Capitalism, Private Property, etc (was Re: Sweatshops)

From: Travas Gunnell (
Date: Tue Apr 17 2001 - 15:48:38 MDT

On this list I'm sure I'm in for a volley of assaults,
but here goes... ;-)

Regarding the various posts that are essentially
arguing for (or at least not arguing against)
sweatshops and the like:

[put on kevlar vest]

The REAL problem here is capitalism and private

[duck behind blast sheild]

Now before anyone launches into their pat anti-commie
diatribes; save them, I'm not a communist, or a
"socialist" (at least not in the sense of the word
that you're most likely familliar with), I'm an
anarchist. Or, to differentiate myself from the
supposed "anarcho-capitalists", one could say I'm a
"libertarian socialist". Which is NOT a contradiction
in terms. For more on this, go here:
Many people on this list seem to already be aquainted
with such ideas, but I think that they, for the most
part, don't understand them fully.

Rather than re-state what's already been said, what
follows are a few select quotes from the massive
Anarchist FAQ that some of you are likely familiar
with, but in all probability haven't read more than a
minor tidbit here and there. The quotes below should
not be construed as all there is to be said or as the
entirety of such arguments, but rather as a small
taste of what the links below point to. There are
several megabytes of text in the FAQ.


  Private property is in many ways like a private form
of state. The owner determines what goes on within the
area he or she "owns," and therefore exercises a
monopoly of power over it. When
power is exercised over one's self, it is a source of
freedom, but under capitalism it is a source of
coercive authority. As Bob Black points out in The
Abolition of Work:

       "The liberals and conservatives and
Libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phoneys
and hypocrites. . . You find the same sort of
hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory
       as you do in a prison or a monastery. . . A
worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to
show up, when to leave, and what to do in the
meantime. He tells you how much work
       to do and how fast. He is free to carry his
control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he
feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you
go to the bathroom. With a few
       exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or
no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and
supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee.
Talking back is called
       'insubordination,' just as if a worker is a
naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it
disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. . .The
demeaning system of domination
       I've described rules over half the waking hours
of a majority of women and the vast majority of men
for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain
purposes it's not too
       misleading to call our system democracy or
capitalism or -- better still -- industrialism, but
its real names are factory fascism and office
oligarchy. Anybody who says these people
       are 'free' is lying or stupid."

Unlike a company, the democratic state can be
influenced by its citizens, who are able to act in
ways that limit (to some extent) the power of the
ruling elite to be "left alone" to enjoy their power.
As a result, the wealthy hate the democratic aspects
of the state, and its ordinary citizens, as potential
threats to their power. This "problem" was noted by
Alexis de Tocqueville in early
19th-century America:

       "It is easy to perceive that the wealthy
members of the community entertain a hearty distaste
to the democratic institutions of their country. The
populace is at once the object of
       their scorn and their fears."

Capitalist apologists are able to convince some people
that capitalism is "based on freedom" only because the
system has certain superficial appearances of freedom.

On closer analysis these appearances turn out to be deceptions. For example, it is claimed that the employees of capitalist firms have freedom because they can always quit. But, as noted earlier, "Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. Of course, as [right-Libertarians] smugly [observe], 'one can at least change jobs,' but you can't avoid having a job -- just as under statism one can at least change nationalities but you can't avoid subjection to one nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the right to change masters" [Bob Black, The Libertarian as Conservative]. Under capitalism, workers have only the Hobson's choice of being governed/exploited or living on the street.

Anarchists point out that for choice to be real, free agreements and associations must be based on the social equality of those who enter into them, and both sides must receive roughly equivalent benefit. But social relations between capitalists and employees can never be equal, because private ownership of the means of production gives rise to social hierarchy and relations of coercive authority and subordination, as was recognised even by Adam Smith. ---- The statist nature of private property can be seen in "Libertarian" (i.e. minarchist, or "classical" liberal) works representing the extremes of laissez-faire capitalism:

"[I]f one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose to move there or later remain there would have no right to a say in how the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures for the town which the owner had established" [Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 270]

