This is my fourth response to a conversation with Cork that follows from my “Conversations With A Left-Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist (Part 3)” blog post.
Private ownership over the means of production is a necessary requirement of capitalism, but it is not all that is required. Capitalism requires a capitalist class, which Benjamin Tucker is clearly opposed to even though he is for private ownership over the means of production. This is why most libertarian socialists are comfortable accepting Benjamin Tucker as one of their own. For capitalism you need the means of production to be the private property of a few individuals at the top of an economic pyramid. Placing the means of production within the reach of all is incompatible with capitalist private property. You just can’t narrow the definition of capitalist private property down to the point where it becomes applicable to people who are blatantly anti-capitalist. Ask an individual if a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist socialist can be claimed as a supporter of capitalist private property and I can pretty much guarantee that you are going to get some funny looks. Go up to pretty much anyone and ask them if an individual against the usury of interest, rent, and profit is for capitalist property rights. I have done so recently with non-anarchist family and friends and everyone I have talked to has said that such a person is against capitalist property rights. Consider that a self-employed individual can still privately possess the means of production even under mutualism. For example, I can privately possess a plough under mutualism as long as I am the only one personally using it. I can use the plow (means of production) to cultivate the soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting (fruits of my labor). As long as I am not using the plow to exploit someone by taking the fruits of his or her labor, individual ownership over the means of production is acceptable. In this isolated self-employed scenario I am not employing the labor of another individual. I am not controlling access to the plow in order to extract surplus value from another user of the plow. Instead I am creating value myself and then directly enjoying the full product of my labor. Such individual ownership over the means of production is not enough to constitute capitalism, and it is acceptable under mutualism because it does not entail the exploitative relationships that arise as a result of extracting surplus value from the labor of others.
An Anarchist FAQ correctly claims that Benjamin Tucker was opposed to capitalist property rights. I can reasonably guess that an overwhelming majority of the population thinks that a person against interest, rent, and profit is necessarily against capitalist private property. Benjamin Tucker’s exclamation about “depriving capital of its reward” doesn’t exactly sound like defending capitalist private property. I can promise you that most will not accept your claim that an explicitly anti-capitalist socialist individual can be claimed as a supporter of capitalist private property. I do not see anything misleading concerning Benjamin Tucker contained within An Anarchist FAQ. The FAQ goes about explaining the views of different schools of anarchist thought—including those it explicitly disagrees with in some areas. Just because much of the FAQ condemns “capitalist property” in the sense of Tucker’s support for private ownership of capital goods, does not make it hard to understand that Tucker holds his own beliefs that are separate from other sections of the FAQ. To gain a correct understanding about people like Tucker you are actually going to have to read that section of the FAQ in its entirety. Naturally if you read selectively you are going to come out with loads of misconceptions from just about any text. Anyone who, in your own words, “only drops by to read the section discussing his views” is of course going to leave misunderstanding Benjamin Tucker. That is true of anyone trying to understand someone’s nuanced philosophy in such a haphazard manner.
As I have already pointed out An Anarchist FAQ actually agrees with your understanding of Benjamin Tucker. I can’t personally speak much about the inaccuracies concerning Medieval Iceland, but I have glossed over the conversation between David Friedman and the writers of An Anarchist FAQ and do find myself agreeing more with the latter. Medieval Iceland was a communal society so it definitely seems silly to try claiming it as a shinning beacon of anarcho-capitalism. The writers of An Anarchist FAQ even readily admit their mistakes concerning Medieval Iceland by saying, “Yes, the initial version of that section was full of errors. It was written in a rush, in 1996 when we were getting what we had ready of the FAQ ready for release and was not checked before going on line. That was a mistake, very true, which was corrected as soon as the errors were shown. However, making mistakes under pressure just shows that we are human.” I and plenty of others fully accept that An Anarchist FAQ is not perfect. That is why the writers accept the need to correct any errors that are spotted as a result of constructive dialogue. That is a strength and not a weakness. There is a reason that it is called AN Anarchist FAQ and not THE Anarchist FAQ. I myself don’t even agree with all that An Anarchist FAQ has to say. For instance, I agree with much of what it says about anarcho-capitalism, but I am not one to dogmatically reject the formation of any alliance with anarcho-capitalists and other right-libertarians when our goals overlap. In an anarchist society I am fine with anarcho-capitalists and other right-libertarians trying to do their own thing as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others to do the same. In my opinion Anarcho-capitalism has even contributed some good ideas that are applicable to different forms of anarchism. Regardless of any flaws, An Anarchist FAQ is undoubtedly one of the best sources of information about anarchism.
