Markets Not Capitalism

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* Book: Markets Not Capitalism. Charles Johnson and Gary Chartier. Autonomedia, 2011

Author's Introduction

"This book is intended as an extended introduction to the economic and social theory of left-wing market anarchism. Market anarchism is a radically individualist and anti-capitalist social movement. Like other anarchists, market anarchists are radical advocates of individual liberty and mutual consent in every aspect of social life — thus rejecting all forms of domination and government as invasions against liberty and violations of human dignity. The market anarchists’ distinct contribution to anarchist thought is their analysis of the market form as a core component of a thoroughly free and equal society — their understanding of the revolutionary possibilities inherent in market relationships freed from government and capitalistic privilege, and their insights into the structures of political privilege and control that deform actually-existing markets and uphold exploitation in spite of the naturally equilibrating tendencies of market processes. Since they insist on so sharp a distinction between the market form as such and the economic features of actually-existing capitalism, it is important to carefully distinguish the key features of markets as market anarchists understand them."


"The book collects essays from the late nineteenth century to the present, organized into eight parts.

Part One, “The Problem of Deformed Markets,” introduces the central theme of the text: the political deformation that distorts, obliterates, or perverts the naturally positive and mutual relationships characteristic of markets, and the naturally productive and harmonizing role of market forces such as competition, trade, and the division of labor, into the alienating, exploitative structure of state capitalism. In “The Freed Market,” William Gillis shows how a simple change of tense can make all the difference in clarifying the difference between market anarchy and statist capitalism. In “State Socialism and Anarchism,” Benjamin Tucker explains why a market-oriented variety of anarchism can be understood as part of the socialist tradition, provided the role of privilege in bringing about the evils against which socialists rightly protest is understood. In excerpts taken from his General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, Proudhon argues that competition, division of labor, commerce, contract, and property — economic forces which are, today, forces driving exploitation, alienation and poverty — can be transfigured by the revolutionary dissolution of political privilege, and the replacement of the authoritarian “system of laws” by the mutual “system of contracts.”[6] In “Markets Freed from Capitalism,” Charles Johnson examines the political mechanisms and structures of privilege by which government misshapes markets, constructs state capitalism, and foists fetishized forms of exchange into social spaces where they are not wanted; and examines the importance of envisioning the revolutionary transformation of markets without capitalistic inequalities.

Part Two, “Identities and Isms,” collects careful reflections by individualist anarchists on the desirability, undesirability, and significance of multiple identities: “capitalist,” “socialist,” “libertarian,” “individualist,” “communist.” In “Armies that Overlap” and “Socialism: What It Is,” Benjamin Tucker argues that the socialist call for worker autonomy and the end of capitalist privilege is not a violation of market principles; it is against privilege that socialists fight, and that need not mean a fight against market exchange. In “Advocates of Freed Markets Should Oppose Capitalism” and “What Laissez Faire?,” Gary Chartier and Sheldon Richman argue that right-wing market-oriented libertarians’ romance with capitalism is profoundly mistaken and that the rejection of capitalism is not only compatible with but, indeed, required by support for genuinely freed markets. In “Market Anarchism as Stigmergic Socialism” and “Socialist Ends, Market Means,” Brad Spangler and Gary Chartier argue more aggressively that the market-oriented anarchism of the individualists is, as Tucker made clear, not only anti-capitalist but part of the socialist tradition. In “The Individualist and the Communist,” and the follow-up essay, “A Glance at Communism,” Rosa Slobodinsky and Voltairine de Cleyre explain why two varieties of anarchism can be thought of as pursuing similar goals using different means. (The individualist in Slobodinsky and de Cleyre’s imagined dialogue accepts the label “capitalist” for the sake of argument, but takes a position unequivocally opposed to capitalist privilege.) Charles Johnson’s “Libertarianism through Thick and Thin” explains why a narrowly conceived anti-statism fails to capture the emancipatory potential of libertarianism, and lays the groundwork for arguments designed to link opposition to state power with challenges to such other forms of hierarchy as subordination in the workplace and patriarchal gender relations.

