Direct action gets the goods

(Via William Gillis 2009-04-22.)

I’ve never given much of a damn about how many NLRB rulings the Wobbly baristas at Starbucks might be able to win; or about conventional labor politics like the debate among labor bosses and corporate bosses over card-check procedures for NLRB recognition. The reason I haven’t given much of a damn is that those sorts of things aren’t worth it. The NLRB is a rigged game, and a tool of the corporate State; it uses superficial privileges, illusory benefits, and the most rigid sort of regimentation to domesticate the labor movement, and to bury any potential for dynamism or for radical socio-economic change under red tape, paperwork, and politically-controlled rules of engagement. That sort of thing it is, increasingly, demonstrably ineffective; it’s also authoritarian, and ultimately founded on coercion. But, also, that shit is just boring. Why waste your damns on that sort of thing, when there are things like this to give a damn about — solidarity expressed through free market action, and fight-to-win unionism carried out through free association on the shopfloor, without the permission of bosses or bureaucrats:

WORKER DISCONTENT over Starbucks’ pay and conditions set the stage for organizing. In May 2004, workers at a midtown Manhattan Starbucks launched the SWU.

From the beginning, the company went all out to bust the union. We wanted to negotiate with Starbucks over our serious concerns, [Starbucks Workers’ Union organizer Erik] Forman recalled. But rather than sit down at a table with us, the bosses began writing checks to the union-busting consultants of Akin Gump and the PR flacks at Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm. They contracted Edelman to craft a facade of social responsibility.

At first, workers filed for a NLRB election to vote on union recognition. Starbucks responded by using its political clout to gerrymander the bargaining unit from one pro-union store to every store in midtown and downtown Manhattan, Foreman said.

The workers realized they couldn’t win, so they tried a different tack. Unable to go the traditional route to unionization via an NLRB election, they drew on more radical traditions—fighting back around wages, benefits and working conditions and recruiting baristas to the union without official NLRB recognition. As Forman says:

We’ve decided to go back to the basics of the labor movement. Workers organized unions before 1935, before we had a right to organize…In developing an organizing model that works in the service industry, we’ve gone back to the roots of unionism, opting for a strategy that puts direct action at the center. We’ve been able to spread because we’ve done something that business unions would consider unthinkable—we’ve put our organization entirely in the hands of rank-and-file baristas.

Forman said that the SWU emphasizes what it calls solidarity unionism—that is, the idea that workers are most powerful where the bosses need us most: on the shop floor. Our power as workers comes from our ability to withhold our labor, or interfere with the production process in other ways.

At the Mall of America last summer, workers confronted management about unbearable temperatures in the store. As Forman described it:

We had been complaining about how hot it was for years, but management refused to buy a fan or install air conditioning because it was too expensive. At the same time, our store was pulling in $30,000 a week.

One morning, four of my coworkers walked into the back room of our store and gave the boss an ultimatum: Will you buy the store a fan? Yes or no? He stalled….so my four coworkers walked off the job, got in a car and drove to Target, leaving the boss to cover the floor. He was livid.

About 20 minutes later, my coworkers walked back in with a $14 box fan. They plugged it in, wrote Courtesy of the IWW, drew a small black Sabotage cat [the IWW logo] on it, and enjoyed the breeze.

This left management with a choice. They could either remove the fan, in which case they would look like jerks. Or they could leave it there, as a monument to their own negligence.

To their credit, they did the right thing. Two days later, the district manager arrived with a $150 industrial floor fan. Two weeks later, they began installing air conditioning. This is the power of direct action. One week, $40 is too much to spend to bring the temperature in the store to within OSHA standards. The next week, management is spending $10,000 to keep the workers happy.

— Adam Turl, SocialistWorker.org (2009-04-17): Standing up to Starbucks

Direct action gets the goods.

Advertisement

Help me get rid of these Google ads with a gift of $10.00 towards this month’s operating expenses for radgeek.com. See Donate for details.

60 replies to Direct action gets the goods Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Soviet Onion

    That Erik Forman sure ain’t no dumbass.

  2. william

    The joke in this is that for a good many years Erik was by far the most hostile opponent to market anarchism in the Twin Cities scene.

  3. Soviet Onion

    I wasn’t aware that market anarchism was even taken seriously enough, or had enough of a rank-n-file presence in the mainstream anarchist milieu to warrant the existence of a widespread opinion on it (even with Iain Mackay’s distorted use of the Individualists as an ideological football).

    That’s not to say that I don’t believe there’s been progress. It’s just that it’s been a long while since I’ve worked with social anarchists in a capacity where I’ve been “out of the closet” about my preferences on economic organization, or where the issue has ever come up. Meanwhile, the internet is here every day.

    Here’s my question to you, oh inside man: Who do they hate worse, MA’s or primmies?

  4. william

    Primmies.

    That is to say that the major defining internal schism in Anarchism is the Red / Green one (Primitivists vs Syndicalists). Ancaps and Mutualists are written off as either a petty annoyance or mildly interesting peculiarity.

    Although a majority of folks express annoyance at it (generally by deriding the partisans as rat-bastard “theorists”, and ridiculing the notion that folks should be forced to choose between hugging a tree or holding a union card) Red / Green hostilities nevertheless play an enormous role in shaping the movement. In the muddled mainstream of the movement virtually everyone calls themselves “anti-civ” and supports the IWW in a desire to avoid conflict. The campus activist derived folk side more with the Syndicalists, while the Crimethinc romantic punx side more with the primmies. The fringes are the one’s that produce substantive thought.

    In the isolated, insular core of these wings (ie, Eugene and NEFAC) the primmies are likely to write MAs off as irrelevant and the syndicalists are likely to go batshit insane a la McKay.

    Thankfully there are far more (mild to strong) partisans of the Red/Green divide that AREN’T isolated. And in those cases the Greens don’t care and the Reds quite clearly hate the Greens more than they hate us.

    Back to the article, in the beginning when he was purely involved in anarcho-syndicalism Erik Foreman was inclined to go all red-faced Iain McKay at the very notion of market exchange much less the SLV. While he remained a Red, once he had spent some time in the wider scene he finally realized that there were worse horrors under the sun and that, language aside, Reds and MAs were practically identical compared to the primmies.

    I’ve lost count of the number of Reds who’ve come to me saying they counted us as valuable allies if not comrades in the face of the Greens.

    …Of course the major MA influences in the Twin Cities were all pro-tech, pie-in-the-sky post-scarcity futurists and inclined to gloss over the more localist, Carson / Hess sort of interpretations.

  5. Aster

    Interesting. My impression of the Wellington anarchist milieu is reasonably similar. Not as much of a split, and it’s more between anarcho-communists of more working class background and ex-students focused more on ecology and feminism.

    I got along better with first group. Most people were definitely not open to working with libertarians or anarcho-capitalists- which, given my experiences with libertarians, I didn’t exactly go out of my way to protest. They seemed to reluctantly consider Carsonian mutualism acceptable since it gets why capitalism is oppressive, but the instinct is to fear anything connected with money- with unfortunate results in practice.

    There’s some obnoxious political correctness stuff… I got bugged about prostitution a few times (mildly), and one has to mind vegetarian and recycling Ps and Qs to avoid hassles. I got involved in a reasonably benevolent individualist/collectivist anarchist schism which began (I am not making this up) over recycled toilet paper. But there was very little queerphobic prejudice, which for me matters decisively. There were a few (mostly older) ex-state-socialists with no concept of individual rights, but they were a distinct minority.

    The best part of it is actually working together to get something done building the society you want as well as talking about it. The sincere commitment to friendship, trust, and mutual aid is really touching.

    Single worst moment was listening to an audio recording of Derrick Jensen’s Endgame over a tasteless organic dinner. Felt like church, and with few exceptions all the most obnoxious morality police in the scene did come from very conservative and emotionally abusive religious backgrounds and beelined for radical ecology.

  6. Soviet Onion

    Chicago’s anarchist population functions as kind of a radical tip to a lot different subsections within the city, mainly unions, anti-poverty activists, feminists and the black and gay communities. There is a big working class syndicalist presence on the one hand, which involves a significant number of the (mainly Hispanic) immigrant population, and a separate group defined more by feminism, anti-racism, queer and trans discrimination, and that group is actually pretty diverse. Of course it involves the unusual suspects like art students, but also a lot of working class people. Bash Back! is the signature organization, not the IWW.

    Oh, and animal rights also occupy a ridiculous position of prominence in people’s minds. Militant veganism all around.

    For educational purposes, everything I’ve said also applies to Milwaukee, which is slightly to the north.

    That is to say that the major defining internal schism in Anarchism is the Red / Green one (Primitivists vs Syndicalists). Ancaps and Mutualists are written off as either a petty annoyance or mildly interesting peculiarity.>

    But Will, don’t the Holy Scriptures teach us that mutualists are true blue genuine anarchists, even thought they’re obviously inferior in every way?

    I always thought that primitivists were a minority, and mainly confined to West Coast. And that’s not just a decree by the Scottish Ecumenical Council of one; even sympathizers like Chuck Munson have said that they’re a very small minority, comparable to platformists. He has said that the influence of their ideas has dispersed beyond just hardcore primitivists, but without a preponderance of those people I can’t see who the syndies are bothering to appease.

    While he remained a Red, once he had spent some time in the wider scene he finally realized that there were worse horrors under the sun and that, language aside, Reds and MAs were practically identical compared to the primmies.>

    Yeah, but where did he encounter it aside from you? I move in circles of both punkish/syndicalist/queer radical social anarchists and big-L Libertarians who contain some ancaps or are least sympathetic, and they never overlap except on broad single-issue stuff where nobody asks or cares about your overall views as long as you’re not an outright fascist.

    I could perhaps try to initiate the conversation (that is supposed to be one of the functions of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left), but I think it would be frustrating at best and dangerous at worst. The Libertarians don’t know enough about the currents of anarchist movement/scene continuum to even “get” the conflict, and social anarchists would react with all the courtesy and consideration currently reserved for the interwebs, if not being equally confused. Given that I’ve also witnessed conversations where market anarchists have been compared to neo-Nazis, I honestly wouldn’t even feel safe doing that, at least alone with a group of them.

    Getting them in the same room together would just send them all careening back toward their comfort zones. The social anarchists would write them off and privileged, trendy, rich, stuck up law and architecture students who wouldn’t be caught dead without a dress shirt or in a non-yuppie drinking establishment (of course, it wouldn’t be that articulate, more like “Fuck you, you capitalist fucks!”).

    The Libertarians would pull a Kinsella and shake their old man fists at the loser punk vandarchists and militant treehugger vegans, collapse that into their general McCarthyite suspicion of anyone who makes less than $30,000 and tell them do all sorts of things that basically translate into going to college and getting a higher-paying job (not for the money, but for the status).

    …Of course the major MA influences in the Twin Cities were all pro-tech, pie-in-the-sky post-scarcity futurists and inclined to gloss over the more localist, Carson / Hess sort of interpretations.>

    I didn’t feel a strong inclination either way from Kyle or Sarah.

    If that is the case, then thank Prometheus for that. As wishful as it sounds, it’s a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit’s also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun. Hence the enabling attitude toward things like National Anarchism coming from Keith Preston and Jeremy Weiland that almost makes ANTIFA-style gang beatdowns seem like a more intelligent response to the phenomenon.

    Of course, “post-scarcity” is all just heretical commie talk :)

    I’ve lost count of the number of Reds who’ve come to me saying they counted us as valuable allies if not comrades in the face of the Greens.>

    Well, isn’t it great that we’ve got that giant squid to keep us from killing each other. It’s a bit like Iain McKay’s strategy of easing up on the mutualists only because he sees anarcho-capitalists as a bigger aberration and threat (and to avoid having to cede history and ideological pedigree to the “other side”). Seriously, did social anarchists as a whole have anything good to say about them prior to the 1990’s?

    Needless to say, that sentiment in itself, while better than outright hostility, is probably not a sign of genuine progress. For that sentence to really mean something it would have to stop at “comrades”.

    I also have to wonder about any group of people in which not wanting 98 percent of the human race to die off is considered sufficient criteria for acceptance.

  7. Soviet Onion

    I suppose one of the reasons the syndicalist population isn’t so overwhelmingly big is that we do have a huge number of shit-you-not Marxist-Leninists running around, and they compete for the same demographic. So I guess you could say Chicago has one half of the same East Coast dynamic in which NEFAC exists, and then there’s the Crimethinc/punk/relationist stuff, but not a lot of primitivism.

  8. Soviet Onion

    Oh, and speaking of Sarah, I hear she’s going to be living on a farm in South Dakota. Not exactly futurist utopia.

  9. Nick Manley

    Oh man

    You guys aren’t making me want to get more heavily involved in anarchist scenes.

    Sounds cliquish ( :

  10. Soviet Onion

    You guys aren’t making me want to get more heavily involved in anarchist scenes.>

    Sounds cliquish ( :>

    Resistance is futile. You WILL be assimilated!!

  11. william

    To clarify some backstory:

    Kyle and Sarah only got interested in MA after a syndicalist mutual friend endorsed a class of mine, which was relatively recently. They weren’t around back when Foreman and I were fighting it out.

    Over the years I got my Ansoc friends to meet my MA friends by dragging them to the same parties. Although what really launched the local semi-rapprochement it was the informal debate / discussion group on campus that met at one of the Ancaps’ homes.

  12. Soviet Onion

    Someone please clue me in on how to do proper block quotes with multiple paragraphs.

    Interestingly enough, I posted a link to Roderick’s Tea and Sympathy observation on my facebook wall the other day and a hardcore syndicalist sound engineer/sex worker friend of mine really liked it. Little does he know …

  13. Soviet Onion

    So Erik Foreman is a dumbass after all (and I’m gonna keep repeating this until somebody laughs).

    I really wish you would write down a detailed account of this rapprochement, your attempts to make it happen, what worked, what didn’t and how these conversations went one of these days. We could all could benefit from the advice, and no other market anarchist has as good a working relationship with the social anarchist scene as you do.

  14. Aster

    Soviet-

    All of this is well put. “As wishful as it sounds, it’s a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit’s also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun. Hence the enabling attitude toward things like National Anarchism coming from Keith Preston and Jeremy Weiland that almoAst makes ANTIFA-style gang beatdowns seem like a more intelligent response to the phenomenon.”

    It is hard for me to express how much I appreciate your speaking out against the national anarchist Trojan horse. Thank you.

    And that’s precisely it- replacing rights with decentralism completely throws out the principle of liberty. I want the implementation of a specific social system which guarantees individual rights and supports individual autonomy. I’m not interested in a politics which switches this for the goal of acceptance of existing social systems. whether individualist or not. Liberty requires a conscious and rational set of values and institutions which are incompatible with traditional organic society.

    I’m a moderate on decentralisation- actually, I think the original 1789 American federal system buttressed by an extensive and enforceable Bill of Rights fully incorporated against local tyranny is a fairly good model. I’m at the moment inclined to say yes to decentralisation in economic matters, no in educational matters, and to favour a mixed system in politics. I think we do need broad regional social organisation in a form which maintains an easy flow of goods, people, and ideas- I think this aspect of the Roman, British, and American empires was a good thing (have you read Isabel Paterson’s God of the Machine?).

    Incidentally, I think Jeremy Weiland (if he’s Jeremy of Social Memory Complex) means well, in the sense of wanting a world in which human beings are really happy. I still disagree with him, but he’s not like Preston or Troy Southgate. I’ve been unjustly nasty to him in the past and regret it.

    “It’s a bit like Iain McKay’s strategy of easing up on the mutualists only because he sees anarcho-capitalists as a bigger aberration and threat.”

    Sigh. Thst’s precisely the thought process which has let me open myself to the collectivist anarchist and establishment liberal left. I can’t work with a movement which will empower paleoconservatives or closet case Nazis. There are imperfect friends and allies… and then there are people who would see you under their boot. Enlightenment comes first. But the criticisms you’ve written here about the Left are all unhappily true.

    On other news- Soviet, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you via email for the last week, but the email I was given from the person who answered the email on your link didn’t seem to go through. I have an idea for intellectual entrepeneurship I wanted to write about. If you wish, please write me at jeanine_ring a+ riseup d0t net.

    FYI, I suspect it doesn’t do much good to pray to Prometheus. I expect his answer would tend to be on the lines of ‘You’re a human… why are you sitting on your arse and whining to me? Do it yourself!’

    Prometheus would not be a good social democrat. I prefer deities who offer bribes. ;)

    Nick-

    Unfortunately, most sex worker cultures seem to have the same issues. Even in non-alienated conditions, it’s a universe of high school girls… with teeth.

    I was tied for epic nerd in my high school. I hated cliques. I still dislike them. But reality is that, as humans, there is for us no reasonable response to the human social game than learning to play it as well as one can, consistent with one’s broader flourishing. Necesse est.

  15. william

    Bash Back! is the signature organization, not the IWW.

    I don’t want to make it sound like the IWW is the signature organization in any of the cities I’m intimately connected to, they’re usually seen as just a side project. But they ARE the lifeblood of whatever Red identified segment of the scene is present. Yeah, Chicago and BB… <3 “The locus of queer anarchism seconded only by Philly.”

    I always thought that primitivists were a minority, and mainly confined to West Coast.

    As if anything beyond the West Coast matters. ;) Technically the Syndicalists are a minority too, although granted they probably have a plurality. Explicit sectarian-identity in any form is highly frowned on, but if you want to test the prevalence / relevance of primitivism in the movement just bring up Derrick Jensen.

    The superficial story is that the primmies control the NW, the SW desert and the Appalachians, while the Reds control the entire NE block and have a mild advantage everywhere else. Also don’t forget that primitivism got much of its start in the UK. Its just that the Reds and Greens have relatively zero interaction there.

    I could perhaps try to initiate the conversation (that is supposed to be one of the functions of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left), but I think it would be frustrating at best and dangerous at worst. The Libertarians don’t know enough about the currents of anarchist movement/scene continuum to even “get” the conflict, and social anarchists would react with all the courtesy and consideration currently reserved for the interwebs, if not being equally confused. Given that I’ve also witnessed conversations where market anarchists have been compared to neo-Nazis, I honestly wouldn’t even feel safe doing that, at least alone with a group of them.

    Getting them in the same room together would just send them all careening back toward their comfort zones. The social anarchists would write them off and privileged, trendy, rich, stuck up law and architecture students who wouldn’t be caught dead without a dress shirt or in a non-yuppie drinking establishment (of course, it wouldn’t be that articulate, more like “Fuck you, you capitalist fucks!”).

