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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

In the Crossfire

Occupying as I do a neither-fish-nor fowl position on the fringes of both the free market libertarian and the libertarian socialist movements, I'm used to dealing with the idiocy of the more clueless or intolerant elements in the mainstream of both. In the classical liberal/free market community, I'm accusomed to grudging acceptance of my free market credentials, despite my non-capitalist anarchism--provided I stick to associating with only "respectable" libertarians, and make it clear I have no truck with those anarcho-commies. On the left, the mirror-image reaction is something like "well, I guess it's OK for you to advocate free markets--if you really have to--so long as you draw the line at associating with anarcho-caps, and make it clear you don't recognize them as anarchists in any sense of the word. And then there are the less tolerant reactions: summary dismissal as a "Marxist" by one cranio-rectally impacted individual of the right, and an anonymous hate-email from a likewise historically illiterate Infoshop reader who called me a "goose-stepping, Rand-worshipping, racist" for advocating free markets of any kind.

This week, unfortunately, I've learned of unpleasantness from the usual gangs of idiots, both right and left.

On the right, Shawn Wilbur informs me, the ongoing Wiki wars on anarcho-capitalism (editing disputes involving the articles on anarchism, anarcho-capitalism, and mutualism, etc.) produced this gem:

Value is subjective. There is no objectively correct price of anything, and therefore the mutualist (and Marxist) theory of exploitation/profit is pure fantasy. Tucker and Proudhon maybe had an excuse since economics was in a primitive state back then. But Kevin Carson is simply a lunatic.

Ah, simple as that, is it? Well, except for the matter that none of the advocates of the labor theory of value or any other cost-of-production theory ever said there was an "objectively correct price of anything," or anything remotely like it. This commenter knows as little about what Bohm-Bawerk had to say, as he does about what Marx and Ricardo said, about the issues in contention. He simply appeals to the subjective theory of value as received dogma, without really even understanding what it is--kind of like the attitude that Bohm-Bawerk criticized among advocates of the labor theory of value: "quotations from authorities," and "protesting and dogmatising phrases," rather than a reasoned explanation. The smug reference to the "primitive state" of economics "back then" is a dead giveaway. It's clear we're dealing with an economic subspecies of Nietzsche's Last Man: "Formerly, everyone was mad. We have invented economic truth," says the Last Man, and blinks. Reminds me of James Taggart's bland assurances that "all the best minds are agreed..."

As for the idiocy of the left, Nigel Meek of the Libertarian Alliance informs me of his negative experiences at the Anarchist Bookfair. He referred me to this message board, on which one commenter ("Refused") included among the "highlights" of the Anarchist Bookfair:
....Lazlo_Woodbine harassing the capitalist Libertarian Alliance folks until they ran away.

A proud moment. I can imagine an SA thug expressing similar satisfaction in the Biergarten after a day's work. Well done!

In response, "rkn" wrote:

Shame TotalLiberty didnt go with them.

This is especially puzzling. Total Liberty, as Jonathan Simcock has pointed out to me, is not even a specifically market anarchist publication, non-capitalist or otherwise--although a disproportionate number of its contributors are individualist anarchists. Probably something to do with the fact that Nigel operated out of the Total Liberty stall in years past. So even associating with the dreaded capitalists calls one's ideological purity into question--even when, as in this case, the capitalist libertarian guest distributed mainly pamphlets by non-capitalists like yours truly and Joe Peacott. So we're back in the world of junior high school: "Suzi isn't my friend, and if you talk to her you're not my friend either." This petty bullshit reminds me of nothing so much as the jockying for space at the Cool Kids' table in the cafeteria.

The real irony is that rkn, earlier in the thread, expressed these sentiments:

For the negative note - its sad that the bookfair attracts so many anti-socials who hang around in the entrance/outside drinking themselves into oblivion and smoking. I really dont think this does anything for the bookfair....

Because as the bookfair is largely a image promotion kind of event i think it does nothing for it (especially considering its relationship with venues) for people to behave in any sort of way which could be considered anti-social by joe public who actiing on stereotypes are hyper-sensitive to these kind of things.

