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A man gathers wild mushrooms and exchanges them for stuff he needs, is he a capitalist?

–6 votes
I would like to understand the varying definitions of capitalism that float on this site. I believe that the foundation of any debate must be based on agreed upon definitions.

If capitalism is a system propped up by a violent, domineering, monopoly state where the people in power keep their buddies rich, I am anti-capitalist.

If capitalism is individuals attempting to maximize their well-being by exchanging value for value to meet human needs, then I am a capitalist.
asked Dec 16, 2013 by VoluntaryThinker (380 points)

1 Answer

+5 votes
The definition of capitalism seems to be the biggest problem when anarchists and 'anarcho-capitalists' debate. People exchanging mushrooms for berries isn't capitalism, it's just trade. Capitalism arose out of the process of primitive accumulation, wherein people were dispossessed of their land and means of production, with nothing left to do but sell their labor. Capitalism doesn't exist without an accumulation of capital, a bunch of dispossessed people, and a bunch of guns and steel cages (and cultural programming).

Now I suspect when you scale this idea into 'individuals attempting to maximize their well-being by exchanging value for value to meet human needs', you are talking about something very different (assuming you are an 'ancap'). Wage labor? Private property? Interest, rent, profit.......

Check these out:

(edited to remove faulty definition of market. see funkyanarchy's comment. thanks!)
answered Dec 16, 2013 by formyinformation (2,400 points)
edited Dec 17, 2013 by formyinformation
Okay, I will use do my best to avoid using the word capitalism. I do not support the taking of people's land and means of production by force. I do support the accumulation of capital, by voluntary means. Absent coercion, capital accumulation represents foregone consumption and wealth generation. I will try my best to avoid using the term capitalism when I describe my position. Your answer was valuable to me, it deserves an up-vote.
What is 'voluntary' is another contention between 'ancaps' and anarchists. Some choices appear voluntary, but the lack of any other meaningful option makes it less so.
Right. So, in some way, we could argue that you are coerced into eating because the only other option is to not eat, which results in death. There is only one fundamental alternative, existence or non-existence. And it pertains only to living organisms. Only a living organism faces the constant alternative, life and death. Organisms must act to maintain life. To use the word coercion outside of the situation where a person is forced to do something is to take away the words meaning and usability. If you choose to do something because your alternatives are meaningless, you were not a victim of coercion or violence; you are an individual whose circumstances result in a lack of access to alternatives.
If a system is constructed by which your only feasible access to necessary resources (including social interaction) comes through selling your time and energy to a property-owner in exchange for a wage, then you are being coerced into doing so.

There are the restrictions and limitations of human existence, and there are the restrictions and limitations of man-made social constructs. Capitalism falls into the latter category.
If the system was constructed using force and coercion, then yes, you are being coerced. In the way that you are using the word capitalism, there is coercion. Without going into a history lesson, modern societies and the modern capitalist system were constructed using violence, oppression, domination, and coercion, just to name a few of the issues. I oppose this system as well.
I see a lot of 'ancaps' consider the current circumstances as 'natural', and ignore the role that primitive accumulation (and the force that went with it, that you mentioned) played in making wage labor our only meaningful option, besides starvation or exploitation. I think we assumed you felt the same.

Also, a thought:

If you accept that the term capitalism is not just the use of capital, you may accept that anarchism is not simply being against government/state and that the term anarchism is an actual political philosophy and not simply a word to use etymologically as 'without ruler'. It follows that if you're not going to use capitalism to refer to plain old markets, then you may not want to use the term 'anarcho-capitalist'. You would be a market anarchist. Although, I don't suspect you adhere to the political philosophy of anarchism, and since you don't want to use capitalism, you may not want to use the term anarchism either.
I appreciate your input. I have an aversion to the label Anarcho-Capitalism because of this very point. I would prefer to identify as Libertarian Anarchist. I have no objection to also using Market Anarchism or Individualist Anarchy. I use the term Anarcho-Capitalism because most of the arguments that I agree with were first put forth as and have come to be associated with the term Anarcho-Capitalism. I care more about the clarity of my own position when discussing theory with other Anarchists, like yourself. So, I will accept the pejorative definition of capitalism and avoid using it in our discussion.

