In which I try to clarify LibCom for Stefan Molyneux

really really free market!
Image by Shira Golding via Flickr

Last week in a video from Freedomain Radio was posted in /r/Anarchism with the notice that its host, Stefan Molyneux – apparently an “Anarcho”-Capitalist of some renown – was honestly curious about some aspects of Social Anarchism, such an Anarcho-Communism or Anarcho-Syndicalism,  and wished that “someone competent” from that movement call him to clarify some of his contentions.

Although the fact that he didn’t understand some aspects about this very popular movement and for some reason couldn’t find out sources of clarification (although a wealth of information is at best, one internet search away) was immediately suspect, I decided to take him up on this “challenge” (Yes I do understand it wasn’t a formal challenge, I’m just using this word for lack of a proper alternative).

After some fiddling with the way to call-in1 I’ve finally settled to using Skype to call their landline number and soon it was my turn to speak. You can find the discussion here starting at 22:30 (I’ll post the Youtube vid when Stefan uploads it). I’m not nearly as glib as Stefan and thus you have to suffer through my thick accent and “umm”s as I’m trying to make my point (although hearing my playback, I don’t think I was as muffled as he claimed). Which is incidentally why I have not made any videos ;)

Unfortunately I must say that I was disappointed in the end. While Stefan proclaims his wish to understand the Social Anarchist movement, I got away with the impression that this is simple rhetoric to appear open-minded. I didn’t get the feeling that he was trying to clarify points he was not sure of, but rather throwing various concepts at me in an attempt to trip me up so that he can take over and proceed to claim intellectual superiority, as you will find out he did.

The points we discussed in rapid succession were:

  • Does LibCom discard Property Rights?
  • How can a society progress from Primitivism to LibCom?
  • How does  new industry get created?
  • How would a future LibCom society work?
  • How would you proceed to a future LibCom society?

Now each of these points, especially the last two, takes some explaining and I could only give the vaguest framework in all of the ~15 minutes I was on the phone (of which I spoke for about 7 at best). In the last one especially, arguably the most detailed and important part of Anarchist thought, I was given the whole of 1 minute before being abruptly cut-off mid sentence.

But what irked me most is that after being cut-off Stefan proceeded in a long-winded monologue in which he assumed ignorance of my part of what a LibCom society would look like and proceeded to claim superiority and attack my presumed ignorance of both the details of the future and of how Free Markets really work.

Needless to say he didn’t make any arguments I couldn’t counter, only that I didn’t get a chance. In fact, I found out this way of kicking off your caller and then making a closing statement without allowing a rebuke as a low trick which doesn’t really raise my perception of Stefan a lot. If he really didn’t have enough time for me, then just leave it at that. Don’t silence your opponent so that your argument goes unchallenged.

So here I’m also going to take the opportunity to address what Stefan said after I was disconnected:

1. You need to think in some detail.

Here Stefan made the assumption that I didn’t have any details on my ideas other than some vague concept of “Strikes and so on”. This is in fact quite far from the truth and such an impression was only given due to the short amount of time I was given to express them and the constant switching of subjects which was not allowing me to elaborate more on any one of them. Anarchists have about 150 years of political theory and needless to say that everything that needs it, has been described in as much detail as possible. Further than that, we also have around 100 years of actual, practical experience in social struggle and revolution which the theories have taken into account and been modified accordingly (which is the reason for example why social anarchists reject reformist tactics).

On the opposite side, AnCaps have at best 60 years of theorizing about a future Utopia of free markets and absolutely no idea how to get there. Stefan boasted about his 1 year of thinking about this, which is practically nothing in the larger picture of things. And this is why I was trying to explain that it’s not worth spending so much time visualizing the perfect AnCap world, when you don’t have the progression tackled first.

2. You need to work within the system before you criticize it.

The gist of this argument was basically that unless one is an enepreneur or capitalist, they don’t understand the system and thus they should refrain from criticizing it. Here Stefan considers that since his experiences in this have convinced him of the superiority of the Free Markets, then it’s obvious that someone who criticizes them must not have enough experience to make an educated criticism.

Of course he realized the trap he put himself into, when he admitted that he could also be called on criticizing the government while not being a politician. He attempted to get out of this by claiming he has enough experience in working with the govt and being educated by them that he can now make an accurate criticism. However he misses the point that Anarchist and all other critics of the Capitalist system have as much of “peripheral” experience of the Capitalist system and the markets as he has of the State. We too have worked for Entepreneurs. We too have had to suffer “market discipline”. We too have been educated and propagandized ad infinitum by a system which treats Capitalism as the natural state of affairs. The indoctrination towards this is as big, if not bigger than the indoctrination towards Statism.

And thus Stefan’s contention can be turned back upon him. If he wished to support the system, he should try becoming a wage-slave on a third world country to see how privileged he is currently. Or he should take an unskilled job at a MacPosition  to see how superior the entepreneurs and bosses really are. There’s lots of experiences that Stefan has not lived in order to judge Capitalism as a good system, Experiences which the Anarchists and other Socialists have lived through, which is incidentally why the movement was started: From experiencing the true nature of the system as the majority of the world does rather than the privileged few.

He also did a grave mistake of pointing out programming and web developing as an example of the free market (that one should experience). A mistake that undermines his own position as an “Anarcho”-Capitalist. You see the environment he works in, is a peculiar one because it differs from a capitalist system in some very important variables. The most important one, is that the workers own the means of production. Programming languages are free. Web Servers are free. Replication is free. The only cost one has to start their own business online is the small cost to get a hosting plan, and most often than not, not even that2!

As such, to point to the internet as a free market paradise is to concede that a truly free market can only work via Socialism, much like Mutualists have been claiming for ages. In fact, what Stefan sees and is inspired of, is the kind of thing Tucker was seeing in the 19th century, when the land was free and people could start their own homestead or business at very small upfront cost and retain it. However, this is not Capitalism, as much as Molyneux would like to redefine it. Not only that, but actual Capitalism constricts such a development as it is inherently destabilizing to it. It happened in Tucker’s age and it is also happening3 now in the internet.

In closing, I came out of this discussion disillusioned. For all of Stefan’s proclaimed wish to understand and speak with the other side, it seems to me that he only wishes to score some easy points with his internet audience. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been so eager to kick me off his show with vague suggestions of a one-on-one talk without even bothering to learn who I am! It seems to me that instead of actually understanding what I said, he was all to eager to misrepresent Social Anarchism and cover that by continuously repeating his “wish to understand.”

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  1. Blogradio’s builtin call-in feature sucks in GNU/Linux. I don’t know why this is so but calling via it, the voice reaches me as if in slow-motion. /rant []
  2. All because of Free Software naturally []
  3. or at least, the Powers That Be are working towards it. See Patents, Copyrights, Net Neutrality etc []