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Why Libertarian Socialists Reject Free Market Liberalism

By Geoff R - Ideas and Action, October 4, 2017

Libertarian socialists’ political goals are both radical and ambitious: we seek to replace capitalism in its entirety with libertarian socialism. As a result, libertarian socialists do not just stand against capitalism as it exists today but also against positions in favor of increasing liberalism of markets; positions to reduce regulation of markets by external actors, including the government. This is largely because there is more evidence that increased market liberalism worsens problems of markets rather than improving or resolving them.

A fundamental promise of free market liberalism is that market share becomes more equitable among competing firms due to increased competition. This means firms are both created and go out of business at a higher rate than that which currently exists. Assuming this is true, it would mean that both employers and workers would face extreme economic uncertainty and therefore have trouble planning economically for the future. It’d be harder for workers to plan personal economic decisions and harder for employers to make business decisions regarding their firms. Meeting the demand economic actors have for stability is one of the many areas where markets particularly fail.

But this argument – that market share would be more equitable among competing firms due to increased competition – lacks evidence. All firms seek to increase their market share to compete and often firms end up dominating and even monopolizing markets simply by buying up their competition. Early industrialists in the U.S. were known for doing this and that was a time where there was far less regulation in markets by the government than there is today.

Early American industrialism is also known for company towns where one company owned nearly everything; from stores to housing to the local government. As a result, all law and public policy in these towns was solely for the benefit of the employer and kept the rest of the town under complete subjugation. Such was famously the case in West Virginia, the site of the mine wars including the Battle of Blair Mountain which was the largest insurrection in the United States since the American Civil War.

Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back

By Paul Street - CounterPunch, February 28, 2017

In classic capitalist fantasy, the “private” marketplace is a land of liberty and the state is a dungeon of oppression.  Modern social democrats have tended to invert the formula, upholding the state as a force for social protection against the tyranny of the capitalist market.

The truth is more complex than either narrative allows. As Marxists and other leftists have long known, “free market” relations and the state combine to impose class oppression on the working-class majority under capitalism.  Both the market and the state are under the interrelated and overlapping, mutually reinforcing control of capital. This is especially true in the United States, where government’s social-democratic functions – and the popular movements that have historically fought to install those functions – are much weaker than they are than in other “developed” capitalist nations.

The common worker and citizen faces a double whammy under the U.S. profit system. She must rent out her critical life energy – her labor power – and subject herself to the despotic, exploitative (surplus value-extracting) direction of “free” market-ruling capital to obtain the means of exchange required to obtain basic life necessities sold on the market by capital. To make matters worse, she must contend with a government that functions not so much to protect her and the broader community from capital (including capital as employer) as to deepen capital’s political, social, and market power over and against her, other workers, and the common good.

Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back

By Paul Street - CounterPunch, February 28, 2017

In classic capitalist fantasy, the “private” marketplace is a land of liberty and the state is a dungeon of oppression.  Modern social democrats have tended to invert the formula, upholding the state as a force for social protection against the tyranny of the capitalist market.

The truth is more complex than either narrative allows. As Marxists and other leftists have long known, “free market” relations and the state combine to impose class oppression on the working-class majority under capitalism.  Both the market and the state are under the interrelated and overlapping, mutually reinforcing control of capital. This is especially true in the United States, where government’s social-democratic functions – and the popular movements that have historically fought to install those functions – are much weaker than they are than in other “developed” capitalist nations.

The common worker and citizen faces a double whammy under the U.S. profit system. She must rent out her critical life energy – her labor power – and subject herself to the despotic, exploitative (surplus value-extracting) direction of “free” market-ruling capital to obtain the means of exchange required to obtain basic life necessities sold on the market by capital. To make matters worse, she must contend with a government that functions not so much to protect her and the broader community from capital (including capital as employer) as to deepen capital’s political, social, and market power over and against her, other workers, and the common good.

