What does it Mean to “Educate” Someone or Yourself?
Education as a device in the struggle against oppression means better informing other people or yourself about what’s going on in the world. This can be about a multitude of different things and in a multitude of different ways. You can engage in a conversation, you can have a formal debate with someone, you can talk things out to yourself (no this doesn’t make you crazy…necessarily), you can write papers and use the research and the paper to be better informed, etc. etc. etc. All of these ways are ways in which you or someone else can be better informed about what’s going on in the world. Education has been one of the mainstays of almost any ideology to get it heard more. Since the invention of the internet and better technology in general this has been especially relevant with being able to talk and inform others about things more easily and making the costs of writing papers and having them seen by many people much lower as well.
So how does education exactly play into the 4 strategies against oppression? Well in order to better apply any of the strategies that I’ve discussed so far one must know not only about them but what they are up against and how it works, etc. The more informed about a topic you are the more likely you are to handle it more efficiently than you otherwise could have. This of course doesn’t guarantee perfection or being right all of or even most of the time but it means you’ll more likely than not deal with the realoty of things in a better way than if you were less informed.
If education just means telling people things about the world around them how do we do this within an anarchist context more specifically?
How do we Educate Efficiently?
I think there’s something to be said about the fact that there’s at least two major things to education: substance and style. The first is the content of the message itself. What are you saying? Is it worth talking about? Does the person care? Why would they care? And so on. While the style is more about how you present it. Generally no one is going to take seriously someone who says things very snobbishly or someone who can’t speak up may not be paid attention to as much, etc. And so not only is the meat and bones of your presentation important but what spices and such you put on them…I think that’s an awful metaphor but I hope my point was illustrated well enough either way.
Now for us as anarchists we’re in a particularly bad spot because of the silly things that are attached to our ideas or the label we have. We’re called terrorists, proponents of a philosophy without a plan (maybe not necessarily a bad thing though), violent, bomb throwers, miscreants and so on. So many of us as anarchists start off at an immediate disadvantage. This is why some people who think the state is unnecessary and would rather have more self-governing/ruling/managing society full of voluntary associations don’t call themselves anarchists. Now this is at first perhaps just a rhetorical move, more spice than meat and bones to some. To that I say it’s all about how you really strive to make it different. You could call yourself something else (and I don’t necessarily think we as anarchists should but each individual makes their own choice regardless) but if you’re going to do that make it matter in your discussions and don’t just have it to spice things up. Rhetoric can be nice and can catch the eye but if there’s nothing there to keep the attention then there’s not much to it.
Now since I’ll assume you’ve kept the label let’s work from this assumption and say that most people still may want to hear you out. They may be skeptical of you from the get go but I don’t think many serious people would automatically stop hearing you out if you openly declare yourself an anarchist. Speaking from personal experience most people who do that sort of thing aren’t generally worth talking to from the get go or don’t take their own positions too seriously at any rate. Either way it’s more fruitful in my opinion to talk to people who will talk on level with you and treat you as an equal.
To pause for a second we must realize that conversation is of course one of the biggest parts of education but also that reading, writing and experiencing events also has a big effect on people from time to time. Slogans, signs, websites, essays, etc. etc. can all effect the person as well.
But to get back to the part about being treated as an equal I think this is really what people look for when they talk to others. Generally people won’t bother with someone they don’t feel treats them fairly (and if you’re unsure of their standard of fairness just assume calling them a statist again and again isn’t meeting it). To a certain degree sometimes it’s just helpful all together to just forget the labels and focus on solutions.
And that’s just to whatever extent labels are hurting the conversation. Labels shouldn’t be completely discarded to the extent that they help a conversation. And this is where more conversation edict is to be remembered: there are no universals only helpful general rules. Now whether this applies more broadly than just in conversations I’m unsure of but I do think generally people tend to look at signs of respect similarly. Talking to people in a sincere but hard demeanor should be ok for most people but don’t get too overly-vocal or preachy about how good anarchism or whatever you’re talking about because that tends to put people off. There’s plenty of general rules for talking to people and I think it really comes from constant experience with different people that you get a good grasp on them. Because of this I don’t think I’ll doddle on that point anymore except to say that they should be kept in mind.
Lastly, when dealing with oneself insofar as education is concerned questioning your baseline assumptions is a great start. This is of course good for general conversation as well but keeping in mind that you know your assumptions better than the other person’s assumptions in most cases it’s more practical here most likely. Questioning assumptions, especially the deep ones is a great start to further intellectual development. You can question, “Why do I dislike the state?” “How do systems of oppression interrelate? Can they?” And of course you can ask a multitude of other questions to, it doesn’t stop there nor should it. You can write these questions down, pace up and down somewhere (preferably somewhere quiet and secluded) and go over it in your head or you could try to take it from there and discuss it with someone you feel comfortable sharing it with.
This is all of course by no means an exhaustive list of rules for self-improvement or conversations in general but I don’t intend it to be. I’m just trying to hand out many of my own thoughts and personal experience with how conversation can be conducive to getting other people involved as well as self-improvement.
Education and the Struggle
It’s always best when conversing with someone else to start from your strong points. If economics is your thing perhaps try to stay on that topic, same goes if it’s sociology or history, etc. Try to stay on what makes you the most interested in anarchism and discuss it from that angle. It may surprise the person you’re talking to if an anarchist has all these ideas on society, the economy and the world in general that they may not have thought of themselves. Of course one of the big things to advance people getting more towards anarchism is to tell people what anarchism really stands for and whether you’re a market anarchism or whatever it’s useful to bat away common objections to anarchism as a whole as well.
There’s certain types of outreach such as doing outreach with the left or discussing the hopes for liberty in our lifetime but what should really be kept in mind when you’re talking to other people is where they are coming from. How does the current system hurt them the most? Is the community they live in closed down by big corporations like Wal-Mart? Tell them that anarchists support community control and decentralization of the economy so the workers, consumers, producers, etc. all have more say. That is, society has more say than Our Enemy, The State does. That society and the individuals within it that make up the productive class and not the parasitic class of people (which agorist class theory and other class theories talk about) so that we can all have a better life.
Getting people more informed about how they can resist the state or other oppressive institutions and cultural beliefs, etc. in their community makes great headway and alliances on single issues. You can help build up unions, alternative cooperatives run by the workers to counter corporate and state power and use that to get more people involved in other projects as well. There’s plenty of material on the internet for us all to utilize. There’s entire libraries of anarchist thought and entire books on Youtbue, in PDFs, on countless websites and more. We have to use the technology we have to our advantage when it comes to the struggle in general but especially when it comes to education.
There’s not too much about education that you can’t find elsewhere and it’s not too tough of a topic to get into. Yet, conversely there’s many different interesting areas in it and I feel as if I’ve only dipped my feet into them so to speak. Nevertheless I don’t feel as if it’s necessary to do a complete run down of how to tell people to live a better life or talk with them about it.
My final thoughts on education and perhaps the series in general is that you have to first and foremost do these things for yourself. You need to be the example other people are going to go to, want to naturally emulate and going to want to cooperate with in voluntary and mutually beneficial ways for the betterment of people in general. You want to be that person and you want to be that person not by trying to mold other people into what you want them to be but by molding yourself and letting other people see what a great person you are.
Anarchism should not boil down to lifestyle or identity politics (though they are still important even once you have radical politics on the table) but it is important to make sure that you emulate the strategies you want to use and the type of person you’d like to see in the world.
Because if the world that these strategies help build within the shell of the old society are to be as beautiful as we all hope then self-education could possibly be better than external in many ways.
As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in the world and that means not only emulating your ideology but the world, society and so on that you want to see and the people that inhabit it.
At the end of the day I’ve laid out the strategies that I think will work best and it’s up to you whether you’ll implement them or not. After all, you’ll convince yourself more than I ever would probably.
Comparisons and Introductions
Agorism vs. Dual Power
In many ways the ideas of dual power are like the ideas behind agorism. It’s about building alternative structures to the current one to promote more autonomy within society against unjust authority. However similar these two things may be however it is my belief that they certainly have their differences in what they do and do not emphasize. Otherwise I’d think I’d be hearing a lot more right-wing libertarians and so on start talking about dual power instead of talking about agorism without really knowing what it means. A lot of the time the an-caps like to put agorism into practice but only to make a profit. It’s not about building a new society within the shell of the old (and if it is it’s never made clear that this is the ultimate intention) it’s just about making money for a product their selling without getting government (too) involved. Now I do think this is an admirable goal and agorism is certainly a good way of going about it but to focus on the idea of making profit and not pay tribute to the larger great idea of just building new social structures because the current ones are failing seems to me to be missing the point of a lot of Konkin’s ideas.
Instead I think that’s sort of how dual power comes into play, specifically for the more left-leaning libertarians or anarchists (though left-libertarians in general I think can still do and practice agorism). Because dual power isn’t as focused on profit or the “market place of ideas” and other terms such as those it has time to stretch its ideological legs out and see what it can accomplish more in different ways. Another one of the things that seems to be pointing to differences in dual power and agorism is that dual power (and the people who seem to advocate it) seek a much broader change than just the people advocating counter-economics. And while counter-economics are good in changing the economic structures and that’s definitely important, again it seems short sighted to only focus on the economics section when there are other power structures out there that reinforce oppression. That’s not to say that agorism fails as a philosophy or a strategy but only that it should be complimented by these ideas (which is why it’s left-libertarian to begin with in my view, because to some degree or another it accepts such a notion of thickness). And so even though agorism has some things going for them and so does dual power I think it’s safe to say that both have their place in the anarchists repertoire if they so choose to have both. Is only one necessary? Perhaps. But it depends on what your main focuses are.
“Any serious anarchist with an intent to alter society for the better seeks radical change in: social attitudes, economic and political arrangements, interpersonal relations and the like. We seek a new social paradigm to alter society and the individuals in it to reflect the values and reality of: voluntarism, free association, mutual aid, cooperation, workers self-management and the freedom to do what one wants with the fruits of his labor. So it is cultural change we desire. And from this change a radical shift in the way society is organized.”
So in some ways agorism focuses more on an economic change with counter-economics though interpersonal relations, political and cultural ones can definitely be also changed I’m unsure of how much of deliberateness goes into such an effort if it happens. Again, this seems to me where dual power can come in to the picture. It can add to those extra sections agorists might not have time to get into or may not want to stress. As an anarchist without adjectives I think there’s room for both tactics within the anarchist philosophy. Neither one is necessarily always going to be better and both seem to have their own unique and individual appeal. But enough differentiating let’s try to better individualize this strategy of dual power and see what we can find.
Introducing Dual Power
For introducing dual power I could not only rely on LaughingMan’s video that I’ve linked above (which I of course recommend as a great short but well thought out introduction) or I could rely on this introduction to dual power. I think that a combination of using both links will best serve our interest in discovering what dual power is and further along in the post what it can do for us as anarchists.
So what does LaughingMan say?
He says that to answer the question of how such radical cultural change will occur we must understand dual power. Dual power he says is,
“…the carefully calculated and purposeful creation of a new set of institutions in the old society one seeks to change. These institutions are designed for changing the old society. Crafted to erode their power structure by superimposing the new power structure. Dual power seeks to compete with and overtake the preexisting state. It challenges the mono-centric power system of the state by creating an economic, political and cultural power structure of its own. Thus creating a dual power system in a formerly mono-centric power system.”
He says a bit more after that about what sorts of new power structures these would be but I think this will suffice for now. Later on in the post I will get more into these new power structures. But really what’s going on here if I can explain this quote a bit more briefly is this: the old power structure in whatever forms it takes is seen as inadequate for meeting your needs so you erect new ones. These new ones act as an alternative social arrangement that you hope will win out. Basically it’s a battle of ideas and not necessarily one of violence. Which for me makes perfect sense because as I’ve said quite a few times already the real enemies are not the people in the government, et. al. but the ideas they represent. I think it’s telling that even the anarchist Alexander Berkman who I mentioned in the last article changed his mind from his previously pro-violence stance in his 1929 book, “ABC of Anarchism”:
“It is very necessary that you get this straight. Most people have very confused notions about revolution. To them it means just fighting, smashing things, destroying. It is the same as if rolling up your sleeves for work should be considered as the work itself that you have to do. The fighting part of revolution is merely the rolling up of your sleeves. The real, actual task is ahead.
What is that task?
“The destruction of the existing conditions,” you reply.
True. But conditions are not destroyed by breaking and smashing things. You can’t destroy wage slavery by wrecking the machinery in mills and factories, can you? You won’t destroy government by setting fire to the White House.
To think of revolution in terms of violence and destruction is to misinterpret and falsify the whole idea of it. In practical application such a conception is bound to lead to disastrous results.
When a great thinker, like the famous Anarchist Bakunin, speaks of revolution as destruction, he has in mind the ideas of authority and obedience which are to be destroyed. It is for this reason that he said that destruction means construction, for to destroy a false belief is indeed most constructive work.”
(Chapter 9. Preparation, thanks to Scott Forster for bringing that to my attention.)
So I think that my case for being against and working against ideas as a result has quite a bit to do with the strategy of dual power. But how does the article, “An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy” (which is also linked under the “introduction to dual power” section) describe it?
To start, in this article the author Brian Dominick has a bit more of a developed sort of dual power with specific institutions in mind. This article is also probably a fairly more substantial read than LaughingMan’s was. And so while LaughingMan gave us the nutshell Dominick appears to want to give us a big slice of the nut itself if not more…bad metaphor?….I’ll move on then. Anyways, my point is that he comes at this from different angles and perspectives, his definition of dual power goes likes this though,
“The great task of grassroots dual power is to seek out and create social spaces and fill them with liberatory institutions and relationships. Where there is room for us to act for ourselves, we form institutions conducive not only to catalyzing revolution, but also to the present conditions of a fulfilling life, including economic and political self-management to the greatest degree achievable. We seek not to seize power, but to seize opportunity vis a vis the exercise of our power.”
Both of these approaches to defining dual power describe them as strategies which first and foremost promote the autonomy of the person trying it as well as whoever they can influence. However Dominick for himself personally has something more specific in mind than LaughingMan does in his video:
“Here the status quo consists of a market capitalist economy, an authoritarian republic, patriarchy, adultarchy, judeo-christian eurocentricity, white supremacy, etc. These are the ideologies and institutions which make up the oppressive system according to which our society operates. By necessity, then, our oppositional dual power, our alternative infrastructure, must be based on decentralized socialist economics, a participatory democratic polity, feminist and youthist kinship, and a secular yet spiritual, intercommunal culture.”
I don’t think within the context of this post it’s good for me to spend considerable time dedicating to whether I think he’s right or wrong here. Instead, I’d just like to point out that him saying this only reveals that different anarchists will enact the dual power strategy in many different ways. These different ways will often express how one individual who adheres to the anarchist philosophy feels about the current relations in society. Some may focus more on patriarchy than racism or others may focus on economic disparities in wealth that they see as artificially created and so on. There’s no reason to also not try to focus on multiple issues equally if you can do that as well. So versatility not only comes with direct action but also with the strategy of dual power.
So with all of that I think dual power has been defined enough. But there’s another sort of way of expressing similar ideas and it’s called counter-power.
The idea of counter-power is not one that’s too widely discussed to my knowledge so I don’t have much to say except quote Darian Worden’s article “Build Counter-Power, Create an Authority Vacuum”,
“The very concept of having no rulers often encounters fears of a power vacuum — an unsustainable, dangerous situation that can only end in the re-establishment of rulers. But the rejection of authority does not mean that power is up for grabs — it means that power is widely distributed, making it harder for tyrants to usurp.
