Free association (communism and anarchism)

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Free association (also called free association of producers or, as Marx often called it, a community of freely associated individuals) is a relationship among individuals where there is no state, social class or authority, and private property of means of production. Once private property is abolished, individuals are no longer deprived of access to means of production 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, however, 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, their abilities (the labour power), to those owning the means of production. The existence of individuals deprived of property, deprived of 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 was 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.

The abolition of private property by a free association of producers is the original goal of the communists and anarchists: 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.


Anarchists argue that the free association must rise immediately in the struggle of the proletariat for a new society and against the ruling class. So 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: the police, justice), hence the abolition of the state is their main target. Regarding free association, there is a difference between collectivist anarchists and anarchist communists: the collectivist anarchists (Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, for example) argue that free association is to function as the maxim "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 "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Anarchist communists argue against the collectivists 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, could even bring back wage slavery, that is the very thing against which anarchists are fighting. They also argue that if any work is done, it is necessary and important, 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. Therefore, there are no fair criteria to compare a work with another and measure it to give all individuals their share. For the anarcho-communists, therefore, 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. But 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: democratic socialism, Leninism, and Libertarian Marxism. Democratic socialism (e.g., 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. Leninists (such as Lenin and Trotsky) argue that it will come only after reforms that they themselves make after taking power through a coup or political revolution. The content of these reforms, for both democratic socialism and Leninism, 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 (e.g., 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, which 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[7] as long as the institution itself exists.


Socialists consider a free association the defining feature of developed socialism. A free association would displace the state apparatus in socialism; 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 utopian or too abstract to guide a transforming society.[10][11][12] However, it is valued by present trends such as the free software movement, and considered as a basic principle in the relationship between developers of free software.

Others reply to this critique by asserting that free association is not a utopia, but an emancipatory exigence which necessarily come from the very material condition which is the proletariat (i.e., deprivation of property and a constant social struggle against the submission and deprivation that it causes, and that puts them against the state and capital). However, the trends that advocate a transition (especially social democracy and Marxism–Leninism) postpone it for a more or less remote future, pushing free association so increasingly in the background, in exchange for the task of establishing a transitional phase. And as the proletariat can have no interest in their own emancipation when it is postponed for the indefinite future, the search for a "transition" is necessarily a task that is not assumed by the proletariat themselves but by an intelligentsia or political professionals. This culminated in Stalinism (for example, the so-called socialist countries like Cuba, USSR, China) and the present social democratic parties, in which the concept of free association was virtually abandoned. In contrast, the present trends derived from anarchism and council communism understand the free association as the practical basis for the fundamental transformation of society at all levels, from the everyday level (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 (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).


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

Some of most important works:

  • The Humanisphere - Anarchist Utopia (L'Humanisphère - Utopie anarchique, 1857), by the libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque. Complete text in French:[13]
  • A World Without Money: Communism (1975–76), by the French group Friends of 4 Millions of Young Workers . Complete text, in French.[16]
  • Bolo'bolo (1983), the PM Complete text in French:[17] and Portuguese.[18]
  • The thin red line: non-market socialism in the twentieth century (1987), by John Crump, offers an account of the ideas of several trends which considered important the free association. Text in English:[19]


"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." Marx (German Ideology) s:The German Ideology/Section 12

See also


  1. Kropotkin, Peter. The Wages System. 1920. Also available:
  2. Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism, New York: Vanguard Press, 1929. [1]
  3. Manifesto of the Communist Party, section "Proletarians and communists"
  4. the Civil War in France, Marx
  5. The Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century, John Crump (1987) [2]
  6. Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, by Francois Martin and Jean Barrot [3]
  7. "Reform or Revolution, Part II", "Chapter VII: Co-operatives, Unions, Democracy", Rosa Luxemburg (1900) [4]
  8. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, on "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, on
  10. "Misconceptions of Anarchism". Retrieved Aug 30, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Anarchist Utopia". Brave New World. Retrieved Aug 30, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Anarchist response to being called utopian?". Anarchy 101. Retrieved Aug 30, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Le Libertaire, Journal du mouvement social. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  14. Kropotkin: Conquest of Bread. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  15. Constant Nieuwenhuis: New Babylon. (1963-05-18). Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  17. Bolo’Bolo, P.M. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  18. bolo'bolo. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  19. The Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century - John Crump (1987). Retrieved on 2013-07-12.