A Common Dispute with Left Anarchists

June 5th, 2012   Submitted by Wendy McElroy

One of the most common disputes I have with left anarchists is whether 19th century individualist anarchists were really socialists. On the surface, it is not absurd to argue that such proto-libertarians as Benjamin Tucker are best classified within the socialist tradition rather than the libertarian one. They generally accepted the labor theory of value and, so, rejected stock trappings of capitalism. For example, Tucker, William Greene, Ezra Heywood and Josiah Warren considered the charging of interest on money to be an act of usury or theft.

Moreover, the individualist anarchists sometimes referred to themselves as “socialists” and flirted with organizations such as the International Working People’s Association (IWPA). In 1881, when a moribund IWPA revived in London, Tucker enthused, “To this momentous event, which marks an epoch in the progress of the great labor movement…, in the present issue, devotes a large portion of her space.” (Published by Tucker, (1881-1908)was the most influential libertarian periodical of its day.)

I maintain that the identification of individualist anarchists as socialists rests on a confusion regarding the definition and use of the terms “socialist” and “libertarian.”

The umbrella term “socialism” covers several different approaches to the core belief in a social ownership of the means of production and a co-operative management of society. A strong dividing line between the various types of socialism is how they view the role of the state in achieving those goals. The socialism with which individualist anarchists identified held no role whatsoever for the state. What drew many of them was the idea of social co-operation. Josiah Warren – arguably the world’s first individualist anarchist – was deeply involved in voluntary and socialistic utopian communities such as New Harmony because he believed in the social principle of co-operation. Warren became disillusioned, however, by New Harmony’s demand for the relinquishment of individualism; for example, in the demand for communal meals and disdain for privacy. In response, Warren evolved a principle known as “The Sovereignty of the Individual” or self-ownership that he believed had to underlie all social co-operation.

As late 19th century socialism in America became increasingly statist, individual anarchists increasingly put distance between themselves and it. In a speech that subsequently became his most famous essay “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherein They Differ,” Tucker stated, “The two principles…are AUTHORITY and LIBERTY, and the names of the two schools of Socialistic thought…are, respectively, State Socialism and Anarchism.” (Capitalization in the original.)

Other individualist anarchists rejected the term “socialist” altogether with some occasionally applying the label “libertarian” to themselves. Why the outright rejection? In his book, William B. Greene commented, “In socialism, there is but one master, which is the state; but the state is not a living person, capable of suffering and happiness. Socialism benefits none but demagogues, and is, emphatically, the organization of universal misery…socialism gives us but one class, a class of slaves.”

Here, then, is the first basic schism between socialism and individualist anarchism. The former increasingly embraced the state while the latter continued to repudiate it. Individualists also began to reject the surrender of sovereignty that seemed to be demanded even by non-statist socialism.

Another key and irresolvable difference: the individuals advocated private property and believed social co-operation had to be based upon its recognition. The towering figure Moses Harman, for example, answered whether he was a Communist with the words, “We have never advocated the abolition of private property. We have always maintained that the development of the highest and truest individualism in human character requires the possession and therefore the existence of personal property.” Confusingly, in the same quote Harman speaks well of “Mutualism” and “Co-operative Communism” – terms that were used differently in the 19th century than now.

In short, the individualist anarchists rejected the state, demanded respect for individual rights and advocated private property. The thread of ideology that bound them to socialists was their belief in the labor theory of value. This economic theory conditions the value of a good or service upon the labor used to produce it. The rightful owner of that value or property is seen to be the laborer who produced it.

And, so, it is necessary to analyze the individualist-anarchist approach to issues involving the labor theory of value.

Most 19 century American individualist anarchists rejected profit from capital, particularly in three forms: interest on money, the charging of rent, and profit in exchange. All of these were called “usury.” If their main political goal can be stated as “the abolition of the state,” then it is no exaggeration to say that their main economic goal was “the abolition of the money monopoly.” And by this term — “money monopoly” — they referred to three different but interrelated forms of monopoly: banking, interest, and the issuance of currency.

Focusing on the one issue of currency provides a fair sense of how most individualist anarchists approached “usury” in general. They believed that the solution to currency usury was the free market; they believed that the right to issue private currency would destroy the money monopoly and this alone could bring about the destruction of the state. The money monopoly was considered to be the means by which the banks sustained themselves and robbed the average man of economic opportunities. Through the act of incorporating, bankers became immune from personal obligations: they acquired the legal advantage of being able to contract while avoiding the responsibility for doing so. This was not only a money-raking scam that bankers ran on the public, it also denied credit to the working people by setting up prohibitive interest rates or criteria for acquiring credit.

