The Myth of Voluntary Socialism


Are sharing and worker-owned businesses examples of voluntary socialism? I argue that if you have a right to decide whether to share or keep your things, it is capitalism. Likewise, if an employee in a worker-owned business can cash out his or her share and start his or her own business, it is capitalism.

First, I want to clearly define capitalism and socialism. Capitalism is an economic system in which means of production are privately owned among individuals. This allows for the voluntary collective ownership among consenting individuals. Socialism is an economic system in which means of production are collectively owned among all people. This does not allow for an individual to privately own means of production. So, socialism can only be voluntary within the context of a larger capitalist society, where people are free to choose to own means of production privately or share them.

Because means of production can only be owned privately (where 1 or more individual has exclusive ownership) or in common (where no one has exclusive ownership) there cannot be a mixture of capitalism and socialism. Within a larger socialist system, those who attempt to privately own means of production would be treated as criminals. However, within a larger capitalist system, people would be free to voluntarily collectivize their own property that is justly acquired in line with private property norms.

In order for socialism to be voluntary, it must exist in a capitalist society. The act of sharing is not socialism. Sharing requires the exclusive ownership of property in the first place, which is prohibited in a socialist system. A worker-owned company is not socialism. If an employee is free to cash out of the company, to go home to private property, and to start his or her own company, then that worker-owned company exists within a larger capitalist system where means of production can be owned privately. Again, this isn’t socialism.

In conclusion, anyone speaking of “voluntary socialism”isn’t speaking of socialism at all. In order for collective ownership to be truly voluntary, there must be private property norms in the first place. Only in a libertarian society based on private property norms can “voluntary socialism” exist.