My libertarian socialist political position.

For a while now, my political position has been within the domain of libertarian socialism. Libertarian socialist ideologies are anti-State, anti-capitalist center-left (in absolute terms, not in terms of political parties, which are mostly all right-wing), and they center around self-management and federated structures.

Fundamentally, politics is about the distribution and organization of power (and who gets to distribute and organize it, and who benefits from the distribution and organization). Statist ideologies mainly differ in the concentration of power they will allow the State, and other institutions, to abuse. Much of the disagreements between them lie in the balance of power they think is ideal for society.

Anarchists in general distinguish themselves from all those ideologies because they believe that power should be dispersed amongst the population, not concentrated in a few powerful institutions. This is a radical difference, which is seldom understood. Many ideologies have sought to bring about egalitarianism through concentrating power into a benevolent institution (like the Soviet State). No matter how well-intentioned, such institutions must fail because of the incentive systems which necessarily follow concentrations of power. Hierarchies seek to perpetuate themselves and power is an easy, addictive method to do so. And inevitably enemies of the regime will use that to their own advantage, as well.

It is not that power is an inherently bad thing. As Anarchists have identified, it is power in the form of hierarchies which creates the biggest problems, because hierarchies magnify the use of that power by their manpower and credibility. As St. Augustine said in the famous Pirates and Emperors story, “because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.” Private criminals are not one hundredth of the problem that corporate crimes and State crimes are.

We recognize the necessity of having some power around, if only to stop people from inflicting (physical) harm on each other or from generally impeding social autonomy (by destroying or diverting vital resources, for example). However, concentrating this power, whether in a State or some other institution, is a generally bad idea. Concentrating the power to determine what is legal and what is illegal is an even worse idea.

As a general principle, power should be kept in check by strictly delimited roles, direct accountability and, most importantly, task rotation. Keeping power in the hands of the same people year after year creates a group of people with interests that slowly diverge from those of the rest of the population, eventually creating a ruling class. The same is true of a State or a corporation.

Democracy is said to provide the accountability and task rotation. But this is a naive sort of statement. Democracy is a tool of the ruling class designed to provide the illusion of accountability and task rotation, while keeping power within the same class of people and not giving the population any real alternative which would erode their class interests. The only time egalitarian measures are implemented is when the more centrists amongst the power elite fear retribution.

What would replace democracy in a libertarian socialist system? All workplaces and cities would be self-managed, meaning that decision-making power about something would rest in the hands of those who use it, whether it’s a piece of machinery, a bridge, or a neighborhood. Each group would elect a representative or representatives to speak for them at a higher level, and on all the way up to the world level. While some decisions may have to be taken at the world level or the industry level, most decisions, I think, would be handled at the local level. The general rule is that decisions should be left to the lowest level possible.

With self-management being put in place and corporations replaced with work collectives, capitalism is necessarily done for, since it is predicated on the distinction between labor and capital. This does not mean that all work collectives would automatically start acting in the interests of the general population. However, from all the examples of self-managed workplaces I know, this tends to be the case. Workers generally live in the cities where they work, and have no intention of shafting their neighbors and friends, or attracting the ire of the population. This is partially because, in our capitalist systems, they often need material, legal, or political support from the public in order to flourish, since the States are never happy to concede anything to self-managed workplaces.

The main positive accomplishment of capitalism has been to link the world with flows of production. However, this positive accomplishment has come at a very heavy price, as neo-liberalism has amply demonstrated. In general, these flows drain valuable resources from the Third World for the consumption of the Western world. Self-management at a world level would reverse this, if only because these neo-liberalist resource drains do not benefit the population of the Third World countries that are targeted: they only benefit the power elite, that is to say, the business owners and politicians (the people who support so-called “free trade,” which really means: “free movement of capital”).

The same general principles apply to law and justice: the administration of justice and the construction of law must come directly from the people. I am not talking here about the conceit of jury duty, which is not administrated correctly anyhow. In our current system, the purpose of jury duty serves the same general purpose as democracy: to rubberstamp the condemnation of people who can be credibly condemned, whether they are really guilty or not. A true justice system serves the interests of the people, not the State. It does not imprison millions of people for the crime of being considered second-class citizens, for example.

