The Use of the Word Capitalism (Or, My Follow up Notes to “Introduction” Part 2)

“Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital” By Thonas Hodgskin

Where to Start?

In my previous post I tackled what I meant by “work” in the Introduction. While that hopefully answers a good portion of what an anti-work position may look like (I don’t claim a monopoly on the anti-work position) it isn’t all there is to it. Because for me if you’re going to oppose work then you’re also going to oppose capitalism, at least in one sense or another.

To be blunt, the problem capitalism has (among other things) is that it has so many damn meanings.

Some take Marxist notions of capitalism and believe that capitalism is an exploitative system ruled by bosses, capitalists, etc. Part of this theory is the idea that capitalism creates social antagonisms between the classes in society. And though these antagonisms may exist, one of the chief concerns of capitalism is to convince the proletariat that they have much in common with the bourgeois (or upper middle class) and the upper class.

But as the IWW preamble tells us

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common

Though as an annotated version explains,

What it doesn’t say and doesn’t mean to say, is that no member of the working class has anything in common with any member of the employing class.

We, as individual human beings have a lot in common. We all eat food, drink water, and breath air. We all live and after a bit, we all die. We can even interbreed and have fertile children. We have more in common than horses and donkeys do.

What we, the workers, need and want is in absolute and diametric opposition to what the employers want and think they need. We want more pay for our time, shorter hours, less boring and repetitive work, less dangerous and unhealthy work, and most importantly, control of how we spend the hours and days and years of our short lives. More control over what goods we produce and what service we provide, and how these things are done. More control over the effects of this production on our health, on the health and safety of our neighborhoods and our homes, on this beautiful planet earth.

Though I am not a Marxist or a member of the IWW I can respect both of these approaches. And it is certainly not impossible to recognize the social-antagonisms of capitalism while still extolling the benefits of less work for all. We can see that (here and there) in the words above as well generally speaking from syndicalists (though perhaps not as much as I’d prefer sometimes). Another decent example of showing the social antagonisms of capitalism while still favoring less work for everyone would be the Marxist professor G.A. Cohen on why he is against capitalism.

To an extent all of these things are well and good and by trying to move past them I don’t mean to say they are incorrect or unimportant. I think we can learn things from these perspectives. But more to the point I want to focus on what capitalism means. To do that we have to look beyond just Marxist and syndicalist beliefs. To do this we can look before Marx and his critiques of capitalism and see that the picture wasn’t sunshine and roses then either.

What we find is the political thinker Thomas Hodgskin whose critique of capitalism via Labor Defended Against the Claims of Capital led Marx to call him, “…one of the most important modern English economists.” And whatever his influence on Marx or Marxism he was apparently important enough to have his Labor Defended on Marxism.org with a link to Marx reviewing it in one of Marx’s own writings.

To point this out is to not only say that capitalism had a bad rap before Marx launched his assaults but the more important (and honestly interesting in the end) point that there were, are and can be other formulations of anti-capitalism besides the Marxist one shown above.

The anti-capitalist position that I come from is one that, like Hodgskin, reaffirms the importance of markets but discounts the need for exploitation of labor to take place. I don’t rest my claims on the labor theory of value like he did, not because I know whether it is right or wrong but because I base my beliefs more so on the actual happenings, causes and consequences of the relations (and to be blunt, economics tends to bore me). The reasons that capitalism in its current form exists to begin with has been through a massive subsidy of history and it hasn’t existed through some benign “invisible hand” but an iron fist that has distorted markets from their potential to be liberatory.

Thus my idea of libertarian anticapitalism  is much like and inspired by the individualist and mutualist anarchists of the 19th and 20th century. Whether it is Benjamin Tucker, Voltairine de Cleyre (when she was both anyways), some of Dyer D. Lum’s ideas as well as by extension Josiah Warren and Proudhon and so on.

