Can Anarchist Left and Right ever reconcile

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Can Anarchist Left and Right ever reconcile

  • ellsworth spooner

    One of the main reasons for joining Liberty.me was to find a forum for civil discussion of difficult and contentious subjects such as the divide between leftist anarchists espousing communist and/or syndicalist views regarding property, and Anarcho-Capitalists who espouse a completely free market private property society, regulated by Natural Law and the Non-Aggression Principle.

    So, what are the chances that via civil discussion and exchange of opinion and earnest analysis and clarification, that anarchism might be refined into a single distinctly defined philosophy?

    I think it might be wise for me to just leave it there for this introductory post and see how the thread evolves.

    (btw, I personally dislike the word anarchist for all the multiple meaning baggage that it carries. ¬†I will use it here because it is better understood, but obviously not completely agreed upon ūüėČ )

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  • Mike Reid

    I’ve been thinking about this one too, Ellsworth. It seems to me that AnCaps and AnSocs come to their agreement on the abolition of the state from radically different premises about human nature. ¬†The appearance that they share anarchism in common masks a deep-rooted difference.

    It seems like the disagreements between the two aren’t really about capitalism or communism, they’re really about underlying issues ‚ÄĒ is¬†the distinction between persuasion and force blurry or bright? are humans essentially individuals or members of collectives? is value subjective or objective?

    So it seems to me that a earnest discussion between the two would have to be based on an earnest mutual curiosity about human nature.

    (And of course, I’m of the opinion that the AnCaps are mostly right about everything, and the AnSocs are mostly wrong.)

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      ellsworth spooner

      Mike I think the real contention is the diverging ideas on private property.  There is a cloud of distraction in the boogey man called Hierarchy, that seems silly to me, but that is just symbolic of the gulf of understanding that needs to be bridged.  I know that the AnSoc does not feel the topic of hierarchy is silly at all.

      But if we can agree on the core principle of Non-Aggression, then the left must somehow consider private property ownership as aggression… violence. ¬†And this is demonstrated by Proudhon’s famous quote, “All property is theft.”

      AnCaps subscribe to the idea that theft is a form of violence – the initiation of force. ¬†If the left believes property is theft, then that brings us into ageement in principle regarding the NAP. ¬†So the task is to debunk the notion that property is theft; if it can be done. ¬†Conversely the lefts task is to debunk the AnCap’s notion that private property is a natural right.

      This is the challenge as I see it; and the purpose of my diplomatic inquiry! ūüėČ

       

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        Martin Brock

        Proudhon did not write “all property is theft”. He is clearly being polemical and ironic when answering “What is property?” with “Property is theft!”, and if you understand his words in context, the answer is not so different from common, contemporary libertarian maxims like “taxation is theft”. He later explicitly denies any “communist conclusion” in the statement and further states, without fear of contradiction, that “property is freedom.”

        Words have many uses, which is why I cringe when libertarians identify our way of thinking with “capitalism”. You won’t find John Locke or Adam Smith advocating “capitalism”, and Smith was keenly aware of capitalists seeking political advantage. In fact, “capitalism” commonly describes capitalists seeking political rents as much as it means “free market”.

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        • Nick Newell

          Everyone seeks to obtain all advantages they can. I would not define Capitalism as you have described it. What you are describing is cronyism, using the apparatus of a coercive government to obtain monopoly privileges at the expense of non-privileged groups. Capitalism is the elimination of privileges and the enforcement of individual property rights.

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        • Martin Brock

          I am describing cronyism, but that’s how many people use “capitalism”. If you read Marx on the “Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”, he’s describing crony capitalism (which he calls “the capitalist mode of appropriation”), and he calls this appropriation the “negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor.” In other words, he’s distinguishing “capitalist appropriation” from Lockean property.

          Of course, the Marxist solution to this problem is an economy run by the state “for the working class”. We can agree on the folly (even the insanity) of this prescription, but when you extol the virtues of “capitalism”, you aren’t using the word at all as leftists use it. You use the same word that they use but describe something else. Left libertarians, unlike Marx, do not advocate a state run economy. When you actually oppose what I describe with the same word, our disagreement is illusory. We may have substantive disagreements, but “capitalism” is not one of them.

