Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Scottish Propertarian Party

Another party of confusion has been added to the Scottish political arena - the Scottish Libertarian Party (see website)  which declares that the ownership of property is a requirement for human existence and therefore a right, which advocates the abolition of all taxes on business and a free trade policy with a return to the gold standard amongst its policies. Fairly standard stuff of the Right. But genuine libertarians are vehemently anti-capitalist. How easy it is to fall into the  trap of accepting re-definition of words. Check out the history of the political meaning of "Libertarian" here 

The Scottish Libertarian Party is NOT  libertarian, no matter how often they make the claim. To be clear and to use the correct terminology they are a propertarian party. Right-"libertarians" are not interested in eliminating capitalist private property nor the authority, oppression and exploitation which goes with it. They make an idol of private property and claim to defend "absolute" and "unrestricted" property rights. In particular, taxation and theft are among the greatest evils possible as they involve coercion against "justly held" property. They call for an end to the state, not because they are concerned about the restrictions of liberty experienced by workers and tenants but because they wish capitalists and landlords not to be bothered by legal restrictions on what they can and cannot do on their property.

Their logic goes something like this: Free-market capitalism on its own would naturally lead to a world of personal freedom and economic prosperity, but this is thwarted by the power of the state, an organism that grows robustly at times of war. Hence, war must be opposed not only because of its own obvious evils, but as a way to drive back the power of the state which is standing in the way of a better life. For "libertarians" capitalism is an inherently peaceful system. They ridicule the idea that there is a connection between the nature of capitalism and the wars that constantly break out under it. In the "libertarian’s" mind, capitalism is—or should be—a world made up of enterprising capitalists, minding their own business(es) and interacting peacefully, without any need for the state to intervene in these affairs or for wars to be waged overseas. Here we are basically dealing with the viewpoint of the individual capitalist, particularly the small-scale one, who experiences the state as an unpleasant institution that appropriates his hard-earned wealth through taxation, sometimes to pay for wars that bring him no direct benefit. Remove this alien force and life would immediately be much rosier. The “liberty” that "libertarians" wax so philosophical about is the freedom of this economic actor to chase after his profit in peace. "libertarians" feels that capitalism can somehow behave more rationally than it does. This "libertarian" view of the benevolent nature of a market economy is a selective one. Their focus is on exchange, as a mutually beneficial act. This is a real “win-win” situation, where I give you my widget and get your gadget in return. The reality is quite the opposite. What is left out, however, are some of the strikingly war-like aspects of a capitalist economy, starting first and foremost with the cut-throat competition that goes on in the pursuit of profit. Nor do they dwell on the class divisions inherent to such a system and the conflict that that results. Never minding the fact that profits are squeezed out of workers, thus depriving them of their own personal liberty!

The state machinery and the wars it wages may seem a complete waste of tax-payer money to the individual capitalist (and to the libertarian who translates his blinkered viewpoint into a grand philosophy), but things look a bit different if we consider the capitalist class as a whole. Like any ruling class throughout history, the minority capitalist class needs the state, as an apparatus of coercion, to maintain its grip on power. And in addition to this age-old function of the state, a capitalist state is also necessary as a means of coordinating the diverse interests of individual capitalists in order to represent their collective interests as capitalists. The example of banking alone shows how deregulation may benefit a tiny stratum of capitalists at the expense of their bourgeois brethren who have to purchase exorbitant or shoddy products. Given this twin-necessity for the state—as policeman and mediating judge—the more far-sighted or financially more comfortable capitalists view the taxes directed to the state apparatus as money well spent. "Libertarians", in short, loathe the state without understanding why it must exist and play certain roles under their cherished capitalist system.

And the same shallowness characterizes their view of war, which is fervently opposed without an understanding of its root causes. Tensions between nations are always present over shifts in political allegiances between countries that may benefit some better than others. Global politics is a macrocosm of the local economy, with each company vying to get as much of the business as it can, such as trade, material resources and opportunities for future economic growth. Capitalism, as already noted, generates its own war-like behaviour at home, where capitalists will go to any lengths to vanquish the enemy (i.e. competitors). We may find this behaviour deplorable from the standpoint of human decency, but it does have its own necessity. And there is a similar capitalist logic at play when nation-states jostle and throttle each other for access to markets and resources, despite such behaviour being the height of idiocy from the perspective of humanity as a whole.

