Economic Notes 114, Anarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism (2011), by Richard Garner

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Anarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism
Richard Garner
With a commemoration by Dr Nigel Gervas Meek

Economic Notes No. 114

ISBN 9781856376365
ISSN 0267-7164 (print)
ISSN 2042-2547 (online)

An occasional publication of the Libertarian Alliance,
Suite 35, 2 Lansdowne Row, Mayfair, London W1J 6HL.

© 2011: Libertarian Alliance; Richard Garner

The views expressed in this publication are those of its author, and not necessarily those of the Libertarian Alliance, its Committee, Advisory Council or subscribers.




The sudden death of Richard Anthony Garner in June 2011 at the age of 33 is a tragic loss to the libertarian movement.

I started to publish his work in 2003 for both the Libertarian Alliance and also the Society for Individual Freedom through its journal, The Individual.  His interests ranged widely.  As well as the more obvious topics such as philosophy and economics – with a particular interest in addressing fears often raised about what libertarianism in practice would mean – he also wrote on matters such as gun control, drug prohibition and development in Africa.

He was throughout a staunch advocate of anarchist libertarianism.  One of his earliest works – and the first that I read – published in 1999, was What is Mutualism? published by the Canadian anarchist Larry Gambone’s Red Lion Press.  Whilst he shifted his views over time to a more capitalist position, he never confused “capitalism” with “actually existing business” as the essay below robustly demonstrates.

Elsewhere, for example, he published a major paper, ‘Minarchy Considered’, an anarchist critique of an even minimal state position, in a 2009 issue of Libertarian Papers.  He also wrote articles – the first as far back as 1998 and which indicates his ideological development – for the evolutionary anarchist journal Total Liberty edited by Jonathan Simcock ( as well as recording a video interview for Jonathan on anarcho-capitalism a decade later in 2008.

In addition to his formal works, he ran two blogs: the original one at and a later one at  At the time of writing, both of these are still live and I hope that they will provide “new” material for publication.  He was also a frequent contributor to other blogs and social networking websites.  Only the day before he died, he was writing on Facebook a critique of the NHS and state healthcare.

Along with this current essay – which is a revised and expanded version of one that was originally published in the December 2009, June 2010 and December 2010 issues of Anchorage Anarchy, a journal edited by our friend and individualist anarchist Joe Peacott ( – I hope that at least one major and original work of Richard’s will still see the light of day.  In between working in a bookshop and lecturing, in 2010 Richard completed at the University of Nottingham an MPhil with the title Towards a Property Rights Based Account of Libertarianism.  With the help of Richard’s family and the University’s authorities, I hope to see this published.

That he had already embarked on a PhD researching arguments for political legitimacy highlights the intellectual loss caused by his death.  Both the LA and SIF have lost a number of important and still active people in recent years: most obviously the Founder of the LA, Dr Chris Tame, in 2006, and the President of the SIF, Lord (John) Monson, earlier this year.  However, even in these cases, whatever ongoing good work they would still have achieved, I had a sense that their original contributions were behind them.  Richard Garner was just starting out.  As the LA’s current Director, Dr Sean Gabb, noted to me just a few days after Richard had died, he had long since realised Richard’s growing importance in the libertarian movement and had intended to invite him to take up a more formal position within the LA.

However, this is only half the story.  As well as being an intelligent, erudite and – however provoked – always-courteous writer and debater, he was also my friend.  And I mean a “real world” friend, not just an “Internet” one.

In a milieu containing many individuals who range from “polished” to “buttoned down”, Richard stood out.  He was rather shy and physically large – many of his later Facebook postings were about his dieting – with an unruly mop of thinning, ginger hair and a dress sense that matched his affinity for extreme heavy metal.  (Other than the “ginger” part, he and I had much in common...  That said, both my political and musical tastes were more “moderate” than his were.  I would sometimes listen to YouTube links of bands that he liked and wonder when the tune was going to start…)

I had known him for many years.  We first met when Chris Tame and Joe Peacott – who was making one of his regular visits to the UK from the USA – and I visited the annual London Anarchist Bookfair – from where I would be ejected some years later – and Richard was manning a stall.  In later years, Richard stayed with me on a number of occasions when he came down from Nottingham to attend the LA’s annual conference.  We’d also meet for lunch in central London if he was in London on other business.  Because of our work, academic and family commitments we saw less of each other during the last couple of years.  The last time that we actually met was at the LA’s 2009 conference.

It is the “form” on these occasions to end on an upbeat note.  But I cannot find it in me to do so.  As already noted, this current essay started as a three-part serialisation in Anchorage Anarchy.  I had said at the time to both Richard and Joe Peacott that I wanted the LA to republish it as a unified piece.  Richard sent a revised and expanded version to me in March this year.  After an initial read through, I suggested some amendments – more to do with style than content, although I hope that the slightly imperfect nature of the notes section at the end will be forgiven under the circumstances – and I received the latest version at the start of June.  On Wednesday the 8th and finally Friday the 10th of June there was an exchange of emails between us about various matters.  That weekend he died.  On Tuesday the 14th, I sat down in a coffee bar in Chislehurst to start a final proofreading of the essay before typesetting it.  It was one of the most unbearably sad experiences of my life.  A young man had died just as he was coming into his own.  The libertarian movement had lost a rising star.  And I had lost a friend.

On behalf of Dr Sean Gabb, the Director of the LA, Michael Plumbe, the Chairman of the SIF’s Executive Committee, and the rest of the LA and SIF, I wish to extend our sympathies to Richard’s parents, Jenny and Andy, and to all his other relations and friends who will miss him.

Dr Nigel Gervas Meek, June 2011



What is “anarchism”?

In my view, anarchism is anything that fits Benjamin Tucker’s definition of anarchism.  Benjamin Tucker defined anarchism as “the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by individuals or voluntary associations, and that the State should be abolished.”1 The requirements of respecting people’s property rights over themselves – self-ownership – as well as other things imply that there are certain things that nobody may justly do to or with those others without permission from those others – the giving of consent – which must be freely given, without fear of punishment or deprivation of enjoyment of one’s rights if such consent is not forthcoming.  These strictures imply that relationships between individuals should all be voluntary, uncoerced ones, that that individuals are entitled to protect themselves against any that would be otherwise.  Whether these relationships are capitalistic or not is irrelevant, so long as they are voluntary.  This entails that, in my view, capitalism is perfectly compatible with anarchism.  I shall address various objections to this thesis here.

Anarchists cannot be capitalists, because anarchists have traditionally opposed capitalism

This is the most obvious criticism, and the most likely to arise.  It, perhaps correctly, identifies anarcho-capitalism as at variance with what has traditionally been considered “the anarchist position”.  Such a historical definition is presented in opposition to a dictionary definition that anarcho-capitalists may use that anarchism is “a doctrine urging the abolition of government or governmental restraint as the indispensable condition for full social and political liberty” or “The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished” or “The belief that all existing governmental authority should be abolished and replaced by free cooperation among individuals” (  Anarchist opponents to the suggestion of allowing anarcho-capitalists into the fold hold that these definitions are insufficient precisely because they do not include the forms of organization that post-state society is to take.  Specifically, these definitions make no references to the proposals that anarchists have made historically as to how a stateless society should be arranged.

