Green anarchism or eco-anarchism, is a school of thought within anarchism which puts a particular emphasis on environmental issues. An important early influence was the thought of the American anarchist Henry David Thoreau and his book Walden[1] as well as Leo Tolstoy[2] and Élisée Reclus.[3][4] In the late 19th century there emerged anarcho-naturism as the fusion of anarchism and naturist philosophies within individualist anarchist circles in France, Spain, Cuba[5] and Portugal.[2][6] Important contemporary currents are anarcho-primitivism and social ecology.[7]

Early ecoanarchism

Henry David Thoreau

Main article: Henry David Thoreau

Anarchism started to have an ecological view mainly in the writings of American anarchist and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. In his book Walden he advocates simple living and self-sufficiency among natural surroundings in resistance to the advancement of industrial civilization.[1] The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance.[8] First published in 1854, it details Thoreau's experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts. The book compresses the time into a single calendar year and uses passages of four seasons to symbolize human development. By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. Simple living and self-sufficiency were Thoreau's other goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, a central theme of the American Romantic Period. As Thoreau made clear in his book, his cabin was not in wilderness but at the edge of town, about two miles (3 km) from his family home.

A such "Many have seen in Thoreau one of the precursors of ecologism and anarcho-primitivism represented today in John Zerzan. For George Woodcock this attitude can be also motivated by certain idea of resistance to progress and of rejection of the growing materialism which is the nature of American society in the mid XIX century."[1] John Zerzan himself included the text "Excursions" (1863) by Thoreau in his edited compilation of writings called Against civilization: Readings and reflections from 1999.[9]

Élisée Reclus

Main article: Élisée Reclus

Élisée Reclus (15 March 1830 – 4 July 1905), also known as Jacques Élisée Reclus, was a renowned French geographer, writer and anarchist. He produced his 19-volume masterwork La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes ("Universal Geography"), over a period of nearly 20 years (1875–1894). In 1892 he was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal of the Paris Geographical Society for this work, despite his having been banished from France because of his political activism. According to Kirkpatrick Sale:[10]

His geographical work, thoroughly researched and unflinchingly scientific, laid out a picture of human-nature interaction that we today would call bioregionalism. It showed, with more detail than anyone but a dedicated geographer could possibly absorb, how the ecology of a place determined the kinds of lives and livelihoods its denizens would have and thus how people could properly live in self-regarding and self-determined bioregions without the interference of large and centralized governments that always try to homogenize diverse geographical areas.

For the authors of An Anarchist FAQ Reclus "argued that a "secret harmony exists between the earth and the people whom it nourishes, and when imprudent societies let themselves violate this harmony, they always end up regretting it." Similarly, no contemporary ecologist would disagree with his comments that the "truly civilised man [and women] understands that his [or her] nature is bound up with the interest of all and with that of nature. He [or she] repairs the damage caused by his predecessors and works to improve his domain."[11]

Reclus advocated nature conservation and opposed meat-eating and cruelty to animals. He was a vegetarian.[12] As a result, his ideas are seen by some historians as anticipating the modern social ecology and animal rights movements.[13] Shortly before his death, Reclus completed L'Homme et la terre (1905).[14] In it, he added to his previous greater works by considering humanity's development relative to its geographical environment. Reclus was also an early proponent of naturism.[3]


Main article: Anarcho-naturism

In the late 19th century Anarchist naturism appeared as the union of anarchist and naturist philosophies.[2][15][16][17] Mainly it had importance within individualist anarchist circles[6][18] in Spain,[2][6][16] France,[6][19] Portugal,[20] and Cuba.[21]

Anarcho-naturism advocated vegetarianism, free love, nudism and an ecological world view within anarchist groups and outside them.[2][18] Anarcho-naturism promoted an ecological worldview, small ecovillages, and most prominently nudism as a way to avoid the artificiality of the industrial mass society of modernity.[22] Naturist individualist anarchists saw the individual in his biological, physical and psychological aspects and tried to eliminate social determinations.[22] Important promoters of this were Henri Zisly and Emile Gravelle who collaborated in La Nouvelle Humanité followed by Le Naturien, Le Sauvage, L'Ordre Naturel, & La Vie Naturelle [23]


Richard D. Sonn comments on the influence of naturist views in the wider French anarchist movement:

Henri Zisly
Main article: Henri Zisly

Henri Zisly (born in Paris, November 2, 1872; died in 1945)[24] was a French individualist anarchist and naturist.[25] He participated alongside Henry Beylie and Émile Gravelle in many journals such as La Nouvelle Humanité and La Vie Naturelle, which promoted anarchist-naturism. In 1902, he was one of the main initiators, alongside Georges Butaud and Sophie Zaïkowska, of the cooperative Colonie de Vaux established in Essômes-sur-Marne, in l'Aisne.

