Can capitalism be allowed to exist?

Is the Anarchist ideology compatible with the continued existence of capitalism?

This is the famous “question of Auban” – the question that “Auban”, the individualist anarchist hero of John Henry Mackay’s novel The Anarchists, put to the left-wing anarchists. In essence: would you, in your proposed anarchist society, permit those who so wished to have private property, to engage in free market transactions, to hire workers in “capitalist’ relations; etc.? The communist anarchists in Mackay’s book never answered the question clearly and lucidly, and neither do any leftwing anarchists that one may encounter today.

This is the kind of question I have sometimes posed to communists regarding mutualism (although obviously not specifically about private property or capitalist work relations), so I have some interest in it.

In a sense, this is a very irrelevant question, which has nothing at all to do with anything we need to be thinking about right now. We need to be thinking about the nature of capitalism and how to defeat it, not about what to do long after this defeat. It’s a diversion meant to divide people in “tolerent” and “intolerent” instead of uniting them against the current existing system.

But in another sense, it goes to the very core of what we’re trying to do. If our goal is to eliminate hierarchies, then we must seek to eliminate private property, and also thereby necessarily eliminating the capitalist work relations. So of course capitalism must be eradicated. There’s no question about it. People cannot be “permitted” “to have private property, to engage in free market transactions, to hire workers in “capitalist’ relations,” for to “permit” implies to “sanction.” The answer is, therefore, an emphatic NO.

But this is not to say that violence must be used. I’ve often commented on the error of confusing “forbid” with “use violence to stop,” which is a pretty fundamental error insofar as Anarchist policy goes.

Besides, it’s a blatantly unfair accusation. Anarchists are called violent for smashing store windows, when the stores whose windows they smash employ child labour, slave labour, or support either of those things. Which is more violent? Can we allow such cruelty to maintain itself, and keep its head high, on this planet, no matter how much Anarchism may be going on? Of course not. And I’m not even talking about the brutal violence used to repress peaceful demonstrations by Anarchists and their allies (see the Seattle WTO protests for a nice example of how much violence the State is ready to use against the right to peaceful assembly, violence far, far in excess of breaking a few windows).

So this brings us to the question, what would libsocs do if people actually did really want to be capitalist subjects? Obviously they are not of sound mind, and the people who subject them are criminals. Therefore it seems that violence is the only possible end.

However, there is another feature of capitalist contracts which provide us with a non-violent solution. A capitalist work contract is not only criminal but also illogical. It has no more validity than any contract predicated on the principle that 1+1=3. It also precludes the possibility of consent by its very existence. Therefore there is no reason for any libsoc court or mediation to recognize the validity of those contracts, and in fact any court that would claim such validity would thereby show its inability to adjudicate correctly.

This solution assumes a scenario of isolated hierarchy-lovers within a libsoc-type society. The scenario changes dramatically if we imagine a patchwork world, with Anarchist areas and capitalist areas, where logical judicial rules obviously do not apply in the capitalist areas.

In that case, the parasitic nature of capitalism becomes once again a very real issue. Even voluntaryist or “anarcho-capitalist” structures will necessarily encourage the concentration of wealth, the creation of a new ruling class, and an eventual re-collapse into statism. And the capitalist structures, once established, are driven to expand indefinitely. This means that economic and perhaps even physical war would be the natural state of affairs between capitalist and libsoc communities. Libsocs isolating themselves from the capitalists would be a temporary solution, but the capitalists would then be left free to develop weapons too powerful to repulse by any pacifist and benevolent libsoc community, more busy helping each other than building new weapons.

[S]uppose that in a hypothetical libertarian socialist society, Bob tries to set up private security forces to protect certain means of production, e.g. farmland. By the hypothesis, if Bob merely wanted to work the land himself, there would be no reason for him go to the trouble of creating a private state to guard it, because use-rights guarantee that he has free access to the productive assets he needs to make a living. Thus, the only plausible reason Bob could have for claiming and guarding more farmland than he could use himself would be a desire to create a monopoly of land in order to exact tribute from others for the privilege of using it. But this would be an attempt to set up a system of feudal exploitation in the midst of a free community. Thus the community is justified in disarming this would-be parasite and ignoring his claims to “own” more land than he can use himself.

In other words, there is no “right” to adopt an “inegalitarian way of life” within a libertarian community, since such a right would have to be enforced by the creation of a coercive system of enslavement, which would mean the end of the “libertarian” community. To the contrary, the members of such a community have a right, guaranteed by “the people in arms,” to resist such attempts to enslave them.

AFAQ, Appendix

The fact of the matter is that, in the end, we are engaged in a war between, on the one hand, people, and on the other hand, profits and control. Our goal is to make people’s freedoms and rights triumph against the profit imperative and the impulse to control others, which are more or less the same thing. Mewling about “voluntary decisions” doesn’t make this any less the case.

5 thoughts on “Can capitalism be allowed to exist?

  1. AnarchoJesse June 4, 2010 at 07:15

    A-men, brother.

  2. Roderick T. Long June 4, 2010 at 13:31

    Even voluntaryist or “anarcho-capitalist” structures will necessarily encourage the concentration of wealth, the creation of a new ruling class, and an eventual re-collapse into statism.

    What’s the argument for that?

  3. Francois Tremblay June 4, 2010 at 16:01

    That’s what usury does, it concentrates wealth into a few hands in the name of “reward.” And when wealth becomes concentrated, inequality necessarily follows, and freedom goes out the window.

  4. David Gendron June 4, 2010 at 16:27

    Even if an ancap situation would be less damageable to concentration of wealth than the actual situation, François is right on this. Moreover, the recognition of the legitimity of hierarchies leaves more place for the creation of a new ruling class.

  5. selffish communist June 12, 2010 at 10:32

    If we are to look at the issue from a moral perspective then yes “we” (communists or whatever) do have the “right” to forbid private property and usary and the like.

    However I think a far more constructive approach is to lead by example and demostrate the effiency of free communism at delivering most people’s self-recognised needs and desires, most of the time.

    In the hypothetical future free society capitalists will if they so wish be able to compete with us on a level playing field, and probably fail.

    Obviously we do not currently compete on level playing field due to the state capitalist system using both physical and legislative violence to crush, corrupt or coopt all opposition.

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