The Anarchist Federation’s overview of anarchist communist politics, arguing what is basically wrong with the world we live in, how we can fight to improve it, and what kind of world is worth struggling for.–The pamphlet is made up of two parts that run alongside each other. The main text lays out the fundamental ideas of anarchist communism. Various boxes throughout the text give examples from history to illustrate the ideas described in the main section. Full reading pdf, published March 2010 — intro pamphlet reading.pdf
—Contents —- Introduction .1 What we’re fighting: capitalism & hierarchy.3 – Who we are and what we believe.10 –How we fight.24 — There is no conclusion.36 — Anarchist Federation Aims & Principles..37How to use this pamphlet:
This pamphlet is made up of two parts
that run alongside each other. The main
text lays out the fundamental ideas of
anarchist communism in plain black
text. There’s also a series of black boxes
that look like this one which give
examples from history to illustrate the
ideas described in the main section.
There’s a lot to be angry about. The massacre of thousands every year in wars around
the world. The starvation of yet more thousands every day while food rots in ware-
houses across the globe. The extinction of species after species as our environment is slowly wrecked. The millions of people abused in sweatshops until their bodies and spirits are broken and they’re thrown on the scrapheap. The tens of millions of women who will be raped and beaten in their lives by the men who claim to love them.
And these are just the shocking headlines. The main story is what happens to each and
every one of us day after day. If we work we give up our time and our energy to the whims
of some company and its managers. We have no control over what we do day after day, no
stake in what we produce. If we don’t work, we rely on inadequate benefits doled out by
people trained to hate us as work-shy and lazy. Our lives are controlled by what we can and can’t afford and by whatever pointless schemes the government insists we go on to prove that we’re not ‘scrounging’. As housewives we get no credit for the hours of work we do, as unemployed people we’re punished for something that is not our fault. As workers we are ordered around, watched every second we’re on the job and left too tired at the end of the day to really enjoy any time we have for ourselves.
On the one hand, death and destruction on a grand scale. On the other, the crushing bore-
dom and alienation of everyday life. All of these various horrors are tied together, different faces of a single system. It’s a system designed from the ground up to set us at each others’ throats. It exploits and exaggerates every tiny little difference between us, making us compete for scraps and hate each other as we fight while a tiny minority enjoy all the benefits. This system is global capitalism, a pattern of economic and political exploitation that reaches into every aspect of our lives. It uses sexism, racism, homophobia and all the other petty hatreds and prejudices around us to protect itself. It creates hierarchies of power and wealth to divide all of the people it exploits against ourselves.
Capitalism is the problem. All of us that it exploits and degrades are the solution. As we unite through our common exploitation we can become a force that capitalism cannot control, cannot crush. We can create a whole new society that serves the needs of all of us, not a minority.
In the Anarchist Federation we believe that we can be one part of this fight. We see ourselves as part of a tradition that stretches back throughout the history of resistance to capitalism, a tradition that can be called anarchist communist although not everyone involved in it would have seen themselves that way. We believe that this set of ideas and ways of organising is our best hope of destroying capitalism and creating something better.
As the first of our aims and principles says, we are ‘an organisation of revolutionary class struggle anarchists. We aim for the abolition of all hierarchy, and work for the creation of a world-wide classless society: anarchist communism.’ This pamphlet sets out to explain what all this means and how we think we can do it.
What we’re fighting:
Capitalism and Hierarchy Capitalism
Many influential people, from newspaper editors to economics professors, will tell you
that capitalism is ‘natural’. Human beings are greedy, selfish and competitive and so
any economic system must be based on greed, selfishness and competition. According to
them, capitalism is a system that uses our natural urge to compete and dominate to benefit
everyone, even the ‘losers’ in the competition. The economy grows because ruthless com-
petition between firms forces them to innovate and expand, creating wealth out of nothing
which then ‘trickles down’ through society.
These propagandists, because that’s what they are, disagree with each other over whether
this can happen completely ‘naturally’ or whether governments should intervene to
smooth the process. Some argue that everything should be open to competition – hospitals,
schools, the lot – so that the benefits of growth can spread everywhere. Others, sometimes
even calling themselves socialists, argue that some things like health care and education
should be run by the government. This creates a healthier and better educated workforce
for the capitalist firms and so makes them more competitive.
