Why Self-Ownership makes rape, murder and slavery “okay”

2 11 2011

[the title has been changed to something more inflammatory, as it seems like the only way to get attention on the internet these days]

For shits and gigs, I’m getting on my high horse.

Once upon a time I was a self-identifying Anarcho-Capitalist.  Gone are those days.  Long gone.

But the benefit of that little tryst is that I have gotten insider knowledge of how the theory operates and how fucked up it can get.  What I have noticed, at least more recently, is that the very concepts and principles Anarcho-Capitalism (which includes anyone who identifies themselves as “Market Anarchist” or “Right-Libertarian”) use to provide foundation to their theory.

To give you a brief overview, the starting point for the whole thing starts with Self-Ownership.  Everything else is derived from this.  The much-loved “voluntaryness”, non-aggression principle, proportionality and how Anarcho-Capitalists understand property all find their beginnings in Self-Ownership.

The reason why I’m laying all this out is that I have been in a protracted technical debate over what is exactly meant by “self-ownership” and how this applies to so-called “Self-Sale” contracts.  These are situations where a person may sell themselves into prostitution.  For some Right-Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists, this is legitimate so long as it is “voluntary”.  For others, this is not legitimate and those who see validity in these contracts are only “fringe”.

My problem has been that I can find nothing within Anarcho-Capitalism as a theory to invalidate these contracts and to prevent the situation from ever happening.

To be absolutely clear: I am not an Anarcho-Capitalist and my reason for posting this is to make some kind of clear challenge to Anarcho-Capitalism on the theories own terms in particular regards to Self-Sale contracts.  For me this begins with the heart of the theory: Self-Ownership.  Is it a property right?  Or just some shitty metaphor for individual autonomy?  If it’s the second, then the rest of the theory will have problems being conceptualised as nearly every key principle is derived from that concept and goes towards giving Anarcho-Capitalism its mystical “natural law” appeal.

If it’s the first, then this raises some serious problems for Anarcho-Capitalism in that it may work to make legitimate some evils like murder, slavery and rape.

I have not yet heard a convincing argument, on the theories own terms, that states why Self-Sale contracts are not possible and why these things will not eventuate.  My position is that anyone who uses this theory needs to either rethink their concepts for them to ever use the label “Anarchist” with any seriousness, or accept that their theory is going to  justify things toxic to any concept of “liberty” or “freedom”.

So what you are about to read is a brief amalgamation of my posts which doesn’t just say that Anarcho-Capitalism is bullshit, but why.

The question is whether the concept of self-ownership is, in theory and in effect, a property relation or whether it is just a poor metaphor for individual autonomy.

This whole argument proceeds on the basis that Self-Ownership describes an actual property relation where a person ownes their Self.

Property is not a single right, but a bundle of rights a person has to a thing.  The “right to control” is an accurate description, but is too general to be useful.  So otherwise, how do you identify whether a thing is property?  You can (1) use and abuse it, you can (2) exclude others from using it, and (3)you can transfer ownership.  These are what you are talking about when you talk about the “right to control” and “property”.

If it is alienable, or in other words, if you can transfer ownership or give away the thing, it is probably property. If you can’t give the thing away, it’s probably not property. The right to control, of use and abuse, is another one of these rights that identify whether a thing is property.  Simply saying “it is mine, I control it, therefore it is property” is childish and not enough.

Next it is important to distinguish between contractual rights, which are relative and arise between two individual people, and property rights are enforceable against the world.  Through contract you can alienate rights to use a thing or ownership of the thing itself.  In the case of the former, ownership is retained.  In the case of the latter, ownership is transffered and so the person making the transfer can no longer claim ownership when the transfer is complete.

To use a simple analogy, it is the same as what happens when you transfer ownership of a pear you’ve picked. You can’t ask for it back without striking a new deal and cannot complain when the other person eats it.

So, applying this to your Self, if it is property a person “voluntarily” alienates their Self via contract, they can do a number of things.  On the one hand, they can alienate rights to their property, such as sell their time to an employer, divide the property right by selling/giving away a kidney, or allowing use by consenting to surgery.  Alternateively, as a valid property right, a person may transfer ownership of their entire self and once the transfer is complete, the new owner has a proprietary right enforceable against the world, inclding the previous owner.

