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A Response to “In Which the Anarcho-Syndicalists Discover C4SS”

category north america / mexico | anarchist movement | debate author Monday July 17, 2017 14:13author by D. Morse and B. Sousa Report this post to the editors

In this article, we respond to the brief exchange between the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance (WSA-IWA) and the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS).

Have you ever noticed that when you are in an argument you want to have the last word? It often feels like the last word contains its own authority, as if you are the assaulted party and now you have defended an honorable view. In debate, this is referred to as the “last word” fallacy; a bias towards the most recent argument and likelihood to be swayed by it. Can we combat these biases in arguments of value or, more pertinently, ones of fact? The most recent political climate is emblematic of effective misinformation and narrative based politics. Far Left and far Right political thinkers can believe themselves outside of the influences of “centrist” politics, but maybe they too are gripped by the “truths” of bias. The inherent vice of a political stance is a loss of objectivity, but a gain of effectiveness. Can we actually argue a point legitimately, or will we forever circle mainstream politics in a purgatory of “truths?”

R. and Sousa’s A Free Market Fantasy, served to respond, in part, to a very brief, substance-less, article published by Byas, titled Toward an Anarchy of Production, which made an argument for “free markets” in anarchism and the lack of emphasis of “markets” in the anarcho-syndicalist community. The anarcho-syndicalist community, as Byas describes, is a non-scalable or socio-changeable system if as he says the following:

"Any society worth calling “anarchist” is going to be one that can continually adapt to the needs and desires of the individuals within that society. This adaptation must also be to the interests of the entire community, not toward the limited aims of a specific class of people. There must be ceaseless social experimentation, and there must be incentives toward developing institutions that benefit everyone and weeding out those that don’t... This requires markets, which are uniquely able to account for variation in ways that other, more deliberately constructed social arrangements cannot. That information-gathering function of the market process is typically just praised for its efficiency, but this overlooks its potential as an engine of social change."

This, as R. and Sousa point out, is not consistent with the intellectual framers of anarcho-syndicalist constructs (Rocker, Bakunin, Chomsky, Kropotkin and so on) and is therefore likely a point of view that presupposes the veracity of the anarcho-capitalist perspective and foundationally relies on the thinking of Tucker and others. It is actually quite a leap of logic to call “free-markets” efficient in a positive meaning, as many philosophers and social thinkers argue that they are efficient at extracting maximal profit via minimal investment from “moneyed monopolies,” which goes against Tucker’s position. If we were to analyze markets from a Marxist-environmental perspective, we may reach a more disquieting conclusion about their supposed efficiencies.

As the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) article is free of empirically derived reasoning (as is almost all literature in the libertarian and/or anarchist communities) we must use argumentation based on foundation, structure, and axioms.

Byas defines markets to further the argument of the moral positivism that anarcho-capitalism wants to identify with, but constantly fails to do so. Definitions of markets and their utility are given by Byas herein:

"By contrast, two of the most important features of markets are radically decentralized decision-making based on distributed knowledge, and the availability of alternatives. In market transactions, one does not have to convince the community at large of the goodness behind one’s use of a given resource in order to use it, they just have to provide value for value... Within a market, people can act more directly on what they believe is genuinely best for them, even when the reasons for that are difficult to communicate to those in more privileged positions... By creating new profit opportunities geared toward those preferences of the oppressed, the seemingly impersonal market process becomes a never-ending social critique, always backed up by immediate direct action A market society is a society built on continuous self-creation, whose institutions are always kept in check by the looming threat of creative destruction. In so far as anarchism is the abolition of hierarchy, the production of anarchy requires the anarchy of production."

This style of thinking is exactly what R. and Sousa describe as “utopian at best” and “mightily bold.” As is the dictum in the sciences (and should be applied to rigorous philosophy and political thought) “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence;” which is not seen in the Byas article and from our reading of the C4SS website, not met generally by its authors.

Carson starts with a degree of “vituperation” that is rarely seen from a response to a publication by the United States based “Friend” of the International Workers’ Association – the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance – and portrays a degree of anxiety over his own ideas, which is nice, because it allows us to deconstruct his arguments from a similarly jaded and vicious perspective.