But look what this would imply were we to present a definition of anarchism that would meet these objectors’ demands: It would have to mean that, in effect, an anarchist is whatever anarchists have been in the past.  It would effectively be a circular or self-referential definition, perhaps resulting in a regress – “I support anarchism, because I support what those guys supported, and they supported anarchism” – that would necessarily entail that the first person or people in this chain could not be anarchists because they were not supporters of what had been called anarchism before them (because there was no anarchism before them).  But if that were the case, then people that supported what these first people supported could not call themselves anarchists either, and so on back to where we are now.  An a-historical, etymological or dictionary based definition does not have this weakness.  It allows for the possibility of people proposing forms of anarchism that do not match, and possibly contradict, those proposed before them, that yet remain forms of anarchism so long as they meet the dictionary definitions.  “Anarchism is whatever anarchism has been in the past” does not allow this, and leads to contradictions and logical problems, as just demonstrated.

Further, defining anarchism in such a way as to say that nothing can be called anarchism unless it matches what anarchists have advocated in the past would surely prove too much for non-capitalist anarchists.  After all, anarchism prior to perhaps about 1880 was anti-communist.  Proudhon, it is well known, vehemently opposed communism as a threat to the independence of workers, small-scale manufacturers, and artisans.  His vision was of a society of independent small business-people, voluntarily trading, labour-for-labour, on a market freed from all state imposed privileges.  A greater movement of anarchists was inspired by Mikhail Bakunin, who envisioned the collectivization of industry by trade associations or what were to become unions, federated from the local level, outwards, but workers would receive, as their private property, the products of their labour: People would be paid according to their labour, thus maintaining a sort of wage system.

It was in the 1880 conference of the predominantly anarchist Jura Federation (a branch of the International Workingmen’s Association) that Peter Kropotkin, Elise Recluse, and Carlo Cafiero suggested that collectivist anarchism was an inconsistency, and that anarchists should be communists, favouring the distribution of all goods, including products of labour, to each according to need, rather than to each according to their labour.  Anarchist communism, as advocated by the likes of Kropotkin and Malatesta was at variance with what had traditionally been proposed by anarchists before them.  As such, a definition of anarchism that amounts to “a person is only an anarchist if he advocates what other anarchists before him have advocated” would have to exclude such luminary anarchist figures from the history books!

Take another factor: Kropotkin himself, in his 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on anarchism, said “Without naming himself an anarchist, Leo Tolstoy… took the Anarchist position as regards the State and property rights.”2  Kropotkin also says “It was Godwin … who was first to formulate the political and economical conceptions of Anarchism, even though he did not give that name to the ideas he developed in his remarkable work.”3  Was it because both these fellows advocated socialism of sorts that Kropotkin included them as anarchists?  Well, perhaps not, since Kropotkin does not even exclude Godwin as an anarchist when he goes on to say, “Godwin, however, had not the courage to maintain his opinions.  He entirely rewrote later on his chapter on property and mitigated his Communist views in the second edition of Political Justice.”4  Godwin, after this rewrite, became a figure in the development of “anti-state liberalism,”5  but his inclusion in anarchist history is relatively uncontroversial.  The sufficient condition for his inclusion, surely, is not his desire for the abolition of government to be replaced by a society based on voluntary co-operation, coupled with a socialism he later abandoned, but merely the former: merely his desire for a co-operative society without a government.

But if people can be included in anarchist histories as anarchists merely for desiring a society without a government, based on voluntary co-operation between consenting people, then a whole host of other people, sympathetic to capitalism, can and should be included: People such as the radical “No-Government” men of the Garrisonian wing of the Abolitionist Movement in the USA, or members of the French school of Classical Liberalism, such as, of course, Gustave de Molinari (really Belgian), or followers of Jean Baptiste Say – the bourgeois economists that Karl Marx admitted lifting his “class conflict theory of history” from, incidentally.

The “anarchism can only be what anarchists have advocated before” definition of anarchism cannot be sustained.  It leads to contradictions or logical problems, and excludes prominent anarchist figures from being included as anarchists.  A stronger, more sustainable definition is simply that given in dictionaries: The set of beliefs that the state, or government, should is an evil that should be abolished, replaced by a society based on free and voluntary co-operation.  Anarcho-capitalism, which views market exchanges a voluntary, and just insofar as they are, is compatible with this definition.

But capitalism allows hierarchical, authoritarian relationships, which contradicts anarchism

Another, common objection, but false on possibly both claims.  Many anarcho-capitalists oppose hierarchical organization in the firm, and elsewhere.  For instance, David Friedman has said that he feels that the hierarchical corporation “does not strike me as either an attractive way for people to live or an efficient way of producing goods.”  He claims that his  

…own preference is for the sort of economic institutions which have been named, I think, by Robert LeFevre, agoric.  Under agoric institutions almost everyone is self-employed.  Instead of corporations there are large groups of entrepreneurs related by trade, not be authority.  Each sells, not his time, but what his time produces.  As a free-lance writer (one of my professions), I am part of an agoric order.6

Likwise, in his New Libertarian Manifesto, Samuel Edward Konkin III has said that he “feels that the whole concept of “worker/boss” is a holdover from feudalism and not, as Marx claims, fundamental to “capitalism”.”7  Instead, he writes that

In an agorist society, division of labor and self-respect of each worker-capitalist-entrepreneur will probably eliminate the traditional business organization – especially the corporate hierarchy, an imitation of the State and not the Market.  Most companies will be associations of independent contractors, consultants, and other companies.  Many may be just one entrepreneur and all his services, computers, suppliers and customers.  This mode of operation is already around and growing in the freer segments of Western economies.8

In fact, libertarian financier and very big business man Charles Koch has attempted experiments in his own companies of replacing the centrally planned, top-down hierarchical organisation typical in corporations with market-like alternatives wherein different workers in the company relate to each other as traders, not as boss and worker.9

Murray Rothbard, however, criticises

Konkin’s astonishing view that working for wages is somehow non-market or anti-libertarian, and would disappear in a free society.  Konkin claims to be an Austrian free-market economist, and how he can say that a voluntary sale of one’s labor for money is somehow illegitimate or unlibertarian passeth understanding.  Furthermore, it is simply absurd for him to think that in the free market of the future, wage-labor will disappear.  Independent contracting, as lovable as some might see it, is simply grossly uneconomic for manufacturing activity.  The transactions costs would be far too high.  It is absurd, for example, to think of automobile manufacturing conducted by self-employed independent contractors.  Furthermore, Konkin is clearly unfamiliar with the fact that the emergence of wage-labor was an enormous boon for many thousands of poor workers and saved them from starvation.  If there is no wage labor, as there was not in most production before the Industrial Revolution, then each worker must have enough money to purchase his own capital and tools.  One of the great things about the emergence of the factory system and wage labor is that poor workers did not have to purchase their own capital equipment; this could be left to the capitalists.10

Konkin replied that his “own observations are that independent contracting lowers transactions costs—in fact, nearly eliminates them relative to boss/worker relationships running the gamut from casual labor with annoying paperwork and records to full-scale Krupp worker welfarism.”  However, he also said that Rothbard’s criticism of Konkin’s position actually “is so irrelevant to the basis of agorism that it is barely mentioned en passant and in a footnote” and that what forms of organisation predominate in a truly free market economy was really “an empirical question, one, as Mises would say, not even for economists but economic historians.”

So, let’s bite the bullet, whilst some anarcho-capitalists dislike hierarchical organisation in the firm, and prefer alternatives, and whilst removal of the extensive regulatory controls of our present societies, and the resultant increase of wealth, would increase the opportunity and ability of experimenting with alternative forms of organisation, it may be the case that the hierarchically organised firm will still remain dominant, and anarcho-capitalists would still defend the existence of such arrangements as just.  Does this mean that they cannot be real anarchists, since they admit that authoritarian relationships can be just?

The answer to this question is “only if Michael Bakunin is not a real anarchist, too!”  After all, in God and The State, Bakunin wrote

Does it follow that I reject all authority?  Far from me such a thought.  In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer.  For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant.  But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me.  I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism censure.  I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest.  But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person.  Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.

If I bow before the authority of the specialists and avow my readiness to follow, to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their directions, it is because their authority is imposed upon me by no one, neither by men nor by God.  Otherwise I would repel them with horror, and bid the devil take their counsels, their directions, and their services, certain that they would make me pay, by the loss of my liberty and self-respect, for such scraps of truth, wrapped in a multitude of lies, as they might give me.

I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed upon me by my own reason.  I am conscious of my inability to grasp, in all its details and positive developments, any very large portion of human knowledge.  The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole.  Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labor.  I receive and I give-such is human life.  Each directs and is directed in his turn.  Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.11

So here we have a socialist anarchist admitting that he is happy with “voluntary authority and subordination” that he will accept over him when he recognises another’s greater ability or knowledge in a particular area.  Well, the same can be the case in a firm.  I work in retail.  I have worked under good managers and I have worked under bad, and I have held (deputy) management positions myself, and I recognise the fact, in my experience, that good managers I have had have had skills I do not have, and yet the application of which are of benefit to me if I wish to benefit, as a worker, from the smooth, profitable, operation of the business.  Good managers were entrepreneurial, able to identify ways to better market or promote stock, for instance.  They were also able to motivate staff in ways that did not generate worker hostility, but encouraged respect.  The fact that I, as a worker, did not have these skills, whilst the bosses did, means that it is perfectly consistent with what Bakunin says above that I allow them authority over myself, so that I am willing to follow their guidance and “bow to their authority.”  Quite simply, because my boss was better at managing the shop than I was, and I had an interest in the efficient management of the shop, it was just as acceptable for me to accept the authority of the boss in the matter of shop management as it was for Bakunin to accept the authority of the shoe maker in the matter of shoe making.

Further to the question of whether anarcho-capitalists contradict anarchism by not opposing hierarchical relationships in the firm, it may be suggested that they also support authoritarianism in their advocacy of certain uses of force.  One of the aspects of Benjamin Tucker’s individualist anarchism that Kropotkin criticised, and that anarcho-capitalists share, is on the provision of law and order in a post-state society.  Kropotkin wrote that Tucker

Further indicated (following H. Spencer) the difference which exists between the encroachment on somebody’s rights and resistance to such encroachment; between domination and defence: the former being equally condemnable, whether it be encroachment of a criminal upon an individual, or the encroachment of one upon all others, or of all others upon one; while resistance to encroachment is defensible and necessary.  For their self-defence, both the citizen and the group have the right to any violence, including capital punishment.  Violence is also justified for enforcing the duty of keeping an agreement.  Tucker thus follows Spencer, and, like him, opens (in the present writer’s opinion) the way for reconstituting, under the heading of ‘defence’ all the functions of the State.12

But this is sheer hypocrisy: Effectively, Kropotkin is saying that voluntary organisation of the provision of defensive force is some how like a state, or statist.  But Kropotkin himself was a revolutionary, advocating and indeed trying to organise, armed and organised revolution against prevailing statist society.  In other words, then, he was perfectly happy with the notion of organised provision of the use of force or violence, and no doubt legitimised it as defensive – it was intended, after all, to remove from the general populace a structure that institutionalised oppression.  So Kropotkin defended voluntary organisation of the provision of defence against statist government in order to achieve the revolution.  I can’t see why he would oppose voluntary organisation to provide defence against non-governmental oppression in the post-statist society, too.

Counter claim: Anarchist socialists that won’t allow non-socialist anarchism are betraying their own principles

Jerome Tuccille, in his semi-autobiographical history of his travels through 1960’s politics It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand (iUniverse; revised and updated ed., 2007), recounts an experience he had when trying to forge an anti-authoritarian “left-right alliance” between socialist anarchists and market anarchists against the state:

Beginning somewhat apprehensively, I emphasized the areas of agreement between free-market anarchists and anarchists of the Left...

So far so good.

The great barrier between us, of course, was the formulation of economic principles, most especially the question of property rights.  Here you had to step a bit more carefully.

“Hey, man.  What do you mean by free-market economics anyway?” a voice called out through a furry beard in the back of the room.

“Free exchange of goods and ideas on an open market place.”

“You don’t mean that if some pig wanted to own his own factory and hire other people to work for him, he could get away with that, do you, man?”

“The only way you can stop private ownership and the exchange of labor for capital is by state coercion.  If you’re serious about anarchism you have to accept the possibility of all forms of voluntary exchange whether you like them or not.”

“Like, that’s exploitation!  How about private property, man?  You don’t believe in private property, do you?”

“There’s no such thing as freedom without a private-property system.  There’s no way you can divide the earth equally among all people if you wanted to.”

“We don’t wanta divide, man, we want everybody to use anything he needs.  The earth belongs to everybody.”

“It’s impossible for everybody to use everything in common.  Unless you acknowledge the concept of individual autonomy and individual ownership, there can be no freedom, no privacy.”

“Fuck privacy, man!  We all gotta love one another.  I mean, like, we’re all brothers, you know what I mean?”

“If some people want privacy, they have a right to it.  You can’t force people to share everything if they don’t want to, not in a voluntary society.  That’s not anarchism, you need a dictatorship for that.”

“You can’t have some pig ripping off the land from the people and let him get away with it.  That’s exploitation, not freedom.  Some greedy fuckers are gonna have more land and more money than others under your system.”

“The only way you can guarantee complete economic equality is with a dictatorship.  If you destroy individual initiative, you’ll only be able to guarantee equality at the lowest level.  If you want to eliminate greed in a libertarian society, you’ll have to do it through education – if you try to outlaw it you’ll have to create a state all over again.” ...

Now the Objectivist was on his feet.

“I just want to know one thing.  If we were living in an anarchist society and you people had your commune organized the way you wanted it, what would you do about private property owners who didn’t threaten you in any way?  Suppose there was a capitalist community five miles away that left you alone and minded its own business – would you co-exist with it or would you try to suppress it?”

Perhaps it was a reaction against the anarcho-capitalist and his little marketplace, perhaps they really meant it; I have no way of knowing for sure.  But to this question there was a universal outcry from the class at large:

“We’d come in and kick the shit out of you, man!”

“We’d beat your ass in!”

“We’d rip you off, baby!  Just like that!”

Now, obviously socialist anarchists would probably be eager to see this as a parody or a strawman.  They wouldn’t really “come in and kick the shit” out of members of the capitalist community, or private property owners that didn’t threaten the commune members, but didn’t join either.  But this leaves open the question of what, precisely, socialist anarchists would do about them?  How, absent a state, would socialist anarchists prevent what Robert Nozick has called “capitalist acts between consenting adults”?

Likewise, with hierarchical relationships, in the firm or otherwise: how would you stop them?  If someone, as a self-owner, decides they want to be subjected to a hierarchical relationship, placed in a position of subordination to another person, and that other person wants to subordinate the first, or hold his position in the hierarchy, then how will you stop this?  Socialist anarchists may be quite right that such relationships are, in some way, bad, or wrong, or harmful to those involved, but as anarchists, surely they think that people should be free, if they want to subject themselves to experiences or things that others think are bad, wrong, or harmful to those involved.  Surely this means that if people want to form hierarchical relationships, in which one person is, for instance, the worker, and another is the boss, then they should be allowed to.  After all, self-ownership means that what a person does with themselves should be up to them, so if they want to put themselves in a position of subordination to others, for whatever reason they choose, then respecting their ownership of themselves would mean not preventing them from doing this.

Socialist anarchists differentiate themselves from authoritarian socialists, state socialists, by saying that they, unlike the statists, want “voluntary socialism.”  But to say that socialism is voluntary is to say that it has been adopted in preference to some available alternative, without fear of violation of one’s rights or aggression if not so adopted.  But this further entails that if socialism is to be voluntary, alternatives to socialism must be available, at least as possibilities that people can engage in if they want, and can justly obtain the means.  So, unless alternatives or options to socialism are permitted as choices, voluntary socialism is impossible.  Voluntary socialism entails, then, that voluntary non-socialism should be an available or permitted alternative.  This means that if people are not permitted to engage in what Nozick called “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” then they are unable to voluntarily accept alternatives to “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” but are compelled to accept these alternatives.  Such anti-capitalist arrangements would, therefore, be compulsory, not voluntary.  Only, then, if capitalism is permitted, can socialism be voluntary.  This means that unless anarchists permit capitalist arrangements, then they cannot possibly be voluntary socialists.

The anarcho-capitalist economist Bryan Caplan wrote,

Critics of anarcho-capitalism sometimes assume that communal or worker-owned firms would be penalized or prohibited in an anarcho-capitalist society.  It would be more accurate to state that while individuals would be free to voluntarily form communitarian organizations, the anarcho- capitalist simply doubts that they would be widespread or prevalent.  However, in theory an “anarcho-capitalist” society might be filled with nothing but communes or worker- owned firms, so long as these associations were formed voluntarily (i.e., individuals joined voluntarily and capital was obtained with the consent of the owners) and individuals retained the right to exit and set up corporations or other profit-making, individualistic firms.13

Likewise, in their anarcho-capitalist classic The Market for Liberty, Linda and Morris Tannehill wrote,

As long as a man doesn’t initiate force, the actual goals and interests which he chooses to pursue don’t control the free choice or threaten the goals of anyone else.  It doesn’t matter whether a man goes to church every day or advocates atheism, whether he wears his hair long or short, whether he gets drunk every night or uses drugs or stays cold sober, whether he believes in capitalism or voluntary communalism – so long as he doesn’t reach for a gun … or a politician … to compel others to live as he thinks they should.  As long as men mind their own business and don’t initiate force against their fellow men, no one’s life is a threat to anyone else.14

And Jerome Tuccille wrote that,

Specifically, a libertarian society was one in which everyone would be free to choose his own life style: to own or not to own property; to work or not to work, for himself or for others; to trade freely in an open market place or not to trade at all; to delineate clearly the boundaries of his own autonomy and live privately, or to join in communes or cooperatives or other communitarian structures on a voluntary basis.15

So, anarcho-capitalists and libertarian capitalists are not particularly, qua anarcho-capitalists/libertarian capitalists, opposed to people forming cooperatives or communes.  After all, they strongly believe in property rights, which means that they clearly think that nobody should be prevented from using their property, or that of consenting others, to start cooperatives or communes, or making their property freely available, according to need, to whomever should want it.  If I want to leave my house open so that whomever may want to enter and find a place to stay (or do anything in it), then libertarians and anarcho-capitalists would surely defend my right to do so.  In other words, then, people are under a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist system of secure property rights would be able to live as socialists.  But would people under socialism be able to live as libertarian capitalists?

The objection, of course, will come, that not only do private property rights allow an owner of a resource to leave that resource open to use as and when anybody should want to use it, but they also, and more usually, allow the owner to exclude people from that resource, and it is that aspect that socialist anarchists object to.  But what is it that people are being excluded from?  The first piece of property is a person themselves, and libertarians believe each person should be considered the full owner of himself, which entails exclusive control of themselves.  Socialist anarchists surely do not disagree with that.  The second thing that people are being excluded from is a product of labour.  The third is some plot of land.  Do socialist anarchists deny that some people should be excluded, by others, from things that are people’s products?  The idea that workers are entitled to the products of their labour would surely entail that if somebody takes that product without a workers’ permission an injustice occurs.  This plainly entails that socialists should either deny that workers are entitled to the products of their labour, or that they are entitled to exclusively hold them, and refuse access to them by people who might need or want them.  More on this later.

A crucial issue is land ownership.  But even here, surely socialist anarchists are inconsistent.  After all, they strongly, or so they say, believe in decentralisation.  Under anarchist communism, for instance, the nation state would be replaced by a network of voluntarily federated, voluntarily formed, communes.  But decentralisation is just another way of saying that people X and not people Y should be able to make decisions regarding something.  It means that only people in a particular commune should be able to decide what is done with that commune’s land, and that people in other communes are not entitled to decide over it.  If somebody from commune A wanted land in commune B to be used in a particular way, then whether it will be or not would be the decision of the members of commune B, not that person in commune A.

So it seems plain that anarchist communists, at least, believe in some people having a right to exclusively own or control land.  Now suppose that the chap in commune A who wants land in commune B to be used in a certain way said, “if you guys put this land into my preferred usage, or let me do so, then I am willing to give you some of this product I have made, or provide this service to you.”  The first question is whether anarchist socialists think that this fellow should be able to offer his products in this manner (since his being able to make this offer entails that he also has a right to refuse to provide people with access to his product, and therefore to exclusively control its use, regardless of the need others have for it), and what they will do to people in order to stop them doing so.  The second question is whether this really basically means that commune B would be renting its land, or selling it, to the chap in commune A?  This would seem to be the case to me, in which case we have the question of what anarchist socialists propose to do to communes, or their members, to stop them making these agreements, and how they would reconcile this prevention with their commitment to decentralisation and the claim that how commune B’s land is used should be decided only by commune B, or its members?

Or consider this: Groups of anarchist communists successfully achieve the revolution, abolishing the state, replacing centrally imposed authority with local autonomy for voluntary communes.  Everything people produce is pooled in their local commune, and made available according to need.  Now the people of commune A work hard to clear a plot of wasteland and make a field in which to sow crops.  Exhausted, they retire to bed, to rest before they sow their seed in the morning.  However, when they wake up, they discover that people from commune B have come along and planted crops in the field, different crops from those that people in A wanted.  Now, have the people from commune B done something wrong?  Should they have asked permission?  If so, then doesn’t that mean that the field is the exclusive property of the people of commune A?  Perhaps the people from commune B should give some share of the crops to the people of A?  But then, wouldn’t that be payment for use of the land?  It would seem to me, then, that either socialist anarchists should accept property in land, or be prepared for the possibility that people such as B should be allowed to come and take land with impunity!

Inequality would surely also still exist.  After all, some communes will control better land than others, and so get better produce from it.  Likewise, members of some communes may be healthier than members of others, meaning they may be better able to produce, etc.  This will mean that some people will be richer than others.  This again leads to the question of what anarchist socialists plan to do about this.  Of course they could say, “well richer communes will voluntarily give a share of their wealth to poorer communes, to even out the distribution so things are equal again.”  But the same answer could be given by anarcho-capitalists to the fact that inequality will arise under their proposals: People can voluntarily correct that inequality if they want to.  Neither anarcho-capitalists or socialist anarchists expect this to happen (anarcho-capitalists expect charitable giving to be high, but the point of charity is not to produce equality or reduce inequality), so why would it happen under these communist arrangements … unless human nature somehow changes!

