Anarchism Without Adjectives

Alexander S. Peak

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23 August 2009


Mike Gogulski, a radical libertarian thinker and blogger, has today come out with a post explaining why he is no longer going to describe himself as an anarcho-capitalist.  He shall henceforth call himself an anarchist without adjectives, or more simply, an anarchist.1

Mr. Gogulski makes some important points, but I find his working unfortunate.  In this essay, I intend to point out in what ways I believe Mr. Gogulski is absolutely right, and to use this discussion to illustrate in what ways I find his rhetoric unfortunately false.

Mike Gogulski’s Correct Premises

Mr. Gogulski begins with the correct premise that there is no way to truly know what a free, stateless society will look like, that society may develop all kinds of alternative institutions to meet human circumstance that we, today, cannot even imagine.  Leonard Read, who was not himself an anarchist but was at least a libertarian, often posed the idea of humankind’s creative energy being hindered by the state.  Clearly, new inventions and ideas concerning organisation will develop as time goes on, and without the state to hinder this progress, it is anybody’s guess in what radical new and exciting directions we will go.Voltairine de Cleyre

Gogulski also postulates that, since we cannot predict the new social structures that will arise in the stateless society, if we stick too strongly to our current preferences, we may find ourselves in the curious position of advocating the return of the state in order to bring back the dying alternative.  But, if we advocate the return of the state, then we are clearly not anarchists.  As anarchists, we need to remember that we are not central planners, and we need to be prepared to accept whatever it is that the stateless society yields.  Hence, Mr. Gogulski shall henceforth describe himself as an anarchist-without-adjectives.

This rapprochement on the part of Gogulski with regards to anarchism reminds me of a piece written by the individualist anarchist Wendy McElroy.  McElroy does not call herself a capitalist, either, as she pointed out in June of 2007.  Instead of calling for the adoption of “wholesale capitalism,” she merely argues for the adoption of a “free market system.”  The difference, she says, is that in advocating the latter, she is allowing people to choose non-capitalist economic models, even if her personal preference “is laissez-faire capitalism.”2

For at least two years, (perhaps more,) I have held views similar to these two writers, in that I wish for people to be free to pursue their own preferences, and wish for them to allow me to be free to non-coercively pursue mine.

Apparent Divisions

Specifically, I have held for some time that all the apparent divisions between capitalists, communists, et al., are actually a product of the state.  We see ourselves as liberals (i.e., advocates of capitalism) or as communists because we look at state communism or state capitalism, and we compare these state-distorted options to one another.  Nevertheless, I maintain that, if we were to smash the state, the apparent conflict between anarcho-communists, anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-socialists, &c., would in fact disappear.


In a truly free, stateless society, liberals would be free to form capitalist-owned firms, free to own property and to voluntarily compete with one another for profit.


Syndicalists would be free to form unions and worker-owned firms and to also compete.  Perhaps these worker-owned firms will be so successful that they will displace the capitalist-owned firms; or perhaps not.  Personally, I have started to think I should describe myself as a free-market anarcho-syndicalists, because I would actually prefer to see worker-owned firms displace capitalist owned one.3  But, as I am not a central planner, but am instead an anarchist, I will accept whatever it is that the stateless society yields, and if it turns out that my preferred worker-owned firms are not as efficient as the capitalist-owned firms, and the capitalist-owned firms end up displacing the worker-owned firms, then so be it.


The lack of conflict does not end there, for communists, in the absence of a state, would be free to go off and form voluntary communes.  These communes could form themselves around whatever principles they wish.  They could share all property, or just the means of production, or just food, or whatever.  They could be organised on the Marxist principle of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or whatever other principle they deem appropriate.4

False Conflict

In our statist system, liberals and communists have not gotten along because both assume that capitalism and communism must be “global systems.”  But this is simply false.  In the stateless society, liberals would not force the communists to own property or to compete in a market-based system as they do under statism, and the communists would not force liberals to surrender their property to the collective.  This force would not be present because (1) it is unnecessary and (2) there will be no state to enforce the adoption of only a single system.  The communism and capitalism would thus both be completely voluntary.5

I imagine that the communists would likely separate themselves to some degree from the market-based society, but this does not have to be the case.  Either way, however, a person would be free to pursue one system and, if she does not like it, to then pursue another at her whim.  Let us say Robinson is working in a capitalist-owned firm, and does not enjoy it.  She then decides to quit and to go join the Springfield Commune.  If she likes it better, she can stay; if she thinks it does not work, she can go back to market-society, or she could even try to invent her own economic model that we, today, cannot even imagine.