These arguments are sometimes fierce, but in the end the two sides agree about everything
that is important. Some people should own and control the factories, services and land
that are the basis of the economy. These people should make all the decisions and should get most of the wealth that these businesses create. Other people should work in these places under the control of the managers. They should take orders, not make decisions and should get a wage for what they do.
This is the essence of capitalism. One small group of people controls the places that we
work in, the land that produces our food, the factories that make our clothes and everything that makes life possible. These people are the ruling class and their power comes from their control over the means of production, the resources and equipment that are needed to produce the things we need to live. Everyone else must work in the fields and the factories, the call centres and the office blocks. We are the working class and in this system we operate the means of production. We provide the labour that allows these fields and factories, call centres and offices to produce goods and services, commodities, for the ruling class to sell at a profit.
Capitalism, then, is a system of exploitation. It is a class system where a majority, the
working class, is exploited by a minority, the ruling class. The ruling class are the people who own or control the places where we work. They make the decisions about what kinds of products the factories make or what kinds of services are provided, and they make the decisions about how this work is organised. The working class are all the people who are forced to work in these places in order to get the money that they need to live. We, the working class, build and provide everything society needs to function. They, the ruling class, suck profit out of our work. We are the body of society; they are parasites sucking us dry.
In the capitalist system the interests of the ruling class and the working class are always opposed. The ruling class seek to tighten their grip on us, to gain more control, to get more profit. The working class seek to get out from under our bosses and our governments, to gain control over our own lives. There will always be conflict between these groups, whether on a small or a mass scale.
This conflict takes many forms. Most obviously it happens in the places where we work.
Strikes over wages and working practices clearly pit the interests of a group of bosses
against a group of workers. However, class struggle is much more that this. Capitalism
seeks to control and profit from all aspects of life. Our homes are bought, sold and rented for profit. The food we eat and the water we drink is privately owned and controlled. Our environment becomes a vast dumping ground for industry, valued only for profit not for the way it enables and enriches our lives. Whenever we struggle for control over some aspect of our lives, we are engaging in class struggle. When we fight for our communities or our environment we are fighting the class struggle.
It follows from this that we don’t use the idea of class in the same way as many peo-
ple, particularly in the press. Class is not about the fact that some people earn more
money than others or that some people go to different kinds of schools. These basically
sociological definitions of class, definitions loved by advertisers, managers and so on,
are used to hide the real nature of class. We don’t just see the working class as being
people with traditional manual or industrial jobs – if someone is not currently working,
but dependent on pitiful state benefits (and so under continual pressure to find work),
in education (training for work) or living on their pension (deferred wages), then their
situation is obviously very different from that of the ‘idle rich’ who are able to live a
comfortable life off the backs of others, such as landlords. Equally, many people in jobs
that are traditionally seen as ‘middle class’, such as teachers, have no real control over
their lives or the work they do and are forced to struggle against their employers just like the rest of the working class.
This confusion about the idea of class is part of a wider set of tactics that the ruling class use to disguise the reality of class from the people that it exploits. Capitalism needs workers in a way workers simply do not need capitalism. If the working class unites around its common interests then it can do away with the ruling class and run society itself. We don’t need them, but they need us. Because of this, the ruling class works hard to divide us against each other. It does this in two ways, partly through trying to control ideas and the way we think about ourselves, and partly through creating small differences in power and wealth that set working class people against each other.
Things like nationalism, the idea that we should be loyal to the state in one country simply because we were born there, or a ‘work ethic’, the idea that we owe a ‘fair day’s work’ to the boss that’s exploiting us, are used by the ruling class to divide the working class and make some of us feel more loyal to the bosses than to the people around us. Nationalism splits workers in one country off from workers in another and lies at the root of racism that splits workers along lines of skin colour. The work ethic ties us to the boss instead of each other and makes people despise the ‘lazy’ unemployed rather than putting the blame whereit really belongs.
The use of these ideas to split the working class is reinforced by creating differences in
power and wealth to back them up. On a large scale, workers in the west are made to
compete with workers in the global south for jobs as factories move in search of the cheap
est labour costs. On smaller scales, individual workers are given a little bit more pay to
become supervisors and end up shafting those around them just to keep that little bit extra.
This kind of thing happens in many different ways but the end result is always the same.
Working class people compete for scraps while the ruling class skims vast profits off the
top and throws us a few leftovers to keep us fighting each other rather than them.
