Cleaning the Muddied Waters of Anarchy

By Will Schnack

Evolution of Consent

Ideologies and philosophies that go by the title “anarchism” are wide-ranging in their span. These include mutualists, individualists, collectivists, communists, capitalists, nationalists, primitivists, futurists, and more. It has become something of a common trend for people to come up with the next new “anarcho-” position. Even more recently, as a revival of an attempt to settle the “infighting,” positions which include all of these into their ranks have been taken, with titles such as “anarchism without adjectives” or “without hyphens” and “pan-anarchism.” However, when one actually analyzes these different factions, one quickly comes to realize that most of the hyphenated positions are not much different from the standard views of the statist, except for a few minor details, usually philosophically inconsistent.

I’m here to do what I can to stop all of the confusion.

The first form of anarchism was mutualism, as Pierre Proudhon was the first to label himself as such. Yes, there were thinkers long before Proudhon who espoused anarchic philosophies. These folks did not call themselves anarchists. William Godwin, labeled an anarchist posthumously, and Josiah Warren, whose writing precedes Proudhon’s by some years, were only widely referred to as anarchists after Proudhon’s use of the term in describing himself. Josiah Warren had actually resisted comparisons to Proudhon made by William Greene, but nonetheless Proudhon’s title of “anarchist” would be attached to Warren’s name in the United States through the thought of folks such as Benjamin Tucker. It is those elements which have something in common with Proudhon’s thought—mutuality—that are responsible for each individual’s claim to the title. Without these similarities to the man who was the first to identify himself as such, there would be no claim for these others. William Godwin and Josiah Warren, like Proudhon, described a liberty of the individual accompanied by a widespread access to land, which set them apart from both state socialists and classical liberals, and made comparisons to Proudhon easy.

Any positive use of the term “anarchist” must relate to the philosophy of Proudhon’s in some way, and indeed this seems to have been the case historically. Proudhon seems to have set the precedent for defining an anarchist. Perhaps what makes Proudhon the most relevant basis for anarchist thought is that it was Proudhon who was the main philosopher of anarchism during anarchism’s rise as a social movement in Europe, during the Paris Commune and First International, where Proudhonists were a dominant presence.  No other anarchic thinker had inspired a social movement of this magnitude in the modern era. Because Proudhon was both the first to self-identify as an anarchist, and because he was also the first to inspire a large movement of anarchists behind him, it’s not unreasonable to use his defining thought as a standard from which to gauge the merits of others. In fact, it seems the reasonable thing to do so.

The Enlightenment had settled not long before Proudhon described himself as an anarchist. The Enlightenment saw an increase of interest in social philosophy, which naturally evolved into the modern sciences of economics and sociology, and their loosely associated and political programs, liberalism and socialism. Proudhon’s anarchism was built upon the insights from both economics and sociology, liberalism and socialism. It was, itself, a synthesis of the insights from both of these, an allowance for their antinomies, and a process that encompassed it all. Proudhon’s sociology was organicist, viewing society as the sum of human relations, which give rise to a collective force, conscience, and reason. His politics were federative, suggesting an organic combination of voluntary associations working toward common ends, and his economics were mutualist, promoting reciprocity. It was clearly not the sort of individualism of Frederic Bastiat, nor the collectivism of Karl Marx. Mutualism was something different, much more related to Ricardian socialism.

Mutualism, or anarchism, is distinct from both capitalism and communism, the extreme versions of liberalism and socialism. It constitutes its own approach to the problems that face humanity, but one which recognizes and incorporates the positive insights from both capitalism and communism. Capitalism and communism both rest on statist presuppositions, however, while mutualism is largely undefined, outside of a few core insights. One of these insights is what Josiah Warren would call “the cost principle,” but which Proudhon also addressed in terms of “right of increase” or “social force,” as well as in terms similar to Warren’s. Similar views to these had already been considered by some of the Ricardian socialists that preceded Warren and Proudhon, and which they both may have been aware of. What makes Proudhon and Warren unique is that they took the insights of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the classical economists, to their natural conclusion, that the state was responsible for all profits, interest, and rent.

Proudhon and Warren, alike, considered themselves to be anticapitalist and socialists, while also having much in common with the liberal traditions of the day, particularly a laissez-faire approach to exchange. Anarchism has historically been a part of the small-s socialist tradition, and this has been true in its individualist and collectivist forms alike. All anarchists agreed that the labor theory of value demonstrated that the means to socialism was through freedom from government. This was taking the Ricardian socialist insights to their logical conclusion. Without an understanding of the labor theory of value, how it affects pricing and the economy, anarchism as such would have never developed as anything cohesive. That the state was selected for elimination rested entirely on the sociological and economic doctrines common to the times, the insights from classical liberal economics about economic freedom of exchange, and those from sociology and socialism regarding human nature.