In that sense I believe that markets could still be a factor in an anarchist society though I take a less centered position on it than others from this position may. So for example with Voltairine’s essay, Anarchism I also try to (like she does) keep ideological distance from any one formulation of an anarchist society and critique where I feel free market anti-capitalism (FMAC) goes wrong. All of this is to say that when it comes to a debate about “capitalism” I feel a bit odd because pending on terms I may be more or less sympathetic to it.

Instead of going through the gauntlet and defining a laundry list of definitions let’s just look through a common one through the lens of FMAC and then explain the FMAC position itself.

Defining Our Terms

One of the most popular and enduring definitions of capitalism that have heard is something like,

Capitalism is simply a system wherein the means of production are privately owned or can be privately owned by individuals.

First, whenever I hear people say large systems of relations and consequences are simply X or Y I am suspicious. It’s not always wrong and sometimes I am more or less sympathetic due to my own experiences and what I think makes sense.

For example if you told me socialism was just simply about society running itself and how society is defined (i.e. a state or no state) makes you a certain sort of socialist, I’d probably be more than less sympathetic. I view a similar sort of definition for libertarianism and feminism. I see them etymologically or essentially in what the common thread is.

For libertarianism it is the concern for individual liberty and the way you define it and try to achieve it makes you a certain kind of libertarian. For feminism, the common thread I have seen is a focus on gender equality. With this I try to see what the individual feminist means by equality, what kinds of equality they are most interested in and how they want to go about achieving that equality. That’s what makes someone a certain sort of feminist to me. I don’t necessarily claim this is the best way to define things but it’s what makes sense to me.

Capitalism seems to have an odd focus on the role of capital in society and in general this can be a fairly innocuous thing by itself. Except that I think the idea should be to unite as many virtues of production as possible and try to maximize flourishing as much possible too.

And my estimation is that by overly focusing on one factor of production and centralizing power and control within it instead of dispersing and equalizing power and authority in as many factors as possible. The attempt of focusing in on this one thing (capital) seems far too narrow, short-sighted and disinterested with the values of labor. And I think this goes for whether you want this idea of capital to be backed by a state or just backed voluntarily as anarcho-capitalists would claim they do.

But back to this claim of capitalism and the private means of production, usually when I see this claim the term means of production isn’t defined.

I’ll define the means of production as,

the items that lend themselves to the production of goods themselves

To give a simple example the things that must be produced in a given factory require certain machines, tools and so on. These things are the means of production. There isn’t anything wrong with these things existing by themselves. And I don’t have anything against the factories themselves as objects or the means of production existing.

The problem with this definition of capitalism (rhetorically speaking) is that it signifies things to socialists. Because if they are being privately held then that means that they are excluded from most people in a given firm. And in turn they are typically held by the capitalists or those who invested and claim those capital goods to begin with.

To a socialist, the laborer can never receive the true product of their labor when they don’t own the very means to create the things that they get value from to begin with. I for one sympathize with the traditional socialist concern here as I don’t see how the workers can flourish economically and be empowered individually and collectively if they do not have ownership over the means of production. And if the product of their labor is being extracted by profits then it seems less likely that they are going to be able to economically flourish for that reason as well.

But like Tucker, I am not interested in outlawing profit or people’s foolish decisions to engage in boss-worker relations. What I am interested in is suggesting that these relations tend to be unequal, less profitable than the workers owning the means of production themselves and dealing among themselves, etc. So insofar as I oppose capitalism in this definition it is because I believe a truly freed market would lend itself to worker cooperatives, collectives and independent contractors a lot more than it would to big corporations or even just standard-fair employer-employee relations.

I for one think it is very much possible to argue against capitalism while also supporting private ownership but obviously it depends on definitions. In the sense I am talking about it, it means worker’s retain their own product of their labor for themselves or choosing to be self-employed and have that same optionOr you could also have temporary associations of independent contractors who all retain their own wages for themselves through collaboration and joint decision making. And so on and so forth. So I don’t have anything essentially against individual people owning the products of their labor if that is what you mean by private. But as I’ll point out a little later on there are also problems with using the word “private” and acting as if it is an unambiguous word.