But having a bunch of punks in Circle-A (TM) t-shirts (do they sell those things at Abercrombie & Fitch) run off anyone who doesn't meet their high standards of ideological purity--well, that's just fine for the Bookfair's public image. Having a range of anarchist opinion that runs the entire spectrum from A to B is just hunky-dory. I don't guess "joe public" is at all "sensitive" to a bunch of self-proclaimed lovers of freedom acting like brownshirts.

And by the way, there was only one representative of the Libertarian Alliance--Nigel Meek--and he walked away, not ran. So whatever Woodbine may have been crowing over his pint, he wasn't exactly covered in martial glory.

What's especially shameful is the contrast between the intolerance of these yobs, and the kindness of the Libertarian Alliance, in their respective attitudes toward heterodox opinions. The LA, which I don't think it an overgeneralization to call a pro-capitalist organization, has printed a wide range of pamphlets by avowed anti-capitalists like me and Joe Peacott, and has been kind enough to promote them at their own LA Conferences as well as events like the Anarchist Bookfair. Sean Gabb and the late Chris Tame repeatedly solicited me to write pamphlets on various topics I'd discussed, knowing ahead of time I'd be writing from an anti-capitalist perspective. Nigel Meek put considerable labor into editing and formatting my manuscripts, and contributed his time in distributing them at recent Anarchist Bookfairs. Ken MacLeod, a science fiction writer whose future history scenarios reflect a unique blend of free market libertarian and post-Trot politics, is still (I think it's fair to say) far from being what you'd call pro-capitalist. But even back in his days of comparatively unmixed leftishness, he likewise met with nothing but patience and kindness from his first meetings with Libertarian Alliance members in the Alternative Bookshop, along with an openness to exploring their areas of agreement and disagreement. The contrast between their civilized behavior and that of this Woodbine wretch speaks for itself.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Ian said...

Unfortunately I think this sort of behaviour is endemic amongst activists of all types. I could recount similar stories among the various tiny Trot groups I met and was involved with in the early 60s and similar stories come up in the community and voluntary sector where I spend my time these days.

October 27, 2006 4:48 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

All of us who are willing to talk about ideas and not simply ideologies need to stand up for openness and dialog. I'm encountering these closed-minded types all over the place, and we have to keep pointing out the inconsistencies on our blogs and in person. These groups who start all thinking alike are just composed of lazy people who don't want to venture outside comfortable beliefs, and we have to make that obvious. Anarchist society cannot work when individuals surrender their good sense to groupthink.

October 27, 2006 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Sparrow said...

Hmmm... I seem to remember a certain left-libertarian giving "participatory economics" a pretty short shrift. Heh heh.

October 27, 2006 10:07 AM  
Blogger quasibill said...

Seems to me that it boils down to tolerance and civility. These are necessary attributes, even when you're dealing with non-libertarians. Of course, when dealing with someone who is a criminal (under libertarian jurisprudence), neither is necessary, but that's generally not what we're talking about here.

Which, in some respects, is why I get a little scared of some of the proponents of "thick" libertarianism - they start tying cultural values into the NAP, which immediately raises the hackles of some other cultural group, even if they all agree on the NAP! It tends to reinforce the average person's perception that anarchy can't possibly work, because anarchists can't even be civil to each other. And they'd be right about that - civility and tolerance will absolutely be necessary for a stable stateless society to ever emerge from where we are today.

Anthony Gregory touched on it a while ago, I think on LewRockwell. Just because you disagree with someone, doesn't mean you shouldn't be tolerant of them, or uncivil, so long as everyone is in fact (as opposed to in argument) respecting the NAP. You don't have to associate with them, or support them, or whatever, but you shouldn't be rude, you shouldn't call them evil incarnate, and you shouldn't label them as sworn enemies - especially if they are willing to tolerate you (i.e., the NAP).

You have to be very careful when criticizing purely cultural practices (not political in libertarian terms) that have a long history behind them - you better know, understand, and internalize every bit of that history into your critique, and even then, you should be civil about it.

October 27, 2006 10:36 AM  
Blogger Moonbootica said...

I have a hard time explaning what Mutualism is or even who Kevin Carson is.

i've tried explaning it to your average Marxist but he thought I was talking about the third way!!!?

one feels very lonely.

its like saying 'free market' automatically makes you a bloodthirsty neoliberal captalist.

my brother does a better job I think putting this view across than I.

I am a huge fan of Ken MacLeod also :)

October 27, 2006 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Reisman's Ghost said...

I guess Carson isn't the only lying, thieving guy in all of anarchism after all...

October 27, 2006 7:50 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Moonbootica,

That's a pretty typical Marxist reaction to any form of "petty bourgeois socialism." "Third way" isn't really that bad a term as a general category for decentralist economic systems based on distributive ownership of property, if we could avoid the nasty associations with "third positionism."

Have you read any of Macleod's "Engines of Light" series? If you're into the Levellers and Ranters and all that other good XVI century radicalism, you ought to like Cosmonaut Keep. There's an entire planet settled by the Roanoke colonists after they were abducted by aliens, that reads like something out of Christopher Hill.

Reisman's Ghost,

I'm trying to make "lying, thieving mutualist" my trademark and I fully intend to go after anyone who violates my intellectual property. How does LTMAA sound for a lobbying group?

October 27, 2006 11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the one referred to as 'Woodbine' in the above post. As Nigel Meek will not doubt confirm, if you bother to ask him, I did not 'harrass' him in any way, and merely expressed my (polite) disgust that a pro-capitalist group should have a place at the London Anarchist Bookfair. As an individualist I assume that he had no problem with me expressing my individual opinion. I believe that a short time later the Bookfair organisers realised that Meek had not actually booked a table, and ousted him...

Stories about nazi-style thuggery are far more exciting, though, so please do make some more up to fill any gap in your victim mentality that my retelling of the facts might have create.

Love

Laz

October 28, 2006 5:55 AM  
Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Kevin, one of these days, we'll do enough talking about all of this to build vocabulary that isn't always already polarized and polarizing. Most of the good talking isn't going to take place on Wikipedia talk pages. But, hey, someone just posted links to good stuff by Brad Spangler and Roderick Long to that same Wikipedia page, in an attempt to break the deadlock in discussion. And I'll say it again: it was a whole lot harder to be heard years back, when you and I first started running across each other online.

October 28, 2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Your comrades certainly had a far less modest view of your role in the incident, Laz. In any case, thanks for telling your side of it. I'd be interested in hearing Nigel has to say on the subject.

And he has attended in past years, as I said, in cooperation with anarchists like Peter Good and Jonathan Simcock, and focused on distributing non-capitalist material. Once again, I contrast his attitude to your desire to affix a scarlet "C" to anyone who doesn't explicitly disavow capitalism.

Shawn Wilbur, an individualist anarchist who lives here in the States, has made the distinction between "anarcho"-capitalists and anarcho-"capitalists." The former are largely the same as what I call "vulgar libertarians." The latter are people who, while using the c-word, are hostile to Thatcherite and Reaganite state capitalism, and see the present system of corporate rule as largely a state construct. It's mighty foolish, IMO, to repudiate friendly overtures from such allies against the corporate state.

October 28, 2006 11:29 AM  
Blogger Adam B. Ricketson said...

I've never quite understood what exactly made anarcho-caps so problematic among other self-described anarchists.

When I was trying to understand what "anarchism" is, I developed my own litmus test, which I'll describe below for your evaluation.

"Do you condone the forceful eviction of a person from his home?"

I expect an anarchist to answer "no". They might introduce a few examples where they would condone an eviction, but overall, they would not condone the vast majority of evictions that occur in America (failure to make lease or tax payments).

If one person can intervene in the most personal aspect of another person's life, then a hierarchy exists (unless there is some reciprocity at the individual level.)

I think that this litmus test might be a good way to introduce a newbie to anarchism.

I don't use the non-aggression principle, because it is too abstract and open to interpretation.

Any thoughts?

October 28, 2006 2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous2 said...

