Which should go first: the State or capitalism?

Most of the Anarchist movement seems pretty determined to take down capitalism before the State. This is also Chomsky’s position: he claims that the State is somewhat accountable to the people, and that therefore the State can be used by us in a way that capitalism cannot. He also claims that taking down the State before capitalism would create an even worse situation for freedom as a whole, while taking down capitalism would not have any negative effects. But are these propositions correct?

To answer these questions, we need to look at the fundamental nature of these two groups of institutions and these two ideologies. What is the State? The State is more than a specific government, more than an apparatus of war, more than an apparatus of law, more than an apparatus of punishment. Its most fundamental nature is that of a property claim: the State is that which claims property over an arbitrary delimited piece of land, and over all the people residing on it. A law is nothing more than the expression of the property rights of the State (i.e. control over land and people), and punishment is the State’s self-defense. A war is nothing more than the desire to expand one State’s property or influence other States’ rights of property.

What is capitalism? Many things can be used to typify a capitalist system, but its most fundamental definition is that of a private claim of property over whatever it is that people use to make their living. The corporation is merely a make-believe construct, made up to delegate property-ownership responsibility to a non-existing person and letting the actual criminals get away scot free. The worker’s wage is a (subjective, and therefore false) price put on the worker selling his right to his own production.

It should not surprise my readers that I identify property at the foundation of these two institutions, since I’ve already pointed out that all hierarchies are based on some form of property.

So we can now see that the issue of accountability doesn’t even enter the picture. Both institutions proceed from the same basic principle (controlling objects, controlling people). Even very intelligent people like Chomsky can be fooled into believing that the institutions give people some form of choice or freedom, such as representative democracy. But the main feature of representative democracy is that all supposed choices are limited, molded and engineered by its leaders. And when a result does not please them, they simply ignore it or it is overturned by opposing factions when the time is right. Whatever one may believe, no actual positive change has been brought about by voting in a representative democracy, simply because its leaders have no reason to offer people a positive change.

But “dollar voting” offers no more accountability than “ballot voting.” Purchasing patterns cannot influence the internal workings of a corporation, only the nature of the supply. And as long as the money monopoly is maintained and capital remains in a few hands, there is no chance to build alternatives for radicals to flock towards. Like in democracy, we only get the choices they want us to have.

Because of the unbounded nature of hierarchies, there is no accountability to be found in either case. Neither the capitalist system nor the democratic system can be reformed from the inside. In fact, historically, there are few examples of positive changes brought about within these systems, and no example of stable positive changes (if we define stable as being more than a flash in the pan, to be corrected by the authorities over a period of years or decades- the period from US independence to the War of Northern Aggression is a good example of this).

The only solution left is therefore to build from the outside, by establishing and growing safe spaces using mutual aid, replacing the social and economic functions of both the State and capitalism with egalitarian principles and equal liberty.

Chomsky’s position is that it would be easier to eliminate capitalism, and that it is safer to eliminate capitalism. I think both propositions are false. But it does not matter anyway, since the issue is not one of choice. The plan of creating and expanding safe spaces must necessarily incorporate mutual aid of the economic and of the organizational kind. You can’t have one without the other. A reciprocal economics can’t be of authoritarian organization, and a reciprocal organization can’t be economically authoritarian.

Sure, eliminating the State would lead to disastrous consequences. But so would eliminating capitalism. If the means of production became unowned, the State certainly would not let the people take control over them, but would seize them for itself (ostensibly in the name of the people, of course). Indeed, the only form of nation-state government we know that dispenses with capitalism is a dictatorship, and dictatorships do not tend to be benevolent.

I’m sure some may wonder what I think is a good strategy to get rid of the capital-democratic system, and that if I’m going to refute someone else’s position, I should present my own. That’s fair enough, so here is my position on what needs to be done:

1. We need to help people regain the ability to trust and love one another.
2. We need to help people see the truth of our class society, and restore people’s class consciousness.
3. We need to rebuild the sense of community and the functions of society through the principles of mutual aid and self-management, creating safe spaces for people to flourish.
4. Protests should only be used to prevent the occupation of the safe spaces we’ve created.
5. Natural resources and human lives should be protected with directed sabotage against materials (never against people).
6. Perhaps most importantly, we need to understand our opponents: not the systems themselves (we know more than enough in those areas), but the individuals. We need to sit down with policemen and find out why they are oppressing people who fight for their own class interests. We need to sit down with managers and investors, and learn why they support corporations which thrive on child labor and prison slave labor. We need to explain to them where their interests lie. If we can convince people to stop supporting the beast, we can hopefully win the battle without fighting.