Part Three, “Ownership,” enters an open debate among market anarchists, individualist anarchists, and mutualists: the nature and justification of property. Individualists and mutualists have a broad, end-of-the-day agreement on the question of ownership — they view actually-existing property titles as shot through with privilege and injustice, but argue in favor of free social arrangements in which decentralized individual ownership — cured of the disease of privilege and political dispossession — will play an important role. But within that broad, end-of-the-day agreement there is an intense and complicated dialogue over justifications for property as well as the details of how it ought to be recognized and how far it might extend. In this section we aim to offer a series of unconventional defenses of property rights from some of the major perspectives repersented in the debate — unconventional both in their foundations and in their implications for the kinds of “property” that might characterize markets freed radically from capitalist privilege. In “A Plea for Public Property,” the individualist anarchist Roderick Long defends a natural-rights justification for individual property rights — and shows that, given the arguments he uses to defend such rights, it follows that a fully freed market must include space for the commons and genuinely public property, owned neither by the state nor by private owners, but rather by the “unorganized public” that enjoys its use. In “From Whence Do Property Titles Arise?” the market anarchist William Gillis begins with a sympathetic exploration of anarchist communism and ends with a utilitarian defense of a strong form of private property, derived from considerations of economic calculation. In “The Gift Economy of Property,” the mutualist Shawn Wilbur re-examines Proudhon’s approach to property and commerce, and asks whether the social anarchist conception of the gift economy and the gift of mutual recognition might not provide a subversive sort of foundation for an economy of ownership and equal exchange, which challenges both conventional natural-rights accounts and utilitarian understandings of property. In “Fairness and Possession,” Gary Chartier offers an alternative market-anarchist defense of possessory rights rooted in a natural-law approach, shaped by the Golden Rule and a fundamental appeal to principles of fairness, taken in tandem with a set of truisms about human behavior and the human situation. Finally, in “The Libertarian Case against Intellectual Property Rights,” Roderick Long turns to an important question of application, challenging capitalists’ frequent assertions of ownership over ideas through copyrights and patents; “intellectual property rights,” Long argues, are not genuine labor-based property rights, but instead coercive, monopolistic claims on the minds and tangible property of others.

Part Four, “Corporate Power and Labor Solidarity,” brings together articles on big business, bosses, workers, and the extent to which the concentration of economic power and inequality in the labor market depend on large-scale privileges conferred repeatedly and persistently by the state on corporations and capitalists. In “Corporatoins versus the Market, or Whip Conflation Now,” Roderick Long lays out the problem of “conflation” or “vulgar libertarianism” — in which patterns of corporate ownership and common business practices propped up by state intervention are confusedly defended as if they were the outcome of free market processes. In “Does Competition Mean War?” and “Economic Calculation in the Corporate Commonwealth,” Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson each show how market competition and profit motives, typically invoked to try to defend the interests of large corporations, would actually dissolve their fortunes and free markets from their grip in the absence of legal protections for over-centralized business models. Roy Childs’s “Big Business and the Rise of American Statism” takes a step back into history, emphasizing that the growth of state power in American history cannot be seen as a counterweight to the growth of corporate power because it has largely been driven by the corporate interests of politically-connected robber barons. Thus also Roderick Long demonstrates, in “Regulation: The Cause, Not the Cure, of the Financial Crisis,” that it was not “unregulated finance markets” but a long history of unaccountable, government-insulated finance capitalism which produced the financial and economic collapse of the last half-decade. In “Industrial Economics,” “Labor Struggle in a Free Market,” and “Should Labor Be Paid or Not?” Dyer Lum, Kevin Carson, and Benjamin Tucker consider the foremost alternative to corporate power: not a political solution or a regulatory state, but radical free market labor solidarity, wildcat unionism, and, ultimately, worker ownership of the means of production.

