Anarchism – Individualistic Middle Class Trend

There is a definite revival of interest in anarchism amongst a small minority of mostly young intellectuals and unemployed New Zealanders. Observable signs of this revival include the introduction of anarchism’s black flag into unemployed protests in Auckland and Wellington, convening the first-ever Anarchist National Conference on April 25, and the publication of a flurry of new anarchist magazines over the last year or two.

When we use the word “anarchist,” we don’t mean the wild-eyed, bomb-carrying terrorist so loved by the mass media, although this cartoon-strip image does convey a grain of truth when it focuses on the extremely individualistic nature of anarchist principles and tactics.


Perhaps we’d better allow the anarchists to define themselves first. According to a recent statement by the Anarchist Alliance of Aotearoa, “anarchism is a philosophy which starts from the individual and works upwards.”

AAA continues: “The heart of anarchism is its opposition to government. Not just a particular government, but government as an institution. This is explicitly expressed in the word anarchism, meaning the ideology which aims at anarchy: the absence of government.”

Furthermore, declares the AAA statement, “anarchism opposes all the means by which people are governed,” such as the wages system, the law, police and prisons, the armed forces, the education system and “the pressures of the bureaucracy and big business.”

“Anarchy means the replacement of these anti-social forces by free association, mutual aid and free access to the means of life.”

Anarchism has nothing to do with “diversions” like taking part in the “parliamentary struggle” or fighting for a “workers’ government,” the AAA statement continues.

Instead, the relevance and strength of anarchism lies in “the means of freedom for the end of freedom.”

The AAA statement concludes by claiming that anarchism “represents the best way to achieve what we want to achieve: FREEDOM.”

Autonomous Groups

We must regard this as a definitive statement of anarchist principles and tactics, since the Auckland-based Anarchist Alliance of Aotearoa has become an umbrella organisation for smaller anarchist groups around the country.

AAA’s leading lights are Bruce Grenville and Ross Gardiner, editors of The State Adversary, widely regarded as the most influential anarchist journal in New Zealand. Publication began in 1986, and it now appears as a 12-page magazine about every three or four months. The print run of the April 1991 edition of The State Adversary was 800 copies, up from 600 for the previous issue.

Although there are recent moves by anarchist groups around the country to affiliate to AAA in order to improve co-ordination on major national issues, each group jealously guards its independence from any centralised authority. They all operate as “independent kingdoms.”

The Anarchist National Conference on April 25 “still allowed for a large degree of autonomy in each region,” the People’s Voice was informed by Barrie Sargeant, an organiser of the Wellington anarchist group Committee for the Establishment of Civilisation (CEC).

CEC and AAA, together with the Christchurch group Direct Action (organiser: Frank Prebble), seem to be the three most note-worthy anarchist groups in the country.

Other micro-groups operate in Hamilton, Dunedin, Napier, Palmerston North and Wanganui.

The number of self-proclaimed anarchists in New Zealand is tiny, probably rather less than 100 in total, with half or more based in Auckland. It’s hard to be exact, however, because their extreme individualism prevents precise membership lists from being kept. Anyone can be an anarchist who declares vague sympathy with the ideology of anarchism.

Since anarchism represents a definite political trend seeking to introduce its ideas into the labour movement, the People’s Voice has a duty to our readers to seriously analyse the essence of anarchism, regardless of the small size of its membership.

Middle Class Doctrine

The doctrine of anarchism has mainly been adopted by middle class people, especially young intellectuals. This is why the natural “home” of anarchism is the university campus. However, some people from a working class background are also influenced by this trend, particularly the unemployed youth who’ve never had a job long enough (through no fault of their own) to adopt the collective outlook of the working class. Thus anarchists are also making themselves a “home” in unemployed centres.

Sam Buchanan, an organiser for CEC, told the People’s Voice on April 26 that the anarchist movement was composed of “mainly students and unemployed.”

This was reinforced by his Wellington comrade Barrie Sargeant, who reported that “we’ve held our meetings at the university because some of us are students.”

As everyone knows, the universities are predominantly filled with middle class students.

The ideological roots of anarchism lie in the striving of the middle class to avoid being crushed in “the middle” by the sharpening struggle between capital and labour. Anarchism recognises that monopoly capital and its servants in government are tightening the chains of exploitation on everyone else in society, including middle class people, who nevertheless recoil from the thought of seeking salvation by immersing themselves in the working class struggle against the forces of big business.


The middle class is noted for being extremely individualistic, which stems from the capitalist ideology of the individual “getting ahead” and “making it to the top.” The favourable position of the middle class, as compared to the working class, is the material breeding ground for such individualistic strivings to “get ahead.” This contrasts sharply with the instinctive collectivism of working class people who know they’re never going to “get ahead” under capitalism, and realise their only defence is to stick together and fight as a united mass force against the class enemy.

