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Anarchist Property: a Reconciliation of Socialist Equality and Libertarian Freedom
Left-libertarians, in the analytic philosophy sense, believe that individuals ought to be full selfowners and that natural resources ought to be owned in some egalitarian manner. 1 The challenge for
left-libertarians is to sketch out a theory of property rights that promotes both individual liberty and
equality among individuals and does so in a manner that is not overly egalitarian at the cost of
individual freedom or overly individualistic at the cost of equality.
Left-libertarianism appears to be attractive to people who find themselves drawn to both libertarian
and egalitarian conclusions. It is attractive to said individuals since it enables them to be libertarian
without having to endorse either free market capitalism or the abolition of the welfare state and to
be egalitarian without having to endorse authoritarian state socialism.
Left-libertarianism strikes me as dissatisfying from both a libertarian and an egalitarian perspective.
It is dissatisfying from both of these perspectives because it advocates social institutions and social
structures that are both highly freedom restricting and based upon inegalitarian distributions of
power and decision-making. Specifically, it advocates the nation state, capitalism and other such
hierarchical centralised modes of social organisation in which a minority of individuals at the top of
an organisation rule over the individuals below them.
I take social anarchism, or as it is also known libertarian socialism, to be, from a libertarianegalitarian perspective, a superior political philosophy than left-libertarianism. This is because it
reconciles liberty and equality through the advocacy of forms of social organisation that place an
emphasis on individuals being among equals, engaging in autonomous action, and having a say in
decisions that affect them. Specifically, networks of voluntary associations that are organised at all
levels of society, including workplaces and neighbourhoods, according to principles of
nonhierarchical direct democracy.
Within the literature, the closest philosopher to my position is Vrousalis. 2 Vrousalis shares my
position that social anarchist views on liberty and equality provide a better reconciliation than leftlibertarian alternatives. He attempts to show this by reconstructing social anarchist views on
individual liberty and legitimate property rights into a commitment to a) effective self-ownership
and b) joint ownership of the means of production. While I agree with Vrousalis’s conclusion that
the social anarchist view provides a better reconciliation than left-libertarian views, I do not think
that Vrousalis’s characterisation of the social anarchist view on both individual sovereignty and
property rights is sufficiently detailed to fully capture the social anarchist position. I shall attempt to
1 Vallentyne, Left-libertarianism: A Primer in (eds.) Vallentyne and Steiner 2000
2 Vrousalis 2011

build upon Vrousalis’s work and provide a fuller account of social anarchism by expanding the
commitments to effective self-ownership and joint-ownership into commitments to self-mastery and
full-communist ownership.
The structure of this essay will be as follows. I shall first outline Vrousalis’s conception of social
anarchism and demonstrate that it is insufficient. I shall then outline full-communist ownership and
demonstrate how it reconciles liberty and equality in a manner superior to left-libertarian
alternatives. I shall end by defending full-communist ownership from a number of capitalist
objections to socialist property.
Before I proceed, I just wish to make four clarifications. First, when I speak of rights I mean rights
in a Hohfeldian3 sense. Second, when I speak of anarchism I am referring to socialist political
anarchism. I am not referring to philosophical anarchism or anarcho-capitalism. Third, when I speak
of communism I mean a stateless, classless and moneyless society in which the means of production
are collectively owned and controlled by the communities in which they are located, and in which
economic activity is organised according to the principle from each according to their ability, to
each according to their need.4 I am not referring to the totalitarian societies that were commonly
labelled as communist in the twentieth century. 5 In order to help differentiate my sense of
‘communism’ from the Stalinist or Maoist sense of ‘communism’ I will use the phrase ‘fullcommunism’ to pick out communism in my sense. Fourth, in this essay I am concerned with
abstract theoretical questions regarding principles and the manner in which these principles promote
freedom and equality. I am not concerned with the practical question of how one would effectively
implement the sort of society advocated by said principles.
Vrousalis's Account of Social Anarchism
Vrousalis characterises self-ownership by quoting Otsuka’s statement that self-ownership consists
in the belief that individuals possess,
“(1) a very stringent right of control over the use of one’s mind and body that bars others
from intentionally using one as a means by forcing one to sacrifice life, limb or labour,
where such force operates by means of incursions or threats of incursions upon one’s mind
and body. . . [and] (2) a very stringent right to all of the income that one can gain from one’s
mind and body (including one’s labour) either on one’s own or through unregulated
voluntary exchanges with other individuals.”6
3 Hohfeld 1913
4 Marx 1875
5 See Kropotkin 1901 for an outline of anarcho-communism and Chomsky 1986 for an anarchist perspective