Now, personally, I think the communes of a free society will be plagued with hunger and inefficiency, especially the larger ones, and that thus most people will voluntarily choose not to join them, or to leave them after a few years of membership.  But, what if I am wrong?  What if, in the truly free society, communes actually end up working extremely efficiently?  Let us say, in fact, that they are so efficient that everyone ends up voluntarily leaving the capitalist- and worker-owned firms and decide to instead join one of the many communes.  What will I do?  Will I advocate the return of the state so as to ensure a return of market-based society?


If I were to prefer the state to whatever it is that the free society would present, then I would not be an anarchist.  If communism displaces capitalism/syndicalism in the free society, then so be it.

Conversely, if my prediction that communes would be few and far between in the free society is correct, and that most people would prefer to engage one another with market-based interactions, then the anarcho-communists must accept that, too, lest they are also not truly anarchist.

Anarchism Undivided

Perhaps now is a good time to introduce some terms to help facilitate understanding of true v. false anarchisms.

Consider the following eight terms:

  • “Anarcho”-capitalism
  • “Anarcho”-communism
  • “Anarcho”-socialism
  • “Anarcho”-syndicalism
  • Anarcho-“capitalism”
  • Anarcho-“communism”
  • Anarcho-“socialism”
  • Anarcho-“syndicalism”

The first four terms can be used to refer to those that prefer capitalism, communism, et al., over whatever the free society yields, those who would advocate the return of the state and the hierarchy of aggression if their personal preferences do not end up dominating.  As such, anyone who falls within one of the first four categories is in fact a pseudo-anarchist.

Conversely, anyone who falls within one of the latter four categories is a true anarchist, as she or he understands that the use of aggression (i.e. the initiation of force) is wholly unacceptable.  Sure, these persons have their preferences, but they understand that the important thing is that all human interaction be voluntary, that no one be forced through aggression to enter a system in which she does not wish to participate.  For, wherever this aggression does exist, the aggressor creates a hierarchy with himself above his victim, and this hierarchy is contrary to everything anarchism is about.6

These anarchists may have different preferences, but they are all, nevertheless anarchists.  They are not, in fact, different kinds of anarchists, they are merely anarchists with different preferences.  Thus, the apparent conflicts between the different schools of anarchism are in fact nonexistent.

The Problems with Gogulski’s Rhetoric

In the process of Mr. Gogulski making his point, he unfortunately confuses the matter by stressing points that verge on absurdity.

Writes Gogulski, “If private property is impossible in a libertarian society, do you prefer the state?  If so, you’re not a libertarian or anarchist.”7

But what does it mean to say that private property might be “impossible” in a free society?  I have commented above that it is hypothetically possible (regardless of how unlikely it may be) that everyone will choose to join communes and to share all property.  And if such a scenario does arise, we as anarchists must accept it, for to forcibly prevent such a scenario would require aggression, and aggression is inherently hierarchical, and hierarchy is archistic, rather than anarchistic.  In short, we have to accept voluntary communism, even if it displaces market-based interaction.  But even then, it would be improper to say that private property is “impossible,” for (1) even in the communes, there would likely be some form of private property; (2) even in those communes that have agreed to share all alienable goods, individuals would necessarily still retain ownership in their own persons, for to usurp that self-ownership and force the individual to remain a participant in the commune against her will would be enslavement, which is again hierarchical and non-anarchistic; and (3) the “possibility” of private property is simply not contingent upon whether or not people choose to share in common all property.  In other words, private property will always be “possible” in a truly free society, regardless of whether anyone chooses to own property privately.My Side of the Mountain

Gogulski also comments that private property is a social construct, but this, too, confuses the matter.  It is not, in fact, a social construct because it is not contingent upon the intersubjective considerations of the members of society.  Even if every person on Earth, save for Robinson, chooses to join a local commune, Robinson is still free to not also join.  She can, if she wishes, instead go off into the wilderness and live as Sam Gribley does in the wonderful children’s book My Side of the Mountain, living off the land.  Should Robinson do this, anything she homesteads is her private property, regardless of the fact that (A) she is no longer living in a social situation and (B) no one who is living in a society chooses to own property privately.  If private property were a social construct, as Gogulski has said, then what Robinson uses would not, in fact, be her property.  But in what way would it not be her property—her private property—considering that she is the only person who has any domain over the resources she uses to survive?

All anarchists, regardless of their particular schools, agree that an individual owns her own body, that her body is hers and that for anyone to control her body against her will is enslavement and usurpation.  Moreover, even those anarchists who do not like market-based interactions, who explicitly prefer and promote communal living—even these at least tolerate private property amongst those who do not voluntarily choose to join the communes.  For, to not tolerate the free and non-coercive choices of others, one would necessarily have to engage in aggression against those who make the supposedly-“wrong” choice, and such aggression is necessarily hierarchical and antithetical to anarchism.  No true anarcho-“communist” would ever support such an act, just as no true anarcho-“capitalist” would ever forcibly prevent others from voluntarily supporting and joining communal life.  Thus, even if private property were a social construct, which it rationally cannot be, it would at least be a social construct that all anarchists tolerate.


