Only my side of a dialogue with an anarchocapitalist on /r/collapse on a post about the world’s extreme wealth concentration

I’m mostly posting this (half of a) conversation because I think I manage a few relatively quality explanations of some things, such as the nature of class society and the democratic character of socialism.

Perhaps a question you ancaps face a lot, so if so, bear with me:

What stops the biggest businesses in the world from getting together, founding their own private defense company, driving the other private defense companies out of the market by undercutting them, then hiring up all their best people and buying all their weapons, then raising the rates for defense on all the smaller businesses in the world until they go under (at which point all their capital could be bought up for cheap)? What would you call that one big private defense company at that point?

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> What stops that for any industry today?

They did do this, because that agency is called the state.

> I trust that competition in a truly free market will protect against monopolies.

Why would the biggest corporations in the world ever allow the market to become free, when having control of the governments of the world is so profitable?

> I think that information (internet, journalists, consumer reports, etc) will play a larger role.

And again, why would the current media companies ever allow information to truly flow freely, when controlling it is so profitable?

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What i’m pretty confused by is, you acknowledge that all the current governments are in the thrall of the world’s most wealthy people. They have shown themselves perfectly willing to corrupt regulatory agencies and to mislead the masses of the public to do so, including by owning and controlling social media platforms–hell, the logic of competition for profit forces them to do so, because if one of your rivals corrupts a government agency and you don’t, you will be run out of the market.

What makes you think there could ever be as huge of concentrations of wealth as there are currently without the people with all that wealth behaving the exact same way, whether the regulatory agencies are nominally public (and therefore implicitly assumed incorruptible) or private but nominally incorruptible? What makes you think the logic of competition for profit wouldn’t force them to try to undertake the exact same underhanded methods of competition?

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> They wouldn’t have the consent of the people, nor control of the legal system. This is key to controlling a population.

Why couldn’t they get the consent of the governed the way they do now–by distracting them, placating them, and bamboozling them?

> Without control of the legal system (which would be decentralized, making it impossible to ‘take over’), there’s no perceived legitimacy.

Are you telling me there wouldn’t be ajudicatory or legitimizing agencies of some kind, whether commercial or cultural, and that the largest business interests and families with greatest personal fortunes wouldn’t band together to capture these legitimizing agencies? It happens in extremely subtle ways currently, you know, it’s not just outright bribery.[1]


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i hear what you’re saying, but do you have some plan to like, break up the existing vast concentration of wealth? because if you don’t do that, there’s no way to start from a position of thousands of small private defense agencies–if you got rid of the state, these super-wealthy people would just start their own massive private defense agency from the get-go.

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How do you intend to make that happen, though? Proposing policy is trivial–plans about how to actually achieve it in reality are always the sticking point.

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yeah, i used to be an agorist until i came to believe that capitalism itself was the problem. i feel confident that if you got any sizable section of society or chunk of land operating outside of the control of the capitalists who rule the world, they would declare you to be terrorists and do to you what they do to all enemies of the imperialist order.

but truthfully, capitalism leads inevitably to concentrated wealth, so it would only be a matter of time until someone even in your liberated area started collaborating with the outsiders because of the necessity of competing for profit with the others inside your territory.

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> I just see capitalism as the freedom to produce and trade with others.

But that is not exactly what capitalism is.

Capitalism isn’t just some legal right–it’s an entire political-economic system, one in which the means of production are controlled by private individuals and groups to produce profit.

I think the desire to be able to own the means of production is understandable–however, because of the way wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands when capitalism is the system that manages it, the right to own means of production will be totally un-exercisable by 98% of humanity, who have no choice but to starve or to enrich those who do manage to become owners of the means of production.

We can wish and wish all day that it could be made into a system where wealth doesn’t concentrate and where everyone has an equal shot at becoming an owner, but in its deepest nature, capitalism makes this outcome impossible. It will always trend toward a situation in which fewer and fewer people have a real shot at becoming owners.

It is worse than meaningless to declare that someone has a right (such as the right to own the means of production) if in truth they will never be able to exercise that right–it is fraud; and it is a bankrupt ideology that attempts to justify a system on the basis that such rights have technically been granted.

