The ideology of capitalism is indistinguishable from the ideology of the cancer cell — unlimited growth for the purposes of infinite expansion within a finite reality.
(Part One of an Ongoing Series: The Four Fundamental Freedoms of Libertarian Socialism)
Within the course of the modern moment, there has been this profound revival of the socialist movement as a direct and an indirect result of the immense degradation of society that has been experienced by the vast majority of all nations currently in existence. Unfortunately, the debate concerning socialism constitutes one of the worst forms of debate in politics where everyone has an opinion yet no one knows what it is that they are talking about. While the immense renewed popularity of socialism as a political philosophy is a remarkable development, it possesses the unfortunate side effect of obscuring the ideological tenets of such political philosophy nearly to the point in which it is beyond recognition as a coherent stance.
The core structure of socialism as a political philosophy is the notion that the various resources under the jurisdiction of society and the various institutions present within society should be directly under the democratically operated system of communal control in its entirety. Such is to be in direct contrast with the core structure of capitalism, which is a (socio)economic model predicated on the principle that political and economic jurisdiction is afforded to a distinct class of individuals that possess the power and authority to determine the direction in which a society progresses in. This distinct class of individuals manifests in the form of the capitalist class within the economic sphere for the purposes of acquiring revenue and accumulating profit on the basis of privatized property, and this distinct class of individuals manifests in the form of the legislative class within the political sphere to create as well as to enforce pieces of legislation that will maintain the hierarchical structures necessary for the support of the exploitative practices of the capitalist class.
In our current capitalist socioeconomic system, any individual or institution that aligns with the ideological concepts of socialism would advocate for a society structured on the premise that the means of production operating in conjunction with the distribution of goods and services will be maintained through common ownership within a democratic framework. In such regard, the political philosophy of libertarian socialism is the representation of socialism in its most thoroughly consistent application concerned with the politics of emancipation for the individual through the strategy of liberation for the collective, which is to be realized through a revolutionary movement comprised of the populace themselves against the forces of capitalism, statism, and any other form of socioeconomic oppression. Within these series of articles, we are going to explore how the inherent principle of libertarian socialism is established on the basis of freedom. Now, freedom within any libertarian socialist-striving society is not predicated on the falsified freedom allocated to distinct members of the populace under a capitalist structure in order to ensure that these members prove to be useful in reinforcing the capitalist structure, but rather freedom as utilized by libertarian socialists manifests itself within four significant manners: freedom from capitalism, freedom from the state, freedom from socioeconomic oppression, and freedom from the abuses of power. For the purposes of this article, we will be exploring one of — if not the — most controversial point, that of freedom from capitalism.
Survival within a capitalist structure is predicated on the principle that the individuals who do not own any form of private property (Such ideology of private property is merely a form of property in which an individual or a collection of individuals can acquire revenue and accumulate profit from.) are forced to provide their labour to the individuals who do own property for the purposes of the propertied minority to profit off of the work of the propertyless majority. There is this intrinsic dichotomy that has been omnipresent throughout the existence of capitalism: the divide between those who have and those who have not, perpetuated by the continual (class) exploitation of the haves against the have-nots. Such society is unable to articulate any vision to surmount the inherently problematic feature onto how the power that one individual were to possess is directly correlated with such one individual’s relation to their respective class position, as in, whether they are apart of the propertied minority or the propertyless majority. Essentially, by endowing a particular class of individuals with unfettered jurisdiction in every conceivable structure of power within society, the individual liberties afforded to the propertyless majority are minimized to the point in which the liberties are effectively eliminated entirely or at least rendered inert as to ensure that the populace will not be able to muster any form of sufficient resistance. Regardless of the fact, no significant development will occur within a capitalist society so long as such advancement is not directly connected to the profit motive to continuously enrich an individual or motley coalition of individuals.
