Hi. Welcome to the site. Please check out the About Us, and if you have a question about crime and/or punishment, perhaps look at some previous questions along those lines first.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

What is federalism and communalism?

+1 vote
What communalism and federalism? How are they related to anarchism or anarchistic?  In my limited understanding of both, they seem like similar concepts (that's if my understanding of the two are remotely close to what they mean), but I don't see understand how they're related to anarchism or anarchistic.

I mean the anarchist form of federalism.
asked Dec 19, 2016 by human (3,740 points)
i understand federalism to be the governmental structure of a federated state. hard to see how that has any relation to anarchy. communalism can, but does not necessarily, imply a federation of communes.

1 Answer

+2 votes
I don't think I have what amounts to a full answer to this, but I have experienced the idea of "Anarchist Federations" as being an organization made up of various local groups (and sometimes groups organized along shared interests) which hold to certain shared central doctrines or political tendencies (examples here would be Love & Rage, NEFAC, Black Rose Federation, etc.) I've never been part of a federation, and I expect they wouldn't want me, but my observations are that they tend to have things like platforms, formal membership (sometimes including dues), and so forth.

Communalism would seemingly imply much more autonomy to the communes (local groups), who then establish connections between each other as appropriate. So, perhaps less centralized? Largely speculation here. Some folks wanted to start a federation where I lived years ago, and a lot of other folks who were already doing shit decided we didn't want to be assimilated into their borg that didn't necessarily represent or reflect our politics and motivations. We ended up with an "association" which later devolved to a couple collectives writing political things and a bunch of folks doing what they had always been doing without regard for the political shit. Which is to say I am biased, but maybe against both ideas?

I would love to hear on this from folks that have either been involved in one or the other form of organization, or that have historic perspective I don't (was/is the FAI as a federation different than current federations? How does Bakuninist communalism differ from the communalism at times espoused by Bookchin?)
answered Dec 21, 2016 by ingrate (19,990 points)
I'm a big fan of Proudhon, and I think I see what that old beard meant by federation. I see no difference between federation and community self-organization. Proudhon even considered a pact between families a federation.  I'm less familiar with communalism, but I imagine if it is anarchist it couldn't be much different from a Proudhon federation.

What makes a federation a federation is the right of secession: membership is purely voluntary. We are talking about autonomous groups of self-governing individuals working together for a very specific goal. The objective of the federation must be very limited in scope, temporary and subjugated to liberty. Proudhon was very cautious in his description of the federation; an almost grudging acceptation of the possible need for individuals to associate. He tried hard to present the federative principle as the opposite of hierarchical authority.

I personally find any idea of "social contract" involving groups and representatives very troubling, but I can't deny that I for one have a psychological need to interact with other creatures in a constructive way towards some objective that has no objective other than confirming my existence. I guess as long as individuals can freely start and stop cooperative efforts we're alright.
This is part of why I don't think I have a complete answer to this,  Syrphant; Anarchists mean different things when they talk about federations, and communalism. I based my take on my observations of federations I have been aware of or close to, but I think for anarchists who are pro-federative organizitional models (or communalist ones, for that matter - I have far less proximate experiences there!) probably have a very different perspective on what that structure actually looks like in practice.

I don't know that one can realistically call a family an example of a federation. While I am not super familiar with Proudhon, from what I do know this seems like an example of his big blind spot around patriarchy and sexism. Which, to be clear, doesn't necessarily invalidate some of his other ideas, but he is a product of a particular time and place, and just like all of us, that infomrs what we privilege in our thinking and activities, and perhaps what we don't pay as much attnetion to as we should.

Have you been involved in any federations that didn't end up sublimating the individual or small groups to the needs of the larger federation? I am definitely interested in hearing accounts of such as they play out in real life.
No. I've not actually been involved in any federations as far as I know; I expect that real life federations always lead to less individual freedom rather than more. It wouldn't have to be that way, but in any group some charismatic a-hole will probably start trying to claim to know the interest of the group, start speaking for the group and finally start making decisions for the group.

My gut tells me that no living thing can relate to more than one other living thing at a given moment, so all interaction boils down to a woven mat of overlapping and interlocking pairs. From a distance a group might be a distinct organism, but from where we stand it can only be a tangled web of one-on-one understandings. A-B, A-C, B-C... etc. Down here, there can be no "leader," no "boss" and no "representative" of the larger organism. The larger organism takes care of itself.

I'm afraid I share your cynicism about groups, ingrate. Proudhon could imagine people forming layers of federations to preserve, defend and enhance their individual liberty. Try as I might I don't see how that could work in practice.
i like the way you put that, syrphant.
...