The short answer to the question, “Are gig economy companies like Uber or Airbnb anarchist in nature?” is a dismissive wave of the hand. But one of my political science textbooks for a kind of ideologies 101 class has a chapter dedicated to anarchism, which I was excited for. To my dismay and concern, the comical and entirely contradictory branch of “anarcho-capitalism” is briefly explored. Sure, it might be a noteworthy aberration to point at and critique, but here it appears to be treated as legitimate – I guess that’s a consequence of the US’ lunacy…
The book is Political Ideologies: An Introduction by Andrew Heywood. So far it has been a decent book, covering some stuff I knew, adding some more interesting details, and offering quite a large list of further readings and references I’ll scour once I’m finished reading it. It even has, as mentioned, an entire chapter dedicated to anarchism, distinct from the previous chapter on socialism. Obviously in a relatively short book, there are limitation to the depths it can go into each idea, but I feel this book tends to skip over some important details, highlighted by the uncritical entry of anarcho-capitalism.
Heywood correctly states that anarchism opposes all form of political authority, particularly that exercised by the State, but then goes on to say there are “rival individualist and collectivist forms of anarchism.” Individualist anarchism, he posits, draws from liberalism, while the collectivist strand draws from socialism. These are, put simply, anarcho-capitalism – a stateless society in which private individuals can choose to enter “voluntary contracts with other in the pursuit of self-interest”, America’s “right-wing libertarianism” – and anarcho-communism and its variants – basically communism but rejecting the State as a viable vessel to achieve such a free society due to its inherently coercive and authoritarian structure.
When I hear the word anarchism, and when I talk or write about it, it is always in reference to the latter. The former, a gross appropriation from the political “right” in the US, is a complete contradiction. Noam Chomsky described it as “pure corporate tyranny” where those with the resources and capital would gain total power with few imaginable counterparts in history. He also says such a society, if somehow implemented, would quickly collapse – it simply would not be viable or acceptable.
When I first heard of it, I thought it was a joke. And while I still believe it is a joke, there are people out there – even academics, apparently, some of whom Heywood references – who do advocate for it. My issue with it, other than that it’s a wretched ideology, is it incorrectly assigns itself the legitimacy of the terms anarchism, liberty, and freedom. It offers none of those, in fact the complete opposite.
Because anarchism isn’t just opposition to political authority. That is certainly a major part of it, which differentiates it from socialism in that the State is rejected outright. But anarchism is, fundamentally, opposed to all authority, from political to economic, patriarchal to religious. It applies broadly, and while some goals can be envisioned, anarchists try their best to not prescribe an end point. The aim of anarchism is to constantly seek out structures or instances of authority and question them. Bound to anger some anarchists is the idea of “justified hierarchies”, a clumsily worded phrase also from Chomsky.
My understanding of it is that the burden of proof to authority is always on the one exercising it, and if that burden cannot be met, it ought to be dismantled and replaced by something freer and more just. In most cases it can’t be met, perhaps with some exceptions. So, in the case of anarcho-capitalism, the idea of private individuals acting in their “self-interest” in a truly “free market” of the Milton Friedman variety is absurd.
Then there was page about how anarchism approached the tech world and cyberspace. Without even a passing mention of anarcho-primitivism, crypto-anarchism is described as “market arrangements sustained by computer networks”. Putting the market bit aside, I do see potential in the Internet, if used properly, as a massive benefit to a free society. With the exception of cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, being the closest thing to “anarcho-capitalism”, a decentralised “free market” run by the market forces of unstable investment and enough CPU power to offset climate change gains over the last ten years.
The technology behind Bitcoin, however, blockchain, is extremely promising, again if implemented properly. The recent corporate interest in it has made prospects tentative now, but it could offer users complete privacy and security online, as well as a massive, decentralised platform for what has been coined the gig economy.
Heywood placed companies like Uber and Airbnb under the crypto-anarchism label, which is utterly nonsensical. While they have “decentralised” the platform, it is still a private company exploiting workers and users. A truly anarchist version of those gig economy jobs would be a publicly owned and decentralised one, where the value of the work carried out by people goes to them and not a private corporation. Right now, given Uber’s extreme stranglehold, there are legal battles being fought and laws being passed – by the State – to make Uber drivers actual employees. That is a positive in the current system, for sure, but by no means the path of an anarchist endeavour.
It just seems as though Heywood heard about anarcho-capitalism and this type of “crypto-anarchism” and though because it was in the name that they are part of the anarchist tradition. Perhaps they did have vague roots in some anarchist thought, but those ideals are nothing like true anarchism, and for it to be considered such without a critical approach was a little baffling.
Liked this? Read my old piece on blockchain and work HERE
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