward unitedly towards Anarchy. For Anarchy is liberty, and it is not liberty to insist that the future society shall be patterned exclusively either upon the principles of the mutual bank and the private police force, or upon the theory of the common kitchen and the common potato-patch.

Perhaps the pamphlet from which “M. N.” translates his P.S. is by Felix Pyat, author of “The Ragpicker of Paris,” which was translated into English by Benj. R. Tucker, somewhere near the year 1890.—Yours fraternally,

W. J. R.


(To the Editor of Freedom)

Dear Comrade—Is not our comrade “M. N.” rather beating the air in his article on Communist and Individualist conceptions of an Anarchist society? Every form of society requires an economic basis. By what arrangement of our economic life we can secure for all the greatest freedom and the fullest satisfaction of all life’s needs? Undoubtedly in the Free Commune. How could it be otherwise? What is “M. N.” afraid of? He may wish to enjoy isolation. Well, in the Free Commune he can have all the privacy his heart can wish for. Every one must have that, or he would not be free. It does not need mutual banking to assure that; nor a hut in a forest. Besides, he might fall ill! What good would “equal exchange” be then? And what in the name of heaven is “equal exchange”? There never was such a thing—never. Mutual accommodation there has been often enough; a kind of “give and take” where value could not be measured or weighed. But economic values, after all, are only approximations; and if that’s all you want, well, Communism gives you that better than anything, since it says “to each according to his needs,” and saves us from wasting half our lives weighing and measuring and carping and quarreling.

To my thinking, “M. N.” is quite wrong in antagonizing Communism and Individualism, if by Individualism he means the full development of the individual, the freely-grown personality. I would say that our individualities will never have the energy, and, above all, the stimulus to grow except in the Free Commune. But if “M. N.” means Individualism in the sense claimed by Individualist Anarchists, then, I say, to the devil with it. I have read for years the writings, the barren and fruitless discussions, both here and in America, of this so-called “school,” all ending in “confusion worse confounded.” Fortunately, they mostly retire into that bourgeois environment which best satisfies their egotism.

I can’t pass over “M. N.’s” very great mistake about the resolution at the French Anarchist Communist Conference in Paris last year. The Anarchist Communists may surely claim to have their Conference sans the Individualists; and if “M. N.” would like to work with these Individualists, he will richly deserve all the liberty he can win for himself on their economic basis.

In conclusion, I say this: No man has ever lived, or ever could have lived, without being indebted at some time during his life to the spirit of Communism, which is always present in some form in human society.—Fraternally yours,



(To the Editor of Freedom)

Dear Sir—I have read with interest “M. N.’s” very tolerant and fair-minded article, but in my view he errs in making Anarchist Communism stand for co-operation in production, while Individualism is made to stand for “individually independent” production—“relative isolation.” There is no warrant for such a distinction. The advantages of co-operation and division of labor, of production on a large scale, are cordially recognized by all Individualists. Stephen Pearl Andrews, in his “Science of Society,” expressly points out that individualization of interests (which is Individualism) has “none of the features of isolation,” and is “adverse alone to sinking the distinction or blending the lines of individual property, but in no manner to the closest association, the most intimate relations, and the most effective co-operation between the owners of interests thus sharply defined.” With this rectification of one of his premises, “M. N.’s” main conclusion (mainly, that neither the Communist’s economic hypothesis nor the Individualist’s ought to be rejected; that both are necessary) can no longer be considered valid. I am at one with him, however, in desiring to see Anarchism dissociated from any particular economic doctrine. There ought to be no need to qualify our Anarchism by such terms as “Individualism” and “Communism.” Differences in regard to methods there must and will be, but differences as to the negation of government, the belief in liberty as the one necessary condition of social life. Whoever adds to this or takes away from it, whoever would attach a particular economic doctrine to it, whoever would make Anarchism negate more than government, is not an Anarchist; he is an authoritarian. Whoever negates the right to own property, or limits the right to accumulate property, acquire and accumulated without violation of this one condition, is not an Anarchist. Whoever fears or distrusts liberty is not an Anarchist.

