We have all seen them. Those experts in co-opting terms. It was not so long ago that “libertarian” referred specifically to libertarian socialists and everybody familiar with the term knew it. And now there is “anarcho”-capitalism. Not a new development, and pretty generally a very fringe one. But, all the same, a dangerous one. Why? Because it is, very simply put, not anarchism. It is antithetical to it. It can not be anarchism. In respect for our true anarchist comrades we should do everything we can to oppose that label. To allow it to go unopposed is to help perpetuate the common misrepresentations and misunderstandings anarchism is already so prone to.
So, on what grounds do we oppose that label? For the fact that, as I said, anarcho-capitalism can not be anarchist. In arguing that, I will, as a Marxist, argue from a Marxist standpoint.
“Government” and “state” are taken, in a Marxist sense, to be tools of class rule. They exist to protect property relations under capitalism, which is why they wither away in the progression to communism, where these property rights are actively done away with. Statelessness is not absence of authority, it’s absence of class oppression and property rights, as classes are done away with and all the things that go with that.
Capitalism as an economic system also necessarily creates a class system. It can not be capitalism otherwise; the class divide is essential to its operation. You have your owners and your workers. Your bourgeoisie and your proletariat. In talking of capitalism as it relates to the state, then, you apply that knowledge to the Marxist analysis of state which, as I said above, is an expression of class rule. The ruling class in capitalist society is consequently the wealthy class. Owners are rulers.
So when anarcho-capitalists say we just need to “get rid of the state” but maintain capitalism, I feel perfectly justified in laughing at them. If it’s clear that a state is nothing but an expression of class rule, and if it’s clear that capitalism necessitates class divide, it’s clear that the state does not just magically disappear and that for as long as you have capitalism, you have a state.
There you have it, in simplest form. Anarcho-capitalism is impossible because stateless capitalism is impossible; because capitalism necessitates class divide and class divide is what creates the state.
But let’s approach this from a different way. After all, anarcho-capitalists don’t share the Marxist perception of the state as a tool of class rule, do they? On the other hand, another of the common anarcho-capitalist lines is “voluntaryism”. Happily enough, we can just as easily prove anarcho-capitalism as impossible from that standpoint as well.
Voluntaryism holds that all forms of human association should be voluntary. To an-caps, this refers pretty much to voluntaryism in the economic and social realms; they stress the importance of voluntary association in labour and in entering into social relations, like those between the owners and the workers, between different classes. So how can this be turned against them and prove anarcho-capitalism impossible?
Let’s take the example of wages, of a lack of policy regarding wages: an-caps say that without a state, there is no body to regulate minimum wage. Thus there is no technical or official (state imposed) limit on how low the capitalists can set wages. They say that that doesn’t matter, however, because the workers applying for a job are doing so voluntarily, and if they don’t like the sound of the working conditions they’ll be subjected to, they can voluntarily leave and go find another employer! Therein is the balance of reasonable wages maintained. Simple.
I think not.
Oh, certainly, when presented with a better job, for instance, one that pays better, the workers will take it. But very often these an-caps act like that is the magic solution to everything, like it’s that simple and there’s no limit on how many times it can work. That’s very clearly not the case; if a bunch of workers are being exploited and a new opening with better payment is available, they’ll all rush to it, but the new employer only has so much money and the new opening only so many spots, so those that don’t get the job get stuck working the same old exploitative job they have been working, except now the exploiting owner can even further exploit because he knows no other opportunities are open. But then — look — another opens! And it’s the same rush, everybody tries to get a job, but soon, it’s full again, and the employer can continually exploit and exploit and the workers can’t do anything about it, and there’s only so many “better” opportunities that will open up. And once other employers realize how profitable this tactic is, it’s not going to subside. It’s going to get more and more exploitative.
In that respect, I would have this to remark on: does that not violate the very voluntaryist principles an-caps hold so dear? The workers are forced into the very same wage slavery relationship they are forced into under regular capitalism, except now exponentially worse! Indeed, it degenerates entirely into a society of wage slaves as the only subset of the working class in total. When every owner realizes that they are free to exploit unfettered and free from the yoke of a restrictive state, you can be certain that they will. No worker will be safe. No work will be voluntary.
As the saying goes, you’ll be free to choose who you’re exploited by, not free to choose not to be exploited.
“Ah, but wait!” The an-caps say, “The workers are free to rebel and overthrow the exploitative capitalists!”
Able, yes. Likely at all? Probably not. Likely to succeed? Most certainly not.
What, would you suggest that the whole working class rise up and overthrow the exploiters after the exploitation has taken root? That the starving Masses, barely able to afford their own food and support themselves, let alone a family — a throwback to the old days of capitalism as Marx remembers it — will find the time to organize and, moreover, the means to revolt and successfully overthrow the rulers? Further, is it not likely that, even provided somehow a revolt could begin at all, the capitalists will be waiting with their own private army?
Yes, that’s another thing. Capitalists have historically prevented their own demise at the hands of angry workers by maintaining a private standing army. Remember the Homestead Strike of 1892? The Pinkertons served pretty exclusively as the goons of capitalists in sabotaging unions, intimidating workers and preventing strikes. There is every reason to believe that the same would occur under anarcho-capitalism. No, I’m sorry, but it isn’t as simple as “But they’re free to leave if they don’t like the working conditions!”
All of this goes to show how ridiculous the notion of voluntaryism spouted by an-caps really is. You can not have voluntaryism in wage slavery and you can not have voluntaryism in any attempts at ending exploiting owners being crushed by goon squads. Voluntaryism as an-caps see it can not exist under the conditions which they call for.
So, we’ve established that anarcho-capitalism is impossible in two ways: that it is necessarily not anarchist and that the voluntaryism espoused by an-caps can not exist. I’m certain there are other ways which I haven’t gone into here, but I think these suffice for the purposes of this article; determining that anarcho-capitalism is a pure contradiction in terms. Now all that needs to be done is for an-caps to understand that.