Libertarian Socialism - Overview

Overview

Libertarian socialism is a western philosophy with diverse interpretations, though some general commonalities can be found in its many incarnations. Its proponents generally advocate a worker-oriented system of production and organization in the workplace that in some aspects radically departs from neoclassical economics in favor of democratic cooperatives or common ownership of the means of production (socialism). They propose that this economic system be executed in a manner that attempts to maximize the liberty of individuals and minimize concentration of power or authority (libertarianism).

Libertarian socialists are strongly critical of coercive institutions, which often leads them to reject the legitimacy of the state in favor of anarchism. Adherents propose achieving this through decentralization of political and economic power, usually involving the socialization of most large-scale private property and enterprise (while retaining respect for personal property). Libertarian socialism tends to deny the legitimacy of most forms of economically significant private property, viewing capitalist property relations as forms of domination that are antagonistic to individual freedom.

The first anarchist journal to use the term "libertarian" was La Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social and it was published in New York City between 1858 and 1861 by French anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque. "The next recorded use of the term was in Europe, when "libertarian communism" was used at a French regional anarchist Congress at Le Havre (16–22 November 1880). January the following year saw a French manifesto issued on "Libertarian or Anarchist Communism." Finally, 1895 saw leading anarchists Sébastien Faure and Louise Michel publish La Libertaire in France." The word stems from the French word libertaire, and was used to evade the French ban on anarchist publications. In this tradition, the term "libertarianism" in "libertarian socialism" is generally used as a synonym for anarchism, which some say is the original meaning of the term; hence "libertarian socialism" is equivalent to "socialist anarchism" to these scholars. In the context of the European socialist movement, libertarian has conventionally been used to describe those who opposed state socialism, such as Mikhail Bakunin.

The association of socialism with libertarianism predates that of capitalism, and many anti-authoritarians still decry what they see as a mistaken association of capitalism with libertarianism in the United States. As Noam Chomsky put it, a consistent libertarian "must oppose private ownership of the means of production and wage slavery, which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer."

In a chapter recounting the history of libertarian socialism, economist Robin Hahnel relates that thus far the period where libertarian socialism has had its greatest impact was at the end of the 19th century through the first four decades of the twentieth century.

Early in the twentieth century, libertarian socialism was as powerful a force as social democracy and communism. The Libertarian International– founded at the Congress of Saint Imier a few days after the split between Marxist and libertarians at the congress of the Socialist International held in The Hague in 1872– competed successfully against social democrats and communists alike for the loyalty of anticapitalist activists, revolutionaries, workers, unions and political parties for over fifty years. Libertarian socialists played a major role in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Libertarian socialists played a dominant role in the Mexican Revolution of 1911. Twenty years after World War I was over, libertarian socialists were still strong enough to spearhead the social revolution that swept across Republican Spain in 1936 and 1937.

On the other hand a libertarian trend also developed within marxism which gained visibility around the late 1910s mainly in reaction against Bolshevism and Leninism rising to power and establishing the Soviet Union. Contemporary libertarian Marxist Harry Cleaver describes the situation as follows:

Outside and against this process of turning of Marxism into an ideology of domination, however, were various revolutionary tendencies which still drew on Marx's work to inform their struggles and which rejected both social- democratic and Marxist-Leninist versions of his theory. The most interesting of these, those that are relevant to my current purpose, have been those which insisted on the primacy of the self-activity and creativity of people in struggle against capitalism. Within the space of these tendencies there has developed a coherent critique of "orthodox Marxism" that includes not only a rejection of the concept of "the transition" but a reconceptualization of the process of transcending capitalism that has remarkable similarities to (Peter) Kropotkin's thinking on this subject...Thus one of the earliest political tendencies within which this approach appeared after the Russian revolution of 1917 was that of "Council Communism" which saw the "workers councils" in Germany (see Bavarian Soviet Republic), or the soviets in Russia, as new organizational forms constructed by the people. As with the anarchists, they too saw the Bolshevik take-over of the soviets (like that of the trade unions) as subverting the revolution and beginning the restoration of domination and exploitation...Over the years this emphasis on working class autonomy has resulted in a reinterpretation of Marxist theory that has brought out the two-sided character of the class struggle and shifted the focus from capital (the preoccupation of orthodox Marxism) to the workers...As a result, not only has there been a recognition that capitalism seeks to subordinate everyone's life (from the traditional factory proletariat to peasants, housewives and students) but that all those peoples' struggles involve both the resistance to this subordination and the effort to construct alternative ways of being.

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