Posts tagged Kevin Carson

May Day 2007

We Have Fed You All for a Thousand Years

We have fed you all for a thousand years,
And you hail us still unfed,
Though there’s never a dollar of all your wealth
But marks the workers dead.
We have yielded our best to give you rest,
And you lie on crimson wool;
But if blood be the price of all your wealth
Good God we have paid in full.

There is never a mine blown skyward now
But we’re buried alive for you;
There’s never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew.
Go and reckon our dead by the forges red,
And the factories where we spin;
If blood be the price of your cursèd wealth
Good God we have paid it in.

We have fed you all for a thousand years—
For that was our doom, you know,
From the days when you chained us in your fields
To the strike a week ago.
You have taken our lives, and our husbands and wives,
And called it your legal share;
But if blood be the price of your lawful wealth
Good God we bought it fair.

—First printed by the Industrial Workers of the World in 1908. Words by an anonymous proletarian, tune by Rudolph von Leibich

Fellow workers:

Today is May Day, or International Workers Day, a holiday created by Chicago workers—most of them anarchists—to honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs and to celebrate the struggle of workers for freedom, a better life, and determination of the conditions of their own labor. It’s also the second annual day of strikes and marches for immigrant workers’ rights. May Day is and ought to be a day of resistance against the arrogance and power of the plutocrats. A day to celebrate workers’ struggles for dignity, and for freedom, through organizing in their own self-interest, through agitating and exhorting for solidarity, and through free acts of worker-led direct action to achieve their goals, marching under the banners of We are all leaders here and Dump the bosses off your back . A day to cheer immigrant workers struggling for their own freedom, in defiance of the attempts by La Migra and freelance nativist bullies to silence and intimidate them, marching under the banners We are not criminals, and We are not going anywhere. A day to remember:

There Is Power In A Union

There is power, there is power,
In a band of working folk,
When we stand
Hand in hand.

—Joe Hill (1913)

In honor of the day, it’s a pleasure to recommend some reading from anti-state radicals—from a history of May Day’s American roots at The Agitator (Lauritz, not Balko), to Kevin Carson’s Organized Capital vs. Organized Labor, to Sheldon Richman’s column Labor’s Right to a Free Market. And I’d especially like to recommend Kevin’s simply brilliant earlier column, The Ethics of Labor Struggle: A Free Market Perspective. Kevin’s and Sheldon’s columns do an especially good job of showing the gulf between the managerial style of establishmentarian business unionism—so familiar to us in these the waning days of Babylon, with Wagner and Taft-Hartley carefully arranged to bring the established unions into the web of State privilege and State regulation—with the older, state-free tradition of wildcat unionism that May Day celebrates. Here’s Kevin Carson:

First of all, when the strike was chosen as a weapon, it relied more on the threat of imposing costs on the employer than on the forcible exclusion of scabs. You wouldn’t think it so hard for the Misoids to understand that the replacement of a major portion of the workforce, especially when the supply of replacement workers is limited by moral sympathy with the strike, might entail considerable transaction costs and disruption of production. The idiosyncratic knowledge of the existing workforce, the time and cost of bringing replacement workers to an equivalent level of productivity, and the damage short-term disruption of production may do to customer relations, together constitute a rent that invests the threat of walking out with a considerable deterrent value. And the cost and disruption is greatly intensified when the strike is backed by sympathy strikes at other stages of production. Wagner and Taft-Hartley greatly reduced the effectiveness of strikes at individual plants by transforming them into declared wars fought by Queensbury rules, and likewise reduced their effectiveness by prohibiting the coordination of actions across multiple plants or industries. Taft-Hartley’s cooling off periods, in addition, gave employers time to prepare ahead of time for such disruptions and greatly reduced the informational rents embodied in the training of the existing workforce. Were not such restrictions in place, today’s “just-in-time” economy would likely be far more vulnerable to such disruption than that of the 1930s.

More importantly, though, unionism was historically less about strikes or excluding non-union workers from the workplace than about what workers did inside the workplace to strengthen their bargaining power against the boss.

The Wagner Act, along with the rest of the corporate liberal legal regime, had as its central goal the redirection of labor resistance away from the successful asymmetric warfare model, toward a formalized, bureaucratic system centered on labor contracts enforced by the state and the union hierarchies.

It’s time to take up Sweeney’s half-hearted suggestion, not just as a throwaway line, but as a challenge to the bosses. We’ll gladly forego legal protections against punitive firing of union organizers, and federal certification of unions, if you’ll forego the court injunctions and cooling-off periods and arbitration. We’ll leave you free to fire organizers at will, to bring back the yellow dog contract, if you leave us free to engage in sympathy and boycott strikes all the way up and down the production chain, boycott retailers, and strike against the hauling of scab cargo, etc., effectively turning every strike into a general strike. We give up Wagner (such as it is), and you give up Taft-Hartley and the Railway Labor Relations Act. And then we’ll mop the floor with your ass.

— Kevin Carson, The Ethics of Labor Struggle: A Free Market Perspective

That’s just a sampling. You really must read the whole thing.



Meanwhile, in the news, some creep in Washington is wandering around proclaiming Loyalty Day and demanding our renewed allegiance; and while the punch-drunk official unions are begging the government for more favors, the captains of industry are begging the government to keep a tight leash on free association. But the most significant events for labor and for human freedom are happening beyond the noise and spectacle of that gladiatorial arena, in the streets of cities all over the country where workers demand their rights in defiance of the so-called immigration law, and in unrecognized, grassroots unions organized along syndicalist lines, where workers have won concrete gains from the biggest corporations in their industry by operating through the use of creative secondary boycotts. There is a lesson here—a lesson for workers, for organizers, for agitators, and anti-statists. One we’d do well to remember when confronted by any of the bosses—whether corporate bosses or political, the labor fakirs and the authoritarian thugs styling themselves the vanguard of the working class, the regulators and the deporters and the patronizing friends of labor all:

Dump the Bosses Off Your Back

Are you cold, forelorn, and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the bosses off your back!

