For some years now, I have advocated for the anarchist movement in North America a change in direction from the course it has followed since the 1960s. Essentially, the general flavor of the anarchist milieu is one that expresses the same set of primary values as Marxists, social democrats and left-liberal Democratic Party activists, with the added qualification of “by the way, we’re also against the state as well.” A principal problem with such an approach is that it fails to distinguish political anarchism from run of the mill leftism. Furthermore, anarchism exists primarily as a kind of youth culture/subculture that focuses on a very narrow ultra-leftism and hyper-counterculturalism that inevitably has the effect of relegating political anarchism into a fringe ideological ghetto.
This is a situation that I have sought to change. I have done so by advocating a broader, more expansive approach for political anarchism than what the current mainstream of the movement will allow for. This effort has won me many highly sympathetic friends within the anarchist milieu and many bitter enemies as well. In a recent and highly controversial essay, I argued for a “revolution within anarchism.” What I was calling for is the future advent of a “non-leftoidal” anarchist movement, meaning one that is more substantive, comprehensive and original in its approach, rather than simply championing the run-of-the-mill causes and issues favored by leftists and post-60s counterculturalists.
If one surveys most of the contemporary anarchist websites and publications, one typically sees persistent and predictable references to things like the evils of racism, sexism, and homophobia, the villainy of pollution and cutting down trees, the need to be kinder to animals, the championing of unions and worker-related causes, the need for better health care, and other things that any little old lady at a Democratic Party precinct meeting, liberal Methodist pastor, or high-school social studies teacher might be interested in. Added to this might be standard countercultural causes like publishing “zines,” alternative media projects, squatting, “Food Not Bombs,” vegetarianism or veganism, neo-pagan or New Age religions, transsexualism, hippie communes, or punk music. Many of these are no doubt good causes or perfectly harmless activities, but it is questionable as to how much they really do to subvert “the System.” After all, the radicals from the 60s have for the most part been victorious on most of the issues that emerged during that time. But what has been the result? The military-industrial complex is larger and more expansive than ever before, and the empire more far-reaching and more overtly aggressive. The state is more expansive and repressive, and the police state and prison-industrial complex have emerged as major growth industries. The plutocracy has become ever more exploitive, and the socio-economic classes ever more polarized. And the “culture wars” have degenerated into battles within the middle class over symbolic issues like same-sex marriage.
I submit that anarchists in North America should strive to break the grip that the “60s model” of radicalism has on their own milieu and begin looking for new directions. In my previous writings, I have called for the development of an anarchist-led pan-secessionist movement with a strong populist orientation, and oriented towards the lower socio-economic orders, e.g., the lumpenproletariat, neo-peasantry, declasse’ sectors, lower petite bourgeoisie, respectable poor, sinking middle and so forth. Such a movement would champion “third way” economic tendencies beyond socialism or capitalism, with an emphasis on decentralization and the voluntary sector. There would be an across-the-board defense of civil liberties (defending both drug decriminalization and the right to bear arms, for instance) and irreconcilable cultural differences would be handled according to the model of “peace through separatism,” meaning groups like the feminist/gay Left or the Religious Right would have their own separate institutions, associations, communities, and, if necessary, entirely separate regions, with explosive cultural matters like the definition of marriage, abortion, capital punishment, the rights of children against their parents, educational practices, and immigration being determined according to local community standards. The emergence of such a movement would involve a situation where the independent Left, populist Right, radical Middle, underclass, lumpenproletariat, declasse’ sectors, radical ecologists, and racial-nationalists among the minority groups would naturally bend towards one another against the neoconservative/left-liberal establishment.
