0

I have regularly heard debate between anarcho-socialists and anarcho-capitalists about which one is the true oxymoron.

If we take anarcho-socialism to mean no government and economic equality (+ collective ownership of industry), it would seem to me that this could lead to contradictions since without government intervention economic equality could not be achieved or maintained.

Does socialism always presuppose the existence of a state? If so, that would make anarcho-socialism an oxymoronic, contradictory state of affairs. Are there any examples of socialist thought that rejects the state?

EDIT (ADDITIONAL CLARITY):

If libertarianism represents freedom from coercion to undertake certain actions and egalitarian socialism represents the duty to give excess wealth to those who "need it more", is libertarian socialism a contradiction of terms? Are these two principles intrinsically contradictory?

5
  • 1
    They are not oxymorons because all isms are too vague to contradict each other without questionable assumptions about how people "freely" behave. Wikipedia's article already explains in detail how anarcho-socialism, a.k.a. libertarian socialism, is supposed to work. Could you make the question more specific in the light of it?
    – Conifold
    Mar 19, 2020 at 19:22
  • 1
    What does "freedom from coercion to undertake certain actions" mean? What actions specifically? Capitalist-friendly libertarianism necessarily involves violent coercion to prevent people from violating property rights (to stop someone from eating fruit from an orchard that's considered someone else's property for example), even if they acquired this property in ways that might be considered unjust or outright theft (or their ancestors did, as with seizing native american land or the enclosure movement), see argument here.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 19, 2020 at 19:45
  • Maximilien Rubel 1973 Article “Marx, theoretician of anarchism” marxists.org/archive/rubel/1973/marx-anarchism.htm
    – Gordon
    Mar 21, 2020 at 5:53
  • Libertarianism has largely been used in the Rightist sense, especially in the United States, but was originally conceived in the Leftist sense. The same tendency, though slightly less pronounced, has appeared with anarchism. The Right is concerned with voluntary exchange and private ownership, the Left with dynamic collective organization.
    – brainchild
    Jun 19, 2022 at 12:08
  • In theory or in practice?
    – h_undatus
    Feb 25 at 18:38

4 Answers 4

5

Socialism is not intrinsically linked to a strong state, or indeed any state at all. An oxymoron is a contradiction in terms. Anarcho-monarchy would be a contradiction, as a monarchy is a form of government itself.

Socialism is not a form of government - it is simply the advocation of certain economic ideas: equality of outcome, collective ownership, etc. Within socialism, there are disagreements regarding how you achieve these outcomes (and the degree to which those outcomes should be pursued). Certain strands of socialism might exclude the prospect of anarchism, but other strands of socialism are dependent on anarchism for their very foundations.

You introduce a premise: "without government intervention economic equality could not be achieved or maintained". The rejection of this premise is foundational to anarcho-socialism. State socialists believe you need to use the power of the state to maintain a system of socialism. Anarcho-socialists believe the opposite. They believe that for the conditions of socialism to exist and thrive, you need to dismantle the state. They see the state as another power structure that promotes inequality by placing some individuals in positions of power above others. You'll find anarcho-socialists advocating for communes and self regulating systems of cooperation, rather than socialism forced upon citizens by the state.

You might say that a situation where you have equality and no state is unrealistic. If true, that wouldn't make anarcho-socialism an oxymoron, it would just make it a flawed political philosophy with limited practical applications. I don't wish to provide a list of arguments for and against the merits of self governed communes and similar anarcho-socialist ideas, as it seems to be beyond the scope of your question.

Noting your last point, where you question how you could have the "duty to give away excess wealth" at the same time as "freedom from coercion", I think you'll find it interesting to look up some anarcho-communist conceptions of human nature. Broadly speaking, anarcho-communists believe in a fundamentally cooperative human nature, which would mean that people wouldn't need to be coerced into helping others, but would help others out of a desire to maintain human relationships and to mutually benefit from shared knowledge and resources. They believe that the state and capitalism have distorted this human nature (making humans selfish and interested in producing profit) and that dismantling those systems would see a return to their more caring, cooperative natural human nature. Kropotkin's work 'Mutual Aid' is a key text in this area.

