An Anarchist FAQ spends some time explaining, probably in far too much detail given their small size and corresponding importance, why "anarcho"-capitalism is not a form of anarchism. Ironically, its founder Murray Rothbard once agreed!
An Anarchist FAQ explains how anarchism, in all its many forms, is fundamentally a socialist (anti-capitalist) theory and movement. This has caused it to be, well, hated with a passion in certain right-wing circles. It is somewhat ironic, then, to discover that the founder of "anarcho"-capitalism, Murray Rothbard, also concluded that "that we are not anarchists, and that those who call us anarchists are not on firm etymological ground, and are being completely unhistorical". This was because "all" anarchists had "socialistic elements in their doctrines" and "possessed socialistic economic doctrines in common." It is hard to disagree...
In a sadly unpublished article from the 1950s entitled "Are Libertarians 'Anarchists'?", leading "anarcho"-capitalist Murray Rothbard came to the same conclusion that almost all anarchists have done, namely that "anarcho"-capitalists are not anarchists. The article itself is notable not only for its correct conclusion, namely "We must therefore conclude that we are not anarchists" but also for its ill-informed diatribes against anarchism, particularly what Rothbard terms "left-wing" anarchism (i.e., social anarchism). As such, it is useful to highlight its mistakes and flaws.
Somewhat ironically, given what his article contains, Rothbard states that the "almost insuperable distortions and confusions" about anarchism "have come both from the opponents and the adherents of anarchism. The former have completely distorted anarchist tenets and made various fallacious charges, while the latter have been split into numerous warring camps with political philosophies that are literally as far apart as communism and individualism."
Yet, the fact that there were numerous schools of anarchism was a recognised fact. Kropotkin, for example, indicated as much in such works as "Modern Science and Anarchism". Yet these schools have much in common, with both Tucker and Kropotkin considering their ideas as socialist and anarchism as part of the wider socialist movement. Both were opposed to the exploitation of labour by capital, aiming to end interest, rent and profits. While Tucker, like some other individualist anarchists often (and without reason) excommunicated communist-anarchism from anarchism, he regularly called his ideas "Anarchistic-Socialism". For Tucker, like all anarchists, there were "two schools of socialistic thought", namely "State Socialism and Anarchism." [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 78-9] Kropotkin hardly disagreed.
As such, the communist and individualist camps where not that far apart on many key issues. Both considered Proudhon as being the father of anarchism. But then, as Rothbard patronising asserts, "the various anarchist groups themselves did not recognize the enormous ideological conflict between them." Could it be, as even he is forced to admit towards the end of his inaccurate diatribe that "all the anarchist groups, even the right-wingers [sic!], possessed socialistic economic doctrines in common"? In other words, all schools of anarchism are socialistic.
"The major difficulty", Rothbard moaned, "in any analysis of anarchism is that the term covers extremely conflicting doctrines" but have a "common hostility to the existence of the State, the coercive monopolist of force and authority." Yet this is not the case, as the various forms of anarchism also shared a "common hostility" to capitalism and capitalist private property as well. An awkward fact Rothbard acknowledged: "even the best of them have . . . socialistic elements in their doctrines."
He correctly noted that anarchism "arose in the 19th century, and since then the most active and dominant anarchist doctrine has been that of 'anarchist communism.' This is an apt term for a doctrine which has also been called 'collectivist anarchism,' 'anarcho-syndicalism,' and 'libertarian communism.' This seems fair, as communist-anarchism developed out of collectivist-anarchism and shared much in common. As for anarcho-syndicalism, that was considered a tactic towards libertarian communism rather than a goal and, again, shared much in common with collectivist/communism anarchism.
It does seem strange, however, to see that Rothbard acknowledged the use of "libertarian communism" by anarchists while, at the same time, he wanted his own ideology to be called "libertarian". Given that "libertarian" had been used first by communist-anarchists as an alternative to anarchist since 1858, it shows that he was willing to appropriate that name to describe an ideology at odds to its traditional article. So Rothbard's article, from an anarchist perspective, is utterly misnamed, It would have been better called "Are Propertarians 'libertarians'?" and it would have come to the same conclusion.
Rothbard seems to have stated the common propertarian habit of describing social anarchism as "left"-anarchism by asserting that "[w]e may term this set of related doctrines 'left-wing anarchism'". Given that he later admits that individualist anarchism contains "socialistic" elements, it seems that this label confuses more than it enlightens. Surely is Tucker called his position "Anarchistic Socialism then it suggests that he, too, considered his ideas of the left...
