5.2.2 Libertarian Socialism

Étienne Schmitt

The second division of socialism comes from the conflict between the “anti-statist” and “statist” currents during the First International. Founded in 1864, the International Association of Workers (known as the “First International”) aspired to unite the labor movement in most European countries and the United States of America. At the very beginning, this movement was divided into three tendencies: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s mutualism, Mikhail Bakunin’s anarcho-collectivism and Karl Marx’s socialism (see section 5.2.3 Communism). Both Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s mutualism and Mikhail Bakunin’s anarcho-collectivism are part of the libertarian tradition aspiring to the immediate abolition of the state, whereas Karl Marx’s socialism perceives the state as a transitional instrument used to get rid of capitalism.


If mutualism is critical of private property, it must be differentiated from Robert Owen’s cooperative movement. Indeed, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon rejects the idea of owning property because property is capital that allows one to receive an income exploiting the collective force from labor. To emancipate workers from capitalism, they must organize the production themselves by mutualizing production means and abolishing private property. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon sees in federalism the political continuity of this mutualization of work. According to him, Federalism is a contract by which communities are sharing resources based on their needs and organize common projects at different levels. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s libertarian socialism is thus based on autonomy, but it is also on an individualistic conception of society because a community is ultimately the result of individual wills. Thus, individuals formed communities, then communities gather into territorial entities which federate themselves by pooling public services and establishing the mutuality of credit and tax equalization. This is a model of a stateless society, which “consists in the fact that, as political functions are reduced to industrial functions, social order would result solely from transactions and exchanges” (Proudhon, 1863, p.20). The philosophy of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon inspired Karl Marx. He conceived his notions of property, capitalism and the alienation of the working class on Proudhonian theory.


Taking up the concept of anarchy from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin vigorously criticizes Karl Marx’s vision of a stateless society after a transitional phase called the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (see section 5.1.1 Concepts of Socialism) that would use the state to break with capitalism and bourgeois society. Mikhail Bakunin writes on this point: “Both the theory of the state and the theory of so-called revolutionary dictatorship are based on this fiction of pseudo-popular representation – which in actual fact means the government of the masses by an insignificant handful of privileged individuals, elected (or even not elected) by mobs of people rounded up for voting and never knowing what or whom they are voting for – on this imaginary and abstract expression of the imaginary thought and will of all the people, of which the real, living people do not have the faintest idea” (Bakunin, 1873/2020). Proposing to destroy the state that he perceives as the counterpart of capitalism, Mikhail Bakunin favors an anarcho-collectivist model. According to him, the revolution necessarily begins with the abolition of private property, the production means sharing, and the self-management of the agricultural and industrial sectors. Individuals then would come together into autonomous federations based on their common identity, interests and aspirations.

What is Libertarian Socialism?
It is a radical perspective of socialism aiming to create a stateless society without private property.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction - 2nd Edition Copyright © 2023 by Étienne Schmitt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book