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Where has anarchy been practiced?

Ruth Asks:

“Where has anarchy been practiced in the world on a large scale? For how long? And to what end?”


The largest population and longest time Anarchism has been practiced was in the Catalonia region of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. For over 30 years before the civil war, the anarchist had done a very good job organizing and educating the workers and peasants. So when the military coup by Francisco Franco overthrew the government, the Anarchists were able to immediately take over many of the institutions and run them collectively. They collectivized farms and factories, redistributed land, and organized militias to fight the fascists. Many say that without the early anarchist militias, it would have just been a quick coup and not a two year civil war.

Unfortunately, the anti-fascist forces (anarchists, communists, and democratic capitalists) were ultimately defeated by Franco who had major support from Germany and Italy (who later went on to defeat many western democracies as well). The anti-fascist forces had almost zero support from the western democracies because they feared the radical Anarchist presence. The only outside forces who did help against the fascists was the USSR. However, the Communists turned on the Anarchists near the end of the war, which helped lead to their defeat.

There are many “scholarly tomes” about the Spanish Civil War. But if you’d like to read something more interesting, I’d recommend reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. It’s a memoir of his time as an international volunteer in an Anarchist militia in the war. He paints an excellent picture of what revolutionary Barcelona was like and how the Anarchist militias functioned with minimal hierarchy.

There is also a very thorough BBC documentary about the Spanish Civil War. They interview anarchists, communists, and fascists who were there at the time. Most of the documentary is about the war in general, but there is one section (Part 5: Inside the Revolution) that is about the revolution and it is very interesting.
Know of other times anarchy has been practiced? Write about it in the comments!

Modern Medicine

Jordan asks:

“I’ve always thought that a money less, classless, stateless society would be peaceful and overall better for the human condition, even if it takes a thousand years to accomplish. However, I had a kidney transplant some years ago and so I have to take immuno-suppressant medications to live. How can I truly be an anarchist if I have to rely on prescription drugs?”


I don’t think there’s any conflict between a “moneyless, classless, stateless, society” and life saving medication. Healthcare is a human right and so there is nothing at odds between Anarchy and receiving health care.

I think there is often a misconception that an Anarchist society would have to be primitive. While a lot of industry is destructive and problematic, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would all have to be destroyed. It could be done in a new way or drastically scaled back to sustainable levels. As a society, we would need to prioritize where to put limited resources in a way that is sustainable. I’d imagine we would stop production of many things, but I think healthcare in particular would be an aspect that people would want to prioritize. So immuno-suppressants could still exist in an Anarchist society.

Just because capitalism invented something, doesn’t mean it can’t exist in the Anarchist society. They didn’t destroy all the buildings and inventions when people overthrew Monarchical rule. Capitalism has done enough harm, we might as well benefit from it’s (non-destructive) innovations and put them to better use.

And at this point, almost everyone relies on the capitalist system for something (food, shelter, healthcare, etc). But we don’t have to let that stop us from creating a new world.

I imagine Anarchist society would be supportive of all people and the community would provide everyone with the care they need to thrive. 🙂

Fire Departments

Lois asks:

“If there was a fire, would anarchists call the fire department?”

Yes. I can’t think of any reason why an Anarchist wouldn’t call the fire department.

Fire Departments are actually a good service that exist solely to help people and communities. They save people, put out fires, and stop fires from spreading. It’s a social service that everyone benefits from.

In an anarchist society, there would probably be a volunteer firefighter system, or maybe even fire departments in larger cities. It makes sense for there to be specially trained people to deal with fires.

The police are completely different and will be discussed in a future post.


Alternate answer from A.K. Applegate:

Absolutely! Unless we’re the ones who started it, of course.

When it comes to matters of life and death, insisting on some sort of authenticity by refusing to enlist the state’s help would be foolish. Consider yourself lucky to live under a state that at least gives away some crumbs in the form of public services as your compensation for submitting to their exploitation.

That aside, a fire department is an extension of the principle of solidarity, but for a social organization as large as a city. Since time immemorial, neighbors have always helped each other out in emergencies, including fires. I see no reason why a stateless society wouldn’t have them. Anarchists are not opposed to organized civilization (well, anarcho-primitivists are, but that’s another question), and fire departments are necessary for organized civilization. And really, fire departments are probably one of the easier problems to solve in a stateless society. They would work basically the same as they do now, except instead of being funded via coercive taxation, the needs of the firefighters, like the needs of all workers, would be provided via a system of free distribution. People would choose jobs that interest them, and some people are interested in being firefighters.

But I think this question gets at a matter a lot of people are concerned about when it comes to anarchism. People need social services that governments usually provide, like roads and fire departments. But it’s only because of an arbitrary distinction that is a result of capitalist ideology that we look at the state-provided social services as being any different than market-provided social services. We need roads and fire departments, but we also need food, shelter, healthcare, and energy. There’s no reason to conceptually split these goods into goods that the state provides and goods that the market provides; they’re just goods. And as anarchists, we want all goods to be provided free to all. Civilization, in order to function, needs many state employees just as it needs many private sector employees, but it needs neither the state nor capitalism to provide these employees. Every worker (and “worker” includes the unemployed and the retired) is a part of society, we all provide something that society needs in order to operate. We need firefighters to fight the fires just like we need people to pick the crops, care for the children, scrub the toilets, heal the sick, wash the clothes, build the houses. These are all things that we, as humans, are intrinsically motivated to provide for ourselves, and therefore each other, because these things can often only be acquired through collective action and the division of labor. We want to live well, and care for one another. What we don’t need (nor should we want) are states or the capitalist class employing coercive systems like private property and taxation to get in the way, and insert themselves needlessly into the equation so they can run the system for their benefit at the expense of everyone else.