Against Anarchist Apartheid

Consider the following two lists of names:

Group 1 Group 2
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Josiah Warren
Stephen Pearl Andrews
Ezra Heywood
Anselme Bellegarrigue
Lysander Spooner
Benjamin Tucker
Francis D. Tandy
John Henry Mackay
Voltairine de Cleyre (early)
Franz Oppenheimer
Gustave de Molinari
Herbert Spencer (early)
Auberon Herbert
Wordsworth Donisthorpe
Rose Wilder Lane
Robert LeFevre
Murray Rothbard
David Friedman
Randy Barnett
Samuel E. Konkin 3.0
Hans-Hermann Hoppe

It’s obvious what the two lists have in common: all the names on both lists belong to thinkers who have favoured radically free markets and the abolition of the state – hence, one might infer, market anarchists.

But it’s quite common in left-anarchist circles to insist that while the Group 1 thinkers are genuine anarchists, those in Group 2 are not true anarchists at all – on the grounds that true anarchists must oppose not only the state but also capitalism. Group 1, we’re told, is commendably anti-capitalist and so authentically anarchist; but the members of Group 2 exclude themselves from the anarchist ranks by their advocacy of capitalism. (I’m not sure into which group geolibs like Albert J. Nock and Frank Chodorov, or migrating thinkers like Karl Hess, are supposed to fall, so I left their names off.)

I am not a fan, needless to say, of this putative distinction between “true” and “false” market anarchists. I plan to criticise the case for the distinction in fuller detail on a future occasion; for now I’ll limit myself to two major points.

Benjamin R. Tucker First: those who draw this distinction are hardly ever market anarchists themselves. They are more often anarcho-communists or anarcho-collectivists who regard both Group 1 and Group 2 as making unacceptable concessions to economic individualism. (Indeed they often dismiss even their favoured Group 1 – apart from Proudhon, anyway – as “Stirnerites,” even though most of the Group 1 thinkers developed their views independently of Max Stirner; in fact even Tucker, the clearest “Stirnerite” of the lot, was already a committed market anarchist before he’d ever encountered Stirner’s ideas.) When anti-market anarchists propose to decide who is and who isn’t a genuine market anarchist, it’s a bit like Christians demanding the right to adjudicate the dispute between Shi’ites and Sunnis. (One suspects that some of the anti-market folks would really like to purge both groups of market anarchists, but the anarchist credentials of Group 1 are too well-established for that to be a practical solution.)

Rather than inquiring as to the opinions of anti-market anarchists, then, it would seem more relevant to know whether the Group 1 thinkers regarded Group 2 as fellow-anarchists or not. And in fact such Group 2 luminaries as Molinari, Donisthorpe, and the early Spencer were indeed all hailed in the pages of Tucker’s Liberty (the chief American organ of individualist anarchism, which published most of the Group 1 writers) as anarchists – and Herbert as a near-anarchist. (Donisthorpe even wrote both for Liberty and for the journal of the Liberty and Property Defence League – thus bridging a supposedly unbridgeable ideological gulf.) Thus America’s leading Group 1 spokesman, while certainly critical of Group 2 thinkers on various points, apparently had no problem recognising them as fellow-anarchists. (Compare also the largely favourable attitude today of Tuckerite Kevin Carson toward Rothbardians and Konkinites.)

Nor was this because Tucker was especially generous with the term “anarchist.” On the contrary, Tucker withheld the term from anarcho-communists like Johann Most, Pëtr Kropotkin, and the Haymarket martyrs; from Tucker’s point of view, it was they, not the Spencerians, who were “false” anarchists. Needless to say, I don’t advocate following Tucker’s example on this point; one parochialism is no improvement over the other. But the fact that the editor of Liberty – who always called his position “consistent Manchesterism” – felt less close to contemporary anarcho-communists than to the forerunners of “anarcho-capitalism” (for surely Tucker’s views on Molinari and the radical Spencerians seem like the best guide we could have to what his views would most likely have been on Rothbard, Friedman, etc.) tells against the simplistic division of market anarchists into socialistic sheep and capitalistic goats. (Indeed the contributors to Liberty cited Spencer as often as they did Proudhon; while, for that matter, Karl Marx complained that Proudhon himself was more respectful toward quasi-anarchic classical liberals like Charles Dunoyer than toward revolutionary communists like Étienne Cabet.)

Second: it’s thoroughly unclear by what criteria Group 1 and Group 2 are supposed to be distinguished. Defenders of the dichotomy insist that Group 1 is “anti-capitalist” while Group 2 is “pro-capitalist”; but in order for this to be a useful marker it needs to be substantive, not merely terminological. The fact that Group 1 thinkers tend to use “socialism” as a virtue-word and “capitalism” as a vice-word, while Group 2 thinkers tend to do the reverse, by itself means little; because the two groups clearly do not mean the same things by these terms. Most Group 2 thinkers use the term “capitalism” to mean an unregulated free market, and use the term “socialism” to mean government control; most Group 1 thinkers use those terms differently, but agree with their Group 2 counterparts in favouring free markets and opposing government control, by whatever names they may call them. In Thomas Hobbes’s words: “Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools.”

Given the enormous variability in the use of the term “capitalism,” then, it will hardly do to base a crucial distinction among antistate thinkers on their attitudes to some undefined abstraction called “capitalism.” We need to know what specific positions are supposed to divide Group 1 and Group 2. But it’s awfully hard to find positions that divide the two groups in the desired way.

Is it their stand on the labour theory of value? Except insofar as that translates into policy differences, what difference does that make?

Sweet Land of Anarchy Is it their stand on the wages system and the exploitation of labour by capital? By that standard, Group 2 thinkers Spencer, Konkin, and Friedman, who favoured abolition of wage labour, all belong in Group 1, while Molinari and Donisthorpe, who favoured reforming the wages system to shift the power balance in workers’ favour, fall somewhere between the two groups.

Is it their stand on land ownership and rent? By that standard Spencer, in rejecting land ownership entirely, is more “socialistic” than Tucker and so belongs in Group 1, while Spooner, in endorsing absentee landlordism, is more “capitalistic” than Tucker and so belongs in Group 2.

Is it their stand on protection agencies and private police as quasi-governmental? By that standard Tucker, Tandy, and Proudhon, who all favoured private police, belong in “pseudo-anarchistic” Group 2, while LeFevre, who rejected all violence even for defensive purposes, would have to be moved to Group 1.

Is it their stand on intellectual property? By that standard, IP fan Spooner would have to be assigned to the “pro-property” Group 2, while most present-day Rothbardians, as IP foes, would need to be shifted to the “anti-property” Group 1.

Is it their stand on the legitimacy of interest? Well, perhaps in the abstract; but both sides tend to predict a drastic fall in the price of loans as the result of free competition in the credit industry; and both deny that it will fall to zero. Group 1 thinkers tend to call this nonzero residuum “cost” while Group 2 thinkers tend to call it “interest”; ho-hum. This seems a weak reed to burden with so weighty a dichotomy.

None of the criteria I’ve most often seen appealed to, then, seem to divide the two groups in the desired manner based on concrete positions. I suspect what actually drives proponents of the purported dichotomy is no specific policy dispute but rather a general feeling that Group 2’s pro-market rhetoric is a cover for a rationalisation of the power relations that prevail in existing corporate capitalism, while Group 1’s likewise pro-market rhetoric – however misguided it may appear in the eyes of the dichotomists – is not. And that perception in turn is based, I suspect, on the fact that Group 2 thinkers are more likely than Group 1 thinkers to fall into what Kevin Carson has labeled “vulgar libertarianism,” that is, the error of treating defenses of the free market as though they served to justify various features of the prevailing not-so-free order.

Now it’s true enough that Group 2 is more liable to this unfortunate tendency than is Group 1. But:

a) few Group 2 thinkers commit the error consistently;

b) some Group 2 thinkers (e.g. Konkin, or 1960s Rothbard – or Hess, if he counts as Group 2) don’t seem to commit it much at all;

c) vulgar-libbin’ seems no worse an error, no stronger a reason to kick somebody out of the anarchist club, than, say, Proudhon’s egregious misogyny and anti-Semitism; and

d) if confusing free markets with corporate capitalism isn’t grounds to disqualify anti-market anarchists (who often seem to commit the same error in the opposite direction), why should it be grounds to disqualify vulgar-libbers?

Hence I see no defensible grounds for accepting any dichotomy between Groups 1 and 2. They are all market anarchists – with various virtues and various flaws, but comrades all.

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29 Responses to Against Anarchist Apartheid

  1. Presto April 1, 2007 at 1:18 am #

    Well said, Roderick. We all want to get rid of the state. We are comrades in that, after all. What comes after that is, of course, a great subject for debate. I suspect that the details will work themselves out over time as people experiment. So why are anarchists so hard on each other? Debates on theory are cool. In fact, I find them stimulating. But flame wars drive me crazy. People shouldn’t be handing out “Market Anarchist Seals of Approval(tm)” or denying them to others.

  2. Lady Aster April 1, 2007 at 1:42 am #


    I would partially at least defend this divison- specifically speaking as a market-anarchist. I do think left-anarchists and market anarchists share something in common which justly excludes most anarcho-capitalist theorists.

    When I think of myself as an anarchist, what I *primarily* consider important is not that I oppose the state, but that I oppose dominance, heirarchy and authority as ways of organising human affairs- and then oppose the state as that insitution which most clearly by definition embodies these evils. This is, as I understand it, also the concept of anarchism endorsed by left-anarchists, and I think it excludes most anarcho-capitalists not because of opposition to capitalism (which I share) or anti-market prejudice (which I don’t), but because these theorists have no objection to heirarchy and domination as such. Indeed, more than one of them- Hans Hermann Hoppe being the blackest mark on the chart here- explicitly supports a level of heirarchy *greater* than that of our current system’s. Murray Rothbard’s ‘Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature’ is to my mind an inherently anti-anarchistic document.

