Saturday, April 26, 2008

Conversations With A Left-Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist (Part 1)

This is a response to a conversation with Cork started in the discussion section of my "Who Am I?: The Journey That Shaped Me" blog post.

Cork, I have actually read the entirety of Benjamin Tucker’s “Instead of a Book” and haven’t solely received my information from secondary sources. I quoted An Anarchist FAQ simply because it already clearly explains my own conclusions about Tucker. Ok, let’s make the issue of Benjamin Tucker’s capitalism really simple. Did he or did he not proclaim himself to be a socialist? Can a socialist be a capitalist? The answers to these questions are hopefully obvious enough to circumvent your attempted revisionism of Benjamin Tucker’s socialism. He declared himself a socialist in “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, And Wherein They Differ” and a socialist obviously can’t be a capitalist. Benjamin Tuker was a smart enough thinker that I seriously doubt he has made a mistake in calling himself a socialist.

I have looked over some material and have found where Benjamin Tucker supported wage labor and became inconsistent with his own ideas about “occupancy and use” while still coming to extremely anti-capitalist conclusions. Observe Tucker’s “Should Labor be Paid or Not?” In it Tucker says that he supports the ability of individuals to buy the labor of others, while in the same breath opposing “the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labor, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labor by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labor, and that, but for the privilege, would be enjoyed by all gratuitously.” Even here he is completely at odds with some of the fundamental aspects of capitalist private property rights.

Tucker goes on to say, “the minute you remove privilege, the class that now enjoy it will be forced to sell their labor, and then, when there will be nothing but labor with which to buy labor, the distinction between wage-payers and wage-receivers will be wiped out, and every man will be a laborer exchanging with fellow-laborers. Not to abolish wages, but to make every man dependent upon wages and to secure to every man his whole wages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism. What Anarchistic Socialism aims to abolish is usury. It does not want to deprive labor of its reward; it wants to deprive capital of its reward. It does not hold that labor should not be sold; it holds that capital should not be hired at usury.” The erasure of a distinction between “wage-payers” and “wage-receivers” as well as "depriving capital of its reward" sounds very much like opposition to the very foundation of capitalism to me.

The problem seems to be arising here because Benjamin Tucker is confusing the word “wages” by not considering its possible usage in reference to different kinds of economic relationships. Tucker is using the word “wage” to refer to “any kind of compensation for labor” when it is typically used to refer to “compensation received from a capitalist owner/boss.” For Tucker a “wage” would occur when “an individual is hired to mow a lawn” while most of us think of a “wage” as meaning “a capitalist hiring an employee.” I am in favor of the former and opposed to the latter. Think about the difference between a wage and a salary. In a worker co-operative everyone is technically a self-employed owner, and thus there is no wage labor. In the lawn mowing scenario, there is no employee-employer relationship, so most of us don’t consider that a “wage”, but Benjamin Tucker has confusingly referred to it as such.

Also consider the context within which Tucker is saying that he is for individual ownership over the means of production and the ability to hire the labor of others. Benjamin Tucker is referring to a world containing predominately self-employed peasant/artisan production. That means no employee-employer relationship involved in the idea (in your words) that “literally everyone should sell their labor.” For him even if there were some labor sold in the sense of an employee-employer relationship, the abolishment of the money, land, tariff, and patent/copyright monopolies would still ensure people receive their “whole wages” within the workings of a socialist free market. You can’t have capitalism without capital ownership receiving tribute in the form of profit, interest, and rent. So even by erroneously being for what he calls “wage” labor and individual ownership over the means of production, Benjamin Tucker is still espousing ideas that are very much against capitalist property rights. He is just doing it inconsistently. Ultimately, Benjamin Tucker’s saying that he is for wage labor in our current world would be in direct conflict with his ideas about “occupancy and use” which must logically be extended to the workplace containing the means of production.

