Untangling some semantic confusions… (part 1/2)

I often complain that both sides of the Anarchist divide are so full of spite for each other that they don’t really take the time to address the semantic confusions. Because Socio-Anarchists come from a leftist background, and Market Anarchists come from a libertarian background, they approach the same issues in very different ways and using very different words.

Market Anarchists emphasize the economic aspect, but are more anti-government than anti-capitalism. Socio-Anarchists emphasize the social aspect, but are more anti-capitalism than anti-government. Market Anarchists despise Socio-Anarchists for being ignorant of basic economic principles and for turning a blind eye to government abuse, and Socio-Anarchists reject Market Anarchists because they think we sanction capitalist exploitation and don’t care about equality.

In most of these disputes, we are in fact talking about the same thing. The shining example of this is the property/possession debate. When Market Anarchists talk about “property,” the Socio-Anarchist understands this as “the State-enforced usurpation of ownership,” and because of this assumes the Market Anarchist is a capitalist stooge.

But the fact of the matter is that what we understand by “property” and what they understand by “possession” is the same thing. Certainly Market Anarchists do not accept the proposition that the State legitimately owns all the land, or that corporations have legitimate ownership, so Market Anarchists do not agree with the concept of property as understood in the democratic-capitalist context. Although they may disagree on the specific mechanisms by which they may be regulated, most Market Anarchists and Socio-Anarchists accept the homesteading/trade principle and the use/occupancy principle. But because Market Anarchists use their word “property” and Socio-Anarchists use the word “possession,” both sides stubbornly refuse to agree.

Of course there are those people who do advocate unbounded property, or who advocate that the concept of ownership as a whole must be rejected. Both positions are gravely illogical, but at least we can refute them from a common ground.

One of the problems is that both sides insist in using terms in their own special way, when 99.99% of people would disagree. All that really does it make people believe that you believe in what they understand by the term, and so they will think you are an asshole. Nowhere has this been made more clear than by Objectivism, which is a largely discredited ideology because of Ayn Rand’s noble but misguided crusade to reclaim words like “selfishness” and “capitalism.”

Note that I do not exclude either side from this fault. The badly-named “Anarcho-Capitalism” and “Anarcho-Socialism” both suffer from it. Of course, both sides insist that their name means something else, talk about the history of the terms, and discuss what this or that prominent thinker said on the subject. This is all flummery designed to trick you into realizing that they are using the term in a different way than is understood by everyone else. Capitalism and socialism are properly understood as two different systems of State exploitation, and thus can have nothing to do with Anarchy. The Anarchist economic system is radically different from capitalism, socialism and communism, especially when we consider that these are all merely extensions of one another, and co-exist as parts of the statist domination strategy.

The use of these words, therefore, says a lot about the ideological past and the approach taken by the individual using them, and says absolutely nothing about Anarchy, apart from the fact that a lot of people do not understand that Anarchy is an economic system in itself, quite distinct from the economic systems we observe today. They fail to grasp the radical nature of the Anarchist proposition.

A word which Socio-Anarchists often use positively is “democracy.” On this we get the same problem than for “capitalism” and “socialism,” in that they use the term in a different way than what is commonly understood. Democracy is a statist form of organization by which a ruling class presents a limited set of options, which are then selected through the mechanism of voting, which means in practice that they are selected by the aggregate beliefs that are strongest amongst the voting pool. Since those aggregate beliefs are also strongly determined by ruling class propaganda, democracy can therefore be said to be a system that exists solely to manufacture consent for the ruling class.

Socio-Anarchists, on the other hand, want to use democracy to mean a system of self-determination, where the people in a given local society take decisions about their resources. But this is Anarchy, not democracy. Democracy is almost the exact opposite of self-determination: it is a relation between ruler and subject, and there is very little about democracy that is generated by the values of the individual subject. In democracy, there is no dialogue, there is no free exchange: like any other system the State sets up, it is a purely confrontational system.

Insofar as decision-making goes, Anarchy proposes that the free market system, free from all coercion, determine the direction of society. Self-determination, both at the individual (through value exchange) and at the social level (through some form of consensus and dialogue) has been, is, and should be, a strong systemic guiding principle for any Anarchist form of organization.

Anarchists need to take a page from the capitalists and stop being ashamed of their brand name. They should stop confusing people by preaching democracy when they should be promoting Anarchism.