I am surprised that any anarchist would have a problem understanding what is meant by “hierarchy.” Hierarchy can be defined as “any system of persons or things ranked one above another” or “government by an elite group.” One of the things I find interesting about anarcho-capitalists is that they believe in the destruction of hierarchy in terms of the unequal relationship between individuals and state-government, but then fail to apply the same principles to the unequal employee-employer relationship. Anarcho-capitalists realize that for individual freedom you must have equality between individuals through the destruction of centralized state-government power, but then they claim that individual freedom doesn’t require equality in terms of economic power. Centralization of economic power magically becomes okay for anarcho-capitalists even though it clearly gives one group of individuals more say in the lives of others. The idea of a capitalist consumers’ “democracy” is complete nonsense. Real democracy doesn’t entail people with more money having a greater say. The golden rule that “those who have the gold make the rules” is completely incompatible with individual liberty.
Hierarchy is the organizational structure that embodies authority and is therefore antithetical to equal-liberty. Capitalism requires class stratification. There must be an elite ruling class containing those few individuals at the top of the economic pyramid controlling access to the means of production/survival. This inequitable bargaining power based on capitalist private property means that the lower classes become dependent upon the “generosity” of the ruling elite to gain access to the means of production/survival. Therefore, capitalists have a much greater say in the running of other people’s lives and functionally serve as a privatized government. Look at the internal structure of any capitalist business and you will readily observe that a few individuals at the top of the corporate hierarchy deny those below any say in the decisions that affect their lives. For instance, just look at the authoritarian monitoring systems that capitalist corporations implement to induce enough fear to keep their workers in line. It’s enough to make Big Brother proud. Indeed, more people come into direct contact with authoritarianism at their workplaces than state-government. This is why when you talk about eliminating state-government the first reaction that most people have is horror at the idea of private capitalist bosses ruling their lives. Class divisions, with their power disparities, are clearly incompatible with individual freedom. If you don’t have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree to which they affect your life, then you are not free.
If you have a classless society, then you don’t have capitalism. Benjamin Tucker’s individualist anarchism allows private ownership of the means of production, but sets out not to allow the means of production to become monopolized by a few. Once again, Tucker envisioned an individualist anarchist society as "each man reaping the fruits of his labour and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital....become[ing] a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals [combining] to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle.” Tucker was clearly for a society without a capitalist class extracting surplus value from the labor of others, so there is no intelligible way to claim that such a society would entail support for capitalist private property.
You seem to still be misunderstanding where economic coercion comes from. For mutualists, we don’t see it coming from the bargaining power of exchanged labor. A person with rare skill is expected to command more than others in a socialist free market. It is obvious that hierarchy is not necessarily involved in your description of “performing a service for someone else in exchange for money.” Furthermore, you are wrong to say that this is “all that employment is.” Paying someone money to shine my shoes is obviously not hierarchical. I am not the boss over the person shinning my shoes, so he or she is not my employee. The shoe shiner is a producer and I am a consumer. I haven’t used authoritarian control over the means of production/survival to artificially limit the shoe shiner’s options in this scenario. Here your description of “employment” or “wage labor” brushes aside the blatantly inequitable bargaining power created by economic rules allowing for the unlimited accumulation of capitalist private property. Your description ignores that such economic power entails the artificial narrowing of other people’s choices. If individuals have taken measures to limit my options to working for you or starving to death as a result of their private ownership over the means of production/survival, then there isn’t much in the way of real choice for me. I’m being coerced by those who have imposed upon me an economic system designed to perpetuate artificial scarcity. I am being denied the ability to govern over my own affairs. Having no other choice but to work for a capitalist boss is the same thing as having no other choice but to vote for a state-government politician. In both cases I am being denied any real say in the decisions that affect my life. That’s simply not freedom.
