By Diana Johnstone
“I sometimes get the feeling that somewhere across that huge puddle, in America, people sit in a lab and conduct experiments, as if with rats, without actually understanding the consequences of what they are doing.”– Vladimir Putin, 4 March 2014
Five years ago, I wrote a paper for a Belgrade conference commemorating the tenth anniversary of the start of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. In that paper I stressed that the disintegration of Yugoslavia had been used as an experimental laboratory to perfect various techniques that would subsequently be used in so-called “color revolutions” or other “regime change” operations directed against leaders considered undesirable by the United States government.
At that time, I specifically pointed to the similarities between the Krajina region of former Yugoslavia and Ukraine. Here is what I wrote at the time:
Where did the wars of Yugoslav disintegration break out most violently? In a region called the Krajina. Krajina means borderland. So does Ukraine – it is a variant of the same Slavic root. Both Krajina and Ukraine are borderlands between Catholic Christians in the West and Orthodox Christians in the East. The population is divided between those in the East who want to remain tied to Russia, and those in the West who are drawn toward Catholic lands. But in Ukraine as a whole, polls show that some seventy percent of the population is against joining NATO. Yet the US and its satellites keep speaking of Ukraine’s “right” to join NATO. Nobody’s right not to join NATO is ever mentioned.
The condition for Ukraine to join NATO would be the expulsion of foreign military bases from Ukrainian territory. That would mean expelling Russia from its historic naval base at Sebastopol, essential for Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Sebastopol is on the Crimean peninsula, inhabited by patriotic Russians, which was only made an administrative part of Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian.
Rather the way Tito, a Croat, gave almost the whole Adriatic coastline of Yugoslavia to Croatia, and generally enforced administrative borders detrimental to the Serbs.
As the same causes may have the same effects, US insistence on “liberating” Ukraine from Russian influence may have the same effect as the West’s insistence on “liberating” the Catholic Croats from the Orthodox Serbs. That effect is war. But instead of a small war, against the Serbs, who had neither the means nor even the will to fight the West (since they largely thought they were part of it), a war in Ukraine would mean a war with Russia. A nuclear superpower. And one that will not stand idly by while the United States continues to move its fleet and its air bases to the edges of Russian territory, both in the Black Sea and in the Baltic, on land, sea and air.
Every day, the United States is busy expanding NATO, training forces, building bases, making deals. This goes on constantly but is scarcely reported by the media. The citizens of NATO countries have no idea what they are being led into. (…)
War was easy when it meant the destruction of a helpless and harmless Serbia, with no casualties among the NATO aggressors. But war with Russia – a fierce superpower with a nuclear arsenal – would not be so much fun.
So, now here we are five years later, and I am about to attend another commemoration in Belgrade, this time of the fifteenth anniversary of the start of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. And this time, I really have nothing to say. I have already said it, over and over. Others are saying similar things, with more authority, from Professor Stephen Cohen to Paul Craig Roberts. Many of us have warned against the dangerous folly of seeking endlessly to provoke Russia by enlisting her neighbors in a military alliance whose enemy could be… Russia. Of all Russia’s neighbors, none is more organically linked to Russia by language, history, geopolitical reality, religion and powerful emotions. The U.S. Undersecretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, Victoria Nuland, has openly boasted that the United States has spent five billion dollars to gain influence in Ukraine – in reality, in order to draw Ukraine away from Russia and into the U.S. military alliance. It is now no secret that Ms Nuland intrigued even against America’s European allies – who had a less brutal compromise in mind – in order to replace the elected President with the American protégé she calls “Yats”, who indeed was soon installed in a far right government resulting from violent actions by one of the very few violent fascist movements still surviving in Europe.
True, Western media do not report all the facts at their disposal. But the internet is there, and the facts are on the internet. And despite all this, European governments do not protest, there are no demonstrations in the streets, much of public opinion seems to accept the notion that the villain of this story is the Russian president, who is accused of engaging in unprovoked aggression against Crimea – even though he was responding to one of the most blatant provocations in history.
The facts are there. The facts are eloquent. What can I say that are not said by the facts?
So up to now, I have remained speechless in the face of what appears to me to be utter madness. However, on the eve of my trip to Belgrade, I agreed to answer questions from journalist Dragan Vukotic for the Serbian daily newspaper Politika. Here is that interview.
Q. In your book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions, you have brought a different stance about NATO bombing of Yugoslavia than many of your intellectual colleagues in the West. What prompted you to make such an unpopular conclusion?
A. Long ago, as a student of Russia area studies, I spent several months in Yugoslavia living in a student dormitory in Belgrade and made friends there. I turned to such old friends for viewpoints rather than to the sources consulted by Western reporters. And I have a lifelong interest in US foreign policy. I began my inquiry into Yugoslav conflicts by reading key documents, such as speeches of Milosevic, the Serbian Academy memorandum and works by Alija Izetbegovic, noting the inaccuracy of the way they were represented in Western media. I was never under instructions from editors, and indeed my editors soon refused to publish my articles. I was not the only experienced observer to be excluded from Western media coverage.
