“How would a libsoc society operate?”

Marco den Ouden, a commentator on this blog, has addressed a long series of questions at me aiming to clarify my libsoc position.

I wanted to address this because it’s a line of questioning that a lot of people take when they start to engage anarchism in general. They want to know exactly how this society will be structured, what will be allowed and disallowed, and so on.

There is a fundamental problem with such questions, in that anarchist ideologies cannot, and should not, tell people how to live their lives. That would be exactly contrary to the primary aim of anarchism, which is to free people from unjustified authorities controlling their own lives, especially when we talk about a power elite which is effectively in command of our planet’s resources.

So that’s the first response one can give, although it’s not very in depth. The fact of the matter is, anarchism and libsoc obviously are based on political principles and those principles do have bearing on real life structures.

Let us start from Chomsky’s definition of anarchism, from Understanding Power:

[T]he basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified- it has no prior justification… And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else- they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top…

To tell you the truth, I don’t really understand anarchism as being much more than that.

So if you start from the principle, for instance, that “all hierarchies must be justified, or they should not exist,” well that eliminates most social structures that exist right now in one fell swoop. It’s not telling you what should exist, it’s telling you what should not exist.

Or let’s get into socialism. I think a simple principle of socialism (as well as anti-property positions in general) would be “the person or people who use a tool should decide what to do with that tool.”

All right, so that’s a principle that has real life implications. It doesn’t tell you concretely how these decisions are to be taken, but it does tell you that a whole category of economic relations, capitalist relations, are wrong. Again, it’s telling you what should not exist, not really what should exist.

That sort of negative definition does not tell us what an “ideal society” would look like, perhaps partially because there is no such thing as an “ideal society,” and partially because any ideology which would tell people about an “ideal society” would be as totalitarian as the ideologies we seek to eradicate.

But that’s not to say that one can’t get ideas or inspiration from fictional universes or past and present attempts. So for fictional universes one might look at novels like The Dispossessed, or Woman on the Edge of Time. For past and present attempts, one might look at the recuperated factories in Argentina, or the French Revolution of 1968, or the Spanish Civil War, or the Zapatista. In fact, for every separate area of society that one might care to look at, sympathetic examples can be found.

But in no way do these instances tell us what a libsoc society must look like. They are possibilities, and like all political ideologies those possibilities must be mediated by the specific economic and social conditions in the place and time where a libsoc solution is implemented.

With that in mind, let me quickly go through Marco’s questions.

I am curious how people would live. Would they have their own homes? Or would it be all apartments?

I’m not sure what the point of this question is. People would live in whatever living spaces exist around them, like any other people in any other situation. How could everyone have their own homes, or everyone have apartments? Both already exist.

Would there be limited markets to allocate resources or a complete barter society?

I’m not sure why these are supposed to be the only alternatives, and it seems to me that the historical examples I’ve studied were not in either category. Libsoc societies are more likely to be communal or democratically/federated planned economies. That being said, barter systems can be a good way to jumpstart a libsoc economy when no other mechanisms are available.

Without capital, would there be savings and investment? Would large scale enterprises be undertaken? Could they be undertaken? For example, corporations that produce consumer goods like Apple, or General Electric, or Procter and Gamble? Would they exist? If so, in what form?… Would everything be cooperatives?

All that “capital” means in economics is goods that are produced strictly to produce other goods. When we use the term “capitalism,” we designate an economic system where capital (and most importantly, its owners) has priority over labor and “social capital” in general. We don’t mean that “capitalism” is the only economic system where there is “capital.”

There’s no inherent reason why large scale enterprises couldn’t be undertaken in any economic system where such enterprises are technologically feasible. Obviously such large scale enterprises would not be corporations or any other business structure based on capitalist work contracts.

The form they would take depends on the level of technology available, the nature of the competition, the political outlook, and so on. Recuperated factories in Argentina took their form from what came before them, workers’ self-management in Algeria took its form from people’s needs and what the French left behind, anarchist businesses in North America and around the world (like Mondragon) likewise take their form from what’s possible in a capitalist economy.

How would bridges and roads be built if there is no government to build them and no private enterprises to build them?

I don’t see why there wouldn’t be organizations devoted to building roads in a libsoc economy. After all, there’ll always be a need for roads as long as we have cars around (although I would hope that eventually we’d move on to more secure, cheaper and less polluting alternatives). And making roads is not exactly something anyone can do: it requires a great deal of materials, machines and know-how. But it doesn’t require a government.

