I am not inclined toward market anarchy, or anarchist capitalism, as I see it as being both non-viable, since capitalism without restraints invariably breeds monopoly capitalism, which is no longer capitalism in the sense of a free market, but a form of feudalism, since the few end up dominating and ruling over the rest; and because capitalism is based upon a two-tiered society of the owners of production, in Marxist terms, the people who have an unequal share of economic power, and hence also, social, cultural and political power, and those who must work for them in order to survive; and thus, capitalism is based upon the need (of the many, not the few) to rent yourself out for money, which is degrading and dehumanizing, as well as antithetical to freedom.
Renting yourself out for money was called wage slavery by Abraham Lincoln and others who opposed it. A more stark and honest term for what it means to rent yourself out for money is simply prostitution.
Unless you want to be a slave – or a slave master, if you are both lucky and also supremely unethical – or you are simply lost in confused thinking and illusions, you cannot support capitalism in any form: at least, not without strong legislation such as labour laws, minimum wage standards, workplace safety requirements, environmental protocols, and above all, anti-trust legislation to prevent and break up monopolies.
If you want capitalism, if you want an economic system and a society based upon wage slavery – though I do not see why any sane person would – then at the very least, you have to put restraints on it: you have to chain the beast, or it will devour you.
You certainly cannot support a form of capitalism that strips capital, and the controllers of capital, of all restraints – unless you are either a self-deluded ideologue, or you are a member of the business elite, or a wanna-be member of this class.
So I would say that the idea of market anarchy, or anarchist capitalism, is one that is propounded by two groups: the deluded, and the cynically dishonest and self-serving.
Of course the business elite like the idea of eliminating all government oversight and restraints on their actions. It would mean total freedom for them – freedom to loot and pillage at will, to play one nation, state, province and community against another in a race to the bottom, with ever lower wages and working conditions, and ever lower environmental standards, and by these and other means, to gather even more of the wealth, resources and power on the planet into their hands, even more rapidly and frantically than they are already doing.
The corporate elite also favour the elimination, not only of all governmental restrictions on their actions – although they are quite keen to push for a police state to restrain the actions of the people, and to further secure their power and their de facto rule; they also strongly favour the elimination of all social safety nets and all government programs that help the poor and unemployed.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, social programs that help the people cost money – and the corporate elite would rather their multi-billion and trillion dollar state subsidies increase; therefore, programs that help the people must be slashed and eliminated – the welfare state is supposed to provide for the rich, not the masses.
Secondly, and more essentially, the welfare state, and all social safety nets and social programs that help the poor and the unemployed, must be slashed and eliminated, so that the people will be driven to desperation, and will welcome their corporate masters, and beg to be shackled and chained for a mere few cents an hour, or a few crumbs of bread.
The business elite like to talk amongst themselves and in the business press about what they call pampered Western workers. They like Chinese workers much better, as the offshoring of production and the deindustrialization of the West make abundantly clear. They do not want to pay $30 or $40 an hour for labour, or even $10, or $7.50 an hour for a wage slave in North America or Europe, when they can get one for $1 an hour in Mexico, or $0.10 an hour in China. Destroying social programs and safety nets means that Western workers can be trained to accept Chinese standards of pay – which is to say, social programs and safety nets must be destroyed in order to make the pampered Western workers more compliant and malleable serfs.
The other means of creating an ultra-low cost labour pool is through slavery, and that is being vigorously pursued by the reigning corporate powers as well – it is called the prison system. Prison labour is a rapidly growing out-sourcing choice for large, profitable corporations. With prison labour, you can pay workers just pennies an hour, and if they get out of line, you can get the guards to beat them to a pulp.
But to return to the driving down of wages and benefits across the West…
This is the primary reason for the so-called austerity programs being foisted on the people, purportedly for their own good, and the reason for the attack on the welfare state and all social programs across the Western world: free the corporations of the bondage of having to pay wages that people can live on, by driving the people to utter desperation, where they can be more easily manipulated, and exploited on a greater scale, for the increased profits of the already astronomically rich few. It is a grand and noble vision indeed.
