Mutualist.Org: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

B. Getting There
Homebrew Industrial Revolution
Anarchist Theory of Organizational Behavior
Articles and Essays
Suggested Reading
Mutualist Political Economy


B. Getting There.

Since Proudhon, mutualism has tended to be identified with a gradualist approach. Gradualism involves, at the same time, two kinds of action: 1) creating the institutional basis for a new society within the existing one; and 2) gradually rolling back the state through external pressure, and supplanting it with our alternative forms of organization, until it is entirely abolished.

Proudhon characterized this approach of devolving state functions to voluntary associations as dissolving the state within the social body. It required two simultaneous courses of action: first, to "organize… the economic forces"; and second, to

dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or government system in the economic system, by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of the great machine, which is called Government or the State.5

The ultimate goal was that the distinction between "public and private" should become meaningless: "that the masses who are governed should at the same time govern, and that society should be the same thing as the State, and the people the same thing as the government…."6 This meant "the notion of Contract" would succeed that of government:

It is industrial organization that we will put in place of government….

In place of laws, we will put contracts.--No more laws voted by a majority, or even unanimously; each citizen, each town, each industrial union, makes its own laws.

In place of political powers, we will put economic forces.7

The Wobblies use the phrase "building the structure of the new society within the shell of the old" to describe this process. But Proudhon, anticipating them, used this vivid imagery:

Beneath the governmental machinery, in the shadow of political institutions, out of the sight of statesmen and priests, society is producing its own organism, slowly and silently; and constructing a new order, the expression of its vitality and autonomy….8

Brian A. Dominick, in his brilliant "An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy," described it this way:

Generally speaking, dual power is the revolutionary organization of society in its pre-insurrectionary form. It is the second power -- the second society -- operating in the shadows of the dominant establishment. It seeks to become an infrastructure in and of itself, the foundations of an alternative future....

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 viz a viz the exercise of our power.

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.9

Such a project requires self-organization at the grassroots level to build "alternative social infrastructure." It entails things like producers' and consumers' co-ops, LETS systems and mutual banks, syndicalist industrial unions, tenant associations and rent strikes, neighborhood associations, (non-police affiliated) crime-watch and cop-watch programs, voluntary courts for civil arbitration, community-supported agriculture, etc. The "libertarian municipalist" project of devolving local government functions to the neighborhood level and mutualizing social services also falls under this heading--but with services being mutualized rather than municipalized.

Peter Staudenmeier, in a workshop on cooperatives at Ann Arbor, referred to such alternative forms of organization as "social counter-power." Social counterpower takes the concrete forms of "prefigurative politics" and "counterinstitutions."

Prefigurative politics is a fancy term that just means living your values today, instead of waiting until "after the revolution"--in fact it means beginning the revolution here and now to the extent possible. This might be called the everyday aspect of social counterpower. And counterinstitutions, of which co-ops are often an example, are the structural aspects of social counter-power.10

Jonathan Simcock, on the Total Liberty webpage, described a vision of Evolutionary Anarchism that included

...Worker Co-operatives, Housing Co-operatives, self-employment, LETS schemes, Alternative Currencies, Mutual Banking, Credit Unions, tenants committees, Food Co-operatives, Allotments, voluntary organizations, peaceful protest and non-violent direct action and a host of similar activities are the means by which people begin to "behave differently", to go beyond Anarchist theory, and begin to build the elements of a new society.11

Since the time of Proudhon, mutualists have taken a gradualist approach to this process:

A social revolution, such as that of ‘89, which working-class democracy is continuing under our eyes, is a spontaneous transformation that takes place throughout the body politic. It is the substitution of one system for another, a new organism replacing one that is outworn. But this change does not take place in a matter of minutes…. It does not happen at the command of one man who has his own pre-established theory, or at the dictate of some prophet. A truly organic revolution is a product of universal life…. It is an idea that is at first very rudimentary and that germinates like a seed; an idea that is at first in no way remarkable since it is based on popular wisdom, but one that… suddenly grows in a most unexpected fashion and fills the world with its institution.12

Compare this to Landauer’s deservedly famous description:

The State is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behavior, we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one and other... We are the State and continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community….13



In concrete terms, the working class was organizing the new society

Partly [through] the principle of association, through which all over Europe they are preparing to organize legal workers’ companies to compete with bourgeois concerns, and partly [through] the more general and more widespread principle of MUTUALISM, through which working-class Democracy, putting a premium on solidarity and groups, is preparing the way for the political and economic reconstruction of society.14

Tucker had his own image of the process. According to James J. Martin, Tucker suggested this "remedial action":

That in any given city a sizeable number of anarchists begin a parallel economy within the structure of that around them, attempting to include in their ranks representatives of all trades and professions. Here they might carry on their production and distribution on the cost principle, basing their credit and exchange system upon a mutual bank of their own which would issue a non-interest bearing currency to the members of the group "for the conduct of their commerce," and aid the disposal of their steadily increasing capital in beginning new enterprises. It was Tucker’s belief that such a system would prosper within the shell of the old and draw increasing attention and participation from other members of the urban population, gradually turning the whole city into a "great hive of Anarchistic workers."15

Gradualism is often falsely identified as "reformist" by revolutionary anarchists. That is not, in most cases, an accurate assessment. Indeed, the very distinction between "reformism" and revolutionary anarchism is in many ways an artificial one. The term "reformist," in strict accuracy, should apply only to those whose end goal is something short of abolition of the state and the class system it upholds. In the nineteenth century, there were various schools of abolitionism, differing on the means by which they intended to abolish slavery and the time scale over which they envisioned accomplishing this. But they were all abolitionists in the sense that they would have been satisfied with no stopping place short of an end to all slavery. A "reformist," strictly speaking, would have been someone who intended to alter slavery to make it more humane, while leaving its exploitative essence intact.

The distinction between reform and revolution is mainly one of emphasis. For example, most revolutionary Marxists agree with Engels that much of the groundwork of socialism will be built within capitalism, until no further progressive development is possible. Only at that point will the transformation of "quantity into quality" take place, and the new society burst out of the older shell that constrains it. And even those who believe the transition from capitalism to socialism can be largely managed peacefully probably recognize that some disruption will occur at the time of the final rupture.

The same is true of anarchists. For example, Brian Dominick rejects the tendency to identify "revolution" solely with the period of insurrection. At least as important, as part of the overall process of revolution, is the years before the final insurrection:

The creation and existence of this second power marks the first stage of revolution, that during which there exist two social systems struggling for the support of the people; one for their blind, uncritical allegiance; the second for their active, conscious participation.16

Indeed, the primary process of "revolution" is building the kind of society we want here and now. The insurrection becomes necessary only when, and to the extent that, the state attempts to hinder or halt our revolutionary process of construction.

Aside from revolutionary upheaval, the very formation of a dual power system in the present is in fact one of the aims of the dual power strategy -- we seek to create a situation of dual power by building alternative political, economic and other social institutions, to fulfill the needs of our communities in an essentially self-sufficient manner. Independence from the state and capital are primary goals of dual power, as is interdependence among community members. The dual power situation, in its pre-insurrectionary status, is also known as "alternative social infrastructure."

