PDF version of Section G.
G.1 Are individualist anarchists anti-capitalist?
To answer this question, it is necessary to first define what we mean by capitalism and socialism. While there is a tendency for supporters of capitalism (and a few socialists!) to equate it with the market and private property, this is not the case. It is possible to have both and not have capitalism (as we discuss in section G.1.1 and section G.1.2, respectively). Similarly, the notion that “socialism” means, be definition, state ownership and/or control, or that being employed by the state rather than by private capital is “socialism” is distinctly wrong. While some socialists have, undoubtedly, defined socialism in precisely such terms, socialism as a historic movement is much wider than that. As Proudhon put it, “[m]odern Socialism was not founded as a sect or church; it has seen a number of different schools.” [Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, p. 177]
As Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and Tucker all stressed, anarchism is one of those schools. For Kropotkin, anarchism was “the no-government system of socialism.” [Anarchism, p. 46] Likewise, for Tucker, there were “two schools of socialistic thought”, one of which represented authority and the other liberty, namely “State Socialism and Anarchism.” [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 78-9] It was “not Socialist Anarchism against Individualist Anarchism, but of Communist Socialism against Individualist Socialism.” [Tucker, Liberty, no. 129, p. 2] As one expert on Individualist Anarchism noted, Tucker “looked upon anarchism as a branch of the general socialist movement.” [James J. Martin, Men Against the State, pp. 226-7] Thus we find Individualist anarchist Victor Yarros, like Tucker, talking about “the position and teachings of the Anarchistic Socialists” when referring to his ideas. [Liberty, no. 98, p. 5]
Part of problem is that in the 20th century, the statist school of socialism prevailed both within the labour movement (at least in English speaking countries or until fascism destroyed it in mainland Europe and elsewhere) and within the revolutionary movement (first as social democracy, then as Communism after the Russian Revolution). This lead, it should be noted, to anarchists not using the term “socialist” to describe their ideas as they did not want to be confused with either reformed capitalism (social democracy) or state capitalism (Leninism and Stalinism). As anarchism was understood as being inherently anti-capitalist, this did not become an issue until certain right-wing liberals started calling themselves “anarcho”-capitalists (somewhat ironically, these liberals joined with the state socialists in trying to limit anarchism to anti-statism and denying their socialist credentials). Another part of the problem is that many, particularly those in America, derive their notion of what socialism is from right-wing sources who are more than happy to agree with the Stalinists that socialism is state ownership. This is case with right-“libertarians”, who rarely study the history or ideas of socialism and instead take their lead from such fanatical anti-socialists as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. Thus they equate socialism with social democracy or Leninism/Stalinism, i.e. with state ownership of the means of life, the turning of part or the whole working population into employees of the government or state regulation and the welfare state. In this they are often joined by social democrats and Marxists who seek to excommunicate all other kinds of socialism from the anti-capitalist movement.
All of which leads to some strange contradictions. If “socialism” is equated to state ownership then, clearly, the individualist anarchists are not socialists but, then, neither are the social anarchists! Thus if we assume that the prevailing socialism of the 20th century defines what socialism is, then quite a few self-proclaimed socialists are not, in fact, socialists. This suggests that socialism cannot be limited to state socialism. Perhaps it would be easier to define “socialism” as restrictions on private property? If so, then, clearly, social anarchists are socialists but then, as we will prove, so are the individualist anarchists!
Of course, not all the individualist anarchists used the term “socialist” or “socialism” to describe their ideas although many did. Some called their ideas Mutualism and explicitly opposed socialism (William Greene being the most obvious example). However, at root the ideas were part of the wider socialist movement and, in fact, they followed Proudhon in this as he both proclaimed himself a socialist while also attacking it. The apparent contradiction is easily explained by noting there are two schools of socialism, state and libertarian. Thus it is possible to be both a (libertarian) socialist and condemn (state) socialist in the harshest terms.
So what, then, is socialism? Tucker stated that “the bottom claim of Socialism” was “that labour should be put in possession of its own,” that “the natural wage of labour is its product” and “interest, rent, and profit . . . constitute the trinity of usury.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 78 and p. 80] This definition also found favour with Kropotkin who stated that socialism “in its wide, generic, and true sense” was an “effort to abolish the exploitation of labour by capital.” [Anarchism, p. 169] For Kropotkin, anarchism was “brought forth by the same critical and revolutionary protest which gave rise to Socialism in general”, socialism aiming for “the negation of Capitalism and of society based on the subjection of labour to capital.” Anarchism, unlike other socialists, extended this to oppose “what constitutes the real strength of Capitalism: the State and its principle supports.” [Environment and Evolution, p. 19] Tucker, similarly, argued that Individualist anarchism was a form of socialism and would result in the “emancipation of the workingman from his present slavery to capital.” [Instead of a Book, p. 323]
The various schools of socialism present different solutions to this exploitation and subjection. From the nationalisation of capitalist property by the state socialists, to the socialisation of property by the libertarian communists, to the co-operatives of mutualism, to the free market of the individualist anarchists, all are seeking, in one way or the other, to ensure the end of the domination and exploitation of labour by capital. The disagreements between them all rest in whether their solutions achieve this aim and whether they will make life worth living and enjoyable (which also explains why individualist and social anarchists disagree so much!). For anarchists, state socialism is little more than state capitalism, with a state monopoly replacing capitalist monopolies and workers being exploited by one boss (the state) rather than many. So all anarchists would agree with Yarrows when he argued that “[w]hile State Socialism removes the disease by killing the patient, no-State Socialism offers him the means of recovering strength, health, and vigour.” [Liberty, no. 98, p. 5]
So, why are the individualist anarchists anti-capitalists? There are two main reasons.
Firstly, the Individualist Anarchists opposed profits, interest and rent as forms of exploitation (they termed these non-labour incomes “usury”, but as Tucker stressed usury was “but another name for the exploitation of labour.” [Liberty, no. 122, p. 4]). To use the words of Ezra Heywood, the Individualist Anarchists thought “Interest is theft, Rent Robbery, and Profit Only Another Name for Plunder.” [quoted by Martin Blatt, “Ezra Heywood & Benjamin Tucker,”, pp. 28-43, Benjamin R. Tucker and the Champions of Liberty, Coughlin, Hamilton and Sullivan (eds.), p. 29] Non-labour incomes are merely “different methods of levying tribute for the use of capital.” Their vision of the good society was one in which “the usurer, the receiver of interest, rent and profit” would not exist and Labour would “secure its natural wage, its entire product.” [Tucker, The Individualist Anarchists, p. 80, p. 82 and p. 85] This would also apply to dividends, “since no idle shareholders could continue in receipt of dividends were it not for the support of monopoly, it follows that these dividends are no part of the proper reward of ability.” [Tucker, Liberty, no. 282, p. 2]
In addition, as a means of social change, the individualists suggested that activists start “inducing the people to steadily refuse the payment of rents and taxes.” [Instead of a Book pp. 299-300] These are hardly statements with which capitalists would agree. Tucker, as noted, also opposed interest, considering it usury (exploitation and a “crime”) pure and simple and one of the means by which workers were denied the full fruits of their labour. Indeed, he looked forward to the day when “any person who charges more than cost for any product [will] . . . be regarded very much as we now regard a pickpocket.” This “attitude of hostility to usury, in any form” hardly fits into the capitalist mentality or belief system. [Op. Cit., p. 155] Similarly, Ezra Heywood considered profit-taking “an injustice which ranked second only to legalising titles to absolute ownership of land or raw-materials.” [James J. Martin, Op. Cit., p. 111] Opposition to profits, rent or interest is hardly capitalistic — indeed, the reverse.
Thus the Individualist Anarchists, like the social anarchists, opposed the exploitation of labour and desired to see the end of capitalism by ensuring that labour would own what it produced. They desired a society in which there would no longer be capitalists and workers, only workers. The worker would receive the full product of his/her labour, so ending the exploitation of labour by capital. In Tucker’s words, a free society would see “each man reaping the fruits of his labour and no man able to live in idleness on an income from capital” and so society would “become a great hive of Anarchistic workers, prosperous and free individuals” combining “to carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 276]
Secondly, the Individualist Anarchists favoured a new system of land ownership based on “occupancy and use.” So, as well as this opposition to capitalist usury, the individualist anarchists also expressed opposition to capitalist ideas on property (particularly property in land). J.K. Ingalls, for example, considered that “the private domination of the land” originated in “usurpation only, whether of the camp, the court or the market. Whenever such a domination excludes or deprives a single human being of his equal opportunity, it is a violation, not only of the public right, and of the social duty, but of the very principle of law and morals upon which property itself is based.” [quoted by Martin, Op. Cit., p. 148f] As Martin comments, for Ingalls, “[t]o reduce land to the status of a commodity was an act of usurpation, enabling a group to ‘profit by its relation to production’ without the expenditure of labour time.” [Op. Cit., p. 148] These ideas are identical to Proudhon’s and Ingalls continues in this Proudhonian “occupancy and use” vein when he argues that possession “remains possession, and can never become property, in the sense of absolute dominion, except by positive statue [i.e. state action]. Labour can only claim occupancy, and can lay no claim to more than the usufruct.” Current property ownership in land were created by “forceful and fraudulent taking” of land, which “could give no justification to the system.” [quoted by Martin, Op. Cit., p. 149]
The capitalist system of land ownership was usually termed the “land monopoly”, which consisted of “the enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation.” Under anarchism, individuals would “no longer be protected by their fellows in anything but personal occupancy and cultivation of land” and so “ground rent would disappear.” [Tucker, The Individualist Anarchists, p. 85] This applied to what was on the land as well, such as housing:
“If a man exerts himself by erecting a building on land which afterward, by the operation of the principle of occupancy and use, rightfully becomes another’s, he must, upon demand of the subsequent occupant, remove from this land the results of his self-exertion, or, failing so to do, sacrifice his property therein.” [Liberty, no. 331, p. 4]
This would apply to both the land and what was on it. This meant that “tenants would not be forced to pay . . . rent” nor would landlords “be allowed to seize their property.” This, as Tucker noted, was a complete rejection of the capitalist system of property rights and saw anarchism being dependent on “the Anarchistic view that occupancy and use should condition and limit landholding becom[ing] the prevailing view.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 162 and p. 159] As Joseph Labadie put it, socialism includes any theory “which has for its object the changing of the present status of property and the relations one person or class holds to another. In other words, any movement which has for its aim the changing of social relations, of companionships, of associations, of powers of one class over another class, is Socialism.” [our emphasis, Liberty, no. 158, p. 8] As such, both social and individualist anarchists are socialists as both aimed at changing the present status of property.
It should also be noted here that the individualist anarchist ideal that competition in banking would drive interest to approximately zero is their equivalent to the social anarchist principle of free access to the means of life. As the only cost involved would be an administration charge which covers the labour involved in running the mutual bank, all workers would have access to “capital” for (in effect) free. Combine this with “occupancy and use” in terms of land use and it can be seen that both individualist and social anarchists shared a common aim to make the means of life available to all without having to pay a tribute to an owner or be dependent on a ruling capitalist or landlord class.