Opposition to the state might sound pretty good, but the "libertarian" anti-state position is based on a blind faith in the free market. They argue that the benevolent forces of the market economy are curbed by the centralised power of the state, which results in a curtailment of individual liberty. ""Libertarianism" states that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another. That is, in the free society, one has the right to manufacture, buy or sell any good or service at any mutually agreeable terms. Thus, there would be no victimless crime prohibitions, price controls, government regulation of the economy. If these so-called libertarians are serious about liberty, and truly want to live under a state-less system where peace then they must end capitalism, whose invisible hand keeps slapping us around and pushing us to slay one another .

The Scottish Libertarian Party thinks that a return to a gold or silver-based currency would eliminate crises such as in the 1930s and today. This is an illusion. There was a gold-based currency up until WWI, yet crises occurred regularly, including a Great Depression in the 1880s and a hundred years ago the same sort of banking crises as today. Capitalism goes through its boom/slump cycle whatever the currency. No monetary reform can change that.

Money originated as a commodity, i.e. something produced by labour that had its own value, which evolved to be the commodity that could be exchanged for any other commodity in amounts equal to the value of the other commodity. Various things have served as the money-commodity, but in the end gold (and silver) was almost universally adopted. Being rare (i.e. requiring more labour to find and extract from nature, so concentrating much value in a small amount), and it was divisible and so easily coined as well as long lasting. As capitalism developed it was found that gold itself did not have to circulate, but that paper notes could substitute for it as long as those accepting or holding it could be sure that they could always change them for gold. Up until WWI in most countries the currency was gold coins and paper notes convertible into gold. The Great Depression of the 1930s led to the major capitalist countries abandoning this convertibility. Since then the currency nearly everywhere has been inconvertible paper notes. With an inconvertible paper currency, the amount of money is no longer fixed automatically by the level of economic transactions, nor is there any limit to the amount of paper currency that can be issued. It is this that they object to because, if the central bank issues more paper money than the amount of gold that would otherwise be needed, then the result will be a depreciation of the currency; the paper money will come to represent a smaller amount of gold with the result that prices generally will rise.

The gold standard was put into effect in the U.S. after the American Civil War. The gold standard in the U.S. was implemented due to demands from Wall Street financiers. they had financed the Union Army based on paper money. They wanted to be able to redeem the debt in dollars worth more than what they provided by tying the dollar to gold, and this would cause deflation, thus raising the value of their dollar-denominated debt. But the effect of this was to restrict growth in the money supply which was to drive down farm commodity prices, impoverishing farmers and driving a huge number of people off the land. That was because, as productivity in agriculture and industry in the U.S. grew in the late 19th century and early 20th century, growth in the money supply didn't follow suit. This led to a constant deflationary tendency. as farmers could get less and less per unit of output, they were unable to pay their debts.

In that era credit in general was extremely scarce, for example, until after World War II, it was hard to get house mortgages in the U.S. Typically you could only get a mortgage for a short period. Consumer credit only really developed in the '20s. This is relevant to the issue of the money supply because expansion of credit expands the money supply. Individualist Anarchists in the US in the 19th century spent a lot of time attacking the gold standard as it allowed the banks to charge extremely high interest as it restricted the money supply. Of course, in practice, banks used lots of techniques to increase the supply to make more profits, of course, but it was a key means of restricting working class access to capital -- which was essential to proletarianise a mostly artisan/peasant (i.e., pre-capitalist) society.

Nor was the deflationary effect necessarily a good thing for workers in the late 19th century. Falling commodity prices meant that employers also were under pressure to cut wages, which they did. It was wage-cutting that provoked the Great Rebellion, the railway strike, of 1877. Recessions/depressions tend to reduce worker bargaining power, and the late 19th century was subject to continual recessionary tendencies, with a big depression in the 1870s and again in the 1890s. In reality there is no particular reason to tie money to gold. The right-libertarian types such as the Scottish Libertarian Party like gold because the idea is to have control of the money supply independent of the state.