And, again, while a post-insurrectionary society which has generally surpassed the contradictions indicated by the term "dual power" is the eventual goal of this strategy, the creation of alternative social infrastructure is a desirable end in itself. Since we have no way of predicting the insurrection, it is important for our own peace of mind and empowerment as activists that we create situations in the present which reflect the principles of our eventual visions. We must make for ourselves now the kinds of institutions and relationships, to the greatest extent possible, on which we'll base further activism. We should liberate space, for us and future generations, in the shadow of the dominant system, not only from which to build a new society, but within which to live freer and more peaceful lives today.17

In other words, mutualism means building the kind of society we want here and now, based on grass-roots organization for voluntary cooperation and mutual aid-- instead of waiting for the revolution. A character in Ken MacLeod's The Star Fraction gave a description of socialism that might have come from a mutualist:

...what we always meant by socialism wasn't something you forced on people, it was people organizing themselves as they pleased into co-ops, collectives, communes, unions.... And if socialism really is better, more efficient than capitalism, then it can bloody well compete with capitalism. So we decided, forget all the statist s**t and the violence: the best place for socialism is the closest to a free market you can get!18


Rothbard used to quote with approval Leonard Read’s claim that, if he had a magic button that would instantly eliminate the government, he would push it without hesitation. But it should be obvious that, regardless of whether or not one recognizes the validity of gradualism, the state will not in fact be abolished overnight. And even if we had a "magic button" that would magically cause all the officials, weapons and buildings of the state to disappear, what would be the result? If the majority of the public still had a statist mindset, and if there were no alternative libertarian institutions in place to take over the functions of the state, an even more authoritarian state would quickly fill the vacuum. As Benjamin Tucker argued,

If government should be abruptly and entirely abolished to-morrow, there would probably ensue a series of physical conflicts about land and many other things, ending in reaction and a revival of the old tyranny.

He called instead for the gradual abolition of government, "beginning with the downfall of the money and land monopolies and extending thence into one field after another, …accompanied by such a constant acquisition and steady spreading of social truth," that the public would at last be prepared to accept the final stage of replacing government with free contract even in the area of police protection.19

In practice, regardless of semantic arguments over reformism versus revolution, most anarchists agree that our final goal is the abolition of the state, that it is unlikely to happen overnight, and that in the meantime we should do what we can to build a new society starting where we are now. We are therefore faced with the task of pushing the given system in the direction we want, and pushing until we reach our ultimate goal of abolishing the state altogether. That means, to recapitulate: 1) educational work; 2) building counter-institutions; and 3) pressuring the state from outside to retreat from society and scale back its activities.

Our emphasis should be on building this society as much as possible without seeking direct confrontation with the authority of the state. But I am not a political pacifist in the sense of ruling out such confrontation in principle. No matter how industriously we work "within the shell of the old" society, at some point we will have to break out of the shell. At that point either the state will initiate force in order to abort the new society, or it will be so demoralized as to collapse quickly under its own weight, like the Leninist regimes in 1989-91. But either way, the final transition will probably be abrupt and dramatic, rather messy, and will almost certainly involve at least some violence.

On the revolutionary question, I think we should have two guiding principles. The first was formulated by Ed Stamm in his statement on the anti-WTO protests of December 1999: "any revolutionary activity must have massive popular support."20 This will occur of itself if our educational and organizing efforts are successful. It will never be accomplished by vanguardism or "propaganda of the deed." Second, it should not be attempted until we have built as much as we can within the existing structure. The birth pangs do not take place until the gestation is completed. There are some aspects of a stateless society--for example complete workers' control of industry, or land ownership based only on occupancy and use--which cannot be fully accomplished short of final destruction of the present system of power. But we should achieve everything we can short of this before we begin the final push.

But why would the ruling classes allow even a piecemeal rollback of the state apparatus? Why would they not prefer repression to even a partial loss of privilege? The answer is that they will use open, large-scale repression only as a last resort. (Even if we are in the opening phase of such a repression in the aftermath of 9-11, the state will likely keep it low-key and sporadic as long as possible). Such repression is unlikely to succeed beyond the short-term, and could well result in a total loss of power under extremely bloody circumstances. Ruling classes are often willing to make short-term bargains to preserve their long-term power. Even though the ruling elites took the initiative in creating the New Deal welfare state, for example, they did so only as a necessary evil, to prevent the far greater evil of public insurrection. And of course, we cannot underestimate the human failings of denial and shortsightedness, the desire to postpone the inevitable a long as possible. Ruling classes are as prone as anyone else to the "boiled frog syndrome."

Many anarchists oppose in principle such use of the political process for anarchist ends. It is unethical, they say, for anarchists to participate in the political process. Voting entails selecting a representative to exercise coercive force in our name; and appealing to such representatives for action is in effect a recognition of their legitimacy. This is a view shared by many varieties of anarchists. At the left end of the spectrum, anarcho-syndicalists prefer to ignore the state; hence the Wobblies' split with De Leon and the elimination of the "political clause" from the IWW Preamble. Many voluntaryists and anarcho-capitalists (Wendy McElroy, for instance, and the late Samuel Edward Konkin of the Movement of the Libertarian Left) also take this position. Joe Peacott, an individualist anarchist who still embraces the anti-capitalist legacy of that, likewise considers state action morally illegitimate. The only acceptable course is to withdraw all consent and legitimacy from the state, until "the last one out turns off the lights."

The problem with this line of argument is that the state is an instrument of exploitation by a ruling class. And exploiters cannot, as a group, be ethically "educated" into abandoning exploitation, because they have a very rational self-interest in continuing it. Coleman McCarthy can conduct "peace studies" classes, and quote Tolstoy and "the Rabbi Christ" till he’s blue in the face, but it isn’t likely to persuade a majority of the ruling class that they’d be better off working for a living.

If most ordinary people simply withdraw consent and abandon the political process altogether, the ruling class will just drop the pretense of popular control and resort to open repression. So long as they control the state apparatus, a small minority of dupes from the producing classes, along with well-paid police and military jackboots, will enable them to control the populace through terror. A majority of Italian workers may have supported the factory occupations of 1920, but that didn't stop the blackshirts, paid with capitalist money, from restoring the bosses' control.

In For Community, a pamphlet on Gustav Landauer, Larry Gambone argued that it was no longer possible merely to act outside the state framework while treating it as irrelevant. To do so entailed the risk that "you might end up like the folks at Waco." An "anti-political movement to dismantle the state" was necessary.22

At some point, before the final dissolution of the state, its mechanism must be seized and it must be formally liquidated.

Even the anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard was realistic about the need for the state to play a role in liquidating itself, under some circumstances. This was equally true of his thought at both ends of his long intellectual career. In 1970, at the height of his and Karl Hess’ strategic alliance with the New Left, Rothbard was quite receptive to the idea of nationalizing nominally "private" state capitalist industry as a prelude to placing it under syndicalist ownership of worker-homesteaders, issuing pro-rata shares to taxpayers, or some other unspecified procedure.23

In 1992, during the paleolibertarian association with Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute that occupied his last years, he made a similar proposal in the context of post-communist "privatization": post-communist regimes should liquidate state property by returning it to its legitimate owners when possible, or when this was impossible (most of the time in the industrial sector) by transferring ownership to worker-homesteaders. Rothbard was undismayed at complaints that he was proposing to act through the state, and therefore advocating state action. "In a deep sense, getting rid of the socialist state requires that state to perform one final, swift, glorious act of self-immolation, after which it vanishes from the scene."24

But I'm not calling for "anarchist politicians" to run for office and exercise political power, like those who served in the Catalonian Generalitat. Our involvement in politics should take the form of pressure groups and lobbying, to subject the state to as much pressure as possible from the outside.

A gradualist approach to dismantling and replacing the state and replacing it with new forms of social organization does not mean that we equally welcome any particular reduction in state activity, regardless of its place in the overall strategy of the ruling class. The order in which the state is rolled back is just as important as rolling it back at all.

We must assess the strategic situation and act accordingly. Statism does not exist for its own sake. The state is a means to an end: exploitation. The state is the means by which privileged classes live off the wealth of others. The state and the parties that control it will reflect the interests of those privileged classes. Therefore, any policy proposal coming from the state apparatus and the mainstream political parties, regardless of how convincingly it co-opts libertarian rhetoric, will be intended to serve the interests of some faction of the ruling class, in some way enabling them to live off the labor of the producing classes.

