"Look not to the politicians; look to yourselves." ~ Richard Cobden
Contra Anarcho-Capitalism: A Term of Contradiction and Historic Ignorance
Exclusive to STR
July 11, 2008
Far from a new objection, to hear the demur of 'Anarcho-Capitalism's' oxymoron status from those 'social anarchists' lulled by the hot charisma of Noam Chomsky will not exactly ring a fresh tune to the ears of Market Anarchists. Noting that some of the socialist banter on the other side can be unnecessarily hostile, however, could there perhaps be truth in the contradiction of 'Anarcho-capitalism'? Could there perhaps be a point in calling attention to the vulgar nature of associating the two antonymic terms of Anarchism and capitalism? Could Market Anarchism really be a form of anti-capitalism? In most estimates, it would seem that the theoretical implications, derivatives, and variables of a free-market ' that is, one absent all state facilities and their corporate beneficiaries ' do not at all resemble the same nuances found in the historically correct definition of capitalism. This fact, this single truth, this blindingly revisionist statement cannot be denied after intelligently pondering the inquiries as to the origin of capitalism as a word, the nature of its foundation, and the meaning expressed by its creators with consideration for further theoretical implications. Yes, unapologetically contrary to partisan sentiments and startlingly true, the fact that Anarchists of all strains share the common enemies of capitalism and statism will surely create alliances with some, strike a chord with a few, and alienate even more. This unfortunate reality aside, however, the possibility should not stop one from trying to create logical alliances made in the interests of restoring Anarchist fraternity between Anarchists sharing the same basic tendencies. After all, there certainly does exist much for Anarchists to agree upon; for example, Anarchist-Communists, in the strain of Peter Kropotkin, will find much support from Rothbardians when they define their philosophy of Anarchism thusly:
Anarchism [is] the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.
Likewise, Market Anarchists, in the strain of Murray N. Rothbard, will only see nodding heads when presenting to Anarchist-Communists the following statement:
The State does not merely use coercion to acquire its own revenue, to hire propagandists to advance its power, and to arrogate to itself and to enforce a compulsory monopoly of such vital services as police protection, firefighting, transportation, and postal service. For the State does many other things as well, none of which can in any sense be said to serve the consuming public. It uses its monopoly of force to achieve, as Nock puts it, a 'monopoly of crime''to control, regulate, and coerce its hapless subjects. Often it pushes its way into controlling the morality and the very daily lives of its subjects. The state uses its coerced revenue, not merely to monopolize and provide genuine services inefficiently to the public, but also to build up its own power at the expense of its exploited and harassed subjects: to redistribute income and wealth from the public to itself and to its allies, and to control, command, and coerce the inhabitants of its territory.
Still though, as the nature of the divide between broken comrades entails, the hidden agreements notwithstanding, there certainly does exist a great deal of animosity between the separate sections of libertarian sectarians. Far from it being a problem of 'social Anarchists' simply refusing to acknowledge freedom, as some articles would seem to suggest, however, the issue appears to tie much tighter with a rather pathetic yearning of some Market Anarchists to cling to the remnants of their past bouts with conservatism ' usually taking form with the embracing of the term capitalism. By draining both Anarchism and capitalism of all historical context and meaning, many Market Anarchists marry the two terms in an 'Anarcho-capitalist' wedding that only a Salvador Dal' could design. Strikingly, that many Market Anarchists embrace the term capitalism in order to polarize themselves from the more distasteful rhetoric of other Anarchists reminds one of a child pushing away a hearty meal and reaching for a bag of potato-chips and a pack of Oreos.