The first critique of R. and Sousa’s intellectual malfeasance is his appropriation of Tucker as synthesizing individualism with Austrian economics, responding to this with an obvious shock, as though such thinking is absurd and “inconsistent.” Unsurprisingly, the C4SS website gives a shiny view of Tucker’s economic philosophies:

"Tucker built his theory of individualist anarchism (or what he called “Boston Anarchism” to distinguish him from “Chicago Anarchists” who were generally less favorable to markets and more favorable to violence as a means for social change) out of the principles of individual sovereignty and the labor theory of value (which was commonly accepted by mainstream economists dating back to Adam Smith, but was later thrown out by the profession after the marginal revolution led by early Austrians, such as Carl Menger and Eugene Böhm von Bawerk). For 19th century anarchists, the labor theory of value, or “cost limit of price,” was the natural extension of the individual’s absolute sovereignty over themselves. Labor was seen as the source for all wealth, and the laborer naturally owns the fruits of their labor as an extension of their self-ownership. Tucker’s theory of value was intimately related to his ethical views based on each individual having sole dominion over their body and their justly acquired property, which required labor mixing."

(We are not entirely sure if this is accurate, and we should not mistake the reality with the story. As we don’t think that even Adam Smith particularly cared about a man’s labor being his right, nor did his view of protectionist capitalism conflicted to directly with the “Austrian” thinkers Massimino refer to with such distain. How, for instance, would Tucker think about large capital investments? How about colonialism? A name is not a philosophy and therefore we ought not to get hung up on calls to authority, in general, no?)

Whether or not Tucker’s thinking is a synthesis of Individualism with Austrian economics is not proved by Tucker’s writing on the subject, but on how it is used to further such a type of thinking. To quote Bojak, from Bojak Horseman "Hey, I stand by my critique of Sartre. His philosophical arguments helped tyrannical regimes justify overt cruelty."

If we want our arguments to exist in the real world then we need to critique them based on the influences they dominate, and so free ourselves of intellectual bias in that matter. Carson then points to R. and Sousa’s inconsistent definitions of markets with quod erat demonstrandum authority, which any graduate T.A. would recognize as no certainty of proof.

"R. and Sousa display still more incoherence in their interpretation of Adam Smith. Smith, they say, “suggested that that the crafters of legal statutes and political policy in his day” guaranteed that the state’s policy would promote primarily capitalist interests at the expense of everybody else. This, they go on to argue, demonstrates the sheer utopianism of believing “that markets could remedy the tendency of those in positions of power advance their interests through exploiting the laborers and working class.”... But if capitalists exploit the working class through statutes and policies enforced by the state, then “markets” as we understand them amount to the abolition of such statutes and policies. So “markets,” by definition, entail the abolition of capitalism in the sense of Tucker’s monopolies on land, credit and ideas. And the quote from Tucker, above — which the authors appear to cite favorably — is an explicit statement that “markets,” in the sense of abolishing monopolies in land and credit and opening them up to competition, would abolish all forms of rent extracted as surplus value from labor."

R. and Sousa are actually arguing the antithesis of Carson’s critique, as when they say this:

"Class struggle libertarians know that private property is a major basis for capitalism (which historically presupposes colonialism, imperialism, and the use of the state to defend said private property)... Therefore, it stands to reason that the ideology evoked by Byas and others is by no genuine means anti-capitalist. Ironically, the “free market” positions of ALL and C4SS is virtually pro-capitalist, due to the fact that it supports the societal roots capitalism depends on, including, most strikingly, private property. It is more correct to call this position something like “market liberalism,” but it’s strikingly similar to Anarcho-capitalism, which is an extreme ultra-right view that free markets should coordinate the economy without any outside interference."

Or this on Adam Smith:

"More specifically, he suggested that that the crafters of legal statutes and political policy in his day ensured that their selfish interests were “most peculiarly attended to [no matter how] grievous” the consequence experienced by others... To think that markets could remedy the tendency of those in positions of power advance their interests through exploiting the laborers and working class is utopian at best."

From these, we are inclined to conclude that R. and Sousa define markets as being a purely state-backed capitalist enterprise that is impossible to abstract into its own “liberty” centered exchange. Free association cannot exist if single persons have unchecked access to the communal resources: the capacity to create monopolies. It is ironic that the corporate/state structures that Tucker purports to detest emerge so easily from the anarcho-capitalist worldview. Carson’s abstraction of the market from the state structure is sophomoric and idealistic at best and cannot be used as a refutation to R. and Sousa’s arguments.