The practice of anarchism fills society with empowered individuals, diffusing power throughout society so that no authority can take it over. Interactions of free individuals — the everyday pursuit of needs and desires combined with the recognition that mutual respect for freedom is the best way to realize needs and desires — build counter-power. Organizations of social cooperation established for the mutual benefit of participants, not for the power of some at the expense of others, help keep power dispersed in a fashion that safeguards individual liberty. Institutions of authority can be subverted or seized for the purpose of dispersing power.”
Is this dual power by just by another name? In some ways it seems to be the case. Building counter-power or the relatons that Worden talks about in his article seem pretty much spot on to the ideas of dual power. I think it’s worth mentioning though that Worden’s ideas of how counter-power relations would exist as opposed to the largely artificial ones that exist today is excellent. I think that this general overview of what they would look like as opposed to Dominick’s more personal and specific view (though I’m sure some share his vision or something close to it no doubt) is a lot more likely to be supported by anarchists.
David S. D’Amato adds to this conversation in his article, “Counter-Power and the Arab Spring”,
“Martin Buber’s thesis, that “[p]ower abdicates only under the stress of counter-power,” is central to the questions raised by the Arab Spring. There can be no doubt now that counter-power has the ability to supplant despots and transform governments, but it need not stop there.
As Buber also observed, Marx and Engels were right that, assuming the state actually represented the whole of society, it would be rendered superfluous and therefore unnecessary; their mistake, however, was to maintain the necessity of a total state helmed by the working class itself — to maintain that such a state was even possible, let alone a necessary step toward a stateless society.
Rather than seeking to capture the machinery of the state from the hands of the elite few for the productive majority in society, market anarchists argue that we should begin to make it obsolete right now. Our means of accomplishing that end need not and should not incorporate violence, instead peacefully protesting and competing with the state.”
Counter-power therefore can certainly take from even recent history to see why it works in certain ways and it certainly is not a reformist or a violent way either necessarily. This holds true as well for dual power. It seems to me that the difference between dual and counter power is that dual power may be acting along side the old society to some degree and competing but counter power is directly working against the current system instead of focusing more on the relationship between the two. However I may be incorrect here and there may be nothing really of substantial difference between the two. As far as I can see the difference between these to (if there are any) are certainly not being expressed. Nevertheless I do think it’s important to empathize that even if counter-power is more or less the same thing as dual power that it’s just as legitimate either way.
Finally I want to quote Worden one last time from his article “Putting the Nation Before the Human”, where he again outlines counter-power in brief:
“The state primarily serves people with political power and those who can deliver more — like prison industry lobbyists, for example. Those without political power can develop counter-power by creating networks of informed individuals that make it easier to live apart from, and eventually in opposition to, state power.
If these networks seek to neutralize all impositions of authority of one person over another — to disperse political power — then they are working toward anarchism. Anarchy empowers peaceable individuals. Incentives toward actual crimes would be reduced by a dynamic economy and social norms that discourage coercion, while victimization could be reduced by systems that don’t instead focus on victimless activity.”
Again, it seems to be very centered on dispersing power as equally as possible among people. Making sure that these counter-power organizations are mutually beneficial and certainly working towards anarchist ends. On that note however we will return to the idea of counter-power later on. I now want to continue with a brief discussion of the history of dual power.
A Brief History of Dual Power
First it should be pointed out what the Wikipedia article points out (and I don’t want to hear anything about how I’m citing them a lot because they’re about as reliable as the Britannica apparently) that Vladimir Lenin first explained. I think this is also probably why many an-caps and other right-libertarians aren’t talking about this as much. I don’t exactly seeing them reading State and Revolution and then going deeper than that to see what else they can find. So I think this also explains the more libertarian-socialist arena that you usually see dual power being discussed in. In this case however it was a government vs. government dual power situation and not acting within the anarchist context. The article reads,
‘”The Dual Power,” (dvoevlastie) which described a situation in the wake of the February Revolution in which two powers, the workers councils (or Soviets, particularly the Petrograd Soviet) and the official state apparatus of the Provisional Government coexisted with each other and competed for legitimacy. Lenin argued that this essentially unstable situation constituted a unique opportunity for the Soviets to seize power by smashing the Provisional Government and establishing themselves as the basis of a new form of state power.”
So the root of dual power (that is competing social systems) has just been adopted by anarchists in a non-state context. Really it makes sense to me because if you can do one alternative social arrangement competing with another but with the same root…what does it matter? It has the same root problems for the anarchist either way so it doesn’t make much of a difference. One might be more preferable than another but either way this strategy seems like a good idea within an anarchist context and it’s not hard to see why with how it’s been used in history.
The article smartly in my opinion notes that,
“Dual power is a strategy, rather than an ideology, and it could plausibly be used to advance a variety of forms of social change. However, the advantages of the strategy make it most compatible with perspectives that emphasize the exercise of power at the community level, that seek to make the revolutionary movement accountable to the people, that see the capability to revision and transform society as common rather than rare, and that seek decentralized forms of power. Call this version of the strategy grassroots dual power, the bottom-up transformation and replacement of the mechanisms of society.”
This is what Dominick was talking about in his article earlier. A much more grassroots, pro-democratic movement that is trying to benefit the community the most. This seems to be compatible for not only the historical emphasis that probably occurred for state-communists (at least in rhetoric) but also how it’s grown in the social-anarchist circles since then. To quote Dominick at length and his explanations of what dual power mean to him and how he sees it manifest is especially relevant to how dual power has historically grown as an idea within anarchists:
“This essay is about basic democracy. I am not introducing a radical new ideology, I am talking about building a social framework, or infrastructure, which is responsive to the actual will of the people.
What I am proposing is a system whereby decisions of social policy and economic relations are made by those affected by them: citizens and workers.
Such is the essence of grassroots dual power. It is foremost a revolutionary strategy, the procedure by which we can sustain radical social change during and after insurrectionary upheavals — even to manage those upheavals; but dual power is also a situation we create for ourselves as communities. Whether the insurrection happens in the next decade or takes 3 more generations to occur, we can create revolutionary circumstances now, and we can exercise power to the greatest possible extent.
Thus, grassroots dual power is a situation wherein a self-defined community has created for itself a political/economic system which is an operating alternative to the dominant state/capitalist establishment. The dual power consists of alternative institutions which provide for the needs of the community, both material and social, including food, clothing, housing, health care, communication, energy, transportation, educational opportunities and political organization. The dual power is necessarily autonomous from, and competitive with, the dominant system, seeking to encroach upon the latter’s domain, and, eventually, to replace it.”
Here Dominick gives a pretty in depth look at how he sees democracy and other things that would presumably require communities and collectives of people to function within a dual power strategy. But again the point of quoting Dominick isn’t whether I agree with him or not (though for what it’s worth I do like quite a bit of what he is saying either way) but to show how the development of the idea of dual power has come about historically. Clearly people like Dominick may have a different idea of it than LaughingMan did in his brief video and it’s definitely more specific than Worden or D’Amato’s case for counter-power. This isn’t to say that this is a good thing or a bad thing but just something to keep in mind when talking about dual power strategy in general.
Historically it’s not only developed in certain ways but manifested in a few as well. Again, citing the Wikipedia page where the Zapatista movement in Mexico is briefly discussed,
“This local democracy has been extended by the creation of autonomous local governments, systems of alternative institutions that effectively replace local structures of power. On February 3, 1994, Manuel Camacho Solís, the conciliator between the government and the Zapatistas, announced the creation of two free zones in which the International Red Cross would operate and the militaries would not, unwittingly providing the Zapatista communities with a bit of national territory. On December 19, 1995, the EZLN broke the Mexican Federal Army’s encirclement and carried out the political and military seizure of dozens of towns, demonstrating that its influence went far beyond the small existing conflict zone. In this expanded area, Zapatista communities formed 38 autonomous municipalities covering more than a third of the state of Chiapas.”
And of course this is just one example and one sort of use of dual power. Certainly the Zapitistas are not necessarily the most peaceful bunch (to say the least) but this is one historical manifestation of the idea of dual power and we can now see how it’s played out and continues to play out. Looking at things like this helps us better determine what we should do when we’re using the strategy of dual power and what not to do. Some may decide that what the Zapatistas did was not right for them and others might, I think this again just proves the versatility and flexibility of dual power in action.
So now that the history has been briefly laid out how do we build on these ideas?
Dual/Counter Power and The Struggle
Building Dual Power
So sure you’ve got all this info…what’cha gonna do with it though? I suppose the only thing to do now is to build upwards and try to put it into practice. To that end I quote from an article titled, “Where they Retreat We Must Advance: Building Dual Power” by Wesley Morgan and I just want to make it clear that I love that title and think it’s pretty awesome…but besides that since I shall only quote this article once I want to do it at length and try to drive home some of the main arguments it has:
“It is not sufficient to create a negative contradiction within society, that is, to create a revolutionary rupture through organized opposition. This is necessary, but not sufficient. It is necessary to move from an insurrectionary strategy, focused on the creation of a negative contradiction (against all forms of social domination), to a revolutionary strategy, the creation of a positive contradiction.
It is difficult to understate the revolutionary effect of organizing to create, and support, self-managed community services. There are even examples of this in North America— the Black Panther Party, at their strongest, ran over 60 social programs, such as schools, meal programs, and shoe programs. While the Black Panthers fell victim to their marginalization in ghetto communities, police repression, and internal power struggles that were partially related to the effects of the FBI’s counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO), this model of community organization is one that still holds a great deal of potential.
By advancing where the state has retreated, by beginning to create a community-based, self-managed, anti-State public sector, anarchists can begin to generate a broad-based movement that has the organizational capacity to create a fully self-managed society.
This is the general strategy, to attempt to create dual power in the public sector, to build autonomous, community-based, self-managed social infrastructure—schools, clinics, mutual aid organizations, perhaps hospitals one day—to help a create a revolutionary process of organizing without hierarchy or domination. Where the state has retreated, we must advance, and begin organizing to fill the gap in a liberatory manner, to build the revolutionary capacity and potential for an end to all forms of domination and hierarchy.”
Now that first one cannot be emphasized enough for me personally. The idea that anarchism wants to destroy and not create anything in its place is one of the central theme anarchists have to deal with it. In the first article of Worden’s I cited, “Build Counter-Power, Create an Authority Vacuum” he had to deal with this exact issue. Likewise for the Berkman quote and the article I just quoted from as well and as well as many anarchists in general. We all have to deal with the perception that anarchists don’t want to do much but destroy most of the current ways people go about their lives and then not replace it with anything. This is where the ideas of counter and dual power explicitly challenge such a notion. Because it is inherent in the theory itself that this cannot be the case. But if it’s not the case, if the organizations like the Black Panther Party have done it, the Zapatistas have done it and so on, what main institutions should be found in a dual power strategy? I again return to LaughingMan’s video on dual power and quote him at length multiple times:
“In dual power there are two kinds of institutions and they each have a set of institutional roles designed for creating a new society. The first kind of institution is an alternative institution. Alternative institutions seek to break the monopoly of the old mono-centric system by giving the general public choice in the kinds of institutions they participate in. These institutions are typically a radically new revision of a kind of institutions that make economic, cultural and political life possible. We can understand what these kinds of proto-institutions are by understanding what state institutions or statist institutions they would seek to offer an alternative to and or replace.
A few examples? State police could be replaced with a community defensive network. State central banks could be replaced with mutualist banking. State subsidized super-stores like Wal-Mart could be replaced with anarchist grocery story co-ops. … In this way the alternative institutions that are part of a dual power strategy form a kind of dialectical relation with the status quo. Their role is one of negation and synthesis. They seek to void the old institutions by out-competing them. Offering the public a more preferable and pragmatic means to achieve their own self-interest.”
LaughingMan goes on to describe how this is and why but I won’t quote him anymore than this because I think the reader has gotten the idea. And if you haven’t you can always watch the video itself. Still, there is one more institution that remains to be talked about. LaughingMan again on counter-institutions,
“Counter-institutions are institutions that are designed to protect alternative institutions from the status quo while simultaneously promoting their growth. The purpose of counter-institutions is to grant alternative institutions functional space to carry out their day to day business operations without being subject to the coercion of the state or the lies of its propaganda machine. The real world instantiation of counter-institutions may take the form of people’s law collectives i.e. groups of lawyers who support the anarchist movement and seek to protect them from state intervention. Political protest, civil disobedience, leafleting or distribution of anarchist literature or, in a possible circumstance, armed resistance to state violence and direct appropriation of illegitimate state institutions.”
And finally the relation between the two:
“It should be noted that there is no strict dichotomy between the alternative institutions and counter-institutions. These categories are merely useful distinctions not rules of classification. Indeed, many alternative institutions may be able to defend and promote themselves. However, both kinds of institutions work together in order to initiate a social revolution to replace the old authoritarian society with the libertarian one.”
I think LaughingMan really did a wonderful job summing up what the dual power strategy would be made of. Furthermore it’s my belief that any dual power strategy must necessarily have these two components or else it is not dual power at all. If all you’re doing is promoting alternatives but have no way to defend them or actually institute them then it’s not dual power. Furthermore the relation between the old society and the new one is spot on here as well as the relation within the new dual power system itself. I really don’t have much to add to what LaughingMan has said in his video besides that I agree with him. All of these points he makes help us get an idea of how to further build upon things in the spirit of things like the Black Panther Party with their social programs, the IWW with their direct action, the Zapatistas for their ideas on resistance and some may argue the Spanish revolution that the anarchists had as well. And despite the flaws with all of these things (and I’ll definitely admit they exist) the point is that we can learn from them so we don’t have to repeat them and keep building up dual power in an incorrect way.
But through what manner do we exactly build it? I think Dominick has some well thought out ideas on the matter:
“The problem of scale is a simple one, but one without easy solutions: we want to radically reorganize all of society, but in a decentralized manner. This means there can be no central committee on the national or continental or global level which dictates or directs the development of individual communities. The revolution must come about from the bottom up, from the outside in. If there are to be institutions and associations which extend beyond the neighborhood and community, they must be put together after the autonomous units (ie, neighborhoods, municipalities, etc) are defined.
Should we decide to set up an elaborate system of strata (eg, neighborhood, municipality, county, state, region, nation, etc), each unit must come about, from smallest and most intimate, first. And then we can affiliate with other so-developed units to form networks. For example, we organize our neighborhood into a dual power network, and that neighborhood association seeks out nearby neighborhoods and develops another network to form a municipal network, which networks with other local municipalities to form a city or county dual power, and on up the list.”
The key to all of this is of course do it in such a way that doesn’t violate our principles. And not only that but is also pragmatic and can benefit the most people possible. By doing things through bottom up decentralized, voluntary and mutually-beneficial ways we ensure that this can be the case or at the least make it much more likely. Dominick points out that we also need communities to grow alongside each other and this is another important point because if we want the most benefit for the most people possible we don’t want dual power acting in a vacuum. Instead, dual power should be built upon the successes of education and other tactics that show solidarity with a struggling community and the like. We should arouse people’s interest through informing them either through our own actions or through showing them that something is wrong with how they live. And of course we should go much further than the state but starting at one of the most explicit structures of oppression may be a good starting point.
