In case some of you haven’t heard, the internet-famous anarcho-capitalist author and political theorist Stefan Molyneux debated Peter Joseph from The Zeitgeist Movement on September 23rd. This was a one-on-one debate about ideas for a sustainable economic future, so Molyneux’s philosophy of unregulated free-market capitalism was put on trial. For those of you interested, I’ll link the debate here.
I’m writing this blog to offer up my perspective on this debate as an anarcho-communist, because I often feel that a truly leftist perspective, that is, a class-based perspective on these important issues is either ignored, or left out of the debate entirely. While I side with Peter Joseph and his critiques of Stefan Molyneux’s proposals, I also think there were a few key points that Joseph missed, or didn’t drive home hard enough when he was given the opportunity. I’m not entirely sure if it’s just his background in academia or if perhaps he just couldn’t connect the dots, but there were times when the real class issues surrounding the debate were exposed, but were left untouched. On one hand, you have a very reactionary worldview from Molyneux, who likely believes that class society is justified by market forces, and that poor farmers struggling to find potable drinking water “voluntarily” choose that life. On the other hand, you have Peter Joseph, who does seem to acknowledge class society exists and that capitalism is inherently coercive, but does not sufficiently explain why it has to be, and will always be coercive. If Joseph could’ve articulated this point a bit more than he did, I really think he could have sealed the deal on this debate.
Now before I get into specifics too deeply, I want to first address Stefan Molyneux.
No, I’m not going to go easy on this guy, because he’s exactly what’s wrong with the internet. Over the years he has consistently used his podcasts and videos to promote one of the worst political and economic theories out there, and that’s anarcho-capitalism. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across that have fallen for this garbage just because it’s supposedly “anti-establishment”. People like Stefan Molyneux are really doing a disservice to people and poisoning the well with this kind of nonsense. I’m not going to attack anarcho-capitalism because it was invented by bourgeois economists and business owners (even though it was), because there’s really no need to do so. It can be discredited on merit alone.
The problem with anarcho-capitalism is that it makes some pretty bold assumptions that hold absolutely no basis in reality. Some of those assumptions are as follows:
- All transactions, trades, and exchanges in a free market are voluntary and equally beneficial to all parties involved. For example, when a worker sells his labor-power to a capitalist, this is a voluntary agreement. The worker has needs, just like the capitalist, and so this is how they mutually benefit one another. No exploitation exists in this exchange.
- The Free Market system is free from all coercion and only the state restricts individual and economic freedom with the use of force, in which the state has a monopoly.
- Property rights are a natural extension of the concept of “self-ownership”.
I want to address these points briefly, so to begin let’s focus on the first, and most important bullet here about transactions in free market capitalism being voluntary. I say this is the most important point because whenever you challenge this assumption and question it, the answers you get from the anarcho-capitalists are woefully inadequate or just downright laughable. Stefan Molyneux’s answer to Peter Joseph was the latter. Peter Joseph challenged Molyneux on this point by stating that most people must participate in some trade or transaction in order to survive. Molyneux’s brilliant response?
People don’t have to trade. How do they have to trade? 98% of the world’s surface is uninhabited. They can go live in the woods and grow their own food and hunt their own animals. I don’t understand how they have to trade.
That’s right. If you don’t like having to sell your labor in a capitalist system, you should just go live in the fucking woods and grow food on your own. I’ve heard some pretty bad rebuttals and counterarguments, but that was by far one of the worst. But back to the point — exchanges and transactions are not voluntary, nor are they mutually beneficial. As much as the ancaps want to harp about employment being voluntary, it doesn’t take much thinking from the average working person to realize this is a fairy tale. Do you remember what your first job was? Did you go straight to a professional job with a comfortable salary? or did you have to work at McDonald’s or some other retail joint that you hated? You see, there are millions of people just in the United States that work in the fast food industry. They aren’t paid very much and they generally don’t find lots of opportunity in this field. They are not working for Arby’s because they really want to work at Arby’s. They could care less about the company. They work for Arby’s because they have needs that they cannot meet without some kind of income. The only thing they have to bring to the market is their labor-power (ability to do work). They sell this to a franchise like Arby’s, and they get paid a wage in return.
Now once again, Stefan Molyneux will argue that this is all “voluntary”, and no exploitation has taken place. If you don’t like working at Arby’s, you can always just quit and work somewhere else. So why are we not seeing droves of Americans in the fast food industry quit their jobs and move on to those high-paying professional careers? I’ll tell you why: because this is a class issue. The bourgeoisie have complete control of the means of production, which means they also control how the workers are paid in wages and how the profit from production is used, thus giving rise to a class division. There is a real, tangible disposition when it comes to employment prospects based on class.
People participate in economics due to the need to survive. In contrast, the capitalist participates in order to exploit; he must, as he does not produce any value of his own. If I’m hungry and cold, the market is not going to feed and clothe me. I need money. I need a job. Where will I work? Anywhere that can pay me enough to meet my needs. Stefan: THIS IS COERCION!!!! Working for a capitalist is not a voluntary decision.