As Lenin noted in 1901: “Anarchism is bourgeois individualism in reverse. Individualism is the basis of the entire anarchist world outlook.”

“Anarchism is a product of despair,” Lenin continued, reflecting “the psychology of the unsettled intellectual or the vagabond, and not of the proletarian.”

The individualistic nature of anarchism was emphasised by CEC activist Vance Kerslake when he talked to the People’s Voice on April 26. He stated: “We don’t have a programme, we don’t have anything as formal as that. The views of individuals within [anarchist] organisations tend to vary because anarchism tends to be a very individualistic thing.”

Sam Buchanan readily echoed these sentiments. “When we become involved in issues like the Gulf crisis, we go into these movements as individuals, not as the CEC,” he stated. “A lot of our work is about participating as individuals, rather than as a group. We reach a sort of general agreement.”

And Barrie Sargeant added: “I don’t see things narrowly in terms of class. I prefer to look at it in terms of individual people.”

The relentless big business competition to maximise profits, which results in economic crises, mass unemployment, business closures and restrictions on civil liberties, is putting even the comparatively favourable position of the middle class under siege. To protect the class interests of big business, the capitalist state leans harder on everyone else, including the middle class.

This leads to increasing political ferment amongst middle class people. The sons and daughters of the middle class who go to university, or who end up on the dole queue, are the natural recruits to anarchism which (as AAA declares) “starts from the individual” in its opposition to the capitalist state.

Such people have an individualistic yearning for “freedom” from the capitalist state, as seen in the way the AAA statement divorces the concept of “freedom” from any class context. The anarchists regard “freedom” as an unchanging, eternal, once-and-for-all concept.

It is just utter nonsense, however, to talk of “freedom” in the “non-class” way that AAA does.

Class Divisions

The two main classes in modern society are capital and labour. Their class interests are totally antagonistic. Under capitalism, big business has absolute freedom to engage in the most ruthless exploitation of the working class. Protecting this system of exploitation are the police, armed forces, courts, jails and government of the capitalist state. This is what Marxists describe as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Freedom for the working class will require a socialist revolution to smash the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and establish a socialist state that stands guard against a capitalist counter-revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat will be necessary to wrest economic and political power away from big business and defend social ownership of the factories, machinery, resources, transport, banks and other means of production, distribution and exchange.

The dictatorship of the proletariat will be based on maximum satisfaction of the social needs of all citizens, instead of maximum profits for a handful of super-rich exploiters.

In every class society, therefore, freedom for one class necessarily means dictatorship over another class. This is a basic principle of Marxism.

Socialism means the dictatorship of the vast masses of the working class, in close alliance with all other toilers of town and country, over the small minority of would-be exploiters pushing for a capitalist counter-revolution. This is fundamentally different from all preceding class societies, whose ruling classes constituted only a tiny fraction of the total population.

Socialism therefore paves the way to communist society, where class differences fade away, leading to the withering away of the state because there won’t be any class of would-be exploiters needing to be suppressed by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Only in this future communist society, where the class state has been rendered obsolete along with the disappearance of antagonistic classes, can the concept of freedom be put in a non-class context.

But the anarchists oppose this Marxist analysis of social development by refusing to put their call for “freedom” into a class context. This is the ideological expression of middle class people seeking a non-existent “middle way” between the rule of big business (the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie) and the rule of the working class (the dictatorship of the proletariat).

Such “non-class” politics has been an enduring feature of anarchism ever since its birth last century. In the 1860’s and 70’s, for instance, the well-known Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin talked about achieving the “development of a free spirit” through the “political, economic and social equalisation of classes.” This demand is absolutely ridiculous, since the very existance of classes means the most massive social inequality.

The whole direction of capitalism is towards the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

Bakunin’s absurd aim of “equalising” class inequality was raised in opposition to what he termed Marx’s “authoritarian communism.” But working class freedom from monopoly capitalism can only be won by the means of a very “authoritarian” revolution.

As Engels pointed out in 1873: “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is. It is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon – authoritarian means, if such there be at all.”


The anarchists kneel in reverence before the altar of unchanging, eternal, once-and-for-all “freedom” in the same way as Christians, who are also predominantly middle class, worship an unchanging, eternal, once-and-for-all God.

But “freedom,” like any other concept in our class-divided society, changes in line with developments in the class struggle.

Big business is today demanding more “labour market freedom.” This “labour market freedom” has been enshrined in the Employment Contracts Act, courtesy of the National Government. As all class conscious workers know, this “freedom” means the freedom of big business to increase competition between workers for jobs, and so drastically lower real wages, by undermining the ability of workers to organise collectively against their employers.

In short, big business wants “labour market freedom” because it intensifies the tyrannical rule of capital over labour. But the capitalist state dresses this “freedom” up as a very good thing for everyone, not just as a very good thing for big business and a very bad thing for the working class. This is done deliberately in the hope of confusing and disorganising the labour movement.

