A Right-Libertarian primer to Libertarian Socialism

RedblackstarflagI’ve been discussing with Right-”Libertarians” lately quite a bit, especially after the Division by Zer0 was linked from a related social network as well as in Reddit. Unfortunately it seems that while most Libertarian Socialists are aware of the positions of such opponents, it’s very rare for propertarians to be familiar with LibSoc positions, leading to the same tired old arguments that one hopes the AFAQ would have prevented by now.

I’ve been arguing against those points so often lately that I’m really getting tired of repeating myself every time some propertarian jumps to the same conclusions just because they don’t know better. As such, I’ve decided to write this primer which will simply be a list of relevant links touching on all such common points raised. I’m hoping it will serve as a handy link to give to those unfamiliar with LibSoc and avoid needless repetition.

Isn’t Libertarian Socialism An Oxymoron?

By far the most common reply once someone first hears about it. It’s also the most telling since it shows that the one asking it is very unfamiliar with LibSoc and thus a perfect candidate for a link to this primer.

Abolishing Private Property

You will certainly be confused about what LibSocs are talking about if you do not realize the way that they use the term “Private Property”, what they mean by the abolition thereof, what Possession is and the fundamental differences between them

Free Markets and Socialism

Private Property is usually presupposed in the existence of the free markets and/or liberty but this is not required. Unfortunately from this presupposition one then makes the straw-man argument that socialists wish to coercively prevent free markets or voluntary exchange. This is false. Not only are there forms of socialism which are compatible with Free Markets such as Mutualism but even communists wouldn’t try to stop it actively.

The Labour Theory of Value

Libertarian Socialists as a rule tend to support the Labour Theory of Value in some form (although that’s not always the case). Right-Libertarians are trigger happy in accusing them of supporting debunked theories based on a argument from authority (the authority of Boehm Bawerk mainly). But the reason why socialists still support the LTV is because we see it as the most scientific way to describe the capitalist mode of production and because the criticisms brought against it are generally weak.

Why can’t we all just get along?

A very common point makde, especially from those calling themselves “Anarcho-Capitalists” is the request to put aside our differences and work together to topple the state. They do not understand why LibSocs want nothing to do with them.

Human Nature

Ah, human nature. The favourite argument of every two-bit authoritarian. There has never been a concept more used from each and every political camp as an ultimate trump-card against all other social theories.

In Closing

I will try to keep this primer up to date with newer or better posts and I’ll be adding more classic questions once I get annoyed at them enough. Please do recommend more such subjects and provide links for them as well. I will be happy to improve this guide as much as possible.

Other than that, link, tweet and share far and wide. Hopefully we might avoid wasting so much time explaining the same concepts over and over again.

As for any right-”libertarian” having reached this point, I hope that by now you have a better understanding of LibSoc concepts and we can avoid rehashing the same stuff with both sides getting increasingly annoyed at the apparent obtuseness of the other. Hopefully this will help the dialogue between us to be constructive rather than an exercise in frustration. I hope you too will share this article to people from your side that you notice are ignorant of the fundamentals.

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  • http://radgeek.com/ Rad Geek

    You described one of your links as:

    "A to the point explanation on why Anarchists and “Anarcho”-Communists can’t be allies."

    I suspect that you meant to write '"Anarcho"-Capitalists' there?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      Gah! You're right of course. Must have had a brain-fart

  • Anon73

    Ah, radgeek has discovered db0's page. I hope that a response from him will be forthcoming on the "bourgeois nations" idea, which I find a very fascinating reinterpretation of Marx's thought.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      I can't wait :)

  • Bill

    Why did you bother with this primer if you're not interested in "getting along"?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      Because they're impossible to avoid online and I don't want to have to explain the same stuff over and over again.

  • Marja

    Also, Kropotkin's seminal work, not seminary work.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      Gah again! Thanks, I was never certain about this word

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/FrancoisT Francois Tremblay

    Another link for you about LTV:
    http://docs.google.com/View?id=dhbvr2gz_506v2f83d

    (yes, well, I *am* tooting my own horn…)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/FrancoisT Francois Tremblay

    BTW, thank you for the recommendation of the book No Contest. So far I really like it, although it seems somewhat like an adjunct to Mutual Aid than anything else. I will tell you what I think when I'm done.

  • natural governance

    I understand the private vs personal property distinction:

    Do you appreciate the concept of communal property vs non-communal property? If you do, then people outside the commune could have private property, and communal-anarchist or libsoc societies could live along other (or dare I say within polylegal/ polyorganized) anarchist societies. If you don't, then does it make war/tensions innevitable? — must you purge private property from outsiders?

    • http://dbzer0.com db0

      The right to life override the right to private property. LibSocs would have little toruble accepting private property claims from people outside libsoc communities but PP is meaningless without wage-workers or tenants. And if you do have those, then we would agitate them to rise up and expropriate your "property". If on the other hand, you fence a huge tract of land and call it private property, then we would respect your claim only where it's followed by use or occupation.

  • el (a)nticristo

    I find this collection of articles on this subject very informative and exact on most of the issues involved. I only have one questioning that I have for you coming from an anarcho-communist position. You affirm that "…the reason why socialists still support the Labour Theory of Value is because we see it as the most scientific way to describe the capitalist mode of production and because the criticisms brought against it are generally weak." Perhaps you are not aware that a main difference between marxism, Bakuninist anarcho-colectivism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collectivist_anarchi… and mutualism on one side and on the other anarcho-communism is that the first two adhere to the LTV while us anarcho-communists from the debate between Pierre Joseph Proudhon and the early anarcho-communist Joseph Dejacque http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Dejacque upt to the days of Peter Kropotkin and Errico Malatesta.

    As to summarize the main arguments for this rejection I will try to summarize this as follows:

    *Anarcho-communists reject workers direct appropiation of the products of labour since they see that labour on itself (whether collective or individual) cannot be seen as the origin of the existence of consumption goods since one should also take into account the knowledge and the tools used for such production as well as the social context and the natural environment from which the original transformed item was extracted from (this latter point could be seen also as a green or ecologist rejection of LTV). As such, anarcho-communism sees that production should be accountable and determined by the local community in which it exists. This could be seen motivated variously by reasons such as the lack of awareness of the social impacts of private property production without communitarian or collective control such as lack of consumer control and protections involved and so it can also be argued lack of motivation on production (whether in private capitalist or collectivist worker controlled) on takin into account environmental and social impacts. This is a main point which has to do with the "commune" part in the word "anarcho-communism" and so it is the reason why Kropotkin himself as well as later anarcho-communists had important reservations with workerist anarcho-syndicalism. Kropotkin said "No distinction can be drawn between the work of each man. Measuring the work by its results leads us to absurdity; dividing and measuring them by hours spent on the work also leads us to absurdity. One thing remains: put the needs above the works, and first of all recognize the right to live, and later on, to the comforts of life, for all those who take their share in production.." In this sense anarcho-communist tends to focus more on the real need and the importance that this has for an individual or a collective than either market exchange value or amount of hours given by workers.

    For more on this check http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Alexanderhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-communism#Ec

    • el (a)nticristo

      I should have said "Perhaps you are not aware that a main difference between marxism, Bakuninist anarcho-colectivism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collectivist_anarchi…. and mutualism on one side and on the other anarcho-communism is that the first three adhere to the LTV while us anarcho-communists from the debate between Pierre Joseph Proudhon and the early anarcho-communist Joseph Dejacque http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Dejacque upt to the days of Peter Kropotkin and Errico Malatesta have tended to reject the Labour Theory of Value altogether.

      • Db0

        I've never seen an anarcho-communist who rejects the LTV.

  • http://impinoy.com im_pinoy

    It's basically the idea that we should throw away the institutions that wield undemocratic and abusive authority and transfer political and economic power to decentralized direct democracies. It's a good idea in theory, but it has it's own problems about conflicts between/among those democratic structures.

  • Tim

    So I just today learned of Libertarian Socialism and am simply confused by a few things. I’m sure I could find answers if I dig for a long time, but I’m frankly not interested in doing that right now, so I figured I’d ask the biggest one I have here:

    Where does the incentive come from to create goods that do not fall under personal property? If one’s contributions towards creating say, a large factory, are marginalized, does that not potentially significantly reduce that individual’s likelihood of creating such a factory to begin with? Capitalism is simply the philosophy that one has the right to keep what one makes and trade freely with others; the incentives that “keep what you make” seems rather key for any sort of anarchy to function.

    • http://dbzer0.com db0
      • Tim

        OK I’ve read more (some of the links). I still don’t see anything yet that directly addresses my question, only that such things would occur via association and that everyone would be self-managed. Can you please point me to where exactly you addressed my question?

        Also, in reading one of your links (The AFAQ explains why we’re against Private Property), it became clear that there is general confusion between capitalism and state. Capitalism requires no state and in fact, I would argue that the state interferes with capitalism. Here is the specific outline to which I refer:

        “Under capitalism, there are four major kinds of property, or exploitative monopolies, that the state protects:

        (1) the power to issue credit and currency, the basis of capitalist banking;

        (2) land and buildings, the basis of landlordism;

        (3) productive tools and equipment, the basis of industrial capitalism;

        (4) ideas and inventions, the basis of copyright and patent (“intellectual property”) royalties.”

        First of all, the power to issue credit and currency is directly a state issue; under pure capitalism, currency evolves in a natural way because of its superior marketability as such (there could be multiple, competing currencies). Now, capitalism does deal with points 2 and 3, but once again the state is not required: capitalism simply states that one has the right to keep the product of their labor, whether it be land or other natural resource (everything is of course ultimately deducible to land and labor). Finally, nothing about capitalism addresses intellectual property; this point is surely confused, as intellectual property can only exist due to state intervention and is far beyond the reach of such a simple principle as capitalism, which simply states that man is free to keep what he mixes his labor with and he is free to exchange with others.

        Looking forward to any corrections you may have and would much prefer a response more than “I already addressed that” (a reference to where at least would be nice). Thank you.

        • http://dbzer0.com db0

          Can you please point me to where exactly you addressed my question?

          My previous reply included a link to exactly the post where I address your question. Look again.

          • Tim

            So you did; sorry about that. I appreciate the link, although I do not agree with your premise. First of all, let me say that I am a programmer and have contributed several small projects to the open source community; I would say actually my best programming work has been on OSS projects, because there tend not to be time constraints or other things of that nature to interfere with good code. However, the system you propose assumes that all of the roles will be filled to the appropriate capacity of workers simply by deciding, “I want to do this.” Human labor is one of the scarcest resources available; if everyone does exactly what they want to without the threat of economic repercussions for choosing something that is already in over-abundance, there is no longer a mechanism to direct labor to where it is needed.

            Please, as always, correct any incorrect assumptions/thinking on my end.

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            Actually Human labor is not scarce at all. The amount of unemployment is ample proof of that. It’s the capitalist system that cannot adequately provide labor for workers.

            Anyway, the question you need to ask yourself is why would someone want to create something that is in over-abundance.

        • http://dbzer0.com db0

          Capitalism requires no state and in fact, I would argue that the state interferes with capitalism.

          Yes, I’m aware of the AnCap rhetoric, but the truth of the matter is that Capitalism is inseparable from a state. In fact anarchists consider that it is joined at the hip with it, since without the protection of the state, the system would immediately collapse as the poor would rise up and expropriate the wealth stolen from them.

          More than this, a perfect AnCap landlord is indistinguishable from a state. Which is why AnCaps see nothing wrong with today’s states except perhaps the fact that they’re not “voluntary”. A Landlord could just as well introduce laws of IP and specific currency to their tenants and so could their neighbouring landlord, at which point you end up with (undemocratic) states again. I.e. Libertopia just regresses back to feudalism covered with a thin illusion of “voluntaryism”

          All this is explained in depth in the chapter of the AFAQ which addresses AnCap rhetoric. I suggest you take the time to read the whole thing to see where Anarchists stand on these issues.

          • Tim

            First of all, you are very generally using the word anarchist; clearly not all anarchists are socialist anarchists, myself included.

            “In fact anarchists consider that it is joined at the hip with it, since without the protection of the state, the system would immediately collapse as the poor would rise up and expropriate the wealth stolen from them.”

            To make such a claim, you must first prove that something was stolen. If I voluntarily choose to do work for Bob and Bob compensates me as described in our verbal or written contract, where is this theft that you talk about? Capitalism, as I’m sure you know, is a system of voluntary exchange, free from coercion.

