The stereotype of the anarchist in the United States has become that of the anarcho-communist committing property destruction with Molotov cocktails. To the average statist, this reinforces the idea that anarchy is nothing more than chaos and associates the idea of “anarchism” with that of violent, indiscriminate revolution.

Nor, unfortunately, is this idea limited to the few G8 “protesters” destroying cop cars and private property.  Left-anarchist organizations like the Center for a Stateless Society (henceforth, C4SS) occasionally publish articles advocating revolution, such as this article that ends with the following statement (emphasis added):

“With everything in place, there needs only to be a spark to ignite the flames of revolution. A revolution which is long overdue, and much needed.”  


Prominent individuals on the “right anarchist” side, such as Christopher Cantwell, advocate violent revolution as well.  (It should be noted that with Cantwell’s recent support of Donald Trump, it is questionable whether he still advocates violent revolution – or libertarian ideals of any sort.)

Typical anarchist destroying private property.



The problem with this, as well as the problem with every violent revolution in history, is that it leads only to a strengthening of state power.  After all the violence, all the bloodshed, all the chaos, the result is only less freedom and more tyranny as the result of the inevitably required peace talks.  As summed up in a brilliant speech in the television show Doctor Who ((“The Zygon Inversion”, Doctor Who, 2015)) :


Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they’re always going to have to do from the very beginning — sit down and talk!


The history of revolution is starkly that of a weakened and unstable state being brought down and replaced by a stronger, more powerful state that almost immediately imposes far more onerous burdens than the state that was felled.  This cycle repeats itself throughout history, as a few examples make abundantly clear.  In Bertrand de Jouvenel’s treatise On Power ((On Power, Bertrand de Jouvenel, 1945, translated to English in 1948)) , he notes this in the case of the English Revolution:


The English Revolution, the Civil War, began in the name of outraged property rights, in a resistance to a small tax on land called “ship-money.”  It was soon to impose on land a tax ten times as heavy.  It was a protest against certain confiscations on the part of the Stuarts; soon it would itself not only plunder the Church systematically but, on political pretexts, seize as well a great part of property in private hands.  In Ireland a whole people was dispossessed.  Scotland, which had taken arms in defence of its own ways of life and government, saw taken from it all that it so greatly valued.


So strengthened, Cromwell could get himself the army for want of which Charles had fallen, and drive out the Parliament men to whom the king had to submit.  The dictator could found the naval power which the unhappy monarch had dreamt of for his country, and wage European wars for which Charles had lacked the means.




He continues further to note that this is not any different for the French Revolution in 1789, pointing out that:


The French Revolution freed the peasantry from feudal burdens, but it forced them to bear arms and sent mobile columns in pursuit of the refractory; it suppressed letters de cachet, but erected the guillotine in public squares.  It denounced in 1790 the plan, which it ascribed to the king, of joining a Spanish alliance in a war against England standing alone; but it hurled the nation into a military adventure against the whole of Europe, and, by unprecedented requisitions, drew from the country resources on such a scale that it was enabled to accomplish the programme which the monarchy had had to abandon, the conquest of France’s natural frontiers.


And it has been noted that following the American Revolution and the settling of the power structure into the Constitution, one of the first acts of the new President, George Washington, was to march the army into western Pennsylvania in an attempt to put down the so-called “Whiskey Tax Rebellion” (which amounted to a non-violent refusal to pay taxes, rather than a violent revolution).  While the attempt by the Federal government to put down this tax revolt was ultimately unsuccessful (( “The Whiskey Rebellion”, Murray Rothbard, The Free Market, September 1994, republished on , it presents an example of the manner in which the removal of English control in the American colonies only resulted in a more powerful state.

Thus, it is argued by these violent revolutionary anarchists that these were cases where the revolution attempted to replace a purportedly tyrannical state with a more free one, which is why they failed.  This time, they claim, the revolution will be to abolish the state, so there will be no problem with this.  This time, they say, is different!  However, in reality it wouldn’t be much different.  There are two reasons for this.

