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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.