Agorism for those wondering is both a philosophy and a tactic and so when I refer to agorism in this article I am using it as such. It can both be a tactic in the struggle and an entire philosophy depending on how you use the ideas within it In my opinion the biggest ideas that are contained with agorism that separate it from other philosophies and that contribute most to the struggle are, (1). counter-economics (2) agorist class theory (3) Explicitly non/a/counter-political means.
To start though what is agorism? Agorism is defined as revolutionary market anarchism. Now some people see market anarchism as inherently related to anarcho-capitalism but I don’t see that as necessarily being the case (though certainly an-caps can incorporate ideas of agorism into their own ideas). If anything agorism is a more radically left form of anarcho-capitalism/Rothbardianism and I think that’s just really the worst case scenario in my opinion. Furthermore a lot of the ideas of agorism such as counter-economics already have a more social-anarchist bend in dual power and the idea of being non-political and having class theory can be implemented whether you’re an agorist or not.
Now market anarchism is just the idea that the functions of the state should be replaced with the market services provided voluntarily within the context of free association and competition. I believe this also means competition with a truly freed market as well. A friend of mine said yesterday that a truly freed market is just one of the possible anarchic systems that could emerge from bottom up, more egalitarian and organize movements from anarchists and I agree that this is the case. A lot of other left-wing market anarchists like those you can find at C4SS would also, I also think agree with that and certainly would at least have some friendly dispositions towards agorism.
Now what does the revolutionary part of market anarchism means? Well first off what does it mean to be revolutionary all by itself? For myself, it means demanding radical (big) change in the system in some way and going about in an equally (big) radical way. For the agorist this means using something called counter economics (also see this) which is enacting peaceful but illegal activity in an effort to develop a counter economy. A counter-economy as Konkin said isn’t about developing something counter to the idea of an economy but counter to the current idea of what an economy is supposed to be based off of, that is, largely state action.
As far as being revolutionary agorists also have an explicit class theory (and if you’d rather hear it there’s an audio book version here). Why is this revolutionary? Well for one it helps the agorist determine what the enemy is or what, rather, they should be targeting as radical libertarians. Now of course it could (and should) be argued that libertarians qua libertarians all have a class theory but of course some are more spot on than others. I do admit to having a disadvantage here since I haven’t gotten around to read Roderick Long’s “Toward a Libertarian Class Theory” and some of the original and more modern class theorists but nevertheless the agorist class theory is certainly one of the best I’ve seen thus far. Of course you can check out the PDF/audio file for yourself and decide whether it is or not.
In this case the revolution that the agorist wants to happen is a gradual one and not a sudden one because we recognize that the public is largely not in the right mindset for anarchism. If anarchism was to happen tomorrow most people would just form another state through either public or private means because they largely still believe in the idea of the state even if the physical entity is gone. So there’s a lot of work to be done before the radical change comes but through displacing power from the state and giving it back to the individual so that they can live their life more freely.
This idea is of course not new and it’d be historically inaccurate to say that Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK III) came up with this idea of displacing authority through counter and alternative institutions. Another idea called dual power has also existed for a much longer time. One may also make the argument that it gives a lot more credit to social theory and recognizes different oppressive factors as well, though I’d respond that I don’t think it’s outside the purview of agorists to be aware of those things either. It’s a matter of scope of the individual agorists own viewpoints and actions that largely determines how successfully agorism is implemented.
Agorism as a theory may stress the involvement of the state and the wonders of the market but that doesn’t necessitate that it’s not a useful theory even outside of the market anarchist circles. For instance a lot of the insights of building counter-power, trying to ally ourselves with those whoa re downtrodden or in the counter-economy already but don’t know it are useful ideas that even anarchists outside the market anarchist circles I think can appreciate. Also agorism’s wide range of being applied in many different contexts, whether it’s within the context of a revolution, within the context of recognizing our current condition or where we can go, etc.