Part Five, “Neoliberalism, Privatization, and Redistribution,” considers the pseudo-market politics of neo-liberal “market” reforms, and considers how a radical defense of free markets, private property, and the “de-statification” of the economy might call for dramatically different approaches from either state progressivism, or corporate “liberalization” and subsidized capitalist “development.” In “Free Market Reforms and the Reduction of Statism,” Kevin Carson underscores the importance of understanding just how particular legal, social, and political structures are interconnected and what the net effect of altering each would be on the dismantling of the state. In “Free Trade is Fair Trade,” Joe Peacott of the Boston Anarchist Drinking Brigade looks at the radical possibilities of a world truly without economic borders, and the political fraud of government-managed, corporate-subsidizing “free trade” agreements. In “Two Words on ‘Privatization,’” Charles Johnson disentangles two senses of “privatization” — on the one hand, genuine efforts to devolve control of politically-confiscated resources from government back to civil society, and on the other the kind of corporate-driven “privatization” routinely inflicted on developing countries, which amounts to little more than the outsourcing of government monopolies. Finally, in “Where are the Specifics?” and “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle,” Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard look at the radical implications of anarchistic property rights, and argue that the emergence of freed markets calls for a radically different model of “privatization:” worker occupations of many large businesses and institutions, and revolutionary expropriation of the means of production.

Part Six, “Inequality and Social Safety Nets,” asks whether freed markets would sustain large-scale inequalities of wealth, and how, with the abolition of all forms of government, including government welfare, economic crises and poverty might still be addressed through authentically social safety nets — that is, through grassroots mutual aid. Jeremy Weiland’s “Let the Free Market Eat the Rich” begins by discussing “economic entropy” and the doom of accumulated fortunes in freed markets; he shows how economic relationships genuinely free from privilege can, and naturally will tend to, undermine the wealth and power consolidated in a capitalist society. Joe Peacott’s “Individualism and Inequality” considers how capitalism depends on economic inequality, and how market anarchy would confine or destroy such inequality; he goes on to ask how the end of destructive, systemic inequalities might relate to smaller-scale, more everyday forms of social inequality. Roderick Long’s “How Government Solved the Health Care Crisis” and Joe Peacott’s “The Poverty of the Welfare State” discuss ways in which statist welfare programs destory social power while fostering state power, and suggest that the form of social power working people have repeatedly used to gain control over their own health care costs and provide security for each other in hard times — grassroots networks of worker-run mutual aid associations — can provide positive alternatives to statist welfare systems in a flourishing free market.

Part Seven, “Barriers to Entry and Fixed Costs of Living,” examines how capitalist economic relations have depended on the forced immiseration of the poor, and the systematic burning out of alternatives to wage-labor and rent. One of the most effective means is to make workers artificially desperate by means of a sort of ratchet effect — simultaneously boosting fixed costs of living and destroying opportunities for making a living outside of the cash-wage economy. The ratchet effect has been exerted by means of government-granted monopolies that drive up the costs of pervasive, everyday goods; large-scale land theft and engrosssment that bolster rents and deprive workers of opportunities to support themselves on their own terms; and government regulation in the interest of socioeconomic cleansing. In “How ‘Intellectual Property’ Impedes Competition,” Kevin Carson looks at the large-scale structural ripple effects of pervasive monopoly rents in the transmission and expression of ideas in culture, medicine, and technology. In “English Enclosures and Soviet Collectivization,” Joseph Stromberg shows how the state, whatever its explicit ideology, can foster what he suggestively identifies as an “anti-peasant mode of development.” In “The American Land Question,” Stromberg shows that massive land theft and engrossment have distorted economic relationships in the United States since before the colonial period. In “Health Care as Radical Monopoly,” Carson explains in detail how the cost, accessibility, and flexibility of health care are profoundly limited by the state’s action on behalf of multiple groups on whom it deliberately or inadvertently confers legal privileges. “Scratching By,” by Charles Johnson, is a devastating indictment of the regulatory state’s role in the creation and perpetuation of poverty.