The ideology of capitalism is indistinguishable from the ideology of the cancer cell — unlimited growth for the purposes of infinite expansion within a finite reality, even if such expansion were to manifest itself in the form of warfare or colonialism or imperialism or ecological destruction on an unprecedented scale. Considering how any corporate entity will not adhere to any imposed limitation to minimize the psychopathic pursuit of privatized profit, any socialist would have to be responsible for advocating a form of class struggle in which every singular individual rendered to be powerless by capitalist possesses the ability to be participatory in the reorganization of society in its entirety to be directly structured non-hierarchically as to be democratically operated (as well as being democratically accountable) to the populace themselves. Any effective socialist society would be able to eliminate the class-based structure in its entirety while effectively eliminating privatized profit accumulated from private property, while simultaneously ensuring that the socioeconomic institutions in existence would be able to sustain the needs and desires of the populace by effectively administering such byway of democratic institutions within the political and the economic sphere. Such is primarily predicated — if not solely established — on the premise onto the notable quote from Karl Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Program, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” in which Karl Marx refers to the free access to the distribution of goods and services respectively. By effectively eliminating the class dynamic between the propertied minority and the propertyless masses, justice within the economic sphere can be achieved by the reorganization of the workforce to become democratically managed by the workers themselves on a cooperative model that can effectively replace the private business model established for the purposes of the private acquisition of capital generated by extensive amounts of labour produced by an entire class of individuals who will never reap the entirety of the benefits which come from their labour.
Concerning how justice will be achieved within the political sphere, any form of public policy that will be directly impacting the lives of the members of a particular community should be decided upon by the community in question through the usage of self-administrative councils operating on a democratic model to be federated from the most minute political body outward for the replacement of the centralized state apparatus. Such is to be accomplished on the premise that there can be no legitimate freedom that is achievable within any such society that delegates a distinct form of authoritative power to a specific class of individuals to operate society accordingly, given how the relinquishment of such autonomy effectively ensures that vertical hierarchy will be the inherent structure of society. To conclude, revolutionary socialism can only be achieved by recognizing that we as a society can no longer observe freedom in terms of the political and economic sphere as being mutually exclusive from one another, but rather in borrowing a sentiment from the collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, “Political freedom without economic equality is [merely] a pretense, a fraud, a lie, and the workers want no lying.”
In one of the greatest ironies within life, one of the most effective impediments to achieving a libertarian socialist society comes not from the authoritarian structuring of capitalism operating in conjunction with a legislative class to enforce the totalitarian principles of an unjust society, but rather from popular sentiment made to gravitate towards this ideal of “moderation”.
The manifestation of socialism within a society does not appear within the authoritarian structures inherent to the former United Soviet Socialist Republic (U.S.S.R) or to the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) or to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) or any other such society currently in existence that claims to be socialist in nature, but in actuality it is due to the inherently evident authoritarianism of these nations in which the principles of socialism have been violated seemingly beyond the point of no return. The manifestation of socialism within a society does not conversely appear within the distinctly capitalist nations throughout the majority of the developed world, such as Canada or Australia or the countless nations of Western Europe, in which these “social democracies” (or in the instance of the United States, democratic socialism) have effectively served as merely a veneer to the exact same power dynamics as in any other capitalist nation closer to laissez-faire economics then to social democracy. Now countless individuals will willingly assert that the previous two statements are the perfect examples of the No True Scotsman fallacy in operation (For those who are unaware of such logical fallacy, such is meant to be, as the most simple definition from the likes of Google indicates, “[an] appeal to purity…an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample.”). It should be argued that the No True Scotsman fallacy is non-applicable with this particular regard, on the basis of the contents of the following definition, “[Socialism is] a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
In terms of any society similar to the likes of the now non-existent U.S.S.R. to the P.R.C. to the D.P.R.K., what can be readily observed is that there is this significant degree of authoritative power afforded to the centralized state apparatuses of these three respective nations, effectively betraying the fundamental principle onto how the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be under the jurisdiction of the community in its entirety given how there is simply no communal control allocated to the populace themselves under these authoritarian socialist models (Such collection of “political philosophies”, which is said incredibly sparingly here, is a series of contradictory terms contrary to the popular misconception upheld by a significantly militant portion of the population within the United States in particular.).
