Defining left libertarianism

I occasionally contribute to the editing of Wikipedia pages, including those relating to left libertarian political traditions. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of cranky libertarians involved in Wikipedia, so pages you  edit there get swiftly re-edited. For example, the page on left libertarianism insists that said ideology is some odd US free market scene:

It later became associated with free-market libertarians when Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess reached out to the New Left in the 1960s.[3] This left-wing market anarchism, which includes mutualism and Samuel Konkin III‘s agorism, appeals to left-wing concerns such as feminism, gender and sexuality,class, immigration, and environmentalism.[1] Most recently, left-libertarianism refers to mostly non-anarchist political positions associated with Hillel Steiner, Philippe Van Parijs, and Peter Vallentyne that combine self-ownership with an egalitarian approach to natural resources.[4]

I think most people I know who call themselves left libertarians, certainly in Europe, would find that description hard to recognise. Here’s an old version of a section on libertarian socialism, that got deleted recently, which seems to me roughly right:

Libertarian socialism is a political philosophy that promote a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic society without private property in the means of production. Libertarian socialism is opposed to coercive forms of social organization. It promotes free association in place of government and opposes the social relations of capitalism, such as wage labor.[note 1]

The term libertarian socialism is used by some socialists to differentiate their philosophy from state socialism.[7]

For some writers, libertarian socialism is seen as synonymous or overlapping with the terms social anarchism[8][9][10], left anarchism.[8][9][11] and even left libertarianism.[2][12]

Political philosophies commonly described as libertarian socialist include most varieties of anarchism (especially anarchist communism, anarchist collectivism, anarcho-syndicalism,[13] and mutualism[14]) as well as autonomism, Communalism, participism, libertarian Marxist philosophies such as council communism and Luxemburgism,[15] and some versions of utopian socialism[16] and individualist anarchism.[17][18][19] There have also been libertarian socialist currents in the mainstream labour and socialist movements.

[Footnotes below]

There has also been a section on green left libertarianism, again recently re-deleted. A recent version looked like this:

The Green movement has been influenced by left libertarian traditions, including by anarchism, mutualism, Georgism and [[individualist anarchism. Peter Kropotkin provided a scientific explanation of how “mutual aid” is the real basis for social organization in his Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution. New England Transcendentalism (especially Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott) and German Romanticism, the Pre-Raphaelites, and other “back to nature” movements combined with anti-war, anti-industrialism, civil liberties, and decentralization movements are all part of this tradition. In the modern period, Murray Bookchin and the Institute for Social Ecology elaborated these ideas more systematically. Bookchin was one of the main influences behind the formation of the German Green Party – the first green party to win seats in state and national parliaments.[citation needed]Modern Green Parties attempt to apply these ideas to a more pragmatic system of democratic governance as opposed to contemporary individualist or left anarchism.

Thus the Green movement, or left-facing sections of it, is often described by political scientists as left libertarian.[84] Often referred to here are European political parties, such as Ecolo and Agalev in Belgium, the German Green Party, or the Green Progressive Accord/GreenLeft in the Netherlands. Political scientists see these parties as coming out of the New Left and emphasising spontaneous self-organisation, participatory democracy, decentralisation and voluntarism, and therefore contrasting to the “traditional left”‘s top-down, bureaucratic or statist approach, hence the term “left libertarian”. Other similar non-socialist radical left political parties, such as the Italian Radicals, are often described in similar terms.[85] These parties situate themselves on the left of the political spectrum, and therefore tend to ally electorally with left parties (e.g. in the Rose in the Fist coalition in Italy), while being pro-market and strongly supporting a civil libertarian agenda, and hence are called left libertarian.

[Footnotes below]

What do you think of when you think of left libertarianism? What would you include in an article?

I think of a tradition described in David Goodway‘s book Anarchist Seeds beneath the Snow, which includes the likes of William Morris, John Cowper Powys, Alex Comfort, Herbert Read, Colin Ward and Maurice Brinton.

From William Morris to Oscar Wilde to George Orwell, left-libertarian thought has long been an important but neglected part of British cultural and political history. In Anarchist Seeds beneath the Snow, David Goodway seeks to recover and revitalize that indigenous anarchist tradition. This book succeeds as simultaneously a cultural history of left-libertarian thought in Britain and a demonstration of the applicability of that history to current politics. Goodway argues that a recovered anarchist tradition could—and should—be a touchstone for contemporary political radicals. Moving seamlessly from Aldous Huxley and Colin Ward to the war in Iraq, this challenging volume will energize leftist movements throughout the world.

Crucially, some of these people are anarchists – but not all are. Left libertarianism clearly stretches on the one side towards the anarchism of Colin Ward but also towards the democratic socialism of Orwell or the Marxism of Morris and EP Thompson, who all feature in Goodway’s book. As Bernard Crick puts it regarding Orwell: “He was an English Socialist of the classic kind, in the same mould as Michael Foot and Aneurin Bevan – left-wing, but also libertarian, egalitarian and hostile to the Communist Party.” Similarly, Thompson started off a Communist, but became sharply anti-Stalinist.

As this excellent review of Goodway’s book by Martin Heggarty describes, the title of the book comes from a novel by Ignazio Silone, which strongly influenced Colin Ward’s turn to anarchism. Silone, however, was not an anarchist, but an anti-Stalinist socialist.