Big business is helped in its efforts to turn the idea of “freedom” into a “non-class” concept by the identical way the anarchists approach the question. By glossing over the class nature of all ideas and actions in our class-divided world, the anarchists in fact undermine the struggles of the working class for freedom from the increasingly oppressive rule of big business.

“The heart of anarchism is its opposition to government,” declares the AAA statement, “not just a particular government, but government as an institution.”

This is a central point in the controversy between Marxism and anarchism.

By telling working class people not to fight for a “workers’ government,” the AAA is sabotaging the fight to overthrow the dictatorial power of big business. A workers’ government is an absolute necessity to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat which, in turn, is an absolute necessity to defeat the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

This is why Lenin, in 1918, described how “anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism are bourgeois trends” because they are “irreconcilably opposed” to socialism.

Why, then, is anarchism in New Zealand experiencing a small but definite revival in its fortunes at present?


As we’ve already noted, the individualistic mood of despair spreading amongst middle class people is producing recruits to anarchism. But it is the sense of disunity and confusion inside the working class, generated by the right-wing opportunists leading the CTU and Labour Party, that creates the political scope for the anarchists to expand their influence. Sections of the unemployed movement are falling under the ideological sway of the anarchists. And they are also starting to question how to raise the banner of anarcho-syndicalism inside the trade unions.

Anarchism is attempting to fill the political vacuum resulting from the loss of working class confidence in such people as CTU president Ken Douglas and Labour Party leader Mike Moore, who are widely mistrusted as collaborators with big business.

But it is the Communist Party, not the anarchist movement, that has shown itself to be the “leader of the opposition” to the line of class collaboration being promoted inside the labour movement by the opportunist leaders of the CTU and Labour Party. The Communist Party’s work to build a united front of labour, based on linking today’s mass struggles around the immediate needs of workers with tomorrow’s revolutionary struggle for socialism, spells political oblivion for both right-wing opportunism and anarchism.

Talking in 1907, Lenin said the growing influence of anarchism inside the union movement was “a direct and inevitable result of opportunism.” The response of the Bolshevik Party, he continued, should be to forge a “closer alignment of the unions with the party” on the basis of spreading an “understanding of the revolutionary tasks of the proletariat.”

Communist Party

But this “closer alignment” of the unions and the Communist Party is totally rejected by the anarchists. According to the latest edition of The State Adversary, journal of the Anarchist Alliance of Aotearoa, “the aim of anarcho-syndicalists is to end all political parties.” Instead of political parties, the AAA journal advocates “the collective action of people.”

But to go into the sort of “collective action” that paves the way to the destruction of the capitalist state, the working class needs to be mobilised by its own Communist Party into a highly conscious and united mass force. The highly organised capitalist state can only be overcome by highly organised “collective action” which, in turn, requires a “closer alignment” of working class people with the Communist Party.

Therefore, both collective action and the Communist Party are essential ingredients in defeating the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Every class enters the field of class conflict under the leadership of its own party. Every party exists to serve a particular class or section of a class. The Communist Party represents the interests of the working class, while the National and Labour parties are well-known as the craven servants of big business.

The anarchists represent a section of the middle class who are looking for a non-existant “middle way” between capitalism and socialism. And the anarchists enter the political arena with the ridiculous demand to “end all political parties.” By calling for political parties to be eliminated from politics, the anarchists are in effect calling for politics to be taken out of politics.

Such nonsense prevents the anarchists from fighting for socialism and therefore keeps them trapped within the framework of capitalist politics.

This is why Lenin concluded that anarchism means the “subordination of the working class to bourgeois politics in the guise of negation of politics.”


Anarcho-syndicalism is one of the many variants of anarchism. Syndicalists regard trade unions as the highest form of working class organisation.

Recently, an anarcho-syndicalist supporter of the Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre wrote in its journal Mean Times that by organising in trade unions under syndicalist influence, workers will be capable of “building a new society within the shell of the old” in order to “enable workers to manage the industrial system themselves once they have seized it.”

The anarcho-syndicalist author of this article praising “syndicalist unions” as the highest form of working class organisation is a member of the Anarchist Alliance of Aotearoa.

Marxists, however, regard the Communist Party as the highest form of class organisation. The trade unions are an absolutely necessary form of working class organisation to struggle for the best possible terms of labour exploitation under capitalism, which is why the Communist Party does its best to build a strong, militant, class conscious union movement. However, to overthrow capitalist exploitation and create the higher social system of socialism, the working class needs to be closely united around its own Communist Party.

Stalin put it this way in 1906: “The most widespread mass organisations are trade unions. The main object of the unions is to fight against capital to improve the conditions of the workers within the limits of the present capitalist system. The proletariat undoubtedly needs trade unions as means of organising the proletarian masses. Hence, the proletariat must reinforce and strengthen them.