I've never quite understood what exactly made anarcho-caps so problematic among other self-described anarchists.

Partly it's a problem with terminology - the term "capitalism" is a positive term when used by ancaps and a negative term when used by ansocs. However, beneath the terminological dispute there are several issues.

For example, when ancaps use the term "capitalism" they often mean something like "a free market where wage labor and corporations exist", which to an ansoc type is nonsense on par with the statement "a free-market where state-sponsored corporate welfare and tariffs exist". Similarly when ansocs talk about socialism they mean something like "a free market where voluntary communes and worker's cooperatives exist", which ancaps see as nonsense on par with "a free market where state-sponsored welfare and drug laws exist".

October 28, 2006 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the "Libertarian" Alliance at the anarchist bookfair...

Firstly, you should be aware that the LA simply turned up and took a stall. They did not submit a form asking for a stall, they simply came along to an event other people organised and paid for and simply took a resource over. In other words, they "initiated force" on others and stole resources from them (i.e. they did not contribute to the event by helping to pay for it). In other words, they were parasites who exploited the hard work of others.

the LA could have, like the trots, had a stall outside. But no, they decide to contradict their own stated principles. Hardly surprising, but they are capitalists after all.

But what i do find surprising is Kevin comparing anarchists to members of the SA. He should know better.

So, just to check, does Kevin really think it is acceptable for someone to simply turn up at an event others spend months organising uninvited and not contribute to paying for it? Does he think that those who *do* organise it should simply tolerate this activity?

I hope not. If he does not think such behaviour is acceptable, perhaps he would apologies to the comrades he compared to the SA?

Iain

October 30, 2006 1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Having a range of anarchist opinion that runs the entire spectrum from A to B is just hunky-dory. I don't guess 'joe public' is at all 'sensitive' to a bunch of self-proclaimed lovers of freedom acting like brownshirts."

Two things. Firstly, the "Libertarian" Alliance is not anarchist and so not in "the enture spectrum" of anarchism. Secondly, as I just posted, I would suggest Kevin gets the full facts before he compares anarchists to brownshirts.

Kevin, do you think it is acceptable for people to simply set-up stall at any event, uninvited and not paying to its costs? If not, should the people who do so be asked to leave? If they are asked to leave, is that being like a Nazi?

At least the trots had the decency to set-up stall outside. If the LA had done that, then they would have been left alone -- just like the trots.

As you probably guessed I'm *very* pissed off at Kevin's comments. I think that an apology is required.

Iain

October 30, 2006 1:33 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

To the extent that the dispute was over legitimate access rights to a vacant stall, I agree that the SA allusion was over the top and retract it. From the accounts of the Bookfair participants involved, though, the issue of rights to a stall barely showed on the radar screen: it was about the presence of the Libertarian Alliance, period. As one of the commenters said, after cheering on Woodbine's action, it was too bad Total Liberty wasn't driven out as well.

I react, perhaps, too viscerally to such incidents, as a result of the gonzo claims made by so-called "anti-racists" and "anti-fascists" to the right to shut up anyone they disagree with (and anyone they disagree with, by some odd coincidence, usually winds up being labelled a "racist" or a "fascist").

I don't want to get into the Wiki pissing contest over whether anarcho-caps are "real anarchists" or not: I'm thoroughly disgusted with both sides shouting past each other, whether it be the dogmatic rejection of the FAQ as a source or the dogmatic assertion that "anarcho-caps are not anarchists." But as I already stated, Nigel Meek had previously been there on good terms with Peter Good and Jonathan Simcock (perhaps they barely squeak by as "real anarchists," eh?), and had focused mainly on distributing literature by non-capitalists like myself and Joe Peacott.

October 30, 2006 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Reisman's Ghost said...

So, just to check, does Kevin really think it is acceptable for someone to simply turn up at an event others spend months organising uninvited and not contribute to paying for it? Does he think that those who *do* organise it should simply tolerate this activity?

Of course! Stealing cars, houses, and tables is what lying, thieving mutualism and it's "occupancy-and-use" stuff is all about!