Somewhat strangely, Rothbard asserted that "Anarchist communism is primarily of Russian origin, forged by Prince Peter Kropotkin and Michael Bakunin". In reality, both Bakunin and Kropotkin became anarchists in Western Europe and rather than anarchism being "forged" by them, they were simply the most famous proponents of ideas developed within the labour movement. Thus Bakunin took up and expanded the ideas already developed by radical mutualists in the First International while communist-anarchism developed shortly after Bakunin's death as a product of debates within the Italian section of the First International. Kropotkin may have been communist-anarchism's most famous advocate but he did not invent it.
So, in reality, "communist-anarchism" is of Western European, not Russian, origin. It came out of the debates and activities of libertarians within the First International in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. As such, it can be considered as a natural evolution of Proudhon's mutualism within a labour-union context (as Bakunin acknowledged, collectivist-anarchism was "Proudhonism widely developed and pushed to these, its final consequences." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 198]). For example, France's leading mutualist, Eugene Varlin, "seems to have moved independently towards his collectivist position." [George Woodcock, Anarchism, p. 239] Kropotkin, like Bakunin, became an anarchist in exile and proclaimed to his accusers in Lyons trial of 1883 that they did him "too much honour. The father of Anarchism is the immortal Proudhon!" [quoted by Dorothy W. Douglas, "Proudhon: A Prophet of 1848: Part I", pp. 781-803, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 34, No. 5, p. 800] Certainly, he become a socialist after reading Proudhon in Russia but became a libertarian socialist in Europe and, like Bakunin, wrote all his classic anarchist works there.
Significantly, Tucker referred to Proudhon as being both "the father of the Anarchistic school of socialism" as well as "being the Anarchist par excellence". [Instead of a Book, p. 391]
Rothbard showed his lack of knowledge of anarchism as a global movement when he asserted, correctly, that "it is this form that has connoted 'anarchism' throughout the continent of Europe." The same would be true of South America, Japan and China, for example. This would be the case in North America too -- Albert Parsons and Emma Goldman were far better known than Benjamin Tucker and the communist anarchist movement quickly grew much bigger than the more home-grown individualist tendency (and as Paul Avrich notes, "[b]y the turn of the century, the anarchist movement in America had become predominantly communist in orientation." [Anarchist Voices, p. 5] It would be fair to say that anarchism has meant communist-anarchism (and its variations like anarcho-syndicalism) across the globe, even in America where the individualist tendency was quickly overwhelmed by it (in part, because of the development of capitalism there).
After showing a somewhat dubious understanding of anarchist history, Rothbard then got to what he considered the crux of the problem with anarchism, private property:
"The principal feature of anarchist communism is that it attacks private property just as vigorously as it attacks the State. Capitalism is considered as much of a tyranny, 'in the economic realm,' as the State in the political realm. The left-wing anarchist hates capitalism and private property with perhaps even more fervor than does the socialist or Communist."
This is, of course, true yet Rothbard makes no attempt to explain why anarchists, from Proudhon onwards (and even before, as Godwin produced a similar analysis of property as the Frenchman), have taken this position. Significantly, it was because private property produces the same kind of authoritarian social relationships which mark the state. For those interested in liberty, this similarity is important and informs anarchist theory.
Thus we find Proudhon arguing that property "violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism" and has "perfect identity with robbery." He, unsurprisingly, talks of the "proprietor, to whom [the worker] has sold and surrendered his liberty." For Proudhon, anarchy was "the absence of a master, of a sovereign" while "proprietor" was "synonymous" with "sovereign" for he "imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control." This meant that "property engenders despotism," as "each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property." The aim of anarchism, unsurprisingly enough given this, was a society of "possessors without masters" rather than wage-labourers and tenants "controlled by proprietors." [What is Property, p. 251, p. 130, p. 264, pp. 266-7 and p. 167]
That this analysis is right can be seen, somewhat ironically, from Rothbard himself -- at least, the future Rothbard. Some decades later we discover Rothbard arguing that the state "arrogates to itself a monopoly of force, of ultimate decision-making power, over a given area territorial area." He then went onto note that "[o]bviously, in a free society, Smith has the ultimate decision-making power over his own just property, Jones over his, etc." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 170 and p. 173] The logical contradiction in this position should be obvious, but not to Rothbard. It shows the power of ideology, the ability of means words (the expression "private property") to turn the bad ("ultimate decision-making power over a given area") into the good ("ultimate decision-making power over a given area").
