What is “libertarian socialism”?

“The mistake of the Marxists is that they don’t see that the life of humanity moves through growth of consciousness and not economic causes.”

~ Leo Tolstoy

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Excerpts from: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

Libertarian socialism (sometimes dubbed socialist libertarianism, or left-libertarianism) is a group of anti-authoritarian political philosophies inside the socialist movement that rejects socialism as centralized state ownership and control of the economy, as well as the state itself.

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…it emphasizes workers’ self-management of the workplace and decentralized structures of political organization.

It asserts that a society based on freedom and justice can be achieved through abolishing authoritarian institutions that control certain means of production and subordinate the majority to an owning class or political and economic elite.

Libertarian socialists advocate for decentralized structures based on direct democracy and federal or confederal associations such as libertarian municipalism, citizens’ assemblies, trade unions, and workers’ councils.

All of this is generally done within a general call for libertarian and voluntary human relationships through the identification, criticism, and practical dismantling of illegitimate authority in all aspects of human life.

As such, libertarian socialism, within the larger socialist movement, seeks to distinguish itself both from Leninism/Bolshevism and from social democracy.

Past and present political philosophies and movements commonly described as libertarian socialist include anarchism (especially anarchist communism, anarchist collectivism, anarcho-syndicalism, and mutualism) as well as autonomism, communalism, participism, guild socialism, revolutionary syndicalism, and libertarian Marxist philosophies such as council communism and Luxemburgism; as well as some versions of “utopian socialism” and individualist anarchism.

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Libertarian socialism is a Western philosophy with diverse interpretations, though some general commonalities can be found in its many incarnations.  It advocates a worker-oriented system of production and organization in the workplace that in some aspects radically departs from neoclassical economics in favor of democratic cooperatives or common ownership of the means of production (socialism).

They propose that this economic system be executed in a manner that attempts to maximize the liberty of individuals and minimize concentration of power or authority (libertarianism).

Libertarian socialists are strongly critical of coercive institutions, which often leads them to reject the legitimacy of the state in favor of anarchism. Adherents propose achieving this through decentralization of political and economic power, usually involving the socialization of most large-scale private property and enterprise (while retaining respect for personal property).

Libertarian socialism tends to deny the legitimacy of most forms of economically significant private property, viewing capitalist property relation as a form of domination that is antagonistic to individual freedom.

The first anarchist journal to use the term “libertarian” was Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social and it was published in New York City between 1858 and 1861 by French anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque.

The next recorded use of the term was in Europe, when “libertarian communism” was used at a French regional anarchist Congress at Le Havre (16–22 November 1880).  January the following year saw a French manifesto issued on “Libertarian or Anarchist Communism”.

Finally, 1895 saw leading anarchists Sébastien Faure and Louise Michel publish La Libertaire in France.”  The word stems from the French word libertaire, and was used to evade the French ban on anarchist publications.

In this tradition, the term “libertarianism” in “libertarian socialism” is generally used as a synonym for anarchism, which some say is the original meaning of the term; hence “libertarian socialism” is equivalent to “socialist anarchism” to these scholars.  In the context of the European socialist movement, “libertarian” has conventionally been used to describe those who opposed state socialism, such as Mikhail Bakunin.

The association of socialism with libertarianism predates that of capitalism, and many anti-authoritarians still decry what they see as a mistaken association of capitalism with libertarianism in the United States.

As Noam Chomsky put it, a consistent libertarian “must oppose private ownership of the means of production and wage slavery, which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer.”

In a chapter recounting the history of libertarian socialism, economist Robin Hahnel relates that, thus far, the period where libertarian socialism has had its greatest impact was at the end of the 19th century through the first four decades of the twentieth century:

“Early in the twentieth century, libertarian socialism was as powerful a force as social democracy and communism. 

“The Libertarian International — founded at the Congress of Saint Imier a few days after the split between Marxists and libertarians at the congress of the Socialist International held in The Hague in 1872 — competed successfully against social democrats and communists alike for the loyalty of anticapitalist activists, revolutionaries, workers, unions and political parties for over fifty years. 

“Libertarian socialists played a major role in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.  Libertarian socialists played a dominant role in the Mexican Revolution of 1911.  Twenty years after World War I was over, libertarian socialists were still strong enough to spearhead the social revolution that swept across Republican Spain in 1936 and 1937.”

On the other hand, a libertarian trend also developed within Marxism, which gained visibility around the late 1910s, mainly in reaction against Bolshevism and Leninism rising to power and establishing the Soviet Union.

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Within the New Left


The emergence of the New Left in the 1950s and 1960s led to a revival of interest in libertarian socialism.  The New Left’s critique of the Old Left’s authoritarianism was associated with a strong interest in personal liberty, autonomy (see the thinking of Cornelius Castoriadis) and led to a rediscovery of older socialist traditions, such as left communism, council communism, and the Industrial Workers of the World.

In the United States this was caused by a renewal of anarchism from the 1950s forward, through writers such as Paul Goodman, and anarcho-pacifism, which became influential in the anti-nuclear movement and anti-war movements of the time, and which incorporated both the influences of Gandhism and Tolstoyan Christian anarchism.

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Contemporary libertarian socialism


A surge of popular interest in libertarian socialism occurred in western nations during the 1960s and 1970s.  Anarchism was influential in the Counterculture of the 1960s and anarchists actively participated in the late sixties students and workers revolts.

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Around the turn of the 21st century, libertarian socialism grew in popularity and influence as part of the anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalisation movements.  Anarchists became known for their involvement in protests against the meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Group of Eight, and the World Economic Forum.

Some [so-called “anarchist”] factions at these protests engaged in rioting, property destruction, and violent confrontations with police.  These actions were precipitated by ad hoc, [supposedly] leaderless, anonymous cadres known as “black blocs” [who are political saboteurs, undoubtedly agent-provocateurs, working covertly for national governments].  Other organisational tactics pioneered in this time include security culture, affinity groups and the use of decentralised technologies such as the internet.

A significant event of this period was the confrontations at the WTO conference in Seattle in 1999.  For english anarchist scholar Simon Critchley, “contemporary anarchism can be seen as a powerful critique of the pseudo-libertarianism of contemporary neo-liberalism… 

“One might say that contemporary anarchism is about responsibility, whether sexual, ecological or socio-economic; it flows from an experience of conscience about the manifold ways in which the West ravages the rest; it is an ethical outrage at the yawning inequality, impoverishment and disenfranchisment that is so palpable locally and globally.”

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Libertarian socialism has also more recently played a large part in the global Occupy movement, in particular its focus on direct participatory democracy.

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(all emphases added in previous excerpts)

Full article: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism