Saturday, August 04, 2007

Capitalism vs. Anarchism: A Debate

Who would have known that Anarchism would be such a thorny topic? When I posted my essay, Anarchy made easy on my myspace blog it received a flurry of praise and, as expected, harsh criticism. Most who disputed the article either hadn't even read it, didn't read it close enough or knew next to nothing about the basic tenants of Anarchist thought. But one who purported to be an anarcho-"capitalist", Bon, didn't challenge my portrayal of Anarchy as it were, but my assertion that Capitalism was in effect inconsistent with Anarchy. I proceeded to engage him in the following debate.

Here are a few highlights from our exchange. In the interest of brevity (although in its truncated form it is still rather lengthy) I will only provide the juiciest parts. For the full text of our debate visit my myspace blog and scroll down to the comments section.

*NOTE* I said he could have the final word but have yet to hear back from him, as soon as he offers his final rebuttal I will post it.


please show me an example of a corporation that requires compulsory consent. in the former soviet union or communist china, perhaps, but certainly not in the u.s.--though we are headed in that direction, for all the reasons i spell out below.

every one of us in the job market knows--you go with the corporation that gives you the best benefits, the best hours, the best working conditions, and (ideally) the most rewarding work with the best products that suit your interests. only the state would require compulsory consent--say, for example, it conscripted you for a public work service--or even when the IRS "compels" you to work four months straight out of the year to pay off the interest on the national debt created artificially by the fed. also, ideally, you would own some stock in the company, and you would have some say over where the money is invested. again, how is this incompatible with anarchism?

remember, not everyone favors the idea of being a part of a collective. and not everyone favors the idea that the harder you work, the more life stays the same... some people like the distribution of labor that the corporate structure provides and don't necessarily want to be involved in the managing/financial/marketing/distribution aspects; they simply want to sell shoes, get their paycheck, and go home.

the only beef i have with the modern corporation is that it used state coercive power to gain "personhood" rights under the 14th amendment, and it then becomes impossible to prosecute the individual members for their nefarious business practices, because, after all, it was the "corporation's" other words, i have a problem with it being treated as a "collective," which is the same problem i have with the communes you are proposing.


i'm not sure how you would divide up the labor. ...if i put in the least amount of time in the group, i would still have as much say over it as the other guy who put in 12 hr day shifts? you see, it's the incentive problem all over again. iif i was smart, i would make sure that i put in the *least* amount of time and had the *most* say over the whole process. this, of course, is the problem many people have with the CEOs of these giant corporations. but remember...many of them got in that position only because they were willing to invest more time, labor, money, etc. than most and got the surplus they needed to invest in the infrastructure everyone else is using on his or her behalf...which is why they have proportionally greater ownership rights.

the communes would not compete? i'm not sure how this would work. would they all agree to the same quotas? again, this would result in a kind of tyranny of the majority. what if my commune was simply more efficient and able to get more goods and services out to others--would i have to slow down my capacities and wait for the other guys to catch up? what if they never did? then it would be the people that depend on those goods and services who would suffer the most.


on the developing that assembly and investing in the resources necessary to keep it operating, i am doing the community a great service. in exchange, certain members of the community agree to *trade* their time and labor for the wages necessary to enable me to go out and enjoy the products created by the assembly line. of course, as time goes on my workers may become dissatisfied with the way i am investing the resulting surplus and profits, and they may either go someplace else that offers better hours/benefits/salary/etc., or they may get together as a group and demand better treatment--in which case i could possibly fire them (which may result in a shortage of labor and, therefore, a shortage in production) or simply comply and raise their wages. this is the kind of "competition" that typically takes place between labor and corporations for a "fair wage" in a free market. but under no circumstances, i repeat, would they be entitled to any portion of my assembly line--which they have agreed to operate, but not own, by voluntary contract. again, since it is a voluntary contract, there is no "exploitation" here. only the state has the capacity to "exploit" someone when it enforces non-voluntary contracts through taxes or selective service conscriptions or what have you.


