Dear New Libertarians,
In her article on individualist anarchism in the October, 1984, New Libertarian, Wendy McElroy mistakenly claims that modern-day individualist anarchism is identical with anarchist capitalism. She ignores the fact that there are still individualist anarchists who reject capitalism as well as communism, in the tradition of Warren, Spooner, Tucker, and others.
In her overview of anarchist history, McElroy criticizes the individualists of the past for their belief in the labor theory of value, because it fails to distinguish between profit and plunder. Some anarchist individualists still believe that profit is theft, and that living off the labor of others is immoral. And some individualists, both past and present, agree with the communist anarchists that present-day capitalism is based on economic coercion, not on voluntary contract. Rent and interest are mainstays of modern capitalism, and are protected and enforced by the state. Without these two unjust institutions, capitalism could not exist. These two institutions, and the money monopoly of the state, effectively prevent most people from being economically independent, and force them into wage labor. Saying that coercion does not exist is capitalist economic relations because workers aren't forced to work by armed capitalists ignores the very real economic coercion caused by this alliance of capitalism and the state. People don't voluntarily work for wages or pay rent, except in the sense that most people "voluntarily" pay taxes, Because one recognizes when she or he is up against superior force, and chooses to compromise in order to survive, does not make these activities voluntary; at least, not in the way I envision voluntary relations in an anarchist society. Benjamin Tucker, when he spoke of his ideal "society of contract," was certainly not speaking of anything remotely resembling contemporary capitalist society.
McElroy also makes invalid assumptions about strategic differences between communist and individualist anarchists. Surely, communists are as likely as individualists to leaflet tenants encouraging them to refuse to pay rent or to resist eviction. Communists don't routinely put guns to people's heads as their primary method of organizing for anarchy, Many individualists, as well as many communists, however, do support violence in self-defense. Communist anarchists are also as likely to be means-oriented as individualists. I know some communist or collectivist anarchists, and although we differ in our economic preferences, they are as committed to voluntaryism as I am. As McElroy says, in an anarchist society communist and capitalist (and individualist and mutualist) communities could exist side by side, as long as all of these communities were voluntary. McElroy, however, seems to share the conventional view that most communist anarchists are closet authoritarians and potential bombthrowers, and implies that communist economic arrangements are less likely to be voluntary than capitalist ones, an assumption with no basis in fact.
I do not quarrel with McElroy's definition of herself as an individualist anarchist. However, I dislike the fact that she tries to equate the term with anarchist capitalism. This is simply not true. I am an individualist anarchist and I am opposed to capitalist economic relations, voluntary or otherwise. I do, however, support the freedom of people to live in voluntary capitalist communities if they so choose, although I think few people would if they had a real choice. I would prefer to live in a community based on principles like those of the communities in which Josiah Warren participated. Such principles, neither capitalist nor communist, are what individual anarchism means to me.
(From New Libertarian #14, June 1985)