The ills of socialism, with or without the state
I just exited a thread I titled Anarcho socialism worse than statism? started on July 27 and currently eight pages long. Before and during that time I’ve had a number of on and off discussions with people whom could probably most precisely be described as anarchists which oppose property ownership at least to some extent and in some forms. From a perspective of what I believe to be most voluntaryists and all anarcho-capitalists they’re typically dubbed anarcho-socialists.
During that time I have occasionally doubted my assessments as my understanding of their positions changed. After all they are different individuals possibly holding somewhat differing variation of the general idea. However at this point I remain generally disappointed and even frustrated with it. Here are some of the core arguments which from my understanding represent various anarcho-socialist positions, and my responses to them.
1. “Property is theft” (represented by multiple arguments leading to that conclusion).
This is a famous statement by Proudhon which according to what I’ve been explained is also commonly misinterpreted. In any case however it is the ultimate conclusion of a number of anarcho-socialist arguments. I’ll start with the one least problematic to me.
“Property stolen by means of state is theft.”
According to this argument Proudhon was referring to “property” in terms of the state rather than in terms of the free market, that is, property which was essentially stolen by means of the state such as the institution of a corporation. Since the means of the state typically involve force and fraud rather than voluntary trade a lot of what is currently considered as legal property (in state’s language) is actually stolen property – thus enforcement of this property is enforcement of theft.
Any instance where the law assigns supposed “property rights” where none would be acquired by voluntary trade would be an example of that. One example are eminent domain laws which can sometimes be used to essentially steal from one to give to the other and then proclaim it as legal property of the other.
Because of this it is rather hard to discern genuine from stolen property since the state is so deeply involved in the market. For example some argue that any and all property acquired by corporations is illegitimate because the corporation actually is not a real person, but rather just a conceptual or institutional puppet of a real person, with privileges assigned to it by the state. Thus it acts with powers that a real person otherwise wouldn’t have, powers assigned to it by the state at the expense of other market actors. Anything that a corporation could not acquire without these powers yet acquired with them is therefore considered as stolen property.
It isn’t surprising then that some would take this to the extreme and argue that all property must be stolen property quickly assuming the position that property ownership is impossible to enforce without the state, which is the second argument I’ll address. Indeed, that is the current popular belief and a claim by state actors themselves. What the state says is legal property is considered to be the legitimate property, as if it has nothing to do with individual and voluntary trade in the market itself, and everything to do with arbitrary decrees of state actors (even if elected through a democratic process).
I am inclined to agree with Proudhon if this argument is the correct interpretation of what he said, but only when it refers to property which truly was stolen by means of the state. It I however act independently of the state to produce or acquire something it is reasonable to assume my property was earned, not stolen.
“Property is theft because it cannot be enforced without the state.”
As mentioned above this is what the extreme extension of the above argument leads some towards. Since the state steals and yet it is the one defining property and most people believe it, property and theft are conflated. It is then enough to observe someone’s house being taken from them by law only to be teared down and the land transfered to a corporation who is to build a mall there to put an emotional seal to this reasoning. Since the state does this in the name of property and the land is proclaimed as the property of the corporation yet the scene clearly depicts an act of theft, property and theft seem like the same thing.
In that instance the concept of property is so out of shape that it is hard to imagine how property could even exist without the state. It no longer refers to the control of that which you produced or acquired by your own efforts or through trade, but rather to a mere arbitrary entitlement by people with the guns, regardless of effort and voluntary trade.
Thus the argument that property cannot exist without state enforcement takes shape which also provides the seeds for the argument that any defense of private property is itself immoral initiation of force.
Unfortunately, this is all based on terrible fallacies. It is as if in the process of being maimed and pillaged the people lost sight of who their tyrant was and what his actions were. It’s as if they begun believing their masters lies and are now using those lies as arguments against those who would otherwise be their friends against the tyrant (typical affront between anarcho-socialists and anarcho-capitalists). It is as if they forgot what ownership used to mean, because it was just the opposite of theft.