Q. Although subsequent events have confirmed that the operation of illegal bombing of one country without permission of the Security Council was completely wrong, the mainstream western media and politicians still refer to successful „Kosovo model“. Can you please comment on this matter?
A. For them, it was a success, since it set a precedent for NATO intervention. They will never admit that they were mistaken.
Q. When it came to the preparation of the “humanitarian intervention” against Syria, Obama administration reported they were studying “the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations”. (Please comment on this)
A. This is not surprising, since setting such a precedent was one of the motives for that air war.
Q. In one of your articles you asked the question about what the ICC stood for in the case of Libya. You recalled the “familiar pattern” with the case of ICTY and Yugoslavia. What do you really think of those instruments of international justice and their role in international relations?
A. In the context of the present world relationship of forces, the ICC like the ad hoc tribunals can only serve as instruments of United States hegemony. Those criminal tribunals are used only to stigmatize adversaries of the United States, while the main role of the ICC so far is to justify the ideological assumption that there exists an unbiased “international justice” that ignores national boundaries and serves to enforce human rights. As John Laughland has pointed out, a proper court must be the expression of a particular community that agrees to judge its own members. Moreover, these courts have no police of their own but must rely on the armed force of the United States, NATO and their client states, who as a result are automatically exempt from prosecution by these supposedly “international” courts.
Q. What is, in your opinion, the main purpose of declaring the so-called humanitarian intervention? Does it have more to do with the domestic public opinion or with the international partners?
A. The ideology of Human Rights (a dubious concept, incidentally, since “rights” should be grounded in concrete political arrangements, not on abstract concepts alone) serves both domestic and global purposes. For the European Union, it suggests a “soft” European nationalism based on social virtue. The United States, which is more forthright than today’s Europe in proclaiming its national interest, the ideology of Human Rights serves to endow foreign interventions with a crusading purpose that can appeal to European allies and above all to their domestic opinion, as well as to the English-speaking world in general (Canada and Australia in particular). It is the tribute vice pays to virtue, to echo LaRochefoucauld.
Q. You often use the term “US and its European satellites“. Please explain.
A. “Satellites” was the term used for members of the Warsaw Pact, and today the governments of the NATO member states follow Washington as obediently as the former followed Moscow, even when, as in the case of Ukraine, the United States goes against European interests.
Q. How do you see current goings on in Ukraine and Crimea, especially in terms of US-Russia relations?
A. US-Russian relations are determined primarily by an ongoing U.S. geostrategic hostility to Russia which is partly a matter of habit or inertia, partly a realization of the Brzezinski strategy of dividing Eurasia in order to maintain US world hegemony, and partly a reflection of Israeli-dominated Middle East policy toward Syria and Iran. Between the two major nuclear powers, there is clearly an aggressor and an aggressed. It is up to the aggressor to change course if relations are to be normal.
Simply compare. Is Russia urging Quebec to secede from Canada so that the province can join a military alliance led by Moscow? Evidently not. That would be comparable, and yet mild compared to the recent U.S. gambit led by Victoria Nuland aimed at bringing Ukraine, including the main Russian naval base at Sebastopol, into the Western orbit. The material reality of this political orbit is NATO, which since the end of the Soviet Union has systematically expanded toward Russia, which stations missiles whose only strategic function would be to provide the United States with a hypothetical nuclear first strike capacity against Russia, and which regularly holds military manoeuvers along Russian borders.
Russia has done nothing against the United States, and recently provided President Obama with a face-saving way to avoid being voted down in Congress in regard to military action against Syria – action which was not desired by the Pentagon but only by the fraction of Israeli-oriented policy makers called “neocons”. Russia professes no hostile ideology, and only seeks normal relations with the West. What more can it do? It is up to Americans to come to their senses.
By Diana Johnstone. The Center of Research on Globalization grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author’s copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: email@example.com www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner. For media inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright © Diana Johnstone, Counterpunch, 2014
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions. She can be reached at email@example.com
Capitalism is one of the two things all anarchists oppose. Capitalism is marked by two main features, “private property” (or in some cases, state-owned property) and wage labour. The latter, however, is dependent on the former, i.e. for wage labour to exist, workers must not own or control the means of production they use. In turn, private (or state) ownership of the means of production is only possible if there is a state, meaning mechanisms of organised coercion at the disposal of the propertied class (see section B.2).
Anarchists oppose private property (i.e. capitalism) because it is a source of coercive, hierarchical authority and elite privilege (“Property . . . violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism. . . [and has] perfect identity with robbery,” to use Proudhon’s words – What is Property, p. 251). And so private property (capitalism) necessarily excludes participation, influence, and control by those who use, but do not own, the means of life.