For anarcho-capitalism freedom becomes measured in how much private property you own. The more private property you have the more freedom you have. You have unrealistically redefined libertarian socialism’s opposition to capitalism so that it comes to mean opposition to all economic transaction. That is clearly not what mutualists are saying at all. I am against capital hiring labor, which constitutes “wage labor,” but I am not against labor hiring capital or labor hiring labor. Of course I am for “performing a service for someone in exchange for money.” How could I even support co-operatives if that weren’t the case? Observe that when I pay someone to mow my lawn, that person is not my employee, and yet the transaction involves “performing a service for someone in exchange for money.” I am not ruling over any one in such an economic relationship. We both come to the bargaining table as equals to exchange our labor-added value. You have completely edited out the role capital ownership plays in the “wage labor” picture.
I think you may also be confusing inequality and hierarchy. You can have inequality without hierarchy, but you can’t have hierarchy without inequality. Hierarchy requires inequality in terms of power, which entails people being freer at the top and less free at the bottom. However, you can have inequality in terms of possessions without it necessitating exploitation or hierarchy. For instance, I can possess many toothbrushes without it conferring upon me inequitable bargaining power over another individual. You see, when talking about inequality it is necessary to make it clear what you are looking at. As mentioned before, inequality based on labor (ex. greater bargaining power as a result of having a relatively rare skill) is acceptable under mutualism. We don’t believe we can make everyone the same and we don’t desire to do so. We want equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome.
So we have observed that items can be used in different ways to promote certain human relationships. It is the hierarchical use of land and resources to extort money from productive individuals that I am against. As long as having more possessions does not confer upon you inequitable bargaining power on the basis of this mere ownership, then any resulting inequality on the basis of valued labor is acceptable. This would constitute inequality of possessions, but it would not entail inequality in terms of freedom between individuals. This is what the co-operative business form with its one person one vote system aims to do in terms of equalizing bargaining power. It does this by circumventing the coercive effects of private capital ownership. For instance, consider how workplace democracy based on one person one vote equalizes bargaining power by taking capital (ex. shares of stock) out of the equation. Instead of bargaining power based on idle capital ownership it becomes based on valued labor. Note once again that I am not for equality of outcome but for equality of opportunity. Those who have an aesthetic dislike of all “equality” often try to confuse the different things that equality can be referring to. It is simply this unequal bargaining power on the basis of capital ownership that is being attacked by destroying the capitalist privileges in the money, land, tariff, and patent/copyright monopolies.
I see this being related to the whole anarchist understanding that there is a difference between being an authority and having authority. There is legitimate (or rational) authority and illegitimate (or irrational) authority. “Being an authority means that a person is recognized as competent for any particular task based on her or his knowledge and individual skills. It is socially acknowledged expertise. Legitimate authorities are experts who are particularly knowledgeable, skillful or wise in any particular area. It may be in our best interests to follow their recommendations, but they have no power to force us to do so, nor should they. Legitimate authority is this kind of authority, the authority of an expert. Having authority is a social relationship based on status and power derived from a hierarchical position within a group. It means dividing society/the group into the order givers and the order takers. The order givers, the authorities, tell the order takers what to do and they must obey. This is illegitimate authority.”
Ok, so you are telling me that if I built a fence around North America it wouldn’t mean that I magically own everything inside according to anarcho-capitalism. I figured as much. So if I can only own what I transform through labor, then I do at least privately own the fence around North America. I’m assuming that I can forcefully keep people from trespassing on my private property. No one is allowed to touch, damage, alter, or cross my fence without my permission. I’m assuming that I can also charge people to cross my fence border. So I am effectively using the fence to restrict access to the inside and outside. I am making whatever lies inside and outside the fence artificially scarce. Just like implementing tariffs on imports and exports! Now instead of using state-government guns to extort money, I am using capitalist private property to extort money. I am using the fence to artificially restrict the free movement of people and goods. If I don’t also own the land below and the sky above my fence, then I assume that the only way people can legitimately cross my fence according to anarcho-capitalism is by tunneling under or flying over my fence. As far as I am concerned forcing others to expend labor to tunnel under or fly over such a fence still constitutes theft from the labor of others. Just let people peacefully cross through your fence! Also consider that it may have taken $200 billion dollars worth of time, labor, and resources to build a fence around North America, but eternally charging everyone who wants to cross the fence would cover the cost of building it hundreds of times over. If people want your fence, you should only be paid for what it cost you and no more. Otherwise you are being paid for something other than labor. Such capitalist private property allows a person to remain idle indefinitely and leech off of the productive labor of others. It is quite clear that capitalist property is theft.