Furthermore, as I don’t believe in blame, I don’t believe in the punitive function of justice. The courts should not exist to exact revenge on the guilty but to do what serves the needs of the people: restitution, i.e. trying to leave society in as good a shape as it was before the crime. Courts should not be adversarial but should seek to find the truth. But by far the most important element of any Anarchist justice system is the reduction of the incentives of crime. The end of the State and State police, economic equality, the elimination of sexism and racism, the end of the family being an all-important social unit, would all contribute to a dramatic reduction in crime. The fewer crimes there are, the easier it is to have a fair and timely system.

The construction of the laws themselves would follow federated lines: those who are affected by a law are responsible for its construction and maintenance. So for example the workers in a self-managed industry would make laws regarding their workplaces, consumers would make laws regulating products, women would make laws regarding VAW, abortion, and other women’s issues, and so on. Discrimination and prejudice would be countered, not by sporadic generosity from the power elite, not by the almighty “free market,” but by the equal power of those discriminated to assert their own humanity.

Here are some basic political principles I believe in:

1. The Chomsky Principle: We should in principle reject any hierarchical relation or structure unless it’s proven to be justified in some way. Since hierarchies are not a priori necessary for anything, we have no reason to accept them passively. The statement that a hierarchical relation or structure should continue needs to be be tested using the same standards of evidence that we would use to test any other statement of fact. Question with boldness the validity of any hierarchy, because the individual and social costs associated with any hierarchy demand a justification.

2. Egalitarianism: We should always assume that all human beings are equal, and to treat them as equals, unless we have contrary evidence. For example, we may measure two individuals’ “intelligence” as being different, but this does not mean we should treat one as superior over the other. Every instance where we treat people differently from each other needs to be justified, and we should also not keep pretending there is equality where there demonstrably is not (but that this does not automatically mean that some people should be treated as inferiors, unless THAT can be justified as well). This is basically just an extension of point 1.

3. Determinism: There is no such thing as individual choice, and no one can be blamed for their actions. Any institution or ideology which is based on the notion that people should be blamed, punished, or on vengeance, cannot exist in a rational society. The prison system is based on the belief that criminals must be punished. The capitalist economic system is based on the belief that poor people are to blame for being poor. Neither of these beliefs are rational.

4. Power should be broken down and distributed equitably amongst the population as much as possible.

5. The emphasis of any political change should be on changing our social systems to adapt to people, not the other way around. Nothing should be a more important consideration than people: not profits, not “law and order,” not power.

7 thoughts on “My libertarian socialist political position.

  1. chandlerklebs March 7, 2017 at 20:49 Reply

    I may not at all understand political and economic terms but a lot of this sounds very good.

    • Francois Tremblay March 7, 2017 at 20:53 Reply

      Great! If you’re interested, I can recommend some books. Chomsky especially. :)

  2. Sharon March 7, 2017 at 21:01 Reply

    Francois –

    Could you do a separate blogpost on this topic by darthbarracuda?


    Nietzsche once said: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

    I think Nietzsche was incorrect. What doesn’t kill you has a possibility of severely damaging you and making you wish it had finished you off.

    My conclusion from all this is that life continuation is one hell of a risk. Not only do we have statistics for horrible tragedies, but what is arguably worse is that we don’t have statistics for many other things. Every time you walk out of your door, you are exposing yourself to danger. Cognitive inadequacy limits our appreciation of this fact. Why is it that danger has to be practically right in front of us in order for us to register it? Because long-term risk management is not conducive to reproduction.

    How ironic it is that the greatest pleasures in life come at such a steep risk.

    If we were truly rational creatures, we would realize that our unconscious will-to-live is analogous to being dragged across a cheese grater. It is manipulative in that it exposes us to dangers and harms that we otherwise would not choose to expose ourselves to. Epicureans are kidding themselves; we don’t continue life for its pleasures, we continue life because we have no other realistic alternative. We are not in control.

    Tolstoy hit the nail on the head when he articulated four categories of human existence:

    1) Those who are blind to the human predicament (the ignorant fools)

    2) Those who understand the human predicament but see pleasure as a reason to continue (the Epicureans)

    3) Those who understand that human predicament but also understand that pleasure cannot be a true reason to live but continue to live anyway (the weak)

    4) Those who understand everything the weak do, but have the guts to kill themselves (the strong)

    Why is it that people will voluntarily insure themselves against catastrophes that may not ever happen, but don’t insure themselves against the catastrophes that cannot be covered by money? The cognitive bias of “that will never happen to me” effectively keeps people from questioning their own behavior. If it can’t be fixed or prevented, just don’t think about it…. It is short-sighted and biased reasoning, meant not to service our welfare but to make sure we don’t question our own fate.

