Posts tagged Dyer Lum

M@ Mailed Monthly (June 2011): Free Market Public Property and Bomb-Throwing Revolutionary Mutualism

tl;dr. Two beautiful new booklets are available for ordering to-day from the ALL Distro — this month’s Market Anarchy, with an article on truly public property — public property, that is, without state control — and this month’s Anarchist Classic, with a Spencerian-Mutualist take on the Economics of Anarchy, by the insurrectionary mutualist Dyer D. Lum. You can get one free sample copy of either series (or both) to check out, if you’re considering a monthly subscription for individual copies or monthly packs to distribute in the radical space of your choice. Sound good? Contact me for details.

Scatter tracts, like raindrops, over the land….

— William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, March 1831.

To-day, I am happy to announce this month’s two additions to the Alliance of the Libertarian Left Artwork & Agitprop Distro. They debuted on Saturday at this year’s Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair, and now, gentle reader, they come to you. Issue #20 (June 2011) of the monthly Market Anarchy Zine Series is a formulation by Roderick Long, on the right to public property in a stateless society. Issue #8 of the Anarchist Classics Zine Series is an edition of Dyer D. Lum’s The Economics of Anarchy, a fascinating Spencerian-Mutualist account of ownership and labor in a free society.

Here we are:

Market Anarchy #20 (Jun’11). Reclaim the Commons!

Public Property Without the State

Roderick T. Long (1998)

An individualist anarchist analysis and defense of rights to public property — not property that belongs to government, but property that belongs to the public — you and me and our neighbors.

Libertarians often assume that a free society will be one in which all (or nearly all) property is private…. To most people, ‘public property’ means ‘government property.’ As an anarchist, I do not advocate government property of any sort. But this is not the only kind of public property. Throughout history, legal doctrine has recognized, alongside property owned by the the public as organized into a state and represented by government officials, an additional category of property owned by the unorganized public. This was property that the public at large was deemed to have a right of access to, but without any presumption that government would be involved in the matter at all. It is public property in this sense that I am defending….

It is true that private property provides a protected sphere of free decision-making – for the property’s owners. But what is the position of those who are not property owners? A system of exclusively private property certainly does not guarantee them ‘a place to stand.’ Far from providing a sphere of independence, a society in which all property is private thus renders the propertyless completely dependent on those who own property…. It is true that users of public property face a somewhat greater risk from their fellow users than users of private property do. By the same token, however, public property allows more freedom. That is why the best option is a society that makes room for both public and private property. Those who place a high value on security, and are willing to put up with burdensome restrictions in order to get it, will be free to patronize private property, while those who seek self-expression, are averse to restrictions, and are willing to put up with more risk from others will likewise be free to patronize public property….

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Anarchist Classics #8 (Jun’11). The Economics of Anarchy

A Study of the Industrial Type

Dyer D. Lum (1890)

I have repeatedly been asked to write a brief summary of the aims sought by Anarchists which could be read and discussed in the various clubs that are studying economic questions. With this end in view the following pages are submitted, trusting that they may be a help to those who are earnestly seeking the rationale of the Labor Question….

FREE EXCHANGE … would break the monopoly now possessed by currency, the instrument of exchange, and also could open full use of the possession of land…. Has the workman equal freedom to compete with the employer of labor? … But why not? Because behind the capitalist, as we now find him, privilege lends support which transforms the result of honest industry into a hideous Moloch standing with outstretched arms to receive as sacrificial victims the toilers who have made that capital possible…. Capital itself is man’s best friend, the true social savior that opens the march of progress and that has transformed society from warlike to peaceful pursuits. But under the crucifying hands of legalization, where prerogative mocks at penury, its mission is thwarted and it becomes a ravenous beast…. Reliance upon militant measures, trying to curb indus­ trial discontent by legislative coercion, is reactionary in character. However disguised in twilight mixtures it is the spirit of the old regime seeking to dominate the new; as vain as seeking to check an exhaustless flow of water by damming the stream. The remedy cannot lie in enactments, in the organ­ization of systems, in return to simplicity of structure, for industrial civilization demands plasticity of forms … while organization, on the other hand, ever tends to rigidity….

Dyer Lum was among the most labor-oriented of the American mutualists, working actively as a labor organizer and maintaining close working ties with August Spies, Albert Parsons, and many of the other Chicago Communists — he actually took over publishing The Alarm after Parsons and the other Haymarket martyrs were hanged. Unlike Tucker, who officially rejected any concern with questions of ownership and employment, so long as workers were fully freed from monopolistic constraints on their bargaining power, Lum’s book is a defense of mutual enterprise and worker ownership. But he also explicitly rejects communism and defends private property and free exchange — which Lum approaches with a fascinating appropriation of Herbert Spencer’s distinction between the militant type and the industrial type of society, characterized respectively by violence, domination and rigidity, on the one hand; and peace, productivity, equality and plasticity on the other.[1] Lum is also notable as an insurrectionist — a sort of bomb throwing revolutionary Mutualist. There’s a common, and really grossly mistaken, stereotype that the Collectivist and Communist Anarchists in America were the revolutionaries, and the Individualists and the Mutualists were Philosophical Anarchists who had no immediate plan to overthrow government, and for the time being counseled only education and moral agitation.[2] But this is wrong, as a general thing,[3] and Lum in particular is a huge, obvious counterexample — a defender of revolutionary politics and of the Chicago martyrs, who smuggled the dynmite caps to the imprisoned Louis Lingg. In Economics the issue appears mostly in the background — with the occasional adversions to, e.g., the relationship between Garrison’s agitation and Brown’s insurrection — but it is approached directly in an extended discussion in the final chapter, a Digression on Methods.