It is because Communist teaching, influenced by authoritarian Socialism, from which it proceeded, has hitherto tended to doubt the complete adequacy of liberty and to deny the justice not along of legally-privileged property, but of all private-possession property, including capital, that the chief differences, the sectional exclusiveness, of the two schools of Anarchists have arisen. “M. N.” himself is not free from this tendency; witness his approving reference to “a genuine, free, unselfish Individualism, where freedom of action would no longer be misused to crush the weaker and to form monopolies, as today.” I should like to be informed how freedom of action, even with the most selfish Individualism, could result in the crushing of the weak and the formation of monopolies. Until I am enlightened on the point I shall remain an Anarchist, believing that freedom of action cannot be “misused.”

“M. N.,” true to the spirit of Anarchism, desires the liberty to turn from any form of “Communist” production to any form of “Individualist” production. Such liberty implies the right to own, and necessitates a means of exchange, if the act of secession is not to entail loss and injustice. Says Kropotkin in “The Conquest of Bread”: “If all adults bind themselves to work five hours a day from the age of twenty or twenty-two to forty-five or fifty… such a society could in return guarantee well-being to its members.” Suppose one works ten years for such a society and then wishes to withdraw, perhaps to join another society, perhaps for a spell of relative isolation, can it be done otherwise, in the absence of any mean of appraisement or exchange, than by the forfeiture, partial or complete, of one’s just share of the accumulated wealth of society? That is one of the reasons why “Individualists” interest themselves, and “Communists” also should interest themselves, in the question of equitable exchange, not as an economic doctrine to be attached to Anarchism, but as a labor-saving, friction-avoiding contrivance necessary in order to attain for us the maximum of individual liberty combined with economic justice. Only with this right of secession without injustice assured, and with a complementary agreement on the property question, can there be hope for unity and common action between Individualists and Communists, and the need for these distinctive “labels” disappear—a consummation I as earnestly hope for as your contributor.—Yours fraternally,

C. W.


(To the Editor of Freedom)

Dear Comrade—It would seem that “M. N.” has been living in a small world of narrow dogmatism or has been excited by some disputes amongst Continental Anarchists whose circumstances have favored the growth of sectarianism in their midst. So far as this country is concerned, the imputation is untrue that Anarchist Communists have exhibited any tendency to excommunicate people who share with them in any degree the opinion that law and authority must be abolished in order that human freedom and happiness may be assured, There never has been shown any desire to “vanquish” or “overthrow” Individualist Anarchists. On the contrary, there has been a desire to work with them in a cordial spirit, feeling that liberty is the road to unity as well as order.

To speak frankly, it would be better to address those people who, calling themselves Individualists, have persistently and sometimes offensively ruled other Anarchists out of the movement and termed them “Communists” only. While Anarchist Communists have consistently centered their efforts upon the abolition of law and government, as the first real step to a general and permanent state of social and economic freedom, the, “Individualists” have insisted, in a style and spirit worthy of Calvin himself, that one must accept their economic nostrums. To try to draw them into seeming theoretical agreement with Anarchist Communists in the name of unity, is exactly the way to promote the very dissension “M. N.” deplores.

So far as the objection of the ordinary Individualist to Anarchist Communism is concerned, he generally fears that in a Communist state of society he would be restricted and coerced by the community. But the absence of the idea and habit of government should remove that danger to individual initiative and expression. Besides, there would be no organized force to exert compulsion upon the individual who chooses to live his life in his own way. Our friend “M. N.” need not shudder too much at the idea of the “syndicates” (outlandish word!) controlling industry. The industrial Syndicate or Federation may consist of both autonomous groups and independent individuals bringing the sum total of their efforts into social harmony on a bigger scale. Whatever may be the situation on the Continent, in England Anarchist Communists are as great sticklers for individual freedom as any Individualist can be. Liberty must be individual to be general. The principle of solidarity is that which binds us to our fellows, which makes happiness and progress possible, for without it tyranny and slavery must reign, Certainly, it does not imply uniformity. Its growth and expression have been greatest (as witness the events of the last few years) when ideas or opinions have become most diverse and conflicting: It is the antithesis of Capitalism and government, which make every than the enemy of his fellow. It is becoming more and more evident in the world’s great social struggle that solidarity is the main road to freedom. It is so specially because system of monopoly and wage-slavery crushes the few who would achieve freedom by themselves, their spirit being equal to the task, but their strength and resources too small to counter the power of the ruling class.