Part Eight, “Freed-Market Regulation: Social Activism and Spontaneous Order,” looks at ways in which the social order achieved in a market society freed from capitalist domination would ensure productive and mutual cooperation, and live up to a reasonable ideal of social justice, without coercive regulation by a state. Where other sections have demonstrated negatively that social and economic privileges often depend on background legal coercion, and that removing legal coercion will undermine or eliminate unjust privilege, this section focuses on potential social problems within the market form, and the positive means by which those problems might be addressed without the use of aggressive force. In “Regulation Red Herring,” Sheldon Richman discusses the importance of spontaneous order as an organizing and harmonizing force in markets, and a natural form of market “regulation” based on mutual human relationships instead of political domination. In “We Are Market Forces,” Charles Johnson develops the same point and emphasizes the possibility not only of unplanned orders, but also of consensual social activism within freed markets: from the individualists’ radical anti-capitalist perspective, the world of markets is much more extensive than the world of commercial transactions, and incorporates all of the voluntary, cooperative actions in which people can engage — including those designed to restrain or otherwise respond to non-violent but morally objectionable conduct on the part of other people or organizations. In “Platonic Productivity,” Roderick Long considers the question of gender wage gaps, arguing that even in a fully freed market sexist discrimination might continue to be a serious social and economic problem, one which conscious social activism could be needed to address. In “Libertarianism and Anti-Racism,” Sheldon Richman encourages market anarchists to consider the nonviolent sit-in movement against segregated lunch-counters in the American South as a historical model for precisely this sort of freed-market social activism. Mary Ruwart’s “Aggression and the Environment,” from her book Healing Our World, and Charles Johnson’s “The Clean Water Act versus Clean Water” continue developing this the theme by examining ways in which capitalist privilege, rather than free-market profit motives, encourage environmental destruction and the anti-environmental ethic of limitless “growth” at all costs — and in which, in freed markets, community activists would be far freer to use market pressure and direct action to preserve the environment and heal the damage already inflicted by ecologically unsustainable corporate capitalism. In “Context-Keeping and Community Organizing,” Sheldon Richman provides a strong defense and synthetic overview of the possibility of freed market grassroots social activism." (


The Market Anarchist Tradition

Charles Johnson:

"Early anarchist thinkers such as Josiah Warren and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon emphasized the positive, socially harmonizing features of market relationships when they were conducted within a context of equality — with Proudhon, for example, writing that social revolution would abolish the “system of laws” and “principle of authority,” to replace them with the “system of contracts.”

Drawing on Warren’s and Proudhon’s use of contract and exchange for models of social mutuality, distinctive strands of market anarchism have emerged repeatedly within the broad anarchist tradition, punctuated by crises, collapses, interregnums and resurgences. The history is complex but it can be roughly divided into three major periods represented in this text — (i) a “first wave,” represented mainly by “individualist anarchists” and “mutualists” such as Benjamin Tucker, Voltairine de Cleyre, and Dyer Lum, and occupying roughly the period from the American Civil War to 1917;[3] (ii) a “second wave,” coinciding with the radicalization of formerly pro-capitalist American libertarians and the resurgence of anarchism as a family of social movements during the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s; and (iii) a “third wave,” developing as a dissident strand within the anarchist milieu of the 1990s and the post-Seattle movement of the new millennium.

In spite of discontinuities and differences, each wave has typically revived the literature of the earlier waves and drawn explicitly on its themes; what has, in general, united them is their defense of market relationships and their particular emphasis on the revolutionary possibilities inherent in the market form, when it is — to the extent that it is — liberated from legal and social institutions of privilege.

The anti-capitalism of the “first wave” individualists was obvious to them and to many of their contemporaries. Benjamin Tucker famously argued that four monopolies, or clusters of state-guaranteed privileges, were responsible for the power of the corporate elite — the patent monopoly, the effective monopoly created by the state’s distribution of arbitrarily engrossed land to the politically favored and its protection of unjust land titles, the money and credit monopoly, and the monopolistic privileges conferred by tariffs. The economically powerful depended on these monopolies; eliminate them, and the power of the elite would dissolve.

Tucker was committed to the cause of justice for workers in conflict with contemporary capitalists and he clearly identified with the burgeoning socialist movement. But he argued against Marx and other socialists that market relationships could be fruitful and non-exploitative provided that the market-distorting privileges conferred by the four monopolies were eliminated.

