… Freedom Versus Tyranny
The issue, I repeat, is not between socialism and capitalism, in any meaningful sense of the words. In the broadest sense, it is between freedom and tyranny. As regards capital, it is between whether men shall be able to keep the fruits of their labor and dispose of accumulations of it as they think best, or have it confiscated and used for politically determined ends. It is between the free market and the hampered market. It is between free enterprise and state-controlled activity under the direction of a vast bureaucracy. It is between dispersed wealth under individual control and concentrated wealth used to augment the power of the state. It is between the right to private property and the might of centralized government thrusting for total power. There are other dimensions, moral and social, to the contest, but the above are the major economic ones. Capitalism, as currently used, tends to act as a red herring to draw us off the scent and draw attention to largely extraneous issues. …
… 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.” …
… State socialism has attempted to realize socialism through the power of the state. Not surprisingly, given everything we know about states, state socialism has proven in most respects to be a disaster. Coupled with the economic inefficiencies associated with central planning, the secret police, the barbed wire fences, and the suppression of dissent are all elements of state socialism’s disastrous record.
If you want to define socialism as state socialism, be my guest. Many people do so. But the history of the term makes clear that many people have not meant state control or society-wide ownership of the means of production when they have talked about socialism.
… History is the trade secret of science fiction, and theories of history are its invisible engine. One such theory is that society evolves because people’s relationship with nature tends to change more radically and rapidly than their relationships with each other. Technology outpaces law and custom. From this mismatch, upheavals ensue. Society either moves up to a new stage with more scope for the new technology, or the technology is crushed to fit the confines of the old society. As the technology falls back, so does the society, perhaps to an earlier configuration. In the main stream of history, however, it has moved forward through a succession of stages, each of which is a stable configuration between the technology people have to work with, and their characteristic ways of working together. But this stability contains the seeds of new instabilities. Proponents of this theory argue that the succession of booms and slumps, wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions, which began in August 1914 and which shows no prospect of an end, indicates that we live in just such an age of upheaval. …
… Today socialism means only State, not social, control. But for many people here and abroad, capitalism means not laissez faire, but rather corporatism, or what the great libertarian Albert Jay Nock called the “Merchant-state.” It behooves us to make sure our labels communicate clearly. Otherwise we will never bring the mass of people to the cause of liberty.
… Socialism, as such, implies neither liberty nor authority. The word itself implies nothing more than harmonious relationship. In fact, it is so broad a term that it is difficult of definition. I certainly lay claim to no special authority or competence in the matter. I simply maintain that the word Socialism having been applied for years, by common usage and consent, as a generic term to various schools of thought and opinion, those who try to define it are bound to seek the common element of all these schools and make it stand for that, and have no business to make it represent the specific nature of any one of them. …
The silliness about Obama’s “socialism” and his deficient understanding of “Americanism” just keeps coming from the Romney campaign. In a recent Romney campaign conference call, Ohio businessman Kyle Koehler came up with this howler:
“It seems to me that the Obama America, there’s no risk but there’s plenty of reward. That’s called socialism to me.”
Never mind the mind-bending feat of imagination it takes to believe Obama — a man who’s arguably given big business more subsidies and monopoly protections than any president in the past century — is some sort of “socialist.”
More importantly, what Koehler describes is the very definition of American-style corporate capitalism — as American as apple pie and Swiss bank accounts. As far as I know, it’s certainly not any kind of “Kenyan Anti-Colonialism” Kwame Nkrumah would recognize.
Think about it. Just consider, one at a time, the major industries in the American — and global — corporate economy. …
What did the original socialists envision to be the owner and controller of the economy? Did they think it ought to be the state? Did they favor nationalization? Or did they want something else entirely?
Every man has a natural right to labor. Every man is equitably entitled to exactly that proportion of the world’s wealth which his own labor produces. I hold the second of these propositions to be self-evident, and the first to follow clearly from the hypothesis that all men are endowed with an inalienable right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Now marketable commodities are of two kinds: First, the fruits or products of labor; Secondly, the means of labor. The means of labor are three in number: 1st, the earth and its crude products; 2d, time; 3d, vital energy. Without these, no man can possibly labor. And these, the means of labor, are not produced by labor. They are free gifts of God to man. It is a patent violation of man’s natural right to labor, that the means of labor should be taken from him. It is a great wrong if any man is forced to pay for the privilege; therefore, it is wrong to buy up the means of labor and make them marketable commodities. I understand, of course that any man has a right to exchange the fruits of some of his own labor for an equivalent in the fruits of some one else’s. But the means of labor are not the fruits of labor at all. They belong only to the race. No person has a special right to them except the Almighty; for no one else can claim to have produced them. Unless I can buy them of my Creator, I have no right to deny them to any of my fellow-creatures.
Unhappily, capitalists have always the power to perpetuate the wrong under consideration. Not ten years since, they bought and sold vital power, the living bodies of men. They still buy and sell the land and its crude products, thus compelling labor to pay a tax for their support. If we would know the possibilities of this iniquity let us look to Ireland. They there also buy up time, and compel men to pay a tax upon its use. Do you ask how? Through the principle of interest!
It may be said that to abolish those odious tyrannies would be to destroy our business relations, But here is the rub. Our social system is founded on iniquity. It is the cause of pauperism and all its horrors. It robs the laborer of two-thirds of the products of his toil, perhaps. Is it not a plain duty to seek its abolition?
The National Labor Union fail to see the exigency of the time, when they talk of the “unfair distribution of the products of labor between non-producing capital and labor.” Non-producing capital is a thief. Any distribution is unfair which gives products of labor to non-producing capital. Non-producing capital has the same claims on labor that a tape-worm has upon the body it infests.
Sweep away our existing social system, and it must soon be succeeded by another. And what shall that other be?
C. L. James