For these reasons, the Individualist Anarchists are clearly anti-capitalist. While an Individualist Anarchy would be a market system, it would not be a capitalist one. As Tucker argued, the anarchists realised “the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labour, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labour by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labour. . . . And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege. . . every man will be a labourer exchanging with fellow-labourers . . . What Anarchistic-Socialism aims to abolish is usury . . . it wants to deprive capital of its reward.” As noted above, the term “usury,” for Tucker, was simply a synonym for “the exploitation of labour.” [Instead of a Book, p. 404 and p. 396]
The similarities with social anarchism are obvious. Like them, the individualist anarchists opposed capitalism because they saw that profit, rent and interest were all forms of exploitation. As communist-anarchist Alexander Berkman noted, “[i]f the worker would get his due — that is, the things he produces or their equivalent — where would the profits of the capitalist come from? If labour owned the wealth it produced, there would be no capitalism.” Like social anarchists they opposed usury, to have to pay purely for access/use for a resource. It ensured that a “slice of their daily labour is taken from [the workers] for the privilege of using these factories” [What is Anarchism?, p. 44 and p. 8] For Marx, abolishing interest and interest-bearing capital “means the abolition of capital and of capitalist production itself.” [Theories of Surplus Value, vol. 3, p. 472] A position, incidentally, also held by Proudhon who maintained that “reduction of interest rates to vanishing point is itself a revolutionary act, because it is destructive of capitalism.” [quoted by Edward Hyams, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind and Works, p. 188] Like many socialists, Individualist Anarchists used the term “interest” to cover all forms of surplus value: “the use of money” plus “house-rent, dividends, or share of profits” and having to “pay a tax to somebody who owns the land.” “In doing away with interest, the cause of inequality in material circumstances will be done away with.” [John Beverley Robinson, The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 144-5]
Given that Individualist Anarchism aimed to abolish interest along with rent and profit it would suggest that it is a socialist theory. Unsurprisingly, then, Tucker agreed with Marx’s analysis on capitalism, namely that it lead to industry concentrating into the hands of a few and that it robbed workers of the fruits of the toil (for Francis Tandy it was a case of “the Marxian theory of surplus value, upon which all Socialistic philosophy — whether State or Anarchistic — is necessarily based” [Op. Cit., no. 312, p. 3]). Tucker quoted a leading Marxist’s analysis of capitalism and noted that “Liberty endorses the whole of it, excepting a few phrases concerning the nationalisation of industry and the assumption of political power by working people.” However, he was at pains to argue that this analysis was first expounded by Proudhon, “that the tendency and consequences of capitalistic production . . . were demonstrated to the world time and time again during the twenty years preceding the publication of ‘Das Kapital'” by the French anarchist. This included “the historical persistence of class struggles in successive manifestations” as well as “the theory that labour is the source and measure of value.” “Call Marx, then, the father of State socialism, if you will,” argued Tucker, “but we dispute his paternity of the general principles of economy on which all schools of socialism agree.” [Liberty, no. 35, p. 2]
This opposition to profits, rent and interest as forms of exploitation and property as a form of theft clearly makes individualist anarchism anti-capitalist and a form of (libertarian) socialism. In addition, it also indicates well the common ground between the two threads of anarchism, in particular their common position to capitalism. The social anarchist Rudolf Rocker indicates well this common position when he argues:
“it is difficult to reconcile personal freedom with the existing economic system. Without doubt the present inequality of economic interests and the resulting class conflicts in society are a continual danger to the freedom of the individual . . . [T]he undisturbed natural development of human personality is impossible in a system which has its root in the shameless exploitation of the great mass of the members of society. One cannot be free either politically or personally so long as one is in economic servitude of another and cannot escape from this condition. This was recognised by men like Godwin, Warren, Proudhon, Bakunin, [and women like Goldman and de Cleyre, we must add!] and many others who subsequently reached the conviction that the domination of man over man will not disappear until there is an end of the exploitation of man by man.” [Nationalism and Culture, p. 167]
There are other, related, reasons why the individualist anarchists must be considered left-wing libertarians rather than right-wing ones. Given their opposition to non-labour income, they saw their proposals as having egalitarian implications. As regards equality, we discover that they saw their ideas as promoting it. Thus we find Tucker arguing that that the “happiness possible in any society that does not improve upon the present in the matter of distribution of wealth, can hardly be described as beatific.” He was clearly opposed to “the inequitable distribution of wealth” under capitalism and equally clearly saw his proposals as a means of reducing it substantially. The abolition of those class monopolies which create interest, rent and profit would reduce income and wealth inequalities substantially. However, there was “one exception, and that a comparatively trivial one”, namely economic rent (the natural differences between different bits of land and individual labour). This “will probably remain with us always. Complete liberty will very much lessen it; of that I have no doubt . . . At the worst, it will be a small matter, no more worth consideration in comparison with the liberty than the slight disparity that will always exist in consequence of inequalities of skill.” [“Why I am an Anarchist”, pp. 132-6, Man!, M. Graham (ed.), pp. 135-6] Another individualist anarchist, John Beverley Robinson, agreed:
“When privilege is abolished, and the worker retains all that he produces, then will come the powerful trend toward equality of material reward for labour that will produce substantial financial and social equality, instead of the mere political equality that now exists.” [Patterns of Anarchy, pp. 278-9]
As did Lysander Spooner, who pointed out that the “wheel of fortune, in the present state of things, is of such enormous diameter” and “those on its top are on so showy a height” wjile “those underneath it are in such a pit of debt, oppression, and despair.” He argued that under his system “fortunes could hardly be represented by a wheel; for it would present no such height, no such depth, no such irregularity of motion as now. It should rather be represented by an extended surface, varied somewhat by inequalities, but still exhibiting a general level, affording a safe position for all, and creating no necessity, for either force or fraud, on the part of anyone to secure his standing.” Thus Individualist anarchism would create a condition “neither of poverty, nor riches; but of moderate competency — such as will neither enervate him by luxury, nor disable him by destitution; but which will at once give him and opportunity to labour, (both mentally and physically) and stimulate him by offering him all the fruits of his labours.” [quoted by Stephan L. Newman, Liberalism at Wit’s End, p. 72 and p. 73]
As one commentator on individualist anarchism, Wm. Gary Kline, correctly tsummarised:
“Their proposals were designed to establish true equality of opportunity . . . and they expected this to result in a society without great wealth or poverty. In the absence of monopolistic factors which would distort competition, they expected a society of largely self-employed workmen with no significant disparity of wealth between any of them since all would be required to live at their own expense and not at the expense of exploited fellow human beings.” [The Individualist Anarchists: A Critique of Liberalism, pp. 103-4]
Hence, like social anarchists, the Individualist Anarchists saw their ideas as a means towards equality. By eliminating exploitation, inequality would soon decrease as wealth would no longer accumulate in the hands of the few (the owners). Rather, it would flow back into the hands of those who produced it (i.e. the workers). Until this occurred, society would see “[o]n one side a dependent class of wage-workers and on the other a privileged class of wealth-monopolisers, each become more and more distinct from the other as capitalism advances.” This has “resulted in a grouping and consolidation of wealth which grows apace by attracting all property, no matter by whom produced, into the hands of the privileged, and hence property becomes a social power, an economic force destructive of rights, a fertile source of injustice, a means of enslaving the dispossessed.” [William Ballie, The Individualist Anarchists, p. 121]
Moreover, like the social anarchists, the Individualist Anarchists were aware that the state was not some neutral machine or one that exploited all classes purely for its own ends. They were aware that it was a vehicle of class rule, namely the rule of the capitalist class over the working class. Spooner thought that that “holders of this monopoly [of the money supply] now rule and rob this nation; and the government, in all its branches, is simply their tool” and that “the employers of wage labour . . . are also the monopolists of money.” [Spooner, A Letter to Grover Cleveland, p. 42 and p. 48] Tucker recognised that “capital had so manipulated legislation” that they gained an advantage on the capitalist market which allowed them to exploit labour. [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 82-3] He was quite clear that the state was a capitalist state, with “Capitalists hav[ing] placed and kept on the statute books all sorts of prohibitions and taxes” to ensure a “free market” skewed in favour of themselves. [Instead of a Book, p. 454] A.H. Simpson argued that the Individualist Anarchist “knows very well that the present State . . . is simply the tool of the property-owning class.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 92] Thus both wings of the anarchist movement were united in their opposition to capitalist exploitation and their common recognition that the state was a tool of the capitalist class, used to allow them to exploit the working class.
Tucker, like other individualist anarchists, also supported labour unions, and although he opposed violence during strikes he recognised that it was caused by frustration due to an unjust system. Indeed, like social anarchists, he considered “the labourer in these days [as] a soldier. . . His employer is . . . a member of an opposing army. The whole industrial and commercial world is in a state of internecine war, in which the proletaires are massed on one side and the proprietors on the other.” The cause of strikes rested in the fact that “before . . . strikers violated the equal liberty of others, their own right to equality of liberty had been wantonly and continuously violated” by the capitalists using the state, for the “capitalists . . . in denying [a free market] to [the workers] are guilty of criminal invasion.” [Instead of a Book, p. 460 and p. 454] “With our present economic system,” Tucker stressed, “almost every strike is just. For what is justice in production and distribution? That labour, which creates all, shall have all.“ [Liberty, no. 19, p. 1]
Another important aspects of unions and strikes were that they represented both a growing class consciousness and the ability to change society. “It is the power of the great unions to paralyse industry and ignore the government that has alarmed the political burglars,” argued Victor Yarrows. This explained why unions and strikes were crushed by force as “the State can have no rival, say the plutocrats, and the trades unions, with the sympathetic strike and boycott as weapons, are becoming too formidable.” Even defeated strikes were useful as they ensured that “the strikers and their sympathisers will have acquired some additional knowledge of the essential nature of the beast, government, which plainly has no other purpose at present than to protect monopoly and put down all opposition to it.” “There is such a thing as the solidarity of labour,” Yarrows went on, “and it is a healthy and encouraging sign that workmen recognise the need of mutual support and co-operation in their conflict with monopoly and its official and unofficial servants. Labour has to fight government as well as capital, ‘law and order’ as well as plutocracy. It cannot make the slightest movement against monopoly without colliding with some sort of ‘authority’, Federal, State, or municipal.” The problem was that the unions “have no clear general aims and deal with results rather than causes.” [Liberty, no. 291, p. 3]
This analysis echoed Tucker’s, who applauded the fact that “[a]nother era of strikes apparently is upon us. In all trades and in all sections of the country labour is busy with its demands and its protests. Liberty rejoices in them. They give evidence of life and spirit and hope and growing intelligence. They show that the people are beginning to know their rights, and, knowing, dare to maintain them. Strikes, whenever and wherever inaugurated, deserve encouragement from all true friends of labour.” [Op. Cit., no. 19, p. 1] Even failed strikes were useful, for they exposed “the tremendous and dangerous power now wielded by capital.” [Op. Cit., no. 39, p. 1] The “capitalists and their tools, the legislatures, already begin to scent the impending dangers of trades-union socialism and initiatory steps are on foot in the legislatures of several states to construe labour combinations as conspiracies against commerce and industry, and suppress them by law.” [Op. Cit., no. 22, p. 3]
Some individualist anarchists, like Dyer Lum and Joseph Labadie, were union organisers while Ezra Heywood “scoffed at supporters of the status quo, who saw no evidence of the tyranny on the part of capital, and who brought up the matter of free contract with reference to labourers. This argument was no longer valid. Capital controlled land, machinery, steam power, waterfalls, ships, railways, and above all, money and public opinion, and was in a position to wait out recalcitrancy at its leisure.” [Martin, Op. Cit., p. 107] For Lum, “behind the capitalist . . . privilege stands as support” and so social circumstances matter. “Does liberty exist,” he argued, “where rent, interest, and profit hold the employee in economic subjection to the legalised possessor of the means of life? To plead for individual liberty under the present social conditions, to refuse to abate one jot of control that legalised capital has over individual labour, and to assert that the demand for restrictive or class legislation comes only from the voluntary associations of workmen [i.e., trade unions] is not alone the height of impudence, but a barefaced jugglery of words.” [Liberty, no. 101, p. 5]
Likewise, Tucker advocated and supported many other forms of non-violent direct action as well as workplace strikes, such as boycotts and rent strikes, seeing them as important means of radicalising the working class and creating an anarchist society. However, like social anarchists the Individualist Anarchists did not consider labour struggle as an end in itself — they considered reforms (and discussion of a “fair wage” and “harmony between capital and labour”) as essentially “conservative” and would be satisfied with no less than “the abolition of the monopoly privileges of capital and interest-taking, and the return to labour of the full value of its production.” [Victor Yarros, quoted by Martin, Op. Cit., p. 206f]
Therefore, it is clear that both social and Individualist Anarchists share much in common, including an opposition to capitalism. The former may have been in favour of free exchange but between equally situated individuals. Only given a context of equality can free exchange be considered to benefit both parties equally and not generate growing inequalities which benefit the stronger of the parties involved which, in turn, skews the bargaining position of those involved in favour of the stronger (also see section F.3).
It is unsurprising, therefore, that the individualist anarchists considered themselves as socialists. Like Proudhon, they desired a (libertarian) socialist system based on the market but without exploitation and which rested on possession rather than capitalist private property. With Proudhon, only the ignorant or mischievous would suggest that such a system was capitalistic. The Individualist Anarchists, as can be seen, fit very easily into Kropotkin’s comments that “the anarchists, in common with all socialists . . . maintain that the now prevailing system of private ownership in land, and our capitalist production for the sake of profits, represent a monopoly which runs against both the principles of justice and the dictates of utility.” [Anarchism, p. 285] While they rejected the communist-anarchist solution to the social question, they knew that such a question existed and was rooted in the exploitation of labour and the prevailing system of property rights.
So why is Individualist Anarchism and Proudhon’s mutualism socialist? Simply because they opposed the exploitation of labour by capital and proposed a means of ending it. The big debate between social and individualist anarchists is revolves around whether the other school can really achieve this common goal and whether its proposed solution would, in fact, secure meaningful individual liberty for all.
Many, particularly on the “libertarian”-right, would dismiss claims that the Individualist Anarchists were socialists. By their support of the “free market” the Individualist Anarchists, they would claim, show themselves as really supporters of capitalism. Most, if not all, anarchists would reject this claim. Why is this the case?
This because such claims show an amazing ignorance of socialist ideas and history. The socialist movement has had a many schools, many of which, but not all, opposed the market and private property. Given that the right “libertarians” who make such claims are usually not well informed of the ideas they oppose (i.e. of socialism, particularly libertarian socialism) it is unsurprising they claim that the Individualist Anarchists are not socialists (of course the fact that many Individualist Anarchists argued they were socialists is ignored). Coming from a different tradition, it is unsurprising they are not aware of the fact that socialism is not monolithic. Hence we discover right-“libertarian” guru von Mises claiming that the “essence of socialism is the entire elimination of the market.” [Human Action, p. 702] This would have come as something of a surprise to, say, Proudhon, who argued that “[t]o suppress competition is to suppress liberty itself.” [The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 50] Similarly, it would have surprised Tucker, who called himself a socialist while supporting a freer market than von Mises ever dreamt of. As Tucker put it:
“Liberty has always insisted that Individualism and Socialism are not antithetical terms; that, on the contrary, the most perfect Socialism is possible only on condition of the most perfect Individualism; and that Socialism includes, not only Collectivism and Communism, but also that school of Individualist Anarchism which conceives liberty as a means of destroying usury and the exploitation of labour.” [Liberty, no. 129, p. 2]
Hence we find Tucker calling his ideas both “Anarchistic Socialism” and “Individualist Socialism” while other individualist anarchists have used the terms “free market anti-capitalism” and “free market socialism” to describe the ideas.
