I declare myself to be a capitalist and anti-capitalist, a socialist and anti-socialist, all at once. No, this is not my resignation of all use of politically descriptive terminology, and I am not declaring myself a moderate between two polar opposite camps. So how may I hold to each of these positions simultaneously? It is all a matter of terminology.
In an article titled “Capitalism vs. Statism“, Murray Rothbard differentiated between his concept of free market capitalism and state capitalism, giving what is essentially his definition of capitalism in the following quotation:
“If we are to keep the term “capitalism” at all, then, we must distinguish between “free-market capitalism” on the one hand, and “state capitalism” on the other. The two are as different as day and night in their nature and consequences. Free-market capitalism is a network of free and voluntary exchanges in which producers work, produce, and exchange their products for the products of others through prices voluntarily arrived at. State capitalism consists of one or more groups making use of the coercive apparatus of the government — the State — to accumulate capital for themselves by expropriating the production of others by force and violence.”
Here, Rothbard, like most proponents of capitalism, is equating his capitalism with markets. Let’s now see how Benjamin Tucker defines socialism. In “Socialism: What Is It?“, “Socialism”, Tucker states, “says that every increase of capital in the hands of the laborer tends, in the absence of legal monopoly, to put more products, better products, cheaper products, and a greater variety of products within the reach of every man who works.” Tucker is here implying that the existence of socialism, which he defines as a decentralization of control of labor and the means of production, is dependent on free market activity. As such, essentially, Tucker’s socialism is dependent on the existence of Rothbard’s capitalism.
So wherein lies the disagreement? Tucker has been dead almost 75 years now, and Rothbard nearly 20, and yet many of those following in the philosophy of each to this day still furiously opposes the positions of the other. Of course one is not bound to a dichotomy between Tucker’s socialism and Rothbard’s capitalism and is free to devise their own ideology based on an infinite choice of variations on each, but given those who identify as students of one, I see a great amount of bickering due to misrepresentation of the others’ ideology. Both are proponents of liberty above all else, both oppose state granted monopolization, and both believed that with greater liberty and, as a natural consequence, greater equality of opportunity, economic endowment would tend more toward equality than in a state controlled environment. While on some minor issues on which neither misinterpret each other, each camp may have quarrels. However, with the more pivotal issues each would agree. The only fundamental difference between the two regards the emphasis of the Tuckerites on non-hierarchical labor. So again, I ask, why such heated bickering between the two camps?
And in similar regard, much of the bickering between others is also a result of misinterpretation. For example, the anarchist communist Murray Bookchin was once, for a short time, a member of Rothbard’s living room political discussion group. For those that fraternize in either of these circles, it is known that the disdain each group holds for the other’s ideology is generally much greater than that between Rothbardians and Tuckerites. Yet and still, according to Jeff Riggenbach who knew both men, Bookchin once told him that he does not have any fundamental philosophical opposition to the anarcho-capitalist’s vision of capitalism. On the flip side of the same coin, in conversations with Rothbardians, communist anarchists may find that these purported opponents of their position are perfectly agreeable to the peaceful coexistence of communist and capitalist societies so long as each is liberated.
And the same can be said of supposed statist ideology. With the many variations on Marxism and anarchism, the only true distinction that can be made between each is that Marxists believe in a transition period to arrive at an anarchic society. What this transition looks like differs depending on the Marxist. For Leninists, this period much more closely resembles the current popular conceptions the public holds of more well known leftist societies of today. For the Luxembourgists and council communists, however, what their proposed transition period looks like differs only semantically from anarchic ideology. And what about the even wider variety of anarchist opinion? Anarchists have proposed solutions ranging from insurrectionary revolution to gradual evolution to counter economic models such as Agorism. Each proposes a method of moving from the current status quo to a new order. Neither proposes a definite time frame for moving from current operations to their vision, and most deliberately avoid predicting this time frame even approximately. Could this vaguely defined period, then, not be thought of as a transition period? Surely there is no one that disagrees time will elapse between this immediate moment and the realization of their ideal system. Thus, while one may disagree with some of the details that certain Marxists propose, one cannot disregard completely the theory of a transition period promoted by Marxists.
Perhaps the most important example of semantic misunderstandings, however, is seen with the mainstream public and radical dissenters in a general sense. Unfortunately with radical dissent seems to come general and widespread mainstream disinformation intended to fallaciously attack or transform the dissenting ideologies. This is the natural result of authority systems protecting the status quo. And it has been incredibly effective. Such misleading definitions of the terms mentioned above, as well as many others associated with them, have been put forth that generally any political discourse seems to be fairly unproductive as a result.
What I wish for is not an end to terminology. After all, it is terminology that affords us as humans a heightened capacity for communication to that of other animals. Rather I feel it is crucial for people to recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, all individuals have a common drive towards liberty above all else. This is true whether or not they quibble over the semantics of this statement. Thus, all such philosophies are driven by an innate sense of direction towards personal liberty. As such, one should enter discourse with this understanding and, rather than bickering over semantics, try to discover where the semantic disagreement occurs and learn how to speak the language of the other. Where there is a common thread of dissent with the status quo, and a common drive toward liberty, there should be a great enough level of concurrence to move forward together in changing the world toward an agreeable future.