    This is tough to swallow. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the moment and forget about the contingent nature of well-being. All of these possibilities are legitimate threats – but why worry about them? There’s nothing you can do – except there actually is, it’s just that practically nobody wants to consider it. Suicide as a preventative measure is a perfectly rational and reasonable response to the threats exposure to the world brings. In fact it seems like it’s the only option with a 100% guarantee of effectiveness.

    But nobody, including myself, can actually consider suicide as a rational decision if we’re not currently suffering tremendously. In existentialist terms, humans are capable of transcendence – we are able to look beyond the immanent and see things how they could be. But we are nevertheless still immanent, and so the dynamic between transcendence and immanence emerges, with transcendence pushing forward and immanence pulling back. In the case of the rationality of suicide, we can transcend beyond our immediate experience and see how many risks and threats there are in the future, but are pulled back to immanence by the instinctual, irrational urge to persist.

    There’s more. I will not deny that pleasure is intrinsically good for people. But neither will I deny that pain is intrinsically bad for people. So when the cost of pleasure gets too high, or when the stakes accompanying existence are unreasonable, pleasure becomes a good-turned-bad. Just as we may feel pain while climbing a mountain (a bad-turned-good), the pleasure we feel as we systematically expose ourselves to a greater amount of harm cannot actually be truly good for us. That is when pleasure becomes manipulative and addictive. The fact that it is difficult to see the sorts of things we typically enjoy doing as goods-turned-bad is a consequence of them being addictions. Recall the analogy of the cheese grater. Pleasure are goods-turned-bad because the strength of the desire for pleasure is not matched by the actual content. On the other hand, we have a disturbingly small fear of pains are are unimaginably bad.

    The environment we live in that seduces us into continued existence can only be see as a web of toxicity. We live in a society that essentially indoctrinates us into continued existence. We do not act in our best interests by continuing existing.

    Some people might find my words dangerous. Am I actually recommending people kill themselves? Perhaps. What I am not advocating is the blind and instinctual journey through a strange world filled with risks, threats, and uncompensated pain.

    What should we do, then? If we live in a world of threats of significant harm that cannot be compensated by any pleasure (terminal pain), is it possible to have a reason to live?

    I would argue that there can be only one genuine reason to live: ethics. Ethics is not about self-interest. It’s not about maximizing your own welfare. It’s about treating others well, caring for their well-being. The life of a person dedicated to an ethical cause is one of altruism and selflessness. Some people might accuse those people of tooting their own horn, but given what I have already articulated, there is no rational reason to live that doesn’t ignore certain aspects of life. Those who follow the ethical path of life are those who are not living for themselves (as this is irrational given what we know of the human predicament), but are living for the sake of others. The concept of a Buddhist bodhisattva comes to mind. The bodhisattva has achieved nirvana but sticks around anyway to help everyone else achieve nirvana. Similarly, the enlightened ethicist knows that continued existence is a net harm (or at least an irrational risk), but sticks around anyway to maximize their utility to others. Suicide may be the rational option, but ethics isn’t about what’s best for you personally. It’s about something greater than yourself.

    And perhaps the “heroism” involved in selfless ethical life can be enough to keep the self-esteem of those committed to it high enough so they can continue to actually be productive.

    What the enlightened ethicist also realizes are their own needs. So long as they are alive, they must tend to their own needs. Thus, nothing really changes all that much in terms of self-interested behavior, except that the self-interested behavior is not the purpose of life but rather a necessary requirement in order to maintain a maximally ethical life.


    • Francois Tremblay March 7, 2017 at 21:26 Reply

      What exactly do you want me to talk about? I think this whole thing is pretty self-explanatory…

  3. roughseasinthemed March 8, 2017 at 02:10 Reply

    I fell in love with anarchy and Bakunin at university. Not entirely practical, but I did like the theory.

    At the moment, all the governmental systems we see are pretty much equally crap.

  4. Deep Thinking March 9, 2017 at 14:00 Reply

    Do you think direct – as opposed to representative – democracy could work? Also, do you have a view on gradualism vs. revolutionism?

    • Francois Tremblay March 9, 2017 at 16:08 Reply

      No, I am not a big fan of democracy either way, although it would certainly be an improvement. And I am definitely not a gradualist. Gradualism leads to co-option.

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