The central fallacy of the argument that support for markets equals support for capitalism is that many self-proclaimed socialists are not opposed to the market. Indeed, some of the earliest socialists were market socialists (people like Thomas Hodgskin and William Thompson, although the former ended up rejecting socialism and the latter became a communal-socialist). Proudhon, as noted, was a well known supporter of market exchange. German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer expounded a similar vision to Proudhon and called himself a “liberal socialist” as he favoured a free market but recognised that capitalism was a system of exploitation. [“Introduction”, The State, p. vii] Today, market socialists like David Schweickart (see his Against Capitalism and After Capitalism) and David Miller (see his Market, State, and community: theoretical foundations of market socialism) are expounding a similar vision to Proudhon’s, namely of a market economy based on co-operatives (albeit one which retains a state). Unfortunately, they rarely, if ever, acknowledge their debt to Proudhon (needless to say, their Leninist opponents do as, from their perspective, it damns the market socialists as not being real socialists).
It could, possibly, be argued that these self-proclaimed socialists did not, in fact, understand what socialism “really meant.” For this to be the case, other, more obviously socialist, writers and thinkers would dismiss them as not being socialists. This, however, is not the case. Thus we find Karl Marx, for example, writing of “the socialism of Proudhon.” [Capital, vol. 1, p. 161f] Engels talked about Proudhon being “the Socialist of the small peasant and master-craftsman” and of “the Proudhon school of Socialism.” [Marx and Engels, Selected Works, p. 254 and p. 255] Bakunin talked about Proudhon’s “socialism, based on individual and collective liberty and upon the spontaneous action of free associations.” He considered his own ideas as “Proudhonism widely developed and pushed right to these, its final consequences” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 100 and p. 198] For Kropotkin, while Godwin was “first theoriser of Socialism without government — that is to say, of Anarchism” Proudhon was the second as he, “without knowing Godwin’s work, laid anew the foundations of Anarchism.” He lamented that “many modern Socialists” supported “centralisation and the cult of authority” and so “have not yet reached the level of their two predecessors, Godwin and Proudhon.” [Evolution and Environment, pp. 26-7] These renown socialists did not consider Proudhon’s position to be in any way anti-socialist (although, of course, being critical of whether it would work and its desirability if it did). Tucker, it should be noted, called Proudhon “the father of the Anarchistic school of Socialism.” [Instead of a Book, p. 381] Little wonder, then, that the likes of Tucker considered themselves socialists and stated numerous times that they were.
Looking at Tucker and the Individualist anarchists we discover that other socialists considered them socialists. Rudolf Rocker stated that “it is not difficult to discover certain fundamental principles which are common to all of them and which divide them from all other varieties of socialism. They all agree on the point that man be given the full reward of his labour and recognise in this right the economic basis of all personal liberty. They all regard the free competition of individual and social forces as something inherent in human nature . . . They answered the socialists of other schools who saw in free competition one of the destructive elements of capitalist society that the evil lies in the fact we have too little rather than too much competition, since the power of monopoly has made competition impossible.” [Pioneers of American Freedom, p. 160] Malatesta, likewise, saw many schools of socialism, including “anarchist or authoritarian, mutualist or individualist.” [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 95]
Adolph Fischer, one of the Haymarket Martyrs and contemporary of Tucker, argued that “every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist. The anarchists are divided into two factions: the communistic anarchists and the Proudhon or middle-class anarchists.” The former “advocate the communistic or co-operative method of production” while the latter “do not advocate the co-operative system of production, and the common ownership of the means of production, the products and the land.” [The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, p. 81] However, while not being communists (i.e. aiming to eliminate the market), he obviously recognised the Individualists Anarchists as fellow socialists (we should point out that Proudhon did support co-operatives, but they did not carry this to communism as do most social anarchists — as is clear, Fischer means communism by the term “co-operative system of production” rather than co-operatives as they exist today and Proudhon supported — see section G.4.2).
Thus claims that the Individualist Anarchists were not “really” socialists because they supported a market system cannot be supported. The simple fact is that those who make this claim are, at best, ignorant of the socialist movement, its ideas and its history or, at worse, desire, like many Marxists, to write out of history competing socialist theories. For example, Leninist David McNally talks of the “anarcho-socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon” and how Marx combated “Proudhonian socialism” before concluding that it was “non-socialism” because it has “wage-labour and exploitation.” [Against the Market, p. 139 and p. 169] Of course, that this is not true (even in a Marxist sense) did not stop him asserting it. As one reviewer correctly points out, “McNally is right that even in market socialism, market forces rule workers’ lives” and this is “a serious objection. But it is not tantamount to capitalism or to wage labour” and it “does not have exploitation in Marx’s sense (i.e., wrongful expropriation of surplus by non-producers)” [Justin Schwartz, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 88, No. 4, p. 982] For Marx, as we noted in section C.2, commodity production only becomes capitalism when there is the exploitation of wage labour. This is the case with Proudhon as well, who differentiated between possession and private property and argued that co-operatives should replace capitalist firms. While their specific solutions may have differed (with Proudhon aiming for a market economy consisting of artisans, peasants and co-operatives while Marx aimed for communism, i.e. the abolition of money via state ownership of capital) their analysis of capitalism and private property were identical — which Tucker consistently noted (as regards the theory of surplus value, for example, he argued that “Proudhon propounded and proved [it] long before Marx advanced it.” [Liberty, no. 92, p. 1])
As Tucker argued, “the fact that State Socialism . . . has overshadowed other forms of Socialism gives it no right to a monopoly of the Socialistic idea.” [Instead of a Book, pp. 363-4] It is no surprise that the authoritarian left and “libertarian” right have united to define socialism in such a way as to eliminate anarchism from its ranks — they both have an interest in removing a theory which exposes the inadequacies of their dogmas, which explains how we can have both liberty and equality and have a decent, free and just society.
There is another fallacy at the heart of the claim that markets and socialism do not go together, namely that all markets are capitalist markets. So another part of the problem is that the same word often means different things to different people. Both Kropotkin and Lenin said they were “communists” and aimed for “communism.” However, it does not mean that the society Kropotkin aimed for was the same as that desired by Lenin. Kropotkin’s communism was decentralised, created and run from the bottom-up while Lenin’s was fundamentally centralised and top-down. Similarly, both Tucker and the Social-Democrat (and leading Marxist) Karl Kautsky called themselves a “socialist” yet their ideas on what a socialist society would be like were extremely different. As J.W. Baker notes, “Tucker considered himself a socialist . . . as the result of his struggle against ‘usury and capitalism,’ but anything that smelled of ‘state socialism’ was thoroughly rejected.” [“Native American Anarchism,” pp. 43-62, The Raven, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 60] This, of course, does not stop many “anarcho”-capitalists talking about “socialist” goals as if all socialists were Stalinists (or, at best, social democrats). In fact, “socialist anarchism” has included (and continues to include) advocates of truly free markets as well as advocates of a non-market socialism which has absolutely nothing in common with the state capitalist tyranny of Stalinism. Similarly, they accept a completely ahistorical definition of “capitalism,” so ignoring the massive state violence and support by which that system was created and is maintained.
The same with terms like “property” and the “free market,” by which the “anarcho”-capitalist assumes the individualist anarchist means the same thing as they do. We can take land as an example. The individualist anarchists argued for an “occupancy and use” system of “property” (see next section for details). Thus in their “free market,” land would not be a commodity as it is under capitalism and so under individualist anarchism absentee landlords would be considered as aggressors (for under capitalism they use state coercion to back up their collection of rent against the actual occupiers of property). Tucker argued that local defence associations should treat the occupier and user as the rightful owner, and defend them against the aggression of an absentee landlord who attempted to collect rent. An “anarcho”-capitalist would consider this as aggression against the landlord and a violation of “free market” principles. Such a system of “occupancy and use” would involve massive violations of what is considered normal in a capitalist “free market.” Equally, a market system which was based on capitalist property rights in land would not be considered as genuinely free by the likes of Tucker.
This can be seen from Tucker’s debates with supporters of laissez-faire capitalism such as Auberon Herbert (who, as discussed in section F.7.2, was an English minimal statist and sometimes called a forerunner of “anarcho”-capitalism). Tucker quoted an English critic of Herbert, who noted that “When we come to the question of the ethical basis of property, Mr. Herbert refers us to ‘the open market’. But this is an evasion. The question is not whether we should be able to sell or acquire ‘in the open market’ anything which we rightfully possess, but how we come into rightful possession.” [Liberty, no. 172, p. 7] Tucker rejected the idea “that a man should be allowed a title to as much of the earth as he, in the course of his life, with the aid of all the workmen that he can employ, may succeed in covering with buildings. It is occupancy and use that Anarchism regards as the basis of land ownership, . . . A man cannot be allowed, merely by putting labour, to the limit of his capacity and beyond the limit of his person use, into material of which there is a limited supply and the use of which is essential to the existence of other men, to withhold that material from other men’s use; and any contract based upon or involving such withholding is as lacking in sanctity or legitimacy as a contract to deliver stolen goods.” [Op. Cit., no. 331, p. 4]
In other words, an individualist anarchist would consider an “anarcho”-capitalist “free market” as nothing of the kind and vice versa. For the former, the individualist anarchist position on “property” would be considered as forms of regulation and restrictions on private property and so the “free market.” The individualist anarchist would consider the “anarcho”-capitalist “free market” as another system of legally maintained privilege, with the free market distorted in favour of the wealthy. That capitalist property rights were being maintained by private police would not stop that regime being unfree. This can be seen when “anarcho”-capitalist Wendy McElroy states that “radical individualism hindered itself . . . Perhaps most destructively, individualism clung to the labour theory of value and refused to incorporate the economic theories arising within other branches of individualist thought, theories such as marginal utility. Unable to embrace statism, the stagnant movement failed to adequately comprehend the logical alternative to the state — a free market.” [“Benjamin Tucker, Liberty, and Individualist Anarchism”, pp. 421-434, The Independent Review, vol. II, No. 3, p. 433] Therefore, rather than being a source of commonality, individualist anarchism and “anarcho”-capitalism actually differ quite considerably on what counts as a genuinely free market.
So it should be remembered that “anarcho”-capitalists at best agree with Tucker, Spooner, et al on fairly vague notions like the “free market.” They do not bother to find out what the individualist anarchists meant by that term. Indeed, the “anarcho”-capitalist embrace of different economic theories means that they actually reject the reasoning that leads up to these nominal “agreements.” It is the “anarcho”-capitalists who, by rejecting the underlying economics of the mutualists, are forced to take any “agreements” out of context. It also means that when faced with obviously anti-capitalist arguments and conclusions of the individualist anarchists, the “anarcho”-capitalist cannot explain them and are reduced to arguing that the anti-capitalist concepts and opinions expressed by the likes of Tucker are somehow “out of context.” In contrast, the anarchist can explain these so-called “out of context” concepts by placing them into the context of the ideas of the individualist anarchists and the society which shaped them.
The “anarcho”-capitalist usually admits that they totally disagree with many of the essential premises and conclusions of the individualist anarchist analyses (see next section). The most basic difference is that the individualist anarchists rooted their ideas in the labour theory of value while the “anarcho”-capitalists favour mainstream marginalist theory. It does not take much thought to realise that advocates of socialist theories and those of capitalist ones will naturally develop differing notions of what is and what should be happening within a given economic system. One difference that has in fact arisen is that the notion of what constitutes a “free market” has differed according to the theory of value applied. Many things can be attributed to the workings of a “free” market under a capitalist analysis that would be considered symptoms of economic unfreedom under most socialist driven analyses.