The Scottish Libertarian Party seeks to abolish what little services the state still provides for its poor, hungry, and dispossessed. In their  "libertarian" Scotland there would be no National Insurance, no Social Security, no National Health Service, nothing corresponding to the Poor Laws; there would be no public safety-nets at all. It would be a rigorously competitive society: work, beg or die. But these services were paid for in sweat and blood by activists who aimed to alleviate the stress and misery of poverty for the working class. Although against reformism we in the SPGB cannot deny the reality that certain reforms such as an eight-hour work-day or welfare assistance help those who cannot endure the nature of our survival-of-the-fittest capitalist state. Social and welfare services which have been forced upon the elite and conceded to the working class cannot be written off as unimportant. Militant labour fought for concessions. Poor people now have social programs. The Scottish Libertarian Party vision is nothing more than the resurrected dreams of robber barons of the past. They may be against state authority, but it is inconsistent to oppose tyranny in the public sphere of government and leave it unaddressed in the private sphere of work. It is to simply to trade one slave-master for another.

Right-"libertarians" ignore the vast number of authoritarian social relationships that exist in capitalist society. The right-"libertarian," then, far from being a defender of freedom, is in fact a defender of certain forms of authority. To defend the "freedom" of property owners is to defend authority and privilege.  Emma Goldman's rightly attacked that "rugged individualism" expoused by the likes of the Scottish Libertarian Party "which is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his individuality. So-called Individualism is the social and economic laissez-faire: the exploitation of the masses by classes by means of trickery, spiritual debasement and systematic indoctrination of the servile spirit . . . That corrupt and perverse 'individualism' is the strait-jacket of individuality . . . This 'rugged individualism' has inevitably resulted in the greatest modern slavery, the crassest class distinctions . . . 'Rugged individualism' has meant all the 'individualism' for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking 'supermen' . . .and in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social opportunity to live is denounced as . . . evil in the name of that same individualism."

Right-"libertarianism" is unconcerned about any form of equality except "equality of rights". This blinds them to the realities of life; in particular, the impact of economic and social power on individuals within society and the social relationships of domination they create. Individuals may be "equal" before the law and in rights, but they may not be free due to the influence of social inequality, the relationships it creates and how it affects the law and the ability of the oppressed to use it. Without social equality, individual freedom is so restricted that it becomes a mockery (essentially limiting freedom of the majority to choosing which master will govern them rather than being free).

The thinker, Noam Chomsky argues that right-wing "libertarianism" has "no objection to tyranny as long as it is private tyranny...if you have unbridled capitalism, you will have all kinds of authority: you will have extreme authority."
Again as Chomsky puts it: "Anarcho-capitalism, in my opinion, is a doctrinal system which, if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history. There isn't the slightest possibility that its (in my view, horrendous) ideas would be implemented, because they would quickly destroy any society that made this colossal error. The idea of 'free contract' between the potentate and his starving subject is a sick joke, perhaps worth some moments in an academic seminar exploring the consequences of (in my view, absurd) ideas, but nowhere else." Chomsky explains "Consider, for example, the [right-'libertarian'] 'entitlement theory of justice' . . . according to this theory, a person has a right to whatever he has acquired by means that are just. If, by luck or labour or ingenuity, a person acquires such and such, then he is entitled to keep it and dispose of it as he wills, and a just society will not infringe on this right. One can easily determine where such a principle might lead. It is entirely possible that by legitimate means -- say, luck supplemented by contractual arrangements 'freely undertaken' under pressure of need -- one person might gain control of the necessities of life. Others are then free to sell themselves to this person as slaves, if he is willing to accept them. Otherwise, they are free to perish. Without extra question-begging conditions, the society is just.The argument has all the merits of a proof that 2 + 2 = 5 "

Some right-"libertarians" actually claim common ground with true libertarians. Common ground? The socialist opposition to wage labour was shared by the pro-slavery advocates in the Confederacy. The latter opposed wage labour as being worse than its chattel form because, it was argued, the owner had an incentive to look after his property during both good and bad times while the wage worker was left to starve during the latter. This argument does not place them in the socialist camp any more than socialist opposition to wage labour made them supporters of slavery. As such, Right-"libertarian" opposition to the state should not be confused with the anarcho-communist, socialist real- libertarian opposition to it. The former opposes it because it restricts capitalist power, profits and property whilewe oppose it because the state is a bulwark of all three.


To sum up, as Anatole France said, which reflects the Scottish Libertarian Party's philosophy "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

1 comment:

Curt said...

Found your site because of the word "propertarian" kicking off a google alert.

Sorry that you're anti-propertarian, but glad that you correctly understand and use the term.

Good luck in all you do.

Curt

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