But the main attack on government is an attack by big business on government regulations applying to big business. (They are happy to see red tape, high taxes and bureaucratic hurdles thrown up for small business, but they want a fast-track and a back door, with zero restrictions and zero taxes for themselves. Taxes, laws and regulations are for the little people.) The business elite do not want government restrictions on their actions. They want the subsidies and the bailouts and the protection of an increasingly militarized police state and a welfare state for the rich, but they do not want any restrictions on their own actions. Fascism for the people, total freedom for the elite – that is what the corporate oligarchs who rule the world today want, and that is what we are rapidly being driven into, like corralled cattle, being herded down the cattle chute.
While the elimination of government would mean total freedom for the corporate elite, it would mean total subjugation under neo-feudal corporate rule for the rest of us, and therefore we should oppose it – vigorously and passionately.
If you want to abolish government, you had better abolish all great concentrations of economic power first, or you will not have anarchism, much less freedom – you will simply have unfettered corporate rule, and a new form of tyranny.
So no, I do not support market anarchism or anarchist capitalism. I would tend to favour libertarian socialism, or anarchist socialism, where collectivism and anti-statism come together in a valuing of both freedom and mutual aid, as Kropotkin, Rocker, Bookchin, Bertrand Russell, Chomsky and others have argued for. In the short term, however, I would be happy simply to see a government that truly is, of the people, by the people, for the people, and not simply a servant of ruthless corporate powers and the super-rich.
I do not believe that a truly free society is even attainable without a very strong degree of mutual aid and solidarity among the people, which is absolutely necessary to accomplish the goal of a free society. So freedom and mutual aid must go hand in hand. To dream of it being otherwise is sheer fantasy.
How we blend and balance freedom and mutual aid, or liberty and collectivism, is the question. Whether or not we must, is a non-issue.
The seizure of corporate property by the workers, or by the people otherwise, at the local level, I do see as frequently if not generally justified, and Rothbard gives some good examples, such as workers taking over any and all corporations that are tied to the military-industrial complex, since they are involved in mass murder, among other reasons.
We can also look to the example of Argentina, where workers took over factories and ran them themselves, very successfully, as the documentary, The Take, revealed.
Or we can look to the Spanish Revolution, which was a largely anarchist revolution. The anarchist experiment in Spain, which lived between 1936 and 1939, I believe, was extremely successful, and could certainly be repeated elsewhere, but it would take great international solidarity to keep it alive in the face of the predictable backlash by the presently reigning vested interests.
As Chomsky has said, what the elite fear most, is the threat of a good example. For that reason, any example of worker control or workplace democracy, of any alternative to elite corporate rule, will be viciously attacked, no matter how small or remote. We must be prepared for that; but that is not an insurmountable obstacle to real social change. The people always have the real power. They simply need to realize it, and act upon the fact.
The anarchist revolution in Spain unfortunately ended up being crushed by an alliance between Western business elites, Western governments and the Soviet Union – Bolsheviks despise worker control just about as much as capitalists do. (Lenin destroyed the worker councils immediately upon seizing power, and Kropotkin declared after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, that the revolution is dead. But the example of a successful anarchist revolution, and a proven successful anarchist-socialist model for an advanced industrial society, still lives, and it still offers a better alternative, by far, over what we have now.
But to return to the subject of appropriation – or reclamation, as it might better and more accurately be called – there are other good reasons which justify such actions, and make them entirely legitimate, aside from the ones mentioned by Rothbard.
First of all, if what is nominally called private property was gained through illegitimate means, then all claim to title is null and void. For example, if an armed band of thugs rolls into town, and steals all that the people have or possess at gun point, we would say they have no right to that property. If one nation sends in its military to seize the oil or other resources of people in a foreign land, then that nation has no legitimate claim to such property. If a slave owner amasses a great fortune by means of the labour of his slaves, then he has no right to that property, which is more justly the property of the slaves who produced that wealth – cotton for example, or sugar cane, and the revenues from it – and not the slave master who illegitimately lays claim to it. And there are less obvious reasons for the invalidation of claims to property rights, such as great imbalances of power. In essence, all of these examples involve the exploitation of an imbalance of power to acquire wealth, and the imbalance of power makes all such claims to property acquired through these means, null and invalid.
That is the case generally for large concentrations of wealth and economic powers, such as the big corporations have today – for reasons of imbalances of power, and special favours sought by means of what is essentially bribery to political candidates, through what is euphemistically called election financing, among other reasons. The claims of property rights on the part of the corporate giants are highly dubious at best, and in reality, groundless, invalid and illegitimate.