Of course, to quote Rothbard's future writings is problematic as, while dripping in irony, he was obviously unaware of them or the obvious contradictions they expose in his ideology. Let us quote a source he was familiar with, namely Ludwig von Mises who glibly noted that the capitalist "of course exercises power over the workers", although "he cannot exercise it arbitrarily" thanks to the market but within this limit "the entrepreneur is free to give full rein to his whims" and "to dismiss workers offhand" [Socialism, p. 443 and p. 444]
So, looking at both Rothbard and von Mises we discover that the anarchist opposition to private property "as much of a tyranny, 'in the economic realm,' as the State in the political realm" has merit. As we have explained in section F.1 this obvious self-contradiction in "anarcho"-capitalism is one of the many reasons why it is not anarchist.
After proclaiming, but not explaining, anarchist opposition to property, Rothbard continued in his best Ex Cathedra tone:
"Like the Marxists, the left-wing anarchist is convinced that the capitalists exploit and dominate the workers, and also that the landlords invariably are exploiting peasants."
As just indicated, the capitalist and landlord do dominate the workers and peasants, as acknowledged by both Rothbard and von Mises. Both the property owner and the state have a monopoly of decision making over a given territory and, of course, power over those within it. If the state dominates people, so (logically) must the capitalist and landlord. That Rothbard considers the power associated private property as legitimate does not change the social relations it produces.
Then there is the charge of exploitation. The answer to that is simple, why does a capitalist hire a worker unless that worker produces more for the boss than they get paid in wages. Why does the landlord rent out land to the peasant, unless to get rent? To quote a source he would be familiar with, "the employer . . . considers labour a commodity, an instrument of earning profits". Of course, in reality, labour cannot be separated from the human beings who provide it (unlike "capital" and land). The workers sell their labour-power, and so the "hired man . . . owes [the employer] a definite quantity of work of a definite kind and quality." [Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, p. 629] As discussed in section C.2, the difference between the wages paid and what the labour actually produces is source of surplus value (profits, rent and interest).
So, yes, capitalists do exploit the workers and in order to do so dominate them, that is, create hierarchical social relationships within the workplace. Workers sell their labour (liberty) to the capitalists, the capitalists get to command them and monopolise the fruit of their labour. This has been a pretty standard anarchist position since 1840 (see Proudhon's What is Property?) and so it is fair to say that Marxists are repeating ideas first expounded by anarchists.
Rothbard then asserted that the "economic views of the anarchists present them with a crucial dilemma", namely "how can capitalism and private property be abolished, while the State is abolished at the same time?" Given that, for example, Kropotkin wrote numerous articles on precisely this subject (as collected in The Conquest of Bread and, more recently, Act for Yourselves) Rothbard's assertion is simply staggering. It suggests an utterly lack of familiarity with the subject matter. Let us simply quote from one of Bakunin's numerous anarchist programmes:
"natural and necessary consequence of this destruction will be . . . [among others, the] dissolution of army, magistracy, bureaucracy, police and priesthood. . . confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers' associations, who are to put them to use . . . the federative Alliance of all working men's associations . . . will constitute the Commune . . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . by first reorganising on revolutionary lines . . . [will] constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [and] organise a revolutionary force capable defeating reaction . . . [and for] self-defence . . . [The] revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation. . . " [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 170-2]
Thus it is quite easy to abolish private property at the same time as the state -- those who use it simply ignore those who claim to own it and place it under their own management. In this way private property is abolished, along with wage labour and so capitalism. This should all be obvious to anyone familiar with the anarchist critique of private property.
More to the point, how is it possible to abolish private property if the state is not abolished? How can capital be expropriated if the might of the state, its police and army, can be called upon by the property owners to kick the workers out of their fields, factories and workshops? And it should be noted that Rothbard's "solution" does not abolish the state, it simply changes its name to "a body of constitutional libertarian law" with "private courts" allowing the use of force to defend private property -- in other words, private statism.
Equally, using the state to abolish private property simply replaces the property owners with a new class of state bureaucrats -- as happened under Lenin. But to give credit where it is due, at least Rothbard was aware that communist-anarchists seek to destroy capitalism and the state "at the same time", which is a substantial improvement on the false Marxist assertions that we aim to just abolish the state!