    Left-anarchist theorists claim that a reduction of the anarchist concept to anti-statism is an ahistorical misrepresentation of the core of the political philosophy, and I think this is a fair objection even if many contemporary left-anarchists mix it up (sometimes deliberately) with an ideological distaste for the market which I don’t think is an essentially anarchist characteristic.

    Now, I do think it’s possible for an anarcho-cappie theorist to *also* share the anarchist essential of desiring a society free of heirarchy and authority. But it’s hardly a common occurence, and I think the reason (which is smelt clearly by the average anarchist) is that the psychology attracted to ‘capitalism’ as a label often sees nothing wrong with privilege, orders, and bosses- and in fact is often attracted to libertarianism as an ideology which too often paints capitalist empire-building as simply the natural and just extension of the individual pursuit of happiness. So while I don’t think anarcho-capitalists should be excluded from anarchism becase of their capitalism, I do think the motives, priorities, and sense of life which animate anarcho-capitalism are by nature contrary to the defining characteristics of anarchist.

    Market anarchists, by contrast, do oppose heirarchy and authority as such- and this to my mind explains the distinct tonal difference between Thoreau and Tucker, on the one hand- and Rothbard and Hoppe on the other. I’m certainly aware there are innumerable border cases, and it there are cases where I find my own similarities with anarcho-capitalists more important than my similarities with left-anarchists, but outside of technical politics it always feels to me that market and left- anarchists ‘get it’ about bosses in a way anarcho-capitalists be definition and in most instances usually don’t. Basically I think that if you have no problem and no political concern with people being on top of others and only oppose coercion, you’re an antistatist libertarian with some convergent conclusions with anarchism but not an anarchist except by a misleading coinage of words.

    And besides, anarcho-cappies are members of the Judean Peoples’ Front, and they have cooties.

  3. Administrator April 1, 2007 at 2:02 am #


    Fair points, but — by the same reasoning, wouldn’t Proudhon’s endorsement of patriarchy (a fairly extreme endorsement even by early 19th-century standards — he was widely regarded as “over the top” on that issue) rule him out as an anarchist? Which would be awkward, since he’s the one who coined the term, and is nearly always included in the left-anarchist canon.

    Stirner is another tricky case; at least on some interpretations, he favoured each person trying their hardest to dominate everybody else. Yet he’s in the left-anarchist canon too.

    Meanwhile on the so-called right-anarchist side, not everyone is pro-hierarchy; the early Spencer was fairly pro-feminist (not just in terms of legal rights but also in terms of social mores), and as I said both Spencer and Konkin opposed wage labour. (Plus Rothbard thought libertarians qua libertarians should oppose nonstate forms of domination — he just considered feminism a form of domination. Thick libertarianism after all, but in the wrong direction.)

    Also, a number of left-anarchists, while opposing both violent and nonviolent forms of domination (often on “thick libertarian” grounds), have apparently defined anarchism solely in terms of the rejection of the violent forms, letting the concerns about the other forms come along by thickness rather than definitionally. Tucker, for example, defined anarchism as opposition to “government,” by which he meant not just the state but more or less what Rothbardians mean by “aggression.” Certainly he opposed forms of domination that went beyond “governemnt” as he defined it, and he expected anarchy to contribute to their diminution, but he apparently didn’t build it into the definition. And his test of whether his right-anarchist pen pals were true anarchists nearly always turned on whether they rejected the state — he would argue with them about economics but never made economic disagreements the dividing line between archy and anarchy.

    So I don’t think one can quite say that right-anarchists do and left-anarchists don’t reduce anarchism to antistatism; right-anarchism is often thicker, and left-anarchism often thinner, than that would imply.

  4. Mike Erwin April 1, 2007 at 3:39 am #

    Anarchists – in whatever sense – get caught in the crossfire between other political groups, particularly the statist left, the statist right, and the libertarian right. Many casual leftists assert that the state must protect against some market failures (usually environmental these days) and many casual libertarians regard socialism as the enemy and property as self-evident (and rarely look into socialist critics of property). In American history, when the Fascists and Marxists attack each other, they attack the anarchists too. For example, the IWW, not anarchist but mostly libertarian-socialist, took the hardest hits from the first and second Red Scares. All the large IWW shops in the 1950s switched from IWW membership to CIO membership to avoid HUAC’s persecution.

    From the late 19th century through the mid 20th century, a strong “workerist” class-struggle orientation defined anarchism. Although some were armed and some were pacifist, anarchists were interested in workerist class struggle, usually relying on economic struggle more than, if not instead of, political struggle.

    The statist left proposed different methods of workerist class struggle, if not different aims entirely (although the Communist Party itself would gradually shift from largely economic struggle towards political struggle). The right had no interest in workerist class struggle.