This can be seen if you look closely at the case of Tucker’s comments that anarchism was simply “consistent Manchesterianism.” If this is done then a simple example of this potential confusion can be found. Tucker argued that anarchists “accused” the Manchester men “of being inconsistent,” that while being in favour of laissez faire for “the labourer in order to reduce his wages” they did not believe “in liberty to compete with the capitalist in order to reduce his usury.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 83] To be consistent in this case is to be something other — and more demanding in terms of what is accepted as “freedom” — than the average Manchesterian (i.e. a supporter of “free market” capitalism). By “consistent Manchesterism”, Tucker meant a laissez-faire system in which class monopolies did not exist, where capitalist private property in land and intellectual property did not exist. In other words, a free market purged of its capitalist aspects. Partisans of the capitalist theory see things differently, of course, feeling justified in calling many things “free” that anarchists would not accept, and seeing “constraint” in what the anarchists simply thought of as “consistency.” This explains both his criticism of capitalism and state socialism:
“The complaint of the Archist Socialists that the Anarchists are bourgeois is true to this extent and no further — that, great as is their detestation for a bourgeois society, they prefer its partial liberty to the complete slavery of State Socialism.” [“Why I am an Anarchist”, pp. 132-6, Man!, M. Graham (ed.), p. 136]
It should be clear that a “free market” will look somewhat different depending on your economic presuppositions. Ironically, this is something “anarcho”-capitalists implicitly acknowledge when they admit they do not agree with the likes of Spooner and Tucker on many of their key premises and conclusions (but that does not stop them claiming — despite all that — that their ideas are a modern version of individualist anarchism!). Moreover, the “anarcho”-capitalist simply dismisses all the reasoning that got Tucker there — that is like trying to justify a law citing Leviticus but then saying “but of course all that God stuff is just absurd.” You cannot have it both ways. And, of course, the “anarcho”-capitalist support for non-labour based economics allow them to side-step (and so ignore) much of what anarchists — communists, collectivists, individualists, mutualists and syndicalists alike — consider authoritarian and coercive about “actually existing” capitalism. But the difference in economic analysis is critical. No matter what they are called, it is pretty clear that individualist anarchist standards for the freedom of markets are far more demanding than those associated with even the freest capitalist market system.
This is best seen from the development of individualist anarchism in the 20th century. As historian Charles A. Madison noted, it “began to dwindle rapidly after 1900. Some of its former adherents joined the more aggressive communistic faction . . . many others began to favour the rising socialist movement as the only effective weapon against billion-dollar corporations.” [“Benjamin R. Tucker: Individualist and Anarchist,” pp. 444-67, The New England Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. p. 464] Other historians have noted the same. “By 1908,” argued Eunice Minette Schuster “the industrial system had fastened its claws into American soil” and while the “Individualist Anarchists had attempted to destroy monopoly, privilege, and inequality, originating in the lack of opportunity” the “superior force of the system which they opposed . . . overwhelmed” them. Tucker left America in 1908 and those who remained “embraced either Anarchist-Communism as the result of governmental violence against the labourers and their cause, or abandoned the cause entirely.” [Native American Anarchism, p. 158, pp. 159-60 and p. 156] While individualist anarchism did not entirely disappear with the ending of Liberty, social anarchism became the dominant trend in America as it had elsewhere in the world.
As we note in section G.4, the apparent impossibility of mutual banking to eliminate corporations by economic competition was one of the reasons Voltairine de Cleyre pointed to for rejecting individualist anarchism in favour of communist-anarchism. This problem was recognised by Tucker himself thirty years after Liberty had been founded. In the postscript to a 1911 edition of his famous essay “State Socialism and Anarchism”, he argued that when he wrote it 25 years earlier “the denial of competition had not effected the enormous concentration of wealth that now so gravely threatens social order” and so while a policy of mutual banking might have stopped and reversed the process of accumulation in the past, the way now was “not so clear.” This was because the tremendous capitalisation of industry now made the money monopoly a convenience, but no longer a necessity. Admitted Tucker, the “trust is now a monster which . . . even the freest competition, could it be instituted, would be unable to destroy” as “concentrated capital” could set aside a sacrifice fund to bankrupt smaller competitors and continue the process of expansion of reserves. Thus the growth of economic power, producing as it does natural barriers to entry from the process of capitalist production and accumulation, had resulted in a situation where individualist anarchist solutions could no longer reform capitalism away. The centralisation of capital had “passed for the moment beyond their reach.” The problem of the trusts, he argued, “must be grappled with for a time solely by forces political or revolutionary,” i.e., through confiscation either through the machinery of government “or in denial of it.” Until this “great levelling” occurred, all individualist anarchists could do was to spread their ideas as those trying to “hasten it by joining in the propaganda of State Socialism or revolution make a sad mistake indeed.” [quoted by James J. Martin, Op. Cit., pp. 273-4]
In other words, the economic power of “concentrated capital” and “enormous concentration of wealth” placed an insurmountable obstacle to the realisation of anarchy. Which means that the abolition of usury and relative equality were considered ends rather than side effects for Tucker and if free competition could not achieve these then such a society would not be anarchist. If economic inequality was large enough, it meant anarchism was impossible as the rule of capital could be maintained by economic power alone without the need for extensive state intervention (this was, of course, the position of revolutionary anarchists like Bakunin, Most and Kropotkin in the 1870s and onwards whom Tucker dismissed as not being anarchists).
Victor Yarros is another example, an individualist anarchist and associate of Tucker, who by the 1920s had abandoned anarchism for social democracy, in part because he had become convinced that economic privilege could not be fought by economic means. As he put it, the most “potent” of the “factors and forces [which] tended to undermine and discredit that movement” was “the amazing growth of trusts and syndicates, of holding companies and huge corporations, of chain banks and chain stores.” This “gradually and insidiously shook the faith of many in the efficacy of mutual banks, co-operative associations of producers and consumers, and the competition of little fellows. Proudhon’s plan for a bank of the people to make industrial loans without interest to workers’ co-operatives, or other members, seemed remote and inapplicable to an age of mass production, mechanisation, continental and international markets.” [“Philosophical Anarchism: Its Rise, Decline, and Eclipse”, pp. 470-483, The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 41, no. 4, p. 481]
If the individualist anarchists shared the “anarcho”-capitalist position or even shared a common definition of “free markets” then the “power of the trusts” would simply not be an issue. This is because “anarcho”-capitalism does not acknowledge the existence of such power, as, by definition, it does not exist in capitalism (although as noted in section F.1 Rothbard himself proved critics of this assertion right). Tucker’s comments, therefore, indicate well how far individualist anarchism actually is from “anarcho”-capitalism. The “anarcho”-capitalist desires free markets no matter their result or the concentration of wealth existing at their introduction. As can be seen, Tucker saw the existence of concentrations of wealth as a problem and a hindrance towards anarchy. Thus Tucker was well aware of the dangers to individual liberty of inequalities of wealth and the economic power they produce. Equally, if Tucker supported the “free market” above all else then he would not have argued this point. Clearly, then, Tucker’s support for the “free market” cannot be abstracted from his fundamental principles nor can it be equated with a “free market” based on capitalist property rights and massive inequalities in wealth (and so economic power). Thus individualist anarchist support for the free market does not mean support for a capitalist “free market.”
In summary, the “free market” as sought by (say) Tucker would not be classed as a “free market” by right-wing “libertarians.” So the term “free market” (and, of course, “socialism”) can mean different things to different people. As such, it would be correct to state that all anarchists oppose the “free market” by definition as all anarchists oppose the capitalist “free market.” And, just as correctly, “anarcho”-capitalists would oppose the individualist anarchist “free market,” arguing that it would be no such thing as it would be restrictive of property rights (capitalist property rights of course). For example, the question of resource use in an individualist society is totally different than in a capitalist “free market” as landlordism would not exist. This is a restriction on capitalist property rights and a violation of a capitalist “free market.” So an individualist “free market” would not be considered so by right-wing “libertarians” due to the substantial differences in the rights on which it would be based (with no right to capitalist private property being the most important).
All this means that to go on and on about individualist anarchism and it support for a free market simply misses the point. No one denies that individualist anarchists were (and are) in favour of a “free market” but this did not mean they were not socialists nor that they wanted the same kind of “free market” desired by “anarcho”-capitalism or that has existed under capitalism. Of course, whether their economic system would actually result in the abolition of exploitation and oppression is another matter and it is on this issue which social anarchists disagree with individualist anarchism not whether they are socialists or not.
The notion that because the Individualist Anarchists supported “private property” they supported capitalism is distinctly wrong. This is for two reasons. Firstly, private property is not the distinctive aspect of capitalism — exploitation of wage labour is. Secondly, and more importantly, what the Individualist Anarchists meant by “private property” (or “property”) was distinctly different than what is meant by theorists on the “libertarian”-right or what is commonly accepted as “private property” under capitalism. Thus support of private property does not indicate a support for capitalism.
On the first issue, it is important to note that there are many different kinds of private property. If quoting Karl Marx is not too out of place:
“Political economy confuses, on principle, two very different kinds of private property, one of which rests on the labour of the producer himself, and the other on the exploitation of the labour of others. It forgets that the latter is not only the direct antithesis of the former, but grows on the former’s tomb and nowhere else.
“In Western Europe, the homeland of political economy, the process of primitive accumulation is more of less accomplished . . .
“It is otherwise in the colonies. There the capitalist regime constantly comes up against the obstacle presented by the producer, who, as owner of his own conditions of labour, employs that labour to enrich himself instead of the capitalist. The contradiction of these two diametrically opposed economic systems has its practical manifestation here in the struggle between them.” [Capital, vol. 1, p. 931]
So, under capitalism, “property turns out to be the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of others, or its product, and the impossibility, on the part of the worker, of appropriating his own product.” In other words, property is not viewed as being identical with capitalism. “The historical conditions of [Capital’s] existence are by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities. It arises only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence finds the free worker available on the market, as the seller of his own labour-power.” Thus wage-labour, for Marx, is the necessary pre-condition for capitalism, not “private property” as such as “the means of production and subsistence, while they remain the property of the immediate producer, are not capital. They only become capital under circumstances in which they serve at the same time as means of exploitation of, and domination over, the worker.” [Op. Cit., p. 730, p. 264 and p. 938]
For Engels, “[b]efore capitalistic production” industry was “based upon the private property of the labourers in their means of production”, i.e., “the agriculture of the small peasant” and “the handicrafts organised in guilds.” Capitalism, he argued, was based on capitalists owning “social means of production only workable by a collectivity of men” and so they “appropriated . . . the product of the labour of others.” Both, it should be noted, had also made this same distinction in the Communist Manifesto, stating that “the distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property.” Artisan and peasant property is “a form that preceded the bourgeois form” which there “is no need to abolish” as “the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it.” This means that communism “derives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation.” [Marx and Engels, Selected Works, p. 412, p. 413, p. 414, p. 47 and p. 49]
We quote Marx and Engels simply because as authorities on socialism go, they are ones that right-“libertarians” (or Marxists, for that matter) cannot ignore or dismiss. Needless to say, they are presenting an identical analysis to that of Proudhon in What is Property? and, significantly, Godwin in his Political Justice (although, of course, the conclusions drawn from this common critique of capitalism were radically different in the case of Proudhon). This is, it must be stressed, simply Proudhon’s distinction between property and possession (see section B.3.1). The former is theft and despotism, the latter is liberty. In other words, for genuine anarchists, “property” is a social relation and that a key element of anarchist thinking (both social and individualist) was the need to redefine that relation in accord with standards of liberty and justice.
So what right-“libertarians” do when they point out that the individualist anarchists supported property is to misunderstand the socialist critique of capitalism. They, to paraphrase Marx, confuse two very different kinds of “property,” one of which rests on the labour of the producers themselves and the other on the exploitation of the labour of others. They do not analyse the social relationships between people which the property in question generates and, instead, concentrate on things (i.e. property). Thus, rather than being interested in people and the relationships they create between themselves, the right-“libertarian” focuses on property (and, more often than not, just the word rather than what the word describes). This is a strange position for someone seeking liberty to take, as liberty is a product of social interaction (i.e. the relations we have and create with others) and not a product of things (property is not freedom as freedom is a relationship between people, not things). They confuse property with possession (and vice versa).
In pre-capitalist social environments, when property is directly owned by the producer, capitalist defences of private property can be used against it. Even John Locke’s arguments in favour of private property could be used against capitalism. As Murray Bookchin makes clear regarding pre-capitalist society:
“Unknown in the 1640s, the non-bourgeois aspects of Locke’s theories were very much in the air a century and a half later . . . [In an artisan/peasant society] a Lockean argument could be used as effectively against the merchants . . . to whom the farmers were indebted, as it could against the King [or the State]. Nor did the small proprietors of America ever quite lose sight of the view that attempts to seize their farmsteads and possessions for unpaid debts were a violation of their ‘natural rights,’ and from the 1770s until as late as the 1930s they took up arms to keep merchants and bankers from dispossessing them from land they or their ancestors had wrestled from ‘nature’ by virtue of their own labour. The notion that property was sacred was thus highly elastic: it could be used as effectively by pre-capitalist strata to hold on to their property as it could by capitalists strata to expand their holdings.” [The Third Revolution, vol. 1, pp. 187-8]
The individualist anarchists inherited this perspective on property and sought means of ending the transformation of American society from one where labour-property predominated into one where capitalist private property (and so exploitation) predominated. Thus their opposition to state interference in the economy as the capitalists were using the state to advance this process (see section F.8.5).
So artisan and co-operative property is not capitalist. It does not generate relationships of exploitation and domination as the worker owns and controls their own means of production. It is, in effect, a form of socialism (a “petit bourgeois” form of socialism, to use the typical insulting Marxist phrase). Thus support for “private property” need not mean support for capitalism (as shown, for example, by the Individualist Anarchists). To claim otherwise is to ignore the essential insight of socialism and totally distort the socialist case against capitalism.