Therefore, for all true anarchists, property is opposed as a source of authority, indeed despotism. To quote Proudhon on this subject:
“The proprietor, the robber, the hero, the sovereign – for all these titles are synonymous – imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control; that is, he pretends to be the legislative and the executive power at once. . . [and so] property engenders despotism. . . That is so clearly the essence of property that, to be convinced of it, one need but remember what it is, and observe what happens around him. Property is the right to use and abuse . . . if goods are property, why should not the proprietors be kings, and despotic kings — kings in proportion to their facultes bonitaires? And if each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property, absolute king throughout his own domain, how could a government of proprietors be any thing but chaos and confusion?” [Op. Cit., pp. 266-7]
In other words, private property is the state writ small, with the property owner acting as the “sovereign lord” over their property, and so the absolute king of those who use it. As in any monarchy, the worker is the subject of the capitalist, having to follow their orders, laws and decisions while on their property. This, obviously, is the total denial of liberty (and dignity, we may note, as it is degrading to have to follow orders). Little wonder, then, that anarchists oppose private property as Anarchy is “the absence of a master, of a sovereign” [Op. Cit., p. 264] and call capitalism for what it is, namely wage slavery!
Also, it ought to be easy to see that capitalism, by giving rise to an ideologically inalienable “right” to private property, will also quickly give rise to inequalities in the distribution of external resources, and that this inequality in resource distribution will give rise to a further inequality in the relative bargaining positions of the propertied and the property less. While apologists for capitalism usually attempt to justify private property by claiming that “self-ownership” is a “universal right” (see section B.4.2 – “Is capitalism based on self-ownership?), it is clear that capitalism actually makes universal self-ownership, in it’s true sense, impossible. For the real principle of self-ownership implies that people are not used in various ways against their will. The capitalist system, however, has undermined this principle, and ironically, has used the term “self-ownership” as the “logical” basis for doing so. Under capitalism, as will be seen in section B.4, most people are usually left in a situation where their best option is to allow themselves to be used in just those ways that are logically incompatible with genuine self-ownership.
For these reasons, anarchists agree with Rousseau when he states:
“The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying, ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one.'” [“Discourse on Inequality,” The Social Contract and Discourses, p. 84]
Only libertarian socialism can continue to affirm self-ownership whilst building the conditions that guarantee it. Only by abolishing private property can there be access to the means of life for all, so making self-ownership a reality by universalising self-management in all aspects of life.
Before discussing the anti-libertarian aspects of capitalism, it will be necessary to define “private property” as distinct from “personal possessions” and show in more detail why the former requires state protection and is exploitative.
Anarchists define “private property” (or just “property,” for short) as state-protected monopolies of certain objects or privileges which are used to exploit others. “Possession,” on the other hand, is ownership of things that are not used to exploit others (e.g. a car, a refrigerator, a toothbrush, etc.). Thus many things can be considered as either property or possessions depending on how they are used. For example, a house that one lives in is a possession, whereas if one rents it to someone else at a profit it becomes property. Similarly, if one uses a saw to make a living as a self-employed carpenter, the saw is a possession; whereas if one employs others at wages to use the saw for one’s own profit, it is property.
While it may initially be confusing to make this distinction, it is very useful to understand the nature of capitalist society. Capitalists tend to use the word “property” to mean anything from a toothbrush to a transnational corporation — two very different things, with very different impacts upon society. Hence Proudhon:
“Originally the word property was synonymous with proper or individual possession. . . But when this right of use . . . became active and paramount – that is, when the usufructuary converted his right to personally use the thing into the right to use it by his neighbour’s labour – then property changed its nature and this idea became complex.” [What is Property, pp. 395-6]
As Alexander Berkman frames this distinction, anarchism “abolishes private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and with it goes capitalistic business. Personal possession remains only in the things you use. Thus, your watch is your own, but the watch factory belongs to the people. Land, machinery, and all other public utilities will be collective property, neither to be bought nor sold. Actual use will be considered the only title — not to ownership but to possession.” [The ABC of Anarchism, p. 68] (For more on the anarchist theory of property, see P.-J. Proudhon, What is Property?. William Godwin, in Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, makes the same point concerning the difference between property and possession — which indicates its central place in anarchist thought). Proudhon graphically illustrated the distinction by comparing a lover as a possessor, and a husband as a proprietor!
The difference between property and possession can be seen from the types of authority relations each generates. Taking the example of a capitalist workplace, its clear that those who own the workplace determine how it is used, not those who do the actual work. This leads to an almost totalitarian system. As Noam Chomsky points out, “the term ‘totalitarian’ is quite accurate. There is no human institution that approaches totalitarianism as closely as a business corporation. I mean, power is completely top-down. You can be inside it somewhere and you take orders from above and hand ’em down. Ultimately, it’s in the hands of owners and investors.”
