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Bits & Pieces on Free Market Anti-Capitalism: With apologies to Shulamith Firestone

Fellow Workers:

In my allotted time, I hope to drill down a bit, and to say something about the structural features, and some of the mechanisms of what we might call state capitalism — of how, in this actually existing economy, the political structure of capitalism2 (to use Gary Chartier’s threefold distinction) tend to produce and sustain the material conditions of capitalism3 — how state corporatism promotes the bosses’ economy. Most of my remarks will be broadly historical and economic in character — although necessarily of a sketchy or programmatic sort, given the constraints of time and format. So consider this an outline of directions for inquiry and discussion; an attempt to show you briefly where key landmarks of the free market anti-capitalist analysis are at, rather than an attempt at a full guided tour. I think it important to at least sketch out the map because the chief obstacle that free market anti-capitalists confront in explaining our position is not so much a matter of correcting particular mistakes in political principles, or economic analysis (although there are particular mistakes we hope to address and correct). It is more a matter of convincing our conversation partners to make a sort of aspect-shift, to adopt a new point of view from which to see the political-economic gestalt.

The need for this shift is pressing because (with apologies to the feminist theorist Shulamith Firestone)[1] the political economy of state capitalism is so deep as to be invisible. Or it may appear to be a superficial set of interventions, a problem that can be solved by a few legal reforms, or perhaps the elimination of bail-outs and the occasional export subsidy, while preserving more or less intact the basic recognizable patterns of capitalistic business as usual. The free market anti-capitalist holds there is something deeper, and more pervasive, at stake than the sort of surface level policy debates to which pro-capitalist libertarians too often limit their discussions. A fully freed market means the liberation of vital command posts in the economy, reclaiming them from points of state control to nexuses of market and social entrepreneurship — transformations from which a market would emerge that would look profoundly different from anything we have now. That so profound a change cannot easily fit into traditional categories of thought, e.g. libertarian or left-wing, laissez-faire or socialist, entrepreneurial or anti-capitalist, is not because these categories do not apply but because they are not big enough: radically free markets burst through them. If there were another word more all-embracing than revolutionary, we would use it.

  1. [1]See the opening paragraph of Chapter 1 of Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex.

Bits & Pieces on Free Market Anti-Capitalism: by way of introduction, or apology

It’s been a while since the APEE panel on Free Market Anti-Capitalism. I said, a few Sundays ago, that I’d have more to say, soon. I’ve been meaning to publish my remarks, but it’s taken me a while to think about how I want to present them. I have a prepared text that I used for most of the talk (with the usual ad-libbing and skipping), and then a minimal set of notes that I used to speak off the cuff at the end of the talk. But the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to post the whole text as a long blob of text on the general topic of Free Market Anti-Capitalism. I’m happy with how the talk turned out — but talks are one thing, and blogs are another. There’s something to be said for the long essay (at least, given my own output, I sure hope that there is), but there’s already a number of long essays and lectures on left-libertarian economics and free-market anti-capitalism that are already out there. And looking back over my talk, as a general thing, what I was aiming to do was to anchor on the (really excellent) overviews of the salient issues which were provided by Steve, Gary, and Sheldon in their (excellent) earlier talks, and then drill down a bit — to get into some specifics about the mechanisms of political economy that free market anti-capitalists want to call attention to when they say that they are against actually-existing capitalism, and also to get into some moderate meta-discussion about why we feel the need to take the approach we do, and what the important upshot of a seemingly semantic point (like whether to use the letters c-a-p-i-t-a-l-i-s-m to identify what you’re for, or what you’re against) might really be. The points that I made along these lines were structured in such a way that, while a lecture is all of a piece, the material easily divides into a series of smaller, interrelated, but distinct remarks on a series of smaller, interrelated, but distinct questions. Smaller questions which might help separate out issues in the telling; smaller questions which might be a bit more digestible for reading and a bit more useful for referencing in future discussions; and, perhaps most importantly, smaller questions which might do more to help inspire some conversations in the comments.

So instead of simply posting my prepared text, or a reconstruction of my talk from the notes, as one big blob, what I’m going to do over the next several days is to split things up a bit, and publish a series of bits & pieces, ad seriatim. I’ll be covering ground that a lot of us have scouted before; some of the pieces (or bits?) will be nothing more than a quick attempt to clearly mark out something that just about every left-libertarian already knows or has read or has written herself. I can only say that I’m trying to accurately represent the ground that I covered in my talk, even if I am serializing and subdividing it. And I do also think there’s something to be said for clear maps, even if the territory has already been surveyed elsewhere. I hope that a survey of the landscape might help to make some journeys more pleasant, to help collect some thoughts, and to move along some conversations.

After I’ve finished serializing the remarks that I made at the panel itself, I hope also to follow up with a few remarks on points that were raised by my co-panelists, which I didn’t have the time to get into at the event itself. And I look forward to seeing how the conversation goes on from there.

Anyway, all this is by way of introduction, or apology, and that’s enough of that.

The first bit (or piece) will be coming out tomorrow.

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