How would such a society deal with dissidents? Say closet capitalists who try and start home businesses? Would they be tolerated up to a point where they get too large and then forcibly shut down? Forcibly shut down by who? What is too large?

Obviously capitalist work contracts would be contrary to the values of a socialist society in the same way that socialist aims are contrary to the values of a capitalist society (although once in a while socialist pieces of legislation will pass, as long as they keep the power structure intact). So if “capitalist” means a person who tries to produce using capitalist work contracts, then the answer should logically be that such a thing could not be allowed.

Forcibly shut down by who? Well presumably there will be people whose job it is to investigate fraud, or to render judgment on economic crimes (no economy could run without it). Surely that would be within their purview.

How would criminals – rapists, thieves, and murderers be handled in your ideal world?

Again we must look at the principles motivating libsoc, including egalitarianism. States condemn “criminals” (people who break the State’s laws, as determined by the State’s courts) to become second-class citizens and to “surrender their rights.” I have already pointed out how this is semantic nonsense; either rights are inalienable or they are not: in the former case surrender is impossible, and in the latter case we can claim no rights at all, merely privileges which may be revoked at any time.

So let’s talk about rapists and murderers specifically. How should such people be “handled”? Well obviously those who are dangerous to society should be isolated from society, and those who are not should be reintegrated in a way that improves their lives. Prison is a spectacularly horrible way of doing that. It has always been a massive failure and will continue to be so.

The real answer to crime is not in how to “handle” criminals but rather in how to change society so that crime is no longer an attractive option. What makes rape an attractive option? Well, I think a lot of that has to do with our extremely low opinion of women, especially female sexuality (and in the case of prison rape, well, prison is the problem itself). What makes murder an attractive option? That’s a complex subject and I don’t really want to get into it, but again there are some patriarchal considerations there.

And that’s without even talking about the biggest category of murder and rape, the murders and rapes committed by the State.

The general principle here would be that we should treat a crime with the goal of making society as a whole, and individuals, better off than it was after the crime was committed. I would think that would be a very, very basic principle here, but it’s one that our justice system fails miserably. What we need to do is 1. eliminate the unegalitarian conditions that make crime attractive and 2. deal with the small remainder (mostly sociopaths) in proportion with the threat they pose to society. In the specific case of people who need to be isolated from society, I’d think that an exile system in general would be more desirable. And although I personally am against the death penalty, I think you can make an argument for its use in the most extreme cases (serial killers, mass murderers, their State equivalents, and so on).

I know this is a lot of questions, but they all stem from the fact that I don’t understand how a world without property rights and without a market would function.

That’s all well and good, but it’s kinda like someone in the 17th century asking “could you explain to me exactly how a democratic State would function?” That’s not the right question to ask. You can imagine any political ideology (even fascism) in some utopian form, and you can imagine any political ideology (even libsoc) in some dystopian form. This has no bearing on the merit of those respective ideologies.

What does have bearing, in my opinion, is the core principles and core values on which the ideologies are based. They say fascism imposed order and made the trains run on time, but the fact is that fascism was founded on jingoism, patriarchy, State capitalism, and therefore led the world on a destructive course. Neo-liberalism may have brought a flood of cheap consumer products to the Western world, but it has also killed or starved hundreds of millions of people, which is in line with its core premise that non-Western populations literally only exist to serve Western economic interests.

To talk again about the open-ended nature of political ideology, the way I like to think about values is as an arrow. Take the concept of “freedom,” for example. Any person could have fixed an end point to “freedom” at any era, but they would have been constantly wrong. Same thing for “equality,” which is just the flip side of “freedom.” Their arrow points us in a direction and tells us to keep going, but it doesn’t specify an end point. All we have to do is keep walking.

We really are more like ants who are told that human beings are “up” but are so big that they can’t even be understood by the ants. I think that if consistently followed, the values of libsoc would be so powerful that in two or three hundred years (if unfortunately there are still humans at that time), people’s lives would be so incredible compared to ours that they would laugh at our juvenile conceptions of “freedom” and “equality.”

16 thoughts on ““How would a libsoc society operate?”

  1. Marco den Ouden April 1, 2014 at 23:32

    Thank you for a thought provoking answer to my questions.

    • Francois Tremblay April 1, 2014 at 23:34

      Hey no problem! Glad you liked it.

    • Francois Tremblay April 2, 2014 at 03:52

      What was the point of the housing question though? I really don’t get it.