Again, the remedy for this form of state-capitalism was the free market and privatization of currency.

The key question at this point becomes, “what if the issuer of private currency decides to charge interest on its use?” What if a private issuer engaged in usury? Would that practice be forcibly prohibited?

The answer to this question is what separated advocates of the labor theory of value who were socialists from those who were libertarian. The socialists would have banned such a practice. By contrast, the individualist anarchists answered, “If a lender can find someone foolish enough to voluntarily enter into such a contract, then the contracting parties must be left to their folly.” The right of contract — “society by contract” — was the higher law. The only remedies individualist anarchists would have pursued against those who charged or paid interest were education, peaceful protest and the establishment of parallel currencies that offered what they thought was a better deal. Individualist anarchists gave primacy to the free market and the right of contract — this is what made them libertarians rather than socialists.

As long as the default position of individualist anarchism was the primacy of contracts — and it always was — then the free market would have inexorably established the practice of charging interest as it has through history, with or without the state.

Were individualist anarchists actually socialists? The answer is most definitely “no.”

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44 Responses to “A Common Dispute with Left Anarchists”

  1. StormNo Gravatar says:

    A wonderful clarification of a common misconception, one that I admit I too had. Were the mutualists of that time anti-property (at least in name) as many of today seem to be?

    • Thanks for the comment Storm. In the 19th century, the label “Mutualist” was similar to “Socialist” in that many individualists applied it to themselves and to some of their ventures. Like “socialist”, it did not have the same anti-property or political connotations as it does today, however. The individualists mostly used it to indicate that they advocated co-operative ventures, such as the “mutual banking” advanced by Wm Greene. I suppose there is at least one sense in which even the individualists were anti-property, however, since they did deny there was rightful property in things like ‘interest’.Again, their saving grace — economically speaking — was the primacy they gave to contracts.

  2. assasin7No Gravatar says:

    Mutualists advocate prop by ooupancy and use

    • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

      Agreed. I wouldn’t say that “mutualism” has anti-property connotations these days. I would only say that mutualist standards of propriety are not the prevailing standards.

      On the other hand, I call myself a “mutualist” largely because the word no longer has a common usage. Most people never use the word at all and seldom see it used. If most people started using it, I’d presumably need a new label. Ultimately, I’m Martinist, but few people want to join my party …

  3. Hello assasin7. The term has changed in meaning since the 19th century just as “socialist” and “liberal” have changed. The situation re: how it was used by the individualists vis-a-vis property is complicated by the ideological split that occurred when some of the most prominent voices abandoned natural rights for Stirnerite egoism. Thus, Tucker went from advocating property based on a Lockean concept of mixing one’s labor with something to the concept of occupancy and use, which — you are certainly correct — is the present meaning. Even then, IMO, Tucker straddled the fence between rights and egoism on certain issues relating to property. Also, some of the individualists who retained natural rights as the basis of property sometimes called themselves Mutualists.

  4. StormNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for the clarification Wendy. It seems that this confusion is playing a larger role today than perhaps at any time in the past. With luck we can overlook some of the theoretical differences between elements of anarchism, and embrace the single per se trait: the absence of rulers.

  5. PrimeNo Gravatar says:

    Another well-written article, Wendy. But I am curious…
    Is this mostly a disagreement over pedigree, or are these disagreements over the correct interpretation of specific arguments/principles key to the validity of current philosophies?

  6. Hello Prime. I am not sure that a proper interpretation of the economic principles held by the 19th century individualist anarchists — the ones based on the labor theory of value — has much importance to the current philosophy of libertarianism or i-a. Rothbard pretty much swapped in Austrian economics and that contribution broke off any continuing influence from the 19th century economics. (BTW, the British individualists of the time were far, far better on such matters.)

    My preoccupation with correctly classifying Tucker etc. is because the truly valuable principles, activism and analysis that they pioneered are often usurped by socialists and should, instead, accrue to the historical credit of libertarianism. This is non-trivial. The left has also usurped almost all credit for the 19th century labor and birth control movements whereas libertarian figures like Ezra Heywood and Moses Harman were driving forces behind them. By taking the credit, the left has established a mystic about itself; it is able to claim “We are the voice of the working people” when it was libertarians who were at the cutting edge. It is akin to establishing credentials.

  7. gdpNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent article on the distinction between Anarchist-Individualism and Socialism, and the history of this divergence, Wendy!

