Anarchism and capitalism

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Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful,[1][2] or alternatively as opposing authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations.[3][4][5][6][7][8] The nature of capitalism is a polarizing issue among anarchists. Capitalism is generally considered by scholars to be an economic system that includes private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit or income, the accumulation of capital, competitive markets, voluntary exchange, wage labor and has generally been opposed by anarchists historically.[9][10] Capitalism is variously defined by sources and there is no general consensus among scholars on the definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category.[11] The designation is applied to a variety of historical cases, varying in time, geography, politics and culture.[12]

Most anarchist commentators do not consider anarcho-capitalism as a legitimate form of anarchism due to perceived coercive characteristics of capitalism. In particular, they argue that certain capitalist transactions are not voluntary and that maintaining the class structure of a capitalist society requires coercion in violation of anarchist principles.[13][14] Anarcho-capitalists argue that capitalism is the absence of coercion and therefore fully compatible with the philosophy of anarchism. Furthermore, they claim that an effort to put a stop to what they consider voluntary hierarchy is inconsistent with the philosophical tradition of freedom present in anarchist thought.[15]

Anarchist criticisms of capitalism[edit]

Private property[edit]

There is some debate about the question of private property and economic organization. Social anarchists claim that the existence of private property results in wage slavery while certain anti-capitalist individualist anarchists and mutualists argue for private property and wages owned and controlled directly by workers themselves in the form of labor-owned cooperative firms and associations.[16][17] For Proudhon, "strong workers' associations…would enable the workers to determine jointly by election how the enterprise was to be directed and operated on a day-to-day basis".[18]

Wage labor[edit]

Traditional individualist anarchists, such as Benjamin Tucker (who identified his American individualist anarchism as "anarchistic socialism") are opposed to both capitalism and anarchist-communism. They support wage labor as long as the employers and employees are paid equally for equal hours worked[19] and neither party has authority over the other (this approach was put into practice in American individualist anarchist colonies such as Utopia, which was organized by Josiah Warren). By following this principle, no individual profits from the labor of another. Tucker described the wages received in such an employer-employee relationship as the individual laborer's "full product". He envisioned that in such a society, every worker would be self-employed and own their own private means of production, free to walk away from employment contracts. Tucker called communist-anarchism "pseudo-anarchism" because it opposes wages and private property, fearing that collectivization would subdue individuals to group mentality and rob workers of the full product of their labor.[20]

The Preamble to the Constitution of the Syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World labor union states unequivocally:

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."[21]


Many anarcho-capitalists believe that inequality is not a major concern so long as everyone has "equality of opportunity". Anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard argued "the 'rightist' libertarian is not opposed to inequality".[22] They believe that because of a person's self-ownership, that any freedom given up in a laissez-faire marketplace would be a voluntary contract (consent) and believe there is nothing authoritarian about capitalist employer-employee relationships in such a condition: "There is nothing authoritarian, dictatorial or exploitative in the relationship. Employees order employers to pay them amounts specified in the hiring contract just as much as employers order employees to abide by the terms of the contract".[23]

Murray Rothbard defines equality as "A and B are 'equal' if they are identical to each other with respect to a given attribute…There is one and only one way, then, in which any two people can really be 'equal' in the fullest sense: they must be identical in all their attributes"[24] and argues "men are not uniform, [...] the species, mankind, is uniquely characterised by a high degree of variety, diversity, differentiation: in short, inequality".[25] This runs counter the concept of equality amongst most social and mutualist anarchists. Most anarchists would argue that freedom without equality simply gives more freedom to those who are supposedly "superior" and that equality without freedom is a form of oppression.[26][27][28] Social anarchist Alexander Berkman argued:

Equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity…Do not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity. It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it: the very reverse, in fact. Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality. Far from levelling, such equality opens the door for the greatest possible variety of activity and development. For human character is diverse, and only the repression of this free diversity results in levelling, in uniformity and sameness. Free opportunity and acting out your individuality means development of natural dissimilarities and variations…Life in freedom, in anarchy will do more than liberate man merely from his present political and economic bondage. That will be only the first step, the preliminary to a truly human existence.[29]

