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Rothbard on “Left-Anarchists”

Rothbard: Strictly Confidential - coverThe new book Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard, edited by David Gordon looks great. I already found some gems: see chapter II.1 p. 25, “Are Libertarians ‘Anarchists'”? It has a devastating critique of anarcho-“syndicalists” and left-anarchists. A few delicious choice quotes:

The spurious logic of the dialectic is not open to the left-wing anarchists, who wish to abolish the State and capitalism simultaneously. The nearest those anarchists have come to resolving the problem has been to uphold syndicalism as the ideal. In syndicalism, each group of workers and peasants is supposed to own its means of production in common and plan for itself, while cooperating with other collectives and communes. Logical analysis of these schemes would readily show that the whole program is nonsense. Either of two things would occur: one central agency would plan for and direct the various subgroups, or the collectives themselves would be really autonomous. But the crucial question is whether these agencies would be empowered to use force to put their decisions into effect.

All of the left-wing anarchists have agreed that force is necessary against recalcitrants. But then the first possibility means nothing more nor less than Communism, while the second leads to a real chaos of diverse and clashing communisms, that would probably lead finally to some central Communism after a period of social war. Thus, leftwing anarchism must in practice signify either regular Communism or a true chaos of communistic syndics. In both cases, the actual result must be that the State is reestablished under another name. It is the tragic irony of left-wing anarchism that, despite the hopes of its supporters, it is not really anarchism at all. It is either Communism or chaos.

It is no wonder therefore that the term “anarchism” has received a bad press.


How is it, then, that despite the fatal logical contradictions in left-wing anarchism, there are a highly influential group of British intellectuals who currently belong to this school, including the art critic Sir Herbert Read and the psychiatrist Alex Comfort? The answer is that anarchists, perhaps unconsciously seeing the hopelessness of their position, have made a point of rejecting logic and reason entirely. They stress spontaneity, emotions, instincts, rather than allegedly cold and inhuman logic. By so doing, they can of course remain blind to the irrationality of their position.

Of economics, which would show them the impossibility of their system, they are completely ignorant, perhaps more so than any other group of political theorists. The dilemma about coercion they attempt to resolve by the absurd theory that crime would simply disappear if the State were abolished, so that no coercion would have to be used.

Irrationality indeed permeates almost all of the views of the left-wing anarchists. They reject industrialism as well as private property, and tend to favor returning to the handicraft and simple peasant conditions or the Middle Ages. They are fanatically in favor of modern art, which they consider “anarchist” art. They have an intense hatred of money and of material improvements. Living a simple peasant existence, in communes, is extolled as “living the anarchist life,” while a civilized person is supposed to be viciously bourgeois and un-anarchist.

Thus, the ideas of the left-wing anarchists have become a nonsensical jumble, far more irrational than that of the Marxists, and deservedly looked upon with contempt by almost everyone as hopelessly “crackpot.” Unfortunately, the result is that the good criticisms that they sometimes make of state tyranny tend to be tarred with the same “crackpot” brush.

Sounds a lot like today’s debates between regular anarcho-libertarians and “left”-libertarians.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Thomas L. Knapp August 23, 2010, 5:50 pm

    “Sounds a lot like today’s debates between regular anarcho-libertarians and ‘left”-libertarians.'”

    Yes, it does. It’s a pity Rothbard left boneheaded stuff like this lying around so that his heirs could cite defective “scripture” by way of making failed arguments instead of having to make their failed arguments from scratch.

    Some of the errors just from that small snippet, and me speaking as a left-anarchist and therefore as a left-libertarian:

    – I do not “wish to abolish the State and capitalism simultaneously.” Like Rothbard at his best, I am a “no particular orderist.”

    – “The nearest those anarchists have come to resolving the problem has been to uphold syndicalism as the ideal.” I hold up syndicalism as one, and only one, optional mode of economic organization to be undertaken with the voluntary participation of those who decide that that works for them (the unanimous consent anarcho-syndicalist cooperative which gives me my “day job” has endured for nearly 8 years now without the first problem that Rothbard subsequently claims; the second “problem” isn’t a problem at all).

    – “All of the left-wing anarchists have agreed that force is necessary against recalcitrant.” Except, of course, for those of us who haven’t.