The current circumstance is not "natural" and did not arise from property rules that Libertarian-Anarchists support. I am not only against the state's use of institutionalized violence, but all forms of coercion. I could very well use the term Voluntarism. Is it true that anarchism and voluntarism are compatible terms?
I will change my username to VoluntaryThinker
Maybe they're compatible terms to some degree. Definitely not interchangeable since voluntarism ignores the conditions in which agreements and associations are made.

Poke around in the Anarchist FAQ at infoshop.org.
Regardless of whether the system was constructed using force and coercion (however you define those terms), the system itself is coercive.

Even if such a system were brought into existence "naturally" (whatever that means) or with the concept of its initial participants, it would still be coercive and exploitative.
I don't take issue with voluntary exploitation. If you would like to exploit my labor by mixing it with your machine (which you have saved for and purchased), then that is fine; so long as I consent it is not coercion. I want to avoid conflict by using property rules. I also want to allow individuals to act voluntarily with others. If all I can do is beg or work 18hrs a day to feed myself, you are not coercing me to work for you. If I can only choose die or work for you, you are not coercing me to work for you.

Unless, you lock me in a prison and then give me a choice to work and eat or lay-about and die. In this case, you have violated the NAP and coercion is present. One could argue that the current system is akin to this example; and is, as such, inherently coercive. I am not arguing for this system and I oppose coercion.
"People exchanging mushrooms for berries isn't capitalism, it's just trade, a market (which I think most anarchists also reject). "

by my understanding, two individuals trading does not constitute a market; a market requires multiple buyers and/or sellers, providing "choice" (and the related competition).
"I don't take issue with voluntary exploitation."

And this is why anarchists don't take you seriously.

With all else equal, in a choice between being exploited and not being exploited, I cannot imagine a reason why a person would choose to be exploited. If there is no feasible choice (for example, be exploited and live in a community with social ties and the essentials for living, versus refuse exploitation and have to fight for survival in the wilderness), then there is coercion. The "prison" you talk about doesn't have to be physical.

The non-aggression principle is an immensely flawed way of conceiving human interactions and I believe it is functionally useless.
The lack of rigorous arguements for leftist anarchy and the complete denial and rejection of objective facts and reality is why thinking anarchists dont take you seriously.  If you want to imagine that you could live in a world full of square circles and horses riding astride themselves, have fun. But dont pretend you have some consistent theory of production or an insight into how a stable, stateless society could emerge and flourish. My philosophy is consistent and based in reality. I dont need humans to become anything else for this hypothetical system to be workable, you do; which is precisely why your arguments lack consistency and rigor. All you can do is complain about how unfair "it" is. And for leftists, "it" is everything. If your ideal society ever arose it would very quickly devolve into barbarism as the means of production were squandered and centuries of technological achievement were flushed down the preverbial drain. Soon enough, people would be forced back into a primitive state, with all of the unnecessary suffering and violence that comes with it. But hey, at least you wouldnt have Starbucks right?
I think you're going a little off the rails, here, because now you're talking all kinds of bizarre shit that has never come out of my mouth or been brought up by me in any way.

I don't give a damn about creating a "stable society" and there is no need to have a "consistent theory of production" to oppose and attack the existent.

I'm not really sure how my conception of anarchy requires that human beings become something else. I'm not a transhumanist. I would like to live in a world in which I have a more fully reciprocal relationship with my world and the people in it, including the ability to construct and pursue my desires in a way less restricted by social constraints.

I don't believe in "fairness" and I don't believe that "technology" is an inherently good thing and I also have some serious doubts about the supposed suffering and violence that is somehow more common in "primitive" societies compared to the one we exist in today. What a fucking claim. Holy shit.

