Free association (Marxism and anarchism)

Anarchism Communism Marxism

Free association, also known as free association of producers, is a relationship among individuals where there is no state, social class, hierarchy, or private ownership of means of production. Once private property is abolished (distinctly not personal property), individuals are no longer deprived of access to means of production, thus enabling them to freely associate without social constraint to produce and reproduce their own conditions of existence and fulfill their individual and creative needs and desires. The term is used by anarchists and Marxists and is often considered a defining feature of a fully developed communist society.

The concept of free association becomes more clear around the concept of the proletariat. The proletarian is someone who has no property nor any means of production and therefore to survive sells the only thing that they have, namely their abilities (the labour power) to those owning the means of production. The existence of individuals deprived of property and livelihood allows owners (or capitalists) to find in the market an object of consumption that thinks and acts (human abilities), which they use in order to accumulate increasing capital in exchange for the wage that maintains the survival of the proletarians. The relationship between proletarians and owners of the means of production is thereby a forced association in which the proletarian is only free to sell his labor power in order to survive. By selling his productive capacity in exchange for the wage which ensures survival, the proletarian puts his practical activity under the will of the buyer (the owner), becoming alienated from his/her own actions and products, in a relationship of domination and exploitation. Free association would be the form of society created if private property were abolished in order to allow individuals to freely dispose of the means of production, which would bring about an end to class society, i.e. there would be no more owners neither proletarians, nor state, but only freely associated individuals. For instance, Karl Marx often called it a "community of freely associated individuals".

The abolition of private property by a free association of producers is the original goal of the communists and anarchists and it is identified with anarchy and communism itself. However, the evolution of various trends have led some to virtually abandon the goal or to put it in the background in face of other tasks while others believe free association should guide all challenges to the status quo. Advocates of anarchism and council communism promote free association as the practical basis for the fundamental transformation of society at all levels, from the everyday level (such as the search of a libertarian interpersonal relationship, critique of the family, consumerism, criticism of conformist and obedient behavior) to the level of world society as a whole (such as the fight against the state and against the ruling class in all countries, the destruction of national borders, support for self-organized struggle of the oppressed, attacks on property, support to wildcat strikes and to workers and unemployed autonomous struggles).[citation needed]


Anarchists argue that the free association must rise immediately in the struggle of the proletariat for a new society and against the ruling class. They promote a social revolution to immediately abolish the state, private property and classes. They identify the state as the main guarantor of private property through the repressive apparatus such as the police or courts, hence the abolition of the state is their main target. Regarding free association, there is a difference between collectivist anarchists and anarcho-communists. The collectivist anarchists (such as Mikhail Bakunin) argued that free association is to function as the maxim "From each according to his ability, to each according to his deeds". In contraposition, the anarcho-communists (such as Peter Kropotkin, Carlo Cafiero and Errico Malatesta) argue that free association should operate as the maxim "to each according to his needs". Anarcho-communists argue that remuneration according to work performed require that the individuals involved were subjected to a body above them to compare the various works in order to pay them and that this body would necessarily be a state or ruling class and could even bring back wage slavery, the very thing against which anarchists are fighting. They also argue that if any work is done, it is necessary and important that there is no quantitative aspect to comparate between them and that everything that is produced involves something essential to the contribution of all past and contemporary generations as a whole. There are no fair criteria to compare one work with another and measure it to give all individuals their share. For the anarcho-communists, free association is possible only through the abolition of money and the market, along with the abolition of the state.[1][2]


The Marxian socialists and communists generally differ from anarchists in claiming that there must be an intermediate stage between the capitalist society and free association. However, there are major differences between the various Marxists trends. The Marxist position about this transition period ranged from "the expansion of the means of production owned by the state"[3] to the clear statement that the state machinery can not be assumed by the workers, but destroyed.[4] Therefore, Marx's writings gave rise to three basic trends, namely democratic socialism, Leninism and libertarian Marxism. Democratic socialists (such as Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky) argues that the advent of free association will come gradually through reforms made by representatives elected in a democratic state while Leninists (such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky) argue that it will come only after reforms that they themselves make after taking power through a coup or political revolution. For both democratic socialists and Leninists, the content of these reforms would be the transfer of private property into the hands of the state, which would keep the rest of society deprived of access to means of production as in capitalism, but it would be used to fight the bourgeoisie and direct the society towards free association in the future.