“Anarcho-capitalism,” “Free Markets,” Jumbo Shrimp, and Other Oxymorons

By A S Goldstein - Tools of Control, December 14, 2015

Lately, I have been having endlessly frustrating debates with people who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” or “ancaps” and who seem to be stuck in the McCarthy Era as they still view socialism as some kind of “Red Terror.” Ironically, these people are about as fervent in their support of capitalism and their hatred of socialism as the very government they supposedly want to destroy. These debates generally devolve into ad hominem attacks as the people arguing for capitalism tend to lose their cool rather quickly, and like most people they do not want to hear opposing opinions, especially ones supported by facts. I strongly believe in anarchism and autonomy as I believe they are the only foundations for a truly free society, so I have joined many anarchist groups, but it seems like many of the them (in America anyway) are overrun by so-called “ancaps,” which is why I end up having these silly arguments, and it is sad because they don’t understand “anarcho-capitalism” is an oxymoron or a contradiction of terms that are diametrically opposed. People who believe in this contradiction of terms do not understand what anarchism or capitalism is, and so I hope they read this explanation and do their own research, (and read authors that do not just reinforce their own opinions) instead of reacting defensively or reflexively.

Anarchy means a system without rulers. The etymology of the word demonstrates that as its root Greek words are “an” and “arkhos”, which together mean “without ruler.” Yet capitalism inherently has rulers. It puts people with massive capital and monopolies on resources at a much greater advantage over people who don’t have such capital or resources. The super rich also rely on state thugs and governments and their monopoly on violence and force to protect them. In a world without violent governments or police without the ability to use force, there would be no billionaires. Without police and governments that protect the rich and powerful, there is no way common people would allow a handful of incredibly greedy, misanthropic individuals to hoard billions while 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. Capitalist managers rely on cops to break worker strikes and quell worker dissent, they rely on state armies to secure resources, and they rely on government subsidies, tax breaks, bailouts, and bribes to politicians and judges for legislation that favors them.

“Ancaps” remind me of these Ron Paul “libertarians” who misunderstand libertarianism and anarchy as meaning a system with no rules where they think their freedom is defined by how much they can hoard and how much they can disregard other people’s rights and freedoms. But our freedom is not defined by how much we can take away the freedom of others. That is a zero sum equation (as is capitalism) and not true freedom. In this system, one person’s loss is always another person’s gain. For example, the loss of someone’s house due to foreclosure is a gain for the bank that lent the homeowner money, and it is also a gain for the person who buys the property from the bank because banks generally sell foreclosed homes for less than they are worth. We are not truly free unless everyone is free. As Martin Luther King said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Libertarianism is a Type of Socialism, NOT Classical Liberalism

By Geoff - Ideas and Action, August 25, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Libertarianism is a socialist political philosophy which has its roots in the socialist workers’ movements of the 1800s and 1900s. It is especially associated with ideas that came out of the First International (IWA – 1864-1876), especially those of Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin. It was upon these ideas, as well as some of those which came later like those of Peter Kropotkin, that the libertarian syndicalists in Spain formed the CNT union in the early 1900s, with the goal of creating a libertarian (socialist) and workers’ self-managed society. What this means is they wanted emancipation of the working class, recognizing that class struggle comes as a result of resistance to management power over workers, because business owners’ aims are profit-based. This means that managers will submit workers to rigid control in the workplace, cut corners and compensation, heap stress on them, etc., in order to maximize profit.

The inequitable distribution of wealth that comes as a result of wage labor creates an economic, political and social power imbalance, since in the market your vote is your dollar, and wage labor in the workplace is an apparatus to give a minority of people more votes in the market than the rest. Libertarians historically wanted to replace these conditions with workers’ self-management and create a socialist society where people have control over their own work and in all economic planning and decision-making, as arranged through popular associations like unions, assemblies, councils and federations. There are various concrete proposals for these types of economies from people like Cornelius Castoriadis, Peter Kropotkin, GDH Cole and others.