I've provided some links that might be a useful starting point in researching anarcho-socialist conceptions of human nature further:

Wikipedia: Anarcho-communism: Motivation

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Anarchism

Wikipedia: Marx's Theory of Human Nature

Scientific American: an article about Kropotkin

4
  • 1
    This answer capably reflects the goals of the SEP, at least as I understand them. Thanks,
    – user37981
    Sep 30, 2020 at 3:02
  • I like this answer, but I might add a few ideas attempting to address directly the concerns embodied by the original post. It may be a confused caricature that equality within the economy depends on the redistributive capacity, and therefore the coercive power, of the state. Welfare states redistribute wealth attempting a more socially just outcome than the one resulting directly from markets. In a (Left) anarchist society, satisfaction of authentic human needs instead takes precedence over an artificial system of propriety appropriation of wealth that is essentially subversive to those needs.
    – brainchild
    Jun 19, 2022 at 12:13
  • Some people want power and control. Those are the people who should not have it. Stop that one thing and a lot of problems would go away. Similarly with greed and money, goods etc. Few people are really driven by those things. They are the ones causing the inequities and abuses. How do you stop coercive and abusive people without a state? I have not heard an answer to this.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 18, 2023 at 10:03
  • 1
    @ScottRowe The real problem are not those that want power and control, but the people who think it's legitimate to give it to them. If it were just a few criminals they wouldn't stand a chance against a population not ok with that. But if you have institutions and ritualized believe in justified authority, then it's a lot easier to rise through the ranks and play the melodies that people are accustomed to. Then it's no longer "our guy should reign" but "how do things work, what do we know, what can we do, where do we want to go" which is the kind of freedom related to agency not convenience.
    – haxor789
    Sep 18, 2023 at 12:45
2

The 'anarcho-' part of both anarcho-socialism and anarcho-capitalism does not mean the absence of rules or principles. It means the absence of a state which uses force to ensure the rules and principles are followed. Social rules or principles in anarchic systems are conventions, maintained by mutual agreement and acceptance, where the only sanction is that a person might lose social trust (and consequently social acceptance and interactions) if they violate the rules or principles.

The difference between anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-socialism lies in the nature of the social rules and conventions they advocate. Anarcho-capitalism holds to principles of fair economic trade within an unregulated market; anarcho-socialism promotes principles of fair labor interactions. It's worth noting that in the absolute ideal, Adam Smith's free market system is both anarcho-capitalist and anarcho-socialist: all people are considered independent producers, so fair economic trade is synonymous with fair labor interactions. At any rate, neither term is an oxymoron unless one mistakes anarchy — the absence of state force — with an absence of all social rules and principles.

4
  • Sometimes social rules are not enough. Sometimes a small group begins to grow and become too powerful and dangerous for unorganized citizens to stop it. Think of organized crime or the Nazi party in the 1930s. What then? Who stops them? Sometimes the police can become the problem. Call in the Army? What if they become abusive (never happens, right)?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 18, 2023 at 10:09
  • 1
    @ScottRowe: I'm not going to argue the pragmatics of philosophical anarchy, because it is clearly utopian. You're obviously right, and you're obviously missing the point. The point is this. The mob, the NAZis, the Trumpists, etc, all have one thing in common: they want to terrorize people into giving lip their ideals and do what's pragmatically safe, because the moment people give up their ideals, the terrorizers win. Philosophy of this sort isn't important because it's practical; it's important because it preserves an ideal; and ideals are poison to nihilistic authoritarians. Sep 18, 2023 at 12:59
  • 1
    @ScottRowe Organize? Organized crime is parasitic, meaning they are by definition fewer people and resources than the rest because otherwise they'd have to actually work and/or manage a state level apparatus and even then they rely on you more than you rely on them. Their biggest hope is that the state let's them do their business while catching the less organized crime and that the people feel so intimidated that they individualize because alone they stand against a group that outnumbers them, if they join forces with other people in the same situation they'd vastly outnumber the criminals.
    – haxor789
    Sep 18, 2023 at 13:22
  • @ScottRowe Also if you do not want to organize an illegal army to fight the mob, the same works for backing up existing institutions. Like if all people share their information about the mob with the police they would stand no chance but the more the police is distrusted the less effective it is. The point of these groups is to make you feel small and powerless so that you end up being that. But there's no reason why you shouldn't organize the question is how you organize.
    – haxor789
    Sep 18, 2023 at 13:25
2

