Can anybody please explain me, in brief, the difference between Communists and Anarchists?

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    Welcome to Philosophy! :) So this is at least two separate concerns, with not very much context or motivation. Is there any chance you could narrow this down to a single question (and maybe indicate what might have made this an interesting or important problem for you in your study of philosophy?) Nov 20, 2015 at 16:13
  • Actually I am an Engineer. I came across Marxism at a very early age due to my socio-political milieu. Unfortunately, I never came across the philosophy of Anarchism. I used to think that anyone who doesn't believe in the prevailing order is an Anarchist. Few month back I decided to prepare for civil services examination. I have opted Sociology as my optional paper. Marx was there in my syllabus. But I was not convinced with Marx on some points. When I discussed my doubts with my professor he said that I am an Anarchist. I thought that the term "Anarchism" has a negative connotation but I was
    – user17997
    Nov 20, 2015 at 17:43
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    Wait! This so does not belong here. It belongs to the Politics stack. Nov 24, 2015 at 14:28
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    To the people voting as "too broad": this is exactly the kind of question political theory is for! Jan 23, 2017 at 15:50
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    A brief explanation is not possible. For one thing, there are many varieties of anarchism, ranging from an idealistic "everyone will voluntarily become communist) to Ayn Randian anarcho-capitalism to civilization collapsed and everyone has to arm themselves to fight off everyone else. But as an attempt at brevity, consider that anarchism is defined as not having government, while no communist state has ever existed with out a strong, if not absolutely tyrannical, central government. So in the real world, communist is the antithesis of anarchist.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 19, 2017 at 19:22

9 Answers 9


Communist's and Anarchist's motives are quite similar, however their politics are informed by different assumptions.

Communists who agree with what Lenin wrote in "The State and Revolution" and what Marx and Engels wrote, believe that the state will "wither away" when what Lenin calls "class antagonisms" vanish. The state emerged as a tool for class control, and they believe it will fade away as there is no class to dominate or be dominated by another.

"Class" in this sense is defined by a persons relation to production (a laborer or a proprietor.)

Anarchists, however believe that class antagonisms can be quelled without the need of a state apparatus, and because of this decry all states.

Communists think the state will wither away as the proletariat (workers) become the only remaining class.

Anarchism and Other Essays is a good book by Emma Goldman to explain Anarchism.

The Principles of Communism by Engels is a good short pamphlet explaining the goals of communism.

The Communist Manifesto is arguably the most important book for understanding Marxist communism, being the first consolidation of his thought.

The State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin well explains the function of the communist state and when it will vanish.

Anarchism Or Socialism ? by J. V. Stalin is a text where Stalin explains the differences between Marxist and Anarchist positions.

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    Welcome to Politics.SE. Once you get more reputation through upvotes, please consider adding some links to your answer to make it even better. Jan 30, 2017 at 4:08

Both anarchism and communism are political philosophies which reject the linkages of capitalism and government. However, they are significantly different in what they reject.


Anarchism and socialism have overlapping histories, which accounts for their similarities. Although there were historical antecedents, the modern forms of communism and anarchism were both created in the mid-to-late 19th century in Europe as a response to the problems brewing in industrial, capitalist society. While the anarchists would blame government for their social problems, communists would come to blame capitalism (via industrialization).

There are two incredibly notable publications in this period:

  • 1840: Proudhon publishes What is Property?, one of the most influential anarchist texts. Proudhon is notable for being the first person to call himself an anarchist, and his work would inspire significant intellectual discussion on the topic.
  • 1848: Karl Marx publishes the Communist Manifesto, espousing the general aims of a group of socialists and communists in Europe. Later, he would publish the academic version which more thoroughly argued for their ideas: Capital

Anarchism: Rejection of the State

One of the basic questions of political theory is, "What is the value of a government?". There are generally two answers. Statists maintain that the government is good, while anarchists argue that the state is bad. What "good" and "bad" mean will vary greatly depending on what author you are reading.

The role of capitalism is a contentious issue among anarchists. It's also a non-trivial: once anarchists abolish the state, do they need to abolish private property? Or employee-employer relations? Because the answer to these questions may overlap with communism (or Marxism) a person may be an anarcho-capitalist (who supports capitalism, but not the state), an anarcho-communist (who supports neither capitalism nor the state).