Aware that anarchists have discussed his "crucial dilemma" in some detail, Rothbard states that "nearest those anarchists have come to resolving the problem has been to uphold syndicalism as the ideal." Yet anyone familiar with the history of anarchism would know that syndicalism is a tactic, not a goal. It comes from the French for revolutionary labour unionism and does not describe an economic system different from that of communist-anarchism. In fact, the ideas of syndicalism were first expounded by Bakunin and others in the First International and was supported by Kropotkin and other communist-anarchists like Malatesta. As such, there is no fundamental difference between anarchism and syndicalism (regardless of what Rothbard and Marxists may imply).
What Rothbard terms "syndicalism", namely a situation in which "each group of workers and peasants is supposed to own its means of production in common, and plan for itself, while cooperating with other collectives and communes", was raised by Proudhon in 1840 long before the word syndicalism was coined. Bakunin and Kropotkin also presented similar visions, again long before syndicalism become well-known in English.
And what of "syndicalism"? "Logical analysis of these schemes", he asserts, "would readily show that the whole program is nonsense. Either of two things would occur: one central agency would plan for and direct the various subgroups, or the collectives themselves would be really autonomous." Obviously "the first possibility means nothing more nor less than Communism" (i.e., Stalinism) -- which is why anarchists have always opposed central planning! The second option, Rothbard states, "leads to a real chaos of diverse and clashing Communisms, that would probably lead finally to some central Communism after a period of social war"! Why this logically happens is left unexplained, probably because having to explain why free people would not work together for to meet their common goals would simply be too hard to do. Why a syndicate contacting another to order and arrange the delivery of a good they require would produce "a true chaos of communistic syndics" is hard to see. Equally hard to see is why these communist syndicates would take up arms against each other, after having taken up arms against capitalist oppression to create a co-operative commonwealth in the first place...
After that wonderful display of "logical analysis", Rothbard turns to this assertion:
"But the crucial question is whether these agencies would be empowered to use force to put their decisions into effect. All of the left-wing anarchists have agreed that force is necessary against recalcitrants."
Sadly Rothbard failed to provide the slightest evidence to support this claim. Perhaps because none exists? In fact, communist-anarchists have been at pains to explain that those who do not wish to be communists would be free to try other forms of economy -- individualist, mutualist, collectivist and so forth. But, of course, asserting that all communist-anarchists support force means he does not have to provide any evidence, particularly given that few of his fellow propertarians would be likely to check his claim or be familiar enough with communist-anarchism to know that he is slandering it.
Rothbard then notes, correctly, that the "leading anarchists, particularly in Europe, have always been of the left-wing variety, and today the anarchists are exclusively in the left-wing camp." It is also useful to note that anarchism was coined by Proudhon, someone recognised as being one of the leading socialist thinkers in France at the time. "Add to that," he continued, "the tradition of revolutionary violence stemming from European conditions, and it is little wonder that anarchism is discredited."
Taking of logical analysis, why does anarchists being "left-wing" result in anarchism being "discredited"? Rothbard prejudices, as was often the case, obviously got in the way of his logic. It should also be noted that American anarchism also involved "revolutionary violence", so it cannot be said to be purely the results of (unspecified) "European conditions." Rather, such a "tradition" flowed from the rise of capitalism in both continents, combined with a corresponding rise in state repression of the labour movement and labour protest. For example, Italian Anarchist Gaetano Bresci assassinated King Umberto of Italy in 1900 and Alexander Berkman tried to kill Carnegie Steel Corporation manager Henry Clay Frick in 1892. What is often unknown is that Umberto's troops had fired upon and killed protesting peasants or that Frick's Pinkertons had also murdered locked-out workers at Homestead. Similarly, the violent rhetoric of the Chicago anarchists was a product of state repression of strikes, a repression urged on by the capitalist class.
As for anarchism being "discredited", well it is true that post-war anarchism was at a low ebb. The apparent "success" of the Russian Revolution and its impact on the wider socialist and labour movement played its role, not to mention the fact that both Fascism and Stalinism physically destroying the anarchist movement across Europe. However, the decline of anarchism was short-lived and by the 1960s it had exploded back onto the world stage again -- as it has repeatedly since. This return of anarchism can be best explained by the fact that both neo-liberal capitalism and the state capitalism of Stalinism have been exposed for what they are and people are looking for alternatives to capitalism and Marxism.