    You commented on the tendency for Socialists to embrace Statism. Did the Socialists embrace Statism because they believed that only an entity with a “Monopoly on Force” could abolish “usury” and their other claimed “abuses” of Capitalism? Were there other factors in the Socialist embrace of Statism, such as the growing tendency of 19th Century “Progressives,” both Socialists and Classical Liberals, to embrace belief in “Technocracy” and “Rational Central Planning”?

    What was the Individualist-Anarchist position vis-a-vis the growing belief in “Technocracy” among both Socialists and Classical Liberals? (I can guess how Anarchists probably felt about “Central Planning,” rational or otherwise! :-/)

    • Bob RobertsonNo Gravatar says:

      gdp, if I may insert my own opinion at this point, I think the reason the “Socialists” embraced statism is because, sometime somewhere, they became convinced that, if only they could use the power of the state do good things, with the right people in charge, that this time power would not be abused.

      I don’t know if the germ of this was Marx’s own “the state will whither away” idea, or simple pragmatism that, if someone has to be in charge, it might as well be us.

  8. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    It boils down to how the word is defined. Some Anarchists of that era believed in elements of socialism. Perhaps some were Socialists to varying degrees but not all were. An interesting article. Thanks.

    ” I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered.”

    – Six

    • Good to see H.R.:A lot of the argument comes down to definitions but, as Nathaniel Branden once said, definitions are important because “they give you the inestimable benefit of knowing what you are talking about. Cheers to you!

  9. You seem to be having it both ways a bit, Wendy. If, as indeed seems to have been the case, the “umbrella term “socialism” covers several different approaches,” and “socialists” differed on questions like the role of the state, the use of violence, etc., it seems hard to argue—except by an appeal to a particular one of the several definitions—that the anarchists you are talking about—a group that includes both individualists and mutualists in the tradition of Proudhon—were “definitely” not socialists.

    The history of the term “socialism” is, of course, enormously complex. The North American individualists and mutualists inherited it from two separate sources: the English debate surrounding Owen’s “social system” in the 1820s, where it had both centralized, more or less paternalistic, and decentralized, mutual aid-based, varieties; and the French political debates of the 1830s and 1840s, within the context of which Pierre Leroux initially proposed it as label for an extreme emphasis on the collective aspects of social life, but during the course of which it became adopted by a wide range of positions on the French left. (Variations on the term “mutualism” also appeared in those two traditions, designating varieties of decentralized, mutual aid based “socialism.”) In the period of the 1848 revolutions, which is ultimately the period in which the term “socialism” gained a generally accepted meaning, it clearly covered a wide range of positions regarding the state, violence, the nature of value, etc. Indeed, the common thread was probably a concern with “social science” as a “solution to the social problem,” rather than any simple rule about social ownership, the state, or adherence to a labor theory of value.

    We have to be very careful, given that history, when we look at the 19th century figures. Greene’s treatment of “socialism,” for example, seems very closely connected to his embrace of Leroux’s terminology and triadic philosophical scheme. Leroux believed that the true form of De la Boetie’s “contr’un” (anti-one, opposition to authority) was a structuring of relations in threes, which he also believed was a natural division of roles. Greene embraced some of his method, and consequently tended to spin out models in which each of three terms was objectionable by itself, but contributed to a harmonious, broadly libertarian whole. It is in this sort of context that Greene spoke of “socialism,” “communism,” and (very, very early among writers in English) “capitalism”—damning them all in isolation. But we have to place his comments about “socialism in Massachusetts” alongside his comments about the Paris Commune—which he praised so highly he considered Paris a third “holy city” as a result of it—if we are to get a clear picture.

    The question of labor theories of value may be misleading, too, with regard to the opposition to “usury.” Although it is conventional to divide economic approaches along an STV/LTV line, there are too many prominent spoilers to make it a very satisfactory approach. Warren, for all of his emphasis on trading “hours” of labor under the cost principle, insisted that his traders would value their own costs subjectively, against a conventional yardstick marked in hours of a particular, familiar sort of labor. Proudhon, after some flirtation with equal pay by the hour, came to the radically different notion that values were individual, incommensurable, and could only really be “exchanged” according to some convention of reciprocal respect. What all of the opponents of “usury” seem to have opposed was any “right of increase” associated with the mere ownership of capital. And that’s a somewhat different critique.

    As for the “primacy of contracts,” that’s probably true of Tucker in a certain phase. But the influences of egoism, on the one hand, and Proudhonian mutualism, with its primary emphasis on reciprocity and opposition to “simple property” and the “right of increase,” on the other, are both very strong currents.