—John Brill (1916)

Further reading:

Remarks on Matt MacKenzie’s “Exploitation: A Dialectical Anarchist Perspective”

These remarks were read on 29 December 2006, at American Philosophical Association meeting in Washington, D.C. The event was the Molinari Society group meeting and the occasion for the comments was Matt MacKenzie’s (excellent) essay, Exploitation: A Dialectical Anarchist Perspective, which is now also available online.

Update 2007-01-13: Typographical errors fixed.

Update 2007-03-23: MDM has put up a copy of the original essay on his website.

… Well, I, for one, have no opinion whether Marxists should be interested in exploitation. If Matt MacKenzie is right, though, perhaps a better question would be, Should exploitation theorists be interested in Marxism? If critiques of exploitation have heretofore been reserved for the use of state socialism—and Marxism in particular—then, as MacKenzie ably shows, that is the result more by default than by anything inherently statist in the notion of exploitation. Drawing from the work of Alan Wertheimer, MacKenzie offers a neutral concept of exploitation based on the virtue of fairness, and develops a libertarian conception of exploitation that compares favorably to the more familiar Marxist and Progressive theories. Thus, through MacKenzie’s insightful analytical work, exploitation joins class, oppression, dialectics, state capitalism, and other concepts that left-libertarians have swiped from the theoretical lexicon of the statist Left, and rehabilitated for anti-statist purposes.

Not surprisingly, this dialectical strategy tends to drive both state Leftists and right-wing libertarians bonkers. The statist Left may complain that we are plundering their private property; and the anti-statist Right may complain that we are trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. But the fact is that left-libertarian efforts are, in terms of the history of ideas, more like expropriating the expropriators: if we today sometimes find Marxian notions useful, it is usually because those Marxian notions were themselves swiped from anti-state, pro-market theorists—especially those in the French tradition of industrialism (out of which arose both Proudhon’s mutualist anarchism, and the radicalized classical liberalism of Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari). Although twentieth century libertarians often identified themselves with the economic Right, and treated complaints of exploitation with either indifference our outright contempt, nineteenth century libertarians—Benjamin Tucker, for example—drew directly from their industrialist heritage, and wrote extensively, even obsessively, about economic exploitation (or, as Tucker most often called it, usury), which they saw as pervasive, systemic, destructive, and indeed one of the chief evils for principled libertarians to confront. Thus MacKenzie’s efforts, insofar as they are successful, merely reclaim a word for liberty that we never should have given up to the statists to begin with.

MacKenzie’s careful analysis of the forms of exploitation represents some of the most important work in the essay. He uses this taxonomic backdrop to set out and defend a claim which is far more controversial than it ought to be: that there can be economic relationships which should be condemned as exploitative even though they are both mutually consensual and mutually beneficial (relative to a no-exchange baseline). For any principled libertarian, proving that an economic relationship is consensual is enough to show that no-one has any right to suppress it by force. But if MacKenzie is right, then that is very far from being enough to prove that it should not be condemned and opposed by non-violent means. This point has some import for the applied policy debates that libertarians have often involved themselves in: consider some of the more common libertarian apologetics for third world sweatshops against the objections of Leftists and so-called Progressives; or, to take another example, for the so-called sex industry against the objections of radical feminists. Libertarian writers have all too often suggested that if piece work or sex work is agreed to voluntarily, and if it benefits the workers more than other realistically available lines of work would have, then there must be nothing objectionably exploitative about either industry. But if our conception of exploitation refers not only to respecting rights, but also to questions of fair dealing and to the background conditions that enlarge or constrain the options that are realistically available, the defense of these industries against charges of exploitation must, at the very least, become more sophisticated than they have so far largely been. (I think, in fact, that libertarians who want to defend the so-called sex industry will find their position almost completely indefensible, and those who want to defend neo-liberal development policies in the third world will find that they have an eminently sensible position in some cases and a ludicrous position in others. But let’s try to postpone those quagmires until at least the question and answer period.)

For now, in the name of diabolical advocacy, I would like to prod MacKenzie a little on the applicability of his notion of fairness in exchange, and thus the applicability of his conception of exploitation. The concern that I’d like to raise, though, is not a logical but rather an epistemological concern. While I know some libertarians who would dig in and argue that there just is no tractable notion of harm, or unfairness, beyond the violation of individual rights—and thus no form of exploitation beyond transactions forced through direct coercion—I think that that claim is simply indefensible in light of any robust theory of human virtues. Here’s an objection I find much more plausible, though: if an economic relationship is both mutually consensual, then it may be very difficult to reliably judge whether or not it is exploitative. There are many virtues that are important for the sustainability of a free society, and while I think fairness is one of the most important of those virtues, tolerance is arguably another; one of the things that libertarians would be wise to cultivate is a certain amount of deference to other people’s judgments about the arrangements that they have voluntarily entered into, and exercising this virtue may make it correspondingly difficult to pick out exploitative economic relationships independently of workers’ decisions about whether or not the arrangement is worth staying in. The example that MacKenzie gives of an exploitative labor contract doesn’t help alleviate the worry, either: if it’s true that a worker making $6.50 an hour might make $11.00 if her bargaining were done against the backdrop of a free market, there remains the question of how we would ever know that this is true. Unless socialist calculation is possible (and it’s not), the hypothetical price of a good or service in a hypothetical free market will never be something that we can quantitatively predict, and orders of magnitude or even directions of change will be, at best, difficult to reliably judge. So might it not be difficult, at best, to identify concrete cases of mutually-consensual-but-exploitative economic relationships? And if so, would that not demand a great deal of caution, if not outright abstention, from putting exploitation to use in political debates?