To summarise, from an anarchist (and Marxist) perspective capitalism is not defined by “property” as such. Rather, it is defined by private property, property which is turned into a means of exploiting the labour of those who use it. For most anarchists, this is done by means of wage labour and abolished by means of workers’ associations and self-management (see next section for a discussion of individualist anarchism and wage labour). To use Proudhon’s terminology, there is a fundamental difference between property and possession.
Secondly, and more importantly, what the Individualist Anarchists meant by “private property” (or “property”) was distinctly different than what is meant by supporters of capitalism. Basically, the “libertarian” right exploit, for their own ends, the confusion generated by the use of the word “property” by the likes of Tucker to describe a situation of “possession.” Proudhon recognised this danger. He argued that “it is proper to call different things by different names, if we keep the name ‘property’ for the former [individual possession], we must call the latter [the domain of property] robbery, repine, brigandage. If, on the contrary, we reserve the name ‘property’ for the latter, we must designate the former by the term possession or some other equivalent; otherwise we should be troubled with an unpleasant synonym.” [What is Property?, p. 373] Unfortunately Tucker, who translated this work, did not heed Proudhon’s words of wisdom and called possession in an anarchist society by the word “property” (but then, neither did Proudhon in the latter part of his life!)
Looking at Tucker’s arguments, it is clear that the last thing Tucker supported was capitalist property rights. For example, he argued that “property, in the sense of individual possession, is liberty” and contrasted this with capitalist property. [Instead of a Book, p. 394] That his ideas on “property” were somewhat different than that associated with right-“libertarian” thinkers is most clearly seen with regards to land. Here we discover him advocating “occupancy and use” and rejecting the “right” of land owners to bar the landless from any land they owned but did not personally use. Rent was “due to that denial of liberty which takes the shape of land monopoly, vesting titles to land in individuals and associations which do not use it, and thereby compelling the non-owning users to pay tribute to the non-using owners as a condition of admission to the competitive market.” Anarchist opposition of rent did “not mean simply the freeing of unoccupied land. It means the freeing of all land not occupied by the owner. In other words, it means land ownership limited by occupancy and use.” [Tucker, The Individualist Anarchists, p. 130 and p. 155] This would result in a “system of occupying ownership . . . accompanied by no legal power to collect rent.” [Instead of a Book, p. 325]
A similar position was held by John Beverley Robinson. He argued that there “are two kinds of land ownership, proprietorship or property, by which the owner is absolute lord of the land, to use it or to hold it out of use, as it may please him; and possession, by which he is secure in the tenure of land which he uses and occupies, but has no claim upon it at all if he ceases to use it.” Moreover, “[a]ll that is necessary to do away with Rent is to away with absolute property in land.” [Patterns of Anarchy, p. 272] Joseph Labadie, likewise, stated that “the two great sub-divisions of Socialists” (anarchists and State Socialists) both “agree that the resources of nature — land, mines, and so forth — should not be held as private property and subject to being held by the individual for speculative purposes, that use of these things shall be the only valid title, and that each person has an equal right to the use of all these things. They all agree that the present social system is one composed of a class of slaves and a class of masters, and that justice is impossible under such conditions.” [What is Socialism?]
Thus the Individualist Anarchists definition of “property” differed considerably from that of the capitalist definition. As they themselves acknowledge. Robinson argued that “the only real remedy is a change of heart, through which land using will be recognised as proper and legitimate, but land holding will be regarded as robbery and piracy.” [Op. Cit., p. 273] Tucker, likewise, indicated that his ideas on “property” were not the same as existing ones when he argued that “the present system of land tenure should be changed to one of occupancy and use” and that “no advocate of occupancy-and-use tenure of land believes that it can be put in force, until as a theory it has been as generally . . . seen and accepted as the prevailing theory of ordinary private property.” [Occupancy and Use verses the Single Tax] Thus, for Tucker, anarchism is dependent on “the Anarchistic view that occupancy and use should condition and limit landholding becom[ing] the prevailing view.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 159]
Based on this theory of “property” Tucker opposed landlords and rent, arguing that anarchy “means the freeing of all land not occupied by the owner“ that is, “land ownership limited by occupancy and use.” He extended this principle to housing, arguing that “Anarchic associations” would “not collect your rent, and might not even evict your tenant” and “tenants would not be forced to pay you rent, nor would you be allowed to seize their property. The Anarchic Associations would look upon your tenants very much as they would look upon your guests.” [Op. Cit., p. 155 and p. 162] In fact, individualist anarchism would “accord the actual occupant and user of land the right to that which is upon the land, who left it there when abandoning the land.” [Tucker, Liberty, no. 350, p. 4]
In the case of land and housing, almost all Individualist Anarchists argued that the person who lives or works on it (even under lease) would be regarded “as the occupant and user of the land on which the house stands, and as the owner of the house itself,” that is they become “the owner of both land and house as soon as he becomes the occupant.” [Tucker, Occupancy and Use Versus the Single Tax] For Tucker, occupancy and use was “the Anarchistic solution of the land question” as it allowed free access to land to all, to be “enjoyed by the occupant without payment of tribute to a non-occupant.” This applied to what was on the land as well, for if A builds a house, and rents it to B, who lives or works in it under the lease then Tucker would “regard B as the occupant and user of the land on which the house stands, and as the owner of the house itself.“ [Liberty, no. 308, p. 4]
Needless to say, the individualist anarchists were just as opposed to that mainstay of modern capitalism, the corporation. For Greene corporations “disarrange our social organisation, and make the just distribution of the products of labour impossible.” [quoted by Wm. Gary Kline, The Individualist Anarchists: A Critique of Liberalism, p. 94] While opposing state attempts to limit trusts (it did not get to the root of the problem which lay in class privilege), Tucker took it for granted that “corporate privileges are in themselves a wrong.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 129] Given that “occupancy and use” applies to what is on the land, it logically follows that for those workplaces with absentee owners (i.e., owners who hire managers to run them) then these are abandoned by their owners. By the “occupancy and use” criteria, the land and what is on it reverts to those actually using them (i.e., the workers in question). Corporations and shareowners, in other words, are extremely unlikely to exist in individualist anarchism.
Hence to claim that the Individualist Anarchists supported capitalist property rights is false. As can be seen, they advocated a system which differed significantly to the current system, indeed they urged the restriction of property rights to a form of possession. Unfortunately, by generally using the term “property” to describe this new system of possession they generated exactly the confusion that Proudhon foretold. Sadly, right-“libertarians” use this confusion to promote the idea that the likes of Tucker supported capitalist property rights and so capitalism. As Tucker argued, “[d]efining it with Proudhon as the sum total of legal privileges bestowed upon the holder wealth, [individualist anarchism] agrees with Proudhon that property is robbery. But using the word in the commoner acceptation, as denoting the labour’s individual possession of his product or of his proportional share of the joint product of himself and others, [it] holds that property is liberty.” [Liberty, no. 122, p. 4]
If, as it is sometimes suggested, the difference between a right “libertarian” is that they despise the state because it hinders the freedom of property while left libertarians condemn it because it is a bastion of property, it is worthwhile to note two important facts. Firstly, that individualist anarchism condemns the state because it protects the land monopoly, i.e., capitalist property rights in land and what is on it, rather than a system of “occupancy and use.” Secondly, that all schools of anarchist oppose capitalism because it is based on the exploitation of labour, an exploitation which the state protects. Hence de Cleyre: “I wish a sharp distinction made between the legal institution of property, and property in the sense that what a man definitely produces by his own labour is his own.” The inequality and oppressions of capitalism are “the inevitable result of the whole politico-economic lie that man can be free and the institution of property continue to exist.” [Exquisite Rebel, p. 297] Given this, given these bastions of property against which the both the individualist and social anarchists turn their fire, it is obvious that both schools are left libertarians.
For these reasons it is clear that just because the Individualist Anarchists supported (a form of) “property” does not mean they are capitalists. After all, as we note in the section G.2 communist-anarchists recognise the necessity of allowing individuals to own and work their own land and tools if they so desire yet no one claims that they support “private property.” Equally, that many of the Individualist Anarchists used the term “property” to describe a system of possession (or “occupancy-and-use”) should not blind us to the non-capitalist nature of that “property.” Once we move beyond looking at the words they used to what they meant by those words we clearly see that their ideas are distinctly different from those of supporters of capitalism. In fact, they share a basic commonality with social anarchism (“Property will lose a certain attribute which sanctifies it now. The absolute ownership of it — ‘the right to use or abuse’ will be abolished — and possession, use, will be the only title.” [Albert R. Parsons, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis, p. 173]). This should be unsurprising given the influence of Proudhon on both wings of the movement.
As Malatesta noted, recognising the “the right of workers to the products of their own labour,” demanding “the abolition of interest” and “the division of land and the instruments of labour among those who wish to use them” would be “a socialist school different from [communist-anarchism], but it is still socialism.” It would be a “mutualist” socialism. [At the Café, p. 54 and p. 56] In other words, property need not be incompatible with socialism. It all depends on the type of property being advocated.
As we have argued in section A.2.8 and elsewhere, a consistent anarchist must oppose wage labour as this is a form of hierarchical authority. While social anarchism has drawn this logical conclusion from anarchist principles, individualist anarchism has not. While many of its supporters have expressed opposition to wage labour along with other forms hierarchical organisation, some (like Tucker) did not. The question is whether supporting wage labour disqualifies them from the socialist movement or not.
Within individualist anarchism, there are two different positions on this matter. Some of them clearly opposed wage labour as inherently exploitative and saw their socio-economic ideas as a means of ending it. Others argued that it was not wage labour as such which was the problem and, as a consequence, they did not expect it to disappear under anarchy. So opposition to exploitation of labour was a universal thread in Individualist Anarchist thought, as it was in the social anarchist movement. However, opposition to wage slavery was a common, but not universal, thread within the individualist anarchist tradition. As we discuss in section G.4, this is one of the key reasons why social anarchists reject individualist anarchism, arguing that this makes it both inconsistent in terms of general anarchist principles as well in the principles of individualist anarchism.
Voltairine de Cleyre in her overview of anarchism put the difference in terms of individualist anarchism and mutualist anarchism. As she put it, the “extreme individualists” held that the “essential institutions of Commercialism are in themselves good, and are rendered vicious merely by the interference by the State.” This meant “the system of employer and employed, buying and selling, banking, and all the other essential institutions of Commercialism” would exist under their form of anarchism. Two key differences were that property in land would be modified so that it could be “held by individuals or companies for such time and in such allotments as they use only” and that “wages would rise to the full measure of the individual production, and forever remain there” as “bosses would be hunting for men rather than men bosses.” In other words, land would no longer owned as under capitalism and workers would no longer be exploited as profit, interest and rent could not exist and the worker would get the full product of his or her labour in wages. In contrast, mutualist anarchism “is a modification of the program of Individualism, laying more emphasis upon organisation, co-operation and free federation of the workers. To these the trade union is the nucleus of the free co-operative group, which will obviate the necessity of an employer . . . The mutualist position on the land question is identical with that of the Individualists.” The “material factor which accounts for such differences as there are between Individualists and Mutualists” was due to the former being intellectual workers and so “never know[ing] directly the oppressions of the large factory, nor mingled with workers’ associations. The Mutualists had; consequently their leaning towards a greater Communism.” [“Anarchism”, Exquisite Rebel, p. 77 and p. 78]
Next, we must clarify what is meant by “wage labour” and the related term “wages system.” They are not identical. Marx, for example, corrected the Gotha Programme’s “abolition of the wage system” by saying “it should read: system of wage labour” (although that did not stop him demanding “the ultimate abolition of the wages system” elsewhere). [Marx and Engels, Selected Works, p. 324 and p. 226] The difference lies in whether there is communism (distribution according to need) or socialism (distribution according to work done), as in Marx’s (in)famous difference between a lower and higher phase of communism. It is the difference between a distribution of goods based on deeds and one based on needs and Kropotkin famous polemic “The collectivist Wages System” rests on it. He argued that the wages system was based on “renumeration to each according to the time spent in producing, while taking into account the productivity of his labour”. In other words: “To each according to his deeds.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 162 and p. 167] Such a wages system could exist in different forms. Most obviously, and the focus of Kropotkin’s critique, it could be a regime where the state owned the means of production and paid its subjects according to their labour (i.e., state socialism). It could also refer to a system of artisans, peasants and co-operatives which sold the product of their labour on a market or exchanged their goods with others based on labour-time notes (i.e., associational socialism).
This should not be confused with wage labour, in which a worker sells their labour to a boss. This results in a hierarchical social relationship being created in which the worker is the servant of the employer. The employer, as they own the labour of the worker, also keeps the product of said labour and as we argued in section C.2, this places the boss is in a position to get the worker to produce more than they get back in wages. In other words, wage labour is based on oppression and can result in exploitation as the bosses control both the production process (i.e., the labour of the workers) and the goods it produces. It is this which explains socialist opposition to wage labour — it is the means by which labour is exploited under capitalism (anarchist opposition to wage labour includes this but also extends it to include its denial of freedom to those subject to workplace hierarchy).
