Peaceful Socialism

Somebody asked me, once upon a time, if there was any characteristic of Libertarianism which made it indisputably the most just form of government. There is. That characteristic is that it is so open, so free, that nearly any form of social organization is possible within the Libertarian framework. The converse is not true. One cannot set up a Libertarian society within a Socialist society, as having everything allocated by government would make private property impossible. But it is possible, to the extent that a Socialist society is possible at all, to set up a Socialist society within a Libertarian society, given three conditions.

Remember that in a Libertarian society, the only function of government is to protect individual rights from attack, either from inside society, as in criminal activity, or from outside society, as in invasion. This is truly a least common denominator government. So how can Socialism, which requires complete centralization of all types of economic activity, possibly be achieved within a Libertarian society? Quite easily. The proviso that a Libertarian society forbids the initiation of force implies the following three conditions:

  1. That members of the Socialist subgroup not be coerced into joining that subgroup. For the subgroup to kidnap members of the society at large, or to otherwise force them to participate, would obviously be an initiation of force. This cannot be permitted. But so long as subgroup members were willing participants, force would not be involved, and therefore there would be no conflict between the Socialist subgroup and the group at large. By the same token, the group at large would have no right, and no desire, to forcibly prevent those who chose a Socialist lifestyle from enjoying that which they have chosen.
  2. That members of the Socialist subgroup not be forcibly prevented from leaving their subgroup. That is, if and when members of the subgroup chose to leave, Libertarian principals would require that the group at large intervene were we to discover that he was forcibly prevented from leaving the subgroup. Just as group marriage would require a contract that specified the terms for divorce, a Socialist subgroup would require (or at least would be well advised to have) a contract with each of it's members specifying, for example, what sorts of property the member would be permitted to retain if and when he left the group, and whether a member whom had received investment in the form of education would owe the subgroup compensation if he immediately left the subgroup upon completion of this education. The only requirement which a Libertarian government would impose on this contract would be that he be permitted to take is body with him, and that he not be subjected to a debtor's prison in order to repay whatever was required by the subgroup's contract. All other contract terms would be purely private matters between the subgroup and it's members.
  3. That members of the Socialist subgroup not confiscate property from non-members in establishing or expanding their holdings. That is, they could not initiate force against their neighbors in order to gain more land on which to live and/or work, they could not take factories by force. They could, however, buy any property they desired, in order to expand their operations.

These simple conditions would make it perfectly possible to form several different kinds of Socialist organizations that could exist at peace within a Libertarian society. Since there would be no pesky tax collectors coming around, the subgroup would not be forced to trade with members of the group at large in order to get hard currency to pay taxes. But there would be nothing to prevent them from trading with the outside if they so chose. They could either trade in kind, and preserve the purity of their moneyless system, or they could trade goods for cash, and maintain a collective store of cash for future trade. They could even, if they so chose, invest their collective wealth in the stock market of the outside world, in order to have their operation partially financed by the outside economy. No Libertarian society would object to any of these arrangements.

There are several collective arrangements that could be supported in this way.

  1. A Kibbutz, a form of collective farm in which the inhabitants of the farm share equally in the proceeds thereof. They could be either self-sufficient, or trade externally (as a socialist nation likely would), or any combination thereof. They would be free to structure their operation as they saw fit. All they would need to do is to assure themselves that they were able to produce as much as their members consumed. And that, of course, is also a requirement of a Socialist government. It is an inescapable law of nature.
  2. A collective business, or coop, in which the employees of a business, or other like-minded individuals, buy or build a business and operate it for themselves. There are innumerable ways to structure such a business, and I am no expert on what they are. But surely anyone who was interested in this form of organization would be able to come up with an arrangement that would suit them.
  3. Many others, limited only by your imagination.

Why would any Socialist prefer such an arrangement to revolution or gradual socialization of an economy by successive interventions? There are several reasons. Perhaps the individuals in question truly do not want to do harm to anyone. My biggest problem with Socialism is that in a Socialist society, I would have to either be killed or tortured/starved into submission. This is something that I would take rather personally. My preferred social organization makes no such requirement of you.

Or perhaps one might be committed to Socialism, but unsure of what organization might work. In a Libertarian society, I predict that their would be thousands of groups who wanted to try different types of communal arrangements. If they were to carry out a revolution, and impose their first choice on a nation by force and law, they would find it difficult to change from that first organization to another if the first did not work well for them. And since it was on a national scale, they would only be able to try one form of Socialism at a time. But under a Libertarian governments, hundreds or thousands of organizational structures could be tried, limited only the members who desired to make the attempt.

Or perhaps you aren't entirely sure that Socialism will work, but want to make the attempt. A Libertarian society would allow a Socialist society that did not work to disband or reorganize, should Socialism, or the brand of Socialism they chose not work. This could be done without violence, and without the seventy years of hell that the Soviets endured, simply by unanimously choosing to disband. Or if part of the group wanted to disband, and the others did not, those who wanted to leave would always be free to do so.

So although I do not think that Socialism is workable on a large scale, I invite non-violent Socialists everywhere to join the Libertarians in attempting to establish a framework in which everyone's dreams, Capitalist and Socialist alike, can be pursued. I even have a suggested slogan for you:

We are the collective. You will not, unless you so choose, be assimilated.

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