> No one wants bombs dropped in their backyard.

No, but it’s pretty easy for them to just walk into your house and murder you if they view you as a real threat.

> what do you suggest in its place?

Socialism, by which I mean a political-economic system in which the economy is democratically planned.

> ‘public ownership’ of the means of production really just means ‘state ownership.’

I think this is oversimplifying it. If the state is genuinely democratically controlled, then it is both state ownership and public ownership. I think it is possible to say that states can be more or less democratically run, and that it is unscientific to declare that they are all equally undemocratic.

In that vein, I think you do yourself a disservice by refusing to examine the extent to which the governments put in place by the two great socialist revolutions of the 20th century, the Soviet and the PRC government, were democratic, at least initially (check out sections 1.3 and 2.2 here: I won’t say that you will be convinced, but as I said, I think you do yourself a disservice by failing to really investigate this project that has been undertaken by hundreds of millions of people in an effort to achieve statelessness.

> I don’t trust states and democracy is just an illusion.

Again, I think this oversimplifies it. States exist because society is divided into classes. Until class division has vanished, states will continue to exist. Concentrated private wealth is the root that keeps regrowing into a state. So long as concentrated private wealth exists, there is no option of having no state. I agree that the current state, which is run by capitalists, will never allow itself to be democratically controlled–the only option is to smash this state and put in its place a new, workers state, and then struggle to maintain the democratic nature of that state. I think it’s obvious that the democratic character was lost in the case of both the USSR and the PRC, but I think they were genuinely democratic in a way that all preceding states in history had never been, at least for the first few decades of their existence.

And I think it is possible to preserve that democratic character, which is what the cultural revolution in China was about: the Chinese people realized that their state was calcifying and bureaucratizing as the USSR’s had and undertook a great effort to reclaim genuine public control over the state. I think an honest examination of what was really going on during the period of the cultural revolution shows that it was actually true–that they really were restoring the democratic character that had been lost. It was too little too late, but I think they were on the right path.

All future socialist countries will be born with these understandings pre-loaded, and I think they will therefore have a much better chance of remaining genuinely democratic.

For me, while I’m not convinced that this method of attempting to achieve statelessness will definitely succeed in the end, I am convinced that no other method has a chance in hell.

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> So you’re afraid of a system where ownership of the means of production might concentrate in the hands of the few.

It inevitably concentrates in the hands of the few, not just might, as you put it–you will be hard-pressed to find me even one single span of 20 years of capitalism when wealth was not more concentrated at the end than at the beginning. Seriously, read the first five chapters of Zombie Capitalism. Go out on an intellectual limb–if you read it and find you are able to clearly enunciate logical problems with it, I promise you will have tremendous firepower with which to combat Marxist thinking.

> So you’re afraid of a system where ownership of the means of production might concentrate in the hands of the few. So to combat that, you advocate a system where the means of production are definitively concentrated into the hands of the few (the state)? This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. You’re advocating the worst case scenario.

That’s just the thing: that’s obviously untrue. Both the wealth and the power became much more broadly distributed in both the USSR and the PRC than they had been under the old regimes. And then, even though the USSR had become deeply revisionist by the late 1980s, the collapse and return to capitalism brought about an even greater concentration of wealth and power. The worst-case scenarios bookended the existence of the Soviet government–it was never as bad during the Soviet era as it was before or became immediately after.

> I’m sorry. This is bullshit. There is no such thing as ‘public’ ownership. It always means state ownership. The state is just an entity that violently enforces its monopoly on providing certain services. That’s it. Just because you think your vote counts, doesn’t mean you own any of the state owned resources.

That’s just the thing, and here’s where you’re doing yourself an intellectual disservice, because you clearly haven’t actually looked into how they worked. You are projecting your caricature onto the data, instead of examining the data.

The mode of democracy in the early PRC and early SU was not simply a vote every few years. It was a fundamentally new form of government, with way more ways than voting that public opinion became policy in these countries, including the fact that the government itself was composed of soviets (people’s councils) and all kinds of engagements between the party–which was embedded throughout society and full of regular people–and the broad masses. Check out the links I provided last message.