Zisly's political activity, "primarily aimed at supporting a return to 'natural life' through writing and practical involvement, stimulated lively confrontations within and outside the anarchist environment. Zisly vividly criticized progress and civilization, which he regarded as 'absurd, ignoble, and filthy.' He openly opposed industrialization, arguing that machines were inherently authoritarian, defended nudism, advocated a non-dogmatic and non-religious adherence to the 'laws of nature,' recommended a lifestyle based on limited needs and self-sufficiency, and disagreed with vegetarianism, which he considered 'anti-scientific.'"[26]


The historian Kirwin R. Schaffer in his study of cuban anarchism reports anarcho-naturism as "A third strand within the island's anarchist movement" alongside anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism.[5] Naturism was a global alternative health and lifestyle movement. Naturists focused on redefining one's life to live simply, eat cheap but nutritious vegetarian diets, and raise one's own food if possible. The countryside was posited as a romantic alternative to urban living, and some naturists even promoted what they saw as the healthful benefits of nudism. Globally, the naturist movement counted anarchists, liberals, and socialists as its followers. However, in Cuba a particular "anarchist" dimension evolved led by people like Adrián del Valle, who spearheaded the Cuban effort to shift naturism's focus away from only individual health to naturism having a "social emancipatory" function."[5]

Schaffer reports the influence that anarcho-naturism had outside naturists circles. So "For instance, nothing inherently prevented an anarcho-syndicalist in the Havana restaurant workers' union from supporting the alternative health care programs of the anarcho-naturists and seeing those alternative practices as "revolutionary."".[5] "Anarcho-naturists promoted a rural ideal, simple living, and being in harmony with Nature as ways to save the laborers from the increasingly industrialized character of Cuba. Besides promoting an early twentieth-century "back-to-the-land" movement, they used these romantic images of Nature to illustrate how far removed a capitalist industrialized Cuba had departed from an anarchist view of natural harmony."[5] The main propagandizer in Cuba of anarcho-naturism was the Catalonia born "Adrián del Valle (aka Palmiro de Lidia)...Over the following decades, Del Valle became a constant presence in not only the anarchist press that proliferated in Cuba but also mainstream literary publications...From 1912 to 1913 he edited the freethinking journal El Audaz. Then he began his largest publishing job by helping to found and edit the monthly alternative health magazine that followed the anarcho-naturist line Pro-Vida.[5]


Anarcho-naturism was quite important at the end of the 1920s in the spanish anarchist movement[27] In France, later important propagandists of anarcho-naturism include Henri Zisly[28] and Émile Gravelle whose ideas were important in individualist anarchist circles in Spain, where Federico Urales (pseudonym of Joan Montseny) promoted the ideas of Gravelle and Zisly in La Revista Blanca (1898–1905).[29]

The "relation between Anarchism and Naturism gives way to the Naturist Federation, in July 1928, and to the lV Spanish Naturist Congress, in September 1929, both supported by the Libertarian Movement. However, in the short term, the Naturist and Libertarian movements grew apart in their conceptions of everyday life. The Naturist movement felt closer to the Libertarian individualism of some French theoreticians such as Henri Ner (real name of Han Ryner) than to the revolutionary goals proposed by some Anarchist organisations such as the FAI, (Federación Anarquista Ibérica)".[27] This ecological tendency in Spanish anarchism was strong enough as to call the attention of the CNTFAI in Spain. Daniel Guérin in Anarchism: From Theory to Practice reports:

Isaac Puente
Main article: Isaac Puente

Isaac Puente was an influential Spanish anarchist during the 1920s and 1930s and an important propagandist of anarcho-naturism,[30][31] was a militant of both the CNT anarcho-syndicalist trade union and Iberian Anarchist Federation. He published the book El Comunismo Libertario y otras proclamas insurreccionales y naturistas (en:Libertarian Communism and other insurrectionary and naturist proclaims) in 1933, which sold around 100,000 copies,[32] and wrote the final document for the Extraordinary Confederal Congress of Zaragoza of 1936 which established the main political line for the CNT for that year.[33] Puente was a doctor who approached his medical practice from a naturist point of view.[30] He saw naturism as an integral solution for the working classes, alongside Neo-Malthusianism, and believed it concerned the living being while anarchism addressed the social being.[34] He believed capitalist societies endangered the well-being of humans from both a socioeconomic and sanitary viewpoint, and promoted anarcho-communism alongside naturism as a solution.[30]

