Mutualist/individualist anarchist Kevin Carson's first book. The book discusses the labor theory of value, the history of the capitalist system, and the theory and practice of mutualism, a strain of anarchism founded by the French political theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Required reading for all libertarians.
The book can also be read in html or bought in print here: http://www.mutualist.org/id47.html
If you download, please consider donating money to the author at his blog, Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a vibrant native American school of anarchism, known as individualist anarchism, existed alongside the other varieties. Like most other contemporary socialist thought, it was based on a radical interpretation of Ricardian economics. The classical individualist anarchism of Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner was both a socialist movement and a subcurrent of classical liberalism. It agreed with the rest of the socialist movement that labor was the source of exchange-value, and that labor was entitled to its full product. Unlike the rest of the socialist movement, the individualist anarchists believed that the natural wage of labor in a free market was its product, and that economic exploitation could only take place when capitalists and landlords harnessed the power of the state in their interests. Thus, individualist anarchism was an alternative both to the increasing statism of the mainstream socialist movement, and to a classical liberal movement that was moving toward a mere apologetic for the power of big business.
Shawn Wilbur has argued that the late-nineteenth century split between individualists and communists in the American anarchist movement (for which the ill-feeling between Benjamin Tucker and Johann Most is a good proxy) left the individualists marginalized and weak. As a result, much of the movement created by Benjamin Tucker was absorbed or colonized by the right. Although there are many honorable exceptions who still embrace the "socialist" label, most people who call themselves "individualist anarchists" today are followers of Murray Rothbard's Austrian economics, and have abandoned the labor theory of value. Had not the anarchism of Tucker been marginalized and supplanted by that of Goldman, it might have been the center of a uniquely American version of populist radicalism. It might have worked out a more elaborate economic theory that was both free market and anti-capitalist, instead of abandoning the socialist label and being co-opted by the Right.
Some self-described individualist anarchists still embrace the socialist aspect of Tucker's thought--Joe Peacott, Jonathan Simcock, and Shawn Wilbur, for example. The Voluntary Cooperation Movement promotes the kinds of mutualist practice advocated by Proudhon. Elements of the nineteenth century radical tradition also survive under other names, in a variety of movements: Georgist, distributist, "human scale" technology, etc. Unfortunately, individualist anarchist economic thought has for the most part been frozen in a time warp for over a hundred years. If the marginalists and subjectivists have not dealt the labor theory of value the final death blow they smugly claim for it, they have nevertheless raised questions that any viable labor theory must answer.
This book is an attempt to revive individualist anarchist political economy, to incorporate the useful developments of the last hundred years, and to make it relevant to the problems of the twenty-first century. We hope this work will go at least part of the way to providing a new theoretical and practical foundation for free market socialist economics.
In Part One, which concerns value theory, we construct the theoretical apparatus for our later analysis. In this section, we attempt to resurrect the classical labor theory of value, to answer the attacks of its marginalist and subjectivist critics, and at the same time to reformulate the theory in a way that both addresses their valid criticisms and incorporates their useful innovations. Part One starts with an assessment of the marginalist revolution and its claims to have demolished the labor theory of value, and then proceeds either to refute these criticisms or to incorporate them.
Part Two analyzes the origins of capitalism in light of this theoretical apparatus; it is an attempt to explicate, if the reader will pardon the expression, the laws of motion of state capitalist society--from its origins in statism, through its collapse from the internal contradictions inherent in coercion. We analyze capitalism in the light of individualist anarchism's central insight: that labor's natural wage in a free market is its product, and that coercion is the only means of exploitation. It is state intervention that distinguishes capitalism from the free market.
Part Three, finally, is a vision of mutualist practice, building both on our own previous theoretical analysis, and on the rich history of anarchist thought.
If there is one valuable practical insight in this entire book, it is the realization that coercive state policies are not necessary to remedy the evils of present-day capitalism. All these evils--exploitation of labor, monopoly and concentration, the energy crisis, pollution, waste--result from government intervention in the market on behalf of capitalists. The solution is not more government intervention, but to eliminate the existing government intervention from which the problems derive. A genuine free market society, in which all transactions are voluntary and all costs are internalized in price, would be a decentralized society of human-scale production, in which all of labor's product went to labor, instead of to capitalists, landlords and government bureaucrats.
Some of the material of Parts Two and Three appeared previously in other forms. Chapter Four is a radically expanded and revised version of the subheading "The Subsidy of History" in my pamphlet "The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand," published by Red Lion Press in 2001. Chapter Five is likewise, an expanded version of other sections from the same pamphlet. Chapters Six and Seven are expanded versions of my article "Austrian and Marxist Theories of Monopoly Capitalism: A Mutualist Synthesis." Chapter Eight incorporates some material from the same article, along with the subheading "Political Repression" from "Iron Fist." Chapter Nine includes material from my article "A 'Political' Program for Anarchists."