Section G - Is individualist anarchism capitalistic?

The short answer is, no, it is not. All the individualist anarchists were opposed to the exploitation of labour and all forms of non-labour income (such as profits, interest and rent) and property. As such it is deeply anti-capitalist and many individualist anarchists, including Benjamin Tucker, considered themselves as socialists (indeed, Tucker often called his theory "Anarchistic-Socialism").

So, in this section of our anarchist FAQ we indicate why the individualist anarchists cannot be classified as "ancestors" of the bogus libertarians of the "anarcho"-capitalist school. Instead they must be (due to their opposition to wage slavery, capitalist property, interest, rent and profit as well as their concern for equality and co-operation) classified as libertarian socialists, albeit being on the liberal wing of anarchist thought. So while some of their ideas do overlap with those of the "anarcho"-capitalist school they are not capitalistic, no more than the overlap between their ideas and anarcho-communism makes them communistic.

In this context, the creation of "anarcho"-capitalism may be regarded as yet another tactic by capitalists to reinforce the public's perception that there are no viable alternatives to capitalism, i.e. by claiming that "even anarchism implies capitalism." In order to justify this claim, they have searched the history of anarchism in an effort to find some thread in the movement that can be used for this purpose. They think that with the individualist anarchists they have found such a thread.

However, as we've already seen, by its very definition -- as opposition to hierarchical authority -- all threads of anarchism are incompatible with capitalism. As Malatesta argued, "anarchy, as understood by the anarchists and as only they can interpret it, is based on socialism. Indeed were it not for those schools of socialism which artificially divide the natural unity of the social question, and consider some aspects out of context . . . we could say straight out that anarchy is synonymous with socialism, for both stand for the abolition of the domination and exploitation of man by man, whether exercised at bayonet point or by a monopoly of the means of life." Without socialism, liberty (i.e. liberalism) is purely "liberty . . . for the strong and the property owners to oppress and exploit the weak, those who have nothing . . . [so] lead[ing] to exploitation and domination, in other words, to authority . . . for freedom is not possible without equality, and real anarchy cannot exist without solidarity, without socialism." [Anarchy, p. 47 and p. 46]

Nevertheless, in the individualists we find anarchism coming closest to "classical" liberalism and being influenced by the ideas of Herbert Spencer, a classical liberal and proto-libertarian capitalist. This influence, as was noted by Peter Kropotkin at the time (e.g. in Modern Science and Anarchism), led individualist anarchists like Benjamin Tucker to support contract theory in the name of freedom, apparently without being aware of the authoritarian social relationships that could be implied by it, as can be seen under capitalism. Therefore, this section can also be considered, in part, as a continuation of the discussion begun in section A.3.

Few thinkers are completely consistent. Given Tucker's adamant anti-statism and anti-capitalism, it is likely that had he realised the statism implicit in contract theory, he would have modified his views in such a way as to eliminate the contradiction. It is understandable why he failed to do so, however; for he viewed individualist anarchism as a society of workers, not one of capitalists and workers. His opposition to usury logically implies artisan and co-operative labour -- people selling the products of their labour, as opposed to the labour itself -- which itself implies self-management in production (and so society), not authoritarianism. Nevertheless, it is this inconsistency -- the non-anarchist aspect of individualist anarchism -- which right "libertarians" like Murray Rothbard select and concentrate on, ignoring the anti-capitalist context in which this aspect of individualist thought exists within. As David Wieck points out:

"Out of the history of anarchist thought and action Rothbard has pulled forth a single thread, the thread of individualism, and defines that individualism in a way alien even to the spirit of a Max Stirner or a Benjamin Tucker, whose heritage I presume he would claim -- to say nothing of how alien is his way to the spirit of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, and the historically anonymous persons who through their thoughts and action have tried to give anarchism a living meaning. Out of this thread Rothbard manufactures one more bourgeois ideology." ["Anarchist Justice", Nomos XIX, pp. 227-228]

It is with this in mind that we discuss the ideas of people like Tucker. As this section of the FAQ will indicate, even at its most liberal, individualist, extreme anarchism was fundamentally anti-capitalist. Any concepts which "anarcho"-capitalism imports from the individualist tradition ignore both the theoretical underpinnings of their ideas as well as the social context of self-employment and artisan production within which those concepts arose, thus turning them into something radically different from what was intended by their originators.

Needless to say, "anarcho"-capitalists are well aware of the fact that individualist anarchists were extremely hostile to capitalism while supporting the "free market." Unsurprisingly, they tend to downplay this opposition, often arguing that the anarchists who point out the anti-capitalist positions of the likes of Tucker and Spooner are quoting them out of context. The truth is different. In fact, it is the "anarcho"-capitalist who takes the ideas of the individualist anarchists from both the historical and theoretical context.

It is not a fitting tribute to the individualist anarchists that their ideas are today being associated with the capitalism that they so clearly despised and wished to abolish. As one modern day Individualist Anarchist argues:

"It is time that anarchists recognise the valuable contributions of . . . individualist anarchist theory and take advantage of its ideas. It would be both futile and criminal to leave it to the capitalist libertarians, whose claims on Tucker and the others can be made only by ignoring the violent opposition they had to capitalist exploitation and monopolistic 'free enterprise' supported by the state." [J.W. Baker, "Native American Anarchism," The Raven, pp. 43-62, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 61-2]