By Kevin Carson
Manorialism, commonly, is recognized to have been founded by robbery and usurpation; a ruling class established itself by force, and then compelled the peasantry to work for the profit of their lords. But no system of exploitation, including capitalism, has ever been created by the action of a free market. Capitalism was founded on an act of robbery as massive as feudalism. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable.
The current structure of capital ownership and organization of production in our so-called “market” economy, reflects coercive state intervention prior to and extraneous to the market. From the outset of the industrial revolution, what is nostalgically called “laissez-faire” was in fact a system of continuing state intervention to subsidize accumulation, guarantee privilege, and maintain work discipline.
Most such intervention is tacitly assumed by mainstream right-libertarians as part of a “market” system. Although a few intellectually honest ones like Rothbard and Hess were willing to look into the role of coercion in creating capitalism, the Chicago school and Randroids take existing property relations and class power as a given. Their ideal “free market” is merely the current system minus the progressive regulatory and welfare state — i.e., nineteenth century robber baron capitalism.
But genuine markets have a value for the libertarian left, and we shouldn’t concede the term to our enemies. In fact, capitalism — a system of power in which ownership and control are divorced from labor — could not survive in a free market. As a mutualist anarchist, I believe that expropriation of surplus value — i.e., capitalism — cannot occur without state coercion to maintain the privilege of usurer, landlord, and capitalist. It was for this reason that the free market anarchist Benjamin Tucker — from whom right-libertarians selectively borrow — regarded himself as a libertarian socialist.
It is beyond my ability or purpose here to describe a world where a true market system could have developed without such state intervention. A world in which peasants had held onto their land and property was widely distributed, capital was freely available to laborers through mutual banks, productive technology was freely available in every country without patents, and every people was free to develop locally without colonial robbery, is beyond our imagination. But it would have been a world of decentralized, small-scale production for local use, owned and controlled by those who did the work — as different from our world as day from night, or freedom from slavery. …