Of course, this raises fears and even terror in some, for fear that their property will not be regarded as sacrosanct. Where do we draw the line between legitimate property rights, and appropriation or reclamation of what are reasonably viewed as illegitimate claims on property or resources, is the question we must ask. We draw lines all the time, and it is not hard to imagine a reasonable balance being sought and found. For example, leaving all small and medium businesses intact, as well as all family farms, family homes and personal possessions, but endorsing and supporting an appropriation or reclaiming of resources and assets which are presently held by the largest corporations, forthwith to be held as the shared property of the people – just as we now share public parks and public roads, public libraries and public fire departments – with shares in these corporation distributed equally to the people (and full voting shares, of course).
This would break up the corporate giants, immediately strip them of their excessive powers, put some teeth in anti-trust measures, and most essentially, would bring an immediate end to the domination over the global economy, the political process and the media by the presently ruling corporate elite. And it would once again restore some semblance of equality and also accountability within our society, and would at the same time dramatically increase the justice in our society, and also the quality of life and well-being of the people, immeasurably. I would therefore urge that such steps be taken immediately.
And it does not have to be an all or nothing scenario. We could start with the worst offenders, the banks, for example. If you want to dethrone Wall Street, and reign in the banking elite, and thereby get money out of politics, as any sane person should want today, then break up the big banks. And what are you going to do with them, one might ask. Well, one option is to do just what I have described here: seize their assets, and distribute shares of ownership equally among the people, effectively turning them into democratically controlled co-ops, with dividends paid directly to the people.
You do not let such corporate criminals get away with such crimes, nor do you give them a mere slap on the wrist. They are said to be too big to fail. Well, they are too big to exist – unless they are controlled by the people. Confiscate their assets, and return the power to the people.
Six giant banks now dominate the entire American economy, as well as both major political parties. Seize these powers, and put them in the hands of the people, and you will have a revolution – and real social change.
And we can have a mixed economy. We do not have to move too fast, if that scares people. Look at Europe – mixed economies are the norm. Most European nations have universal public health care, which is essentially a socialist feature of their society, yet they have democratic governments, constitutions, freedom and civil liberties, and they have capitalist, market-based economies. Adopting a universal public health care system did not turn these countries into Communist regimes, no matter what the paranoid right may scream. They are mixed economies with essentially republican governments and market economies. We can drop the paranoia now.
Despite the red scare tactics and the misunderstandings, having a socialist medical system has not turned European nations into Stalinist regimes, or anything remotely of the sort. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Americans have wanted a Canadian or European style health public health care system for decades – and it is half as costly as the for-profit private health care system of the United States. But this is an aside.
So we could easily imagine a mixed economy where we have excellent social programs, such as universal pensions, unemployment insurance and public health care, a market-based economy, open and transparent constitutional democracy with rights and freedoms for all enshrined in law and custom, and also have large sectors of the economy run as worker co-ops or publicly owned co-ops; run, not by the state, but by boards of directors and chief executives that are elected by the people directly, with the people being the majority or even the sole share-holders.
We are talking about taking giant, unwieldy, unaccountable and undemocratic corporations which are now out of control and running rampage, and turning them into accountable, democratically run co-ops, owned and controlled directly by the people. This would make a dramatic, and much needed, urgently needed change to our society. I see no reason to delay.
So yes, re-appropriation, or a reclaiming of resources by the people from the corporate oligarchs who have seized them and laid claim to them, is not only entirely justified and legitimate – it is also highly practical, workable, and an attainable goal which should be sought without delay.
In fact, I would say that if we do not take such measures, and soon, then the corporate elite will consolidate their power globally, with the results being that we find ourselves living in an Orwellian, technocratic, neo-feudal fascist regime, and a very dark age.
We must take bold steps now, to protect the people and ourselves from the clear and mounting threats of a full-blown corporate fascism. When six banks control 40% of the wealth of America; when six corporations control 90% of American media and can effectively manipulate the public mind; when Wall Street and the Fortune 500 fund the elections and effectively choose the political puppets of their liking; and when and a few dozen corporations, mainly banks, effectively control the global economy and rule the world, as a recent Swiss study showed, in a case of science confirming the obvious, then it is time for a bold and unhesitating response on the part of the people, without question.
