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Monday, April 21 2014 @ 07:15 AM CDT

An Anarchist critique of Anarcho-Statism

Anarchist Opinion

One of the strangest things most anarchists become aware of when they go on-line is the existence of self-proclaimed capitalist "anarchists." Mostly based in North America, this ideology claims to be anarchist while, at the same time, vigorously supporting laissez-faire capitalism.

An Anarchist critique of Anarcho-Statism

By Anarcho
Anarchist Writers

Or refuting "anarcho"-capitalism by means of "anarcho"-capitalism

One of the strangest things most anarchists become aware of when they go on-line is the existence of self-proclaimed capitalist "anarchists." Mostly based in North America, this ideology claims to be anarchist while, at the same time, vigorously supporting laissez-faire capitalism.

For almost all anarchists, this seems an utter oxymoron. Anarchism has always been associated with the left, with socialism. While opposing all forms of state socialism, anarchists have always seen themselves as anti-capitalists, as socialists. Both Tucker and Kropotkin considered themselves socialists, as did Bakunin and Proudhon. While they disagreed about many things (such as how best to end capitalist exploitation), all schools of anarchism shared a common opposition to profit, interest and rent and a common root in Proudhon's critique of private property.

The idea that there is a form of anarchism which is not anti-capitalist thus strikes anarchists as extremely strange. The idea of capitalists raising the black flag, the flag of working class insurrection and strikes, is a joke, a joke in extremely bad taste. "Anarcho"-capitalists of course disagree. It is, therefore, useful to give a short explanation of why "anarcho"-capitalism should be called "anarcho-statism" to better show its inherent contradictions.

What's in a name?

The first line of defence of "anarcho"-capitalism is to argue that the dictionary definition of anarchy is "no government." Consequently, as "anarcho"-capitalism wants to replace the state by a free market in defence associations it must be anarchist.

This argument is obviously flawed. Many dictionaries define "anarchy" as, for example, "a state of lawlessness and disorder (usually resulting from a failure of government)." [1] Needless to say, anarcho-capitalists do not use these definitions of "anarchy." So appealing to dictionary definitions is highly subjective as it involves evaluating each dictionary in turn and discarding those which are inaccurate.

This can be seen from the question of anarchism and socialism. Both Kropotkin and Tucker considered their ideas as a form of socialism. However, using typical dictionary definitions of both would result in a contradiction. Anarchism is defined as "a political theory favouring the abolition of governments" while socialism is "a political theory advocating state ownership of industry" or "an economic system based on state ownership of capital." [2] Which means that an anarchist could not be a socialist yet "anarcho"-capitalists are happy to call anarchists "anarcho-socialists." This contradiction is enough, in itself, to show the flaw in their methodology. Why should the dictionary be good enough for "anarchy" but not for "socialism"? [3]

As it stands, anarchists have rarely, if ever, argued that they were simply aiming to abolish the state. From Proudhon onward, they have stressed social and economic goals along with political ones. It is no coincidence that the first self-proclaimed anarchist book was "What is Property?" rather than "What is Government?" To limit "anarchy" or "anarchism" to just a question of the state means to ignore most of what anarchists and anarchism have aimed for. That is why anarchists generally avoid dictionary definitions for "anarchy" and "anarchism" and argue instead that it is not enough for someone to call themselves an anarchist, their ideas must reflect the anti-state and anti-capitalist principles the anarchist movement has always held.

Who cares what they thought?

That "anarcho"-capitalism abuses the history of anarchism goes without saying. What is strange that they also abuse their own self-proclaimed intellectual forefathers.

"Anarcho"-capitalists generally trace their ideology back to French-speaking economist Gustave de Molinari (1819 to1912). Given that anarchism as a political theory and movement was born in France during his lifetime, is significant that he did not call himself an anarchist nor take part in the movement. If he had considered his ideas as anarchist then surely he would have called them that. We can only conclude that it was the existence of the anarchist movement and its ideas that ensured that Molinari refused the label of "anarchist" as he did not consider his ideas part of either.

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