so, the commune taken as a whole would be *private* property when it comes to *other* communes and other workers--but it would be *public* to the members of that particular commune. i have no problem with that. i am simply trying to remind you that this is still a matter of private property and there are still certain implicit rules (even if you don't want to call them "laws") that would regulate how members vs. non-members would use that property. is it the case that the more i operate the assembly line, the more i own it? or does everyone in the commune own it, regardless of how many hours they put into it. if this is the case...again, it's the incentive problem. if the lazy people can own just as much of the loot...well, what's to distinguish them from the corporate fat-cats you despise so much?


how is this not capitalism? you have productive tools. you have "capital" that results from those productive tools. it is only a question of who will own the means of production: the person who invested the most money in that assembly line (the CEO), or the people who invest the most time in assembly line (the workers)...remember, in some cases time and money are equal. that is to say, my greater monetary investment may reflect the greater amount of time i had to work to achieve it.

there is still the problem of the surplus. now, you can either cap it at an artificial limit, which may result in scarcity if the demand is greater than you intended...or you can simply count on a greater demand and produce the greatest number of goods at the highest capacity...which is likely to result in a surplus. now how to invest that surplus? do you share it equally among the which case the part-time worker would get paid as much as the full-time worker and the full-time worker is likely to feel scammed (this is *real* exploitation here, folks)...or do you reward labor in proportion with a greater amount of the loot...which is likely to result, indirectly, in the hierarchical structure you seem to despise. of course, you could argue that this hierarchy would arise spontaneously from the bottom-up rather than a forced top-down management scheme...again, i would have no problem with that. but it would, in essence, still retain a kind of corporate structure, even if you don't want to call it that.

once again, i see no contradictions here between anarchism and capitalism. as i have tried to a truly free market, capitalist enterprises would be allowed to compete (or even work together) with socialist ones--communes and corporations, private companies and public organizations--and may the best goods and services come out on top.

in the end, it is the consumer of those goods/services who profit from the wide range of competing enterprises and interests. even if monopolies are created in such a free will only mean that a greater proportion of consumers prefer this enterprise over all the others...which would mean it would have to provide nearly perfect services...

the only problem that is likely to result with monopolies is in a state-managed economy where corporations that are doing poorly can be subsidized by the state because in its divine wisdom it deems its services "essential to the public good"...this would be like one commune subsidizing another commune that is doing poorly, which takes away from the commune that is doing well and creates similar problems, in that the lesser commune has no incentive to do a better job and the more efficient commune is forced to work harder for the same share in the loot.

in the case of the oil cartels, for example, when the government bails them out time and time again so consumers can have cheaper gas prices, when in a truly free economy the gas prices would reflect a shortage in the supply and consumers would either demand refinery expansion and/or alternative sources of energy that are cheaper and this would create a perfect opportunity for electric car dealerships, for example, to fill the other words, it is the state that is preventing alternative resources/energies from existing, not the free market.

as such, these cartels are able to become monopolies not based so much on their popularity with consumers but on their ties with the regulators and central planners in washington who, in turn, make it impossible for other smaller enterprises to get started and compete because they cannot afford to comply with the rules and regulations (minimum wage, licensing fees, paid vacations and overtime, benefits, ergonomics, hazard and environmental laws, etc.) and/or the money supply has been so artificially inflated by the central bank that property values skyrocket all out of proportion to their real worth and no one but the usual chain stores can afford to buy into the strip malls (many of which are again subsidized by the government in the form of corporate welfare--in the interests of the "community" of course).

it seems in your ideal society there would exist some kind of mandate...that only communes of a specific variety would be allowed to exist, and no one would be allowed to compete or generate any surplus. how would you implement such a mandate, other than by force? what if i wanted to take my extra money and invest it in a singularly brilliant idea (like, for example, a combustible engine that runs on salt-water) with an assembly line of my own and i wanted to invite people to work for me so i can realize this idea and use the profits to grow my production capacities, so i could become more efficient and lower prices for the consumer...would the mandate in your ideal society prevent me from doing such a thing, would i have to ask permission of my workers to sell and market my brilliant idea (which would result in a kind of inverted hierarchical tyranny) and give them equal ownership, which may result in an irreversible perversion of my original intent?

again, it would be narrowing my range of possibilities artificially, a form of coercion...and what anarchist, in their right mind, would agree to such a thing?

