We sat down with Charles Johnson to pick his brain on left market anarchism at Exploring Anarchism, a conference organized by Students For Liberty and Students for a Stateless Society in Norman Oklahoma in 2015.
One of the Five Pillars of left-wing market anarchism that Gary Chartier and I identify in the Introduction to Markets Not Capitalism is a commitment to the radical possibilities of market social activism:
. . . [M]arket anarchists also see freed markets as a space not only for profit-driven commerce, but also as spaces for social experimentation and hard-driving grassroots activism. They envision “market forces” as including not only the pursuit of narrowly financial gain or maximizing returns to investors, but also the appeal of solidarity, mutuality and sustainability. “Market processes” can — and ought to — include conscious, coordinated efforts to raise consciousness, change economic behavior, and address issues of economic equality and social justice through nonviolent direct action.
–Charles W. Johnson and Gary Chartier, Introduction. 3. Markets Not Capitalism (Autonomedia/Minor Compositions, 2011).
Transcript included below for folks with screen readers, et cetera.
Grayson English: I think it’s all very interesting, all this about thicker commitments, and different things that libertarians tend to ignore, and some of the more ethical concerns that go into these social issues. But I think there’s been a pretty devastating critique on Facebook about how left-libertarianism has nothing to say about ethics, and it’s basically just saying that whatever the market does, is good. I don’t know, I just think that seems somewhat problematic for this philosophy of thicker commitments, and indirect coercion. What do you think of that?
Jason Lee Byas: . . . The great agora that is Facebook, for philosophical symposiums in every thread, yeah …
Charles Johnson: Yeah, I’ve definitely talked with some folks about this, on Facebook and elsewhere. I fear that Facebook is actually, like, systematically the worst possible medium for having involved discussions about this kind of stuff, for various reasons.
But, broadly what I’d say is this: left-libertarianism involves a claim that without state coercion, and without various forms of legal privilege, there are a bunch of forms of social and economic inequality, and social and economic privilege, that would tend to be systematically undermined — that would be much weaker than they are in society as it is. It doesn’t involve a claim that just freeing the market, and seeing whatever will happen, without your intervention, when markets are free, — is what either free-market anticapitalism in particular or what left-libertarianism is all about. That’s not the end of the day for either of those views.
And, so I think it is true, that if you get rid of — and it’s really important not to forget this; this is the reason we stress so much the importance of state monopoly in upholding capitalist privilege, for example — is not to suggest that, in a society freed of government intervention and regulation, that the freed market would automatically solve every social problem, every form of inequality, cancer, tooth decay, and that the seas would become the temperature and flavor of lemonade.
The specific claim is that there’s a bunch of stuff that would tend to sort of systematically get better just in virtue of kicking out the supports from institutions that are actively making it crappier. So there are a lot of forms of privilege that would tend to sort of sink and falter under their own weight, without the ongoing efforts of the state to subsidize them and to burn out competitors. But — whatever forms of social inequality, and whatever social evils — and there’s plenty that would remain, even if in a weaker form — are things that libertarians ought to take a direct hand in organizing nonviolent social confrontation against. Where these things don’t fall under their own weight, we have a responsibility to get together and push them over. And that means a serious commitment to grassroots community organizing and to social activism within the context of this freed market that we’re imagining.
That’s something I’ve always tried to emphasize in my work as very important — if you’re wondering who will stop the rich from running everything in a free society, part of the answer has to be that we will. And there are straightforward ways in which it’s connected with this commitment to the radical possibilities of freed market social activism. That is closely connected with seeing that being in favor of market relationships, is not the same thing as just kicking back and saying, Well, I don’t have to lift a finger because the market is going to take care of all my problems for me. . . . —
Jason Lee Byas:Market take the wheel! —
Charles Johnson: — I mean market forces just are us; they’re people acting rationally in the world. We shouldn’t just be consumers of social conditions, but entrepreneurs of social conditions. That’s going to mean things like mutual aid associations forming up, fighting unions, neighborhood associations. It’s going to mean feminist activism, culture jamming, consciousness-raising, — all kinds of zaps and activism and building counter-institutions that are in the hands of ordinary folks, rather than in the hands of a socially or economically privileged bureaucracy. Any conception that takes market relationships *fully seriously,* is going to have to include social activism as an essential component of a flourishing free society. Not something that we’re bringing market relationships in instead of, because we don’t want to get our hands dirty with that stuff. It’s stuff that can, and should, and almost certainly will be happening in a free market society. And if you don’t see it happening, the solution is to be the change — to be the one that makes it happen.