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    Bob Dunleavy

    I’m not sure about anarchy-communists, but I’ve read quite a bit of Kevin Carson. He considers himself an anarcho-socialist and explains that a stateless society that valued property rights would have a bottom-up effect that adomized(fractured) and localized economies and firms that are socialist in the classical sense- that laborers would literally own their own means of production(things like assembly lines and factories in garages). ¬†He explains that huge corporations that “push” consumption today via ¬†overproduction and advertising are only able to exist with subsidy from the state and that they couldn’t exist otherwise. The result would be smaller producers supplying more bulk, generic goods than overproduced(undesired), name brand, packaged junk.

    All of this is still totally in line with anarcho-capitalism in that it values property rights and believes in the NAP, it’s just a different (and pretty salient IMHO) conclusion of what would result from a stateless society that values property rights.

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      ellsworth spooner

      I would be very interested in understanding why large scale industrial businesses (mass production) would not exist in a stateless society.  I cannot really imagine the society where small business made complex products like Air conditioning, refrigerators, automobiles, cell phones, etc that anyone could afford.

      I cannot see any conflict with stateless society and mass production.  I almost see that one makes the other more possible.

      An excellent topic to be explored.

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        Mike Reid

        The way I figure it, neither Carson nor anyone else really knows what the heck would happen in a truly free market. That’s the whole Hayekian insight. It would be awesome precisely because it would not submit to any single human vision.

        Ellsworth, I’m with you on the importance of private property here. But I was convinced about the importance of private property because Mises convinced me of a certain feature of human nature: that value is subjective. And then Hoppe took me further to see that the only way we humans with subjective valuations of objects in the world can be at peace is if we can have private property.

        So it seems to me like questions of human nature underly questions of private property, which in turn underly questions of what the proper form of human political organization is.

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        • Nick Newell

          Large-scale mass production would still exist in a stateless society; there’s no reason for it to not exist. I think you are downplaying the role of advertising. Advertising doesn’t create demand on its own; all it can do is make consumers more informed. You can advertise the hell out of anything but if the product sucks, the information will spread and repeat business will be shut down for the product.

          The truth about firm size in any economy is that there will always be optimal sizes for different goods. Size doesn’t matter in a free economy because all the wealth they have is accumulated with the approval of consumers and can only be maintained by continually serving those same consumers. From a production standpoint, there are minimum efficient scales for every industry. Other industries will naturally be cheaper for consumers when bigger, such as industries with incredibly high fixed costs but very low variable costs (utilities, communications, etc.). Some will be smaller for other reasons. The point is that the size of the firm will be a reflection of consumer preferences. Producers in a free market have no more power than what consumers willingly give them.

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        Jacob Long

        The disecononomies of scale refers to the fact that firms become too big. Large firms fail for the same reasons why state communism fails – the lack of a price mechanism for the efficient allocation of resources.

        An economy of smaller, more focused firms is simply more efficient since they are better able to take advantage of different market actors and are more nimble to move within the economy. This can be seen historically near the end of the robber baron era.

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    Nick Newell

    AnCap and AnCom are fundamentally irreconcilable. Syndicalism isn’t take seriously by most writers as a viable form of organized society.

    Syndicalism will never work based purely on a blatant disregard for economics. Syndicalism, as I understand it and you can correct me if I’m wrong, would be a stateless society where the workers alone would control the means of production. This would be fine in a static view of economics but would never function in a dynamic economic world faced with continuous changes. Assuming this society operates with a price system to direct the flow of goods and resources (which I think is a huge assumption already). For example, what would happen if production needed to shift from making boots to boats? Workers will be displaced, but which ones? Furthermore, how will the new capital be created or shifted from other productive uses? It would by no means be immediate (if it occurred at all) and branches of production would begin operating at unequal rates of pay. How will the workers deal with the unequal rate of wages between industries? Think about production. There is no incentive to produce more individually if your proceeds are split among several workers, so why do anything but the bare minimum? How do you deal with lazy or unproductive workers? Think about population growth. Do you think current workers will wish to share their proceeds with everyone that joins their union if they believe they don’t need additional workers? Lastly, what if 1 person does not wish to work with others or join their “industrial union” and make his own union, what then? Force?

