How a Libertarian Capitalist Became a Libertarian Socialist
By Chris Wilson / world.std.com

A couple years back when I was working toward a philosophy major in college, I wrote a rebuttal on the section of The Anarchist FAQ that covers anarcho-capitalism. I removed the rebuttal from the web because I didn't have the time or inclination to continue to maintain it or expand upon it. Three years later, I've come to find myself disagreeing with my old rebuttals and agreeing with the FAQ. What follows is my story.

I began my tenure as a right-wing libertarian by reading Ayn Rand, who dissuaded me from the rather muddled left-wing sympathies I held at the time. I was only a Rand enthusiast for a short time, however, and I soon developed an interest in the "more reasonable" free-market thinkers, such as von Mises, Nozick, Hayek, David Friedman, etc. I was an ardent supporter of unimpeded and "stateless" capitalism for the course of almost 3 years, and developed and/or adopted every possible philosophical and economic justification that can be conceived of for its defense. Before I graduated college, however, I expelled my belief that one can claim private property rights upon land. I advocated a labor theory of property, and considering that land is not a produced good, I found that it wasn't defensible according to the principles I advocated. I concluded that one who hoards land is placing a restriction upon the liberty of others to use it or to travel by way of it without justification, and hence the claimant should compensate them by paying a land value tax to earn exclusive rights to it.

Despite my new Georgist land-socialist views, I still advocated a capitalist economic system with respect to produced goods. However, I did become much more critical of corporations, and I became upset with other libertarians for their lack of focus upon the injustices perpetrated by corporations. I wanted to abolish corporate charters, subsidies, intellectual property, regulatory privileges, land grants, etc., as I considered them violations of liberty. If you press a right-libertarian about the privileges corporations receive, they usually say, "Oh, well I'm against those", but they hardly ever take the initiative in directing any criticism against them. More often than not, they praise the alleged "virtues" of corporations, while focusing upon how the government violates these corporations "rights".

When I first became an "anarcho-capitalist", I thought corporate abuses could be avoided in an economic realm in which corporations didn't enjoy as many regulatory privileges. I initially liked all the "dot coms" and "ecommerce" companies -- I considered the Internet industry to be one in which free market principles were respected, contrary to so many other industries. However, in the past year, I've seen all these companies become just as ruthless as any multinational. I thought that all of the "dot coms" were small as a result of the industry functioning according to genuine free market principles, but in reality, they were just small *to begin with*. Most of them are small no longer. Furthermore, the more prosperous of these companies are now seeking to benefit from state privilege, which is evident in the many intellectual property lawsuits that are currently pending in the ecommerce industry.

When I was discovering this (and becoming a hardcore Linux user in the process), I was working as a customer service representative in a large and very well known software corporation (not Microsoft). The act of *working* instead of going to school gave me a new respect for organized labor movements. Additionally, it gave me an appreciation for the extent to which corporations screw their customers. As I spent the next six months working for this producer of buggy software, I came to the realization that my job as a "customer service" rep involved little more than developing clever rationalizations to defend this company's fraudulent activities. Most other reps bought into the company's rationalizations -- most of the employees, including the supervisors, sincerely believed that the company provided "world class" service to the customers, which couldn't be further from the truth. I'm ashamed to say that I bought into *some* of the propaganda as a result of searching for ways to pacify irate customers. And because of the position that we were in -- that is, being constantly screamed at and criticized for policies beyond our control -- it was impossible to refrain from becoming extremely resentful towards rightfully upset customers. Finally, the company adopted some nasty new policies which were so obviously indefensible that I had to end my relationship with the company on general principle. I left completely disillusioned with corporate culture.

Although I favored free markets, I did so because I considered them to be necessitated by the principles that I held. Principles always came *first* for me -- not economics. However, around the time that I quit working at the software corporation, it finally truly sank in that businesses couldn't *care less* about principles. The questions "Is it right?" or "Is it just?" do not even enter the minds of the decision makers of capitalist businesses -- such questions are beside the point in their eyes. Although I was a right-libertarian at the time, I held my views because I genuinely believed that they followed logically from my beloved principle of self-government. Even though I knew that *many* capitalist businesses were completely lacking in principles, I did ignorantly believe that this was only true of large government aided corporations. It was very disheartening to learn over time that this fact applies to *most* businesses, regardless of whether or not they happen to be corporations that profit from state favor. If they don't actually receive favors from the state, then it is typically their *aim* to receive them.