    It’s perfectly clear where Tucker and most of list one stood on these issues. Those using the LTV may have an easier time recognizing exploitation than those not doing so, and be more likely to support workers’ class struggle; similarly, those supporting working class struggle may have more uses for the LTV than those not doing so. (Not that there aren’t trade-offs between (S)LTV and S(L)TV in describing other phenomena). Those supporting working class struggle are more likely to call themselves socialists than those opposing such struggle.

    The labels don’t mean anything, but they usually show something.

    Since the mid-20th century, other issues (e.g. anti-racism, feminism, and environmentalism) have come up. On these standards, Proudhon doesn’t look so good.

    But politically, the social anarchists inherit one list of good guys (list one) (basically straight from Kropotkin’s article with some associates added) and the right-libertarians inherit another list, with either outright hostility to weakly-defined socialism (list one), or vague warnings about unsound economics and money-crankery (list one).

    Of course left-agorism fits the “workerist” class-struggle orientation fairly well. Social anarchists can include it in the left, with vague warnings about unsound economics and market-crankery, or exclude it for some or another reason. (Property? that excludes some syndicalists. Markets? that excludes all mutualists, some collectivists, and even more syndicalists, even before trying to define them.)

  5. Albert Esplugas April 1, 2007 at 5:33 am #

    Excellent post, Roderick.

    Lady Auster, if I have understood you, you claim that the distinction must be maintained because Group 1 and Group 2 don’t share an opposition to authority and hierarchy, which defines the anarchist position. On the contrary, left anarchist and market anarchist (group 1) share this opposition, so we certainly can label them anarchist.

    Apart from Roderick’s point about border cases and diversity of definitions, by considering that opposition to authority and hierarchy defines the anarchist position you are excluding thinkers that don’t favor aggression (initiation of force) and including thinkers that favor aggression (left anarchists willing to use force to achieve their allegedly non-hierarchic goals), making the opposition to hierarchy and authority (non-aggressive per se) more important than opposition to aggression. Why do you think is more important to share an opposition to hierarchy/authority than an opposition to aggression (to qualify for the anarchist label)? Why you dismiss anarcho-capitalists for not opposing hierarchy but don’t dismiss (non-market) left-anarchists for not opposing aggression? Roderick makes a similar point in his post, see d)

    By the way, I think that opposition to aggression is more important than opposition to non-aggressive forms of oppression (i.e. beating your wife is worse than insulting her; the first makes you a criminal, the second makes you a distasteful person and a bad husband), so I don’t think non-market left anarchist who approve aggression in the name of fighting oppression qualify as anarchists at all.

  6. Matt Jenny April 1, 2007 at 6:20 am #

    Very well said, Roderick! We should send this post to the folks at

    Lady Aster,

    I partly agree with you defending the above division. But, apart from what Roderick said about Proudhon’s misogyny and anti-Semitism (at least the latter can be found among some anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists too), I would like to add that the “left-anarchists'” anti-authoritarianism mustn’t be understood in absolute terms. A “left-anarchist” will admit that acknowledging differences among people and accepting voluntary forms of authority isn’t bad per se and is sometimes even neccessary for voluntary cooperation to work. Or in Bakunin’s words, whom I quoted here:

    Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me.

    Still, I agree that “left-anarchists” are sometimes “thicker” when it comes to anti-authoritarianism, but their accusation of anarcho-“capitalists” as lacking sufficient anti-authoritarianism can’t be extended to anacho-“capitalism” as a political philosophy. Anarcho-“capitalism” is just as anti-authoritarian as anacho-communism or anarcho-syndicalism since they all oppose imposed authority (aggression). Thus, it would be nice to see section F of the Anarchist FAQ (“Is ‘anarcho’-capitalism a type of anarchism?”) reduced to a critique of certain anarcho-“capitalists”. Who knows how much sooner I would’ve taken a look at the writings of Rothbard or Friedman if the Anarchist FAQ hadn’t told me that they are evil defenders of state capitalist oppression and exploitation. (By which I’m not implying that it would’ve been a great loss for anyone except myself… 😉 )

  7. Geoffrey Allan Plauche April 1, 2007 at 10:28 am #

    I think the points Matt Jenny makes are good ones. Not all forms of hierarchy/authority are bad. It depends on the source of that authority. If it is based on aggression, it is clearly bad. There are also others. But authority based simply on charisma, character, and leadership is not bad. I think it must be admitted that Rothbard had a point in his Egalitarianism. People are not equal in that radical egalitarian sense, so some natural hierarchy and authority will probably always exist.

    And I don’t see how the existence of wage labor, when there are plenty of alternatives, is necessarily bad. If a person can choose among a number of worker’s coops, being self-employed, or a number of wage jobs, then I don’t see the problem with him working for someone else for a wage. Anarcho-capitalists, excluding their vulgar libertarian moments, generally aren’t in favor of one of the bad forms of hierarchy/authority.

