• Tom Cleary

Anarchy = Capitalism Part I: The Moral Case

Updated: May 25


I have been made aware recently of how touchy so-called “anarchic” socialists are of the equation above. It drives them to apoplexy. Now, to be fair there can be no gainsaying the historical link between anarchy and socialism. The growth of the anarchist school of thought in the 19th. century was tilted quite heavily toward those “anarchists” who were also socialists. I would steer you toward this site for an extended discussion of this and related topics. I will rely heavily on this resource in this discussion as it is a serious and thoughtful exposition of the subject matter and I want to use the best of their arguments in this discussion.

The question is not the historical connection between those who call themselves anarchists as well as socialists. The issue is whether this is a logical connection. Just because an idea has currency for a long time does not make it correct. The geocentric view of the universe held sway for millennia, but as we came to find out, it was incorrect. So, we shall see with this linkage.

The dictionary defines anarchy as “a state of society without government or law”. Not perfect, perhaps, but good enough definition for our purposes. Capitalism is defined by the same dictionary as “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.” Again, not perfect but close enough for our purposes.

The objection of “anarcho-socialists” to capitalism is that they equate the private ownership of property as on the same level with governmental control. That is, they see the state as an engine of oppression (upon which we agree), but they also see private property as theft and just as oppressive as state control (hence the dispute). More fully, “anarcho-socialists” are opposed to all hierarchy, because hierarchy is the organisational structure that embodies authority. This leads them to oppose all forms of hierarchy, not just the state. This extends to capitalist ownership of property and to the notion of private property itself.

Therefore, they want a system in which socialism reigns, which for them means “a social system in which the producers possess both political power and the means of producing and distributing goods.” They see capitalism as just as exploitative as government and see the two working together, and in fact see capitalism as dependent upon government for its existence.

So, what would this socialist world look like? According to them they would “favour direct workers' control and either ownership by workers' associations or by the commune (see section A.3 on the different types of anarchists).”

Is there any strength to this formulation of oppression; equating capitalist private property with the state? None. We must, as always, start with the individual. If one is to have ownership of one’s life (unobjectionable by anyone), then one must own the means to sustain one’s life. That is, private property. If you do not have ownership of property (and this means control, as well as nominal title) then it is logical that you cannot own your life. You must have absolute ownership of the property necessary to sustain that life. In the socialist ownership forms “ownership by workers' associations or by the commune”, the ownership of property is placed into a collective and not fully in the control of the individual. To the extent that this occurs, you are to that extent owned by someone else. It matters little to “own” your life, if your food depends upon the power of someone else giving it to you, even your comrades in the commune. It makes one wonder what the “anarcho-socialists” think is so oppressive about the state; it is precisely their stripping individuals of their right to own and use property, that marks them as oppressive. Governments understand that private property beyond their control gives them no real power over people.

Now the chief counter-argument to this is that there is such a disparity of power between capital and labor (to use shorthand), that capital will oppress labor by making it necessary for labor to buckle and become oppressed drones and worker bees, so that others can get rich off their labor. So, there is inequality, so what? Real equality of opportunity is inconceivable. It would mean that nobody had any genetic disadvantages, everybody had equally good parents, schools, communities. And that’s just within a country. When we start thinking about the world, equality of opportunity becomes a laughable concept.” This is a quote with which I agree. From some hard-hearted capitalist, you ask. No, Nathan J. Robinson, founder of Current Affairs magazine, a socialist publication wrote it. It is precisely this inequality of resources and temperament that precludes anyone from owing all the property necessary to provide all that they wish to have. This gives rise to exchange, based upon the division of labor. This is why the capitalist must exchange with the laborer. The laborer having the absolute moral right to exchange his/her labor for any price they find acceptable.

Does this consign labor to abject penury? Marx thought so. He, like our current socialist friends, thought that the relationship between capital and labor is one of master and slave. This is why Marx thought that wages would be driven down to a subsistence level, literally wages enough only to keep a worker alive to come in to work the next day. Well, if it is a master slave relationship why wouldn’t you drive wages down to a subsistence level, in order to maximize profit. Of course, Marx was wrong, this is not what happened, and socialists admit it; see section C2.1 here. The empirical fact is, that capital had to compete for labor and real wages went up because of rising productivity. It is for another post to dive deeper into the economic fallacy of socialism, but for our purposes it is enough to recognize that a “disparity” of power does not preclude labor from increasing its material wealth, and so removes this moral objection from the socialist argument.

At best, moving the center of control from a centralized state to “communes” and other such collective bodies only shifts the locus of ownership of some by others, it in no way alters the fundamental immorality of the activity. Now, if such communes and worker owned enterprises arise organically and are truly voluntary, then they are not morally different than any other cooperative venture and as such, unobjectionable. If, however, everyone becomes subject to the will of the majority, then that minority is effectively owned by the majority and cannot have full ownership of their life, as is their basic human right. (In a follow-up post, I will show how these organizational forms are in fact coercive mini-states and are not at all voluntary.)

In the end, there can be no moral objection to private property as the right to own property IS a human right! It is only in a capitalist system that the right to property, and therefore, self-ownership is protected. This protection need not be provided by the state and in fact real anarchists have developed quite a body of work outlining what this protection might look like, sans government. See Gustave de Molinari, Murray Rothbard and more recently Robert Murphy. The point being, that the truest form of anarchy is one that recognizes the fundamental right of individuals to own, use and exchange private property, including their own labor and rejects the state for being a violator of these rights. To eliminate private property along with the state throws out the baby with the bathwater and simply shifts the center of oppression from one coercive location to another; this is inhumane and not worthy of being called anarchist.

In two weeks: what the practical application of “anarcho-socialism” would look like and how, it would break down.

Praise Be to God

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