Honestly, it is impossible for someone who says “Interest is Theft, Rent Robbery, and Profit Only Another Name for Plunder," to be considered a genuine proponent of capitalist property rights even with tenuous inconsistent points of contact with capitalism. You say, “I didn’t say he supported profit, I said that he supported capitalist property rights.” Tell me then, where do profits come from? They can only come from capitalist property rights, which mean private ownership over the means of production/survival. Interest, rent, and profit all stem from capitalist property rights. Sorry, but you simply can’t oppose those things without rejecting capitalist property rights. Tucker has very clearly placed restraints on the amount of property one can own, which is in direct conflict with the most fundamental principles of capitalist property rights. Also note that I am fine with anarcho-capitalists voluntarily organizing around capitalist principles as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others to completely disassociate with their system of “voluntary slavery.” So in that sense only I am not opposed to people freely forming wage labor relationships, while personally being opposed to wage slavery. So in that sense, like Benjamin Tucker, I am for the “untrammelled right to take usury” while being personally opposed to any of its exercise. It is interesting to observe how Tucker himself makes this distinction in “Right and Individual Rights” where he says, “In defending the right to take usury, we do not defend the right of usury.”

Yes, occupancy and use is still a system of property ownership. I have already said that. However, it is not a capitalist form of property rights. You are correct that if someone was occupying and using every part of the island it wouldn’t change the guy’s circumstances much. The important idea being that the desperate shipwrecked man’s need to occupy and use part of the island would involve another individual not being able to sustain their own life. Otherwise, there are no legitimate grounds for denying the shipwrecked man anything. If there is only one glass of fresh water available and both of us need to drink its entirety to survive another day, then one of us is going to be out of luck. Sometimes scarcity is an unavoidable aspect of a situation. The problem with capitalist private property is that it produces artificial scarcity whereas possession does not. Capitalism is building a fence around an oasis in the desert, claiming it as your homesteaded capitalist private property, and denying thirsty passersby a drink even though there is enough fresh water there to sustain yourself and countless others. It is certainly much more unlikely that so much of an island would be occupied and used that no arrangement could be made to sustain the shipwrecked man without harming or killing another inhabitant of the island. On the other hand, there are real world examples of privately owned islands where capitalists would no doubt support the owner’s right to shoot or remove trespassers. Again, the important difference is genuine scarcity involved in possession as opposed to the artificial scarcity of capitalist private property. Capitalism adds a layer of artificial scarcity to the genuine scarcity of our planet’s land and resources.

Hotels, parking lots, college dorms, roads, and recreation centers can all be organized by people on co-operative basis. There is already co-operative housing that addresses the issue of hotels and college dorms. Instead of privately owned roads you can have co-operatively owned roads such as the ones in rural Finland. We already have some utility co-operatives providing things like electricity . You can do this same sort of thing for parking lots and recreation centers. Any of your left-Rothbardian capitalist private business model solutions to hotels, parking lots, college dorms, roads, and recreation centers can be accomplished by workplace democracy in accord with the co-operative organizational form.

So according to you it is a good thing that bigger businesses destroy smaller businesses. Nice, so we would have an even greater narrowing of choice and the limiting of individual autonomy. We should have an even greater consolidation of coercive economic power into the hands of a few. Therefore, you obviously would be fine if one person or a few people could come to own the entire world just as I suspected. You can’t be for individual liberty and be okay with capitalist businesses forming huge, hierarchical, inefficient, state-like, bureaucratic, and centralized monopolies that deny people any say in the running of their own lives. The choice to work for one of several capitalist boss masters or suffer hunger, thirst, homelessness, poverty, sickness, and death is no choice at all. To be free you must be your own boss. I am actually fine with whatever size organizations can reach as long as the people involved have a direct say in decisions proportionate to the degree that they are affected by them. Naturally this means that organizations would be much smaller, sustainable, and more local than they are today.

Ask anarcho-capititalists if it is legitimate for someone to sell him or herself into irrevocable slavery and you will soon find out just how opposed to slavery they really are. Yes, African Americans today are still debt slaves. There are very real socioeconomic and structural reasons why there is such a low degree of social mobility for African Americans. You better believe that being kept without property, in debt, and dependent upon state-government welfare has a lot to do with this and that the reason isn’t because African Americans are inherently lazy, ignorant, violent, and stupid. “The average African-American family has about 60 percent of the income as the average white family. But the disparity of wealth is a lot greater. The average African-American family has only 18 percent of the wealth of the average white family.” Total debt as a percent of net worth for African Americans is 42.3% while it is 16.5% for Whites. Many of us, not just African American’s, are in fact debt slaves. See the fantastic educational animation “Money As Debt” to better understand our unsustainable monetary system which is producing an out of control spiral of indebtedness to banks.