Dominick also suggests as much about not starting from scratch when he says,
“When we talk about forming dual power institutions, we don’t simply mean organizing them from scratch, or radicalizing existing AIs. Especially where economic institutions are concerned, we are talking in many cases about transforming existing firms and entire industries. Labor organizations are good, general examples of XIs. Their job, when they carry it out properly, is to represent labor in opposition to management/ownership. A radical union seeks not only cosmetic and quality-of-life gains for workers, but also more power structurally. As bosses’ control of the workplace decreases, workers’ power increase. And when this can be done structurally, such as through the formation of various kinds of workers’ councils, a radical change has occured. A firm undergoing such structural alteration may be well on its way to becoming a workers’ cooperative, collectively managed and thus eligible for membership in the dual power community.”
Dominick indeed has many things to say about how the community is best organized from a dual power strategy and I feel to quote him any more would start to take a lot from what reading the article will do for the reader. It’s important to note however that while we’re discussing how to build dual power it should be built on already recognized and loved structures but just done more along anarchist lines. This not only inures better results for the anarchist not the least of which philosophically but presumably also in practice for everyone. To get a better idea of this however I do recommend the reader continues to check out Dominick’s article, it’s pretty lengthy and in depth but worth the time.
Now to move on to counter-power.
Building Counter Power
Again, there’s not too much to discuss here but what I find interesting is that Darian Worden discusses some of the same bottom up things in “Building Liberty From the Ground Up”. And while not explicitly advocating counter-power the in the whole article I do find it a good fit of how to build it up. At one point however Worden does discuss the ideas of counter-power again.
“Withdraw allegiance and support from authoritarian structures. Build the new world in the shell of the old.
Build “counter-power” – that which helps empower people to resist outside authority and live free. This could mean a radical union, a trade or gifting network, a group of people holding cops accountable with video cameras, a community militia, or any other consensual organization that makes it easier for individuals to resist people trying to control their lives.
Subvert the messages, organizations, and institutions of would-be oppressors. Turn authoritarian things into libertarian things.
Engineer mass defections from authoritarian structures. That which is pulled from authority combines with the free world built from below.
Keep individual freedom, equal liberty, and consensual relations primary goals. Work against anything that restricts the freedom of any individual who did not interfere with another’s liberty. Help individuals liberate themselves so they may find their own way to flourish, find their own relation to the rest of the universe, and create the best world possible by living the best lives possible.”
gain, this all has to do with keeping in principle with your ideas and acting on them as best as you can. It’s also about having a diversity of tactics and especially being able to apply them in many different ways. Keeping in mind other people’s wants and needs, as well as making sure the organizations are for the mutual benefit of all and not just your own interest. It’s also worth noticing that Worden actually gives examples of counter-power this time around, he said,
“This could mean a radical union, a trade or gifting network, a group of people holding cops accountable with video cameras, a community militia, or any other consensual organization that makes it easier for individuals to resist people trying to control their lives.” (emphasis mine)
It seems like counter-power is just a more slim version of dual power but it’s clear to me that at the same time it’s also taking a lot of cues from it as well which I think is a good thing.
I have to say that while education and direct action may be a bit easier to set up than agorism or dual power both agorism and dual power to me both seem satisfying in their own ways. For agorism it seems more of a good way to promote better trading and profits actually going to the people who put in the labor to their business. It’s also a good way of promoting a counter institution (in this case a market place) to the state. For dual power it’s much more broad but usually more to do with specific social arrangements rather than one dominated by a market place. I think each have their strengths and weaknesses but I won’t get into either at this point. I do want to try to make clear though that I think there’s room for both strategies in the anarchist movement.
Where one succeeds the other can help bolster that success in another way and where another fails the other can help pick up the slack.
And finally where the state withdraws we must advance and for that we have things like dual power.
If Not Politics, what?: A Mini-Introduction to Direct Action
Most people that support the political system in any fashion (and even some who don’t) will tell you (even as an anarchist) that voting or working within the system is the way to go. Whether it’s the tired old line that it’s a “civic duty” (even though as Jason Brennan has argued we don’t need politics to be civilly virtuous) or that it would move “more towards liberty”. They make these two claims even though, to my knowledge, they’ve never done the sort of work people will say they did. And even when they do it’s not for long. Not only that but the system has only gotten worse since any good examples they may find. It’s become more inclusive and more centralized in its scope of power since then. So I question what use working within the system will do and at best say that it could in the short-term help some things but in the long term is of no real use to anarchists. Historical examples and Ron Paul be damned.
But with politics and the inside channels of the system not viable where does that leave us? Well as I’ve said before agorism is an approach that could work for some. But what if you’re into a more non-market approach that’s been done not only by the anarchist movement but has a pretty wide ranging history and has been applied in many different contexts? Direct action is such a strategy I believe. One of my main citations for this article will be Voltairine de Cleyre’s wonderful essay “Direct Action” as well as the Wikipedia article on it and sources therein, etc.
Explaining Direct Action
First off, what is direct action? I’vepreviously discussed it and I’ve said de Cleyre is right in saying that in her essay “Direct Action” that,
“Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. … Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. … Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist.”’
Wikiepedia also has a pretty useful definition which I made reference to in the first two paragraphs of this post:
“Direct action is activity undertaken by individuals, groups, or governments to achieve political, economic, or social goals outside of normal social/political channels. Direct action can include nonviolent and violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the direct action participant. Examples of nonviolent direct action (often called nonviolent resistance or civil resistance) include strikes, workplace occupations, sit-ins, sabotage, graffiti, and hacktivism. Violent direct actions include property destruction, assault and murder.
By contrast, electoral politics, diplomacy and negotiation or arbitration do not constitute direct action. Direct actions are sometimes a form of civil disobedience, but some (such as strikes) do not always violate criminal law.”
I think the above definitions and examples are (for the most part) fair and I think the thing to take away from both quotes is that direct action is a type of action that one does of their own accord either by themselves or with others. They can do this action violently or peacefully and they can do it against persons or property and so on. The main thing to keep in mind however is that there is no asking of authorities whether it’s right and it’s outside of the usual political channels. The direct actionist relies on their consciousness, intuitive moral sense or perhaps just what is most preferable in a practical sense for the situation at hand. They do not consult the local mayor about whether giving food for free in a public park to people who may be starving is legal or nor. Nor do they ask their bosses if it’s alright if they go on strike or try to disinterest other people from buying their product like SeaSol does. And so on and so on.
Now where does direct action apply? Again, as I’ve discussed before ,
“…we should see quite quickly that almost all action is direct action and that life would be quite dull without it. Based on the definitions above provided by de Cleyre we can see that this is probably one of the main activities of the anarchist in his or her daily activities. For instance, workers may get at the heart of an issue through boycotting a business whose boss is thinking about firing them in an unfair way. Or a politician who supports a measure may receive tons of calls to their own office or letters to them, jailed people may get friendlier letters or financial support (which can also be mutual aid if the jailed repays them once they get out) and so on. All of these things have been done in the community of anarchists and it can continue to be done.”
Not only of course within the communities of anarchists that currently and historically have existed but also within the larger history of labor unions, workers, the anti-nuclear movement, anti-abortion movement and so on. I’m not saying that just because direct action has taken place in the movements they are always fair just to be clear. My point is merely to explain that direct action can be and has served the cause of many different movements in many different situations making it a versatile strategy. And of course direct action such as things like Food Not Bombs can be started as well as direct action against the boss can be discovered and the general reason why unions can be used in a libertarian context can be explained. All of this so as we can feel comfortable as libertarians doing these things and more perhaps. But what sorts of actions are valid morally and tactically? In other words: which sorts of direct action will help the anarchist the most in their struggle against the state, the boss, the landlord and other sorts of hierarchies that they may oppose? Is it better to be violent? Non-Violent? What about a mix of both? This is the next question that must be addressed to me.
Direct Action and The Struggle
So how does direct action apply to the struggle against unjust social relations, power, hierarchy and more? Well it depends on what sort of force one is opposing and how one is going to oppose it. First I’d like to start to discuss and suggest from my own limited experience and readings what targets may be worth choosing and which may not. From there the choice of doing it violently or non-violently remains. In those sections I will get not only into the practicality of using violence with direct action but also the morals behind it. I then want to conclude after those three things with some final thoughts on the usability of direct action and more.
With that explanation out of the way let’s discuss which targets direct actionists should focus on and which they should not.
Preferred Targets of Direct Action vs. Non-Preferred
As I’ve already mentioned the history of direct action applies to many different contexts but which one should be the most preferred of them? Well first to limit the scope of action a bit I think we should start with goals that while perhaps legitimate themself may not be worth investing too much energy on.
But to begin I don’t think it’s fair to either make or take these ideas universally or try to really because there are so many different circumstances for different people. For example, it may be more beneficial in some people’s lives to oppose what more directly affects them then some more abstract things like other people’s needs. What I mean by that is that if you’re living in a pretty bad situation economically then whether the protest down the street brings justice for the recent victim in police brutality goes right or not might not matter as much as how you’re gonna pay for next meal. If you’re ever to get out of a situation like this you can reflect on that and think, “maybe people’s basic needs should be better met on a larger scale before we start asking for political change from within.” For example things like starting Food Not Bomb chapters, free schools to give kids a better education, practice better parenting so you can not only improve yourself but your family and so on.
Really what I’m trying to drive home here is that direct action could be a great way to target the basic needs instead of the more abstract needs that agorism might aim for or even if it aims at those needs it may charge money or something else that makes it more restrictive to the poor. Obviously the hope for me as an agorist is that if this is the case to use direct action so people’s basic needs are better met and then we can expand upon that through education, agorism and more.
What examples are there of direct action achieving basic needs though? Well I’ve already pointed out that Food Not Bombs does a lot of work for feeding people who need it. Other examples such as the IWW have done good work historically, as de Cleyre noted,
“Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. … The Industrial Workers are now conducting the same fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them alone by the same direct tactics.”
“These workers have, in one form or another, mutually joined their forces to see what betterment of their condition they could get; primarily by direct action, secondarily by political action. … All of them have been organized for the purpose of wringing from the masters in the economic field a little better price, a little better conditions, a little shorter hours; or on the other hand to resist a reduction in price, worse conditions, or longer hours. None of them has attempted a final solution of the social war. None of them, except the Industrial Workers, has recognized that there is a social war, inevitable so long as present legal- social conditions endure. They accepted property institutions as they found them. They were made up of average men, with average desires, and they undertook to do what appeared to them possible and very reasonable things. They were not committed to any particular political policy when they were organized, but were associated for direct action of their own initiation, either positive or defensive.”
Another example of direct action that helps the basic needs is shown by de Cleyre through the IWW. It’s increasing the worker’s life and their life expectancy on the factory floor with better wages and working conditions proportional to their true costs of labor. It is these things that help the working class see the benefits of anarchism. Where the state fails the anarchist is there to better provide the service and do it in such a way that is mutually beneficial. This sort of direct action not only helps show the practical side of anarchism to those that claim it is made of utopians but also its moral side. It shows that the anarchists are not the twirly mustached bomb throwing hooligan but human beings like them with compassion. It gives a stark contrast between the anarchist and the prevailing system of state-capitalism.
Such is the power of effective direct action when it focuses in on the right targets.
And the right targets I think are those most explicitly desired or needed by the communities that you’re around. Whether it be food, a union, security in the form of a neighborhood watch group that doesn’t actively collude with the police but acts within its own community I think direct action is most effective when it’s seeking to end a certain existing and clear problem. This isn’t to say that direct action is incapable from going further but that at present this may be one of the ideal places to try and as I’ve pointed out things like Food Not Bombs, the IWW and other things have historically taken advantage of this fact.
Should we use Violent Tactics?
The next question though is that if we’re trying to achieve basic needs first so we can get further along how do we do so? Should we be aggressive? Agitate in a physical manner? A bit of pushing? Should we kill someone for our beliefs? The question of violence I think is one of gradualism. It may be a bit of pushing or roughing up of scabs or verbal or physical threats (something de Cleyre opposed in her essay and I do as well for the record) or perhaps it’s the attempted or successful assassination of a popular industrialist/politician who has done terrible things or has had a part in them. Whatever it is, all of this has to do with violence in one way or another so how do we deal with the idea of using violence to further direct action?
Well first we should concern ourselves with where the violence is being enacted, what sort of violence and whether it’s people or property certain people claim to own. So, for example the Wikipedia article talks about,
“Groups opposing the introduction of cruise missiles into the United Kingdom employed tactics such as breaking into and occupying United States air bases, and blocking roads to prevent the movement of military convoys and disrupt military projects.”
Here, in this case the “violence” was supposedly against the property that the British military claims to own. But then, how legitimate is this claim? As anarchists we can’t see any sort of state-military site to be anything except open for use and occupancy, homesteading, whatever you want to call it. The military is using the site to use violence against others and is a direct sub-class of the state’s existence and is one of it’s biggest arm in destroying cultures and people. Thus I see no reason to treat this so called “violence” or occupancy of the military site as immoral in any fashion.
But things that are clearly moral may still be practically questionable. I’m unsure whether the protest was meant to be long lasting or not but if it was meant to be I doubt it attained that goal due to the superior arms of the British military and the British government in general. It wouldn’t lead to a long term protest or anything really meaningful perhaps except some arrests. It’s possible of course you could get some press from this but as Rob Sparrow says in “Anarchist Politics & Direct Action“,
“As I suggested earlier any protest where protester’s are acting entirely for the sake of media attention or – as actually often occurs – are even being directed in their activities by the media is not a case of direct action. Such “media stunts” do not themselves seek to address the problems which they highlight and are instead directed to getting other people (usually the government) to solve them. Thus in as far as we are concerned to be practicing direct action we should shun this sort of involvement with the media. We should not “perform” for the cameras or reporters.”
Indeed this is the problem with what a lot of the folks in Keene NH and what they call call civil-disobedience…though that’s a topic for another time I suppose. To further the point that Sparrow is making however, this act seems to just be inviting media attention rather than actually solving anyone’s problems. And if anything attacking the military site while perhaps praiseworthy on some level is foolhardy on another and leads to more legal and physical problems then it solves it seems to me.
So obviously not all property damage or occupation is immoral from an anarchist position and it heavily depends on what the property is used for and where it came from and what the opinion of the direct actionist is on property to begin with. But what about people? This seems less conditional really but let’s examine a well known case among anarchists, namely the attempted assassination of the industrialist Henry Frick by Alexander Berkman. But what would cause Berkman to want this? As Emma Goldman wrote,
“A few days after our return to New York, the news was flashed across the country of the slaughter of steel-workers by Pinkertons. Frick had fortified the Homestead mills, built a high fence around them. Then, in the dead of night, a barge packed with strike-breakers, under protection of heavily armed Pinkerton thugs, quietly stole up the Monongahela River. The steel-men had learned of Frick’s move. They stationed themselves along the shore, determined to drive back Frick’s hirelings. When the barge got within range, the Pinkertons had opened fire, without warning, killing a number of Homestead men on the shore, among them a little boy, and wounding scores of others.”