  2. maphisto86 April 3, 2014 at 13:53

    Loved this post . . . aside from the effilism at the end there. ;>_> I mean I can partially empathize with VHEM but at the same time much of my values are still rooted in the positivism of the likes of Kropotkin, et al. Sigh . . . yeah I am probably a naive humanist but I hope with the change of our societies values it would change how we live (and breed) as well.

    • Francois Tremblay April 3, 2014 at 13:59

      I didn’t say anything about efilism or VHEMT in this entry, so I don’t really know what you’re talking about. I did talk about antinatalism, which is distinct from both. My sole point is that antinatalism and feminism are inextricably linked. Do you deny that?

      • maphisto86 April 7, 2014 at 22:07

        Oh no I do not deny that radical feminism and the basic notion of anti-natalism is not linked. In fact it seems obvious to me that there is a natural connection given the traditionally assigned roles of women.

        No my reference was to your offhand comment in brackets at the end. Quote: “I think that if consistently followed, the values of libsoc would be so powerful that in two or three hundred years (if unfortunately there are still humans at that time), people’s lives would be so incredible compared to ours that they would laugh at our juvenile conceptions of “freedom” and “equality.”

        • Francois Tremblay April 7, 2014 at 22:17

          I’m not sure why you’d disagree with that. Think of how ridiculous people’s notions of freedom or equality from 400 years ago might sound to us today.

          • maphisto86 April 7, 2014 at 22:35

            I should probably point out what I am specifically referring to as I totally agree with you that notions of equality of yesteryear at vastly different from today. What I was initially referring to was when you referred to a libsoc society in two to three hundred years from now but adding “(if unfortunately there are still humans at that time)”. That value statement was what I was replying to.

            I tend to be the other end of the anarchist spectrum but sometimes feel pessimistic about our species viability or even if we should plan to stick around for the long term. I would like that but also recognize my value in humanity and our scientific, cultural, etc progress may be misplaced.

        • Francois Tremblay April 7, 2014 at 22:42

          What would it hurt for humanity to disappear? No part of the universe needs humans.

          • maphisto86 April 8, 2014 at 10:30

            The universe does not really need anything if you think about it. It just exists. Personally I see value in humanity and only humanity (and other thinking beings) can assign value to anything. True we have been a rather dysfunctional species but unlike the good folks at VHEM I believe we can change for the better and still propagate (albeit a lot less). It really is a value judgement when we get down to it. You see no value in humanity continuing to exist into the uncertain future where as I do.

        • Francois Tremblay April 8, 2014 at 16:36

          “The universe does not really need anything if you think about it. It just exists.”

          Well yea, that’s my point. So thanks. :)

          “Personally I see value in humanity and only humanity (and other thinking beings) can assign value to anything.”

          Those are two entirely different statements.

          “You see no value in humanity continuing to exist into the uncertain future where as I do.”

          And that value is what?

          • maphisto86 April 8, 2014 at 18:36

            “And that value is what?”

            A simple desire that humans can continue. No more, no less. I know that is likely vacuous but not all value need be purely logical. Again I often question my own positivist worldview but cannot seem to be satisfied with a “aw fuck it all” mentality. If we don’t see any reason for future generations then what is the point of trying to overthrow the status quo? Of course you and I both know people will continue to breed until the bitter end which is why we care about changing human behavior for the better.

        • Francois Tremblay April 8, 2014 at 18:43

          “A simple desire that humans can continue. No more, no less.”

          YOUR desire. Fine, so what?

          • maphisto86 April 8, 2014 at 18:54

            Aside from my own subjective preference, I suppose more concrete reasons include taking care of the older generation as well as fixing the mess we have created in the first place. Then again one could argue against the latter by stating we have made enough of a mess for the rest of Earth’s species and it would better to just let it be.

            On the former I do not agree with the likes of the VHEMT that the “last generation” will simply slide peacefully into death. More likely the reality will more resemble the chaotic and dystopian world depicted in the book and film “Children of Men”. : /

        • Francois Tremblay April 8, 2014 at 19:01

          Okay, fine, whatever. This entry was not on antinatalism so we’re kinda waffling about on a side issue. Go ahead and read the following:


          Comment there if you like.

          • maphisto86 April 8, 2014 at 19:19

            True of course. Will consider posting on your older article. I actually do agree with you for the most part but seem to be just to the “right” of you. ; )

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