    The Libertarians would pull a Kinsella and shake their old man fists at the loser punk vandarchists and militant treehugger vegans, collapse that into their general McCarthyite suspicion of anyone who makes less than $30,000 and tell them do all sorts of things that basically translate into going to college and getting a higher-paying job (not for the money, but for the status).

    Yeah, I know, it’s tough. But with a little trickery it CAN be done.

    As wishful as it sounds, it’s a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit’s also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun.

    Whaddaya expect from me aside from twinkles. We agree, of course. I’d write more on the issue but you’re particularly eloquent on this and I’ve never entirely felt it was my place to start shit in the ALL. Left-Libertarianism is someone else’s parlor. I’m a post-leftie transhumanist utilitarian who wants to slaughter the rich, turn their mansions into coops and then enact full blooded Anarcho-Capitalism as a door prop on the long road to actual Anarchism. I’ve never fully belonged to the Carson/Long project. If you want to start something, either calling shit out or strengthening the foundations of an alternative Left-Libertarianism then, by all means I urge you to.

    Needless to say, that sentiment in itself, while better than outright hostility, is probably not a sign of genuine progress.

    Genuine progress is every friend I have ceding that the purely mathematical realities of price signals and general problems of pareto have no solid communist solution, that the subjective theory of value is more elegant, and that economic hierarchies are not a byproduct of property titles. Genuine progress is beginning to have answers to “yeah but MAs have never gotten shit done in real life or had our backs on the street.” Genuine progress are Social Anarchists that are now unable to explain their ideal society without instinctively throwing in a lot of MA stuff they agree with. Genuine progress is overhearing the word “agorism” brought up neutrally on a monthly basis in stray conversation among Social Anarchists I’ve never met.

  16. Soviet Onion

    If you want to start something, either calling shit out or strengthening the foundations of an alternative Left-Libertarianism then, by all means I urge you to.>

    Dude, it’s only like 9 in the morning over here (which to a guy who’s unemployed is more like 5 in the morning).

    In any case most of what I’d say has already been said better by Aster (or alternatively Nietzsche, Stirner and the Situationists). You kids should meet; she’s the third wheel to your death match with Roderick. Careful, cause she’s got a rapier.

    As I told Nick in another context, it’s been one of my goals for a while now to get you, her and Roderick together in the same room to debate the meaning and ethics of freedom in grand Chomsky/Foucalt style, and if that doesn’t tear a hole in the cosmic order, then I’ll feel a lot better about that Large Hadron Collider.

  17. william

    We could all could benefit from the advice, and no other market anarchist has as good a working relationship with the social anarchist scene as you do.

    That’s not necessarily true. Shawn can’t finish a sentence without name-checking fifteen other people in the movement. And I’ve never been invited to any of the cool kids’ parties in the Queer activist scene.

    I really wish you would write down a detailed account of this rapprochement, your attempts to make it happen, what worked, what didn’t and how these conversations went one of these days.

    The problem is that the details mostly elude me. Faded into history, etc. I could give you a long rambling summary of how things developed but I don’t think it would be very useful.

    (and it’s false to suggest that the whole of the TC scene is MA friendly, more like there’s a minority but sizable bunch of Ansocs just beyond my immediate comrades that no longer have the instinctive AFAQ-brand hostilities, they disagree, they just don’t see it as meaning enough to argue and will actually wait to see what sort of Libertarian / Ancap you are before judging)

  18. william

    Dude, it’s only like 9 in the morning over here

    Well, whenever. I’m just saying, you can’t just sit around waiting for others to launch your crusade for you.

  19. Soviet Onion

    The problem is that the details mostly elude me. Faded into history, etc. I could give you a long rambling summary of how things developed but I don’t think it would be very useful.>

    I guess I’ll have to take better notes when I try. Right now I’m more interested in getting some concrete work done with members of both camps so they think I’m kewl (and because it’s important stuff that’s worth doing), then maybe some day, if it’s appropriate, I’ll broche a discussion on issues where we might not agree after it’s clear that we’re on the same page where it matters.

    Well, whenever. I’m just saying, you can’t just sit around waiting for others to launch your crusade for you.>

    Trust me, I’m not that lazy. It’s only in the past week or so that I’ve decided this is really a point that needs to be pushed. I made a long and hopefully well-written post on the Forums of the Libertarian Left that I will get back to pushing.

    Then again, I’m also the guy who wrote a partial defense of Somalia, so don’t take what I say too seriously.

    Aster and Nick, you have both been deputized as members of the New Super Delux Alliance of the Libertarian Ultra-Left. Dissenters will be purged.

    economic hierarchies are not a byproduct of property titles.>

    Alright, could you at least elaborate on that particular talking point? I mean, “Aren’t capitalists and landlords inherently oppressive?! And isn’t commodity exchange inherently alienating?!”

  20. Nick Manley

    Soviet confided in me that he views Aster as a modern day De Cleyre…

    He’s such a suck up ( :

    Soviet,

    My fragile ego has been tarnished. I demand inclusion in this intellectual fest lol. Then again, I honestly think Aster, Roderick, and William’s ideas are much more refined than mine. I haven’t been philosophizing any profound hardcore thoughts for awhile.

  21. Soviet Onion

    De Cleyre is the shit. She lives pretty close by (well, not lives) in Forest Home Cemetery, along with Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and seven other guys that no one cares about.

    I actually named my car after her. The car’s full name is “Clarity”, which I usually abbreviate as “Cleyre”, which has the same meaning but sounds like the more personalized “Claire” befitting of a machine. I have a locket hanging from my rear view window with her picture on one side and the Chinese character for “Clarity” on the other.

    Yes, this is pretty artsy-fartsy, and yes, this is a blatant ripoff of Joss Whedon’s idea, but he’s a left-liberal and therefore undeserving of anything that came out of that beautiful Agorist story of survival in the face of “utopian” jackboots who tried to crush their spirits (:

  22. william

    I actually named my car after her. The car’s full name is “Clarity”, which I usually abbreviate as “Cleyre”, which has the same meaning but sounds like the more personalized “Claire” befitting of a machine. I have a locket hanging from my rear view window with her picture on one side and the Chinese character for “Clarity” on the other.

    I don’t remember the locket. Coolest thing ever. Does it translate well? If so could you pass my the symbol?

    Right now I’m more interested in getting some concrete work done with members of both camps so they think I’m kewl

    For whatever it’s worth my advice would be to not be, you know, secretive about your differences or overly gloss over them when there’s a significant disagreement, just be conciliatory in your passing mention of said disagreements.

  23. william

    Wait. What? Why didn’t that link render in my browser before?

  24. Black Bloke

    Wait. What? Why didn’t that link render in my browser before?

    Hax?

  25. Soviet Onion

    Nick,

    Only seven of them were originally sentenced to die. I guess those are the ones I think of as martyrs.

    Will,

    I use the character on the right, chu3, for a variety of reasons. It means alternatively “foundation” and “clear and pure” (in the sense of perception and cognition, whereas qing1 means purity in the sense of spiritual purity, “pure like a virgin”). It can also mean “pain or sorrow”, which I think is fitting given her rather tragic life, her severe depression and multiple suicide attempts, her poor health that got even worse after the gunshot wound by Helcher, and of course her early death.

    The shu2 component on the bottom half also gives it a connotation of “motion or turning”, which I think is a good description of her ideological development. She was never quite so static in her beliefs as people like Tucker or Goldman. It’s a good model for how anarchism should be: always moving and engaging, never static or fixed by boundaries.

    Aesthetically it’s also more minimal than qing1, which fits with the motif on Serenity, and is more angular and thus has more of a visual motion to it. It looks like something that space rednecks with no painting skill could just slap on a ship.

    The locket didn’t appear anywhere in the show, it’s my more subtle equivalent to painting the symbol on my car. That would just look tacky, as well as making it easier to identify on sight should I ever not want to happen.

    Regarding the sneakiness, I’ve honestly never been in a situation where that kind of serious discrepancy has come up, even with people who’s overall views are off in conflict with mine. Beating up on specific corporations? I’m there. Hating patriarchal morality? I’m definitely there. Generalized disdain for “corporate capitalism/corporate socialism”? I’m there too. Condemning the bailouts? I can certainly do that, although I take the time to point out how Obama, and Democrats historically, have not been at all better; nobody seriously disagrees with that.

    I once got into a semi-heated situation with a Ron Paulista who claimed that Republicans are naturally the better choice for libertarians when there’s no LP option available. I had the gall to point out that that’s insane on it’s face given everything that’s happened in the last eight years, and Socratically asked why there’s not more tension between libs and conservatives over this.

    I get nervous about debating issues that really matter to me, and thus I worry about getting things or coming off as misinformed. Criticizing the Establishment is easy because A)it’s so simple and B)I really don’t care. Most of that stuff is so trivial it’s beneath me. Frankly, nothing short of smart direct action, world revolution or paradigmatic shifts in the zeitgeist really pulls me in.

  26. Soviet Onion

    er, that last paragraph I should clarify:

    “I get nervous about debating issues that really matter to me, because I want so badly for these ideas to win that I worry about getting things right or coming off as misinformed, or even presenting the right ideas in an inarticulate fashion.”