$2.00 for 1; $1.50/ea in bulk.

As I’ve mentioned in past months, both the Market Anarchy Zine Series and the new Anarchist Classics Zine Series have become regular monthly publications. One issue in each series is published every month. New issues are normally announced during the first week of each month, and mailed out during the third week of the month. (This month, as you can see, the announcement has been deferred in order to focus on preparing the new issues, and other wares, for the Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair. But we should be returning to our regular schedule in July.) You can order individual copies online or contact me to sign up for a regular subscription, either for personal reading or bulk orders for distributing, tabling, or stocking local infoshops and other radical spaces. If you’re considering subscribing, you can contact me to request a free sample copy for you to check out, compliments of the Distro; then, if you like it, continue the subscription for the rest of the year at the following rates:

Market Anarchy Zine Series

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For details on all your options (including ready-to-print electronic versions, customization with local contact information, and discounts for quarterly shipments), see Market Anarchy Mailed Monthly.

Prices include shipping & handling costs. If you decide not to continue the subscription, the sample issue is yours to keep. Intrigued? Contact me forthwith and we’ll get something worked out.

That’s all for now. Next month, you can look forward to some free-market environmentalism and the long-lost problems of an individualist. Until then—read and enjoy!

See also:

  1. [1] His use of the Spencerian distinction, and especially his opposition of militant rigidity to industrial plasticity is, I think, importantly connected with the common Mutualist emphasis on the character of markets as spaces for social experimentation and discovery; as Lum writes, The remedy cannot lie in enactments, in the organization of systems, in return to simplicity of structure, for industrial civilization demands plasticity of forms which the law of equal freedom alone gives, while organization, on the other hand, ever tends to rigidity….
  2. [2] In another, and even more grossly mistaken oversimplification, it is often claimed that the former, allegedly Communist and revolutionary, kind of Anarchism was mainly or exclusively European, or imported to America by European immigrants, while the latter, allegedly Mutualist and philosophical, was a native American tradition, which allegedly derived from peculiarly American traditions, which had little or nothing to do with the European insurrectionism, and which was fundamentally different because it grew in a different soil. It’s another topic for another day, but for now suffice it to say that this whole attempted dichotomy is a farrago of nonsense, promoted on the one hand by Communists, who intended to discredit Mutualism as conservative, quietist, parochial and outmoded; and by later defenders of Mutualism, especially during the mid-20th century, who attempted to defend the tradition, by dissociating it from the charges of foreignness and violence directed against all forms of Anarchism in an age of red-baiting and nationalism. But the Communists are wrong about Mutualism, and the would-be friends of Mutualism would have done better to push back against belligerently idiotic 100%-Americanism than to try to pander to it. The reality is far more complicated, and Lum is as good a place as any to start if you want to get into it.
  3. [3] Tucker counseled more or less strict adherence to non-violent forms of struggle, like rent strikes and tax resistance. But any observer of the 20th century should be aware that non-violent struggle is not the same thing as non-struggle. In any case, beyond Tucker, American individualists had a wide range of views. The authors of A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery and In Defense of Emma Goldmann and the Right of Appropriation would be very surprised to learn that they were philosophical Anarchists who foreswore any kind of revolutionizing or violence.

Lazy Linking of the Libertarian Left

Enjoy!

ALL I need to know about the Revolution is what I heard in Vegas

ALLies,

As promised, here is (finally) the text (more or less) of my speech at the Libertarian Party of Clark County. There was a scheduling mix-up, so I got about half the time I expected in which to speak; parts that are struck out are parts that I omitted in the interest of time. I should note that, if you’re not familiar with public speaking, reading from a more or less completely prepared script like I did can be both a crutch and a handicap at the same time; if you’re nervous it provides a guaranteed route from where you are to the end of the line, but having it ready at hand also encourages nervous tics, including obtrusive glances down to the sheet, that can really detract from the reading. In my own case, I’m fairly familiar both with talking from notes and with reading prepared papers, but the written-out script was mainly the result of time pressures, and, since I didn’t have time to rehearse it, and also found out, too late to do anything about it, that I wouldn’t have a lectern to make my glancing at the sheet less obtrusive, I know my delivery suffered a bit because of it. The best thing to do in your local groups is, no doubt, to try to make sure you have enough time to meet beforehand and practice your talk. Anyway, on to the content:

I am here today to bring you two messages. So let me cut to the chase and deliver both of them right now. They are the point of this entire talk, and I can put them both in ten words or fewer. Here’s the first: Las Vegas will be free soil in our own lifetimes. And the second is: We are all going to make it happen. And when I say We all, I don’t just mean the people in this room. I don’t just mean the people in this political party, either. I don’t mean the people in my own organization, the Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I mean all of us, everybody. The LP and Southern Nevada ALL and you and me, yes—but also our friends and our neighbors and our fellow workers. I believe that in my lifetime, all of us in Las Vegas will rise up and we will make ourselves free of the oppression and exploitation inflicted upon us by government laws, government regulation and regimentation, government cops, and government bureaucrats—local government, county government, state government, federal government, and transnational governing bodies like the UN, WTO, and IMF. We will become free because we have, individually and cooperatively, made ourselves ungovernable. We will do this with or without the cooperation of the rest of the world, and whether or not the political powers that be have been persuaded of the truth and virtue of the freedom philosophy; if the souls of politicians and political institutions can be cured, then that will make it so much the easier, but even if they cannot, we can and we will make it no longer worth their while – no longer even sustainable – for them to rule us against our will. We can and we will dump the bosses and the bureaucrats off our backs—politically, socially, economically—and we will stand upright, in control of our own destinies.

I’m saying these things today because I think they are important. I think they are important because they seem impossible, and yet they are true. It’s easy to doubt that Las Vegas can be free—really, totally free—in our own lifetimes. Government is big. Government is everywhere. Government consumes somewhere between one third and one half of every dollar that you make. Every dollar that you make and every dollar that you spend is itself part of the world’s largest and most powerful government monopoly—the government-centralized banking cartel and its fiat money monopoly. City government patrols every street. The federal government of the United States is the richest, most technologically advanced, and most militarily powerful organization in the history of the world. The two major parties, which thoroughly dominate the electoral process at every level, show no real signs of wanting to roll back government in any major area of policy, or even to contain it at its current levels; no matter whether a Demopublican or a Republicrat candidate wins, the party in power is more or less guaranteed to aggressively push government further and further into our lives. It’s easy to get dizzy just looking at the size and scope of government. It’s easy to lose hope entirely in the face of such an enemy. And it’s just as easy, and just as destructive, in the long run, to lose hope by deferring it, by concluding that freedom is only for our children or our grandchildren or our great-grandchildren, that it takes a long and slow process of chipping away at the edges of invasive government, in the hope that, after the next several four-year election cycles, we might begin to get a little freer, and we might be able to contain or even roll back government a little, leaving the rest of the task for future generations. I am here today to say that that’s not good enough. I am here to say that freedom is much closer than any of us think, if we fight for it, and if we know where to take that fight. And I am here today to ask you all to get into that fight by having the hope to believe in, and the courage to say some things that are both crazy and true.

Well, O.K., then. Now that I’ve said all that, let me back up a bit, so that I can give you an idea of where I’m coming from, and then come back around to the details of where I think we can go from here. My name is Charles Johnson. I’m here on behalf of a new radical libertarian project called the Southern Nevada Alliance of the Libertarian Left. I write for a weblog called the Rad Geek People’s Daily, at radgeek.com. I’ve been a libertarian writer, activist, and organizer – both inside and outside of the Libertarian Party, especially the Libertarian Party of Alabama – since about 2001. Since 2000, I’ve also been a writer, activist, and organizer for many groups and causes within the radical Left and the radical feminist movement. Depending on where you are coming from, that may or may not seem strange; it may even seem incoherent. I think that with the right understanding of both the Freedom Movement and of the radical Left – or, rather, the right understanding of the particular tendencies within the Freedom Movement, and within the radical Left, that I am working in – it won’t seem that way anymore. But I’ll come back to that in a bit.

First, I want to say a few words about Southern Nevada ALL. We are a new organization, a local chapter of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, which also has active chapters in Kansas City, Richmond, Virginia, and a new chapter forming in the Chicago area. The locals are autonomous and work together as equals: there’s no big central ALL office that tells local chapters what to do, but we keep in touch with the locals in other towns and we share our experiences and our materials, which each local chapter can adapt to the conditions in its own community. We use the ALL name because our groups have certain principles and strategic priorities in common with each other. Let me try to break down what some of those are. The Alliance of the Libertarian Left believes in….

  1. Radicalism – we pull no punches, and we make no compromises, in our presentation of the freedom philosophy. We don’t shy away from emotional and controversial issues, either. We are anarchists, not limited-governmentalists; we are extremists, not moderates; and we’re not afraid to say so.

  2. Populism – we believe that libertarianism is for everybody, and the people who have the most to gain from, and the most to contribute to, the movement, are the people who are the most downtrodden, the most thoroughly oppressed and exploited, in our current social and political regime.