It is somewhat difficult and premature to discuss the every-day arrangements of a future state of society, but it is easy to nee that in view of the enormous wealth-producing potentialities of that time, and the ease with which both people and commodities may be moved from place to place, and bearing in mind the further great conquests which science will achieve, that the misanthrope, the eccentric, the independent, and, the pioneer may all pursue their own sweet ways while they respect the equal liberty of others, and may do so without seriously disturbing or injuring anybody other than themselves. He would be a strange Anarchist who would coerce them into conformity with the minds or habits of others.

That human society will ever come to a state of “rest” no one can seriously believe. The struggle needs to be raised to a higher plane than the present chaos of misery and ugliness. Humanity is revolting against the continuance of the present irrational system, which threatens not merely the health and happiness of the larger number, but the very existence of many millions of human beings, It may be that the propaganda, of Anarchism has not yet met with the success it deserves, but there cannot be any doubt that its activity is not merely coincident with, but acts as a prime source of inspiration and incentive to, the world’s great social revolt. The intellectual differences amongst Anarchists are of little account. If they are so strong at to prevent them working in concord with each other, then they should refrain from attempting to force themselves upon each other and avoid spiteful recrimination, thus making “formal resolutions” quite unnecessary and inexcusable.—Yours sincerely,




Dear Comrade—I am thoroughly glad to see the ardor of your correspondents, in April Freedom, to emphasize freedom of opinion and mutual toleration among anarchists. It is quite true that experience of another kind influenced me, when I wrote my article; and if the comrades represent English Anarchist opinion in general, I can only say that this is eminently satisfactory. Cannot this situation be improved by examining afresh the points which divide both sections? Certainly I am the last who wishes to “force people upon each other,” but both sections really represent ideas put forward many years ago and which have not been properly revised since then. Both the Individualist and the Communist current ignored each other at their beginning; meanwhile, both have fully discussed and detailed their own standpoints, but have not, in my opinion, been in the mood to take fair notice of the other party’s position. It falls to the present generation to ignore the one-sided polemics of past times and to do something new by themselves—to re-examine these questions in the broad spirit of modern experience, and to see whether Anarchism cannot make another step forward; whether Communism can learn something from Individualism; whether Individualism would profit by a greater place being given in solidarity, etc.

It may, perhaps, be asked why I call Communism an economic hypothesis, when so much excellent Communist literature exists and so many people fully accept it as a theory. The minimum required of a social theory, the realization of which would exclude misery and privation, is that production and consumption should be equal. “To each according to his needs, from each according to his faculties,” is the formula of Communism; and free or Anarchist Communism means that the individual by himself, or (a sacrifice of freedom already) the individual by means of freely agreed arrangements with groups, and these groups with other groups, etc., decides the quantity of work to be done, and also the degree, up to which the needs of each may be satisfied. For it is evident that when neither of these quantities is somehow regulated, or only one of the two, both quantities could never, or only by the merest accident, balance to some extent. The more freedom prevails (absence of regulations, I mean), the less certain it is that useful things, the production of which may not be pleasant work in all cases, will exist in quantities sufficient to satisfy the needs of all, which needs, when the burden of dull, present misery is taken from the people, are not likely to decrease. That real, unlimited Communism should just hit the quantities needed, or even produce more than is required, to give plenty to all, is, in my opinion, the merest hypothesis.

Everyone sees this, of course; and so it is tacitly understood or openly admitted that any amount of voluntary measures will be taken to ascertain the quantities needed and to regulate production accordingly.