I know I’ve skimmed over some points such as the Agorist Class Theory and other things but I aim to more precisely address them in their own sections instead of dedicating so much time to them here. And lastly on the introduction to agorism I don’t think much can beat the New Libertarian Manifesto. It’s not as long as An Agorist Primer and it’s certainly more structured and comprehensive than The Last Whole Introduction to Agorism and is also the first publication Konkin did on it as well.
Which brings me to the man himself and the history that followed…
The History of Agorism
In the mid and late 60s the new left were becoming more and more inline with some libertarian ideas. Some examples of this are the anti-war sentiments and protests, being against corporate welfare and the lack of transparency in government and more. This led to more and more libertarian thinkers such as Murray Rothbard, Karl Hess and a man named Samuel Edward Konkin III (who will now be referred to as SEK III) and others. SEK III drew some of the ideas of the counter-culture from the hippies at the time and developed some of those ideas from there into a counter-economic ideas that applies to libertarianism and the existence of the state. These ideas began forming in 1972-73 when Konkin become more and more vocal about these positions which eventually culminated in the publication of the New Libertarian Manifesto. Konkin then went on to do New Libertarian Notes from 1971 to 1975, the New Libertarian Weekly from 1975 to 1978, and lastly the New Libertarian magazine from ’78 to ’90 (most of this info is comring from The Last Whole Introduction to Agorism by Konkin himself).
Agorism itself, and as an idea and something of a movement still continues today. It largely continued today through the underground economy that’s made up of both people who are aware of libertarianism and those who are not. It continues through constant voluntary exchanges that take place at events like Porcfest and other most likely less official events that you wouldn’t find on Facebook for example. Thus, many of Konkin’s words on this situation I feel are still relevant if not more than ever today. Through the idea of counter-economics, agorist class theory and non/a/counter-political tactics the ideas of agorism still remain in place today. If you want to know more about Konkin then I’d recommend the Libertarian Tradition episode that features Konkin.
How is agorism applicable towards the struggle though?
Agorism and The Struggle
As I’ve said already, there are three ways that seem to distinguish agorism from anarcho-capitalism as a philosophy (and there are others as well but I think these are the biggest ones). And so I’d like to explain how each have their place in the struggle against the state.
The counter economy is, “All (non-coercive) human action committed in defiance of the state…” (An Agorist Primer pg. 40) Meaning such actions are the study of counter-economist and counter-economics themselves are such actions taking place through individuals. Konkin saw this as a benefit to anarchist thought of course,
“The Counter-Economic alternative gave the agorists a devastating weapon. Rather than slowly amass votes until some critical mass would allow state retreat (if the new statists did not change sides to protect their new vested interests), one could commit civil disobedience profitably, dodging taxes and regulations, having lower costs and (potentially) greater efficiency than one’s statist competitors if any. For many goods and services could only arise or be provided counter-economically.” (The Last Whole Introduction to Agorism, pg. 7)
But how prevalent is counter-economics? After all, if no one is applying these activites, thinking about them, or generally making any use of them, what good are they? Konkin had some answers to this (and Riggenbach also mentioned in the Libertarian Tradition episode that I linked above about some of this as well):
“In the Soviet Union, a bastion of arch-statism and a nearly totally collapsed “official” economy, a giant black market provides the Russians, Armenian, Ukrainian and others with everything from food to television repair to official papers and favors from the ruling class. As the Guardian Weekly reports, Burma is almost a total black market with the government reduced to an army, police, and a few strutting politicians. In varying degrees, this is true of nearly all the Second and Third Worlds” (New Libertarian Manifesto)
Now this is all well and good perhaps, but what about today? One may notice that there have usually been a large number of such informal economies (and I’d think if the government has no place in them and they’re done peacefully, etc. it could fall under agorism) in Africa and also some in Latin America, etc. in the past but what about in the US today? One link I found says,
“As of 2010, the underground economy in the United States alone was estimated to account for over $2 trillion US Dollars (USD) per year in unreported cash holdings. It has also been estimated that up to 80 percent of all US one hundred dollar bills printed every year end up overseas within weeks of their circulation.”