It was clear then that Frick was responsible for the slaughter of workers and others. Anarchists, as being part of the workers movement were of course outraged. Alexander Berkman personally sought to end Frick’s life for his deed,
“The question of moral right in such matters often agitated the revolutionary circles I used to frequent. I had always taken the extreme view. The more radical the treatment, I held, the quicker the cure. Society is a patient; sick constitutionally and functionally. Surgical treatment is often imperative. The removal of a tyrant is not merely justifiable; it is the highest duty of every true revolutionist. Human life is, indeed, sacred and inviolate. But the killing of a tyrant, of an enemy of the People, is in no way to be considered as the taking of a life. A revolutionist would rather perish a thousand times than be guilty of what is ordinarily called murder. In truth, murder and Attentat [a political killing] are to me opposite terms. To remove a tyrant is an act of liberation, the giving of life and opportunity to an oppressed people. True, the Cause often calls upon the revolutionist to commit an unpleasant act; but it is the test of a true revolutionist—nay, more, his pride—to sacrifice all merely human feeling at the call of the People’s Cause. If the latter demand his life, so much the better.
Could anything be nobler than to die for a grand, a sublime Cause? Why, the very life of a true revolutionist has no other purpose, no significance whatever, save to sacrifice it on the altar of the beloved People. And what could be higher in life than to be a true revolutionist? It is to be a man, a complete man. A being who has neither personal interests nor desires above the necessities of the Cause; one who has emancipated himself from being merely human, and has risen above that, even to the height of conviction which excludes all doubt, all regret; in short, one who in the very inmost of his soul feels himself revolutionist first, human afterwards. ”
Now I sympathize with Berkman in this case and I’m not going to try to demonize him too much but either way let’s look at the effects of these actions,
“Berkman’s attempt upon Frick’s life did not succeed on any level. Frick made a full recovery. Neither the Homestead strikers nor any other segment of American labor saw the assassination as “propaganda of the deed.” Quite the opposite. Berkman recorded his dismay in Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist at discovering that the strikers reviled him for having, in their eyes, given their opponents a weapon to use against them. Aside from Goldman and a few other radicals, no one supported Berkman’s deed. Nor did it cause others to rally around the strikers’ cause. By November even the most determined members of the Amalgamated gave up. A few hundred got their old jobs back. Many of the others were blacklisted and had to find other kinds of work.” (All of these quotes by the way come from here .)
To add to this Wikipedia notes that wages were actually halved in addition to the fact that people had died, Berkman failed the attempt and did not even die “a true revolutionary” but instead lost 14 years of his life and many of his resources to the legal system. To me while the practicality of damaging unjustly owned property may not be too high sometimes it seems, especially in this case, that the tactic known as “propaganda of the deed” is not one to be performed back then nor now. Again, I’m not unsympathetic to Berkman or what he thought was the right thing to do here. Clearly Frick was not a good person for the things he did and did not associate with movements of a moral sort if the brief accounts I’ve read thus far are assumed to be true. But nonetheless I must admit that I don’t see much hope in stopping the prevailing oppressive system just by killing the powerful people who are in charge of it or in this case benefit from it.
This is because the system is mostly assisted by the people under it having the idea of it. As I’ve discussing in my two parter of “What’s the Enemy” (here and here) it”s the idea of the state and the other social systems that directly and indirectly enforce and reinforce oppression on other people that is the problem. As Bob Black says in “My Anarchism Problem”,
”The real enemy” is the totality of physical and mental constraints by which capital, or class society, or statism, or the society of the spectacle expropriates everyday life, the time of our lives. The real enemy is not an object apart from life. It is the organization of life by powers detached from it and turned against it. The apparatus, not its personnel, is the real enemy. ”
We need to be outcompeting these ideas and social-systems with better ones as anarchists. Killing the people at the top of them doesn’t do much when we’re trying to make ourselves look as good as possible and more fundamentally it doesn’t do much when the people in the rest of the group still think the idea that motivates the group itself is still legitimate. It’ll just have a different boss but it’ll still be reinforcing the same system you hate. In the end you’ll be rotting with your hate in a jail cell for who knows how long (Berkman actually only got out when he did because of pressures from labor forces, etc.) and wasting tons of time and resources.
Clearly then I don’t think such actions are conducive towards attaining a free society or direct action. While at best they may be moral sometimes, I usually see violence unnecessary towards achieving a freer society.
Should we use Non-Violent Tactics?
I think the answer then becomes clear that non-violent tactics are the best ways of more likely having both the moral and the practical higher ground against the state. I think to show that non-violent action works or at least has a propensity to work I shall simply quote de Cleyre at length in a few of her passages.
“The case which everyone instantly recalls is that of the early Quakers who came to Massachusetts. The Puritans had accused the Quakers of “troubling the world by preaching peace to it.” They refused to pay church taxes; they refused to bear arms; they refused to swear allegiance to any government. (In so doing they were direct actionists, what we may call negative direct actionists.) So the Puritans, being political actionists, passed laws to keep them out, to deport, to fine, to imprison, to mutilate, and finally, to hang them. And the Quakers just kept on coming (which was positive direct action); and history records that after the hanging of four Quakers, and the flogging of Margaret Brewster at the cart’s tail through the streets of Boston, “the Puritans gave up trying to silence the new missionaries”; that “Quaker persistence and Quaker non-resistance had won the day.”‘
“Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation Army was vigorously practising direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying, and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone. The Industrial Workers are now conducting the same fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them alone by the same direct tactics.”
“Among the peaceable moves made, were the non-importation agreements, the leagues for wearing homespun clothing and the “committees of correspondence.” ’
There’s a few others too, such as the Underground Rail Road and more but I think MLK summed it up when he said,
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
Thus the goal of the non-violent direct actionist should be to arouse suspicion and questioning within a community of whether their getting what’s best for them currently. Whether that’s through showing what the alternatives are, blocking the ones that exist or just trying to start up like the Salvation Army was it can be a wide variety of actions in many different contexts and as de Cleyre points out above they’ve worked and on a massive scale as well.
I am certainly willing to expand on my thoughts on non-violent direct action for those curious but I think I’ve done enough for now to explain the advantages of direct action in general as is. Of course there are negatives too depending on how you apply it or where but I think as de Cleyre said,
“It is by and because of the direct acts of the forerunners of social change, whether they be of peaceful or warlike nature, that the Human Conscience, the conscience of the mass, becomes aroused to the need for change. It would be very stupid to say that no good results are ever brought about by political action; sometimes good things do come about that way. But never until individual rebellion, followed by mass rebellion, has forced it. Direct action is always the clamorer, the initiator, through which the great sum of indifferentists become aware that oppression is getting intolerable.”
“Well, I have already stated that some good is occasionally accomplished by political action — not necessarily working-class party action either. But I am abundantly convinced that the occasional good accomplished is more than counterbalanced by the evil; just as I am convinced that though there are occasional evils resulting through direct action, they are more than counterbalanced by the good.”
Clearly direct action is one of the many things anarchists like.
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.
In my last post I briefly talked about what strategies for the struggle I think are best. Now, I’d like to take the time to dedicate four separate full length articles to all of my preferred strategies. In addition I shall have one more after that to bring them all together. Because next week will be hectic for me (my birthday and other events are going on) I doubt I’ll be able to start next Wednesday/week. On the plus side that will give me a little bit more time to research and so on.
I shall start with discussing agorism, its history, some of the original strands of thought, how it evolved, etc. With direct action I’ll be discuss Voltairine de Cleyre’s essay as well as other resources on how best to use this tactic against the state. For dual power/counter power I’ll use quite a few essays, videos and so on on what it is and how it can be used. Finally with education I’ll try to give some sort of rough outline of how best to educate people and more importantly yourself.
First though, to introduce this whole new series I’d like to define some of the words in the title. What do I mean by strategy and struggle? What sort of struggle lays ahead for us as anarchists?
So Wikipedia (the final arbiter of all knowledge…I swear this will catch on someday as a meme) says that strategies are plans of action that have a particular goal. Now the word strategy also has a lot of military contexts but for the purposes of this series I’m not referring that. I’m just referring to a plan of action with a goal of a certain kind in mind. In this case it’s a plan of action to abolish the physical and mental construct of the state.
Struggle (1-3 and 5 are applicable) here means in this context that the energy going towards something is going to face resistance. So putting into place ideas towards a particular goal will always be some sort of struggle but in this case it’s especially so. What sort of struggle? Well it depends on which strategies we’re going to use in the struggle itself. If we use violent means it might eventually result in more physically demanding than mentally demanding energy. If we use non-violence it might be a lot more of thinking but not as much physical demand insofar as the cops don’t decide to beat you. So the type of struggle is largely contextual on what sort of strategy we’re using for it.
As the title suggests this article wasn’t intended to be long but I just wanted to give you guys a look at some of my thought processes involved with this. I also think it’s important for anarchists to get out of theory and start discussing concrete action more. I have my doubts that this series will somehow spring some sort of big social revolution but I hope it’ll at least keep a conducive conversation starting and perhaps have it result in something tangible if possible.
In my previous post I analyzed why I thought the concept of calling people your enemy or a statist, either in frame of mind, or in discussion is not a good tactic at best and at worst, a damaging one. Why? Well, the concept of regarding people as some sort of concrete enemy to you just because of certain ideas they have is already imprecise. You have to make a whole set of assumptions about how committed they are towards the ideas, how much they care about them, whether they even think about them at all. So for me then it makes no sense to really regard our fellow man as some sort of collective political identity that all share the same ideas.
In the comments section Mr. Harris and I exchanged a few friendly words on the matter and I still feel as if the whole idea of enemy hasn’t been explained enough for me. I still maintain that he has not really explained why we need to regard other people as an enemy or what use this really has to offer conceptually or otherwise. He talked about judgement and how it may help good ones flourish easier but when asked how I don’t recall him elaborating. Nonetheless, I will not dawdle on the subject. I think it suffices for me to say that I stay committed to the idea that none of us are completely committed to the ideas we have in our mind. And I also think that to think anything else is to ask perfectionism or assume too much either way.
Lastly, if you recall, dear reader of mine, you would recall me saying I would relate my answer to whether we should regard others as enemies and so on to our strategies towards abolishing the state. Once I had established some sort of answer there I ventured to try to relate it even further. I would attempt to relate all of these ideas of knowing what the enemy is, how it can be expressed, what tactics should be used and such to the recent riots in the UK. First I’d like to start by going over a few ideas I’ve had about having an enemy and such. From there I shall relate that to strategy and the riots.
Dropping the Style Clearly
I think it’s best to elaborate on the notion of an enemy, what is it, what does it look like? Is it a who? What are the underlying beliefs that come with believing in such a concept to begin with? And so on.
First off I think the reader should take note of the title. I’ve extrapolated past a who and gone to a more abstract what. Now what does this mean? Well it means I’m questioning the notion of the idea of an enemy to begin with and what may constitute it. When we regard someone an enemy what do we mean? Wikipedia the final arbiter of all knowledge has a decent definition of noticing that enemy is usually defined to mean someone against you in some way. But not only this but the fact that they are dangerously against you or in such a way that makes you defensive ideologically or perhaps physically when push comes to shove.
I actually think Mr. Harris with past article of his is actually making my point for me in the title. Consider this: ideas fuel people, of this, I believe, there is no question. There’s a reason or causality that goes into our actions and that stems from our reasoning and cognitive facilities. These processes in our mind help our decisions and value judgement as well as considerations for what’s practical or moral. Sometimes these things can be warped or damaged, perhaps because of our past, perhaps because of some blinders to our considerations at the time. All of these things however impact our actions and this is no different if one considers themselves an anarchist or not. The statists therefore are as susceptible to as non-committing or committing to the idea of the state existing until they think it shouldn’t exist anymore as much or as little as they want.
So when Mr. Harris tries to say that statists will unilaterally or perhaps even a good majority of them would report you for smoking weed even if you kept to yourself is not only pure speculation but based on my personal experience it has little backing. It seems to me that people often don’t care about things unless they directly affect them in some negative way or they think it’ll affect others they care about in such a way. Consider the wars far away: if you brought them up with people they’d probably say it’s terrible but wouldn’t be able to conceptualize it or even come close to the sheer terror the people who are in it are facing. Why? Because it’s distant from them. They only have preconceived notions of what war is (which is most likely government based) and so they may not like the war but their not sure what to do about it. This isn’t to say their bad people, but they’re more complex than just one dimensional labels Mr. Hariss and others can give them.
Mr. Harris says that I am not considering the danger of statism, etc. Ah to the contrary! I not only recognize it but I am recognizing it in a much more precise way than Mr. Harris is. Why? Because as George Donnelly said, ”
“Are you opposed to bad people (statists)? Or bad ideas (statist philosophy)?” Again, if you’re just going to attack people for what they believe instead of what they believe itself then what is the conversation is worth? I said what’s the enemy because there is not who.
The “enemy” is not one person. It is not Obama. It is not Sarah Palin. It’s not the Rothschilds. It’s not even the New World Order. The enemy is an idea. It is an idea that allows people to kill, maim, slaughter, bomb, rape, steal and destroy life. It is the idea of statism that I oppose.
I do not find hate worthwhile insofar as people are concerned. People are fallible, hating people for their faults, whatever they may be is not enough to defeat them and it’s more likely to defeat you anyways. What is the hate worth? So you can grit your teeth? So you can stamp your feet? Bang the walls? Cry out in agony at a world gone awry? Tell me what hate does for you, let’s talk. But until that time, I dismiss hate as necessary. I do not contribute such energies to hating people. There are ideas, conceptual products of the mind that I simply cannot align myself with at present and hope to never do so. The ideas of sexism, racism, militarism, corporatism, statism and more are all heinousideas that reproduce each other and more. They all feed off of each other and build upon one another. Therefore anarchists must consider their commitment to the individual to be a thick bundle of concerns and not a thin one made up of only non-aggression and a principle of voluntarism.
So with all of this said what do I plan to do about this idea? I plan to educate people about alternative and better ideas. I do not wish to force my ideas on others. I will show them through using myself as an example, through using alternative structures that are currently existing and those still to be built. I will try to use logic and compassion if and when it’s possible. I do not let myself come to use terms like “statist” or whatever in hardly anything but a joking manner. My fellow man is just that my fellow man (that’s a gender neutral term there for the people think I’m being a sexist here) and being such they are worthy of my respect insofar as they do the same for me.
As I said in the last article I find this especially true if they can get past all of the deception in media, schooling and governmental propaganda (and more) about anarchism and still show respect towards you as a human being. That shows something worthy of respect in of itself. I think I’ve said all I’ve needed to say about what the enemy is. For myself, it’s the idea of statism. It’s a virus. Statism is a virus. And it’s one that we as anarchists need to outcompete with better ideas.
How do we do that? Well we implement strategies to do so first before rushing into it. What strategies though?
Some Strategies for the Struggle: To be Violent or Non-Violent?
Now I actually don’t want to focus on this section too much because I’d rather save it for a later date. However I do want to briefly discuss my own personal favorite tactics: agorism, direct action (preferably the peaceful sort), education (and I don’t care if you don’t like the Mises institute, this is a damn good talk), and dual power (perhaps counter power if you prefer).
All of these tactics for me focus on something specific: non-violence. That isn’t to say there’s no self-defense if the situation is right. I, for instance, think cops might be killed in self-defense if the anarchists sees no other way out or thinks they’ll die either way, etc. So I’m not one for complete pacifism, though as of now, I do have a respect for the views. Further, I’d consider myself philosophically a pacifist in that I generally consider violence of any sort not preferable or usually an overall negative experience. But still, I’m not against defending myself or loved ones or others doing the same. But where’s the value in this non-violence? Some may even say I’m helping the state by being non-violence? Is this the case?