Another problem with this is that the problem of differential use. Or, in other words, the workers will typically use the means of production a lot more than managers or bosses . This is by no means a universal proposition. Especially in a small store where there aren’t many employees or managers or the store is failing and the managers need to put a lot of effort into keeping the store alive so they can keep their jobs. So differential use isn’t a universal claim against capital, it is just a general one.

Nonetheless, without a more structured claim around it how can the worker hope to ever reclaim the product of their labor and use it as they see fit instead of how the capitalist thinks it should be done? In the latter situation, the capitalist wants to make a profit in the economy. They want (if possible) a superprofit, or a profit that arises through some wild innovation not yet standardized, a risk and other times they come from the benefit of state privileges. And in this economy especially they’re going to get it before the worker gets back much of what they were probably owed. I don’t claim there is any objective way to determine what determines what wages are owed for the workers, that is up for the individual workers who organize however they see fit to determine. I will say that cost the limit of price appeals to me when it is backed by solidaristic communities of mutual aid (also see here, here here and here), social safety nets and mutual banks that way people are able to work, play, slack, be idle or whatever they want to do a lot easier.

This isn’t really the place to extrapolate on what all of this would exactly look like or mean (and to be honest I am not really sure it matters either way) so I’ll just leave it there.

In the previously linked, G.A.Cohen talk Against Capitalism, Cohen also denoted how the workers interest do not have their own interests taken into account but the interests of profit and self-sustainability. This latter problem is a larger problem that Butler Shaffer makes in his book, Calculated Chaos about institutions themselves. These institutional, organizational and economic limitations to firms that center around the means of production being owned privately seem to suggest that even if this is what libertarians are arguing for it doesn’t seem very attractive to anyone who takes the idea of a free people seriously. For what sort of freedom can one have when they are structurally and economically limited in their flourishing via the economic conditions?

Additional problems with this definition is even if you somehow don’t mean that capitalists get a privileged claim to the means of production in a given society without further clarification it certainly can mean it and has historically meant it.

As Roderick Long points out:

…one group hears the phrase “private ownership of the means of production” and thinks, “ah yes, producers getting to keep what they produce,” and the other group hears the same phrase and thinks, “ah yes, producers not being allowed to keep what they produce.

No matter how you slice it the term “capitalism” even if could only somehow mean “privately held means of production” is rhetorically and historically dangerus. If you want to use that phrase in that sense then the least you can do is recognize that and try to define your terms before you suggest that capitalism just simply meaning X. The history of the term capitalism (and so too with socialism) means there is little to no simplicity in defining these terms.

As far as the term “private”, fellow individualist anarchist Charles Johnson says in Sprachkritik: “Privatization” that it isn’t as simple as some libertarians would like to think. This is largely because privatizing something can also mean,

Tax-funded government contracts to corporations like Blackwater or DynCorp for private mercenaries to fight government wars.

Tax-funded government contracts to corporations like Wackenhut for government-funded but privately managed prisons, police forces, firefighters, etc.

Government auctions or sweetheart contracts in which nationalized monopoly firms — oil companies, water works, power companies, and the like — are sold off to corporations, with the profits going into the State treasury, and usually with some form of legally-enforced monopoly left intact after “privatization.”

Yet Another Damn Account schemes for converting government pension systems from a welfare model to a forced savings model, in which workers are forced to put part of their paycheck into a special, government-created retirement account, where it can be invested according to government-crafted formulas in one of a limited number of government-approved investment vehicles offered by a tightly regulated cartel of government-approved uncompetitive investment brokers.”

You can find more on the complications of using the word “privatization” as a simple qualifier here, here, here and here. Though I want to add I am not against the word “private” (as I used it earlier to denote certain situations that I think would fit the term “private” and also situations I’d support). I am just making the case that it isn’t a simple term to use and claim it’s automatically libertarian.