you are essentially talking about socialism, not anarchism. the core principle of anarchism is the non-aggression principle. no one has the right to use force on you or anyone else as long as you are not hurting anyone. but the core principle of socialism is the equal-ownership principle. which is why socialism so often results in a coercive state of affairs, because "equality" is a very hard thing to impose on any group of people with different talents and strengths and resources.

for example, in an anarchist society if i carved out a piece of land and produced a large quantity of food for one would be entitled to any of my food through the use of force. it must be a voluntary exchange. however, in a socialist society everyone is equally entitled to that food, which means if i don't give it up i will be forced, by majority vote or state coercion, to do so. which, of course, is why true anarchism can only exist, paradoxically, in a constitutional republic that protects you and your property from the use of such force (even if i used weapons, i would still likely be overrun by the mob).

of course, you could still say that anarchism means, in essence, that no one has property rights or ownership rights...but you have already said that the commune "belongs" to those who work in it--and i personally don't see how it would work any other way--which immediately brings in the whole classical liberal philosophy which bases *all* rights on these fundamental property rights.

the only thing that is compatible with the core principle of anarchism, as such, is a laissez-faire free market economy, where labor is able to organize voluntarily on its own terms--be it anarcho-capitalist or anarcho-syndicalist--without state coercion. i just don't see how it would work out any other way.

which is of course why i support ron paul, as you pointed out...because his libertarian candidacy comes closest to implementing the non-aggression principle in nearly every facet of our society.

when it comes down to it, i believe the "equal-ownership" principle has led to more disastrous consequences, historically, than the non-aggression principle ever has. it all comes down to whether you would prefer to err on the side of anarchy or totalitarianism. i would choose the former any day. as jefferson put it, "i would rather be confronted with the inconveniences of too much liberty than those which attend too little of it."

the great schism that exists in america today is that increasingly the equal-ownership principle is taking over the non-aggression principle upon which our republic was based (which is reflected in the fact that we must work four months out of the year or more just to pay the federal income tax, medicare, unemployment, social security, etc. etc., we must put the interests of the "nation" before our own in times of war, etc., because everyone believes they are entitled to a portion of our labor and the state is happy to oblige by expanding the size and scope of its regulatory powers)...

this is why we are sliding headlong into totalitarianism today.


As not to grope blindly through the shadows I would like to offer my definition of Anarchism. John Clark states: "[the] essence of anarchism is, after all, not the theoretical opposition to the state, but the practical and theoretical struggle against domination." This has been the position of every major Anarchist thinker since Proudhon so this will be the idea I will touch base with from time to time.

The first point I must address is your view of corporations as "collectives". The advent of corporate "personhood" was indeed a harbinger of dark days to come, however, to characterize corporations as "collectives" in the anarchist sense is misguided. It is the corporate owners who shield themselves from prosecution, not the true family of workers who would like nothing more than to have their keepers unseated. These workers are trapped in a system which requires them to sell their time and skills for wages in an institution they have no direct control over. This is domination and is, to a true anarchist, dehumanizing and exploitative. So when you ask for examples of a corporation that demands compulsory consent I have to answer by asking can you show me a corporation that doesn't? Individuals are given a narrow range of options all of which require entering into a humiliating contract with a master. It is as though a person is given the choice of which plantation they want to toil under. Some may pay better wages, offer pensions and/or a complement of vacation time, but the individual is still forced into a corrupt arrangement.

Within the commune the labor would be divided according to skills and interests (which would inevitably overlap). You must recognize under Capitalism workers exist as cogs in the corporate machine, in an Anarchist commune machines will do the muscle work freeing laborers to pursue more edifying activities which duly benefit the society. So it would be unlikely anyone would be required to work 12 hours a day, and if they did it would be at their discretion. But the thrust of your argument remains: what will happen to those who choose laziness as their art?

A sluggard would be defined in an anarchist society as an idler who contributes nothing to the commune but still utilizes its resources. It can be demonstrated that the type of society a person resides in nourishes certain human traits and represses others. For example, nineteenth century India.