I should say two things about this epistemological worry. First, I’m not actually convinced by it myself. Second, if it does have any bite, it’s important to note that the uncertainty involved affects only the question of moral force, not moral weight. Exploitation would be no less bad even if we could never figure out where it does and where it does not occur. Uncertainty may be a reason to qualify your judgments about what is or is not exploitative; it is not a reason to abandon your conviction that exploitation, wherever it may occur, is seriously wrong. Still, this may be an important caveat on the theoretical fruitfulness of exploitation within a pro-market theory; and I’d be interested to hear more about how MacKenzie would deal with it.

The second important claim that MacKenzie sets out to defend is that in the political economy of state capitalism, the exploitation of labor is systemic and pervasive. He favorably cites the work of Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson, identifying state violence as the basis of class conflict, and government-enforced monopolies for politically-favored businesses as the root of economic exploitation. It’s important to note that, for MacKenzie as for Tucker and Carson, the exploitative economic relationship may not be itself coercive, even though the conditions that make it exploitative do involve coercion. For most of his life, Tucker pretty clearly suggested that exploitation (or usury) could only survive as long as the background of government privileges for the monopolists was sustained, and that if the privileges were once repealed, the exploitative arrangements would quickly crumble under the pressure of free competition. But while government intervention in the economy is one of the most important ways in which economic options can be restricted, it seems like there are other factors that could have the same effect. For example, if widely-shared cultural prejudices tend to constrain women to lower-wage or no-wage work — such as mothering, housekeeping, nursing, teaching, or acting as a secretary or assistant — when they would otherwise be willing and able to take on better-paying careers, then arguably the sexist cultural norms sustain a form of exploitation that has little if anything to do with government intervention, either directly or indirectly. MacKenzie suggests that he recognizes cases such as these when he says that a genuinely free market will dramatically undermine existing systems of exploitation, but will not be enough to do them in entirely. Later in the essay he offers a number of reasons why libertarians should be concerned with the forms of exploitation that are closely linked with the background of government privilege and regimentation of the economy; but I wonder whether he thinks that libertarians, qua libertarians, should also be concerned with forms of exploitation where not only the transactions but also the background conditions are non-aggressive, e.g. the result of objectionable but non-coercive cultural norms. And, if so, I’d also be interested to know whether the grounds for libertarian objections to these forms of exploitation, which might persist or even flourish even in a free society, are significantly different from the grounds for libertarian objection to exploitation that directly or indirectly depends on government-enforced privilege.

Third, in a brief but important section of the paper, MacKenzie suggests that where exploitative economic relationships are systemic, prevalent, and seriously morally wrong, it deserves organized political efforts to undermine it. Since he includes non-coercive forms of exploitation in that suggestion, it’s important for him to make it clear that he rejects the identification of politics with the employment of systematic force; thus, while it may be appropriate to enlist organized force in order to suppress coercive forms of exploitation, the sort of politics involved in undermining the non-coercive forms of exploitation need not involve any use of force at all, either from the government or from organized private efforts. Instead he endorses a conception of politics that I’ve elsewhere characterized in terms of organized efforts to address problems of social coordination through deliberate, co-operative action (rather than through the spontaneous orders that emerge from unintended consequences of private actions). MacKenzie suggests that non-coercive forms of exploitation can appropriately be met through working to develop and maintain anti-explotiative cultural norms, values, and practices, and supporting efforts to challenge and develop alternatives to exploitative institutions and social relations. I’d like to hear more about what, in particular, he has in mind here, particularly since he suggests that at least some political activism against exploitation will be necessary even in a genuinely free market. What sort of concrete institutions should we look to, join with, and build up as part of the way forward?

Finally, MacKenzie ends his essay by suggesting several ways in which a critique of exploitation—even when the exploitation is not, in itself, aggressive—might be connected with the libertarian commitment to non-aggression and the decentralization of political power. To frame the discussion he uses five forms of thick connections between libertarianism and other cultural or political projects in my remarks at this session last year. While I think MacKenzie’s right that a libertarian critique of exploitation involves each of these forms of thickness, I’d actually like to suggest that, when exploitation depends on a background of government intervention to survive, it suggests yet another form of thickness, which addresses the issue more directly but which did not make it into my earlier list of five. (Fortunately the list wasn’t intended to be exhaustive, so I’m happy to welcome one more into the family.) You might gloss the form of thickness here as something like this:

Consequence thickness: Libertarians should commit to opposing E because even though E is not in itself coercive, (1) E would be very difficult to carry out or sustain over time if not for background acts of government coercion that sustain it; and (2) there are independent reasons for regarding E as an evil.

If aggression is morally illegitimate, then libertarians are entitled not only to condemn it, but also to condemn the destructive results that flow from statist aggression—even if those results are, in some important sense, external to the actual coercion. Now, there are a lot of details and caveats that I am skipping over, but I do wonder whether something like consequence thickness, as I’ve roughly described it, might better explain the immediate concerns that folks like Tucker, Carson, and MacKenzie have about (at least some forms of) exploitation—concerns which seem to arise well before questions about instrumental supports for statism or the ultimate grounds of libertarianism even get raised.

Tucker changed his mind near the end of his life, as reflected in the pessimistic postscript to later editions of State Socialism and Anarchism. But even then, his position was merely that the wealth accumulated through so many years of government privilege would be enough to crush any attempts at free competition—government intervention was still the central issue, but the late Tucker thought the shadow of past government intervention had grown too long to be escaped in the forseeable future, even if the disruptive power of the free market were fully unleashed.

The Gift of Reading

Happy Christmas, everyone. Here’s some holiday reading, as a gift from me to you. World War I may not seem like the best topic for the season, but, well, that’s what I’ve been working on lately.

  • At Dulce Et Decorum Est today, you can read a powerful review essay by Phil Shannon, on the Soldier’s Truce of Christmas, 1914 (which I first encountered a year ago, through Kevin Carson’s blog.)

    It was the war that was supposed to be over by Christmas. It very nearly was. A spontaneous soldiers’ truce broke out along the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914, four months after the start of hostilities.

    Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men — British, French and German soldiers took these usually hypocritical Christmas sentiments for real and refused to fire on the enemy, exchanging instead song, food, drink and gifts with each other in the battle-churned wastes of no-man’s land between the trenches.

    Lasting until Boxing Day in some cases, the truce alarmed the military authorities who worked overtime to end the fraternisation and restart the killing.

    Stanley Weintraub’s haunting book on the Christmas Truce recounts through the letters of the soldiers the extraordinary event, routinely denigrated in orthodox military histories as an aberration of no consequence, but which was, argues Weintraub, not only a temporary respite from slaughter but an event which had the potential to topple death-dealing governments.

  • Some time ago, I put up a copy of Randolph Bourne’s most famous essay, The State, online at the Fair Use Repository. Lots of people had already posted extracts from The State online in all kinds of different forums (usually under the title War is the Health of the State). But as far as I know the Fair Use edition is the only complete online transcription. (The others usually omit Part II, Bourne’s analysis of American politics and the party system.)

    In any case, the more topical news is that I’ve just added two more of Bourne’s essays on the war — essays which, unlike The State, were published within Bourne’s own lifetime. These both come from his time writing for Seven Arts: The War and the Intellectuals is from June, 1917, and A War Diary is from September, 1917. Unfortunately what was true of the Sensible Liberals and New Republic columnists of 1917 could just as easily have been written last week.

    The results of war on the intellectual class are already apparent. Their thought becomes little more than a description and justification of what is already going on. They turn upon any rash one who continues idly to speculate. Once the war is on, the conviction spreads that individual thought is helpless, that the only way one can count is as a cog in the great wheel. There is no good holding back. We are told to dry our unnoticed and ineffective tears and plunge into the great work. Not only is everyone forced into line, but the new certitude becomes idealized. It is a noble realism which opposes itself to futile obstruction and the cowardly refusal to face facts. This realistic boast is so loud and sonorous that one wonders whether realism is always a stern and intelligent grappling with realities. May it not be sometimes a mere surrender to the actual, an abdication of the ideal through a sheer fatigue from intellectual suspense? The pacifist is roundly scolded for refusing to face the facts, and for retiring into his own world of sentimental desire. But is the realist, who refuses to challenge or to criticise facts, entitled to any more credit than that which comes from following the line of least resistance? The realist thinks he at least can control events by linking himself to the forces that are moving. Perhaps he can. But if it is a question of controlling war, it is difficult to see how the child on the back of a mad elephant is to be any more effective in stopping the beast than is the child who tries to stop him from the ground. The ex-humanitarian, turned realist, sneers at the snobbish neutrality, colossal conceit, crooked thinking, dazed sensibilities, of those who are still unable to find any balm of consolation for this war. We manufacture consolations here in America while there are probably not a dozen men fighting in Europe who did not long ago give up every reason for their being there except that nobody knew how to get them away.

    — Randolph Bourne, The War and the Intellectuals ¶ 12

    And:

    The penalty the realist pays for accepting war is to see disappear one by one the justifications for accepting it. He must either become a genuine Realpolitiker and brazen it through, or else he must feel sorry for his intuition and be regretful that he willed the war. But so easy is forgetting and so slow the change of events that he is more likely to ignore the collapse of his case. If he finds that his government is relinquishing the crucial moves of that strategy for which he was willing to use the technique of war, he is likely to move easily to the ground that it will all come out in the end the same anyway. He soon becomes satisfied with tacitly ratifying whatever happens, or at least straining to find the grain of unplausible hope that may be latent in the situation.

    But what then is there really to choose between the realist who accepts evil in order to manipulate it to a great end, but who somehow unaccountably finds events turn sour on him, and the Utopian pacifist who cannot stomach the evil and will have none of it? Both are helpless, both are coerced. The Utopian, however, knows that he is ineffective and that he is coerced, while the realist, evading disillusionment, moves in a twilight zone of half-hearted criticism and hoping for the best, where he does not become a tacit fatalist. The latter would be the manlier position, but then where would be his realistic philosophy of intelligence and choice? Professor Dewey has become impatient at the merely good and merely conscientious objectors to war who do not attach their conscience and intelligence to forces moving in another direction. But in wartime there are literally no valid forces moving in another direction. War determines its own end—victory, and government crushes out automatically all forces that deflect, or threaten to deflect, energy from the path of organization to that end. All governments will act in this way, the most democratic as well as the most autocratic. It is only liberal naïveté that is shocked at arbitrary coercion and suppression. Willing war means willing all the evils that are organically bound up with it. A good many people still seem to believe in a peculiar kind of democratic and antiseptic war. The pacifists opposed the war because they knew this was an illusion, and because of the myriad hurts they knew war would do the promise of democracy at home. For once the babes and sucklings seem to have been wiser than the children of light.

    — Randolph Bourne, A War Diary § 4

  • Third, I’ve also added a series of essays from 1915, which I discovered thanks to Carl Watner’s essay on nonviolent resistance in the most recent Journal of Libertarian Studies. The exchange began with Bertrand Russell’s The Ethics of War, which appeared in the January 1915 number of the International Journal of Ethics. Russell condemned the war and argued If the facts were understood, wars amongst civilized nations would case, owing to their inherent absurdity. (Meanwhile, in one of the more baffling parts of the essay, he did some utilitarian hand-waving to try to offer some rather despicable excuses for wars of colonization and the attendant ethnic cleansing. As usual, good anti-war instincts are betrayed by prejudice when utilitarian pseudo-calculations are allowed to intrude.) Ralph Barton Perry objected to Russell’s criticism, at least as applied to the ongoing war, in Non-Resistance and the Present War. Russell wrote two more articles. One of them a direct rejoinder to Perry, published as The War and Non-Resistance—A Rejoinder to Professor Perry in the IJE. The other, probably the best essay in the exchange, appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, under the title War and Non-Resistance. Of particular note is Section II, in which Russell considers how Britain might be defended from a foreign invasion with no army and no navy, using only the methods of non-violent passive resistance. Although Russell doesn’t quite realize it, the answer he offers amounts, in the end, to doing away with the central State and its organized machinery. With no levers of centralized power to take hold of, the invaders would find themselves in possession of little if anything. Anyway, it’s well worth a read.