Not only do those who claim they support capitalism on a means of production or privatization basis tread on thin ice with this terminology but it also begets a belief that commonly held private things are just as they stand. Or that they only need minor tweaking to become a libertarian organization. The free market anti-capitalist position denies that the current economy will be our future with just a few minor “tweaks” here and there to corporate management and such.

As Karl Hess said in, Where are the Specifics?,

The truth, of course, is that libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but that it in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which now is called private.

Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold the people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

And in a follow-up article, even Rothbard (during this time anyways) found credence to this view of skepticism when it came to actually-existing and ostensibly “private” property claims and titles,

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. Anyperson or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty.

Thus there is a whole host of problems with this “simple” definition:

1. It is not simple from the beginning due to historical and rhetorical problems

2.Those means of production being held “privately” also has it’s own set of historical and rhetorical problems and in practice have resulted in the concentrated power of capitalists to the detriment of workers (for more see here)

3. It belies certain presumptions of the current scheme of private property ownership and titles that fails to understand the historical reality of systems called capitalism. As well as the way that the state gives artificial property rights to many things that bear no legitimate claim.

Fundamentally having a society whose one of its main goals is to concentrate the means of production privately seems to undermine concerns for centralization that are raised against the state. Not only that but when you have systems that seem to reinforce issues of centralization than you become more susceptible to information problems that, while traditionally apply to state-socialism, can also apply to large firms.

So in the end I don’t find this definition (at best) worth having and at worst it seems to reinforce stigmas of libertarianism that are rightly called out. Centralizing the importance of just one factor of production is narrow, short-sighted and unhelpful for advocates of liberty in the long run.

As Clarence Carson explains in, Capitalism: Yes and No:

One dictionary defines [capitalism] as ‘a system under which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are in large measure privately owned and directed.’ On the face of it, the meaning may appear clear enough. We can come in sight of the difficulty, however, if we turn the whole thing around and look at what is supposed to be signified, shutting out of our minds for the moment the word used to signify it. Suppose, that is, that we have a set of arrangements in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange of goods “are in large measure privately owned and directed.” I am acquainted with such arrangements, both from history and from some present-day actualities.

But why should we call such arrangements capitalism? So far as I can make out, there is no compelling reason to do so. There is nothing indicated in such arrangements that suggests why capital among the elements of production should be singled out for emphasis. Why not land? Why not labor? Or, indeed, why should any of the elements be singled out?”

And as Kevin Carson puts it in, Capitalism: A Good Word for a Bad Thing:

“This is a very telling set of priorities: ‘capitalism,’ as opposed to ‘socialism,’ is not defined by the degree of economic freedom as such; it’s defined by a particular institutional structure which is disproportionately to the benefit of a particular class of market actors.

‘Capitalism,’ simply put, is the most honest term for the unfree market we live under. It’s a system of, by and for the owners of capital; so long as it retains that primary characteristic, it’s ‘capitalist,’ no matter how unfree the market.”

The alternative to this is to support anti-capitalism while also supporting the free market at the same time. But to be anti-capitalist from this perspective we must first understand what that would mean in a free market context. This context has been laid out by various other writers and as we get into the next section we’ll take a look at what some of these folks have had to say.

What does it Mean to be anti-capitalist?

I would suggest the FMAC position is to not oppose capital per se’ or its existence in a given society but how it is treated within the free exchanges that would happen.

For example, if capital as a factor of production is restricted and limited to certain classes of people and whether that is enforced culturally or through a government (I presume the anarcho-capitalists would prefer the former). Or whether it’s allowed for everyone either free of charge or for some sort of cost (the latter of which the anarcho-capitalist may also be arguing for). The central point of emphasis on one factor of production alone seems wrong in any case.

It would appear to me then that the FMAC position is having a freed market that unifies the virtues of free production rather than singling out one single virtue and then saying that should remain a central tenant of it.

