Although communism has played a bigger role in the history of real world governments such as China's and the former Soviet Union's, anarchism has long been a very important philosophy among political thinkers and activists as well. Though anarchism and communism have some ideas in common, they also have some very distinct differences.
Both anarchism and communism have traditionally been opposed to capitalism and the ownership of private property, which they see as an illegitimate system that only enriches the elite. Because of these beliefs, communism and anarchism are sometimes both considered variations of socialism.
However, these two political philosophies also have some stark differences in thoughts on how an ideal world should be achieved. Anarchism is defined by its total rejection of the state. That is, anarchists believe that all governments should be completely abolished, and their functions replaced by individual voluntary membership in community organizations. Communism, on the other hand, is almost the complete opposite, teaching that the only way to end inequality is for a strong central government to be given control of all resources. Communists believe that this will allow labor and resources to be managed and distributed in whatever way best for all citizens.
Which Comes First?
It might be argued that the basic difference between anarchism and communism comes from their tendency to emphasize different aspects of human well-being. Communism focuses on the issue of economic inequality, seeking to ensure that all people have necessities. Anarchism, on the contrary, focuses from the issue of individual freedom. Anarchists argue that the root cause of human inequality is the government's support of unfair systems and greedy people, and that the government must be completely removed before equality can be achieved. However, both theories insist that both freedom and economic equality are important, arguing that if one is achieved first, the other will follow.
Another more practical difference between the two theories is their approach to political participation within the government. Since the 20th century communism has largely revolved around the formation of communist political parties which attempt to change their countries either through the democratic system or by means of violent revolution. The Marxist-Leninist version of communism that became popular during the Russian Revolution teaches that a country must be contorolled by the Communist Party until its society reaches complete equality. But for anarchists, political participation is often discouraged. Since anarchists believe the whole system is corrupt and impossible to save, they typically find it inappropriate to form political parties that attempt to participate in government. Anarchists often eschew voting and participating in elections.
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images