Some anarcho-capitalists, who consider themselves part of the individualist anarchist tradition, draw upon the writings of early individualist anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner who argued that unequal wealth would not equal an unequal society. However, said anarchists believed that equality of condition, equality of access to the means of production and equal opportunity would counteract any potential tyranny in a market society. "Spooner and Godwin insist that inequality corrupts freedom. Their anarchism is directed as much against inequality as against tyranny" and "[w]hile sympathetic to Spooner's individualist anarchism, they [Rothbard and David D. Friedman] fail to notice or conveniently overlook its egalitarian implications".[30] Tucker himself argued for a society with "the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty".[31]

Economic issues[edit]

Some anarchists object to the portrayal of economics as a "value-free science":

[A]ll the so-called laws and theories of political economy are in reality no more than statements of the following nature: 'Granting that there are always in a country a considerable number of people who cannot subsist a month, or even a fortnight, without accepting the conditions of work imposed upon them by the State, or offered to them by those whom the State recognizes as owners of land, factories, railways, etc., then the results will be so and so.' So far middle-class political economy has been only an enumeration of what happens under the just-mentioned conditions – without distinctly stating the conditions themselves. And then, having described the facts which arise in our society under these conditions, they represent to us these facts as rigid, inevitable economic laws.

— Peter Kropotkin, Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 179

It has also been pointed out that historically the anarchist-communist economic theories published by Peter Kropotkin and others have been ignored or intentionally sidelined by historians.[32]

Within the realm of anarchist labor issues is the issue of the monetary system. While all anarchists are against the current monetary system, there is disagreement as to whether or not there should be a monetary system. Alexander Berkman was an anarchist against the monetary system. In his book What is Anarchism?, Berkman argues that in an anarchist society money would become unnecessary. Within anarchy, all occupations are viewed as equally beneficial to society. Since the concept of value is different for everyone and cannot be determined, it is argued that it should not be set and one's contribution to society through their occupation entitled them to be a part of it. Within this system, there is a free distribution of goods without the need for money. Money in its current form is a hierarchical system, the exception being when all people are paid equal salaries. However, the argument goes further to question the purpose of money if people are paid equally. Certainly those who agree with this would also note that a monetary system would open a vulnerability for some to acquire more of it and create a class system.