So what should be done with capital instead of privatization? Are there credible alternatives?  I would suggest that a few of these potential alternatives may be terms like “socialization” or “mutualization” or something like it. Now, of course socialist/socialism/socialize, all of these have very varied histories and rhetorical devices to them just like capitalism and so I tend to take a zaxlebax position on this and use Ayn Rand’s concept of the “package deal” to discredit both words (at least if they’re used without context and even then I am suspicious of both words…).

So my preference is towards “mutualization” personally, but I don’t claim this is the only credible FMAC term or shift to make.

As Roderick Long explains in, Rothbard’s “Left and Right”: Forty Years Later,

Rand used to identify certain terms and ideas as “anti-concepts,” that is, terms that actually function to obscure our understanding rather than facilitating it, making it harder for us to grasp other, legitimate concepts; one important category of anti-concepts is what Rand called the “package deal,” referring to any term whose meaning conceals an implicit presupposition that certain things go together that in actuality do not.

Suppose I were to invent a new word, “zaxlebax,” and define it as “a metallic sphere, like the Washington Monument.” … In short, I build my ill-chosen example into the definition. Now some linguistic subgroup mightstart using the term “zaxlebax” as though it just meant “metallic sphere,” or as though it just meant “something of the same kind as the Washington Monument.” And that’s fine. But my definition incorporates both, and thus conceals the false assumption that the Washington Monument is a metallic sphere; any attempt to use the term “zaxlebax,” meaning what I mean by it, involves the user in this false assumption. That’s what Rand means by a package-deal term.

Roderick then goes on to explain why this applies to both socialism and capitalism:

Now I think the word “capitalism,” if used with the meaning most people give it, is a package-deal term. By “capitalism” most people mean neither the free market simpliciter nor the prevailing neomercantilist system simpliciter. Rather, what most people mean by “capitalism” is this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world. In short, the term “capitalism” as generally used conceals an assumption that the prevailing system is a free market. And since the prevailing system is in fact one of government favoritism toward business, the ordinary use of the term carries with it the assumption that the free market is government favoritism toward business.

And similar considerations apply to the term “socialism.” Most people don’t mean by “socialism” anything so precise as state ownership of the means of production; instead they really mean something more like “the opposite of capitalism.” Then if “capitalism” is a package-deal term, so is “socialism” — it conveys opposition to the free market, and opposition to neomercantilism, as though these were one and the same.

Likewise I feel myself typically very weary about these sorts of debates. At some point it becomes a question of how much time you’re willing to spend discussing whether you should support “capitalism” or not. For the most part I’ve given up on this sort of conversation. But that doesn’t mean I am apathetic to certain conceptions of when people talk about capitalism. It all depends on what you mean by “capitalism”.

If you’re talking about worker exploitation or you’re talking about the domination of bosses in society over the laboring class, then sure, I’m gonna be up in arms as well. I just don’t know how useful it is to refer to these things as “capitalism” at least without some qualifications. I try to use state-capitalism not because I don’t think capitalism isn’t independently harmful but because I think the state and capitalism are conceptually and historically linked pretty tightly.

Here is a run down of some definitions of capitalism that find helpful from Gary Chartier’s, Advocates of Freed Markets Should Embrace Anti-Capitalism:

capitalism-1 an economic system that features property rights and voluntary exchanges of goods and services.

capitalism-2 an economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government.

capitalism-3 rule — of workplaces, society, and (if there is one) the state — by capitalists (that is, by a relatively small number of people who control investable wealth and the means of production)

Unlike Gary, I am neither pro or anti when it comes to capitalism1, for it depends on what the property rights are based on, how important they are to the given system and so on. If you are a propertarian who believes that property rights are absolute and where individual liberty starts and ends then I probably reject your idea of “property rights”. I am more sympathetic to the less-sticky notions of property rights via mutualists and left-Rothbardians. But if your idea of “voluntary exchange” includes the values of not only voluntariness but also mutual benefit of a given exchange and a concern for subjugation, exploitation, deprivation and so on.

So I think Gary’s own concerns would cause us to also be hesitant to uniformally accept anyone who used capitalism as capitalism1.

