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Murray Rothbard on Noam Chomsky and "Anarcho-Syndicalism"

Last week I discussed a recent interview by Noam Chomsky, where I pointed out some of his confusing views on libertarianism and anarchy. The view Chomsky holds has been around for quite some time, and it’s been referred to as “anarcho-syndicalism”, left-libertarianism, or libertarian socialism. Essentially, this view is theoretically against government and for free association, and yet is against the theory of private property that later libertarians or “anarcho-capitalists” such as Murray Rothbard would hold as vital to a free and prosperous society.

This view seems paradoxical to me, as if property is not privately held, then surely the only other alternative is some sort of central governing authority. While the “anarcho-syndicalist” claims to support free association, for a society to be run in the manner which they seek – which involves collective ownership of the means of production- a coercive, central authority would be necessary. This philosophy seems to essentially be communism under another name, and holds fear of some mythical “private power” over the very real, very destructive power of the State.

Murray Rothbard offered his own critique of the “anarcho-syndicalist” philosophy over four decades before Chomsky’s interview twisted my brain in knots. In fact, Rothbard believed this “syndicalism” idea was even more destructive than straight up socialism! From a 1971 article in the Libertarian Forum:

Of the three major proposals for running an advanced industrial society — socialism, syndicalism, and free-market capitalism — syndicalism is the most blatantly unworkable and most rapidly disastrous. For in such a society, there must be some rational mechanism for allocating resources efficiently, for seeing to it that the proper amounts of labor, land, and capital equipment are employed in those areas and in those ways most efficient for satisfying the wants and desires of the mass of consumers. Free-market capitalism not only provides the most smoothly efficient way; it is also the only method that relies solely on voluntary inducements.

This gets to the heart of the economic problem with anarcho-syndicalism. Without private property rights a free market is not able to properly function. Sans price signals resulting from profit and loss, and how does the “anarcho-syndicalist” believe that resources would be allocated? Without a market, the only other answer is a central authority. As a central authority operates outside of profit and loss signals, the best it can do is make guesses as to how resources should be doled out to the “community”.

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Historical context

It's important to look at the historical context. What were the original anarchists actually concerned with? I'm only going to use land as an example to make my point.

We are born into a world full of other people, with established rules. We don't get to negotiate them as a condition to be born.

One rule is that land can be owned by title without having to occupy it, and that title can be inherited.

Eventually there will be no more unowned land left. Given the rule about land ownership, it doesn't matter if the population expands or contracts. Sooner or later someone will have a valid legal claim to all of the land.

At this stage, where all land has been claimed, it's still possible for those born landless to work, save and buy land from an existing owner. Eventually the market will consolidate, and nearly all of the land will be owned by a relatively small group who will have no incentive to do anything but collect rent.

Everyone born after that point is a renter for life. Those lucky enough to have inherited some of the land can live forever off the labor of those who don't own any. The land owners get to consume as much as they want and never have to produce anything.

To those born into the world as renters, who know they have to pay for their entire lives hard earned money to someone who did nothing to earn it, this is usury. To renters for life, the idea that the land is "private property" is ridiculous. It doesn't matter to the renters that the landlords acquired the land honestly. It comes down to survival: Having to pay the rent makes life hard, and there is no incentive to pay it, other than the threat of force for failure to pay.

So what do the renters do about it? They declare that private ownership of land is illegitimate and take it by force.

Then what? Reset the chess board or change the rules of the game?

The victorious renters could divide up the land between them, and keep the old rules of land ownership in place. They would be free to buy, sell, or rent their newly acquired land.

Or they could try changing the rules of ownership. You've nicely recapped Rothbard's observations, which are largely from Mises, which I completely agree with.

Still, the Mises/Rothbard style libertarians haven't solved the problem of keeping a market free over time.

In most places there's a hybrid solution in place. The concept of private ownership is respected, making it possible to figure out how allocate resources. There's still an established group that owns everything worth owning, that doesn't produce anything, that just collects rent. Of course, it's finance, they are the owners of the modern world, not landlords.