  8. Shawn P. Wilbur April 1, 2007 at 1:37 pm #

    Hmm. While I’m obviously in favor of getting from inherited ideological prejudices down to practices and potential points of agreement, I have to say that I think you hit a few sour notes here, Roderick. “Apartheid” seems like the wrong way to talk about a division which has not been, after all, solely the construction of some empowered and intolerant “left-anarchism.” The Column 1/Column 2 distinction is a historical one, and whatever wall has been built had help from both sides. As a historical distinction, taking into account actual personal and organizational connections, the division we’ve inherited is, of course, perfectly intelligible. A number of Column 2 figures took pains to distinguish themselves from the figures in Column 1, to the point, in some cases, of disavowing the word “anarchism.” We might follow Tucker’s example, and argue against the distinction, but, as you yourself say, it’s important not to deepen other divides in the process. As a market anarchist, working closely with Rothbardians and Konkinites, I’m sympathetic to exploring the real differences. As someone who moved towards mutualism in the midst of the debates that led to “An Anarchist FAQ,” I can attest to the fact that no faction had a monopoly on divisive rhetoric or outright bile.

  9. Administrator April 1, 2007 at 2:51 pm #


    I certainly agree that both sides have contributed to the divide — but Group 2 folks have rarely denied that Group 1 folks are anarchists, and it’s that specific terminological point I was focusing on. Since I spend a lot of time defending the left and beating up on the right, I thought it was only fair to focus this time on an error of the left, as this terminological point seems to be.

    (Also, FWIW I don’t believe Spooner ever called himself an anarchist either.)

  10. labyrus April 1, 2007 at 9:05 pm #

    Speaking as a left-anarchist right now: in all honesty, and with no offence intended, why should I care whether market anarchists, anarcho-capitalists want to call themselves anarchists, socialists, liberals or anything else? Why should Market anarchists care if people on the left want to call them less than genuine anarchists?

    By and large, Left-anarchists feel comfortable using the term anarchist to describe only ourselves because we have a history as a social movement (not just as an intellectual movement) and a collective identity built on it. Most of us have never even heard of most of the names on either list (most recent left-anarchist publications are likely to mention Proudhon* and Voltarine de Cleyre, but not the rest), and when someone starts talking about market anarchism, we get suspicious.

    Why? Well, because the current generation of radicals has grown up with a lot of neo-liberal rhetoric being used to justify maquiladoras, police murder, and invasions. And market anarchist rhetoric sounds pretty similar to neo-liberal rhetoric on the surface, until you realize that market anarchism is actually sincere.

    In my mind, looking for points of ideological agreement between the two camps might be an interesting project, but it doesn’t really have that much point. The sort of revolutionary work that left-anarchists do isn’t something that I see very many market anarchists being interested in, so whether or not we’re able to aknowledge eachother as fellow travellers, we’re still going to be working towards dismantling hierarchy from radically different directions.

    Personally I’m pretty open to market anarchist ideas, but I’m aware that that’s an oddity in most left-anarchist circles. But as far as I’m concerned, a more friendly, lively communication between left-anarchists and market anarchists might be nice, but I don’t see it as helping us actually build the kind of society we all want. And I’m more interested in doing the work to get us to a point where the differences we have about what that society should look like even matter than I am in arguing about those differences.

    * as somewhat of an aside, I have heard it argued that Proudhon should indeed be kicked out of the “anarchist club” on account of his misogyny quite a bit in left-anarchist circles. Certainly his ideas aren’t really held in very high esteem by most of us, but he is generally viewed as genuinely a part of our history in a way that most of the people on both of your lists are not.

  11. Administrator April 1, 2007 at 10:12 pm #

    The sort of revolutionary work that left-anarchists do isn’t something that I see very many market anarchists being interested in

    That may be beginning to change. See the Agorist Action Alliance and the Alliance of the Libertarian Left.

  12. Shawn P. Wilbur April 2, 2007 at 8:30 am #


    Perhaps my dissatisfaction comes from the absence of “Group 0,” the communist and collectivist figures who we know (as you mention) even self-proclaimed “socialist” market anarchists were likely to read out of the movement, at least in the heat of rhetorical battle. I would be surprised if Spooner called himself an anarchist. I’m not certain that William B. Greene did, although he did speak positively of anarchism late in his life. Joshua King Ingalls and Lewis Masquerier, more or less of that same generation, can also be counted among the important anarchists who never took on the term. The term, after all, wasn’t in general circulation until the 1870s.

    As for those who identify with Group 2 attempting to “banish” those who identify with Group 1, we’re both certainly familiar with the “can’t go shopping; mutualists will occupy my home” crowd.

    And, while I feel like some aspects of “An Anarchist FAQ” are unfortunate, it still represents one of the most extensive examinations of market anarchism produced by any facet of the modern movement. If there has been any comparable examination “from the other side,” I’m unaware of it. The print version of the “FAQ” is in preparation right now, and any constructive criticism at this point would undoubtedly be welcome.