My own ideological perspective is, for all practical purposes, virtually identical to what one might find at a website like Infoshop.Org , with several important differences. One of these is my rejection of abstract internationalism in favor old-fashioned foreign policy isolationism. A similar policy has worked quite well for the Swiss and Swedes for generations, and an emphasis on strict neutrality in international relations is even more important in an era where “humanitarianism” is used as a justification and cover for imperialism. Second, the phenomena of what is called “political correctness” needs to be effectively and comprehensively challenged, given that this is the ideological superstructure of an emerging form of totalitarianism. Lastly, I wish to end the “culture war/race war” mentality common to many Leftists and Rightists alike, and deal with differences of religion, culture, race, ethnicity, language and so forth according to the principles of individual liberty, voluntary association, pluralism, meritocracy and peaceful co-existence where possible, otherwise decentralism, localism, secessionism, separatism, self-determination and mutual self-segregation. For holding such positions, I have gained many enemies, but I have also brought in new friends, allies, and ideological tendencies whose tenants overlap to a great degree with those of traditional anarchism. Just as those of us who opposed the Cold War were often accused of fueling Communism, so are those of us who today oppose the Culture War accused of fueling Nazism, fascism, racism and theocracy but, as has been said, “this too shall pass.”
A question that emerges from this discussion involves the issue of what sort of time frame we are looking at. I prefer to use the “forty years in the wilderness” analogy, a reference to the biblical legend whereby the escaped Israelite slaves wandered in the wilderness for forty years before reaching the Promised Land. I will explain the relevance of this analogy shortly, but when considering such a matter it is important to recognize identifiable trends in U.S. politics. These include:
1) The two-party system has proven to be extraordinarily durable, and has survived for 200+ years since the founding of the Republic, with no significant alterations and in spite of many subsequent changes in American society of a monumental nature.
2) The state has persistently grown throughout U.S. history, with no significant rollback at any point, and will likely continue to do so in the forseeable future, particularly given the economic troubles that lie ahead. Depending on whose estimates one relies on, the U.S. state now consumes 35 to 40 percent of the GDP, and is capable of consuming still more, as the European social democracies demonstrate. Further, there is no real evidence that the public at large objects to this. Opinion research indicates that anti-statist ideologies like libertarianism and paleoconservatism are the least popular so far as ideologies somewhat connected to the political mainstream are concerned.
3) Demographic, cultural and generational trends indicate that the center-left and, consequently, the Democratic Party, will be the dominant force in American national politics in the decades ahead. It is also true that American domestic partisan cycles tend to run at 35 to 40 year intervals. The Democrats recently emerged victorious after Republican dominance since the late 1960s. The Nixon Republicans displaced the Democrats who had been dominant since the election of FDR in 1932, and FDR ended the Republican reign that had begun in the 1890s (with the exception of the disastrous Wilson presidency). If this trend has any meaning for the future, the current Democrat-dominated partisan cycle should begin to expire sometime in the 2040s, precisely the decade when Americans of non-European ancestry are expected to collectively become a demographic majority.
In other words, we should count on the center-left being dominant for the next 40 years or so, and we should plan on using that time to build up a revolutionary movement that will eventually displace the current center-left coalition that has emerged victorious with the election of President Obama. Of course, there are a lot of people who wish to unseat the present center-left ruling coalition from the Right, ranging from right-wing neocon Frumites to paleocon Buchananites to the “grassroots Republican” Palinites to the Religious Right, Libertarians, and so forth. However, it is unlikely that any of these elements will ever achieve anything more than marginal or temporary victories, as all of them represent forces that were once dominant in American society but are in a serious state of decline. Neoconservatism, for instance, is a degenerated form of Cold War liberalism and the Paleocon/Religious Right program of turning back the clock to the 1950s is something of a joke. That mainstream “conservatives” have found no one better than Sarah Palin to be their leader demonstrates what a joke their perspective is as well. The purpose of present day “conservatism” is not to gain political power but to attract listeners and viewers to talk-radio or FOX News (itself a product of the “dumbing down” of American culture) and to sell books by barely literate right-wing polemicists.