There's a safety net that comes in the form of (un)employment insurance, rent controls, income assistance, and so on. The safety net is sold as something to protect the "renters", but really it's there to protect the owners. Homeless, hungry people are way more likely to fight.

Have you read about Mikhail Bakunin? If you're going to read about the left libertarians, you might as well start with him.

Land is a problem

Unfortunately the reality is the problem is worse and becomes worse faster under collectivist systems.

The reason the bad guys own everything is due to them selling the rubes on the benefits of state power. Or rather the rubes buying it, in America the people resisted it for a good stretch.

The core problem isn't land however. The core problem is that the power has, will, and must always go to the highest bidder. The larger the state, the more wealth is concentrated.

The core function of the state is to protect capital from the market. The state does nothing else and cannot do anything else. The state can only prevent people from interacting freely or force them to interact against their will. That's all it can do.

So to use a Rothbardism, this is just yet another case, but perhaps the most broad case, of "in order to prevent a theoretical natural monopoly in the future, you create one immediately".

In theory, it's conceivable were we ever to be set free, that all the land would be bought up and we'd pay rent to the real landlords, as of old. But possibly it wouldn't have. I think a free people might solve this with market means. Certainly technology could solve it. Also in a truly free society there would be no reliable way to maintain enough wealth that you could afford forces to keep your unoccupied land exclusively yours. To have that concentration of wealth you need a state. In other words, no state, no armies.

But we didn't go that way, and now essentially this land monopoly is exactly what happened under our collectivist system. Title is afforded by the state, and of course this power is and must always be abused, as it was when it was afforded by the state-in-one-man, the king.

The question is if we were to set ourselves free, is it right to in turn expropriate the loot from the looters. I think it might be right, but if we did so we'd just become them. And they won't maintain their wealth without protection from the market anyway.

Now I'm not quite sure what

Now I'm not quite sure what your stance is on ownership of real estate is... Isn't there some difference between personal property (eg. clothes, cars, weapons, food, electronics, gold) and real estate? And why not throw in other types of titles, like copyright, trademark and patent? If you abandon a gold coin is it still really your property? If someone else finds it and picks it up are they stealing from you? What about land? How do you think the standards of possession should be defined for these types of property?

I've learned about libertarian principals through Mises, Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, Tom Woods, Gary North, and so on. Really, this is more properly called anarcho-capitalism than libertarianism. The actual anarchists and libertarians I have learned, are socialist.

I'm not saying that collectivism is good or the way to go. I agree with you, socialism is bad. Mises was right, pricing is really, really important. So the left libertarians must be all bad too... or are they?

Looking into it more closely, I discover that there was co-option back then just as there is now. (eg. Tea Party) There were anti-state libertarians. Take Mikhail Bakunin for instance. He was as famous as Marx in his time. In Man, Society, and Freedom he wrote that liberty is "the revolt of the individual against all divine, collective, and individual authority." He utterly rejected statism. He predicted Marx's communist authoritarianism would hurt the people and then fail.

The original anarchist ideal was to run everything locally. But it wasn't to be, Marx beat him just like Romney beat Ron Paul... by cheating. The state socialists co-opted the libertarian movement then just as the state-capitalists co-opt the libertarian movement now. The right-libertarian idea is also to run things locally. Is this really much different from what Bakunin advocated?

If we look past the rhetoric, past some of the terms that instantly turn us off, I think we'll see a lot more common ground with some of the Occupy crowd. They say "equality" and we cringe. We say "free market" and they cringe.

I feel I've been a little too idealistic, my responses to left libertarians/anarchists too knee jerk, and I'm trying to understand the context and nuances of their positions instead of rushing to refuse them.

My stance on real estate

is that I concede the theoretical problem.

In a free society the natural monopoly on real estate is possible.

The problem is that in a stateful society it's not only inevitable, the state is defined by monopoly of violence in a geographical area.

So again to crib Rothbard, it makes no sense to solve a potential future monopoly with a coercive one immediately.

