What so many people, including many self labeled socialists, get wrong.
But that’s not socialism. These institutions fly in the face of the very founding ideals of socialist thinkers. In fact, I will show further along in this discussion, a quote by a prominent socialist, that outright rejects these kinds of programs. But first, some discussions on property.
The Myth of Private Property
In general, anarchists, regardless of type, reject private property. They consider it theft. I disagree. It is not theft. It is a myth. If we accept the definition of rights that I have presented in previous articles, then ownership of private property, as we generally perceive it, does not exist at all. Instead we have guardianship of personal property.
Indeed, considering the definition of rights that I’ve mentioned in the aforelinked article, it’s fairly clear that there really is no such thing as private property. When people think of private property, they think of perpetual ownership. For instance, if I own a house, it is mine, until I decide to sell it or give it away. But suppose I rent out that house.
Do I have a right to have it back? Recall that a right is that which is voluntarily maintained, in the absence of others. It is a condition of the moment. And at the moment that I have rented the house out, it is not in my possession. I must get it back, from the tenant. But then this is not something which is voluntarily maintained, in the absence of others.
Proudhon recognized this issue, though his arguments weren’t exactly the same, but it is for this reason that he recognized that if we are to have an anarchist society, a society that he wanted to have, then we could not have true private property.
This brings us to personal property. Anarchists generally consider personal property to be property which is in use by the person. If I am living in a house, it is my personal property. If someone else is renting it out, it is their personal property. But overall, the property does not belong to anyone in perpetuity. That’s basically how the idea of societal ownership and socialism came to be. It is a direct logical consequence of anarchist thought, not statist thought.
However, if I am in possession of something, it is my right to decide when and if to give up possession, and under what conditions. And here is where I think Proudhon faulted in his analysis. In the case of a rental property, the landlord has made an agreement that he will transfer use of the property to the tenant, but only if he agrees to pay a certain amount per month and agrees to return use of the property at the end of the lease. If the tenant refuses to leave, at the end of the lease, he is in violation of the agreement.
That does not mean that the tenant can simply be kicked out. That would be a violation of his rights and a violation of the NAP (non-aggression principle). Since the tenant did not use physical force against the landlord or his property in order to move in, it would be the landlord that would be violating the NAP by using force to remove the tenant. The landlord could however simply refuse to pay utilities, and the utility company could refuse to provide new service to the tenant in violation of the occupancy agreement. This would not be a violation of the tenant’s rights or the NAP as there is no right to have someone else provide utilities for you.
There is one exception which should be mentioned. If there was something which we could not lose possession or use of, then we could say that we truly own it. Such a thing exists. It is our own body. Our body is ours, and ours alone. Of course, body parts could be lost, but we cannot detach ourself from our body, at least not as far as science is aware. Therefore it is something that is truly ours.
There is a more practical reason to reject private property. A fundamental flaw in the concept of private property is determining legitimate ownership. Given the nature of human history, theft exists in the history of essentially everything that we possess. Land of course has been stolen time and time again. Furthermore, if there is validity to perpetual right to ownership, of things we produce, or things produced by things we own, then we must ensure that at no point was theft involved in the course of history which brought our possessions to us. That means that if something was produced on stolen land, it did not legitimately belong to the producer, and therefore does not legitimately belong to the person who currently possesses is. Therefore if we accept private property as legitimate, either nobody owns anything, or everyone owns everything. That is just the nature of the history of theft in this world.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the Founder of the semi-modern socialist and anarchist movements.
Other Socialists of Importance
There are so many other socialists that generally are excluded from the history books, again probably because they weren’t fans of the state. There are many anarchist socialists and even more libertarian socialists. Among the libertarian socialists were guild socialists like G.D.H. Cole. One of the best works on the topic is Guild Socialism Restated.
The guild socialists weren’t anarchists. But they didn’t view government as the solution either. Indeed, consider what Cole said about the nature of government and representation.
…as the purposes covered by political government expand, and more and more social life is brought under political regulation, the representation which may once, within its limitations, have been real, turns into misrepresentation, and the person elected for an indefinitely large number of disparate purposes ceases to have any real representative relationship to those who elect him. (Guild Socialism Restated, pg 15)
In Cole’s view, the more government is required to do, the less it actually represents those who elect the leadership. If government does anything at all, it must do very little. This view is very similar to the view of many of the founders of the United States. Consider Thomas Paine’s view of government: “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”
So instead of looking to government for the solution to our problems, the guild socialists looked to community based solutions to a lot of the issues that surrounded the negative early effects of the industrial revolution. Compare Cole’s views of government to Rawlings🇪🇺🇬🇧’s ideal. They are polar opposites. So is it any wonder that so many people oppose socialism, when even self labeled socialists want to believe that socialism means government taking care of us?
Of course, there is one point on which I agree with Rawlings🇪🇺🇬🇧: socialism is indeed a toxic brand, and that’s because of the toxicity that Marx and others like him brought to socialism. Marx was a petulant brat and an impatient fool.
We need only look Marx’s request for Proudhon’s help, and Proudhon’s response to Marx. I will not quote Marx’s letter directly, because “Lawrence & Wishart, who hold the copyright for the Marx Engels Collected Works, have directed Marxists Internet Archive to delete all texts originating from MECW” and I do not wish to deal with the nonsense of such copyright, a feature of modern intellectual property that violates the very core principles of socialism. But I can provide a link to the letter from Marx to Proudhon.
I will however quote part of the response to this letter, offered by Proudhon, and link to the full response archived by The Marxists Internet Archive.
I have also some observations to make on this phrase of your letter: at the moment of action. Perhaps you still retain the opinion that no reform is at present possible without a coup de main, without what was formerly called a revolution and is really nothing but a shock. That opinion, which I understand, which I excuse, and would willingly discuss, having myself shared it for a long time, my most recent studies have made me abandon completely. I believe we have no need of it in order to succeed; and that consequently we should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform, because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, to arbitrariness, in brief, a contradiction.
I honestly love the response. It’s loaded with backhanded compliments. It also showcases the difference between the two people. Marx was an impatient fool, seeking revolution, while Proudhon was patient and thoughtful. It is the unfortunate reality that Marx has become far more popular than Proudhon, Cole, and many others, and it is for this reason that socialism is a toxic brand.
Originally published on the Politicoid blog on Medium