Anarchism = property is theft

Capitalism = property is king

Can't get anymore oxymoronic than that.

Socialism, anarchism, communism, they all say basically the same stuff, just mainly differ on tactics. Bakunin used the term revolutionary socialist before anarchist. Some say anarcho-communist to differentiate themselves from Leninists and such.

To go into more detail, anarchism is,

a political philosophy and movement that is skeptical of all justifications for authority and seeks to abolish the institutions it claims maintain unnecessary coercion and hierarchy, typically including nation states,1 and capitalism.

How would an-caps get the idea anarchism applies to them? Some people get the mistaken idea the anarchism is only about being against the state. The an-caps are basically influenced by the wealthy who want to get rid of their taxes. But who would then protect property rights? Some make exceptions for property rights, or borders. If there were no states, it'd be like mad-max warlords everywhere (aside from just imperialism on the 3rd world).

Which then brings the point of anarchism and property being theft. When people claim things for themselves, they're stealing from everyone else. Property rights are enforced through violence, typically the state. Anarchism is about getting rid of coercion and hierarchy. There are two ways to have power over people: by straight force, e.g. slavery, or by restricting access to resources, e.g. private property and wage slavery; which is also by force, but slightly more indirect.

2
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Sep 15, 2023 at 8:05
  • +1 for Mad Max. "Why can't we all just get along?" Why, indeed?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 17, 2023 at 0:10
1

I have regularly heard debate between anarcho-socialists and anarcho-capitalists about which one is the true oxymoron.

Well according to the history of that ideology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism

The anti-capitalist versions is the original one and preceded the Ancap term by about 100 years. Even when considering the difference between individualist anarchists and collectivist anarchists, neither would be too fond of the anarcho-capitalist and vice versa:

While anarcho-capitalism is sometimes described as a form of individualist anarchism, many others disagree with this as individualist anarchism is largely socialistic. Murray Rothbard, the founder of anarcho-capitalism, argued that individualist anarchism is different from anarcho-capitalism and other capitalist theories due to the individualist anarchists retaining the labor theory of value and socialist economics.

They operate with radically different definitions of what anarchism is, "classical anarchism" rejects any social hierarchy where people subjugate others and aim to dismantle those. Whereas Ancaps only target "the state" which they apparently largely characterize as influence on the market. So while for classical anarchists economic liberty is defined by equal ownership of the economy or at least equal access to economic resources and the ability to decide that, anarcho-capitalism is just concerned with the market and sees no problem in the economic ownership of some freedom of some leading to the total lack of economic agency and the purely theoretical economic freedom of the other.

So for all intents and purposes anarcho-capitalism is primarily concerned with capitalism and has no connection to anything related with anarchism.

If we take anarcho-socialism to mean no government and economic equality (+ collective ownership of industry), it would seem to me that this could lead to contradictions since without government intervention economic equality could not be achieved or maintained.

Afaik that's what the social ownership of the industry is meant for. Like usually the large discrepancy comes from the owner pocketing the most, whereas if everyone is an owner they can simply vote to split that more evenly. So ideally you wouldn't need "redistribution" if you're already dealing with it on the level of the production/distribution.