  • Paul Vahur August 24, 2010, 4:36 am

    Thomas, your preference for being in a syndicate would be tolerated in an anarchistic society. Just like other peoples preference to be in an corporate structure. But the overall order would be one of anarcho-capitalist (because private property is respected and no violence against others is tolerated) don’t you agree?

  • Rob Nair August 24, 2010, 11:42 am

    Thomas, I respect your opinions on violence and capitalism. However, your views hardly seem to be the consensus amongst Anarcho-syndicalists and Anarcho-socialists. The majority of them seem to have an almost fanatical hatred of capitalism and see it as the source of all the world’s ills. Some will even openly admit that their viewpoint was the dominant one they would advocate violently suppressing anyone with a capitalist agenda. Let me reiterate just to be clear, I’m not say YOU believe this. but many who claim to share your ideology do. So before you toss Rothbard into the waste bin please account for those who do fall into the paradigm he discusses here.

  • Thomas L. Knapp August 24, 2010, 12:56 pm


    You write: “the overall order would be one of anarcho-capitalist (because private property is respected and no violence against others is tolerated) don’t you agree?”

    I agree that the overall order would be one of market anarchism or agorism. “Anarcho-capitalism” is an oxymoron.


    You allude to “the consensus” and “the majority” of “anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-socialists.”

    Rothbard alluded to “all of the left-wing anarchists.”

    Far from tossing Rothbard into the wastebin, I take him seriously enough to believe that he meant EXACTLY what he wrote.

    If he had referred to a consensus or majority of certain kinds of left-anarchists, the maximum possible extent of my argument with him would have been quibbling about percentages. Instead he declared, ex cathedra, that all sheep are white, and this black sheep happened to take notice.


  • Rob Nair August 24, 2010, 1:38 pm


    I’ll concede to your point about the semantic error in Rothbard’s argument. However, I still think the substance of his position is still valid and far more interesting and worthwhile to discuss than the semantics. Let’s not toss the baby out with the bathwater.


  • Scott F August 25, 2010, 2:10 pm

    I usually agree with Rothbard and you Stephan, but I don’t here.

    While I don’t think we should unconditionally welcome left anarchists I do not think we should unconditionally oppose them either.

    Merely because some left anarchists conception of anarchy would result in a state is not a reason to dismiss all of them.Some of them are I believe willing to live voluntarily such as anarcho-pacifist leftists.

    Much as we may not like Socialism we should stll allow it to exist voluntarily. In this I side with Walter Block. Our enemy is State Socialism not Socialism perse (i.e. not voluntary Socialism -least not as a libertarian)

    Again, this idea all left anarchists are our enemies is a fatal mistake.
    The moderate way is to accept them IF and ONLY IF they accept the NAP or even are pacifist and their form of anarchy would be non aggressive too.

    • Stephan Kinsella August 25, 2010, 2:26 pm

      I don’t “unconditionally oppose” left-libertarians. In fact to the extent they are libertarian–pro-rights, prop property, pro-free market, anti-state, anti-IP, pro-individual, pro-technology–of course I welcome them and regard them as brothers. I just disagree with their erroneous view that there is something good in leftism or that there are natural connections to leftism and libertarinaism. I like them despite their leftism not because of it.

    • Rob Nair August 25, 2010, 2:37 pm

      Property rights seems to be the one major point of contention I keep butting heads with people on the left over. I’m all for co-existing with socialists in a voluntary society who abide by the NAP so long as they respect my views on property rights as well. It’s just not something I’m willing to give any ground on. If they want to live in a community where there are no property rights that’s fine with me too so long as they recognize that they have to respect the property rights of those outside of their community.

  • Matt C September 3, 2010, 9:13 am

    I’ll concede to your point about the semantic error in Rothbard’s argument. However, I still think the substance of his position is still valid and far more interesting and worthwhile to discuss than the semantics. Let’s not toss the baby out with the bathwater.

    Sorry but this baby is very sick, with bathwater coursing through its veins. Since it’s an argument and not a real baby, I advocate throwing it out.