So clearly the counter-economy whether it’s ideologically driven (and probably by and large it isn’t) is still a big factor in the world today. Now how effective have all of these efforts been to undermine the state? In a sense not very. Especially insofar as the state not only stands in the sense that the member of the government still have rulership over us all (supposedly) but especially insofar as the ideas that hold up the state are still seen as legitimate are still around. One of the biggest things for me and I think for Konkin was the demystification of the state,
“Some intellectuals, holding truth as their highest value (as did earlier dissenting theologians and clerics), do work at clarifying rather than mystifying, but they are dismissed or reviled and kept away from State and foundation-controlled income. Thus is the phenomenon of dissidence and revisionism created; and thus is the attitude of anti-intellectualism generated among the populace who suspect or incompletely understand the function of the Court Intellectual.” (NLM)
Therefore I think if we are to raise the awareness of the people in today’s state-controlled society we need to certainly use education as a means of bringing counter-economics to more of a forefront in society. This will help build the counter-economy and the mindset in people’s head that not only is a better world possible but that people are doing it and that it’s not wrong to oppose the system or do some of these things.
So in order to build the use of counter-economics we as anarchists must reach out to those who need the alternatives the most. Alternative ways of doing medicine, alternative ways of organizing (more egalitarian, cooperative, independent, etc.), alternative ways of dealing with money, security, and more. The more people we can help out and spread the word with the better we as agorists or just anarchists in general can do. And agorism certainly has it’s place in trying to rally around other common people just trying to scratch by.
By getting these people, informing them of what’s going on and how they can best avoid being punished for disobeying the state and more we can help speed along the struggle against oppression, not just limited to the state of course.
Agorist Class Theory
Having a class theory of course doesn’t make you necessarily left or radical in of itself it needs to have some substance to it that’d make it either. First, let’s see where Marxists and agorists agree:
“Agorism and Marxism agree on the following premise: human society can be divided into at least two classes; one class is characterized by its control of the State and its extraction of un-earned wealth from the other class. Furthermore, agorists and Marxists will often point to the same people as members of the overclass and underclass,especially agreeing on what each considers the most blatant cases. The differences arise as one moves to the middle of the social pyramid.
“Agorists and Marxists perceive a class struggle which must continue until a climactic event which will resolve the conflict. Both sides perceive select groups which will lead the victims against their oppressors. The Marxists call these groups of high class consciousness ‘vanguards’ and then extract even more aware elements designated ‘elites of the vanguard.’ Agorists perceive a spectrum of consciousness amongst the victims as well, and also perceive the most aware elements as the first recruits for the revolutionary cadre. With the exception of ‘intellectuals,’ the Marxists and agorists sharply disagree on who these most progressive elements are.” (Agorist Class Theory)
Now having a class theory was used before Marx by people like Comte, Dunoyer, etc. so certainly Marx or other people on the left have no monopoly on class theories and it all depends on how correct it is either way of course But what are the most progressive elements to the Marxist?
To the Marxist they are are the bosses, the capitalists the ones that oppress the workers and use the state (Which can also be the oppressors) to further oppress the workers, consumers and the proletariat, etc. The agorists believe that in a state-capotalist society this is (for the most part) a pretty spot on observation. The capitalist accrues monopoly privileges from the state and uses them to artificially limit the workers choices subjugating them to jobs they may not want. This helps perpetuate a sort of wage-slavery that is highly reliant on the fact that the state exists and most agorists to my knowledge believe that once the state was abolished most of these privileges would go away. For the agorist then, while the capitalist is certainly a factor, they see the see as more of a factor in the relation because as history tells us it was the king who gave grants to the leading merchant class and usually it was not the merchant doling out privileges to the king.
The agorist then opposes the capitalist and consequently the capitalist class largely how it stands now and does not believe anything like it would exist in a truly freed market.