Louis Fischer observes " 1869, India had already been under foreign domination for centuries. Remarkably, for the last hundred-odd years of the period, it lay in the grip not of an ordinary conqueror but of a mercantile operation, the British East India Company. Licensed by the Crown to pursue its fortunes by virtually any means it liked, including raising its own armies and waging war..."(Louis Fischer, "The Essential Gandhi", Preface pg. x). What was the result of this glorious free market? Indian farmers were forced to grow their crops for export, not for local use, and 4 hundred thousand died of starvation in 25 years. Millions more died subsequently. With this type of stifling aggression the Indian population became lethargic and uninterested in fighting for fair wages, livable conditions or a political voice. In the meantime the Company, along with Britain and her Industrial Revolution, flourished while the Indian people disintegrated. One may argue that there wasn't enough competition, that the country would have actually benefited from additional corporations, but these corporations would only have constructed more efficient ways of plundering the countryside.

It can be seen quite clearly that one's environment shapes one's character. This is why I contend that laziness would be in short supply. Work would be an enjoyable endeavor, it is not labor alone people dislike it is bosses, deadlines, shortage of leisure, etc. The hope of the anarchist is that such a society would place work as an incentive in and of itself. But in the rare case there is a person who contributes nothing to a commune social pressure would be employed to try to persuade the individual into either joining a syndicate or providing something for the public good. If this does not prevail, the members of a commune could elect to expel such a person and would not be required to share the fruits of their labor, but they would not deprive the individual the right of venturing outside the commune in order to seek the means of life. Camillo Berneri sums it up best when he says anarchism entails: "no compulsion to work, but no duty towards those who do not want to work."

Now, because the producers and consumers are one in the same, it stands to reason the producers would contain intimate (not necessarily perfect) knowledge of what they consume. The limits they decide upon (by popular vote, of course) would not be a shot in the dark, nor would it be inflated by the creation of artificial wants by a multi-trillion dollar a year advertising industry. But, as we know, it is impossible to look into the crystal ball and determine exactly what a commune will consume, that is why it would be wise to manufacture a surplus of goods. If this surplus remains it would be up to the commune to redirect it according to their wishes taking into account the needs of the young, sick and elderly. In Capitalism, these individuals are considered a liability as they are unable to produce, but in an anarchistic society they are given the right to live a full life. If a syndicate were no longer useful to a commune it would either be absorbed into a more useful syndicate or shut down all together, and this too would be decided by the consumers through popular vote.

In regards to your salt water engine business, let's suppose you live in a commune and want to break from the syndicate mold. You obtain the required machinery and offer laborers to work beneath you. There will be no special police force stopping you from making this offer, yet, no worker will give up his or her control of the salt water engine syndicate across the street to make you rich while straddling their backs. You bemoan the inverted triangle of hierarchical tyranny that would emanate from abdicating your rights as a private owner to the workers. By allowing the majority to marshal their own affairs doesn't sound like tyranny to me - it's democracy. And as far as your fruits and vegetables go you're viewing this all wrong. Anarchists are against private ownership of property which could potentially be used for exploitation. That means possessions such as family heirlooms are perfectly acceptable. In a communal atmosphere, where everyone's quality of life is guaranteed, there would be no angry mob demanding your food, and you would have no reason to stockpile anything as you could always acquire sustenance. This attitude is Capitalistic and would baffle an individual living in a communal society.

There is plenty of debate to be had over how communes would interact. Would they link together into a giant confederation? Or would they operate independently? Or would they determine their fate on an individual basis? The appeal of Anarchism is that it would be a pulsating mesh of ever-changing free associations based upon the principle of "one worker one vote". It would be left up to the laborers. When it is said that each commune "privately owns" their property I believe it deserves a slight qualification. Anybody has the opportunity to join a commune and become an owner of that property consequently having a say in the future of that property. This is dramatically removed from the fundamentals of private property under our current system. The acquisition of truly privately owned property ends up in a separation of classes with the upper tier upholding dominance above the lower tiers. However, if you're willing to acknowledge the anarchist's definition of property you may call it "private" if you wish.