Furthermore, there is nothing within the worker-owned business model that relegates it solely to small local businesses. What we are proposing isn’t “a bunch of dinky little co-ops” with no division of labor or economies of scale. There are already co-operative retailers that employ economies of scale on behalf of its retail members, so you are grossly mistaken that “you couldn’t even have retailers." The following are a couple of examples large enough to extinguish notions that co-operatives are incompatible with a modern industrialized economy:

Concerning Mondragon : "Located in Spain, this conglomerate has a net worth of ten billion dollars and employs three thousand worker/owners."

"Publix Super Markets, Inc. (commonly known as Publix) is an American supermarket chain based in Lakeland, Florida. Founded in 1930 by George W. Jenkins, it is an employee-owned, privately held corporation and was ranked No. 4 on Forbes' 2006 list of "America's Largest Private Companies...Publix has operations in five states: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. It employs over 146,000 people at its 922 retail locations, corporate offices, eight grocery distribution centers, and nine Publix brand manufacturing facilities which produce its dairy, deli, bakery, and other food products"

"Cooperatives range in size from large enterprises, including U.S. Fortune 500 companies, to single, small local storefronts."

"Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) : is the largest worker-cooperative in the country, providing employment opportunities to 1,050---many of whom were low-income residents of the South Bronx who transitioned from public assistance after graduating from our nationally-recognized paraprofessional training program."

Furthermore, the libertarian socialism that we are talking about has actually worked in practice. I highly recommend reading Harold Barclay's "People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy." In it he explains, "anarchy is by no means unusual; that it is a perfectly common form of polity or political organization. Not only is it common, but it is probably the oldest type of polity and one which has characterized most of human history." He describes examples of anarchy among hunter-gatherer, horticultural, pastoral, and agricultural societies. He also explains, "While it may be said that anarchy occurs most frequently in a small group situation and is probably easier to perpetuate in this condition, this is not to say that it is impossible in a modern more complex context. Rather it is more correct to say that it is not very probable. Yet we do have examples of anarchic polities among peoples of the Tiv, Lugbara, Nuer and Tonga, numbering in the hundreds of thousands and with fairly dense populations, often over 100 people to the square mile."

Right, I understood that you don’t think it is possible for someone to own the entire world. I don’t think it is possible for one individual to own the entire world either. That is just an exaggerated worst case scenario that hopefully clearly exposes the flaws in capitalism. It is meant to expose the coercive nature of capitalism. The same points in my exaggerated hypothetical scenario still hold when a small group of individuals can come to owns more land, resources, wealth, and power than the rest of the population. That is the situation we are now in. Your answer that it is impossible for one person to own the entire world completely dodges the important questions. The issue I have is that you apparently think that in it would be completely legitimate for someone to own the entire world if it was really possible and it was the sole result of purely capitalist market transactions and a so-called "really, really, really satisfying customers." Thus you also obviously don’t see the trouble with having a small group of people privately own the majority of our planet’s land and resources. My problem is that you apparently don’t see the coercion contained within a situation that is completely compatible with capitalist principles.

Trust me, I know what my life is like, and you don’t. I know what attitude I have towards life in general. Naturally, my emotional state fluctuates, but in general I don’t let the bad things in life get me down. I enjoy plenty in life and I don’t let the impoverished state of the world ruin the things I love. I have no problem rebelling against everything around me that needs rebelling against. I don’t have a problem being angry at what deserves my anger. Isn’t that an unavoidable part of being an anarchist or libertarian anyways? Furthermore, most of the miserable people in this world aren’t even anarchists. There are plenty of other things in this world to be miserable about, but not everyone adopts a pessimistic outlook towards life. Despite what you think, even a libertarian socialist like myself can find happiness in an imperfect world.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Rant Against The Offensiveness Of Tacky Patriotism

The following is an old bit of writing I created in September 2006 when I was still an anarcho-capitalist responding to someone whining, “I find the plastering of the United States flag all over clothing and tacky merchandise offensive. One may express a form of pride (or a desire to sell merchandise to those who feel such a form of pride) while the other expresses anger or even hatred, but I personally find this flag-plastering as distasteful as flag burning.”

