Anarcho-Syndicalism: A Recipe for Ruin
By Daniel James Sanchez
While browsing the blogosphere, Mises.org readers may have come across self-styled “left-libertarians.” You may even consider yourself something of a left-libertarian. Some of these folk, like the philosopher Roderick Long, have some very sound ideas, and many deep insights.
There is a large subset of left-libertarians who can be described as “anarcho-syndicalists.” The rhetoric of these anarcho-syndicalists might sound very attractive to many libertarians. They are ardent in their desire to smash the state, end authoritarianism of all stripes, and to free up “markets.”
But their idea of a market is very different from that of the classic-liberal and mainline libertarian traditions. Many anarcho-syndicalists also subscribe to a doctrine known as “mutualism.” According to prominent mutualist Kevin Carson, mutualists “believe in private property, so long as it is based on personal occupancy and use.”
For convenience and for lack of a better term, I will refer to this principle of property based on personal occupancy and use as the “anarcho-syndicalist legal order.” Under an anarcho-syndicalist legal order, workers would own all the capital goods they work with. There could therefore be no “absentee” ownership and no wage labor. A capitalist could not hand capital goods over to hired workers without thereby losing title.
Many left-libertarians think of absentee ownership as a form of authoritarianism, and absentee owners as “petty tyrants.” For them, factory takeovers are simply workers defending what was really theirs all along. Furthermore, discounting the work of the entire anarcho-capitalist tradition, they think that the classic-liberal legal order (perpetual and even distant ownership of that which one has homesteaded or contracted for, and all its products) would not be viable without the support of a state — that the anarcho-syndicalist system is the only one compatible with statelessness.
Recall that Mises thought of the legal order advocated by syndicalists to be even less worthy of consideration than socialism. At least socialism was a “thinkable — although not realizable — system of social cooperation under the division of labor.” For Mises, the only two thinkable systems were socialism and capitalism, and only the latter was realizable, whether in hampered or unhampered form. But for Mises, as unrealizable as socialism is, and as destructive as attempts to achieve it are, it still compared favorably to syndicalism.
The ideal of centralist socialism is at least discussible; that of syndicalism is so absurd that one need waste few words on it.…
Preferring the producer interest over the consumer interest, which is characteristic of antiliberalism, means nothing other than striving artificially to maintain conditions of production that have been rendered inefficient by continuing progress. Such a system may seem discussible when the special interests of small groups are protected against the great mass of others, since the privileged party then gains more from his privilege as a producer than he loses on the other hand as a consumer; it becomes absurd when it is raised to a general principle, since then every individual loses infinitely more as a consumer than he may be able to gain as a producer. The victory of the producer interest over the consumer interest means turning away from rational economic organization and impeding all economic progress.
Centralist socialism knows this very well. It joins liberalism in fighting all traditional producer privileges.…
Syndicalism deliberately places the producer interest of the workers in the foreground.… Syndicalism would make all repatterning of production impossible; it leaves no room free for economic progress. CONTINUED