Why I am an Anarcho-Pluralist, Part Two 4

Imagine, for one horribly unpleasant moment, that the anarchist movement (movements?) in North America, in their present form, were to carry out an actual revolution. What kind of social or political system would be the result? The Wikipedia entry on anarchism in the United States lists a number of individuals who represent North American anarchism in different ways. These include Michael Albert (Chomskyite proponent of participatory economics-“parecon”), Ashanti Alston (black power anarchist), Hakim Bey (lifestyle anarchist), Bob Black (nihilist and reputed psychopath), Kevin Carson (Proudhonian mutualist), Noam Chomsky (Marxo-syndicalist-anarcho-social democrat), Peter Coyote (love generation), Howard Ehrlich (social anarchist), David Friedman (anarcho-capitalist), David Graeber (anarcho-anthropologist), Hans-Hermann Hoppe (anarcho-monarchist), Derrick Jensen (primitivist), Jeff Luers (eco-anarchist prisoner), Judith Malina (anarcho-pacifist actress), the late James J. Martin (individualist anarchist and Holocaust revisionist), Wendy McElroy (Rothbardian anarcho-feminist individualist), Jason McQuinn (post-left anarchist), Cindy Milstein (Bookchinite), Chuck Munson (anarchist without adjectives), Joe Peacott (individualist-anarchist), Sharon Presley (left-libertarian feminist), Keith Preston (agent of the forces of darkness), Lew Rockwell (Rothbardian paleolibertarian), Jeremy Sapienza (market anarchist), Crispin Sartwell (individualist-anarchist), Rebecca Solnit (environmentalist), Starhawk (neo-pagan eco-feminist), Warcry (eco-anarchist), Dana Ward (anarcho-archivist), David Watson (primitivist), Mike Webb (murder victim), Fred Woodworth (atheist anarchist), John Zerzan (primitivist) and Howard Zinn (New Left anarcho-Marxist).

This list does not even begin to mention all of the ideological tendencies to be found among anarchists, e.g., indigenist anarchism, anarcho-communism, national-anarchism, insurrectionary anarchism, Christian anarchism and many others. Even so, anarchists collectively probably do not comprise even one percent of the population at large. Imagine if the anarchist milieu were to grow to include tens of millions of people. Most likely all of these specific tendencies would grow exponentially, and some new ones no one has heard of yet would probably appear. How would anarchists go about organizing society if indeed anarchism were to become a mass movement and the state in its present form were to disappear. More specifically, how would we reconcile the differences between all of these different tendencies, and how would anarchists co-exist with persons of other belief systems? Unless we want to start sending people to re-education camps, or placing them in gulags, or engaging in summary or mass executions we had better start thinking some of this out.

There are really only three ways. One would be anarcho-totalitarianism, where whatever anarchist faction or group of factions that happens to have the most power simply represses their rivals, anarchists and non-anarchists alike. Another would be anarcho-mass democracy, where we have an anarchist parliament consisting of the Syndicalist Party, Primitivist Party, Libertarian Party, Ecology Party, Feminist Party, et.al., perhaps presided over by, say, Prime Minister Chuck Munson. While this might be an interesting situation, it ultimately wouldn’t be much different than the kinds of states we have today.

The only other alternative is the dispersion of power to local units. These could be localities where everything is completely privatized (Hoppe) or everything is completely collectivized (anarcho-communism), or some point in between. The specific anarchist tendencies these communities represented would be determined according to prevailing ideological currents at the local level. One contemporary anarchist observes:

The superficial story is that the primmies control the NW, the SW desert and the Appalachians, while the Reds control the entire NE block and have a mild advantage everywhere else.

So “after the revolution” the “primmies” would be dominant in their regions and the “Reds” in theirs, and presumably the Free Staters in theirs, and the queer anarchists in theirs,  and so forth. It’s also interesting to observe how radically different the value systems and definitions of “freedom” employed by different kinds of anarchists are. One anarchist has noted that some anarchists wish to bar alcohol, drugs, tobacco, meat, porn, S&M and prostitution from their communities. This should go along way with those libertarian-libertine anarchists for whom anarchy is synonomous with all sorts of legalized vice.  Then there’s the conflict between the ethno-preservationist national-anarchists and the anti-racist left-anarchists, and between the proprietarian anarchists and the communal anarchists. I’ve even come across an anarchist proponent of the draft. Of course, the different kinds of anarchists will insist that others are not true anarchists, but that’s beside the point. Each of the different anarchist factions consider themselves to be the true anarchists, and that’s not going to change.