To fight the class struggle, then, is to try and overcome the false differences that the ruling class creates and unite as one class against the people that exploit us. This is a process that goes on all the time. Sometimes we become strong and united as a class and are able to get concessions like shorter working days, healthcare and so on. The ruling class fights back and exploits our divisions to break this unity, weakening the class and undoing what gains we have made, or even worse, turning them against us. This push and pull between the ruling class and the working class will go on until capitalism disappears.
One of the things that makes exploitation possible, and one of the major tools in keeping the working class divided, is the state. The state is made up of all the institutions of
government. Parliament, the civil service, the courts, tax collectors and so on are all parts of the state. These are institutions that regulate and control the lives of ‘citizens’, that is you and me, for the benefit of capitalism. The state is the organised face of capitalism. It is the political representation of the economic power of the capitalist ruling class. When the so-called free market can’t achieve something that capital needs to grow, the state steps in and makes it happen.
There are many ways it can do this. Parliament passes laws that protect the property of
the rich whilst restricting the ability of the poor to fight back. It acts as umpire in disputes between different capitalist firms, setting rules for trade so that different companies can trust each other. Tax money is used to create the services that business relies upon but can’t build for itself – road and transport systems, schools to train workers, electricity grids and sewage systems (which can be sold off later for private profit) – all the things that make business possible. It can destroy the economies of developing countries using the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank so that firms have a ready pool of new resources and workers to exploit. From building the legal and physical infrastructure that capitalism needs to directly attacking workers seeking to improve their position, the state is an essential tool of the capitalist class.
Importantly, the state controls organisations that directly control and coerce working
class people. The army and the police most obviously use direct force to keep people in
line, with the police breaking strikes and heads at home and the army enforcing capital-
ism abroad. Schools, whilst providing an important service, also indoctrinate children
and prepare them for a life as workers rather than as human beings. Prisons, immigration
authorities, dole offices and on and on and on, all intrude into our lives and control our
actions. Some of these things, like schools, hospitals and welfare benefits, we some-times depend on for our lives. It is often this very dependence that these organisations
use to control us. Benefits come with conditions that dictate what you can and can’t do.
Schools give us the knowledge we need to understand the world but also train us to ac-
cept discipline and being bored all day because some authority figure tells us we have to
Some people argue that the state behaves in this way because it is under the control of
capitalists. They argue that if the state were under the control of a group that represented the working class, usually a revolutionary party of some kind, then it would behave differently. This ignores one important aspect of the state that can be seen in all of the organisations that it controls. The state is designed to govern from above, it is, by its very nature, hierarchical. This means that it always concentrates power in the hands of a minority. A small number of people give orders and a large number obey. We can see this in the army and in the police with the huge differences in power between ranks and orders that must be obeyed absolutely and without question. But this is also true in all the other arms of the state.
Governing Ourselves: The Spanish Revolution
The revolution in Spain between 1936 and 1939 was contradictory, under
constant attack, and ultimately defeated, not just by the fascists
but also by the ‘anti-fascists’ within its own ranks. Despite all of
this, however, for a short space of time the Spanish working class, under
the influence of anarchist communist ideas, was able to achieve the
most far-reaching revolution of the 20th century.
In the face of an attempted fascist military coup the workers and peas-
ants of Spain went on strike and took up arms. In many working class
urban areas, such as Barcelona and Madrid, and in rural areas with an
anarchist-influenced peasantry, such as Aragon, Castille and the Levant,
the attempted coup was put down. The people controlled the streets and
In the republican zone, the influence of anarchism through the anarcho-
syndicalist CNT, the largest Spanish union federation, led the workers’
movement to spontaneously collectivise industry under workers’ control,
in many cases making it more efficient. The woodworking and carpentry
industry was completely socialised, as was the baking industry in Barce-
lona. The same was true of the railways, while workers’ control was won
in telecommunications, utilities, cinemas, the buses and trams and fac-
tories and workshops of all kinds. In the countryside the revolution was
even more wide-ranging, with rural collectives doing away with private
property and in many cases declaring libertarian communism. Up to 7
million peasants were involved in the social upheaval. In both the towns
and cities a wide range of forms of collectivisation existed – in some in-
stances money was abolished, in others it was kept, in others still labour
tokens were introduced in exchange for work.