  3. Solidarity and social justice – we believe in many of the goals associated with Progressives or the statist Left today – anti-racism, anti-imperialism, gay liberation, feminism, environmental sustainability, radical labor solidarity, and many of the other commitments that are commonly grouped together under the heading of social justice. Unlike state Leftists, we believe that these goals can and should be achieved by free people in a free society, using free association and cultural activism to change existing social and material conditions, without getting government regulations or bureaucracies involved. We intend to achieve Lefist goals through libertarian means.

  4. Non-electoral social change – we are not affiliated with any political party or any candidate for political office. We do not try to achieve change by petitioning the politicians currently in power, or by trying to replace them with other, better politicians. There’s a place for that kind of activism, but lots of other organizations – including the Libertarian Party – are already working on it. If we tried to do it, we wouldn’t be very good at it, so what we specialize in are other means of social change: mass education, targeted persuasion, non-violent direct action, and the creation of alternative institutions that counter or bypass the State.

I’ll have more to say about all of this later. But for now, let me say a few things about what Southern Nevada ALL has done so far, and where we are going from here.

Right now we are a new organization, and we are in the process of getting our bearings, making contacts, and looking for allies. Southern Nevada ALL’s first public action was a bit of guerrilla education that we did on Tax Day, April 15th – by posting these flyers around town in Las Vegas, mainly on UNLV campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods. The action had two immediate goals. First, to get out a radical anti-tax message that would appeal to anti-authoritarians of all stripes, and also specifically to anti-war Leftists. Second, to get our name out and let likely new ALLies and contacts know that we were forming this new organization. I consider it to have been a smashing success – at least, insofar as it ended up almost tripling our membership (growing from the two founders, David Houser and myself, to five members after the flyering), and laid the groundwork for future actions. I’ll come back around to talk about those in a minute.

First, though, I want to say a few things about non-electoral methods for social change, and then about the Left.

I’m not about to deny that electoral politics – voting, party-building, running better candidates – has some role to play in making social change. I think it has played a very important role in the past, and that it can play a very important role in the future – both through efforts to destabilize or reorient the major parties, as with Ron Paul’s campaign within the Republican Party, and also through efforts to create alternatives to the two-party system and open up new spaces for libertarian ideas, as with the Libertarian Party. What I do want to stress today is that it’s important for us not to limit ourselves to electoral politics. There are all kinds of ways that social change happens, and electoral politics is only one of them. While it can be a very powerful method, it’s also a very difficult one, and a time consuming one, and a slow one. So while I encourage you all to do whatever you find it worth your while to do through electoral politics, I am here to stress the need to add other forms of activism to your toolbox. If we are going to become free in our own lifetimes – and I believe that we will – then relying on electoral politics alone will never be enough. After all, running candidates and voting can only effect a change once you have managed to convert 50%+1 of the electorate over to your position; there’s very little room for accomplishing small changes on the margin. It also imposes a very rigid and quite slow schedule on making social changes: you only have a shot at changing anything for one day every two to four years. And an elections-only strategy necessarily excludes large numbers of people – including especially the very people that are the most thoroughly oppressed by the current political regime, who have the most to gain from a fight for freedom – people like drug war prisoners, and illegal immigrants, who are legally excluded from voting at all. If we want to make lasting change within our lifetimes, we will need to adopt some other methods of social change – methods that don’t have to wait on the next election, methods that don’t have to wait on 50%+1, and methods that can be for everybody, with or without a permission slip from the State.

To give you an idea of what I mean, let me tell you a couple stories.

[Spokane Free Speech Fight, 1910]

I know this story more or less by heart, so I told it off the cuff instead of writing it out. If you haven’t heard it told before, my version was just a slightly shortened version of Utah Phillips’s version. —R.G.

There are a lot of ways of doing direct action. Here’s a recent one that I read about, from a group of middle-schoolers in Readington, NJ. [Pennies work-to-rule in Readington, NJ]

Another special kind of direct action that I want to mention, which is very important to the ALL and to many other libertarian Leftists, is the concept of counter-economics. Counter-economics is the underground practice of radical libertarian theory. Counter-economics means creating your own, unregulated institutions, independently of the State, in which you profit by ignoring or defying the institutionalized requirements imposed by the government and by the business establishment. Counter-economics builds alternative institutions through illegal black markets, and quasi-legal grey markets. And counter-economics is everywhere: it’s the unlicensed pharmacist slinging drugs to willing customers on the street corner. It’s the illegal immigrant dodging government border controls and then working under the table, without turning over the fruits of her labor to the IRS. It’s the waitress building up a nest egg from cash tips that she doesn’t report to the IRS. It’s e-gold and the Liberty Dollar and the Ithaca Hour producing durable currencies as an alternative to the Fed’s fiat money monopoly. It’s your cousin downloading free MP3s on his college network, in defiance of government-enforced copyright monopolies. It’s a grey market outfit like Food Not Bombs, where activists cover their own food costs and provide hot meals to homeless people by dumpster-diving surplus food from grocery stores (which is still fresh enough to eat, but no longer fresh enough to sell under existing government food regluations), cooking it, and serving the food for free in public spaces like parks.