on the Soviet Union.
6 Otsuka 2005, p.15

Vrousalis goes beyond mere self-ownership and endorses effective self-ownership. 7 This is the view
that in addition to not being intentionally forced to sacrifice life, limb or labour by others,
individuals ought not to be forced by circumstances to sacrifice life, limb, or labour for others.
Effective self-ownership is therefore secured by, and thus requires that, every individual have, or be
provided with, adequate living space, access to food, shelter, and other basic necessities. An
individual’s subsistence shell refers to exactly those resources that guarantee an individual’s
effective self-ownership.
Vrousalis characterises the social anarchist conception of property as consisting in the advocacy of
joint-ownership, which is the position that “all the members of a community have a claim-right to
an equal say in the disposal and distribution of natural and produced worldly resource”. 8 This
advocacy of joint-ownership applies to those resources that are not part of an individual’s
subsistence shell. Thus, to use Vrousalis’s example, if Able and Infirm are on an island with three
coconut trees and ownership of one coconut tree is for argument’s sake sufficient to guarantee
effective self-ownership, then Able and Infirm should possess one coconut tree each in order to be
effective self-owners and jointly own the third coconut tree.
The exercise of this claim right to an equal say in the disposal and distribution of worldly resources
is to be mediated through forms of direct democratic organisation within the community, such as
workers councils and people's assemblies.9
The Inadequacy of Vrousalis’s Account of Social Anarchism
While social anarchists should endorse effective self-ownership, doing so is insufficient for a full
characterisation of the social anarchist view on individual liberty. This is because a core component
of the social anarchist view is that to be free individuals ought to be autonomous. 10 By autonomy,
social anarchists have in mind people engaging in self-directed activity where this broadly speaking
means that a person consciously determines the nature of the actions that they themselves engage in
and the conditions under which they engage in such actions. 11 This notion of autonomy can be seen
as an extension of effective self-ownership such that to be a full self-owner is not merely to possess
certain rights or to have a subsistence shell but is to be a self-master.
Vrousalis’s position on joint-ownership can be understood in either a strong or a weak sense. Strong
joint-ownership holds that all resources beyond each individual’s subsistence shell ought to be
7 Such a move may be justified by the sort of argument provided by Mack 1995.
8 Vrousalis 2011, p.3
9 For concrete examples of such forms of organisation see Ness and Azzellimi (eds.) 2011
10 For example, see Bakunin, Man, Society, and Freedom in (ed) Dolgoff 1980, pp.234-242
11 I lack the space in which to develop a systematic anarchist theory of autonomy but such a theory would

be similar, although not identical with, republican notions of liberty as outlined by Pettit 2001.

jointly-owned such that an individual does not have the right to own resources beyond their
subsistence shell unless they jointly own these resources with the other members of their
community. Weak joint-ownership holds that individuals have the right to own resources beyond
their subsistence shell in any manner that is consistent with social anarchist principles but that jointownership is the most morally desirable form of ownership.
Strong joint-ownership is flawed because it fails as an accurate reading of social anarchism. This is
because it entails that certain forms of property, which major social anarchist thinkers thought were
allowable within an anarchist society, are not in fact allowable within an anarchist society.
The main form of property in question is that advocated by individualist anarchists, such as Tucker.
Tucker thought that individuals ought to be free to own a resource unless they were not the user or
occupier of the thing owned. Tucker writes, "in the case of land, or of any other material the supply
of which is so limited that all cannot hold it in unlimited quantities, Anarchism undertakes to protect
no titles except such as are based on actual occupancy and use."12
Put more systematically, individualist anarchists held that whether or not a given individual has a
right to own a scarce resource or not is contingent upon what they are doing with the resource in
question. It is specifically contingent upon whether or not the individual who owns (in the
descriptive sense) the property is identical with the individual who uses or occupies it. If there is a
unity of possessor and owner then it is legitimate and an instance of personal property. If there is a
separation between possessor and owner then it is illegitimate and an instance of private property.
What an individual is the actual occupier or user of is not identical with what is within their
subsistence shell and can in fact go beyond it. For example, a person may own twenty 3D printers
with which they alone produce a variety of commodities that they sell for profit. They only need,
say, five 3D printers to guarantee their effective self-ownership but despite this, for Tucker, they
ought to have exclusive property rights over the other 3D printers since they are the sole users of the
3D printers. Such exclusive property rights rule out the rest of the community having a claim right
to an equal say in the disposal and distribution of the 3D printers. Individualist anarchists thus
believe that people have the right to own individually resources beyond their subsistence shell.
The major social anarchist theorist Malatesta, whom Vrousalis cites 13 to support his reconstruction,
did advocate joint-ownership, but he also thought, as the weak version holds, that joint-ownership
was one, among many, type of property rights compatible with anarchist principles. As Malatesta
writes, “we remain communist in our sentiment and aspiration, but we want to leave freedom of
12Tucker 1969, p.61
13 Vrousalis 2011, p.2 and p.3

