The following was written as a response to a message board debate which began with someone posting a link to a Milton Friedman article. I'm posting it here in order to reference it from Talk:Libertarian socialism. I suppose it might be useful for some articles, so it's here under the GNU/FDL, like everything else. Of course, it was never intended to be NPOV, so don't blame me for that. (Jeb is a bit of an anarchist/socialist, and the original poster was a Libertarian, I think.) -- Sam 19:31 Jan 9, 2003 (UTC)
My main point of contention with Milton Friedman is the way he frames economics in a fundamentally black and white picture. He tells us, right at the beginning of his lecture, that "society's resources can be organised in one of two ways, or by some mixture of them." These two ways, he continues, are market economics and command economics -- "bottom up" and "top down", repectively.
He asserts that the market mechanism is bottom up, the implication being that markets give people the power. He also equates command economics with 'socialist enterprises' -- so that socialism is the authoritarian, "top down" structure. By framing it like this, he seems to be telling us that There Is No Alternative (an argument fondely known as TINA).
If we want liberty, we must have markets: that's the message. The only alternative to markets is socialism, which is command economics, and we all know where that leads -- totalitarianism.
Like Jeb, I disagree. Because what I advocate is not a market system, nor is it a command economy. It seems Friedman would have difficulty visualising this anomaly.
The problem with "socialism", as it has been applied in command economies such as the Soviet Union and Cuba, is that it has not been democratic, because democratic socialist structures are dangerous to power structures; they will ultimately destroy them. We can see that conflict in the Russian and Spanish revoutions, where anarchist (libertarian socialist) groups and various scapegoats, independant unions etc. were attacked and crushed by the Bolsheviks and Stalinists. (You can read about the Spanish experience in Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.)
The Marxist theory on attaining communism, as I understand it, is that first the structures of power -- the state -- should be taken over. This should be done by a Communist Party, which would not represent the people, it would be the people (also, there would be a revolutionary leadership, the "vanguard", which would direct the efforts of the people). The state be taken over via a mixture of electoral politics and revolutionary action, each taking a greater or lesser role in any given country as the situation dictates (ie. where there is a relatively free democratic process, the Party can succeed in gaining political influence; where there is autocratic rule, revolution is a much more desirable option). Once the state has been taken over, the 'ruling class' will be thrown out and the state will be used to create a communist society. Eventually, this state will "whither away".
Now, from the beginning most socialist anarchists disagreed. Mikhail Bakunin was the most prominent, being Marx's contemporary and acquaintance in the First International Workingmen's Association. The major, central objection was that the state can never be used to achieve communism or a free society of any kind. If the Communist Party is really 'of the people', and they have taken over the state, why should it whither away? Freedom can only be created by freedom; any kind of dictatorship is undesirable, no matter what its aim. As O'Brien puts it in Nineteen Eighty-Four, "[t]he object of power is power." The aim of a state is to perpetuate itself. Not even a 'Communist' state will 'whither away'.
So where 'Communist' Parties have succeeded in taking over states, they have not created communism, or got closer to it; all they have done is give socialism this strong connection with command economics. They have, as Friedman likes to point out, created top down relationships. But Friedman is wrong to associate these relationships with socialism, and his folly goes further when he implies that only market systems would be 'bottom up'.
The argument is that with a market, the consumer rules. And we are all consumers, of course. So, obviously, with a market, the people rule, and we have democracy. No?
No. Because what else are we? We are workers. We are friends, lovers. We have a multitude of different relationships with people; no question about human society can be framed from that one viewpoint, the view of the mass of consumers.
Anarchists want bottom up structures, not top down ones. That is the most basic principle of anarchist organisation. Given Friedman's association of command economics and socialism, which I think he shares with so many others like himself, I can understand the confusion that the terms 'libertarian socialism' or 'anarchist communism' must sow. This confusion of terms is annoying, although its history is quite interesting as an academic pursuit (just read about revolutions in 19th-20th century Europe and Russia). Not all socialists are Marxists, not all anarchists are socialists, not all communists are Bolsheviks. Certainly, no anarchist is a Marxist!
The world is not black and white, it a fucking rainbow. Understand that our common wish is for liberty; we just disagree on how to attain it, and, to some extent, what it means.