Read, and enjoy.

May your holidays be full of light and warmth, joy in fellowship, comfort, and peace.

Enclosure comes to Los Angeles

The news from Los Angeles is that everything old is new again.

The 14-year effort to establish an urban farm in the heart of South Los Angeles came to an end today when authorities evicted the farmers, as well as some celebrities who were supporting them by keeping vigil on the land.

The eviction occurred during a frenzied day both at the farm site and at City Hall as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other city leaders negotiated with the landowner through the morning, failing to reach a deal to save the farm even though the mayor said they had come up with the owner’s $16-million asking price

… About 50 deputies arrived at the property about 5 a.m. and used bolt cutters to remove locks and gain access to the 14-acre property near 41st and Alameda streets. At least a dozen people had remained inside the farm, some chained under trees and others locking hands around 55-gallon drums filled with concrete. At least 40 people were arrested at the site.

… After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began the community garden. In 2003, the city sold the land back to Horowitz for about $5 million.

… The site has a contentious history. The city acquired the land from Horowitz through eminent domain in the 1980s for a planned trash incinerator, but the project was stopped by neighborhood opposition.

After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began the community garden. In 2003, the city sold the land back to Horowitz for about $5 million.

But the farmers did not leave. In the last three years, and particularly in recent weeks, the farmers have pleaded to stay despite Horowitz’s plans to sell the land for development.

— Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times (2006-06-13): Farmers, Celebrities Evicted From Urban Plot

The Times’s story has a major defect: it seriously distorts the history of the title to the lot, and dramatically overstates Ralph Horowitz’s personal claim to the land prior to the 1985 eminent domain seizure. The New Standard’s History of the South Central Farm has a much more accurate and detailed rundown of the site’s history, and the shady means that Horowitz used to get the city to entitle him to the land. The precis is that, some twenty years ago the city government stole some land from a group of private owners. Ralph Horowitz was a partner in a real estate investment firm that owned about 80% of the land that was stolen. The city government planned to use the land for a garbage incinerator, but abandoned the plan, in the face of neighborhood opposition, in 1987. The lot remained abandoned for seven more years, when working folks from the neighborhood set up on the unused land, established gardens and cultivated the land in the lot. Some 350 families in South Central L.A., many of them Hispanic immigrants, now grow their own food on the land. Seven years later, in 2001, Ralph Horowitz went to court to try to force the city to sell the land to him — all of it, apparently, not just whatever share had belonged to him personally when the city government took the land. After two years of legal fighting, the city government cut a closed-door deal with Horowitz, declaring him the absentee landlord in return for a $5 million pay-off. Horowitz planned to force the farmers off of his land, so he could develop it by tearing down the farms they had spent the past decade cultivating and putting up a warehouse on the seized land for — guess who? — good old Wal-Mart. After another three years of court fights, he has just called in the city goons to force the farmers off their land once and for all.

Here’s the Times, giving us the neo-mercantilist view of the proceedings:

Undeveloped land

Some in the community support him, arguing that the area would benefit from the jobs that would come if the land were developed.

Thanks to this textbook example of weasel-wording, we can’t single out the some in the community for the derision they so richly deserve. But we can, at least, single out the L.A. Times for uncritically repeating the idiot notion that farmland that’s been cultivated for a decade and a half hasn’t been developed, and for declining to mention whether the 350 families who grow their own food in their own garden are keen on sacrificing their own primary food source for the sake of jobs to benefit the area.

Meanwhile, the editorialists at the Times, apparently gunning for a mention in Kevin Carson’s Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, defended the shredding of property rights in favor of Horowitz’s government-granted property entitlement. We are told that Horowitz’s actions will not qualify him for a humanitarian of the year award. But it’s still his land, and that means he can sell it to whomever he chooses. If it were his, then of course he could use it as he sees fit, or sell it as he sees fit, or, if he wants to, sit on it and twiddle his thumbs all day. But by what right does the lot belong to him? Because he bought it from the city government? But the city government cannot sell what it does not own; and how by what right did it belong to them? Because they stole it, fair and square?

Or is it because he used to own the land, before the city stole it from him? Well, he didn’t own it, actually — not all of it. He owned a share in the 80% of the land that belonged to his and his partners’ investment company, but his prior ownership gives him no personal claim at all to his partners’ share of the 80% of the land, let alone to the 20% of the land that did not belong to their company. And whatever share of the land did rightfully belong to him no longer does. Horowitz may very well have a legitimate claim against the city government for stealing land which belonged partly to him. Eminent domain is theft, and Horowitz was one of the victims. But the city government cannot pay off that debt by selling back the land out from under the people who have been occupying and cultivating the land for more than a decade. The Times, for its part, derides the fact that The main argument of the protesters seems to be that because the farmers have been squatting for more than a decade on property they don’t own, they have earned the right to stay there permanently. But property they don’t own could mean either of two things. Squatting on property that somebody else owns gets you no rights to the property. But squatting on property that nobody owns certainly does; how else should people gain ownership over unclaimed and abandoned lands? What gives farmers the right to stay on their farms is not the fact that they’re squatting on someone else’s land; it’s that, by squatting on an abandoned lot, they became the rightful owners — the city and Horowitz’s piratical agreements over how to divvy up the booty notwithstanding.

