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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/4/13

Anarchism, libertarianism, and the way forward

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In Are Occupiers aiding Grover Norquist? I presented a critique of anarchism, claiming that anarchist Occupiers were unwittingly aiding right-wing libertarians and ignoring the benefits of government. Dave Fryett responded to my analysis in On the Appeal of Anarchism, a Response to Don Smith's "Are Anarchists in Occupy Aiding Grover Norquist?".  In this article I want to further develop my understanding of anarchism and to reply to some of Fryett's comments.

When many people hear the word "anarchists" they think of violent youths breaking windows and starting fires. That certainly is not the notion of anarchism I have in mind in this article.  Nevertheless, I think that because of the bad associations, anarchists would benefit from renaming their movement "cooperativism", or something positively positive like that.

Anarchism is "a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies based on non-hierarchical free associations."  Anarchists oppose both government power and corporate power.

Nathan Schnieder makes this point in The government shutdown -- an anarchist dream?.  Anarchism isn't just a preference for the absence of government, he says. "The rule -- the -archy -- it seeks to dismantle is also the rule of those with too much property over those with not enough, and of those whose privilege of race or gender gives them priority over others. Anarchists seek a society in which ordinary people can freely and democratically govern themselves, organizing to meet everyone's basic needs."

David Fryett, in the article referenced above, explains anarchism like this:

At the core of our thought is equality, anarchism is unimaginable without it. And equality not just in one aspect of life but in all. Anarchism is the end of hierarchical authority, the master-servant relationship, the end of the rule of coercive power. Thus our notion of economic justice requires the abolition of capitalism, which is positively medieval in its hierarchy. For us corporatism and capitalism are undifferentiated, and the distinction made between the two in contemporary political parlance utterly specious, a canard. Thus our goals are incompatible with those of the Democrats who want to tame capitalism, not eliminate it.

In its entirety, the state is the enforcement apparatus of ruling class power.

Modern day anarchists, who were influential in the Occupy Movement, want a direct transition to a horizontal, non-hierarchical society -- not by first going through an authoritarian state like the ones that developed in the USSR and China, and not by relying on the kind of state we see in Western Europe and America, where the state is supposed to regulate and balance the corporations.

Libertarianism is "a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end. This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom, and voluntary association. It is the antonym to authoritarianism. Different schools of libertarianism disagree over whether the state should exist and, if so, to what extent."

In America, the most common form of libertarianism nowadays is right-libertarianism,  which supports private property rights and laissez-faire capitalism.  Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers support that kind of libertarianism.  According to right-libertarianism, the state should exist minimally: only to enforce laws and protect private property.  (But there are also libertarian socialists, who favor common ownership and management of property and the means of production.)

So, in short:  libertarians want to get rid of, or shrink, government but are OK with corporations, while anarchists want to get rid of, or weaken, both government and corporations.

And replace it with what?

Cooperative, local, worker-owned/managed ventures.

Noam Chomsky is an anarcho-syndicalist. Anarcho-syndicalism is radical industrial unionism  leading to worker control and ownership. Chomsky defines it as "a conception of a very organized society, but organized from below by direct participation at every level, with as little control and domination as is feasible, maybe none."

In The Kind of Anarchism I Believe in, and What's Wrong with Libertarians Chomsky explains the difference between libertarianism and anarchism this way:

What's called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn't really exist anywhere else -- a little bit in England -- permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society. Actually that has been believed in the past. Adam Smith for example, one of his main arguments for markets was the claim that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would lead to perfect equality. Well, we don't have to talk about that! " Anarchism is quite different from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny. Including the kind of tyranny that's internal to private power concentrations."

On forming groups

I have some questions about this.  What force or convention will prevent private power concentration? What if a bunch of people decide to join up in a group (or gang or corporation or militia) and to use their power to harm others?  Who or what will stop them from doing that?

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Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, activist, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See and for my (more...)

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