There is, it turns out, more than one “conflation conflict” that we need to deal with. Before we can even begin to wrestle with the relation of the current economic situation to various understandings of “capitalism” and/or a “free (or freed) market,” we apparently have to pick our way through a rhetorical minefield of widely used terms and phrases which “sound like” something no real anarchist or libertarian would (presumably) ever say. For right libertarians, the primary concern seems to be contamination by “Marxism,” which embodies, apparently, pretty much everything that is or could be wrong with the world. Now, it’s strangely touching to see somebody credit marxism with so much importance, at a time when most anarchists have pretty well written off the bulk of that tradition as something less than a cause for concern. I’m sure there are plenty of folks in left-libertarian circles who have read Marx and learned some things from the tradition. I certainly have. But my primary influences are all either Marx’s intellectual antagonists, like Proudhon, or libertarians who worked on the margins of marxian socialism for specific historical and theoretical reasons, and drew out the most libertarian threads in marxist theory. I’m sure the folks at Mises.org would be as appalled by Bataille, or by Lafargue’s more libertarian work, as they are by Marx himself (assuming they have any direct knowledge of Marx’s work), but, presumably at least, “Marxist” means something other, among serious debaters, than “stuff that appalls me.” Presumably. Then I find Stephan Kinsella saying: “The notion of ‘bargaining power’ is leftist to the core.”
There’s plenty of debate concerning this assertion—too much, really, given the shameful sloppiness of the charge—over on Kevin Carson’s blog. But it’s of a very familiar sort. A libertarian who objects to the very notion of a “left” libertarianism proceeds to “read” a left-libertarian writer as if they were a Stalinist or Maoist (or what they imagine a doctrinaire Marxist of this sort would say.) In the process, they limit the field to a couple of rhetorical possibilities: their own vocabulary, which they take to be standard usage, and various forms of Diamat or its stealthy proxies. Real intellectual history is erased. Real marxist usage, in all its dizzying variety, is erased. The left anarchist tradition is erased. Indeed, most of the tradition of classical political economy is erased. The baby, the bathroom, and most of the new addition go out with the bathwater, while there are pompous declamations about what true libertarians do and do not say, etc. Bring on the right-lib Diamat. Except that it isn’t clear that there is anything, except the conflations, to advance and defend.
Those who “argue” in this way, it seems to me, have to be working from a position of either extreme bad faith (the “fraud” half of what all good libertarians presumably avoid) or willful ignorance. Either way, this can only be a matter of preaching to the choir. So be it. People who make a big production of their commitment to truth and liberty, and then respond to others who are committed to truth and liberty with silly “sounds like” retorts and ideological name-calling trivialize some things we probably can’t afford to take lightly. Sometimes it is necessary to engage with this sort of nonsense, but let’s try to keep our eyes on the prize, and not waste too much time.