The adherents of many of these philosophies act as though the fate of the world depends on their every move, when in reality each of these tendencies will often have no more than a few thousand, maybe a few hundred, maybe even just a few dozen sympathizers (or even fewer than that). Rarely is any attention given to the question of how anarchists will ever achieve any of their stated goals, to the degree that anarchists have any common goals, or any goals at all.

If anarchists want to have any impact on the wider society whatsoever, I believe there is only one way. First, anarchists, whatever their other differences, need to band together in large enough numbers to become single-issue political pressure group. This would be a pressure group just like those in the mainstream: pro-choice, pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gun, pro-gay marriage, anti-gay marriage, marijuana decriminalization, etc. The purpose of this pressure group would be to reduce political authority down to lowest unit possible, which, I believe is the local community, i.e., cities, towns, villages, districts, neighborhoods,etc. I recognize some anarchists wish to reduce politics down to the individual level. I’m a little more skeptical of that. For instance, I’m not so sure competing criminal codes could exist in the same territorial jurisdiction, but I’m willing to agree to disagree on that. I say let’s work to reduce things down to the city-state, county or village level, and then debate how much further to go from there. Such a pressure group could include not only anarchists of every kind, but also left-green decentralists, conservative local sovereignty groups, regionalist or secessionist tendencies or even good old fashioned Jeffersonian states’ rightsers. This idea does not mean that every locality would need to be an independent nation unto itself. They could be sovereign entities within broader territorial confederations, so long as they retained their right of withdrawal or to veto policies favored by the larger bodies. This way, even communities with radically different cultural values or economic arrangements could collaborate on projects of mutual interest such as maintenance of transportation systems, firefighting, or common defense.

Meanwhile, outside the context of this single-issue movement for radical decentralization, the different anarchist factions could continue their other interests in different contexts. Libertarians could continue to push for private money or competing currencies. Syndicalists could continue to push for anarcho-syndicalist unions. Primitivists could set up tech-free communes or villages. Anti-racists could protest Klan marches, and national-anarchists could set up ethnic separatist intentional communities. Pro-lifers could agitate against abortion and feminists could agitate against pro-lifers. Gun nuts could simultaneously belong to the NRA and pacifists could belong to the Catholic Workers. Anarcho-communists could organize Israeli-style kibbutzes and anarcho-capitalists could set up their preferred private defense agencies.

Additionally, different factions with different beliefs could target certain geographical areas for colonization as the Free Staters are doing in New Hampshire, the Christian Exodus is doing in South Carolina, the Native Americans are doing in the Lakota Republic, or the Ron Paulites are doing in the Liberty Districts. Indeed, Bill Bishop’s interesting book “The Big Sort” describes how Americans are in the process of self-separation along the lines of culture, religion, ideology, political affilitation, sexuality, age, income, occupation and every conceivable other issue. Colonization can then become a movement for full-blown local secession. The values and ideals of those whom you disagree with are not as personally threatening if you do not have to live under the same political roof , and the worse someone’s ideas are, the better that they be separate from everyone else.

This does not mean that sovereign communities cannot have institutionalized protects for individual liberties, minority rights, or popular rule. Some state constitutions or municipal charters already have protections of this type in some instances, and sometimes on a more expansive level than what is found in the U.S. Constitution. Individual sovereign communities could make such protections as extensive as they wanted. Nor does this mean that libertarian anti-statism is the “only” value. There are some values in life that transcend politics, and one can also be committed to other issues while also being committed to political decentralization and local sovereignty. For instance, I am also interested in prisoners’ rights, legal, judicial, penal and police reform, ending the war on drugs, repealing consensual crime laws, abolishing compulsory school attendance laws, opposing zoning ordinances, eminent domain, the overregulation of land and housing markets, sex worker rights, the right to bear arms, self-defense rights, the rights of students, the homeless, the handicapped, medical patients and psychiatric inmates, freedom of speech and the press, labor organizing, worker cooperatives, mutual aid associations, home schools and alternative education, credit unions and mutual banks, LETS, land reform, indigenous peoples’ rights, alternative media, non-state social services, and many other topics. My primary area of interest is foreign policy. In fact, foreign policy was the reason I became an anarchist and have remained one, in spite of being continually underwhelmed by the organized anarchist movement. I think the American empire and its effects on peoples throughout the world is an abomination, and I want to see it ended. Yet, I think at the same time an agglomeration of anarchist communities in North America would need some kind of “national defense” system, given that Europe and Asia may not “go anarchist” at the same moment, which is why I am interested in the paleoconservatives with their traditional American isolationist views.