This is voluntary feudalism, nothing more. Of course, it can be claimed that "market forces" will result in the most liberal owners being the most successful, but a nice master is still a master. To paraphrase Tolstoy, "the liberal capitalist is like a kind donkey owner. He will do everything for the donkey -- care for it, feed it, wash it. Everything except get off its back!" And as Bob Black notes, "Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. . . . [F]reedom means more than the right to change masters." [The Libertarian as Conservative]. That supporters of capitalism often claim that this "right" to change masters is the essence of "freedom" is a telling indictment of the capitalist notion of "liberty." --- For anarchists, freedom means both "freedom from" and "freedom to." "Freedom from" signifies not being subject to domination, exploitation, coercive authority, repression, or other forms of degradation and humiliation. "Freedom to" means being able to develop and express one's abilities, talents, and potentials to the fullest possible extent compatible with the maximum freedom of others. Both kinds of freedom imply the need for self-management, responsibility, and independence, which basically means that people have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. And since individuals do not exist in a social vacuum, it also means that freedom must take on a collective aspect, with the associations that individuals form with each other (e.g. communities, work groups, social groups) being run in a manner which allows the individual to participate in the decisions that the group makes. Thus freedom for anarchists requires participatory democracy, which means face-to-face discussion and voting on issues by the people affected by them. ... --- Far from being "based on freedom," then, capitalism actually destroys freedom. In this regard, Robert E. Wood, the chief executive officer of Sears, spoke plainly when he said "[w]e stress the advantages of the free enterprise system, we complain about the totalitarian state, but... we have created more or less of a totalitarian system in industry, particularly in large industry." [quoted by Allan Engler, Apostles of Greed, p. 68] ---- Many capitalist apologists have attempted to show that capitalist authority structures are "voluntary" and are, therefore, somehow not a denial of individual and social freedom. Milton Friedman (a leading free market capitalist economist) has attempted to do just this. Like most apologists for capitalism he ignores the authoritarian relations explicit within wage labour (within the workplace, "co-ordination" is based upon top-down command, not horizontal co-operation). Instead he concentrates on the decision of a worker to sell their labour to a specific boss and so ignores the lack of freedom within such contracts. He argues that "individuals are effectively free to enter or not enter into any particular exchange, so every transaction is strictly voluntary. . . The employee is protected from coercion by the employer because of other employers for whom he can work." [Capitalism and Freedom, pp. 14-15]

Friedman, to prove the free nature of capitalism, compares capitalism with a simple exchange economy based upon independent producers. He states that in such a simple economy each household "has the alternative of producing directly for itself, [and so] it need not enter into any exchange unless it benefits from it. Hence no exchange will take place unless both parties do benefit from it. Co-operation is thereby achieved without coercion." [Op. Cit., p. 13] Under capitalism (or the "complex" economy) Friedman states that "individuals are effectively free to enter or not to enter into any particular exchange, so that every transaction is strictly voluntary." [Op. Cit., p. 14]

A moments thought, however, shows that capitalism is not based on "strictly voluntary" transactions as Friedman claims. This is because the proviso that is required to make every transaction "strictly voluntary" is not freedom not to enter any particular exchange, but freedom not to enter into any exchange at all.

This, and only this, was the proviso that proved the simple model Friedman presents (the one based upon artisan production) to be voluntary and non-coercive; and nothing less than this would prove the complex model (i.e. capitalism) is voluntary and non-coercive. But Friedman is clearly claiming above that freedom not to enter into any particular exchange is enough and so, only by changing his own requirements, can he claim that capitalism is based upon freedom. --- From:

In other words, private property is the state writ small, with the property owner acting as the "sovereign lord" over their property, and so the absolute king of those who use it. As in any monarchy, the worker is the subject of the capitalist, having to follow their orders, laws and decisions while on their property. This, obviously, is the total denial of liberty (and dignity, we may note, as it is degrading to have to follow orders). Little wonder, then, that anarchists oppose private property as Anarchy is "the absence of a master, of a sovereign" [Op. Cit., p. 264] and call capitalism for what it is, namely wage slavery! ---

What is the difference between private property and possession?

Anarchists define "private property" (or just "property," for short) as state-protected monopolies of certain objects or privileges which are used to exploit others. "Possession," on the other hand, is ownership of things that are not used to exploit others (e.g. a car, a refrigerator, a toothbrush, etc.). Thus many things can be considered as either property or possessions depending on how they are used. For example, a house that one lives in is a possession, whereas if one rents it to someone else at a profit it becomes property. Similarly, if one uses a saw to make a living as a self-employed carpenter, the saw is a possession; whereas if one employs others at wages to use the saw for one's own profit, it is property.

While it may initially be confusing to make this distinction, it is very useful to understand the nature of capitalist society. Capitalists tend to use the word "property" to mean anything from a toothbrush to a transnational corporation -- two very different things, with very different impacts upon society. --- The difference between property and possession can be seen from the types of authority relations each generates. Taking the example of a capitalist workplace, its clear that those who own the workplace determine how it is used, not those who do the actual work. This leads to an almost totalitarian system. As Noam Chomsky points out, "the term 'totalitarian' is quite accurate. There is no human institution that approaches totalitarianism as closely as a business corporation. I mean, power is completely top-down. You can be inside it somewhere and you take orders from above and hand 'em down. Ultimately, it's in the hands of owners and investors."

In an anarchist society, as noted, actual use is considered the only title. This means that a workplace is organised and run by those who work within it, thus reducing hierarchy and increasing freedom and equality within society. Hence anarchist opposition to private property and capitalism flows naturally from its basic principles and ideas. ----------

Well, I better stop there or I'll end up quoting the whole damn thing. The main page can be found here (among other places): Sections B and C are probably the most relevant here. Also there is an appendix that deals with the errors and distortions in Bryan Caplan's "Anarchist Theory FAQ." It is located here:

Happy reading! (Or flaming, as the case may be.) :-)


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