Part of a panel on so-called Intellectual Property, together with Stephan Kinsella (Saturday October 13, 2012, 2pm-3pm), on the Main Stage.
A breakout session on Ask an Anti-Capitalist! A Freewheeling Q&A on Markets Not Capitalism, Left-Libertarianism, and Mutualist Ends Through Free-Market Means (Sunday October 14, 2012, 9:45am-10:30am).
Part of a panel discussion on Markets Not Capitalism, together with my co-editor Gary Chartier, and contributors Roderick Long and Sheldon Richman. (Sunday October 14, 2012, 3pm-4pm), on the Main Stage.
Tabling in the exhibition area for Markets Not Capitalism, the ALL Distro, and Center for a Stateless Society. We’ll have copies of the book, booklets, pamphlets, buttons, and more; and we’ll be there to talk to convention-goers about free-market anticapitalism and left-libertarian ideas. I’m going to enjoy the talks but in all honesty the person-to-person contact and the tabling is the kind of groundwork that I see as by far the most important stuff, and which I’m most looking forward to doing.
I should mention that the Ask an Anti-Capitalist! session is being held in the John Galt Room, which I’m choosing to take as one of the more hilarious culture-clash moments I’ve had since I started doing this gig. The bad news is that this is scheduled opposite breakout sessions by Gary Chartier on war, and Sharon Presley on libertarian feminism (?!?). I guess the good news is that by packing us in like this, they’ve ensured that no matter what breakout session you go to during that block, you are going to get some lefty libertarian stuff to hear. Anyway, there’s going to be a veritable mob of left-libertarians, free-market anticapitalists, C4SSers and other lefty-friendly commentators there throughout the event, including Gary Chartier, Sheldon Richman, Roderick Long, Stephanie Murphy, not to mention presentations by Angela Keaton, Sharon Presley and Anthony Gregory. You can check out the whole schedule here.
We’re doing our best to do all this on as thin a shoestring budget as possible. I’ve arranged for couch-surfing and carpooling to help keep the travel and lodging expenses as minimal as possible, but there’s still a couple of hefty charges that we’re paying out of pocket to get Markets Not Capitalism and a rambunctious left-libertarian presence out to California. So if you want to help out, you can toss a few coins into the hat with the ChipIn widget below. Donations go to the Molinari Institute, so any proceeds above reimburseable expenses will go to support the production and distribution of market anarchist literature, and towards supporting future speaking gigs for Markets Not Capitalism. Anyway, here’s the shoestring, for reference. (This may be revised as other arrangements get nailed down.)
Markets Not Capitalism 2012 Libertopia budget
Travel. Rental car to ferry me, L., and a friend across the continent to San Diego
Lodging en route (2 nights there, 2 back; crash space secured!)
Tabling space expenses. To reimburse Roderick Long for the expense of securing a table in exhibition space for C4SS, ALL, and Markets Not Capitalism (he will otherwise have to pay out-of-pocket)
Total costs (estimate as of 23 Sep 2012)
Chip In to get Markets Not Capitalism to Libertopia!
So I’ve mentioned already that I did a book event a while back with Roderick back in Auburn, and that I am going to be in Austin, Texas this weekend to do a couple more book events for Markets Not Capitalism. What I’ve been working on, behind the scenes, but haven’t announced publicly yet is that these are just the first two legs in a seat-of-the-pants sort of book tour that I’ve been working to put together over the next few months. In addition to the events this weekend in Austin, there are also confirmed events in late February in and around Nashua, New Hampshire, and in mid-March in Asheville, North Carolina. As with all these events, I’ll be doing a brief talk, a reading, Q&A and book-signing. (In New Hampshire I’ll also be holding down tables at Liberty Forum and AltExpo with a wide selection of left-libertarian and market anarchist literature.)
Individualist anarchists believe in mutual exchange, not economic privilege. They believe in freed markets, not capitalism. They defend a distinctive response to the challenges of global capitalism and social justice: eliminate the political privileges that prop up capitalists. The economic crisis needs fresh new responses, which emphasize the ways in which poverty and economic inequality have resulted from collusion between government and big business, which has enriched a few corporate giants at the expense of the rest of us. Rather than turning back to politics, the authors argue that working people must begin to free themselves of the mistakes of the past, and work together to take back control over their own lives and livelihoods through individual freedom, mutual exchange, human-scale markets and nonviolent grassroots social activism. Books for sale, books signed, discussion to be had, Q&A to follow. Come on down!