What we call "capitalism" is not even a rough approximation of a free market. It has been a fundamentally statist system of power since its beginnings in the late Middle Ages. From the beginning, it has allowed elements of the market to exist in its interstices, but only to the extent that they served the class interests represented by the state. What market elements have existed under the state capitalism of the past six hundred years or so have been selectively co-opted, distorted, and incorporated into a larger structural framework of statism.

The existing system is a class system, depending on the state for its survival. The policy of the ruling class, as a big picture, combines authoritarian and libertarian aspects, mixing elements of liberty into the overall authoritarian structure when they suit the overall purpose. It stands to reason, therefore, that we cannot evaluate each particular policy in terms of whether it reduces or increases the power of the state in regard to its limited purview alone, without regard to how it serves the overall agenda of power and exploitation. As Chief Justice John Marshall argued, the state's forebearance and inaction reflect its positive interests just as much as do its actions. The state permits greater or lesser latitude in different areas, but only in accordance with an overall strategy aimed at benefiting the interests of the ruling class.

The central function of the state is to enable some people to live at others' expense, through coercion. And both major parties are state capitalist to their very core. So it stands to reason that, in a system defined by its state capitalist nature, every particular facet of tax or regulatory policy is aimed at furthering the interests of the state capitalist elites who enrich themselves by political means. And any particular reduction in taxes or regulations promoted by either party is intended, in the greater context of the state's policy as a whole, to further state capitalist interests.

To say that any particular tax reduction should be welcomed as a victory, outside the context of what it means in the state capitalists' overall strategy, is like the Romans welcoming the withdrawal of Hannibal's center at Cannae as "a step in the right direction," the first step in a general Punic withdrawal from Italy.

I do not advocate the extension of the state in any area of life, even temporarily or for tactical reasons--no exceptions. And I will not be satisfied short of the final goal of eliminating the state altogether. But given the fact that we agree that incrementalism is a viable strategy, it makes a great deal of difference in what order we dismantle the state. Since all its functions are aimed, directly or indirectly, at furthering the political extraction of profits, it stands to reason that the most central, structural supports of subsidy and privilege on which state capitalism depends should be the first to go; those that make it marginally more bearable for the lower classes should be the last to go.

Benjamin Tucker was firmly in favor of this approach. He believed that the staged abolition of government should follow the order least likely to produce dislocation or injustice to labor. Given that abolition of the state meant its gradual dissolution in the economic organism, "[t]he question before us is not… what measures and means of interference we are justified in instituting, but which ones of those already existing we should first lop off."25 For example, he referred with approval to Proudhon’s warning that abolishing the tariff before the money monopoly would be "a cruel and disastrous policy," throwing out of work those employed in protected industry "without the benefit of the insatiable demand for labor which a competitive money system would create."26

More recently, Roderick Long makes a similar point in remarks on a gradualist strategy of abolishing the state. In the case of deregulation, he presents the case of a corporation with a government-enforced monopoly that is, at the same time, subject to price controls. The question facing the would-be dismantler of the state is whether to abolish the monopoly and price controls at the same time, and if not, which to abolish first. If they are abolished simultaneously, the newly "deregulated" corporation will be in the position of charging monopoly profits until sufficient time has elapsed for competitors to enter the market and undercut its price. This is an injustice to consumers. Long concludes that the most just alternative is to "Remove the monopoly privilege now, and the price controls later."

But is it ethical to continue imposing price controls on what is now a private company, one competitor among others? Perhaps it is. Consider the fact that Amalgamated Widgets' privileged position in the marketplace is the result neither of it own efforts nor of mere chance; rather, it is the result of systematic aggression by government in its favor. It might be argued, then, that a temporary cap on the company's prices could be justified in order to prevent it from taking undue advantage of a position it gained through unjust violence against the innocent.27

This principle is subject to much broader application. Most mutualist and individualist anarchists agree that the main purpose of the state’s activities has been to serve the exploitative interests of the ruling class. Most also agree that "bleeding heart" policies like the welfare state have served primarily to moderate (at general taxpayer expense) the most destabilizing results of unequal exchange. The overall effect is to rob the vast majority of the working population, through unequal exchange in the consumer and labor markets, of much of their labor product, and then to spend a small portion of that ill-gotten gain to guarantee a minimum subsistence to those elements of the underclass most likely to cause a ruckus. (Of course, even in the case of the underclass, what they receive in welfare payments is probably not enough to offset what they have lost through the state’s policies of reducing the bargaining power of labor and raising the threshold of subsistence).

Arguably, therefore, the plutocracy, as the primary beneficiary of the state’s coercion, has no legitimate moral objection to being the last class to stop paying taxes as the state is dismantled. And it likewise has no legitimate moral objection if the working class is the last, in that transition process, to lose the benefits of state action.

A specific policy proposal must be evaluated, not only in terms of its intrinsic libertarianism but, in the context of the overall system of power, how it promotes or hinders the class interests that predominate in that system. We must, as Chris Sciabarra put it in his description of Marx’s dialectical method, "grasp the nature of a part by viewing it systemically--that is, as an extension of the system within which it is embedded."28 Individual parts receive their character from the whole of which they are a part.

Arthur Silber, working from Sciabarra’s principle of contextual libertarianism, explains the approach quite well:

....there are two basic methods of thinking that we can often see in the way people approach any given issue. One is what we might call a contextual approach: people who use this method look at any particular issue in the overall context in which it arises, or the system in which it is embedded….

The other fundamental approach is to focus on the basic principles involved, but with scant (or no) attention paid to the overall context in which the principles are being analyzed. In this manner, this approach treats principles like Plato's Forms....

….[M]any libertarians espouse this "atomist" view of society. For them, it is as if the society in which one lives is completely irrelevant to an analysis of any problem at all. For them, all one must understand are the fundamental political principles involved. For them, that is the entirety of the discussion....

And thus, as another example, the alliance between libertarians who use an approach like mine to liberals with regard to the war on terrorism. We tend to focus on the complex systemic issues involved, on the corporate statism, on the unlikely success of any effort to "plan" the development of other countries. Many pro-war libertarians focus only on our right of self-defense, and on our need to destroy our enemies -- without considering the system in which those principles will be applied, the nature of the players involved, and how that system itself may render all such efforts unsuccessful, and will likely hasten the growth of an even more destructive and powerful central government here in the United States.....

To sum up, then: we can see two very different methods of approaching any problem. We have a method which focuses on contextual, systemic concerns, and always keeps those issues in mind when analyzing any problem and proposing solutions to it. And we also have a method which focuses almost exclusively on principles, but employs principles in the manner of Plato's Forms, unconnected and unmoored to a specific context or culture. As I said, my solution is to employ both methods, separately and together, constantly going back and forth -- and to endeavor never to forget either.29

The enemy of the state must start with a strategic picture of his own. It is not enough to oppose any and all statism, as such, without any conception of how particular examples of statism fit into the overall system of power. Each concrete example of statism must be grasped in its relation to the system of power as a whole, and the way in which the nature of the part is characterized by the whole to which it belongs. That is, we must examine the ways in which it functions together with other elements of the system, both coercive and market, to promote the interests of the class controlling the state.

In forming this strategic picture, we must use class analysis to identify the key interests and groups at the heart of the system of power. As Sciabarra points out, at first glance Rothbard‘s view of the state might seem to superficially resemble interest group liberalism: although the state is the organized political means, it serves the exploitative interests of whatever collection of political factions happen to seize control of it at any given time. This picture of how the state works does not require any organic relation between the various interest groups controlling the state at any time, or between them and the state. The state might be controlled by a disparate array of interest groups, ranging from licensed professionals, rent-seeking corporations, family farmers, regulated utilities, and labor unions; the only thing they might have in common is the fact that they happen to be currently the best at weaseling their way into the state.