Rothbard turned his attention to the Spanish Revolution, stating that "Anarchism was politically very powerful in Spain, and during the Spanish Civil War, anarchists established communes and collectives wielding coercive authority." It is true that the anarchists were very strong in Spain, with the CNT being the most active and militant union in the country. It is also true that the anarchists helped create communes and collectives, although the notion that they wielded "coercive authority" is typical Rothbard invention. The collectives were free associations of workers, managing their own affairs. If making decisions and implementing them equals "wielding coercive authority" then all organisations do so, including capitalist firms. The question really should be why a dictatorial organisation (the capitalist workplace) is considered more libertarian than a democratic one (a commune or collective) The answer is, of course, it cannot be -- which is why anarchists have always been anti-capitalist.
Rather than a blanket condemnation of all organisation, perhaps Rothbard is referring to the Stalinist myth (recently repeated by propertarians) that the anarchist militias forced people to join collectives in Aragon. While this did happen in a very few cases (and was opposed by the CNT-FAI), the facts are that the vast majority of collectives were formed voluntarily and worked remarkably well. And, strangely enough, the syndicates did not start a "social war" amongst themselves...
Clearly on a roll, Rothbard then stated that "[o]ne of their first steps was to abolish the use of money on the pain of a death penalty." Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, he failed to indicate where he got that particular gem -- because, yet again, it never happened?
After this little detour into fantasy, Rothbard tried to generalise from his inventions. "It is obvious," he opines, "that the supposed anarchist hatred of coercion had gone very much awry." Why? Simple: "The reason was the insoluble contradiction between the antistate and the antiproperty tenets of left-wing anarchy." Of course, his case would be somewhat stronger if he presented any actual real evidence to support it, but never mind!
So why does communist-anarchism urge the expropriation of capital and the creation of collectives/communes? This flows from our libertarian analysis of capitalism and the awareness that private property produces hierarchical social relationships -- the owner has power over the workers. We urge those subject to such power to rebel and get rid of it by forming an association. To quote Proudhon:
"either the workman. . . will be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he will participate. . . [and] have a voice in the council, in a word he will become an associate.
"In the first case the workman is subordinated, exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience. . . In the second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen. . . he forms part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the slave; as, in the town, he forms part of the sovereign power, of which he was before but the subject . . . we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two . . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society." [The General Idea of the Revolution, pp. 215-216]
While Proudhon opposed revolution, his arguments for association were perfectly correct. Thus the antistate and antiproperty aspects of anarchism fit together logically. In fact, as Rothbard himself later proved, any pro-property "anarchism" involves the real "insoluble contradiction"!
Ultimately, Rothbard is blind to the fact that there are "two ways of oppressing men: either directly by brute force, by physical violence; or indirectly by denying them the means of life and this reducing them to a state of surrender." In the second case, government is "an organised instrument to ensure that dominion and privilege will be in the hands of those who . . . have cornered all the means of life, first and foremost the land, which they make use of to keep the people in bondage and to make them work for their benefit." [Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 21] As Kropotkin argued against a forerunner of propertarianism:
"The modern Individualism initiated by Herbert Spencer is, like the critical theory of Proudhon, a powerful indictment against the dangers and wrongs of government, but its practical solution of the social problem is miserable -- so miserable as to lead us to inquire if the talk of 'No force' be merely an excuse for supporting landlord and capitalist domination." [Act For Yourselves, p. 98]
Moving on to his favourite subject, Rothbard states that "[o]f economics, which would show them the impossibility of their system, they are completely ignorant, perhaps more so than any other group of political theorists." Given how little relationship economics has to reality, this is hardly a major blow against anarchism -- assuming it were true. Equally, it should be noted that Austrian economics, like neo-classical economics, is not a science. Logic deductions from a few assumptions is a pre-scientific methodology, not to mention the repeated assertions by Rothbard that mere evidence cannot disprove his claims. And it is a strange coincidence that these deductions always seem to end up being what the property-owning class wants to hear! As Kropotkin put it, economics "has always confined itself to stating facts occurring in society, and justifying them in the interest of the dominant class . . . Having found [something] profitable to capitalists, it has set it up as a principle." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 181]
Rothbard then moved onto the issue of anti-social activity, stating that the "dilemma about coercion they attempt to resolve by the absurd theory that crime would simply disappear if the State were abolished, so that no coercion would have to be used." Really? Crime would "simply disappear"? No, not at all. If you read Kropotkin, say, he was well aware that anti-social acts would not disappear. What he did argue, as did other anarchists, was that once people were free and no longer crushed by poverty and hierarchy then anti-social behaviour would decrease drastically. Apparently Rothbard subscribed to the absurd theory that crime is completely independent on how wealth is distributed and how people are treated -- apparently a starving man and a well-fed one would have the same tendency to steal a loaf of bread...