21 thoughts on “Untangling some semantic confusions… (part 1/2)

  1. cork1 July 27, 2008 at 21:25

    Sorry, but there’s not much “semantic confusion” here. Anarcho-lefties use the word “capitalism” to mean exactly the same thing we do, a free market economy. Ask any of them, and every single one will tell you that the free market is what they oppose. Likewise, anarcho-lefties support “democracy” in the exact same sense that we oppose it: total majority rule.

    I really wish that indivudualist anarchists would drop all of this foolish naivete about left-anarchists being allies. Unfortunately, there’s no real “confusion” here. Left-anarchists are as bad as they sound and mean exactly what they say. You give them way too much credit.

  2. David Z July 27, 2008 at 23:15

    I’ve seen enough flame-wars over these sorts of semantics, I’m glad you took the time to write this.

  3. Marja July 28, 2008 at 00:41

    No, Cork, we don’t. If there is one majority position on the anarchist left, it is an anarchism-without-adjectives including communism, mutualism, and other approaches.

    If you take fringe positions somewhere around each side, you could argue that the anarchist left opposes voluntary trade, and you could argue that the right condones slavery, supports copyright, and supports latifundia. You could argue that, and you would be wrong.

  4. cork1 July 28, 2008 at 02:00

    “If there is one majority position on the anarchist left, it is an anarchism-without-adjectives including communism, mutualism, and other approaches.”

    LOL. See? Even you aren’t naive enough to put capitalism in there. But they may be open to “other approaches.” Great. Fan-freakin-tastic.

    It’s a given that the anarchist left opposes voluntary trade. Ending it is the entire point of their philosophy. So no, I would not be wrong by arguing it.

  5. Francois Tremblay July 28, 2008 at 02:05

    Cork, I think that’s entirely unfair. No Mutualist or Left-Libertarian I know opposes voluntary trade.

  6. cork1 July 28, 2008 at 02:14

    I am mostly talking about anarcho-communists, though mutualists do oppose voluntary trade in some instances. For instance, they think it’s “immoral” to charge rent or make a profit. Thankfully they won’t impose their idiocy at gunpoint, like the “social anarchists.”

  7. Francois Tremblay July 28, 2008 at 02:17

    Actually, the issue of rent is a very controversial one. As for profit, well, even self-managed businesses will turn a profit for ideological reasons (for instance, to finance more self-managed businesses so they can exert mutual aid).

  8. cork1 July 28, 2008 at 02:29

    They buy into the religious drivel (taught by Christianity, Islam, and other insane cults) that charging interest is evil. It is especially disappointing that Benjamin Tucker–the egoist!–bought into that crap.

  9. Belinsky July 28, 2008 at 07:18

    I was in agreement, Francois, until you defined socialism as a statist system. I will have to write a post of my own about this sometime. Personally, I’m not willing to concede socialism to the Marxists!

    Also, cork, mutualists could be called social anarchists, depending on how one defines social anarchism. If it just means the type of anarchism which contends that workers have the right to the full product of their labor, then mutualists are social anarchists.

    As for profit, I think that’s an issue where we once again have a misunderstanding of definitions. Social anarchists who oppose profit oppose the sort of profit due to absentee ownership of the means of production, not profit in the sense of self-managed cooperatives making more money than they spend in operating costs.

  10. Jeremy July 28, 2008 at 10:20

    I really wish that indivudualist anarchists would drop all of this foolish naivete about left-anarchists being allies.

    And I wish that you would understand that our preferences are our preferences and your preferences are yours. I’m much more interested at this point in attitudes for cooperation than I am in ideological conformity. People are tired of libertarians preaching to them.

    Being allies doesn’t mean you agree on everything – it means you’ve laid down a framework for cooperation on matters you are agreed on, and that you understand there’s a limit to the utility of debate on matters you disagree on. Libertarians are too quick to excommunicate. It’s this attitude cork has that alienates us into a position where everybody in the world is unacceptable to pure libertarian principles, where we feel so insecure in our positions and beliefs that we can’t stand an iota of disagreement for fear that our entire identity will crumble.

    To be fair, it’s not just cork – Francois appears to take exclusionary positions on matters such as democracy (given the tone of his comments on this article). This judgmental form of politics is not helping us find common ground to actually get things done; instead, it’s isolating us into politically pure identities that ensure nothing gets done to oppose the real bad bad guys in the actual real world.