It’s important to see that this kind of black market and grey market activity is itself a form of direct action, no less than filling the jails, and no less than a sit-in or a work-to-rule action. One of the ALL’s chief goals is to promote freedom through direct action, including through counter-economics, to encourage people who haven’t gone counter-economic yet to support the legitimacy and the importance of counter-economic businesses, and to encourage people who are already engaged in counter-economics to become self-conscious and organized counter-economists – that is, to see that what they are doing is not only personally profitable, but also politically valuable, and to see themselves as part of a larger movement to evade, undermine, and ultimately eliminate the invasiveness of the State.

One of the great advantages of counter-economics is that it’s one of the few forms of political activism in which people can strike a blow for freedom without having to become something that they are not, and which most people never will be – that is, die-hard, self-sacrificing activists who have a perfect grasp on libertarian philosophy and consistently make the right policy decisions. Counter-economics puts libertarianism into practice naturally; a practicing counter-economist is a practicing anti-statist as a matter of day-to-day business, whether or not she understands the whole philosophical theory that backs up her practice. And counter-economics also does something that almost no other form of political activism does: it produces direct, immediate profits for the person practicing it (because she makes money she wouldn’t otherwise be able to make, or keeps money she wouldn’t otherwise be able tokeep, or gets goods and services she wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain). Part of the reason I said that I believe that we are all going to be part of Las Vegas becoming free soil is because I believe that if we take this fight not only to the electoral arena, but also to the streets, in the form of self-conscious direct action and counter-economics, we will have a tool at our disposal which will empower the most marginalized and least privileged people to join the struggle, and which will also make fighting for freedom the most selfish and most profitable thing for people – especially poor and oppressed people – to do.

Now, of course, there’s a downside to direct action, and especially to counter-economics: it can be dangerous. Nobody in ALL saying that you should get out there and start your own multimillion dollar heroin ring. (If you have started one, anyway, I’m not about to talk about it, and I’d rather you didn’t tell me about it. The first rule of a counter-economic business is, you don’t talk about a counter-economic business.) I’m the first to acknowledge this, and also to acknowledge that that means we shouldn’t put all our eggs in the counter-economic basket. I don’t think we should put all our eggs in any tactical basket. Counter-economics is important, and other forms of direct action are important, but so are a lot of other things. For the LP, that can mean electoral politics. For Southern Nevada ALL, it means mass education and targeted persuasion – through our flyers, through literature drops, through our website, through public speaking events like this one, and by creating alternative institutions (which I’ll come back to later) for distributing information and views through new channels. Neither education alone nor direct action alone will bring about victory; but when they are put together, each can become much more powerful than they were alone. Educating the people at large about libertarian ideas, and trying especially hard to persuade a handful of people who are especially open to radical politics, can make direct action much more powerful by creating the above-ground and underground networks of supporters that direct action needs to be successful. On the other hand, putting libertarian ideas into practice through direct action also reinforces education and persuasion, and makes them much more powerful than they would be on their own: people are much more likely to get involved, and to stay involved, in a project that leads to concrete action and real results. Libertarian talk accomplishes little if libertarianism remains nothing more than a talk shop; but talk can accomplish a hell of a lot when talk pulls people towards public and private action, and when public and private action get more people talking.

Now, some words about the Left. From the mid-20th century onward, movement libertarians have mostly conceived of themselves as the enemies of the Left (and vice versa), and the radical Left especially. Many libertarians came directly out of Right-wing or conservative movements (such as Young Americans for Freedom, the Republican Party, or the Right-wing talk radio scene). Libertarians mixed fairly freely with, and often worked with, small-government conservatives, and, even when they criticized conservative forms of government intervention (especially socially conservative policies, such as the Drug War or anti-abortion laws), they generally reserved their harshest words and most of their political activism for Left-liberal politicians, for redistributionist government social programs such as welfare and food stamps, and for social justice organizations like the anti-sweatshop movement and labor unions.

Well, to be clear, I for one have no problem attacking Left-liberal politicians, or government welfare programs. I oppose all efforts to expand the scope and power of government, and all forms of government-directed regimentation of trade or redistribution of wealth. But it is important to realize that criticizing the political means that many Leftist reformers have adopted over the past century doesn’t necessarily involve criticizing the ends that they adopted. And it is just as important to remember that the relationship between libertarians and the Left has not always been so chilly on either side. If we distinguish radical Leftists – think the Industrial Workers of the World, or Students for a Democratic Society, or the Black Panthers, or Noam Chomsky – from establishment liberals – think Albert Shanker or Teddy Kennedy or the AFL-CIO – then we’ll find that, while the establishment liberals have always been rock-ribbed defenders of the State, the radical Leftists – especially the radicals of the late 19th century, early 20th century, and, for a few years, the New Left of the late 1960s and early 1970s – have been some of the fiercest critics of the welfare-warfare State, as opponents of imperialism and COINTELPRO domestic surveillance, and also as proponents of people-powered, grassroots projects that provided mutual aid directly to people in the community, without any government welfare bureauracy. (Teddy Kennedy pushed for government welfare and healthcare. The Panthers argued that black people should forget about the government bureaucracy, and served voluntarily-funded free breakfasts in the ghetto instead—while they derided government welfare as a means of alienating poor blacks from their own community and keeping them dependent on the white man’s government.)

