By William Schnack
Chris Shaw wrote an article called “Borders Between the Anarchists,” in which he suggests that it is possible for anarchist communists and capitalists to get along. To support his argument, he points to the anarcho-communist philosophy, demonstrating that even communists have some sense of property, that of “individual property.” He shows that anarcho-capitalists are wrong to dismiss attempts toward mutual-tolerance between the two groups, and he argues that anarcho-communist respect for the property of anarcho-capitalist communities does not constitute anarcho-communist acceptance of private property. He says,
“Surely by having something like a private city, with members of it joining by contractual means, there is an inherent recognition of sociality in the realm of property. Or is private property, collectively part of a larger structure developed through voluntary means, now itself a form of private property.
But of course this then twists the concept of private property to the realm of collective ownership, which then messes around with the idea of private property as a fundamental concept of anarcho-capitalism.”
Chris seems to be arguing that even anarcho-capitalism, so far as it relates to a contractual community, has a social nature, and is different from the kind of private-property granted under the state that the communist anarchists reject. One may infer from his position that those who are bound to respect private property within the city came to an agreement about the nature of property rights, or a mechanism for sorting it out. This would imply that in Ancapistan private property is a little more like individual property.
What of those outside of the community, who have no contractual obligations to respect their property? Lacking contract, there is just tort, dispute. An anarcho-communist from an anarcho-communist community, having no contractual obligations to respect the claims of the ancaps, would still suggest that the private community lacks a social element. While it may be social within the framework, an ancom may contend that it is externally antisocial.
Property rights are the manner in which disputes have been settled between vastly different individuals, with differing desires, but property rights themselves are a singular system for the given society (if they are stable). Different individuals agree on, or at least tolerate, a property system to the degree it is capable of facilitating their vastly different interests, without infringing on their fundamental concerns. Property rights, developing from different concerns and traditions, have come in different flavors, however, and represent differing cultural approaches to the problems faced by the participants. Chris Shaw is correct in recognizing the different property systems and the social nature of property, but he falls short in failing to address the fact that these do not always treat problems the same, resulting in their conflicts. There is need for a property system of property systems, property systems between social units which function on their own accord.
Like two individuals yet to agree on a system of property, and disputing over who gets what, the two proposed property systems—individual and private property— dispute between one another. As it was not until individuals agreed to become buyer and seller, or to hold property more personally or in common, that their conflicts were resolved between them, it will not be until the larger social units—which develop around these economic systems—come to an agreement which can encompass them both that there can be found any mutual understanding of property.
Simply allowing each to claim territory from the state, and allowing them to manage that territory on their own, does not suffice to settle the real problems that arise from differences in location value. What happens when the state is completely abolished, and one side wishes to expand? What happens when it is discovered that one side has complete control over a natural resource that the other side needs to continue its way of life? Here, the anarcho-communists would argue that the social nature of the private community stops at its border, where it becomes an antisocial barrier to others. Unless a system of property can be found between the ancaps and ancoms, which incorporates them both, but also settles disputes of this nature, their property systems will still be found to be at odds.
I think the resolution can be uncovered by approaching the situation as an egoist, and treating others as egoists. An egoist does not get caught up in ideological chains, but asks the question—much like that found in game theory—of optimization, and all while recognizing the unique characteristics of the ego at hand. An egoist treats property as a matter of what can efficiently be controlled. Imagining two egoists, how will they decide on the system of property? It will be the system that works best for each, and only while working for each. In the case this does not occur immediately, ongoing learning and disputes will lead imperfectly, but persistently, in this direction. This is the story of economic conflict throughout history.
The disputes between egos in the market—buyer and seller—have resulted in a final synthesis, a settlement between the forces of supply and demand, the sale. Now, the sale in real life exists between people who inherit a system of property rights from their government. What is being exchanged is property granted by the government, and which enters the market from involuntary origins based in government force. A buyer and seller can agree on the price, without agreeing on the nature of property rights. Indeed, this happens every time a communist, who disputes the claim to property, makes a voluntary purchase at the grocery store. I argue that original property claims need to be put under the same competition that products are, and similarly agreed upon. Capitalism and communism are but forces of supply and demand, but as it relates to property which has not yet hit the market, lacking an undisputed claimant. The disputed claimants, so long as they can maintain their claim by force, may then put their disputed property on the market or gift it, allowing for a voluntary exchange of involuntary property.
Whether we hold that the Earth is a gift from God or Nature to all of humanity, or that we were born on this planet without having an original claim from the beginning, it must be understood that all of us— amidst this vacuum of legality, this tort without judge (except for necessity, or outcome)— have a demand for its resources. We can continue to sort conflicts of demand out with force, or we can forgo its costs, and sort it out logically, and through contract. But whatever could be the basis of this contract? What principle can bring these two sides together?
While anarcho-communists and capitalists differ on what they think will be done with labor in a post-revolutionary society, each believes to some extent in the individual basis of labor, and the right of the laborer to control their own labor through voluntary associations. Similarly, as Chris Shaw points out in his article, each to varying extent sees a social origin in their system of property. The most-cited originator of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, had a philosophy which already took this into consideration. Proudhon believed that “The right to product is exclusive […] the right to means is common.” It seems that both sides of the argument roughly still agree to Proudhon’s original synthesis (his anarchism, afterall, was the synthesis of classical liberalism and socialism, the disputes of which were a topic of his day, much as they are in this discussion), and that getting along means getting back to the origins.
The communist believes the individual will voluntarily forfeit their labor to the collective for the sake of the apparent gains from equality, and the capitalist feels that society will forfeit its control over property to the individual for the sake of apparent efficiency from what they understand to be freedom. This is what separates them. But, in their idealized versions, anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-communism are simply flavors of mutualist management, agreeing to the basis (but not restriction) of social property and individual labor. At least, that’s how it appears in principle. The practicality of getting them to agree to this and organize around it is a little more difficult.
Proudhon would never have forbid anarcho-communists from sharing their labor’s product, nor anarcho-capitalists from establishing private communities. He would argue that they are economically infeasible, but he would not forbid them. If we want to resolve the disputes between anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists, we must go back to its source: a misunderstanding of Proudhon’s position, and polarized notions about what freedom is the best freedom: the freedom to take, or the freedom to keep. Until balance is found between these egoistic forces—through mutual agreement—there can be no undisputed borders between the anarchists, except those ever shifting and drawn in bloodied soil.
We have uncovered the principle of what can bring the two sides together: reciprocity, the principle of mutualism. It has brought together buyer and seller, who dispute the value until a mutually agreeable price is found; gifter and receiver, who agree to a network of reciprocal altruism; and it can bring together also claimant and disputants of original entitlement. We agree with Chris, that there is loose agreement in the social nature of property, but also in the individual nature of labor. All that is left is to answer those lasting territorial concerns, such as “What happens when the state is completely abolished, and one side wishes to expand?” or “What happens when it is discovered that one side has complete control over a natural resource that the other side needs to continue its way of life?” For those answers, a student of Proudhon’s— Henry George, who cites Proudhon as an influence in his book— may be looked to for a refined solution to Proudhon’s occupancy and use (which is good, but lacks definition and working out of the details).
Henry George provides a middle ground in the dispute between communal and capitalistic property arrangements, though certainly orienting property in the social realm. Henry George suggested, like many before him (including Proudhon), that the surplus value (rent) of the land should be owned in common, but the location rights should be owned by its user. This position is unique in dividing the earned and unearned income (surplus value), rather than treating them as a whole. It has been supported as tolerable by capitalists and communists alike, and speaks to Proudhon’s basis of anarchism, “The right to product is exclusive […] the right to means is common.” If ancaps and ancoms could agree to distribute property to their respective communities—between one another, not within their associations— on the basis that property is social and rent is communal, but that occupancy is private and wages are individual, mutual agreement can be reached between the ancoms and ancaps. Once divided fairly, it can be managed in the manner each wants, with mutual understanding that each has the explicit right to be there, and to manage it as they wish: The communists may share their wages, and the capitalists may privatize them into profits; the communist may manage land in common, and the capitalists may privatize it; all within the framework of mutual agreement. Our egoists have maximized. They will do so further when they agree on a means of exchange, and forgo the costs of paying their rent in kind, but mutual credit is a story for another day.
Even if the surplus value (rent) is paid in kind (the miner pays in gold, the farmer in carrots, etc.), rather than with money, the problems associated with differences in location value are settled. In order to maintain control of the best land, according to the Georgist standard, one must offer the highest payment of rent to society for it. Society, now having been paid rent as individuals, private communities, communes, etc. can pay for the scarce resources from individual, private, communal, etc. hands, that they otherwise couldn’t afford (due to land monopoly). There is no more need for either side to worry about the monopolization of resources, unless the social contract (explicit and voluntary) is broken, and they are willing to undergo the costs of conflict to enforce their disputed claims. Again, this is costly, and does not amount to the kind of unity needed for toppling the state.
Borders, being established by the willingness to produce the most rent from a location (within agreed upon limits, perhaps), may fluctuate. Jeff Graubart, a Georgist, proposes a business plan called AFFEERCE, with a model of boundary relations he calls “trebling” contained within it. In this voluntary association (in the early stages, at least, Jeff is not an anarchist), borders are established within a loose framework of rules (which can be built into a voluntary contract) that allows interested parties to challenge borders of a competitor, by engaging in bid-wars of self-tax-assessment: Those who appraise the land the highest, and are willing to pay society (ancap and ancom communities, etc.) the most for it, get the plot. This would allow borders to expand according to the demands and bargaining power of the interested communities, solving the issue of rightful expansion.
Chris Shaw’s article is not incorrect, he rightly points to the existence of communist property, but I hope to have built upon the truths he brings up, in order to resolve some of the problems which he, and many others, may be unaware. These problems, of course, have to do with legitimacy of original claim, location and its value, and other issues tied to the natural value of the Earth, rather than human hands. With the geo-mutualist solution, these are no longer an issue.