All this was too much for the more conservative elements in the Repub-
lican government and certainly too much for their Soviet backers. Laws
were passed attacking collectivisation and the centralised republican
army was used against anarchist militias and more radical sections of
the working class. Many in the anarchist movement, seeing no alterna-
tive, supported joining the government. This mistake was to no avail,
and many fine militants died in Stalinist prison cells. The revolution in
Spain was defeated before the fascists managed to militarily defeat the
For this reason any group taking over the state will automatically find itself ruling instead of freeing the people they claim to represent. That is what states do. A state is a machine for controlling people and can never be anything else. This is not just because of the repressive and manipulative organisations it controls, although these are far more important to the state than some would have us believe. It is because the state is always hierarchical and as a result will end up furthering rather than destroying all the other hierarchies in society.
Hierarchy is one of the key tools that the state and capitalism use to control people. It is implicated in both the repressive and the manipulative arms of the state, but it is most destructive when it is used to manipulate people. A hierarchy is any system where power over others is concentrated in the hands of a minority. All capitalist workplaces, for example, are hierarchies, with bosses at the top and everyone else below. Often there are tiny differences in responsibility that give some people just a tiny bit of power over others. Board members control managers, who control more managers, who control supervisors, who control more supervisors, who eventually end up ‘managing’ six people for an extra 10p an hour.
This is one important way that capitalism creates and uses hierarchy to divide working class people. We are given a small amount of power over each other so that we end up fighting each other rather than fighting the bosses.
However, there are hierarchies in society that were not created by capitalism and which have their own separate existence and history. The oppression of women is thousands of years old and has shown up in different ways in hundreds of different societies. This is known as patriarchy, a system of oppression and exploitation that sees women placed under the control of men in a variety of different ways. The oppression of gay, lesbian and transgender people, indeed of anyone who doesn’t fit a straight, monogamous, gendered norm, is age old. It’s often even more brutal than patriarchy, seeking not just to control but to exterminate people who don’t fit. Racism and ideas of white supremacy are younger but no less vicious, with a legacy of slavery and exploitation that has destroyed the lives of millions.
All of these systems of oppression and exploitation, and the many others that hang off them, must be fought on their own terms by the people that suffer them. Just as only the working class can fight capitalism because we are the ones being directly exploited, so only women, gay people and those attacked by racism (which can change from place to place and period to period) can destroy patriarchy, heterosexism and white supremacy. We can all support each other in these different fights, but it is vital that those directly attacked chose the form and structure of their own response. Organisations of women, gay peopleand of black and ethic minority people (who are often, in reality, majorities) are absolutely vital in resisting and destroying various systems of hierarchy.
However, we should also remember that all of these systems of oppression work
together to create the world as we know it. Capitalism is propped up by patriarchy
which divides the working class (men against women), gives some workers power
over others (men are more likely to get higher paid and supervisory jobs), and forces
people to do untold hours of unpaid but essential work (housework and the raising of
children are essential to the economy but mostly done for free by women). Patriarchy
is propped up by capitalism as the media pump out stereotypes of women to sell cos-
metics and perfumes and businesses create the role of the housewife to force unwanted
women out of the workplace and create a new market for consumer goods. Racism
allows capitalist states to justify invading and pillaging different countries for raw
materials and new markets and divides the working class at home between black and
white, immigrant and native. All these forms of exploitation and oppression, all these
hierarchies, reinforce and amplify each other, until they are impossible to untangle
from each other.
For this reason it is impossible to just fight capitalism or racism or sexism and so on
and so on. Gains made against one system will be eaten up by another. For example,
women’s fight for equal rights at work has often ended up with women working a
‘double day’, with housework at home and long hours at work. The rebellion of black
people in the 1960s won political equality, but also created a new black leadership
who became part of the ruling class while everyone else was left to rot.
Capitalism then is more than just a class system. The power of the ruling class comes
from their control of the means of production, but they keep that control by manipu-
lating a whole series of different systems of oppression and exploitation, different
hierarchies. These systems give some of the working class more power than others,
they make us complicit in our own exploitation. Back in the 19th century there was
a slogan: ‘workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.’ The
way that capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and other systems of hierarchy work
together means that this is not true. These systems give large sections of the work-
ing class just a little bit of privilege. This is enough to turn them against the people
they should be uniting with, enough to make them defend the ruling class against the
claims of women, LGBT people, black and ethnic minority/majority people and on
and on and on.
To get past this we need a revolutionary movement made up of many different organi-
sations. We need many different ways in which people can take control of their own
lives and fight the different oppressions that push them down. We need to completely
transform society and ourselves. In the Anarchist Federation we believe that the ideas
of anarchist communism offer the best chance of doing this. The next section lays out
what these ideas are.