  13. william April 2, 2007 at 10:31 am #

    Also I’d like to add that I think this focus on “aggression” or “hierarchy” to be misleading in their macroscopic specificity.

  14. Administrator April 2, 2007 at 11:27 am #


    I certainly didn’t omit discussion of “Group 0,” as you call them, out of any feeling that they weren’t valuable, or weren’t anarchists. I’ve found much to value in folks like Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Berkman, Malatesta, Bookchin, et al. I wasn’t attempting to tackle in this post the entire spectrum of left/right anarchist issues, just one fairly narrow issue — namely the question whether the division, common among left-anarchists, of market anarchism into “authentic” “socialist” and “fake” “capitalist” versions was really tracking actual policy differences.


    Interesting post! But I think you’re a bit too hard on both the anarcho-communists and the anarcho-capitalists; I also think there’s some tension between your critiques of each side. In order for the strength with which you slam the anarcho-capitalists to be valid, I think the degree of vulgar libertarianism among anarcho-capitalists would have to be higher than it is; conversely, in order for the strength with which you slam the anarcho-communist critics of anarcho-capitalism to be valid, I think the degree of vulgar libertarianism among anarcho-capitalists would have to be lower than it is!

    The silver lining in the cloud of vulgarity is that few libertarians are consistently vulgar-libertarian; even those who are worst so (e.g. Ayn Rand) tend to shift from being corporate apologists in one context to slamming corporate privilege in another. I think most of the folks in my Group 2 (Hans Hoppe is arguably an exception, but I’ll maintain my claim for the others) list do reject “rulership” generally; they just don’t follow through consistently on that commitment — still, they do so fitfully.

    Since I regard most anarcho-capitalists as less thoroughly vulgar-libertarian than you do, I can’t agree with your judgment that most of them are “obviously, plainly and resoundingly not anarchists.” But by the same token, given the degree to which vulgar-libertarianism does prevail among anarcho-capitalists, I can empathise with the kneejerk reaction many anarchists have against anarcho-capitalism even if I don’t agree with it, so I also can’t agree with your characterisation of such left-anarchists as “assholes” and “stalinists.” So I guess I counter your curse on both houses with a (moderate) blessing on both houses.

    Cool blog and FAQ, by the way. I’ll add it to the ALL list.

  15. Mike April 2, 2007 at 12:15 pm #

    Having read both this post and William’s fantastic response, I see the problem slightly differently. From my perspective as a “newbie” anarchist and libertarian, I see the issue as one of unwillingness to see change and evolution – its as if the term anarchy is set in stone and is static, never changing.

    I think we all accept that anarchy means “without rulers”. I think we all can agree that voluntary association and cooperation rather than coercion and non-voluntary hierarchy are the preferred cornerstones of anarchy. Everything beyond that is, in my opinion, implementation details and I don’t think there is one true set of implementation instructions. I also think that those on either side that think that anarchism can only be expressed by adhering to the thoughts of particular thinkers and not others, like Prudhon or Mises or Rothbard or Kropotkin, miss the entire idea that anarchism itself is ever evolving. The idea of anarchism did not freeze in time 100 years ago, nor will it be the same 100 years from now.

    At the risk of channeling Hegel, the ideas of both sides can come together to form a new, fresh version. Social Anarchists certainly have great ideas and insights from the social perspective while market anarchists and ancaps have a great deal of insights from the economic perspective. The tow together can be quite powerful and liberating, if we’d stop arguing and start listening for a change.

    Of course, I’m an anarchist not because I want to belong to the “right” club, I’m an anarchist because I want to get rid of the state and non-voluntary corporate structures, because I think we can do a lot better in a society of truly free and voluntary exchanges between people – a free market – and because I want real liberty. If decide to do that via market anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism or anarcho- capitalism, who cares, so long as I don’t coerce or make others join in involuntarily. I don’t see how that doesn’t make me an anarchist.

    I read Hess, Rothbard, Chomsky, Goldman, The Anarchist FAQ, Proudhon, Kevin Carson and many others across the spectrum before I decided to become an anarchist. I like them all, they all have good things to say. And I’m an anarchist because I think I am, not because I need the blessings of one group or another.

  16. william April 2, 2007 at 12:38 pm #

    “In order for the strength with which you slam the anarcho-capitalists to be valid, I think the degree of vulgar libertarianism among anarcho-capitalists would have to be higher than it is; conversely, in order for the strength with which you slam the anarcho-communist critics of anarcho-capitalism to be valid, I think the degree of vulgar libertarianism among anarcho-capitalists would have to be lower than it is!”

    Hah! That’s actually a really interesting point/outlook. But I think your framework there presumes that criticism of one body’s behavior (social anarchism) towards another another body (ancaps) is dependent upon the nature of that latter party. To the contrary, we could be attacking neocons, it would still be inexcusable to use certain dishonest, small-minded, reactionary and populist tactics in our attacks upon them. And that would still be more than reason enough to criticize my own side, which I have higher expectations for.