A week after I quit the software company, I got lucky and snagged a job providing tech support at a local ISP. I thought to myself that this company, being a local business, would be fundamentally different. While I do greatly prefer working for the ISP to working for the mega-software giant, it quickly became obvious to me that the motivations and principles (or lack thereof) of the president and major shareholders of the ISP are no different from that of any major corporation. Although the ISP is relatively small as of now, it doesn't aim to remain as such for very long. I will say that an ISP's expansion is generally not favored by employees, as it forces us to take responsibility for customer issues that we're in no position to fix (as was so common with the software company). Furthermore, those who run the company still think of the employees as a cost to be minimized. The rule is to hire as few as possible, pay them as little as possible, and make them work as often as possible. Since starting with the company, I've taken on many more responsibilities than just tech support, but my wages haven't risen. Despite the technical nature of my job, the workers at the nearby grocery store make more than I, as they're unionized and I'm not.

My experience in the work world forced me to seriously reconsider my advocacy of capitalism in any form. As I was still very committed to libertarian principles, I began to study the "socialist anarchists". (I put "socialist anarchist" in quotes, as I now consider such a term to be a redundancy -- anarchists are necessarily socialists.) I forced myself to consider the fundamental disagreement that separates Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Malatesta from Rand, von Mises, and Friedman. My answer to myself: The advocates of capitalism believe that one can sign away or sell off one's liberty, whereas anarchists do not. As a right-wing libertarian capitalist, I was of the opinion that one could enter into a morally binding agreement in which one sacrifices one's liberty in exchange for a wage. My position was that a worker would be committing fraud against the employer if he attempted to retain rights to the full product of his labor. My argument was that if an employer has a "legitimate" prior claim upon the capital being used, then he has the right to dictate its terms of use. The laborer doesn't have the right to anything more than what the capitalist agrees to give, just as the capitalist doesn't have the right to take anything more than what the laborer agrees to give. (Of course, I didn't realize in my early "anarcho-capitalist" days that capitalists almost always demand more than what the worker initially agrees to give.)

My current position is that one cannot be ethically bound by agreements that restrict one's liberty to be self-governing. It has always been my view that one cannot be bound by an agreement to be a slave. Although one can enter into a contract that mandates one to serve as a slave, one should be considered free to cease honoring that contract at any time. However, I hadn't been applying this principle to all forms of domination -- I only applied it to full-time chattel slavery, not to wage slavery, domestic tyranny, etc. When I was working out my views regarding this issue, I decided to simplify my decision by subjecting myself to a thought experiment: Jones is a individual who has zero access to capital, which excludes him from being self-employed. He must must find somebody who will share access to capital if he is to continue to eat. Fortunately, Smith has plenty of capital, and is willing to share it -- under certain conditions of course. Smith says to Jones that he can use Smith's capital to produce, *provided* that Jones engages in 90% of the productivity while Smith engages in 10%. Also, Jones will only receive 10% of the revenues despite all of his hard work, while Smith gets to keep 90% for his hoggish self. Jones agrees to these conditions because he has no other option. Is Jones morally bound by his agreement to allow Smith to keep 8 in 9 parts of what what Jones produces? The capitalist, of course, answers, "Yes", and I once would have given the same answer, even though I knew intuitively that such an arrangement would be grossly unfair. My current answer is "No" -- this relationship between Smith and Jones is inherently exploitive, and Jones is entitled to much better.

That completed my conversion to real anarchism, which is to say *libertarian socialism*. The evolutionary process was slow -- it didn't happen all in one night. I continued to consider myself an individualist anarchist for awhile, and remained more attracted to the ideas of Tucker and Proudhon than any of the social anarchists. But as I read more Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and Rocker and studied the Spanish Civil War and Russian Revolution, I concluded that social anarchism was a better alternative. Unlike the individualist or mutualist varieties of anarchism, anarcho-communism doesn't provide an avenue for capitalism to reestablish itself and it has had partial revolutionary success in the past histories of countries such as Spain and the Ukraine. What initially turned me off to social anarchism is the fact that many of its advocates don't address the prospect of what's commonly called the "tyranny of the majority", which I think is a valid concern. It cannot be emphasized enough that under anarchism, nobody would be forced to join a commune or a federation. If one wishes to be free to work independently of a democratic collective, this freedom would be acknowledged and respected, provided that one doesn't attempt to hoard more resources than one uses or employ people for a wage. Granted, anarchists wouldn't *ban* wage labor, but "agreements" in which workers sign away their liberty would not be enforced.