We could take Goodway’s history into the 1960s and 1970s, with groups such as Big Flame and Solidarity, as described in this reading list, as well as people like Ken Coates. Moving past the 1970s, it becomes a little less clear.

That history is, of course, anglocentric, but I am sure a Francophone version of it could be written (including Victor Serge, Daniel Guerin, Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort) or an American version (including Mother Jones, Paul Goodman, Nancy and Dwight MacDonald, Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky). Those lists are quite white and male, and would need to be re-written to make them less so.

What do you think?

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From the archive of struggle, no.77: Encounter

Taking a break from my well-behind trawl through MIA, UNZ, a website of free periodicals, has uploaded loads of back issues of Encounter. For those of you who think I’m a neocon, my pleasure at this will be further evidence.  For those of you less well versed in all of this, here’s Wikipedia:

Encounter was a literary magazine, founded in 1953 by poet Stephen Spender and journalist Irving Kristol. The magazine ceased publication in 1991. Published in the United Kingdom, it was a largely Anglo-American intellectual and cultural journal, originally associated with the anti-Stalinist left. The magazine received covert funding from the Central Intelligence Agency, after the CIA and MI6 discussed the founding of an “Anglo-American left-of-centre publication” intended to counter the idea of cold war neutralism. The magazine was rarely critical of American foreign policy, but beyond this editors had considerable publishing freedom

Here’s just some of the material in the amazing first issue from 1953:

Interesting global range, and a larger number of female contributors than many other cultural journals of the day (though still not many).

Here are other things that jumped out at me. From 1953:

From 1954:

From 1955:

Then, fast forwarding to the late 1960s, the mood has not changed one bit, with just the slightest sense of the cultural revolution at large in the world. Here’s some stuff from 1967:

Other periodicals available from the site:

1930s+

1950s+

1960s+

1970s+

My obsessions

Leon Trotsky:

A good review by Andrew Coates of Patenaude and Robert Service‘s books, and a rather plodding defence of Trotsky from Service by Peter Taafe.

Ignazio Silone:

Silone on liberty. An interview with Tim Parks that touches on the “Silone question” (via The Perfect Package, see last quote). Any Persian readers reading this? Here’s some Silone in Farsi.

Albert Camus:

Coates on Camus in the Pantheon.

The Spanish Civil War:

Wilebaldo Solano on the POUM (more on this later). Review of An Anarchist’s Story: The Life of Ethel MacDonald.

Bertolt Brecht:

Excellent post by The Fat Man on a Keyboard, contra Nick Cohen on The Good Soul of Szechuan.

Kronstadt:

Finally, I am sad that I missed the New York Queer Film Festival, where I could have seen this:

Closing Night: Maggots & Men
Seeing Cary Cronenwett’s Maggots and Men, you have nothing to lose but your perceptions of gender. This utopian re-visioning of the Kronstadt Uprising of 1921, featuring film history’s first cast of over 100 transgender actors, paints an idyllic portrait of formerly pro-Soviet sailors at the Kronstadt naval garrison who rebelled against the perceived failures of the new Bolshevik state.

Poumed

At the head of everything is God, the Lord of Heaven.
Everyone knows that.
Then comes Prince Torlonia, lord of the earth.
Then come Prince Torlonia’s guards.
Then come Prince Torlonia’s guards’ dogs.
Then, nothing at all.
Then, nothing at all.
Then, nothing at all.
Then come the peasants. And that’s all.

~ Ignazio Silone, Fontamara (1931). (via @ndy)

Debates and arguments: David Cesarani, Marek Edelman and Michal Kaminski – click the link from Engage, then return to read the comment thread.

From the magazine rack: 1989 Timothy Garton Ash (NYRB); What Is to Be Learned? Thinking about 1989 Mitchell Cohen (Dissent); The Memory That Will Not Die: Exhuming the Spanish Civil War Julius Purcell (Boston Review); 100 Years of Servitude: Gabriel García Márquez’s Infatuation With Castro and Other Dictators Enrique Krauze (New Republic); Terry Teachout on the Congress for Cultural Freedom (Commentary).

Book reviews: John Gray on Robert Service’s Trotsky; Jonathan Yardley on Kati Marton’s Enemies of the People; DG Myers on two Lionel Trilling biographies; Colm Toibin on Sheila Rowbotham’s Edward Carpenter.

Some Irving Kristol obits I missed: Christopher Hitchens, David Brooks, Myron MagnetEric Alterman , Michael Lind, Justin Vaïsse, Kevin Mattson, Seth Lipsky, John Guardiano, Christopher DeMuth, Mary Eberstadt, Joseph Epstein, Danny Finkelstein.

Archival: Walter Lacquer on Why the Shah fell (1979).

Silone/Farrell

Following up yesterday’s Ignazio  Silone post, I notice that the author (Stanislao G. Pugliese) of the book under review (Bitter Spring), is interviewed here at Publishers Weekly. Short but sweet. There’s a good review here too. Pugliese has also written about Carlo Rosselli.

Robert K Landers, who wrote the WSJ review, has also written about James T Farrell, another fascinating and inspiring writer/activist. Kyle Semmel writes about Farrell nicely here.