Well for one thing I think it’s obvious that this is not always the case. I think I’m doing a lot less to perpetuate the state by going limp when a cop tries to arrest me because…well because he probably feels like it, then shooting the cop and dying in “a blaze of glory”. I think some of the criticisms in the video I linked about how non-violence protects the state makes some valid points however. To its credit it does recognize that the movement Gandhi was involved (this goes the same for MLK) was not entirely peaceful and I suppose it’s entirely possible the British empire would rather negotiate with Gandhi than some violent protester.
On the other hand isn’t there something worthwhile in being non-violent? Isn’t there something to be said about someone who is clearly being beaten and doesn’t fight back and people are watching this blatant unjust violence and internalizing what it means? Again, these sorts of things can show people the negative side of the state (aka the real side) and perhaps they may be less trustful of the cops and may want to form community watch groups or other voluntary associations that serve the same function as the police supposedly do. Not only that but non-violence also seems more in line with our principles as anarchists. Why should we resort to violence against the state? Why do we need to treat the actors of the state like they treat us? If we think that the way they treat others is antithetical to the very idea of a civilized society then what does that say about us when we enact violence back?
Now I’m not saying violence is always a zero-sum game or that we should be a bunch of pussies or even that I don’t understand why people are being violent. Look, I do, I do get why people lash out against certain institutions. They’re frustrated, they’re oppressed, opportunities are missing from their life that they could get. But as V from V For Vendetta said: ideas are bulletproof. You cannot destroy a police building and hope to have cops actually resign or the state to crumble because of it. If anything more of your money will be stolen from you to pay for a new building and other things that were destroyed.
Finally, I think it’s worth noticing that the game of violence is the state’s main weapon. If we show we can be non-violent officials either don’t know what to make of it or just keep wailing on you. The public sure as hell doesn’t know what to make of it and sometimes they even side with the protesters! But more concretely I think we’re just outgunned and outmatched when it comes to violence. I mean, two words: atomic bomb. Ok…the main actors of the state probably wouldn’t use an a-bomb on the country they purport to be protecting (one would hope…) but I hope the point is made that the state’s resources are nearly infinite compared to the average protester. Men with night clubs, rubber bullets, real bullets, tasers, the military with their sub-machine guns, missiles, combat training, cold calculation of life and death and…oh yeah…motherfucking tanks. What does your average protester have? Some bricks? Maybe one of the cops weapons if they’re lucky.
My point is both a moral and practical one. It’s neither practical to engage in a violent war with the police, military or go around assassinating business CEOs and politicians (no matter how much you may want to sometime) nor moral to force our viewpoints, ideas and so on on to others. Even if they do it, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have the moral right to do so. We may have the capability in some cases but that doesn’t make it moral or even necessarily practical in the long run. In the end I oppose insurrectionist anarchism and am more hopeful for a gradual evolution that is made up of education, direct action, agorism and dual power.
And for those who don’t like my revolutionary gradualism (revolutionary due to the agorism factor as well as direct action and ways you can go about education as well as the inherent nature of building counter power itself) I refer you to Voltarine de Cleyre’s and Rosa Slobodinsky’s wonderful dialogue The Individualist and the Communist:
“COM.: ”Then you hold that your system will practically result in the same equality Communism demands. Yet, granting that, it will take a hundred years, or a thousand, perhaps, to bring it about. Meanwhile people are starving. Communism doesn’t propose to wait. It proposes to adjust things here and now; to arrange matters more equitably while we are here to see it, and not wait till the sweet impossible sometime that our great, great grand children may see the dawn of. Why can’t you join in with us and help us to do something?”
INDV.: “Yea, we hold that comparative equality will obtain, but pre-arrangement, institution, ‘direction’ can never bring the desired result—free society. Waving the point that any arrangement is a blow at progress, it really is an impossible thing to do. Thoughts, like things, grow. You cannot jump from the germ to perfect tree in a moment. No system of society can be instituted today which will apply to the demands of the future; that, under freedom will adjust itself.”‘
Bring it all Together II: The Riots in the UK
Finally, I’d like to analyze the recent riots in the UK under the ideas of the idea of statism being the real enemy, the four methods I briefly laid out (mostly via links because I’ll elaborate more on each individual method some other time) and that non-violence is usually preferable to any sort of violence. First let me explain before I’m accused of well…something like I’m a privileged white guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, etc. I’d like to say that I agree with both of PJC’s posts which can be found here and here. And look, even MLK had something to say soon before he died about rioting in a somewhat understandable manner:
“Now I would like to examine both questions. First, is the guilt for riots exclusively that of Negroes? And are they a natural development to a new stage of struggle? A million words will be written and spoken to dissect the ghetto outbreaks. But for a perceptive and vivid expression of culpability I would like to submit two sentences that many of you have probably heard me quote before from the pen of Victor Hugo. “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin but he who causes the darkness.” The policy-makers of the white society have caused the darkness. It was they who created the frustrating slums. They perpetuate unemployment and poverty and oppression. Perhaps it is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes, but these are essentially derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society.”
I think if even MLK can even be understanding of the riots you can’t just naturally presume that just because I may prefer non-violence I don’t understand the struggles that led the people to rioting. Again, there are sources of the British riot and these people aren’t all doing this because they’re mindless dumb youth seeking attention. There are legitimate concerns and ideas being expressed that the media is ignoring/distoting and I think that’s a big problem. We can’t ignore that we must at the end of things look on with unease about what’s happening in the UK with neither a wholesale support of the protesters or of course the police, etc.
But what does all of this mean? Are the protesters attacking the idea of the state? Perhaps in some ways, but what effects are their actions having on the populace at large? Mostly fear it seems, disapproval, etc. I mean with incidents like the looting and burning, etc. etc. it’s hard not to see why.
But is George Donnelly right when he says that rioting is not a form of protest? Well for once (shock!) I must disagree with George…though ever so slightly perhaps. I mean, perhaps it’s me just being terminological/semantical and if George thinks as much that’s fine. However, for myself I think rioting is a form of protest…just not usually a very effective or moral one. Now, I’ve already discussed my moral and practical problems with initiating violence so other people stop being violent earlier in this article so I won’t address that again.
However I think, in the end, the rioters in the UK are not addressing the real problem (the idea of statism), nor are they using more practical methods or moral ones that they could use. Again, I do understand why these kids (and it’s mostly kids from what I’ve heard and read thus far) are doing what they’re doing. I don’t necessarily hold it against them, I sympathize in some ways and I hope that the youth of the UK can somehow turn this into a positive thing once all is said and done. All of that being said I do not prefer nor condone rioting and I think that sadly this will not end well for most of the people involved.
I think an appropriate way to wrap up this two part post (which was originally going to be one post) is just to say that judging what the best moves are is largely a strategic matter. And this matter depends on who or whatyou consider going after, how you want to go after it and in what ways: violent or non-violent. For myself, I think the idea of the state, non-violent means and building the new society within the shell of the old are the best combination of ideas right now. Will that change? Can that change? It sure can. I’m of the opinion that universals are nearly impossible to come across because of the myriad of ways that things happen in this universe. And thus I’m sure there’s a proper context for violence or perhaps for even a political method. Though that’s at best and I don’t see those contexts happening much to make these ideas too worthwhile to be applied on a broader scale.
Though I suppose to be more fair I guess I’m repeating myself by saying violence and then politics as it stands today as if they’re different. Which, also is another factor that helps me sympathize (though not condone) with the rioters in the UK.
Good luck to them and I hope for the best for the people of the UK.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about who’s the enemy. From this post, which, in my opinion,started it all and then to George’s follow up post, to a response on GT, another response on GT, and finally George’s last post on the subject. So the talk about who is the enemy of the anarchist is in dispute. Not only this but whether we should see other people as an enemy itself is another thing at stake. These ideas also relate to effective communication and to illustrate what that may look like I’ll be referencing George’s final post on the matter and this post by George, as well as my own thoughts.
Related to this discussion is that once we know who the enemy is, what do we do about it? What’s the right course of action to deal with the enemy? (Assuming the answer to our previous questions is that we actually want to regard other human beings as our inherent enemies which it may not be.) If the fact is that it’s not proper to talk to other people like that or relate to them in such a fashion (regarding them as enemies) where do we go from there? How do we evaluate the best course of action in dealing with people who are fundamentally against some of our ends?
And finally how do the answers to these questions relate to the riots in London?
The Discussion of the “Enemy”
Responding to: Statists are not the Enemy:
I think it’s most convenient to respond to each article as it’s own separate part and then try to bring it all together. Based on that structure I’ll quote the sections that I think sum up the main points of the article/posts starting with this article,
“That’s what is wrong with labels, and with fashioning your arguments around clean-cut categories that do not exist in real life. We are dealing with people here, not things, not interchangeable cogs in a big machine.
Not only do real people have a mess of often conflicting and inconsistent tendencies of statism and anarchism in different varieties, they also change over time, sometimes drastically when outside events rattle their cages (witness the growing crowds of protesters in Egypt).
Yes, there are in fact “statists” who can let you be in some respects, maybe the respects you care about, and that does not automatically turn them into “voluntaryists,” or make your arguments crash into logical inconsistency. Such arguments only fail if you have a weird view of what people are. They are not cogs. They don’t fit into neat, perfect categories.
Yeah, guess what, we can’t just go out and find people with the word “statist” tattooed on their heads, and shoot them. We have to deal with them, some way or another; and the best way to deal with them is persuasively, and through example, and through friendly trade. That can only be done if we haven’t turned them into “enemies.”
And the conclusion:
“We definitely need to stop thinking of “statists” as enemies (and other disrespectful terms such as “sheeple”), and start thinking of them as people, imperfect just like we are–and victims of the state, just like we are. Stop collectively throwing everybody into some category, and deal with them as individuals. When we finally have our “Egyptian moment,” we will need them out there on the streets along with us.”
So first off I’ll say that I agree with almost everything in this article but I’ll elaborate why after I summarize the main points:
1. Ideas are only as useful insomuch as they coincide with our own actions. The idea of declaring people “statists” however in some universal fashion as a means of deciding who agrees with what ideas and actions doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense because peoples ideas about how they can carry out their actions differs in countless ways. And not only this but what it means to carry out their actions or what their ends should be are also things that differ in countless ways.
2. Because people do not fit into neat categories or what have you it makes no sense to try to do so with the term “statist”, especially on the scale of millions of people.
3. Not only this but if you do so you may start dealing with people in particularly damaging ways that don’t help conversation or your cause. And when push comes to shove and we need more people for the movement (and we always do and will) you probably can’t count on the people you treated as less than human because they disagreed with you.
I do think that most of these (if not all) of these premises and conclusions do make valid points and are reasonably sound. I question what exactly are the benefits of regarding someone as a “statist” or your enemy. What does it give you? I’d think at best it gives you a very imprecise way of talking to people and regarding them as something totally different than you. But if it doesn’t affect your actions towards them if this is the only that happens and only your thought, yet you never act on it in any new tangible way what does it really matter? If an idea hardly effects your actions in at least a neutral sense there doesn’t seem to be much value in the idea itself. Here too it seems to me that at best that you might get some neutral response but also a bad way of thinking about people. And at worst you could start becoming actually dialectically aggressive towards these people . This is not only ineffective for communication but it’s not a healthy way of thinking either.
But does it necessitate this bad thought process? Well it’s not even that actually. Instead, it’s the fact that this thought process is seen as legitimate by the person which might lead them to do destructive things to not only themselves in their way of thinking of others but those people who they try to talk to. This sort of thought process even if it’s not acted upon could inevitably in of itself be a sort of self-isolating factor. And this may lead to lost opportunities, valuable alliances and other things missed in the process. All of this in the name of regarding people as enemies.
Responding to: Statists are not the Enemy
George’s post here is substantially shorter but here’s the part that I think sums up his point:
“In fact, hating the state is a form of ad hominem. If you hate the state, want to be an enemy of the state and/or want to hurt state-supporters and/or state agents, your energy is illogically misdirected. You’re focusing on attacking the people. You’re not focusing on a reasoned discussion. You’re just saying things like “You suck.” or “You should be killed while you sleep.” (Yikes!)”
Now George not only reaffirms the previous positions I’ve held in regard to the first article I responded to but he’s added on to them. What has he added? Well, he says that by having this sort of attitude your whole frame of mind is not is not going to produce positive results when you try to communicate your ideas. And that you are actually ignoring discussion if you only focus on the fact that they hold a particular belief and you think it’s bad. Obviously some ideas are bad but just saying it and making it look like the person is bad is not a reasonable discussion. As George says a little further down in the post, if you’re focused on bad ideas as opposed to bad people then it makes more sense to get into a discussion with someone. But if you’re only after them as the person they are instead of the ideas they’re presenting which are really the problem then the conversation is more likely to devolve.
George finished by quoting some guy named Nick Ford (never met him personally…) who had this quote to say about the topic:
“The hallmark of political anarchism is its opposition to the established order of things: to the state, its institutions, the ideologies that support and glorify these institutions.” -Paul Feyerabend
I think I can also add another quote to further the idea of that quote:
“To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.” – Ludwig von Mises
The ideas in this quote and the one I’ve added are pretty easily seen as parallel. Just addressing the people is not good enough. In fact it’s nowhere good enough. You should criticize the ideas, how they are expressed and what constitutes them, etc. not be calling names, labeling people your enemies and so on. That’s none too productive. If you criticize the idea on some principle or comparative basis or what have you then discussion becomes more reasonable as a result because there’s less of a chance it’ll result in name calling and the like. Likewise, this applies to a more broad range of concerns such as the state itself. If all your doing is telling people Obama is a bad person because of his position and what he’s doing with it, etc. that’s a good start. However, what is even better, is criticizing the idea of the position itself and perhaps listing some ideas for the person you’re discussing it with why the position itself is illegitimate, etc.
And like Feyerabend says, it’s not only the idea that directly perpetuates the structures and institutions that you find illegitimate but the ones that glorify them or give them some kind of credit when credit is certainly not due to them. This goes back to the idea of thick libertarianism and the idea that there are multiple concerns for anarchists. I think it also makes the point that anarchism and anti-statism are not the same thing.
I shall now continue my responses with the articles written from Gonzo Times.
Responding to: Re: “Statists are not the Enemy”
This one may be comparatively be a bit longer but what I thought were the main points were pretty easy to find:
“Virtually everyone has a libertarian viewpoint on at least one issue. Screaming “STATIST” at them and treating them like crap for supporting entitlement programs, the never ending list of wars my country has begun, or wanting to put up a US-MX border fence is not going to win them over, even incrementally.”
“Why would anyone want to be a part of a movement that doesn’t help you muddle through complex issues and figure out answers to difficult questions? These are new ideas for a lot of folks, and it would be beneficial all around if we responded with helpfulness and kind words instead of animosity and hatred of teh evul evul STATISTS!1!1one!”
These two points again reinforce previous points I’ve agreed with and extrapolated on. Therefore, I’ll try not to bore the reader by repeating myself yet again…too much. I do think it’s worth reiterating that Vicky, George, and Paul Bonneau (the author of the first article I responded to) are all on a similar train of thought. We all think it’s worthwhile to consider our audience, who we’re talking to, why we would want to talk to them and how to go about doing it. In the end I think this approach is a lot more beneficial, not only for the person you’re talking to but for yourself.