     

    Anarcho-Communism would be syndicalism with coercion. This form would face the same problems as socialism in that there is no pricing mechanism to direct the economy. The suppression of the market is the suppression of information, and without information, it’s like steering your bark without a sail. How will you even know how many boots consumers want, much less how are you able to change production to meet changes in the demand for them?¬†It faces the same problems of syndicalism on top of the problem that the abolition of private property would bring. Though they make a distinction between “private” property and “personal” property, who will be making this distinction? All money and goods can be considered both (as consumption goods can be used for factors of production, and vice versa), but it is only decided by how it is used and not by some physical property inherent in the good, whether for production or consumption. By abolishing wages, there is no incentive for personal effort as additional revenue earned is dispersed among the whole population rather than a single workers’ union. Any system that relies on a general incentive to produce rather than an individual incentive to produce can only break down.

     

    Anarcho-Capitalism would simply be the strict enforcement of private property by competing enforcement agencies. All forms of coerced exchange and coerced production would be explicitly outlawed, though people are still free to form workers’ unions or syndicates as they please, so syndicalist “pockets” could technically form though individuals are not forced to join them. These pockets would also be able to function as there would be a free market to compare their prices with through competition to guide their investment decisions. The primary advantage of an AnCap society is that individuals can plan on the individual level their labor and capital rather than it being directed by a group. When individuals are left free to make their own actions, they will always choose to maximize the utility they derive from every exchange (ALL action is exchange). There would be no problems of capital consumption as it is in every individuals self-interest to maximize the utility a good brings between present and future incomes streams. All property will have a self-interest by the individual rather than a general interest. This direct causation of labor and reward will always guide the individual to employ their factors of production as efficiently as possible. Via the price system, factors of production and finished goods will be guided to their most pressing need. If labor or capital needs to shift to other employments to change with changing consumer demands, then individuals are free to remove their capital and energies to the more pressing (i.e. more profitable) employments. The only way to make money is to produce goods that other people voluntarily wish to purchase from you. The beauty of the system is that people can only gain by providing a service to others and each individual has a personal incentive (via profits) to do so. It is by voluntary exchange that all parties become wealthy. I have an article on voluntary vs. coerced exchange if you like to read.

     

    In conclusion, syndicalism could partially exist in an AnCap society; they would be comparable to a private enterprise conducting their own form of incentives and wages for its workers. AnCom is completely irreconcilable with an AnCap society due to the suppression of the price system, wages, and property rights which replace individual incentives with general incentives.

     

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      ellsworth spooner

      “AnCap and AnCom are fundamentally irreconcilable. Syndicalism isn‚Äôt take seriously by most writers as a viable form of organized society.”

      Nick I agree with the 1st statement and disagree with the 2nd. These 2 “schools” of Anarchist philosophy are irreconcilable, but I ¬†don’t know that “most writers” do not take leftist communist/syndicalist anarchy serious.

      It seems to me there is a very deep history of leftist anarchist writing from the  19th & 20th centuries; from Proudhon, and Bakunin, to Henry George, to Noam Chomsky.  These and far more than i know of, take this very seriously.

      I became fascinated by this rift by reading leftist anarchy sites, and seeing a very deep hostility (dare I say hatred) for AnCaps, who in their minds have STOLEN the term Anarchist from them. ¬†This website seems to be calmer than most out there. ¬†I haven’t seen any hatefulness flaring up as yet in my short membership.

      I get what they mean, and I think I understand their arguments, I find their logic lacking as you do. ¬†What I am hoping to do with this discussion is to get the syndicalists to make their case; critique An-Capitalism and set in motion the back and forth. ¬†We each have entrenched ideas on anarchism; the stateless society, and I am hoping that somehow via some sort of Socratic dialog we can evaluate the premises of each and see if it is possible to reveal a single true logic. ¬†Maybe I’m crazy.

       

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    Nick Newell

    Communism is not taken seriously by most writers except for communists themselves. I feel the same way with syndicalists. The economic schools that have contributed to economic thought largely belong to the Austrians (Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Wieser, Hayek, Mises, Lachmann, Rothbard), the monetarists/Neoclassical school (Marshall, Clark, Knight, Fisher), the Chicago school (Viner, Stigler, Friedman), and sadly the Keynesian school (Keynes, Krugman, Bernanke). These are the schools that I hear the most about and are taken seriously as viable forms of political economy. Of course there are several other authors and theorists that have contributed that don’t fit into these schools (Classical Liberals, George, Bastiat, Jevons, Walras, Wicksell, Anderson, Schumpeter, etc.) that have helped contribute to economics but have been absorbed into other schools or have since been disproven. These 4 schools have large followings, though by no means equally, but they are taken seriously by other theorists, at least to the point where the work of competing schools merits a response from others.