So: Under libertarian or anarchist capitalism, people would be free to live as socialists, but under socialism, people would not be free to live as libertarian capitalists.  A socialist anarchism that allows people to act as capitalists, that allows a capitalist economy to develop, would be no different, in form, from what libertarians and anarcho-capitalists advocate: A capitalist system in which people are allowed to engage in voluntary socialism.  And, lastly, constraints on people’s ability to form communes and co-ops and maintain economic equality that people would face under capitalism would also exist as a similar constraint (or a constraint on developing capitalist or other systems) under various socialist anarchist schema, and so cannot be used as a point against anarcho-capitalism.

Exploitation and Justice

Now, to return to the equality issue: Karl Marx liked to pretend that he was not making a moral critique of capitalism.  However, he plainly used morally loaded terms, and it is equally obvious that his followers plainly think that capitalism, or what they perceive as capitalism, is unjust.  The same goes for socialist anarchists.  Before looking at this, though, I’ll say something quick about theories of distributive justice.  Robert Nozick has observed that theories of distributive justice can be differentiated in three ways.  Some of them are “end state” theories of distributive justice; others are “patterned theories” of distributive justice; others are “historical entitlement” theories of distributive justice.  A historical entitlement theory of justice says that what determines whether a given distribution of holdings is just is the process, or set of processes, by which that distribution came about; if it came about in accordance with a given process or set of processes, then that distribution of holdings is just.  Patterned and end state theories, on the other hand, say that no matter how the distribution of a set of holdings came about, what determines whether or not the distribution of a set of holdings is just is what it looks like, or whether certain people hold certain things, or quantities of things.  Libertarians and market anarchists typically hold to historical entitlement theories of justice, rather than end state or patterned theories.  For instance, Lysander Spooner wrote that,

Each man has the natural right to acquire all he honestly can, and to enjoy and dispose of all that he honestly acquires; and the protection of these rights is all that any one has a right to ask of government in relation to them.  It is all he can have, consistently with the equal rights of others.  If government give any individual more than this, it can only do it by taking from others.  It, therefore, in doing so, only robs one of a portion of his natural, just and equal rights, in order to give to another more than his natural, just, and equal rights.16

In Spooner’s passage, the acquisition of a holding must occur by a particular process – “honest” means – in order to be just, and if it comes about by those means, then it is just.  The size of a particular holding is irrelevant – how it was obtained is the only salient feature.  The implications of holding to the contrary, Spooner notes, are that some people are entitled to less than they can honestly obtain, and others are entitled to more than they can honestly obtain.  Alternatively, Robert Nozick summarises the historical entitlement view as being that a distribution of holdings that arises by just means from a previously just distribution of holdings is itself just.

This difference between theories of justice may seem unclear, but clarity will be shown by my next point: Marxist and other socialist claims that the distribution of holdings under capitalism is unjust take three forms.  First, they are, in some sense, inegalitarian – distributions are unequal, some people get, have or receive so much more than others.  Secondly, communist socialists at least think that holdings should be distributed, and will be under communism, “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” whilst under capitalism, some people have holdings that they don’t have a real need for, whilst others need holdings that they don’t have.  Thirdly, socialists of all stripes hold that some people under capitalism are not entitled to their holdings because they obtained them by exploitation – the set of holdings is unjust because it rose by exploitative means.

Now, the interesting thing to note is that each of these criticisms reflects each different, and ultimately incompatible, type of theory of distributive justice.  Egalitarianism is an end state theory of distributive justice, since it says that, no matter how it comes about, a distribution of holdings is just if and only each person’s holdings are, in some sense, equal to those of others.  The second, “From each according to ability, to each according to need,” is plainly a patterned theory of justice, providing a pattern that a set of holdings must conform to.  However, the last is of most interest to me, since it is plainly historical: It says that a set of holdings is unjust if, and because, it arose by exploitative means, with the corresponding alternative that it is necessary (perhaps not sufficient) for a set of holdings to be just that it arises by non-exploitative means.  This is also a point that Robert Nozick has noticed:

One traditional socialist view is that workers are entitled to the product and full fruits of their labor; they have earned it; a distribution is unjust if it does not give the workers what they are entitled to.  Such entitlements are based upon some past history…  This socialist rightly, in my view, holds onto the notions of earning, producing, entitlement, desert, and so forth.17

Likewise, H.S. Foxwell, in his introduction to Anton Menger’s survey of socialist doctrines, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, writes that the work “leaves us with a conception of two great principles which dispute for primacy, the right to subsistence and the right to the whole product of labour.  These two claims he [Menger] clearly shows to be inconsistent both in theory and in practice, in spirit and in effect.”18

This observation is important because I think that socialists, whether Marxists or not, cannot hold to their opposition to exploitation whilst also holding their commitment to the end state or patterned views of distributive justice: Their commitment to either egalitarianism, or to distribution from each according to ability, to each according to need, obliges them to accept the possibility that some people may be entitled to less than they can obtain by non-exploitative means, and others are entitled to more than they can obtain by non-exploitative means.  This latter plainly justifies exploitation, either in the name of equality, or in the name of distributing from each according to ability and to each according need.  This is simply because it is at least logically possible that, even if they employ non-exploitative methods, some people may obtain more than they need, and more than others hold, and others may, perhaps because they are physically or mentally disabled, obtain less than they need, or less than others hold.  The belief that this is unjust surely entails that justice requires taking from those who have more (than they need, or just more than others) a portion of the holdings that they acquired by non-exploitative means, and giving it to others who have less (than they need, or just less than others) than others were able to obtain by non-exploitative means.  These latter people are, then, surely entitled to more than they can obtain by non-exploitative means, and it would not, therefore, be an injustice for them to take what they are entitled to from others.

All this means that either socialists must admit that the fact that a distribution arose by non-exploitative means is neither necessary or sufficient to declare it just or that justice can require exploitation, or they must admit that, provided a set of holdings came about by non-exploitative means, the fact that it is distributed unequally, or that some people do not give according to ability or receive according to need, is not sufficient to declare it unjust.

Personally, I adhere to a historical view of justice that says that a distribution is just if it came about by people voluntarily exercising rights they held under a previous just distribution.  This would mean that rights were not violated in the creation of a new distribution of holdings.  If, in the mean time, I exercise my rights in a way that others claim involves my being exploited, but is a way that I want to exercise them, then it is no business of theirs, and preventing me from doing so entails preventing me from exercising my rights.  In short, if I want to be exploited and can be so by exercising my rights, proper respect for my rights means letting me be exploited.

 “Anarcho”-capitalists are simply apologists for existing class tyranny and exploitation

This claim is entirely erroneous: The central anarcho-capitalist theorist Murray Rothbard, in an unpublished letter, wrote

For some time I have come to the conclusion that the grave deficiency in the current output and thinking of our libertarians and “classical liberals” is an enormous blind spot when it comes to big business.  There is a tendency to worship Big Business per se… and a corollary tendency to fail to realize that while big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market, that in the contemporary world of total neo-mercantilism and what is essentially a neo-fascist “corporate state,” bigness is a priorihighly suspect, because Big Business most likely got that way through an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.19

Heavily conservative-leaning anarcho-capitalist economist Hans-Herman Hoppe, on the core elements of Marxist class theory, has announced “I claim that all of them are essentially correct.”20  Likewise, at the first New York Libertarian Conference, The Libertarian Forum reported

Mario J. Rizzo, an honors senior in economics at Fordham University, proved to be one of the stars of the Conference, giving a brilliant paper standing Marx on his head, and arguing that, in the kind of interventionist, corporate state economy that we have today, business profits indeed tend to be an index of exploitation of the rest of society, since they are usually derived from the use of State privilege.  In short, much of Marx, while totally fallacious for competitive, free-market capitalism, turns out to be unwittingly applicable to the state-monopoly system that we suffer under today.21

So, radical, extreme, “privatise everything” defenders of capitalism, essentially endorse Marxist criticisms of existing society and its distributions of wealth?  How can this be the position of extreme and radical defenders of capitalism?  Quite simply, it can be so if we reject that idea that existing economic relations are truly capitalistic, rather than some form of statist corporatism.

Walter Block explains, in Defending the Undefendable, that “the possibility of profits shows the scope of unrequited trades and that the actual earnings of these profits indicates that these gaps are being filled.”22  Thus making a profit is both only possible for those that are fulfilling a consumer’s actual desire for an exchange that is not being fulfilled by others, whilst serving as an incentive to do so, but also allows those profits to signal to producers that there are unrequited trades that need making.  Thus profits are beneficial, and preventing the earning of them is harmful.

However, after explaining this, Block makes the very important caveat most relevant to this section of my discussion: He says that this account “applies only to the free market economy.”  Block insists that “a sharp, rigid, and basic distinction must be drawn between the profits that can be ‘earned’ through government subsidies and influence, in short, through the system of corporate-state capitalism.”  Only if exchanges are voluntary can we say that profit are based on the voluntary choices of individual actors, and indicate and encourage solution of the wants or needs of the economy.  On the other hand, “Profits in the ‘mixed’ economy (an economy that has elements of the free market as well as of coercion) might well de due to no more than the prohibition of competition.”  As an example, Block points out that a tariff on imports would increase demand for domestic products, and so the profits available for supplying those products.  So “it can hardly be concluded from this that any new information was uncovered, or that consumer satisfaction was increased.  If anything the opposite would be the case.  The tie between profits and well-being is thus sundered and we can no longer infer the latter from the former.”23  As such, then, the anarcho-capitalist defence of profit may not apply to existing economic relations, or, if it does, it does so only in a qualified manner.

Likewise, with other anarcho-capitalist justifications of market phenomena, such as advertising.  Block defends advertising as a tool by which attention is drawn to a product, and to information about a product, thereby overcoming problems that would render the market inefficient without it.  Advertising thereby ensures that productive exchanges occur that might not have otherwise.  However, he then says, “Advertising can be defended only when it occurs on the free market.  In the case of government or government-aided big business advertising, none of the free market defences hold.  Here people are forced to pay for the advertising whether they choose to buy the product or not.  When the government advertises, it is with tax money collected on an involuntary basis.”24

The issue is, of course, that when anarcho-capitalists defend capitalism, their doing so can only be considered a defence of the status quo if the status quo is capitalist.  But it isn’t – it is a mixed economy.  Government agencies regulate and control our economies, and this allows exploitation of consumers or workers (“suppose the employers mutually agree not to hire workers at more than 5c per hour ... such agreements can only succeed with state aid”25) by members of the regulated industries.  “Regulation agency after regulation agency, from the ICC and CAB to FTC, FPC and others, have been shown to be regulating industry not for the benefit of the consumer, but for the benefit of the industry as against the consumer.  This is not an accident.  There is a reason for it.”  This reason, Block explains, is because “each of us is a purchaser of literally thousands of items, but producers of only one.  Our ability to influence regulatory legislation passed by the state is, therefore, much more concentrated as producers than as consumers.  Government agencies, accordingly, tend to regulate in favor of the producing industry rather than the mass of consumers.  In fact, government regulatory agencies tend to be set up by the very industries they regulate.”26

So, anarcho-capitalists may defend unequal incomes that arise as a result of voluntary exchanges: “when wealth is earned honestly, there is nothing inappropriate about being able to receive a greater share of goods or services”.  On the other hand, though, “It is, of course, unfair to allow the rich to obtain a greater share of goods and services, to the degree that many of them amassed their fortunes not through the market, but because of government aid.  However, eliminating the monetary system in order to rid it of illicitly gathered fortunes would be like throwing out the baby with the bath water.  The answer lies in directly confiscating the ill-gotten wealth.”27

Confiscation of the results of state enforced exploitation?  Expropriation?  Yes, anarcho-capitalists have even advocated this.  Anarcho-capitalists defend property rights, of course: but only over justly acquired property.  Unjustly acquired property they readily condemn, and this condemnation implies that much property held in present society may be illegitimately held.  So Rothbard actually condemns an economist that “managed to smuggle into his discussion [in defence of market activity] an unexamined ethic: that all goods ‘now’ (the time and place at which the discussion occurs) considered private property must be accepted and defended as such.”  Such an ethic would imply that “all private property titles designated by any existing government (which has everywhere seized the monopoly of defining titles to property) must be accepted as such.”  Such an ethic is “blind to all considerations of justice” and must ultimately “also defend every criminal in the property he has managed to expropriate.”  Hence Rothbard finds that he must “conclude that the utilitarian’s simply praising a free market based on all existing property titles is invalid and ethically nihilistic.”28

So Rothbard says that “we cannot simply say that the great axiomatic moral rule of the libertarian society is the protection of property rights” because criminals have no right to keep property they have stolen, or aggressors to property they have obtained by aggression.  “In short, we cannot simply talk of defense of ‘property rights’ or of ‘private property’ per se...  We may therefore only speak of just property or legitimate property.”29

This would entail that anarcho-capitalists do not defend all existing claims of private property: They would not defend property rights in the profits of those who gain those profits due to state aggression.  Indeed, as Block has been quoted as saying, such wealth may be confiscated.

In terms of how this confiscation is to be decided, Rothbard recognises the principle of being innocent until proved guilty.  He says that for any property currently claimed and used, (a) if we know clearly that there was no unjust origin to the current title, then the current title is just; but (b) if we don’t obviously know that the origins of the current title were unjust, but can’t find out either way, then ownership we can consider it unowned to be appropriated by the first person to homestead it...  which is the current owner of the title.  So, if we know the origins of a title are just, the present owner is the just owner, if we can’t be sure that the origins are unjust, again the present owner is the just owner.  However, Rothbard goes on to say, (c) if we do know the origins of the present title were unjust, but (c1) also know that the present holder of the title did not perpetrate the injustice, and we cannot find a rightful owner, then the title becomes unowned to become the just property of the person who homesteads it, which must be the present possessor.  But, (c2) if we know that the origins of the title are unjust, and that the present title holder is one of the criminals that stole the property, then the present holder may justly be deprived of it.  If the rightful owner (the victim of the theft, or somebody that can it can be proved would have been an heir) cannot be identified, so we cannot identify anybody that rightfully owns the property, but somebody that doesn’t (the present holder) then the property should be treated as not being rightfully owned by anybody yet, and so may be justly appropriated by the first party to homestead it (with the present holder in this case excluded from attempting to homestead it, since he is guilty for its having been stolen).  And (d) if the present title is unjust, and a rightful owner (the original victim or an heir) can be identified then the title should revert to him.30