action to the experimentation of all ways of life that can be imagined and desired” 14 providing that
these ways of life do not violate anarchist principles. After all, “free and voluntary communism is
ironical if one has not the right and the possibility to live in a different regime, collectivist,
mutualist, individualist15 -- as one wishes, always on condition that there is no oppression or
exploitation of others".16
Malatesta further holds that individualist anarchist property ought to be abolished “by the force of
circumstances, by the demonstrable advantages of communistic management, and by the growing
spirit of brotherhood”. This is in contrast to capitalist property, which is “the fact that a few control
the natural wealth and the instruments of production and can thus oblige others to work for them”
and which ought “to be destroyed at once, even with violence if necessary”. Thus under anarchism
“Free . . . is the peasant to cultivate his piece of land, alone if he wishes; free is the shoe maker to
remain at his last, or the blacksmith in his small forge.” 17 Social anarchists thus believe that
individualist anarchist property is allowable within an anarchist society, even though it grants
individuals the right to own resources beyond their subsistence shell. Strong joint-ownership is
therefore inconsistent with the social anarchist view on individualist anarchist property and so ought
to be rejected if we are concerned with an accurate reconstruction of social anarchism.
The failure of strong joint-ownership may tempt one to endorse weak joint-ownership as the social
anarchist view on property. Recall that weak joint-ownership holds that joint-ownership is the most
morally desirable form of property but that individuals ought to be free to own resources providing
that this ownership is consistent with social anarchist principles. Weak joint-ownership as it stands
is however inadequate as a theory of social anarchist property. This is because it does not specify
what exactly these social anarchist principles that govern what can and cannot be legitimately
owned are and so raises a variety of unanswered questions. The rest of this essay shall be concerned
with outlining these social anarchist principles and so rendering the weak version of Vrousalis’s
account of social anarchist property more fully developed.
Social Anarchist Principles
On this view so far, social anarchists advocate a bundle of property rights the exercise of which is
consistent with all the types of resource ownership advocated by the different schools of
anarchism.18 Joint-ownership is merely the best exercise of this distinct bundle of property rights.
14 Malatesta 1924
15 To those unfamiliar with Anarchist jargon a collectivist is a proponent of Bakunin’s economic system, a

mutualist is a proponent of Proudhon’s economic system and an individualist is a proponent of Tucker’s or
Spooner’s economic system.
16 Malatesta in Richards (ed) 1965, p.103
17 Malatesta in Richards (ed) 1965, pp.97-98
18 One may wish to consider the occupancy and use theory of the individualist anarchists as the bundle of

An idea of what this bundle of property rights is can be gained by considering what social
anarchists wish to prohibit. Social anarchists are opposed to any form of property that denies selfmastery in some significant respect. As Malatesta writes, anarchists respect “freedom for everybody
. . . with the only limit of the equal freedom for others; which does not mean . . . that we recognise,
and wish to respect, the ‘freedom’ to exploit, to oppress, to command, which is oppression and
certainly not freedom.”19
Social anarchists are specifically opposed to two main types of situation. The first situation is when
an individual’s ownership of resources enables them to use their resources in order to exercise
power over other individuals and in so doing deny the autonomy of said individuals in some
significant respect. For example, a Feudal lord who owns land and uses this land ownership to
exercise power over peasants in an autonomy denying manner. The second situation is one in which
an individual owns resources and excludes other individuals from access to these resources and in
so doing prevents said individuals from being effective self-owners. For example, an individual
who owns the only local source of water, say a reservoir, decides to exclude every other local from
access to the reservoir. The owner thereby prevents every other local from being effective selfowners, as they lack access to water.
I think that social anarchists should rule out situations of these types by holding that individuals
have property rights but that these property rights may be trumped in situations where doing so is
required to protect individual autonomy and secure effective self-ownership. Social anarchists can
thus demarcate between legitimate personal property and illegitimate private property via holding
that individuals ought not to continue to own resources if they a) exercise their rights over a
resource and in so doing establish relations of domination and oppression and b) own resources
beyond their subsistence shell and as a result of this ownership prevent others from having their
effective self-ownership secured. Before I outline this conception of property rights in detail, I must
first sketch an analysis of rights.
An Analysis of Rights
Following Christman,20 I view a property right as a triadic relation between a person and all other
persons in regard to some particular thing. For the specifics of conceptualising property rights I take
Attas’s21 analysis of property rights to be highly useful and shall largely stick to the core
rights shared by all anarchists. I do not have the space in which to critique such a view but briefly put I hold
that occupancy and use if reconstructed to deal with a number of problem cases ends up being theoretically
unnecessary and so should be abandoned.
19 Malatesta in Richards (ed) 1965, p.53
20 Christman 1994, p.16
21 Attas 2006, pp.23-30