Now, other Anarchists, Collectivists and Individualists, try to overcome this difficulty in other ways, by giving to each the “full produce of his labor” (according to some standard to be agreed upon) or by “equal exchange” (or what can be done to come near to it). Communist criticism necessitates that these proposals would lead back to a wage system, a bureaucracy, the State, private property, etc. This criticism is no doubt right in many points. But, as I have show, really free Communism would very likely founder on the rock of necessity to balance production and consumption, whilst regulated Communism would require sacrifices of person freedom similar to those foreseen by Individualists or Collectivists. When Communists think that such sacrifices are practically necessary, when they cover them by the sweet name of “solidarity,” which, indeed, may repay in many instances the loss of personal freedom, they are right; their belief in freedom remains unshaken, and they will take the risk of such regulations which cannot crush freedom if it is really alive in people’s mind and hearts. Then why no concede the same belief in freedom’s power to other Anarchists who, by other economic regulations, try to meet a difficulty which faces all? It is here that toleration and a fuller belief in freedom are found wanting sometimes; if I am mistaken, so much the better.

To me, it seems all the more important to reconsider our position, because a new factor is looming before us—the increasing disproportion between the population and the natural resources of the globe. Population increases whilst the accumulated wealth of Nature—coal, forests, fertile soil, animals, minerals, etc.—cannot increase correspondingly or is sensibly nearing exhaustion. Either to husband these reserves or to direct the immense mechanical appliances which will have to replace the energy at present gathered from these stores accumulated by past age, many measures will have to be taken in common to a degree which our epoch of still relative plenty can hardly foresee. Terrible wars may ensue over these problems; but suppose this wave of insanity passed, and all nations agreeing to co-operate for the common good—will not the mere technical needs of proper management of these natural resources, internationalized, nationalized, or communalized as they may then be, create an administrative machinery the like of which we can hardly foreshadow in its immensity and strictness? Many, many things will be regulated then which to-day even State Socialists would leave untouched. Efforts to reduce this coming danger by checking over-population are infinitely welcome to me; but will they succeed? In any case, whilst fifty years ago, when the shabbiest bourgeoisism exclusively prevailed, every effort towards Collectivism, Socialization, some form of Communism, was a step forward; to-day, when man is considered the abject slave of a vague collectivity, when Eugenics touch the very roots of his private life, there is urgent need for some genuine Individualism again, and there will be more in coming times, to ensure even a minimum of personal freedom, nay, to preserve even that little freedom which we consider tangible now, but which the reformer or Eugenist of to-morrow is prepared to trample under his heels.

Communism is inseparable from abundance and plenty. Birds in an orchard catch and eat as many insects as they like, care or want; to them, when insects are plentiful, work, enjoyment, and feeding are almost the same thing, merge one into the other. In a similar way, a leisured artist or scientist enjoys his work, because he only does what he really likes to do, and his wealth provides him automatically with food, shelter, etc., to the full extent needed. To extend this happy way of living to all, who would not wish for it? But the material conditions described—impossibility of balancing production and consumption without mutual arrangement, and the limitation of natural resources which is going to influence production technically and administratively—these two factors make ideal free Communism impracticable, and place free Communism on the same level as Individualist and Collectivist Anarchism, all three having the same aspirations towards freedom, and none having a royal way to realize it. When everybody sees this, then, of course, my remarks are superfluous, and I apologies for making them.

M. N.

April 7, 1914.


(To the Editor of Freedom)

Dear Comrade—Anent the discussion over “Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?” I should like to add one observation, or, rather, a correction of the following statement made by “M. N.” in his article in the March issue of Freedom: “It has come to this, that at the French Communist Anarchist Congress held in Paris last year Individualism was regularly stigmatized and placed outside the pale of Anarchism by a formal resolution.” This assertion is incorrect. Let “M. N.” publish this “formal resolution” in English, and it will be seen that it did not aim to exclude the adherents of Tucker, Proudhon, Warren, etc., from the intellectual camp of Anarchism. All the Congress did was this: it declared formally that those “Individualists” who recognize—in accordance with the late “motor-bandits,” Bonnot, Garnier, and so forth—that “individual taking-back,” i.e., theft, burglary, homicide, etc., is synonymous with the social expropriation which Anarchists strive for, are not to be recognized by the Communist Anarchists as belonging to the movement of Anarchism. I doubt very much whether English Anarchists of every distinction have acted differently at the time of the Houndsditch affair. The more so as we are sure that Tucker himself would very justly resent the imputation that men of the above caliber and deeds are to be termed his comrades.—Yours fraternally,

P. Ramus.



(To the Editor of Freedom)

Dear Comrade—The controversy now going on over the two social movements, Individualism and Communism, would be of great utility to the movement if it were successful in irrefutably establishing a difference or an absence of difference between the two. Anarchist integration is, I think, a very desirable thing, and this will only be brought about by the separation of the unlike and the bringing together of the like. We take care to let this process operate in our relations with the Socialists, Labourists, and the divers politicians, realizing it is impossible to integrate with these several unlikes. But we suspend the action of segregation from operating amongst these several unlikes—Individual, Communists; Trade Unionists, anti-Trade Unionists; Direct Actionists, Passive Resisters—merely because they all endeavor to pass current as a “like” by the simple process of stamping their various different wares with the same mark, i.e., Anarchy.

Of course, there are many who are of the opinion that the difference between the two social concepts under discussion is largely a matter of unfinished thinking, and really exists only in the imagination; but the more general view is that there is a real difference, carrying with it an unavoidable antagonism. It is from this understanding that controversy is possible; and convinced of the material difference, I intrude upon the discussion with the suggestion that two things of such an unlike character cannot be brought under or comprehended by the term “Anarchy,” a term which does not admit of a double interpretation.

If a certain social concepts is Anarchy, then all other social concepts different from this certain on cannot be Anarchy. That is a simple truism. It would be well if it were always kept in mind that Anarchy is an effect and not a cause. Anarchy will not cause Individualism, nor will it cause Communism. It will not do these things simply because an abstraction cannot be an operating factor. The operating factor in determining freedom will be something concrete and practical. It will be the method upon which the individuals composing society will decide to carry on economic and social intercourse. (It is, of course, true that there are several antecedent causes of the economic mode, but they are severally too remote to deal with and do not affect this discussion.) Should the economic method decided upon be Communism, what would be the unavoidable political effect? Would it be Anarchy? If the decision favored Individualism, would that result in Anarchy? The correct answers to these questions would go far in finally separating the unlike and bringing together the like, thus effecting Anarchist integration. Also, if they would bring a welcome end to the confused thought and inactivity resulting from the thoughtless endeavor to reconcile the two, many in the movement will look hopefully once more for the birth of a virile and active organization with a tangible, unambiguous object in life.

I have never hear of or read a concise definition of Individualism. It is seemingly too vast a concept to be held within the limits of an ordinary definition, for in self-explanation it has encroached upon the space room of several volumes without once boiling itself down to a statement of its first principles, always substituting in lieu thereof a definition of Anarchy. It is, in discussion, best to tie ourselves down to something definite, and so limit as much as possible ambiguity as to what is attacked or upheld. To do this, i will submit the following, with the reminder to the reader that it is what the definition embraces that is being attacked.

Individualism: basis (economic), free access to everything; (political) free individual. Structure: individual control of economic activity; or, not Communistic. Communism is exactly the same in basis, but differs radically in structure, which is, communal control of economic activity.

Individualism, in embracing, as it must, the definition (a favorable one) put forward for, is, to me, unthinkable. It admits only of verbal construction, and cannot be transformed into reality. Assuming the (questionable) possibility of a primitive individual existence to be outside contemplation by the modern man, and confining ourselves to the fact that men require association and the comforts which it brings, it will be seen that Communism, being the factor in the continuity of life, is unavoidable once desire to approximate to a provisioned condition of comfort and well-being must of necessity—it being beyond individual effort—come together for its realization. Whether the individuals thus of necessity uniting for a common purpose associate as “Individualists,” or under any other label, the fact remains that in this coming together they would immediately and inevitably establish Communism—that is, if the principles of liberty were in action.