The first type of “Self-Sale” contracts are a problem, but I am only focussing on the second type, absolute transfer of Ownership, as it is what enables slavery, murder and rape to be justified.

So we have a situation where a person has transferred ownership of their Self voluntarily.  This is all in accordance with Libertarian, Voluntaryist, and Anarcho-Capitalism theory.  But what are the consequences of that theory?

The simple answer: slavery.

The new owner has a right over your Self in property.  This includes, as outlined above, the right to (1) use and abuse it, to (2) exclude others from using it, and (3) alienate it.  If a person transfers ownership of their Self, the new owner can do with it as they please because it’s their property.  They can commit all sorts of atrocious acts against you, as their property, without fear of reprisal. They are merely exercising their right to use of that property.  To interfere would be to violate their right of exclusivity.

If they decide to fuck their new property, they can.  If they decide to kill it, they can.  If they decide to torture that other person they now own, or let others fuck them or make them work or sell them again, they can.

There is no recourse to the NAP because the NAP, in this instance, is derived from the idea that you own your Self as property and no one can interfere with it except the rightful owner.  Likewise, all notions of “voluntaryness” only apply to the entering into of the contract and not the on-going relationship between former and current owners, as the former owner has alienated the property rights to their Self which, conceptually, the entire theory is built on.

To say that this is unlikely to ever happen is a bad argument.  It happened all the time during feudalistic societies where people would sell themselves into slavery or prostitution to pay off a debt — which would no doubt be considered a voluntary transaction.  It still happens in many places today.
To say that “it is not voluntary” is not enough.  A contract is not a unilateral affair.  It is an exchange and if the parties which entered into it did so voluntary, it would no doubt be justified by many self-identifying Anarcho-Capitalists, voluntaryists and Right-Libertarians.  The phrase “I don’t see a problem…” be repeated until someone’s head explodes.

“Voluntaryness” itself, in the context of Anarcho-Capitalist and derivative theories, is never well-defined.  Or at least never defined to really consider the nuances of what does “voluntary” actually means and whether something can truly be considered voluntary.

The only possible argument that could be made to say that a Self-Sale contract which would see someone sell themselves into prostitution to pay off their debts is invalid and not enforceable, would be to analyse the quality of consent and the unequal bargaining power between the parties.  However, as far as I know, this has never really been argued inside the theory and to do so is to go outside.  In fact, all reference to power relations between parties is routinely derided as “Marxist” or “Leftist”.

Even if we consider a person’s will to be “independent of your body”, they will have transferred ownership over their Self and once the contract has been executed, they cannot back out of it without violating someone else’s property rights. To regain their Self, they would need to strike a new bargain with the new owner, but the new owner is under no obligation to enter into the bargain and can simply say, “no”.

From all this discussed, as a direct consequence anything that the new owner does to the sold Self is legitimate, so long as they do not violate anyone else’s property rights in the process (and just to emphasise the point: the person who transferred rights in their Self do not have any).  If the new owner decides to kill the person, they can and it’s not murder. If they decide not to feed them, they can and it’s not murder or neglect. If they decide to fuck them, they can and it’s not rape.  It’s all just a sanitised “use of property”.

And what’s even more hilarious is that this all the same thinking that was formerly used to  justify slavery during the period of John Locke (gasp!) and Voltaire (double gasp!).  Better yet, there is a certain irony in that the whole idea of Self-Ownership was supposed to begin from the premise that slavery was wrong.

A consistant application of the very principles this theory celebrates and founds itself on leads to making legitimate a whole tonne of evil to such an extant that “rape” becomes “not-rape”.  So either a lot of people who use this framework for their politics need to come to terms with what it is their theory actually allows or some serious rethinking needs to be done on the question of whether Self-Ownership is actually a property relation or just a shitty metaphor?

And if it is just a shitty metaphor, what are the consequences for the rest of the theory?

How can you provide the same internal consistency (which is supposed to be the main selling point of the entire theory) without considering Property as a extension of the Self?

“Filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties”

1 05 2011

There are a lot of responses to Anarcho-Capitalism around the place, but very few hit all the right notes.

While the ideology itself is generally considered a footnote in wider Anarchist theory, it is not going to go away just because it has been ignored or marginalised.  Even where critical analysis exists, it is often sensationalist and doesn’t strike a death blow.  But with increasing numbers of former Anarcho-Capitalists reflecting on the theory and drifting Leftward over time, the critical response has become far more precise and far more threatening.