Similarly, there was a time when libertarians saw themselves not as the enemies of the Left, but as the most radical and consistent part of the Left. Nineteenth century libertarians such as Lysander Spooner and Stephen Pearl Andrews came out of the radical wing of the Abolitionist movement, and, after the Civil War, allied themselves with other culturally and politically radical movements against political and social privilege – including the labor movement, the anti-racist movement, the freethought movement, and First Wave feminism. The individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker, whose magazine Liberty was one of the most influential libertarian publications in America from the 1880s through the first decade of the 20th century, described his position as Absolute Free Trade; … laissez faire the universal rule, but he and his circle also routinely identified themselves as socialists – not because they were setting themselves against the ideal of the free market, but rather because they were setting themselves against actually existing big business. They argued that a handful of men exercised control over finance, capital, and (thus) the daily lives of ordinary workers, not because of free market processes, but rather because of plutocratic government economic regimentation and government-granted monopolies – especially the Big Four monopolies of government centralization and regulation of banking for the benefit of finance capital, government protectionist tariffs for the benefit of industrial fat cats, government-granted monopolies on the use of ideas through patents and copyrights, and government seizure of control over wild and unused land. The Tuckerite individualists saw the invasive powers of the State as both the root of, and the reason for, the dominance of Big Business and entrenched capitalists over smaller competitors, workers, and cooperative shops. And they suggested that the Freedom Movement should strike at the root of the problem by organizing workers into countervailing organizations such as boycott leagues and labor unions to expose, challenge, resist, and ultimately simply to bypass the economic regulations that the State and the bosses were conspiring to impose on them by force. In the early 20th century, American individualists like Dyer Lum and immigrant anarchists like Emma Goldman fought for much the same vision, and their influence produced one of the largest and most influential labor unions of the early 20th century – the Industrial Workers of the World, which viewed government planners and bureaucrats as the tools of the bosses and the enemies of workers, and who urged workers to look not to the government, but to themselves, through the creative use of free association, agitation, direct action in the workplace, voluntary strikes, union solidarity, and voluntary mutual aid between workers, which would bypass the State, and create alternative, non-coercive institutions like union hiring halls and workers’ co-ops, which would build a new society within the shell of the old.

If the labor movement is statist today, it is only because it is now what State regulation and patronage have made it. The I.W.W. was targeted for massive government repression during the 1910s and 1920s, most notoriously in the Wilson administration’s World War I political prosecutions and the later Palmer raids, in which Wilson’s goon squad rounded up, jailed, and deported thousands of I.W.W. unionists and other anarchists, solely on the basis of their political beliefs. In the 1930s, a conservative, pro-government wing of the labor movement collaborated with the Progressive business class and the New Deal pro-government liberals to create the modern National Labor Relations Board system, in which centralized, establishmentarian unions like the AFL-CIO have been granted government privileges in organizing and negotiating, in return for submitting to extensive government regulations on the methods and goals that they can adopt. These new laws served as both a subsidy for conservative unionism as against radical competitors like the I.W.W., and also as a form of insurance that the subsidized labor unions would not do anything that fundamentally challenged the fundamental principles on which the state-corporate system and the interventionist political regime were founded.

The reality is that, through government regulation of the labor movement, export subsidies, the Big Four monopolies, government support for regulations that benefit entrenched market players, and through corporate welfare (whether in the form of direct monetary pay-offs, or in the form of land seized, Kelo-style, through eminent domain), big corporations like General Motors have benefited at least as much from government patronage as big unions like the UAW. Yet libertarian criticism of the magntes of state capitalism is hardly expanded into criticism of all businesses as such; while many 20th century libertarians have written as if the labor movement did not exist before the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, and as if the faults of existing conservative unions are a sort of original sin for which all labor unions ought to b condemned. This difference in treatment is no doubt closely connected with the emphasis many 20th-century libertarians placed on defending the free market against the attacks of Communists and other state socialists. While they were right to argue that existing modes of production are distorted by government intervention, should not be even further distorted by increasing government regimentation, this insight was often perverted into the confused belief that existing business practices – the way that Wal-Mart does business, say, or the way that Nike treats its workers in third-world sweatshops – are themselves the natural outcome of an undistorted market. But these practices did not emerge from a free market in the first place; they emerged from a market already heavily distorted by government intervention. The answer, then, is clearly less government, not more; but there is also good reason for libertarians to condemn the economic distortions that already shape the state-capitalist labor market, and to promote anti-statist models of labor organizing as an essential part of the libertarian defense of free markets.