It may be rightly observed by the man who is content to wallow in abstraction, that a condition of freedom implies that an individual is free to do just as he likes. He may, for instance, wish not to associate, to avoid Communistic endeavor, and to declare himself independent of communal effort for the several commodities necessary to his existence. And, given freedom, who can say him nay? This is quite correct; he cannot be forced by man not to do these things. The man thus acting is the only true Individualist; all others not acting in like manner are Communists. But do these several wishes involve reality? I think not. The man may declare his independence, but actually that is as far as he may go. He is “forced” into communal dependence for bread in much the same manner as he is “forced” to depend upon his digestive apparatus to render the bread fit for assimilation. Through the operation of several factors—some only remotely, and some not, controllable—man is not free to act just as he may wish, and foremost amongst the determining factors is individual limitation. Nature and the ages have endowed man with a physical and mental equipment that effectually puts an end to aspiration that rely solely upon individual activity for their realization. Another prominent factor is what is sometimes called “economic determinism.” The only method of production we know of is social production: this determines that all who eat and live are dependent upon social activity. Until we find a method of production other than social, all must remain dependent and “controlled,” irrespective of wish. Numerous other factors operate against the real declaration of independence, including the demand and satisfaction of the various desires the aggregate of which is life. So then actually when exploitation is a thing of the past, the individual who attempts to transform a declaration of independence into reality would simply hurry along his demise through unfitness. He, of course, would be at liberty to do this; but Anarchists are chiefly concerned with a life-theory, and not one conducive to extinction.

But we have the actual Individualist as distinguished from the imaginary one just contemplated, who, in the attempt to establish his “not necessarily Communistic” doctrines, has introduced “theories” and suggestions which are shown upon examination to be diametrically opposed to the basic principle of Anarchy—no government. For instance, his banking systems (why banking systems in a condition of economic equality, would be hard to explain) presuppose a number of privileged persons philanthropically concerning themselves with the wants of the unprivileged. When came the privileged persons and the unprivileged? Do not these classes form the pillars of the structure of inequality, therefore government? Then we are told about “free competition,” which asks us for an open market for all commodities, including labor, prison room, and policemen. You can even buy judges and jurors at the “best article for the lowest price.” The first necessary condition about this arrangement (excluding for the nonce all the perfectly admissible observations on the nonsense of the introduction of policemen, judges, and prisons in a free society) is that there are people ready to sell and others able to buy. When came the wealth of the buying persons? How the absence of wealth in the bought persons? If Labor is still obliged to sell its power, and police and prison still flourish, then freedom is non est. For it is an incontrovertible fact that labor as a commodity, policemen, etc., are the logical and inevitable results of Capitalism. Government is inseparable from economic inequality, and the Individualists sneakingly recognize this. They see that in order to perpetrate their hold on property, a “protective agency” is required. But while they deny the right of a national Government to supply this “protection,” they subscribe to the idea of private Government. All this involves the question: from whom are they to be protected? Which shows just how much “free access” there is here.

The ideas of the Individualists are, in short, merely a Utopian rehash of the modern political and economic subservience of the many to the few, and would have a fitting meaningless name if termed “Free Capitalism.” Therefore, the man who sincerely strives for economic and political equality—i.e., Anarchism—must necessarily antagonize Individualism, which produces not Anarchy, but Government.

Everything, let me repeat, is produced socially. Unless one is in the position to demand the result of communal labor without taking part in communal labor, one is “forced” to be a Communist. It is as reasonable to cry out against being “forced” to stand on the earth when you would wish to jump into the moon. Communism, meaning free access to everything, destroys Government, both in the abstract and the concrete. The idea of Government is foreign to the man with free access to all things, and actual Government exists only where there is economic inequality. Communism, therefore, is the only mode of human aggregation that can bring about Anarchy. Anarchy, therefore, is inseparable from Communism.—Fraternally yours,

John Nicholson.



Anarchism: Communist or Individualist?