Your ideas are garbage and I'm done arguing with you, because we are arguing for two utterly different practices and worlds. Your only similarity to anarchism is that you occasionally misappropriate the term.
If you had a shred of economic literacy you would see what I am pointing out to you. You prefer a stateless society with no money or markets. Limiting humans in such a way is not how a world with more reciprocal relationships will come to be. The suffering presently caused by the state is what exists today. I was comparing the non-state-caused suffering that exists in nature. Without an understanding of economics, you try to imagine how things would be in your ideal society; you have absolutely no clue because you do not understand the science of human action. My society has no states and no coercion; technology is magnitudes more advanced; humans have solved disease; there is an abundance of good food, art, and music; human interaction, in absence of the state and aided by markets will peak. Even the poorest of the poor would live better and be happier than the average person in the world you imagine; which will be rampant with starvation and people dieing from things like the flu or gangrene. If you are correct about what anarchy means, I am not an anarchist and never could be. Since your philosophy is nothing but a bunch of vague claims and complaints, completely void of rigorous analysis, I will continue to identify as a Libertarian Anarchist until there is nobody left that might mistake me for a whiney, irrational person. We are done talking.

VT demonstrates that even fairly good-natured disagree-ers are hard to talk to, because the context of what they will accept as reasonable is so different from "ours" (mine!).
again, i am reminded so much of commies/marxists, who frequently say or allude to agreeing with a lot of anarchist thought, except that it is unrealistic, or un"rigorous" and anarchists just need to be more practical about it all...
(as if there is anything at all practical about wanting western civ/the totality to change... but that's another topic, i guess.)
Voluntary Thinker, it seems like you started this conversation, but when you found out that people disagreed with you, you announced that you were done talking. What exactly do you want from us, then?
What a surprise, even in your dramatic conclusion you knowingly admit that your world would allow for clear distinctions of wealth and class (including the infamous capitalist myth of "when we raise the water, all boats rise"). Alongside a vague, technologically-progressive future that has "solved disease". It's bizarre how much your ideal world sounds like the setup for a sci-fi dystopia film.
Asker - here is a direct quote from Riceboy, "Your ideas are garbage and I'm done arguing with you". I was simply announcing that we, he and I, were done talking. The disagreement between me and the members here does not bother me. It makes me think and I enjoy it. If Riceboy would like to change his mind (which it looks like he has since he just replied to me) then I would gladly continue the conversation. Even more, I would love to have more of you guys "pile on", there is plenty of room.
Rice Boy - Considering that technological advancement has solved many diseases and increased the life span of humans so far, I stand by my claim that free people, who aren't burdened by government, would continue to advance and eventually "solve disease". By this, I mean that we could prevent the unnecessary suffering that is caused by painful, life destroying diseases. People that now suffer greatly from ailments could thrive if we had developed a cure. Do I need to go into the incredible accomplishments that medical technology has made so far? Through capitalist means I might add. The list is very long.
Dot - Your quite right. I see the similarity in the criticisms that I have made and the ones made by socialists. Socialism is a theory of production that has had a-lot of rigor and thought put into it. It takes a lot of time to explain their theories and how they could work. The problem is that the socialist ideology is sacrificial to human needs and requires a new "socialist man" to be a workable theory. In theory, if this "socialist man" were ever to come into existence, their theory about how the world could be might unfold. Even if this were possible, which it isn't for reasons we will not get into here, I would never support the socialist vision. I would not want to live in the ideal socialist society. I do not want to be a socialist man. I embrace reality and the non aggression principle is core to my preferences.

My philosophy of Market Anarchism (you can imagine the second word to be anything you want if you still can't tolerate me using "your" word) does not require coercion to come into being. Nor does it require a new socialist man. All that is needed for this theory of production to evolve is the elimination of coercion, most obvious is the institutionalized violence that is the State.
"I mean that we could prevent the unnecessary suffering that is caused by painful, life destroying diseases."

you are ignoring the fact that the VAST majority of that suffering is a direct (and indirect) result of modern civilization and mass society. piling shitloads of people into smaller and smaller spaces - with *everything* that brings with it - is a major factor in the development of so many diseases and suffering.

by far the majority of issues addressed by industrial technology and all its accompanying institutions were caused by... them.
Enlighten me. Who is "piling" people into these smaller and smaller areas? Is there some great man-pile conspiracy forcing people to cram into small cities or be slaughtered? If you do not want to give up goods produced by mass coordination and economic calculation (everything except the most simple, rudimentary tools), then you need a theory of social production to employ. That means you need to tell me how, without markets, without central planners, people could coordinate their efforts to provide production goods. Or, you are advocating for a society where the most advanced technology possible is things like nets, spears, and fur clothes.