A Discussion Paper published by:
The WORKERS PARTY
P.O. Box 685
In society there are only two mechanisms of interaction which bring together strangers in a systematic way: Trade and Authority. In small groups of friends we observe affection, mutual goals and common concerns; but the small group model cannot be expanded to include society at large because nobody has enough time to learn, to exchange enough information, to “make friends” with enough people. A politician tries to be your friend, but this is hypocrisy and everyone knows that his handshake is not worth a cup of coffee, and that his smile won’t lower taxes if he is elected.
So with strangers, acquaintances, and all but your closest friends, you either have to trade, request, or demand what you need. But very few people think of trading when they want something special done. How many people are willing to walk up to a stranger’s house and request to use his bathroom? If it were socially acceptable to offer him a dollar, there would be no problem (unless, of course, he is afraid of strangers).
There’s something about trade which brings men together for mutual benefits which most people don’t understand. In fact, trade is considered low class, crude, unfriendly, impolite and selfish by many. It was the aristocrat’s idea of virtue to give freely of hospitality, to disdain from monetary affairs, and to take care of his serfs when there was famine. It seems curious that aristocratic notions and prejudices against trade should endure in a modern democratic society. The French revolution tore apart the social structure upon which aristocracy was based, but the upper classes won the greater victory. There was no revolution in the styles and the values of the people — everyone wanted to adopt the aristocrat’s lifestyle. Even the New Left counterculture carries forward this prejudice against trading, but with a difference — everything is supposed to be free (as if everyone was everyone else’s closest friend).
Often, even with good friends, it is socially unacceptable to request too much (or to accept payment when too much has been requested). Instead, everyone feels secretly annoyed with each other. Borrowing someone else’s car, for example, might be called “trading on your friendship” because you are not offering anything in return except your thanks. One reason that people don’t trade more often is that it points out very clearly just how close your friendship really is. It would seem logical to bridge the gap by offering some compensation, perhaps in money; but that, today, is socially taboo. No one is willing to spell out the fact that he doesn’t like you enough to give you all his possessions, his spare bedroom, or his car. Yet it is foolish to pretend that all men are brothers.
The breakdown of radical left social theory usually occurs when it is argued that all men should act like brothers, without recognising that such relationships are possible only within small groups where communication is rich and frequent, and where many goals are common to everyone in the group.
Libertarian theory argues, instead, that all relationships between strangers and mere acquaintances should be trading relationships, and that authoritarian relationships are illegitimate. The state, of course, even the democratic state, is an authoritarian institution based ultimately upon it’s use of authoritarian relations and it’s power to enforce those relationships. Trade, or Authority are the only two organising principles of the larger society — beyond the small friendship group where everyone can be brothers.
Since private property is the basis for trade — you can’t trade anything which you don’t own — clearly private property is important in the free society. Private property is the cornerstone of a free utopia.
Most radicals and revolutionaries have failed to see this. Bakunin, who was ignorant of economics (but intelligent enough to know it) was aware from the beginning that the state socialism of Marx was pure authoritarianism. The radical libertarians today emphasise the function of free trade and private property in society simply because the alternative is centralised authoritarianism. Libertarians are radical decentralists.
If the brotherhood of man concept is based upon an error in social analysis, it will never even be approached much less attained. The hope for universal peace and freedom among men, however, is not a pipe dream. Free Trade, based upon the decentralised ownership of property (reflecting the decentralised location of economic information in society), is a viable alternative to power and authority once the authoritarians now in power are removed. To be radical — to be a radical libertarian — is to know that there is a workable alternative to the authoritarian institutions which modern society has carried down from the dark ages.
Liberation is a demand which is being voiced today in every country on earth to counter the attempt to impose and maintain authority over free men. This is exactly why men who believe that a peaceful and free world must be built, know that that world must be maintained through the principle of FREE TRADE!
There is no other alternative to collectivism.