In an anarchist society, as noted, actual use is considered the only title. This means that a workplace is organised and run by those who work within it, thus reducing hierarchy and increasing freedom and equality within society. Hence anarchist opposition to private property and capitalism flows naturally from its basic principles and ideas.
Kropotkin argued that the state was “the instrument for establishing monopolies in favour of the ruling minorities.” [Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 286] While some of these monopolies are obvious (such as tariffs, state granted market monopolies and so on – see section F.8 on the state’s role in developing capitalism) most are “behind the scenes” and work to ensure that capitalist domination does not need extensive force to maintain.
The state therefore maintains various kinds of “class monopolies” (to use Tucker’s phrase) to ensure that workers do not receive their “natural wage,” the full product of their labour. There are four major kinds of property, or exploitative monopolies, that the state protects:
- (1) the power to issue credit and currency, the basis of capitalist banking;
- (2) land and buildings, the basis of landlordism;
- (3) productive tools and equipment, the basis of industrial capitalism;
- (4) ideas and inventions, the basis of copyright and patent (“intellectual property”) royalties.
By enforcing these forms of property, capitalism ensures that the objective conditions within the economy favour the capitalist, with the worker free only to accept oppressive and exploitative contracts within which they forfeit their autonomy and promise obedience or face misery and poverty. Due to these “initiations of force” conducted previously to any specific contract being signed, capitalists enrich themselves at the expense of us as well as making a mockery of free agreement (see section B.4). Of course, despite the supposedly subtle role of such “objective” pressures in controlling the working class, working class resistance has been such that capital has never been able to dispense with the powers of the state, both direct and indirect. When “objective” means of control fail, the capitalists will always turn to the use of state repression to restore the “natural” order.
To indicate the importance of these state backed monopolies, we shall sketch their impact.
The credit monopoly, by which the state controls who can and cannot loan money, reduces the ability of working class people to create their own alternatives to capitalism. By charging high amounts of interest on loans (which is only possible because competition is restricted) few people can afford to create co-operatives or one-person firms. In addition, having to repay loans at high interest to capitalist banks ensures that co-operatives often have to undermine their own principles by having to employ wage labour to make ends meet (see section J.5.11). It is unsurprising, therefore, that the very successful Mondragon co-operatives in the Basque Country created their own credit union which is largely responsible for the experiments success.
Just as increasing wages is an important struggle within capitalism, so is the question of credit. Proudhon and his followers supported the idea of a People’s Bank. If the working class could take over and control increasing amounts of money it could undercut capitalist power while building its own alternative social order (for money is ultimately the means of buying labour power, and so authority over the labourer – which is the key to surplus value production). Proudhon hoped that by credit being reduced to cost (namely administration charges) workers would be able to buy the means of production they needed. While most anarchists would argue that increased working class access to credit would no more bring down capitalism than increased wages, all anarchists recognise how more credit, like more wages, and how the struggle for credit, like the struggle for wages, might play a useful role in the development of the power of the working class within capitalism. Obvious cases that spring to mind are those where money has been used by workers to finance their struggles against capital, from strike funds and weapons to the periodical avoidance of work made possible by sufficiently high money income. Increased access to cheap credit would give working class people slightly more options than selling their liberty or facing misery (just as increased wages and unemployment benefit also gives us more options).
Therefore, the credit monopoly reduces competition to capitalism from co-operatives (which are generally more productive than capitalist firms) while at the same time forcing down wages for all workers as the demand for labour is lower than it would otherwise be. This, in turn, allows capitalists to use the fear of the sack to extract higher levels of surplus value from employees, so consolidating capitalist power (within and outwith the workplace) and expansion (increasing set-up costs and so creating oligarchic markets dominated by a few firms). In addition, high interest rates transfer income directly from producers to banks. Credit and money are both used as weapons in the class struggle. This is why, again and again, we see the ruling class call for centralised banking and use state action (from the direct regulation of money itself to the management of its flows) in the face of repeated threats to the nature (and role) of money within capitalism.
So the credit monopoly, by artificially restricting the option to work for ourselves, ensures we work for a boss.