    For syndicalism itself, you bring up Proudhon, Bakunin, George, and Chomsky. I have not read any of them but as far I can tell George is the only one that tries to construct his theory on an economic basis, working out economic problems. He is also the only one ever mentioned in economic theory books (from the extensive list that I’ve read so far). As far as I know, very little, if anything, has been contributed to economic thought by the marxists, socialists, syndicalists, etc. All breakthroughs have come from the other schools and theorists. I believe that the majority of leftist thought is driven by emotion and Fourier complex (envy of wealth and inequality) rather than actual causation of events that other schools bring. It is more concerned with the concept of an ideal utopia rather than the means of actually achieving it given a world of dynamic and continuous change of acting individuals. If you could point out to me some syndicalist writers that deal exclusively with economics, I would be glad to give them a look, but all I ever see from leftist writers are loaded concepts of “egalitarianism”, “solidarity”, “fraternity”, “equality”, etc. without any idea of how it is to be achieved. Nor is there a single leftist theory to my knowledge that overcomes the problems that the absence of a price system would bring. This is why Bohm-Bawerk says,¬†“The socialists are able critics, but exceedingly weak theorists”.

    Anarcho-Capitalism and Austrian Economics are theories derived from logical deductions and causations. I feel that leftist writings are opposite, in that they have an end in mind first then the means of achieving it will come later.

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      ellsworth spooner

      I cannot point you to any left collectivist economists that can defeat anything you have said. ¬†You know far more about this subject than I do, and we agree to the extent of my ability to understand the subject matter. ¬†I know enough to know how much I don’t know, and thus the questions I ask here, to provoke discussion. ¬†I am still hoping that some well informed left anarchists will weigh in here with their thoughts. ¬†This was my intent from the beginning. ¬†So far Austrians and/or Anarcho Capitalists have not been refuted.

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        Nick Newell

        Searching for a leftist anarchist on bastiatinstitute.org is like searching for a Austrian central banker.

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        • ellsworth spooner

          Ok, THAT was funny! But.. say it ain’t so! ¬†The group is called Left Anarchists/and…. ¬†Thats why I started this here! ¬†Curses! ¬†Foiled again!

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        • Nick Newell

          The simple fact is that you either have the initiation of force or its absence. The individual is the smallest atom of society so enforcing communal means of production will always require the initiation of force for individuals that do not wish to be a part of the collective. That’s why I find the concept of libertarian socialist laughable; it is an irreconcilably contrary to individual property and liberty and hence NOT libertarian.

          Attempts at a libertarian socialist society can only end in 2 ways:

          1. Communism, public > private property, with force used abolish private property and handed over as public property

          2. An-Cap, private > public property, with counterforce used to enforce private property

          Libertarian socialism is trying to have it both ways,  but choosing one way will mutually exclude the other. Public property must prevail over private property, or vice versa. Only one can be present and the presence of one is to have the absence of the other.

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        • ellsworth spooner

          Left libertarians, you are missing out on an excellent conversation!

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    Matthew John Hayden

    Non-aggression is going to have to be seen as a consequence of other conditions first, I’d say. To begin with there’s the natural development of families and small kith groups, tied together by empathy, but with each person still wanting to live in their own right.

    That latter desire I reckon comes first when meeting strangers, and that’ll be true for everyone undertaking the meeting. So people don’t want to expose themselves to unnecessary danger ( maiming was as good as death not so long ago ) by dealing nonviolently and establishing, over time, protocols about how to transact. This is perhaps where cultural practices like holding out a quiver of arrows to one side to signify harmlessness come from.

    It would also explain why soldiers have to be brutalised so much before most of them are willing to kill.

    So non-aggression / peace / the absence of the initiation of force intrinsically and always flourishes even where people don’t believe in it explicitly because they can’t help behaving in accordance with it while trying to survive themselves.

    Dog-eat-dog scenarios are absurd and can’t be used as tests of ethics because there is no way to act ethically in such scenarios.

    The Non Aggression Principle is a formulation based on natural human behaviour in response to scarcity and living around other humans who are not kith and kin.