Significantly, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (Allen Lane, 2009) demonstrate that more equal societies have less crime and smaller prison populations as well as consistently delivering other advantages such as better physical and mental health, lower rates of teenage pregnancy and obesity, and higher rates of literacy and social trust. It is striking that on almost every index of quality of life or wellness there is a strong correlation between a country's level of economic inequality and its social outcomes.
Of course that information was not around when Rothbard wrote his diatribe but it is a striking confirmation of the communist-anarchist position he distorts in order to mock. While as an "Austrian" economist, Rothbard may happily dismiss this empirical evidence, the awkward fact is that more equal societies are better ones and have less crime. As Kropotkin and others argued.
Showing that Marxists have no monopoly of spewing forth nonsense about anarchism, Rothbard asserted that:
"Irrationality indeed permeates almost all of the views of the left-wing anarchists. They reject industrialism as well as private property, and tend to favor returning to the handicraft and simple peasant conditions or the Middle Ages."
It would be interesting to discover which anarchists favoured a return to the Middle Ages or rejected "industrialism", but sadly Rothbard did not feel that actually naming them would be of benefit to his potential readers. Perhaps this silence is due to the awkward fact that no "left-wing" anarchist actually advocated such a rejection or return? If Rothbard had actually read, say, Kropotkin he would have discovered that he advocated the use of appropriate technology, the integration of workplaces and farming, the humanisation of industry and most definitely not their rejection.
While Marxists have tended to dismiss anarchists, particularly Kropotkin, along these exact same lines, it does not make it true. The actual position advocated by anarchists, including Kropotkin, did not involve rejecting technology and industry, but rather the surely uncontroversial position that a free society would transform the industrial structure and technology that grew up under centuries of unfree society. As Kropotkin repeatedly stressed, modern industry is shaped by the need to make profits and dominate markets. Combine this with state intervention against the working class, and you quickly come to the conclusion that the "industrialism" that Rothbard takes for granted was the product of centuries of coercion and the exercise of political and economic power.
Apparently, for Rothbard, centuries of coercion in no way shaped the economy and that, without the state, exactly the same socio-economic system would have developed, with essentially the same industrial and class structure.
Rothbard then introduces a somewhat surreal point (pun intended!):
"They are fanatically in favor of modern art, which they consider 'anarchist' art."
Again, who is this "they"? He named no names, again. Moreover, this statement is wonderfully irrelevant, raising the question "who cares?" And to make an equally irrelevant statement, is it not interesting that Stalin, like the Nazis, had a distinct hatred of modern art. Who knows, perhaps he did so because he considered it "anarchist" too? One thing is sure, many modern art supporters and artists that they were the most important bulwark against totalitarianism and its repression represented a warning that individual liberties were being threatened.
Rothbard continued to make his broad and decidedly vague accusations against communist-anarchists:
"They have an intense hatred of money and of material improvements. Living a simple peasant existence, in communes, is extolled as 'living the anarchist life,' while a civilized person is supposed to be viciously bourgeois and unanarchist."
"They"? Who, exactly? Again, Rothbard named no names. As such, it makes it hard to determine whether anarchists do wish to live "a simple peasant existence, in communes". It is well-known, of course, that Kropotkin suggested that a free society would combine industry and agriculture in a decentralised economic system but that was hardly a "peasant existence" nor did it reject "material improvements". As for "communes", that suggests a blissful ignorance of anarchist history as well as theory given that anarchists saw communes embrace whole towns and cities (with the Paris Commune giving a concrete example of what was desired). That is hard to square with a "a simple peasant existence" and so, unsurprisingly, went unmentioned.
And what, may we ask, makes a person "civilised"? By what criteria is being "bourgeois" civilised? But, yes, an employer of wage slaves (an actual bourgeois) would be "unanarchist" as, by definition, anarchism is against masters and slaves, against social relationships based on power, authority, oppression and exploitation.
Rothbard then concluded: "Considering the dominant anarchists, it is obvious that the question 'are libertarians anarchists?' must be answered unhesitatingly in the negative. We are at completely opposite poles." And ignoring the unsubstantiated assertions, smears and errors, Rothbard's conclusion is right -- it is obvious that propertarians are not communist anarchists, that they are "at completely opposite poles."