The land monopoly consists of enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation. In addition, it also includes making the squatting of abandoned housing and other forms of property illegal. This leads to ground-rent, by which landlords get payment for letting others use the land they own but do not actually cultivate. While this monopoly is less important in a modern capitalist society (as few people know how to farm) it did, however, play an important role in creating capitalism (also see section F.8.3). Economist William Lazonick summaries this process:
“The reorganisation of agricultural land [the enclosure movement] . . . inevitably undermined the viability of traditional peasant agriculture. . . [it] created a sizeable labour force of disinherited peasants with only tenuous attachments to the land. To earn a living, many of these peasants turned to ‘domestic industry’ – the production of goods in their cottages . . .It was the eighteenth century expansion of domestic industry. . . that laid the basis for the British Industrial Revolution. The emergence of labour-saving machine technology transformed. . . textile manufacture. . . and the factory replaced the family home as the predominant site of production.” [Business Organisation and the Myth of the Market Economy, pp. 3-4]
By being able to “legally” bar people from “their” property, the landlord class used the land monopoly to ensure the creation of a class of people with nothing to sell but their labour (i.e. liberty). Land was taken from those who traditionally used it, violating common rights, and it was used by the landlord to produce for their own profit (more recently, a similar process has been going on in the Third World as well). Personal occupancy was replaced by landlordism and agricultural wage slavery, and so “the Enclosure Acts. . . reduced the agricultural population to misery, placed them at the mercy of the landowners, and forced a great number of them to migrate to the towns where, as proletarians, they were delivered to the mercy of the middle-class manufacturers.” [Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, p. 117]
This was the land monopoly in action (also see section F.8.3) and from it sprang the tools and equipment monopoly as domestic industry could not survive in the face of industrial capitalism. The tools and equipment monopoly is based upon the capitalist denying workers access to their capital unless the worker pays tribute to the owner for using it. While capital is “simply stored-up labour which has already received its pay in full” and so “the lender of capital is entitled to its return intact, and nothing more” (to use Tucker’s words), due to legal privilege the capitalist is in a position to charge a “fee” for its use. This is because, with the working class legally barred from both the land and available capital (the means of life), members of that class have little option but to agree to wage contracts which let capitalists extract a “fee” for the use of their equipment (see section B.3.3).
While the initial capital for investing in industry came from wealth plundered from overseas or from the proceeds of feudalist and landlordist exploitation, the fact of state protection of property ensured that the manufacturer was able to exact usury from labour. The “fee” charged to workers was partly reinvested into capital, which reduced the prices of goods, ruining domestic industry. In addition, investment also increased the set-up costs of potential competitors, which continued the dispossession of the working class from the means of production as these “natural” barriers to entry into markets ensured few members of that class had the necessary funds to create co-operative workplaces of appropriate size. So while the land monopoly was essential to create capitalism, the “tools and equipment” monopoly that sprang from it soon became the mainspring of the system.
In this way usury became self-perpetuating, with apparently “free exchanges” being the means by which capitalist domination survives. In other words, “past initiations of force” combined with the current state protection of property ensure that capitalist domination of society continues with only the use of “defensive” force (i.e. violence used to protect the power of property owners against unions, strikes, occupations, etc.). The “fees” extracted from previous generations of workers has ensured that the current one is in no position to re-unite itself with the means of life by “free competition” (in other words, the paying of usury ensures that usury continues). Needless to say, the surplus produced by this generation will be used to increase the capital stock and so ensure the dispossession of future generations and so usury becomes self-perpetuating. And, of course, state protection of “property” against “theft” by working people ensures that property remains theft and the real thieves keep their plunder.
As far as the “ideas” monopoly is concerned, this has been used to enrich capitalist corporations at the expense of the general public and the inventor. As David Noble points out, the “inventor, the original focus of the patent system, tended to increasingly to ‘abandon’ his patent in exchange for corporate security; he either sold or licensed his patent rights to industrial corporations or assigned them to the company of which he became an employee, bartering his genius for a salary. In addition, by means of patent control gained through purchase, consolidation, patent pools, and cross-licensing agreements, as well as by regulated patent production through systematic industrial research, the corporations steadily expanded their ‘monopoly of monopolies.'” As well as this, corporations used “patents to circumvent anti-trust laws.” This reaping of monopoly profits at the expense of the customer made such “tremendous strides” between 1900 and 1929 and “were of such proportions as to render subsequent judicial and legislative effects to check corporate monopoly through patent control too little too late.” [American By Design, p. 87, 84 and 88]
By creating “legal” monopolies and reaping the excess profits these create, capitalists not only enriched themselves at the expense of others, they also ensured their dominance in the market. Some of the excess profits reaped due to the legal monopolies where invested back into the company, securing advantages for the company by creating various barriers to potential competitors.
Moreover, the ruling class, by means of the state, is continually trying to develop new forms of private property by creating artificial scarcities and monopolies, e.g. by requiring expensive licenses to engage in particular types of activities, such as broadcasting. In the “Information Age,” usury (use fees) from intellectual property are becoming a much more important source of income for elites, as reflected in the attention paid to strengthening mechanisms for enforcing copyright in the recent GATT agreements, or in US pressure on foreign countries (like China) to respect copyright laws, and so on.
In other words, capitalists desire to restrict competition in the “free market” by ensuring that the law reflects and protects their interests, namely their “property rights.” By this process they ensure that co-operative tendencies within society are crushed by state-supported “market forces.” As Noam Chomsky puts it, modern capitalism is “state protection and public subsidy for the rich, market discipline for the poor.” [“Rollback, Part I”, Z Magazine] Self-proclaimed defenders of “free market” capitalism are usually nothing of the kind, while the few who actually support it only object to the “public subsidy” aspect of modern capitalism and happily support state protection for property rights. (For more on capitalism as based on state-protected monopolies, see Benjamin Tucker, Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One).