In the 1962 book “Capitalism & Freedom”, Milton Friedman says: “The rightful and proper label is liberalism…liberalism emphasized freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in the society. It supported laissez faire at home as a means of reducing the role of the state in economic affairs and thereby enlarging the role of the individual; it supported free trade abroad as a means of linking the nations of the world…”. The word “libertarianism” became associated with right wing classical liberals in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to use the word for political opportunism. In “The Betrayal of the American Right”, Murray Rothbard said, “One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy…‘Libertarians’…had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over…”

An easy way to understand the major differences between libertarians and classical liberals is that libertarians prioritize positive liberty whereas classical liberals prioritize negative liberty. Positive liberty means having control over the decisions that affect you (self-management) and having access to the resources to fulfill your potential. Negative liberty means merely absence of external restraint. Because the employer doesn’t put a gun to your head to take a job, you’re supposedly “free” as far as the liberal is concerned. But in reality workers face a denial of positive liberty because they are forced to work for employers to afford access to resources they need to live their lives, and have no direct control over their own work or over economic planning decisions which affect their lives.

Noam Chomsky: The Kind of Anarchism I Believe in, and What's Wrong with Libertarians

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Michael S. Wilson - Infoshop News, August 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The following is the adapted text of an interview that first appeared in Modern Success magazine.

So many things have been written about, and discussed by, Professor Chomsky, it was a challenge to think of anything new to ask him: like the grandparent you can’t think of what to get for Christmas because they already have everything.

So I chose to be a bit selfish and ask him what I’ve always wanted to ask him. As an out-spoken, actual, live-and-breathing anarchist, I wanted to know how he could align himself with such a controversial and marginal position.

Michael S. Wilson: You are, among many other things, a self-described anarchist — an anarcho-syndicalist, specifically. Most people think of anarchists as disenfranchised punks throwing rocks at store windows, or masked men tossing ball-shaped bombs at fat industrialists. Is this an accurate view? What is anarchy to you?

Noam Chomsky: Well, anarchism is, in my view, basically a kind of tendency in human thought which shows up in different forms in different circumstances, and has some leading characteristics. Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified. It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them. Their authority is not self-justifying. They have to give a reason for it, a justification. And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just. And, as I understand it, anarchy is just that tendency. It takes different forms at different times.

Anarcho-syndicalism is a particular variety of anarchism which was concerned primarily, though not solely, but primarily with control over work, over the work place, over production. It took for granted that working people ought to control their own work, its conditions, [that] they ought to control the enterprises in which they work, along with communities, so they should be associated with one another in free associations, and … democracy of that kind should be the foundational elements of a more general free society. And then, you know, ideas are worked out about how exactly that should manifest itself, but I think that is the core of anarcho-syndicalist thinking. I mean it’s not at all the general image that you described — people running around the streets, you know, breaking store windows — but [anarcho-syndicalism] is a conception of a very organized society, but organized from below by direct participation at every level, with as little control and domination as is feasible, maybe none.

Patriot Movement Paramilitaries in Oregon

By Spencer Sunshine - Rural Organizing Project, June 13, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This is an expanded version of a talk given at the Rural Organizing Project’s Rural Caucus and Strategy Session in Woodburn, Oregon on June 13, 2015.

The Patriot Movement: From Posse Comitatus to the Oath Keepers

In April 2015, armed right-wing paramilitaries converged on a mining claim in the Galice Mining District near Grants Pass in Josephine County, Oregon. Organizationally, it was a combination of different parts of what is called the Patriot movement: militias, 3%ers, Sovereign Citizens, and the Oath Keepers.

The Patriot movement is a form of extreme right politics that exists between the Tea Party end of the Republican Party and the white supremacist movement.* Generally those in the Patriot movement view the current U.S. federal government as an illegitimate, totalitarian state. They see the militias that they are building—and allied county sheriffs—as political-military formations that will eventually replace the current federal government.