    And the more broadly, and specifically, we consider even the North American individualists and mutualists, the harder it is to pin things down definitely.

    Clearly neither individualists nor mutualists were state socialists, and I imagine that is the most familiar form of socialism for this particular audience, but my reading of the history suggests no “definite” answer to the question posed.

    • C. MolotovNo Gravatar says:

      Why hasn’t this been addressed?

    • Hello Shawn:

      Sorry to be so long in responding. Life is more than a little distracting these days and I am behind on just about everything.

      First of all, thank you for contributing such a meaty post. I think it should be an article of its own on the Daily Anarchist and I would urge you to write up. Frankly, I will have to think more about the point you raise re: Leroux.

      Of course, the definition(s) of socialism etc. were simplified. It is not possible to write an approximately 1,000 word treatment of such a complex issue without simplifying and omitting most nuances. Given that constraint I stand by the use of labor theory of value as a definitional filter, especially since the article examines the individualists’ embrace and use of theory. Also, given the multiple senses in which terms like “mutualism” were used and how they have evolved, we must choose some common denominator if discussion is to be less than book length.

      My basic argument is/was that the bottom line of individualist anarchism was “society by contract” rather than the imposition of any particular terms upon a mutually agreed upon contract with fully disclosed terms. Tucker explicitly acknowledged the right of everyone to make a foolish or immoral contract; he explicitly mentioned “usury” as such a contract. In other words, the individualist anarchists were committed to a process — anything that is peaceful, everything by contract or consent — and they would not have imposed a ban on usury. Practically speaking, I think this distinguishes them from all state-socialists (to use Tucker’s term) and probably from many socialist anarchists. It is a non-trivial point. I believe it is key.

      Also, I do disagree with your suggestion that egoism negated or mitigated Tucker’s reliance on the primacy of contract; a good argument could be made that egoism strengthen it. I understand your point about Warren allowing customers to set the value of their own labor but it does not impact the fact that his private currency and store were based on the labor theory of value, which was my entire point about individualist anarchists. I have quite a few similar disagreements with your post and, frankly, I find such discussions to be interesting, especially with someone who has done as much work as I have in the 19th century traditions. I am sorry to have to cut short my reply. But, as I said, I am behind on everything, including the planting on my farm which cannot wait.

  10. chrisNo Gravatar says:

    Tucker addressed this very question in “Socialism: What It Is”:
    http://fair-use.org/benjamin-tucker/instead-of-a-book/socialism-w hat-it-is

    There was “most definitely” not in the 19th century, nor is there now, the dichotomy between “libertarian” and “socialist” that you seem to wish there was. Of course anarchism represents the more libertarian approaches within socialism, but that doesn’t somehow make it other than socialism.

  11. StormNo Gravatar says:

    Chris, stipulation does not make a claim true. Demonstration, such as what has been offered, however does give us reason to know that a claim is true. You can deny that the distinction shown to exist, but merely stipulating that the clear distinction does not exist will not make it disappear.

    There may be per accidens traits of socialism in anarchy, but you cannot logically conclude from that trivial fact that socialism IS anarchy or that there is no distinction between socialism and anarchy. The fact that the state cannot own the means of production under anarchy is sufficient to demonstrate that anarchy and socialism are not identical. Or put another way, a per se trait of socialism is contrary to anarchy, thus the two cannot be identical, which of course means that there can be and is a distinction between the two.

    • chrisNo Gravatar says:

      Storm, of course there are incompatible definitions of “socialism”. People can use words however they want. My point is that there’s no reason (that I can see) for trying to make the distinction where Wendy has, especially when there’s already a widely used word, as adopted by Tucker and co, to distinguish libertarian socialism from authoritarian socialism: anarchism.

    • WillNo Gravatar says:


      I think you misunderstand what socialist means, at least what it means to the people who call themselves that. It does not mean, as you claim, state ownership of the means of production. Quite to the contrary it means that worker ownership of the means of the production. Now it is true that some socialists (mainly Marxist communists and non-communists that have been influenced by his revolutionary ideas) advocate using the state as a means to achieve this worker ownership. This is obviously not a libertarian position, however there are many people (notably mutualists and ancoms) who do not wish to use the state and are quite certainly libertarian-socialists.

      Granted these days the term socialist has begun to lose its historical meaning and many people who are really state-capitalists or social-democrats and who have no or very little concern for worker ownership are being called socialists and this is where a lot of the confusion arises.

      But in the end it matters very little what you call people. If you don’t want to think of Tucker as a socialist, then by all means go ahead. Just don’t expect people who follow Tucker (or Proudhon or Kropotkin) to agree with you on this. In the end it’s ideas that actually matter, not their labels.