The radicalism of Tucker and his compatriots and that of the strand of anarchism they birthed was arguably less apparent after the breaking of the first wave than it was to their contemporaries. Perhaps in part this is because of their disputes with representatives of other anarchist tendencies, whose criticisms of their views have influenced the perceptions of later anarchists. It is also, unavoidably, a consequence of the identification of many of their twentieth-century descendants with the right wing of the libertarian movement and thus as apologists for the corporate elite and its social dominance.

Though there were honorable exceptions, twentieth-century market-oriented libertarians frequently lionized corporate titans, ignored or rationalized the abuse of workers, and trivialized or embraced economic and social hierarchy. While many endorsed the critique of the state and of state-secured privilege offered by Tucker and his fellow individualists, they often overlooked or rejected the radical implications of the earlier individualists’ class-based analysis of structural injustice. There were, in short, few vocal enthusiasts for the individualists’ brand of anti-capitalism in the early-to-mid-twentieth century.

The most radical fringe of the market-oriented strand of the libertarian movement — represented by thinkers like Murray Rothbard and Roy Childs — generally embraced, not the anti-capitalist economics of individualism and mutualism, but a position its advocates described as “anarcho-capitalism.” The future free society they envisioned was a market society — but one in which market relationships were little changed from business as usual and the end of state control was imagined as freeing business to do much what it had been doing before, rather than unleashing competing forms of economic organization, which might radically transform market forms from the bottom up.

But in the “second wave” of the 1960s, the family of anarchist social movements — revived by antiauthoritarian and countercultural strands of the New Left — and the antiwar radicals among the libertarians began to rediscover and republish the works of the mutualists and the other individualists. “Anarcho-capitalists” such as Rothbard and Childs began to question libertarianism’s historical alliance with the Right, and to abandon defenses of big business and actually-existing capitalism in favor of a more consistent left-wing market anarchism. Perhaps the most visible and dramatic example was Karl Hess’s embrace of the New Left radicalism, and his abandonment of “capitalist” economics in favor of small-scale, community-based, non-capitalist markets. By 1975, the former Goldwater speechwriter declared, “I have lost my faith in capitalism” and “I resist this capitalist nation-state,” observing that he had “turn[ed] from the religion of capitalism.”[4]

The “second wave” was followed by a second trough, for anarchism broadly and market anarchism in particular. By the later 1970s and the 1980s, the anti-capitalist tendency among market-oriented libertarians had largely dissipated or been shouted down by the mainstreaming pro-capitalist politics of well-funded “libertarian” institutions like the Cato Institute and the leadership of the Libertarian Party. But with the end of the Cold War, the realignment of longstanding political coalitions, and the public coming-out of a third wave anarchist movement in the 1990s, the intellectual, social stages were set for today’s resurgence of anti-capitalist market anarchism.

By the beginning of twenty-first century, anti-capitalist descendants of the individualists had grown in number, influence, and visibility. They shared the early individualists’ conviction that markets need not in principle be exploitative. At the same time, they elaborated and defended a distinctively libertarian version of class analysis that extended Tucker’s list of monopolies and highlighted the intersection of state-secured privilege with systematic past and ongoing dispossession and with a range of issues of ecology, culture, and interpersonal power relations. They emphasized the fact that, while genuinely liberated — freed — markets could be empowering, market transactions that occurred in contexts misshapen by past and ongoing injustice were, not surprisingly, debilitating and oppressive. But the problem, the new individualists (like their predecessors) insisted, lay not with markets but rather with capitalism — with social dominance by economic elites secured by the state. The solution, then, was the abolition of capitalism through the elimination of legal privileges, including the privileges required for the protection of title to stolen and engrossed assets.

The new individualists have been equally critical of explicitly statist conservatives and progressives and of market-oriented libertarians on the right who use the rhetoric of freedom to legitimate corporate privilege. Their aggressive criticism of this sort of “vulgar libertarianism” has emphasized that existing economic relationships are shot through with injustice from top to bottom and that calls for freedom can readily be used to mask attempts to preserve the freedom of elites to retain wealth acquired through state-tolerated or state-perpetrated violence and state-guaranteed privilege." (

What we think of the Market Form

Charles Johnson:

"The social relationships that market anarchists explicitly defend, and hope to free from all forms of government control, are relationships based on:

ownership of property, especially decentralized individual ownership, not only of personal possessions but also of land, homes, natural resources, tools, and capital goods;

contract and voluntary exchange of goods and services, by individuals or groups, on the expectation of mutual benefit;

free competition among all buyers and sellers — in price, quality, and all other aspects of exchange — without ex ante restraints or burdensome barriers to entry;

entrepreneurial discovery, undertaken not only to compete in existing markets but also in order to discover and develop new opportunities for economic or social benefit; and

spontaneous order, recognized as a significant and positive coordinating force — in which decentralized negotiations, exchanges, and entrepreneurship converge to produce large-scale coordination without, or beyond the capacity of, any deliberate plans or explicit common blueprints for social or economic development.

Market anarchists do not limit ownership to possession, or to common or collective ownerhip, although they do not exclude these kinds of ownership either; they insist on the importance of contract and market exchange, and on profit-motivated free competition and entrepreneurship; and they not only tolerate but celebrate the unplanned, spontaneous coordation that Marxists deride as the “social anarchy of production.” But left-wing market anarchists are also radically anti-capitalist, and they absolutely reject the belief — common to both the anti-market Left and the pro-capitalist Right — that these five features of the market form must entail a social order of bosses, landlords, centralized corporations, class exploitation, cut-throat business dealings, immiserated workers, structural poverty, or large-scale economic inequality. They insist, instead, on five distinctive claims about markets, freedom, and privilege:

The centrifugal tendency of markets: market anarchists see freed markets, under conditions of free competition, as tending to diffuse wealth and dissolve fortunes — with a centrifugal effect on incomes, property-titles, land, and access to capital — rather than concentrating it in the hands of a socioeconomic elite. Market anarchists recognize no de jure limits on the extent or kind of wealth that any one person might amass; but they believe that market and social realities will impose much more rigorous de facto pressures against massive inequalities of wealth than any de jure constraint could achieve.

The radical possibilities of market social activism: market anarchists also see freed markets as a space not only for profit-driven commerce, but also as spaces for social experimentation and hard-driving grassroots activism. They envision “market forces” as including not only the pursuit of narrowly financial gain or maximizing returns to investors, but also the appeal of solidarity, mutuality and sustainability. “Market processes” can — and ought to — include conscious, coordinated efforts to raise consciousness, change economic behavior, and address issues of economic equality and social justice through nonviolent direct action.

The rejection of statist-quo economic relations: market anarchists sharply distinguish between the defense of the market form and apologetics actually-existing distributions of wealth and class divisions, since these distributions and divisions hardly emerged as the result of unfettered markets, but rather from the governed, regimented, and privilege-ridden markets that exist today; they see actually-existing distributions of wealth and class divisions as serious and genuine social problems, but not as problems with the market form itself; these are not market problems but ownership problems and coordination problems.

The regressiveness of regulation: market anarchists see coordination problems — problems with an unnatural, destructive, politically-imposed interruption of the free operation of exchange and competition — as the result of continuous, ongoing legal privilege for incumbent capitalists and other well-entrenched economic interests, imposed at the expense of small-scale competitors and the working class.

Dispossession and rectification: market anarchists see economic privilege as partly the result of serious ownership problems — problems with an unnatural, destructive, politically-imposed maldistribution of property titles — produced by the history of political dispossession and expropriation inflicted worldwide by means of war, colonialism, segregation, nationalization and kleptocracy. Markets are not viewed as being maximally free so long as they are darkened by the shadow of mass robbery or the denial of ownership; and they emphasize the importance of reasonable rectification of past injustices — including grassroots, anti-corporate, anti-neoliberal approaches to the “privatization” of state-controlled resources; processes for restitution to identifiable victims of injustice; and revolutionary expropriation of property fraudulently claimed by the state and state-entitled monopolists." (

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