Communism: Rejection of Capitalism

Marxist philosophy is dense, with a lot of variation in terminology between different authors. Generally, communism is a near-utopian society which exists after the state is no longer necessary.

That may sound a lot like anarchism. You'd be right - it's a rejection of the state. However, all Marxist thought is based on materialism: the idea that everything can be reduced down to physical things. In social terms, everything about our society can be reduced to the physical objects we need, which makes the state fundamentally an economic problem. Once we reject capitalism, the state will wither away and die, paving the way for communism.

Whether or not a communist is an anarchist will depend on what exactly they think. Mark himself suggested that, although he didn't know what communism would look like exactly, it would be a state-less world. Others say that under communism some amount of government will be necessary, but since it will exist without the influence of capitalism everything will be fine.


Communism in contrast to Anarchism does not dismiss the governing role of the state. Here is a link to a possibly helpful text by Judith Suissa, Anarchism and Education: a Philosophical Perspective - Routledge Pub., New-York, 2006:


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    Well, there are also libertarian communism that is quite close to anarchism. The main difference is that libertarian communists use a Marxist analysis of history, while anarchists may or may not do that.
    – liftarn
    Jan 23, 2017 at 14:11
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    @SVilcans: It may be impossible to define an exact boundary. Anarchism is defined by its rejection of centralized power, but this generally is not an absolute and unconditional rejection. Communism is far more focused on centralized power, but again practical arguments restrict how much of that you can have.
    – MSalters
    Jan 23, 2017 at 22:19
  • Many would disagree with that answer. This is evidenced by the first paragraph on the Wikipedia article on Communism, which lays it out as a (quote) "socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state" The situation with a state you might refer to is the route to communism via Marxism.
    – Nikolaj-K
    Jan 18, 2019 at 8:48

I think it is a mistake to think of anarchism as being essentially related to communism, or even being essentially left wing at all. Communism in practice (if you accept that countries such as the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, etc., are genuinely communist) involves very strong centralised control by the state, usually at the expense of the individual liberties of its citizens. Anarchism on the other hand is motivated by the belief that government of any kind is bad: we should either not have it at all, or to the extent that it is a necessary evil, keep it to a minimum.

Some anarchists have certainly been strongly left wing and have advocated abandoning the right of property, for example, but on the other side there are some who are motivated by classical liberalism, and who are opposed to government precisely because it infringes on liberties such as the right of property. One can hardly call these people right wing, because that term usually implies being conservative, and people of this persuasion are often far from conservative, but they are certainly not left wing.

  • Does this mean that Anarchists have no role to play in today's political arena? Are they out of the political spectrum? If they are not left or right then what do they believe in?
    – user17997
    Nov 24, 2015 at 11:08
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    I think it is misleading to try to fit all political views into a single spectrum running from left to right. Reality is not bipolar. Also, the fact that one holds views that are not mainstream does not mean that one has no role to play. Some laissez-faire anarchists run for political office under the banner of libertarianism. As to what they believe in, there's quite a mix of different views, but one political text you might care to consult is Anarchy, State and Utopia by Robert Nozick. It advocates a minimal "night watchman" state.
    – Bumble
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:05
  • You say "in practice", and indeed we know they failed disastrously. As with other answers in question, you rather describe systems that took the route to communism which arose after Marxist theories. But this then doesn't provide an answer to the question how the ideology differs from the Anarchist one. The first paragraph on the Wikipedia article on Communism lays it out as a (quote) "socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state."
    – Nikolaj-K
    Jan 18, 2019 at 8:55

There are many different Marxisms and Communisms and many different Anarchisms. At least parts of the new left use the terms interchangably. So the question is not nail down one possible definition for each and then list the differences, but to find a few interesting trains of political thought and actions.

If you come from a Marxist direction (though you didn't state which Marxism), I'd look at these:

  • Syndicalism
  • Crimethinc's Days of War Nights of Love is a good start on an anarchism that puts a high value on subjectivity and adventure.
  • The Invisible Comitees The Coming Insurrection - the word Anarchism shows up no where in the text but the emphasis on solidarity and action puts it near classical anarchist thoughts

(Must add links and expand later)


Marx was for centralizing most power in the hands of the state as a step on the way to a workers paradise. Anarchists believe that centralization is where things will fail, because special interests always hijack centralized power, which is why democracy is a revolutionary cycle.


