Free association, also known as free association of producers, is a relationship among individuals where there is no state, social class, hierarchy, or private ownership of means of production. Once private property is abolished (distinctly not personal property), individuals are no longer deprived of access to means of production, thus enabling them to freely associate without social constraint to produce and reproduce their own conditions of existence and fulfill their individual and creative needs and desires. The term is used by anarchists and Marxists and is often considered a defining feature of a fully developed communist society.
Anarchists argue that the free association must rise immediately in the struggle of the proletariat for a new society and against the ruling class. They promote a social revolution to immediately abolish the state, private property and classes. They identify the state as the main guarantor of private property through the repressive apparatus such as the police or courts, hence the abolition of the state is their main target. Regarding free association, there is a difference between collectivist anarchists and anarcho-communists. The collectivist anarchists (such as Mikhail Bakunin) argued that free association is to function as the maxim "From each according to his ability, to each according to his deeds". In contraposition, the anarcho-communists (such as Peter Kropotkin, Carlo Cafiero and Errico Malatesta) argue that free association should operate as the maxim "to each according to his needs". Anarcho-communists argue that remuneration according to work performed require that the individuals involved were subjected to a body above them to compare the various works in order to pay them and that this body would necessarily be a state or ruling class and could even bring back wage slavery, the very thing against which anarchists are fighting. They also argue that if any work is done, it is necessary and important that there is no quantitative aspect to comparate between them and that everything that is produced involves something essential to the contribution of all past and contemporary generations as a whole. There are no fair criteria to compare one work with another and measure it to give all individuals their share. For the anarcho-communists, free association is possible only through the abolition of money and the market, along with the abolition of the state.
The anarchist concept of free association is often considered by critics to be utopian or too abstract to guide a transforming society.
The Marxian socialists and communists generally differ from anarchists in claiming that there must be an intermediate stage between the capitalist society and free association. There is a general agreement among marxist trends that a state shall exist within this transition period, although its form and extent is debated.
Libertarian Marxists (such as Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rühle, Herman Gorter) generally claim that the state can not be directed towards the free association because it can only act within the frame of capitalist society itself, leading towards state capitalism (i.e. capitalism in which private property is owned and managed by the state) which would seek to remain indefinitely and never lead to free association. Most libertarian Marxists claim that free association can only be achieved through the direct action of workers themselves, who should create workers' councils which operate under direct democracy to take the means of production and abolish the capitalist state in a social revolution to replace it with a much more democratic state. However, Luxemburgists are not opposed in principle to short-term participation within the state and expansion of public-ownership as long as the institution itself exists.
Socialists consider a free association the defining feature of developed socialism. A free association would displace the state apparatus in socialism as the role of this association would be to direct the processes of production and the administration of things. This is in contrast to the state in non-socialist and capitalist society, which is the government over people via coercive action. The free association represents a coordinating entity for economic activity that is concerned with administrative decision-making and the flow of goods and services to satisfy demand.
Since anarchists, some libertarian Marxists (such as the Situationists) and other libertarian socialists consider free association as an immediate task for introduction and maintenance of stateless socialism, most theorists have gone into great detail about how it will operate. This is unlike most Bolsheviks, who tend to be more concerned with the transition than the final goal. Some of the most important works include:
- The Humanisphere: Anarchist Utopia (L'Humanisphère: Utopie anarchique, 1857) by the libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque.
- The Conquest of Bread (1892) by anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin.
- New Babylon (1963) by Situationist Constant Nieuwenhuys.
- A World Without Money: Communism (1975–1976) by the French group Friends of 4 Millions of Young Workers.
- Bolo'bolo (1983) by anarchist P.M.
- The Thin Red Line: Non-market Socialism in the Twentieth Century (1987) by John Crump which offers an account of the ideas of several trends which considered important the free association.
It follows from all we have been saying up till now that the communal relationship into which the individuals of a class entered, and which was determined by their common interests over against a third party, was always a community to which these individuals belonged only as average individuals, only insofar as they lived within the conditions of existence of their class — a relationship in which they participated not as individuals but as members of a class. With the community of revolutionary proletarians, on the other hand, who take their conditions of existence [...] under their control, it is just the reverse; it is as individuals that the individuals participate in it. [...]
Communism differs from all previous movements in that it overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time consciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of hitherto existing men, strips them of their natural character and subjugates them to the power of the united individuals. Its organization is, therefore, essentially economic, the material production of the conditions of this unity; it turns existing conditions into conditions of unity. The reality, which communism is creating, is precisely the true basis for rendering it impossible that anything should exist independently of individuals, insofar as reality is only a product of the preceding intercourse of individuals themselves.
- Kropotkin, Peter (1920). The Wages System.
- Berkman, Alexander (1929). Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism (PDF). New York: Vanguard Press.
- "Anarchist response to being called utopian?". Anarchy 101. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
- Camp, John (1987). The Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century Archived 2019-06-26 at the Wayback Machine.
- Martin, François; Dauvé, Gilles (1974). Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement.
- "Council communism - an introduction | libcom.org". libcom.org. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
- Luxemburg, Rosa (1900). Reform or Revolution. Part II. Chapter VII: Co-operatives, Unions, Democracy.
- Engels, Friedrich (1880). Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. "The first act by virtue of which the State really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society—the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society—this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a State. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not "abolished." It dies out".
- Déjacque, Joseph (1857). The Humanisphere: Anarchist Utopia (in French). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Kropotkin, Peter (1892). The Conquest of Bread. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Nieuwenhuis, Constant (1963). New Babylon (in French). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- M., P. (1983). Bolo'bolo (in French). Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Crump, John (1987). The Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century Archived 2019-06-26 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 12 July 2013.