Not all anarchists oppose the idea of money. Individualist and mutualist anarchists see currency as a tangible form of workers receiving the "full product of their labor". They support mutual banking (some individualists support no banking at all to keep exchange rates constant) and local currency as opposed to national currency.[33][34] Others see money as simply an index for exchanging goods and that its existence would not necessarily create a class system.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Malatesta, Errico. "Towards Anarchism". MAN!. Los Angeles: International Group of San Francisco. OCLC 3930443. Agrell, Siri (2007-05-14). "Working for The Man". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2007-05-16. Retrieved 2008-04-14. "Anarchism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2006. Archived from the original on 14 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-29. "Anarchism". The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 14. 2005. Anarchism is the view that a society without the state, or government, is both possible and desirable. The following sources cite anarchism as a political philosophy: Mclaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 59. ISBN 0-7546-6196-2. Johnston, R. (2000). The Dictionary of Human Geography. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers. p. 24. ISBN 0-631-20561-6.
  2. ^ Slevin, Carl. "Anarchism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  3. ^ "The IAF - IFA fights for : the abolition of all forms of authority whether economical, political, social, religious, cultural or sexual.""Principles of The International of Anarchist Federations" Archived January 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations." Emma Goldman. "What it Really Stands for Anarchy" in Anarchism and Other Essays.
  5. ^ Individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker defined anarchism as opposition to authority as follows "They found that they must turn either to the right or to the left, — follow either the path of Authority or the path of Liberty. Marx went one way; Warren and Proudhon the other. Thus were born State Socialism and Anarchism...Authority, takes many shapes, but, broadly speaking, her enemies divide themselves into three classes: first, those who abhor her both as a means and as an end of progress, opposing her openly, avowedly, sincerely, consistently, universally; second, those who profess to believe in her as a means of progress, but who accept her only so far as they think she will subserve their own selfish interests, denying her and her blessings to the rest of the world; third, those who distrust her as a means of progress, believing in her only as an end to be obtained by first trampling upon, violating, and outraging her. These three phases of opposition to Liberty are met in almost every sphere of thought and human activity. Good representatives of the first are seen in the Catholic Church and the Russian autocracy; of the second, in the Protestant Church and the Manchester school of politics and political economy; of the third, in the atheism of Gambetta and the socialism of the socialism off Karl Marg." Benjamin Tucker. Individual Liberty.
  6. ^ Ward, Colin (1966). "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization". Archived from the original on 25 March 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
  7. ^ Anarchist historian George Woodcock report of Mikhail Bakunin's anti-authoritarianism and shows opposition to both state and non-state forms of authority as follows: "All anarchists deny authority; many of them fight against it." (pg. 9)...Bakunin did not convert the League's central committee to his full program, but he did persuade them to accept a remarkably radical recommendation to the Berne Congress of September 1868, demanding economic equality and implicitly attacking authority in both Church and State."
  8. ^ Brown, L. Susan (2002). "Anarchism as a Political Philosophy of Existential Individualism: Implications for Feminism". The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism and Anarchism. Black Rose Books Ltd. Publishing. p. 106.
  9. ^ Heilbroner, Robert L. Capitalism. New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Second Edition (2008)
  10. ^ Tormey, Simon. Anti-Capitalism. One World Publications, 2004. p. 10
  11. ^ Critical Issues in History. Lanham, Md: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999, p. 1
  12. ^ Scott, John (2005). Industrialism: A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford University Press.
  13. ^ McKay, Iain (2007). "Section F - Is "anarcho"-capitalism a type of anarchism?". An Anarchist FAQ, Volume I. AK Press. ISBN 978-1-902593-90-6. Archived from the original on 2012-01-28.
  14. ^ Iain McKay; et al. (21 January 2010). "Section F - Is "anarcho"-capitalism a type of anarchism?". An Anarchist FAQ. Archived from the original on 5 December 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  15. ^ Bernstein, Andrew (2005). The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophic Case for Laissez-faire,. University of America. ISBN 0-7618-3221-1.
  16. ^ quoted by James J. Martin. Men Against the State, p. 223
  17. ^ Hymans, E., Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, pp. 190-1
  18. ^ Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984, p. 230 and p. 156
  19. ^ Cheyney, Ryan C. Social Justice and the Right to the Labor Product. Political Theory, Vol. 8, No. 4. (Nov., 1980), p. 506
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-04-07. Retrieved 2005-08-11.
  21. ^ "Preamble to the IWW Constitution | Industrial Workers of the World". Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  22. ^ For a New Liberty, p. 47For a New Liberty, p. 47
  23. ^ Markets, Entrepreneurs and Liberty, p. 136, p. 137
  24. ^ Rothbard, Murray. Egalitarianism as a Revolt against Nature and Other Essays, p. 4
  25. ^ Rothbard, Murray. Egalitarianism as a Revolt against Nature and Other Essays, p.5
  26. ^ Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. What is Property? p. 118
  27. ^ The ABC of Anarchism, p. 25
  28. ^ The Chomsky Reader, p. 190
  29. ^ Berkman, Alexander. The ABC of Anarchism, p. 25
  30. ^ Stephen L. Newman, Liberalism at Wit's End, p. 74, p. 76
  31. ^ Tucker, Instead of a Book, p. 131
  32. ^ Microsoft Word - HER31Knowles.doc Archived June 15, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. ^ Citizens' money, a lecture on the "National banking system." Delivered in Chicago and published in "Liberty," of Boston, in 1888. San Fran: Equity publishing co, 1890.
  34. ^ Citizens' money, a critical analysis in the light of free trade in banking a lecture by Alfred B. Westrup ... delivered in Chicago, Sunday, June 3, 1888, and in Toledo, O., under the auspices of the Society for Economic Inquiry, Feb. 19, 1891. Chicago: Mutual Bank Propaganda, 1891. Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.

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