August 21st, 2007

eyes black and white

Is Libertarian Socialism politically socialist?

Dear Kevin Carson,

thank you for your attention, and thank you for your comment. It shows that indeed my previous post requires clarifications. Since I invite socialists to join phalanstères, kibbutzim or cooperatives instead of trying to engineer society, you ask the very relevant question of whether or not kibbutzim, cooperatives, and similar organizations are socialist or not, and whether or not they demonstrate that there is a peaceful brand of socialism, namely libertarian socialism.

Let's distinguish several forms of socialism. Socialism #1, the political project, is a crime -- forcing people into some collectivist dystopia. Socialism #2, the economic theory, is a lie -- explaining society in terms of conflict and negative-sum games. Socialism #3, the egalitarian spiritual impulse, is a death cult -- wishing to dissolve individuality into a blob. If by Socialism, you would only mean a project for a just society where the meek are protected, then the only proper Socialism is Capitalism, which also has political, economical and spiritual variants, all opposite to Socialism in the common meanings.

So yes, a kibbutz, if based on voluntary adhesion of its members, may be an instance of Socialism #2 and #3, but not of Socialism #1. It is a legitimate way in which socialists may associate with each other, and demonstrate by the example the inanity of their ways. It may even be done in a way that only pays lip service to socialism, keeping its internal inefficiency low enough that it costs less to the socialists to live in such a setup than would cost to them the checking of their premises (see the evolution of kibbutzim in Israel since the subsidies have been cut - Cám ơn Vincent Bénard).

But for the very reason that a kibbutz isn't Socialism #1, it will remain unsatisfactory to the Socialist, who yearns for a world-wide collectivist order, be it a State, a giant Kibbutz, a cooperative federation of cooperatives, or any conceivable hierarchical division into collective organizations of his liking.

And there remains the crux of the problem: in as much as libertarian socialists, adhere to Socialism #1, they too are criminals in ambush. I will refer to Bryan Caplan's fine essay on the Anarcho-Statists of Spain for a demonstration. Indeed, as long as you hold as political norms, i.e. enforceable rules, the precepts of Socialism #1, as soon as you forbid or regulate commercial relationships between individuals, including trade and employment, as soon as you allow the capital accumulated by ones to be seized by others, it doesn't matter whether this enforcement is done by a self-proclaimed central State or by self-proclaimed free-lance liberation fighters. It will still be a group of self-proclaimed violent people aggressing peaceful other individuals.

Do libertarian socialists in general, and you, Kevin Carson, in particular, support saving poor oppressed employees by killing, imprisoning, fining, despoiling or otherwise coercing the employers and forcing employees to either join collectives or effectively starve, under the pretense that employers are making wage-slaves out of employees, and that the relationship between them is one of feudalism? I can't speak for you, but that's exactly what your writings suggest, and this norm is indeed adhered to by all socialists I know, libertarians or not.

If you renounce this norm, if you affirm that employer-employee relationship though distasteful to you are perfectly legitimate, if you agree that economical error (whichever side it be on) is no excuse for political enforcement, only then will you cease to be a Socialist #1, only then will you avoid being a criminal-in-stalking in my eyes.

So far, I haven't found a Socialist who passes this litmus test. I'm hopeful to find a few, and you are the most promising one I know. But I believe it unlikely that more than a marginal minority of them ever will, because Socialism has deep roots in human psychology, spirituality, and economic theory, and the individualistic political norm of Capitalism is alien to it.

eyes black and white

The vacuity of the Libertarian Socialist ideal

Libertarian Socialists believe in the world being organized in "freely organized" collectives of some kind. (Socialists in general vye for collectives maintained by force if need be.) But if that were all there was to it, well, we're already there, and everyone including all conservatives wholly approve. The world is already organized into "natural collectives", called families, with one-person families of bachelors being a degenerate case.

Oh, but this is certainly not what the Libertarian Socialists imagine. They imagine large collectives made of lots of people, that may or may not have sexual relations and children. As a Heinlein fan, I will certainly not object to the idea of large families, and as a libertarian, I don't think I have anything to say about who has sex with whom and children with whom inside a family that isn't mine. And so there again, the specificity of the socialist "collective" lies in the political norms relating the "collective" and its actual and potential members or non-members, and to other collectives.

Can a member have any kind of commerce with a non-member, or do you have to be members of the same collective so as to cooperate with each other or otherwise go through hierarchical channels? Yay for promoting cooperation. How does one become member of a socialist "collective"? can one leave afterwards and divorce from his family? or is the whole scheme some kind of an oppressive caste system? Can members split over some issue? can they form a schism? how do you divide existing resources? can one make a schism of one, and which part of the resources does he get? Can one leave for another collective? can one enter any existing other collective? can one found a new collective if none exists that suits him? including a one-person collective called "invididual"? Can a collective reject applicants or does it have to accept the first come parasite and treat him as well as those who work hard, and as those who worked hard in the past to get the collective where it is? How are conflicts settled between a collective and an individual? is a collective politically sovereign over its members to the point of exacting punishment and death on those who would reject its terms? What if the member says that he represents the collective and all the other ones are the schismatics who reject the proper collective will? Is there a justice system outside of this collectivist construction?

How do collectives interact with each other? With a collective of collectives, etc., in a hierarchical order? If collectives cannot disassociate, then the topmost collective is indeed a State, and the Libertarian Socialist chimera is indeed but another Totalitarian Socialist State in disguise (as attempted in Spain). If collectives can disassociate, then these collectives are with each other in a Capitalist order, where collectives trade with each other. If furthermore individuals can secede and become their own "collective", we have a full Anarcho-Capitalist order, and the Libertarian Socialist chimera is but distracting ramblings on top of an Anarcho-Capitalist society. If on the other hand individuals cannot secede, then indeed each Libertarian Socialist collective is a State, these States span the world, and Libertarian Socialism is but distracting ramblings on top of the usual Statist Oligopoly, to be recomposed after an optional bloody revolution.

Whichever way you split things, Libertarian Socialism has nothing new to propose in terms of political norms.