components of his account, although I shall differ from him in a few key respects. Attas
distinguishes between the content and the form of a right. The content of a right is those features of
it that have the thing owned as their subject, for instance the right to use a pen. The form of a right
is those features of it that have the right itself as their subject, for example, the right to transfer to
another person the right to use a particular pen.
The content incidents specify the kinds of action on, with or deriving from the thing owned that are
permitted by the right. There are two types of content incidents, control incidents and income
incidents. Control incidents are rights to possess, use, and manage property. Rights of possession
consist in the right to physically hold onto the thing owned. Rights of use consist in the right to
engage in consumption, modification or other such employment or handling of the thing owned.
Rights of management consist in the right to decide how a thing shall be used and by whom.
Income incidents are rights to own the products of the exercise of one's control rights over a given
thing. I take these to be the right to the fruits of one’s property and the right to revenue from the
trade of one’s property.22 The right to the fruit of one’s property consists in the right to own those
things that the property yields either naturally or as a result of its modification by a person. For
example, the right to own the apples that grow on one’s apple tree or the right to own a chair that
one produced given that one created the chair through the exercise of one’s control rights over raw
materials that one owned. The right to the revenue from the trade of one’s property consists in the
right to own goods derived from the sale of one’s property.
The form incidents are rights of continuity and rights of transferability with respect to one’s control
rights and income rights. Rights of continuity consist in the rights of immunity, indefinite duration,
and reverting to owner when lesser rights lapse. These are specifically, the right to not have one’s
rights taken away by force; there being no predetermined term when one’s rights lapse; and one
retaining rights when one transfers them for a limited term such that one, say, retains ownership of
one’s pen when one lets a friend use it for a day. Rights of transferability are the right to transfer a
given right to another person.
Full-Communist Ownership
Given this framework, I can now specify what property rights social anarchists think individuals
should have. This view is labelled ‘full-communist ownership’ since it consists in those rights that
social anarchists believe ought to be enforced in a full-communist society.
Full-communist ownership holds that individuals possess rights of control, income, continuity and
transferability over resources; that individuals ought to be effective self-owners; and that the most
22 This differs from Attas, according to whom income rights consist in the right to fruits, profit and rent.

morally desirable manner in which to exercise these property rights is to voluntarily establish jointownership over resources, in particular over land, housing and means of production, with members
of one’s community.
Full-communist ownership further holds that there are two limitations on these property rights.
These are a) the on-going ownership of the resources outside one’s subsistence shell is contingent
upon whether or not one is dominating others through the exercise of one’s rights over these
resources and b) the strength of one's right to ownership of land or housing beyond one's
subsistence shell is that it can be trumped if other individuals must necessarily gain ownership of
the land or housing in order to secure their effective self-ownership. Let us call a) the domination
principle and b) the redistribution principle. I shall discuss each of these in turn.
The domination principle in general holds that individuals have rights of continuity over a given
property right to own a particular resource(s) outside their subsistence shell unless they exercise
their rights over said resource(s) in such a manner as to establish a relation of domination over
another. A relation of domination is established if one denies a person’s autonomy in some
significant respect.
When an individual exercises their property rights in such a dominating manner, they thereby forfeit
their rights and their property may be legitimately expropriated. Those whom they were dominating
gain a right to own those resources that were being used to dominate them and so gain a right to
expropriate those resources from the dominator.
There may be cases in which large-scale expropriation occurs but an individual chooses not to
exercise their right to expropriate or in which an individual is unable to exercise their right to
expropriate. In both cases, individuals ought to have those resources that they had a right to
expropriate distributed to them after expropriation. This is important since anarchists do not wish
people to lose out on owning what is rightfully theirs because they made a decision to not
expropriate because they were, say, too afraid or uncertain or because they had a very bad cold on
the day of expropriation and so spent the day in bed.
The domination principle does not apply to those resources within one's subsistence shell because
even if one uses these resources to establish relations of domination over another, one nonetheless
still ought to have one's effective self-ownership guaranteed. In such instances, the relation of
domination ought to be abolished but the individual ought to retain ownership of the resource(s) in
question. Thus if a person uses a sewing machine to establish a relation of domination over another
and said sewing machine is for argument’s sake part of their subsistence shell, then the relation of
domination ought to be abolished but they ought to retain their right to own the sewing machine.

We can now turn to the redistribution principle. The redistribution principle holds that since
individuals ought to have their effective self-ownership guaranteed it follows that they have a prima
facie claim right to gain ownership of another individual’s land or housing beyond said individual's
subsistence shell if doing so is necessary for securing their effective self-ownership. It is not the
claim that one’s first course of action when faced with a person who lacks effective self-ownership
due to lack of ownership of housing or land is to expropriate. After all, their effective selfownership could be more easily and peacefully secured by an anarchist federation allotting them
some land and housing that is currently owned in common. But were one in, for whatever reason, a
situation in which the only realistic course of action to secure an individual’s effective selfownership is to expropriate another's property then doing so is prima facie the morally right course
of action.
Having outlined the details of full-communist ownership in the abstract I shall now illustrate it
concretely by applying it to capitalism and sketching out what full-communism would look like.
Applying Full-Communist Ownership to Capitalism
Capitalism is characterised by the private ownership of the means of production, land and housing
and by, in particular, two types of social relations. These are wage labour and landlordism. I shall
discuss each in term.
Wage labour, in the strict socialist sense of the term, is a relation between a worker and a capitalist
employer23 in which the worker sells their labour to the capitalist employer. A worker is any
individual who a) sells their labour to a capitalist employer in exchange for a wage, b) does not own
the means of production that they use at work and c) produces commodities for the individual(s)
who do own the means of production that they use at work, namely, capitalist employers. A
capitalist employer is any individual who a) owns means of production and b) hires people to
produce commodities for them, some of whom must be workers.24
Workers ought to be distinguished from independent contractors, who despite also selling their
labour for a wage, nonetheless own the means of production that they use at work and do not
necessarily sell their labour to capitalist employers. 25 For example, a casting agent who owns their
own means of production, say a laptop, and who sells their labour to actors, who are of course not
23 A capitalist employer is a type of capitalist, a capitalist being any individual who owns capital and invests

it in firms.
24 The general category of 'people' is required since capitalist employers may hire people other than
workers to produce commodities for them, such as independent contractors.
25 This distinction has a basis in law. Mr Justice Cooke ruled in the high court case ‘Market Investigations Ltd
v Minister for Social Security 1969’ that one factor for distinguishing between employees and independent
contractors is that independent contractors own their own equipment.

necessarily capitalists.
Landlordism is a relation between a landlord and a tenant in which a landlord owns housing and the
tenant pays rent to the landlord in order to live in the housing such that the housing becomes the
home of the tenant. Landlordism is thus distinct from those relations that characterise hotels since
when one pays a hotel owner to live in a room one does not thereby possess this room as one's
Let us apply full-communist ownership to these social relations. Anarchists take wage labour and
landlordism to be autonomy denying. A sketch of an anarchist argument for this is as follows. Under
capitalism, capitalist employers, in virtue of their private ownership of the means of production,
possess the right to determine what their employees will produce and how their employees will
produce it. It is because of this that decision-making power within capitalist workplaces is
concentrated into the hands of CEOs and boards of directors. Power within capitalist institutions
flows from the top to the bottom such that workers lack decision-making power and must do as
capitalists instruct them. Workers thus lack autonomy.
Workers remain nonautonomous even in capitalist workplaces where the capitalist chooses not to
actively exercise their power to determine the nature of the productive process and grants this
power to the workers while themselves retaining ultimate ownership of the workplace. This is
because the relative autonomy that such privileged workers have is a product of the capitalist’s will.
The capitalist decides that the worker can determine their work and so the workers are autonomous
to the extent that the capitalist thinks it is fitting. They may lose this autonomy if and when the
capitalist decides and so are not properly autonomous, as their freedom is granted to them by a
master who retains the right to take such freedom away. Under capitalism even if workers have the
autonomy to determine the nature of their work, they do not have the power to determine the
conditions under which their work is done, namely one in which their freedom is not granted to
them from above by a benevolent autocrat. They lack this power because they do not own the place
in which they work and so must, if they are to be truly autonomous, own their workplace.
Landlordism is likewise autonomy denying. Landlords require that tenants must pay rent and adhere
to the rules stipulated by the landlord if they are to continue to have a home. The vast majority of
tenants are not in a position to not pay rent or to not adhere to the landlord’s rules since doing so
renders them homeless. As a result, people’s decisions to pay rent or adhere to the landlord’s rules
are not autonomous decisions.
Even if tenants were in a position to freely decide to pay rent or adhere to the landlord’s rules they
would still not be autonomous. Such tenants would be in a position to decide where they lived and