            Furthermore, if working for Bob is in my best interest, which it must be or I would not have agreed to do so, why would I want to rise up and overthrow his supposed place of dominance? In doing so I would risk destroying the entire system that Bob created from which I benefit. Additionally, overthrowing Bob would set the precedence for violence which likely won’t end well for me.

            “More than this, a perfect AnCap landlord is indistinguishable from a state. Which is why AnCaps see nothing wrong with today’s states except perhaps the fact that they’re not “voluntary”. A Landlord could just as well introduce laws of IP and specific currency to their tenants and so could their neighbouring landlord, at which point you end up with (undemocratic) states again. I.e. Libertopia just regresses back to feudalism covered with a thin illusion of “voluntaryism”"

            The capitalists I socialize with see a great deal wrong with today’s states, ranging from involuntary “donations” to fund violence either via the war on drugs, war on terror, etc., to the rights of individuals to engage in whatever contracts they wish, such as gay and homosexual unions.

            Now, to go further into this discussion we really need to define what constitutes private property. I currently tend to subscribe to the Rothbardian school of thought on this issue where one must mix labor with land in order to own it. Private property is a very complex topic, but for the sake of discussion shall we for now ignore some of those complexities (oceanic issues, etc) and assume private property as defined by Murray Rothbard?

            If one must mix labor with land, it makes it very difficult to just section off a huge chunk of land and designate it “mine,” leaving few options for others living around me but to pay me rents. No, I would first have to put labor into that land: build a house, till the soil, etc. While there may be some fairly trivial ways of staking claim to the land based on this definition of private property, it becomes exceedingly difficult for one man to claim giant portions of land.

            I realize that one possibility that could arise is person A could hire person B to expend labor on land X, perhaps via a contract to do so. Before an agreement is settled upon, person B has to decide, “Do I want the resources provided via the contract with A” or “do I want to be the owner of the land, myself?” Clearly you cannot assume that B would automatically choose the resources provided by A; quite a few in the position of B would certainly prefer the land, thus making it that much harder for a small group of people to control vast quantities of land.

            Probably more important is that with today’s transportation options, even if someone (or group) managed to control a large chunk of land, relocation outside of that range in most cases would be trivial, relative when feudalism flourished. As such, we end up in a system where there are many “landlords” to choose from (in addition to mixing labor with ones’ own land, if there is any available); this creates competition amongst land owners, which in turn drives the price of rents (either monetary or social) down.

            No, feudalism in modern day is only possible with coercion; it is virtually impossible to exist within a free society.

            (Of course, not all capitalists subscribe to the Rothbardian definition of ownership, but the point is that if there are options, there is competition and if there is competition, prices will move towards equilibrium.)

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            I’m not “very generally using the word anarchist”. I’m using it as it has been historically been using by anarchists as a political movement. All anarchists are socialists. That’s why we don’t accept “anarcho”-capitalists as anarchists.

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            OK, I’m going to stop you right here because I have no interest in debunking Rothbardian nonsense. I’ve addressed these issues myself in other parts of the blog and the AFAQ has very well demolished them already.

            I’ll just nip your premises in the bud and claim that I reject your claim that you perpetually own land if you “mix your labour in it”. For anarchists, you possess land or other means or other means of production only as long as you use or live in them.

          • Tim

            The rest of my argument was independent of the exact mechanism of establishing private property; I guess you probably didn’t want to address why feudalism is virtually impossible in a free society. I’m rather tired of this discussion and your failure to actually address my points. I came here attempting to learn, but you sir have no desire to foster such things.

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            The exact mechanism of estabilishing private property is the sticking point.

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            To make such a claim, you must first prove that something was stolen.

            All Property is Theft. You should read some Proudhon, you know, the guy who coined the term “Anarchism” as a political movement.

          • Tim

            So it is theft if I create something with my own labor? I don’t care who says that, that’s asinine and absolutely repugnant. It is clear you have a very surface knowledge of property rights, at best. Good day sir, I would rather have discussion with a 3 year old.

          • http://dbzer0.com db0

            Cheezus christ, for someone who calls himself Anarchist, you can’t even read fucking Proudhon? Get real.

            You don’t create land so stfu.