Libertarian Marxists (such as Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rühle, Herman Gorter and Rosa Luxemburg) generally claim that the state can not be directed towards the free association because it can only act within the frame of capitalist society itself, leading towards state capitalism (i.e. capitalism in which private property is owned and managed by the state) which would seek to remain indefinitely and never lead to free association. Most libertarian Marxists claim that free association can only be achieved through the direct action of workers themselves, who should create workers' councils which operate under direct democracy to take the means of production and abolish the state in a social revolution.[5][6] However, Luxemburgists are not opposed in principle to short-term participation within the state and expansion of public-ownership as long as the institution itself exists.[7]


Socialists consider a free association the defining feature of developed socialism. A free association would displace the state apparatus in socialism as the role of this association would be to direct the processes of production and the administration of things. This is in contrast to the state in non-socialist and capitalist society, which is the government over people via coercive action.[8] The free association represents a coordinating entity for economic activity that is concerned with administrative decision-making and the flow of goods and services to satisfy demand.[9] Socialists consider this a defining element of mature socialism. However, many socialists are of the opinion that such an arrangement will follow a transitional phase of economic and social development such as market socialism.

Critical views

The anarchist and communist concept of free association is often considered by critics to be utopian or too abstract to guide a transforming society.[10][11][12]

Advocates assert that free association is not a utopian ideal, but rather a necessity for the proletariat to remedy deprivation of property by the state and the wealthy. Some factions (especially social democracy and Marxism–Leninism) advocate postponing the adoption of free association for an indefinite period in order to make progress in adopting other aspects of socialism. Socialist and communist states under Stalinism (such as the Soviet Union) virtually abandoned the idea of free association just as have countries governed by parties in the social democracy movement.[citation needed]


Since anarchists, some libertarian Marxists (such as the Situationists) and other libertarian socialists consider free association as an immediate task for introduction and maintenance of stateless socialism, most theorists have gone into great detail about how it will operate. This is unlike most Leninists and democratic socialists, who tend to be more concerned with the transition than the final goal. Some of the most important works include:


It follows from all we have been saying up till now that the communal relationship into which the individuals of a class entered, and which was determined by their common interests over against a third party, was always a community to which these individuals belonged only as average individuals, only insofar as they lived within the conditions of existence of their class — a relationship in which they participated not as individuals but as members of a class. With the community of revolutionary proletarians, on the other hand, who take their conditions of existence [...] under their control, it is just the reverse; it is as individuals that the individuals participate in it. [...]

Communism differs from all previous movements in that it overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time consciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of hitherto existing men, strips them of their natural character and subjugates them to the power of the united individuals. Its organization is, therefore, essentially economic, the material production of the conditions of this unity; it turns existing conditions into conditions of unity. The reality, which communism is creating, is precisely the true basis for rendering it impossible that anything should exist independently of individuals, insofar as reality is only a product of the preceding intercourse of individuals themselves.

See also


  1. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1920). The Wages System.
  2. ^ Berkman, Alexander (1929). Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism (PDF). New York: Vanguard Press.
  3. ^ Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich (1848). Manifesto of the Communist Party. Section "Proletarians and communists".
  4. ^ Marx, Karl (1871). The Civil War in France.
  5. ^ Camp, John (1987). The Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century.
  6. ^ Martin, François; Dauvé, Gilles (1974). Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement.
  7. ^ Luxemburg, Rosa (1900). Reform or Revolution. Part II. Chapter VII: Co-operatives, Unions, Democracy.
  8. ^ Engels, Friedrich (1880). Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. "The first act by virtue of which the State really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society—the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society—this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a State. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not "abolished." It dies out".
  9. ^ "The Alternative to Capitalism".
  10. ^ "Misconceptions of Anarchism". Flag Blackened. Archived from the original on 6 February 1998. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
  11. ^ "Anarchist Utopia". Brave New World. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  12. ^ "Anarchist response to being called utopian?". Anarchy 101. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  13. ^ Déjacque, Joseph (1857). The Humanisphere: Anarchist Utopia (in French). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  14. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1892). The Conquest of Bread. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  15. ^ Nieuwenhuis, Constant (1963). New Babylon (in French). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  16. ^ A World Wthout Money: Communism (in French).
  17. ^ M., P. (1983). Bolo'bolo (in French). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  18. ^ M., P. (1983). Bolo'bolo Archived 2009-01-06 at the Wayback Machine (in Portoguese). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  19. ^ Crump, John (1987). The Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century. Retrieved 12 July 2013.