Hoppe argues that it is fulfilled in the Austro-libertarian framework of looking at the world, once we understand that the ruling class is distinguished by its access to state power.  This follows from Hoppe’s new definition of exploitation, which occurs when a person successfully claims partial or full control over scarce resources that he has not homesteaded, saved, or produced, nor acquired contractually from a previous producer-owner.  The state can be seen as a firm devoted entirely to the task of exploitation in this sense.  This exploitation creates victims, who can overthrow their exploiters once they develop a consciousness of the possibility of an exploitation-free society in which private property is universally respected and not systematically violated by a ruling class.31

Using these means, Rothbard is able to conclude that if A stole B’s horse, and then C came along and stole the horse from A, we cannot condemn C as a thief, since he is not violating any just property title held by A over the horse, and may even be performing a virtuous act by depriving A of the fruits of his aggression.  “Of course, it would still be better if he returned the horse to B, the original victim.  But even if he does not, the horse is far more justly in C’s hands than it is in the hands of A, the thief and criminal” so long as B cannot be identified.32  On this basis Rothbard says that “The libertarian sees the State as a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called ‘taxation’ and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around.  Therefore any property in the hands of the State is in the hands of thieves, and should be liberated as quickly as possible.”  Since, unlike B, the victim of horse theft, the victim of state theft is not readily identifiable, this either means turning the property over to tax payers, giving them shares in it according to how much they paid, or selling it and giving them the proceeds, or it means that we “grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State.  Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but have no moral complicity in the State’s aggression.  These become the ‘homesteaders’ of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners.”  So, for example “the State universities...  is property built on funds stolen from the taxpayers.  Since the State has not found or put into practice a way of returning ownership of this property to the taxpaying public, the proper owners of this university are the ‘homesteaders’, those who have already been using and therefore ‘mixing their labor’ with the facilities...  This means student and/or faculty ownership of the universities.”  Schools and Universities to the students and teachers, then!  In fact, those who regard libertarians and anarcho-capitalists as mere defenders of existing private enterprise should be surprised at Rothbard’s fullest statement on the matter:

But if Columbia University, what of General Dynamics?  What of the myriad of corporations which are integral parts of the military-industrial complex, which not only get over half or sometimes virtually all their revenue from the government but also participate in mass murder?  What are their credentials to “private” property?  Surely less than zero.  As eager lobbyists for these contracts and subsidies, as co-founders of the garrison state, they deserve confiscation and reversion of their property to the genuine private sector as rapidly as possible.  To say that their “private” property must be respected is to say that the property stolen by the horsethief and the murdered [sic] must be “respected”.

But how then do we go about destatizing the entire mass of government property, as well as the “private property” of General Dynamics?  All this needs detailed thought and inquiry on the part of libertarians.  One method would be to turn over ownership to the homesteading workers in the particular plants; another to turn over pro-rata ownership to the individual taxpayers.  But we must face the fact that it might prove the most practical route to first nationalize the property as a prelude to redistribution.  Thus, how could the ownership of General Dynamics be transferred to the deserving taxpayers without first being nationalized enroute?  And, further more, even if the government should decide to nationalize General Dynamics – without compensation, of course – per se and not as a prelude to redistribution to the taxpayers, this is not immoral or something to be combated.  For it would only mean that one gang of thieves – the government – would be confiscating property from another previously cooperating gang, the corporation that has lived off the government.33

Of course, Rothbard does not presume that these nationalised corporations should long remain in state hands.  He draws inspiration from the reforms towards workers control in Yugoslavia in the 1950s:

Beginning in 1952, Yugoslavia has been de-socializing at a remarkable rate.  The principle the Yugoslavs have used is the libertarian “homesteading” one: the state-owned factories to the workers that work in them!  The nationalized plants in the “public” sector have all been transferred in virtual ownership to the specific workers who work in the particular plants, thus making them producers’ coops, and moving rapidly in the direction of individual shares of virtual ownership to the individual worker.  What other practicable route toward destatization could there be?  The principle in the Communist countries should be: land to the peasants and the factories to the workers, thereby getting the property out of the hands of the State and into private, homesteading hands.34

In practice, then, Rothbard’s policy entails that any firm that makes most of its money from the state, or gains its property from the state (perhaps by eminent domain) should be seized by the state (nationalised) and turned over to become the private property of the workers who work in it.  This transfer of control of the means of production to the workers, the fields to the peasants, would, however, be complete.  As such it would, or should, be completely different from state socialist “reforms.”  For instance, in El Salvador, Duarte repeatedly claimed that peasants, under his system of land reforms, had become the owners of the land they worked.  But the reality was much different, since, as Roy Childs pointed out, “If the peasants had become the true owners of the land, they would have the right to use, control and dispose of it as they saw fit”.35  In reality, though, Duarte’s decrees stated that “exploitation of said land is [to be] carried out in accordance with the government’s agricultural plans” and “exploitation of said land guarantees the minimum productivity levels, in accordance with national percentages for the crop under exploitation.” Ultimately, the reforms planned that “land and other real property thus acquired shall be administered as a joint venture of the government and such organizations.”  So much for workers control!  So much for “the fields to peasants”!  Childs describes the libertarian alternative to this state socialism that should have been followed in El Salvador:

True land reform of a libertarian variety would have returned feudal land titles to the peasants who worked the farms, and would have allowed them to decide how the land was to be used: communally, individually, in family plots, or in some combination of these.  The peasants would have been free to divide up the land, if they wished, to organize formally as a collective, to decide what crops they would grow, to seek competitive sources for capital, to organize to market their products in a newly-freed economy, to bargain freely to set the prices of their crops and to arrange to export their products themselves – whatever they wished.  But as the agrarian reform was organized, none of this was to take place.

Likewise, despite Rothbard’s hopes and praises of the Yugoslavian worker’s control experiment, fuller control of the enterprises should have been given to workers.  As David Friedman notes, “Yugoslavian workers’ cooperatives, which in effect, own factories as corporations own them here, must get capital for investment either from their own profits or the government.”  The trouble with this is that some cooperatives that could get a large return from capital investments simply do not have the profits needed to finance those investments, whilst others cooperatives may well have large profits but do not need additional investments.  The obvious solution, and the one that follows from saying that workers really do control their work places, and really are entitled to the incomes they generate in them, “is to all cooperatives to make loans to each other and charge interest.”  In Yugoslavia workers were forbidden from agreeing to lend their profits, generated in their factories and workshops, with their means of production, to anybody else, on whatever terms they were able to find agreement to.  This plainly diminishes the sense in which they are to have control over their means of production and the products of their labour, and any pretence that they should own such things.

Likewise, in Yugoslavia, Friedman noted “A worker cannot sell his share of his cooperative (which entitles him to a share of the profits), and he loses it on retirement.”  This means that workers who control the co-op have no incentive to make investments in the coop who’s return will only come after they have retired – investment will only occur if their is a high short-term gain, so the co-op will be manage to maximise short term income, not long-term (in some cases, this would lead to environmental depletion and damage).  “The solution is to make the share transferable, like a share of stock.  Its market value would depend on the expected future earnings of the cooperative.  A long-term investment would lower the worker’s dividends but raise the value of his share.  This reform, when and if it is made, will constitute a further step in the effective conversion of Yugoslavia to a capitalist society.”36


So, let me sum up:

Anarcho-capitalists insist that they do qualify as anarchists, since they meet the dictionary definition (as well as Tucker’s).  Socialist anarchists, on the other hand, state that anarcho-capitalists do not so qualify, since a proper definition of “anarchist” would be richer, reflecting the fact that historically anarchists have opposed capitalism, or been socialists of some sort.  However, this sort of approach amounts to saying that “anarchism is what anarchism has been,” a vacuous tautology that also entails that anarchist communists cannot be anarchists since before them anarchists opposed communism.

