Benjamin Tucker - Anarchist or Capitalist?

By Gary Elkin / theanarchistlibrary.org
Oct 22, 2014
2
Benjamin Tucker - Anarchist or Capitalist?

Editor's note: We found this article about Tucker relevant to today because his views represent such an interesting break from stereotypical views about socialism, markets, anarchism, and the 'left/right' associations we have with all these terms. For instance, that if you favor markets, you're on the right and favor capitalism, and if you favor socialism, you're on the left and favor statism. Tucker fits into neither of these boxes, and we think our modern discourse could benefit from more of this kind of thinking.

Benjamin Tucker was against “capitalism” in the sense of a State-supported monopoly of productive tools and equipment which allows owners to avoid paying workers the full value of their labor. This stance puts him squarely in the libertarian socialist tradition.

Indeed, Tucker referred to himself many times as a socialist. It’s true that he sometimes railed against “socialism,” but in those cases it is clear that he was referring to State socialism. He also made it clear that he is against private property and so supported Proudhon’s idea of “property is theft” and even translated Proudhon’s “What is Property?” where that phrase originated. Tucker advocated possession but not private property, believing that empty land, houses, etc. should be squatted. He considered private property in land use (which he called the “land monopoly”) as one of the four great evils of capitalism. According to Tucker, “the land monopoly... consists in the enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupacy and cultivation... the individual should no longer be protected by their fellows in anything but personal occupation and cultivation of land” [the anarchist reader, p150]. In this his views are directly opposed to those of right libertarians like Murray Rothbard, who advocate “absolute” property rights which are protected by laws enforced either by a “nightwatchman State” or private security forces.

Tucker believed that bankers’ monopoly of the power to create credit and currency is the lynchpin of capitalism. Although he thought that all forms of monopoly are detrimental to society, he maintained that the banking monopoly is the worst form since it is the root from which both the industrial-capitalist and landlordist monopolies grow and without which they would wither and die. For if credit were not monopolized, its price (i.e. interest rates) would be much lower, which in turn would drastically lower the price of capital goods, land, and buildings — expensive items that generally cannot be purchased without access to credit. The freedom to squat empty land and buildings would, in the absence of a State to protect titles, complete the process of reducing rents toward zero.

Following Proudhon, Tucker argued that if any group of people could legally form a “mutual bank” and issue credit based on any form of collateral they saw fit to accept, the price of credit would fall to the labor cost of the paperwork involved in issuing and keeping track of it. He claimed that banking statistics show this cost to be less than one percent of principal, and hence, that a one-time service fee which covers this cost and no more is the only non-usurious charge a bank can make for extending credit. This charge should not be called “interest,” since it is non-exploitative.

Tucker believed that under mutual banking, capitalists’ ability to extact exorbitant fees from workers for the use of expensive tools and equipment would be eliminated, because workers would be able to obtain zero-interest credit and use it to buy their own tools and equipment instead of “renting” them from capitalists. Easy access to mutual credit would result in a huge increase in the purchase of capital goods, creating a huge demand for labor which in turn would greatly increase employees’ bargaining power and thus raise their wages toward equivalence with the value-added produced by their labor.

Tucker’s ideal society is therefore one of small entrepreneurs and independent contractors. Between those who possess capital equipment and those with whom they contract to use the equipment, he envisions a non-exploitative relationship in which value-added would be equitably distributed between them.

It’s important to note that because of Tucker’s proposal to increase the bargaining power of workers through access to mutual credit, his so-called Individualist anarchism is not only compatible with workers’ control but would in fact promote it. For if access to mutual credit were to increase the bargaining power of workers to the extent that Tucker claimed it would, they would then be able to (1) demand and get workplace democracy, and (2) pool their credit buy and own companies collectively. This would eliminate the top-down structure of the firm and the ability of owners to pay themselves unfairly large salaries. Thus the logical consequence of Tucker’s proposals would be a system functionally equivalent in most respects to the kind of system advocated by left libertarians.

Tucker’s system does retain some features of capitalism, such as competition between firms in a “free market.” However, markets are only a necessary condition of capitalism, not a sufficient condition. There can also be a “free market” under socialism, though it would be of a different nature. The fundamental anarchist objection to capitalism is not that it involves markets but that it involves private property and wage slavery. Tucker’s system would eliminate both, which is why he called himself a socialist. Thus Tucker is clearly a left libertarian rather than a forefather of right libertarianism. In this he comes close to what today would be called a “market socialist,” albeit a non-statist variety.

Trending Videos
Indigenous Stories and Perspectives
Videos by Second Thought
Honest Government Ads
Featured Films

How to Use this Library
 

  • To start browsing, interact with the Explore button to filter content by type and topic. 99% of our 5000 video library is entirely free. Selections stack, so you can combine these options to view Documentaries about Economics, for example.

  • Add videos to our library! Half of our best content was added by members.

  • Have a question, site feature idea, or suggestion? We welcome your feedback!

  • Want to support us and watch some great films in the process? Our $5/mo Patrons get access to a growing number of our favorite documentaries that are unavailable for free.

 


 

Films For Action is a library for people who want to change the world.

 

Our mission is to provide citizens with the knowledge and perspectives essential to creating a more beautiful, just, sustainable, and democratic society.

Films For Action was founded in 2006 by a few friends in Lawrence, Kansas, after realizing how essential healthy media is to a healthy democracy.

Over the last 15 years, we've reviewed and curated over 1,000 free documentaries and 4,000 short films, plus over 150 pay-per-view documentaries, spanning 34 topics related to changing the world.

During this time we've been able to reach tens of millions of people - not by owning a TV network or spending truckloads of cash on advertising, but because millions of awesome people keep sharing 'films for action' with their friends on social media - in particular, our 850,000 supporters on Facebook and 70,000 site members. 

One of the coolest things is, thanks to our patrons, our library is ad-free and 100% supported by member donations. The Pay-Per-View films on our site, of course, help support the filmmakers, and 90-100% of the revenue for PPV films hosted by us goes to the filmmakers. 

To thank our $5/mo patron subscribers, we partner with filmmakers to provide access to a growing number of films that are unavailable for free. With just 29 highly-curated films at the moment, it's basically a mini "Netflix for world changers," but its main function is to support the library as a whole, which is 99% free and always will be.

Want to become a patron? Subscribe here. You can cancel or pause your subscription at any time.

If you'd like to know more, want to help out, or you're a filmmaker or distributor looking to collaborate, drop us a line via our contact page. 

You're also welcome and encouraged to submit videos directly to our library. Just click +Add Video at the top of the site and paste the video URL to get started. We share our favorite submissions with our fans on social media and feature them more prominently on the site.

Cheers,  
Tim Hjersted
Co-Founder & Director
Lawrence, KS