The Anarchist Cafe
An Anti-capitalist Coffee Shop
I had a laugh when I stumbled across this Toronto-based “proudly anti-capitalist” coffee shop named, The Anarchist Cafe.1 Of course, it had to be a coffee shop, right? What is it about the barista lifestyle that attracts collectivists? If you had a group of people in a police line-up and you asked me to “find the barista,” 9 times out of 10 it would be the person with blue hair, a nose ring, a beanie, and a Che Guevara t-shirt insisting on addressing them by preferred pronouns. The modern barista has become a caricature.
But, I like the idea of an “anarchist” cafe. I, for one, am partial to the ideal of anarchy, albeit to a form more aligned with capitalism—free exchange and private property without government interference (in the likes of Murray Rothbard2 or Lysander Spooner3, for example). But, the owner of this shop hasn’t quite made that leap yet. I have faith they’ll come around, though.
The coffee shop owner (worker?) describes the shop on the website as,
“… an anti-capitalist, anti-colonial cafe, shop, and radical community space on stolen land. In true anarchist fashion, we came into existence by chance, with no concrete plan for the quintessential radical business, ideologically pure and beyond criticism. As such, we make absolutely no claim to being any of those things. We're a messy, organic experiment in what a small business can become while trying to be informed by anarchist ideas, and fundamentally count on the input and collaboration of the community, especially future worker-owners (we will always be worker-owned) to turn the place into more than any one person could ever imagine.”
I’ll give the owner a break since it sounds like they are just trying to figure this whole “business” thing out. That’s great. I wish this owner success, don’t get me wrong. After all, I am doing my part to promote the shop right here and now, aren’t I? I can still laugh at it.
I love that the website states the following:
“Painfully aware of the danger of commodifying radical politics, we try to work with small, relatively ethical (it's all relative in capitalism) supplier-creators, keeping prices as low as possible, and focussing on getting radical ideas and messages into the hands of anyone who wants them.”
In other words, the owner strives to practice capitalism by freely exchanging with suppliers to provide products people want at competitive prices. I love it. That is true anarchism, although I’m not sure the owner quite realizes it.
Workers of the World Unite, Right?
Living true to its ideals, the shop is a “worker-owned” establishment. Granted, currently there is only one worker—the owner. But, rest assured that the shop will always be owned by future business partners, I’m sorry, “worker-owners.”
Now let’s say this shop becomes successful and more “worker-owners” are needed to help run the register, brew the coffee, clean the toilets, etc. Is a young teenager looking for a job going to take the risk of ownership?
“Ownership” sounds great, right? A newly-hired barista gets a piece of the shop. When the shop succeeds, the “worker-owners” succeed. But what happens if the shop gets into financial trouble. Well now, ownership comes with a burden, you see. Which “worker-owner” gets fired? Does the new-hire now have to put up their personal assets to help save the business? Who gets stuck with the burden of business taxes, lawsuits, bankruptcy? Workers of the world unite, right?
See, what this poor shop owner doesn’t realize is that he/she/they/them/whatever had to command “capital” to get this shop up and running. Free exchange (capitalism) has to happen in order for this shop to remain in existence. Profits must be made to grow the business and continue to provide good quality product and service to the community. There is nothing evil about profit (growth). If the owner gives away his coffee at prices below cost, well it’s only a matter of time before the worker-owner finds themself at a pawn shop parting ways with their rare copy of Das Kapital just to scrounge up a few bucks for dinner. And that would mean one-less trendy coffee shop in the community. That would be a shame … right?
So next time you’re in Toronto, stop by The Anarchist Cafe and try a fresh brewed cup of matcha latte for only $5.00 Canadian buckeroos! Show the worker-owner you mean business and berate them for exploiting you with such great tasting coffee.