Furthermore, with regards to claims of property rights: abuses of any great power also render all claim to that power null and void, as the Declaration of Independence states – and this applies to economic powers, such as those held by the business elite and the corporate giants, every bit as much as it applies to kings and queens, governments and political powers. If you abuse it, you lose it. And the corporate giants and the billionaire class who control them, are most definitely abusing their power.
A tax on tea sparked the American Revolution – it was a last, final insult, after myriad insults and injuries by an oppressive and tyrannical power. Such a tipping point is fast approaching again, when the people will say, No more, and the corporate empires will be swept aside, like so many empires that have fallen and been cast off in the past.
So I would say no to market anarchism, or anarchist capitalism, but yes to the people reclaiming the resources and assets that are held by the big corporations: for reasons of justice and equitability, for reasons of accountability, for reasons of environmental stewardship and the survival of the human race on earth, which is now in great peril, and because the corporate powers have become, and are now, simply tyrannical, by any reasonable definition or meaning of the word, and are causing great injury to the people as well as the earth on which we all depend for life.
If Thomas Jefferson could argue that a tax on tea is overly vexatious and justifies a revolution – I am exaggerating somewhat of course, to make a point, but we get the point of it – then surely today there is every justification for revolution against the new tyrants, who are the reigning global billionaire class of the super-rich, and the giant corporations they control – who are infinitely more injurious to the people than King George ever dared to dream.
Two hundred years ago Thomas Jefferson warned that the corporations, and what he called the new moneyed aristocracy who controlled them, were already bidding defiance to our laws and challenging our democratic government to a contest of strength. And he said that he hoped the new moneyed aristocracy shall be killed in its infancy. He did not mince words, nor did he have any illusions as to the great dangers which confronted the people. We did not listen however, and that is why we are in trouble today. By now, any further delay in putting serious checks and balances on the new ruling super-powers of the corporate elite, would be nothing short of disastrous.
The powers and the abuse of powers, of and by the King of England, pale in comparison to the powers and the abuse of powers of and by the Bank of America or Goldman Sachs alone. It is time to dethrone the new tyrants. It is time to kick the corporate oligarchs out of the palace and into the streets – certainly out of government, and out of their present position as the de facto world government, and the unelected rulers of the world, as the business press itself calls them.
(The business elite prefer to call themselves the masters of the universe – and no, I am not joking – and their demonstrated egomania, power-lust and sheer madness only adds to the reasons to throw them from power.)
Gentleness is the best general rule, but there is a time for boldness. There is a time for the ferocity of a lion. And there is a time for the overturning of tables. Throw the money changers from the temple. They have overstepped their proper bounds, and have made themselves a menace. They must be deposed. And the most direct and effective way to dethrone this newest ruling class of would-be emperors, Caesars and Tsars who are the global corporate elite, is to reclaim their assets, and thereby to strip them of the very basis of their powers.
If a person on a rooftop with a rifle starts shooting at people, you disarm that person, and stop the violence. The big corporations and the business elite who control them are now wielding vast and unaccountable powers, which is reason enough to strip them of such powers; and in addition, they are demonstrably wreaking havoc, destruction and great suffering on the earth and upon the people. Therefore, they must be disarmed. And the only way to effectively disarm them, or to reign them in and halt their drive to fully dominate and control the global economy and the resources, the wealth and the nations of the world, which they are well on their way to doing, as anyone who is paying attention can clearly see; as well as to prevent them from destroying democracy completely, and to halt their clearly suicidal onslaught against nature and the earth, is to strip them of their powers – which means, stripping them of their assets.
It must be done. The people must reclaim their power. And no, Lenin, you were wrong, and we will not repeat your mistakes. No, this time, the revolution must come from below, and power must be returned to the people, and kept close to the people, at the level of the grassroots, and not in the hands of any ruling class or ruling elite of any kind – be it a political elite, a bureaucratic elite, a military elite, a religious elite, a self-proclaimed intellectual elite, or a business elite.
Freedom will come. And it will mean more than being able to choose between Coke or Pepsi, or choosing between which slavers will shackle your legs and make you their wage-slave.
A new day is being born. The writing is on the wall.
Stand now, people.
J. Todd Ring,
October 24, 2013