As demonstrated, corporations, even without government intrusion, are inherently tyrannical. They centralize wealth and power among an elite, dehumanize the spirit of their workers and place dollars above dignity. No matter what a particular corporation produces there is a single commodity which links them all - domination. It is for this reason that Capitalism is incongruous with anarchism.


i am not familiar with the history of the "free market" in india at the turn of the nineteenth century, and i will do some research of my own, but my feeling from reading the excerpts above is that it was an example of a state-managed market, with "the Crown" essentially giving no-bid contracts to its mercantile operations and preventing indians, by force of arms and/or law, from importing and exporting their own goods (which is essentially the role of the WTO today--which is another example of a managed market).

--So when you ask for examples of a corporation that demands compulsory consent I have to answer by asking can you show me a corporation that doesn't? Individuals are given a narrow range of options all of which require entering into a humiliating contract with a master. It is as though a person is given the choice of which plantation they want to toil under. Some may pay better wages, offer pensions and/or a complement of vacation time, but the individual is still forced into a corrupt arrangement.--

i'm still not sure how the individual is "forced" into a corrupt arrangement...I've never heard the people at google, for example, complain about their "wage-slavery"...indeed, as i have said, if google were forced by some collective mandate to give all the power to the workers and rule by majority vote (in essence, giving power over the company to a group of people who may be less qualified to run it rather than the entrepreneurs who came up with the idea and its implementation in the first place), how would this not be another form of coercion/domination? you seem to think that oligarchies are the only form of domination. well, democracies can be just as bad...if you were the only dissenting vote as a minority in the south you could have found yourself at the end of a rope. and if a majority had the total capacity to vote away your property (i.e. my assembly line), then what's to prevent them from simply not working at all and voting away all the property of the workers (this is what occurs in the welfare state, for example).

and, yes, corporations *are* collectives, just not the sort you would wish upon everyone...they are collectives in the sense that everyone is doing their job and working together to ensure not only their private wages but also the future of the company...what you seem to abhor is the hierarchical division of labor, with this person working on the assembly line and this person working on the finances...but like i've said before, not even your syndicates would be able to avoid this structural problem...the only difference being that in a corporation part of the division of labor includes a specific delegation of "management," that is, just as the brain thinks and the hand grasps, the logic of the corporate structure is that the hand should not think (or, only in a limited capacity) and the brain should not grasp. they are no less a part of a collective, however, and they are just as important to the proper functioning of the body. (and the point i am trying to make is that some people *like* being the hand!) now, you may say, "but aren't the people working on the assembly line better qualified to know what should be done with the goods produced by that assembly line?" and i would say that what is needed here is not "intimate knowledge" of the product but intimate knowledge of the market--which are two completely different things, and the corporate structure takes this into account.

workers should be allowed to organize and invest and establish their own syndicates, yes, and there is nothing about capitalism in a free market society that mandates a corporate structure--indeed, the structure of your syndicates may prove to be a more fair/efficient way of doing business--but individuals should be allowed to organize and invest and establish their own corporations as well. again, it is all about voluntary contracts, and i repeat: some people prefer the corporate structure over the syndicates--and i am still unsure how the syndicates would be able to avoid the corporate structure entirely (for all the reasons of the incentive problem, surpluses, scarcity, etc., i discussed above).

our problem today is that the corporate structure has been subsidized by the state at the expense of all the others--mostly due to their lack of accountability as "persons," a right which should be taken away immediately by the next administration (and i believe ron paul has proposed something along these lines in order to "free" up the market).

once again, i do not believe you have shown capitalism to be incompatible with anarchism, if we understand capitalism to mean the use of productive tools to generate "capital" and then investing the resulting surplus back into the that investment can either be done through a corporation or through a syndicate. you may have shown, however, that the fundamental principles of anarchism and socialism may be at odds, however--in that you cannot easily enforce the equality of ownership principle without resorting to force, whether it be physical force or through force of law in your ideal ociety, which is something fundamentally abhorrent to anarchism at its core.

remember, the tyranny of the majority can be just as dangerous (in some cases, even moreso) as the tyranny of some elite. there is no good reason to see why your syndicates would not result in domination by the group of the individual in the same sense you caution us against the domination by the individual over the group in the corporation. as long as both structures are entered into by voluntary contract in a free market, the issue of "domination" becomes moot.

whether it be taking orders from the collective or taking orders from management...there is still a division of labor, there is still a form of structural inequality, there is still domination of one group by another--and only hard-core socialists would force equality on us all.

again, it is the use of force that is the main issue here.