  12. JoeNo Gravatar says:

    “… the free market would have inexorably established the practice of charging interest as it has through history, with or without the state.”

    “Inexorably” is very strong. What is the basis for that assertion? From what I’ve read (Rothbard Austrian History of Economic Thought) or heard, Christian (Catholic) canon forbid usury., Jews allowed charging of interest but only to non-Jews.and Muslims still consider usury as bad. All of these prohibitions were religious so at least in theory they didn’t have the force of a state behind them (although church and state were closer than they’re now).

    • chrisNo Gravatar says:

      I would count those religious institutions as state institutions in this context. However, without a state or money monopoly, credit would be subject to the forces of supply-demand, which would drive any interest above costs towards zero. That is, it was the position of the individual anarchists that the free market would abolish interest, not that it would inexorably establish it.

      • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

        I don’t expect a free credit market to drive interest rates toward zero in general, but a market interest rate may be either positive or negative depending upon the relationship between current demand for future produce and current expectations of future supply.

    • Hi Joe: again my apologies for the tardiness of my response. (See my response to Shawn Wilder to make sense of the “again” part.)

      I stand by the word “inexorable” regarding the charging of interest. By it, I do not mean to imply that interest would always be involved in money lending or that any particular banking practice would dominate. As far as I can tell, however, unless the charging of interest is banned — as it is in some Islamic societies — the practice has arisen somewhere in some form throughout history in the same manner that charging a fee for providing labor inexorably arises in human society. As long as the free market prevails, some people will make *that* choice regarding money and banking.

      • JoeNo Gravatar says:

        Wendy, the problem I have with “the practice has arisen somewhere in some form throughout history” is that it doesn’t explain why. To take an overused example, slavery also arose in some form throughout history but that doesn’t make it right or explain why people accepted it. It’s also arguable whether a truly free market has existed, at least since governments existed since they’ve always mucked with exchange in some form or another.

        • Interesting comment. You are correct, of course, that the prevalence of a practice through time and across cultures says nothing about the propriety of the practice — and slavery is a fine example. I think the fact that interest has existed in societies that were relatively free market (colonial America, for example, of pre-WWI Britain) and that interest was established mostly through contract makes it almost certain that it would exist as a choice people make anywhere that choice was respected. Given the diversity of preference within human beings, I have absolute confidence in their making just about every choice possible

          As to “why” — which I agree is a far more basic question — I believe it would arise because lenders value money in their pocket and to forgo the use of this ‘value’ for a certain period, they wish to receive compensation or profit. Borrowers also value money in their pocket to expend ‘here and now’ and, so, are willing to buy the money (so to speak) at a premium.

          I cannot tell you how deeply I wish we lived in a situation of real freedom for one week. Just give me a week. I would love to see whether what I believe is true of the world is actually the truth.

  13. StormNo Gravatar says:

    Chris, you misunderstood my refutation and I would contend the article as well.

    If you adopt the notion that people can use any word any way that they want and that is still the meaning of the word, then you are arguing that equivocation is not a fallacy and that meaning itself is meaningless. Look to Wittgenstein’s private language argument for a more detailed explanation as to why this approach fails completely.

    • chrisNo Gravatar says:

      > If you adopt the notion that people can use any word any way that they want and that is still the meaning of the word

      That’s not a notion I’ve adopted (and I’m not sure what that would entail — all words mean the same thing?) I meant everyone is free to assign whatever meaning to words they want (at least I’m not going to stop them).

      But just because *you* think “state ownership of the means of production” is an essential attribute of socialism, doesn’t make that a useful definition of socialism, *especially* if you want to talk about 19th-century individual anarchists like Benjamin Tucker who considered anarchism to be a libertarian branch of socialism.

      What does one gain by going to such lengths as Wendy has in this article to divorce anarchism from its socialist context?

  14. StormNo Gravatar says:

    Sorry I confused your strawman ad hominem for defense of equivocation.

