Wednesday, March 22, 2006

in defense of libertarian communism & markets

Thanks to Brad Spangler, I recently discovered that author and artist Victor Koman has an extensive amount of old libertarian periodicals for sale through his KoPubCo Publishing site. I purchased a few things and will likely follow that up with another order sometime in the future. I'll likely be writing an occasional post about some of the stuff I've read in these periodicals, with this post being the first one.

One of those periodicals is the Strategy of the New Libertarian Alliance. I have a copy of issue number two, which is full of interesting and important material. For starters, it includes the introduction and first chapter of Samuel Edward Konkin III's unfinished book Agorism Contra Marxism, the book which influenced Wally Conger and led to his wonderful synopsis called "Agorist Class Theory". I highly recommend reading that essay if the idea of a libertarian-based class theory seems out of whack to you.

Another essay from that periodical that I found interesting was Kerry Thornley's "In Defense of Libertarian Communism". The essay is clearly written for a market anarchist audience, although many of the ideas he wrote about could also be used as a defense of markets amongst a libertarian communist audience. What follows are some choice excerpts from the essay:
But the charges that libertarian communism ignores the laws of the free market do not simply result from ignorance of its doctrines, but comprise instad an intellectually formidable position. In the first place, Berkman failed miserably to comprehend the significance of monetary mutualist ideas about central banking - blaming the warlike nature of capitalism upon the overproduction of goods and the consequent necessity to find new markets, unaware that in a free society stored overproduced goods could become a basis for mediums of exchange. Moreover, he failed to see that the prospect of war is needed by multinational banking corporations and failed to realize that credit monopolies such as central banks virtually thrive upon the misery and destruction that create debt.

Beyond that mistake, however, his thesis does not express an ignorance of free market principles, but instead depends upon a view of human nature that differs from that of most Conservatives and laissez-faire capitalists. Conservatives accept Original Sin and libertarian rightists assume that the laws which result from present economic values will always prevail, although those values result in turn from centuries of authoritarian conditioning.

As Hagbard Celine points out in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, left anarchists disagree with right anarchists only in their predictions as to how people will behave in a free market - the leftists believing that cooperation will take the place of competition, the rightists assuming that people will remain as competitve as ever. In other words, while authoritarian economics are proscriptive, libertarian economics are predictive - a realization which facilitates left-right unity among anarchists and libertarians.

But if, by libertarian methods, authoritarian values and the ignorance that they require are at a future point in history eradicated, what then? Will communist anarchism remain an anti-market philosophy or will the so-called laws of the market, being nothing mroe than descriptions of observed human behavior, change in accord with a proliferation of economic choices that result from psychologically liberated and informed values?

Like most higher mammals, human beings are herd animals, or tribalists. But the theological conceit that they are not mammals at all, but creatures "a little lower than angels,"causes them to behave in a way that alienates them not only from their own bodies, but also from their own emotional and social needs.

Imagine, as one example, belonging to a voluntary extended family of twenty-five individuals, children included, that lived in the same village neighborhood, labored in the same workplace, and enjoyed the same recreations together. Assume that these individuals had located one another through a computer matching service and taht therefore their lifestyle values were very much alike. Such a group might be further bonded in multilateral marriages, or it might be monoagamous and bonded vicariously in collective autoerotic sharing, or it might be sexually monogamous but held together by strong religious convictions or nonmystical values. Would such a group necessarily function in a manner that was anti-market? Even if it was organized internally for the equal sharing of what it produced?

That communist anarchists are by and large ignorant of free market principles is simply not true. For while their choices of words are different from those of the libertarian right and they therefore seldom use the term "free market,", it can be seen from a close reading of either Peter Kropotkin or Alexander Berkman that they recognize, as one example among many, that economic values are subjective, although they did not know this would become known among Austrian capitalists as the "law of marginal utility." In keeping with their contrasting view of human nature, the anarchists use marginal utility concepts to justify equal rations, since subjective value also implies that it is impossible to ascribe an objective value to anyone's labor.

Evidence that the communist libertarian view of human nature tend to be the more correct one is contained in A.S. Neill's Summerhill, where it is observed that in an environment of complete freedom children tend to be self-regulating and to master their subjects in the absense of any immediate rewards for so doing. That the resentment generated by compulsory measures is also absent in such a milieu seems to go a long way to explain why bribery, or reward, also becomes unnecessary. Further evidence is to be found in abundance in the study of anthropology, the Hopi Indians being only one very conspicuous, very extreme example of how far cooperation can develop in the direction of eliminating competition without crippling productive activity.

A logical political compromise between communist anarchism and libertarian capitalism would seem to be individualist anarchism of the kind espoused by Josiah Warren and Benjamin Tucker - for it makes the least number of assumptions in either direction about human nature and developed from experience with both utopian communist communities and the laissez-faire capitalism of teh last century.

Instead of making metaphysical assumptions about the nature of human beings in a free society, it asks: With people as they are how can we arrange social institutions to allow for the optimum in both individual choice and useful cooperation?

Once we construct our alternative institutions with that question in mind, generations of human beings will begin to grow up in genuine freedom - and no past or present communist anarchist or laissez-faire capitalist can predict with certainty what will happen after that, but it seems to me they should be able to agree that this is where to begin.

For libertarian capitalists that means becoming aware of communist anarchist doctrines, and realizing that they are based not so much on ignorance of economics as on unlimited optimism for the potential rationality of genuinely free people.

That is indeed some interesting stuff to ponder. With that last sentence from Thornley in mind, it would likewise behoove libertarian communists to become aware of market doctrines, especially realizing that markets are far more encompassing than merely the cash nexus. Here is a link to one of many posts written by Kevin Carson on the subject of markets and how broadly they are viewed amongst non-vulgar market advocates. As I stated in my previous post, anarchy is as simple as giving someone a hug, trading an apple for an orange, or purchasing a muffin at a bake sale, and none of those actions are anti-market.


Blogger Vache Folle said...

The Hutterites are a living example of the kind of voluntary extended family discussed. As far as I can tell, they participate effectively in wider market relationships even while they do not rationalize their internal relationships among group members.

9:51 AM  

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