In Defense Of Left-Libertarianism: We’re Not Socially Liberal Capitalists

Ex-libertarian and Facebook friend, Alex Strekal, recently penned a piece declaring left-libertarianism to be bunk. The part of his argument touched on here pertains to his take on our view of capitalism and alleged socially liberal capitalist nature.

Capitalism is best defined as separation of labor from ownership rather than private property or markets per se. After all, both of these things predate capitalism historically. Left-libertarian market anarchists preferably oppose the separation of labor from ownership or risk having their credentials questioned. The linked article above doesn’t specifically spell out whether private property or markets are inherently capitalist, but it does mention “the adoption of the capitalist ideology of the market”. This implies that market ideology is solely capitalistic.

There is a mention of the allegation that we left-libertarians don’t understand what capitalism is:

In other words, left-libertarians try to claim to be anti-capitalist without exactly understanding with capitalism is. They see some of the symptoms of the capitalism in the context of the state’s involvement in society, but they do not see how capitalism is a system of relations of power that simultaneously has functionality independent of the state and has an influence on culture in its own right. Their libertarian analysis leaves them stuck advancing a narrative focused on blaming the issues associated with capitalism on the state. As if, if only the state would get out of the way of the market, we could have a more egalitarian society. This shows a certain naiveté of the power dynamics and likely outcomes of the real world, the world in which markets function as a network of hierarchical systems designed around maximizing profit, growth, and social control.

Whether or not we’re guilty of the charges  leveled at us above; there is no reason why left-libertarians can’t expand their understanding of capitalism as a system of power existing unto itself apart from the state or government. There is evidence for the decentralizing power of even far from freed markets in the work of the late, New Leftist historian, Gabriel Kolko. As Roy Childs Jr. said:

As Gabriel Kolko demonstrates in his masterly The Triumph of Conservatism and in Railroads and Regulation, the dominant trend in the last three decades of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth was not towards increasing centralization, but rather, despite the growing number of mergers and the growth in the overall size of many corporations,

toward growing competition. Competition was unacceptable to many key business and financial leaders, and the merger movement was to a large extent a reflection of voluntary, unsuccessful business efforts to bring irresistible trends under control. … As new competitors sprang up, and as economic power was diffused throughout an expanding nation, it became apparent to many important businessmen that only the national government could [control and stabilize] the economy. … Ironically, contrary to the consensus of historians, it was not the existence of monopoly which caused the federal government to intervene in the economy, but the lack of it.

The article accuses us of offering a narrative very similar to other so called “free market” think tanks of the right like CATO or Heritage. None of these institutions weave a tale of worker empowerment through freed markets or a more egalitarian society resulting from freed market forces. They don’t attack corporate power/privilege like we do nor the privileges/power of the established rich.

The article also asserts that our claims to be advancing socialism through self-employment, co-ops, and fraternal societies are bizarre. These are ways of returning economic power to laborers who fundamentally control and direct their own means of production. That’s an eminently socialist goal. In fact, that is far more socialist than the state or governmental socialist notions of state or government ownership and control. A scenario in which the new employer is the state or government. The author doesn’t advocate this, but it’s an important point to be made nevertheless.

The piece quoted above also makes an interesting point about the left-libertarian attitudes towards racism. It’s true that we oppose the use of aggressive violence to remedy the evils of racism, but we in no way intend to tolerate it ethically or socially.  One can tolerate something legally in the narrow sense of not using the coercive force of law to change it without sanctioning it morally. That admittedly means we don’t legitimate bigotry and irrational discrimination in any ethical or social sense. We just prefer to adhere to the non-aggression principle in combating it.

The author makes some good points, but he in no way proves left-libertarianism is bunk. Stay tuned for another blog post inspired by a recent posting of the same author.

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist