Posts tagged Mikhail Bakunin

Re: Anarcho-Capitalism Is Not A Form of Libertarian Socialism


I’m late to this party, but I’ve been late to a lot of parties lately, and am trying to catch up, so….

  1. This is a really excellent and thoughtful post. Thanks for putting it out there.

  2. Of course you’re right that there are substantive, not merely rhetorical differences between the norms advocated by most libertarian socialists (as the term is conventionally understood) and anarcho-capitalists (Rothbardian or otherwise). And that these differences include difference over norms of just enforcement. (Not just what free associations would be best to make but also what even counts as free or unfree association.) If Spangler has leaned a lot on questions of rhetoric and semantic distinctions, I hardly think it’s because he wants to argue that there is no substantive difference. It’s because he wants to do a better job than the conventionally-drawn subcultural battle-lines have done so far in showing where those substantive differences really are. And (given Brad’s usual orientation towards activism in particular) I expect that a lot of the upshot is supposed to have to do with where the opportunities for alliance and cooperation in spite of real differences might be.

(In particular, if someone tends to believe, as many anarcho-capitalists do, that conventionally pro-capitalist Constitutionalists or minimal-statists are closer to the anarcho-capitalist position than conventional libertarian socialists are, then that’s probably one of the things that might need rethinking. Not because anarcho-capitalists and conventional Red-and-Blackers have the same conception of freedom or domination, but because anarcho-“capitalists” and limited-governmentalists don’t have the same conception either. And I expect that Brad thinks — anyway, I know that I think — that, purely verbal agreements and purely verbal conflicts to one side, when allowed free rein and carried through consistently, the syndicalist or anarcho-communist or anarcho-collectivist or mutualist conceptions of these terms, and the anarcho-“capitalist” conception, are plausibly closer to each other in theoretical structure, and definitely closer to each other in practical political effects, than either the libertarian socialist conception is to state socialism, or the anarcho-“capitalist” conception is to minarchism or Constitutionalism.)

  1. In response to Alex Peak’s comments on economic panarchy, you write “Spangler isn’t exactly talking about that either – he’s claiming that there’s no meaningful distinction between the groups, and I explained why I think that this is misleading.” I agree that Alex’s comments were off to one side of your concerns and of Brad’s original point. But I don’t know why you read Brad as “claiming that there’s no meaningful distinction between” libertarian socialists and anarcho-capitalists. As I read Brad’s posts, his point was that (consistent, agoristic, whatever) Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is a species of the genus “libertarian socialism.” Certainly he explicitly says that there are lots of other kinds of socialists who are not left-Rothbardians; I think his argument also allows for there being lots of other kinds of libertarian socialists who are not left-Rothbardians. It’s a subset relationship, not an identity. The point as I understand it doesn’t have anything to do with claiming that Rothbard’s and Kropotkin’s versions of socialism are fully compatible, let alone identical; it has more to do with convincing people who are Rothbardians that they are one among many kinds of libertarian socialists — not really supporters of capitalism (as Brad thinks they should understand the term). Which presumably will have some impact on how they position themselves in debates about the political-economic status quo, and in their thinking about their political relationship to other anarchists, on the one hand, and “libertarian” state-capitalists, on the other.

  2. You write: “Part of why I think that Spangler’s claims are misleading is that he seems to think that if you think that the state intervenes to uphold an unjust allocation of property and that the consequences of abolishing the state naturally lead to a redistribution of property, this makes you a libertarian socialist, but that’s not what libertarian socialism is defined by. It involves fairly specific notions about property at a different conceptual level, and it doesn’t entail a reduction of the issue to the pre-existance of a state.”

That’s a strong definitional claim, but I’m not sure where you’re getting your definitions of “libertarian socialism” from. Apparently not from Benjamin Tucker, who called his ideas both libertarian and socialist, but was also very emphatic that he didn’t share the “fairly specific notions about property” advanced by, say, Kropotkin or Bakunin. (Whether or not he was on the same page as Proudhon depends on how you read Proudhon; which is of course a contested issue within libertarian socialist thought.) People who nowadays call themselves “libertarian socialists” do tend to agree with Kropotkin more than they do with Tucker, but that seems like variation and changes in majority opinion amongst socialists; not a change in the boundaries of who counts as a socialist and who doesn’t. If Tucker is not going to be counted as a libertarian socialist, then I’d need to know why not; certainly he considered himself one and was commonly accepted as one at the time. If he does get counted, then I’d like to know what definitional criterion having to do with “fairly specific notions about property” would consistently accept him but turn out consistent Rothbardians. If there isn’t one, then it seems like your definitional criterion is either too broad or too narrow to consistently line up with the paradigm cases. In which case you would need a different criterion.