It’s for precisely these reasons that those of us in the ALL support wildcat unions and state-free forms of voluntary mutual aid, and look back to the history of those radical Leftist efforts that organized the oppressed and made use of people-power to challenge, resist, or simply bypass the State – such as the I.W.W.’s free speech fights. Or the nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns against British imperialism in India and against government Jim Crow laws in the Southern United States. Or the Jane network in Chicago, in which radical feminists learned how to perform simple first-timester abortions, and provided safe, affordable illegal abortions to hundreds of women in Chicago years before Roe v. Wade. Or the Black Panther Party’s efforts to replace white-controlled government policing and government welfare in black neighborhoods with community-based, non-governmental mutal aid and self-defense. And so on.

So, with these tools in hand and with these examples in mind, what can we do?

As I mentioned, Southern Nevada ALL is a new organization, and what we have done so far has focused on getting our name and our basic message out, on networking and making contacts, and on preparing a base for future activism. Our choice of present and future actions has been guided by a particular understanding of the situation in Las Vegas, and of the place where we can best fit ourselves into the existing activist scene. Southern Nevada ALL can act as a partner for, and as a sort of interface between, three different groups of activists within the Las Vegas area, each of whom we have some significant differences with, but also many overlapping interests: first, voting libertarians such as y’all in the Libertarian Party, and the movement that has grown out of the Ron Paul MeetUps; second, other non-electoral, anti-statist activists, especially Black Flag anarchist groups and projects; third, Leftist social justice groups working on issues such as immigration, civil liberties, police brutality, abortion rights, or the decriminalization of sex work.

Our role and the issues we have chosen come from our analysis of the particular situation here in Las Vegas. There’s clearly a tremendous thirst for anti-war, radical libertarian ideas in Las Vegas – as demonstrated by the groundswell of support for Ron Paul this past year, in direct opposition to the old guard of the state Republican Party. And also as demonstrated, in a different way, by the massive turn-out for immigrant freedom marches two years ago, on May 1, 2006. But this interest has not yet been converted into effective action, and there is a danger that, when election season ends five months from now, and the excitement of campaigning fizzles, a lot of that interest and that organizational energy may dissipate back into the background. We believe that at this point it is vital to reach out to energized, creative activists, and give them a channel for their enthusiasm and their activism that doesn’t require them to wait four more years before they see any action. Now is the perfect time to advance non-electoral methods of social change, and the building of alternative institutions that don’t revolve around multiyear election cycles, in order to keep the push for freedom going beyond the end of the election season.

And here in Las Vegas, the peculiar issues that we face have informed our decision of what sorts of groups to work with and what sort of issues to stress most in our activism. We have chosen to focus most closely on issues that intimately affect the lives of ordinary people in Las Vegas – such as police brutality (especially relevant, in light of the heavy police presence in Las Vegas and the recent string of brutality complaints lodged against the Henderson police), freedom from government border restrictions (especially relevant in a town with as large an immigrant population as Las Vegas, and where so many turned out for immigrant freedom marches only two years ago), and the collusion between politically-connected real estate developers and government interventions such as eminent domain and politically-driven development schemes (especially relevant in a town so thoroughly dominated by the Convention Board and other private-public partnerships, not to mention a town which has been hit so hard by the collapse of a government-driven real estate development bubble).

With that in mind, since our Tax Day flyering on April 15th, Southern Nevada ALL has also:

  1. Done literature drops of left-libertarian pamphlets around town, getting our message out on labor solidarity, freedom of immigration, voluntary mutual aid, how government creates and entrenches urban poverty, and so on, using these pamphlets – from William Gillis’s excellent Market Anarchy zine series, and a Vegas Anarchy series of our own;

  2. Done some low-level networking and outreach events with this chapter of the Libertarian Party, the United Coalition for Im/migrant Rights, and local feminist and gay liberation organizations;

  3. Started holding informal dinner meetings of ALL members and sympathizers, for networking, talking shop, and launching new projects. (The next one is planned for June 18th; if you’re interested, I’ll hook you up with the details later tonight.)

  4. Participated in the May Day immigrant rights rally at the federal court house in Las Vegas, where we called for the decriminalization of all peaceful immigrants.

  5. Worked together with other organizations to help build the infrastructure for anti-statist and social justice activism in Las Vegas – by creating a listserv for all libertarians in the Las Vegas area, and by helping to organize, and marching in, the United Coalition for Im/migrant Rights’s March for the DREAM on May 23rd.

We are just getting started. Our plans for projects in the immediate future include:

  1. We will distribute literature more widely, both through contacts with other anti-statist and social justice groups (like the LP and UCIR), and also through literature drops in stores and public spaces.

  2. We are planning a second, wider flyering event, focused on police brutality. (This will be coordinated with distributing pamphlets on police brutality, connecting it with the legal privileges involved in government policing, the militarization of police, and the effects of the racist War on Drugs.)