Though this is not intended to stand as a comprehensive, or even substantial, critical analysis of the ideology, it is hoped that providing more information will lead to better attempts.  For the record, Brainpolice, who blogs at Polycentric Order, has offered a scathing critical analysis of the behaviour and culture among Anarcho-Capitalists.  It is an experience that I share.

I don’t see a problem with going on a polemical, personally motivated critique and psychologizing[sic] of the culture that surrounds ancap. When obvious aristocrats are at the helm of its major institutions and when its major intellectuals all have ties to wishy washy neo-liberal public policy organizations, I think this is worth pointing out. Sure, one can bringing up the youth who subscribe to it that represent its more populist face, but it really seems like the most charitable thing to say is that such people are being manipulated by aristocrats – when they aren’t the children of aristocrats or virtual aristocrats themselves. I also have too much personal experience to avoid noting the degree to which ancap is a magnet for near-sociopathic personalities, but [I] don’t want to go on that tangent.

I’ve recently gotten familiar with the Australian libertarian and ancap scene, and it provides lots of fodder for the thesis about the younger generation of ancaps really are dominantly spoiled, rich college students who can’t see past their own privilege and pretty much are pawns for generally neo-liberal organizations. That pretty much defines the Melbourne libertarian scene, and the ancaps are virtually indistinguishable from the minarchists in practise. It’s alarmingly filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties[sic] giving lectures at university and going to expensive cocktail parties to gossip, with numerous inheritors of legacy wealth with connections to actual governmental organizations being popular figures. Some of these people are virtually conservative career politicians in training (see David Nolan and Tim Andrews).

I don’t think stuff like this is irrelevant at all. Ideologies do have a connection to the social context surrounding the people who invent and subscribe to them. Libertarian ideology all to often does function as a justification for people’s already existing social positions and personalities. Ancap debate with other groups all too often does devolve into what is blatantly a highly personal defensive lashing out by an individual in which they feel that what they own (or their power in general) is threatened, and in which their idiosyncratic immoralities can be justified ideologically. This is all too telling to ignore. The truth of an ideology really can’t be completely disconnected from its use when we are dealing with rationalizations. We aren’t always dealing with an innocent truth claim, we’re dealing with positions handpicked[sic] to rationalize[sic] deeper, unanalyzed beliefs and behavioral[sic] patterns.

The “arguments” too often are underpinned by implicit premises that can’t be justified and are connected to the person’s desires. This includes the (often unargued for) belief in their own legitimacy and oppression in a certain social context. The ideology can’t be properly addressed without this being looked at. That legitmacy[sic] and claim to oppression can end up falling apart when seriously analyzed[sic]. There are too many false victimhood mentalities and dubious feelings of entitlement going around to ignore. It’s a little too convenient to present your personal prejudices in the form of an argument construeing[sic] it as a law of nature or economics or the one true ethical code or whatever. If one really wants to talk about appeals to emotion, you’ll find one underlying many ancap arguments.

Understanding the ideology is not entirely difficult.  It begins by asserting that the Self is property and then asserts property as an extension of this fact.  As a result, all actions against property are a direct action against the Self.  From this, a series of axiomatic principles are extrapolated, such as the Non-Aggression Principle, Property as a Natural Right, Property as an Absolute.

The next step is to appeal to policy, where that policy is usually a particular strain of economics or, in the case of the so-labelled “social issues”, usually all the standard conservative talking points that reaffirm the prejudice and privilege of the adherent.  Mention that property, as constructed under Anarcho-Capitalism, works to legitimise and protect a racist in their discriminatory action against a particular minority, and the response is usually an accusation of “Marxism”, “political correctness” and a statement that, “who cares!?!” because “the market will sort it out”.  The fact that issues such as racism or, say, discrimination based on sexuality threaten the lives and well-being of millions of people around the planet, daily, is ignored entirely.  But if the government declares a tax hike on the rich, well the shit has really hit the fan.

Analysis of an issue or problem, from an Anarcho-Capitalist perspective, becomes little more than a repetitive, almost robotic, application of the Non-Aggression Principle and Absolute property rights to a set of facts in order to derive a conclusion on what makes for good economic efficiency.  It is a tried and true formula.

