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International Anarchist Manifesto Against the First World War


In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included several anarchist writings against the First World War, which is yet again being portrayed on the hundredth anniversary of its commencement by the governments involved and the political parties and interests that control them as a great patriotic war, the enormous human, environmental and financial costs of which were supposedly justified in defending “freedom”  and “democracy,” and in building nations, such as Canada and Australia, out of British colonies.

In addition to the patriotic media onslaught, the internet is inundated with misinformation, particularly from Marxist-Leninist groups, regarding the anarchist response to the war, repeating the falsehood that the majority of European anarchists were pro-War. The fact is, only a small minority of anarchists supported the war and those who did, even very prominent ones like Kropotkin, soon found themselves isolated from the various anarchist movements.

One of the best anarchist publications against the war was this one, “International Anarchist Manifesto on the War,” included in Chapter 17, “War and Revolution in Europe,” of  From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), Volume One of the Anarchism anthology. It was signed by a number of well known anarchists from a wide variety of places, including Alexander Berkman, Joseph Cohen and Emma Goldman in the United States, Luigi Bertoni, Errico Malatesta and several other Italians, Russian anarchists who were to play a role in the 1917 Russian Revolution, such as Alexander Schapiro and Bill Shatoff, F. Domela-Nieuwenhuis from the Netherlands, George Barrett, Tom Keel, Lillian Woolf  from England, and several other anarchists from additional countries. 



Emma Goldman Speaking at Anti-Conscription Rally

International Anarchist Manifesto on the War

EUROPE IN A BLAZE, TWELVE MILLION MEN engaged in the most frightful butchery that history has ever recorded; millions of women and children in tears; the economic, intellectual, and moral life of seven great peoples brutally suspended, and the menace becoming every day more pregnant with new military complications – such is, for seven months, the painful, agonizing, and hateful spectacle presented by the civilized world.

But a spectacle not unexpected – at least, by the Anarchists, since for them there never has been nor is there any doubt – the terrible events of today strengthen this conviction – that war is permanently fostered by the present social system. Armed conflict, restricted or widespread, colonial or European, is the natural consequence and the inevitable and fatal outcome of a society that is founded on the exploitation of the workers, rests on the savage struggle of the classes, and compels Labour to submit to the domination of a minority of parasites who hold both political and economic power.

The war was inevitable. Wherever it originated, it had to come. It is not in vain that for half a century there has been a feverish preparation of the most formidable armaments and a ceaseless increase in the budgets of death. It is not by constantly improving the weapons of war and by concentrating the mind and the will of all upon the better organization of the military machine that people work for peace.

Therefore, it is foolish and childish, after having multiplied the causes and occasions of conflict, to seek to fix the responsibility on this or that government. No possible distinction can be drawn between offensive and defensive wars. In the present conflict, the governments of Berlin and Vienna have sought to justify themselves by documents not less authentic than those of the governments of Paris and Petrograd. Each does its very best to produce the most indisputable and the most decisive documents in order to establish its good faith and to present itself as the immaculate defender of right and liberty and the champion of civilization.



Saving ‘civilization’ by destroying it

Civilization? Who, then, represents it just now? Is it the German State, with its formidable militarism, and so powerful that it has stifled every disposition to revolt? Is it the Russian State, to whom the knout, the gibbet, and Siberia are the sole means of persuasion? Is it the French State, with its Biribi, its bloody conquests in Tonkin, Madagascar, Morocco, and its compulsory enlistment of black troops? France, that detains in its prisons, for years, comrades guilty only of having written and spoken against war? Is it the English State, which exploits, divides, and oppresses the populations of its immense colonial empire?

No; none of the belligerents is entitled to invoke the name of civilization or to declare itself in a state of legitimate defence.

The truth is that the cause of wars, of that which at present stains with blood the plains of Europe, as of all wars that have preceded it, rests solely in the existence of the State, which is the political form of privilege.

The State has arisen out of military force, it has developed through the use of military force, and it is still on military force that it must logically rest in order to maintain its omnipotence. Whatever the form it may assume, the State is nothing but organized oppression for the advantage of a privileged minority. The present conflict illustrates this in the most striking manner. All forms of the State are engaged in the present war; absolutism with Russia, absolutism softened by Parliamentary institutions with Germany, the State ruling over peoples of quite different races with Austria, a democratic constitutional régime with England, and a democratic Republican régime with France.

The misfortune of the peoples, who were deeply attached to peace, is that, in order to avoid war, they placed their confidence in the State with its intriguing diplomatists, in democracy, and in political parties (not excluding those in opposition, like Parliamentary Socialism). This confidence has been deliberately betrayed, and continues to be so, when governments, with the aid of the whole of their press, persuade their respective peoples that this war is a war of liberation.

We are resolutely against all wars between peoples, and in neutral countries, like Italy, where the governments seek to throw fresh peoples into the fiery furnace of war, our comrades have been, are, and ever will be most energetically opposed to war.


Make Revolution Not War

The role of the Anarchists in the present tragedy, whatever may be the place or the situation in which they find themselves, is to continue to proclaim that there is but one war of liberation: that which in all countries is waged by the oppressed against the oppressors, by the exploited against the exploiters. Our part is to summon the slaves to revolt against their masters.

Anarchist action and propaganda should assiduously and perseveringly aim at weakening and dissolving the various States, at cultivating the spirit of revolt, and arousing discontent in peoples and armies.

To all the soldiers of all countries who believe they are fighting for justice and liberty, we have to declare that their heroism and their valour will but serve to perpetuate hatred, tyranny, and misery.

To the workers in factory and mine it is necessary to recall that the rifles they now have in their hands have been used against them in the days of strike and of revolt and that later on they will be again used against them in order to compel them to undergo and endure capitalist exploitation.

To the workers on farm and field it is necessary to show that after the war they will be obliged once more to bend beneath the yoke and to continue to cultivate the lands of their lords and to feed the rich.

To all the outcasts, that they should not part with their arms until they have settled accounts with their oppressors, until they have taken land and factory and workshop for themselves.

To mothers, wives, and daughters, the victims of increased misery and privation, let ut show who are the ones really responsible for their sorrows and for the massacre of their fathers, sons, and husbands.

We must take advantage of all the movements of revolt, of all the discontent, in order to foment insurrection, and to organize the revolution to which we look to put an end to all social wrongs.

No despondency, even before a calamity like the present war. It is periods thus troubled, in which many thousands of men heroically give their lives for an idea, that we must show these men the generosity, greatness, and beauty of the Anarchist ideal: Social justice realized through the free organization of producers; war and militarism done away with forever; and complete freedom won, by the abolition of the State and its organs of destruction.

Signed by – Leonard D. Abbott, Alexander Berkman, L. Bertoni, L. Bersani, G. Bernard, G. Barrett, A. Bernardo, E. Boudot, A. Calzitta, Joseph J. Cohen, Henrry Combes, Nestor Ciele van Diepen, F.W. Dunn, Ch. Frigerio, Emma Goldman, V. Garcia, Hippolyte Havel, T.H. Keell, Harry Kelly, J. Lemaire, E. Malatesta, H. Marques, F. Domela Nieuwenhuis, Noel Panavich, E. Recchioni, G. Rijnders, I. Rochtchine, A. Savioli, A. Schapiro, William Shatoff, V.J.C. Schermerhorn, C. Trombetti, P. Vallina, G. Vignati, Lillian G. Woolf, S. Yanovsky.

This manifesto is published by the International Anarchist movement and will be printed in several languages and issued in leaflet form.

London, 1915


IWW Anti-Conscription Poster



B.3 Why are anarchists against private property?

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.

B.3.1 What is the difference between private property and possession?

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.

B.3.2 What kinds of property does the state protect?

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.

B.3.3 Why is property exploitative?

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.

B.3.4 Can private property be justified?

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?”