So for the purposes of this discussion “wage labour” refers to hierarchical social relationships within production while “wages system” refers to how goods are distributed once they are produced. Thus you can have a wages system without wage labour but not wage labour without a wages system. Communist-anarchists aim for the abolition of both wage labour and the wages system while mutualist-anarchists only aim to get rid of the first one.
The problem is that the terms are sometimes mixed up, with “wages” and “wages system” being confused with “wage labour.” This is the case with the nineteenth century American labour movement which tended to use the term “wages system” to refer to wage labour and the expression “abolition of the wages system” to refer to the aim of replacing capitalism with a market system based on producer co-operatives. This is reflected in certain translations of Proudhon. Discussing the “workmen’s associations” founded in France during the 1848 revolution, Proudhon noted that “the workmen, in order to dispense with middlemen . . . , capitalists, etc., . . . have had to work a little more, and get along with less wages.” So he considered workers associations as paying “wages” and so, obviously, meant by “wages” labour income, not wage labour. The term “wage labour” was translated as “wages system,” so we find Proudhon arguing that the “workmen’s associations” are “a protest against the wage system” and a “denial of the rule of capitalists.” Proudhon’s aim was “Capitalistic and proprietary exploitation, stopped everywhere, the wage system abolished, equal and just exchange guaranteed.” [The General Idea of the Revolution, pp. 89-90, p. 98 and p. 281] This has been translated as “Capitalist and landlord exploitation halted everywhere, wage-labour abolished.” [quoted by John Ehrenberg, Proudhon and his Age, p. 116]
We are sorry to belabour this point, but it is essential for understanding the anarchist position on wage labour and the differences between different schools of socialism. So before discussing the relation of individualist anarchism to wage labour we needed to clarify what is meant by the term, particularly as some people use the term wages to mean any kind of direct payment for labour and so wage labour is sometimes confused with the wages system. Similarly, the terms wage labour and wages systems are often used interchangeably when, in fact, they refer to different things and abolition the wages system can mean different things depending on who is using the expression.
So after this unfortunately essential diversion, we can now discuss the position of individualist anarchism on wage labour. Unfortunately, there is no consistent position on this issue within the tradition. Some follow social anarchism in arguing that a free society would see its end, others see no contradiction between their ideas and wage labour. We will discuss each in turn.
Joshua King Ingalls, for example, praised attempts to set up communities based on libertarian principles as “a demonstration . . . that none need longer submit to the tyranny and exactions of the swindler and speculator in the products of others toil. The example would be speedily followed by others who would break away from the slavery of wages, and assert their independence of capital.” [“Method of Transition for the Consideration of the True Friends of Human Rights and Human Progress,” Spirit of the Age, Vol. I, No. 25, pp. 385-387] The “present relation of ‘Capital and Labor’ is . . . really a mixed relation between contract and status; held by fiction of law as one of ‘freedom of contract,’ while it retains potentially all the essential features of serfdom. Industrially and economically, the relation is substantially the same as that which existed between the chattel and his owner, and the serf and his lord.” Ingalls pointed to “the terrible fear of being ‘out of a job,’ which freedom of contract means to a wage-worker.” [“Industrial Wars and Governmental Interference,” The Twentieth Century, September 6, 1894, pp. 11-12] “To reward capital,” he argued, “is a direct inversion of natural right, as the right of man must be acknowledged paramount to that of property . . . Any system, securing a premium to capital, however small, must result in the want, degradation and servitude of one class, and in bestowing unearned wealth and power upon another.” [“Man and Property, their Rights and Relations,” Spirit of the Age, vol. I, no. 8, pp. 114-116] Like Proudhon, he recognised that joint productive activity resulted in an output greater than that possible by the same number of people working in isolation, an output monopolised by those who owned the workplace or land in question:
“That the operation of any wealth increasing enterprise is co-operative needs only stating . . . and its logic in division of the product of the conjoint labour, can only be frustrated by the fiction that the worker has contracted away his share of the increase by accepting wages. But, being dispossessed of his common right to land, and to opportunity to use the common materials and forces, he can make no equitable contract and cannot be lawfully thus concluded . . . The only pretence which prevents this distribution, is the plea that the worker in accepting wages, has tacitly contracted away his share of the increase, has made a sale of his interest. Even this subterfuge fails logically however, whenever the operators reduce the rate of compensation without the full concurrence of the co-operative workers, and their just claim to joint ownership obtains again. It is altogether too late, to urge that this is a mere matter of exchange; so much money, so much labour-; and that the operator may lay off and take on whom he pleases. It never was, as economists teach, a matter of exchange, but one of co-operative endeavour.” [“Industrial Wars and Governmental Interference,” The Twentieth Century, September 6, 1894, pp. 11-12]
Unsurprisingly given this analysis he saw the need to replace wage labour (which he called “false and immoral”) with a better system: “the adoption of honesty in our useful industries, and a reciprocal system of exchange, would unfold a grand and universal cooperative movement, seems so clear to me.” [“The Wage Question”, The American Socialist, Vol. 2, No. 38, p. 298] This would result in a boost to economic activity:
“No one, say they, will do anything but for profits. But the man who works for wages has no profits; and is not only destitute of this stimulus, but his labour product is minus the profits of the capitalist, landlord, and forestaller. A rational economy would seem to require, that if any one received extra inducement to act, it should be that one who did the most labourious and repulsive work. It is thus seen, that while exorbitant profits afford an unnatural stimulus, in mere wages we have an inadequate motive to action.” [“Labor, Wages, And Capital. Division Of Profits Scientifically Considered”, Brittan’s Quarterly Journal, No. I, pp. 66-79]
The land monopoly was “the foundation of class dominion and of poverty and industrial subjection.” [quoted by Bowman N. Hall, “Joshua K. Ingalls, American Individualist: Land Reformer, Opponent of Henry George and Advocate of Land Leasing, Now an Established Mode”, pp. 383-96, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 39, No. 4, p. 387] Without access to land, people would have no option to sell their liberty to others and, as such, the abolition of slavery and wage labour were related:
“The right to life involves the right to land to live and labour upon. Commercial ownership of land which enables one to exclude another from it, and thus enforces involuntary idleness, is as destructive of human freedom as ownership of the person, enforcing involuntary service . . . Liberation of the slaves would bring their labour in more direct competition with our over-crowded and poorly paid wage-workers. I did not offer this as a reason against the abolition of chattel slavery, but as a reason why the friends of emancipation from chattel slavery should unite with the friends for the emancipation of the wage worker, by restoring him the right to land, for the production of the means of life . . . The real issue was between the rights of labour and the rights of ownership.” [quoted by Bowman N. Hall, Op. Cit., p. 385]
This analysis was a common theme in pre-civil war libertarian circles. As historian James J. Martin noted, “[t]o men like Warren and Evens chattel slavery was merely one side of a brutal situation, and although sympathetic with its opponents, refused to take part in the struggle [against slavery] unless it was extended to a wholesale attack on what they termed ‘wage slavery’ in the states where Negro slavery no longer existed.” [Men Against the State, p. 81] Such a view, we may add, was commonplace in radical working class journals and movements of the time. Thus we find George Henry Evans (who heavily influenced Individualist Anarchists like Warren and Ingalls with the ideas of land reform based on “occupancy and use”) writing:
“I was formally, like yourself, sir, a very warm advocate of the abolition of (black) slavery. This was before I saw that there was white slavery. Since I saw this, I have materially changed my views as to the means of abolishing Negro slavery. I now see clearly, I think, that to give the landless black the privilege of changing masters now possessed by the landless white, would hardly be a benefit to him in exchange for his surety of support in sickness and old age, although he is in a favourable climate.” [quoted by Martin, Op. Cit., p. 81f]
Ingalls, likewise, “considered the only ‘intelligent’ strike [by workers as] one which would be directed against wage work altogether.” For Lysander Spooner, liberty meant that the worker was entitled to “all the fruits of his own labour” and argued that this “might be feasible” only when “every man [was] own employer or work for himself in a direct way, since working for another resulted in a portion being diverted to the employer.” [Martin, Op. Cit., p. 153 and p. 172] To quote Spooner:
“When a man knows that he is to have all the fruits of his labour, he labours with more zeal, skill, and physical energy, than when he knows — as in the case of one labouring for wages — that a portion of the fruits of his labour are going to another. . . In order that each man may have the fruits of his own labour, it is important, as a general rule, that each man should be his own employer, or work directly for himself, and not for another for wages; because, in the latter case, a part of the fruits of his labour go to his employer, instead of coming to himself . . . That each man may be his own employer, it is necessary that he have materials, or capital, upon which to bestow his labour.” [Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure, p. 8]
Wage labour had a negative impact on those subject to it in terms of their personal development. “The mental independence of each individual would be greatly promoted by his pecuniary independence,” Spooner argued. “Freedom of thought, and the free utterance of thought, are, to a great degree, suppressed . . . by their dependence upon the will and favour of others, for that employment by which they must obtain their daily bread. They dare not investigate, or if they investigate, dare not freely avow and advocate those moral, social, religious, political, and economical truths, which alone calm rescue them from their degradation, lest they should thereby sacrifice their bread by stirring the jealousy of those out whom they are dependent, and who derive their power, wealth, and consequence from the ignorance and servitude of the poor.” [Op. Cit., p. 54] As we argued in section B.1, all forms of hierarchy (including wage labour) distorts the personality and harms the individual psychologically.
Spooner argued that it was state restrictions on credit and money (the “money monopoly” based on banks requiring specie to operate) as the reason why people sell themselves to others on the labour market. As he put it, “a monopoly of money . . . . put[s] it wholly out of the power of the great body of wealth-producers to hire the capital needed for their industries; and thus compel them . . . — by the alternative of starvation — to sell their labour to the monopolists of money . . . [who] plunder all the producing classes in the prices of their labour.” Spooner was well aware that it was capitalists who ran the state (“the employers of wage labour . . . are also the monopolists of money”). In his ideal society, the “amount of money capable of being furnished . . . is so great that every man, woman, and child. . . could get it, and go into business for himself, or herself — either singly, or in partnerships — and be under no necessity to act as a servant, or sell his or her labour to others. All the great establishments, of every kind, now in the hands of a few proprietors, but employing a great number of wage labourers, would be broken up; for few, or no persons, who could hire capital, and do business for themselves, would consent to labour for wages for another.” [A Letter to Grover Cleveland, p. 20, p. 48 and p. 41]
As Eunice Minette Schuster noted, Spooner’s “was a revolt against the industrial system”, a “return to pre-industrial society.” He “would destroy the factory system, wage labour . . . by making every individual a small capitalist, an independent producer” and “turn the clock of time backwards, not forward.” This position seems to have been a common one, for “the early American Individualists aimed to return . . . to an economic system where everyone would be a small, independent proprietor.” [Native American Anarchism, p. 148, pp. 151-2 and p. 157] As another commentator on individualist anarchism also noted, “the dominant vision of the future was obviously that of a relatively modest scale of production . . . underpinned by individual, self-employed workers” and so the individualist anarchists “expected a society of largely self-employed workmen with no significant disparity of wealth between any of them.” [Wm. Gary Kline The Individualist Anarchists, p. 95 and p. 104]
This is not to say that all the individualist anarchists ignored the rise of large scale industrial production. Far from it. Tucker, Greene and Lum all recognised that anarchism had to adjust to the industrial system and proposed different solutions for it. Greene and Lum followed Proudhon and advocated co-operative production while Tucker argued that mutual banks could result in a non-exploitative form of wage labour developing.
William Greene pronounced that “[t]here is no device of the political economists so infernal as the one which ranks labour as a commodity, varying in value according to supply and demand . . . To speak of labour as merchandise is treason; for such speech denies the true dignity of man . . . Where labour is merchandise in fact . . . there man is merchandise also, whether in England or South Carolina.” This meant that, “[c]onsidered from this point of view, the price of commodities is regulated not by the labour expended in their production, but by the distress and want of the labouring class. The greater the distress of the labourer, the more willing will he be to work for low wages, that is, the higher will be the price he is willing to give for the necessaries of life. When the wife and children of the labourer ask for bread, and he has none to give them, then, according to the political economists, is the community prosperous and happy; for then the rate of wages is low, and commodities command a high price in labour.” [Mutual Banking, pp. 49-50 and p. 49]
Greene’s alternative was co-operation in production, consumption and exchange. “The triple formula of practical mutualism”, he argued, was “the associated workshop” for production, the “protective union store” for consumption and the “the Mutual Bank” for exchange. All three were required, for “the Associated Workshop cannot exist for a single day without the Mutual Bank and the Protective Union Store.” Without mutual banking, the productive co-operatives would not survive as it would not gain access to credit or at a high rate (“How do you advance the cause of labour by putting your associated neck under the heel of capital? Your talk about ‘the emancipation of labour’ is wind and vapour; labour cannot be emancipated by any such process.”) Thus the “Associated Workshop ought to be an organisation of personal credit. For what is its aim and purpose? Is it not the emancipation of the labourer from all dependence upon capital and capitalists?” [Op. Cit., p. 37, p. 34, p. 35 and p. 34] The example of the Mondragon co-operative complex in the Basque country confirms the soundness of Greene’s analysis.