But then the biggest challenge to the wider Anarcho-Capitalist framework comes in that it relies, almost entirely, on appeals to the universalism of Natural Law on account of the basis assertion that the Self is something which can be considered property.  Something that can be owned and with ownership comes the right of use and abuse — and anyone that knows anything about property is generally well aware that property can be traded, transferred or given away.  This is called ‘alienation‘ — the right to give something away or sell it.

So if the idea of a person selling themselves into slavery does not appeal to you, then the idea of “Self-Ownership” is nothing more than an abstract metaphor for some basic sense of Individual Autonomy or the Self as independent, free and un-governed.


“Self-Ownership” is phrased in terms of property for a reason.  Entirely decoupled from property, the axiomatic principles extrapolated from this concept fall down.  They simply become assertions and are not connected to some greater, higher, universal Natural Law.  They are constructed by of the various thinkers associated with Anarcho-Capitalism.

While the “Non-Aggression Principle” may be a great principle and can find its theoretical and practical support elsewhere, others which derive their existence directly from Self-Ownership, do not.  Property then, is not a Natural Right, but a social construct and the rights, obligations and basis on which property operates, can be questioned, reformulated and reapplied or rejected where problems arise.  At this point, the point of application, Brainpolice’s critical analysis applies and we are forced to deal with people who’s only response to a serious attack on their system is blind faith.  “The market will take care of it!” and if this doesn’t work, you can always look to the linguistic lingo and peculiar use of language to confuse the situation a little more.

Anarcho-Capitalism is simplistic in theory and application.  With time, there is a notable tendency of Anarcho-Capitalists to drift Left.  If nothing else can be taken from this, the biggest question will still remain:


Drifting left with every step

25 04 2011

An essay has appeared by a self-described Libertarian offering some constructive criticism of “Libertarianism” as a movement.  It seems the message that Anarcho-Capitalism/Paleo-Libertarianism/Right-Libertarian and similar offshoots exist largely to defend the interests of the privileged is getting through.  Although the author does not go to such an extreme, the issues highlighted lay out a signficant part of the reason why I repudiate my past association with Anarcho-Capitalism and the broader American “Libertarianism” without excuse.  As far as I am concerned, I was wrong and naive.

I just spent a couple days at a libertarian conference. It is an experience that I find increasingly dismaying and disappointing because there has been a clear rightward shift in the libertarian movement toward some clearly anti-libertarian viewpoints, if not toward some pure nonsense from the fringe right. It is as if no libertarian today can critique the Federal Reserve without appealing to the pseudo-history conspiracy theories of G. Edward Griffin of the John Birch Society.

But what is interesting is listening to libertarians dismiss issues that are important to people who aren’t like them. Let us be truthful: the typical libertarian, and certainly the typical attendee at this conference, is a middle-aged, white, straight male. And they seem utterly incapable of seeing freedom through the lenses of anyone who isn’t the same.

Mention equal marriage rights for gay people and they simply dismiss it as unimportant. If they aren’t actively opposed—and some were—they see it as inconsequential. If you talk about guns they often are interested since so many of them own firearms. If you talk about pornography they are interested. But when it comes to the barriers to immigration they don’t give a damn since they aren’t immigrants. They hate tax laws but then they pay taxes.

Unfortunately for the author, rejecting “Me libertarianism” also leads to questioning other dogmas that get passed around with the Libertarian doctrine, and if a person follows their anti-authoritarian instincts, they are likely to find themselves heading further Left then they ever imagined.

My current heading

8 09 2009

Totality, self-sacrifice and demand that the individual conform to the stereotype associated with the arbitrary concept of the nation has been, and will remain the rallying call of politicians who wield the power granted to them by the state.  They seek a freedom to remake society in their vision, one which respects no individual and one which is to be obtained upon theft, murder and a illusion of dependency.  This is the state and this is what I oppose.

The words of Mussolini are the words of the authoritarian and sum up, in their entirety, the philosophy that surrounds the state and all authoritarian ideologies;

Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity. It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts[sic]

The rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual. And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values – interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people.

No individuals or groups (political parties, cultural associations, economic unions, social classes) outside the State. Fascism is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle. Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State.”

