<title>Section F - Introduction
<h1>Section F - Is "anarcho"-capitalism a type of anarchism?</h1>
Anyone who has followed political discussion on the net has probably come
across people calling themselves libertarians but arguing from a right-wing,
pro-capitalist perspective. For most Europeans this is weird, as in Europe
the term <i>"libertarian"</i> is almost always used in conjunction with <i>"socialist"</i>
or <i>"communist."</i> In the US, though, the Right has partially succeeded in
appropriating this term for itself. Even stranger, however, is that a few of
these right-wingers have started calling themselves "anarchists" in what
must be one of the finest examples of an oxymoron in the English language:
Arguing with fools is seldom rewarded, but to allow their foolishness to go
unchallenged risks allowing them to deceive those who are new to anarchism.
That's what this section of the anarchist FAQ is for, to show why the claims
of these "anarchist" capitalists are false. Anarchism has always been
anti-capitalist and any "anarchism" that claims otherwise cannot be part
of the anarchist tradition. So this section of the FAQ does not reflect
some kind of debate within anarchism, as many of these types like to pretend,
but a debate between anarchism and its old enemy, capitalism. In many ways
this debate mirrors the one between Peter Kropotkin and Herbert Spencer, an
English pro-capitalist, minimal statist, at the turn the 19th century
and, as such, it is hardly new.
The "anarcho"-capitalist argument hinges on using the dictionary definition
of "anarchism" and/or "anarchy" - they try to define anarchism as being
"opposition to government," and nothing else. However, dictionaries are
hardly politically sophisticated and their definitions rarely reflect the
wide range of ideas associated with political theories and their history.
Thus the dictionary "definition" is anarchism will tend to ignore its
consistent views on property, exploitation, property and capitalism (ideas
easily discovered if actual anarchist texts are read). And, of course, many
dictionaries "define" anarchy as "chaos" or "disorder" but we never see
"anarcho"-capitalists use that particular definition!
And for this strategy to work, a lot of "inconvenient" history and ideas
from all branches of anarchism must be ignored. From individualists
like Spooner and Tucker to communists like Kropotkin and Malatesta,
anarchists have always been anti-capitalist (see <a href="secGcon.html">
section G</a> for more on
the anti-capitalist nature of individualist anarchism). Therefore
"anarcho"-capitalists are not anarchists in the same sense that
rain is not dry.
Of course, we cannot stop the "anarcho"-capitalists using the words
"anarcho", "anarchism" and "anarchy" to describe their ideas. The
democracies of the west could not stop the Chinese Stalinist state calling
itself the People's Republic of China. Nor could the social democrats
stop the fascists in Germany calling themselves "National Socialists".
Nor could the Italian anarcho-syndicalists stop the fascists using the
expression "National Syndicalism". This does not mean that any of these
movements actual name reflected their content -- China is a dictatorship,
not a democracy, the Nazi's were not socialists (capitalists made fortunes
in Nazi Germany because it crushed the labour movement), and the Italian
fascist state had nothing in common with anarcho-syndicalists ideas of
decentralised, "from the bottom up" unions and the abolition of the
state and capitalism.
Therefore, just because someone uses a label it does not mean that they
support the ideas associated with that label. And this is the case with
"anarcho"-capitalism -- its ideas are at odds with the key ideas associated
with all forms of traditional anarchism (even individualist anarchism
which is often claimed as being a forefather of the ideology).
All we can do is indicate <b>why</b> "anarcho"-capitalism is not part of the
anarchist tradition and so has falsely appropriated the name. This section
of the FAQ aims to do just that -- present the case why "anarcho"-capitalists
are not anarchists. We do this, in part, by indicating where they differ
from genuine anarchists (on such essential issues as private property,
equality, exploitation and opposition to hierarchy) In addition, we take
the opportunity to present a general critique of right-libertarian claims
from an anarchist perspective. In this way we show up why anarchists reject
that theory as being opposed to liberty and anarchist ideals.
We are covering this topic in an anarchist FAQ for only one reason -- the
high number of "libertarian" and "anarcho"-capitalists on the net (likely
a class-based phenomenon, based on ownership of computers!) As we
have extensively documented in earlier sections, anarchist theory has
always been anti-capitalist. There is no relationship between anarchism
and capitalism, in any form. Therefore, there is a need for this section
in order to indicate exactly why "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist.
We have, in earlier sections (see <a href="secBcon.html">section B</a> in particular), indicated why
the idea of a "libertarian" capitalism is itself nonsense and will not
repeat ourselves here.