    Aster,

    I’ll send you an email now.

  27. Soviet Onion

    I should also mention that the locket is antique Victorian for the simultaneously rustic and classy effect. Plus those are usually bigger than modern lockets.

  28. Rad Geek

    Soviet Onion,

    As wishful as it sounds, it’s a welcome antidote to the left-libertarian tendency to treat localism and decentralization as THE POINT rather than an instrumental tool to some more fundamental desire. That shit’s also vulnerable to corruption by every kind of village fascism under the sun.

    I agree that localism and decentralism ought not to be fetishized at the expense of other goals (either respect for rights or other cultural goals that my thick conception of libertarianism is entangled with), and that the value of localism and decentralism ought mainly to be treated as a strategic value, not as something that is desirable in itself. (When it ends up being something I’d consider desirable in itself, and not merely strategically, it’s because certain forms of centralism and antilocalism are themselves expressions of classism, racism, or other forms of elite bigotry, all of which I do consider objectionable in themselves, apart from any strategic considerations.)

    For reference, when you refer to a left-libertarian tendency to fetishize localism and decentralism, do you have anyone particular in mind, other than Jeremy Weiland? (There’s also Keith Preston, presumably, but he doesn’t consistently identify as a left-libertarian, and in any case I’m not willing to grant him the description.) If so, whom?

    Aster,

    I’m a moderate on decentralisation- actually, I think the original 1789 American federal system buttressed by an extensive and enforceable Bill of Rights fully incorporated against local tyranny is a fairly good model.

    Huh? Why?

    It doesn’t seem to have worked out very well so far.

    Soviet Onion:

    Alright, could you at least elaborate on that particular talking point? I mean, “Aren’t capitalists and landlords inherently oppressive?! And isn’t commodity exchange inherently alienating?!”

    My own experience on this one is that you can get a long way just by having the standard left-libertarian talking points on hand, with some illustrative examples. Folks I’ve talked with have generally been worried mainly about the effects of extreme disparities and concentrations of wealth; but it’s the easiest thing in the world to point out that those actually-existing disparities and concentrations are the results of state privilege. (Here in Vegas, you can just point at the way the Development machine operates, or overt economic cleansing that Metro constantly engages in, or to the general atmosphere of hyperthyroidal state capitalism. In other places it may be better to point to different examples.) If they start worrying about a purely hypothetical free market, then you can point out that you’re happy with wildcat unionism, grassroots mutual aid, and the like, and that these are all examples of things that are part and parcel of the free market as you conceive it.

    Of course, if someone asks me whether bosses and landlords are oppressive, I’m generally willing to say Sure. (There are nuances to my position, but I suspect that the nuances are about cases that my interlocutor probably also has a nuanced case about; what she is interested in is typically a social system in which bosses and landlords dominate the markets in land and labor, not the mere hypothetical existence of one employer-employee contract somewhere in the world.) My response is just that it’s a question of what causes the concentrations of economic power she’s worried about, what sustains them, and what the best thing to do about them is. And I think the left-lib story on plutocracy and antistate solidarity has a pretty comprehensible answer to those questions.

    Someone please clue me in on how to do proper block quotes with multiple paragraphs.

    Like so:

     > This is a
     > block quote.
     >
     > It has multiple 
     > paragraphs.
    

    Which produces:

    This is a block quote.

    It has multiple paragraphs.

  29. Jeremy

    (A) I appreciate Derrick Jensen. I think he has great insights into what it means to be a radical in this world. See my posts mentioning him here and here.

    And, for the record, I’m not a supporter of National Anarchism. I disagree with them (mostly in the sense that I refuse to take a positive position on what a “free society” looks like, nor will I work towards that vision in lieu of actually freeing humans. But I would consider working with them on a case by case basis if it served my interests). I don’t know what you mean about “enabling” them, though, so I can’t say whether or not I do that. I’m aware of the fact that many groups exist whose ideologies I disagree with, and I see no reason to elevate their existence over the existence of more concentrated, institutionalized power structures as a motivating issue for me.

  30. Nick Manley

    I don’t wish to disrupt the other conversations, but I ran across a Counterpunch article critiquing the Free State Project.

    http://forum.freestateproject.org/index.php?topic=17641.msg210785

    “[The Free State Project leaders] fail to grasp the common sense logic that when you embrace a lawless society, you will attract the lawless.” ~ dude, I could read this kind of thing in a conservative publication.

    "The social ordered envisioned by the Free Staters is one of voluntarism." ~ is there a problem with that? 
    
    "Here's how one of the Free Staters described the big picture: 'control the local Government ... stop enforcement of Laws prohibiting victimless Acts, such as Dueling, Gambling, Incest, Price-Gouging, Cannibalism, and Drug Handling." ~ Not a huge fan of poor people having to spend all their money on one expensive thing. Nonetheless, what's the problem here? 
    

    Unfortunately, I don’t know the context of these quotes. The article is in the paid for print edition. Nonetheless, I thought Cockburn was warm to Libertarians…

    He does publish a lot of different people.

  31. Marja Erwin

    I have a hard time tracing my own intellectual development. I was a hard-core left-Marxist in my teens, and was more concerned with historical theory and revolutionary strategy than with how the postrevolutionary society would promote human freedom, minimize environmental destruction, and offer prosperity to all.

    I never trusted the transitional state. I considered radical democracy and radical decentralism to limit its growth and begin its dismantling; however, when I encountered anarcho-syndicalism, I started considering alternatives which separated economic and political power.

    Marxist theory, of course, taught that self-employment and workers’ self-management are petty-bourgeois. They are also the whole point of socialism. When I finally become an anarchist, it was only natural to understand my social anarchist ideas in petty-bourgeois classical liberal and market anarchist terms.

    I joined flag.blackened.net under a pen name. At the time, I was perhaps the only market anarchist - and an ultra-left one at that - on a site divided between red and green anarchists, as well as the occasional anarcho-capitalist interloper from anti-state.com.

    I would sometimes be active, sometimes inactive for months on end. So I’m not sure how things have changed, but the mutualist presence has changed and the primitivist one has shrunk. I think there are a few agorists among the regulars. Infoshop probably has more primitivists than market anarchists, but I’m not sure.

    Certainly the lines have blurred, and I’ve done some of that. I had accepted the orthodox view against property, but I have raised some concerns with it.

  32. Marja Erwin

    As for decentralism …

    I think it is a powerful tool, but not an end in itself.

    It is harder to criminalize acts, let alone criminalize people, when people can walk across the border and out of reach of the criminalizers.

    I think intentional communities can be important.

    That said, there is an incredible difference between asserting the right of the individual to seek better communities, and claiming a right of a community to condemn certain individuals.

    In my admittedly incomplete understanding, collectivist anarchism has historically involved either or both of two kinds of community control. The first being near-monopolistic but temporary; a transitional confederation instead of Marx’s transitional state. I think this was Bakunin’s pragmatic proposal. The second being community control of specific institutions, but neither requiring participation nor forbidding competition.

    I think Parecon has sowed the seeds of Prestonism, because it imagines a permanent system which subjects individual choices to community decision, and forbids independent exchange. … And the primitivists like that!

  33. Jeremy

    My name is being mentioned far too often in this thread. Color me uncomfortable.

    I don’t fetishize localism or decentralism - I simply see it as a means to an end. I may place a higher importance on those means, but so what? I don’t see anybody else demonstrating a better strategy (it is just a strategy - if you want to talk about what that “more fundamental desire” is, we can do that).

    What is the end, the core desire? For me, it’s the standard R.A. Wilson line: achieving an honest society where people can tell the truth, or more technically, a society where individuals can maximally express themselves within the collective. For me, the end is authentic, sustainable society. Breaking up concentrations of power is just a means to this end.

    Just so we’re clear about where I stand, I part ways with you all mostly on your insistence on a universal morality against which one can judge affairs (“thick libertarianism” as a motivating ideology). I don’t claim that there’s a “right” way to live, and so I don’t take, for instance, my opposition to fascist societies in some panarchist future as a directive for which I must find justification in morality or natural law or whatever. I’m quite comfortable opposing it because, well, that’s just how I feel about the matter. I have my reasons, but ultimately they are grounded in something either arbitrary (and inaccessable) or intrinsic to reality (and therefore accessible without needing codification and legalisms).

    The truth or significance of that feeling is something we can talk about, but it has more to do with my own journey than some ideology. That is where I feel I diverge from “thick libertarianism”. I support most thick libertarian values because I support them, not because they’re “right”.

  34. Jeremy

    “Prestonism” is a reference, I must assume, to his core position that human beings are inherently tribal, and that therefore the most we can work towards is a cross-ideological alliance against the state rather than the everlasting victory of left libertarian ideology? Whether or not I like that view of humans, I must say it seems to map well to human history and experience. Most people don’t give a damn about liberty, in fact. That does preclude a left libertarian agenda in any way, I would think.

    As far as I know, his critique of thick libertarianism has never been responded to, which is unfortunate; we could all benefit from a informed debate involving Johnson, Long, et al.

  35. Marja Erwin

    Well, I for one have indirectly criticized his essay:

    Grounds Above All

  36. Marja Erwin

    I was more interested, however, in explaining my own views than in confronting his.

  37. Jeremy

    Crap. “That does NOT preclude a left libertarian agenda in any way, I would think.”