Re: Labor Unions And Freedom Don’t Mix

You are aware, aren’t you,

  1. … that those same labor laws which provide privileges to NLRB-recognized unions by forcing employers into collective-bargaining also heavily regulate the methods that NLRB-recognized unions can adopt, and the goals that they can achieve? That, for example, under Taft-Hartley, legally-recognized unions are forbidden from striking except under a limited range of government-approved conditions, that they are legally prohibited from establishing union hiring halls or freely negotiating a closed shop contract with employers, that in many states (under so-called “right to work” laws) they are legally prohibited from freely negotiating a union shop contract with employers, that they are legally prohibited from promoting secondary boycotts or engaging in secondary strikes (i.e. boycotts or strikes against a company for doing business with a second company workers have a grievance with; this prohibition effectively bans general strikes and mandates union scabbing), that strikes can be (and have been) broken by the arbitrary fiat of the President of the United States, etc., etc., etc.? In fact, while some factions of the labor movement (especially the AFL and the nascent CIO) actively lobbied for the Wagner Act and the system of state patronage that it created, other, more radical factions of the labor movement were stridently opposed to it, arguing (correctly) that Roosevelt’s plan was an effort to subsidize bureaucratic conservative unionism, and thus to capture and domesticate the labor movement. And predicting (accurately) that the practical consequences of the NLRB system would be to substantially hamstring the labor movement, and to benefit only a few fatcat union bosses, at the expense of rank-and-file workers.

  2. … that for about half of its history (from the founding of the Knights of Labor in 1869 up to the Wagner Act in 1935), the American labor movement operated in a political and legal environment where it had no government recognition, no government privileges, and in fact was repeatedly, violently attacked by injunction-wielding judges, by the police, the military, by the U.S. Marshalls, by President Woodrow Wilson and Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer and a young J. Edgar Hoover, by state militias, private “security” companies, and mobs? That radical unions like the IWW nevertheless managed to organize hundreds of thousands of workers in spite of this unrelenting violence and to win, without any use of government privilege, substantial victories in towns like Lawrence, Massachusetts and Spokane, Washington? I conclude that labor unions can be quite effective when based on free association and without government privilege.

If the conclusion you’re trying to urge here is just that the NLRB and the AFL-CIO are statist, well, sure. Who denies that? Certainly not the NLRB or the AFL-CIO, who candidly declare their allegiance to a big, interventionist government; and certainly not pro-union anarchists, either, who generally refer to establishment unionism as “labor fakirs” deserving nothing but scorn, and advocate for radical unions organized along quite different lines, and with quite different aims.

If, on the other hand, you’re trying to establish some more general conclusion, like (say) “Labor Unions and Freedom Don’t Mix,” or that “the state is the first weapon in the labor union’s arsenal to be wielded against employers and workers alike,” or that “the ultimate dream of the labor unions is to completely replace the existing state, allowing them to force their will on 100% of the people 100% of the time,” i.e., a claim about what labor unions per se do and want, rather than what a temporarily triumphant, government-subsidized faction within the labor movement does and wants, but which other, competing factions within the labor movement have repeatedly condemned, then I can’t say you’ve offered much by way of convincing evidence for that conclusion.

As for Bakunin and his followers, I certainly have my disagreements with Bakuninist collectivism. (That’s why I’m an individualist, or a mutualist, rather than a collectivist.) But you’re distorting their position. Bakunin’s idea of federated labor unions is not a replacement state. He believed that the best arrangement for society was a federated structure of workers’ and community associations. But he also believed in an absolute right to dissociate from any union or other association that one did not want to participate in or cooperate with. Thus: “[W]ithout certain absolutely essential conditions the practical realization of freedom will be forever impossible. These conditions are: . . . The internal reorganization of each country on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations, and of the communes. Necessity of recognizing the right of secession: every individual, every association, every commune, every region, every nation has the absolute right to self-determination, to associate or not to associate, to ally themselves with whomever they wish and repudiate their alliances without regard to so-called historic rights or the convenience of their neighbors.” (Revolutionary Catechism, 1866). Etc. Bakunin’s problems, such as they are, lie elsewhere. May I gently suggest that, if you want to find out Mikhail Bakunin’s views, you might be better off reading works by Mikhail Bakunin, rather than summaries of those works by Per Bylund?

As for Joe and his workers, I certainly agree that Joe should not be forced by the government (or by any form of violence) to engage in collective bargaining with the striking workers. However, I think you’re walloping on a strawman, as far as the worker’s demands go (do you know of any strike, even under the existing statist labor bureaucracy, in which workers demanded a 400% wage increase?); and I think you’re also pretty severely overestimating the ease of replacing 25%-40% of the workers on the shop floor all at once, especially if you’re trying to accomplish this without offering substantially higher wages or improved conditions. In real-world labor struggle, being in a position where you can get 25% or more of the workforce ready to just walk off the job often puts you in a very good position for getting substantial concessions from the boss.