Brief Introduction To Libertarian Socialism
First Published: Newsletter 09/03/20
Libertarian Socialism, like many things, is an umbrella term for a pool of distinct ideologies and structures of thought, but all share a principle idea: Decentralisation and worker ownership. These ideas are rooted in the belief that the most effective systems are built from the bottom up, not imposed from the top down. By decentralising, everyone is closer to the decisions that affect them, able to convey their unique perspective in a wider discussion, rather than it being ignored in a detached, abstract process. Direct democracy is just one of the many tools we can use to create these decentralised structures.
Decentralisation plays to the inherent belief that communities are the foundation of socialist societies, not the government. Workers seizing the means of production must be a direct action, and not through the state acting as a proxy for the workers. Another truth of Libertarian Socialism is the idea that both the community and individual are equal and should be treated as such, the strengths of each must be utilised to balance out the flaws.
Community encourages cooperation and solidarity, collective power to create and thrive, yet is susceptible to herd mentality and the desire to conform, which can result in the creation of an ‘othering’ dynamic, the basis of all discrimination. An individual can be creative and free as possible, diverting from the norm to pioneer new ways of thinking, but is as physically limited as any single person. Individuality can also encourage greed as, without community, the only thing that matters is one’s own progress, not the progress of others.
The fault of Socialism (in the mainstream sense) and Libertarianism (in the capitalist sense) is they focus entirely on the group and the individual, respectively. Libertarian Socialism seeks to create consensus and utilise the two. But most importantly, Libertarian Socialism is about liberation, not in the capitalist manufactured freedom to choose what trainers to buy, or which tv show to watch, but liberation from all the injustices we experience in our day-to-day lives. No one has a say when it comes to their workplace. Our education system is grossly toxic. Few have a say in the issues that affect their own homes. Nobody has any influence on the decisions that affect us all. While you get to choose a representative once every 5 years (or less during the recent Brexit shambles), there is no voting on individual policies, the politicians never live up to their promises and we are continuously let down and lied to by our leaders.
We think we live in a democracy but are drones in a system almost all of those in power have risen through, specifically because they don’t dare challenge it.
Many have questioned how Black Rose, an explicitely anti-authoritarian group, can justify its participation in the British electoral system, and it’s a conflict many Libertarian Socialists face. On the one hand, our ideology recognises that the state and what we know as “democracy” are woefully oppressive and illegitimate, meaning liberation can only come through Dual-Power, the self-liberation of building our own independent systems, however we also recognise that change can and has been made through electoral politics.
In order to square this equation we exist to cultivate the connection between grassroots organising and it’s natural political home, the Labour Party. We direct our energy into organising, connecting with movements and initiatives from the ground up, and by forming from within Labour we can draw energy away from the void of party politics into the united front of dual-power. However, we also aim to reform the state simultaneously. Although we disagree with the systems and methods of Parliamentary politics, we know it can be of use. In other words - we work with what we’ve got.
The end to illegitimate hierarchies is a goal that plays into the ethos of the ideology, yet it is often misunderstood. Libertarian Socialists are often put in the stereotype of wanting to dismantle every top-down structure in society, to have no rules and no rulers. This is a gross over-exaggeration and takes root in strawman arguments against the Libertarian Left. We aren’t looking to destroy non-oppressive systems, like hierarchies in hospitals, where the doctor or surgeon takes the lead, and therefore a higher force in the interaction. This is because this hierarchy has clear justification; the doctor is specialised in treating the patient, nurses are specialised in supporting that.
The justification for a hierarchy’s existence is a debated issue, but many in the movement would agree a hierarchy is justified if it is: temporary, accountable and non-harmful. Any hierarchy that does not meet these standards would be dissolved. For example libertarian socialism tends to challenge the boss-employee relationship, which could be replaced with a democratic system, cooperative models and the state, the government, could be dissolved, in its place nothing but a vast network of expert working groups, accessible and accountable, with power distributed to a great extent.