Now if your buds say "But we are not proposing a state!" Then they have larger confusion than mere economics.

That particular distinction is distinctly utopian vs realistic. We do not believe in perfect humans creating a perfect society. We know a free society will not be perfect. But economics and history informs us that, while not perfect, it is better than any other possible society. In fact educated collectivists tacitly recognize this because they know their societies will always fail so long as a more free society exists.

IE capitalism must be not just shunned but wiped out.

Whereas we would be happy to let them have their hive, so long as they left us alone, they never can leave us alone.

They won't say this, but what they know is their system will fail because there is a more free society for people to escape to.

But that's a much longer conversation.


You Said:

"Eventually the market will consolidate, and nearly all of the land will be owned by a relatively small group who will have no incentive to do anything but collect rent."

I would argue that in the presence of central planning (socialism or syndicalism), then I agree. In the absence of central planning or bureaucratic monopoly then I would have to repudiate this theory.

Your thoughts?

P.S. Your quote paraphrases the Communist Manifesto.

You said you would argue...

You said you would argue... so please do argue. You haven't made an argument. You said you would have to repudiate this theory, but you do not do so.

I'm not taking a position either way on central planning vs absence of central planning with respect to enforcing property rights. I'm explaining what motivated the original libertarians.

I'm aware that Marx held this view on ownership of real property, based on what he wrote in Capital. (If you read one thing from Marx, read that) He was correct. Just because the Labor Theory of Value was misguided doesn't mean that absolutely every observation Marx made about the world is invalid.

Imagine the world as a chess board. There's a finite number of squares. If it's necessary to occupy a square in order to own it, then a greater number of individuals will be able to make use of squares without paying rent. If it's not necessary to occupy a square in order to own it, eventually all the squares will be owned by someone and all new people will have no choice but to pay rent to those born before them. If you live in the Americas this may not seem to be an issue, but if you live in some small European country you might have a different view.

Of course, it is also just as true that when property protections are stronger, owners have more incentive to invest in that property. It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to construct a highrise tower on land that they have to personally occupy in order to have legal claim to. So don't think I'm advocating the idea that real property shouldn't be owned at all. I'm merely pointing out the consequences if either view could be perfectly enforced for all time.

The original libertarians, who were as a matter of indisputable fact part of the broader socialist movement, found themselves born into a world where they felt all the squares were occupied and left them no opportunity. They and other socialist factions revolted and overthrew the existing order in parts of Europe. In Eastern Europe they were especially victorious. The socialists were broadly divided into the statist and anti-statist variety. The statist variety destroyed the anti-statist.

I believe most Rothbard following libertarians are entirely ignorant of this history who believe anti-statist ideas are alien to socialists. It's just not true. I believe libertarians could learn a lot from the history of the anti-statist left.

I have some criticisms.

"The original libertarians, who were as a matter of indisputable fact part of the broader socialist movement, found themselves born into a world where they felt all the squares were occupied and left them no opportunity."

That's likely true. However, this wasn't for a lack of land but rather because centralized authorities, the monarchs and their affiliates of the time, limited who was allowed to invest in property and how it was allowed to be disseminated. Consolidation was also a fact of law. They had near total control and property was also forcibly taken often. Obviously, property ownership in these terms identifies best with simple theft.

Burden of Proof

You made the claim that:

"If it's not necessary to occupy a square in order to own it, eventually all the squares will be owned by someone and all new people will have no choice but to pay rent to those born before them."

You have made no argument, there, just an assumption.

I actually tried to make your argument work by implying that a government force could subsidize land owners and thus protect them from losing their land.

In the absence of government protection from competition, I don't see how your scenario holds. Please enlighten me.


"If it's not necessary to occupy a square in order to own it, eventually all the squares will be owned by someone and all new people will have no choice but to pay rent to those born before them."

here are my rebuttals in advance:

1) Landowners do not live forever
2) Land is an asset whose yield is often lower than other assets, thus it is frequently sold or liquidated.
3) Thus "new people" will always be able to buy land

Right. His claim boils down

Right. His claim boils down to yet another claim of natural monopoly.

