Libertarian Socialism

Libertarian Socialism is a term essentially synonymous with the word "Anarchism". Anarchy, strictly meaning "without rulers", leads one to wonder what sort of system would exist in place of one without state or capitalist masters... the answer being a radically democratic society while preserving the maximal amount of individual liberty and freedom possible.

Libertarian Socialism recognizes that the concept of "property" (specifically, the means of production, factories, land used for profit, rented space) is theft and that in a truly libertarian society, the individual would be free of exploitation caused by the concentration of all means of wealth-making into the hands of an elite minority of capitalists.

Why "Libertarian?"

Just over a hundred years ago there was a movement called "Propaganda by deed", in which many anarchists believed that violence was the best strategy for opposing authority and the state. This proved a disaster, alienating anarchists from the general population and exposing them to negative characterizations by the press (the "bomb-toting anarchist" is completely a creation of the corporate media- before this stigma anarchism was recognized as an anti-authoritarian socialist movement). Many anarchist groups and publications used the word "libertarian" instead of "anarchist" to avoid state repression and the negative association of the former term. Libertarian Socialism differentiates itself from "Anarchy" as a movement only in that it specifically focuses on organization and education in order to achieve human freedom.

Libertarian Socialism is as Libertarian as it is radically Socialist: It emphasizes the liberties and rights of the individual, of whom most on the planet are members of the working class (those who must sell their time and labor for a wage), as opposed to governmental solutions such as extensive social programs or regulation: rather than government bureaucracy there is organization, education and awareness, and every individual is encouraged to become an active, rather than passive participant in that which effect their lives.

What about the American "Libertarian Party"? Don't they already use the word "libertarian"?

The word "libertarian" has been widely used in conjunction with the word "anarchist" and anti-authoritarian strands of socialist organizations, groups, and individuals since the turn of the century. For example, in the US, Sam Dolgoff started the still-running anarcho-syndicalist publication "Libertarian Labor Review" in the late 1980's, and Noam Chomsky has repeatedly spoken about a libertarian socialist solution to the oppression of the international working class. In France, Italy, Lebanon & Belgium there are seperate anarchist groups all currently using the name "Libertarian Alternative". In London, England the Soliderity group published a series of periodicals since 1960, one of the most recent entitled "Soliderity: A Journal of Libertarian Socialism", and George Woodcock wrote "Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements" in 1962 (some 9 years before the creation of the US Libertarian Party.) In Cuba in 1959 there existed an anti-capitalist, anti-state organization called the "Libertarian Association of Cuba". In the 1950's George Fontenis published "The Manifesto of Libertarion Communism". In Spain in 1932 Issac Puente wrote the pamphlet "Libertarian Communism", and the CNT adopted libertarian communism as its goal at the 1936 Saragossa conference on the eve of the Spanish Revolution. In France in 1926 the Dielo Trouda group of anarchists who had fled Russia wrote the hotly debated "Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists".
"Sebastien Faure, who founded Le Libertaire in 1895, is often credited with having invented the word 'libertarian' as a convenient synonym for 'anarchist.' However, [Joseph] Dejacque's use of the word as early as 1858 suggests that it may have had a long currency before Faure adopted it."
[George Woodcock, Anarchism, p. 281 (footnote)]
While a number of pro-capitalist, free-market "Libertarian" organizations and publications tend to have recently appeared in the United States and a few other countries, these entities serve the interests of small business owners, landlords, investors and some upwardly-mobile professionals. Essentially secular neo-conservative organizations, with strong inspiration from the writings of the ultra-capitalist Ayn Rand, economist Murray Rothbard, and science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein. Typical of these advocates of the sacredcy of private property is a distortion of the theories of the moral individualist philosophers of the 19th century (Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Josiah Warren, Henry David Thoreau, etc.) who respected the rights of the individual but were highly critical of the concentrations of wealth and power which led to capitalism and economic oppression since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Due to the elite privilege for the few over the many inherent in a 'pure' capitalist system, "libertarian" capitalism is un-democratic and anti-libertarian. For more information see the essay "Libertarianism: Bogus Anarchy", by Peter Sabatini, and an interview with Noam Chomsky.

Most significantly, unlike liberals and "Democratic Socialists" (social democrats), libertarian socialists reject participation in the mainstream representaive voting process. Libertarian socialism is, in effect, a revolutionary theory and approach to political life.

What about individual liberty?

Libertarian Socialism is an anti-authoritarian form of socialism and the main principles are liberty, freedom, the right for workers to fraternize and organize democratically, the absence of coercion and the resistance against force. Libertarian Socialists hold that the people can make the best judgments for themselves when given enough information and therefore stress education rather than regulation. In current society, the individual worker is seperated from her or his fellow workers and not permitted to organize against his or her own exploitation... the state is the force which permits this lack of freedom to continue.

Libertarian Socialists see humankind divided in a struggle between different social classes: the property-owning class, and the working class. Libertarian socialists are against all forms of coercion, state and capitalist, and do not seek to regulate human behaviors by way of the state, including such issues as possession of firearms, drugs, sexual conduct between consenting individuals, and related issues.

Libertarian Socialists see such things as gun control, "speech codes", drug, alcohol, pornography and prostitution prohibition as a waste of time, and an unnecessary violation of individual choice. Most of humanities woes arise from the inherently coercive, undemocratic and un-libertine capitalist and state systems which human society is currently forced to follow. The answer is not regulation or limitation, but organization and education with a working-class emphasis. Libertarian Socialists reject the "social democratic" solution of keeping the state & military apparatus around but raising taxes to support social programs. These are merely "band-aids" for problems which under capitalism will never go away, and always threaten to get worse. World problems will not be solved by "professionals", free-market entrepreneurs, the ruling capitalist class, politicians or statist bureaucrats. Only the people, organized and educated, can solve their own problems.

What libertarian socialist organizations exist?

Currently the most prominent organizations along libertarian socialist lines are the syndicalist unions known as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) & the International Workers Association (IWA), as well as the Socialist Labor Party [1] of Daniel DeLeon, and various anarcho-communist organizations world-wide.

Are there any major libertarian socialist theorists?

Aside from the significant number of anarchist communist theorists such as Peter Kropotkin and Alexander Berkman, some important contributors to libertarian socialist theory and philosophy would be Noam Chomsky, Daniel Guerin, and Joseph Dietzgen


1) Though the SLP is rather tightly knit and sectarian, they have an interesting paper called The People.

Further Info:
Liberty for the People
Prominent Anarchists and Left-Libertarians

Last update: October 16, 1995
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