Our era demands imperatively an economic solution. No movement of social transformation will gain immense proportions if it does not first satisfy that demand. That is why the “immense movement, truly anarchist in sentiment” that Max Nettlau proclaims as “absolutely indispensable well before the question of economic remedies arises” appears to me absolutely impossible.

Anarchism and communism fail precisely because of this “immensity” — not because the economic solutions they advocate are premature, but because they fail to convince. Anarchism finds the solution that is involved in the negation of the legal privilege — so in freedom. Communism discovers this same solution in the negation of property, — thus in a limitation of liberty. This last solution did not convince because, doctrinally, it is fundamentally false. The anarchist solution has been no more successful because the human species is desperately stupid. In any event, whatever the reason, we can not deny the failure. This is why, instead of becoming “immense,” the two movements remain minor schools of thought, each diametrically opposing the other. To expect them to merge or even cooperate is to want the impossible or the ridiculous. For my part, I would like to knock on the door of Unified Socialism, to request admission, as much as that of Communism. Let the communists meet in a Congress in London or elsewhere, as they please. As an anarchist, I remain at home.

Benjamin R. TUCKER

[1926 reprints and responses (coming soon)]

Anarchist Encyclopedia

INDIVIDUALISM (or Communism?)

I have been struck for a long time by the contrast existing between the of the aims of anarchism and well-being for all — and the narrowness of the economic programs of individualist and communist anarchism.

I am strongly inclined to believe that the weakness of the economic basis — exclusively communist or individualist (the terms communism or individualism applying, throughout this article, to the anarchist partisans of one or the other; it is in not a question of the communism of the 3rd Internationale), according to the school — a weakness of which they are conscious — prevents men from having practical confidence in anarchism, the general aspirations of which appear to such a great number as a magnificant ideal. As far as I am concerned, I am certain that if one of the other became the sole economic form of a society, neither communism nor individualism would achieve liberty, for, in order to manifest itself, liberty demands a choice of means, a plurality of possibilities.

I am not unaware that the communists, when one insists, affirm that they will present no obstacles to those individualists desiring to live in their own way, without creating new authority or new monopolies. And vice versa. But that affirmation is never made without hesitation and in a friendly manner — the two schools being too well persuaded that liberty is only possible on the condition that their own plan is realized.

I admit willingly that there are communists and individualists for whom their respective doctrines, and those doctrines alone, provide an absolute satisfaction and a solution to all the problems (or so they say); those individuals will not, naturally, allow their fidelity to a single economic ideal be shaken. They only consider others produced on their own pattern, and ready to rally to their views, or as irreconcilable adversaries, unworthy of any sympathy! So let them cast a glance at real life, which is bearable only because it is varied and differentiated, despite all official uniformity.

We all recognize the survivals of primitive communism in the various aspects of present-day solidarity, a solidarity from which it is possible that new forms of future Communism may emerge and evolve, even under the claws of the dominant capitalist Individualism. But this miserable bourgeois Individualism also creates the desire for a true, disinterested individualism, where the liberty of action serve to crush the weak or favor the creation of monopolies.

Neither communism nor individualism will disappear. If, through some action of the masses, the foundations of some rough communism were established, individualism would assert itself even more in order to oppose it. Each time that a uniform system prevailed, the anarchists, if they took their ideas to heart, would take their place at its margins. They will never resign themselves to to the role of fossilized partisans of any regime, be it that of the purest communism. But will the anarchists be always dissatisfied, always in a state of struggle, never at peace? They might move comfortably through a milieu in which all the economic possibilities found full opportunities to develop. Their energy could be applied to a peaceful emulation and no longer to continuous combat and demolition. This desirable state of things could be prepared for now, if it were honestly admitted among anarchists that both communism and Individualism are equally important and permanent, and that the exclusive predominance of either of them would be the greatest misfortune that could befall humanity.

We seek a refuge from isolation in solidarity. We seek relief from too much society in isolation: both solidarity and isolation are for us, at the appropriate moments, liberating and invigorating. All human life vibrates between these two poles in an endless variety of oscillations.