Here we see a similar opposition to the commodification of labour (and so labourers) within capitalism that also marks social anarchist thought. As Rocker notes, Greene “emphasised more strongly the principle of association than did Josiah Warren and more so than Spooner had done.” He had a “strong sympathy for the principle of association. In fact, the theory of Mutualism is nothing less that co-operative labour based on the cost principle.” He also “rejected . . . the designation of labour as a commodity“ and “constantly endeavoured to introduce his ideas into the youthful labour movement . . . so as to prevent the social problem being regarded by labour as only a question of wages.” [Pioneers of American Freedom,, p. 108, p. 109, pp. 111-2 and p. 112] This support for producers’ associations alongside mutual banks is identical to Proudhon’s ideas — which is unsurprising as Greene was a declared follower of the French anarchist. Martin also indicates Greene’s support for co-operation and associative labour and its relation to the wider labour movement:
“Coming at a time when the labour and consumer groups were experimenting with ‘associated workshops’ and ‘protective union stores,’ Greene suggested that the mutual bank be incorporated into the movement, forming what he called ‘complementary units of production, consumption, and exchange . . . the triple formula of practical mutualism.'” [Op. Cit., pp. 134-5]
Dyer Lum was another individualist anarchist who opposed wage labour and supported co-operative production. Like Greene, Lum took an active part in the labour movement and was a union organiser. As he put it, the Knights of Labor aimed to work for the “abolishment of the wage-system” as well as the right of life requiring the right to the means of living. Dyer, while rejecting their infatuation with political action, had “the fullest sympathy” for their aims and supported their economic measures. [Liberty, no. 82, p. 7] Unsurprisingly, as one historian notes, “Lum began to develop an ideology that centred on the labour reformers’ demand: ‘The Wage System must go!'” He joined “the ideological path of labour reformers who turned to a radicalised laissez-faire explanation of wage slavery.” [Frank H. Brooks, “Ideology, Strategy, and Organization: Dyer Lum and the American Anarchist Movement”, pp. 57-83, Labor History, vol. 34, No. 1, p. 63 and p. 67] Like the communist-anarchists of the IWPA, for Lum trade unions were both the means of fighting capitalism and the way to abolish wage labour:
“Anarchists in Chicago tended to be much more sympathetic to class organisation, specifically unions, because they had many contacts to local unions and the Knights of Labor. The issue was not resolved at the founding conference of the IWPA, but the Chicago anarchists did manage to get a resolution passed stating that ‘we view in trades unions based upon progressive principles — the abolition of the wages-system — the corner-stone of a better society structure than the present one.’
“Lum agreed wholeheartedly with this resolution, particularly the phrase ‘abolition of the wages-system.’ This phrase not only confirmed the ideological link between anarchism and labour reform, but also paralleled similar language in the declaration of principles of the Knights of Labor. By 1886, Lum had joined the Knights and he urged other anarchists, particularly individualists, to support their struggles. Lum continued to be involved with organised labour for the next seven years, seeing unions as a practical necessity in the struggle against class politics and state repression.” [Brooks, Op. Cit., pp. 70-1]
However, “[d]espite the similarity between the evolution of Lum’s strategy and that of the revolutionary anti-statist socialists in the IWPA, his analysis of ‘wage slavery’ was considerably more individualistic.” [Brooks, Op. Cit., p. 66] Lum saw it as resulting primarily from state interference in the economy which reduced the options available to working class people. With a genuine free market based on free land and free credit workers would work for themselves, either as independent producers or in co-operatives (“where capital seeks labour . . . where authority dissolves under the genial glow of liberty, and necessity for wage-labour disappears.” [Dyer D. Lum, contained in Albert Parsons, Anarchism, p. 153]). Thus a key element of “Lum’s anarchism was his mutualist economics, an analysis of ‘wage slavery’ and a set of reforms that would ‘abolish the wage system.'” [Brooks, Op. Cit., p. 71] Voltairine de Cleyre, in her individualist anarchist days, concurred with her mentor Lum, arguing for a “complete international federation of labour, whose constituent groups shall take possession of land, mines, factories, all the instruments of production, issue their own certificates of exchange, and, in short, conduct their own industry without regulative interference from law-makers or employers.” [The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, p. 6]
European individualist anarchists, it should be noted had a similar perspective. As mentioned in section A.3.1, Frenchman E. Armand argued that “ownership of the means of production and free disposal of his produce” was “the quintessential guarantee of the autonomy of the individual” but only as long as “the proprietor does not transfer it to someone else or reply upon the services of someone else in operating it.” [“Mini-Manual of the Anarchist Individualist”, pp. 145-9, Anarchism, Robert Graham (ed.), p. 147] Another French individualist anarchist, Ernest Lesigne, argued that in a free society, “there should be no more proletaires” as “everybody” would be “proprietor.” This would result in “The land to the cultivator. The mine to the miner. The tool to the labourer. The product to the producer.” [quoted approvingly by Tucker, Instead of a Book, p. 17 and p. 18] Lesigne considered “co-operative production” as “a solution to the great problem of social economy, — the delivery of products to the consumer at cost” and as a means of producers to “receive the value of your product, of your effort, without having to deal with a mass of hucksters and exploiters.” [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 123]
In other words, many individualist anarchists envisioned a society without wage labour and, instead, based upon peasant, artisan and associated/co-operative labour (as in Proudhon’s vision). In other words, a non-capitalist society or, more positively, a (libertarian) socialist one as the workers’ own and control the means of production they use. Like social anarchists, they opposed capitalist exploitation, wage slavery and property rights. However, not all individualist anarchists held this position, a notable exception being Benjamin Tucker and many of his fellow contributors of Liberty. Tucker asserted against the common labour movement and social anarchist equation of capitalism with wage slavery that “[w]ages is not slavery. Wages is a form of voluntary exchange, and voluntary exchange is a form of Liberty.” [Liberty, no. 3, p. 1]
The question how is, does this support of wage labour equate to support for capitalism? The answer to that depends on whether you see such a system as resulting in the exploitation of labour. If socialism is, to requote Kropotkin, “understood in its wide, generic, and true sense” as “an effort to abolish the exploitation of labour by capital” then even those Individualist Anarchists who support wage labour must be considered as socialists due to their opposition to usury. It is for this reason we discover Rudolf Rocker arguing that Stephan P. Andrews was “one of the most versatile and significant exponents of libertarian socialism” in the USA in spite of his belief that “the specific cause of the economic evil [of capitalism] is founded not on the existence of the wage system” but, rather, on the exploitation of labour, “on the unjust compensation of the worker” and the usury that “deprives him of a part of his labour.” [Op. Cit., p. 85 and pp. 77-8] His opposition to exploitation meant he was a socialist, an opposition which individualist anarchism was rooted in from its earliest days and the ideas of Josiah Warren:
“The aim was to circumvent the exploitation inherent in capitalism, which Warren characterised as a sort of ‘civilised cannibalism,’ by exchanging goods on co-operative rather than supply and demand principles.” [J.W. Baker, “Native American Anarchism,” pp. 43-62, The Raven, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 51]
So should not be implied that the term socialist is restricted simply to those who oppose wage labour. It should be noted that for many socialists, wage labour is perfectly acceptable — as long as the state is the boss. As Tucker noted, State Socialism’s “principle plank” is “the confiscation of all capital by the State”, so stopping “the liberty of those non-aggressive individuals who are thus prevented from carrying on business for themselves or assuming relations between themselves as employer and employee if they prefer, and who are obliged to become employees of the State against their will.” [Instead of a Book, p. 378] Of course, such a position is not a very good form of socialism which is why anarchists have tended to call such schemes state-capitalism (an analysis which was confirmed once the Soviet Union was created, incidentally). If state bureaucrats own and control the means of production, it would not come as too great a surprise if they, like private bosses, did so to maximise their incomes and minimise that of their employees.
Which explains why the vast majority of anarchists do not agree with Tucker’s position. Individualist anarchists like Tucker considered it as a truism that in their society the exploitation of labour could not exist. Thus even if some workers did sell their liberty, they would still receive the full product of their labour. As Tucker put it, “when interest, rent and profit disappear under the influence of free money, free land, and free trade, it will make no difference whether men work for themselves, or are employed, or employ others. In any case they can get nothing but that wage for their labour which free competition determines.” [Op. Cit., p. 274] Whether this could actually happen when workers sell their liberty to an employer is, of course, where other anarchists disagree. The owner of a workplace does not own simply his (labour) share of the total product produced within it. He (and it usually is a he) owns everything produced while workers get their wages. The employer, therefore, has an interest in getting workers to produce as much as they can during the period they are employed. As the future price of the commodity is unknown, it is extremely unlikely that workers will be able to accurately predict it and so it is unlikely that their wages will always equal the cost price of the product. As such, the situation that an individual worker would get his “natural” wage would be unlikely and so they would be exploited by their employer. At best, it could be argued that in the long run wages will rise to that level but, as Keynes noted, in the long run we are all dead and Tucker did not say that the free market would end exploitation eventually. So individual ownership of large-scale workplaces would not, therefore, end exploitation.
In other words, if (as Tucker argued) individualist anarchism desires “[n]ot to abolish wages, but to make every man dependent upon wages and to secure every man his whole wages” then this, logically, can only occur under workers control. We discuss this in more detail in section G.4.1, where we also indicate how social anarchists consider Tucker’s position to be in a basic contradiction to anarchist principles. Not only that, as well as being unlikely to ensure that labour received its full product, it also contradicts his own principle of “occupancy and use”. As such, while his support for non-exploitative wage labour does not exclude him from the socialist (and so anarchist) movement, it does suggest an inconsistent anarchism, one which can (fortunately) be easily made consistent by bringing it fully in line with its own stated ideals and principles.
Finally, we must note that there is a certain irony in this, given how keenly Tucker presented himself as a follower of Proudhon. This was because Proudhon agreed with Tucker’s anarchist opponents, arguing continually that wage labour needed to be replaced by co-operative production to end exploitation and oppression in production. Proudhon and his followers, in the words of one historian, thought workers “should be striving for the abolition of salaried labour and capitalist enterprise.” This was by means of co-operatives and their “perspective was that of artisan labour . . . The manager/employer (patron) was a superfluous element in the production process who was able to deny the worker just compensation for his labour merely by possessing the capital that paid for the workshop, tools, and materials.” [Julian P. W. Archer, The First International in France, 1864-1872, p. 45] As Frank H. Brooks put it, “Lum drew from the French anarchist Proudhon . . . a radical critique of classical political economy and . . . a set of positive reforms in land tenure and banking . . . Proudhon paralleled the native labour reform tradition in several ways. Besides suggesting reforms in land and money, Proudhon urged producer cooperation.” [Op. Cit., p. 72] We discuss this aspect of Proudhon’s ideas in section G.4.2.
So, to conclude, it can be seen that individualist anarchists hold two positions on wage labour. Some are closer to Proudhon and the mainstream anarchist tradition than others while a few veer extremely close to liberalism. While all are agreed that their system would end the exploitation of labour, some of them saw the possibility of a non-exploitative wage labour while others aimed for artisan and/or co-operative production to replace it. Suffice to say, while few social anarchists consider non-exploitative wage labour as being very likely it is the opposition to non-labour income which makes individualist anarchism socialist (albeit, an inconsistent and flawed version of libertarian socialism).
When reading the work of anarchists like Tucker and Warren, we must remember the social context of their ideas, namely the transformation of America from a pre-capitalist to a capitalist society. The individualist anarchists, like other socialists and reformers, viewed with horror the rise of capitalism and its imposition on an unsuspecting American population, supported and encouraged by state action (in the form of protection of private property in land, restricting money issuing to state approved banks using specie, government orders supporting capitalist industry, tariffs, suppression of unions and strikes, and so on). In other words, the individualist anarchists were a response to the social conditions and changes being inflicted on their country by a process of “primitive accumulation” (see section F.8).