Capitalism2 iis what most libertarians are already against to begin with so I won’t doddle on that.

Capitalism3 is the controversial one and the one Gary spends way more time on explaining.

Because of that, let’s take a look at some of his reasons for why libertarians should oppose capitalism3

…in a freed market, absent the kinds of privileges afforded the (usually well-connected) beneficiaries of state power under capitalism-2, wealth would be widely distributed and large, hierarchical businesses would prove inefficient and wouldn’t survive.

And there is extensive evidence of massive interference with property rights and market freedom, interference that has led to the impoverishment of huge numbers of people, in England, the United States, and elsewhere.[6] Freed-market advocates should thus object to capitalism-3 because capitalists are able to rule only in virtue of large-scale, state-sanctioned violations of legitimate property rights.

The first claim is a fairly speculative claim on what freed market structures and incentives would produce without the existence of the state. But it should be noted at the same time that Chartier’s ideas that the state does uphold a lot of what makes the current system isn’t off track. Whether it comes to the many monopolies the state provides, or barriers to entries that are made up of things like patents or copyrights on products. As well as other artificial barriers that prohibit or make it artificially costly to enter the market competing with the old guard of the current economic order. And with all of these things abolished and alternatives being set up it’s a good bet that people would have much more power to realize their own goals through their own means.

Nothing is a sure bet of course but the point of anarchism isn’t to guarantee freedom in some wildly static way. It’s to prove a framework and grounding for people achieving freedom in their own ways so long as no compulsion and aggression are involved. The state and prevailing economic order of ruling capitalists are historically very much reliant on each other to grow and to sustain themselves.

So what happens once you take that conjoint power away from these major forces in society and give it back to the workers and the ruled class?

Chartier postulates that

 …flatter, more nimble organizations would be much more viable than large, clunky ones without government support for big businesses, most people in a freed market would work as independent contractors or in partnerships or cooperatives. There would be far fewer large businesses, those that still existed likely wouldn’t be as large as today’s corporate behemoths, and societal wealth would be widely dispersed among a vast number of small firms.

He isn’t the only one who has said that this would be the result of the state and capitalists losing a lot of their power (of course economics should not ignore culture and the other way around, there’s always going to be “work” to do).

In an article called, Free Market Firms: Smaller, Flatter and More Crowded Roderick Long says,

In the absence of licensure, zoning, and other regulations, how many people would start a restaurant today if all they needed was their living room and their kitchen? How many people would start a beauty salon today if all they needed was a chair and some scissors, combs, gels, and so on? How many people would start a taxi service today if all they needed was a car and a cell phone? How many people would start a day care service today if a bunch of working parents could simply get together and pool their resources to pay a few of their number to take care of the children of the rest?

No one can know for sure that these particular forms will be the result of decentralized knowledge, power and an enhanced ability to improve one’s conditions. But, as I said before, I think it’s a good bet that people will tend (and largely so) towards these positions.

Part of the reason is that Gary, Roderick and other folks on the libertarian-left have given: people typically don’t like being pushed around. And in a big corporation where power is centralized into the boss or even just a small firm where a single manager has the power and you, as the worker, have next to zero besides the power to leave, you’re likely to be pushed around a lot. I know was at my job in Walgreens and there was only one manager sometimes and I still felt powerless, pushed around and like I had very little individual freedom, etc.

Even then, part of me thinks it’s a bit paternalistic to suggest I know what is best for people or what they’ll necessarily want once they’re free of the state and other factors of control in modern society. Perhaps some will go live as hermits and others might just form “partnerships”. These would resemble former employer-employee relations except they are more temporary and the terms of the contract make it so that they have equal (or near equal) status in the relationship. Perhaps this could be expanded upon into group partnership contracts and associations within a given firm. I don’t honestly know for sure and I don’t think the FMAC position is to point towards certainty but towards things much closer to likelihood and probability.