While it's a coherent thought that such might a thing might occur, in historical reality all actual monopolies have been provided by states.

And it's not for lack of trying. Before the progressive era capitalist after capitalist made prodigious losses trying to corner markets with mergers, trusts, pools, etc. As we know it was this very failure that got capitalists to finally create the 'popular demand' for more government intervention in markets, 'to protect the people'. Progressivism, ie fascism, that we still labor under.

Just like in theory there it might be possible to have a natural bubble, in historical reality they are always caused by intervention.

> While it's a coherent

> While it's a coherent thought that such might a thing might occur, in historical reality all actual monopolies have been provided by states.

I've argued this with left-libertarians. They'll argue that's exactly how things were in eastern Europe in the early 20th century.

canucksforpaul2 also suggested the situation must have been due to government intervention that essentially amounted to theft of the property.

I don't know enough about the details of the region and time to say for sure one way or the other... but I can't deny it's at least possible.

The closest thing to a

The closest thing to a natural monopoly might be the guild system, which in theory was an IP monopoly, ie we keep our secret of how to make a certain type of glass, but even there they always had to use force when the secret inevitably came out to suppress competition. Eventually they would merge with state power when such occurred. That era was really composed of many competing small states. But it was much better than fewer. Note how upset the bad guys get over the idea of Syria balkanizing, or, the greatest of heresies, the US doing so, oh noes!

Ask your 'left libertarian' buds for an example(s) of a natural monopoly to study. Once you start looking at them, and if you understand a bit of economics, you'll see they were coercive rackets like always.

Or you might be first to document a genuine natural monopoly.. but don't bet on it:)

Wealth is only collected during life

and it's disseminated after death. Naturally it goes to the most needy and deserving of your offspring, but generally it's split. To keep consolidating it, you need a dwindling population or rules that force the consolidation (like only to the first born male crap or corporate ownership through agencies that don't die). Also, I think this might be short selling property ownership if you view it only in the limited terms defined by the state. If you actually own your own property, you can do what you want with it and define it the way you want. Subdivide it indefinitely, trade and rearrange, build up, have temporal arrangements and permit what ever type of access you want. To think that people benefit most form owning land just because land is a finite resource is BS. How wealthy can you be alone on an island or alone in vast tracks of land. You need people that want that land for prosperity and if it's not reasonable to rent or buy, people will go somewhere else. I'm not even sure their wouldn't be free land, claimable land, land designated for certain purposes that are mutually beneficial, etc.

> To think that people

> To think that people benefit most form owning land just because land is a finite resource is BS

To think otherwise is also BS. And it misses the point. Sometimes it's the land, sometimes it's something else. Like who gets to print the money.

Imagine a remote town. One family owns all of the usable land in and around the town. The town started because one man set out and build a mine there. He was a true pioneer. He worked and saved and set out one day and built this mine. He risked everything, he could have been ruined or even died. But he was successful, and his venture ended up building an entire town.

This great man died, and as is fair and right he left his property to his son who in turn left it to his son who left it to his son.

You are born into this town. It is owned by the great, great, grandson of the man who built it.

Your destiny, as with most of the towns folk, is to work in the mine for the rest of your life. You will not starve or freeze to death, but you won't live like the man who owns the mine. The man who owns the mine doesn't do anything. He didn't take any risks to build it. What use is he to you? Why should you work all day, risk being killed or maimed, just so he can get the loins share of the benefit?

So you and the other miners get together and decide you all now own the mine. You decide to share the profits, which means you all get far more than you did before. You don't even have to use force or attack the owner to do this. You just keep working and divvy up the ore among yourselves. And you tell the owner that if he uses force against you then they'll use force to defend yourself.

The moral of this story is that our concept of private property holds up pretty well over short time frames. Purchasing groceries is a free market exchange, plain and simple. Ownership that lasts hundreds of years, not so simple.

We are always looking to advance our positions. What was fair yesterday isn't fair today.