Vicki’s second quote that I’ve put here makes note that not only is it ineffectual but that there are negative consequences to displaying yourself like you dislike the person as a person just for their beliefs. I think it’s time we as anarchists treat people how we would like to be treated. And since I’m assuming that most anarchists would prefer a respectful tone then we should try to treat the “other” people the same. This is especially the case if the other person who you’re talking to has somehow gotten past the cultural perceptions, lies from the media, schools and government, etc. and still treats you on equal footing knowing you’re an anarchist.
Well Mr. Harris certainly knows how to make a provocative title, I’ll give him that much right off the bat.
But unfortunately it’s my opinion that articles need more than a good title to be considered good all around. That being said let’s see how some of Mr. Harris’s arguments amount to:
“Statism is, quite clearly, an ideology. It’s an ideology which advocates not just violence on a global scale, but the initiation of violence against innocent people on a massive and global scale.”
To start, statism is indeed a system of particular ideas about how the world is and how it should be. But again…which statists? Why does it make sense to call people this? I think the issues of communication and how we deal with others is really the crux here. The institution known as the state and its allies in its destruction of people is certainly a legitimate threat but what about the people under the system? Don’t all of these people have different ideas? In some way one who supports a state must necessarily support such violence, this is a fair claim. But do they actually act on it themselves? Or do they just rely on the state and its allies to do so? It seems odd to treat the people under the system as if they’re dishing out the violence themselves or actually know about it to begin with.
Now, I’m not saying this is what Matt’s arguing but just pointing out what the train of thought that all people who support the state are such and such and that such a statement isn’t too great of an idea communication wise.
The next quotes I found worth addressing/disagreeing with…
“If an anarchist sees someone on the street being attacked by police, the least they’re going to do is video the event or get someone on-site who can. At most, they might step in and try to defend a civilian from the state. The same is not true of an average statist. “
“The statist is the enemy of the innocent person being beaten, and the statist is the enemy in an even more tangible way of an anarchist who may choose to video the event or step in to defend the victim.”
Both of these quotes refer to each other quite well so I thought I’d address both.
First, I think we’ve all seen videos where police are beating up someone and someone videotapes the cops doing so or perhaps reports them or gets in touch with the media or whatever. Now let me ask: do anarchists make up most of the population? Last I checked they did not. Ordinarily, it seems to me that while people may trust cops more than anarchists if they see someone being beat, especially for no reason at all then they will also at the very least record it. I think it’s out of common decency that people do these sorts of things. They know something is wrong within the context here and plenty of people to my knowledge and recollection of police abuse videos come from ordinary people (“average statists”) and not anarchists.
So on to the second point. Here we go with the line of “enemy” again. Now if I’ve proved, reasonably, that Mr. Harris’s case isn’t necessarily true and thus even logically sound then I don’t think it follows that some people who are more inclined to like the state might stop other people from defending others from cops. Back in the 60s and 70s the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was built on the basis that black people needed to defend themselves against racist and prejudicial cops. And this was largely a community effort by non-anarchists. In fact some anarchists may even argue (an-caps, right-libertarians, etc.) that the BPP was more statist than your average person because they liked people like Mao, etc. but even so and even accounting for this being a special case I think it shows that it can and does happen even without anarchists.
But why? Well because people recognize wrong things sometimes independently of their political positions. If people see a white cop beating a black man who’s on the ground doing nothing wrong then they’ll either ignore it out of safety of their lives, record it, or if they’re feeling brave they may attempt to save the man’s life. I don’t entirely disagree with Mr. Harris’s statements and nor do I with all of his post. I think it’s a worthy contribution to this discussion for sure and for the most part well reasoned and argued. But I do think it’s worth pointing out that these absolutes are not as absolute as he makes them out to be.
“The statist is an enemy of the individual trying to peaceably relax in his own home, and has indirectly initiated force – using the strong arm of the state – against them. On the other hand, if the statist’s views are not currently enforced by the state, the statist will lobby the state to do so in some manner.”
“Within the context of living beings, however, we add actions to the mix; actions driven by ideologies. Thus in the context of statists, it is important to understand that they are, in fact, our enemies by their actions.”
For myself, I think the first quote largely depends on whether people care enough about you smoking weed or what have you. I think it’s also worth mentioning that a vast number of people in the US do not vote. Also, for example, many parents know their kids smoke weed (as well as their friends) or suspect as much but they either don’t do much about it or just know what most people know: that it’s mostly, if note completely harmless. Again, they reach such conclusions independent of their political opinions and regardless that they may be a “statist” or not. People who live near you probably won’t care to notice you lighting up in your house if you’re minding your own business and being discreet about it. But on the other hand if you get drunk and knock on their door and such they might call the police. So again I think it’s a heavily contextual and just accruing the faults of people to just on the basis of believing in statism seems thin and lackluster to me.
Lastly, even if people do act against our intended goals or means and if you regard them as an enemy or obstacle in your way…what does this accomplish? What does it matter that they are statists? They’re human beings as much as you or I in their blood and ideas. Yes, their ideas hold less legitimacy and are potentially dangerous perhaps moreso than others. And Mr. Harris and I both agree this should be addressed through education, etc. But Mr. Harris doesn’t seem to extrapolate where we go from treating people as our enemies. This is a part I’d be especially interested in hearing from Mr. Harris and those who support his thinking. Where does treating people like our enemies take us exactly?
George pretty much sums up my problem with Mr. Harris’s arguments and since this is a short post this is all I’ll put for this response:
“By the way, all this talk of statists do this and statists do that, be careful you don’t engage in collectivization of them. If you group billions of people together and talk about them as if there were all the same, is that logically sound? Be careful you don’t dehumanize them by reducing them to a single, nameless profile. “The statist does this,” “The statist does that.” These methods are not consistent with a reasoned approach, tho they may be convenient for fundamentalists.” (Link on fundamentalists was added by me)
I’m quoting this one because it’s relavant to better communication and for me that’s really what this is about. A better means of communicating our ideas to people who may not agree with us. And the bottom line is that calling them our enemy or “statist” or whatever either in our thought process or way we directly interact with them is in the end not beneficial. It’s not beneficial towards reasonable discussion, a healthy mindset or even towards establishing our goals in a better way. I myself have never regarded another person as an “enemy” of mine or someone that somehow completely embodies the antithesis of all of my ideas. Nor have I made some purposeful attempt to regard some of my friends who support government as “statists”. I’ve sometimes jokingly called them that or made references to it but I’ve never really used it as an insult or treated it as a means of effective communication to my knowledge.
“But, instead of understanding people in terms of their needs, we inject a pathology or psycho-analysis into the conversation. That screws it all up. It dehumanizes. It’s not communication. It’s avoidance of communication.
The next time you speak with a state supporter, ask them what they need that they think the government provides them. Take notes and post a comment, email me or write your own blog post about it. If we all do this, we will soon have a small database of new information. We can use this to be better salespeople for liberty.”
And this is yet another great alternative. We can address their ideas instead of trying to demean them directly or in our heads. We can listen to what they’re trying to achieve and we can probably do a lot more too to make better conversation.
Bringing it all together
I’ve already discussed the barriers between anarchists among themselves here and here and so I think some of the discussions that come from there definitely apply to the discussions, questions, assertions and ideas I’ve explored here as well. I think the ideas behind a useful discussion is not to dehumanize people either directly or before you ever meet them but to consider their point of views and realize we’re all human beings. We may consider ourselves anarchists and that’s fine and we may consider other people as thinking the violence of government is ok and that’s ok too but we can’t let that get in the way of reasonable discussion.
Now I’ve said that I want to respond to tactics of dealing with the state itself, what exactly is an enemy to the anarchist and relate this to the recent riots in London. However, I feel I’ve said quite enough for just one article. I shall, since I’m not uploading a Youtube video tomorrow, instead write part two tonight or tomorrow and submit it sometime tomorrow.
I’ve heard people having problems with how we at Gonzo Times do our articles (noticeably a lack of proofreading which I think might be in line with Gonzo journalism anyways…) and I’d like to make it clear that we at GT have no proofreaders. So this is probably why you’re not seeing glamorously well written articles. Instead it’s very much dependent on how skilled the writers are with their writing and self-editing. This is especially true if they don’t ask others to help them.
On that note though I myself would be glad to have people peer edit my articles before I post them. Especially if people find my writing hard to understand, read, etc. As for my own self-editing process: I review my articles now at least once after I read it and not to mention as I write it. I also read it out loud when I’m going back to edit it the second time around.
I hope all of this makes your reading experience better. And if not, please feel free to contact me on my Facebook to give me suggestions on how to improve my writing!
Written by Nick Ford
Originally written: 8/3/11
Revised: 8/3 and 8/4/11
I figured I’d do one more follow up article to my Across Anarcho-Party-lines. I’d like to clarify some of my positions that weren’t addressed properly and bring more light on why the division among anarchists is a real problem. To expand on the notion of it being a problem I think it tends to lead to people breaking possibly meaningful alliances via a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I’ll discuss some possible barriers to getting past the anarcho-party-lines as well as combining epistemological anarchism and anarchism without adjectives as one way of getting past those barriers.
Clarifications (Or; The Who, Why, Where, When and What of Showing Solidarity Across Anarcho-Part-lines)
I feel like my ending was a bit rushed and I could’ve elaborated more. For instance it was obvious that I was advocating for more solidarity across these so called “anarcho-party-lines” but in what sense? How could it be done? Why should it be done? And so on. These are all questions I feel I can now better answer and dedicate more time to in this particular section.
For one thing, I never exactly defined what solidarity is to me or how I was using it and so to start I shall define my terms:
Solidarity, as I am defining it, is simply showing concern towards people inside and outside your circles of usual concern. These concerns can manifest in many actions such as mutual aid, direct action, agitation for change through social networking (such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.), raising awareness of someone else’s problem (again through social networks but also through personal communication or protests), education etc.
Now obviously who is inside and outside your “usual concern” is largely an individual matter. And while I advocate helping people who a libertarian might not normally think about helping (such as workers, minorities, immigrants, etc.) I’m certainly not advocating helping those who not only clearly go against shared principles (such as voluntarism, non-aggression, being against cultural oppression, etc.) but do so constantly and purposely.
As Charles Johnson has stated:
“The Tuckerite individualists saw the invasive powers of the State as intimately connected and mutually reinforcing with the exploitation of labor, racism, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression, with governments acting to enforce social privilege, and drawing ideological and material support from existing power dynamics. From their point of view, attacking statism alone, without addressing the broader social context, would be narrow and ultimately self-frustrating.”[2, Solidarity, paragraph 2, links are all my own editing to re-empathize Johnson's points]
This quote illustrates some of my own ideas as well and perhaps shows why we should show this sort of solidarity. In my last article I not only tried to show the problems of a lack of solidarity through the example of Liberty (Benjamin Tucker’s anarchist periodical) but perhaps what benefits we could have if we were more without such lack of solidarity. More solidarity and open conversation across anarcho-party-lines means clearer dialogues, discoveries and methods devised about what to do against the state. Now I’m not against conflict, dialogue, discussion and the like insofar as that discussion results in such a way that is actually conducive to productive action. However, often times it seems to me that libertarians get caught up in the planning of the new society (irony considering Hayek’s words on central planning as well as Carson’s) or other such things instead of things possible more productive.
What I think would be more useful is talking about how we’ll get there or what here is or questioning central concepts at the root of the discussion. I think if this were done more instead of planning out what’s going to happen or who’s side of the anarchist coin (or certain part of it) it would help move along discussion perhaps. This is mere conjecture on my part of course, but I think it’s fair to say that at the least that there’s definitely some room for improvement among anarchists insofar as dialogue is concerned. Which is one of the reasons why I think that more solidarity is necessary. Namely because it improves the movement of anarchists and has been shown to do so.
And now I shall argue it’s been done through mutual aid and direct action. And though there are certainly other actions that’ve been used I shall for the sake of time and space just discuss these two factors.
Now how do we show more solidarity? I’ve already said some of the ways we can do it through but more than that what are some perhaps more concrete examples? Some suggestions I have depend on many of your own conceptions, perceptions and presuppositions about what alliances are worthwhile in the first place. So really if you want to see what alliances are you’ll have to look inside your own objectives, perceptions and so on and see what’s what.
For instance do you want to help people who are trying to fight bosses and landlords? The organization I’ve just shown may not be your style of activism but keep in mind that the model is what’s really important. After all, the objective you want can be molded. Other people such as George Donnelly had recommendations for bootstrapping a resilient mutual aid society as well as responses to some criticisms he faced. It’s my opinion that mutual aid is a pretty sound way to get things done if organized right and can and has be done in concrete ways in the past until government “fixed it”.
Another way to show solidarity is through direct action as I’ve said. But what sort of direct action and what is direct action to begin with?
Direct action is (Taken from Voltairine de Cleyre’s essay on the matter):
“Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. … Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. … Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist.”
Direct action therefore relies on someone wanting to directly impact their lives without necessarily consulting the relevant authority in the relation. Cooperation with other individuals towards your own desired end is something that is direct action, as is handling the matter on your own. Direct action can be as de Cleyre says, ” …the extreme of violence, or it may be as peaceful as the waters of the Brook of Shiloa that go softly.”. Or in other words it can range from peaceful demonstrations to sabotage and so on.
I think (as de Cleyre did) that,
“Those who, by the essence of their belief, are committed to Direct Action only are — just who? Why, the non-resistants; precisely those who do not believe in violence at all! Now do not make the mistake of inferring that I say direct action means non-resistance; not by any means. … What I say is, that the real non-resistants can believe in direct action only, never in political action. For the basis of all political action is coercion; even when the State does good things, it finally rests on a club, a gun, or a prison, for its power to carry them through.”
I agree with these sentiments but what is to be done with these definitions? Well we should see quite quickly that almost all action is direct action and that life would be quite dull without it. Based on the definitions above provided by de Cleyre we can see that this is probably one of the main activities of the anarchist in his or her daily activities. For instance, workers may get at the heart of an issue through boycotting a business whose boss is thinking about firing them in an unfair way. Or a politician who supports a measure may receive tons of calls to their own office or letters to them, jailed people may get friendlier letters or financial support (which can also be mutual aid if the jailed repays them once they get out) and so on. All of these things have been done in the community of anarchists and it can continue to be done.
Now where and when should this solidarity be shown? Well the rallying cry for some may be, “Right here and now, and forevermore it should be everywhere!” and while I have some respect for this I must disagree in the end. This is because I believe when and where we show solidarity and to whom and why is chiefly a strategic matter. It is specifically one that requires thought and action in certain appropriate environments.
Therefore I think being solidaritarian is a very contextual matter that chiefly depends on the individuals own interests, current alliances, possible future ones and whatever other matters seem to affect them the most. For example, I would not recommend any ibertarians to try join some sort of free speech defense for Nazis and fascists, etc. because even if free speech is a good idea. It’s certainly arguable and perhaps true that free speech shouldn’t be advocated for excuses of hate and violence, etc. Free speech itself should of course be touted as a good thing but when groups like white supremacists of any sort or what have you are looking for support in the name of free speech I think it’s safe to say that the libertarians should stay out of it.
On the other hand if a worker is having his or her wages unfairly depreciated (they’ve for example, been working hard and amicably with the boss, etc. and there’s no real reason to decrease them such as taxes, etc.) then perhaps you would get in contact with the worker and ask if they’d like to join an organization you’re trying to start. And to build upon that you could also tell them to spread the word to their fellow workers who feel wrongs. It seems to me that helping the people who are already feeling the heavy hand of the corporate economy we live in is a good move in particular.