On private property, Carson shows that he can defend his own position without insulting the intelligence of another person, but we run into an issue of definitions and of purpose. The “use” argument that Carson refers to is the Lockeian argument, and when Tucker makes it, he is making the same argument that Locke originally made, which was based on a man’s right to property of person (which, better stated in modern English as Liberty of Person). That means that a man is due his labor, the product of his hands, such that he does not exhaust the potential of every other man to use their labor for the same purpose. This has striking similarity to the Marxist “each to their own capacity” dictum and is a valid point of difference between hardline rightwing anarcho-capitalists who don’t believe that all persons have a right to life, and the “libertarian left” that Carson supports.

It is a common sin in anarchist and socialist circles that capitalism will fail, and that what will replace it is morally positive. Carson makes an eloquent argument for the fall of capitalism, starting by accepting the colonial roots of resource abundance and creation of artificial scarcity by controlled distribution and production. He states that:

"At the same time, artificial abundance is unsustainable because it’s a basic economic law that corporations will pursue business models that economize on costly inputs and instead maximize reliance on extensive addition of inputs that are artificially cheap. Demand for subsidized inputs will outstrip the supply. So the economy is driven towards material input crises like Peak Oil, and crumbling infrastructure that can’t keep up with the needs of corporations operating over larger and larger market areas. States must socialize larger and larger portions of the total operating costs of capital in order for business to be profitable until, as neo-Marxist James O’Connor pointed out, fiscally exhausted states can no longer keep up with the demand... On top of all this there’s the chronic tendency of corporate capitalism towards over-investment, under consumption and excess capacity — a tendency that becomes worse over time and is exacerbated by technological advances in small-scale, cheap and ephemeral production machinery that requires less and less capital expenditure for a given level of output."

Where is the evidence that the socialization of loses will ever be curbed by the failing of the corporate empires? (Seriously, where?) The 2009 financial crisis, which has been determined to be of criminal negligence by multiple independent reviews, is still billed in the form of debt on the American taxpayer. Nestlé corporation has furthered the most obvious example of stolen commons by commodifying water, at the expense of both governments and peoples. How about risk analyses of oil spill danger? British Petroleum longs for artic drilling, even though there exists a 40% failure rate, and is not responsible at all for the destruction of that environment? How about climate change? The commons of air are completely ignored by business, government, and consumer interests. Where is this complete collapse of corporate interests? (Please, send us the data.)

Even if we accept “terminal crisis tendencies” as being accurate, will they lead to the outcome that Carson wants? We see these “hollowed out states” as falling prey to even further corporate influence. The sort of mechanical society in the cyberpunk futurism of Blade Runner, Brazil, and 12 Monkeys where society falls backwards into aristocracy, with extreme wealth at the top maintained by private security and technology, and extreme poverty plaguing those abandoned by the state and hence destined to live in squalor.

Carson then ends his critique of anarcho-syndicalists by categorizing them as being beholden to the “old school” of Marxist socialism that is irrelevant to the modern decentralized economy. This argument is a little hypocritical to the earlier assertion, which reproached R. and Sousa for using selective quoting to lump all in the C4SS community into the anarcho-capitalist position, and then selectively quotes R. and Sousa to the same effect. While we cannot and do not want to speak on behalf of R., we think that critics need to return to this old Marxist thinking. Carson is right, the working man has become totally disenfranchised, where they don’t even think of themselves as working men – they are entrepreneurs, capitalists, masters of their own destinies, even when they live in a one-bedroom apartment with no savings and no real prospect for social mobility…

A note to all authors involved

Obviously by writing this article, as a response to the responders’ responses, we are utilizing the last word fallacy to our advantage. We hope that what was written came off as merely a refutation of inaccuracy and not a direct argument for the anarcho-communist perspective, for its validity and viability are worth further debate and reflection. Furthermore, we are agnostic to whether or not the “truths” in this article are capital ‘T’ truths or empirical truths, but we try to understand them through a critical attack of their consequences/philosophical implications. In turn, the significance of the consequences are left to the reader to consider.

Related Link:
author by Wayne Pricepublication date Sat Jul 22, 2017 06:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Readers of this essay may be interested in my article:

Kevin Carson’s Revival of Individualist Anarchist Economic Theory
Review of Kevin A. Carson, "Studies in Mutualist Political Economy".

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