In Benghazi, The New York Times reports, mercenaries hired by a waning Qaddafi regime are bombarding the Libyan people indiscriminately, even shelling a mosque. But the dauntless sacrifices of Libyans, the horrors they’re enduring, sound the death knell for the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. In the final spasms before the now ineludible death of his regime, Qaddafi has styled himself a “revolutionary,” swearing that he will remain in power and die a martyr.
In so vowing, Qaddafi may have presaged his own death and that of his inappropriately-named “revolution,” one that relegated Libya to over 40 years of maniacal tyranny. When we hear the appellation “socialist” today, it makes sense that we would think of people like Qaddafi and Hugo Chavez, who describe themselves as revolutionaries and draw on the language of class struggle in their adrenalized diatribes. But just as big multinational corporations don’t represent “the free market” to all of us, so do the likes of Qaddafi and Chavez paint a very incomplete picture of “socialism.”
In attempting to define socialism, Bertrand Russell very accurately mused that it is “rather a tendency than a strictly definable body of doctrine,” and that any proposed definition was “sure … to include some views which many would regard as not Socialistic.” He then went on to delineate its necessary terms — “communal ownership of land and capital” — in a way very fundamentally at odds with descriptions we might find in reading Benjamin Tucker or Francis Dashwood Tandy.
But socialism, though perhaps quite unstructured, is not completely nebulous in those elemental tendencies, submitting a plentiful array of ideas within subcurrents within movements. Although individualist anarchists like Benjamin Tucker were avowedly socialists, they never figured that necessarily to entail “communal ownership,” or to require abandonment of individual rights (which many, though not all, regarded as natural rights).
On the other hand, the Qaddafi permutation of socialism has been, by all accounts, more practical than philosophical, a variable and temperamental medley of views informed more by his personal idiosyncrasies than by ideological inclination. Impassioned disagreement would have been — if there could be one at all — among the invariable marks of socialistic thought, and the pages of Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty were at all times brimming with the fever of debate over everything from banking, to interest, to land.
The free market anarchists of today, continuing in the traditions of the Left and a broadly-defined socialism, look for and present solutions to the injustices that fragment and atrophy productive society. Where the conventional analyses swapped within mainstream discourse dare not cast doubt on or touch the idols of statism, the intellectual integrity of free market anarchism makes it iconoclastic; it is radical not in the sense that it intends to shove society into a wild, harebrained scheme that it doesn’t want or have use for, but in the sense of allowing free people to decide — on the basis of voluntary relationships — what their institutions will be.
As such, it does, as Russell discerned, call for “the abolition … of the present capitalistic system,” one that is categorically distinct from a true free market owing to its dependence on coercion. Because of those noted ideological differences within socialism, and its range of answers to the segments of the Social Problem, a society without the arbitrary oppression of states would probably subsume a mixture of attitudes and methods as regards the subjects of the debates in Liberty.
But all of those debates, conversations and disagreements could take place free from the state’s defining monopoly on the administration of purportedly “legitimate” violence. Without such state monopolies, crime and injustice would nonetheless linger over the prolific trends of consent-based society, but now the egregious instances of them would no longer enjoy immunity as state action.
Law would germinate in the mutually determined customs of communities while true free trade and barter would go unimpeded by aggressor middlemen claiming a cut by some speciously concocted “right.” Anarchy would mean, as Tucker taught, the “gradual dropping off of the ‘thou shalt’s’ and ‘thou shalt not’s’ of laws and constitutions” in support of the radical notion that peaceable people deserve to be left unmolested.
Whatever figures like Qaddafi mean by socialism, it is something far removed from the anarchism of the free market left, which is radically in favor not of the theft and murder of states, but of unobstructed exchange and collaboration for the individual. That’s a revolution that Libyans and people across the region and the world can get behind, a true revolution for real people as against political elites.