In the words of Mussolini himself, the state demands the power, the freedom to coerce which manifests itself in such actions as murder and theft.  They demand total obedience, total subjugation and total unity.  My Anarchism, is a reaction against this, against the absurdity of the modern state in its desire to achieve totality, where value is recognised but then denied as the modern state pursues its utopia.

The state envisions a formation of society where each of us diligently obeys the law as made by parliament, where there is no crime as a result of our diligence, no aggression and where we each accept our place in our society.  It is the dream of the statist to remake society under their particular vision, and for this reason every so often groups and organisations get together in an attempt to take control of the power granted by the state; to become a government.  They wish to play God and the pillars of the state provide these people with a platform from where they can propel their particular vision onto the rest of society.  If they win, them and their strongest supporters are awarded with privilege, while the holy land promised to the rest of us as a trade off is always just out of sight.  More hospitals, safer streets, better healthcare, lower taxes, a cleaner environment, greener economy — it never arrives and instead we are greeted with further problems.

Absolutes are the domain of the statist, and the pursuit of them, their domain which defines the statist and sets them apart.  Their authority, once they attain it, is unquestionable — divine.  The institution that grants them their authority is the will of the people and we are told that our will which supports their authority has only one choice and that one choice is never to be question.  But it is never our will that puts these others into office.  We are never consulted.  We are given a form that may or may not influence the outcome in order to placate us.  The vision of the statist is equally set in stone, entirely because they are correct.  They have power; they must be right.  They are the way, the truth and the light.

Nationalism, statism, corporatism, hierarchy, wage, war and welfare slavery all produce the most devastating results upon each of us, every day.  This is because they are used to justify the very existence of the state, its supporters and the utopian vision that drives them.  We tell ourselves fibs and tall tales to convince ourselves that this man or group of men shall bring the moon to the earth and give us that utopia that we are promised.  But it never happens.  These people seek to create this utopian world through destruction, as their concepts recognise, fundamentally, no value in human life because they can’t.  The state bombs and maims, the state creates dependencies where none has to be, the state robs and plunders and the state pollutes.  We exist to assist, and to sacrifice ourselves if necessary.  We are a cog in the machine, a means to an end that are only valuable so long as we are supporting their vision.  Any ideology that ceases to recognise value in human life can no longer justify itself.  This is what we know from thousands of years of experimentation.  This is what we know to be nihilism.

How then, must we oppose this state of affairs?  Revolution and rebellion provide us with the avenue for change; to recognise that the status quo is not static, but subject to change just as society is fluid and dynamic.  The pursuit of power, of rulership, cannot be justified because it refuses to acknowledge value in human existence.  Legislation may outlaw murder, but murder itself is not evil when employed in the service of the state, when it is organised, legalised and projected in the service of the state under the term we know as ‘war’.  However, if we are to assert that there is value in human life then the freedom to murder claimed by the state cannot exist.  There is a limit; murder is impossible.  If an individual, conscious that value exists, commits murder, they must in turn accept that their own lives are forfeit.  To refuse the sacrifice is to asser that the murders actions were justified, that they should be free to murder.  It asserts that there is no value in life.  An Anarchist revolution cannot be based on the premise that murder — aggression — is justifiable or we make a transition from rebellious revolutionary, to the oppressor — the very thing we are attempting to resist.  Of course there is self-defence, but even self defence is proportionate to the level of aggression we are confronted with or we in turn become murders and are guilty of aggression; we do not respond to a harmless drunk throwing punches by shooting him dead with a shotgun.  Likewise, in the context of revolutionary action, the state is in a constant state of aggression against its people in one manner or another — the different schools of Anarchism recognise different elements off this aggression and expound its effects among society.

Logically, it may be said that the existence of this aggression may justify an Anarchist to self defence, but it does not justify any action as it is subject to the principle of proportionality as well as other considerations which must be taken into account.  If a government by an act of state declares war on a area populated with Anarchist communities; they have every right to resist.  If a government declares war on Anarchists within its cities such as what has occurred in Athens, it is reasonable that they have a right to resist.  And in the past they have.  But what about the mundane, daily operations of government and state that, though undoubtedly work to coerce each and every one of us in our own lives?  This is aggression and wouldn’t it justify violence?

Assuming for a moment that such a problem is not subject to tactical necessity, a violent uprising, tilts upon the edge of the nihilism as it rests upon its own aggression to ‘push back’ against that which occurs in every day lives.  People are fallible, introducing an element of violence to seek change is no different to trusting a small group of fallible people with managing the affairs and achieving a utopian vision for all the other equally fallible people — absurd.  Violent revolutionary action in response to nothing more than the daily aggression we experience from the state cannot be a workable option for change and is the same motivation that lead the early Anarchists to terrorism.  Violence, inevitably invalidates everything the revolution stands to protect, it is forced to negate its core principles in order to successfully achieves its goals.  Whereas violence in response to a positive act by the government of the day may be just, violence in response to the everyday aggression can not be legitimatised as an equilibrium is upset and means are subjugated to ends in a utilitarian measure that will work to ensure a final victory.  But then given the nature of time and society, ends are not absolutes in themselves; there will always been new, unforeseen agitations that arise after a revolution simply because we can not know what world will be created once a revolution has run its course.  Violence will in turn be employed against these agitations because it is convenient and we will spiral into ever increasing amounts of violence.  We have slipped and fallen well beyond the point where violence is employed in self defence to where violence as a means for change that recognises no value.  Violent revolutions therefore sacrifice everything for expediency on nothing but faith.  We would take up the nihilism of our masters, inevitably becoming what we despise.

Then we approach a second consideration that must be made and while it is considerably weaker, it is still relevant.  This considerations concerns whether those who constitute the ranks of the political class are all guilty of the same crime.  True enough, they are all equally evil for parasitically profiting from the systematic violence and coercion permitted by the state at the expense of everyone who is productive in society, but many oppressors are simply going through the motions of a life they were prepared for by centuries of tradition.  Intent must play a role.  The crime of many statists is being born into a methodology that does not recognise the liberty to be found in value.  Not every statist in the world is a Cheney or Rumsfield who sought to bring death to thousands of people outside America’s borders and even, some may argue, domestically.  Many, I would assert, are like Obama, whose own actions betray a certain level hypocrisy, who set out with the best intentions and instead arrive at the gates of hell.  All too often it is in their official capacity that these people are criminal — even those who outright lobby for government issued subsidies to their industries are guilty.  As a person, they are empathetic, have concerns that probably mirror those of most people and who recycle.  Yet this does not alleviate the fact that Obama is a politician, seeks out rulership over others and will inevitably commit atrocities in his time as president, as all those at the helm of the state do.  But doesn’t the difference between motive and intent renders his crimes distinct from those of Cheney and Rumsfield?

Then there is the question about reformism; if murder cannot be justified and so violent revolution therefore off the table, then what about the prospects for the overtaking of the government by a party seeking to destroy the state from the inside? Figures that advocated this approach come to immediately, particularly Marx.  Marx rightly spoke out with ferocity against privilege and reminded elites that their privilege was not divine yet his proposition of revolution failed because it relied on faith and the state.  As it is impossible to know what will eventuate after a revolution runs its course, Marxism had nothing left but to take a leap of faith and incorporated the belief that government will merely disappear when a classless society has been achieved.  Government and the state, then became a tool to wrestle from the hands of the upper class and instead be employed towards the interests of the working class.  It is authoritarian in concept and recognises no value as the oppression that arrives with the state is then employed against the enemies of the revolution and so the whole venture hinges upon the existence of the state.  The Libertarian Party of America comes to mind as another group that has hinged on the same belief and while it is philosophically dissimilar to Marxism, advocates of either share the goal to reform away the state.  Legislation is supposedly to defeat legislation.  Again, a third philosophy whose proponents are often attracted to such thinking are the Anarcho-Capitalists which a strange overlap for two philosophies whose proponents loathe each other.  Rothbard, after all, did call for a militant party to take over the government and bring about the change desired. But nevertheless, the whole strategy falls prey to the inevitable fact that the state is of such bureaucratic girth that by the time one law has been fought against or introduced to limit the state, a number of others which strengthen the institution of the state have already been enacted.  And then, the whole attempt is at risk of falling prey to the same faults as revolution characterised by violence; if it is successful, then no doubt, momentum will be coopted by the individual in control of the party and, by extension, the government who then use the coercive power of the state to crush their opposition, solidify their position and justify it all in the name of change that never arrives.