The two parts where Marxist theories fail is that it does not account for entrepreneurial activity,
“The entrepreneurial problem is unsolvable for Marxism, because Marx failed to recognize the economic category. The best Marxists can do is lump them with new, perhaps mutated, capitalist forms. But if they are to fit the old class system, they arepetit bourgeois, the very group that is to either collapse into proletarians or rise into the monopoly capitalist category. Small business shouldnot increase in the ‘advanced, decadent stages of capitalism.”
And the idea of a peaceful black market existing,
““This class unity is not that of a workers’ class (though workers are heavily involved) nor of a capitalist class (though capitalists are involved) nor even of a ruling class — this class is based on the
commonality ofrisk, arising from a common source (the State). And risk isnot proletarian (or particularly capitalist); it is purely entrepreneurial.
“Again, to make it clear, if the ‘entrepreneuriat’ are tossed into the capitalist class, then the Marxist must face the contradiction of ‘capitalists’ at war with the capitalist-controlled State.”
In other words, Marxist class theory misses too many important parts of what makes an economy up (the black market, the entrepreneurs and active collusion between apparently opposing classes according to Marx). But what is offered instead of that? SEK III wrote,
“The pure statist subclass includes all political officeholders, police, military, civil service, grantholders and subsidy receivers. There is a special subclass of the pure statists who not only accept plunder and enforce or maintain the machinery of the State but actually direct and control it. In ‘socialist’ countries, these are the top officeholders of the governing political party who usually (though not always) have top government offices. In the ‘capitalist’ countries, these super- statists seldom appear in government positions, preferring to control directly the wealth of their state-interfaced corporations, usually banks, energy monopolists and army suppliers. Here we find the Power Elite, Higher Circles, Invisible Government,Ruling Class and Insider Conspiracy that other ideological
groupings have detected and identified…”
And to further explain the spectrum SEK III wrote,
“Agorist class theory has the best of both positions: a sharp class line and a graduated spectrum. Individuals are complex and confused. An individual may commit some Counter-Economic acts and some statist ones; nonetheless, each act is either Counter-Economic or statist. People (and groups of people) can be classified along a spectrum as to the predominance of agorism over statism. Yet at each given moment, one can view an action, judge it immediately, and take concrete counter-action or supportive action, if desired.”
Thus we can see the agorist class theory takes a much more nuanced position with individuals then the marxist does. One is not confined to their class so tightly, they can engage in different actions and choose to aid the state, the ruling class, etc. if they wish to or they can follow the anarchist/libertarian logic and go against the state and use counter-economics. What about the people who are in the middle? In that they do some state supporting and some black market supporting? What does Konkin write of them?
“To the statists, they are the victims, the herds of cattle to be slaughtered and sheep to be sheared. To the Agorists, they are the external marketplace, to receive nearly everything in trade — but trust.
“And some day they shall either take control of their lives and polarize one way or the other, or fail to do so and shall stagnate in the statist swamp or be borne away on the winds of revolutionary change.”
So it seems that even those who are in between with their actions need not be left out either. It then seems clear to me that the agorist class theory leaves agorism and the practice of the philosophy of agorism through counter-economics possible to anyone of any class so long as their actions go towards more work in the black market than the state-supported one. And even if they do more state-supported work or just do more in general to support the state then oppose it that doesn’t mean they can’t get out of that position.
And so the question remains: What makes this class theory so radical and left? Well for one it’s radical for it’s consistency in keeping in mind the nuances of human behavior and relations in way that the Marxist analysis could not. It’s radical for its unashamed bashing of state-supporting activities that need not happen and that are instead chosen by the individual in question. And finally, it’s radical for the way it clarifies the relations between the capitalist class and the ruling class in general in ways that the Marxist class theory did not. Instead of the capitalist class being the ruling class itself, the ruling class is instead made up largely of state officials and those who benefit the most from those officials being in place. This allows not only for a bigger range of players to be counted but also a more clear picture of what goes on.
