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 mutualist.blogspot.com and frequently publishes short columns and longer research reports for the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).
Introduced December 2012.