What Roderick Long calls "statocratic" class theory (a class theory that emphasizes the state component of the ruling class at the expense of its plutocratic elements) tends toward this kind of understanding. A good example is the class theory of Adam Smith and his followers:

By its nature…, a powerful state attracts special interests who will try to direct its activities, and whichever achieves the most sway… will constitute a ruling class.30

Long pointed to David Friedman as an even more extreme example of this tendency:

It seems more reasonable to suppose that there is no ruling class, that we are ruled, rather, by a myriad of quarrelling gangs, constantly engaged in stealing from each other to the great impoverishment of their own members as well as the rest of us.31

But on closer inspection, Rothbard did not see the state as being controlled by a random collection of interest groups. Rather, it was controlled by

a primary group that has achieved a position of structural hegemony, a group central to class consolidation and crisis in contemporary political economy. Rothbard’s approach to this problem is, in fact, highly dialectical in its comprehension of the historical, political, economic, and social dynamics of class.32

And as we saw in Chapter Four, this "structural hegemony" did not arise in the twentieth or even the late nineteenth century; it was built into capitalism ever since the landed classes and merchant oligarchs created it by a revolution from above, five hundred years ago.

The state is not a neutral, free-standing force that is colonized fortuitously by random assortments of economic interests. It is by nature the instrument of the ruling class--or, as the Marxists say, its executive committee. In some class societies, like the bureaucratic collectivist societies of the old Soviet bloc, some portion of the state apparatus itself is the ruling class. In state capitalist societies like the United States, the ruling class is the plutocracy (along with subordinate New Class elements). This is not in any way to assert that economic exploitation or class domination can arise outside of the state; only that the ruling class is the active party that acts through the state. C. Wright Mills, in rejecting the term "ruling class," said that it implied an economic class that held political power. That’s right on target.

Not all reductions in state power are equally important, and it could be disastrous to dismantle state functions in the wrong order. The main purpose of every state activity, directly or indirectly, is to benefit the ruling class. The central or structural functions of the state are the subsidies and privileges by which the concentration of wealth and the power to exploit are maintained. The so-called "progressive" functions of the state (despite Arthur Schlesinger's fantasies to the contrary) are created by the ruling class, acting through the government as their executive committee, to stabilize capitalism and clean up their own mess.

Therefore it is essential that the state should be dismantled in sequence, starting with the structural foundations of corporate power and privilege; after a genuine market is allowed to destroy the concentration of power and polarization of wealth, and remove the boot of exploitation from the neck of labor, the superfluous welfare state can next be dismantled. This should not be confused with the social-democratic "anarchism" of Noam Chomsky. I do not advocate a long-term strengthening of the state to break up "private concentrations of power." Capitalist power could not survive without the state. The only issue is what state functions to dismantle first.

The answer, then, is active engagement to dismantle the interventionist state, without which exploitation would be impossible--and to dismantle it in accordance with a strategic plan that identifies the class nature of the present system and an explains how each specific reducation of state activity furthers our own vision of a successor society. This process of dismantling can be accomplished only through broad-based, ad hoc coalitions, formed on an issue-by-issue basis. A good example is the ACLU-NRA alliance against Janet Reno's police state. The congressional opposition to the Reichstag Enabling Act (er, USA Patriot Act) of 2001 and Ashcroft's subsequent agenda includes elements as disparate as Paul Wellstone and Bob Barr.

Keith Preston argues that a viable anti-state movement will have to get beyond obsession with right and left.

An entirely new ideological paradigm needs to be developed. One that rejects the traditionalism and economic elitism of the Right and the statism of the Left. One that draws on the best and most enduring elements of classical liberalism, libertarian socialism and classical anarchism but adapts these to contemporary circumstances within a uniquely American cultural framework that appeals to the best within our libertarian and revolutionary traditions. Political and economic decentralization should be our revolutionary battle cry....

The original principles of classical anarchism--elimination of the authoritarian state, control of economies of scale by cooperative partnerships of producers, individualism, genuine liberation of outcast groups, resistance to war and imperialism, decentralization, voluntary association, intellectual and cultural freedom, mutual aid and voluntary cooperation--remain as relevant as ever in today's world.33

As David de Leon paraphrased Karl Hess, remarking on libertarians and decentralists of the Left,

We should not disregard the perennial flowering of such criticisms of power and idealistic demands for a personal politics of individual fulfillment simply because… the petals appear to be red and black instead of red white and blue.34

And vice versa! The whole of De Leon's wonderful book, The American as Anarchist is an homage to the indigenous, genuinely American radical tradition, elements of which are found in libertarian and decentralist movements of both left and right, that finds the Gadsden flag a more appealing symbol than the Red-and-Black. One of the best and most promising attempts at appealing to this indigenous populist tradition was the People’s Bicentennial Commission, particularly its small book Common Sense II.35

We must also remember that "solidarity" is not something we reserve for our ideological clones. Solidarity is not some kind of special favor, but something we are ethically bound to. We must show solidarity for any victim of injustice, when they are in the right, regardless of their overall position. If more of the left had expressed outrage over Ruby Ridge and Waco, it might have been the beginning of a coalition of right and left libertarians against the police state.

But there is a whole cottage industry of obsessive anti-rightists devoted to preventing such cooperation. The attitude of such people toward the libertarian and populist right, it seems, is "I agree with what you say, but I'll fight to the death to stop you from saying it."

There is, among libertarians of both left and right, a tendency to let largely aesthetic considerations stand in the way of cooperation. This is true equally of the libertarian socialists who automatically react with hostility to market anarchists, and of (for example) the right-libertarians who went ballistic over Michael Badnarik’s friendly overtures to Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb.36 In my own polemical career, I have been simultaneously flamed as a "worthless commie looter" in anarcho-capitalist circles, and as a "goose-stepping, Rand-worshipping racist Nazi" in anarchist venues of the Starbucks-vandalizing circle-A variety, for expressing essentially the same ideas.

Roderick Long defines libertarianism as "any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals,"37 and divides libertarians into socialist, capitalist, and populist camps. In the nineteenth century, "it was fairly common for libertarians in different traditions to recognize a commonality of heritage and concern," a tendency largely lost in the twentieth century.38 He spends the rest of the article describing the one-sided ideological perspective of each of the three libertarian camps, and calling for dialogue between them to correct these deficiencies.

One reason for the closer affinity between the libertarian traditions in the nineteenth century, perhaps, was that free market liberalism was still closer to its early radical roots. And a much larger segment of the free market movement still regarded itself, at the same time, as part of the working class movement. That Tucker, Labadie, Lum, and the rest of the Liberty circle fall into this category, goes without saying. The same goes for the Georgists. Even Herbert Spencer, who at times sounded like a modern-day vulgar apologist for capitalism, was a disciple of Thomas Hodgskin with decidedly squishy ideas on land and credit. The end of this commonality may have been hastened, as Shawn Wilbur has suggested, by the split in the anarchist movement between native American individualists and immigrant collectivists, symbolized by the polemical war between Tucker and Johann Most. In the aftermath of this split, the imported anarchism of Bakunin and Kropotkin became the anarchist mainstream, and the marginalized individualism of the Liberty group abandoned its socialist roots and fell under the sway of the capitalist Right.