  15. AlejandroNo Gravatar says:

    It would be interesting to see what other arguments you have with Let Anarchist. I myself call myself a Left-Libertarian that supports mutualism as an alternative to the capitalists and union system we have now. With that said, I do believe that the Individualist Anarchists is indeed a certain form or branch of Socialism simply because like you said they “rejected profit from capital, particularly in three forms: interest on money, the charging of rent, and profit in exchange…Usury”. I believe Socialism itself seeks an alternative to these issue as supposed to Anarcho-Capitalist which does not and believes such systems should and will exist even in a stateless society. This goes beyond mere differences on private property. Socialism itself can be divided by the dichotomy of Anarchist vs. Statist/ Marxist. The same applies to Communism. Historically we have only seen statist Socialism and Marxism oversees in European and Latin American countries, never Anarchism and Socialism together and in many Marxist revolutions, Socialist Anarchist were always the last groups of people to murdered or jailed for their beliefs against the creation of a new formed state . The difference between an Individualist Anarchist and an Anarcho-communist relies on differences within social organizing and community needs and the roles individuals play within it which include the idea of private property being shared not individually owned. Their differences are not based in theory or philosophy but in organizing.

    The bigger problem remains that with Anarcho-Caps and voluntaryist as they now are reject any notion of usury and most of all reject any concept of workers’ rights or labor unions, believing that there are strictly a product of the state and would not exist in a free market. This is why the left-wing Anarchist can’t have a serious discussion with the right wing faction of Anarchism. In my opinion, they strictly look at American History through an economic lense and never a social one. There is also a sort of double standard to which right wing Anarchism see corporatism as strictly the fault the state but does not bear any anger towards the companies who received bailouts. I feel that the Individualist Anarchist were more skeptical of the corporations and big business which is they promoted a free market and not capitalism. The promoted the free market as means to liberate workers and gather autonomy, not as means a of free enterprise, wealth, or greater technology advancements(materialism). In this way, the Individualist Anarchist were culturally Socialist as well. Even beyond the areas of economics and work, many of the Individualist Anarchist took part in the free thinkers movement, free love movement ( voluntary marriage and motherhood, age consent), and abolition of slavery or Jim crow type laws, and the prison system. I feel that if many of them were alive today they would certainly be confused as “leftist” by today standards with Conservatives and even some Classical Libertarians who still maintain a rigid way of thinking that emphasizes traditional values in fear of being called a “Libertine” and a cultural worship of money and profit over social problems. To today political standards, the Individualist Anarchist are more closer to Socialism than that of modern day Libertariansim but things might change in the future.

    • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

      An-Caps do not oppose labor unions or say that labor unions would not exist in a free market. Any group of laborers may freely associate and bargain collectively. An-Caps have nothing against it.

  16. StormNo Gravatar says:

    What you arbitrarily stipulate simply does not appear in the arguments, either mine or those offered in the original article. This is why I called you on your attack, explaining some of the errors of it. Unfortunately instead of considering those errors you lashed out, so I called you on that though admittedly without the explanation as you seemed to just ignore that bit of helpful writing.

    I get that you have some emotional tie to the label of socialism. Okay, I am not addressing or attacking that tie. Notice that I referred to per se traits, not perceived traits, but you attack perceived traits (actually you just stipulate that *I* was without merit decreeing that the per se traits are per se traits, though you ignore the necessary nature of the system in question). This is a text book straw man argument.

    One of the things you are missing is that you are arbitrarily decreeing that your own desired cherry picking of all of the usages, including those divorced from the system of socialism, is *the* correct one and anyone who can and does refute this methodology or usage is “going to such lengths” and the like. If we adopt your methodology then necessarily we cannot communicate (which is why I referenced Wittenstein’s private language argument), so your own post cannot be referring to reality but rather must be at best an expression of mere emotion.

    Measure the “lengths” to which you perceive people going, not against your position or desires, but against reality. Was there an error in the article? No. Was there a problem of methodology in it? No. So the only “problem” is that you do not like the necessary conclusion.

    Anarchism is simply the absence of rulers. There is no inherent (per se) socialist content.

    Socialism is necessarily an effort to control all of society. The two are inherently VERY different, and certainly not identical as you both argue and deny in your own posts.

    So with that simple and easy distinction understood, what again is your objection to clarity and intellectual rigor?

    • chrisNo Gravatar says:

      > So the only “problem” is that you do not like the necessary conclusion.

      I do not like the conclusion and deny that it is necessary, to be sure, which is why I commented with my *opinion* in the first place that I don’t understand Wendy’s motivation in trying to differentiate between “socialism” and “libertarianism,” especially in the context of Tucker-ish individual anarchism. I never said or meant to imply there was a “problem” beyond a difference of opinion. (The “great lengths” I was referring to is how she finds anarchism in agreement with socialism all the way up to some alleged differences in approach to preventing rent. To make a hard “definitely not”-type distinction there is a huge stretch, in my opinion.)

      > Socialism is necessarily an effort to control all of society

      No, it is not. Again, it’s okay with me if you want to use the word that way, but it is not how Tucker used it in the 19th century, and it’s not how individualist anarchists including me use it today. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

      > what again is your objection to clarity and intellectual rigor?

      You’re going to frame your questions like that while accusing *me* of arguing against strawmen?

      Anyway, I never intentionally lashed out at anyone, and I’m sure you’re a an intelligent, rational person over there across the internet. I didn’t mean to offend you by defending “socialism” as a label for anarchists, and it’s okay with me if you disagree or think I somehow have a lesser grip on reality than yourself, any loose “per se”s or “perceived”s notwithstanding.

  17. StormNo Gravatar says:

    Chris, the entire issue would be easily resolved: read the refutations and explanations.

    As for mere opinion, well again you made specific claims about reality so it is not opinion.

    As for your avid embracing of equivocation, well no matter how much you appreciate this logical fallacy, it cannot and does not support any claim. As to your implicit appeal to authority, as well as your claims about what has been said, you should read the article and the refutations with the understanding that reality not your position, determines what is true.

    Finally, I am not offended and you cannot logically make that leap from what has been offered. Refutation is not a sign of any emotion, but rather of an appreciation of truth and reason. By employing straw man ad hominem, your second, you are merely trying to distract from the absence of basis for your claims.

    If all you wanted to do is emote as you claim now, then why the specific claims?

    The question is rhetorical I expect no answer.

  18. Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

    The meaning of the word changes, but I accept the common, 20th century usage of “socialism” that is synonomous with 19th century “state socialism”. The semantics concern me less than the substance, so I don’t much care how people label me as long as they understand what I advocate as precisely as possible.

    You summarize a 19th century usage of “labor theory of value” by some 19th century socalists, but modern usage of this term also differs. As modern economists use the term, the labor theory of value (LTV) asserts that the market price of a good reflects the sum of the value of all labor contributed to the good during its production.

    Modern market economists substitute the marginal theory of value (MTV), in which non-labor resources also have value and relative scarcity and comparative advantage, rather than any fundamental value of labor, are the critical factors in price formation. Subjective theories of value also complement the MTV in modern economics.

    By contrast, you describe a usage reflecting an ethical precept rather than an economic theory of price formation. In this sense, “labor theory of value” describes a theoretically rightful owner of a product. This theory is not comparable to either the modern LTV or the MTV, because neither of the latter is an ethical theory.

    For the record, I accept the “mutualist” label myself, but I reject the LTV in favor of the MTV with subjective elements. In ethical terms, rather than “labor theory of value”, I sometimes advocate “Lockean propriety” or what others call “the propriety of possession and use”, though possession and use is not exactly what Locke equates with “property”. Lockean propriety equates a person’s “property” with fruits of his labor and natural resources valuably altered by his labor (like a field he has plowed and planted).

    The propriety of rents divided historical “socialists” from their antithetical counterparts. In marginalist terms, a rent is the marginal value of forcibly imposing an individual’s exclusive governance of a scarce resource, apart from any value the individual adds to the resource by his labor. Modern libertarians still decry “rent seeking”, and the “left” and “right” wings of modern libertarianism can still rally around this common foe.

    State socialism addresses the perceived evils of rents and rent seeking by substituting state ownership of resources with a rental value for individual ownership. Needless to say, this cure seems much worse than the disease to me. I won’t belabor the point around here.

    Eliminating a money monopoly is a special case of eliminating monopoly rents. I agree that 19th century anarchists, particularly Proudhonists like Tucker, sought this end. Mutual credit and free banking are particular interests of mine, but any system of money and credit seems to require standards of forcible propriety presuming a state, and Proudhon himself eventually abandoned the “anarchist” title. Anarchy is like an asymptotic limit we seek but never expect to reach.

    I don’t understand 19th century objections to interest in general, but the time value of money in a free market isn’t necessarily positive. I can easily imagine a credit market in which creditors must pay borrowers to accept credit, and the demographic transition could be creating this sort of market now.

    If creditors extend credit to obtain goods in the future, without producing themselves in the future, then an interest rate reflects demand for goods in the future relative to expected supply in the future. If a hundred sixty year olds owning everything extend credit to ten sixteen year olds owning nothing, in a sufficiently free market, interest rates are surely negative.

    Though I sympathize with many nominal “anarchists”, I haven’t yet found one actually advocating no state (regional monopoly of permissible force), so I can’t take seriously the idea that a fundamental difference over the existence of a state separates anyone from anyone else. In my experience, people advocating no state at all either have an idiosyncratic (and typically self-serving) usage of “state” or simply deny the state they advocate.