I am glad that you acknowledge that it would not be impossible to own an island under anarcho-capitalism. Therefore, the owner of a private island can deny a desperate shipwrecked man life and liberty in the way that I have described. Now we should be readily able to see the coercion inherent in capitalist private property. I am glad that you have apologetically resorted to explaining that owning an entire island would not be as likely under strict acknowledgement of anarcho-capitalist property rules. If it were likely would you or anarcho-capitalism have a problem with it? I might agree that owning an entire island would not be as likely under anarcho-capitalism, but it does not erase the coercion inherent in even the smallest example of capitalist property rights. Can I deny a starving individual access to an apple from a tree in my yard according to anarcho-capitalism? The only consistent anarcho-capitalist answer that I can see is “yes.” As far as I am concerned the starving individual’s life takes priority over your capitalist private property. Note that having a bunch of individuals privately own an entire island produces the same effect. It still produces a lower class of people ruled by and dependent upon those who own private property. Maybe it is not very likely that one individual could come to own an entire island, but some part of you must accept that such a coercive situation of private world ruler-ship would be hypothetically acceptable under anarcho-capitalism. Making the argument that it is “unlikely” instead of arguing that it is “incompatible” with anarcho-capitalism means that you have come to some small realization that it is unacceptable to have this unlimited accumulation of capitalist private property because it destroys individual liberty.
You are right in terms of how much more quickly capitalist private property accumulation occurs as a result of forceful state-government intervention. However, I highly doubt your assumption that anarcho-capitalism would make it unlikely for individuals to privately own huge swaths of land (like entire islands) in the long run. Even if you start out roughly equal in an anarcho-capitalist society of small individual homesteads, the rules of capitalism ensure that it won’t stay that way forever. Over generations of private property transactions in an anarcho-capitalist society more and more land and resources would accumulate into the hands of a few individuals. I use to think so myself, but it is simply inaccurate that anarcho-capitalists believe that you can only get your wealth from laboring. What happened to the capitalist spiel about “getting your money to work for you”? Sorry, but capital simply is not labor.
No, my statement that “Crusoe can work years homesteading different parts of the island himself and/or he can buy up the homesteads of others. Such an occurrence is completely compatible with anarcho-capitalism” doesn’t apply to the mutualist property system. You can’t homestead different parts of the island so that each plot permanently becomes your private property, and you can’t buy up the homesteads of others to become an absentee landlord under mutualism. You only own the land and resources that you can personally occupy and use. If you mix your labor with something and leave it unused and unoccupied, it becomes abandoned. You ask, “What if I’m a rich mutualist who simply pays people to “occupy and use” every square inch of the island? Or the entire world?” I am sorry, but I must admit that I find these questions of yours pretty funny. Let’s think about this a second. If under mutualism I own what I personally occupy and use, then why would a “rich” mutualist pay me just to sit there and own what I already own? I can already exclude people from accessing what I personally occupy and use, so what exactly is the “rich” mutualist gaining? He or she isn’t gaining any power from doing such a thing. The “rich” mutualist would be gaining nothing. It would just be a big waste of money. It is not as though paying others to personally occupy and use the whole island or the entire world enables these things to become the property of the “rich” mutualist. Each individual would still own what they personally occupy and use. No one has to obey any of the decisions made by the “rich” mutualist. They aren’t dependent upon the money being paid to them by the “rich” mutualist, so not obeying wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Everyone would still be able to personally occupy and use whatever un-owned land and resources are available. No one is dependent upon the “rich” mutualist to gain access to the means of production/survival and can easily enter a co-operative to become a business owner. Under mutualism there is an upper limit on wealth accumulation because it is only possible for one human to produce so much labor-added value. When capital isn’t being paid tribute in the form of interest, rent, and profit, there isn’t this hypothetically unlimited amount of wealth that can be accumulated by an individual. There isn’t