It is of the utmost importance that a genuine revolutionary movement identify the present and future center-left ruling coalition as the primary enemy. To focus on “right-wing conservatives” is foolish given that these represent the losing forces of history, e.g., the right-wing of the old-monied elite, proponents of archaic nation-state based nationalism, religious fundamentalists, opponents of the sexual revolution, the declining white middle class and so forth. Yes, Rush Limbaugh may be a fat-assed windbag who peddles jingoism in its crudest form, and Ann Coulter may be a sniveling cunt, but there is no evidence that the movement they represent will ever achieve comprehensive or enduring political power in the United States. Indeed, the Bush administration, with its grotesque ineptness, may well have been their last gasp. Even more foolish is the tendency of some in the anarchist movement to devote inordinate amounts of attention to “right-wing extremist” groups, e.g., the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazis, skinheads, et.al. Nothing is more marginalized and irrelevant to the mainstream of American politics than these. Persistent battles between “racists” and “anti-racists” are as socially and politically productive as wars between one-percenter motorcycle clubs or crack-dealing, inner-city street gangs.
The correct historical model to draw on in the development of a 21st century revolutionary movement in North America is not the battle between the Left and classical Fascism in the 1920s and 1930s but the historic rivalry between the anarchists and the Communists, with the center-left and its ideology of political correctness now playing the role of the “new totalitarianism.” I submit that the anarchist movement in North America should adopt as its primary objective the development of a revolutionary movement to challenge the center-left from the left, with the goal of obtaining political pre-eminence once the center-left expires its historical utility. In other words, there should be an anarchist-led revolution in the United States sometime during the 2040s, and the interim decades should be a build-up period to that point.
American history informs us of how we might proceed. Given the historic durability of the two-party system, it is worth noting that the only disruptions of that system were the replacement of the Federalists with the Whigs, and the subsequent replacement of the Whigs with the Republicans prior to the U.S. Civil War. Given that the Democrats are likely to be the ruling party over the next few decades, the aim of the revolutionaries should be to eventually replace the Republican Party with a yet to be named or thoroughly defined revolutionary coalition/organization/federation of some kind.
It is also worth noting and rather ironic that the only “near miss” as far as rolling back the perpetual expansion of the Leviathan state in U.S. history was the attempted Southern secession of 1861, which the Republican Party was formed primarily to prevent. Given that the two largest revolutionary events in U.S. history were the secession by the 13 colonies from Britain and the attempted Southern secession from the Union, it makes sense that a continuation of the American secessionist tradition should be our primary strategic tool. There is also the question of how to best go about formulating propaganda whose purpose is to shift popular opinion in our direction. As anarchists, we can quote Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Proudhon, Spooner, Tolstoy, Stirner, Nock, Rothbard, Bookchin or Chomksy within our own circles all we wish. The fact that remains is that most Americans don’t know and don’t care about such things. What they do know is the American populist revolutionary tradition that extends back to Jefferson and the Declaration Independence. In other words, we anarchists should follow the lead of Voltairine de Cleyre and work to fuse anarchism with American radical traditions in a way that makes sense to the ordinary person.
The need to abandon conventional “culture war/race war” psychology cannot be emphasized strongly enough. This does not mean that anarchists, the majority of whom identify with the left on social and cultural matters, should abandon their own ideals, interests or preferences. For instance, the majority of anarchists probably take a favorable view of the “immigrants’ rights” cause. Because immigration is a highly divisive social issue within the ranks of the poor and working class, I have advocated simply decentralizing immigration policy to the local level. This means that some localities might have the ultra-liberal immigration policies of contemporary “sanctuary cities” and others might take a position more like the contemporary Minutemen. In a community where the prevailing opinion on immigration was rather “conservative” in nature, left-wing anarchists could still agitate for an alternative point of view if they wished, vote against an anti-immigration referendum, etc. Nevertheless, it remains true that a wide assortment of demographic groups commonly identified with the “cultural right” will likely come under increasingly severe attacks from the state in the decades ahead. What we anarchists should say to the Right is this: “You rightists will get a better deal from us than with the totalitarian Left. We will defend you against attacks from the state. We will uphold the right to bear arms, free speech, educational freedom, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. We will shut down the police state. We will recognize your political sovereignty in those communities where your perspective is the prevailing sentiment. We will uphold the economic interests that you share in common with others.” It should not be difficult to connect and form alliances with a wide variety of rightist factions against the common enemy in the central government given that states’ rights and local sovereignty are venerable American traditions of the kind which conservatives are the ostensible champions.