13 thoughts on “Which should go first: the State or capitalism?

  1. Marc Smith August 10, 2010 at 09:52

    I agree with your assesment of Chomsky and his perpetual praise for democracy. He is either confused or is just trying to appeal to his audience, Im not sure which one it is. But I do have some qualms with you comments. I agree, that eliminating capitalism and leaving the state to fill the vaccum would be disasterous. I’m curious though, is not capitalism propped up by the state? You point out the evils of the capitalist system, i.e. corporations, but you must realize that this is not the result of property as such, but of privlege granted by the state. All the negative attributes you ascribe to capitalism have as their genesis the state. If you can eliminate the state, the ability of capitalist institutions to deal with the problems of over productionl, which is inherent in a state capitalist system, will not be able to be alleviated ( which is usuallydone through foriegn policy). Surplus will mount and inturn, deflation of prices will wipe out profits. There is alot to say in regard to the power holders of large amounts of capital can wield, but without the state to externalize the otherwise prohibitive costs of large corporations, these institutions will wither and die on the vine.

    I have not spent much time reading your blog, but from this post you seem to have an animosity towards property. And property seems to be what you see as the problem. I may be off on this, please correct me if I am. But if we can eliminate the state, state-capitalism will shortly follow. Leaving room for a truely free market to thrive. What ever property arrangments people decide on should be up to them. To undercut peoples ability to hold property seems a bit authoritarian to me. Plus, without the state, it will be increasingly hard for large property holdings to be accumulated in few hands, and the ability of landlords to charge rents will dwindle as the amount of land will be come ever more abundant as it falls out of the hands of the state and state privleged capitalists. I think the anwer is quite simple: Eliminate the state, and state capitalism will be burried soon after.

  2. David Gendron August 10, 2010 at 13:16

    I think the main objective is to fight against all hierarchies of power. And all the other fights should go with this objective in mind.

    But if you want absolutely an order of priority, I think we should fight against the State before capitalism (even if we should not forget that we fight against capitalism too). It’ll be very difficult to capitalism to survive without the State (I don’t think sticky property could survive very long without the State) and, as you show, a “non-capitalist” statist (which would be paradoxically the most complete expression of capitalism) society could be even more disastrous.

    “Sure, eliminating the State would lead to disastrous consequences.”

    Personnally, I would wrote this: “Sure, trying to eliminate the State without the anti-capitalist fight in our mind would lead to disastrous consequences.”

    But for the rest, this post is excellent, and I fully agree with your last six points.

  3. David Gendron August 10, 2010 at 16:39

    Marc, I agree with your most of your comment, but I disagree with you concerning your view on property.

    Even with the ancap concept of private sticky property, a private police could arrest someone that occupy an abandoned possession, and all the anarchist (except ancaps) are against that.

    An example:


  4. David Gendron August 10, 2010 at 16:40

    Marc, I agree with most of your comment, but I disagree with you concerning your view on property.

    Even with the ancap concept of private sticky property, a private police could arrest someone that occupy an abandoned possession, and all the anarchists (except ancaps) are against that.

    An example:


  5. Lori August 10, 2010 at 17:01

    I say attack business first, or attack business and government simultaneously. Business is where the real power is. Also, business is a more formidable opponent. The deliberative nature of government slows it down and makes it a relatively easy target. Particularly in America, anti-statism is a decidedly right-wing ideology. A civil war following a failure of the state would be a gift to the most well-armed elements in American society, which are decidedly capitalist, proprietarian, nationalistic and authoritarian.

    The state is also a class enemy to be attacked, but by all means start with the machinery of explicit authority (DOD, CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS) not the machinery of mere regulatory bureaucracy (FTC, IRS, OSHA, etc.). Unfortunately the aim of 90% of professed anti-statism in America consists of rightists who regard the former as the sole legitimate role of the state. Likewise, if one is seeking a ‘subsidy-free society’ (a dubious goal if you ask me) start by attacking corporate welfare, not social welfare.

    When building safe spaces for people, seek not only alternatives to capital and state, but also market. There are a lot of introverted and non-salesy people like me who have a lot to offer legitimate society, and could really use a safe space from the necessity of selling.

  6. blackacidlizzard August 10, 2010 at 17:34

    “sit down with policemen and find out why they are oppressing people who fight for their own class interests”

    The policeman’s class interest?

    I’ve been on government payroll. I don’t think it was in my immediate and strictly material class interest to cease the power and wealth I had – quite the opposite.

    • Francois Tremblay August 10, 2010 at 17:41

      “The policeman’s class interest?”

      Yes, working class interests.

  7. Marc Smith August 10, 2010 at 17:42

    David, I suppose you may be right, but context matters. I just dont see it as a likley scenario that a massive corporation that wields a hefty police force will come into existence in a ‘free-market’ situation. The ineffecencies of large organizations are cost prohibitive, so unless they could come up with some way do defray their costs onto society, I donot see their dominance as a threat. Mainly because I cant see one or two firm rising to the level of being a threat. And if so, it cant be any more of a threat then the state poses today. We cant compare a free world to utopia, but only to what exists now.

    And as far as property goes, I just do not see any other way then through private property to allocate scarce resources in a way that will minimize conflict. I think the main point to grasp is that in a stateless society, the poor will be more able to be self suffecient( as well as everybody else) and their reliance on wage labor will be deminished greatly. I think pointing out property as such is misguided. What is important is just claims to property and I believe this is something that will have to be worked out. There is no one good answer. But there will have to be property. You cant eat your food if you live in a society that bans all private property. And as I said before, if people want to ban together in a communtiy that adheres to the idea of private property, what anarchist would prevent them from doing so? And if none step forward, this is question of preference.

  8. Francois Tremblay August 10, 2010 at 17:48

    Marc: I don’t know why are you being an apologist for property, but all Anarchists oppose the private property of means of production at the very least. From what you are saying, I think you are a mutualist, is that not correct? Do you subscribe to Kevin Carson’s position of natural socialism?

  9. David Gendron August 11, 2010 at 13:53

    Marc, I agree with your first paragraph.

    In the second paragraph, I disagree for these reasons:

    1) In the large majority of cases, scarcity is a capitalist myth.

    2) Even in the real cases of scarcity, possession could do almost the same things than property, dealing with the Tragedy of The Commons. But unlike property, the possessor loses his possession when he abandoned it.

    3) If you are in favor of the arrest of the man in this example, you are in favor of property, and this is anarcho-capitalism, not anarchism nor mutualism.


    4) The same other reasons and questions than François.

  10. David Gendron August 11, 2010 at 13:55

    “Likewise, if one is seeking a ‘subsidy-free society’ (a dubious goal if you ask me) start by attacking corporate welfare, not social welfare.”

    I agree Lori, but corporate welfare is one the main aim of the State too.

  11. Jeremy Weiland August 24, 2010 at 11:15

    You’re coming to a lot of the same conclusions as I am, Francois. We need to really, truly, deeply understand why our society is the way it is, and attack the root causes as we understand them. Otherwise, our left libertarianism is just a hobby, an exercise in empty theorization that allows us a smug satisfaction as our brothers and sisters have a cage built around them.

    However, in order to connect with our fellow humans, you and I will have to prefigure the future civil society we seek. This means adopting a personal discipline for reaching out and being civil. We’re going to have to deal with our own issues that make it easier for us to simply dismiss people we disagree with. We’re going to have to be patient and tolerant. And we’re going to have to be willing to apply a pragmatic approach grounded in our own lives, personalities, and realities so that we don’t veer off into the kind of dreamy radicalism that puts our neighbors off.

