Anyone who has followed political discussion on the net has probably come across people calling themselves libertarians but arguing from a right-wing, pro-capitalist perspective. For most Europeans this is weird, as in Europe the term "libertarian" is almost always used in conjunction with "socialist" or "communist." In the US, though, the Right has partially succeeded in appropriating this term for itself. Even stranger, however, is that a few of these right-wingers have started calling themselves "anarchists" in what must be one of the finest examples of an oxymoron in the English language: 'Anarcho-capitalist'!!
Arguing with fools is seldom rewarded, but to allow their foolishness to go unchallenged risks allowing them to deceive those who are new to anarchism. That's what this section of the anarchist FAQ is for, to show why the claims of these "anarchist" capitalists are false. Anarchism has always been anti-capitalist and any "anarchism" that claims otherwise cannot be part of the anarchist tradition. So this section of the FAQ does not reflect some kind of debate within anarchism, as many of these types like to pretend, but a debate between anarchism and its old enemy, capitalism. In many ways this debate mirrors the one between Peter Kropotkin and Herbert Spencer, an English pro-capitalist, minimal statist, at the turn the 19th century and, as such, it is hardly new.
The "anarcho"-capitalist argument hinges on using the dictionary definition of "anarchism" and/or "anarchy" - they try to define anarchism as being "opposition to government," and nothing else. However, dictionaries are hardly politically sophisticated and their definitions rarely reflect the wide range of ideas associated with political theories and their history. Thus the dictionary "definition" is anarchism will tend to ignore its consistent views on authority, exploitation, property and capitalism (ideas easily discovered if actual anarchist texts are read). And, of course, many dictionaries "define" anarchy as "chaos" or "disorder" but we never see "anarcho"-capitalists use that particular definition!
And for this strategy to work, a lot of "inconvenient" history and ideas from all branches of anarchism must be ignored. From individualists like Spooner and Tucker to communists like Kropotkin and Malatesta, anarchists have always been anti-capitalist (see section G for more on the anti-capitalist nature of individualist anarchism). Therefore "anarcho"-capitalists are not anarchists in the same sense that rain is not dry.
Of course, we cannot stop the "anarcho"-capitalists using the words "anarcho", "anarchism" and "anarchy" to describe their ideas. The democracies of the west could not stop the Chinese Stalinist state calling itself the People's Republic of China. Nor could the social democrats stop the fascists in Germany calling themselves "National Socialists". Nor could the Italian anarcho-syndicalists stop the fascists using the expression "National Syndicalism". This does not mean that any of these movements actual name reflected their content -- China is a dictatorship, not a democracy, the Nazi's were not socialists (capitalists made fortunes in Nazi Germany because it crushed the labour movement), and the Italian fascist state had nothing in common with anarcho-syndicalists ideas of decentralised, "from the bottom up" unions and the abolition of the state and capitalism.
Therefore, just because someone uses a label it does not mean that they support the ideas associated with that label. And this is the case with "anarcho"-capitalism -- its ideas are at odds with the key ideas associated with all forms of traditional anarchism (even individualist anarchism which is often claimed as being a forefather of the ideology).
All we can do is indicate why "anarcho"-capitalism is not part of the anarchist tradition and so has falsely appropriated the name. This section of the FAQ aims to do just that -- present the case why "anarcho"-capitalists are not anarchists. We do this, in part, by indicating where they differ from genuine anarchists (on such essential issues as private property, equality, exploitation and opposition to hierarchy) In addition, we take the opportunity to present a general critique of right-libertarian claims from an anarchist perspective. In this way we show up why anarchists reject that theory as being opposed to liberty and anarchist ideals.
We are covering this topic in an anarchist FAQ for three reasons. Firstly, the number of "libertarian" and "anarcho"-capitalists on the net means that those seeking to find out about anarchism may conclude that they are "anarchists" as well. Secondly, unfortunately, some academics and writers have taken their claims of being anarchists at face value and have included their ideology into general accounts of anarchism. These two reasons are obviously related and hence the need to show the facts of the matter. As we have extensively documented in earlier sections, anarchist theory has always been anti-capitalist. There is no relationship between anarchism and capitalism, in any form. Therefore, there is a need for this section in order to indicate exactly why "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist. As will be quickly seen from our discussion, almost all anarchists who become aware of "anarcho"-capitalism quickly reject it as a form of anarchism (the better academic accounts do note that anarchists generally reject the claim, though). The last reason is to provide other anarchists with arguments and evidence to use against "anarcho"-capitalism and its claims of being a new form of "anarchism."
