The Subsidy of History

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This article — excerpted from Kevin Carson’s groundbreaking essay “The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand” (2001) — examines capitalist eco­nom­ic privilege through the lens of the historical dispossession of workers and peasants, and the radically deformed markets dynamics struct­ur­ed by these systematic, consolidating transfers of wealth — opening up discussions on the role of the state in forging and shaping cor­porate power and in driving workers into sweat­shop labor; as well as the trans­formative possibilities of decentral­iz­ed, liberated markets freed from state-capitalist exploit­ation.

“Manorialism, commonly, is recognized to have been founded by robbery and usurpation; a rul­ing class established itself by force, and then com­pel­led the peasantry to work for the profit of their lords. But no system of exploitation, in­clud­ing cap­it­al­ism, has ever been created by the action of a free market. Capitalism was founded on an act of rob­bery as mass­ive as feudalism. It has been sus­tain­ed to the present by contin­u­al state inter­ven­tion to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable. The current structure of capital own­er­ship and org­an­iz­ation of production in our so-called ‘market’ eco­n­omy, re­flects coercive state intervention prior to and ex­trane­ous to the market. From the outset of the industrial re­vol­ut­ion, what is nostalgically called “laissez-faire” was in fact a system of continuing state intervention to sub­sid­ize ac­cum­ulation, guarantee privilege, and maintain work disci­pline. . . .”

“A world in which peas­ants had held onto their land and property was widely distributed, capital was free­ly available to laborers through mutual banks, productive tech­n­ology was freely avail­able in every country without pat­ents, and every people was free to develop locally without col­on­ial robbery, is beyond our imagination. But it would have been a world of decentralized, small-scale production for local use, own­ed and controlled by those who did the work — as dif­fer­ent from our world as day from night, or freedom from slavery. . . .”

Kevin A. Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and a prolific writer on subjects including free-market anti-capitalism, the in­div­idualist anarchist tradition, grassroots technology and radical unionism. He keeps a blog at and frequently publishes short columns and longer research reports for the Center for a Stateless Society (

Introduced December 2012.

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