Each generation will view the status quo, the social contract, or whatever you want to call it, through their own eyes. What was a great deal for their grandfathers will not necessarily seem fair to them. Whether or not all the individuals transactions that preceded were fair in their own right is irrelevant.

What a load of crap that was.

How about you take some personal responsibility for your own destiny and if you don't like the deal your getting, leave. If you don't want to be exploited, don't participate. If some slackass great grandchild gets propped up by the hardworkings of others, stop propping him up.

Also, you could apply this same coordinated expropriation to the original owner too. After all, what was fair last Tuesday isn't necessarily fair today. Fairness in past transactions IS relevant.

Says you...

It's far from certain that even you personally would do what you say if you found yourself in such a situation. I don't want to make assumptions about what you personally would do, but most people will do whatever best advances their interests, even if that means redefining the rules of property.

We can't view ourselves

as not fortunate just because someone else happens to be more fortunate. It mistakes inequity for injustice. Certain wrongs may exist, but we can't define them in terms of the inequity, they have to be defined in terms of the injustice. If someone in a poor neighborhood wins the lottery, they got lucky. Others were not lucky, but the inequity is not the injustice, and it's not wrong. Perhaps this new found fortune may allow a person to exploit their neighbors unfairly or encroach on their rights or property, but it wouldn't be this fortune that created the wrong. It's the act. This applies to land, intelligence, personal character, etc.... there is always going to be some inequities and we shouldn't go Handicapper General on people just to "fix" it.

Don't get me wrong, if there is an inequity created by an injustice I'm all for seeking restitution. Further, if the system is getting rigged to perpetuate inequity, I'm all for addressing the rigged system too.

Ah, Henry George

He raises the one problem that Rothbard couldn't completely answer.


The other problem, one that the syndicalists answer that the Anrcho -capitalists don't, is the "how we get there from here " question. the problem with anarcho - capitalism is that the people that have gained all the advantages through our current corporatist mixed economy have huge advantages that would allow them to dominate the emerging anarcho capatalist society - basically the deal is done and the Bilderbergs are in control whether we go to anarcho-capitalism or not. The syndicalist have a way to bring the beast down, but no sustainable program for afterward.

So there we are.

I'm not so sure

Not using the state issued money may well be the equivalent of "this factory now belongs to us"

As for your other point, that the syndicalists had the path figured out... well, they were destroyed and they got state communism.

uh, no

Guess what, there already is no such thing as unowned land. All land is owned by someone. Yet, people continue to buy and sell land. What gives? Clearly, your thesis has problems.

"It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go - maybe even longer. If a reasonably intelligent person learned to play Go, in a few months he could beat all existing computer programs." - Piet Hut

I think you missed the context

This is a continuation of the other topic linked to at the top. It's not "my thesis". We're exploring the believes of the left libertarians, the original libertarians.

I just read half of the wiki

I just read half of the wiki on anarcho-syndicalism, so now I'm an expert. I'm going to do my best to defend it.

Anarcho-syndicalists seem to believe that workers should voluntarily unite in order to preserve their rights. They do not believe that the state is the mechanism for unity. To me, this is not inconsistent with anarcho-capitalism. A society based in freedom allows workers to unite voluntarily. If all, or most, or any, of the employees of an organization choose to join together for a united action, then they are free to do so in a liberated society. It is also, however, the right of the organization to end the employment of anyone who they'd like. Unions aren't bad, they are the essence of society. Voluntary unions advance humanity through the division and specialization of labor and, subsequently, through exchange. No union should be outlawed if it is voluntary and no union should be tolerated if it is coercive.

Do anarcho-syndicalists promote coercive unions? From my extensive reading (half of the wiki) I'd guess no; but, please, someone correct me if I'm wrong and then indicate where I can read otherwise.

My big problem with the anarcho-syndicalist method of expression is the continued reference to "the worker". Oh, how ambiguous a term! What is a "worker"? What is "work"? I'd say that "work" is not to be defined by one person for another; what is work is known only by the individual and the meaning he or she assigns to his or her actions. I just took a trip to the john--to me, that was work.

nobody is stopping workers from uniting and starting their own

Ever heard of REI?