Permit me to imagine myself living in a free society. I would certainly have diverse occupations, manual or intellectual, demanding strength or skill. It would be very monotonous if the three or four group with which I freely associated were organized in the same manner. I think that that communism would manifest itself there in various forms. Could it not happen that I would grow tired of them and that I would feel the desire for relative isolation — for individualism? I would turn then to one of the numerous forms of individualism by “equal exchange.” Perhaps we would be associated with one form in youth and some other in middle age. The average producers could continue to work in their groups; the more skillful producers could lose patience and no longer wish to work in the company of the beginners — unless a very altruistic temperament made them find pleasure in working as teachers or advisors of the younger workers. For my part, I assume that, to begin, I would practice communism with my friends and individualism with the others, and that I would adjust my later life according to my experiences.

The ability to pass easily and freely from one variety of communism to another, then to whatever variety of individualism — this would be the essential trait, the characteristic of a really free society. And if a group of men attempted to oppose it, tried to make a particular system prevail, they would be fought as bitterly as the present regime is by the revolutionaries.

Why, in this case, should we divide anarchisme into two hostile camps: communists and individualists? I blame the element of human imperfection, inherent in human nature. It is absolutely natural that communism is more pleasing to some and that individualism is more pleasing to others. Starting from this point, each camp has developed its economic hypothesis with great enthusiasm and a dogged conviction; then, stimulated by the opposition of the other camp, it comes to consider its hypothesis as the only solution unique and remains firmly attached to it in the face of all objections. So it happens that the individualist theories, after a century, and the communist or collectivist theories, after roughly half a century, have assumed a fixity, a certainty, an apparent permanence that they should never have attained, for stagnation — and that is the word — is the tomb of progress. There has hardly been any effort to reconcile the differences between the schools. So the two tendencies have had complete latitude to grow and embellish themselves, to become widespread!

And what has been the result of all that? Neither of the two tendencies has been able to defeat the other. Wherever communists meet, individualists emerge from their milieu; and, so far, no individualist wave has succeeded in submerging the communist fortress. While the aversion or hostility reigns between beings so close to one another intellectually, we see anarchist communism step aside for syndicalism, no longer fearing to compromise itself emore or less, accepting the syndicalist solution as an almost inevitable intermediary stage. On the other hand, we see the individualists fall back, or nearly so, into the misguided ways of the bourgeoisie.

And this as the misdeeds of authority and the increasing encroachments of the state have never provided a more propitious opportunity and wider sphere of action for a propaganda that is thoroughly anarchist and free of any alloy.

I do not claim to combat — and let this be clearly understood — either communism or individualism. For my part, I see much good in communism, but it is the idea of seeing it generalized that makes me protest. It does not make sense for me to bind my future in advance, let alone the future of another. The question, as it concerns me, personally, remains to be resolved; experience will show which of the extreme resolutions and which of the intermediary resolutions, which are so numerous, will be best adapted to each circumstance and each moment. Anarchism is too dear to me to wish to see it depend on one economic hypothesis, however plausible it may be presently. Single formulas will never satisfy us, and if everyone is free to possess and propagate those to which they are partial, it is on the condition that he understands that he can spread them only as a simple hypothesis. Now, everyone knows that the anarchist-communist and anarchist-individualist literatures are far from keeping within these limits. We are all at fault in this respect. My desire is to see those who revolt against the actions of authority work on a general plan of entente instead of splitting up into little schools of thought, as a result of the pretensions of each school to possess an sure, exact economic solution to the social problem.

In order to combat the authority that dominates in the present capitallist systems or that will dominate tomorrow in a socialist regime — whatever its tendency — or syndicalist regime, an immense movement, truly anarchist in sentiments, is absolutely indispensable, and that well before the question of economic remedies arises. So let us recognize it and the creation of a vast sphere of solidarity will ensure. Communism will benefit from it and its brilliance will be entirely different from that with which it shines present before the world, lending its brightness to the rays of activity of the syndicalist masses, while its own lights, like that of a star that goes out, flickers and gradually fades.

Max Nettlau


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2233 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.