  38. Nick Manley

    Long and Johnson said they’d respond to Preston’s essay. I might have too. I don’t think any of us ever wrote an extensive piece.

    Charles,

    What happened to your idea to write one? Just curious.

  39. Rad Geek

    Jeremy,

    And, for the record, I’m not a supporter of National Anarchism.

    For what it’s worth, on this specific issue, I think you’re being subjected to a bit of six-degrees-of-Heinrich-Himmler here, and I think it’s unfortunate and unfair to you. Although Keith Preston is not himself an anarcho-fascist he has put a lot of effort into being accommodating towards anarcho-fascists; and you’ve put a lot of effort into being accommodating towards Keith Preston. I think the links in that chain are worth talking about individually, but I don’t think it’s fair to describe what you’ve been doing as enabling the anarcho-fascists by some kind of transitive property.

    But I would consider working with them on a case by case basis if it served my interests).

    Just out of curiosity, what do you imagine as a case in which it would serve your interests to work with National Anarchists?

    Just so we’re clear about where I stand, I part ways with you all mostly on your insistence on a universal morality against which one can judge affairs (thick libertarianism as a motivating ideology).

    The thick-thin debate is not a debate about moral universalism. It’s a debate about something else. Most people with a thin conception of libertarianism are moral universalists; they just have a different view of what kind of further commitments the moral virtue of justice might recommend. And it’s perfectly possible (although I wouldn’t recommend it; but that’s because I’m a moral universalist) to be an anti-universalistic thick libertarian; indeed, it’s quite possible to advance a view on which some form of anti-universalism or anti-moralism is one of the further commitments that libertarianism recommends. (That seems to be what some Stirnerite and Nietzschean anarchists believe. It also seems to be what you’ve spent the past several months arguing, while claiming that you’re critiquing thick conceptions of libertarianism. The fact that you lay a lot of stress on a very broad-ranging form of social tolerance does not mean that you’re opposing the bundling of further social commitments together with libertarianism. It means that you may disagree with those of us who have a more activist stance in the culture wars about what sort of social commitments ought to be bundled.)

    As far as I know, his [Keith Preston’s] critique of thick libertarianism has never been responded to, which is unfortunate; we could all benefit from a informed debate involving Johnson, Long, et al.

    There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t yet published a response to Preston’s article. If I do it is likely to be a series of responses to short points rather than an attempt at extended dialogue in a single essay. I will say here that part of the problem with Preston’s essay is that it is an extended attack on something other than what he starts off claiming to be attacking; it’s not a critique of thick conceptions of libertarianism at all, but rather a critique of left-libertarianism (or more specifically some aspects of the cultural program advanced by, e.g., Roderick and me, as part of the left component of left-libertarianism). The two are not identical; left-libertarianism, at least as Roderick and I present it, is a species of thick libertarianism, but there are many other kinds; notably, as I’ve repeatedly tried to stress Hoppean paleolibertarians, and orthodox Objectivists are each advancing their own thick conceptions of libertarianism. What I differ with them on is not thick libertarianism — the idea that libertarianism is best seen as one strand within a bundle of interrelated and reinforcing political, cultural, or philosophical commitments, which is one of the very few ideas on which the Hoppeans, the ARIans, and I all agree with each other — but rather the specific commitments that they are trying to bundle in. There are several related and entangled but importantly distinct and conceptually distinguishable issues that Preston is attempting to treat, and I don’t think that the essay does a very good job of distinguishing them carefully. (Which is why thick libertarianism ends up getting used over and over again as if it named a distinctive ideology, rather than what it is, a cluster of picky philosophical distinctions that might help categorize a number of different ideological positions. It’s also why the essay jumbles together several different arguments about several different topics, with very little in the way of anything that actually attempts to engage the work I did on distinguishing, explaining and justifying several different kinds of relationships that might connect the struggle against the state with other values in the thick bundle. This kind of jumbling makes fruitful discussion much harder to carry on, and much more work to prepare.

  40. Marja Erwin

    If we set aside the cultural differences between certain primitivists, certain collectivists, and the right, they share important political similarities with conventional statists.

    Simply put, group self-determination can be a useful shorthand for individual self-determination and cooperative extensions of it. It must not replace individual self-determination.

  41. Araglin

    [Pardon the sprawling quality of this comment, which is not so much a tailored response anyone’s particular comments in particular, as it is a reflection (read: rant) that was occasioned by my reading of the thread as a whole, in the light of the broader controversies among ideas and their proponents that have been played out in the thread and elsewhere.]

    One specific commitment that would need to be bundled with the NAP (and without which any form of thick-libertarianism is going to be deficient) would be a commitment to charity when it comes to interpreting the expressions of those espousing and seeking to articulate values (including rival forms of thick-libertarianism) other to those towards which one finds oneself re-reflectively inclined.

    I have found myself increasingly infuriated by debates that turns on the supposed opposition between individual rights (liberal, libertarian, natural law) and group rights (be they familial, tribal, guild, syndicalist, fraternal, corporate, etc.). Why? Because each side of the debate (those advocating individual rights, and those advocating group rights) is affirming something profoundly true while also covertly imagining that their own truth is somehow fundamentally inconsistent with the alleged truth affirmed by the other side (or else either a truth that is really reducible to their own truth).

    To my mind, this feud (between ‘individualists’ and ‘collectivists’; between ‘liberals’ and ‘communitarians’/’post-liberals) and the mutual recriminations that attend it (which, in the end, simply end up reinforcing each side’s prejudices) will only be able to be called off once a careful (psychological, sociological, ethical, juridical, and ontological) account of association, membership, representation, agency (in the sense of principal-agent relations, not in the sense of intentionality) is developed strictly complies with the liberal conception of rights and justice, while divorcing it from the the atomistic (windowless-monad) view of the human subject that has so often been sutured to (and been wrongly deemed inextricably connected with) that conception (both by its proponents and its enemies).

    To ride one of my hobby horses for a moment, I think that part of the keys to this is going to be through spelling out in a fashion that doesn’t violate any of the strictures of libertarianism, rightly understand, why it is necessary to acknowledge the existence of supra-individual juridical persons.

  42. Soviet Onion

    General Audience,

    More thoughtful responses later when I have the time. For now I just want to add a note to Will’s geographic rundown. I recently discovered via this interview with Anarcho-Jesse that Keene, New Hampshire is actually the Ancap counterpart to Portland, Oregon. It’s not Mogadishu anymore. Adjust your strategies accordingly.

  43. Soviet Onion

    Teh ancap trio Pete, Jason and Adam interview Joe Sacco of Las Vegas “Food not Bombs”.

    Speaking of which, how did things go when you met them for tacos, Charles?

  44. Soviet Onion

    I’m off for the time being, but before I go I want to leave everyone with a Butler Shaffer quote, lovingly pilfered from Will’s blog, who pilfered it from Jeremy’s blog, and so the circle of life continues:

    Because we have derived so much benefit from our associating with one another, most of us have no doubt expected that bringing people together into institutional collectives will foster greater social unity. But this has not been the case. Our expectations have failed to materialize because we have failed to distinguish between those spontaneous, unstructured organizations in which people come together for their mutual interests, and the structured institutional systems that mobilize people, inducing them - through intimidative or coercive means - to sacrifice their individual interests in favor of the alleged collective good. But on close examination, what is purported to be the collective good ends up being on the narrow good of the institution itself. One of the consequences of our being pushed together by institutional pressures has been an increased social isolation, a pulling away from one another.

  45. Aster

    Aster: I’m a moderate on decentralisation- actually, I think the original 1789 American federal system buttressed by an extensive and enforceable Bill of Rights fully incorporated against local tyranny is a fairly good model.

    Charles: Huh? Why? It doesn’t seem to have worked out very well so far.

    Me again:

    It depends what you compare it to. If you compare it to the best system I think human beings are possible of creating, undoubtably it’s inferior. But if you consider it in the context of that vast slaughterbench of individuals known as human history, it looks more like a miraculously achievement. Certainly, the system is on the edge of failing now. But the very partial, irregular, and inconsistent virtues which the system has shown in the last two centuries is still an unspeakable achievement in a world in which the norm is the closed society. I’m alive today. I can’t ever forget that in any previous age, given my ideas and gender transition, I would never have made it this far.

    I think part of the difference in our outlooks is that I look at freedom as a positive construction. I don’t see a natural state of freedom which government, elites, or capital has stolen from us. I see a natural baseline of tribal dictatorship- animal society knows nothing of the individual- which humans have with slow and tortured cumulative effort managed to partially replace with a form of society which allows for some degree of human freedom. We should certainly work and demand more than what we have, but we should also remain aware that the creation of conditions in which the individual personality is even partially free to be herself requires a set of social and material conditions in tension with a state of nature.

    I used to consider myself a borderline anarchist, but I don’t any longer. (let me stress that unlike orthodox Objectivists I am not hostile to anarchism). The reason has to do primarily with an experience in the anarchist scene.

    Some months before I arrived in Wellington, a female anarchist accused a male anarchist of rape. Prior to this, everything I’ve seen suggests that relations within the community were entirely peaceful- zero aggression beyond the level of dishonestly leaving dishes for the next person to clean up. So when this happened, it was a social shock. People picked sides. People got accused of covering up for a rapist and/or damning someone as a rapist without evidence (I have a strong opiniong about who was telling the truth, but I won’t discuss it here). The result ruined friendships, hurt a community involving hundreds of people, and hovered like a ghost over every subsequent practical or ideological disagreement, long after the victim herself clearly expressed an authentic desire to move on.

    The reason the problem kept reverberating is because there was no way to finally and publicly resolve the dispute. Any standing body which was recognised as making a judgement which counted would be… authority, heirarchy, a government. There was clearly a view that things should work themselves out, that things like this shouldn’t happen in a nonheirarchical community… and, indeed, this was a singular and exceptional occurrance within a very honest and safe group of people. But this one aggression had catastrophic results. There was no way to deal with it. And as far as I could see, it was all very tied to the idea that harmony was natural, that interference in that harmony felt wrong. The result of an informality of structure was that everyone ended up supporting their friends and allies and communal trust never entirely recovered. Ironically, the political result of all of this was the creation of a ‘safer spaces’ policy which worked as de facto law but without objective and accountable methods. And the de facto law caused more problems for human freedom than would a written law which explicity set up an authoritative institution.

    The conclusion I came out of this was: law is valuable. I don’t mean enforcement, police, prisons, that sort of stuff. I mean that it is better to have publicly written institutions that set up standards rather than trusting society to work itself out. You need formal principles which don’t spring out of the ground, which have to be set up, written down, and applied in a regular manner within a community- for in the absence of formal rules, you get not no rules but tribal rules.

    After this, and for other reasons, I started becoming very conscious of the fact that the social relations we take for granted depend on a prior structure of civilisation which makes public dealings possible. A civil society may, from a certain angle, be self-organising. But for that social organisation to work (especially if you want it to work in a dircection of individualism and freedom*) one needs a background set of institutions and values which have to be constructively built. And in that light, partially liberal societies start looking much more half-full than half-empty. Freedom isn’t a birthright that dark forces have stolen from us; freedom is a positive accomplishment made possible by the invention of better social structures. And if we wish- as we should- to seek more freedom, we should look at this not as tearing down but as building higher. Those who do think we will find our freedom primarily by breaking and tearing down are mistaken- and are easy prey for people who don’t like a free society and can abuse the naivete of radicals to make them dig their own graves.

    It goes deeper. If you look at an anarchist community, one quickly becomes aware that one is dealing with unusually good people. Nice people. Considerate people. Idealistic people. People who don’t often think of stealing and lying as available options. And they’re often quite privileged people- people who haven’t known as much pain and others and for that very reasons are capable of being more kind and idealistic. That such people exist is a very good thing- the world desperately needs such people and would be very wise not to despise idealists and creators.

    But precisely because most bohemians are nice, they create social systems based upon the assumption that their kind of psychology is a given. They take for granted a great deal of civilisation which is unconscious to them. But that social psychology is as a rule a product of favourable circumstances- such as an enriching, leisurely childhood. If one wants to be rude, it’s also sustained by flat out privilege- the characteristic ethical blindspot of bohemians is the assumption that the world owes us a living.

    But most importantly, the anarchist way of life is built upon an immense complex of civilisation structure carried around inside the human mind. The better world for which anarchism advocates is built upon all the (to my mind, correct) assumptions of this one. When we fault the injustices of the states that came out of the liberal institutions, we’re right, but our capacity to be right is itself the product of the startling success of those revolutions- Thoreau says something like this in On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Even our capacity to think and value more finely and treat others with more human dignity is a product of more humane conditions. Those who criticise the illiberalism of the best existing systems today are themselves the continuing success of those systems. We can criticise them because they won (and, if they fall, we will lose the right to criticise).

    Yes, Americs and all the other liberal democracies were set up by rich dead white men who forgot to include anybody but themselves. But the fact that they included anyone is, by historical standards, an unspeakable improvement and a breathtaking experiment. Throughout human history poverty, superstition, fear, hatred, collectivism, atrocity, and war have been the order of the day. I find it horrible to think about what life for the average person- averaged over our entire history- has really been like. Everyone reading this is privileged beyond sane possibility by any previous standard. And that includes politics- we’re able to posit the possibility of stateless societies because previous social architects managed the feat of creating working liberal societies.

    The success of anarchism would mean that we’ve completely humanised the human condition. The anarchist possibility is a hypercivilisation. Anarchism is not a negation of bourgeois tyranny- it’s an avante-garde continuation of the principles of the older bourgeois liberal revolutions. The revolution (at least one we want) will not break the structures of oppreesion. It will build the structures of freedom another level higher. Anti-racism, feminism, LGBT rights are some of the most recent, the most fragile, and the most difficult of these accomplishments. They are not reversals of the betrayals of 1776 and 1789; they are their most wild successes. And the fact that life after 1776 and 1789 was still a tytannical Hell for most people isn’t something I’ve forgetting- again, I could never have survived if I has been born even one generation ago.

    And in that context, I’m grateful to those dead white men and their state- even if to get my freedom, it is them I have to fight with extensions of their own principles.

    America’s dying today- but it’s dying precisely because it is guided by people who have abandoned the spiritual infrastructure of liberal civilisation- by a ruling class whose level of thinking is an illiterate mess of delusion and pragmatism incapable of sustaining a free society. Any system would fail in the direction of tyranny under the same circumstances.

    #

    One technical point- what I was broadly praising wasn’t the actual American system (past or present), but an ahistorical conjunction of the best parts from different periods- an 18th century ‘conservative’ limited government with 20th century ‘liberal’ provisions for rights enforcement. If I was going to write a model political blueprint I’d change any number of things (a longer bill of rights, proportional representation, a parliamentary system, nix the stupid electoral college).

    But I still think what we need is a consciously selected society based upon specific and rationally validated values. A society in which individuals may do what they wish requires an insistence that societies operate by individualist principles, with an establishment of appropriate civil and formal institutions. You can have a society whee individuals are left alone or you can leave societies alone to dispose as they please with individuals- you can’t have both.

  46. Rad Geek

    Soviet Onion,

    The meetup went well. There was lots of good conversation, and also the fortuitous chance to introduce them to Joe. (The accidental meeting at the RV was shortly after I got there; I hipped the motorhome crew to the fact that he’d been involved with FNB and anarchist organizing in Vegas.) I did an interview which presumably will end up getting posted sometime soon or another; it ended up mostly being about agorism and counter-economics, with a little Anarchism 101 at the beginning. I’ll post a notice when it goes up.

    Aster:

    I’m a moderate on decentralisation- actually, I think the original 1789 American federal system buttressed by an extensive and enforceable Bill of Rights fully incorporated against local tyranny is a fairly good model.

    Me:

    Huh? Why? It doesn’t seem to have worked out very well so far.

    Aster:

    It depends what you compare it to. If you compare it to the best system I think human beings are possible of creating, undoubtably it’s inferior. But if you consider it in the context of that vast slaughterbench of individuals known as human history, it looks more like a miraculously achievement.

    1. I don’t think that it worked out better than other competing proposals which were made at the time would have worked out. For example, if we’re comparing different proposed governments, then it ought to be noted one of the chief accomplishments of the United States Constitution, as compared with the earlier Articles of Confederation was that the U.S. Constitution was deliberately designed to substantially increase centralization, in particular to grant the general government wide powers to impose national taxes and to pass and enforce Fugitive Slave Acts. The first was a substantial reason for its political success at the North; the second was a substantial reason for its political success at the South. I don’t consider either of these an advance over what came before.

    2. How much of an achievement it looks like depends on where you’re looking at it from. There isn’t much of a miracle there for the Shawnee, or the Lakota, or for Africans, or for African-Americans, or for the Filipinos (1,000,000+ dead thanks to a war that could not have happened but for the war machine that a centralized U.S. made possible), or for the Vietnamese (4,000,000 dead from the same cause a few decades later), not just because it failed to improve things but because it made things actively worse than they were before under the status quo ante. It’s not enough to say, Yes, that’s terrible, but the alternatives were just as bad or worse. They weren’t, not for the people who have gotten the heel of the boot under the U.S. government. It’s one thing to say that the ideals that motivated some aspects of the founding events of the U.S. could, if radicalized and universalized, bring liberation for everyone (I agree with that, and often say so); but it’s important not to miss the fact that not only weren’t they, but in fact the selective versions were often used to enable the elite to inflict much more violence, sometimes genocidal violence, on those who were cast outside of the magic circle.

    If you want to go looking for less-lethal states, they exist, but I don’t think that anything like the U.S.A. could possibly qualify. San Marino, maybe; Switzerland, maybe. I have problems with these states, as I do with any other, but I can see citing them as examples of societies which manage to rise above the general bloodbath of recorded history. But certainly not anything that has ever been done under the United States Constitution.

    America’s dying today

    Q: When was it ever alive?

    I think part of the difference in our outlooks is that I look at freedom as a positive construction. I don’t see a natural state of freedom which government, elites, or capital has stolen from us.

    But that’s not my view either.

    I’m not trying to recover a primordial state. I view freedom as an achievement for the future; the question is by what means it can be achieved. My complaint is not that you’re proposing a structure; it’s that you’re proposing a structure which has been tried and found wanting, and which there are good reasons to consider structurually predisposed to the slaughter, enslavement, war, and torture that has been committed under its name since the day that it was signed. The reason that I want the State to get out of the way is not because I expect everything to fix itself automatically once people are left alone. It would do a handy job of automatically fixing some things — nobody but states builds atomic bombs; nobody but states starves people to death in the name of de-kulakization/industrial modernization/intellectual property rights in DNA/opium prohibition/etc. But there are many things that need to be worked out through conscious effort and activism and the building of social structures and institutions.