All these monopolies seek to enrich the capitalist (and increase their capital stock) at the expense of working people, to restrict their ability to undermine the ruling elites power and wealth. All aim to ensure that any option we have to work for ourselves (either individually or collectively) is restricted by tilting the playing field against us, making sure that we have little option but to sell our labour on the “free market” and be exploited. In other words, the various monopolies make sure that “natural” barriers to entry (see section C.4) are created, leaving the heights of the economy in the control of big business while alternatives to capitalism are marginalised at its fringes.
So it is these kinds of property and the authoritarian social relationships that they create which the state exists to protect. It should be noted that converting private to state ownership (i.e. nationalisation) does not fundamentally change the nature of property relationships; it just removes private capitalists and replaces them with bureaucrats.
To answer this question, consider the monopoly of productive “tools and equipment.” This monopoly, obtained by the class of industrial capitalists, allows this class in effect to charge workers a “fee” for the privilege of using the monopolised tools and equipment.
This occurs because property, in Proudhon words, “excommunicates” the working class. The state enforces property rights in land, workplaces and so on, meaning that the owner can bar others from using them and enforce their rules on those they do let use “their” property. So the boss “gives you a job: that is permission to work in the factory or mill which was not built by him but by other workers like yourself. And for that permission you help to support him for . . .as long as you work for him.” [Alexander Berkman, What is Communist Anarchism?, p. 11]
Therefore, due to the dispossession of the vast majority of the population from the means of life, capitalists are in an ideal position to charge a “use-fee” for the capital they own, but neither produced nor use. Having little option, workers agree to contracts within which they forfeit their autonomy during work and the product of that work. This results in capitalists having access to a “commodity” (labour) that can potentially produce more value than it gets paid for in wages. During working hours, the owner can dictate (within certain limits determined by worker resistance and solidarity as well as objective conditions, such as the level of unemployment within an industry or country) the level, duration and intensity of work, and so the amount of output (which the owner has sole rights over even though they did not produce it). Thus the “fee” (or “surplus value”) is created by owners paying workers less than the full value added by their labour to the products or services they create for the firm. The capitalist’s profit is thus the difference between this “surplus value,” created by and appropriated from labour, minus the firm’s overhead and cost of raw materials (See also section C.2, “Where do profits come from?”).
So property is exploitative because it allows a surplus to be monopolised by the owners. Property creates hierarchical relationships within the workplace (the “tools and equipment monopoly” might better be called the “power monopoly”) and as in any hierarchical system, those with the power use it to protect and further their own interests at the expense of others. Within the workplace there is resistance by workers to this oppression and exploitation, which the “hierarchical. . . relations of the capitalist enterprise are designed to resolve this conflict in favour of the representatives of capital…” [William Lazonick, Op. Cit., p. 184]
Needless to say, the state is always on hand to protect the rights of property and management against the actions of the dispossessed. When it boils down to it, it is the existence of the state as protector of the “power monopoly” that allows it to exist at all.
So, capitalists are able to appropriate this surplus value from workers solely because they own the means of production, not because they earn it by doing productive work themselves. Of course some capitalists may also contribute to production, in which case they are in fairness entitled to the amount of value added to the firm’s output by their own labour; but owners typically pay themselves much more than this, and are able to do so because the state guarantees them that right as property owners (which is unsurprising, as they alone have knowledge of the firms inputs and outputs and, like all people in unaccountable positions, abuse that power — which is partly why anarchists support direct democracy as the essential counterpart of free agreement, for no one in power can be trusted not to prefer their own interests over those subject to their decisions). And of course many capitalists hire managers to run their businesses for them, thus collecting income for doing nothing except owning.
Capitalists’ profits, then, are a form of state-supported exploitation. This is equally true of the interest collected by bankers and rents collected by landlords. Without some form of state, these forms of exploitation would be impossible, as the monopolies on which they depend could not be maintained. For instance, in the absence of state troops and police, workers would simply take over and operate factories for themselves, thus preventing capitalists from appropriating an unjust share of the surplus they create.
No. Even though a few supporters of capitalism recognise that private property, particularly in land, was created by the use of force, most maintain that private property is just. One common defence of private property is found in the work of Robert Nozick (a supporter of “free market” capitalism). For Nozick, the use of force makes acquisition illegitimate and so any current title to the property is illegitimate (in other words, theft and trading in stolen goods does not make ownership of these goods legal). So, if the initial acquisition of land was illegitimate then all current titles are also illegitimate. And since private ownership of land is the basis of capitalism, capitalism itself would be rendered illegal.
To get round this problem, Nozick utilises the work of Locke (“The Lockean Proviso”) which can be summarised as:
- 1. People own themselves.