So perhaps in the end, the anti-capitalism that is going on with me personally and a kind that could be happening with anti-work folks is the FMAC position. Anti-capitalism in this sense means an opposition to capitalism2 and capitalism3 while (I think, and I acknowledge I divert from Gary here) on being ambigious about capitalism1 until terms are further defined (as I think Roderick Long suggested with his POOTMOP blog post).

Conclusion: The FMAC Position

But we can’t really understand what this means in practice for the FMAC without understanding the position itself.

In the interest of that let’s take a look at James Tuttle, director of C4SS and author of the article The Center for a Stateless Society and Freed Market Anti-Capitalism and see what we can find. I do not claim that James’ article is the paradigmatic case of FMAC only that it is a suitable, informative and interesting one.

James says that the FMAC position is built up of Diafra (Damage Identified, Find a Route Around) and SbyMC (State by Monocentrism).

The first belies the importance of not only identifying the current system but doing so correctly and also viewing alternative ways outside of it. This puts ourselves in perpetual opposition to systems that would dis-empower people from trying to identify their surrounding structures and find other ways to exist if they are dissatisfied. The FMAC claims that “capitalism” (we’ll get to Jame’s definition of that soon), the state and other monocentric systems are part and parcel of the sorts of institutions and systems that do such.

James also explains that within the ideas of 4th Generational Warfare or Open Source Insurgency this position is closely associated with the ideas of feedback loops. Here, we can contrast our feedback loops with the state’s. For as James says, the state’s loop concerning action is “if you are not my friend then die in fire” or something similar to this. To cut a thousand cuts against the state and other similar institutions in society we’ll need to streamline the approach more and more. I would suggest that this be done through leading by example, education,building alternatives and so on.

But this is where the second part comes in, the dangers of going against monocentric systems. The state, first and foremost must be understood as a monopoly and there are various problems with this monopoly as James points out,

A monopoly on the use of force is undesirable, not only because it is force, but also because of its status as a monopoly. … Monopoly, on the other hand, is morally discouraging, and as it blocks our every attempt to “find a route around” our moral confusion grows until we either submit or explode.

Roderick T. Long points out, in his article “Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections“, with monopoly comes moral problems; “why us? What’s so special about us?”, incentive problems; “why should I attempt to improve production, offer a lower price, or better quality?”, leverage problems; “if the monopolist doesn’t like me, for this or that reason, the price could become impossible to meet or impossibly contingent”, and knowledge problems; “how do I know I am offering the best product for the best price?

Understanding the state as monopoly and thus having the cards tipped in the existing system’s favor, how do we progress towards a more polycentric society, that is, a society made not on single spaces of politics but many? 

First, what do we mean by monocentrism and polycentrism?

James quotes Horia Terpe, in Terpe’s article Between Monocentricity and Polycentricity:

The meaning of polycentricity was understood, both in the original 1961 article and later conceptual refinements, in opposition to monocentricity, as a system with multiple centers of power and decision making that are formally independent of each other.

And James adds,

Monocentric systems, by contrast, have reduced, singular, or hierarchical centers of power and decision making with fewer and fewer formally independent units.

The activities that monocentric systems (such as the state and capitalism) engage in are known as “monocropping” and “monotasking”.

James explains these concepts as well by saying that:

Peter Evans describes monocropping as the “imposition of blueprints based on idealised versions of institutions whose applicability is presumed to transcend national cultures and circumstances.” Monocropping can also be achieved through the removal of what are perceived as useless redundancies.

The alternative to systems of monocropping and monotasking are systems of “wide and open spaces” as James says. What could these systems of “voluntary abundance” (as Voltairine de Cleyre terms it) look like? James has claimed elsewhere that what he means by markets:

The “market” in market anarchy, for me, is a vocational, lifestyle, life-path bazaar; the more options the better I feel that authority is curbed and monopoly buried.  I see/want a world where people can browse, taste test, try on, kick the tires and hassle free return any life they fancy; or knuckle down on one thing and feel the novel sensation of fusion with or mastery of one skill or craft, pushing it into new boundaries, ripping it up and starting again whether it be post-punk music, cabinet making or Starcraft II.