The non-capitalist nature of the early USA can be seen from the early dominance of self-employment (artisan and peasant production). At the beginning of the 19th century, around 80% of the working (non-slave) male population were self-employed. The great majority of Americans during this time were farmers working their own land, primarily for their own needs. Most of the rest were self-employed artisans, merchants, traders, and professionals. Other classes — employees (wage workers) and employers (capitalists) in the North, slaves and planters in the South — were relatively small. The great majority of Americans were independent and free from anybody’s command — they owned and controlled their means of production. Thus early America was, essentially, a pre-capitalist society. However, by 1880, the year before Tucker started Liberty, the number of self-employed had fallen to approximately 33% of the working population. Now it is less than 10%. [Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Schooling in Capitalist America, p. 59] As the US Census described in 1900, until about 1850 “the bulk of general manufacturing done in the United States was carried on in the shop and the household, by the labour of the family or individual proprietors, with apprentice assistants, as contrasted with the present system of factory labour, compensated by wages, and assisted by power.” [quoted by Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello, Commons Sense for Hard Times, p. 35] Thus the post-civil war period saw “the factory system become general. This led to a large increase in the class of unskilled and semi-skilled labour with inferior bargaining power. Population shifted from the country to the city . . . It was this milieu that the anarchism of Warren-Proudhon wandered.” [Eunice Minette Schuster, Native American Anarchism, pp. 136-7]
It is only in this context that we can understand individualist anarchism, namely as a revolt against the destruction of working-class independence and the growth of capitalism, accompanied by the growth of two opposing classes, capitalists and proletarians. This transformation of society by the rise of capitalism explains the development of both schools of anarchism, social and individualist. “American anarchism,” Frank H. Brooks argues, “like its European counterpart, is best seen as a nineteenth century development, an ideology that, like socialism generally, responded to the growth of industrial capitalism, republican government, and nationalism. Although this is clearest in the more collectivistic anarchist theories and movements of the late nineteenth century (Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, communist anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism), it also helps to explain anarchists of early- to mid-century such as Proudhon, Stirner and, in America, Warren. For all of these theorists, a primary concern was the ‘labour problem’ — the increasing dependence and immiseration of manual workers in industrialising economies.” [“Introduction”, The Individualist Anarchists, p. 4]
The Individualist Anarchists cannot be viewed in isolation. They were part of a wider movement seeking to stop the capitalist transformation of America. As Bowles and Ginitis note, this “process has been far from placid. Rather, it has involved extended struggles with sections of U.S. labour trying to counter and temper the effects of their reduction to the status of wage labour.” The rise of capitalism “marked the transition to control of work by nonworkers” and “with the rise of entrepreneurial capital, groups of formerly independent workers were increasingly drawn into the wage-labour system. Working people’s organisations advocated alternatives to this system; land reform, thought to allow all to become an independent producer, was a common demand. Worker co-operatives were a widespread and influential part of the labour movement as early as the 1840s . . . but failed because sufficient capital could not be raised.” [Op. Cit., p. 59 and p. 62] It is no coincidence that the issues raised by the Individualist Anarchists (land reform via “occupancy-and-use”, increasing the supply of money via mutual banks and so on) reflect these alternatives raised by working class people and their organisations. Little wonder Tucker argued that:
“Make capital free by organising credit on a mutual plan, and then these vacant lands will come into use . . . operatives will be able to buy axes and rakes and hoes, and then they will be independent of their employers, and then the labour problem will solved.” [Instead of a Book, p. 321]
Thus the Individualist Anarchists reflect the aspirations of working class people facing the transformation of an society from a pre-capitalist state into a capitalist one. Changing social conditions explain why Individualist Anarchism must be considered socialistic. As Murray Bookchin noted:
“Th[e] growing shift from artisanal to an industrial economy gave rise to a gradual but major shift in socialism itself. For the artisan, socialism meant producers’ co-operatives composed of men who worked together in small shared collectivist associations, although for master craftsmen it meant mutual aid societies that acknowledged their autonomy as private producers. For the industrial proletarian, by contrast, socialism came to mean the formation of a mass organisation that gave factory workers the collective power to expropriate a plant that no single worker could properly own. These distinctions led to two different interpretations of the ‘social question’ . . . The more progressive craftsmen of the nineteenth century had tried to form networks of co-operatives, based on individually or collectively owned shops, and a market knitted together by a moral agreement to sell commodities according to a ‘just price’ or the amount of labour that was necessary to produce them. Presumably such small-scale ownership and shared moral precepts would abolish exploitation and greedy profit-taking. The class-conscious proletarian . . . thought in terms of the complete socialisation of the means of production, including land, and even of abolishing the market as such, distributing goods according to needs rather than labour . . . They advocated public ownership of the means of production, whether by the state or by the working class organised in trade unions.” [The Third Revolution, vol. 2, p. 262]
So, in this evolution of socialism we can place the various brands of anarchism. Individualist anarchism is clearly a form of artisanal socialism (which reflects its American roots) while communist anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism are forms of industrial (or proletarian) socialism (which reflects its roots in Europe). Proudhon’s mutualism bridges these extremes, advocating as it does artisan socialism for small-scale industry and agriculture and co-operative associations for large-scale industry (which reflects the state of the French economy in the 1840s to 1860s). With the changing social conditions in the US, the anarchist movement changed too, as it had in Europe. Hence the rise of communist-anarchism in addition to the more native individualist tradition and the change in Individualist Anarchism itself:
“Green emphasised more strongly the principle of association than did Josiah Warren and more so than Spooner had done. Here too Proudhon’s influence asserts itself. . . In principle there is essentially no difference between Warren and Proudhon. The difference between them arises from a dissimilarity of their respective environments. Proudhon lived in a country where the sub-division of labour made co-operation in social production essential, while Warren had to deal with predominantly small individual producers. For this reason Proudhon emphasised the principle of association far more than Warren and his followers did, although Warren was by no means opposed to this view.” [Rudolf Rocker, Pioneers of American Freedom, p. 108]
As noted in section A.3, Voltairine de Cleyre subscribed to a similar analysis, as does another anarchist, Peter Sabatini, more recently:
“The chronology of anarchism within the United States corresponds to what transpired in Europe and other locations. An organised anarchist movement imbued with a revolutionary collectivist, then communist, orientation came to fruition in the late 1870s. At that time, Chicago was a primary centre of anarchist activity within the USA, due in part to its large immigrant population. . .
“The Proudhonist anarchy that Tucker represented was largely superseded in Europe by revolutionary collectivism and anarcho-communism. The same changeover occurred in the US, although mainly among subgroups of working class immigrants who were settling in urban areas. For these recent immigrants caught up in tenuous circumstances within the vortex of emerging corporate capitalism, a revolutionary anarchy had greater relevancy than go slow mutualism.” [Libertarianism: Bogus Anarchy]
Murray Bookchin argued that the development of communist-anarchism “made it possible for anarchists to adapt themselves to the new working class, the industrial proletariat, . . . This adaptation was all the more necessary because capitalism was now transforming not only European [and American] society but the very nature of the European [and American] labour movement itself.” [Op. Cit., p. 259] In other words, there have been many schools of socialism, all influenced by the changing society around them. As Frank H. Brooks notes, “before Marxists monopolised the term, socialism, was a broad concept, as indeed Marx’s critique of the ‘unscientific’ varieties of socialism in the Communist Manifesto indicated. Thus, when Tucker claimed that the individualist anarchism advocated in the pages of Liberty was socialist, he was not engaged in obfuscation or rhetorical bravado.” [“Libertarian Socialism”, pp. 75-7, The Individualist Anarchists, p. 75]
Looking at the society in which their ideas developed (rather than ahistorically projecting modern ideas backward) we can see the socialist core of Individualist Anarchism. It was, in other words, an un-Marxian form of socialism (as was mutualism and communist-anarchism). Thus, to look at the Individualist Anarchists from the perspective of “modern socialism” (say, communist-anarchism or Marxism) means to miss the point. The social conditions which produced Individualist Anarchism were substantially different from those existing today (and those which produced communist-anarchism and Marxism) and so what was a possible solution to the “social problem” then may not be one suitable now (and, indeed, point to a different kind of socialism than that which developed later). Moreover, Europe in the 1870s was distinctly different than America (although, of course, the USA was catching up). For example, there was still vast tracks of unclaimed land (once the Native Americans had been removed, of course) available to workers. In the towns and cities, artisan production “remained important . . . into the 1880s” [David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labour, p. 52] Until the 1880s, the possibility of self-employment was a real one for many workers, a possibility being hindered by state action (for example, by forcing people to buy land via Homestead Acts, restricting banking to those with specie, suppressing unions and strikes and so on — see section F.8.5). Little wonder that Individualist Anarchism was considered a real solution to the problems generated by the creation of capitalism in the USA and that, by the 1880s, Communist Anarchist became the dominant form of anarchism. By that time the transformation of America was nearing completion and self-employment was no longer a real solution for the majority of workers.
This social context is essential for understanding the thought of people like Greene, Spooner and Tucker. For example, as Stephen L. Newman points out, Spooner “argues that every man ought to be his own employer, and he envisions a world of yeoman farmers and independent entrepreneurs.” [Liberalism at Wit’s End, p. 72] This sort of society was in the process of being destroyed when Spooner was writing. Needless to say, the Individualist Anarchists did not think this transformation was unstoppable and proposed, like other sections of US labour, various solutions to problems society faced. Given the commonplace awareness in the population of artisan production and its advantages in terms of liberty, it is hardly surprising that the individualist anarchists supported “free market” solutions to social problems. For, given the era, this solution implied workers’ control and the selling of the product of labour, not the labourer him/herself. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the “greatest part [of Liberty‘s readers] proves to be of the professional/intellectual class: the remainder includes independent manufacturers and merchants, artisans and skilled workers . . . The anarchists’ hard-core supporters were the socio-economic equivalents of Jefferson’s yeoman-farmers and craftsworkers: a freeholder-artisan-independent merchant class allied with freethinking professionals and intellectuals. These groups — in Europe as well as in America — had socio-economic independence, and through their desire to maintain and improve their relatively free positions, had also the incentive to oppose the growing encroachments of the capitalist State.” [Morgan Edwards, “Neither Bombs Nor Ballots: Liberty & the Strategy of Anarchism”, pp. 65-91, Benjamin R. Tucker and the Champions of Liberty, Coughlin, Hamilton and Sullivan (eds.), p. 85]
Individualist anarchism is obviously an aspect of a struggle between the system of peasant and artisan production of early America and the state encouraged system of capitalism. Indeed, their analysis of the change in American society from one of mainly independent producers into one based mainly upon wage labour has many parallels with Karl Marx’s analysis of “primitive accumulation” in the Americas and elsewhere presented in chapter 33 of Capital (“The Modern Theory of Colonization”). It is this process which Individualist Anarchism protested against, the use of the state to favour the rising capitalist class. So the social context the individualist anarchists lived in must be remembered. America at the times was a predominantly rural society and industry was not as developed as it is now wage labour would have been minimised. As Wm. Gary Kline argues:
“Committed as they were to equality in the pursuit of property, the objective for the anarchist became the construction of a society providing equal access to those things necessary for creating wealth. The goal of the anarchists who extolled mutualism and the abolition of all monopolies was, then, a society where everyone willing to work would have the tools and raw materials necessary for production in a non-exploitative system . . . the dominant vision of the future society . . . [was] underpinned by individual, self-employed workers.” [The Individualist Anarchists: A Critique of Liberalism, p. 95]
This social context helps explain why some of the individualist anarchists were indifferent to the issue of wage labour, unlike most anarchists. A limited amount of wage labour within a predominantly self-employed economy does not make a given society capitalist any more than a small amount of governmental communities within an predominantly anarchist world would make it statist. As Marx put it, in such socities “the separation of the worker from the conditions of labour and from the soil . . . does not yet exist, or only sporadically, or on too limited a scale . . . Where, amongst such curious characters, is the ‘field of abstinence’ for the capitalists? . . . Today’s wage-labourer is tomorrow’s independent peasant or artisan, working for himself. He vanishes from the labour-market — but not into the workhouse.” There is a “constant transformation of wage-labourers into independent producers, who work for themselves instead of for capital” and so “the degree of exploitation of the wage-labourer remain[s] indecently low.” In addition, the “wage-labourer also loses, along with the relation of dependence, the feeling of dependence on the abstemious capitalist.” [Op. Cit., pp. 935-6] Within such a social context, the anti-libertarian aspects of wage labour are minimised and so could be overlooked by otherwise sharp critics of authoritarianism as Tucker and Andrews.
Therefore Rocker was correct when he argued that Individualist Anarchism was “above all . . . rooted in the peculiar social conditions of America which differed fundamentally from those of Europe.” [Op. Cit., p. 155] As these conditions changed, the viability of Individualist Anarchism’s solution to the social problem decreased (as acknowledged by Tucker in 1911, for example — see section G.1.1). Individualist Anarchism, argued Morgan Edwards, “appears to have dwindled into political insignificance largely because of the erosion of its political-economic base, rather than from a simple failure of strategy. With the impetus of the Civil War, capitalism and the State had too great a head start on the centralisation of economic and political life for the anarchists to catch up. This centralisation reduced the independence of the intellectual/professional and merchant artisan group that were the mainstay of the Liberty circle.” [Op. Cit., pp. 85-6] While many of the individualist anarchists adjusted their own ideas to changing social circumstances, as can be seen by Greene’s support for co-operatives (“the principle of association”) as the only means of ending exploitation of labour by capital, the main forum of the movement (Liberty) did not consistently subscribe to this position nor did their support for union struggles play a major role in their strategy. Faced with another form of anarchism which supported both, unsurprisingly communist-anarchism replaced it as the dominant form of anarchism by the start of the 20th century in America.
If these social conditions are not taken into account then the ideas of the likes of Tucker and Spooner will be distorted beyond recognition. Similarly, by ignoring the changing nature of socialism in the face of a changing society and economy, the obvious socialistic aspects of their ideas will be lost. Ultimately, to analyse the Individualist Anarchists in an a-historic manner means to distort their ideas and ideals. Moreover, to apply those ideas in a non-artisan economy without the intention of radically transforming the socio-economic nature of that society towards one based on artisan production one would mean to create a society distinctly different than one they envisioned (see section G.3 for further discussion).