Monday, August 22, 2005

Reclaiming the Left

Thomas Knapp addresses email and blog comments in an article posted on Free Market News last week. Here’s what he says to a correspondent who questions the term “Left Libertarian”:

The left/right dichotomy, of course, has served as a source of irritation to libertarians for many years. As that dichotomy has evolved in various, seemingly contradictory directions, its associated scale has become less and less relevant to libertarians — we seem torn between a “rightward” direction on economics and a “leftward” direction on civil liberties...except, of course, when the “right” happens to be imposing economic controls or the “left” seems to be advocating censorship.

Nonetheless, I believe that a plausible case can be made for placing libertarianism historically on the political “left” and for a libertarian reclamation of “left” values and the “left” banner. I’ll leave the extended historical case to others to make for the moment (I highly recommend Wally Conger’s “Why Not Reclaim the Left?” and “Why Not Reclaim the Left? Redux”). My observations as to the current state of the “libertarian left” are as follows:

  • The split between “socialist” or “communist” anarchists and “market” anarchists has a long history; however, that breach seems to be healing somewhat as “market” anarchists find their nominal allies on the right moving away from economic freedom as a value while leaning ever further toward the authoritarian in other realms. As time goes on, market anarchists find their nominal position on the political right less and less tenable — and there seem to be some indications that their fellow anarchists are becoming more amenable to market ideas. Fusionism may yet deliver some mix of the Rothbardian and Konkinite visions.
  • Within the realm of state political action, the right has similarly continued down the authoritarian road it was always on, while throwing its formerly free-market rhetoric overboard. The failure of the right to deliver when in power has created an opportune space in which the left may examine — and hopefully purge — its own authoritarian contaminations while also reconsidering its economic orientation.

Is it likely that the “libertarian left” will find itself populated to some degree by people of various degrees of statist orientation? Absolutely. The same is, and has always been, true of the Libertarian Party and the “libertarian right.” However, the left impulse is anti-authoritarian and the right impulse is authoritarian. For that reason, it is the left which has at hand the tools to correct its course — the right is lost to us at least for the moment, and has never been fit as a long-term anti-authoritarian vessel in any case.

As in any other sphere of human interaction, there are no guarantees in politics. However, I believe that a robust, anti-statist, anti-authoritarian, libertarian left can be built and that it can fulfill vital needs within the freedom movement.

Once again, three cheers for Kn@ppster and the work he’s doing for This Movement of Ours.

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At 8:02 PM, Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Shawn Wilbur at Libertatia Labs has a lot to say about that ancient split between individualist and communist anarchists. Some of the worst vitriol was in exchanges between Tucker and Most, each of whom denied that the other was a "real anarchist."

On the other hand, there's a lot of relevance for today in the attempted fusionism of people like Voltarine DeCleyre ("anarchism without adjectives") and Dyer Lum and Joseph Labadie (both of whom were largely Tuckerite in economics but had friendly ties with the IWW and favored radical syndicalist tactics in industry).

At 9:08 PM, Blogger B.W. Richardson said...

Maybe I need to keep reading, because I ain't buying it. The "left" and the Democratic Party have been pushing statist solutions to most problems at least since FDR. It was the rhetoric of Reagan that got me started down the libertarian path (Please note I said the "rhetoric" of Reagan; I'm fully aware his presidency did not live up to his promise), and I don't see anyone on the "left" seriously endorsing non-statist solutions. I still believe the better path is the harder path -- getting people to understand that neither branch of the Big Government Party can be trusted and bringing us back to our roots. Reason for hope: The vast majority of us bought into Reagan's rhetoric, even if we missed the fact that he didn't practice what he preached. We instinctively know government is not the solution to the problem ...

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to comment on this quote: "The split between “socialist” or “communist” anarchists and “market” anarchists has a long history;" That's true (as kevin carson says), but on the other hand, it was possible for "market" anarchists like Tucker to consider themselves socialists. Socialism, at its core, doesn't really have anything to do with redistributionism, but with who controls the means of production. A system in which the workers control the means of production is a socialist system, whether the workers control the means of production through market means (e.g. mutualism and worker-ownership of firms) or through communist means (e.g. syndicalism). I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, either. In a society where property ownership was based on occupancy and use rather than state-granted title, both mutualism and syndicalism would flourish. The main difference would be whether worker-owned firms dealt with each other mainly through the market or through federation.

For b.w. richardson's comment --- you have to look outside the Democratic Party, or at least outside the Beltway DP for your definition of "left", and I think you probably also need to take a more expansive view of what the state does. When you hear leftists bitching about corporations, they are bitching about government-chartered institutions that are granted special rights by the state. The anti-corporate and anti-NAFTA/CAFTA/FTAA movements are fundamentally non-statist, I think.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger EUGENE PLAWIUK said...

Well I certainly am out of step for the flack I have gotten from the right wing which does not equate libertarian with anything but Republican/Conservative ideology. Of course I asked for that flack by calling my blog a Libertarian Communist one.
Tucker was a socialist, albeit like Proudhon, one who did not yet appreciate that labour could be freed from wage slavery. That is he still thought labour produced goods, while Marx pointed out the sale of time not personal ability was what underscored modern capitalism.
Instead of market economies, lets talk about community control, worker control, about communities that are not dominated by capital. Marxists like Ellen Menkins Woods in her book on the Origin of Capitalism, point this out that Europe was not capitalist while England became so.
It shows historically that capitalism was not inevitable, but having become a form of self concious beast, now dominates the world, for itself, not for those of us who produce it.
The free marketers still belive in truck and trade, while the trillions that are made in the global marketplace daily are fictious capital, interest on monetary exchange and speculation.
Where you and I agree is the need to return to community interests, real self interest, that can only come about with the abolition of wage slavery.
As for the Democratic party well they always were elitist, however what happened to the libertarian socialist Republican Party of free now is the home of jingoist mercantilist jesus jumpers.
And by the way there are other parties in the world besides your elephant and jack ass, which seem very appropriate icons.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how many Anarchists can clog on a needle's point; it becomes essential to discover? The theological hair-splitting found in these interminable definitional discussions might hold the attention of Br. Duns Scotus, were he to mingle with us here on this secular plane, but few of these theses have any basis in fundamental, recognized Human Actions. I am reminded of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Putsch seeking revolutionary precedents in the French Revolution's bloody events. The Party Theoreticians noted several Thermidore Reactions, and the heads still landed in the Widow's basket, or, actually, the bodies in the gouged out mass human trash dumps, as another Final Solution was proclaimed.

At 10:17 PM, Blogger freeman said...

Where you and I agree is the need to return to community interests, real self interest, that can only come about with the abolition of wage slavery.

Community control, workers gaining control of their predicament and realizing their own self interests are certainly areas where we agree.

I must add though that each individual worker must come to his/her own realization of what exactly constitutes their own self interest. While I understand and appreciate the mindset that is opposed to wage slavery, not everyone would neccessarily choose to voluntary do away with it entirely. For this reason, I can't agree that the abolition of wage slavery is the ONLY way to realize everyone's self interest.

Additionally, I think that government and whatever interventions it carries out will always favor wealthy elitist interests. A truly free market is really nothing more than the total absense of government intervention in the marketplace, leaving each individual free to voluntarily choose how to organize and live their lives. If the abolition of wage slavery is to come about within those communities who see such a thing as being desirable, wouldn't it thus be true that a free market would be a sort of prerequisite for such a thing?

I'm not trying to make any declarative statements or anything, just trying to spark some thought/conversation on the issue.


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