In building alternative forms of organization, as in rolling back the state, we should remember that our progress doesn't depend on converting a majority of people to anarchism or finding people who agree with us on all issues. We just have to appeal to the values we share with them on particular issues. And we don't have to segregate ourselves into an ideologically pure, separatist movement of "real" anarchists and wait for the other 99 44/100% of society to come around. Progress isn't all or nothing. As Larry Gambone argued in "An Anarchist Strategy Discussion,"

...a mass (populist) orientation requires that one search for all the various beliefs and activities that are of a general libertarian and social nature found among ordinary people. These would consist of any form of decentralism, direct democracy, regionalism, opposition to government and regulation, all forms of voluntary association, free exchange and mutual aid.39

In other words, we must approach people where they are, and make our agenda relevant to the things that concern them.40

Anarchists belong to countless social and political organizations in which they are a decided minority. We can act within these groups to promote a libertarian agenda. That means making common cause with movements that are not anarchist per se, but aim nonetheless at pushing society in a freer and less exploitative direction. Some may be nominally on the right, like home-schoolers and gun rights people. But the divide between populism and elitism, or between libertarianism and authoritarianism, is a lot more important than the fetishism of left and right. To quote Gambone again, in What is Anarchism?

The future of anarchism, if there is one, will at best, involve a few thousand people, as individuals or small groups, in larger libertarian-decentralist organizations. (Some will choose to work alone, spreading the anarchist message through writings and publications.) It is imperative that such people, so few in number, yet with potential influence, should know what they are talking and writing about.41

People who call themselves "anarchists" are probably not even one in a thousand, and may never be. But names aren't important; substance is. Huey Long said that if fascism ever came to America, it would be in the name of "100% Americanism." If anarchy ever comes, it will probably be in the name of "decentralism," "participatory democracy," or "economic justice."

In considering issues of coalition politics, we should also bear in mind that a post-state, post-capitalist society is unlikely to be organized on anyone’s ideological template. As an example of the latter, Rothbard assumed a stateless society organized around a consensus on the "libertarian law code." Sciabarra rightly criticized Rothbard‘s totalizing impulse to step outside history and imagine a society organized around the "totally ahistorical axiom of nonaggression"--with little regard for how it would emerge from existing society.42

The downfall of the present corporate state, almost certainly, will not occur as the result of any single organization or ideology. No mutualist Bolsheviks will storm the Winter Palace of state capitalism and new model society on the basis of the cost principle and voluntary association.

When the existing corporate state falls, it will be a result of two factors. One will be the internal crises of state capitalism itself, and the fact that it is unsustainable. At some point, the demand for inputs like transportation and energy, and government spending to externalize operating costs and make capital artificially profitable, will exceed the ability of the system to provide. The other factor will be pressure from outside; and this pressure is likely to come from a host of movements whose only common denominator is dislike of the centralized state and corporate capitalism.

The most likely outcome is a panarchy in which a wide range of local social and economic systems coexist (at least for a time) with islands of territory under the control of the old state’s armed forces, would-be regional successor states, etc.43 Local communities are likely to experiment with ideologies ranging from syndicalism, mutualism, and Georgism, to racialism and theocracy.

Individualist anarchists, mutualists, and other market socialists, although we belong to a larger free market community and share an affinity with anarcho-capitalists on some issues, must not make the mistake of allowing them to define the strategic picture for us. We must especially avoid the danger of accepting their aesthetic or cultural preferences, like mistakenly identifying the "market" with stereotypically "capitalist" entities like corporations. A voluntary producer cooperative, commune, or mutual aid society is a free market institution. A corporation functioning within the state capitalist system is emphatically not.

If anything, the form of genuinely private property formed by mutualizing openly state-owned property is probably closer to the spirit of a free market than the nominally private corporation whose operating expenses and capital accumulation are subsidized by the state, whose output is guaranteed a market by the state, and which is protected from price competition by the state.

As mentioned above, a recent overture to the Green Party by Libertarian presidential candidate Badnarik produced howls of outrage from some mainstream libertarians. But the Green program of combined nationalization and decentralization is not obviously more "statist" than the version of "free market" privatization advocated by Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs. If anything, it would probably be easier to get to the final goal of a society based on voluntary relations by the route of nationalization and subsequent mutualist devolution, than by the standard vulgar libertarian forumula.

One plank in the Green platform commonly selected for special outrage among libertarians is the call for single-payer national health insurance--than which, apparently, nothing could be less libertarian. But, stopping to think about it, what industry is more statist than nominally "private sector" hospitals, staffed by physicians who profit from the “professional” licensing monopoly, dispensing "standards of care" mandated by licensing boards and medical schools under the influence of Big Pharma, prescribing drugs that were developed at taxpayer expense and are under the protection of patent monopolies, and funded largely by Medicare and Medicaid?

This is not to suggest that nationalization and a single payer system, even as preludes to decentralization and cooperative control, are a good thing. I don’t think so. The point is simply that a joint free market libertarian-Green project of nationalizing the hospitals and then decentralizing them to mutualist ownership by the patients is no more obviously "un-libertarian" than the standard Rx from Uncle Milty of libertarian action, in cooperation with some giant global corporation, to "privatize" (on quite favorable terms, needless to say) government facilities created from the sweat of working taxpayers. There is at least as much room for cooperation with libertarian socialists of the Green type as there is for cooperation with the usual corporate "good guys" of vulgar libertarianism.

Murray Rothbard, writing in 1969, was quite receptive to Galbraith‘s proposal to nationalize corporations that got more than 75% of their revenue from government. Indeed, why stop there? "Fifty percent seems to be a reasonable cutoff point on whether an organization is largely public or largely private."44 And once we accept this principle, basing the statist nature of a corporation on the percentage of its revenue that comes from state funds seems somewhat arbitrary. How much of the nominally "private" revenue it receives from taxpayers is artificially inflated by a state-enforced monopoly position? How much of its profit margin derives from paying workers less than they would in a free labor market? The typical Fortune 500 corporation (about as "private" as a feudal landlord) is enmeshed in a network of privilege and coercion of which outright grants of money from the state may be only a minor part.

Our end goal is a society in which all transactions and associations are voluntary. A society of voluntary collectives or cooperatives is at least as much a free market society, in this regard, as one in which all goods and services we consume are produced by Global MegaCorp or the like. Indeed, it is much likelier that the former kinds of organization could survive in a free market society than the latter. And in getting there, we should remember that a voluntary collective is much more legitimate as a free market institution than a "private" corporation that gets most of its profits from the state. The issue is a practical one of how to get there, and we must not allow habitual apologists for Global MegaCorp to determine our loyalties and preferences for us.

In a society where the very structure of the corporate economy is statist to the core, nationalization is by no means the obvious antithesis of a free market reform; as Rothbard saw thirty years ago, it may be a strategic step toward free market reform. If the targets, as integral parts of a statist system, are legitimate, and if the intended stopping point is a society based on voluntary association and exchange, then the issue is one of prudence, not of principle.


In all this talk of a "political" strategy to roll back the state, we must remember that it is only secondary. We are forced to pursue it only because the state actively interferes with our primary activity--what the Wobblies call "building the structure of the new society within the shell of the old." Until the final crisis of statism, in which the state‘s attempted repression leads to a final rupture with the old system, there's a lot we can do to within the existing society to build a new kind of social order.

And of course, educational work is a key part of this construction process.

A major aspect of developing subjective change among people involves reaching out to the population existing outside the dual power, in the throes of the dominant system. For this reason, any dual power community must maintain its own media. Propaganda involves public critique and ideological dismantlement of the dominant social notions and institutions, as well as promotion of revolutionary alternatives. That is, the propagandist's twofold goal includes destroying the perceived legitimacy of mainstream thought and structure, plus advertisement of the benefits of membership in the dual power community.45

Educational work should, if you’ll forgive the cliché, start with people where they are and build from there. We must focus on those aspects of the present system that people find most unpleasant or galling in their daily lives, show the role the state’s intervention in the market plays in creating those ills, and provide living examples of how those ills can be overcome by different ways of doing things based on voluntary cooperation.

