Thumbs' Update: Whose Left Is It Anyway?

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Hey friends 👋

In the last issue of the newsletter we looked at taxes and the crucial role they play in modern social democracies. I talked about Adam Smith, the 18th century Scottish economist and philosopher who wrote The Wealth of Nations.

Smith, who was often considered one of the forefathers of capitalist economics, held the classically liberal ideal that taxes were necessary to the functioning of society. He also believed that they should be quite limited and non-bureaucratic, so he surely wouldn't be a big fan of most modern tax regimes.

But, as some of you so eagerly retorted, "tax is theft!" I wondered for a moment if I should agree or disagree and that got me thinking...

Who's right and what's left?

I did a little experiment recently. I wanted to see if I could consistently rank as a "leftist" across various political spectrum quizzes. I hold a number of strong opinions, some of which can seem contradictory, or at least make it harder to put me into a box, but one thing I'm sure of its that I am ideologically "left."

Here are few of the opinions that shaped my answers to these quizzes (and what they might be described as politically):

  • workers should own the surplus value of their work (communist/syndicalist)

  • a purely moneyless society is probably not ideal, instead we may prefer some unit of exchange but with limited market influences on pricing (mutualist/market-anarchist/agorist)

  • public goods should not be owned or maintained by private interests but by those who use them (federalist/communist)

  • there should be no state, no police, and ideally no military; or, at most, a military of all able-bodied people charged only with self-defence and entirely unable to be used by any state to oppress individuals, internally or externally (anarchist/minarchist)

I shared a thread with my quiz results on Farcaster. Sure enough, of the four quizzes I took, they all placed me squarely on the libertarian-socialist side of things.


I think there are still many people who assume that to be a proponent of crypto and blockchain is to be purely capitalistic and that folks like me and the rest of the /cryptoleft community must be deluding ourselves, but I wholeheartedly disagree.

What these tools guarantee is not capitalism nor socialism, but simply decentralization.

Decentralization = Liberty = Anarchy

There is only one thing that I can guarantee that all proponents of crypto—maybe not the traders but the users and the builders—believe in. They believe that consolidation of power (aka centralization) is bad. They are in favour of dispersing power to the edges (aka decentralization), just like anarchists.

When Satoshi Nakamoto invented Bitcoin, it was a rallying cry against corrupt central banks. When Vitalik Buterin and the other Ethereum co-founders set out to create the infinite machine, it was with the dream of stripping the power of big tech oligarchies, replacing government and academic databases with publicly verifiable information, and even reinventing the entire financial system by allowing anyone anywhere to create a contract for lending, borrowing, and really anything else you could imagine.

This worldview which at times willfully subverts existing systems to diminish the power of authority goes by a few names. Anarchism is both historically and etymologically accurate, but it is also commonly associated with the conflation of anarchy and chaos.

Libertarianism, originally derived from the French libertaire was a common way for socialist anarchists to identify in the late 19th century. Like its synonym, anarchism, libertarianism's popular definition at the time was a movement towards stateless socialism or communism.

Le Libertaire was a libertarian communist publication started in New York City in 1858.
Le Libertaire was a libertarian communist publication started in New York City in 1858.

Still, despite sharing many of the same societal goals, many prominent communist thinkers were opposed to anarchism. Karl Marx himself was deeply critical of anarchists, going so far as to have a public feud with mutualist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

According to Wikipedia:

The two influenced each other and they met in Paris while Marx was exiled there. Their friendship finally ended when Marx responded to Proudhon's The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty with the provocatively titled The Poverty of Philosophy.

Ironically the stated goal of communism, and the reason that we can confidently say there has never been a communist country, even if there have been "communist parties" running countries, is that communism is by definition is stateless (or anarchist) thus the state must be dissolved; something which has never occurred in a so-called communist country.


Marxists, and to a lesser degree, Leninists believe that a state needs to exist during the period after the revolution to prevent external forces from subjugating the working class and reverting to capitalism. Marx referred to this as "the lower phase of communism" or "the dictatorship of the proletariat" but Lenin just referred to this period as socialism and to the end-goal as communism.

The reason I mention all of this is that anarchism's leftist roots imply that many of the greatest minds of the 19th century; thoroughly educated, philosophical, and critical thinkers believed that this form of societal construction was not only moral, but scientific, and entirely possible.

The only hurdle, as far as they were concerned, would be the structures of capitalism. For example the state's use of violence to enforce property rights, and the ability of those who inherited wealth from previous modes of production, like slavery and feudalism, to use their wealth to instantiate a class hierarchy.

What about Anarcho-Capitalism?

In my time in crypto I've had the opportunity to converse with people across the political spectrum. As I mentioned before, to be wholly bought into blockchain money or identity solutions, one must be in favour of decentralization, and so at least holds some anarchistic/libertarian tendencies.

more or less
more or less

The divide then, across the anarchist left to the anarchist right, is essentially centred around one question:

"Is money a coercive force or a tool for consent?" In other words "is money speech?"

According to anarcho-capitalists, minarchists, the american Libertarian Party (who are fairly close to classical liberals) and agorists, the answer is yes.

Like anarchists on the left, these groups believe that authority should be questioned and permanent-authority should not exist. They are opposed to the state, police, and in most cases to the military.

That's where the similarities end though. While the left opposes ownership of the means of production by capitalists (seen to be creating a class divide and thus a hierarchical system), the anarcho-capitalists believe that the relationship between capitalist and worker is a form of free association guided by voluntaryism and external market-forces.

So as I said, whether or not you agree with anarcho-capitalists, or even believe they qualify as anarchists at all, depends on whether you view money as a coercive force. It is worth mentioning though that Murray Rothbard, who is viewed by many on the anarcho-capitalist side as the founder of the movement is quoted as saying:

"We are not anarchists and those who call us anarchists are not on firm etymological ground, and are being completely unhistorical"

But then, while I tend to agree with him on this point, someone saying they are not an anarchist is no more proof than them saying that they are one. The proof is in the pudding so to speak.

Middle Ground

In the middle of the anarchist divide sit two groups with overlapping yet different beliefs: mutualists and agorists.

This graphic, from Reddit, is far from perfect but at least features mutualism and agorism, if potentially in the wrong quadrants.
This graphic, from Reddit, is far from perfect but at least features mutualism and agorism, if potentially in the wrong quadrants.

Mutualism is a form of socialism that advocates for workers' control of the means of production, a market largely made up of artisans and cooperatives, and private property rights based on use.

Another core principal of mutualism, which differentiates it from anarcho-capitalism is that profit should not exist and that interest should only be enough to cover costs of operation.

According to Wikipedia:

Mutualists seek to construct an economy without capital accumulation or concentration of land ownership. They also encourage the establishment of workers' self-management, which they propose could be supported through the issuance of mutual credit by mutual banks, with the aim of creating a federal society.

This idea of markets safely coexisting with federated anarchist societies is core to any form of market-anarchism, including the aforementioned agorism.

Agorism is an anti-statist movement that promotes non-violent coordination through the use of counter-economics and voluntaryism. It has a number of similarities to anarcho-capitalism but is distinct in that "most agorists are strictly opposed to voting as a strategy for achieving their desired outcomes." (Wikipedia)

While the name for agorism is taken from the ancient greek agora—the public space at the centre of a city which served a number of simultaneous functions from market to social gathering place to political assembly—it is a relatively modern political movement with its roots in the 1970s.

Like anarcho-capitalism and other forms of market-anarchism, agorists believe in the idea of free markets. Most agorists will claim to be "leftists" making the positioning in the graphic above incorrect (🤷‍♂️). However the movement is quite diverse and may include folks from across the centre-right and centre-left of the anarchist political spectrum.

Still there is some potential for overlap in the mutualist and agorist world-views, namely, syndicalism (unionization towards the goal of worker ownership of the means of production) that is not otherwise found with anarcho-capitalism.

All of this is a long way of saying that while I'm probably even further to the left than most mutualists or agorists, I can recognize elements of my own anarchist worldview in their ideas, and I believe that they can contribute positively to the building of a future society that may not look exactly like what any of us envisioned but which will be nonetheless a net good for humanity.

But I never did address the idea that "tax is theft," did I? Fortunately, I can do that now during...

Q & A

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This one comes from longtime supporter, Carsten:

should anarchists pay taxes?

This is kind of a complicated question. Allow me to explain...

"Taxation is theft" is a rallying cry for anarchists, especially on the anarcho-capitalist side of the spectrum. There's a reason for that deliniation.

Because the anarcho-communist vision is one of a stateless, classless, and moneyless society, taxes would not be needed as there is nothing to use to pay them and no one to pay. In the mutualist and other moneyed forms of social-anarchy, there are some proponents of taxing purchases or income, but most prefer the idea of a gift economy.

Especially within the idea of post-scarcity anarchism and post-scarcity communism there would be no need to pay anyone for anything because basically everything will be done by machines, so again no need for taxes, just some rotating volunteers to do the occasional machine maintenance.

I actually believe this is one of the most likely outcomes with the way technology is moving, as I’ve argued before.

robot revolution
robot revolution

Now on the anarcho-capitalist side, the belief is that no, despite the existence of money and the expectance that most work will be done in exchange for money, the collection and distribution of taxes to pay for public goods is not the preferred solution. Often folks on this side of things just prefer that those who use something are the ones who fund it, and perhaps in a sufficiently anarchist society this might be realistic, but I am skeptical.

So that's sort of the "should they" with respect to their ideal societies. I know that you'd like a prescription for actual anarchists living in actual non-anarchist societies. And I'm sure a lot of people won't like this, but I think they should pay taxes, if for no other reason than to keep the state from sending their police thugs to come and arrest them.

Anarchists who strictly oppose taxes, should be doing the anarchist thing: freely associating with other anarchists; while voting for the change with in the system they want to see. Alternatively they should consider moving to anarchist communes or tax-less jurisdictions where they can live without the stress that their tax-dodging will come back to cause them problems.

Also, until such time as you start paying for the building private roads, sewers, etc (if you're anarcho-capitalist) or building them along with your fellow proletariat comrades (if you anarcho-communist), you are still using the goods and services paid for by those taxes. So to them I would ask, how do you reconcile that?

Hopefully that answered your question. Let's wrap this thing up already!


I've become a pretty big fan of Sophie Scott-Brown. She's smart, well spoken, and great at making liberals listen to her argue in favour of anarchism. So I have two recommendations of her content:

From Vox's The Gray Area podcast, here's "Taking Anarchism Seriously"

And from the Insititute of Art and Ideas it's "Why I'm an Anarchist"

Then from Post-Capitalist Labs, here's an article called "How Quantum Cryptography Is Shaping Post-Capitalist Futures"

Lastly, if you enjoy these kinds of topics, consider signing up for Farcaster and checking out the following channels:

And until next time,

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