Anarchy and its means of struggle, the International

Peter Kropotkin

“L’Anarchie et ses moyens de lutte, l’Internationale”, Les Temps nouveaux, 21 August 1909

For some time now, there has been an intellectual movement of some importance amongst European and American anarchists. In our circles we are beginning to feel the need to become fully aware of the very foundations of anarchy, to deepen them, and to see if our practical activity corresponds to our goals, to our ideal. We also wonder, why, in spite of the increase in the number of anarchists of all sorts of factions and all sorts of shades, the results that we achieve today have not grown in proportion to our numbers? Why do we rather notice a decrease in results, compared to what we obtained twenty years ago?

This need, which can be seen just about everywhere, obviously finds an echo in our press, especially in our newspapers in France, in Le Réveil, Le Libertaire, Les Temps Nouveaux; in Spain in Tierra y Libertad; in the Italian press, especially in Battaglia, of San-Paulo in Brazil; Era Nuova, of Paterson in the United States; Cronaca Sovversiva of Barre, Vermont, etc., and, also partly, in German newspapers.

All these newspapers have recently published articles of great value on these subjects. And, as always happens in our anarchist press, despite the absence of general councils and “directives” from above, this review was carried out with striking agreement; and, as far as can be judged, there is already a certain agreement as to the conclusions.


In the year 1870, when the anarchist trend began to take shape within the International, the attitude of the anarchist and his aims were determined by the very milieu in which our movement had arisen. And when, after the split which occurred at the Hague Congress in 1872, the federal pact was drawn up at St Imier between the workers’ Federations of the Latin countries – a pact which was, so to speak, the charter of worker anarchy – the theoretical attitude of the anarchist and his means of struggle were clearly determined.[1]

The anarchist movement of the second half of the nineteenth century began in a working-class environment, so it was there that it had to continue.

It arose from the desire of Latin workers to find a new form of production and consumption that was independent of both private capitalism and State capitalism. Already in 1848, Pecqueur and Vidal had, under the name of collectivism, sought to propagate State socialism in France. And, at the beginning of the International, State socialism again found defenders in German ideologues. These, being the children of a nation which had experienced neither the People’s Revolution of 1793, nor the overthrow of the monarchy and the uprising of the proletariat in 1848, nor even less the communalist movement of 1871, could, no doubt, be passionate about the State socialism of Louis Blanc.

The socialism of the forties, which was already a thing of the past for France, was just beginning to penetrate Germany. But in the Latin countries, the workers were already beginning to see that State socialism was not the real solution to the social question: that it would kill freedom, the little that we have, without leading to a socialist society, and that in the meantime it would even hinder the development of a revolutionary situation. And then a new solution began to take shape in the minds of the Latin workers, the anarchist solution.

In addition, the Latin workers already had an insight on how little democracy could give them. They saw it at work in Switzerland, and they saw its sterility. They also saw how easily almost all the democrats forgot their youthful oaths as soon as they arrived in government, even a republican government.

More than that. They saw, in the International itself , revolutionaries like Marx stoop to the lowest intrigues simply to maintain the power which the International had had the imprudence to entrust to them.

A whole series of observations of this kind, made since 1848 and confirmed during the communalist movement in Paris, as well as during the 1873 revolution in Spain, had led workers to the conclusion that any statist organisation is an absolutely useless evil. The organisation of society must be made not from above, by some power (hereditary, installed by force, or elected). It must be the result, always living and always changing as are all living beings, of free agreements, elaborated by the producers and consumers themselves, in their free communes and their productive federations.

The nations themselves, which we see in the form of States, not only must cease to oppress other nations or be oppressed themselves: they must be divided into free federations, which would constitute themselves, like the Jura Federation of the International, in the form of regions of economic production, sometimes including (such as the Bernese Jura and the French Jura), territories which today belong to several States. The very idea of separate States, and therefore hostile to each other, should thus disappear.

Finally, as in 1793, the idea of an anarchist organisation had come from the Revolution and the need for the people to organise various branches of urban life in its sections (See the Great [French] Revolution, chapters XXIV, LVIII and LX), likewise in 1872 the hope of one day elaborating an anarchist organism, capable of living, was suggested by the success of an International Workers’ Association. In this association, the workers saw the medium which could be used for the development of an anarchist organisation.

The spirit of the International at that time was the direct struggle of Labour against Capital – not through Parliaments – but on the land, in the factory, in the mill. The recent attempts of the Communes of Paris and Barcelona supported this hope, for it was obvious that if these two Communes had survived, a communist revolution would necessarily have come following the communalist revolution which had proclaimed the independence of the Commune. One could therefore, in the circles of the International, believe at that time that the workers, taking advantage of a revolutionary situation which would one day present itself in one of the Western nations, would proceed to the expropriation of the capitalists and would lay in the midst of their great Association the initial foundations of a libertarian communist society, composed of consumers and producers.


Under these conditions, there could be no doubt for the anarchist concerning the milieu in which he had to work. Obviously, his place was where the anarchist movement had originated; where the first outlines of an Anarchist Society might occur – in the workers’ International.

However, this possibility did not last long. External and internal enemies soon knew how to destroy it.

On the one hand, governments – the bourgeoisie and the ruling classes in general – united their efforts to kill the International. They had well understood – much better, perhaps, than the workers – what a force the International would soon represent if it intelligently took advantage of an initially political revolution, to bring about the revolutionary triumph of its ideas by a vast expropriation of land and capital. What a force, indeed, if the International sought not to “conquer power” in the bourgeois State, as Louis Black and the French “social democracy” of 1848 had tried, by sending their men to the Luxembourg [Palace] and, later, their deputies into the Parliament of the bourgeois Republic; or else as the Blanquists and Jacobins had done in 1871, by shutting themselves up in the General Council of the Commune, where the revolutionary minority found itself paralysed by the majority – democratic, without doubt, but also essentially bourgeois. – What power of action, if, remaining with the workers and taking advantage of the momentary weakness of power, the steadfast men of the International set to work to accomplish their own work; that is to say, to organise communist consumption in their sections and communist production on the lands and the in factories taken from the exploiters. Our grandfathers in 1792 had tried it out on a fairly large scale, and some members of the International were willing to try it out in Paris in 1871 – especially the “Bakuninist” Varlin, his friend Malon and some socialist comrades.

The bourgeoisie understood this danger perfectly, and they immediately opened their campaign. In France, Spain, Italy, the International was furiously pursued. France, was defended by an exceptional law which delivered Internationalists to police trials, to inflict on them up to five years in prisons, by judges who always obeyed the orders of the government. In 1873, there was a series of trials of the International in the South [of France]. In 1878, it was the turn of Paris, where Costa with Pedoussaut went to prison. In 1882, it was the Lyons region which was attacked and at the Lyon trial, fifty comrades saw themselves sentenced to many years.[2] Later, fierce persecutions were directed against the miners of Montceau-les-Mines, who retained the traditions of the International, and the most active men of the region were transported to New Caledonia.

In Italy, in Spain, the International necessarily became a clandestine organisation, and the workers fought with admirable enthusiasm and a spirit of sacrifice, without being stopped by the death of their best men. In Spain, the secret groups of the International, strong in their close relations with the trade union organisations of the industrial workers in Catalonia and groups of agricultural labourers in Andalusia and peasants in Valencia, were able to sustain a serious struggle for ten years or so. But the struggle became more and more difficult, and the bourgeoisie, while patronising the legal and parliamentary socialists, became more and more relentless against the anarchists of the International, who had remained faithful to the principle of the direct struggle of Labour against Capital. And when the anarchists had recourse to violent means, the united bourgeoisie and clergy went so far as to re-establish torture in order to get rid of the bravest and most active men.[3]

In Italy, it was also an all-out struggle of the bourgeoise against the old anarchist groups of the International. Hundreds of comrades were put in prison or transported to the islands[4]… And yet, there is one thing that is certain. It is that if the ruling bourgeoise finally got the better of the sections of the Anarchist International, the work of this International, in Spain and in Italy, was immense. Indeed, we can affirm with certainty, without fear of being contradicted by events, that this spirit of anarchism, widespread in the workers’ organisations of combat and resistance to Capital, will be found the day when some event will create a revolutionary situation in one of these two countries.[5]

End Notes

[1] The resolutions of the St. Imier Congress, along with other documents from the Federalist International, can be found in the last issue Black Flag Anarchist Review (vol. 2, no. 2). (Translator)

[2] It should be noted that Kropotkin was speaking from experience here, as he was one of these anarchists subject to a show trail in Lyons. He was found guilty in January 1883 of belonging to the International and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was released in a general amnesty in 1886 and left France for Britain, where he helped found Freedom. (Translator)

[3] A reference to the Montjuïc trial which took place after a bomb was thrown into the Feast of Corpus Christi procession in Barcelona on June 7, 1896, killing at least 12 people. 87 alleged conspirators were accused and tried, with 5 executed and 67 imprisoned as a result of forced confessions and torture of defendants. An international campaign highlighted the state-approved torture, with deportees baring their scars before appalled meeting halls in the United Kingdom and United States. Italian anarchist Michele Angiolillo assassinated Prime Minister Cánovas on 8 August 1897 in retaliation for his role in the trial and its executions. It should be noted that the initial bomb was thrown into the end of the procession, amongst poorer working-class churchgoers rather than the rich bourgeoisie at its head, suggesting that it was the work of agent provocateur. (Translator)

[4] Confirmation of these predictions was not long in coming. We already have it in Spain.

[5] One will find in a small pamphlet by Darnaud a short summary of the revolutionary events in Spain over a period of years, as reported by Lé Révolté, and, for Italy, in a series of articles by James Guillaume published this year by Il Risveglio of Geneva.