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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, April 28, 2005

On the Other Hand....

Before I get too carried away, I also spotted this quote from Alex Singleton:

According to Alex Singleton, the report's author: "The Trade Justice Movement thinks the world economy would work better if it were centrally planned. We saw central planning in the Soviet Union and all it produced was poverty. The only trade that has ever lifted countries out of poverty is free trade."

Ah, well, comrades--two steps forward, one step back....

As far as I can tell, the present world economy goes a long way toward being centrally planned--and most of it's done by the sort of corporate CEOs and neoliberal politicians who talk most about "free trade." This quote from Sean Gabb deserves another reading:

If you think that I came here tonight to defend multinational corporations and the international government institutions, you have chosen the wrong person. These are dishonest. They are corrupt. They are incompetent. They have blood on their hands.

But do not suppose for a moment that the world trading order as it actually exists is liberal or more than incidentally connected with free markets. A free market is a place where individuals and groups of individuals come together to transact voluntary exchanges without any backing of government force. To call the actually existing order liberal – or “neo-liberal” – is as taxonomically accurate as calling the old Soviet Communist Party syndicalist. That order is based on tariffs, subsidies and a web of other often invisible regulations. The international institutions are a projection of Western states. The multinational corporations are creatures of these states. They shelter behind the privilege of limited liability. They get their political friends to cartelise markets, and do favours in return.

We've seen about as much of free trade in the post-1945 world (or the post-1500 world, for that matter) as we did of syndicalism in Stalinist Russia. "Free trade" is something that's allowed to operate within the interstices of state capitalism, and tolerated only to the extent it's compatible with a larger state capitalist agenda. So long as corporate elites--our class enemy--are able to determine the strategic framework within which "free market reform" is selectively introduced, the "free market" activity that exists will simply be an engine harnessed to turn the wheels of a state-enforced system of class exploitation. Any description of the benefits of free trade to the Third World, therefore, should be in the subjunctive.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you sure you aren't being too hard on the singleton quote? isn't that quote correct, without having to specify a level of purity? i agree with it, and i mostly agree with your position on "capitalism", though i think "free trade" may have unnecessarily become a forbidden term in your book. no, we don't have free trade in the US as an ideal, but it's the element that has been driving the train, however corrupted it may be. it's being raped into the sunset.

i don't plan to read the report, so maybe he's full of it in there, but the quote sounds fine to me, since it doesn't claim that the US system is "free trade" but allows perhaps that free trade is fighting it out there in the mix. just wait until the US cross that magic line! there will be a soviet moment; it's almost inevitable. ayn rand was logical and observant in her atlas shrugged decline into doom.

April 28, 2005 2:16 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Well, of course this is just my own subjective assessment; but to me the tone of the report, as well as that of most similar commentary issuing from the Globalization Institute and ASI, is clearly one of defending an existing system of corporate international trade. I concede that Singleton tips his hat to the fact that the EU's agricultural policy is not free market; but even then his analysis focuses on how the EU deviates toward pinko "fair trade." When the GI or ASI praises "free trade" and "globalization" for their contribution to Third World prosperity, it's pretty hard to read that plausibly as anything but a defense of the main contours of the present system, in which the TNCs are (with some pro forma exceptions) the good guys. State intervention on behalf of big business, even when conceded, is presented as unfortunate an unfortunate deviation from a primarily market system, rather than as its defining characteristic.

April 28, 2005 4:36 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

I don't see how the Trade Justice people can be accused of central planning. Aren't they the same folks who make agreements to sell peasant produce - like coffee for example - at a price that allows the peasant to survive? Seems to me this is more like Proudhon's free agreements among producers and consumers than any central plan. Or are the Trade Justice people another group entirely?

April 28, 2005 7:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If the Globalizers want free trade, let them start by dropping all tariffs and quotas unilaterally. Then they can tell other people about free trade.

April 28, 2005 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's true that the current system is not full free trade as I would like it. But it is freer trade, and unsurprisingly, it's having a beneficial effect. Pointing out that freer trade is helping the poor of the world is not necessarily a defence of the current system. I would imagine the Globalisation Institute would be thrilled if someone pushed the free trade button tomorrow. Pointing out that freer trade is bringing benefits to the poorest builds support for even freer trade.

And I heartily agree with Kupi's call for free trade now.

- Josh

April 29, 2005 11:54 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


You're right--I didn't bother to investigate the strawman aspects of the "central planning" comment. It might be as much a case of central planning as the WTO's enforcement of so-called "intellectual property" rules, but surely no more. If it's central planning, it's only remarkable for being central planning for the other side, for a change.


I fully agree--and while we're at it, unilaterally withdraw from the WTO, World Bank, and IMF.


Some aspects of neoliberalism actually *increase* state intervention, like the above-mentioned IP regime under the GATT Uruguay Round.

Selectively allowing liberalization within a stategic framework of state capitalism, only to the extent that it suits corporate interests, is *increasing* the overall level of statism, IMO. When the Carthaginians pulled back their center at Cannae, it wasn't the first step in a Punic withdrawal from Italy; it was the first step in an utter rout of Roman forces.

To make the system less statist, we must attack the central bulwarks of state capitalism, and not let the state capitalists set the "privatization" and "deregulation" agenda in accordance with their own stategy.

April 29, 2005 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I support intellectual property, so that doesn't particularly concern me.

I disagree that liberalisation leads to more statism, just as I disagree with those who think it must get worse before it gets better. I don't really care who wants freer trade as long as trade is becoming more free. Many cheers to the multinationals who, by acting in their interests, are helping us all.

- Josh

May 01, 2005 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Free Trade" is not the same thing as "Equally Free Trade."

Why is OK for Big Pharma to freely trade materials and labor across borders but not OK for Grampa and Gramma to by their Lipitor from Canada? Hmmmmm........

"Free Trade" in the news is really "corporate licensed trade." License ain't the same thang as liberty, folks. License is privi-lege, literally law canned for private advantage at the expense of the common good.

How about child and prison slave labor used overseas to compete with US labor?

How about US labor, taxed, regulated and rented down to our fingernails, being "free" to compete with foreign labor? What exactly do you think makes the US cost of living so high compared with foreign cost?

May 06, 2005 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In history we have learnt that once a "group" (whatever group liberal, conservative capitalist anarchist etc.) has been labeled, defined, narrowed etc. and the people indoctrinated to hate, fear and or loath that group, the people who tell such lies, then have control over a very scared radical group of people who will do anything to save themselves and their friends from the wolf at the door. Yes Capitalism does have problems... but all in all it is not what people say, or what people do, it is how people twist other peoples actions that allows for the insanity in the world to continue to build and bring destruction.

I am charitable, but even then I know to wish someone well, that takes away from their ability to make life better for themselves. Knowing how to give, and who and where - as most people who are kind and wanting to help in my opinion do more damage than those who do not care... not that some good is done, and that we should not learn how to help... it is just that we need to recognize the damage helping people do, as that may help capitalists not fear liberal ethical humanists so much.

March 18, 2006 2:01 PM  

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