- 2. The world is initially owned in common (or unowned in Nozick’s case.)
- 3. You can acquire absolute rights over a larger than average share in the world, if you do not worsen the condition of others.
- 4. Once people have appropriated private property, a free market in capital and labour is morally required.
Take for example two individuals who share land in common. Nozick allows for one individual to claim the land as their own as long as the “process normally giving rise to a permanent bequeathable property right in a previously unowned thing will not do so if the position of others no longer at liberty to use the thing is therefore worsened.” [Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 178]
But, if one person appropriated the land then the other cannot live off the remaining land. However, if the new land owner offers the other a wage to work their land and this exceeds what the new wage slave originally produced, then this meets the “Lockean Proviso.” Of course, the new wage slave has no option but to work for another, but this is irrelevant for the Lockean Proviso.
Interestingly, for a ideology that calls itself “libertarian” Nozick theory defines “worse off” in terms purely of material welfare, compared to the conditions that existed within the society based upon common use. In other words, being “worse off” in terms of liberty (i.e. self-ownership or self-government) is irrelevant for Nozick, a very telling position to take.
Nozick claims to place emphasis on self-ownership in his ideology because we are separate individuals, each with our own life to lead. It is strange, therefore, to see that Nozick does not emphasise people’s ability to act on their own conception of themselves in his account of appropriation. Indeed, there is no objection to an appropriation that puts someone in an unnecessary and undesirable position of subordination and dependence on the will of others.
Notice that the fact that individuals are now subject to the decisions of other individuals is not considered by Nozick in assessing the fairness of the appropriation. The fact that the creation of private property results in the denial of important freedoms for wage slaves (namely, the wage slave has no say over the status of the land they had been utilising and no say over how their labour is used). Before the creation of private property, all managed their own work, had self-government in all aspects of their lives. After the appropriation, the new wage slave has no such liberty and indeed must accept the conditions of employment within which they relinquish control over how they spend much of their time.
Considering Nozick’s many claims in favour of self-ownership and why it is important, you would think that the autonomy of the newly dispossessed wage slaves would be important to him. However, no such concern is to be found – the autonomy of wage slaves is treated as if it were irrelevant. Nozick claims that a concern for people’s freedom to lead their own lives underlies his theory of unrestricted property-rights, but, this apparently does not apply to wage slaves. His justification for the creation of private property treats only the autonomy of the land owner as relevant. However, as Proudhon rightly argues:
“if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all . . . Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another . . . from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own, no more can he prevent individuals to come.” [What is Property?, pp. 84-85]
Under capitalism people are claimed to own themselves, but this is purely formal as most people do not have independent access to resources. And as they have to use other peoples’ resources, they become under the control of those who own the resources. In other words, private property reduces the autonomy of the majority of the population, and creates a regime of authority which has many similarities to enslavement. As John Stuart Mill put it:
“No longer enslaved or made dependent by force of law, the great majority are so by force of property; they are still chained to a place, to an occupation, and to conformity with the will of an employer, and debarred by the accident of birth to both the enjoyments, and from the mental and moral advantages, which others inherit without exertion and independently of desert. That this is an evil equal to almost any of those against which mankind have hitherto struggles, the poor are not wrong in believing.” [“Chapters on Socialism”, Principles of Political Economy, pp. 377-8]
Capitalism, even though claiming formal self-ownership, in fact not only restricts the self-determination of working class people, it also makes them a resource for others. Those who enter the market after others have appropriated all the available property are limited to charity or working for others. The latter, as we discuss in section C, results in exploitation as the worker’s labour is used to enrich others. Working people are compelled to co-operate with the current scheme of property and are forced to benefit others. This means that self-determination requires resources as well as rights over one’s physical and mental being. Concern for self-determination (i.e. meaningful self-ownership) leads us to common property plus workers’ control of production and so some form of libertarian socialism – not private property and capitalism.
And, of course, the appropriation of the land requires a state to defend it against the dispossessed as well as continuous interference in people’s lives. Left to their own devices, people would freely use the resources around them which they considered unjustly appropriated by others and it is only continuous state intervention that prevents then from violating Nozick’s principles of justice (to use Nozick’s own terminology, the “Lockean Proviso” is a patterned theory, his claims otherwise not withstanding).
In addition, we should note that private ownership by one person presupposes non-ownership by others (“we who belong to the proletaire class, property excommunicates us!” [Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 105]) and so the “free market” restricts as well as creates liberties just as any other economic system. Hence the claim that capitalism constitutes “economic liberty” is obviously false. In fact, it is based upon denying liberty for the vast majority during work hours (as well as having serious impacts on liberty outwith work hours due to the effects of concentrations of wealth upon society).