We may also find, in simultaneously building alternative social organizations, and pressuring the state to roll back, that there is a powerful synergy between these two tracks. It is not necessary to pursue one at the expense of the other; our success in one will often strengthen our position in the other struggle.

Whenever it is strategically appropriate, we should coordinate the political program with the non-political program of alternative institution-building. The social movement can be used to mobilize support for the political agenda and to put pressure on the state to retreat strategically. The political movement can provide political cover for the social movement and make mass repression less feasible.

Even when it is imprudent for the social movement to resort to large-scale illegality, it can act as a "shadow government" to publicly challenge every action taken by the state (much like the shadow system of soviets and workers' committees before the October Revolution). Even though such "shadow institutions" may be unable to implement their policies in the face of official opposition, that fact in itself is an opportunity to demand, "Why are you using government coercion to stop us from controlling our own schools, community, etc.?" (This can be especially effective in pointing out the hypocrisy of the Republicans' bogus "populism," with their appeals to decentralism and local control). The objective is to keep the state constantly off-balance, and force it to defend its every move in the court of public opinion.

A good example of this is local attempts to organize against landlords. So long as the state is bound in legal principle to enforce property rights of landlords, any victory won by squatters will be only short-term and local, without permanent results of any significance. But the other side of the coin is that squatters are indigent and homeless people with very little to lose--after all, some people reportedly commit some minor crime around first frost every year just to get three hots and a cot until spring. If every vacant or abandoned housing unit in a city is occupied by the homeless, they will at least have shelter in the short term until they are forcibly removed. And the political constraints against large-scale brutality (if the squatters restrict themselves to non-violent tactics and know how to use the press to advantage) are likely to be insurmountable. In the meantime, the squatters' movement performs a major educative and propaganda service, develops political consciousness among urban residents, draws public attention and sympathy against the predatory character of landlordism, and--most importantly--keeps the state and landlords perpetually on the defensive.

Even within the existing legal framework, tenant unions strengthen the hand of occupiers against absentee owners and reduce landlords' ability to exact rent by monopolizing property. Karl Hess and David Morris, in Neighborhood Power, referred to tenant strikes which led to the legal expropriation of the landlords. In some cities, the laws regulating collective bargaining between tenants and landlords required tenants to put their rent into an escrow account during a strike. Some slumlords were eventually forced into bankruptcy by rent strikes, and were then bought out with their tenants' escrow money!46 The legal branches of the movement, like tenant unions and neighborhood assemblies, can also be used to apply pressure and political cover for squatters. The squatters' and tenants' movements can escalate and mutually reinforce pressure on the state.

In pressuring the state to withdraw from society, as well as in the use of political pressure to defend our counter-organization from repression, modern technology has opened up exhilirating possibilities for forms of opposition based on large, decentralized associations of affinity groups.

The potential for such organization is alarming to those in power. A 1998 Rand study by David Ronfeldt (The Zapatists "Social Netwar" in Mexico, MR-994-A) warned that internet-based coalitions like the pro-Zapatista support network could overwhelm the government with popular demands and render society "ungovernable."47 This study was written before the anti-WTO demonstrations, so the post-Seattle movement doubtless has our overlords in a panic. Such forms of organization make it possible to throw together ad hoc coalitions of thousands of affinity groups in a very short time; they can organize mass demonstrations, issue press releases in thousands of venues, and "swarm" the government and press with mass mailings, phone calls and emails. This resembles the "excess of democracy" and "crisis of governability" that Samuel Huntington warned of in the 1970s--but an order of magnitude beyond anything he could have imagined then.

The availability of such decentralized methods of struggle should reinforce our understanding of the need for ad hoc, issue-based alliances with people of many ideological orientations. In the case of dismantling corporate state capitalism, our allies include not only anarchists and the libertarian left, but populists, constitutionalists, and libertarians on the right. Only a minority will agree with us on everything. But on many issues, we are likely to find a majority willing to cooperate on each particular issue. And so long as our strategic vision is not subject to compromise, our victories on particular issues will strengthen our strategic position for pursuing other issues.

One important feature of this decentralized form of organization is its resilience in the face of state attempts at repression or decapitation. We should strengthen this feature by organizing redundant telephone, email and Ham radio trees within each radical organization, with similar redundant communications links between organizations, to warn the entire resistance movement as quickly as possible in the event of mass arrests.

And when the state attempts piecemeal arrests of a few leaders, one organization at a time, we should spread the news not only to "radical" groups and alternative press outlets as quickly as possible, but to the mainstream press. If you belong to an organization whose activists have been targeted in this way, spread the news far and wide on the net and in print, with contact information for the officials involved. If you find such a message in your in-box, take the time to call or email the jackboots with your complaints, and pass the news on to others. For example, I I once called a local police force to protest the illegal arrest of some demonstrators, after I saw a call for action in an email newsgroup; I was told by the harried operator that they were so overwhelmed that they had to refer callers to the state police. Every crackdown on an organization should result in the state being swarmed with phone calls, and the press being saturated with letters and press releases.

The same approach is equally useful in the policy arena. Every attempt at new corporate welfare, or regulatory augmentations of state capitalism, should result in similar swarming of Congressional offices. Every attempt at a piece-meal increase in the police state, many of which we have seen since 9-11, is the state’s attempt to test the water of public opinion by putting its foot in. Every such attempt should result in a severe scalding, with phones ringing off the hook and overloaded email in-boxes.


Before we conclude this chapter (and the book), we should briefly consider a few practical issues of mutualist praxis that don’t obviously fall under any of our headings so far. As we saw in Chapter Five, examining Bill Orton’s analysis on competing theories of property rights, no such theory is self-evidently correct in principle. Free market, libertarian communist, syndicalism, and other kinds of collectivist anarchists must learn to coexist in peace and mutual respect today, in our fight against the corporate state, and tomorrow, in the panarchy that is likely to succeed it. We must learn mutual respect for the legitimacy of our historical claims to the "libertarian" label.

At the same time, as Orton argued, there are prudential reasons for preferring one property rights system over another, insofar as it promotes other commonly accepted ethical values. As mutualists, our preferences in this regard differ from those of both collectivists and capitalists. Unlike capitalists, we prefer occupancy-based property in land and cooperative forms of large-scale production. Unlike collectivists, we prefer market relations between firms to federative relations and planning. We prefer such forms of organization to both the capitalist and collectivist model because they tend to promote social values that, on reflection, capitalists and collectivists may find that they share to some extent.

Mutualists find market competition between individuals and voluntary associations, whenever possible, preferable to unnecessary collectivism.

One of the more ignorant Marxist criticisms of "utopian" and "petty bourgeois" socialism was that it was the reactionary ideology of the artisan and peasant. Instead of building on the progressive achievements of capitalism, which had socialized the production process and laid the foundations for collective control of the economy, it looked backward to a pre-capitalist idyll of petty production. Syndicalists and libertarian communists tend to echo this sentiment: for example, I have heard it numerous times in debates with SPGB members. I suspect, however, that the reason is less technical than aesthetic. Collectivist anarchists generally insist that the collective exists to further the liberty of the sacred individual, and that they have no objection to individual and small group enterprise so long as there is no wage labor. Still, all too often their toleration of such activity carries with it the general air of Insoc’s distaste for "ownlife."

In fact, Proudhon’s writings are full of references to workers’ associations and large-scale cooperative production. Proudhon was not ignorant of the requirements of large-scale production and the factory system. But he believed that workers could, if allowed to mobilize capital through large-scale mutual credit systems, organize their own industrial production on a cooperative model. In fact, Proudhon’s ideas on association and federation were a major influence on the collectivist anarchism of Bakunin, and on the later French syndicalist movement.