In any case, ownership as defined by voluntaryists and anarcho-capitalists indeed has nothing to do with what the state decrees it is. It has nothing to do with arbitrary expropriation by force. It has to do with earning what you have by your own effort and being responsible for your actions. For my more specific exposition on property please see here
Thus how is it possible that the ones who are the biggest violators of property could be the only ones that can enforce it (the state)? This is a question I think every anarcho-socialist ought to honestly try to answer because it directly challenges their assumption that property requires the state.
So if property does not in fact require the state, the question that pops up is who will enforce it? The answer is relatively simple. Property owners or their agents. Today the state seemingly plays a role of an agent, but it actually is not. Since it is a coercive monopoly on the service of property protection (which is actually just a form of self defense) it does not so much provide that service as much as it forcefully imposes it. You don’t hire a state agent to protect your property. The state agent never gives you that option. Instead they take your money as supposed payment for this “service” through taxation against your will which is exactly the opposite of protecting property. It is its violation.
In fact real property protection today doesn’t really exist. If it did it would protect you from the state itself. So it’s not only that property protection does not depend on the state. It is actually supposed to remove the state altogether to function.
“Property is theft because its enforcement depends on initiation of force.”
This is just the evolution of the above and as I’ve shown it is thus based on really shallow grounds. It stems from conflating state violence in the name of protecting property with actual protection of actual property. The state’s actors often claim to do their work in the name of noble ideals such as freedom, even when they invade foreign countries and homes of innocent people. Are we supposed to then dismiss the idea of freedom because this is what they do in its name?
It’s the same thing with property. They violate property in the name of defending property. Are we supposed to dismiss true defense of property then as violation of property as well? Because that’s what this argument essentially boils down to.
However, while this argument may have evolved from the conflation of statist inversions of property with actual property it does have a life on its own, which isn’t surprising since most people who use this argument probably don’t typically make a connection between their animosity against property and their animosity towards the way state acts about it yet they need to defend their position and then try to find the best arguments to back it up.
Unfortunately even these arguments rehash the statist thinking. For instance, they provide examples of poor or homeless people taking the property of others in order to sustain themselves and the property owners purported attempts to defend from such theft as initiation of force. Such arguments attempt to use human tendency to empathize with the poor and unfortunate to trick one into reversing the defense of property into initiation of force, thus becoming consistent with the “property is theft” ethos. This reverses the roles of the poor thief and a richer property owner defending from such theft so as for the property owner to be the one who stole (by denying the poor to take) and the poor thief as the one who is stolen from.
What is easily missed here is that the fact that the property owner by virtue of his ownership may rightfully defend his property does not mean that he has to. It only means that the decisions pertaining to the way his property is to be used belongs to him.
Since it is the human tendency to empathize which this argument uses it is reasonable to assume that this argument assumes that empathy IS important and even common enough. If it wasn’t then why appeal to it in the first place? Yet if empathy is common enough for an empathy based argument to be worth using isn’t it reasonable to assume that most property owners confronted with a poor thief wouldn’t just force him out, but instead try to help and even let him use some of their property?
And as a final straw for this argument there is the fact that it sets a dangerous precedent in that it puts ownership to the subjective whims of those who claim a need that is supposedly large and immediate enough to override it. Suddenly anyone who can present his wants as severe enough needs can justify their theft. This of course can backfire at the very those whom this reversion of property is supposed to benefit: the poor.
Fundamentally, a claim that defense of property or property enforcement is *initiation* of force rather than defensive force leaves very little room for self defense, or at least makes it dependent on subjective whims as mentioned above. Unfortunately this relativization of property and thus self defense makes self-defense always a potential crime because the extent to which your self and your property extends is constantly at the whim of a society or social norms rather than a verifiable facts of your just effort and trade. That is, whether you have acquired something by honest action and trade no longer matters if someone can claim a “higher need” and still steal it from you.
I mentioned that these kinds of arguments rehash the statist thinking and here is how. Statist socialists use the same “think of the poor” kind of arguments appealing to the same human empathy to justify theft in form of taxes. The only way in which anarcho-socialist argument differs is that they outright redefine theft so as to reverse its meaning, but the outcome is the same.