At the same time, there are some topics that many anarchists are committed to that don’t particularly interest me. Environmentalism is one of these. Like all reasonable people, I think we need clean air and water, and it’s not cool to build a toxic waste dump in a residential area. Yet, the eco-doomsday ideologies associated with ideas like global warming and peak oil are not things I’m sold on as of yet. I also really just don’t see what the big deal about endangered species is. The overwhelming majority of species that have existed thus far have already gone extinct, so what’s a few more? Still, if this is an issue others care passionately about, then by all means enaged in direct action on behalf of sea turtles or spotted owls or against urban sprawl. Don’t let me get in your way. Gay marriage is another topic I really just don’t give a fuck about, not because I’m anti-gay but because I view marriage as an archaic religious and statist institution that anarchists or libertarians or radicals of any stripe should not be promoting. But that’s just me. As an atheist, I also don’t care much for the militant politicized atheism found in some circles. I agree that compulsory religious instruction and practice should not exist in state-run schools, but I think extending this idea to things like prayers at city council meetings or football games, or extracurricular religious clubs in state institutions, is taking things a bit far. It is this sort of thing that alienates the usually religious poor and working class from radicalism.

Lastly, we need to consider how to appeal to all those ordinary folks out there whose assistance we might need in order to achieve these kinds of goals. An anarchist-led, libertarian-populist, radical decentralist, pan-secessionist movement that appealed to the tradition and ideals of the American Revolution is the only possible avenue. What I have outlined here is essentially the same set of views promoted by Voltairine de Cleyre in her essays “Anarchism without Adjectives” and “Anarchism and American Traditions“. If you don’t like my views, then come up with a plan of your and let the rest of us hear about it.

4 comments

  1. Pingback: News Briefs April 26-May 2/2009 | www.new-right.org

  2. Interesting article.

    How do we evaluate progress towards the goal of decentralizing power? This to me is a crucial problem: the coalition must be useful to these different interests. How much of this anarcho-pluralist idea depends on actual subsidiarity vs. the symbolic dissolutions of the state and other centralized institutions as such? The former seems much more fundamental but more slippery; the latter serves as a definite milepost, but could be superficial as well.

    For example, let’s say that the panarchist lobby achieves a significant amount of local autonomy for communities in America. How would this be regarded if it did not involve the formal dissolution of the U.S.? How would we be able to TELL that the decentralization meets the coalition’s requirements? Or would we require a formal renunciation of central authority to validate our mission? I see a great deal of possible confusion occurring because preserving but weakening the central state could serve some coalition interests and not others. I go back and forth on how important it is to smash the state vs. rendering it irrelevant.

    It seems to me like the more diverse the cross-ideological coalition, the fuzzier the end goal is. What does it mean for a particular ideological / ethnic / lifestyle group to have sufficient autonomy, and are there any attendant formalities to achieving that condition? Otherwise, how do all parties determine their particularist interests are being met by the general mission?

    There’s another problem of achieving the big sort on terms that make sense to the anarcho-pluralist project. How quickly could an even “bigger sort” occur, and how would we handle the quite likely situation where breaking up national state power does not coincide with the self-segregation of different political tendencies into distinct, homogeneous communities? Decentralizing power right now with the current demographics would very likely just yield hundreds of little status quo Americas over the short and medium term. How do we build popular support for a position that, essentially, breaks up existing communities filled with the non-ideologically motivated population? If I don’t give a shit about decentralizing power, I don’t see why I’d be interested in picking up and moving just because some dick comes to power in my community.

  3. With regards to the first question I asked, “How do we define success”, there’s a different way of asking it that may be more useful: has there ever been a successful revolutionary / secessionist movement that only articulated a negative platform? Is merely being against the state enough, or do we also need to unite around being “for” something as well? In other words, is there historical evidence for the kind of ideologically-neutral anti-statism you’re proposing, or is there perhaps a need to articulate a positive agenda?

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