Charles Johnson (b. 1981) is a market anarchist writer from Auburn, Alabama. He is a member of Occupy Auburn and the Industrial Workers of the World, and a Research Associate at the Molinari Institute. He has published the Rad Geek People’s Daily weblog at radgeek.com since 2001, and is a frequent speaker and columnist on radical responses to the economic crises, stateless social activism, and the philosophy of anarchism.
Here are the dates we’ve got more-or-less confirmed so far:
Interested? I hope I’ll see you somewhere along the road! Come on down to one if you can; invite your friends; spread the word. I’m excited; these events are always a lot of fun, and vital to helping get the word out, and I’d like to do what I can to keep this market anarchist roadshow going as long as can be managed. If you’re interested and able, here’s a couple things that you can do to help keep it running.
Set it up! If you would like to get an event in your neighborhood, and you know a good space to get in touch with, contact me by e-mail or phone! Radical bookstores, infoshops and (A) community centers, and independent community bookstores are usually the best bet, but I’ll show up anywhere I’m invited to talk. I’m especially interested in dates that I might be able to connect with one of the existing appearances — I’m open for any stops along the way from Alabama to New Hampshire during the days before my appearances in Nashua; immediately after the appearance in Nashua, I’m going to be in Chicago, Ill. for other reasons (but if you’re interested in getting an event set up there, I’ll have the time; just let me know!). And I’m happy to add stops to the trip after Asheville in mid-March. (Or anywhere else, after the March 15th appearance.) I’m definitely willing to go just about anywhere east of the Continental Divide; for points West, get in touch with me anyway, as we might be able to hook something up with either me or Gary. Let me know what you think! Hopefully I’ll be adding more details and stops as they come in and get confirmed.
Chip in! If you want to support the progress of the rolling free-market anticapitalist caravan, you can help us out by tossing a few coins into the hat to help cover the costs of transportation and lodging. I’m working on as thin a shoestring as possible, by combining trips, packing a lunch and couch-surfing for crash spaces; with support from y’ALL, I can keep this going a lot longer and make the most of the opportunities to talk about market anarchism and free-market anticapitalism, make connections with local radicals, and put the good word out among our fellow Anarchists.
Here’s the shoestring so far, for reference. (Costs are estimated using AAA’s fuel cost calculator, etc. This budget may be revised as new events are added.) Donations go to the Molinari Institute; any proceeds above reimburseable expenses will go to support left-libertarian scholarship and market anarchist outreach.
Markets Not Capitalism 2012 tour shoestring budget
Austin, Tex. Feb 3-6: Travel expenses. 2 events: Brave New Books and MonkeyWrench Books.
Lodging in Austin (crash space secured!)
Nashua, NH. Late Feb. Travel expenses (one way). Multiple events: appearances in and around Liberty Forum and AltExpo 2012, bookstore event(s) TBA.
Lodging en route to Nashua
Lodging in Nashua, NH (crash space secured!)
Asheville, NC. March 15. Travel expenses. Firestorm Books in Asheville, NC.
I am happy to announce that Markets Not Capitalism is coming to Austin, Texas next weekend. I will be appearing at Brave New Books near the UT campus, and MonkeyWrench Books in North Austin, for a talk / reading / Q&A / market anarchist shindig on Saturday, February 4, and Sunday, February 5. Books will be available for purchase, I’ll be available for discussion and signing, caffeine will be available for consumption; spontaneously-ordered sociality to follow. Come on down; invite yr friends!
I’ll be giving a brief talk at both events, and then a reading from the collected essays on the nature of capitalism, role of the State in creating and propping it up, the place of mutual exchange and individual ownership in a radical, bottom-up alternative, the radical possibilities of freed-market social activism, and the individualist and mutualist tendencies within the anticapitalist tradition. Q&A, discussion and book-signing will ensue.
Many, many thanks are due to Crystal of the Austin / Central Texas A.L.L., for suggesting and organizing both of these events. And many thanks also to the spaces that have generously agreed to host us. Brave New Books is an underground radical libertarian bookstore, located one block from the University of Texas. In addition to fiction and nonfiction about a wide variety of topics, they also host community events including film showings, community meetings, music, speakers, book signings, and more.
MonkeyWrench Books is an all volunteer, collectively-run radical bookstore in North Austin. They provide an extensive collection of radical literature and media, prioritizing books, magazines, movies and zines that you won’t find at your average corporate bookstore; they also provide a place for meetings, film screenings, workshops, benefits, book readings and performances. The store facilitates greater interaction among individuals and organizations working toward social and economic justice. It’s a place where both experienced organizers and people new to political activism can find support, information, and a range of progressive viewpoints. It’s also a relaxed space to network and make connections over a cup of organic coffee or tea.