    Since Rothbard in this passage harps on “logical analysis” and “logical contradiction” I would expect the argument to proceed from principles to conclusions, rather than proceed from declarations about what “All of the left-wing anarchists have agreed” (though they havent) to what “permeates almost all of the views of the left-wing anarchists”.

  • Bobby Havens January 13, 2014, 1:55 am

    I am a Mutualist , Green Anarchist and Anarcho-feminist . I support technology as a positive direction towards greater progress and enlightenment although it sometimes is harmful to the environment and is often used by the state and similar repressive hierarchical institutions . I believe in gender equality , worker`s rights , mutual aid , voluntary socialism , the free market but not in the false capitalistic sense of the term ( In the Mutualist free market , property only belongs to a person so long as he or she retains occupancy and use of that item , hence we prefer the term ” possession ” to ” ownership ” which we feel has an authoritarian connotation ) and the abolition of all forms of wage slavery ( I.e. Rent , usury , interest and landlordism ) . ” Anarcho “-capitalism has always confused me . You have bosses . Don`t you know ” anarchy ” from the Greek ” anarchos ” means ” No rulers ” and ” boss ” is just another word for ” ruler ” ?

    • Vanmind January 23, 2014, 11:58 am

      The only boss is the consumer mass. If a manager at your place of employment is acting like a bureaucrat, that person is not qualified to be in a position to manage your employer’s production workflow. If you have an idea that would improve that workflow for the benefit of consumers, only a bureaucrat would tell you to “remember your place.” If you have an idea you think is great and yet a non-bureaucratic manager still decides that it’s not likely to benefit consumers (providing such benefits is each employee’s sole responsibility), you can always start up your own business to compete on the open market.

      Acting like a bureaucrat is the reason why the NWO created MBB schools. Master of Business Bureaucracy — because entrepreneurship, being one of the Fine Arts, is neither teachable nor learnable.

      Have heart, though, for each person spends the vast majority of their life as a consumer. Even while at work, the typical production workflow requires you and your colleagues to consume gobs of stuff that others produced for your benefit.

      Rule of thumb: producers don’t count for nearly as much as consumers. Systems which glorify the producer (e.g. MBB schools or “Social Justice” participaction campaigns) amount to so much fraud.

      • Bobby Havens January 23, 2014, 1:39 pm

        Consumerism is exploitation . Rent , usury , interest and landlordism are wage slavery that ought to be eliminated . The so-called NWO is a stupid conspiracy theory based on a bunch of random quotes from Presidents . The real conspiracy is multi-national capitalist exploitation . The producers are the only ones who have a real right to the means of production . Capitalism is a psychotic system born of the equally psychotic systems of feudalism and imperialism and giving birth to the even more psychotic system of corporate fascism . Capitalists are inherently authoritarian and hierarchical . As such , the entire premise of ‘ libertarian ‘ or ‘ anarcho-‘capitalism is a sick joke . It is a system that seeks to leave the producers to starve and die on the fallacious kneejerk assumption that if you`re poor , it must just be because you`re lazy because after all , it can`t be because you`re the victim of a twisted and exploitative system , right ? You people make me sick !

      • Bobby Havens February 3, 2014, 11:12 pm

        Oh and ” Novus ordo seclorum ” doesn`t even mean ” New World Order ” but rather ” New order of the ages ” . Jeez , you conspiracy buffs suck ass at Latin !

  • Bobby Havens January 13, 2014, 2:33 am

    The first anarchists were all leftists :

    -Pierre Joseph Proudhon ( The first Mutualist )

    -Joseph deJacque ( Anarcho-communist who coined the word ‘ libertarian ‘ )

    -Mikhail Bakunin ( Libertarian socialist and the first anarcho-collectivist )

    -Max Stirner ( The first Egoist anarchist )

    -Josiah Warren ( Individualist anarchist )

    – Benjamin Tucker ( Individualist anarchist )

    – Ravachol ( Illegalist anarchist )

    – Emile Henry ( Illegalist anarchist )

    – Auguste Vaillant ( Illegalist anarchist )

    – Casario ( Illegalist anarchist )

    – Stephen R. Shalom ( The first participist anarchist )

    – Emma Goldman ( Anarcho-communist/anarcha-feminist )

    That`s just the tip of the iceberg .

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