    So when you say:

    The conclusion I came out of this was: [explicit] law is valuable.

    I agree with you, but I don’t know why that’s an argument against anarchism, or in favor of the United States Constitution. Anarchism doesn’t mean dispensing with all written precepts for social conduct or with any possible sort of juridical institution. It means dispensing with the State. There are plenty of ways of getting explicit law, and institutions which write down laws based on rational deliberation and criticism, and juridical institutions which apply law or judgment to concrete cases, based on consensual association and without any kind of state. That’s been precisely the point of market anarchist theory since the get-go. The idea is not to get rid of orderly dispute resolution, but rather to stop the State from violently suppressing alternative forms of it.

    Without the State, you can’t have finally unaccountable juridical institutions, and you can’t have written laws which are passed off as binding solely because of the political position of those who wrote them down. But I consider that a virtue, not a defect, because the need for institutions which allow for holding aggressors accountable, and for settling disputes through deliberation about right, rather than by means of brute force, doesn’t just apply when it comes to encounters between one citizen and another. It also applies when it comes to encounters between the citizen and the State; but there’s no way to get that as long as the State remains a state. The state as such is lawless in its encounters with the people it claims the right to rule; so if you think that law is valuable, that’s a reason to oppose the state, not a reason to support it.

    As for the particular case you mention, that’s awful, and all too familiar. I’ve encountered plenty of similar situations in anarchist scenes around the U.S. in the past. I think existing anarchist scenes do a very bad job of supporting women and a very bad job of responding to rape in particular. But (1) so does the State, as we both know; (2) partly because of male supremacy, which is everywhere at the moment, but partly also for reasons that have specifically to do with the legal and juridical structure of the state (because state-centric criminal law handle crimes of violence as a matter of the State’s interest in preserving public order, not as a matter of vindicating the rights of individual victims; no surprise that D.A.s and cops are typically incredibly unresponsive to the needs of women, especially when it comes to a crime typically committed within the private sphere); and (3) the problems with the existing anarchist scene only suggest a problem with anarchism as such, or a reason to favor the state, if there are no realistically available ways to deal with a situation like this using anarchistic methods. But there are ways to deal with it. I’m all for people involved in organizing anarchist spaces getting together and writing down, and taking seriously, policies about how to deal with sexual violence or other issues that are likely to come up in a social space. (I’ve personally written plenty of policies, back when I was involved with planning an anarchist convention some years back.) Those people in the scene who think that any such attempt to do so amounts to government (for ill or for good) are, well, wrong — not just wrong about how to deal with the problems of interpersonal violence, but also wrong about what government is and what it is anarchism is opposed to.

    But I still think what we need is a consciously selected society based upon specific and rationally validated values.

    O.K. But isn’t that a reason to favor a form of social organization in which peaceful people are free to select their political institutions, rather than one in which a predetermined set of political institutions are violently imposed on them regardless of their consciously selected preferences?

    A society in which individuals may do what they wish requires an insistence that societies operate by individualist principles, with an establishment of appropriate civil and formal institutions.

    Anarchism does not preclude civil or formal institutions.

    The success of anarchism would mean that we’ve completely humanised the human condition. The anarchist possibility is a hypercivilisation.

    O.K., sure; but the question is how we get there from here. If what you mean as the process of civilization is something like, getting from a condition of chaotic or semistructured violence, to a condition of social peace, then I agree that building social structure is part of the process. But there are different kinds of social structures, and the state is only one among many. It’s only one among many possible structures; it’s also only one among many of structures that have actually operated in history. (Here are some others, which did not derive from a centralized state: the norms and institutions of academe, friendly societies, labor unions, churches, synagogues, the Law Merchant, the English common law of torts and contracts, etc. Some of these are beneficent, others baleful, and most are a mixture of the two.) The question is whether the level of social peace that some people are privileged to enjoy today was brought about by the state, or by other structures without the help of the state, or by other structures in spite of the state; I think the answer is mostly the last. And further, it’s a question of whether, going forward, centralized state methods are likely to advance or to hold back the cause of greater civilization and social peace. I think, looking at what the state actually does do most of the time it is doing something, and looking at what states are always going to be most likely to do, given the way that they are structured, that the question is not a hard one to answer.

    One technical point- what I was broadly praising wasn’t the actual American system (past or present), but an ahistorical conjunction of the best parts from different periods- an 18th century ‘conservative’ limited government with 20th century ‘liberal’ provisions for rights enforcement.

    I hope that you’d also include some other innovations besides the Incorporation Doctrine that also weren’t part of the Founding elite’s interpretation of the Constitution ca. 1790 — for example, the Thirteenth Amendment.

    That said, if we’re now going to be looking at political systems which have never existed at any point in history, and which to be sustainable would also (as you argue) require a different culture and civil society, which does not now exist and never has existed and would involve a really radical transformation of what does now exist — then it seems like I can help myself to the same sort of hope and activism for the sort of radical transformation in culture and civil society which would make anarchy practical, sustainable, and desirable.

  47. Nick Manley

    Aster,

    Yeah, I was going to point out what Charles did for himself. You were attacking a strawman. The federated organizations imagined by anarcho-communists are fantastically consciously constructed. The minarchist-market anarchist debate is over whether competitive defense services can achieve a individualist liberal rule of law — not over the desirability of orderly proceedings per se. There are also a lot of relatively minor disputes in life where the state doesn’t intervene without chaos resulting. A serious rape accusation is arguably something for an objective court of law, but a verbal scuffle with my mom isn’t.

    Charles,

    How would you answer a person pointing out Lawrence vs Texas, Brown vs Board of Education, and civil rights legislation passed on the national level?

    Incidentally, the Brown vs Board of Education decision occurred in the context of compulsory schooling. You were compelled via taxes to support a racist school structure — no doubt said taxes fell on black and white alike.

  48. Aster

    Charles-

    Bill of Rights, Amendment XIII, Aster’s edition.

    Section I:

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the County of Bohemia, or any place subject to her jurisdiction. Actually, involuntary servitude even as punishment for real crime just makess people nastier and isn’t exactly productive. Forced labour as restitution for aggression is a maybe, but it sounds way open to abuse.

    Section II:

    One more thing. It’s still involuntary servitude if you force someone to carry a gun and murder foreigners- actually, that’s even worse. And mandatory volunteerism- you guessed it, ‘involuntary servitude’!

    Section III:

    Oh, and that includes your wife. And your children. Don’t give that look- no, your wife and children aren’t your personal beasts of burden or fuck-toys. I don’t care if ‘your culture’ says otherwise. Tough.

    Section IV:

    It’s still involuntary servitude if you make the kid go to a big ugly building and bore them to death and call it ‘education’.

    Section V:

    It probably doesn’t count if it’s your dog or your cow, but we can discuss that issue. Maybe. Torturing millions of veal calves in factory farms does have a really bad slaveryish feel to it. Cats go under ‘implied non-applicability’- you can’t tell them what to do anyway. Actually, this amendment has an exception regarding you in relation to your cat. Obey her or else, not like you can resist.

    Section VI.

    The principle applies to places not subject to the jurisdiction of the County of Bohemia too, but this isn’t an excuse to bomb foreigners and take their stuff. Or to get other foreigners to ruin their livelihoods so they have to work in your sweatshops for virtually nothing. It even applies to BROWN people, believe it or not- and the fact that it took you this long to figure that out means you suck.

    Section VII. Aster shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Actually, anyone who wants to stop a slavery situation should feel empowered to do it. Figuring out the enforcement and incentive structures will be a bitch, though- but that’s not an excuse for giving up and just letting slavery happen, Keith.

    Section VIII: And the clever loophole in these rules you figured out is NOT OK. Slavery=BAD, if you were missing the point here.

    Section IX: And if you were thinking that of course this principle applied to everyone but you- well, then you were wrong.

    Charles, is that better?

  49. Nick Manley

    Preston bashing…

    I am not convinced Keith’s proposal would re-institute slavery. My grandfather talks about “the blacks”. So does my uncle.

    Neither of them is going to re-institute slavery with the abolition of the American government.

    Aster,

    Sometimes, I feel you paint a far harsher view of American reality than my own sense perception or understanding shows.

    Besides, we have somewhat court regulated slavery with the Federal government. Convicts with “criminal” records consisting of drug violations making license plates or working corporations exploiting prison labor. Every hour I and other proles will have to work to pay off the national debt created by bailing out Wall Street.

  50. Nick Manley

    I have criticized Keith’s views before, but it’s simply slander to say he prefers the re-institution of slavery to the present order.

    Aster,

    Please have more respect for objective portrayals of your opponent’s views.

  51. Soviet Onion

    Aster,

    Charles said most of what I would have. I’m very much in favor of polycentric law, specifically because I think it’s a kind of decentralization (not be confused with mutually-exclusive “localisms” a la Hoppestan/anarcho-communism, ‘cause that shit’s wack) that manages to incorporate the entire cosmopolis in a competitive and collaborative project(+). It’s the kind of decentralization that incorporates multiple overlapping world-strands instead segregating into little chunks where oppressive conditions can entrench themselves. It’s decentralized only in the sense that the same globalized process is taking place everywhere. The center is everywhere. Perhaps a better term for this is “system redundancy”, or even just competition.

