Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
Socialism is inherently immoral unless it becomes voluntary – Capitalism is potentially dangerous unless it is bound by the Non-Aggression Principle. – From “Voluntary Socialism” by Marley James
When socialists and libertarians encounter one another on internet forums and Facebook groups, there is an almost total disconnect between the two. Both are using many of the same words, but those words have such divergent and contradictory definitions that they’ve become little more than pre-digested labels that serve as emotional triggers. This disconnect occurs to the point that neither can communicate with the other.
Frequently, after a few tentative attempts at meaningful dialogue between the two advocates, a socialist will post “You libertarians just don’t get socialism!” and the libertarian will respond “You socialists just don’t get libertarianism!”
The real problem is that very few socialists get socialism and very few libertarians get libertarianism. The reason is this: There are way too many socialisms and libertarianisms for either side to even get themselves—let alone get the other.
The Many Socialisms
So suppose a libertarian takes the criticism to heart and decides to research socialism. A quick Googling will reveal that there is no such thing as “socialism” because there is a multitude of socialisms. Beginning with a Wikipedia “Types of socialism” entry and branching off from there the result becomes:
Marxist-Leninist socialism, state socialism, anarcho socialism, libertarian socialism, market socialism, democratic socialism, utopian socialism, communal utopian socialism, liberal socialism, ethical socialism, Christian socialism, Islamic socialism, Arab socialism, Irish republican socialism, eco-socialism, scientific socialism, technocratic socialism, Ricardian socialism, luxury socialism, post-scarcity socialism, economic socialism, secular non-Marxist socialism, agrarian socialism, Green socialism, voluntary socialism, ethnocentric socialism, guild socialism, revolutionary socialism, Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, socialist individualism, left socialists and even “Socialism of the 21st century” which was recently tried and failed miserably in Venezuela.
(Catch breath here.)
But those are just the ones that actually incorporate the word “socialism” or “socialist” in their names. Some use “people’s,” “citizen’s,” “worker’s” and even “progressive’s” as shibboleths for “socialist.” Other socialisms that don’t explicitly call themselves socialism include mutualism, Fabianism, Jacobinism, Stalinism, Maoism, and likely many other aliases.
Then there are the really embarrassing socialisms that nobody wants to claim. Russia and its captive nations called themselves the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics while Herr Fuhrer called his Nationalsozialismus (Nazi) political party the National Socialist German Workers' Party, the latter demonstrating that socialism can and does exist on the right side of the Left-Right political spectrum as well as on the left side.
Some modern socialists dismissively insist that those weren’t “real” or “true” socialists, which would likely come as a surprise to those Soviets and Nazis who named themselves such at the time.
Socialist Zombie “Education”
On the other hand, “modern socialism,” “real socialism” and “true socialism” are just three more socialisms to add to the Wikipedia “Types of socialism” list.
Still, according to another Wikipedia inventory, “List of socialist states,” the following extremely violent and repressive countries proudly claim to be socialist at least in some ways:
The People’s Republic of China, Republic of Cuba, Laos People’s Democratic Republic and Socialist Republic of Vietnam self-identify as Marxist-Leninist but “refer to themselves as socialist states on the road to communism.”
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So are they “real” or “true” socialists or not? Some libertarians might be confused here. After all, the old USSR also referred to itself as a socialist state on the road to communism but some modern socialists simply reject their socialism-to-communism claim as “state capitalism.”
Beyond the Marxist-Leninist self-identification the Wikipedia “List of socialist states” goes on to classify ten other nation-states as having “constitutional references to socialism” including that embarrassingly nasty People’s Utopia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or “North Korea”).
Are they not “real” or “true” socialists either? Has former NBA player Dennis Rodman explained this to Supreme Leader and Dear Respected Comrade Kim Jong-un?
The Many Socialist Parties
There is also a seemingly endless list of political parties incorporating “socialism” or “socialist” into their names beginning since the very earliest days of the invention of the word “socialism” by one Alexandre Vinet (more on him later). Sticking just to the United States we have:
The Socialist Party of America, described as “a multi-tendency democratic-socialist and social-democratic political party in the United States, formed in 1901.” (Is there really a difference between “democratic-socialist” and “social-democratic”? Inquiring libertarian minds want to know.)
Other explicitly US socialist parties currently functioning, dysfunctional or defunct, are:
- Socialist Workers Party (United States)
- Socialist Party USA
- Socialist Party of the United States of America (SPUSA)
- Socialist Labor Party of America
- The Socialist Labor Party (SLP)
- Citizens Party (United States), the “umbrella” party of self-described "half-socialist" and other-described “ecosocialist” Barry Commoner
- World Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS)
- Socialist Equality Party (United States)
- The Socialist Equality Party (SEP), a Trotskyist political party
- Progressive Party (United States), endorsed by the Socialist Party of America and the American Federation of Labor…
Yet more from another list includes Freedom Road Socialist Party, Freedom Socialist Party, National Socialist Movement, Socialism and Liberation Party, Socialist Action Party, Socialist Alternative Party, Socialist Equality Party, Socialist Workers Traditionalist Party and numerous state-level socialist parties.
(Take breath here.)
