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Have there been any historical examples of anarchist societies?

by Bryan Caplan

There have probably been no societies which fully satisfy any anarchists' ethical ideals, but there have been a number of suggestive examples.

Left-anarchists most often cite the anarchist communes of the Spanish Civil War as examples of viable anarchist societies. The role of the Spanish anarchists in the Spanish Civil War has perhaps generated more debate than any other historical issue. Left-anarchists generally believe that:

  1. The Spanish anarchist political organisations and unions began and remained democratic throughout the war;
  2. That a majority of the citizenry in areas controlled by the anarchists was sympathetic to the anarchist movement;
  3. That workers directly controlled factories and businesses that they expropriated, rather than being subject to strict control by anarchist leaders; and
  4. That the farm collectives in the anarchist-controlled regions were largely voluntary, and rarely exerted coercive pressure against small farmers who refused to join.

In contrast, anarcho-capitalist critics such as James Donald normally maintain that:

  1. The Spanish anarchist political organisations and unions, even if they were initially democratic, quickly transformed into dictatorial oligarchies with democratic trappings once the war started;
  2. That the Spanish anarchists, even if they initially enjoyed popular support, quickly forfeited it with their abuse of power;
  3. That in many or most cases, "worker" control meant dictatorial control by the anarchist elite; and
  4. That the farm collectivisations in anarchist-controlled regions were usually coercively formed, totalitarian for their duration, and marked by a purely nominal right to remain outside the collective (since non-joining farmers were seriously penalised in a number of ways).
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