this unsustainable capitalist “grow or die” imperative. Therefore, your “rich” mutualist itself is an oxymoron. Whatever wealth disparities exist under mutualism can be expected to be relatively small. Furthermore, whatever the size and magnitude of these wealth disparities under libertarian socialism, the situation still wouldn’t bestow some individuals with hierarchical power over others. If people are already personally occupying and using an island or the entire world to the greatest extent possible—to the point where not even one more human life could be sustained by the available land and resources—then there isn’t scarcity artificially being imposed upon others by human beings (to benefit some at the expense of others), but the existence of actual nature-imposed scarcity. The person who comes along when I am drinking the last life-sustaining glass of fresh water on Earth is simply out of luck. I am not responsible as long as the other individual’s sad predicament is not a result of my actions but the result of nature. Paying everyone to occupy and use every bit of land and every single resource on an island or on Earth wouldn’t accomplish a thing under a mutualist or other libertarian socialist scheme of possession property rights.
Those individuals passing through a community’s co-operatively owned road network that pay for temporary road usage do not form a landlord-tenant relationship. This scenario does not involve usury because those individuals just passing through the community’s co-operatively owned road network could just as easily reside within the community and become road co-op owners just like everyone else. Opportunity isn’t being denied to them. Their freedom of movement isn’t being denied. Ownership over the road isn’t being held above others to confer some individuals with greater bargaining power at the expense of others. When the road is co-operatively owned it isn’t like having a capitalist owner privately control the conditions under which the road can be used. Those just passing through are just paying to cover a small part of the wear and tear contributed through use of the road network. They aren’t bared from owning the road through personal occupancy and use. You shouldn’t be making money off of something that is not labor. That is theft, and it is what would occur with private capitalist ownership of the roads.
Sorry, but an anarcho-capitalist road owner would indeed have quite a lot of bargaining power. It’s interesting that you find this so funny and hard to believe. Just further proof that you can’t recognize economic coercion with your incomplete conception of freedom. You can rest assured that I am not entering the realm of paranoia here. Let’s think for a moment. Why do existing private roads only charge a few quarters for passing? The reason is that they are competing with state-government subsidized roads that are completely open to the public. Now let’s imagine what would happen if every road was someone’s private property. Under anarcho-capitalism the road passing by my house could be someone else’s private property, which means the road owner can deny me access for whatever reason. I would have no say in how the privately-owned road is run. I can’t go anywhere without permission from the private road owner because I could be punished for trespassing on his or her property. I am stuck. I am at the mercy of the private road owner. I need free access to the road in order to get to work, go to the store, etc. I don’t have a choice but to pay for use of the road or suffer, starve, and die. This sort of coercive privatized tyranny also shows that anarcho-capitalism would result in things like widespread gentrification. The poor would be forced into slums in great numbers—most likely more so than under our currently restricted state capitalist economy. Anarcho-capitalism would undoubtedly promote an ever-increasing rich-poor divide. It would give people no other choice but to rebel violently to survive. Things that approach natural monopolies like roads, electricity, sewage, etc. must especially be co-operatively owned to avoid this kind of coercion.
Direct democracy is not tyrannical and does not require a monopoly of force. You can have direct democracy without state-government. All libertarian socialists are against the representative “democracy” of countries like the USA. Libertarian socialists are for a completely voluntary direct democracy that does not involve a majority coercing a minority. Freedom to associate and disassociate at will ensures that both the majority and minority are protected. No one is bound by the decisions of an organization that he or she disapproves of. Continual renewed consent is required. Yes, by democracy we are talking about rule by the people. Libertarian socialists believe that an organization must be libertarian internally as well as externally. That is why internally hierarchical capitalist organizations are not considered libertarian by most anarchists. Private rule by capitalist corporations is not rule by the people.