But the fact remains that most workers are not interested in this. They don't want to run a business. Rather, they just want to collect a paycheck.

"It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go - maybe even longer. If a reasonably intelligent person learned to play Go, in a few months he could beat all existing computer programs." - Piet Hut

I do not believe

I do not believe the anarcho-syndicalists THINK they advocate the use of force, but really that is the only way their society can work. How else can they ban money and private ownership of production. How will workers "throw out" the factory owners?

If they are only describing a way to voluntarily associate within a truly anarchist society, that's all well and good. But the syndicalists I've encountered seem to essentially be communists...they just somehow think communism can work voluntary, by everyone in society "agreeing" to own all of the goods and resources together.

How these goods and resources are allocated, I have no idea, and I've yet to hear a coherent answer.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

Noam Chomsky is a Gatekeeper

You need 'intellectual' leaders to control (and confuse) people. I'm inclined to believe many in the intellectual movements are obfuscators and wouldn't be surprised Karl Marx is among that group. Using logic to understand some of Marx's concepts goes no where and his ideas are left vague when he uses words like 'abstractions'. How can you argue for or against 'abstractions'?
Chomsky uses the term 'libertarian-socialist' to describe himself. How else could you get away with this Orwellian doublethink?

Anyways it helps to have a linguist manage Orwellian doublethink and newspeak and control language. Hence Chomsky claims to be an 'Anarchist' and 'Libertarian-socialist' and controls Anarchist movements into left-anarchy and away from anarcho-capitalism. Most anarchist movements are left-anarchists, because of the intellectual movement's control. Even Proudhon touted as the original left-anarchist was extremely anti-Marxist and was much more of free-market anarchist yet he's portrayed as being in the left-anarchist camp.

Chomsky is from MIT aka Military Institute of Tech
Look under Defense research:
I know a friend was working on a Defense project back many years ago as a summer intern for MIT.

I heard Chomsky really just consolidated info from other resources for his book Manufacturing Dissent. The establishment quickly promoted him as the leader of the media propaganda opposition.
Anyways.....I'm not at all surprised at Rothbard's conclusion, but I also believe Chomsky's ideas are intentionally contradictory.

“The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.”

― Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

9-11 Media Fakery: Did anyone die on 9-11?


9-11 Actors:

Pysops.. media.. actors.. propagandists... disinfo agents.. fake videos.. fake photos

I guess I needed to read this, because--

I have been impressed with the way Noam Chomsky openly criticizes the governments of both the U.S. and Israel--

maybe his philosophy is not so harmless, though--

it's hard to be awake; it's easier to dream--


I read a lot of his stuff when I was younger and first learning about things. He is indeed great on criticism of the US Empire, but he doesn't seem to apply a consistent philosophy to this criticism.

The underlying philosophy he holds in indeed dangerous. Luckily it's largely a fantasy - we have a better chance of seeing an anarcho-capitalist society in our lifetime than an anarcho-syndicalist one, main less because the latter will never work and makes no sense.

Of course I don't really think we will see either in my lifetime - at least not a mass scale.

Doesn't mean I won't have fun trying my whole life...

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

Yes, where private property

Yes, where private property rights are not enforced and clearly defined, there will be a misallocation of resources. That's not to say that where private property rights are clearly defined and enforced there necessarily IS an efficient allocation of resources, other factors go into that, but without them it is guaranteed to be inefficient.

I would like to see the system designed and the method of transition to that system of anyone who claims this ideology. How is it even possible without the use of force? The transition could not happen without the major use of force and theft. To me it just shows an ignorance of basic economic principles.

This is what

This is what they can't get past. Whenever I ask how they will establish this society without the use of force, the question is avoided completely and ad hominem attacks ensue. It's really just communism under a different name.

The "anarcho-left" might be the most dangerous ideology out there, as it can tend to confuse those who will associate what they are advocating with actual anarchy or anarcho-capitalism.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*