The difference was that Proudhon had no aesthetic affinity for collective forms of production for their own sake.

…mutualism intends men to associate only insofar as this is required by the demands of production, the cheapness of goods, the needs of consumption and the security of the producers themselves, i.e., in those cases where it is not possible for the public to rely on private [individual] industry, nor for private industry to accept the responsibilities and risks involved in running the concerns on their own…. [Because the persons concerned] are acting in accordance with the very nature of things when they associate in this way, they can preserve their liberty without being any the less in an association….

There is undoubtedly a case for association in the large-scale manufacturing, extraction, metallurgical and shipping industries….48

The aim of industrial and agricultural cooperatives, including workers’ associations where these can usefully be formed, is not to substitute collectivities for individual enterprise…. It is to secure for all small and medium-sized industrial entrepreneurs, as well as for small property owners, the benefit of discovering machines, improvements and processes which would otherwise be beyond the reach of modest firms and fortunes.49

Bakunin ridiculed the Marxists for believing, as demonstrated by their idea of a proletarian dictatorship, that the producing majority could actually control the state in any real sense.

What does it mean for the proletariat to be "organized as the ruling class"? … Can it really be that the entire proletariat will stand at the head of the administration? ….There are about forty million Germans. Will all forty millions really be members of the government?50

Unfortunately, collectivist anarchism like syndicalism and libertarian communism are prone to the very same problem. A good fictional portrayal of this problem is Ursula LeGuin’s novel The Dispossessed.51 In that story, the libertarian communist world of Anarres had fallen under the control of a bureaucratic ruling class. The industrial syndicates and federative planning bodies, over time, inevitably accumulated permanent staffs of planners and experts. Regardless of how nominally democratic those bodies were--being staffed by delegates recallable at will, etc.--in practice the elected members deferred to the expertise of their permanent staffs. The elected syndicates and federations, nominally responsible to the workers, came to function as rubber stamps for the de facto Gosplans. And of course, once the principle of planning is substituted for that of the market, there is no way to avoid such ossification.

Still more unfortunately, we do not have to go to works of fiction to find examples of such managerial degeneration. In a fascinating study of "workers’ resistance to work," Michael Seidman described just such a process in the worker-controlled industry of Catalonia. The CNT-UGT gradually adopted a management-like attitude toward the workers toward whom it was formally responsible, and became obsessed with fighting recalcitrance and absenteeism and imposing work-discipline on the labor force in exactly the same way capitalist bosses do. The Technical-Administrative Council of the CNT Building Union, for example, warned that disaster would occur if workers were not "re-educated" to purge them of "bourgeois influences" (apparently preferring leisure to extra work without pay), and work-discipline were not restored. The UGT "told its members not to formulate demands in wartime and urged them to work more." Much like the seventeenth-century Puritans, the CNT-UGT found the workers’ observance of traditional mid-week religious holidays a major hindrance to "productivity."

Faced with sabotage, theft, absenteeism, lateness, fake illness and other forms of working-class resistance to work and workspace, the unions and collectives co-operated to establish strict rules and regulations which equalled [sic] or surpassed the controls of capitalist enterprises.

In some clothing industry collectives, measures adopted included the appointment of a "comrade" to control entrances and exits, and a requirement to accept work assignments and instructions "without comment."52 It seems Lenin was mistaken: he didn’t need to break the workers’ councils, after all, to impose his Taylorist ideas on Russian workers.

These developments, both in the fictional world of Anarres and the real world of anarchist Catalonia, reflect what Robert Michels called the "Iron Law of Oligarchy."

The technical specialization that inevitably results from all extensive organization renders necessary what is called expert leadership….

Organization implies the tendency toward oligarchy…

Every solidly constructed organization… presents a soil eminently favorable for the differentiation of organs and of functions. The more extended and the more ramified the official apparatus of the organization, … the less efficient becomes the direct control exercised by the rank and file, and the more is this control replaced by the increasing power of committees.53

Michels was the most famous of a number of sociologists at the turn of the twentieth century, who collectively are sometimes called the "neo-Machiavellians." This group included Vilfredo Pareto, who formulated the theory of circulating elites. Gaetano Mosca argued that in a representative democracy, the public is inevitably relegated to choosing between candidates selected by the ruling elite.

The ideas of the neo-Machiavellians were taken to their gloomiest and most hopeless extreme by Jan Waclaw Machajsky and his disciple Max Nomad, in reaction to the bureaucratic ruling class arising after the Russian revolution. In Nomad’s lurid picture, history was a cyclical process. And throughout the process, "the majority of the human race will always remain the pedestal for the ever changing privileged minorities."54 No matter how many hopeful revolutions the producing classes fought to displace the old elite, no matter how many heady days of freedom were enjoyed in 1917 Petrograd or 1936 Barcelona, the masses were doomed to be ruled (in their name, of course) by a new elite, a Red bureaucracy or party apparat. The labor unions and socialist parties, as Michels had pointed out, were inevitably taken over by a stratum of intellectuals and "professionals" who, if they were successful in using the workers to drive the capitalists out, became the new ruling class.

For Machajsky and Nomad, the problem was inherent in organization. Any representative organization of the working class was destined to become the power base of the intelligentsia.

But things were not as hopeless as they made them out to be. The answer is to minimize reliance on organization itself as much as possible. Part of the problem in Spain was the existence of federal and regional bodies superior to the individual factories. The factory management, although elected by workers, came to identify with the federal bodies rather than the workers to whom they were nominally responsible. Had there been no federal bodies, in which they could meet with their counterparts from other factories to commiserate on the atavism and laziness of "their" workers, the sole source of pressure on them would have come from below--from the workers who could recall them at will.

The free market is made to order for the purpose of avoiding centralized organization and hierarchy. When firms and self-employed individuals deal with each other through market, rather than federal relations, there are no organizations superior to them. Rather than decisions being made by permanent organizations, which will inevitably serve as power bases for managers and "experts," decisions will be made by the invisible hand of the marketplace.

Finally, Marxists and other anti-market socialists are deluded in their belief that the law of value can be superceded by production for "social use." As the Austrians saw, even the actions of solitary individuals are in effect transactions, in which the disutility of labor is exchanged for other utilities. Production can never be undertaken solely with a view to use, without regard to exchange value. The reason goods have value today is that it requires effort or disutility to produce them. With or without formal market exchange, there will still be an implicit exchange involved, labor for consumption, involved in the production process. It implies a judgment, if a tacit one, that the use value of the good is worth the disutility to the worker who produces it. And fairness and unfairness will continue to exist, although concealed (along with the law of value) behind a "collective" planning process. Either the labor entailed in producing the goods consumed by a worker will equal the labor he expends in production, or they will not. If not, somebody is being exploited. The law of value is not simply a description of commodity exchange in a market society; it is a fundamental ethical principle.



Earlier, I wrote that with "honorable exceptions," anarcho-capitalists favor a model of privatization built around the capitalist corporation. Karl Hess was perhaps the first and greatest of these. In 1969 he wrote,

Libertarianism is a people’s movement and a liberation movement. It seeks the sort of open, non-coercive society in which the people, the living, free distinct people may voluntarily associate, dis-associate, and, as they see fit, participate in the3 decisions affecting their lives. His means a truly free market in everything from ideas to idiosyncrasies. It means people free collectively to organize the resources of their immediate community or individualistically organize them; it means the freedom to have a community-based and supported judiciary when wanted, none where not, or private arbitration services where that is seen as most desirable. The same with police. The same with schools, hospitals, factories, farms, laboratories, parks and pensions. Liberty means the right to shape your own institutions.55

Or as (the lamentably late) Samuel Konkin wrote, "The Market is the sum of all voluntary human action. If one acts non-coercively, one is part of the Market."56

Getting into full radical swing, Hess went on in the same article to call for creative thought on revolutionary tactics and goals that would be relevant to poor people, and not just to "the usual suspects." Among the issues to consider was

--Worker, share-owner, community roles or rights in productive facilities in terms of libertarian analysis and as specific proposals in a radical and revolutionary context. What, for instance, might happen to General Motors in a liberated society?57

Egad! But isn’t General Motors one of the "good guys," an example of the heroic Randian ethic of rugged individualism (snicker)?