Over time, inner divisions took place, and anarchism would become a collection of distinct subcategories. When Voltairine de Cleyre popularized anarchism “without adjectives” she was including in that spectrum the wide array of views of the time, from individualist to communist. They all agreed, however, that there was a “labor problem” and that socialism— more widely distributed wealth— in some form, was the solution. This could be understood as a return toward something more like mutualism, which never envisioned a need to have such a divide, but intended to incorporate the individual and the collective alike. Individualist and communist anarchists agreed on the basics of property ownership, that occupancy and use or possession was the only firm basis of property, they merely differed on what they would do with production. This is much different from today’s scenario, where such nonsensical beliefs as “anarcho”-capitalism persist, and are incorporated into more recent understandings of anarchism “without hyphens,” as espoused by folks such as Karl Hess. However, even if de Cleyre’s “without adjectives” is a return to something more like the original mutualism (which I do not suggest was her intent), an actual return to mutualism would be the best. Mutualism already allows for both individual autonomy and for communal arrangements. There was never a need for the divide, outside of people’s ignorance. Mutuality is anarchy.

It’s undeniable— moreso than with capitalists and communists— that mutualists are a variety of anarchist. While there are a plethora of articles written on why “anarcho”-capitalism is not a true form of anarchism, as well as the same opinion of “anarcho”-communists, there are not nearly as many attacks on the merits of mutualism. Part of the reason for this is that the communist attack on anarcho-capitalists is a historical one, which mutualists can flip against them. In fact, I will be doing so. Another reason may be that mutualists like Benjamin Tucker anticipated the non-aggression principle, and argued strongly in favor of property rights, though understood the role that the state plays in creating haves and have nots.

The original mutualism made room for any number of arrangements. There is no need for an anarchism without adjectives if the original, mutualism is observed correctly, because the only limiting factor is mutuality. Any claim to anarchism must be made on the basis of mutuality. Even ancaps and ancoms depend on this basis for their arguments for any claims they make to being anarchists. Their resulting ideology is not so much a rejection of the mutual premise, but ignorance of the science of what happens when all interactions are voluntary, which was very clear to the Ricardian socialists and anarchists of the past. In order to accept the need for an anarchism “without adjectives” or “without hyphens,” one must first ignore the history and social science that brought light to anarchism.

Mutuality, unlike the other ideological bases, cannot become an oppressive principle in itself. While capital, commune, nation, individual, family, etc. and other ideological foundations can become oppressive by the attachment of an “ism” to them, and a wish for their universalization, the universalization of mutuality does not presuppose anything in particular. It does not preclude any social arrangements or another by principle alone. The commune can be placed as a principle above the individual, or the individual above the nation, or the family above the commune, but mutuality encompasses only those behaviors which are readily acceptable to each, without coercion. Mutuality, not capital, not the individual, or nation, commune, etc., is the basis of anarchy.

While it allows a number of arrangements, mutualism developed from the observations of social science, and there are parameters that are understood to exist in nature, which present us with laws, such as that of supply and demand. The mutualist opposition to capitalism, then, takes a much different form than the opposition to capitalism from communism. Where capitalism can be an expression of mutuality, mutualists see no reason for it not to persist. It’s that capitalism cannot be an expression of mutuality that makes mutualists anti-capitalists, and this is demonstrated by the original social science by anyone who cares to study it. As understood in mutualist economics, the state supports monopoly banks, that support monopoly landlords, that support monopoly producers. Remove the state, and none of these others, whose titles to their property demand on the state for protection, can persist. It is in this way, and through understanding the original social science that lead up to anarchism, that capitalism was to be eradicated. Not by force, but as a natural result of supply and demand and people acting out their own preferences. Abolishing the state, the removal of force, would leave no room for capitalism. This was not a threat, but a fact of evolution, uncovered by the science of the day. To ignore this, is to ignore the very foundation of thought that gave rise to anarchism.

Belief in “anarcho”-capitalism is like belief in anarcho-unicorns. It’s belief in something that does not exist and cannot exist. The very social science that demonstrated the necessity of anarchism precludes the existence of capitalism in a voluntary setting, and that is why socialists became anarchists. The entire reason the anarchist philosophy developed from socialism was because the elimination of the state was the only sure means of securing a socialist society; it leaves no room for capitalism. Capitalism cannot exist without a state. This is what the science suggested. Just like unicorns, capitalism is pushed out of anarchy by science. Anarchism was based on the scientific premise that if you eliminated the state, you would eliminate market monopolies that make capitalism—owners and renters—persist. This was the natural conclusion of sociological and economic understanding. Because the result of statelessness, as the science demonstrates, is an economy free from capitalism, the belief in “anarcho”-capitalism is like the belief in anarcho-unicorns. It is a delusion, best stricken from awareness, at best. At worst, it is infiltration by the enemy, entryism, and co-optation. Anarcho-capitalists want nothing less than private tyrannies, freedom to exploit. This is not anarchy, and never can be.

