The term Anarchists was first applied during the French Revolution, coined by Girondists to describe radicals who wanted to go beyond the abolition of the monarchy. Literally, it means bo government. William Godwin in 1793 (Enquiry concerning Political Justice) first outlined political and economical conceptions of anarchism, without using the term. Joseph Proudhon in 1840 (Qu'est-ce que la propriete ? / What is property ?) defined anarchy as the the no government state of society.

Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) sympathized with the concept of a stateless society; his play "Catilina" (1850) illustrates the anarchist ideal of fairness and freedom without violence.
In c. 1850, Anarchism was a utopian political theory; as a political movement, anarchism lacked both organization and methods of political action. Anarchists rejected not only the state, but regarded the organized church a tool of state suppression; anarchism thus was explicitly anticlerical from the beginning.
Most accounts of the history of anarchism focus on theoreticians of anarchism, most notably Russian Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876). In the 1840es he developed radical political ideas, was an acquaintance of Marx and Proudhon, participated in the events of 1848 in Prague and Dresden (Saxony); spent years in prison in Saxony, Austria and Russia. Released from prison but banned to Siberia in 1857, he managed to escape from Russia in 1861. In the following years he was active founding publications and international organizations. In September 1869 he attended Basel Congress of the (First) International, where he and Karl Marx again disagreed on ideological questions.
In an atmosphere of political suppression (secret police, press censorship etc.) the anarchists were, in the eyes of the state authorities, topping the list of suspicious elements. The lack of freedom to express their political views, on the other hand, resulted in the radicalization of the anarchist movement. Bakunin was convinced that the state had to be destroyed by force in order to achieve his stateless utopian society model. As revolutions seemed to fail in 1848, anarchists adopted other methods, the formation of secret societies, individual action (sabotage, assassinations).
In countries with the least political freedom, such as the Russian Empire (which, until 1905, allowed neither parliament nor political parties) anarchists developed the most intense activity; the Russian anarchists of the 1860es and 1870es, responsible for a large number of assassinations and assasination attempts, are called Nihilists.
In Spain, France and Italy, Syndicalism emerged as a branch of the labour movement based on anarchist ideology. They formed syndicalist labour unions and political parties (the parties used the adjective Republican); they were explicitly anti-monarchy and anticlerical.

Note : many sites offering information on the history of anarchism identify with the ideology, some regard violent action directed against the state as legitimate. The following links are external; WHKMLA is neither responsible for their contents nor shares their political views. The user is advised to use these sites with caution.

Links to Labour History, from Virtual Library
Links to the History of Anarchism, from Virtual Library
Anarchist History, from Anarchy Archives
An Anarchist Timeline, from Anarchist Action Network
Article Anarchism, from EB 1911
History of Anarchism in Norway, from Anarchist International Information Service
Bakunin Timeline, from Anarchy Archives
Article Nihilism, from Catholic Encyclopedia
A Short History of Syndicalism, from Anarcho-Syndicalism, focusses on period post 1920
DOCUMENTS Anarchist, Libertarian and Rebel Songs, from the Anarchism Website
Flags of Anarchism, from FOTW, exclusively 20th century

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on November 3rd 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics