We can do better than Capitalist Liberty

David McMullen
5 min readApr 27, 2017

Supporters of capitalism like to describe themselves as supporters of liberty. Indeed they claim that liberty is impossible without capitalism.

At the same time they describe proletarian revolution and the road to communism as tyranny. This narrative is an easy one to spin when you take a superficial look at the experience of 20th century communism. However, as I explain in the video Did Communism Fail, there is a lot more to the story than what we hear from anti-communists. I suggest that you have a look at it. Here I will just make a few points to get you thinking about the matter in a fresh way. First of all most of the revolutions were in countries mainly comprising backward peasants rather than educated workers, Russia and China being the prime examples. Then we had the regimes in eastern Europe that were not the product of any sort of revolution at all but rather the arrival of the Soviet Red Army in 1945. And finally there is the wackiest regime of all. And that is the one in Cuba. Sometime after his rebel army took over, Castro informed the population that they had just had a socialist revolution. So the working class had just had a revolution without even knowing about it, let alone participating in it. What I am basically trying to get at here is that these countries were not fertile ground for successful social revolution.

As well as the usual interpretation of historical events, we also have people like Frederick Hayek telling us that social ownership by its very nature requires centralized tyranny. I answer that in my video on his book The Road to Serfdom.

Now when people talk about freedom they quite often distinguish between negative and positive freedom. Negative freedom is primarily concerned with freedom from external restraint, such as other people or the government telling you what to do or say or impinging on your property rights. Positive freedom refers to the possession of the power and resources to fulfil one’s own potential. Negative freedom is sometimes called ‘freedom from’ while positive freedom is called ‘freedom to’.

Freedom of speech is arguably the most important negative freedom. In a society taking the road to communism, freedom of speech would be very important. It would be your right and duty to speak out against foolish or bad behavior, to query anything that does not make sense to you or to put forward what you believe is a better perspective. Generally, views that are counter-revolutionary would need to be tolerated. These views would include both those that are obviously so and those mistakenly claiming to be revolutionary. We need to keep in mind that our ideas can only be properly developed by clashing with opposing ideas. Also it is very important to win as many people as possible away from incorrect ideas. Shutting people up only makes them resentful and uncooperative. Freedom of speech would also be important because for some time there will be plenty of phonies in positions of power who would be particularly keen to have their critics suppressed as counter-revolutionaries.

During the initial phase when reactionary forces are far better organized and more skilful than the revolutionary forces, there may be a good case for limiting their freedom of speech when they try to organize lie campaigns or rally their supporters. This would be more obviously the case when sabotage or violence is also involved.

It also has to be said that we definitely have a problem with democracy when a revolutionary government lacks sufficient support but the alternative is a fascist reaction that would bring nothing but disaster. In this case revolutionary forces are entitled to hold on in any way they can and this includes being quite authoritarian. This in my view justified the need for authoritarian rule in the Soviet Union during the painful period of industrialization and war against fascism. It did not however justify the extreme level of repression that was actually practiced by the Soviet government.

At this point, it is also worth mentioning that during periods of political crisis, some so-called “defenders of liberty” start talking about the need to crush any revolutionary movement in the name of defending liberty from communist tyranny. In other words they will support fascism in the name of liberty.

What about property rights under communism? You would certainly have a right to exclusive and unimpeded use of property that you own or lease, along as you are not harming others in the process. In particular, this means your place of residence and its contents.

What about your right to set up a private business with assets that you own or lease? Or even a group of people pooling assets for such a purpose? The short answer is that there will come a time in the future when it will seem as silly as asking today about setting up a feudal manor or a slave plantation. Although, in the initial stage of transition, there may well be a considerable amount of small to medium private business, and this will include newly established ones. However, over time collective ownership will prove to be superior in all spheres and these businesses will be unable to compete and will fade away.

What about the property rights of the capitalists? If the majority of workers have decided that they are no longer going to have an economic system based on them working for capitalists, the means of production cease having any value to the capitalists. They can no longer be a source of income and they cannot be consumed by the capitalists. So by seizing their property we deprive them of nothing.

OK what about positive freedom. This is the ability to do stuff. It is possessing the resources and the power you need to fulfill your potential, to do something with your life. As we move down the communist road everyone will have equal and increasingly high incomes so increasing our range of consumption and activities that we can engage in. At the same time we will have the right to participate with others in using the socially owned means of production in ways that are intrinsically rewarding and fully develop our human powers. This will be a new property right that has previously not been available to anybody even to the capitalists.