'But what's so wrong with the word capitalism? Don't you love the free-market?' an 'Anarcho-capitalist' might ask. To answer, that so many conflate free-market with capitalism remains one of the greatest disappointments of political terminology; completely divergent from the principle of free and voluntary association, as Kropotkin and Rothbard both aspire to create, the system of capitalism is one of economic exploitation by the definition of the word, or at least in its original phraseology. As created in the context of an economic system, the coinage of the word capitalism, far from referring to the actual substance of a free-market, mostly references the symptoms of the world seen by many socialists as exploitative. Proven indirectly from contemporary socialists describing capitalism as 'the social system which now exists in all countries of the world' and directly from the nature by which the first anti-capitalists observed the capitalist mentality, that capitalism always meant economic coercion by the strong lording over the weak seems fairly ironclad. Arguing that capitalism is what modern society suffers from, socialists make it clear that capitalism is not synonymous with free-market, since the free-market does not at all resemble the capitalist society of today, the 19th century, or any era; furthermore, being indirect inheritors of the first socialist position on capitalism, it becomes easy to see that socialists merely argue against what they observe as the defined system of capitalism, and not against the logic of liberty itself. Here, socialists like Mikhail Bakunin point to the conditions of their societies to describe the system of capitalism:
The risks of the worker are infinitely greater [than the capitalists']. After all, if the establishment in which he is employed goes bankrupt, he must go several days and sometimes several weeks without work, and for him it is more than ruin, it is death; because he eats everyday what he earns' The accidents and illnesses that can overtake him constitute a risk that makes all the risks of the employer nothing in comparison: because for the worker debilitating illness can destroy his productive ability, his labor power. Over all, prolonged illness is the most terrible bankruptcy, a bankruptcy that means for him and his children, hunger and death.
Damning this system as capitalist, coining the term capitalism itself, the socialists are absolutely right! The system of capitalism, from which the socialists observed, absolutely existed and exists to exploit not only the workers, but every honest entrepreneur without connections to the violent state. Yes, originally used as a pejorative to describe the economic system of the day, the socialists and state-socialists (or Marxists) apparently delved no deeper into the defining of the term than the evident consequences of the system around them. Pointing to their primary concerns with conditions at the time and not with the moral arguments for freedom, capitalism's establishment comes with the pillars of the 19th century as an eternal reference. Regarding capitalism as the apparent, socialists took it to be evil; associating capitalism with the realities of their society, it seems that they did so correctly.
The term capitalism being determined by the scene of the 19th century then, the idea that a capitalist economy could find any common definition with the free-market seems absolutely ludicrous. Indeed, for from early antiquity, to the 19th century, and even to this day, the plague of statism infests the very same economies that all correctly hail as capitalist. To expound, of the many statist institutions exploiting the entrepreneurs and the workers in the 1800s there included the first Central Bank of England established in 1694, the colonies of major Western European and American powers run by monopolized charter-companies, the continued economic instability of France in and through la Terreur, the protectionism of Otto von Bismarck and the Prussians, and of course the forever deteriorating situation of Russia and its many faces of tyranny. So, understanding the historical unfree-market of Europe, if the motives behind the objections to the system of capitalism launched from the inequitable scenes seen, then as the word capitalism was only coined to describe that which caused the effects of inequity and not the theoretical free-market itself, it must be concluded that which is, was, and will ever be capitalism cannot be free-market! For what free market could include blatantly authoritarian institutions like Central Banks, land trusts inherited from the remnants of feudal lords, and 'monopolies granted by governments to associations of merchants and craftsmen who [aid] in the collection of taxes, in return for the assurance of profits by excluding native and foreign competitors' (Rothbard 18)? Certainly no free-market in the Mutualist, Rothbardian, or Austrian traditions! Yes, with capitalism defined in terms of a historic perspective, if those advocating a free-market oppose protectionism and economic exploitation as seen in that context, then the free-marketer, the libertarian, the Market Anarchist must understand his inherent position against capitalism as a free-market anti-capitalist!
Sadly, however, many capitalist apologists and vehement anti-marketers will still disagree, holding grudges of rhetoric and terminology without any consideration for Anarchist progress. For the anti-marketers, they will point to the ignorant, capitalist apologists as proof of Market Anarchism's actual allegiance to capitalism; for the capitalist apologists, their vulgar libertarianism will always corrupt their souls and separate them from success in the pursuit of all of that which walks on an anti-authoritarian path. These stubborn boars aside, however, what can be done to reaffirm an alliance between Anarchists for the common goal of a libertarian society? Conceding the oxymoronic nature of 'Anarcho-capitalism' is a good start, but where else can Anarchists strike? Here, one may primarily suggest multi-tendency organizations like the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, an organization aimed at advancing the left-libertarian cause of liberation and voluntary cooperation. Introducing alliances like ALL , clandestine and potent in nature, the rise of a unified front for libertarianism seems increasingly inevitable, and with Market Anarchists at long last on their way back to their anti-capitalist roots, little seems likely to get in the way.