However, communist-anarchism is not the only school of anarchism. Rothbard noted that "[c]onfusion enters" because of "the existence in the past, particularly in the United States, of a small but brilliant group of 'individualist anarchists' headed by Benjamin R. Tucker." This is, he states, "a different breed" who "have contributed a great deal to libertarian thought." Needless to say, he used the term "libertarian" in the (incorrect) propertarian sense and in that (incorrect) sense it is questionable how much they did contribute to propertarianism. While certain of their ideas have been inserted (in a suitably modified form) into propertarianism, the economic and social context of these ideas have been ignored. This cannot help present a somewhat skewed notion of what the individualist anarchist desired and how close they are to propertarianism or, for that matter, communist anarchism.
So "[c]onfusion enters" only if you ignore the social context in which Individualist Anarchism developed and if you have an ideologically coloured notion of what socialism is.
Somewhat strangely, Rothbard states that "[i]n the political sphere, the individualist anarchists were generally sound libertarians. They favored private property, extolled free competition, and battled all forms of governmental intervention." Since when was free competition political rather than economic? And to proclaim they "favored private property" is somewhat at odds with the later acknowledgement that they "failed to advocate defense of private landholdings beyond what the owner used personally"! In a predominantly agricultural society, such a position was not only considered an attack on the rights of private property (as Rothbard implies) but also a radical transformation of the economy. As for "all forms of governmental intervention" that included defence of capitalist property rights in land and housing (Tucker regarded a tenant of a house "as the occupant and user of the land on which the house stands, and as the owner of the house itself." [Liberty, no. 308, p. 4]).
"Politically," Rothbard continued, "the Tucker anarchists had two principal defects: (1) they failed to advocate defense of private landholdings beyond what the owner used personally; (2) they relied too heavily on juries and failed to see the necessity for a body of constitutional libertarian law which the private courts would have to uphold." Yet, the Tucker anarchists did not consider these as being remotely defects -- quite the reverse. Indeed, Tucker spent some time arguing against Rothbard's preferred property rights in land based on valid libertarian principles:
"I put the right of occupancy and use above the right of contract . . . principally by my interest in the right of contract. Without such a preference the theory of occupancy and use is utterly untenable; without it . . . it would be possible for an individual to acquire, and hold simultaneously, virtual titles to innumerable parcels of land, by the merest show of labour performed thereon . . . [This would lead to] the virtual ownership of the entire world by a small fraction of its inhabitants . . . [which would see] the right of contract, if not destroyed absolutely, would surely be impaired in an intolerable degree." [Liberty, no. 350, p. 4]
It should be noted that this critique caused problems with another propertarian thinker of the time, Auberon Herbert.
Somewhat ironically, Tucker would have joined Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin in "the private courts" if they had practiced what they preached and refused to pay rent. After all, that would be a crime under Rothbard's "constitutional libertarian law" and it would be unlikely that a wealthy private judge would be as moved as a jury by the arguments used to defend their actions! And what, exactly, is the difference between a monopoly "constitutional libertarian law" and the state, other than the former, like a dictatorship, would not be subject to democratic change?
It should also be noted that Rothbard's wish to defend landlords just proves Kropotkin's point:
"Political economy -- that pseudo-science of the bourgeoisie -- does not cease to give praise in every way to the benefits of individual property . . . [Yet] the economists do not conclude, 'The land to him who cultivates it.' On the contrary, they hasten to deduce from the situation, 'The land to the lord who will get it cultivated by wage earners!'" [Words of a Rebel, p. 209-10]
However, while they had "minor political failings" the Tucker anarchists had "grievous economic error". First off, they "believed that interest and profit were exploitative" (not to mention rent!) and this was caused by "an allegedly artificial restriction on the money supply." Their goal, apparently, was to establish free banking in which "everyone would print as much money as he needed, and interest and profits would fall to zero." Of course, this is simply nonsense (and it gives some of Rothbard's assertions on communist-anarchism a run for its money in terms of being inaccurate!).
For the Tucker anarchists, free banking simply meant that banks did not need specie to issue money and credit, rather people would use other forms of property as collateral. It would not be printing money, but rather the creation of credit for people seeking to produce more goods and services. In other words, they expressed a clear understanding of how a modern credit economy would work -- in stark contrast to Rothbard's "Austrian" position which assumes his logical deductions are more significant than the activities of an industry which have evolved over centuries.