In order for the free-market system to work as ancaps wish, current monopolies would have to be abolished and we would have to (guess what) expropriate all major capitalists and start from scratch. Tear down all the factories, completely rid the world of concentrated wealth and let people all start off on equal footing. But if every man were equal and had equal access to the earth’s resources, why would one human build a factory for another human? We wouldn’t. We do so because we have no other choice.
And that brings me to the second bullet about the state being a violent, coercive institution with a monopoly on force. As I have already shown, a free market capitalist system is coercive by design. Peter Joseph did bring this up, but when questioned multiple times by Molyneux on how it was coercive, his argumentation seemed to fall flat. This is where I believe the class issues really should’ve come into play.
Capitalism is inherently coercive because there’s an ownership class (bourgeoisie) and then there’s a working class (proletariat). One class owns the means of production, the other does not. The entire market system depends on the proletariat performing wage labor for the bourgeoisie so that the bourgeois can expand capital. The primary means of income for the proletarian is from the selling of his or her labor in this way. Peter Joseph did not make this point about the relationship between classes clearly enough. Instead, he seemed to just mention some things about artificial scarcity being built into a free market system. While that has truth to it, it also serves as an opening for Stefan Molyneux to just blame the state for violence and scarcity instead.
Stefan Molyneux speaks of the state as if it’s something separate from the capitalist mode of production. He fails to realize that the state is an organ of class rule. Yet again, Peter Joseph skipped the opportunity to point out the obvious. Most free market libertarians and anarcho-capitalists rely on this argument about “true” capitalism never existing because the state corrupts it. I just want to ask them….at what point did the state become something separate from capitalism? Can they point me to the exact moment in time when some alien force took over the state apparatus and started corrupting the market?
If the state has a monopoly on force, all this means is that the ruling-class has a monopoly on force! What prevents the workers from taking over a factory and running in democratically? The law does! The entire concept of private property is something that requires the initiation of force. This is why the state exists. Molyneux is a statist even though he doesn’t want to admit it. If he advocates for private police or armies, then what he’s really saying is that he wants to replace the current state with a privatized state. A state that goes to the highest bidder. In the end, that is no different from what we have today. The state is a direct result of the class contradictions inherent in capitalism.
In conclusion, anarcho-capitalism would not ever be taken seriously by the bourgeoisie, and therefore, it has no chance of ever happening in any practical reality. If the anarcho-capitalists really do stand on anti-authoritarian principles, then they need to defend class society, which is authoritative in nature. We do not need the rich.
Now that I’ve spoken extensively about Stefan Molyneux, I would like to move on to Peter Joseph. Most of you probably know Peter from the Zeitgeist films he’s produced over the past 5 years. He’s a very talented film maker, an articulate speaker, and I must say that I commend him for taking on some of these right-wing arguments head first. I would say I agree with Peter Joseph about capitalism probably 95% of the way. His criticisms of free markets seem to get better with time, as does he. I think Peter Joseph is evolving and refining his knowledge on most important subjects. However, where I do not support Joseph is his proposed solutions to the problems we face.
Peter Joseph proposes a resource-based economy. This is where the monetary system and markets are abolished in favor of an economy where computerized automatic systems on a global scale would provide for the needs of everyone. Most resource allocation would be done by these computer systems as well. I don’t necessarily oppose this, because it has it’s benefits. But what is missing from every film Joseph has made and every talk he has given is
how we reach that society. How do we get from here to there?
You see, the brutal and oppressive class system we see today was not born out nowhere. It was not something that was “embraced” by a majority and organically came to fruition. There was a bitter class struggle that took place where the bourgeoisie overthrew the monarchy. To establish their order, they needed a clear plan of action focused on the goal of a new society. But the monarchy was not just going to give up without a fight. Just as if we decide someday to all embrace the resource-based economy, quit our jobs, grow our own food, and throw all of our money out in front of a bank, this will not end class oppression. The bourgeoisie will not just hand over control of the means of production. I don’t know of any ruling-class historically that has done so.
This is what anarchist-communism and other schools of leftist thought offer that Peter Joseph and The Zeitgeist Movement does not. We understand the concept of class struggle. I think Joseph is beginning to see this as well, but he never embraces communism, because he seems a bit confused about what it really means. His definition of communism still equates to the loss of individual freedom and massive state bureaucracy. This is very discouraging, because the alternative Joseph offers to the growing fad of right-wing market fundamentalism is utopian socialism. Only Joseph never wants to mention the term “socialist” or “communist” when describing his solutions.
This is what I mean. Any discussion of left-wing ideology is always left out of the debate. It can’t even be discussed now because no one understands it. No one even attempts to understand it. And Peter Joseph is doing just as much of a disservice to people looking for answers as Stefan Molyneux and the anarcho-capitalists. I am glad he’s at least not promoting such a reactionary view of economics, however, he’s promoting illusions about a new world that he thinks will just “arise” eventually when people get tired of the current system.
I’m going to conclude this article by reiterating what I’ve already mentioned. What was missing from this debate was a class-based, leftist perspective. I think the correct way to confront anarcho-capitalists is to force them to defend and justify the authoritarian nature of class society. Once again, I encourage you to watch the debate between Molyneux and Joseph that I linked in the first paragraph and respond with your own ideas and thoughts on the matter.