  3. Over the longer term, we intend to use Southern Nevada ALL as a spring-board for creating alternative institutions that will help us more effectively push for freedom, and help create a more vibrant activist community within Las Vegas. In particular, we plan to help re-organize a couple of projects which have mostly lapsed over the past few years – a Las Vegas Independent Media Center, which will provide an open, grassroots publishing forum for anti-state and social justice activists in the Las Vegas area, and which will create new channels for information and analysis outside of the mainstream local media; and also revitalizing the Las Vegas chapter of Food Not Bombs, which provides a grey market, counter-economic form of mutual aid outside of the State welfare bureaucracy and the corporate food market. As Food Not Bombs becomes more stable and sustainable, we plan to regroup and begin to talk about other grassroots mutual aid projects, in order to take stock of what’s most needed in the community, and what sorts of projects present the most transformational opportunities.

Each of our plans and projects is a fairly small undertaking, especially when you compare it to the size of the problems that we face. But I am confident that these small pieces, loosely joined together, can serve as the building blocks for something much larger. Something which I believe Southern Nevada ALL will be an important part of, but in which we all will have a role to play, and in which our power standing shoulder to shoulder will be much greater than the power any of us have separately. Electoral politics can pressure the powers that be and soften up their will to strike back at us. Education can create public support for freedom and make it dangerous or disastrous for government to try to strike back. Direct action, combined with education, and when carried out through a large and vibrant network of people-powered Leftist and anti-statist organizations, can and will make us ungovernable – without depending on petitioning or begging, and without depending on the good will of the powerful. I believe that it can be in our hands sooner than any of us realize, if we make full use of non-electoral, radical, populist methods to create alternatives to the State, to bring everyone into the struggle, and to take direct action against government oppression. That’s a fight we can begin right now, by reaching out to our friends and neighbors and our activist comrades. We don’t need to wait until the next convention or the next election. We don’t need to wait for sympathetic politicians. We can take the power into our own hands. And when we do, we will become free.

Thank you for your time, and your very gracious offer of a forum in which to speak. I’ll be glad to take any questions you may have and to talk some more about anything that you’d like to hear more about.

All power to the people!

As far as success goes, the discussion following the talk was lively and interesting. We got a certain number of folks staring at me like I was from Mars, which I expected, but also a fair amount of interest and sympathy, and we made a couple new contacts who may be good prospects for ALLies or fellow travelers. I hardly convinced the entire LP of Clark County to join the Revolution, but I hardly expected to, and I’d call the whole affair a reasonable success, given my goals for the talk. As far as lessons for the future go, the main ones that I’m keeping in mind for myself, and which you may want to keep in mind if you’re going to give a similar talk, are the following:

  1. The most interested people will always seek you out after the talk, but if you want to get a little something into everybody’s hands — e.g. pamphlets, contact sign-up sheets, handbills, etc. — don’t count on people to come up to your table for anything. Remember to hand it around at the start, if you possibly can.

  2. Because of time pressures, some sections of the talk drew pretty heavily from material that I had already written elsewhere for print publication. Historical references are important but I intend to make the talk for future events somewhat less bookish, somewhat more attuned to my speaking style, and somewhat more present-oriented.

  3. Go to some meetings beforehand so that you can scope out the audience and the space. If you make an appointment at one meeting, to give the talk at a later meeting, and there’s a substantial time period between the meeting where you made the appointment and the meeting where you’ll speak, make sure that you touch base (on whatever pretext; information, double-checking, follow-up, whatever) with the people who will be in charge at the meeting where you give your talk. I went to LP meetings beforehand but neglected to do the follow-up contacts I should have done; as a result there was some unclarity about who they were expecting to give the talk, and I wasn’t confident enough from a previous paper trail to speak up. Touching base more often would have resulted in having more time for the talk. (On the good side, having attended previous meetings gave me a much better sense for who I was pitching to and how to pitch it.)

  4. Keep your audience well in mind. This talk is pretty directly calculated for voting libertarians, like LP members or Pauliticos. If you want to talk to social justice groups, antiwar groups, lefties, and so on, obviously you will want to cover much of the same ground, but probably from a different angle of approach.

  5. Remember that, especially for a new radical effort like ALL, for any large group you are really looking for only a handful, maybe only one or two, new contacts in a much larger audience. Make sure that you have a gaff for anybody who bites — contact sheets, handbills, literature, and especially a well-defined upcoming event (like the dinner meeting, or even better an action that you’re planning) — to pull in likely new ALLies. But don’t worry if many in the audience give you the blank stare. You’re not there for them, except to give them some notional idea of your existence. You’re there for mass education and targeted persuasion, and the one or three or five potential ALLies or fellow travelers in the audience are your target.

Anyway, as I said, I consider the talk to have been a reasonable success and a good start. I hope that we can continue giving talks like this to other local groups in the future.

Other ALLies who are thinking about hitting up local groups for similar talks should feel free to appropriate, repurpose, and re-use the material in this talk.

Have y’ALL given any talks for your local chapter of ALL, or made any plans to give talks in the future? Let me know in comments. I’ll be glad to discuss any questions you might have about how my talk went, and to use the blog to talk up any talks that you have given or will be giving in the future.