The state exists to give a government power founded upon violence, in turn used to make and mould society to their vision, benefiting their friends and leaving the rest at a disadvantage.  Yet the perfect society they seek is an impossible ends.  The result is nothing short of absurd and we are left with no other option but to rebel.  However, our options are limited; we do not wish to become our masters who are reprehensible to us because of their lust for power and their profit at our expense.  Therefore the strategy of revolution as attempted in the past can no longer be accepted.  We cannot condone coercive violence to achieve our aims and neither can we tolerate reformism which wastes our time and resources.  Our only option is then the process of building our society within the shell of the old, an aged Anarchist concept that has sat, quietly, in the background while pragmatic violence and mundane reformism fall in an out of favour.  Such a concept is motivated, primarily, by creation.  The creation of infrastructure nurtures us and wrests control away from the state without violence, but through the simple act of existence.  We go about our daily lives, we trade, we organise according to our politics and understanding of the world and each day we live, we deprive the state of support and income because we show ourselves, our neighbours and the world that we can do it ourselves.  This infrastructure exists as everything from practices such as tax dodging and producing goods in a direct violation of every regulatory scheme invented, to community gardens, trade unions and antifa actions.  They serve purposes of each providing goods or services from security to repair work.  Each betters the world, but more importantly, they all in some way better our own lives.  After all, it is inevitable that any subsequent change, any revolution that topples the state and allows each of us to live out our lives free from another’s freedom to rob and murder us, will fail to do away with injustice.  Children will still be abused, people will still murder and thieve and we will still grapple with the questions on how to protect against these infringements upon our lives, even if overall injustice is reduced.  But the goal of seeking a just world, free of these evils, free of the inherent oppression that comes with the state and the inherent authoritarianism in such things as racism, nationalism and corporatism is what defines us as Anarchists.

We may not succeed, any alternative infrastructure we create may fail to drive support away from the state and authoritarian groups bent on obtaining power from themselves, but in our attempts we create lasting benefits in our communities.  We create a network founded upon mutuality and reciprocity, a counter-economy which provides a safety net, something which we and our friends can rely upon.  By doing so, we reject the freedom of the political class to kill and thieve and we recognise value in the world.  We cement the values of individualism and the passion for life that comes with existence in spite of the attempts by statist to impose themselves and their utopian visions upon us.  We laugh, we learn, we love and we rebel, for we are not them and should not permit ourselves to become the oppressors.  We do not seek absolutes, but we seek moderation, an equilibrium where each individual self is respected without molestation.  We are Anarchists.


6 07 2009

Capitalism, one of the last great sacred cows for many.  For some its a god, placed upon a pedestal and revered as the saviour of man.  To others it is the epitome of evil, to be combated at all costs.

‘Capitalism’ means different things to different people, depending on context and each person’s theoretical background.  Some people use it to mean a series of free exchanges between individuals uninfluenced by state or force, while other people refer to it as a system of workers exploitation and privilege for the few.

Mike Gogulski relates his thoughts on the subject:

With a single exception, attendees responded with words evoking free markets, individualism, free association, self-determination, respect for property, the ability to create and retain wealth, no interference in peaceful trade, ideological consistency, and so on.

I then told them that they are all absolutely right. And at the same time absolutely wrong.

I said: Capitalism is an exploitative system of privileges granted to wealthy interests to the detriment of the poor.

And that definition is also right, because it lives in the minds of billions.

Likewise, in the comments of the ‘About me’ section of my blog, Geoffrey Transom wrote:

You can dislike anarcho-capitalism all you like, but if you’re genuinely an anarchist, and the world progressesto[sic] anarchy, it will be anarcho-capitalist.

Markets are the only coercion-free way to enable mutually-beneficial exchange: there is no other mechanism. I think you are conflatingtheeffects[sic] of crony-capitalism (the US model since the mid-1800s) with actual, free, markets.

Acknowledging that there is a running disagreement about the meaning of the term capitalism is just the start.  What needs to be taken into account is the fact that billions of people regard the label ‘capitalism’ as exploitation and oppression.  Meanwhile there are thousands of proponents of  Capitalism out there who elaborate on their system as a corporate wonderland.  This group labels themselves ‘Capitalist’ and, even if ‘capitalism’ originally meant something else, it now applies to their ideology.