The United States flag does not offend me. Why would I be offended at a piece of cloth or some artistic rendering? That would be silly. However, I do want to get rid of countries, with their arbitrary borders, and the mentality that sustains them. So ultimately I am looking to get rid of the collectivist manifest destiny nationalistic nonsense that is represented by the US flag. I will not dawn a US flag or engage in any flag worship of any kind, but if other people want to act silly and let themselves be brainwashed that is fine. Just don't expect me to be silent when that brainwashing has real world consequences attached to it. I am not offended by your silly little symbols. Squabble about which ones offend you and which ones don't. Wave them around and plaster them on whatever you like. We don't have a right not to be offended.

The flag is kind of pretty isn't it? You have been conditioned through all sorts of behavior modification to associate warm, happy feelings of pride, awe, joy, and inspiration at the sight of it. You hear the National Anthem start up and it is an automatic response to jump up and stare at that flag waving hypnotically in the wind and worship the powerful authority figures that it represents. You have people that would beat a fellow human being if they were burning the flag or flying it upside down. I am not offended by some clueless, harmless schmuck who wears a USA flag t-shirt, baseball cap, pin, and boxer shorts as a “beautiful” matching outfit. All it would tell me is the level of intelligent thought I can expect from that person. I am offended by what is perpetrated in the name of those symbols. Individuals that commit evil and help sustain systems of coercion offend me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Petit Bourgeois Anarchist: Enemy or Ally?

Right now, I have received a bachelors of science in Business Administration from a small liberal arts college and am currently working in small restaurant owned by my family. I started out with that major because I ultimately plan on taking over the family business. And strangely enough I became a libertarian socialist, which rejects the capitalist values I was taught. Now my major doesn’t seem like much of a fit with who I am. Maybe I would have been happier learning something else, but what’s done is done. I am not sure that I will be continuing my education any time soon, but I never let school get in the way of my education anyways. As far as plans go, I am already getting more involved in the family-owned restaurant. Since I have been born, my family has been very well off, but they had to work up from having next to nothing. So I’ve been part of the upper middle class for my entire life. I know that there are quite a few libertarian socialists out there who are part of the petite bourgeois and can probably relate to some of the feelings of guilt I am experiencing. On the flipside, I definitely believe that my family’s financial success gave me the time, resources, and opportunity to develop my own thoughts. Their success may actually be partially responsible for my ever reaching my beliefs in libertarian socialism. Unfortunately, the nature of state capitalism seems to do a really good job at preventing many people from having the time, resources, and energy to thoughtfully consider things like anarchism.

I am currently working at our family restaurant, and I am doing my own research to better organize and improve upon our restaurant’s success. In keeping with my libertarian socialist beliefs, I am trying to implement better pay while dealing with my parents who are blocking my suggested changes. I am trying to come to a compromise with them by actually developing a pay scheme that would somehow fall between a co-operative form of profit sharing and a normal hierarchical small capitalist business. I just can’t convince the rest of my family to bring in others to share in the ownership of the business. They understandably want to keep the business solely within the family, and I do want to respect their wishes. At the same time, I can’t help but feeling like I am being part of the problem. A small part no doubt, but a part nonetheless. I’m certainly wealthy, but I am not disgustingly super rich. The consolidation of global big business interests is certainly doing no favors for small business.

I know that many anarchists could consider my being a small business owner and therefore a boss fairly hypocritical. To some extent I agree, although I look at anarchism as trying to make everyone his or her own boss. We want everyone to essentially be business owners, and that naturally sounds very petit bourgeois. Although I could probably be called a “petit bourgeois anarchist”, which is a dirty word for some libertarian socialists, I believe that because I live in a State Capitalist society, where money unfortunately buys freedom, I don't have much of a choice other than to use the system to thrive and survive. It would just be a lot to risk giving up. I cannot give up what my grandparents and parents have painstakingly built from the ground up throughout the years. They themselves had to struggle through financial hardship, and I want to make sure that my children and grandchildren don’t have to go through that. I simply do not have the confidence to radically restructure an already very successful business and believe that it would be immensely foolish to give up what I have. Furthermore, I can use the resources gained from our business to hopefully promote some good. We can see that as anarchists we face a never-ending inward and outward struggle for freedom and equality.