Other countries

Naturism also met anarchism in the United Kingdom. "In many of the alternative communities established in Britain in the early 1900s nudism, anarchism, vegetarianism and free love were accepted as part of a politically radical way of life. In the 1920s the inhabitants of the anarchist community at Whiteway, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, shocked the conservative residents of the area with their shameless nudity."[35] In Italy, during the IX Congress of the Italian Anarchist Federation in Carrara in 1965, a group decided to split off from this organization and created the Gruppi di Iniziativa Anarchica. In the seventies, it was mostly composed of "veteran individualist anarchists with an orientation of pacifism, naturism, etc,...".[36] American anarcho-syndicalist Sam Dolgoff shows some of the criticism that some people on the other anarchist currents at the time had for anarcho-naturist tendencies. "Speaking of life at the Stelton Colony of New York in the 1930s, noted with disdain that it, "like other colonies, was infested by vegetarians, naturists, nudists, and other cultists, who sidetracked true anarchist goals." One resident "always went barefoot, ate raw food, mostly nuts and raisins, and refused to use a tractor, being opposed to machinery, and he didn't want to abuse horses, so he dug the earth himself." Such self-proclaimed anarchists were in reality "ox-cart anarchists," Dolgoff said, "who opposed organization and wanted to return to a simpler life." In an interview with Paul Avrich before his death, Dolgoff also grumbled, "I am sick and tired of these half-assed artists and poets who object to organization and want only to play with their belly buttons."".[37]

Leo Tolstoy and tolstoyanism

Main articles: Leo Tolstoy and tolstoyanism
Russian christian anarchist and anarcho-pacifist Leo Tolstoy is also recognized as an early influence in green anarchism.[2] The novelist was struck by the description of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu ascetic renunciation as being the path to holiness. After reading passages such as the following, which abound in Schopenhauer's ethical chapters, the Russian nobleman chose poverty and formal denial of the will:
But this very necessity of involuntary suffering (by poor people) for eternal salvation is also expressed by that utterance of the Savior (Matthew 19:24): "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Therefore those who were greatly in earnest about their eternal salvation, chose voluntary poverty when fate had denied this to them and they had been born in wealth. Thus Buddha Sakyamuni was born a prince, but voluntarily took to the mendicant's staff; and Francis of Assisi, the founder of the mendicant orders who, as a youngster at a ball, where the daughters of all the notabilities were sitting together, was asked: "Now Francis, will you not soon make your choice from these beauties?" and who replied: "I have made a far more beautiful choice!" "Whom?" "La poverta (poverty)": whereupon he abandoned every thing shortly afterwards and wandered through the land as a mendicant.[38]

Despite his misgivings about anarchist violence, Tolstoy took risks to circulate the prohibited publications of anarchist thinkers in Russia, and corrected the proofs of Kropotkin's "Words of a Rebel", illegally published in St Petersburg in 1906.[39] Tolstoy was enthused by the economic thinking of Henry George, incorporating it approvingly into later works such as Resurrection, the book that played a major factor in his excommunication.[40] Tolstoyans identify themselves as Christians, but do not generally belong to an institutional Church. They attempt to live an ascetic and simple life, preferring to be vegetarian, non-smoking, teetotal and chaste. Tolstoyans are considered Christian pacifists and advocate nonresistance in all circumstances.[41] They do not support or participate in the government which they consider immoral, violent and corrupt. Tolstoy rejected the state (as it only exists on the basis of physical force) and all institutions that are derived from it - the police, law courts and army.[42] Tolstoy influenced Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who set up a cooperative colony called Tolstoy Farm near Johannesburg, South Africa, having been inspired by Tolstoy's ideas. The colony comprising 1,100 acres (4.5 km2) was funded by the Gandhian Herman Kallenbach and placed at the disposal of the satyagrahis from 1910.[43] He also inspired similar communal experiments in the United States[44] where the residents were also influenced by the views of Henry George and Edward Bellamy.,[45] as well as in Russia,[46] England[47] and the Netherlands.[48]

Mid 20th century

Several anarchists from the mid-20th century, including Herbert Read, Ethel Mannin, Leopold Kohr,[49] and Paul Goodman,[50] also held proto-environmental views linked to their anarchism. Mannin's 1944 book Bread and Roses: A Utopian Survey and Blue-Print has been described by anarchist historian Robert Graham as setting forth "an ecological vision in opposition to the prevailing and destructive industrial organization of society".[50]

Leopold Kohr

Main article: Leopold Kohr