Perhaps Nozick can claim that the increased material benefits of private property makes the acquisition justified. However, it seems strange that a theory supporting “liberty” should consider well off slaves to be better than poor free men and women. As Nozick claims that the wage slaves consent is not required for the initial acquisition, so perhaps he can claim that the gain in material welfare outweighs the loss of autonomy and so allows the initial act as an act of paternalism. But as Nozick opposes paternalism when it restricts private property rights he can hardly invoke it when it is required to generate these rights. And if we exclude paternalism and emphasise autonomy (as Nozick claims he does elsewhere in his theory), then justifying the initial creation of private property becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.
And if each owner’s title to their property includes the historical shadow of the Lockean Proviso on appropriation, then such titles are invalid. Any title people have over unequal resources will be qualified by the facts that “property is theft” and that “property is despotism.” The claim that private property is economic liberty is obviously untrue, as is the claim that private property can be justified in terms of anything except “might is right.”
For more anarchist analysis on private property and why it cannot be justified (be it by occupancy, labour, natural right, or whatever) consult Proudhon’s classic work What is Property?
For further discussion on capitalist property rights see section F.4.
B.3.5 Is state owned property different from private property?
No, far from it.
State ownership should not be confused with the common or public ownership implied by the concept of “use rights.” The state is a hierarchical instrument of coercion and, as we discussed in section B.2, is marked by power being concentrated in a few hands. As the general populate is, by design, excluded from decision making within it this means that the state apparatus has control over the property in question. As the general public and those who use a piece of property are excluded from controlling it, state property is identical to private property. Instead of capitalists owning it, the state bureaucracy does.
This can easily be seen from the example of such so-called “socialist” states as the Soviet Union or China. To show why, we need only quote a market socialist who claims that China is not capitalist. According to David Schweickart a society is capitalist if, “[i]n order to gain access to means of production (without which no one can work), most people must contract with people who own (or represent the owners of) such means. In exchange for a wage of a salary, they agree to supply the owners with a certain quantity and quality of labour. It is a crucial characteristic of the institution of wage labour that the goods or services produced do not belong to the workers who produce them but to those who supply the workers with the means of production.“ Anarchists agree with Schweickart’s definition of capitalism. As such, he is right to argue that a “society of small farmers and artisans . . . is not a capitalist society, since wage labour is largely absent.” He is, however, wrong to assert that a “society in which most of [the] means of production are owned by the central government or by local communities — contemporary China, for example — is not a capitalist society, since private ownership of the means of production is not dominant.” [After Capitalism, p. 23]
The reason is apparent. As Emma Goldman said (pointing out the obvious), if property is nationalised “it belongs to the state; this is, the government has control of it and can dispose of it according to its wishes and views . . . Such a condition of affairs may be called state capitalism, but it would be fantastic to consider it in any sense Communistic” (as that needs the “socialisation of the land and of the machinery of production and distribution” which “belong[s] to the people, to be settled and used by individuals or groups according to their needs” based on “free access”). [Red Emma Speaks, pp. 406-7]
Thus, by Schweickart’s own definition, a system based on state ownership is capitalist as the workers clearly do not own the own means of production they use, the state does. Neither do they own the goods or services they produce, the state which supplies the workers with the means of production does. The difference is that rather than being a number of different capitalists there is only one, the state. It is, as Kropotkin warned, the “mere substitution . . . of the State as the universal capitalist for the present capitalists.” [Evolution and Environment, p. 106] This is why anarchists have tended to call such regimes “state capitalist” as the state basically replaces the capitalist as boss.
While this is most clear for regimes like China’s which are dictatorships, the logic also applies to democratic states. No matter if a state is democratic, state ownership is a form of exclusive property ownership which implies a social relationship which is totally different from genuine forms of socialism. Common ownership and use rights produce social relationships based on liberty and equality. State ownership, however, presupposes the existence of a government machine, a centralised bureaucracy, which stands above the members of society, both as individuals and as a group, and has the power to coerce and dominate them. In other words, when a state owns the means of life, the members of society remain proletarians, non-owners, excluded from control. Both legally and in reality, the means of life belong not to them, but to the state. As the state is not an abstraction floating above society but rather a social institution made up of a specific group of human beings, this means that this group controls and so effectively owns the property in question, not society as a whole nor those who actually use it. Just as the owning class excludes the majority, so does the state bureaucracy which means it owns the means of production, whether or not this is formally and legally recognised.
This explains why libertarian socialists have consistently stressed workers’ self-management of production as the basis of any real form of socialism. To concentrate on ownership, as both Leninism and social democracy have done, misses the point. Needless to say, those regimes which have replaced capitalist ownership with state property have shown the validity the anarchist analysis in these matters (“all-powerful, centralised Government with State Capitalism as its economic expression,” to quote Emma Goldman’s summation of Lenin’s Russia [Op. Cit., p. 388]). State property is in no way fundamentally different from private property — all that changes is who exploits and oppresses the workers.
For more discussion see section H.3.13 — “Why is state socialism just state capitalism?”