Many of their movement’s tactics originate in white supremacist politics, mixed with ideas derived from anti-Communist conspiracy theories of the John Birch Society. According to Daniel Levitas, the group that first espoused many of the basic Patriot concepts was Posse Comitatus, whose founder, William Potter Gale, was a member of the racist Christian Identity religion. In the 1960s, he started to advocate Posse Comitatus (power of the county), based on the idea that the county sheriff is the highest political authority of the land. Gale thought that, in the post-Civil Rights era, the federal government was a totalitarian state run by a cabal of Jews. “County power” would allow people to ignore Supreme Court decisions and federal laws about civil rights and income tax, and allow a return to white supremacy and unfettered capitalism, free from federal regulations. Posse Comitatus also advocated for armed citizens’ militias and crank legal filings, which set the foundation for the formation of militias and Sovereign Citizen ideas, respectively. In 1976, the FBI estimated there were 12,000­–50,000 Posse members.

“Conscious Capitalism” Icon Whole Foods Exploits Prison Labor

By Ben Norton - CounterPunch, July 17, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, whose net worth exceeds $100 million, is a fervent proselytizer on behalf of “conscious capitalism.” A self-described libertarian, Mackey believes the solution to all of the world’s problems is letting corporations run amok, without regulation. He believes this so fervently, in fact, he wrote an entire book extolling the magnanimous virtue of the free market.

At the same time, while preaching the supposedly beneficent gospel of the “conscious capitalism,” Mackey’s company Whole Foods, which has a $13 billion and growing annual revenue, sells overpriced fish, milk, and gourmet cheeses cultivated by inmates in US prisons.

The renowned “green capitalist” organic supermarket chain pays what are effectively indentured servants in the Colorado prison system a mere $1.50 per hour to farm organic tilapia.

Colorado prisons already grow 1.2 million pounds of tilapia a year, and government officials and their corporate companions are chomping at the bit to expand production.

That’s not all. Whole Foods also buys artisinal cheeses and milk cultivated by prisoners. The prison corporation Colorado Correctional Industries has created what Fortune describes as “a burgeoning $65 million business that employs 2,000 convicts at 17 facilities.”

The base pay of these prison workers is 60¢ per day. Whole Foods purchases cheeses from these prisons, which literally pay prison laborers mere pennies an hour, and subsequently marks up the price drastically.

This is by no means the only questionable practice of Whole Foods—a corporation that presents itself as the leader in a new generation of Benevolent Big Business. In June, it was revealed that the company had systematically overcharged customers in a variety of locations for at least half of a decade.

The double standards are striking. One would think exploiting prisoners—individuals incarcerated by the state—would contradict putative libertarian values of voluntarism, voluntary association, and non-coercion. Yet critics would argue right-wing libertarians have never been ones to demonstrate moral consistency.

In fact, Mackey also firmly opposes basic libertarian values vis-à-vis workers’ rights and labor organizing. He forbids Whole Foods employees from unionizing, comparing workers’ democratic control over their own workplaces and lives to herpes. A union “doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover,” the Whole Foods CEO declared.

Capitalism, Right Libertarianism and the problem of “externalities?”

By Gary Elkin - December 3, 2009 [date uncertain] [PDF File Available]

Ecology.IWW.ORG web editor's note: "right-libertarian" is more or less synonymous with "anarcho-capitalism", although the latter is the most extreme expression of the former. Essentially, that economic theory and political ideology is championed by the Austrian School of Economics whose adherents include Ludwig Von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Robert Nozick, and Murray Rothbard. Their ideas have been vulgarized by "libertarian" dogmatist and novelist, Ayn Rand, and were revived in the 1980s by Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan after being discredited following the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s in the United States and Europe. That being said, essentially the following rules really apply to ALL forms of capitalism, even the Keynesian social democracy so vehemently despised by the aforementioned laissez-faire ideologues:

Right libertarians have great difficulty in dealing with the problem of “externalities”: that is, harmful environmental effects (e.g. pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, destruction of wildlife habitat) not counted as “costs of production” in standard methods of accounting. Such costs must be born by everyone in the society who is affected by them, and not only by the capitalists who produce them; hence it is possible for capitalist to ignore such effects when planning future production. But this means that such effects will be ignored, since competition forces firms to cut as many costs as possible and concentrate on short-term profits.