People think Karl Marx and his friend Engels are communists. ( Although they claimed they were ). Unfortunately, they did not leave clear image of what the exact form of the "Communism" would be. Only slight mentionings about their image of the "coming world" remain.

For example,

while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening,criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

From German Ideology around at the bottom of page 12.

Here I see no difference between "Communism" and "Anarchism". It does not even need to ponder if all of the people on the planet can do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening,criticize after dinner, as Marx says. Who makes the arrows for hunting for "them" ( whoever they are ) to play it? Who makes the hut or house to "criticize after dinner" for them? Here, we see the division of labor is inevitable. So I think many people tend to connect Communism with Marx, Engels,I can not agree on it, he did not mention crystal clearly what "Communism" would be.

Now when it comes to "Anarchism", we can not forget about Michail Bakunin.

Since I have never thoroughly read Bakunin's books, only the citation through Marx ( Engels' ) activities, I would like to quote from the internet.

For example,

Political Freedom without economic equality is a pretense, a fraud, a lie; and the workers want no lying.

What is this? It sounds more like a country whose means of production is collective and distribution is through rationing and even if you look at his quotes I have no idea whatsoever Bakunin had any coherent idea about "anarchism."


Marx, to me, is in no way the communist but a hyper capitalist. ( because in order for us to conquer his idea of "refication", we have to "exchange the labor" through which we confirm we are the Nature, by without any form visible ( such as money ) and which is impossible. )


Such as

The freedom of all is essential to my freedom.

Sounds like his idea of anarchism ( when you read other his sayings ), there is no States, which is enemy to human beings, thus we must be free from anything, and if the condition that all men are equal is a must to accomplish for an individual to be free, then there would be no freedom at all, since A's freedom hinders other's freedom ( whatever that would mean. )


Communism, as a ideology, is a more radical form of Socialism and in it itself a economic model, to be true.

Anarchism, as a ideology, is a revolutionary form of Authority where all forms of illegitimate form of authority has been done away.

So in this way Communism is on the horizontal economic axis (left-right axis) and Anarchism is on the vertical authority axis (authoritarian-anarchist axis). These ideology can't be compared in the traditional sense as both them address different problem.

But for this sake, lets compare using the communist way of establishing a Communist society.


Communism (in Marx's term) demands a revolution whereby Socialism would be established and this Socialist reign will be used to establish and form a class-less, state-less society.

But in Anarchism, a revolution is required for the people to unite and destroy illegitimate forms of institutions. Anarchism don't necessary demands a state-less society, if the one can legitimize the presence of state

The basic difference with Communism and Anarchism is in the relation towards state and hierarchy. Both of them want a bottom-up non-hierarchical approach of governance, but in communism, one must finally do away with state and other "incompatible" ideology, especially Capitalism. But in case of Anarchism only authorities that can't be legitimized to the people must be done away, and demands to be replaced by horizontal non-hierarchical democratic free associations.

Hope I made it clear. Anarchism, in its purest form doesn't exists. It's mostly coupled with Communism (Anarco-Communism) or Socialism (Libertarian-Socialism) or Capitalism (Anarco-Capitalism) and has mostly developed as a answer to the authoritarian ideologies like Leninism, Maoism, Authoritarian Capitalism.

  • This answer should reference existing bodies of theory. Currently, this reads a lot like your own formulation or opinion of anarchism/communism. Can you back any of this up? May 22, 2017 at 20:04

Anarchy is essentially apolitical. It is counter-political in the strongest of senses. It is the very negation of politics of whatever kind.

Anarchy = no authority.

Politics = The art of leading a state ("being about statesmanship").

State implies authority/government

There can be not only no state (communists want to achieve this, too), but no human community at all if anarchy is meant seriously. What most anarchists do not see is that they in fact mean communism as a form of organisation of human communities. Or, one may assume, they practice anarchy to overthrow the present political system only in order to instate a communist society.

On the other side, like the answer of @bumble shows, totalitarian socialist regimes claim to be communists. But they aren't (see here).

Conclusion: Anarchists may be anarchists only insofar as they are against the present political system, but at the same time communists insofar as they endorse the idea of communist society.

Disclaimer: I know most hate Wiki-links, but these terms are well stated.

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