    This position makes me a pariah here, but I have far more in common with anarcho-capitalists than with Republicans, Democrats and other modern proponents of fascism, much less state socialists.

  19. Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

    I always enjoy your writing by the way. You were one of my saviors in the nineties when I was a divorced father rebelling against gender feminism.

  20. GozutennouNo Gravatar says:

    ”In short, the individualist anarchists rejected the state, demanded respect for individual rights and advocated private property.”

    By private property, you mean:

    Personal property or the means of production…

    ”Were individualist anarchists actually socialists? The answer is most definitely “no.””

    Yes, the individualist anarchist were socialists, what you are doing is setting up a strawman argument….

    You are implying that socialism means that the state control the means of production, that’s state socialism and not the libertarian socialists that the individualist libertarians were.

  21. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    I guess I have always been somewhat a supporter of the “labor theory of value” because I have been a poor man all my life. When you work hard and are in pain every day to barely make ends meet while the rulers consolidate their power with corporations and laws making real free enterprise a practical impossibility, you can understand why a basically bankrupt philosophy like socialism continues to enjoy support all over the world amongst poor folks. They see what so called “capitalism” does for them and figure anything would be an improvement.
    I do find it interesting that people like Jack London considered themselves to be socilists. Indeed he wrote at least one book about a socialist revolution. I think it was called the Iron Heel. But any reading of London’s The Sea Wolf or White Fang shows a rugged indivildualist of the highest order. I think that definitions have changed hugely since the late 1800s making it difficult for modern readers to understand the context of the writings of a London or a Tucker.

    The truly productive people of today are usually screwed over economically. The legalized theives use government power to monopoolize the big money areas such as medicine, law, or banking thus effectively keeping most of the money and perks within the same ruling elite ageneration after generation. No amount of tweaking the present system can change that basic aspect of it. Unfortunately that leaves most of we freedom lovers up the creek without a paddle. We try to dodge between the raindrops of government intrusion into our lives but eventually get caught up in a deluge and die broke and powerless to control our own destiny. Some of us “drop out” to some extent going to the backwoods or practicing urban homesteading. But nothing stops the continual grinding away of our lilberties and thus our lives. Depressing ain’t it?

    • Martin BrockNo Gravatar says:

      I basically agree with everything you say here, but I try to be a little more optimistic about it, so how com you get the smiling sunshine while I got the frowning stop sign (until I added a custom avatar)?

  22. Fritz KneseNo Gravatar says:

    I normally am more optimistic too. I had to bond a daughter out of jail and deal with children’s “services” to keep my 3 grandsons out of the system. All basically because we are poor. I guess I was feeling sorry afor myself that day. It would not bother me so much if the rich were wealthy because they were super productive, but it seems that most wealth is acquired by deceit or legalized theft. My father was talking about the ever widening dicotomy between the “haves and have nots” 40 years ago. Things are even worse now. I’m lucky I live in the backwoods off the grid or I could not possibly afford to live.

  23. EONo Gravatar says:

    My goodness. What utter rubbish.

    Even the most casual reading of Proudhon’s actual writings will show this entire thing to be bunk, plain and simple. Only someone completely unacquainted with his work would fall for this drivel – which, I suspect, is exactly what you’re banking on.

    Proudhon was as vehemently opposed to capitalism and private property as he was to the state, and your trying to twist his thinking into some sort of Anarcho-Capitalist parody is really pretty dreadful.

    Shame on you. Your readers deserve better.

    • Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

      If I were speaking of Proudhon, then your point would make sense. I was not. And the length of this comment is about as much time and patience as I have for people who seem incapable of civil discourse.

  24. EONo Gravatar says:

    But of course you are.

    You’re discussing Mutualism in the context of individualist anarchism as if it was a form of capitalism, which it certainly is not. That’s highly misleading, and engenders a whole cascade of inappropriate constructions.

    And if this seems to you uncivil its because I’m really getting awfully impatient with this chronic rewriting of historical anarchist thought. It’s like some sort of internet plague, with everybody from Proudhon to Chomsky being recast in the guise of Right Libertarian and free marketeer.

  25. Wendy McElroyNo Gravatar says:

    Proudhon and Chomsky are not Right libertarians. I have never claimed they were. You ascribe statements to me that I have never come close to remotely making. Nor do I call 19th century individualist anarchists in America “capitalist”…they were not, as I clearly state. The movement was capitalist elsewhere (especially England) But the American version *did* favor the free market.and contract (society by contract) above all. It is not a difficult distinction to grasp.