Most of us want more money and thus more freedom and power within the current state capitalist system. For the most part, we have no choice but to play their corrupt game. If we don’t, our lives can become quite uncomfortable. Trying to destroy an inequitable system that saturates our society can be very risky to ones own security, health, comfort, and life. Once you move up the socioeconomic ladder it becomes very hard to destroy the very ladder you had to climb to get where you are. It’s understandable that my parents and grandparents, who had to scrape by and work extremely hard to create a successful small business, would be very leery of my desire to share the wealth, comfort, and control with others. Fighting the system can be very risky business. It is for that reason that I believe the anarchist movement needs to do a better job at giving those who don’t want to directly confront the state-government a better outlet for exercising their beliefs. I have no qualms about those who engage in illegal acts such as vandalism, squatting, and violent protest, but unfortunately such activities seem to alienate many people who would like to be doing something for the anarchist movement. While some of us are directly confronting the state-government power head-on, we need others to more actively circumventing the system through the anarchistic organization of their daily lives. As we can see, we certainly have an incredibly uphill battle.

It is clear why a movement that desires such radical change needs the widespread support of the working class (they are the ones who have the least to lose) but I am unsure that the petit bourgeoisie has no role to play. The petit bourgeois has things to gain from libertarian socialism as well. When oppressor an oppressed interact it is not only the oppressed who suffers although they arguable suffer the most. The oppressor also suffers from alienation, dehumanization, guilt, and inner turmoil that result when still being an oppressor with a human conscience. Unfortunately, a large part of the problem is that many in the working class desperately want only to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Many can only see the option of becoming the oppressor to alleviate being oppressed. They see that as the only realistic option to get out of their desperate situation. Many can’t see the alternative of destroying the oppressive ladder altogether. That is a huge part of the problem with our fight against the state capitalist system. The truth is that those within the working class need to step up and assume the roles of management and capital ownership. As anarchists have always said, the revolution needs to come from below and not from above. The working class needs to start becoming small business owners and self-managers of their own communities.

I might not seek to change my current family-owned business into something more compatible with my libertarian socialist ideals, but I personally dream of eventually opening up a separate worker-owned store of some kind. It is certainly possible that this might become a reality thanks to my current access to property and resources. It would ultimately depend upon my technical understanding, financial situation, human resources, level of interest, and will power. Maybe then the rest of the anarchist community won't consider me too much of a hypocrite. It would definitely be a risky venture, so I will be keeping our current restaurant as financial backup instead of trying to radically restructure it. Hopefully, my access to capital will help me further put my principles into action. This control over resources is what the working class desperately needs to really progress the libertarian socialist movement. I also plan on supporting counter-economic activities by promoting things such as the use of alternate forms of currency. While trying to bring down the system, the anarchist movement must also be about finding peace and freedom within our own personal relationships. Even if we can’t completely bring down the state-government and capitalism, there are things all of us could probably do to make ourselves freer. At least we have our freedom of thought. It’s about seeking out and enjoying our own little slice of freedom. So is a petit bourgeois anarchist an enemy or ally? What’s the verdict? We must all fight the enemies outside and within ourselves.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Who am I? (The Journey the Shaped Me)

I am a 22 year-old straight Caucasian male who happens to be a mutualist anarchist and atheist living in a small town within the state of Alabama. I know, it definitely doesn’t sound like a place you would expect to find an anarchist. For the most part I am still in the closet concerning my atheism and anarchism. I sometimes feel surrounded by way too many religious conservatives who would probably maul me if they ever knew what I really think. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but living in the Bible Belt definitely makes you tread lightly so that the wrong people don’t catch wind of your unorthodox beliefs. There isn’t much of an outlet around here for me to express my anarchist beliefs, and I would probably move away if I didn’t have a loving family and friends keeping me here. I would say that my road to anarchy began when I started becoming an atheist towards the end of high school. I went to a private high school in Alabama and was a really quiet loner. I don't know for sure, but it is possible that my detachment from society allowed me to more readily turn a critical eye towards things. Being largely an outsider may have helped me become more observant and inquisitive. Since I wasn’t looking to impress others or become accepted by anyone, I did not have to worry as much about coming to unpopular conclusions.