Rest assured, though, the "economic fallacies of the Tuckerites . . . still permitted them to advocate a nearly libertarian system"! Yet if the economic base of their political system do not exist, if aspects of their system are grafted onto a deeply unequal society marked by accumulation of wealth via interest, rent and profit, then their system would turn into the opposite of what they desired. Rather than ended the power of the capitalist and landlord class over society, the private courts would be imposing the private power of these classes, a power enshrined in the "constitutional libertarian law". As individualist anarchist Laurance Labadie put it:
"Mere common sense would suggest that any court would be influenced by experience; and any free-market court or judge would in the very nature of things have some precedents guiding them in their instructions to a jury. But since no case is exactly the same, a jury would have considerable say about the heinousness of the offence in each case, realising that circumstances alter cases, and prescribing penalty accordingly. This appeared to Spooner and Tucker to be a more flexible and equitable administration of justice possible or feasible, human beings being w hat they are . . .
"But when Mr. Rothbard quibbles about the jurisprudential ideas of Spooner and Tucker, and at the same time upholds presumably in his courts the very economic evils which are at bottom the very reason for human contention and conflict, he would seem to be a man who chokes at a gnat while swallowing a camel." [quoted by Mildred J. Loomis and Mark A. Sullivan, "Laurance Labadie: Keeper Of The Flame", pp. 116-30, Benjamin R. Tucker and the Champions of Liberty, Coughlin, Hamilton and Sullivan (eds.), p. 124]
Many a subsequent propertarian has echoed Rothbard's notion that "superficial might easily confuse the two" schools because the individualists were led to attack 'capitalists', whom they felt were exploiting the workers through State restriction of the money supply." Yet Rothbard himself fell into this allegedly "superficial" perspective by acknowledging that "all the anarchist groups . . . possessed socialistic economic doctrines in common" and that "even the best of them" had "socialistic elements in their doctrines". Clearly, confusing the two schools of anarchism may not be so "superficial" after all!
This acknowledgement of reality came when he asserted that "[m]any libertarian thinkers in that Golden Age of liberalism were working on doctrines that were similar in many respects" although these "genuine libertarians never referred to themselves as anarchists." The reason seems clear: "probably the main reason was that all the anarchist groups, even the right-wingers [sic!], possessed socialistic economic doctrines in common." Apparently these "genuine libertarians" were also "superficial"...
It would have been nice to know who these "genuine" libertarians actually were. Presumably, one of them would have been Molinari, someone propertarians generally point to as inventing "market anarchism" even though he never called himself an anarchist. Assuming that Rothbard meant Molinari, it should be noted that his position was unique -- he was the sole defender of such free-market justice at the time in France. It must also be noted that no one, including these so-called "genuine libertarians", ever referred to them as "libertarians" at the time. This "Golden Age of liberalism" not only produced anarchism in opposition to it, it also saw anarchists across the globe use the word "libertarian" to describe their ideas from 1858 onwards! And, needless to say, surely the fact that "all" anarchists were "socialistic" is significant?
Rothbard gets to his conclusion:
"We must therefore turn to history for enlightenment; here we find that none of the proclaimed anarchist groups correspond to the libertarian position, that even the best of them have unrealistic and socialistic elements in their doctrines . . . we find that all of the current anarchists are irrational collectivists . . . We must therefore conclude that we are not anarchists, and that those who call us anarchists are not on firm etymological ground, and are being completely unhistorical."
How very true (bar the "irrational collectivists" nonsense, of course)! As argued by most anarchists ever since and as proven in An Anarchist FAQ! It may be argued that as Rothbard did not publish his article, it makes little sense to discuss it. This is not the case, particularly given that elements of this article subsequently appeared in two other published pieces ("The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine: An Economist's View" and the charmingly entitled "The Death Wish of the Anarcho-Communists"). More importantly, Rothbard's conclusion was correct. Attempts to include "anarcho"-capitalism into anarchism are "completely unhistorical" and are not "on firm etymological ground". His conclusion that all schools of anarchism have "socialistic elements in their doctrines" confirms what anarchists have long argued, as does his admission that "We must therefore conclude that we are not anarchists."
That Rothbard at one stage acknowledged the obvious is significant and should be commented upon, just as his slanders and distortions about anarchism should pointed out and corrected.
Like most sites we have a major problem with bots trying to post spam into the comments section. While looking for a better solution we are reduced to only on turning on the ability to anonymously comment for brief periods around the posting of new articles. But if you are a regular visitor you can comment at any time by creating an account on the site and logging in before posting. But the Spammers also set up accounts so to reduce the workload of deleting those we only turn on the ability to create accounts for brief periods which we announce on our Twitter & Facebook accounts so follow those to hear when we have that turned on. We do want you to be able to engage with us via the comments and we are very sorry for the fact that we can't find a better way of dealing with spam.