Since making the transition from right-wing to left-wing libertarianism, I've discovered that factionalism and sectarianism is just as pervasive here as it was there, if not more so. Technology is a good example of an issue that divides the anarchist movement. On one hand, there are the anarcho-primitivist luddites who eschew all forms of complex technology and wish to return to a hunter-gather society, and on the other, there are the anarchists who feel that technology can be beneficial if its development is directed by workers themselves in a manner that is accountable to the communities it affects. I fall somewhere in the middle between the two positions -- I have no desire to return to a hunter/gatherer society, but would also prefer not to rely upon technology that requires a division of labor so extreme that productivity becomes an alienated and meaningless activity. Working within the computer industry, I also understand that when technological complexity transcends our ability to understand it, this is an instance of the machine being in control of us and not vice-versa. Whether technology is a form of liberation or domination is a topic hotly debated by anarchists, but they agree, contra the right-wing "libertarians", that a society in which human-created circumstances force people to "agree" to subject their will to that of a boss is by no means "free".

4.2 ·
9
What's Next
Trending Today
She's With Them - But We've Got Us: a Movement Bigger Than Sanders
Jon Queally · 66,206 views today · The DNC and the Clinton campaign joined forces against the 'political revolution' for one simple reason: they knew it could win. And it still can.
Who Should Bernie Voters Support Now? Robert Reich Vs. Chris Hedges on Tackling the Neoliberal Order
37 min · 30,682 views today · The day after Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at the Democratic National Convention and urged his supporters to work to ensure his former rival wins the presidential race, we host...
Depression-Busting Exercise Tips for People Too Depressed to Exercise
Sarah Kurchak · 17,137 views today · If you’ve struggled with depression at any point in your life, you’ve probably heard some well-meaning soul say “just try to get some exercise, it’s good for your mood!”...
Don't Let Bernie Endorsing Hillary Distract You From What Matters
Tim Hjersted · 16,188 views today · There's been quite a lot of anger, disappointment and attention on Bernie's decision to endorse Clinton the last couple weeks. But I've started to believe this attention on...
How Political Mind Control Works
Joe Brewer · 15,197 views today · The illusion of power IS a kind of real power. There is a lesson in this for the majority of humanity.
History Tells Us What May Happen Next With Brexit and Trump
Tobias Stone · 13,455 views today · It seems we’re entering another of those stupid seasons humans impose on themselves at fairly regular intervals. I am sketching out here opinions based on information, they may...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 13,259 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
The Real Reason White People Say 'All Lives Matter'
John Halstead · 11,416 views today · Why “Black” Makes Us Uncomfortable Dear fellow white people, let’s have an honest talk about why we say “All Lives Matter.” First of all, notice that no one was saying “All...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 10,737 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 8,615 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 8,483 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 8,030 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
Whistling in the Wind: Preserving a Language Without Words
4 min · 6,152 views today · On La Gomera, a small island in Spain’s Canary Islands, the last speakers of a language without words reside. "El Silbo," a whistled communication used in rural and isolated...
"Good" Children - At What Price? The Secret Cost of Shame
Robin Grille and Beth Macgregor · 6,092 views today · A five-month-old baby is lying in his mother's arms. He is close to sleep, then wakes and begins to cry. His mother tells him that he should stop being a naughty boy, and that...
The 6 Grand Illusions That Keep Us Enslaved
Sigmund Fraud · 5,388 views today · For a magician to fool his audience his deceit must go unseen, and to this end he crafts an illusion to avert attention from reality. While the audience is entranced, the...
A Perfect Symbol of Media Capture: DWS Booed, MSNBC Caption Says “Cheered”
Liam Miller · 4,800 views today · Monday morning saw Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former DNC chair, booed offstage at the Florida Democratic Delegation Breakfast; while it was transpiring, MSNBC's caption read...
The Social Construction of Reality
3 min · 4,491 views today · This is deep. "Whose story is defining the context of your reality?"
Sexual Non-Liberation
5 min · 4,246 views today · We pride ourselves on living in a sexually liberated age. But we haven't in fact begun to know how to face up to, or discuss, our true sexual natures.
How Prison Labor Is the New American Slavery and Most of Us Unknowingly Support It
Sara Burrows · 2,594 views today · If you buy products or services from any of the 50 companies listed below (and you likely do), you are supporting modern American slavery
A World War Has Begun - Break The Silence
John Pilger · 2,377 views today · I have been filming in the Marshall Islands, which lie north of Australia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they ask, "Where is...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
How a Libertarian Capitalist Became a Libertarian Socialist