Another, final example. Perhaps someone is exiting the courts and is thoroughly displeased with the system at that time. Now would be a good time by probably any libertarian’s standards to talk to them about why the legal system isn’t accountable and why something like agorism is a viable alternative. Or, instead start smaller and discuss why the current system is inherently corrupt, etc.
So with all of that taken care of what are the barriers towards the anarchist community being more solidaritarian?
Of course this, I think, will be the biggest substantial difference across the anarcho-party-lines, but how do we get past something like this? Well through the methods I’ve discussed above of direct action, building mutual aid and a general building of a solidaritiarian spirit in the anarchist community I still do not see property disputes going away. This is because anarchism is not utopian and says that all problems will be solved if people are able to be autonomous and subsequently respect that same right for other people. It only says that it’ll be much better because there is an extreme lack of such a thing in the present society due to intervention through the idea of the state, sexism, racism, patriacy, labor exploitation, etc. etc. So I don’t think property rights will become completely objective, undisputable and so on. Instead, I suggest that people will come to their own individual conceptions (as well as collective ones within communities, neighborhoods, etc.) of what property is, whether use and occupancy is enough, whether property is theft or property is liberty and so on.
I do tend to think that property has many meaning (and as PJC has said at the very least dual meanings) but I also think people will tend towards universals. Universal ideas, universal preferences, etc. I don’t think it’s constant because I believe in the Proudhonian notion of change where change is something that is inevitable and much needed. I think there may be constant tendencies ideas in some things that just make sense and perhaps shouldn’t be changed for a time. But of course that doesn’t change the fact that the phenomena of change will stop just for that. I do think one of these tendencies will be an opposition to propertarian absolutism and a denial of other absolutes such as no property for anyone or a universal gift economy or whatever. I also believe that anarchism is both communistic and individualist in its approach and much more and so will be pretty accommodating to different ideas of property.
But how will people get past these differences? Well I don’t have all the answers but I do think those who simply could not agree on property rights either would not associate or might try to badmouth them or the like. Any violence that may happen would be the extreme but since there’s no state to externalize the costs of pointless warfare I don’t see that as likely. To expand upon that briefly warfare is heavily subsidized by taxation, the benign consent of the people , the cultural perception of what a “legitimate authority” is, and the other cultural perceptions of race, gender and hierarchy that perpetuate statism and wars. Abolishing or at least severely limiting the existence of these things is one of the key parts in my mind towards having a plurality of property rights.
Finally, I think that abolishing the four monopolies (particularly the land one) will allow for much more freedom in people’s own lives and what they can do with it. This amount of personal autonomy and external liberty (negative and positive liberty in other words) will hopefully tend people’s lives towards more voluntary cooperation and general association as well as much more land for them to be able to hold, use, occupy, etc. For me the abolishment of the land monopoly in particular means anarchists wouldn’t have to worry much about large sprawling property conflicts.
There’s one more obstacle I see…
Here’s another problem I saw on the reddit thread for the response to my last article where an-caps were widely chiding anarcho-socialists and the like for being “religious fanatics”. This goes back to some insights that have recently come from George Donnelly about the way we treat other people which is an important lessons and something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Are you treating your comrades as just obstacles on to the way of freedom? How beneficial of an outlook is this? In fact, I’d argue that treating people like they are just obstacles or what have you effectively insures that they will be obstacles to whatever you are trying to do. Now this isn’t so much a problem when they are in fact problems you are trying to deal with. But to do this when the differences between you are most likely not as large on most things as most people it seems like a bad strategy to empathize such an approach so much on those people.
Moreover it just makes you seem dogmatic in of itself that you’d say that these people must be religious fanatics just because they believe in an idea strongly and you just so happen to not agree with it.
The idea of dogmatism brings me to my second to last topic…
Against Method and Epistemological Anarchism
A form of anarchism some might not be familiar with is Paul Feyerabend’s “epistemoloigical anarchism” and ideas on method that science often uses. Now how is that particularly useful in this discussion? Well I think that analyzing some quotes from “Against Method” and “On Epistemological Anarchism” I can then further elaborate there my own “method” of why I think anarchism without adjectives (from hereon AWA because I’m lazy) is one of the best solutions.
In his book “Against Method” (of which I’ve only read large quotes of admittedly) Feyerabend lays out some ideas about how and why any universal method is doomed to fail quite convincingly for myself:
“My intention is not to replace one set of general rules by another such set: my intention is, rather, to convince the reader that allmethodologies, even the most obvious ones, have their limits. The best way to show this is to demonstrate the limits and even the irrationality of some rules which she, or he, is likely to regard as basic. In the case that induction (including induction by falsification) this means demonstrating how well the counterinductive procedure can be supported by argument.” (p. 32, bold in original)
Freyerabend here does what should be first explained, the intentions behind his writing in his book “Against Method”. He does not seek to bring an overarching conclusion to the business of science or the process of discovery. Indeed, he most likely thinks that the mere fact that science seems to have a monopoly on the process of science is something that is illogical and unnecessary. So too, is the dogmatic ideas and self-fulfilling prophecies that I briefly sketched out in the last section have speakers who wish to monopolize what is “rational” and what is “good” in an anarchist society. Even though the battle of good vs. evil has been seen as by some as a battle of semantics. Even so, the chef principle of this quote is to show that all methods have limits and that to not recognize this is to at once fall into the pits of dogmatisim. This is something I think anarchists are completely susceptible to.
Now, the process Feyerabend is saying instead is this: anything goes. Here, I don’t think Feyerabend is conflating anarchism (or any theoretical/philosophical subset of it for that matter) as chaos. I think he’s only recognizing that in the world as it stands and most likely shall forevermore stand is that any method that is seen as valuable will be used and should be used. This doesn’t mean it should be allowed per se’ or that it can’t be changed (as I’ve said the notion of change for me is that it’s inevitable) but instead that this shouldn’t be necessarily looked down upon.
Some of the best things have been caused by change as Feyerabend points out:
“Progress was often achieved by a “criticism from the past”… After Aristotle and Ptolemy, the idea that the earth moves – that strange, ancient, and “entirely ridiculous”, Pythagorean view was thrown on the rubbish heap of history, only to be revived by Copernicus and to be forged by him into a weapon for the defeat of its defeaters. The Hermetic writings played an important part in this revival, which is still not sufficiently understood, and they were studied with care by the great Newton himself. Such developments are not surprising. No idea is ever examined in all its ramifications and no view is ever given all the chances it deserves. Theories are abandoned and superseded by more fashionable accounts long before they have had an opportunity to show their virtues. Besides, ancient doctrines and “primitive” myths appear strange and nonsensical only because their scientific content is either not known, or is distorted by philologists or anthropologists unfamiliar with the simplest physical, medical or astronomical knowledge.” (p. 48)
“The ideas survived and they can now be said to be in agreement with reason. They survived because prejudice, passion, conceit, errors, sheer pigheadedness, in short because all the elements that characterize the context of discovery, opposed the dictates of reason and because these irrational elements were permitted to have their way. To express it differently: Copernicanism and other “rational” views exist today only because reason was overruled at some time in their past. (The opposite is also true: witchcraft and other “irrational” views had ceased to be influential only because reason was overruled at some time in their past.)” (p. 155)
And again we return to Feyrabend explaining how the current method of science, discovery, methodology, etc. is so flawed. The complete number of problems both internal and external with one’s perception of reality is almost infinite or at least hard to tell or nearly impossible to from moment to moment. Thus it’s hard to see (or worse) what use the process has to us until we test it. But what if we just do the same test again and again, with the same tools, same ideas, same actions, etc. and get the same results? Is this nothing but a failure of experimentation? That science can only see through one lens of repeat, repeat, repeat reveals a fundamental problem of how it stands today. And why does it stand today? Well as Feyrabrand points out, the separation of science and state should be following the same separation of the church and state, why? Because science has an unfair advantage over other ideas due to state backed privily that they don’t get. The lack of funds for other kinds of research, experimentation and the like results, once again, in science being victorious. But this is once again a monopolizing a theory of discovery and Feyerabrand’s whole point is that science is a largely anarchic (read: pluralistic) affair not a monopolistic one. And not only this but this “victory” is largely an artificial one. from an anarchist’s point of view. This is in much the same way as corporations are artificially bigger than they would be on the truly freed market.
I am mainly making these points to get across my own point: that the dogma shown against other anarchists by anarchists is largely illogical, unnecessary and potentially destructive of efforts and alliances that could prove lucrative for all.
To further this point epistomological anarchism is defined as such:
“Epistemological anarchism differs both from scepticism and from political (religious) anarchism. While the sceptic either regards every view as equally good, or as equally bad, or desists from making such judgements altogether, the epistemological anarchist has no compunction to defend the most trite, or the most outrageous statement. While the political or the religious anarchist wants to remove a certain form of life, the epistemological anarchist may want to defend it, for he has no everlasting loyalty to, and no everlasting aversion against, any institution or any ideology”
And likewise AWA holds no everlasting aversion against or for any particular system of self-governance aka system of anarchic-legal, property (or non-property), etc. systems. It make way a stance at some point and propose to keep it but chances are it holds it in no firm place and so long as the basic tenants of anarchism are met (voluntarism, mutual benefit, non-aggression and non-oppressive) then the AWA has not much to say outside of preferential or practical statements about the program in which someone favors.
Anarchism Without Adjectives as a Solution
And so finally we come to the conclusion. By combining Feyerabend’s epistomological anarchism with the already great tradition of AWA thinkers such as Karl Hess and Voltairine de Cleyre, a lack of ideological dogmatism in science discovery and progress, must necessarily transform into an AWA’s sort of philosophy and constantly moving ideology. Notice the title of this section “a solution” it is not THE solution. Instead, it is only ONE method that I think should be tried and have no idea of forcing other people to use them. At the same time those who would oppress others, demean them, reduce their notion of themselves, subjugate, exploit, displace for no logical reason, etc. I shall oppose, advocate against and if necessary use defensive force to see that they do not harm others.
Does this ruin my voluntarism? No, simply because these notions ruin the idea and environment for any sort of anarchism to exist and thus I must oppose this. In a way it is defense of anarchism that I would eventually oppose these things through force like anything else. Furthermore I am culturally thick and mostly have some so called “left” values. For example: I favor unions in a truly freed society as a way of balancing the power between bosses and workers. I am quasi-feminist in a lot of my stances towards women in that they should be treated as equals and that patriarchy is a real threat to a free society. I see racism and sexism as things that exist in today’s society and that interlock with things like statism and so on to form mulit-leveled oppressive systems. I oppose corporations, corporate welfare, subsidies to business, patents, copyrights, intellectual property all! Instead I favor things like worker-cooperatives, collectives, independent contractors and the like. So I certainly have my stances and preferences but I also recognize others do too and that they should be able to see them through so long as they allow me the same.
But is all of this going to be enforced by me? Hardly. I expect in a truly freed society (as opposed to a somehow singular and monopolistic market place) to have experimentation and for the best to win out. I and others like me will work towards our goal through voluntary cooperation and through this cooperation shall come more free and open competition that shall forever benefit the world. I therefore think AWA is one of the best methods of establishing a truly freed society, culture, environment and so forth. But will progress stop there? No, the Philosophy of Progress dictates that it will not be so! But of course epistomological anarchism on the other hand wags it’s finger and says, “only time will tell!”
Written by Nick Ford
Originally written: 7/20/11
Revised 7/21/11 and 7/23/11
In my previous post I briefly mentioned the idea of “anarcho-party-lines” and in this article I want to explore this idea more. Often times the difficulty of Anarchism and Its Divides is to get across many different points to many different people with many different views, values and such. In fact, I’d argue that the anarchist movement has in some ways largely become a parallel to what most political groups become and most notably what happens between the republicans and democrats. That isn’t to say that anarchists want to control other people using a state secretly or something. My assertion here is mainly to say that the so called “anti-political”, “apolitical”, etc. group that’s known for its advocacy of making politics irrelevant handles internally a very reminiscent way such as done within the ruling parties.
The phrase “anarcho-party-lines” is just a word I’ve coined to show that the differences between the anarchist factions and different schools of thought have largely became a game of party politics. People are often talking past each other either ignorantly or knowingly and don’t take time to stop and consider each other’s points. More fundementally however this is a problem with us as individuals so I’m not necessarily blaming the idea of anarchism for this. Instead I think my point will be elucidated a bit more by pointing out to one of the bigger splits in the early 20th century and what largely broke up the individualist anarchist movement.
Anarcho-Parties in the early 20th Century
In the early 20th century Benjamin R. Tucker’s Liberty, an individualist anarchist paper with a variety of views was quite popular not only in the anarchist movement but also caught the attention of the wider public to some degree or another. However one of the bigger splits in Liberty was the debate between natural rights and egosim.
As Wendy McElroy said ,
“The situation was especially contentious in the United States, where individualists who espoused what Benjamin Tucker called “society by contract” began to deride natural rights as being patently absurd. The leading wedge of ridicule was Tucker’s individualist-anarchist periodical Liberty (1881–1907)…”(1)
And continues to say:
“The natural-rights side of the debate (Gertrude Kelly was joined by John F. Kelly, Sidney H. Morse, and William J. Lloyd) accused the egoist side (Tak Kak, Tucker, George Schumm) of destroying not only natural rights but also the individualist criticism of government.
Shortly thereafter, John F. Kelly (Gertrude’s brother) wrote Tucker that he would no longer distribute Liberty. Kelly never again contributed to the publication. His sister also withdrew from its pages, as did Sidney H. Morse. With these losses, the natural-rights position was only weakly represented in future issues. As a result, the diminutive individualist movement shrank further, and muted some of its most passionate voices. The schism seemed to result not so much from disagreements in theory as from an inability to discuss those differences without descending into ad hominem attacks.”(2, Ibid)
Now what does this have to do with my point? Well it has almost everything to do with it. This one topic is one of the few topics that helped lead to the destruction of Liberty and consequently the individualist anarchist movement more broadly. Instead of trying to understand each other’s points as McElroy points out ad hominems, general insults, non-answers and etc. were usually the kings at play during this conversation. What became of this? More and more people became dissatisfied with Liberty and decided to leave and then less and less decided to contribute and finally after a fire in Tucker’s house destroyed 30 year stock of books and pamphlets he decided to call it quits.
But what does this mean for anarchists? What can we learn from this?
What are the Party-Lines?
Before I can answer this I must say that the exact party-lines between anarchists aren’t completely distinct of course but I think there are some clear lines that might be able to be worked towards perhaps based on the works of other anarchists examining the same thing.
For example, in ”Against Anarchist Apartheid” by Roderick Long he expresses some ideas of where certain anarchists may belong,
“None of the criteria I’ve most often seen appealed to, then, seem to divide the two groups in the desired manner based on concrete positions. I suspect what actually drives proponents of the purported dichotomy is no specific policy dispute but rather a general feeling that Group 2’s pro-market rhetoric is a cover for a rationalisation of the power relations that prevail in existing corporate capitalism, while Group 1’s likewise pro-market rhetoric – however misguided it may appear in the eyes of the dichotomists – is not. “(3)
The two groups he mentions could be all broadly be called “market anarchists” and are pretty diverse:
Stephen Pearl Andrews
Francis D. Tandy
John Henry Mackay
Voltairine de Cleyre (early)
|Gustave de Molinari
Herbert Spencer (early)
Rose Wilder Lane
Samuel E. Konkin 3.0
Obviously there will be no complete agreement between people about if all of these people are ”truly” anarchists or not but I think it can be safe to assume that at least most of these people can wave the black flag and call themselves free market anarchists/individualist anarchists/etc.