So it goes — another robber baron manages to destroy whatever good things working folks in South Central L.A. have managed to build for themselves, and pays a few million to hire the city’s goons to enforce it. The gardens that folks have spent 14 years tilling and growing are torn up in front of their eyes so that a politically-connected real estate developer can put up another warehouse on their land, all in the name of development and jobs for the area. Meanwhile hucksters pretending to defend property rights come out for the armed defense of arbitrary fiefdoms granted by the city government, and against the rights of the politically dispossessed to homestead abandoned land and enjoy the fruits of their own labor. And a few years down the road, when the jobs and the development have come and gone and changed not much of anything, the privileged hand-wringers will go on wringing their hands and wondering why those people in South Central L.A. are so badly off, and the progressives and Libertarian Dems among them will wonder why can’t the government please do something to help those poor, benighted folks out? Or, as brownfemipower puts it:

But most of all, I am outraged that all the fucking ignorant white folks of the world will continue to look down on people of color and their urban communities with disgust and superiority—and ask so innocently, How can those people live like that? Like that, of course being typical nigger/spic/gook behavior like trash on the streets, piss in the elevators, burned out houses, etc etc etc. When every damn thing you ever cared about and took care of is brutally ripped from your fingers and you are told to say thank you for that brutal comandeering WHY THE FUCK IN HOLY HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KEEP CARING, KEEP TRUSTING, KEEP WORKING TO MAKE THINGS BEAUTIFUL?????

WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO LOVE? WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF WHEN WE KNOW THAT EVERY THING WE LOVE, EVERYTHING WE TOUCH, EVERYTHING WE EAT AND BREATH, IS OWNED BY SOMEBODY ELSE WHO CAN TAKE IT AWAY FROM US AT ANY TIME WITH THE VIOLENT HELP OF THE STATE?

— brownfemipower, Women of Color Blog (2006-06-13): L.A. community garden lost to capitalism

The South Central Farmers have contact information, in case you’d like to let Ralph Horowitz and the L.A. city government know what you think of their recent renewal of the Enclosure Movement. You can also make a tax-deductible donation to the Farmers’ efforts to ransom the farm back from Horowitz; if they can’t raise enough to meet Horowitz’s asking price, your donation will be returned to you.

Further reading:

Tuesday Lazy Linking

Around the web in the past couple weeks. Some of the news that’s fit to link.

  • Hopelessly Midwestern (2006-02-03): Petting =/= Popularity: A Shocking Look At The Sex Lives Of Our Children takes on professional anti-feminist Caitlin Flanagan (for background reading, see the profile in Ms.) and her latest foray into the teensploitation genre — a hand-wringing and voyeuristic article about a non-existent teenage oral sex craze amongst our Troubled Suburban Youth, and touches on feminism, amnesiac nostalgia, privileged suburban angst, and Judy Blume in the process.

    Thinking back on my own privileged adolescence, I can remember girls who performed oral sex on boys on a more or less casual basis, girls who denied rumors that they did the above, girls who did it with their boyfriends and related the experience the next morning with a mix of panic and excitement, girls who didn’t think it was a big deal, girls who thought it was a big deal, girls who talked about it loudly at lunchtime and did seductive poses with every potentially phallic food product in sight (including CapriSun straws and granola bars) but had no more than a vague idea what it actually involved, girls who thought it was the grossest thing ever, EVER, oh my God, girls who had no qualms about doing it (it in italics) but thought oral sex was unnatural, girls who tried to freak out self-consciously innocent girls like me by saying, Luke Lepinski is SO CUTE. Don’t you just want to put his DICK in your MOUTH? and then laughing like maniacs at my genuine bafflement, Christian girls who plugged their ears and shrieked if you tried to talk about any kind of genital-related program activity, even in the most abstract and theoretical language, girls who had heard you could get pregnant that way (and might have a cousin who knew someone who did,) and myself. My opinions on the matter were all based on my strong and growing aversion to boys, and were not particularly well-formed, nor did I have occasion to put them into practice. I recite this autobiographical litany as a way of illustrating the complex nature of that steady decline in morals called growing up, and to suggest that gnashing one’s teeth about the unexpected depravities of our formerly delicate rosebud-like daughters may not be the best response thereto. What is the best response? I don’t know, but Caitlin Flanagan is a bit too eager to put down Planned Parenthood for its attempts to give sane and sensible advice on the matter ….

    — Hopelessly Midwestern (2006-02-03): Petting =/= Popularity: A Shocking Look At The Sex Lives Of Our Children

    … and don’t miss the response to Flanagan’s closing remarks — an employment of the old Double Standard so overt and so uncritical that it leaves no avenues of criticism open other than something stodgy like rank sexism:

    Frankly, I’d rather have a daughter who gives out a few undeserved blowjobs of her own volition than a son who thinks sex is his right and privilege as a Hot-Blooded American Male. Oops, there I go slandering men with my insane expectation that they take responsibility for their own desires! Damn insidious radical feminist influence! What won’t it disfigure with its toxic fumes of seething, sulfurous hatred?

    — Hopelessly Midwestern (2006-02-03): Petting =/= Popularity: A Shocking Look At The Sex Lives Of Our Children

    Read the whole thing

  • Sarah Goldstein at Broadsheet (2006-02-03): New hope in the fight against domestic violence gives a shout-out to a new program for rehabilitating men who batter women, called Resolve to Abolish Violence Everywhere. The plan? Stop focusing on anger management, and start tackling male entitlement:

    What’s exciting about this approach to combating domestic abuse is that it tackles the institutionalization of male dominance, looking at the offender’s action within a larger system of violence. Women’s eNews reports, Staffers [in Austin] say this program assumes that violence arises from a decision based on deeply-held beliefs of male dominance, not a flash of uncontrollable emotion. Whereas most anger management classes are just three or four weeks long, this program works with the offender for an entire year after his release.

    — Sarah Goldstein at Broadsheet (2006-02-03): New hope in the fight against domestic violence

    Of course, there’s no magic bullet for ending battery, and this program, like any others, has limitations to worry about (like the institutional limitations imposed on any program run by cops, or the fact that it only catches men once they’ve already tortured one or more women to the point that it reached the criminal justice system). But insofar as there are going to be court-mandated rehabilitation programs, this is certainly a step forward, and I wish them the best.

    Read the whole thing.

  • Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy (2006-02-07): To Be Hot And Nuts points out a story from this month’s Prospect that will make you want to tear your hair out and then run out in a blind rage and bury the entire psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex under a library of Women and Madness and the collected works of Thomas Szasz.

    But then tragedy strikes. The drug that works also makes her fat. This a horror the doctors find intolerable. Her beauty is destroyed. So they take her off that drug because in a patriarchy a hot girl cannot be fat. So Nia immediately goes nuts again because the new drug, though it does not make her fat, also doesn’t work. She is nuts again, but at least she’s still a babe. Whew. That was close.

    But she is so nuts that, after a month of hell, doctors reluctantly put her back on the fat drug. The crazy part is that Nia doesn’t give a crap about being fat. She’s happy as a clam to get rid of the voices. Yet the doctors assume that, because she isn’t crying herself to sleep every night over her lost beauty, she isn’t really getting well at all. Any 17-year-old in her right mind would be bulimic and wanna slice herself up with razors under these circumstances, right?

    — Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy (2006-02-07): To Be Hot And Nuts

    Selections from the first five or six comments: Oh give me a fucking break, I don’t know what to do besides shout obscenities. Good fucking god, This makes me so mad I can’t see straight. That last paragraph … is insulting in about 10 THOUSAND different ways and makes me want to slap the authors and Nia’s dr’s repeatedly about the head and face, etc. That’s just about right.

    Read the whole damn thing. But only on an empty stomach. Then write a letter to the editor.

  • Amanda at Pandagon (2006-02-02): Vacuums, internalized sexism and yes, that invisibility of privilege looks at the politics of housework, as one of the arenas of in which anti-feminists love to point out how women themselves are deputized as the primary enforcers of sexist standards. Shockingly, she finds that this looks more like classic male privilege than it does some kind of self-imposed drudgery that women have ended up with by being naturally the Fairer Sex.

    You see this sort of thing a lot, where women are judged by a different standard than men, but the appointed judges are technically other women, so the whole thing can be written off as women being weird instead of women trying to adapt to a patriarchal system. That way, not only can men benefit from the thing women are supposed to do to fit into a standard, they have the added bonus of acting like they are simply above such female nonsense. In the case of housework, men can benefit from having a clean home without either working or appearing so uncool as to care if the house is clean, since the work is done by invisible female hands.

    … It’s true—make-up, shoes, exercise, dieting, the whole routine is developed by and enforced by women while being sneered at all too often by the very men the entire routine is developed to benefit. The complaint is not so much that women do all these things, of course. It’s that men might accidentally be exposed to these things; in the good old days, I suppose, women worked harder at the conspiracy to shield men from having to perceive their own privilege. (For a really great example of this, read Pink Think by Lynn Peril—she excerpts an advice book to women that suggests that women should rise before their husbands to do their make-up and preserve the illusion that they never look any different.)

    … That’s the basic argument behind choice feminism, and it’s whipped out to explain away every instance of women’s second class status, from breast implants to domestic service. And that’s the argument that EricP is resorting to when explaining away the difference between expectations on men and women for level of cleanliness. It’s easy to look at how women are expected to police ourselves for adhering to a patriachal standard and say that it’s our fault. But it’s not the cops that are the ones to look at when the laws themselves are suspect.

    — Amanda at Pandagon (2006-02-02): Vacuums, internalized sexism and yes, that invisibility of privilege

    Read the whole thing. I’d also like to add a note from Andrea Dworkin that I came across the same day that I read Amanda’s post. This is from In Memory of Nicole Brown Simpson, in Life and Death (41–50):

    While race-hate is expressed through forced segregation, woman-hate is expressed through forced closeness, which makes punishment swift, easy, and sure. In private, women often empathize with one another, across race and class, because their experiences with men are so much the same. But in public, including on juries, women rarely dare.

    — Andrea Dworkin, Life and Death, pp. 49–50

    Maybe one way to gloss the essential goal of feminism is to create a platform from which that private empathy can erupt into public solidarity and action.

  • BB at Den of the Biting Beaver (2006-02-10): Friday Fun with Sitemeter offers a guided tour to the kind of Google searches that you get when you run a radical feminist anti-pornography website.

  • Roderick at Austro-Athenian Empire (2006-02-03): Tarzan’s Burden mentions Hollywood popcult’s mutilation of the character of Tarzan, and points to an interesting four-part essay by F. X. Blisard on race relations in the Tarzan novels and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work in general — fairly enlightened for Burroughs’ era, it turns out, and far superior to Hollywood’s treatment. Read the whole thing.

  • Ken Gregg (2006-02-08) at CLASSical Liberalism: It Usually Begins With… takes another look at Jules Verne, his literary accomplishments, his prescience, the way his politics have been excised from bowdlerized English translations until very recently, and what those politics were (in short, a mixed bag):

    Verne’s novels have contrary trends: support for national liberation movements such as the Irish and Polish, but also a strong pacifist streak; paternalism toward colonial peoples, but a hatred of slavery and imperialism (especially British); sympathy for utopian experiments, but resentment toward state power; affirmation of free enterprise, but assaults on big capitalism (especially American); a celebration of loyalty and community, but sympathy for militant individualism.

    — Ken Gregg (2006-02-08) at CLASSical Liberalism: It Usually Begins With…

    Read the whole thing.

  • media girl (2006-02-10): Spying on Americans is for kids! takes a look at the NSA’s ongoing attempts at cute, furry cartoon outreach to children, which is either a very funny comment on bureaucratic rationality or else a daring new form of avant-garde surrealist theater.

  • The Dominion (2006-01-16): CBC’s true colors discovers that the government-owned CBC is solicitous of the party in power in the government to the point of altering their logo to match the party color scheme. Surprised?

