It seems a lot of the criticism towards myself as well as my attempt to finally “unify” the anarchist movement, through stripping it of the dogmatic, false belief that there are incompatible schools of anarchisms, is based on the uses and definitions of the word capitalism. In endless posts on anarchist forums I have been attacked in person or indirectly through my writings for my being capitalist, while I’ve also been attacked numerous times by statist libertarians (a.k.a. minarchists) and anarcho-capitalists for not being a capitalist.
It seems obvious that both of these criticisms cannot be right, but also that one of them should. In fact, however, they are both wrong. I am both a very strong opponent of capitalism and believe very strongly that capitalism is synonymous with the only true free society.
The reason for this is not an inherent contradiction in my views, but lies solely in the dogmatic view of the critic. Those who criticize me for being a capitalist while “pretending” to be anarchist/libertarian see capitalism as an economic system very much like the one we have today. It is a system of hierarchy based on privileges. Capitalism steals from the poor and gives to the rich; it regulates, oppresses, and exploits those who aren’t in the right networks and those who lack the “right” contacts, and it rewards those who are loyal to Power.
Capitalism is in this sense but a newer version of old-style oppressive feudalism. Instead of local or regional lords with the permission from the monarch to tax and enslave their people, we have huge corporations given the privileges by the State to conduct business and reap profits at tax payers’ expense. These protected capitalists are as privileged as the feudal lords; their privileges are basically the same.
Even though many don’t seem to realize this, such a system is fundamentally based on State power. It cannot survive without a monopoly of violence continuously enforcing and upholding the privileges – there’s nothing inherent in production, trade, consumption or money that creates a privileged wealthy class with a “right” to oppress others. This is a state of things dependent on law, and therefore on the State.
When large corporations establish a new factory, without being concerned with former or neighboring property owners’ rights nor with the environment or whatever, they do so not because it is an inherently profitable move. It is only profitable because they have been given the legal right (privilege) to do so, and can thereby escape most of the costs arising due to the disrespectful choice of location, production process, plant size, etc.
The same is true with the enormous benefits of the so-called economies of scale available to contemporary corporations. There is no reason to believe bigger is always better; in fact, the opposite is often true, the smaller is better fit for a flexible and changing world, has lower costs (no bureaucracy), relies on its direct relationship with customers, etc. But the all-encompassing State continuously subsidizes big business through supplying public roads, free or cheap land and labor, tailor-made legislation and monopolies, or even corporate welfare.
The reason it is always profitable to grow and expand and become bigger is solely because of the State. A huge plant may be able to produce a monstrous quantity of products at a low per-item cost, but only through being able to exploit cheap labor and free or almost free transportation is it a great deal. If corporations were to bear their costs for transportation they would find bigger at a certain point becomes more expensive.
If this system is capitalism, I am absolutely opposed to it. If this is capitalism, I am an anti-capitalist to 100%.
But this is not in any sense what anarcho-capitalist thinkers mean by capitalism. On the contrary, anarcho-capitalists are as strongly opposed to this system of State enforcement and privilege for corporate interests – call it corporatism, capitalism, fascism, or whatever – as I am. To anarcho-capitalists, capitalism is everything the contemporary system is not (even though there are, indeed, a number of ignorant status quo-hailing anarcho-capitalists – just as there are a bunch of utterly ignorant “money is the true evil” anti-capitalist anarchists).
Capitalism to anarcho-capitalists is what individualist anarchists and mutualists refer to as the “free market.” It is the state of things without government, where trade is free and voluntary and something that individuals engage in if they find it in there interest to do so (and they often should). The free market, even though it may include large-scale production, sees no privileges and no special deals for corporations. On the contrary, in this free market capitalism there is no privileged class and also no one to hand out privileges.
Free individuals producing or exchanging goods and services, whether they do it separately or in groups/collectives and in a money or barter economy, do not create a system of privilege. If it were the case that free individuals voluntarily interacting with each other would always, through some kind of inherent nature of interaction, create hierarchies and structures of power there would be no chance for freedom. Ever. So it simply cannot be true that free individuals in voluntary interaction will be destined to create states and exploitative relationships.
Not even the existence of property would cause such a hierarchy, unless property itself is established by the State (and it cannot if there is no State). Property according to anarcho-capitalists is a right to use and control that which you have legitimately acquired – and this can only be done through directly mixing your own labor with that which is unowned and unused and unclaimed. Property, in other words, does not to anarcho-capitalists mean the same thing as de facto property is today. And a free market, even if based on the anarcho-capitalist definition of property, would not make the vast riches of the privileged class possible while keeping others in poverty; it would indeed make people wealthy, but the free market makes everybody wealthy – at nobody’s expense.
I, for one, do not fully share the view of property commonly advocated by some anarcho-capitalists, since I see great problems (philosophically) in the Lockean version of property acquisition that many anarcho-capitalists have basically adopted. Rather, I advocate a use-based approach to property that in a much better way makes use of the scarce resources in this world and also is better at both restricting ownership and allowing for more fair accumulation. It is a “softer” approach to property that literally takes the best of the private property and possession-right theories of ownership.
In either case, the anarcho-capitalist view of capitalism has nothing to do with the capitalism described above and used by the anti-capitalist anarchist schools. It is a seldom-mentioned and little known fact that Murray Rothbard, the anarcho-capitalist icon, was in favor of homesteading from the State – that e.g. workers have the right to take over their factories just like students and faculty have the right to take over state university campuses (see “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle” [pdf]). This should tell dogmatic anarchist anti-anarcho-capitalist folks something.
For the record, however, I do not call myself anarcho-capitalist even though I do use anarcho-capitalism as an example in this post. I am a market anarchist with views fitting nicely within the “triangle” of individualist anarchism, mutualism, and agorism – topped off with a little influence (but only a little) of Stirnerism. This view has a lot in common with much of anarcho-capitalism, no doubt, but it isn’t.
In general, I try to avoid using the word “capitalism” because it is so easily misunderstood, and because it seems a lot of people really don’t want to realize they are using it dogmatically so that they can continue to falsely dismiss people they don’t like (or don’t understand). I am nevertheless fully, completely, and absolutely opposed to capitalism in the former sense above, while a staunch proponent of capitalism in the latter. My views are, even though the same word is used in both the positive and negative, fully compatible. Indeed, since the word is used in two distinctly different ways – where one is almost the direct opposite of the other – it is necessary to be both pro and con capitalism. Unless your view prohibits people from freely and voluntarily interact and exchange favors, goods, and services – but that surely wouldn’t be anarchism.