What you’ll find is that this type of democracy and mass character of the government was lost over the years, in both the USSR and the PRC. To say ‘states are states are states!’ is to totally ignore the incredible degree of participation and mass-driven change that were occurring, especially from like 1953-1973 in China.

> why is a democratic vote any less tyrannical than the will of a dictator? . . .

> You don’t get what democracy is at all. You think that when 51% of people agree with something, that automatically makes it right.

You won’t find a society that doesn’t occasionally ask something of its members that they don’t fully want. If you want to live among other human beings, you will occasionally be dragged along for something you don’t like. You are trying to sell a vision of a world where everyone has the option to say ‘no’ to society, but it is an illusion. Your model for how this would work is based on an economic system that was born out of concentrated wealth and which has always, inexorably, trended toward even more greatly concentrated wealth.

And there is not a single point in the history of capitalism when those at the top weren’t using their concentrated wealth as political power to control the playing field on which they were generating their wealth. The French and American revolutions were literally the capitalists creating new, more capitalism-friendly states for themselves. That right there is enough to show you who’s wagging whom: the capitalists built themselves new states.

By advocating for capitalism while ignoring the obvious facts that even a brief examination of the real history of capitalism shows, you are advocating for a far worse and more indiscriminate violence than I am. As long as there is class-divided society, there will be systematic violence on behalf of the ruling class to keep the producing classes producing steadily at a minimum of cost. Straight up, 7 million people starve to death every year because capitalism needs the global laborers of the world to accept as low a wage as possible, and global capitalism has structured the economy so that there are always people who cannot find work, and thus who cannot get food.

It is ethical to start a war to end the annual starvation of millions. The sad truth is, because the world capitalist system is so massively and routinely violent, it will take violence to overthrow it. If you stand in the way of a revolution to overthrow and bury this system that cannot help but starve millions to death, yeah, you will get pushed out of the way.

> In a free market capitalist society ( the free market is important),

The markets of capitalism were something vaguely approaching free for no more than 50 years, back in the 1500s and 1600s, before all the markets fell under the control of this or that business or bloc of businesses. Because of the tendency of wealth to concentrate in capitalism, the era of slightly more free competition was doomed to pass away and leave behind an era of monopoly capitalism, which has been the situation we’ve found ourselves in for hundreds of years virtually everywhere on earth now.

It is impossible to make the market even slightly free again. The governments have from the get-go been sock puppets for the collected business interests. If you smashed this government on behalf of ‘anarchocapitalism,’ the big capitalists would create that one big private defense agency and capture it so fast your head would spin, and that would reveal to you the real nature of the system–that the collective business interests own the state, and not for a second has it ever been the other way around.

> These state-create legal entities called ‘corporations’ unfairly acquire wealth because of their state protection, subsides, regulatory capture, etc.

What your theory doesn’t account for is the fact that the concentration of wealth had begun–and the era of free competition already largely passed away–well before states started granting these charters. If you knew the real history of the system you’re advocating for, you wouldn’t be making these transparently false claims about what drives wealth concentration.

But for that matter, why did states grant these charters at all? Doesn’t the fact that the states began granting these legitimizing charters at all indicate to you that the state was in fact already captured before it started awarding corporate charters? Otherwise why would it grant them?

> I just don’t understand how a person could live in the world today and then say he wants the government to control more of society.

I don’t want these governments, these capitalist-controlled governments to control more of society. An honest evaluation of the character of the political-economic system in China from 1953 to 1973 would reveal to you a world of difference between a worker’s government and a capitalist government. One was trying to spread power and wealth ever more broadly throughout society and make the government ever more democratic–the other tries constantly to reduce democracy and concentrate wealth.

Your theory that ‘states are states are states’ is like the theory of phlogiston–it substitutes an idealized, abstract idea for a theory based on an examination of what reality actually looks like, in its particulars. If you want to know how to make a fundamentally new type of combustion, or new type of state, you have to actually look at what’s going on in material reality. One type of state is necessary on the way toward a stateless society; the other is an impossible dream, a castle built upon air based on a hazy plan to return to a form of capitalism that, in its very nature, cannot exist for more than a period of a few decades–and those decades have long, long past.