  • Paganarchy (2006-02-04): Serious Organised Crime? Ha Ha Ha! — a squad of clowns takes to the street to protest restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly around Parliament, and a copper stops them from entering Parliament to talk with their MPs:

    Our first port of call was to visit our MPs in the House Of Commons. Just through the security gate and whoa — the duty sergeant stopped us from going in. Alas, we were deemed not dignified enough by a copper calling himself the chief arbiter of style.

    As opposed to the grave dignity of a copper who has appointed himself the chief arbiter of style for the House of Commons and taken it upon himself to make sure the dress of visitors is up to his sartorial standards.

    Read the whole thing.

  • The North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists posts links to left-anarchist debate over the iterative Five Year Plan participatory economics.

  • Kevin Carson at the UnCapitalist Journal (2005-09-22): What Can Bosses Know? looks at mutualist anarchism, worker self-management, and the knowledge problems that afflict corporate as well as government bureaucracies. (Yeah, I know it’s from last September. But it’s good, and I just found it in the past couple weeks. Also, you may find it relevant in connection with the debate over Five Year Planning by iterated collective bargaining between the deputies of several massive federations in an appropriately participatory bureaucratic forum.)

    As Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3) of the Movement of the Libertarian Left said somewhere (I can’t find it—little help?) organizational inefficiency starts when you have one supervisor taking orders from another supervisor: that is, the point at which hierarchy replaces market contracting.

    … The central problem is that, since the costs of tracking the results of individual decisions becomes prohibitively expensive in a large organization, market incentives must be replaced by administrative ones. Milton Friedman pointed out long ago that people do a better job of spending money on themselves than on other people, and do better spending their own money than other people’s money. That’s the standard, and correct, libertarian argument for why government is so inefficient. It’s spending other people’s money on other people; and unlike a private firm not only can it not go out of business for inefficiency, it gets rewarded with more money. Well, the very same incentive problems apply to the decision-maker in a corporate hierarchy. He’s a steward of other people’s money, and the costs and benefits of any decision he makes can be determined only badly, if at all. Unlike a self-employed actor whose relations with others are mediated by the market, he is motivated by purely administrative incentives.

    — Kevin Carson at the UnCapitalist Journal (2005-09-22): What Can Bosses Know?

  • Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek (2006-02-09): We Don’t Make Anything Anymore takes on the factory protectionists over the state of industry in America. The worriers like to complain that we don’t make anything anymore. America is being hollowed out. Soon we’re going to be left doing one another’s laundry. Boy, will we be poor then. The problem is an old one: the heavy-industry hand-wringers are measuring the inputs, not the outputs. When you look at the stuff actually being produced, rather than the number of people employed or the size of the pile of resources invested in producing it, you’ll find that we’re making more stuff than ever. (I’d add that there are lots of reasons to worry about what happens to heavy-industry workers as they lose their jobs. And that Roberts’ summary and selective swipes at the unions are unwarranted. But the basic point is well-taken. Our aims should not be to prop up an elaborate industrial make-work program.)

  • David Friedman, Ideas (2006-02-09): Unschooling: The Advantage of the Real World: One point raised in comments on my recent unschooling post was that you sometimes have to do things you don’t like, a lesson we can teach our children by making them study things they are not currently interested in studying. It is an interesting point, and I think reflects a serious error. Friedman challenges would-be educators to help students expose themselves to the natural consequences of effort and fortitude, rather than imposing make-work punishments and rewards on them in order to teach them a lesson where the incentives bear no natural relation to the task at hand. Read the whole thing.

  • Tim Bray, ongoing (2006-02-10) asks, What Do GNU and Linux Mean? in a free software world where the user experience is (praise the Good) further and further removed from the technical wotsits of the kernel, where Firefox, OpenOffice, and GNU software provide an increasingly standard software environment, and where the choice between GNU/OpenSolaris and GNU/Linux is going to be a strictly technical choice with basically no impact on the end-user environment? What should you even call what’s emerging? Tim suggests some deliberate provocations: So you’ve got the combination of a Solaris or Linux kernel with a mish-mosh of GNU, Mozilla, OpenOffice and other random software, and calling it Linux or Solaris is misleading. I think Sun could legally ship something like this under the name GNU/Unix. Which would be concise, descriptive, accurate, and funny. (Because GNU stands for Gnu’s Not Unix and Solaris, after all, is.) I think maybe we should just call it GNU, and encourage ordinary users to leave the worries about what comes after the slash to people who have reasons to care about kernels.

  • August Pollak (2006-02-08): As a white guy, did you just throw up right now? and Mikhaela Reed (2006-02-09): The so-called conservative Doonesbury mention Chris Muir’s imaginary Black friend and the excellent opportunity that having one provides white cartoonists to lecture African-Americans about how they should think of themselves in early 21st century America. A Touch of Ego offers some background context on Muir and Day By Day. Amanda at Pandagon (2006-02-08) calls for fixes to help Chris Muir write a funny strip. My favorite repair job is from Ampersand at Alas (2006-02-09).

  • Claire Wolfe (2006-02-13): Back from the meditation workshop reviews the good, the bad, and the ugly of her two-week long meditation retreat in silence. One of the good things about the retreat was the distance it allowed from the hot air of professional blowhards that passes for News and Views these days: The omnipresent Information Flow also became irrelevant. I worried at times about what was happening to Steve Kubby and Cory Maye, but could have cared less about the monotonous, inevitable sturm und drang that passes for Vital News. Funny, too. They call it news, but the same rot was being broadcast and podcast and web-posted when I left and when I returned. Nothing new about the news. … Time to live. Time to think deeply, rather than think in quick brain bytes between rushed emails and frequent checks of LewRockwell.com, Rational Review, Google News, and TCF. Read the whole thing.

  • Carnival is two weeks from today. In honor of the liturgical occasion, be sure to read up on the latest weblog Carnivals. In particular, the inaugural editions of the Radical Women of Color Carnival and the Big Fat Carnival are up at Reappropriate and Alas, A Blog respectively. Not to mention the eighth Carnival of the Feminists at Gendergeek. Enjoy!