    The standard market anarchist talking point posits a competitive system of law and security in which no one is compelled to pay for enforcement they don’t want or seek the services of a specific mediator. This would tend to simultaneously whittle away anything that wasn’t strictly directly related to the defense of person or property, while strengthening those remaining parts (since competition is more efficient than monopoly), resulting in something that would unconsciously grope toward an approximation of a market liberal order, even in the absence of conscious endeavor (and the Lawyers in the crowd would see that as an almost mystical proof of Natural Law, but that’s also wack).

    But the same thing would tend to happen culturally. By subsuming more and more people from larger cultural and geographic groups into the process, and forcing them to reason and persuade in an open environment wherein individuals are presented with a realistic possibility to run to the highest ground, you dissolve taboos and meme-traps to wind up with a code that should tend toward something more respectful of rational individualism, irrespective of whatever local aberrations may have been there initially. That ties into what I meant earlier about competition giving people so many options to run to that it forces all options to become better, because it becomes harder to put the cultural clampdown on anyone.

    You see, this is why I’m not a good writer. I just ramble. To answer your point, I can see reasoned, macro-level cosmopolitan sentiments manifesting themselves best through this kind of anarchist decentralization. You don’t need to choose between an (unstable) monopoly state or an (undesirable) organic tribe.

    (+) It’s no surprise that most of humanity’s early philosophical development took place in violently antagonistic environments like ancient Greece, China, India, Renaissance Italy etc. Competition is just a way of reconstituting this dynamic without violence, anarchist peace being the perfection of what we now call war, as Proudhon would say. Marxism tries to wish this discord away rather than harness it as an engine of progress (and even they recognize that it an engine of progress, but only to envision an end state that transcends it).

  52. Soviet Onion

    Note: I’m the last person to say that cultural change doesn’t matter, but this system is likely to be the most stable and compatible form in which to help preserve and extend it. Certainly more than your description of decentralization would indicate.

    Nick,

    Aster has written some unwarranted misrepresentations of Keith (I prefer to think he enables fascists rather than being one himself) and even more of Jeremy, but this isn’t one of them. Consider Keith’s mission statement that he’s a single-issue activist looking to bring down the Empire and will work with everybody from Fascists to Stalinists to do that, so long as they’re willing to secede, go their separate ways and dominate their own territories once the job is done. If he’s so ecumenical that he’s willing to work with all these people, then why not also some small-scale secessionist group that ended up practicing slavery in their area? What would make them so special that, given his stated criteria, Stalinoids are OK but they’re not?

    If you include authoritarian forms of parenting, education and marriage as forms of slavery, then those are cases where he does directly advocate slavery. Unfortunately, that just makes him like everybody else.

  53. Soviet Onion

    In a loosely related note, I attended the Finding Our Roots anarchist convergence today and something in one of the workshops caught my ear, a word I hadn’t heard in a long time: Globalization. It was in the context of someone describing anarchism as advancing an alternative vision of globalization to the neoliberal one, and this person spoke in kind of a tongue-in-cheek fashion, because he knew that this had already become a cliche.

    Now, left-libertarians do try to present themselves as real advocates of “free-trade”, “free-markets”, “privatization” and sometimes even “property rights”, all in an attempt to redeem these (more or less) valuable concepts from their hypocritical usurpers, and present them as an Unknown Ideal toward which we can aspire with all the genuine radicalism that it deserves.

    But I’ve never seen left-libertarians do the same with “globalization”.

    Isn’t it odd that a group of people who advocate mostly local, self-contained, territorial forms self-government and economic relations still felt that the word “globalization” was worth redeeming, and left-libertarians haven’t?

  54. Nick Manley

    Soviet,

    I will put it on record: I like Aster’s passionate writing and persona. We’ve respectfully disagreed about Keith for a long time — despite having similar criticisms of his work.

    I civilly and respectfully pointed out where her attack on Keith seemed to go astray. You show a misunderstanding of Keith’s views.

    1. Keith hates marriage

    2. Keith has written that a revolutionary movement should construct Sudbury or Summerhill style educational institutions.

    3. Keith has written an article where he basically says his 14 year old son having sex with the hot teacher would not bother him.

    He may be open to alliances with Christian conservatives or whatever. Nonetheless, his own views are extremely stirnite-egoist. I haven’t heard him say he’d work with fascists or Stalinists; let alone slave owners — whatever the logic of his all against the empire stance may end up entailing.

    I disagree a great deal with his agenda, but I feel compelled to see to it that views are stated accurately.

  55. william

    Aster,

    I think giving up on the anarchist project because of one specific instance in one specific scene where some folks failed to have a good response to an instance/charge of rape is a little, well disappointing.

    No one ever pretended that the present-day movement has already found all the habits and organizational tendencies necessary to resolve every dilemma before a functioning society. Our only claim is that such models exist to be found.

    I think these problems of justice can be solved theoretically but because of the emotional immediacy and the relative perpetuity of sexual assault in our culture the movement has opted for a trial and error approach with various cities trying various solutions and engaging in an — albeit limited — dialogue. There are collectives and mediating bodies in dozens of cities across the united states with experience dealing with precisely these kinds of situations, often to impressive ends. Your example is a classic one, but it’s one that’s recognized as such. For all of Social Anarchism’s annoying self-limitations they HAVE demonstrated over the last few decades a serious and proactive commitment to developing organic solutions. And as Market Anarchists we should be able to recognize that if even a free market can take a few iterations to generate and test solutions, a small cliquish group of people LARPing on weekends as though they were already in a free society might take a while longer.

    The problem is not that there aren’t solutions, the problem is that these models and groups fall into disuse and their nuances aren’t conveyed to the next 3-year batch of radicals. Long distance (in time AND space) communication has never been Social Anarchism’s strong suit. But this is not a fundamental impediment but a reality of the movement’s size, culture and technological aptitude.

    .

    As to the rest.

    I take seriously umbrage at your portrayal of the Social Anarchist movement as rife with naive kindness and idealism because of their largely pampered privileged bourgeois upbringings.

    Practically everyone I work with or run into on a regular basis come from backgrounds of seriously fucked up shit. I may think I have the slightly worse extreme stories of childhood homelessness, starvation and abuse, and there may be an annoying rash of privileged upper working-class kids scattered around the scene for good measure, but I am really fucking sick of folks who briefly slum it with the cliques most immediately accessible to them and use such unrepresentative anecdotes to write off the entire movement.

    It’s not about naivety. It’s precisely because we’re intimately aware of the sheer depth of horrors in the sociological/psychological composition of our society and how they function that we endeavor to prove another world is possible.

    Yes America is a pretty damn amazing accomplishment and a great improvement. We can measure things against Anarchy, Full-blown consciousness-outlawed Fascism, or how things were previously in history. America obviously fails against the first but triumphs amazingly against the latters. As far as world empires we could have at this state of technological development America is practically a divine miracle.

    But as you well know it’s a strawman to argue against Anarchists as though we want to immediately whisk away the state and its various forms of control. We’re not, nor have we ever, argued for some police-strike. The civilizing process will take some damn time. Probably millennia were we destined to remain at roughly this level of technological capacity.

    That being true it’s tempting to throw up one’s hands and become a social democrat for the duration. (And we CAN argue for reformism and certain improved models of statism without being hypocrites.) But the reality is that the statist or liberal paradigm is one of fetishizing immediate advances or ameliorations in ignorance or apathy of their long term consequences. Simply put, the game of statist reform threatens to paint us into a corner from which we cannot emerge. Being an Anarchist is differentiated from Liberalism or Minarchism because while some of us may give to the EFF / ACLU, vote for lesser evils or get involved in political campaigns we navigate these contexts constantly mindful of our pursuit of an end far beyond them. We can’t choose means that cripple our ultimate ends.

  56. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-04-26 – Open thread on: localism, decentralism, anarchism, thick conceptions of libertarianism, and the U.S. Constitution:

    […] Anyway. Branching off from a conversation, in the comments on GT 2009-04-22: Direct action gets the goods, about Greens and Reds and cliques and tendencies within the existing Anarchist scene, and how it all relates to market anarchism, William Gillis mentioned: […]

  57. Rad Geek

    For what it’s worth, if you’re interested in continuing the dialogue on localism, decentralism, anarchism, thick conceptions of libertarianism, or the U.S. Constitution, I’d like to recommend the open thread post that I’ve set aside for that topic.

    Thanks!
    -C

· June 2009 ·

· July 2009 ·

  1. Discussed at blog.6thdensity.net

    Social Memory Complex » On the Preston Affair:

    […] would publicly call for a purge or a pogrom escapes me - even as a bad joke (along the lines of prescribing “Antifa-style beatdowns” for non-believers, just to pull an utterly random example out of thin air). Yet we libertarians have never been a […]

Post a reply

By:
Your e-mail address will not be published.
You can register for an account and sign in to verify your identity and avoid spam traps.
Reply

Use Markdown syntax for formatting. *emphasis* = emphasis, **strong** = strong, [link](http://xyz.com) = link,
> block quote to quote blocks of text.

This form is for public comments. Consult About: Comments for policies and copyright details.