… Beyond Semantics
So, in short, I’m not sure that using “socialism” as the label for a particular sort of market anarchist project, or of “capitalism” for what that project opposes, has to be seen as just an exercise in semantic game-playing.
1. Emancipatory intent. For instance: labeling a particular sort of market anarchist project “socialist” clearly identifies its emancipatory intent: it links that project with the opposition to bossism and deprivation that provide the real moral and emotional force of socialist appeals of all sorts.
2. Warranted opposition to “capitalism.” Thus, identifying one’s project as “socialist” is a way of making clear one’s opposition to “capitalism”—as that term is understood by an enormous range of ordinary people around the world. The “socialist” label signals to them that a market anarchist project like Kevin’s is on their side and that it is opposed to those entities they identify as their oppressors.
3. Forcing the state-socialist to distinguish between her attachment to ends and her attachment to means. A final rationale: suppose a market anarchist like Kevin points out to the state-socialist—by sincerely owning the “socialist” label—that she or he shares the state-socialist’s ends, while disagreeing radically with the state-socialist’s judgments about appropriate means to those ends. This simultaneously sincere and rhetorically effective move allows the market anarchist to challenge the state-socialist to confront the reality that there is an inconsistency between the state-socialist’s emancipatory goals and the authoritarian means she or he professes to prefer. It sets the stage for the market anarchist to highlight the fact that purported statist responses to bossism create more, and more powerful, bosses, that the state is much better at causing deprivation than curing it.
Thus, the market anarchist’s use of “socialism” creates an occasion for the state-socialist to ask her- or himself, perhaps for the first time, “Am I really more attached to the means or to the end?” I realize that what I intend as a rhetorical question may not—if the state-socialist cares more about power than principle—elicit the intended answer. But it seems to me that, for many state-socialists, the recognition that the left-wing market anarchist sought socialist goals by non-statist means provides the state-socialist with good reason to rethink her attachment to the state, to conclude that it was pragmatic and unnecessary, and that her genuinely principled attachment was to the cause of human emancipation.
This means there’s a meaningful opportunity for education—to highlight the existence of a credible tradition advancing a different meaning of “socialism.” …