But what makes it left? Well the acknowledgement of the capitalists having a common interest that currently opposes the workers is one thing. The second, that the capitalism of the day and some of the features that capitalism must feature may not or are definitely not legitimate. One last thing to note on the left side of things is the agreements in Marxist theory that are mentioned above as well as a preference of cooperative and self-managed work over top-down hierarchies in the workplace so that the current state and capitalist class can be ousted.
Explicitly Non/a/Counter-Political Means
For starters, I’m unsure of what to call it exactly. If by political we mean “within the current system of politics” then agorism is largely not it, apathetic to it (though only within the context of using it for positive social change) and want to set up institutions and organizations that run counter to it. So I suppose any three of these things would fit the bill really. But why any of this stuff? I myself have written tons of things on why voting isn’t for anarchists and you can find that here and here. I’ve also done an approximately 10 part video series on Youtube on the morality and practicality of voting. So that’s plenty of info on why voting doesn’t work and plenty of work that I link to that would reinforce my position.
But why does the agorist specifically take this stance?
One of the main reasons is that as SEK III said in NLM that “partyarchy” (anarchists who support the party system) are against the concept of liberation itself,
“The State’s Higher Circles were not about to yield their plunder and restore property to their victims at the first sign of opposition. The first counter- attack came from anti-principles already planted by the corrupt Intellectual Caste: Defeatism, Retreatism, Minarchy, Collaborationism, Gradualism, Monocentris and Reformism – including accepting State office to “improve” Statism! All of these anti-principles (deviations, heresies, self-destructive contradictory tenets, etc.) will be dealt with later. Worst of all is Partyarchy, the anti-concept of pursuing libertarian ends through statist means, especially political parties.”
For Konkin trying to get any sort of freedoms from the state, that organization that restricts our freedoms to begin with, is a fools game and one that should not be tried. SEK III commented on the buying out of the LP, how little change it had made over the time that it formed and of course it’s just plainly inconsistent to most agorists to use the political system. And instead of using the political system of course agorists will use counter-economics.
Now what effect does this have on the struggle? It means less time spent begging politicians for change or trying to use the system for our own good when we have no real good reason too. A lot of the other agorist reasons for not using politics I believe can be summed up in the blog posts and video series I’ve already linked here so I recommend checking those out if you’re still curious about it.
Other than that, there’s not much to it, voting as an anarchist is not only naive but also inconsistent with principles and what it means to be an anarchist at some levels to the agorist. It’s not only impractical but some agorists also consider the use of the political system to impose the libertarian idea of the world to be immoral.
I think the biggest things that agorism gives us if nothing else is:
1. A new look at dual power and a way to get an-caps and other more Rothbardian leaning types towards being critical of different kinds of power besides state power.
2. An interesting, radically left class theory that has a good amount of consistency to it, especially compared to the Marxist brand.
3. And finally the insight that politics is not the right place to be for anarchists just as a matter of principle. For just like begging the bosses for better wages, etc. is not the ideal neither is begging the politicians for less whippings or wars, etc.
We must make our destiny possible through as much of our own and our fellow anarchists efforts as possible and as far as this idea goes I think agorism helps us get there. I also think it helps get an-caps and other more right-wing people further left as a sort of transition into perhaps more complex and diverse theories. You could counter after all, that you can find the three main things elsewhere, that dual power does counter-economics better, that there are better and more comprehensive class theories even further left than agorism would dare to go and that finally anti-political sentiments can be found among other people besides agorists as well even if the whole philosophy isn’t explicitly so.
I’d say to those things that while agorisms idea of counter-economics and dual power are similar they certainly have different emphasises and writers that advocate these strategies and so there are certainly differences to be appreciated at least. Secondly, although there may be other class theories I do believe that the nuance that agorist class theory makes as well as the correct influences from Marxist theories, etc. makes for a good synthesis and at the least a great start in a progression of ideas. And lastly there aren’t many ideas in anarchism that are explicitly anti-political except perhaps voluntaryism but even that has seen some cracks in of it as late while agorism has never seem to have such a problem.