October 30, 2006 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Dmytri Kleiner said...

Hi Kevin, while I certainly agree that all points of view should always be welcome in the dialog, and no sincere participant should be run out, as I have commented before, the "anarcho-capitalist" point of view is trivial to debun: In a free market capital can capture no more than it's cost, thus any "capitalism" is about capturing unearned value such as the surplus value by way of forcibly alienated wage labour or community created value by way of economics rents. Capitalism, anarcho or otherwise, is therefore not compatible with a free market. It is for this reason that I consider "anarcho-capitalism" to be a bogus movement, designed to poison the well of anarchism and confuse the discourse.

Keep up the good work! I remain a big fan.

Cheers.

October 31, 2006 2:34 AM  
Blogger Din said...

For example, when ancaps use the term "capitalism" they often mean something like "a free market where wage labor and corporations exist", which to an ansoc type is nonsense on par with the statement "a free-market where state-sponsored corporate welfare and tariffs exist". Similarly when ansocs talk about socialism they mean something like "a free market where voluntary communes and worker's cooperatives exist", which ancaps see as nonsense on par with "a free market where state-sponsored welfare and drug laws exist".

Indeed. That is why it is important to ignore the use of fancy labels and catchy slogans and to concentrate instead on the substance behind the rhetoric.

Anyone can call him or herself an anarchist. It is just a word. Use it, abuse it, do with it as you will - there's no intellectual property attached to the word. Nobody owns it. Feel free to call yourself an anarchist if it makes you happy. But ignore the word and look at the ideas, the theories, the beliefs. I personally think it is obvious that the likes of Rothbard and Friedman have little to do with the likes of Kropotkin or Goldman. They can all call themselves anarchists but that does not mean that they are all part of the same family.

It is a subjective view, of course, but I feel it would be more accurate and useful to situate the stateless capitalist ideology within the larger framework of liberalism - using the term in the broader philosophical sense, obviously. I also feel it is more useful to characterise that tradition which encompasses Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker, Labadie and so forth as a mixture between liberalism and socialism - as many others in the past, such as Rudolf Rocker, has suggested. Whether you want to call this anarchism or the batty lunatic fringe is entirely up to you. They are just words.

Obviously, everyone is free to disagree with my subjective view. I'm not interested in playing the role of a thought police the way some anarchists seemingly aspire to be. There are many anarchists - the anti-capitalist lot - that I already feel alienated from so what's the harm if others distant from me were to use the same word as I do to describe themselves? It's not as if we live in a world where people would immediately understand what we mean when we declare ourselves to be anachists.

Dogma and intolerance can be found almost anywhere. Narrow-minded zealots with an axe to grind and witches to hunt. I've been the witch far too many times for me to entertain a rosy picture of anarchists.

Incidentally, Kevin, my site is apparently on your blogroll but you are linking to my old address. I have since moved from blogspot to http://anarchodin.anarchobase.com/

October 31, 2006 5:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"From the accounts of the Bookfair participants involved, though, the issue of rights to a stall barely showed on the radar screen: it was about the presence of the Libertarian Alliance, period."

The reason why they left is important and you should have asked why before comparing anarchists to brownshirts. I do get the impression that when you say "the Bookfair participants involved" you did not actually ask Woodbine what he did. According to his comment above, he voiced his opinion that the LA had no place in an anarchist bookfair. If I had noticed the stall, I would also have voiced similar opinions to them. Or does freedom mean having an opinion, but not expressing it?

"As one of the commenters said, after cheering on Woodbine's action, it was too bad Total Liberty wasn't driven out as well."

Again, an opinion of one person. I have little time for Total Liberty, particularly as it seems to be going towards the "libertarian" right (at least one contributer had raised his concern about this). Whether they should have a stall at the bookfair depends if they remain libertarian or turn completely to the right. If they become a mouthpiece for right "libertarian" dogma, then they should join the LA and have a stall outside the event along with the other non-anarchists.