So this section of the FAQ does not, as we noted above, represent some kind of "debate" within anarchism. It reflects the attempt by anarchists to reclaim the history and meaning of anarchism from those who are attempting to steal its name (just as right-wingers in America have attempted to appropriate the name "libertarian" for their pro-capitalist views, and by so doing ignore over 100 years of anti-capitalist usage). However, this section also serves two other purposes. Firstly, critiquing right-libertarian and "anarcho"-capitalist theories allows us to explain anarchist ones at the same time and indicate why they are better. Secondly, and more importantly, the "ideas" and "ideals" that underlie "anarcho"-capitalism are usually identical (or, at the very least, similar) to those of neo-liberalism. This was noted by Bob Black in the early 1980s, when a "wing of the Reaganist Right has obviously appropriated, with suspect selectivity, such libertarian themes as deregulation and voluntarism. Ideologues indignant that Reagan has travestied their principles. Tough shit! I notice that it's their principles, not mine, that he found suitable to travesty." [The Libertarian As Conservative] This was echoed by Noam Chomsky two decades later when while "nobody takes [right-wing libertarianism] seriously" as "everybody knows that a society that worked by . . . [its] principles would self-destruct in three seconds" the "only reason" why some people "pretend to take it seriously is because you can use it as a weapon." [Understanding Power, p. 200] As neo-liberalism is being used as the ideological basis of the current attack on the working class, critiquing "anarcho"-capitalism and right-libertarianism also allows use to build theoretical weapons to use to resist this attack and aid the class struggle.
A few more points before beginning. When debating with "libertarian" or "anarchist" capitalists it's necessary to remember that while they claim "real capitalism" does not exist (because all existing forms of capitalism are statist), they will claim that all the good things we have -- advanced medical technology, consumer choice of products, etc. -- are nevertheless due to "capitalism." Yet if you point out any problems in modern life, these will be blamed on "statism." Since there has never been and never will be a capitalist system without some sort of state, it's hard to argue against this "logic." Many actually use the example of the Internet as proof of the power of "capitalism," ignoring the fact that the state paid for its development before turning it over to companies to make a profit from it. Similar points can be made about numerous other products of "capitalism" and the world we live in. To artificially separate one aspect of a complex evolution fails to understand the nature and history of the capitalist system.
In addition to this ability to be selective about the history and results of capitalism, their theory has a great "escape clause." If wealthy employers abuse their power or the rights of the working class (as they have always done), then they have (according to "libertarian" ideology) ceased to be capitalists! This is based upon the misperception that an economic system that relies on force cannot be capitalistic. This is very handy as it can absolve the ideology from blame for any (excessive) oppression which results from its practice. Thus individuals are always to blame, not the system that generated the opportunities for abuse they freely used.
Anarchism has always been aware of the existence of "free market" capitalism, particularly its extreme (minimal state) wing, and has always rejected it. As we discuss in section 7, anarchists from Proudhon onwards have rejected the idea of any similar aims and goals (and, significantly, vice versa). As academic Alan Carter notes, anarchist concern for equality as a necessary precondition for genuine freedom means "that is one very good reason for not confusing anarchists with liberals or economic 'libertarians' -- in other words, for not lumping together everyone who is in some way or another critical of the state. It is why calling the likes of Nozick 'anarchists' is highly misleading." ["Some notes on 'Anarchism'", pp. 141-5, Anarchist Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, p. 143] So anarchists have evaluated "free market" capitalism and rejected it as non-anarchist for over 150 years. Attempts by "anarcho"-capitalism to say that their system is "anarchist" flies in the face of this long history of anarchist analysis. That some academics fall for their attempts to appropriate the anarchist label for their ideology is down to a false premise: it "is judged to be anarchism largely because some anarcho-capitalists say they are 'anarchists' and because they criticise the State." [Peter Sabatini, Social Anarchism, no. 23, p. 100]
More generally, we must stress that most (if not all) anarchists do not want to live in a society just like this one but without state coercion and (the initiation of) force. Anarchists do not confuse "freedom" with the "right" to govern and exploit others nor with being able to change masters. It is not enough to say we can start our own (co-operative) business in such a society. We want the abolition of the capitalist system of authoritarian relationships, not just a change of bosses or the possibility of little islands of liberty within a sea of capitalism (islands which are always in danger of being flooded and our activity destroyed). Thus, in this section of the FAQ, we analysis many "anarcho"-capitalist claims on their own terms (for example, the importance of equality in the market or why capitalism cannot be reformed away by exchanges on the capitalist market) but that does not mean we desire a society nearly identical to the current one. Far from it, we want to transform this society into one more suited for developing and enriching individuality and freedom. But before we can achieve that we must critically evaluate the current society and point out its basic limitations.
Finally, we dedicate this section of the FAQ to those who have seen the real face of "free market" capitalism at work: the working men and women (anarchist or not) murdered in the jails and concentration camps or on the streets by the hired assassins of capitalism.