so to select the rules that they will have to adhere to from a limited pre-existing set of rules
determined for them by an external authority figure, namely a landlord. Such tenants would not be
in a position to determine the nature of the rules themselves. But if people are to be autonomous
they must have direct control over the conditions in which they live and so must have the power to
themselves determine the specific nature of those rules that they follow within their home. A
landlord that one chooses to live under is still a lord, just as a king that one votes for is still a
monarch. In both instances one is choosing a ruler and so is still being ruled, as opposed to
governing one’s life oneself. Such self-governance thus requires that one owns one’s own home.
From the domination principle and the anarchist view that relations of wage labour and landlordism
are autonomy denying, it follows that anarchists believe that workers and tenants possess the right
to expropriate their employer capitalist or landlord.
The nature of this expropriation is as follows. In workplaces, individual workers have the right to
expropriate, and so individually own, those resources that they alone used in the workplace, such as
their office computer. This does not apply to resources that are a crucial component of collective
production. Thus, an individual worker does not possess the right to individually expropriate a blast
furnace even if they were the only worker to use it. This is because the blast furnace is crucial for
the wider activities of production within, say, the steel mill. Those resources that are used either
collectively or individually but which are necessarily required for acts of collective production,
ought to be expropriated by the entire workplace and owned in common among the workers, for
example, an assembly line or the building the assembly line is in.
Individuals can if they so choose decide that the resources that they individually used ought to be
owned in common by either the whole workplace or by a group of workers within the workplace. A
cleaner for example may decide that their mop and bucket ought to be owned by all the cleaners,
but not be owned by the IT staff.
With respect to rented land or housing, tenants possess the right to expropriate the housing that they
rented. If the housing is within a distinct building, such as inside a tower block of flats, then
individuals possess the right to collectively expropriate the building with their fellow tenants.
Given the proviso that the domination principle does not apply to resources within a person’s
subsistence shell, we can infer that anarchists believe that workers have a right to expropriate a
factory from a capitalist but do not possess the right to expropriate a capitalist’s toothbrush or those
means of production that they do not use to deny the autonomy of anybody, such as their sewing
machine at home.
This view on expropriation is neither new nor innovative as it can be found in the work of

Kropotkin. He writes that the anarchist revolution aims at “abolishing the exploitation of man by
man” via “the complete expropriation of all those who have the means of exploiting human
beings”.26 That is to say “everything that enables any man — be he financier, mill-owner, or
landlord — to appropriate the product of others’ toil.” 27 More concretely, “when we see a Sheffield
cutler, or a Leeds clothier working with their own tools or handloom, we see no use in taking the
tools or the handloom to give to another worker. The clothier or cutler exploit nobody. But when we
see a factory whose owners claim to keep to themselves the instruments of labour used by 1,400
girls, and consequently exact from the labour of these girls . . . profit . . . we consider that the people
…are fully entitled to take possession of that factory and to let the girls produce . . . for themselves
and the rest of the community”.28 All I have done is thus expand upon Kropotkin's views.
Envisioning Full-Communism
Under full-communism, individual autonomy is achieved through voluntary association into
egalitarian social relations. That is to say, joint ownership of resources would emerge from people
voluntarily deciding to own certain resources in common with other people. This association is
voluntary since each individual would be an effective self-owner as their subsistence shell would be
secured for them by resource distribution, and if it is warranted, resource redistribution. Individuals
would further possess the right to decide if they lived in a market economy or a moneyless planned
economy or any other alternative economic form that is not ruled illegitimate by the domination
principle. They would thus also possess the right to engage in economic activity as an individual
producer, such as an artisan, or as an independent contractor, such as a plumber, or as a member of a
jointly owned workplace.
Joint-ownership promotes individual autonomy by ensuring that individuals determine the use of
those resources that they jointly own with others. This is done through collective decision making.
Specifically, the owners of the resource(s) have meetings in which individuals make proposals on
courses of action regarding the resource and the group agrees to implement or not implement said
proposals. To this end, the group would utilise particular forms of democratic decision making, such
as majority rule, in which each member has a vote and a proposal is passed if the majority of the
group vote for it, or forms of consensus, in which a proposal is only passed if everybody agrees to
In order to organise at a large scale, particular associations of individuals who jointly owned
resources would enter into free agreement with other associations in order to create a confederation
26 Kropotkin 1992, pp.206-207
27 Kropotkin 2007, p.61
28 Kropotkin in Walter and Becker (ed.) 1998, p.105