This makes the anarcho-socialist position which uses this argument no better at all than the statist socialist position.
2. Pure capitalism leads to the state.
Above I’ve addressed the idea that property ownership, which is fundamental to capitalism, requires the state. In other words it was the idea that capitalism cannot exist without the state.
This argument is a little different in that it implicitly presupposes the existence of pure capitalism without the state first and then an inevitable devolution of it to state capitalism. The way this is supposed to happen is by the greed and selfishness of the capitalists going beyond voluntary trade and into the realm of force and fraud thus establishing conglomerates which ultimately become the state. There are probably many ways to be thought of exactly how this may happen, but addressing all of them isn’t my point.
In fact I wouldn’t even argue that this cannot happen. I would argue instead that if it does happen all it means that capitalists who started perpetrating force and fraud failed to be capitalists, or rather they weren’t capitalists, and that the system that resulted wasn’t capitalism at all, but the statism that we all know and love (NOT). Essentially it is corporatism. Even minimal state overseeing a free market has the seeds of corporatism and becomes real corporatism as soon as it establishes the limited liability and “legal person” institution called the “corporation” (LLC, LTD, Inc., Gmbh etc.)
In other words it is not pure capitalism that leads to statism, but rather the lack of capitalism. This boils down to my old argument about not blaming peace for war. If we are living in peace, meaning that everybody respects everybody and there is no violence and then after some time someone comes out and starts inciting conflict and initiating violence what will we blame for this state of violence? Will it be the fact that we had peace? Of course not. We will blame the fact that this individual started using violence.
In the same sense, if we have pure capitalism it means we have individuals respecting individuals and their work (their property) and trading voluntarily and peacefully. If someone then comes out and starts cheating people and initiating force to get more business, will we blame capitalism or will we blame the person who violated the very principles of capitalism?
This is also why it is extremely unintelligent to blame recessions, including the current crisis, on capitalism and the free market. It is precisely like blaming peace for war. People cheat and steal and we blame those who propagate against cheating and stealing for it. Government bails out corporations and we blame the free market? Those kinds of things boil my mind.
Imagine a brother hitting his sister who was just playing in peace and the mother shouting at the peaceful sister because she is just playing in peace and “causing” the brother to hit her. It’s truly a WTF moment, but tell that to the millions upon millions of people out there, including Michael Moore, currently spitting at capitalism and free markets. They have no sane idea what they’re doing.
So this argument doesn’t really make sense. The only resort it has is to claim that capitalism itself is flawed which would probably come down to the arguments against property which I’ve addressed and hopefully debunked above.
3. No authority should be admitted, thus no authority derived from property ownership.
This was pointed out by my friend when he described briefly the position of mutualists he has had some discussions with. According to him they actually believe in self-ownership, but instead of as seeing it as a base of property ownership they see it as the very reason why property ownership (beyond the self) should not exist. To quote: “I own myself and therefore others have no authority over me, and as a result, no authority over others is acceptable. From this principle, property rights MUST conflict with self-ownership.“
However this position is self-contradictory and ultimately leads to the same issues pointed out with the above addressed reversal of property ownership into “theft”. If nobody should have any authority over you then the poor people taking something you believe belongs to you don’t either. Their needs, no matter how basic, do not establish their authority over your desire to keep what they’re taking.
Then it might be argued that your authority ends where their authority begins, but since this position espouses no-authority that would clearly be a contradiction. In fact a no-authority position transmutes into a no-liberty position because your liberty ends where someone’s liberty begins which inevitably implies some kind of an authority. Thus denying all authority is denying all liberty. This just doesn’t work, at least if your goal is liberty to begin with.
Thus the no authority position seems to overspill each individual’s “jurisdiction” (for lack of a better word) all over each other rather than establishing a balance. The area of overlap is the area of conflict. By saying nobody has any authority over you under any circumstances whatsoever you’re essentially taking an absolute authority position over everyone else. If everyone makes this assumption and acts on it this is essentially anarchy as chaos, that is, everyone against everyone according to their own whims.