Quality of life is a poor way of ascertaining the morality of a given system. Non-Jewish Germans living under Hitler lived a better life than what preceded them nevertheless this system was disgusting. Whether you're an "indoor" slave with regular meals and a hot bath or an "outdoor" slave where you battle the elements and fear regular floggings, you're still a slave. Most people don't recall the hotly contested election for Google's CEO early last year as decided by its employees. This is because it never happened. Google's employees still rent their freedom for monetary compensation regardless of their attitude toward the arrangement. If there were a syndicate comparable to Google in every positive way and workers directly controlled their administrative branches democratically which do you think they would choose? Unfortunately, such an option does not exist. So the most that can be said of their "voluntary" participation is that, for them, this company is the lesser of all possible evils.

Private owners of an assembly line only desire to turn a profit, ethics be damned. Within the direct democracy I outline a wider range of ideas are considered through proposals, discussions, elections, challenges and counter-challenges, a well-oiled democracy allows for the minority's view to become the majority's. Even after a decision is made the minority is encouraged to dissent in a syndicate, or, in extreme cases, the minority may even separate from the syndicate.

You contend the corporate contract between worker and master is not exploitative, but then you go on to describe the managerial body as the mind and the laborer as the hand, graciously illustrating my point. What could be more exploitative than the reduction of human beings to an appendage of corporate greed without any input in the policies their bosses enact. The workers get to cut the grapes but they can't drink the wine. You go on to say in the anarchist's society the worker who wants to be left out of the decision-making process is forced into self-determination. In reality, each worker is provided the option to be heard through their vote and public debates held at communal assemblies but no one is obliged to participate as it is a free society. The level of participation a worker chooses is determined by the individual. If the laborer wants to forgo the assemblies they are free to do so.

I agree with you, the use of force is the main issue, and this is why Capitalism and Anarchism is dissonant. The socialism you allude to, the kind which would and has used force against its populace, is State Socialism, quite different from what I'm proposing. In a free society, there is no special security force patrolling the streets. Anarchism would be arrived at not through coercion but through education and persuasion. Syndicates would offer a more appealing life and greater transparency and control to the workers than a corporation could ever dream of. The commune promises a world without masters, a vote and a voice in what is produced, the absence of poverty (because everything is owned mutually and the members of a commune would care for each other), an abundance of leisure time, and voluntary labor in an individual's field of interest. However, if the rare case should arise that an entrepreneur obtained the means of production, left the commune (as the members wouldn't change their democratically determined system because the minority wanted to reintroduce wage slavery) and persuaded individuals to rent out their time for wages and rationed benefits that is their right to do so.

But bare in mind this ceases to be anarchism at this point. The problem I have with your definition of Capitalism is it neglects the key component of what the economic system is - privately owned. Once property is privatized the disparity of wealth distribution is inevitable. That is because the amount of freedom a person possesses is proportional to the amount of property he or she owns. Those who own more property exert domination over those who have less or none. Workers are threatened with the specter of unemployment and homelessness forcing them into one of your "voluntary" contracts. This would be an impossibility in a commune.

Capitalism is not truly voluntary and gains its purchase from fear, coercion and inequality. The only way to succeed in a Capitalist environment is through Authoritarian tactics giving the spoils to the most brutal. True anarchism encourages subversive ideas, thrives on individuality and values persuasion, not aggression. Communes provide for themselves even for those considered untouchables (infirm, elderly) in Capitalism. As compassion isn't profitable this concept is bemoaned by Capitalists. The immutable march toward expansion in Capitalism requires a feature for creating artificial wants, however, in a communal society the consumers have direct control over what is produced. To quote Kropotkin "[production is] the mere servant of consumption; it must mould itself on the wants of the consumer, not dictate to him [or her] conditions." To the Capitalist, the human spirit (which nobody can buy, sell or trade) is subordinate to material wealth. Not only is Capitalism incompatible with anarchism, it is incompatible with rudimentary human decency.

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