    Like it or not, we NEED the people who piss us off. :)

  12. Parsifal April 28, 2014 at 12:30

    The state is created by organized religion, not the other way around. The first objective of organized religion was not spiritual salvation but material salvation – the oldest erected temple ever found was discovered at Gobekli-Tepe and it had the function of a GRANARY. So – everything starts out as a “greater good” program, then expands into corruption and powermongering. How was that possible? Well, first they established themselves as “the only connection between God and People”. Second, they rallied the hunters (the emancipated part of any antique society) against the weak and unable to fend for themselves. The hunters were promised glory, power and riches – so they were made kings, chieftains and equestrians, free to keep their power as long as they propped the organized cult above and the powerless (gatherers, miners, farmers, idlers) people below.
    The tribal factions formed by the organized cult were led each other to war. Yet the cult themselves were plutocratic “factions” which were quite friendly to each other – they had the same purpose everywhere.
    The first major revolution in the world was pottery – which was practically the Internet of those days – it meant a household granary. No longer were you required to bring your stuff to the plutocratic temple of organized religion and for a while those powermongers sank into oblivion. That period of pre-Antiquity was the best for personal freedom – although it may have been quite turbulent as social events continued to unfold.
    It seems there have been an underground plutocratic movement during the Antiquity – quite contrary to what “underground” seems today – those people wanted the plutocratic elite back (of course there were still kings and emperors but at first they had no agenda of enslaving whole populations) and it may very well be that the first great state-building experiment was Sparta. Lycurgus was at first a freedom-lover (his first son bore the name of Charilaus – joy of the people) however after he was deposed he went to Crete and other places where he probably met with this underground plutocratic movement and got his brainwash right. Then he went to Sparta and put the bases of the first modern state.
    The second, larger experiment was Rome – no wonder they admired Sparta and tried to imitate everything. There the former organized religion members disguised themselves as men of law – while EVERY Roman public office was at the same time a secular position and a religious position. During the mysteries they picked “the right guy”, brainwashed him / her with the right dose of mushrooms and then propped him / her into a powerful state position.
    The second major revolution in the world was the Praetorian Guard rebellion agains law and authority. (And when I say Praetorian Guard I’m not only referring to the Rome Imperial Bodyguard but also different world places where the armed forces took control of the situation) That was the time when the former “hunters” claimed the right to hold the power.
    That was the time when the organized religion cult members decided to embark into the perilous journey of creating two mirrored manicheistic religions – in order to put them at odds to each other and not let the “hunters” have the freedom to re-shape the world as they might want. The world had to stay “modern”. Guess which were those two new religions?
    The second period of freedom is dangerously closer to our times – so they need it to shut it up – so they smeared it as “dark ages”. Yeah, those were the dark ages of the organized religion cult. However it was the free age of the weak and powerless, who had their time of snatching their bit of power and doing something with it. (not always a good thing)
    When the organized religion cult got back into power – it seems they always do – they suddenly got into “a new Rome revival”. Yeah, the long lost love for modern authoritarian state-building experiments.
    Then all this crazy “Rome revival” stuff got everywhere. “Caesar” became both “Kaiser” and “Czar”. The weak and powerless got weak and powerless again. They became witches, sorcerors, heretics, undesirables, shameful sinners and so on.
    History has the tendency to repeat itself. Unless we go back to where it all began: bringing the armed and emancipated part of any civilized society back to where it belongs – in defence of the weak and the powerless, sustaining with goods, food and creativity the unfortunate part of the society.

    As long as the military stays unproductive and uncreative (as themselves, not as a military establishment who helds wage-slaves), we’re no better than pre-Antiquity times. And this time pottery won’t help. Internet might.

    Help the military help themselves and free them from their mind-controlling masters. They need to convert to producing good deeds and results, not death, fear and destruction. That’s the path to their enslavement and our enslavement too. They need to learn how to be kind and caring. We need a kindness army. That’s the way to beat the fear- and war-mongers.

    Help the women to participate to this future, instead of barricading themselves into feminist niche-groups. They need to recognize their power and take control of themselves. They need to teach men how to behave as they did during the matriarchy times, before the organized cult arrived. Antagonising men is a pointless battle which only benefits the cult.

    Don’t forget that only Praetorians and pottery defeated the cult. The Praetorians and the women should rise again. Guns and butter.

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