I respect Mr. Gogulski’s decision to no longer wish to call himself an anarcho-capitalist.  It is a clumsy and confusing term, just like the term anarcho-communist, and does not even really express anything other than, as Gogulski points out, a preference.  In a stateless society, both anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism will coexist peacefully as long as there are some in society who express preference for communal life and others who express preference for competitive life.  More importantly, insofar as the members of each school refrain from aggressing against the members of the other schools, we truly are anarchists first and anarcho-whatevers second.

I have said many times that ninety-nine percent of the problems faced by society are caused by just two things: (A) government and (B) poor communication.  Both of these elements plague the anarchist community just as much as society at large.  This essay is an attempt at opening communication with greater degrees of mutual understanding, a goal Gogulski clearly shares.  But in doing this, we must be careful to clarify our ideas, lest the problems of miscommunication shall only return again.

With appropriate communication, we can begin to recognise that all of the conflicts we perceive between liberals, communists, syndicalists, and socialists are in fact illusory.  When we finally recognise this, we can begin to join forces and fight the real enemy: not each other, but the state.


1 Mike Gogulski, “Are you really a libertarian/anarchist?”,, comment posted 3 August 2009, (accessed 3 August 2009).

2 Wendy McElroy, “Capitalism versus the Free Market”,, comment posted 12 June 2007, (accessed 3 August 2009).

3 I recall debating once with a state communist who maintained that anarcho-syndicalism is not what I have herein described.  He maintained (A) that all anarcho-syndicalists are syndicalists and that (B) all syndicalists advocate, as he did, the use of statist aggression to achieve their goals.  Thus, he concluded (C) that anarcho-syndicalists wish to achieve their goals through the state.  I am sure he would also have disagreed with my desire to use the term to describe the benign goal of supporting worker-owned firms, since in his mind, the continuation of market competition was a de facto evil.  I admit that there is a great degree of confusion surrounding the term syndicalism.  Insofar as the term is used to describe a general willingness to use aggression (including theft of justly-acquired property) so as to prevent voluntary market competition, it is a term that cannot adequately describe me.  Conversely, insofar as the term can describe one who would prefers to see more worker-owned firms competing on the free market than capitalist-owned firms, the term fits me quite well.

It is also perhaps important to note that, like the free-market anarchist Murray N. Rothbard, I hold that the profits of statist firms (e.g., Halliburton) do not constitute justly-acquired property, and thus, in accordance with the Lockean homesteading principle, it is the right of the workers of statist firms to seize the firm’s property from the capitalist owners.  See Murray N. Rothbard, “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle”, The Libertarian Forum 1, no. 6 (June 15, 1969), pp. 3–4.  This would seem to be a premise that all libertarians should be able to accept, since libertarianism is based on a rejection of aggression, and of course any profits made by firms through (A) government contracts, (B) corporate bailouts, or (C) subsidies constitute profit-by-aggression, or theft in other words.  But there are some vulgar libertarians who defend even statist businesses, and these persons are not anarchists regardless of what they may say to the contrary.

February 2010 Addendum: I have ceased calling myself a “free-market anarcho-syndicalist,” finding the term too convoluted.

4 In Wendy McElroy, “Capitalism versus the Free Market,” McElroy writes,

Another factor made me draw a line between my personal embrace of laissez-faire capitalism and my public advocacy of the free market.  We live near a Mennonite community that functions along communal, almost socialistic lines.  It functions well, it prospers, members can leave at any time, the members are good neighbors to all.  In a free market, their choice to be communal is as valid as my choice to function within the capitalistic sectors of society.  We are all free to make whatever voluntary exchanges fit our needs, beliefs, personalities, etc.  That’s what I want for society: not necessarily a capitalistic arrangement but a free market system in which everyone can make the peaceful choices they wish with their own bodies and labor.

5 Alexander S. Peak, “Rothbard, Anarcho-Communism, and the Individual,” 20 November 2007, (accessed 3 August 2009).  The URL is subject to change.

6 This is not, of course, to say that acts of aggression are impossible in a stateless society, only that where these acts of aggression arise, anarchy in that immediate vicinity ceases to exist.  There are many anarchist answers to how aggression can be stopped or punished in a stateless society, but they are beyond the scope of this discussion.  Suffice it to say that the stateless society would not be impotent against crime.

7 Gogulski, “Are you really a libertarian/anarchist?”

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