Anyways, I was never really religious. I had never really questioned the things around me that everyone else just seemed to accept. I would just nod and say that I believe in God without really taking the time to understand what that meant. My curiosity was eventually peaked by religious imagery in movies, music, and on TV. I set out to become a religious person of some kind, but I quickly found myself becoming an atheist. After rejecting the Christian God I almost became a Gnostisc and then later I almost became a Buddhist. However, the more I looked, the more illogical all religions seemed. Ultimately, I ended up the atheist that I am today. The Internet was definitely an invaluable tool in helping me investigate and discover who I am.

After becoming a atheist and a skeptic, I began turning my eyes towards politics. The whole World Trade Center incident probably contributed to my increasing interest in the political realm. I had always considered myself a Republican because of parental influence. Like religion, I hadn't really taken the time to give politics much critical thought. I had just assumed that figures of authority, like my parents, knew what they were talking about. I even started out supporting the War in Iraq and rigorously defending it against people I talked to. Luckily my support didn't last too long. I shudder to think about who I was and who I could have become. However, I was never much of a Republican, so after some research I found that my own ideas lined up closely with US Libertarianism. College economics classes and a particular professor helped further cement my right-libertarian ideas. I was always pretty liberal socially and conservative economically.

Essentially, what happened was that through my atheism I happened upon a site called Hell Bound Alleee. It was one of the many of websites I would frequent for atheist views. Francois Tremblay and Alison Randall hosted this amateur radio show, and I would listen on occasion. The both of them were minarchist Libertarians at the time I started listening, but they eventually moved towards anarcho-capitalist market anarchism. I believe that it was through their website that I first noticed a website containing articles and podcasts from an anarcho-capitalist perspective. It was a site called Freedomain Radio, which is hosted by Stefan Molyneux. Curious about learning about an even more radical libertarian perspective than my own, I began listening to Stefan's shows. I was never expecting to agree with anarchism, and went in with the attitude that I would easily be able to find glaring flaws. I went in with a very skeptical attitude, but I eventually found myself agreeing more and more until I concluded that I had become an anarcho-capitalist. In my opinion it does become evident that anarchism is the logical conclusion when one consistently applies libertarian principles.

Through Stefan Molyneux's message board and podcasts, I was guided to a social networking site called Essembly. I joined the site along with an infamous influx of anarcho-capitalists. We were all curious about what we would discover about other people and what kind of impact we could have through such a social networking site. Our views are certainly not aired anywhere in the mainstream media, so we were searching for a way to reach out to people. Anyways, I started having conversations with an anarcho-syndicalist on essembly. Thus, I began more vigorously researching the left side of the anarchist spectrum. I looked at things such as An Anarchist FAQ. I began slowly drifting leftward until I eventually became very confused about which anarchist label I could use to best describe myself. Today I consider myself a mutualist anarchist, which could probably be considered somewhere between left and right, but it is definitely left of center. Kevin Carson’s great blog has had a huge influence on my current beliefs. I am no longer a fan of anarcho-capitalism and am very shaky about their classification as anarchists. However, to remain a consistent anarchist I don’t deny people the ability to organize along capitalist lines as long as they don’t interfere with those of us who desire libertarian socialism. The ideas of Agorist anarchists also fascinate me and overlap with some of my own beliefs. Agorism can interestingly be considered a form of leftist anarcho-capitalism or Left-Rothbardsim. I definitely still have plenty more to learn about anarchism. Ultimately, I support the idea of anarchism without adjectives. I believe that anarchists with passionate disagreements can find common ground, work together, and co-exist peacefully while creating a more free and equal world.