More recently, Roderick T. Long wrote a long and carefully reasoned libertarian defense of "public" (as opposed to state) property.58 And in an article at Antistate.Com last year, Carlton Hobbs defended the traditional idea of the commons as a legitimate form of property in a free market society. By the term "common property," he referred to two different things: first, the joint or collective private property of deliberately formed voluntary associations; and second, "stateless common property," to which members of "a potentially imprecise owning group" have equal access, "without any prior formal agreements…." As examples of the latter, he mentioned forested areas to which the inhabitants of a village had exercised a traditional and non-exclusive right of access for firewood; and a road following a route that has been a public right of way for time out of mind.59

Mutualists prefer a method of "privatizing" government functions that places them under social, as opposed to state control. This means decentralizing them to the neighborhood or the smallest local unit, and placing them under the direct control of their clientele. The final stage of this process should see the services funded entirely by voluntary user fees. Larry Gambone refers to the process as "mutualizing" government functions.60

This principle of "mutualizing" services was anticipated by Proudhon. Proudhon was ambivalent on the role of the state in establishing mutualism before it "withered away"; at times he proposed action by the existing French state, not only to abolish the legal basis of privilege, but actually to implement mutualist reforms. But although he considered the state necessary to establish public utilities like transportation and communication, and the national bank of exchange, he saw no need "to leave them in the hands of the state once they have been initiated." The only legitimate function of the state was

legislating, initiating, creating, beginning, establishing; as little as possible should it be executive….

Once a beginning has been made, the machinery established, the state withdraws, leaving the execution of the new task to local authorities and citizens….61

In any case, as we saw above, even an anarcho-capitalist of such impeccable anti-state credentials as Rothbard saw nationalization as a legitimate part of dismantling the state and its "private" adjuncts.

I do not favor an active state role in organizing a new basis of society, even when the ultimate goal is for the state to "wither away." I prefer whatever action the state takes to be part of the immediate process of dismantling itself as quickly as possible. I only wish to point out that the kinds of state action proposed by Proudhon or, say, David Cobb (recall our discussion above) are no different in kind from what Murray Rothbard considered tactically legitimate.

One reason Proudhon preferred mutualizing public services and placing industry under worker control to nationalizing either, was that nationalized firms reproduced the principles of hierarchy and domination inherent in capitalist enterprise. Returning to the example of nationalized tobacco retail outlets, he referred to the "hierarchical organization of its employees, some of whom are by their salaries made aristocrats as expensive as they are useless, while others, hopeless receivers of petty wages, are kept forever in the position of subalterns."62

Although anarcho-capitalists tend to take Benjamin Tucker’s proposals as forerunners of the kind of capitalist "privatization" they prefer, Tucker’s position was by no means that cut and dried. Tucker certainly favored, as do the anarcho-capitalists, the reorganization of all state services on the basis of voluntary cooperation; the state was to be robbed of its ability to force its services on unwilling customers, to tax them for payment, or to prohibit competitors in providing the same services.

At times, however, Tucker used language implying that the state would, while maintaining organizational integrity, lose the character of a state. In regard to protection services, for example, he wrote:

"But," it will be asked of the Anarchists…, "what shall be done with those individuals who undoubtedly will persist in violating the social law by invading their neighbors?" The Anarchists answer that the abolition of the State will leave in existence a defensive association, resting no longer on a compulsory but on a voluntary basis, which will restrain invaders by any means that may prove necessary.63

Protection services would be supplied only to those who desired them, and funded entirely at the cost of voluntary consumers.

Although mutualists do not oppose the creation of competing defense agencies, and certainly would not prohibit them, the likelihood in practice of a number of competing defense firms in a single area is probably exaggerated. The cultural tendency to view defense as a function of community is deeply ingrained, and the habit would probably persist among most people of relying on a common agency, even after membership became voluntary. It would be possible, of course, for dissatisfied customers to attempt to organize competing agencies. But the service approaches so closely to a natural monopoly, between cost of start-up capital and the advantages of size, that it would surely be easier for the dissatisfied to attempt a hostile takeover of the unsatisfactory association. If that association maintained some moral continuity with the old government, say, functioning as a direct democracy with a board of selectmen, this possibility would seem even more obvious to those involved.

At any rate, Tucker was not bound to anything like the anarcho-capitalist idea of "privatized" defense firms. The only requirement was for a a government to cease to be such was to stop funding its activities with compulsory taxes: "….all States, to become non-invasive, must abandon first the primary act of invasion upon which all of them rest,--the collection of taxes by force…."64 One plausible scenario is for the old state to lose its coercive character, and become in effect a consumer cooperative owned by the majority of a community who continue to use its services. Smaller competing defense firms might spring up, catering to limited niche markets; and a large minority of the population might prefer not to subscribe to any service, instead relying on informal arrangements with their neighbors and the deterrent effect of an armed populace.

Tucker at times speculated on the functioning of defense associations and agencies in language that suggested their continuity with the state. For example, he repeatedly stressed the preferability of common law procedures like jury trial. In so doing, he expressed an affinity for the old transatlantic Anglo-republican ideal of free juries randomly chosen from the population.65


A society organized on these principles would avoid most of the evils we associate with capitalism. Labor would keep most or all of what currently goes into interest, profit and rent. The increased bargaining power of labor would lead, not only to an increased wage, but to much greater control over working conditions.

Without subsidies to centralization and energy consumption, the labor currently wasted on distribution would be unnecessary to maintain the existing standard of living. Production would be on a much smaller, more efficient scale, and closer to home. Population would be dispersed and less mobile, and the extended family and stable local community would be revived.

In addition, the economic cycle would be much less severe in a decentralized economy of production for local use. To see why, let's start at the smallest and most simple level. Imagine a truck farmer who lives next door to a cobbler. The two make an arrangement to exchange shoes for produce. Obviously, the farmer alone can't absorb enough of the cobbler's output to support him; and the cobbler can't eat enough to support the farmer. But the two are at least fairly secure in the knowledge that their future needs for both vegetables and shoes are provided for with a high degree of probability. And they have a fairly predictable market for that portion of their output that is consumed by the other person.

Taking it to the next step, imagine a community of a few dozen people of varying trades, using their own local currency (LETS, mutual banknotes, etc.) to exchange among themselves. Again, because of the limited number of participants, and the high degree of predictability of their future needs (barring any unusual circumstances), it is likely that (so long as each participant produces something needed by most people on a fairly steady basis) each participant will feel secure in his ability to obtain his minimum need of the commodities produced by each of the other participants; and each participant will likewise feel secure in a market for his output, at least to the extent of collective demand for it within the group.

So long as the producers and consumers of different commodities are known to each other in a community, future supply and demand is likely to be relatively stable, and not subject to abrupt or unexpected shocks. So major divergences of supply and demand, and resulting economic crises, are unlikely to occur.

But the further society departs from this decentralist model, and approaches large-scale, anonymous commodity markets serving a wide geographical area, the more unstable and unpredictable markets become.

Some forms of production, by their very nature, require larger and more centralized markets to use certain kinds of productive machinery to full capacity. But in a large portion of cases, the size and instability of markets is a form of irrationality resulting from state policies that externalize the inefficiency costs of large-scale size.