Sunday, November 20, 2016

Libertarians V. Propertarians

The right-winger, Murray Rothbard has publicly admitted to their stealing of the word libertarian from genuine anarchists:
“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy . . . ‘Libertarians’ . . . had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over . . .” (The Betrayal of the American Right)

Today, of course, propertarians as they really should be described denounce anarchists for using the term libertarian in its original and correct meaning as attempting to appropriate their name and associate it with socialism! Anarchists have been using the term "libertarian" to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850's. The revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published "Le Libertaire" in New York between 1858 and 1861 while the use of the term "libertarian communism" dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it. The use of the term "Libertarian" by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word "anarchy" in the popular mind. Since then, particularly outside America, it has always been associated with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the USA, anarchists organised "The Libertarian League" in July 1954, which had staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. So libertarian means anarchist. The "Libertarian" Party has only existed since the early 1970's, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression "libertarian communism" was first adopted). Therefore clearly the word belongs to anarchists, not to fake free-market neo-liberals. Anarchists use the terms “libertarian”, “libertarian socialist” and “libertarian communist” as equivalent and an alternative to “anarchist.” This is perfectly understandable, as the anarchist goal is freedom, liberty, and the ending of all hierarchical and authoritarian institutions and social relations.

Unfortunately, thanks to the power of money and the relative small size of the anarchist movement in America, this appropriation of the term has become, to a large extent, the default meaning there. How easy it is to fall into the same trap as we often criticise media for i.e. accepting their re-definition of words. The correct name for the “Libertarian" Party is Propertarian Party. 

For many, libertarianism sounds like a fine idea – pure and unadulterated free-market capitalism, operating for everybody’s benefit and which would lead to the end of what is called “crony capitalism”, that is, government bailouts and subsidies to the bankers and giant corporations. Of course, historians have found that government (states) made modern markets possible by in part by codifying the right to private property and the “propertarians” also seek to occupy government office so as to strengthen further their private property rights at the expense of everyone else. 

Libertarians claim that what we have today is a form of corrupted capitalism. We just need to get the "state out of the way." We just need to get back the "genuine" capitalism of yore. But history shows us that that corruption was enabled by the state and christened the dawn of the capitalist era. The role of the state is key to the profitability of capital. There is no uncorrupted capitalist past to go back to. The modern day propertarian libertarians represent the interests of small capital, that is, the petit bourgeoisie. This pretty much explains their ideology. They oppose the power of big capital and its control over the state (that's where their program seems to coalesce with the reformist left). But their program is attached to a capitalism that never existed. It has never been the case that small capital was hegemonic. It is big capital that makes the rules by which the small capitalist plays. The libertarians use the language of "freedom" and "liberty" and individual entrepreneurship to build an ideological framework to build a mass base for what is really a reactionary program.

Propertarians ignore the vast number of authoritarian social relationships that exist in capitalist society. Far from being a defender of liberty they are defenders of certain forms of authority. To defend the "freedom" of property owners is to defend authority and privilege. "Equality of rights" blinds them to the realities of life; in particular, the impact of economic and social power on individuals within society and the social relationships of domination they create. Individuals may be "equal" before the law and in rights, but they may not be free due to the influence of social inequality, the relationships it creates and how it affects the law and the ability of the oppressed to use it. Without social equality, individual freedom is so restricted that it becomes a mockery (essentially limiting freedom of the majority to choosing which master will govern them rather than being free).

Emma Goldman's rightly attacked that "rugged individualism" espoused by propertarians "which is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his individuality. So-called Individualism is the social and economic laissez-faire: the exploitation of the masses by classes by means of trickery, spiritual debasement and systematic indoctrination of the servile spirit . . . That corrupt and perverse 'individualism' is the strait-jacket of individuality . . . This 'rugged individualism' has inevitably resulted in the greatest modern slavery, the crassest class distinctions . . . 'Rugged individualism' has meant all the 'individualism' for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking 'supermen' . . .and in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social opportunity to live is denounced as . . . evil in the name of that same individualism."

As Iain McKay argues, the original, correct usage of libertarian is as an alternative for anti-state socialist. Regardless of the attempts by others ignorant of both the history of that term and the reality of capitalism to appropriate it for their hierarchical and authoritarian ideology, we will continue to do so.