of associations. A confederation is thus just a group of several associations with each association
retaining the right to leave the confederation at any point. A confederation does not have power over
its constituent associations but instead performs the role of institutionalising communication
between associations and decision making involving multiple associations. If necessary, multiple
confederations of associations can federate with one another to form confederations of
confederations of associations.
Crucially, power remains at the bottom in the hands of each constituent association. All those who
perform a set role within a confederation do so because they have been mandated this task by the
members of the association that they are a member of. They can be instantly recalled and replaced
by their association if they are thought to not be doing their job correctly or not serving the interests
of the association’s members. This decentralised and federal mode of organisation thus ensures that
individuals will not easily be able to establish themselves in positions of power over others and so
ensures that individuals are in a position to exercise their property rights autonomously.
In situations in which holding a democratic assembly is highly counterproductive, such as during a
battle, individuals may decide to delegate the responsibility of decision making over certain
activities to a person of their choosing. Such delegates are of course instantly recallable and
replaceable by those delegating to them.29
Reconciling Liberty and Equality
Full-communist ownership reconciles liberty and equality since it advocates the voluntary
establishment of forms of egalitarian resource ownership that have built into them egalitarian forms
of decision making and organisation that serve to protect an individual’s autonomy within a group
of people.
Full-communist ownership reconciles liberty and equality in a manner superior to left-libertarian
alternatives for three main reasons. First, full-communist ownership is far more egalitarian than leftlibertarianism. This is because left-libertarianism limits its egalitarianism to the egalitarian
ownership of natural resources, where this usually consists only in egalitarian constraints on the
individual appropriation of natural resources 30, and in most cases, a particular form of egalitarian
taxation on those who individually own or gain income from the use of natural resources or
egalitarian redistribution of the value produced by said natural resources. 31 Full-communist
ownership in contrast advocates the far more egalitarian positions that a) natural and produced
resources ought to be jointly owned by the communities in which they are located, such as workers
29 This was in fact done by anarchists during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. See Bolloten 1991, p261-2
30 Otsuka ,Steiner and Vallentyne 2005, pp.2-3
31 Vallentyne in (eds.) Vallentyne and Steiner 2000, pp.8-11

owning their own workplaces, b) joint-ownership ought to be organised via egalitarian,
decentralised, nonhierarchical and democratic modes of organisation, and c) inegalitarian forms of
ownership that produce significant autonomy denial, such as capitalism, ought to be forcefully
abolished by collective acts of expropriation by those being dominated. Thus from a purely
egalitarian point of view, full-communist ownership is favourable to left-libertarianism.
Second, full-communist ownership is far more libertarian than left-libertarianism. This is for two
reasons. The first reason is that, unlike left-libertarianism, it allows individuals to own natural
resources such as land without having to pay a tax for doing so and without having to meet stringent
requirements on appropriation, such as having to gain the permission of wider society in order to be
free to appropriate a natural resource. The second reason is that the left-libertarian characterisation
of freedom has its adherents supporting highly un-libertarian social relations, such as wage labour
or landlordism, since such social relations do not violate full self-ownership or their egalitarian
notions of ownership. Full-communist ownership in contrast prohibits such un-libertarian social
relations and advocates forms of organisation and decision making that are conducive towards
individual self-mastery, as opposed to merely not violating full self-ownership. As a result,
individuals in a full-communist society would be far freer than in a left-libertarian society.
One may worry that the libertarian view on owning and appropriating natural resources will come at
the cost of the inegalitarian conclusion that any instance of unequal resources ownership after the
initial act of appropriation is allowable. But this is not a problem for full-communist ownership
since inegalitarian property distributions almost always coincide with unequal power relations and
so certain individuals denying the autonomy of others. Were this to happen then expropriation
would be justified due to the domination principle. If inegalitarian property distribution does not
result in an unequal power distribution that results in autonomy denial then I cannot see what there
is to worry about.
Third, full-communist ownership places a great emphasis on voluntary association among equals
and so advocates social structures that foster both a sense of individuality and a sense of
community. Democratic assemblies in particular do this since in order to participate effectively in a
democratic assembly one must learn to make decisions for oneself and by making decisions with
one’s equals one develops social bonds with those individuals. These social structures in turn ensure
that individuals are in a social environment that is both a space in which individuals are free to
develop their own capacities, since they are autonomous within them and stand in social relations to
individuals that they have social bonds with; and in which individuals actively do develop their own
capacities, since merely by participating in said social structures they will inevitably engage in
capacity developing activities such as determining the nature of their own work. Left-libertarianism

in contrast does not place theoretical emphasis on the development of individuality and community
and advocates social structures that are arguably actively detrimental to such development, such as
wage labour.
Capitalist Objections to Full-Communist Ownership
I shall consider a variety of standard arguments for capitalist property rights that attempt to show
that an important value or valuable state of affairs is realised by capitalist property rights, but not by
socialist property rights. I shall argue that such arguments do not apply to full-communist
ownership and in fact can be used as arguments for full-communist ownership. I shall be focusing
on the arguments of Hayek and Brennan specifically.
Hayek argues that capitalist private property is superior to socialist property because it, unlike
socialist property, decentralises power. He writes,
“private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own
property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means
of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete
power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves. If all the means
of production were vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of “society” as a
whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us” 32
Full-communism would be a socialist society and yet still meet Hayek’s requirement that power be
decentralised via the decentralised ownership of the means of production. In full-communism the
ownership of the means of production would be decentralised among individuals who own means of
production both within and beyond their subsistence shell and among members of a specific
community who jointly own means of production, such as an individual workplace or a federation
of workplaces.
Such an anarchist society not only meets Hayek’s requirement that power be decentralised but also
meets this requirement to a greater extent than capitalism does. Firstly, in a full-communist society,
unlike a capitalist society, all individuals own means of production since doing so is a requirement
for them being effective self-owners. Secondly, in a capitalist society, power is centralised both
within workplaces, as the capitalist or their appointed managers wield power over wage labourers,
and within housing, as the landlord or their appointed managers wield power over tenants. In a fullcommunist society, by contrast, power is decentralised as each individual either works as an
individual producer or jointly owns a workplace with their fellow workers and participates
democratically in workplace decisions that affect them; while each individual owns their own home
32 Hayek 2001, p.108