The first is that revolution against a powerful state historically does not succeed.  Rather, it is the weakness of the prevailing rule that allows for revolution to bring it down.  A strong state has both a significant aura of legitimacy and the power to put down a rebellion via fear, propaganda, and military force.  The destruction of these “terrorist” rebels is not viewed by the populace as an imposition by a tyrant in these cases, but as the legitimate use of state force to “keep them safe”.  As de Jouvenel noted in his book:


Did the people rise against Louis XIV?  No, but against the good-natured Louis XVI, who had not even the nerve to let his Swiss Guards open fire.  Against Peter the Great?  No, but against the weakling Nicholas II, who did not even dare avenge his beloved Rasputin.  Against that old Bluebeard, Henry VIII?  No, but against Charles I, who, after a few fitful attempts at governing, had resigned himself to living in a small way and was no danger to anyone.




Peoples never rebel against a Power which squeezes the life out of them and grinds them underfoot.  The savagery of such Power is feared…


As to the claim that this revolution will not seek to replace the current state with another one, we can look to the history of another revolution that claimed the same thing: the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The communist ideal is also a stateless society, as was made quite clear by the progenitors of the Russian Revolution.  In a celebrated pamphlet, Lenin asserted that the Revolution must “concentrate all its forces against the might of the state; its task is not to improve the governmental machine but to destroy it and blot it out.” ((“State and Revolution”, Lenin, 1917))  As noted in a letter by Marx to Kugelmann, written at the start of the Commune ((Marx to Dr Kugelmann Concerning the Paris Commune, April 12, 1871)) , “I say that the next attempt of the French revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is essential for every real people’s revolution on the Continent.”  He goes further, claiming that “They should have marched at once on Versailles, after first Vinoy and then the reactionary section of the Paris National Guard had themselves retreated. The right moment was missed because of conscientious scruples. They did not want to start the civil war, as if that mischievous abortion Thiers had not already started the civil war with his attempt to disarm Paris.”  Here, in the same letter, is Marx advocating the very same thing that is advocated by these propertarian anarchists – violent revolution to smash the state and simply not replace it.

Yet it can easily be seen that the result of the Russian Revolution was anything but a “smashing of the state”.  Rather the weakened Czar was replaced by a powerful Communist state, which proceeded to consolidate and enlarge power until it became – just a few decades later – one of the most tyrannical regimes in history under Josef Stalin.  (It was, of course, not much better under the rule of Lenin.) In the words of de Jouvenel:

Compare now these principles with the formidable apparatus of constraint erected in Russia by the Revolution.  The adherents of the Marxist doctrine can, if they like, denounce the betrayal of the Revolution’s objectives.  The enemies both of the doctrine and of the regime can, if they like, call pointed attention to the discrepancies.  The partisans of the regime can, if they like, justify them by reference to the needs of a transitional period in which socialism is being built up.


He sums up this point excellently with this statement:


A nation may get from a revolution a new strength, as the enfeebled France of Louis XVI got from the Revolution the energy to win her natural frontiers, and as Russia, which in 1917 met defeat, got from it the will to conquer in 1942; but let it never expect from it liberty.  In the final analysis revolutions are made, not for man, but for Power.


And at the end, when the revolution is “won”, assuming this is even possible despite the analysis presented here, even then there will be one question, as The Doctor makes clear in the same speech I cited in the beginning : “When you’ve killed all the bad guys and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers? How are you going to protect your glorious revolution… from the next one?”




  1. “The Zygon Inversion”, Doctor Who, 2015
  2. On Power, Bertrand de Jouvenel, 1945, translated to English in 1948
  3. “The Whiskey Rebellion”, Murray Rothbard, The Free Market, September 1994, republished on
  4. “State and Revolution”, Lenin, 1917
  5. Marx to Dr Kugelmann Concerning the Paris Commune, April 12, 1871