The One Real True Socialism
Why, libertarians might sigh, can’t there just be a simple, definitive, one-sentence definition of what “real” or “true” socialism is? Well, there is one, and that’s where the afore-mentioned Alexandre Vinet comes in.
“Alexandre Vinet, who claimed to have been the first person to use the term, defined socialism simply as ‘the opposite of individualism.’” – From the Wikipedia entry for “Types of Socialism” with a footnote pointing to the book “Christian Socialism” by John C. Cort.
So there it is. “Real/true” socialists are the opposite of “individuals;” they’re joined at the hip groupthinkers who apparently derive their self-identities from a unanimous agreement or consensus of the specific collective to which they belong. But that then leads only to the obvious; a plethora not of socialist definitions but a plethora of collectives with each collective having its own definition.
Unless of course every socialist capable of thinking for himself/herself is an “Individualist Socialist” which is a concept that didn’t make any list above, and is apparently not the same thing as a “Voluntaryist Socialist.
Laissez-Faire = NAP for All
The primary split in socialism is between the anarchists and statists. What the vast majority of “popular” socialists in the Western world today mean when they say “socialism” is that they want a European style nation-state typically identified as a “socialist democratic people’s republic” that would necessarily, by definition, require a coercive political hierarchy to run it.
Funny, some libertarians might point out, how class-oriented socialists reject hierarchical structures in a worker-run factory but are okay with hierarchical structures in a government-run state.
But Anarcho-socialists reject the state just as anarcho-capitalists do but where the latter see a spontaneous order that creates open non-coercive laissez-faire free markets anarcho-socialists assume a spontaneous order of co-ops, collectives, communes and unions.
Yet neither seems to envision, or even want, the possibility of both these outcomes peacefully coexisting along with many other interactive systems yet to be imagined.
The Many Libertarianisms
But to be fair, libertarianism is nearly—but not quite as—divergent as socialism, since modern American style libertarianism has only been around for a few decades. The primary split is between Old World libertarianism that means “anarchy” and always implies socialism while American style libertarianism means individualism as typically, but not always, identified by the non-aggression principle.
Yet when one scratches the surface of an American libertarian they get their own Wikipedia list as well:
Anarchism, anarcho-capitalism, classical liberalism, egoist anarchism, ethical egoism, existentialism, hedonism, humanism, individualism, individualist anarchism, individualist feminism, equity feminism, classical liberal feminism, libertarian feminism, left-libertarianism, left-wing market anarchism, liberalism, libertarianism, minarchism, mutualism, objectivism, right libertarianism, social anarchism, voluntaryism, fiscal libertarianism, geolibertarianism, neolibertarianism, Neo-classical liberalism, paleolibertarianism, consequentialist libertarianism, gay libertarianism, libertarian-distributionism, modern American libertarianism, contemporary libertarianism, American libertarianism, free market libertarianism, Laissez-faire libertarianism, Voluntaryism, Agorism, Post-Statism, the Libertarian Party, the Modern American Libertarian Movement and almost every other word that can be appended, hyphenated to or frontloaded onto libertarianism along with several labels identical to socialism but sporting different definitions, such as mutualism which is claimed by both socialists and anarcho-capitalists.
And they missed natural rights libertarianism…
(Get second breath here)
So the next time a libertarian says “You socialists just don’t get libertarianism” the socialist can ask “Which libertarianism?”
Unfortunately, it’s not so much that libertarians don’t get socialism or that socialists don’t get libertarianism; it’s (a) that most barely get their own isms and (b) that each gets the other just well enough to know that they don’t want to get what the other gets.
Voluntary Libertarians and Socialists
After all, the real difference between most people isn’t intellectual, it’s emotional, psychological, visceral: libertarians self-identify while socialists group-identify. It’s why, if there is ever to be anything close to peace in the world, that all good, decent, caring people must adopt mutually applied voluntaryism. Let everyone be an individual when they want to be and a part of something bigger than themselves when they want to be, with no coercion or bullying or recrimination from anyone.
Forcing square pegs into round holes and round pegs into square holes will forever be a losing game. We are all individuals and we are all social. Help one another when asked but otherwise leave one another alone and we’ll get along just fine.
Anyone can create an ism and in fact everyone does whether knowingly or not. For some, however, the concept of voluntaryism seems to be the only potentially viable bridge between free market laissez-faire capitalism and voluntary socialism.
(Don’t hold breath)
But do read the incredibly insightful article at nationsofsanity titled “Voluntary Socialism” in which Marley James seems to have developed a rare understanding into this potential. To sum up, he writes:
“Socialism as it currently stands is inherently immoral and will remain so unless it becomes voluntary.”
“Capitalism is potentially dangerous unless it is bound by common law or the Non Aggression Principle, where the power of money is not allowed to overrule the basic right to freedom.”
“So let’s discard what is wrong, keep what is right, and build a new society that more resembles sanity.”
Voluntary capitalism plus voluntary socialism equals a voluntary society for everyone.
Libertarians who embrace the non-aggression principle against coercion, intimidation and fraud invite socialists to get on board. Nobody imposes his or her “ism” on anyone else.
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.