“But trade unions alone cannot satisfy the organisational needs of the militant proletariat. This is because they cannot go beyond the limits of capitalism, for their object is to improve the conditions of the workers under the capitalist system. The workers, however, want to free themselves entirely from capitalist slavery, they want to smash these limits, and not merely operate within the limits of capitalism.

“Hence, in addition, an organisation is needed that will rally around itself the class conscious elements of the workers of all trades, that will transform the proletariat into a conscious class and make its chief aim the smashing of the capitalist system, to prepare for the socialist revolution.

“Such an organisation is the [communist] party of the proletariat.”

Stalin’s views are totally opposed by the anarcho-syndicalist author of the Mean Times article, who noted that “syndicalists reject the use of Parliament and all political parties.”

Writing off political parties comes naturally to individualistic middle class anarchists who want to “do their own thing” without having to accept the majority decisions of any political party. This organisational anarchy lead to anarchy in tactics.

Tactical Anarchy

“The struggle from below is the only road” is the main tactical principle of the Anarchist Alliance of Aotearoa. But relying solely on the people “below” would mean limiting the mass movement to tactics thrown up spontaneously by the rank-and-file as they are swept into the class struggle. This would shut the mass movement off from the conscious, planned and centralised tactics which the Communist Party is able to introduce as a result of 70 years experience in using Marxist theory to analyse the lessons of the mass movement.

Under anarchist influence, the mass movement tends to pull in different directions and splinter as small groups spontaneously decide on their own methods of struggle. This was graphically illustrated during the March of Anger on April 4 organised by the Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre, when the strong anarchist trend which permeates this unemployed centre put its stamp on the march.

Smoke bombs were let off inside several buildings during the march, three banks were occupied, McDonalds restaurant was stormed, sit-downs were held at busy intersections and effigies of National cabinet ministers were burnt. Most people on the march obviously felt left out of these tactics, since the 5,000 marchers who set off from the bottom of town had dwindled to 1,000 by the time they reached Aotea Square.

CEC activist Vance Kerslake informed the People’s Voice that anarchists “were at the leading edge of the March of Anger and associated activities like the occupation of the banks, the occupation of McDonalds and the burning of the effigies.”

These anarchists “had a very positive feel about these activities,” he added.

This was the only march in the Week of Action in which the anarchists say they played a leading role, and it was the only time that there was less support at the end of a march than at the start.

For all their talk about relying on “the struggle from below,” therefore, the anarchists succeeded in alienating most of the grass roots supporters who turned out for the March of Anger. Anarchism cannot offer the tactics, organisation or principles needed to weld working class people into a united front of labour against the power of big business.

In conclusion, anarchism is an individualistic middle class trend that remains trapped within the framework of capitalism and holds working class people back from conducting the class struggle for socialism.

The following excerpts are taken from the introduction to Joseph Stalin’s work Anarchism or Socialism, written in 1906.Marxism and anarchism… are waging a fierce struggle against each other, both are trying to present themselves to the proletariat as genuinely socialist doctrines…We are not the kind of people who, when the word “anarchism” is mentioned, turn away contemptuously and say with a supercilious wave of the hand: “Why waste time on that, it’s not worth talking about!” We think that such cheap “criticism” is undignified and useless.Nor are we the kind of people who console themselves with the thought that the Anarchists “have no masses behind them and, therefore, are not so dangerous.” It is not who has a larger or smaller “mass” following today, but the essence of the doctrine that matters. If the “doctrine” of the Anarchists expresses the truth, then it goes without saying that it will certainly hew a path for itself and will rally the masses around itself. If, however, it is unsound and built up on a false foundation, it will not last long and will remain suspended in mid-air. But the unsoundness of anarchism must be proved.Some people believe that Marxism and anarchism are based on the same principles and that the disagreements between them concern only tactics, so that, in the opinion of these people, no distinction whatsoever can be drawn between these two trends.This is a great mistake.We believe that the Anarchists are real enemies of Marxism. Accordingly, we also hold that a real struggle must be waged against real enemies….Marxism and anarchism are built up on entirely different principles, in spite of the fact that both come into the arena of the struggle under the flag of socialism. The cornerstone of anarchism is the individual, whose emancipation, according to its tenets, is the principal condition for the emancipation of the masses, the collective body. According to the tenets of anarchism, the emancipation of the masses is impossible until the individual is emancipated. Accordingly, its slogan is: “Everything for the individual.” The cornerstone of Marxism, however, is the masses, whose emancipation, according to its tenets, is the principal condition for the emancipation of the individual. That is to say, according to the tenets of Marxism, the emancipation of the individual is impossible until the masses are emancipated. Accordingly, its slogan is: “Everything for the masses.”Clearly, we have here two principles, one negating the other, and not only disagreements on tactics.

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