To all intents and purposes, the crony-capitalism described by Geoffrey Transom is Capitalism.

Some may argue that this also applies to the term ‘Anarchist’, in that many who like the idea of indiscriminate violence like to label themselves anarchists, so we must give up the term for some other derivative.  The fact that we do not give up the term ‘Anarchist’ to thugs, according to some, supports the argument that we should not give up the term ‘capitalist’ either.  Yet ‘Anarchist’ has been used as a chosen label for movements world-wide filled with passionate and intelligent individuals working for a better society.  Misuse of the term abounds only when it is applied as part description, part label to a group by a third party.  It’s intended to provoke an audience.

The difference lies in how the label is applied and for what purpose; the first group identify as Anarchist, while the second group have been identified by others as anarchist in rhetoric.  Such rhetoric has unfortunately continued in popular culture, meaning advocates of Anarchism are routinely forced to deal with a common cliché — but this cliché still this works in favour of Anarchists.  The word is exciting and fun.  It forces all kinds of responses from all kinds of people, ranging from shock horror to curiosity.  It has connotations with passion, humanism, the promise of revolt and even the promise of salvation, freedom and justice.  It is a rallying call.  In short, it is radical.

Ignoring the specific meaning of the term for a moment ‘capitalism’, or any replacement for the label ‘Anarchist’ for that manner, is boring.

It is also worth mentioning that the same argument that some would apply to Anarchist’ would apply more aptly to the term ‘free market’, which has been appropriated and misused as rhetoric by those arguing in favour of the current capitalist economic system.  The words are a description that encapsulate an idea.  With little clarification one can easily use the term ‘free market’ (or even ‘freed market’ as has become the fashion among some scenes) to mean the everyday interactions of individuals, unfettered by interference from an external third party.  Unlike the term ‘capitalism’, ‘free market’ implies more than one concept and has been misused as rhetoric rather than as a label or a noun given to a set of ideals concerning the realm of statist party-politics and economics.  In this sphere, it has been misapplied as oh so many ‘free markets’ are never, actually ‘free’.  ‘Capitalism’ does not contain the ‘free from external influence’ imputation that ‘free market’ does using the plain and ordinary meaning of the words.  As the current state of world economies show, economic systems that ascribe to the Capitalist label seem to depend on the state for existence.  In this the Marxists appear to be right.

This is the way in which I use these terms.  It is hardly a conflation, but more an emphasis in the distinction between ‘capitalism’ and the ‘free market’ as distinct and different concepts.  Conversely, I would submit to my critics that the use of ‘capitalism’ as synonymous with the ‘free market’ is the true conflation in terms.  When Konkin wrote that Anarcho-Capitalists conflate the productive class and the apathetic, apolitical capitalist class, he failed to notice that the problem can be traced back to the fundamental misuse of basic language.  After all, in the course of everyday life it would be the height of arrogance to redefine a word to mean something other than what it does, simply to fit my agenda, and to then insist upon all whom I come across that it is the world who truly operates on an incorrect premise.  Most people would ignore me, or call me crazy if I suddenly redefined the word ‘clam’ to mean ‘sandwich’, so why shouldn’t the same apply to ‘capitalism’?  It is arrogant to redefine ‘capitalism’ to mean the ‘free market’, incorporate it into a particular ideology and then insist that it is the rest of the world who is wrong — especially when in the minds of individuals everywhere, Capitalism is synonymous with a coercive system of privilege and exploitation.

And yet, in these times of economic uncertainty, there are those sounding the alarm that many of the world’s economies may give up on Capitalism, with America leading the way.  It may be a little crazy (even a little radical) of me to suggest the following, but maybe Capitalism should be cast off, slaughtered and thrown on the pit to be left to rot along with other dead, statist ideologies such as Stalinist Communism.  As radicals, we cannot advocate Capitalism.  We should be pouring scorn upon it along with the best scourn-pourers and offering our audiences the free market as a true alternative.  We must cast off Capitalism entirely; not merely cover it up and hide it away in what amounts to a superficial change, by slapping a new label on an old product.

Kevin Caron’s phrase “Free Market, Anti-Capitalism”  has become the battlecry for the new generation of Agorists, Mutualists and Individualist Anarchists for a reason.

Special thanks to Neverfox of Instead of  a Blog.