"Nigel Meek had previously been there on good terms with Peter Good and Jonathan Simcock"

As far as I was aware, he was helping with the Total Liberty stall in the past. Deciding to create a LA stall is an utterly different matter. If the LA wanted a stall, they should have applied for one and contributed to the cost of the event (assuming their request had been accepted, which I doubt).

Anyone can, of course, call themselves "anarchists" or "libertarians" but it does not make it true -- nor does it mean we have to tolerate it without protest. I personally do not want "libertarian" to go the same way in the UK as it has in the US, where it seems to mean "free market capitalist" right-winger exclusively.

November 01, 2006 1:02 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

The following remarks are from Nigel Meek, via private email, reproduced with his permission:

There were two quite separate issues to my expulsion. The first was the gentleman calling himself Lazlo Woodbine who made it clear that he was disgusted that anyone supporting private property should distribute material at the Bookfair - hence denying not just the capitalist anarchist but also the individualist anarchist traditions - even when the material was explicitly of a non-capitalist anarchist nature. He made it very clear that he was not prepared to tolerate any sort of LA presence, even though Jonathan Simcock's Total Liberty stall was selling material by at least one of the LA's authors (Joe Peacott). He went away stating quite clearly that he intended to gather support to have me and my material removed. That, I think, qualifies as "harassment".

Very shortly afterwards, however, he returned with someone who said he was one of the organisers - I took him at his word about this - who noted that the LA material had been moved to the stall next to TL's. TL's stall was full enough without the LA's contribution and since by a coincidence the other stall holders had not turned up I utilised the free space. He noted that the LA hadn't booked or paid the stall and asked me to leave. Here I put my hands up and say "fair cop". I have no complaints about this at all (although Jonathan wittily noted something about "occupancy and use"). It would have been interesting to see what the organiser and/or Lazlo Woodbine would have done had I simply returned all of the LA material back to the TL stall where I started out. I wasn't going to force the issue, both for the sake of my own health and because I did not want to embarrass Jonathan Simcock and our other friends Peter and Caroline Good at the neighbouring The Cunningham Amendment stall.

Nevertheless, I found it a useful experience. I spend most of my time with people who might be thought of as "liberal minded". It is useful to be personally confronted with the totalitarian mindset: all those who do not agree are to be silenced.

Still, as in previous years, I gave away a good deal of LA material at the Bookfair (without anyone else complaining). Perhaps reading the strap line "For Life, Liberty and Property" will corrupt at least some of them away from the class war communism that seems to pass for modern (sic) British anarchism!

[In response to my request to print this, he added:]

By all means, providing that it's clear that whilst I cheerfully accept that I hadn't booked the unused - and therefore un-homesteaded! - stall and so had no objections to being asked to leave it, the precipitating event was Lazlo Woodbine's intolerance of anyone supporting the right to private property and his open statement that he intended to gather support to have me removed for this reason. The business with the stall was simply a - legitimate, as it turns out - excuse.

November 01, 2006 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Reisman's Ghost said...

Well I guess we can safely predict the results of a few homeowners deciding to start living according to Lockean property rules in a social anarchist community. :)

November 01, 2006 3:00 PM  
Blogger Marion Delgado said...

Since Locke was a huge fan of, advocate for, and practitioner of slavery, how many head of Negroes do you plan to own when you start living according to Lockean property rules in a social anarchist community?

Thanks for making Iain's point crystal clear.

September 06, 2009 12:12 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Marion Delgado: I can't speak for Iain, but I doubt he's overjoyed to be associated with the kind of pig-ass stupid "argument" you made here.

Unless you think Proudhon's misogyny and ethnocentrism is a telling point against anarchism, like a lot of the sillier Marxoids do, you should probably rethink such "arguments."

In any case, Locke's labor-homesteading standard influenced a lot of people far further to the left than he was. The distinction between natural and artificial property rights, and the rejection of titles to vacant and unimproved land not based on labor homesteading, are common to many strands of anarchism. See Thomas Hodgskin, for one.

The crude insinuation that anyone influenced by a version of Lockean labor-homesteading favors "Negro" slavery, or that the one is necessarily entailed in the other, is--or should be--beneath you.

September 07, 2009 12:46 PM  

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