And the other thing is that you could argue that a huge discrepancy of stuff could be more likely to produce theft a) because there are people who don't have enough and b) because there are people who have so much that the risk/reward calculation ends up being positive. Whereas if people have roughly equal amounts of stuff, there's not much to gain.

Does socialism always presuppose the existence of a state? If so, that would make anarcho-socialism an oxymoronic, contradictory state of affairs. Are there any examples of socialist thought that rejects the state?

Technically no. Though socialism encompasses a lot of ideas and movements and some of them do propose a state, either temporarily or permanent and some don't. But primarily it's workers owning the means of production, so that could be done, at least theoretically, directly without the necessity for a state.

If libertarianism represents freedom from coercion to undertake certain actions and egalitarian socialism represents the duty to give excess wealth to those who "need it more", is libertarian socialism a contradiction of terms? Are these two principles intrinsically contradictory?

It's not about taking away excess it's about socializing production. So ideally there is no huge excess that accumulates with a small group of people. At least that is the idea.

The "giving away the excess to the poor" is usually following a different strategy. It's somewhere between a push and pull in terms of control over the economy. Like one could argue that the unequal production and redistribution is some meta level democratic ownership of the economy where the economic actors can make their own decisions but the results are shared among the constituents. Or you could argue that those with excessive stuff just rather give away stuff, then their ability to produce even more excessive stuff for themselves. So some call it socialism because of the former, while others argue it's still capitalism because of the latter, though it's somewhat of a different idea.

5
  • It's nice to imagine people being more equitable, but you can't have something large and complex like a business or an economy without someone being in charge. If someone is willing to take on that burden and be held responsible it is only fair to compensate them for the extra work and risk. For example, a doctor needs more training, ongoing training, and makes life and death decisions. If they get paid the same as a clerk, they wouldn't bother. Teachers are upset because they are not getting paid fairly. So what's fair? How does it get established?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 17, 2023 at 0:18
  • There are cooperation and business run by collectives, there are countries run by democracies. It's not conceptually impossible. Are powerful people benevolently taking the burden or are they out for the extra power and money and the burden and responsibility come up due to legitimization crisis? Often solved in propaganda rather than action? Medicine is a notoriously overrun field of study, you could probably pay them like clerks and they would still do it, because there's some intrinsic motivation to help people, do something useful or have the power over life and death.
    – haxor789
    Sep 18, 2023 at 0:09
  • Everyone thinks their own job is the most important thing in the entire world, that's why they ended up choosing it (if they did have the choice) and as such each of them feels underappreciated. What gives people the impression that they are objective in their decision while the entire rest is subjective? And could you change? Would you be given the choice to lead a billion dollar company, a country, be a doctor and if you don't have that choice, where's the fairness to use that as legitimization for inequality?
    – haxor789
    Sep 18, 2023 at 0:11
  • Perhaps if we really did just pay everyone the same, it would be obvious who is doing a job because they want to (or as you say, simply have no choice but to do it?). Then we would have to remove all approval and all stigma, basically stop talking about work, stop reporting about it... Making a living could just be a taboo subject. I would probably still do what I do, because it interests me and has since I was a child. I don't get a lot of approval for it and don't know anyone else who does it. So I guess I am non-social and need not try to comment on social issues. Oh well
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 18, 2023 at 9:57
  • 1
    @ScottRowe Payment is a pretty bad metric to begin with. Like different jobs have different benefits and drawbacks, like a physical job might require a different version of recreation than a mental one, yet both are in need of food, shelter, recreation, purpose, whatever. And on the one hand these needs are highly subjective and even different for 2 people doing the same job on the other hand our modern lives are so interdependent that hyperindividualism is a dangerous farce. However living radically different lives makes communication and coordination difficult.
    – haxor789
    Sep 18, 2023 at 12:21

You must log in to answer this question.