Any mention of the word socialism in the same sentence as libertarian often provokes a variety of skeptical responses: “But that’s an oxymoron!” “That’s just not possible.” “That exists?” However, anti-authoritarian politics and socialism have been closely tied since nascency, and libertarianism combined with visions of worker ownership of production and non-hierarchical property relations is not a new concept by any means. Outside of the United States, the word libertarian is associated with anti-authoritarian anti-capitalist anarchist groups, and the word actually comes from the French word libertaire. In the mid-1800s, French anarchists started to use this word in their publications to sidestep government bans on “anarchist” literature.
In a nutshell, libertarian socialists believe that communities and individuals should be free to determine the political system they live under as long as it is free from exploitation and oppression. This leaves room for voluntary individualism, collectivism, and everything in between. One of the main differences between libertarian socialists and the mainstream libertarian party is that they draw a distinction between private and personal property. Private property refers to capital and means of production, and personal property refers to consumer and non-capital goods and services. The libertarian socialist platform is quite clear about recognizing private property as economic exploitation, which they consider an aggression that duly violates the non-aggression principle (NAP). They see the control of labor, whether that be top-down control of the means of production or explicit slavery, as one of the biggest threats to liberty, instead favoring worker-owned cooperatives. Libertarian socialists embrace a variety of methods of making change, ranging from anarchists who see government as harm reduction to folks who see incremental reform as the means to achieve liberation.
Although this article was only a brief introduction, more information can be found by searching the official platform of the libertarian socialist caucus online, finding yourself a copy of “Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red” by Alex Pritchard, or by checking out the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Emma Goldman for starters.