Other times you have charts like this:
Now of course everyone’s going to start debating “capitalism” and the like but that’s not the point. The point is that there are different distinct schools of thought in the anarchist movement and though it’s not concrete at all times there are some tendencies within these graphs it seems. For instance the people in group two of Roderick’s graph might be more considered on the capitalist side of things while the first group would be seen as mutualist and individualist. Others like Emma Goldman, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Makno, Tolstoy and others may be considered on the “socialist” part of it. And again, the point isn’t to debate socialism vs. capitalism, that’s been done to death. The point is just to say that these different schools of thought not only have some amount of coherency to them that they can be cross applied to each other in different contexts and scenarios. Another thing I’d like to make clear is that I’m not trying to make this into a graph contest of who’s ideas are better but making it seen that there are related ideas about positions on charts relevant to another so as to link the ideas of anarchism more closely than some may think they are.
I’d like to conclude this section with a few quotes from William Gillis’s Calling All Haters of Anarcho-Capitalism:
“Professor Long addresses a whole bunch of academic criteria, but they’re all beside the fucking point. “Anarchy” –in one of the most brilliant, clear and crystalline etymologies available in political ideology/idealism– is defined by its opposition to rulership. All forms of rulership.
Insofar as you begin to oppose all forms of rulership you move towards anarchism.
One can whine and wheedle all one likes about Spooner’s support for intellectual property or Bakunin’s anti-semitism –and let’s not even begin on Proudhon!– but you can’t compare today’s vulgar-libertarian excusists for privilege and corporate power with our fledgling predecessors. Even if there ever was an excuse for the failings of such proto-anarchists, there certainly exists no such excuse today. ” (6, Ibid)
“I harp on a lot about anarcho-capitalism and market anarchism to my friends within the social movement. But what drives my distaste with the scene’s inquisition against ancaps is not the equal or acceptable nature of the anarcho-capitalist movement compared to our own, but horrified outrage at the manner, the behavior and conduct of those I expect better from. I could give a shit if David Friedman’s a homophobe. I’ve never been given any reason to consider him an anarchist and I don’t. But when social anarchists start behaving like stalinist goons I get seriously upset.” (7, Ibid)
The problem runs both ways really, there’s vulgarity on both sides of the debate. Social-anarchists can tend to ignore that welfare and other benefits the poor may get from a more “fair” state system is that it takes away resources as well as it provides. Another point is that though the poor may benefit more they should recognize that we need to be building a new society within the shell of the old and gradually relying less and less on the current system as a result. Relying on it when you must and when you have no other choice, i.e. being poor and in need food stamps, welfare, etc. is not disgraceful (neither is driving on the roads, etc. etc.) but there’s no sense in reinforcing the system if you can do fine on your own and with in solidarity with your fellow anarchists. Others on the social spectrum like those who like Chomsky favor enlarging the state so they can keep state-capitalism better under control and there are other vulgar tendencies as well.
The points Gibbs makes in his article I believe are really good for understanding why left-libertarians have a distrust of anarcho-capitalism to some extent or another. But I also believe his larger point is also true that there are some good an-caps out there who recognize that there’s more to life than just the NAP, property rights, rights violations, etc. etc.
So where do I stand? What final point am I trying to make here?
Towards more Solidarity
At the last Liberty Forum I had a brief statement called “A Call for Solidarity in the Libertarian Movement” about what I wanted to see in the libertarian movement that I think I’ll quote at length here. I’d also like to say that this was also a year ago and I now longer consider myself a voluntaryist so keep that in mind:
“I personally have some beliefs a lot of people even here would say are crazy, I consider myself a volutnaryist and that in of itself maybe isn’t too crazy to some but I also consider myself a left-libertarian. Meaning I sympathize with other left-libertarians such as mutualists, agorists and even some voluntaryists such as myself. Does that mean I turn the other cheek on people who support the constitution or government, or just care about the Federal Reserve, the war on drugs, etc. etc.? No, of course not, I like to talk to these people just as I do anyone and I even probably have a few similarities with them most likely and it’s best to talk about those differences. And then resolve them as best as possible and help each other out as much as we can. Cooperation in the libertarian movement will be one of the deciding factors of the movement if libertarians ever want real change and want smaller to no government.”
And to a large extent I still believe this is true, I think alliances among libertarians and anarchists more specifically are really what’s going to help us get closer and closer to abolishing this insane idea of the state.
Do I think there are no real differences between the anarchists? To some extent I do but to another I recognize also that there are some serious disputes among anarchists that is not just positioning yourself to be more anarchist than the other person is. There are serious differences in conception of what property is, how the state should be dealt with, how we should get there, what the eventual free society would look like, etc. etc. and although I take the anarchism Without Adjectives or Without Hyphens as a general approach to these conflicts I don’t think this precludes me from having any solid stances on them either.
But to conclude this article I want to quote one of my favorite anarchist writers (Voltairine de Cleyre) and one of my favorite quotes of hers from her essay Anarchism which talks about what Anarchism means to her and what it might mean to you. Why close with this? Well not only do I love this quote but I think it has extreme relevance to the without adjectives approach I have and I think others should at least consider.
I’d like to note that this quote is probably my favorite, if not one of my most favorite quotes ever:
“Ah, once to stand unflinchingly on the brink of that dark gulf of passions and desires, once at last to send a bold, straight-driven gaze down into the volcanic Me, once, and in that once, and in that once forever, to throw off the command to cover and flee from the knowledge of that abyss, – nay, to dare it to hiss and seethe if it will, and make us writhe and shiver with its force! Once and forever to realize that one is not a bundle of well-regulated little reasons bound up in the front room of the brain to be sermonized and held in order with copy-book maxims or moved and stopped by a syllogism, but a bottomless, bottomless depth of all strange sensations, a rocking sea of feeling where ever sweep strong storms of unaccountable hate and rage, invisible contortions of disappointment, low ebbs of meanness, quakings and shudderings of love that drives to madness and will not be controlled, hungerings and meanings and sobbing that smite upon the inner ear, now first bent to listen, as if all the sadness of the sea and the wailing of the great pine forests of the North had met to weep together there in that silence audible to you alone. To look down into that, to know the blackness, the midnight, the dead ages in oneself, to feel the jungle and the beast within, – and the swamp and the slime, and the desolate desert of the heart’s despair – to see, to know, to feel to the uttermost, – and then to look at one’s fellow, sitting across from one in the street-car, so decorous, so well got up, so nicely combed and brushed and oiled and to wonder what lies beneath that commonplace exterior, – to picture the cavern in him which somewhere far below has a narrow gallery running into your own – to imagine the pain that racks him to the finger-tips perhaps while he wears that placid ironed-shirt-front countenance – to conceive how he too shudders at himself and writhes and flees from the lava of his heart and aches in his prison-house not daring to see himself – to draw back respectfully from the Self-gate of the plainest, most unpromising creature, even from the most debased criminal, because one knows the nonentity and the criminal in oneself – to spare all condemnation (how much more trial and sentence) because one knows the stuff of which man is made and recoils at nothing since all is in himself, – this is what Anarchism may mean to you. It means that to me.
And then, to turn cloudward, starward, skyward, and let the dreams rush over one – no longer awed by outside powers of any order – recognizing nothing superior to oneself – painting, painting endless pictures, creating unheard symphonies that sing dream sounds to you alone, extending sympathies to the dumb brutes as equal brothers, kissing the flowers as one did when a child, letting oneself go free, go free beyond the bounds of what fear and custom call the “possible,” – this too Anarchism may mean to you, if you dare to apply it so. And if you do some day, – if sitting at your work-bench, you see a vision of surpassing glory, some picture of that golden time when there shall be no prisons on the earth, nor hunger, nor houselessness, nor accusation, nor judgment, and hearts open as printed leaves, and candid as fearlessness, if then you look across at your lowbrowed neighbor, who sweats and smells and curses at his toil, – remember that as you do not know his depth neither do you know his height. He too might dream if the yoke of custom and law and dogma were broken from him. Even now you know not what blind, bound, motionless chrysalis is working there to prepare its winged thing.
Anarchism means freedom to the soul as to the body, – in every aspiration, every growth.”
A Quest for Sanity
By Nick Ford
Originally written: 7//9/11
I always like to have a different username wherever I go. I’m not sure exactly sure why per se’ except that I like the feeling that there are many different sides of my personality that I’d like to show off. One of those is the fact that I think a large portion of this world is insane. Listen, I’m not saying everyone around you is getting ready to kill you or something but the fact that some people literally believe things that this authoritarian culture teaches them and that the government instills in them is two things that puzzle and worry me. At the very least the people who rule the society with an iron fist (and it IS an iron fist) are insane the people in power have so many disincentives to act rationally. They face little to no real scrutiny with a media that can legally lie to a public that is held hostage in cages and when it gets out of those cages can only go into other prisons to serve their corporate masters. Sure, you could try to start your own business but what are the chances of that working out? Unless it’s a long term idea backed by lots of planning, knowhow and plenty of collective pooling of capital what chance do you have against the currently insulated corporations? You’ll probably be Scratching By and there’s good reason for that. Again, this society is driven by insane people, the people in power in just ordinary organizations have these sorts of drives so can you imagine what the leaders have?
It’s a problem that not only has to do with information, calculation issues applied in different ways than most might think of at first but a problem of sanity. How reasonable is it to really expect that the political leaders will care about you when they claim to be so much higher than you are? When the culture is dominated by subjugation, exclusion and the remnants of things like slavery, apartheid, segregation, what sanity is there? And for more contemporary things the prison system may as well be continuing this. It’s crazy that people think that locking people in cages will make them behave better! Has it ever been such? Haven’t modern prisons only gotten bigger? More financed by the ruling class and CEOS? Less and less used for actually violent people but perhaps removing “undesirables” from “civilized society” and then having them reintroduced and have them become their own worst enemy?
Take the example of the black community, it’s been nothing but ravaged by the state for almost its entire existence. From the institution of state-sponsored slavery in US to state-sponsored segregation and constantly forcing the blacks to lose any sort of identity. This loss of self translates into chaotic and self-destructive behavior and makes for a heavily dysfunctional society. When libertarians argue that the non-aggression principle and violation of property rights are the only things that matter this is just one of many reasons why such an answer is unacceptable when discussing the prospect for individual liberty. It’s insane that blacks have literally started gangs because of this state and cultural alienation and have killed thousands of members of their own socially constructed race. After all it’s not just the state, the state may aid things like racism, sexism, etc. but these things also exist independently of the state and can be just as dehumanizing with or without it.
I think that the search for actual sanity is the real response we as anarchists should be taking, as a left-libertarian I think this means building the new society, culture and anti-oppression movement (not just state) within this decaying society we are a part of. Part of finding reason is trying to explain what that exactly is but more importantly showing them how it works. Education is a great tool and it’s one of my preferred tactics (as well as self-educating) but actually going out there building alternatives to the mainstream is something that also should be more focused on by anarchists.
I also think it’s insane to think you’ll win against the state in any meaningful way through violence. They have the guns and you may have guns of your own but unless you come packing some tanks and nukes I think you’ll be a bit outmatched when the iron fist of the state comes down on to you. It might not even take the police just to take you out and it’s not long until another person has been lost to the insanity of the state. I don’t want to see my fellow humans suffering, I don’t want to see them dying for a cause they believe in. I want to see them living for it! I want us all to live for the cause we preach so much in our lives, there’s no reason to starve in a desert if the state gives us some water other than pure insanity. Direct action is great, it can be violent or it can be peaceful but the anarchist should almost always side with the peaceful alternative. This does not mean that I think strict pacifism should be the key thing for the anarchist to keep in mind. Nor do I believe non-cooperation and such are the only ways out. In fact I don’t think there is one way to beat the state. There’s no X on the mark of the state that says, “smash here!” instead it’s up to us to expose the systempunkt’s that the state does have and that we do know about to the best of our ability.
More to the point on violence however, I think if and when the counter and alternative associations, institutions, organizations and so on outnumber the state ones we should certainly start defending ourselves from the police and so on. And even way before that (like now for instance) we should be building mutual aid networks and show solidarity among “anarcho-party lines” (more on that some other time…) to achieve what goals we want to see happen as soon as possible. I think self-defense against cops is required right now on more of an intellectual field than a physical one. You should inform yourself on how to interact with police, what works best for you and what seems to work on best with them. Saying, “fuck you pigs!” over and over might not be the best idea.
I think the internet is a fantastic tool to combat the state’s insanity. Besides just being a general catalyst for more organizations to spawn within the statist constructs and gradually get more and more ground it’s wonderful to have a convenient way to show solidarity. Things like Anonymous, Wikileaks, Anti-Sec and more have come together on just trying to keep government under control; now as anarchists we know this is folly. But they seem to be learning this as well as times goes on and perhaps eventually they’ll come around to our position. Until then we’ve got our media centers, we’ve got our alliances set up and we’ve got a growing movement that is aiming to educate students and there’s so much more going on. But we’re going to need ALL of this and more if we’re going to want to battle the insanity of the state and move towards a more sane society and culture.
Another reason why I’m harping on the sanity aspect of this whole thing is that the state, more than anything else is a mental construct more than a physical one. No, I’m not running the tired line that “government doesn’t exist!”. Instead I’m suggesting that we can and should think of government as an organization that claims a monopoly on violence in a given territorial area and manifests through the other monopolies this so called “protector of people” forms. The police, the courts, the teachers and so on are all manifestations of the state and it’s intrusion in society. But what I mean to suggest is that there is both an internal state and an external state, one that is manifesting in the ways I’ve suggested already but another that’s internalized. From this I think I can safely say that if the state somehow went away tomorrow people would just create another one. They wouldn’t want anarchism; they certainly haven’t embraced the ideas! And that’s the thing; the state inside of them so to speak convinces of them that the insanity they keep buying.
This isn’t to insult people who believe in the state, you believing in insanity isn’t going to make me stop me from treating you as a fellow member of the oppressed class or a fellow human being. It’s not going to make me call you insane night and day. It’s not going to make me “de-foo” you like some anarchists have suggested. Nor is it going to make me hate you, I’d find it a waste of time to hate you or anyone really anyways. No, instead what I’m suggesting is that this culture, this government has convinced you of insanity and that you believe it. If anything my real indictment lies with those who not only believe these but act on them and make it more possible to oppress people in large countable ways. That they keep people unemployed, scratching by, dying, hardly living, employed in jobs they hate, buying things they don’t need (materialism) and becoming disenfranchised with this beautiful world.
I’m not here to be overly cynical or overly optimistic but realistic. Anarchism won’t happen in our lifetimes despite what any organization tells us that but that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen or that such a goal isn’t worthy of pursing. The empire is crumbling with debt, wars; failing currency, blatantly corrupt leaders, and an authoritarian culture. With all of this it’s only a matter of time before things fall apart. And we as the anarchists have to be there with as many alternatives in hand and say,
“Look at what this insanity has wrought! Look at what it has given you! I suggest you try something new, try something sane, and try anarchism!”