and can if they so choose jointly own whole areas of housing with others. Thus favouring the
decentralisation of power via the decentralisation of ownership is a reason to support fullcommunist ownership over capitalist property.
In ‘Why Not Capitalism?’ Brennan argues for capitalist property, and against socialist property, by
holding that capitalist property rights ensure that individuals are able to implement their ideas and
visions, pursue projects over time and express and develop themselves. This is because such actions
often requires that we have sustained and exclusive control of objects over time. For example, a
person needs sustained and exclusive control over a piece of farmland in order to pursue their
project of creating just the kind of farm that they want. Or a person may gain meaning and selfconfidence from the fact that other people want to buy the things that they produce and so need to
have sustained and exclusive ownership of those items required for such production and trade.
Socialist property rights allegedly do not enable people to pursue their projects. Brennan states,
“In an imaginary ideal socialist economy, the nice socialists would no doubt let Willie plow
the collectively owned fields with the collectively owned plow. But that’s not good enough.
Willie wants a farm that he can shape according to his vision. He wants the farm to be his,
not because he’s selfish and mean, but because he wants to realise his own personal plans
and ideas of how farming should go. For that to happen, he needs to have property that he
can use at will and that others will refrain from using”33
Brennan’s argument, however, applies only to socialist conceptions of property rights that at the
very least hold that all means of production ought to be owned in common and that no individual
ought to be free to own means of production by themselves. It does not apply to full-communist
ownership, according to which an individual is free to not only individually own means of
production but to also produce commodities with said means of production and engage in trade with
others. Such an individual would be free to pursue their own projects with their own property. Thus,
in full-communism Willie would be free to individually own a farm and shape it according to their
own vision. Furthermore, since under full-communism a far greater number of people would own
resources than under capitalism it follows that more people would be able to pursue their projects
than under capitalism. Thus, if Brennan’s argument is a reason to favour capitalist property rights, it
is also a reason to favour full-communist ownership over capitalist property rights.
Brennan might object that his argument does not justify full-communist ownership because in such
a society, individuals would not be free to hire wage labourers or to rent out land or housing and so
would not be free to pursue their own projects. However, not all projects ought to be allowed.
33 Brennan 2014, p.93

Sadistic individuals who mainly gain self-expression, self-value and meaning from owning slaves
ought not to be free to pursue their project of being a slave owner. Likewise, individuals ought not
to be free to pursue their project of being a capitalist since doing so results in the oppression of
others. This move is not particularly radical given that Brennan himself would wish to prohibit
projects that involve, say, murder or theft. All the anarchist is doing is prohibiting a greater number
of projects than Brennan does and doing so for the same kind of reason that Brennan would prohibit
murder, namely that it violates certain fundamental rights or illegitimately infringes upon individual
Furthermore, while the removal of the option to be a capitalist limits the freedom of those
individuals whose projects involve being capitalists, it is the case that doing so results in greater
overall freedom. This is because prohibiting capitalist property removes an autonomy denying
social relation and replaces it with social relations conducive towards the protection and expansion
of autonomous action.
This essay has drawn two main conclusions. The first conclusion is that if an individual is from a
theoretical point of view drawn towards left-libertarianism due to its reconciliation of liberty and
equality, then said individual should be drawn more strongly to social anarchism due to fullcommunist ownership providing a far more libertarian and egalitarian reconciliation of liberty and
equality. The second conclusion is that, contrary to defenders of capitalism, a) the advocacy of
socialism is not inconsistent with the advocacy of freedom and individual property rights and b) the
advocacy of capitalism is inconsistent with the advocacy of freedom due to the autonomy denying
nature of wage labour and landlordism. As the founder of anarchism Bakunin writes, “we are
convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is
slavery and brutality”.34
Libertarian-egalitarian minded individuals may still prefer left-libertarianism to social anarchism
due to practical concerns, such as doubts about the practical feasibility of a communist economy.
Such practical considerations are however beyond the scope of this essay and so I shall merely
conclude that from a purely theoretical point of view, social anarchism provides a rival and superior
account of the reconciliation of liberty and equality than left-libertarianism does.

34 Bakunin 1867

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