When regarding social democratic or democratic socialist societies in existence ranging from a vast majority of Western European nations to Canada to Australia or to anywhere else in the developed world, such political philosophy is seemingly incapable of creating a structural analysis that takes into consideration the various historical and socioeconomic variables that have resulted in the neoliberal position adopted by the entirety of the developed world since the origination of the Austrian economic model. One could even argue that not only does social democracy maintain the capitalist structure by endowing both the capitalist class and the legislative class the same form of authority these classes would receive within a laissez-faire model, but social democracy further entrenches the capitalist structure by endowing a centralized state apparatus with the delegated authority to regulate socioeconomic programs to determine who possesses access to the various governmental organizations dedicated to providing a specified amount of assistance to the populace.
Now it should be indicated that these pieces of legislative reformation have gone about to improve the lives of specific portions of the population on a case-by-case basis, yet social democracy has gone about effectively increase tolerance to the inherently harmful effects of capitalism without actively diagnosing that the current position we are in as a society is the direct (and the indirect) result of decades upon decades, centuries upon centuries, of the refinement of authority to the point in which it becomes seemingly impossible to recognize the degree of power afforded to this authority figure. Socialism has unfortunately become synonymous with this expansive model of governance that is characterized by the ability of the state apparatus to be able to increase taxes extensively while providing varying social programs for select portions of the population to benefit from. Such was never the premise of revolutionary socialism, such is not the premise of revolutionary socialism, and such will never be the premise of revolutionary socialism given how such is a political ideology constructed upon the promise that justice will only be achieved in its totality by striving for an inherently classless society.
To conclude, we need to return to the promise of libertarian socialism in order to understand what the ideological tenets of such political philosophy encompass and how such is the only political philosophy that possesses an accurate analysis onto the inherent ills of a capitalist society while simultaneously providing a framework in terms of what needs to be accomplished in order to circumvent the authoritative jurisdiction unjustly afforded to the capitalist class.
Now it must be argued that the term “libertarian socialism” is NOT an inherent contradiction in terms, because barring the United States, libertarianism is meant to be synonymous with the political philosophy of anarchism (The ideological tenets of anarchism are also misconstrued entirely by a significant amount of the population entirely, because although there is indeed a definition of anarchy in which such is defined most basically as being, “Anarchy is the state of a society being freely constituted without authorities or a governing body,” such philosophy is also defined as, “refer[ring] to a society or group of people that totally rejects a set hierarchy.”). In fact, the history of libertarianism first originated by the anarcho-communist philosopher Joseph Déjacque explaining the differences of anarcho-communism to the philosophy of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s mutualism in which Joseph Déjacque indicated that,
“it is not the product of his or her labor that the worker has a right to, but to the satisfaction of his or her needs, whatever may be their nature”. (Wikipedia, Libertarianism). Unfortunately within the United States, the ideology of libertarianism has been co-opted by capitalistic sympathizers to represent, “the advocacy of extreme capitalist individualism, private property and the ‘rights’ of corporations to be ‘free’ from public oversight.” (Black Rose Anarchist Federation, Socialism Will Be Free, Or It Will Not Be At All!)
However to borrow a sentiment shared by the likes of the Indian nationalist Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi and the American Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, there can be no legitimate freedom under such freedom is to be afforded to everyone regardless of whoever it is that these individuals may be. Any revolutionary individual or institution would need to reclaim the terminology of libertarianism for the purposes of properly fulfilling the anarchistic, anti-authoritarian tradition of such ideology encompassing the belief in which any dichotomy predicated on the principles of domination or hierarchy or exploitation should be eliminated to instead be replaced by structures that are in favor of freedom and self-determination. Ultimately, to refer back once again to the philosophy of the collectivist anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, “We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”
W.R. Zammichiéli is a freelance writer with a B.A. and M.A. in Political Science and International Relations located in the Boston area, currently in graduate school to earn his law certification. He is currently in the middle of writing a novel concerning anarchism as a political philosophy, Another World Is Possible: On the Promise of Libertarian Socialism.
Previously published at Red & Black Politics, July 23, 2020
From the archives: