Three forms of slavery: chattel slavery, serfdom, and wage-slavery



Philosophers often use thought-experiments for the clarification and testing of theories. For example, to clarify and justify the present political institutions, philosophers appeal to a Social Contract. This is an imaginary agreement among an imaginary group of people with imaginary traits. Several years ago John Rawls wrote A Theory of Justice appealing to such a Social Contract.

A thought experiment is a species of hypothetical reasoning. It is the testing of a hypothesis under imaginary circumstances.

I propose to use a thought experiment concerning two individuals on an island, whom I will call Robinson Crusoe and Friday. And my task is to characterize the economic-political systems of slavery, feudalism, and capitalism as a relation between two individuals.

Slavery will exist if Crusoe forces Friday to do anything he wants him to do. Friday will fish, hunt, and gather plants. He will bring them to Crusoe and prepare and cook these things for him. He will build for Crusoe a hut, he will fetch water, and he will wipe Crusoe’s butt. Crusoe, in turn, will allow Friday to feed on the scraps which are left over. If Friday misbehaves, he will be punished by the whim of Crusoe.

Feudalism will exist if Crusoe lets Friday fend for himself on the island, i.e., Friday may build himself a shelter and keep a store of food for himself, provided that Friday brings to Crusoe a certain quantity of food, and does a certain amount of labor.  Crusoe will set up some form of punishment for non-compliance.

The creation of a capitalist situation on the island is initially puzzling to formulate because of mistaken definitions of what capitalism is.  A useful way of giving a definition is through the method of genus and difference. Capitalism is in the genus of trade: it is a market economy. But trade is just barter with or without money, and is well nigh universal.  It existed under slavery and under feudalism.

So called anarcho-capitalists say that capitalism is free trade under conditions of private property.  How will that be modeled in the Crusoe-Friday scenario? We can suppose that Crusoe and Friday have divided between themselves the island in half.  They do not trespass on each other, and periodically trade.  Crusoe is good at fishing, while Friday is good at gathering coconuts. There is an agreed division of labor and trade. This satisfies the anarcho-capitalist’s definition, but it is not the capitalism which socialists were objecting to. What is missing? Wage-labor.  So if there is to be “voluntary” labor by Friday for Crusoe, what possibly can induce Friday to work for Crusoe, given that they possess equal shares of the island?

One scenario is this. Crusoe has a rifle and there are feral pigs on the island. Using the rifle, it is easy to kill pigs. So, Crusoe makes a deal with Friday, allowing Friday to do all the pig hunting for the two of them.  As a result, Crusoe has leisure, while Friday does the work of hunting.

This, however, does not model historical capitalism. Why? Because under present day conditions of capitalism, if Friday does not enter into this agreement as a worker, he will become homeless and risk starvation. How can such a situation be modeled on the island? I can think of only one scenario. Crusoe claims the whole island as his private possession, and Friday is welcome on the island on the condition that he will work for Crusoe. What is the alternative for Friday if he refuses? He is compelled to leave the island in whatever way he can manage, and risk the perils of the sea.  Alternatively, Friday can, of course, trespass without Crusoe’s permission; but if caught, there will be punishment.

So, Friday is forced into working for Crusoe because he does not have free  access to subsistence land on the island.  This, as I see it, is the difference which must be added to the genus of trade in order to define capitalism per genus and differentia.

Comments on Peter Joseph’s book, The New Human Rights Movement, 2017

I have now read most of Peter Joseph’s book, The New Human Rights Movement, 2017. It can be summarized as a condemnation of capitalism because capitalism creates all the maladies arising from poverty, capitalism uses war  for economic gain, and capitalism has created our present ecological disaster because it disregards  collateral damage.  Peter Joseph proposes that we should create a consumer economy by using all the advances we have made in science and technology.

My reaction is like that of Noam Chomsky: it is a nice proposal. Chomsky, when asked for an alternative, said that he has been offering alternatives for years, which is libertarian socialism — based on worker controlled enterprises of small democratic communities federated into larger unit.

Peter Joseph seems to have missed the Marxist thesis that the necessary condition for capitalism is the existence of a proletariat.  Proletarians  are people who have been deprived of access to subsistence land.  In view of this, my proposal is — in terms of priority — to first give each person free access to subsistence land. Afterwards we can talk about the use of science and technology for mutual aid.

Joseph, Chomsky, and I have these ideals, but how do we realize them? The three of us say that it must originate with the people through a grassroots movement. However I have more specific proposals for grassroots movements. 1. Nations have to be decentralized. All groups should have the right of secession. 2. Governments should be based on the autonomy of small communities. 3. No individual should hold decisional power; all powers should belong to councils.

If this sounds utopian, then my realistic proposal is: imitate Switzerland.

Disambiguation of Socialism

Just now I came across a video by Thomas diLorenzo, whom I admire about his expose of Abraham Lincoln. In this video he talks about his new book , The Problem with Socialism (2016), which criticizes socialism.  I think his criticisms are worth considering — and I am going to get a copy of his book.  Jokingly,  he says that his talk could be about how to argue with your Bernie Sanders roommate in college.  He defines “socialism”, roughly,  as “state managed means of production.”  This includes both state controlled industries, as in the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela; and what is called Social Democracy, which we have in the United States and Europe.  These kinds of Socialisms are to be contrasted with, what in the United States is called, Libertarianism.

Watch this video, but make sure you also watch the next video by Cameron Watt, who contrasts these kinds of state or authoritarian socialisms with “libertarian socialism” or “anarchism.”  ‘”Socialism” here does not mean state owned or managed industries, but worker-owned and managed industries; and “libertarian” does not mean private ownership of industries, but refers to a political structure rooted in direct democracy in small scale communities, federated into larger units.

Finally, watch Noam Chomsky’s explanation of how the word “socialism” traditionally has been used to refer to worker-controlled work-places, which is the view of “libertarian socialism.”


Andrew Chrucky’s annotated commentary on the debate between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist Movement about the free market system, which took place on September 23, 2013.

Here is the video of the debate. My commentary is below.


Criticism of Capitalism by G. A. Cohen, reflecting on Al Capp’s creature, the Shmoo

G. A. Cohen: Criticism of Capitalism

The Legend of the Shmoo

Al Capp Documentary