This first section of my guide to Libertarian Socialism will look at what Libertarian Socialism is and what it stands for. Ultimately it aims to create a society where individuals can cooperate freely together as equals. It follows from this that Libertarian Socialists oppose the unjust or unnecessary exercise of authority, instead emphasising more cooperative, non-hierarchical types of social, political and economic organisation.
However, Libertarian Socialism is a usually misrepresented idea. Many people think that giving people more power over the economy and political systems means ‘chaos’ or ‘disorder’. This process of misrepresentation is not without historical parallel. For example, in countries which have considered Absolute Monarchy necessary, the entire concept of democracy or republicanism must have been seen to imply disorder or confusion. Those with a vested interest in preserving the status Quo will obviously wish to imply that opposition to the current system cannot work in practice, or that a different type of society will lead to chaos.
Libertarian Socialists wish to change this view so that people will see that Cooperative and mutually beneficial organisation are both possible and desirable. This guide is part of a process of changing the commonly held ideas regarding these concepts and there meaning. Libertarian Socialism is not an extremist ideology and our only enemies are the charlatans in power, bigots and exploiters.
We have seen the damage that misrepresentation and distortion of certain ideologies can do. In 1927 in the US, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were executed for a crime they did not commit. Essentially, they were killed because they were foreigners who held the value of Libertarian Socialism. So this FAQ will attempt to correct some of the misunderstandings or distortions that Libertarian Socialism has come under by people who do not understand our ideas, large sections of the media and ideologues who wilfully misrepresent our ideas for political gain.
What Does Libertarian Socialism Mean?
One Common misconception about Libertarian Socialists is that we are against authority in all aspects of life. While this is true of egoists (a small section of the individualist anarchist movement) you get very few Libertarian Socialists who believe in Stirners theory that all rules and regulations are fictional ‘spooks’. Instead many of us just reject the unjust use of authority. You will see what this means later.
For a full definition of Libertarian Socialism we need to look at these terms in isolation from one another, paying attention to their historical meaning.
LIBERTARIAN: someone who believes in freedom of action, expression and thought. Basically someone who believes in free will. Understandably then, Libertarian may also refer to general scepticism of authority. Specifically authority that seeks to limit peoples free will.
SOCIALISM: a social and economic system where the producers possess a means of influence over their workplaces and are able to reap the rewards of their labour. Socialism in a political sense also refers to giving people equality in the way decisions are made.
So, put simply, Libertarian Socialism is a political idea that believes in freedom of action and thought, in which all people have a say over the political decisions that effect their lives, as well as the right to reap the benefits of their labour.
Yet this is still somewhat vague so let’s elaborate. Arguably the most obvious source of hierarchy we face today is hierarchy from government. Again, as a movement based on freedom of thought Libertarian Socialists will have different views on government. However, we will all be opposed to forms of government that limit liberty such as mass surveillance or war. Many of us are happy to support candidates like Jeremy Corbyn who offer a safety net to protect against the worst excesses of capitalism. Yet as democratic, non-Hierarchical networks of mutual aid grow, governments should play gradually less and less of a role in society, and issues such as transport, housing, health and the environment should be put more in the hands of the ordinary people that they directly affect.
We apply the same logic to capitalism. We support unionisation for higher wages and better working conditions of course. Yet we are in favour of the establishment of more cooperative enterprises where thee people who do the work have a direct say over working conditions, and how the produce is manufactured and distributed. In this situation, wealth is distributed amongst the people who create it. Again, Libertarian Socialists support the minimization of hierarchy and the strengthening of democracy in the workplace as well as in daily life. I aim to elaborate on our views on government and capitalism later in this series.
Overall, Libertarian Socialism is in favour of the strengthening of equality and freedom in all aspects of public life. In the next Instalment, I will explain some of the attempts to distort both the terms 'Libertarian' and 'Socialism' and why the ideas name makes sense in the original context of both these beliefs.