Now let me deal with your example of a group of actors getting together and deciding that they want to act in a movie even though they know little of filmmaking. No, there is no goofing up the division of labor here. If there were, co-operatives in places like Argentina would not be as successful as they have been after the failure of state capitalism. Let’s think about this a moment. So I am an actor that realizes that I don’t know how to make a successful movie. According to you this means that I can’t shop around in the free market to find a good filmmaker. That is simply not the case. My example of finding a good doctor without any real medical knowledge has already addressed this. Imagine that I shop around and discover that I have a choice between Jack, who has made some unsuccessful movies, and Jill who has made some very successful movies. If I can afford it, I am naturally going to hire Jill to direct my movie. I don’t need to know how Jill does it, only that she can do it. You don’t need to know much of anything about script writing, directing, and so on to hire people who are good at those particular things. If need be, you can even voluntarily consult people who are good at identifying talent. If you don’t have a good manager/director/filmmaker/etc then you simply are not going to be successful in a socialist free market. Note that I find nothing wrong with a filmmaker hiring actors, and of course I have nothing against actors hiring filmmakers. As long as everyone involved becomes an owner of the project within a workplace democracy, then there is no exploitive employer-employee relationship.
Remember that I don’t have a problem with labor hiring capital or labor hiring labor. I have a problem with capital hiring labor. All I require is that people go into business as co-owners (as equal partners/one person one vote) instead of forming hierarchical employee-employer wage labor relationships. I even expect more filmmakers to hire actors instead of the other way around. Those who have a project in mind are likely to be the ones seeking out the talent to implement their vision. Logically you are more likely to have more actors clamoring to work under the direction of a great filmmaker than the other way around—although it is true that filmmakers also like working with successful actors. Naturally those with greater skill, knowledge, and wisdom are going to have higher bargaining power and command more in a socialist free market. Again, the real issue is with capital extracting surplus value from the labor of others. Greater bargaining power based on valued labor is good, while greater bargaining power based on capital ownership is bad. In a co-operative all of the actors, filmmakers, technicians, etc. would co-own their project. In a libertarian socialist society you could have a film studio co-operative hiring people from acting co-operatives. The means of production (sets, lights, studios, cameras, etc.) would still not be privately owned by a few individuals who extract value produced by the talent of others.
I agree with quite a bit of what you say in your description of your imagined anarchist society. As you expect, I do disagree vehemently with your impoverished assessment of co-operatives. Note that by “purity” libertarian socialists are referring to the differing degrees of hierarchy that can be found within co-operatives. In particular we are concerned with the percentage of non-owner employees within some of the existing co-operatives. Let’s not forget that co-operatives are at a disadvantage automatically by having to compete within a market biased by an imposed state capitalist system. The value of things becomes skewed by capitalist pricing mechanisms even within non-capitalist co-operatives. Whatever the case, all existing co-operatives are majority-owned by the workers. Co-operatives contain a higher owner to employee ratio. Regardless of how “pure” any of these co-operatives are from a strict libertarian socialist viewpoint, the important thing is that all of them involve labor hiring capital instead of capital hiring labor. Even with some internal hierarchy, co-operatives of all shapes and sizes are still anti-capitalist and are therefore a vast improvement. In any case, it is up to the voluntary actions of the equal worker-owners to decide how non-hierarchical their co-operative is internally organized. Regardless of “purity,” all of the successful co-operatives analyzed in the studies provided demonstrate that there are viable alternatives to capitalism. As much of the data shows, capitalism is politically, economically, socially, and environmentally unsustainable in the long run, so even in the absence of ideological considerations, an alternative to capitalism must be found. I would still be much happier with a world containing co-operatives even if they aren’t completely “pure” by rigorous libertarian socialist standards. One of the most important things is that all individuals are free to experiment in order to discover functional non-hierarchical or flattened hierarchical ways of libertarian organization. I would not support capitalist forms of organization within an anarchist society, but I am fine with people voluntarily choosing to do so as long as they do not impose capitalism on others. Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt that co-operatives provide a viable alternative to capitalist corporations that entails greatly reduced hierarchy.
KENNETH REXROTH AND THE IWW, 1920-23
2 weeks ago