What we are seeing with new movements such as “anarcho”-capitalism is a co-opting of the anti-state message for the purpose of a vicious kind of crypto-statism, that of private statists, such as landlords, bosses, and usurers. To accept anarcho-capitalists for the sake of “internal” peace or to stop the “infighting” is to mistake them for true anarchists, which they are not and can never be. Imagine a group branding itself as “The Black KKK,” and being widely accepted by the current Klan as legitimate. This would be no more absurd than what is presently occurring when “anarcho”-capitalists are allowed to persist in their nonsense. Anarchism has always opposed the state and the monopolies it upholds in its support of the capitalist hierarchy. I don’t want to stop with the ancaps, however. “Anarcho”-communism is equally silly. Indeed, the commune can become as much of an oppressive principle as capital can.

Just because Karl Marx and his well-financed following was the first to co-opt anarchism (at that time, called “socialism”), and just because Joseph Dejacque and Peter Kropotkin took to communism after his influence had become widespread, does not give their communism any preference over the capitalism of Gustave Molinari or Murray Rothbard, or the people who funded their views.[1] Anarcho-communism came about after Karl Marx had already made an influence on the socialist movement. Before Karl Marx, Pierre Proudhon had been the big name in socialism. Mikhail Bakunin attributed the wide acceptance of Marxism to Marx’s connections to Jewish financial interests, such as the Rothschilds, who Marx had family connections with. Marx had also been funded by his capitalist friend, Engels. Similarly, anarcho-capitalism seems to have been a development or sponsored event from an organized fund, the Volkner Fund, who sponsored Murray Rothbard. In each case— anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism—, the need to distinguish itself from mutualism as a basis occurred only after mainstream influence from capitalist financial interests.

The need for a “without adjectives” can be traced back to divisions from influences outside of anarchism proper, and can be seen as adulterations of the original anarchy, mutualism. Anarcho-communism strayed from the mark first, after the influence on the proletariat of Karl Marx, and his large unreadable books with silly inflated concepts like “commodity fetishism.” Upon Marx’s success, anti-capitalism would eventually become synonymous with communism of the Marxist variety, overshadowing the previous success of the Proudhonians, as well as the other socialists. Later on down the road, the other side was tackled by the Libertarians, who managed to co-opt the American individualist anarchist momentum, arguing for usury, rent, profit, the gold basis of money—all which anarchists opposed— in the name of anarchism. Before this, the idea of a capitalist anarchist was unthinkable, but by the mid 20th century, the scientific steps and original arguments taken to reach the conclusion of anarchism had been forgotten, and society had begun to shift its focus away from class and toward identity politics. Today, “anarchism without adjectives/hyphens” is readily embraced by a number of people. There are those who fear commitment, or who would otherwise opt out of providing answers to difficult and defining questions, and there are those who would use it as a vehicle for infiltration (“anarcho”-fascism, anyone?).

While I completely disagree with anarchism without adjectives and especially without hypens, and believe mutuality to be the only legitimate basis for anarchism, I don’t think these concepts are entirely useless. We must communicate at times with people with flawed concepts. Some people are still learning, while more are just dense, and can’t get things through their thick skulls, and these people still have social momentum that can be harnessed toward anarchic ends, if we extend the right carrot. Ideological uniformity is not necessary, except between those who are doing the real job of steering. Anarchists will have to get organized and get used to doing some of the steering, and in order to steer a bunch of nut jobs they’ll be pressured to affirm their delusions, just enough to maintain influence over them. A crypto-mutualist society could, for instance, put on a front of being leaders of an “anarchists without hyphens” group, or even an ancap group, and in the process of self-entryism back into anarchism and abolishing the state use rhetoric favorable to capitalists (like “we will protect private property rights”), toward the abolition of the state, after which capitalism will, in practice, be impracticable, and private property rights unenforceable. I don’t think mutualists should feel any guilt for doing such a thing, because they are claiming back what is rightfully theirs (anarchism) and are treating the capitalists as they like to be treated, by a boss who will take advantage of them. That’s about as mutual as you get with a capitalist. Of course, in order to persist, an anarchy must eventually become enlightened, but there is no reason to give anarchy to anyone who doesn’t deserve it, and all organizations must allow a certain amount of learning space for new members.

[1] However, in so far as communists would allow dissociation by individualists, and respect their ability to occupy and use land, they are to be favored over capitalists who would not respect occupancy and use. But, I would argue that communists of this sort, rather than being communists, are fundamentally mutualists (allowing individualists to be individualists is not communal, but an act of mutual toleration) with a personal preference for communes.  That’s a topic for another day.

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