Free association (communism and anarchism)
In the anarchist, communist and socialist sense, free association (also called free association of producers or, as Marx often called, community of freely associated individuals) is a kind of relation between individuals where there is no state, social class or authority in a society that had abolished the private property of means of production. Once private property is abolished, individuals are no longer deprived of access to means of production so they can freely associate themselves (without social constraint) to produce and reproduce their own conditions of existence and fulfill their needs and desires.
The concept of free association, however, becomes more clear around the concept of the proletariat. The proletarian is someone who has no property of any means of production and, therefore, to survive, sells the only thing that he has, his abilities (the labour power), to those who holds the ownership of the means of production. The existence of individuals deprived of property, deprived of livelihood, allows owners (or capitalists) to find in the market an object of consumption that thinks and acts (human abilities), which they use in order to accumulate increasingly capital in exchange for the wage that maintains the survival of the proletarians. The relationship between proletarians and owners of the means of production is thereby a forced association in which the proletarian is only free to sell its labor power, in order to survive. By selling its productive capacity in exchange for the wage which ensures the survival, the proletarian puts his practical activity under the will of the buyer (the owner), becoming alienated from his/her own actions and products, in a relationship of domination and exploitation. Free association would be the form of society created if private property was abolished in order to individuals freely dispose of the means of production, which would bring about an end to class society, i.e. there would be no more owners neither proletarians, nor state, but only freely associated individuals.
The abolition of private property by a free association of producers is the original goal of the communists and anarchists: it is identified with anarchy and Communism itself. However, the evolution of various trends have led some to virtually abandon the goal or to put it in the background in face of other tasks, while others trends consider free association as something that should guide the all practical activity of the contestation of the status quo.
Anarchists argue that the free association must rise immediately in the struggle of the proletariat for a new society and against the ruling class. So they preach a social revolution that immediately abolish the state, private property and classes. They identify the state as the main guarantor of private property (through the repressive apparatus: the police, justice), hence the abolition of the state is their main target. There is a difference between collectivist anarchists and anarchist communists: the collectivist anarchists (Mikhail Bakunin, for example) argue that free association is to function as the maxim "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 "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". Anarchist communists argue against the collectivists 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, would bring back even wage slavery, that is the very thing against which anarchists are fighting. They also argue that if any work is done, it is necessary and important, there is no quantitative aspect to comparate between them, and that everything is produced involves as something essential the contribution of all past and contemporary generations as a whole. Therefore, there are not fair criterion to compare a work with another and measure it to give every one his share. For the anarcho-communists, therefore, free association is possible only through the abolition of money and the market, along with the abolition of the state.
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. But there are major differences between the various Marxists trends. The Marx position about this transition period ranged from "the expansion of the means of production owned by the state"  to the clear statement that the state machinery can not be assumed by the workers, but destroyed . Therefore, Marx's writings gave rise to three basic trends: social democracy, Leninism and council communism. Social Democracy (e.g., Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky) argues that the advent of free association will come gradually through reforms made by representatives elected in a democratic state. Leninists (such as Lenin and Trotsky) argue that it will come only after reforms that they themselves make after taking power through a coup, a political revolution. The content of these reforms, for both social democracy and Leninism, would be the transfer of private property into the hands of the state, which would keep the rest of society deprived of access to means of production, as in capitalism, but it would be used to fight the bourgeoisie and direct the society towards free association in the future. The Council Communists (e.g., Anton Pannekoek, Otto Rhle and Herman Gorter) 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 a state capitalism (i.e., capitalism in which privative property is owned by state) which would seek to remain indefinitely, and never lead to free association. The Council Communists claim that free association can only be achieved through the direct action of workers themselves, which should create workers' councils (which operate under direct democracy) to take the means of production and abolish the state in a social revolution.
Socialists consider a free association the defining feature of developed socialism. A free association would displace the state apparatus in socialism; the role of this association in would be directing 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. Socialists consider this a defining element of mature socialism; however many socialists are of the opinion that such an arrangement will follow a transitional phase of economic and social development, such as market socialism.
 Critical views
The anarchist and communist concept of free association is often considered utopian or too abstract to guide a transforming society. It would be in the dream plane. However, it is valued by present trends such as the free software movement, and considered as a basic principle in the relationship between software developers of free softwares.
Others reply this critic asserting that free association is not a utopia, but a emancipatory exigence which necessarily come from the very material condition which is the proletariat (i.e., deprivation of property and a constant social struggle against the submission and deprivation that it causes, and that puts them against the state and capital). However, the trends that advocate a transition (especially social democracy and Marxism-Leninism) postpone it for a more or less remote future, pushing free association so increasingly in the background, in exchange for the task of establishing a transitional phase. And as the proletariat can have no interest in their own emancipation when it is postponed for the indefinite future, the search for a "transition" is necessarily a task that is not assumed by the proletariat thenselves but by a intelligentsia or political professionals. This culminated in Stalinism (for example, the so-called socialist countries like Cuba, USSR, China) and the present social democratic parties, in which the concept of free association was virtually abandoned. In contrast, the present trends derived from anarchism and council communism understand the free association as the practical basis for the fundamental transformation of society at all levels, from the everyday level (search of an libertarian interpersonal relationship, critique of the family, consumerism, criticism of conformist and obedient behavior ) to the level of world society as a whole (the fight against the state and against the ruling class in all countries, the destruction of national borders, support for self-organized struggle of the oppressed, attacks on property, support to wildcat strikes and to workers and unemployed autonomous struggles).
Since anarchist, some Council Communists (mainly the Situationists) and other autonomous communists consider free association as an immediate task for introduction and maintenance of communism, many of them bother to think about its operation, unlike the Leninists and Social Democrats who are more concerned with a "transition".
Some of most important works:
The Humanisphere - Anarchist Utopia (L'Humanisphre - Utopie anarchique, 1857), by the libertarian communist Joseph Djacque. Complete text in French: 
The Conquest of Bread (1892), by Peter Kropotkin. Complete text: .
A World Without Money: Communism (1975–76), by the French group Friends of 4 Millions of Young Workers . Complete text, in French .
The thin red line: non-market socialism in the twentieth century (1987), by John Crump, offers an account of the ideas of several trends which considered important the free association. Text in English: 
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