    I guess I would go with the classic example: We should damn well fight back the fascists in the streets and, if it the day comes to it take up arms against them and put a bullet in every swastika-tattooed forehead. BUT. We will never be justified to censor them. Because the truth, open discourse is ON OUR SIDE. There are some tactics that the use thereof can only serve to corrupt us.

    Similarly, refusing to accept that the definition of the term “capitalism” has seriously changed in many sectors of society and blindly hatemongering and presuming to deny entry into anarchism on a such a technicality (when there are better reasons) is clearly, in my opinion, immature and stalinistic. Whenever we resort to populist tactics we loose a bit of our soul and maybe the anarcho-commies who have led this crusade so fervently never really had that bit, but I don’t want to see the rest of the social anarchist movement dragged down by the inquisition.

    (And furthermore I think there’s a hell of a lot of really cool, desperately needed stuff within anarcho-capitalism that could make our movement better.)

    As to my talk of absolute depravity among ancaps. 😉 Okay, well it’s not THAT bad. …From a conventional perspective. On the whole they tend to be just a little bit better all around than the centrist public. But, frankly, that doesn’t add up to a hill of beans with my friends and, they’re right. From our vantage point the ancaps are hopelessly conservative.

    And yeah, Hoppe IS a rather deep exception (and what I’ve seen of Friedman would likewise throw him out). But fits of anti-authoritarianism don’t really prove much. Even the Democrats and the Republicans have been known to have fits of anti-authoritarianism. (To invoke some sort of anarchist equivalent to Godwin’s law.)

  17. Lady Aster April 2, 2007 at 6:04 pm #

    Michael Erwin?

    Did you go to high school in Northern Virginia? If you’re the Mike Erwin I think you are, then please email me privately at I think I may know you.

    Lady Aster

  18. Matthew April 2, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    I think it’s almost impossible not to make distinctions between differing kinds of anarchists. I know that while I’m both a socialist and an anarchist, I like blogs like this one and Brad Spangler’s because I sense that we all have similar ideas of the sort of world we want to end up with. I also get the feeling that we have similar motivations.

    So when I’m dividing up anybody into for me/against me categories in my head, I tend to look at those things first and ideology second.

    There are still, as has been said above eloquently a few times, some really nasty pieces of work on the anarcho-capitalist side, and the libertarian-minarchist side more broadly. When I read some of the comments or blogs floating around, the sense of entitlement and disgust that pervades them is sickening. It feels for a minute like every bad cliche about guys who were born on third base and think they hit a triple might be right.

    Of course, we could lay down myriad sins at the feet of every self-identified socialist anarchist as well, market or not.

    I think there are a couple of reasons why it might be easier for the left anarchist tradition to react with emotional violence against the anarcho capitalist movment.

    First, there seems to be an almost complete ignorance out there of the debt modern market anarchists owe to folks who proudly described themselves as socialists. (I know that such ignorance does not exist on this blog, of course, but just suggest to the average Catoid that his policy, the very word that describes his outlook, once belonged to syndicalists and commies.)

    Second, a lot of the prominent anarcho capitalists are either still alive or died within living memory. It’s a lot easier to forgive the dead than the living for their errors. We can admire Emma Goldman and forget about that nasty incident when she tried to assassinate a guy. Ditto Proudhon and his horrible misogyny. We can say that they lived in a different time, and were products of that time. It’s harder to forgive misogyny in a self-described libertarian who lived during the 20th Century feminism movement. The learning curve should have been shorter.

    I don’t know if we’ll all start working together, or if we’re going to have to wait 20 or 30 years for everyone’s mistakes to fade a bit. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

    I like to keep in mind that when I say “anarchist” to most people, they think I’m crazy no matter what modifier I might want to tack on. We have a lot more in common than we think.

  19. Administrator April 2, 2007 at 10:59 pm #

    but just suggest to the average Catoid that his policy, the very word that describes his outlook, once belonged to syndicalists and commies

    Ironically, the title of Cato newsletter’s monthly clippings file, “To Be Governed …,” is from a Proudhon quote.

  20. Erick April 3, 2007 at 4:12 am #

    Even Hoppe’s vulgarness is debatable, given his paper “Austrian and Marxist Class Analysis”.

  21. Administrator April 3, 2007 at 11:04 am #

    And then there’s Rand, who would write quite insightfully about the neofascist interaction between statism, militarism, and corporate privilege in one essay, and then call the military-industrial complex “a myth or worse” in another.