  11. Jeremy July 28, 2008 at 10:21

    Left-anarchists are as bad as they sound and mean exactly what they say.

    Your certainty is off-putting.

  12. Anarcho-pragmatiste July 28, 2008 at 10:54

    Sometimes, Social Anarchists use the terme “direct democracy” or “Démocratie directe” in French.

    Excellent post!

    “Market Anarchists emphasize the economic aspect, but are more anti-government than anti-capitalism. Socio-Anarchists emphasize the social aspect, but are more anti-capitalism than anti-government.”

    Maybe I’m a Market Anarchist now. I’m more anti-government than anti-capitalist. But I can be very anti-big business.

  13. freeman July 28, 2008 at 13:24

    Cork thinks that left-libertarians are “losers”. He’s been shown on a number of occasions to be uninterested in good faith discussions of issues like these.

    Don’t waste your time feeding trollishness.

  14. Francois Tremblay July 28, 2008 at 16:55

    Someone in private conversation has told me there is no such term as Socio-Anarchists. The use of this term is my attempt at talking about the “other side” without saying “collectivist,” which is a specific ideology. I also don’t want to say leftie because that’s a statist division. We are all “lefties” in the general sense of being against the ruling class.

  15. Francois Tremblay July 28, 2008 at 16:57

    “I was in agreement, Francois, until you defined socialism as a statist system”

    I define ALL words as the way they are commonly defined. I don’t make exceptions. If we’re gonna call “capitalism” what it is, then we also have to call “socialism” and “democracy” are they are.

  16. Francois Tremblay July 28, 2008 at 17:00

    “Maybe I’m a Market Anarchist now. I’m more anti-government than anti-capitalist. But I can be very anti-big business.”

    We could simply declare that anarcho-pragmatism is closer to market anarchism than anarcho-communism. On the other hand, I’d like to know how you define pragmatism.

  17. Francois Tremblay July 28, 2008 at 17:02

    “Francois appears to take exclusionary positions on matters such as democracy (given the tone of his comments on this article). This judgmental form of politics is not helping us find common ground to actually get things done; instead, it’s isolating us into politically pure identities that ensure nothing gets done to oppose the real bad bad guys in the actual real world.”

    Once again this is mostly an issue of semantics. I don’t think any Anarchist can be an Anarchist and support democracy as commonly understood. In fact, very few people do, let alone Anarchists.

    When Anarchists say democracy, they should at least qualify it by saying “participatory democracy” or “localized democracy.” But I think they should simply say Anarchy. Otherwise it makes us look like we support political means! But nothing can be farther from the truth.

  18. Francois Tremblay July 28, 2008 at 17:05

    “If it just means the type of anarchism which contends that workers have the right to the full product of their labor, then mutualists are social anarchists.”

    To me, the economics/social issues division is more important, because it dictates the kind of thing that each side looks like an idiot talking about.

  19. Anarcho-pragmatiste July 28, 2008 at 18:58

    “When Anarchists say democracy, they should at least qualify it by saying “participatory democracy” or “localized democracy.””

    I agree.

  20. Anarcho-pragmatiste July 28, 2008 at 19:51

    “We could simply declare that anarcho-pragmatism is closer to market anarchism than anarcho-communism.”

    Yes, but when I start my blog, I pretend the contraty but right now, this sentence is accurate.

    “On the other hand, I’d like to know how you define pragmatism.”

    I’ll made a post about that. I have to redefine that.

  21. cork1 July 28, 2008 at 21:51

    Interesting, nobody has disputed my comment that there is no semantic confusion here (because there isn’t any). Many here seem to be under the delusion that this is all about “personal preferences.”

    It seems obvious that nobody here has actually read anything by any left-anarchist writers. I realize it’s probably asking too much, but at some point it’s probably a good idea– if you seriously believe left-anarchists are innocent little voluntaryists who want to live in non-coercive communes.
    http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/1931/secB3.html

    *Gasp!* What’s that? They want private property abolished? It can’t be!

    Just another innocent dispute over semantics and preferences, right? Well, except for the fact that they explicitly define their words the same way we do and want one set of preferences to be imposed on those who disagree with them.

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