The center-left will eventually collapse as it begins to fracture along various lines. As political correctness becomes more deeply entrenched in American society, it will have fewer and fewer inhibitions about showing its fangs. As the role of the Israel lobby in U.S. foreign policy becomes increasingly exposed, the center-left will fracture along pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist lines. As the immigrant and non-white population expands and becomes more powerful, racial and ethnic divisions on the Left will become more obvious. Other contributing factors to the eventual demise of the center-left ruling coalition will be growing class divisions, ideological differences among the left (multicultural vs universalism), the incompatibility of some of the left’s constituent groups (socially conservative blacks and homosexuals, for instance), the decline of the traditional Right as a common enemy and unifying force for the center-left, and the economic bankruptcy of the welfare state. Ultimately, the greatest fault line will be between upper middle class, white, liberals mostly concerned with social issues like gay rights, abortion rights, environmentalism and secularism, and lower class, mostly black and Hispanic, radicals concerned with class and economic issues, framed as racial and ethnic issues.
Over the next twenty years or so, anarchists should work to re-orient their movement away from a narrowly focused ultra-leftism and towards the broader pan-secessionist, decentralist populism I have outlined here. This will be achieved by those anarchists who already hold a similar position agitating for such ideas in the anarchist milieu and eventually gaining positions of leadership as the older ways become increasingly archaic. Once again, this does not mean that anarchists should necessarily abandon many of the projects with which they are currently involved. It means simply expanding the horizons of the anarchist milieu, appealing to a wider variety and larger number of people, and tackling a wider assortment of issues.
Once the project of re-orienting the anarchist movement towards becoming a more effective fighting force is achieved, the next step will be to work to gain political preeminence at the local and regional level for the ultimate purpose of overturning the present and future center-left ruling coalition, and doing so in a way that involves radical decentralization of power to the lowest possible level. This does not mean that decentralization is the only value. There are currently many worthwhile projects that anarchists are involved with ranging from assisting the homeless, to agitating for the living wage, to prisoners’ rights, to alternative schools, to solidarity with the Palestinians, Tibetans and oppressed people in other parts of the world. This does not mean that any particular set of anarchists needs to abandon their preferred set of cultural values. What I am simply proposing is that irreconcilable cultural differences be handled according to the model of “peace through separatism” as opposed to civil war, persecution, subjugation or oppression. Some rural counties may not allow abortion and some liberal enclaves may not allow handguns or smoking in bars. Some science academies may discriminate against creationists, and some churches may discriminate against feminists and homosexuals. Some schools may teach Afro-centrism and some may teach Euro-centrism. Some neighborhoods may exclude outspoken racists and others may exclude drug dealers or vice merchants. Such is an inevitability in a highly diverse civilization of hundreds of millions of people.
As to where those anarchists already committed to an outlook such as the one I’ve outlined here should begin, I would suggest that anarchists of this type begin infiltrating larger organizations for the purpose of gaining leadership positions. For instance, most of the current “third party” organizations are politically worthless, and there has never been a genuinely successful third party in U.S. history. However, these parties might well be captured by the anarchist movement and combined into a federation of more authentically revolutionary organizations, with their own infrastructure, social services, schools, media, militia and so forth, perhaps on the model of Fourth Generation entities like Hezbollah. It is these institutions and organizations that should replace the state once the present ruling class crumbles.