Right libertarians typically address the problem of externalities by calling for public education which will raise people’s awareness of ecological problems to the point where there will be enough demand for environment-friendly technologies and products that they will be profitable.

This argument, however, ignores two crucially important facts: (1) that environment-friendly technologies and products by themselves are not enough to avert ecological disaster so long as capitalism retains its need for high growth rates (which it will retain because this need is inherent in the system); and (2) that in a right-libertarian world in which private property is protected by a “night-watchman State” or private security forces, a wealthy capitalist elite will still control education, as it does now — and this because education is an essential indoctrination tool of the capitalist elite, needed to promote capitalist values and train a large population of future wage-slaves in proper habits of obedience to authority. For this reason, capitalists cannot afford to lose control of the educational system, no matter how much it costs them to maintain competitive schools. And this means that such schools will not teach students what is really necessary to avoid ecological disaster: namely, the dismantling of capitalism itself.

Another ecological problem that right libertarians cannot deal with satisfactorily is that capitalist firms must be committed to short-term profitability rather than long-term environmental responsibility in order to survive economically in the competitive market .

Ecology or “Anarcho”-capitalism?

By Iain MacSaorsa - ca. October 19, 1995 [PDF File Available]

Can “absolute” private property rights protect the environment?

According to Libertarians, only private property can protect the environment. Rothbard claims that “if private firms were able to own the rivers and lakes... anyone dumping garbage... would promptly be sued in the courts for their aggression against private property... Thus, only private property rights will insure an end to pollution-invasion of resources” (Rothbard, For a New Liberty, page 256).

This ignores one major point, why would the private owner be interested in keeping it clean? Why not just assume that the company makes more money turing the lakes and rivers into a dumping site, or trees into junk mail. Its no less plausible, in fact more likely to happen in many cases. Its just another example of Libertarianism’s attempt to give the reader what he or she whats to hear.

But, of course, the Libertarian will jump in and say that if dumping was allowed, this would cause pollution which would affect others, who would sue the owner in question. Maybe, is the answer to that. What if the locals are slum dwellers and cannot afford to sue, or if they are afraid that their land-lords will evict them if they do so (particularly if they also own the polluting property in question)?

But, beyond these points lies the most important one. Namely, is the option to sue about pollution really available in the free market? Rothbard thinks it is. Taking the case of factory smoke in the 19th Century, he notes that it and “many of its bad effects have been known since the Industrial Revolution, known to the extent that the American courts, during the... nineteenth century made the deliberate decision to allow property rights to be violated by industrial smoke. To do so, the courts had to — and did — systematically change and weaken the defenses of property rights embedded in Anglo-Saxon common law... the courts systematically altered the law of negligence and the law of nuisance to permit any air pollution which was not unusually greater than any similar manufacturing firm” (Rothbard, op cit, page 257).

In this remarkably self-contradictory passage, we are invited to draw the conclusion that private property must provide the solution to the pollution problem from an account of how it clearly did not do so! If the nineteenth century USA — which for many Libertarian’s is a kind of “golden era” of free market capitalism — saw a move from an initial situation of well defended property rights to a later situation were greater pollution was tolerated, as Rothbard claims, then property rights cannot provide a solution to the pollution problem.

It is, of course, likely that Rothbard and other “Libertarians” will claim that the system was not pure enough, that the courts were motivated to act under pressure from the state (which in turn was pressured by powerful industrialists). But can it be purified by just removing the government and placingcourts into a free market? The pressure from the industrialists remains, if not increases, on the privately-owned courts trying to make a living on the market.

The characteristically Libertarian argument that if X was privately owned, Y would almost certainly occur, is just wishful thinking.

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