Could you please explain social anarchism to me? I just don't understand people that want a society with no government yet a market model in which a centralized government controls all means of production. It sounds like a contradiction to me.
I’m assuming you’re referring to this branch of anarchism?
No one who uses the anarchist label wants a government; but anarchists do have varying ideas on property rights and what types of market interaction should be utilized more often. Social anarchism and its more specific labels generally advocate for more democratic decision-making and less private ownership, both of which affect the marketplace. Some people feel that the democratic decision-making, when all encompassing, can easily border on the idea of a government controlling all of the goods and lives of the people.
The term social anarchism is somewhat broad and can describe several similar but distinct anarchist labels like anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, and anarcho-collectivism.
Generally these labels reject private property but respect the basic notion of personal property (though not always), support common or democratic ownership of the means of production (land, facilities, resources, etc.), support ending wage slavery and what is seen as an hierarchy in employment in our current system- replacing it with common ownership, possibly unionization, direct democracy decision-making, etc. Some endorse total abolition of the idea of money, while others endorse democratic delegation of “pay” according to labor and need.
Ultimately the concern of social anarchism is in what they see as a natural hierarchy in capitalism- the rich elite controlling the means of production and therefore controlling the things needed for survival by the rest of population. Employment becomes less of a free choice when you have to work to eat and live, and someone else controls the land and food and charges you for both. They essentially oppose the idea of a select few elite employers owning land and resources and subsequently forcing the rest of the public to work for them to attain such necessities. This is what they feel the natural state of capitalism is. They want everyone to have equal access to the means of production and appear to feel that democratic decisions or the idea of “free commons” is the best way to achieve this.
Anarcho-capitalists oppose the notion of capitalism that anarcho-collectivists purport, some to varying levels. Some feel that such a dynamic is natural and benefits everyone because “everyone is getting richer”, or generally aren’t opposed to this occurring if it happens via free market means. Others feel that capitalism without state intervention would look dramatically different than it does today and ultimately create a much more horizontal economic system. They support the competition of the free market because they feel that it, unhindered by the state, is what will allow for the most people to have access to the most goods and means of production. The ability to compete with those “rich elite” will keep them from being able to enforce “wage slavery” on the populace. Small businesses and in-house start-ups can challenge such a notion. The latter idea is often expressed by C4SS’ writers like Kevin Carson. He considers himself “anti-capitalist” but endorses a free market. The term often used to describe this sentiment of left-libertarianism is mutualism.
So while it seems to me that both branches want to make prosperity and the means of survival more accessible to everyone, they have different ideas of how to attain and what the effects of a free market really are. Collectivist anarchists feel that a free market/capitalism will result in hierarchal control of the means of production and wage slavery. Individualist anarchists feel that a free market/capitalism will result in more competition and a more decentralized, adapting, and open marketplace (more competition=less centralization and/or hierarchy.)
Collectivist anarchists are proposing different concepts of ownership and labor organization in an attempt to achieve what they feel will be the most free and accessible society for all. On a decentralized and local level, I have no problem with direct democratic actions in communities. Participation remains voluntary and I think certain demographics would find success in democratic ownership and management of certain aspects of their communities. Not everyone is going to want this, however, and I think they should also have the right to opt out of such controls. Anything less than that would defy the basic concepts non-coercion in anarchism.
There is really so much more to say about this! (and I am not an expert on collectivist anarchism by any means) Ultimately the term “government” wouldn’t be appropriate to describe their idea of public control of the means of production, but I do personally think it’s arguable that it might to lead to the same problems we face with a government. Different branches attempt to find solutions in slightly different ways and some are arguably better than others; but ultimately I endorse a free market system because I see it as the best solution to making the means of production available to everyone.