  22. harryr (Sydney) June 1, 2007 at 1:54 am #

    Just found this blog and comments, from a link in a thread on the Infoshop forum.
    I envy you lot this sort of discussion, just doesn’t exist here in Oz. Not even on the net. I know there are ancaps here cos they post at anti-state etc. but here they are invisible. The only libertarians in Oz with any public presence are a few minarchists. You lot at least have the potential of going beyond discussion and debate.
    Some of that division is due to culture, we are divided by our haircuts, as well as our history, ideas etc. Ansocs has since the 60’s become a youth cultue ghetto; both sides of the divide are embedded in broader political cultures of the left and right. Many of us are more culturally comfortable with those statists who share our political culture, than those anarcho aliens with their weird ideas, funny clothes, and bad taste in music.
    Another Yankland debate that isn’t happining here, is the one on post leftist anarchism, which examines the whole history of the relationship between ansocs and the left. Maybe you ancaps should have a post rightist debate. That might lead to some positve results for the ansoc/ancap engagement.
    labyrus said,
    “Speaking as a left-anarchist right now: in all honesty, and with no offence intended, why should I care whether market anarchists, anarcho-capitalists want to call themselves anarchists, socialists, liberals or anything else? Why should Market anarchists care if people on the left want to call them less than genuine anarchists?”
    “In my mind, looking for points of ideological agreement between the two camps might be an interesting project, but it doesn’t really have that much point. The sort of revolutionary work that left-anarchists do isn’t something that I see very many market anarchists being interested in, so whether or not we’re able to aknowledge eachother as fellow travellers, we’re still going to be working towards dismantling hierarchy from radically different directions”
    Good points, It matters because neither side of the divide is strong enough alone to have much impact when comes to activism. It matters because as long as either factions lines up with statist allies we remain indistinquishable from them. Because not all of us ansocs identify as revolutionaries whatever that means. Because there’s a fuckin war going on and a ansoc/ancap anti war movement seems like a pretty good idea to me. Because the state is eroding are freedoms and it would be nice to have allies on the same page on these issues, without the historical baggage that trotskyists stalinists and conservatives bring with them. Because any ansoc revolution is going to have to engage with ancaps at some point or we will wind up in a humungous clusterfuck.

  23. crypto March 8, 2008 at 4:16 pm #

    Anarcho-syndicalists are not anarchists. They want to eliminate the state and form a new totalitarian socialist state, but where there is no dictatorship of the proletariat.

    The difference between Communists and Anarcho-syndicalists is just the existence of the dictatorship of the proletariat.


  1. » Blog Archive » Odds and Ends - April 6, 2007

    […] Roderick Long had a pretty good post a few days ago that you shouldn’t miss — Against Anarchist Apartheid, regarding the usual squabbles. Notable also is the combination defense and rebuttal of Long’s piece by William Gillis, who points out where we Rothbardians are frequently in the wrong. Gillis is mostly right in my opinion, and that’s largely due in my opinion to most Rothbardians neither sufficiently grasping agorist class theory nor the anti-political, action-based outlook derived as a consequence of Konkin’s theory of revolution). But that’s just me. Notable also is that the word “anti-capitalism” seems to be a sort of “unification” word between some anarchists and anarchist-friendly radicals who aren’t quite there on the A-word yet. As Gillis notes, in much antagonism over a word, it is frequently overlooked that so-called anarcho-”capitalists” (and agorists even more so) are actually anti-capitalist if by capitalism […]

  2. Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-01 – Benjamin Tucker on Anarcho-Capitalism - December 2, 2007

    […] Social anarchists and anarcho-capitalists spend quite a bit of time fighting with each other over who gets to claim the individualist anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th century. The anarcho-capitalists point out the Liberty circle’s relentless emphasis on free markets, free competition, individually-held property, and opposition to communism. The social anarchists point out Tucker et al.’s self-identification as socialists, their relentless explicit attacks on the capitalist and landlord classes, their identification with nonviolent forms of labor militancy, and their analysis of interest on loans, rent on land, profits from the hiring out of capital, etc. as the creatures of state-fabricated privileges to the propertied classes. I don’t want to get too deep into these exegetical arguments right now; I’ve already discussed some of the semantic difficulties involved elsewhere (1, 2, 3, etc.), and Roderick has a couple of excellent posts on the topic at Austro-Athenian Empire (2007-04-01): Against Anarchist Apartheid and more recently Austro-Athenian Empire (2007-11-11): Voltairine de Cleyre, Anarcho-capitalist? For now, suffice it to say that both sides of the argument are substantially right, and substantially wrong; many anarcho-capitalists have been maddeningly selective, and substantially distorted the individualists in order to obscure or neglect the socialistic bite of the individualist understanding of class, privilege, and exploitation. But the social anarchists have also cut a lot of corners in explaining the individualists’ positions, which mostly serve to make Tucker, Spooner, Yarros, de Cleyre, etc. seem much more monolithic than they actually were, and to make them seem significantly less propertarian, and more friendly towards collectivistic and communistic socialism, than they actually were. Meanwhile the social anarchists’ reconstruction of anarcho-capitalist theory is so ferociously uncharitable, and so far out of touch with the versions of anarcho-capitalism espoused by central figures such as Karl Hess and Murray Rothbard in the period of Left and Right and Libertarian Forum, that frankly they ought to be embarrassed to show it in public. […]

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