So this section of the FAQ does not, as we noted above, represent some kind
of "debate" within anarchism. It reflects the attempt by anarchists to
reclaim the history and meaning of anarchism from those who are attempting
to steal its name (just as right-wingers in America have attempted to
appropriate the name "libertarian" for their pro-capitalist views, and by
so doing ignore over 100 years of anti-capitalist usage). However, this
section also serves two other purposes. Firstly, critiquing right-libertarian
and "anarcho"-capitalist theories allows us to explain anarchist ones at
the same time and indicate why they are better. Secondly, and more
importantly, the "ideas" and "ideals" that underlie "anarcho"-capitalism
are usually identical (or, at the very least, similar) to those of
neo-liberalism (as Bob Black points outs, a <i>"wing of the Reaganist Right
has obviously appropriated, with suspect selectivity, such libertarian
themes as deregulation and voluntarism. Ideologues indignant that Reagan
has travestied their principles. Tough shit! I notice that it's their
principles, not mine, that he found suitable to travesty"</i> [<b>The Libertarian
As Conservative</b>]). And as neo-liberalism is being used as the ideological
basis of the current attack on the working class, critiquing "anarcho"
capitalism and right-libertarianism also allows use to build theoretical
weapons to use to resist this attack and aid the class struggle.
A few more points before beginning. When debating with "libertarian"
or "anarchist" capitalists it's necessary to remember that while they
claim "real capitalism" does not exist (because all existing forms of
capitalism are statist), they will claim that all the good things we
have -- advanced medical technology, consumer choice of products, etc.
-- are nevertheless due to "capitalism." Yet if you point out any problems
in modern life, these will be blamed on "statism." Since there has never
been and never will be a capitalist system without some sort of state,
it's hard to argue against this "logic." Many actually use the example
of the Internet as proof of the power of "capitalism," ignoring the
fact that the state paid for its development before turning it over
to companies to make a profit from it. Similar points can be made
about numerous other products of "capitalism" and the world we live
in. To artificially separate one aspect of a complex evolution fails
to understand the nature and history of the capitalist system.
In addition to this ability to be selective about the history and
results of capitalism, their theory has a great "escape clause." If
wealthy employers abuse their power or the rights of the working class
(as they have always done), then they have (according to "libertarian"
ideology) ceased to be capitalists! This is based upon the misperception
that an economic system that relies on force <b>cannot</b> be capitalistic.
This is <b>very</b> handy as it can absolve the ideology from blame for any
(excessive) oppression which results from its practice. Thus individuals
are always to blame, <b>not</b> the system that generated the opportunities for
abuse they freely used.
Anarchism has always been aware of the existence of "free market"
capitalism, particularly its extreme (minimal statist) wing, and has
always rejected it. For example, Proudhon noted that <i>"the disciples of
Malthus and of Say, who oppose with all their might any intervention of
the State in matters commercial or industrial, do not fail to avail
themselves of this seemingly liberal attitude, and to show themselves
more revolutionary than the Revolution. More than one honest searcher
has been deceived thereby."</i> However, this apparent "libertarian" attitude
of supporters of capitalism is false as pure free market capitalism
cannot solve the social question, which arises because of capitalism
itself. Thus <i>"this inaction of Power in economic matters [celebrated
by the "free market" right] was the foundation of government. What
need should we have of a political organisation, if Power once
permitted us to enjoy economic order?"</i> [<b>The General Idea of the
Revolution</b>, p. 226] Instead of capitalism, Proudhon advocated the
<i>"constitution of Value,"</i> the <i>"organisation of credit,"</i> the elimination
of interest, the <i>"establishment of workingmen's associations"</i> and
<i>"the use of a just price."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>, p. 233]
Thus anarchists have evaluated "free market" capitalism and rejected it
as non-anarchist over 150 years ago. Attempts by "anarcho"-capitalism to
say that their system is "anarchist" flies in the face of this long
history of anarchist analysis.
More generally, we must stress that most (if not all) anarchists do not
want to live in a society <b>just like this one</b> but without state coercion
and (the initiation of) force. Anarchists do not confuse "freedom" with
the "right" to govern and exploit others nor with being able to change
masters. It is not enough to say we can start our own (co-operative)
business in such a society. We want the abolition of the capitalist
system of authoritarian relationships, not just a change of bosses
or the possibility of little islands of liberty within a sea of
capitalism (islands which are always in danger of being flooded
and our activity destroyed). Thus, in this section of the FAQ,
we analysis many "anarcho"-capitalist claims on their own terms
(for example, the importance of equality in the market or why
capitalism cannot be reformed away by exchanges on the capitalist
market) but that does not mean we desire a society nearly identical
to the current one. Far from it, we want to transform this society
into one more suited for developing and enriching individuality and
freedom. But before we can achieve that we must critically evaluate
the current society and point out its basic limitations.
Finally, we dedicate this section of the FAQ to those who have seen the
real face of "free market" capitalism at work: the working men and women
(anarchist or not) murdered in the jails and concentration camps or on the
streets by the hired assassins of capitalism.