4. Property vs. Possession
From all that I’ve heard about the concept of possession so far I am compelled to conclude that possession actually is nothing more than a crippled, relativized and subjectivized version of property. The concept is essentially designed to give way to socialized defining and redefining of what may a person possess and keep, basically submitting the individual to some extent to the established social norms. This is because the main reasons that possession is even admitted to the individual are subjective, namely, the “basic needs” of the individual – what he needs to live.
One person may feel his basic needs to be quite different from another so one person may claim more possessions than another. If one person believes the needs of another person to be lower than that person believes himself this leads to conflict. There is no one size fits all objective model of needs. Not only do they to a large extent depend on personal evaluations, but even to the physical and mental capacities of each person which cannot as easily be evaluated by another on sight. Some people are more efficient in their consumption of life giving resources than others depending on their physical build up, skills, experience and so on. It also isn’t uncommon for people today to claim needs which a lot of other people would feel are luxuries.
Who then is the final arbiter of this? Apparently nobody and everybody which is just another way of saying “the society” in reference to popular social norms. Since it is precisely on this determination on which the difference between self-defense and initiation of violence may be determined it is clear how this could leave a lot of people with an experience of being tyrannized by the majority. This is essentially mob rule, even with less pretense than the idea of democracy.
I have very little respect for socialism, both with or without the state. As a voluntaryist I clearly have no respect for statism so it goes without saying that I find socialist statism unacceptable.
Anarcho-socialists tend to say that they are the “real anarchists” and that the label “anarcho-socialists” is superfluous. They also say that anarcho-capitalism is an oxymoron. This comes from their understanding of anarchy as “no-authority” rather than “no coercive rule” or their reversal of “coercive rule” through denial of property ownership in which the defense of property which would otherwise be considered self defense, becomes itself coercion.
Unfortunately this reversal tactic is what’s most disgusting about all socialism in general. Socialism as the name implies is ultimately never really about the individual, but rather about the abstract “society”, something that does not exist without individuals to begin with. Socialist positions and arguments sometimes pretend to defend the individual, yet the outcome is paving the way to socialized control. An affront to property ownership is used to cut into the individual by infecting the objective realm that underpins property ownership, causality, with subjective whims the aggregate of which is represented in form of social norms that are accepted as the “common sense” and thus “the truth” (provided this is even believed in anymore).
Anarcho-socialists however are a particularly sad case since they seem like a traumatized version of a socialist. They’ve recognized the ills of mainstream social (dis)organization yet they’re still pretty severely infected by the memes which make such social organization possible. They’ve learned to oppose the state yet they still operate on the memetical paradigm that the state itself operates on which makes them into excellent treadmill runners, going absolutely nowhere. Besides, when have ever the anti-globalist and anarchist protest resulted in any kind of real change other than to parade violent rioting as the de-facto image of “anarchism” and thus taint the perception of enlightened and intellectual anarchists with it.
Anarcho-socialism is socialized control without the state. They may passionately deny this, but the consistence of ideas they typically advocate inevitably lead to this. Why else restrict or relativize property ownership, bringing some extent of it to the whim of society?
The trouble is, the state itself to a very large extent exists precisely because the stateless socialized control is already established. It is ultimately the ideas, the memes, which run the world. State is just the ultimate reflection of prevalent social norms. If the masses didn’t believe that it is right to steal in some limited instances taxes would not exist. If the masses didn’t believe that violence is acceptable in enforcing “good ideas” a coercive monopoly on law would not exist. If the masses didn’t believe that violence is an acceptable way of solving some social problems war against citizens either in other countries or “at home” (“war on drugs”, “war on terror” etc.) wouldn’t exist. And so on.
Violence of course is the ultimate result of any “socialization” of the individual, any part of the individual. It may be renamed and redefined, but still exists. Socialization by definition means absorption of one individual into another, which is exactly what conflict is. Metaphorically speaking, it is the collision of individuals in terms of their values. This is because a society does not really exist as any one thing in reality. Only individuals do. So sacrificing any individual for the society is in reality sacrificing one individual for another, or absorbing a part of one individual into another.
Socialism, in any form, thus inadvertently promotes conflict in the name of harmony.