This goes beyond the meaning that some designate to markets, that they are just measures of profit or measures of commodity exchange and nothing more. FMACs are calling for a “wide open space” where anything and everything can be tried so long as it does not violate concerns of aggression and compulsion. These concerns are typically a bit thicker in conception than just property disputes and the like (though these things are important too) and also revolve around being concerns for structures that have inequalities of power and authority. And that means things like bossism (also see here and here), for example are going to be opposed (and no, opposing things doesn’t require violence) to those sorts of structures.

And while we’re discussing definitions and markets, let’s briefly take a look at James’s definition of capitalism

…an institutional structure that is simply an expression of monopoly privilege, the economics of states, if you will, or, complexly a bundle of ethical-cultural-structural norms that suffer significantly from monocentric tendencies.

This obviously isn’t the definition a lot of people would give so as James says, if your idea of capitalism doesn’t point to states or the economics of states then the criticism here may not include you. But, as James points out, it may still help guide yourself through contaminated ideological contexts better than others may.

In any case the FMAC isn’t based on some “neutral” invisible hand or some deification of market forces, for we are market forces and we will organize our lives, not some abstraction called a “market” that is sometimes reified by libertarians. Nor are we interested in building monocentric systems ourselves or the actions of monocropping or monotasking that they partake in and try to help perpetuate within society. What are our options then?

Like James, I reject panacea-driven ideas that would lead us to conclude only one method is the best to get there.

As for a guide to what would get us there the best (and this would most likely be a cluster of options) and this leads us to William Gillis’s notion of the “Invisible Molotv” and James’s conclusion:

The Invisible Molotov embraces emergent orders, not as the pious desire to embrace their deity, awed by its power or grace, but as the readied aikido master, observant of its flow and eddies, prepared to turn, adding its force to our own or using its inertia to deflect its fist into the ground.

As William Gillis explains,

“For those of us interested in resisting and undermining coercive power, the issue is less how a truly freed market might one day improve our lives, but rather how the faint sparks of freedom in the market today are already working against hierarchy, banditry and the concentration of power and how those sparks might be stoked. Therefore our interest is not the market’s invisible hand, per se, but the invisible molotov it carries.”

In conclusion Kevin Carson steels our resolve,

“Our goal is not to assume leadership of existing institutions, but rather to render them irrelevant. We don’t want to take over the state or change its policies. We want to render its laws unenforceable. We don’t want to take over corporations and make them more “socially responsible.” We want to build a counter-economy of open-source information, neighborhood garage manufacturing, Permaculture, encrypted currency and mutual banks, leaving the corporations to die on the vine along with the state.

We do not hope to reform the existing order. We intend to serve as its grave-diggers.”

And to quote my favorite author (AKA me):

So the only thing left to do is bury it.

Let’s start writing that eulogy today.

In my next post I’ll explain why we should add work to that eulogy.

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5 thoughts on “The Use of the Word Capitalism (Or, My Follow up Notes to “Introduction” Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Why Should we Abolish Work? (Or, My Follow up Notes to “Introduction” Part Three) | Abolish Work

  2. I see Hodgskin mentioning “capitalists” repeatedly in both “Labour Defended” (1824) and “Popular Political Economy” (1827); and I also note that Carson, Chartier and Richman seem to think that Hodgskin specifically mentions the term “capitalism” in these works but I’m having trouble identifying a single use of that specific term these works of Hodgskin. Am I missing something, or am I using too early of an edition?

    • I got a few responses. It seems that he doesn’t use the word but he is clearly interested in people who favor capitalism even if he doesn’t use the term itself.

      The first use of the exact term “capitalism” doesn’t come (according to Thomas Knapp) until 1855. Where it appears in William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel The Newcomes.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Pingback: We Have a Fan (Or, My Follow Up Notes to "Introduction Part 1") - Abolish Work

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