It has been said that anarcho-capitalism cannot be a form of anarchism since it accepts as legitimate some authoritarian or hierarchical relationships, namely those within the firm.  In response, first some anarcho-capitalists oppose such relationships.  However, secondly, even accepting that some anarcho-capitalists could be happy with such authoritarian relationships, this could only be good grounds to disqualify them as anarchists if we also disqualified figures that epitomise traditional anarchism, such as Mikhail Bakunin, since Bakunin admitted to being happy with “voluntarily submission” to authorities selected because of their merit to the “submittee.”  Likewise, claims that anarcho-capitalist and individualist anarchist advocacy of voluntary organisations to enforce rights against encroachment recreates statism apply equally to socialist anarchist advocacy of revolutionary organisation against oppression.

Beyond this, socialist anarchists claim that they support voluntary socialism, as opposed to state socialism.  However, if this is the case then they must think that people have a right to some sort of alternative to socialism, i.e. have a right to form or participate in capitalist alternatives.  But in that case, we have a situation no different to that which anarcho-capitalists advocate, namely one in which people are secure in their property and the agreements they form with others, and some people use their person and property, or that of consenting others, to set up socialist arrangements and institutions.  Complaints that anarcho-capitalists are happy with unconsenting others excluding people from resources they could use to establish these alternatives fall flat when it becomes apparent that anarchist socialists also support this, in order to ensure decentralisation.

Socialist anarchists, along with other socialists, charge capitalism with being unjust.  However, they do so by endorsing simultaneously sets of incompatible theories of justice, and ultimately are forced to choose between them, either rejecting the charge that capitalism is unjust due to exploitation, or rejecting egalitarianism, or “distribution according to needs.”

And, finally, we saw that, contrary to providing an intellectual cover for an existing corporate elite, anarcho-capitalism provides a radical alternative to existing socio-economic relations.


(1) Tucker, Benjamin R, 1898 (1969), Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy To Write One, New York: Haskell Press, p. 9.

(2) Kropotkin, Peter, 1910 (1987 (1993)), “Anarchism” and “Anarchist Communism”, Its Basis and Principles, London: Freedom Press, p. 20.

(3) Ibid, p. 12.

(4) Ibid, p. 12.

(5) See David M Hart, in Hart, David M, 1981, “Gustave de Molinari and the Anti-Statist Liberal Tradition Part 1,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Summer 1981), (Centre for Libertarian Studies) also at

(6) Friedman, David, edition n/k, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, Open Court: La Salle, Illinois, pp. 144-145.






(12) Kropotkin, Peter, 1910 (1987 (1993)), “Anarchism” and “Anarchist Communism”, Its Basis and Principles, London: Freedom Press, p. 18.


(14) Tannehill, Linda and Morris, edition n/k, The Market for Liberty, San Francisco, CA: Fox and Wilkes, pp. 10.

(15) Tuccille, Jerome, edition n/k, It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand, San Francisco, CA: Fow and Wilkes, p. 17.

(16) Spooner, Lysander, “The Law of Intellectual Property,” p. 1.

(17) Nozick, Robert, edition n/k, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Oxford, UK/Cambridge, MA: Blackwells, p. 160.  We should also note the market anarchist Benjamin Tucker, who saw himself as a socialist, and his reply to objections from Johann Most, an anarchist communist/syndicalist:

In No 121 of Liberty, criticising an attempt of Kropotkine to identify Communism and Individualism, I charged him with ignoring “the real question of whether Communism will permit the individual to labor independently, own tools, sell his labor or his products, and buy the labor or products of others.”  In Herr Most’s eyes this is so outrageous that, in reprinting it, he puts the words “the labor of others” in large black type.  Most being a Communist, he must, to be consistent, object to the purchase and sale of anything whatever but why he should particularly object to the purchase and sale of labor is more than I can understand.  Really, in the last analysis, labor is the only thing that has any title to be bought or sold.  Is there any just basis of price except cost?  And is there anything that costs except labor or suffering (another name for labor)?  Labor should be paid!  Horrible, isn’t it?  Why, I thought that the fact that it is not paid was the whole grievance.  “Unpaid labor” has been the chief complaint of all Socialists, and that labor should get its reward has been their chief contention.  Suppose I had said to Kropotkine that the real question is whether Communism will permit individuals to exchange their labor or products on their own terms.  Would Herr Most have been so shocked?  Would he have printed that in black type?  Yet in another form I said precisely that.

If the men who oppose wages – that is, the purchase and sale of labor – were capable of analyzing their thought and feelings, they would see that what really excites their anger is not the fact that labor is bought and sold, but the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labor, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labor by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labor, and that, but for the privilege, would be enjoyed by all gratuitously.  And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one.  But the minute you remove privilege, the class that now enjoy it will be forced to sell their labor, and then, when there will be nothing but labor with which to buy labor, the distinction between wage-payers and wage-receivers will be wiped out, and every man will be a laborer exchanging with fellow-laborers.  Not to abolish wages, but to make everyman dependent upon wages and secure to every man his wholewages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism.  What Anarchistic Socialism aims to abolish is usury.  It does not want to deprive labor of its reward; it wants to deprive capital of its reward.  It does not hold that labor should not be sold; it holds that capital should not be hired at usury.   

But, says Herr Most, this idea of a free labor market from which privilege is eliminated is nothing but “consistent Manchesterism.”  Well, what better can a man who professes Anarchism want than that?  For the principle of Manchesterism is liberty, and consistent Manchesterism is consistent adherence to liberty.  The only inconsistency of the Manchester men lies in their infidelity to liberty in some of its phases.  And this infidelity to liberty in some of its phases is precisely the fatal inconsistency of the Freiheit school, – the only difference between its adherents and the Manchester men being that in many of the phases in which the latter are infidel the former are faithful, while in many of those in which the latter are faithful the former are infidel.  Yes, genuine Anarchism is consistent Manchesterism, and Communistic or pseudo-Anarchism is inconsistent Manchesterism.  “I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word.”

(18) Foxwell, in Menger 1889, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, London: Macmillan, p. xx.

(19) The earliest source I have for this reference is Rothbard quoted by Peter Klein, at  In the comments at this website, Klein mentions that a book of Rothbard’s correspondence may be in the works, but is, as yet, not finalised.

(20) Hoppe, Hans-Hermann, 2006, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006, pp. 117–38.

(21) The Libertarian Forum, November 1, 1969, p. 1.

(22) Ibid, p. 182.

(23) Ibid, p. 182.

(24) Ibid, p. 68.

(25) Ibid, p. 204.

(26) Ibid, p. 67.

(27) Ibid, p. 86.

(28) Rothbard, Murray, 1998 (2002), The Ethics of Liberty, p. 52.

(29) Ibid, p. 51-2.

(30) Ibid, p. 58-9.

(31) Tucker, Jeffrey A., “Marxism Without Polylogism,”

(32) Rothbard, Murray, “Confiscation and The Homestead Principle,” The Libertarian Forum, June 15, 1969, p. 3.

(33) Ibid.

(34) Ibid.

(35) Childs, Roy, “El Salvador: The Myth of Progressive Reform,” in Childs, 1994, LibertyAgainst Power: Essays by Roy A. Childs, Jr., Fox and Wilkes: San Francisco, pp. 79-80.

(36) Friedman, David, edition n/k, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, Open Court: La Salle, Illinois, p. 96.