    Those humans who stray from the principle will always be hounded back to the straight and narrow either by persuasion, ostracism or banishment. In practice they are kidnapped and held in rape ages today.

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    Martin Brock

    I don’t much identify with the “left” anymore, and I don’t call myself an anarchist anymore either, but I can be a left libertarian foil. I’m also interested in identifying the substantive, rather than rhetorical, differences separating “left” and “right” libertarians.

    1. Property rights are artificial rather than natural. Individual property rights are community standards, i.e. individuals in a free community govern particular resources exclusively only because their neighbors agree that they should, and individual proprietors have obligations corresponding to their rights. Individual property rights are more contractual than natural.

    2. Because individual property rights are meaningless outside of a community of persons agreeing to respect the rights, individual property rights ultimately derive from community property. Essentially, a community governs particular resources, like land, and community members then agree to assign the governance of particular resources to individuals; however, a free community need not assign all governance of every resource to individuals, and no historical community ever has.

    3. Respect for individual property rights, within a free community, need not be and rarely is independent of other community standards, like an obligation to contribute to the support of orphans. Members of a free community may decide, and commonly do decide, that a person refusing to contribute in this way merits no respect for other property rights. Compelling respect for an individual’s right to govern a parcel of land, independent of other standards that his neighbors would have respected, is no more libertarian than any other arbitrary imposition.

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    Nick Newell

    All property rights are a social construction. That is the price we must pay for living in a society. The idea of natural or god-given rights is still an arbitrary faith in something we can never prove and only exists because we can agree upon it.

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      Martin Brock

      Agreed.

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    Forden Freeman

    I personally feel that the root of the disagreement stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of each other’s positions. The anarcho-communists/syndicalists/etc don’t understand what anarcho-capitalists believe, and the neither side normally understands how similar their ideas are. Also, anarcho-communists do not seem to understand ownership. Neither side understands that without a state both ideas would exist simultaneously. There would be communes. There would be free cities. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Also, the commies tend not to hate us so much when you simply explain the limitation of wealth accumulation in a free society, and they especially calm down when you explain that absentee ownership would be uncommon (almost non-existent) in a free society. Then again, it seems that most anarcho-capitalists don’t get that either…

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      Martin Brock

      Agreed. The distinction between a commune and a free city is largely academic when free association determines the constituents of both.

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    E. Lee MacFall

    I’ve had good conversations with left anarchists, but very few. Most of the ones to whom I’ve spoken have quite simply refused to understand what I mean by my key terms. That makes communication impossible. If I say “ownership” and they hear “government-granted privilege”, and I say “No, what I mean by ownership is the ultimate right of control,” and they say “No, you mean state-granted privilege” and I’m like “Wait, are you saying you know better than I do what I’m saying?” and they’re like “Yeah basically”, there’s no way a conversation is going to happen.

    I mean, I’m not even that much of a “right-wing” anarchist, personally. I’m a quasi-pacifist and I don’t believe in the use of force where someone’s life isn’t immediately threatened. But apparently I’m not even allowed to prefer private property while refusing to use force to defend it. That’s not good enough. I have to reject the very idea of property before the lefties will listen to me. I don’t want to say that libertarians are inherently more mature than AnComs, exactly, but there seems to be something about the philosophy of AnComs that draws the most juvenile, petulant, and rude people. If we’re going to have a reconciliation of the two philosophies, we’re going to have to find the (probably few) people in that camp who are interested in reconciliation and then convince them to convince the others. And that’s going to be an uphill battle.

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    Antonio Bonilla

    To answer the question directly, I believe the answer is yes. Being both a mutualist, or syndicalist, and a capitalist is not necessarily a contradiction.

    The crux of the economic argument is this: if free market anarchism supports voluntary association (which it does), syndicalism, mutualism, and capitalism, can all coexist without issue. The question would then become an economic one, which the principles of the economy would sort out on its own.

    In regards to the¬†forecast of a left-right alliance, I don’t believe we have a choice, nor a reason to obstruct one. We should be anarchists, first and foremost, and to isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters (our allies) because of¬†economic bickering will only serve to slow the progress of the movement. Anarchism is the subject and not the adjective, so to speak. It is not about anarcho-[whatever], it is about the supporters of liberty dismantling the state. The communists and the capitalists, the feminists and the pacifists, all in one camp, under a ¬†single black flag, as it should be.

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