By Keith Preston
Last month, I wrote about how many of the predictions that I have been making over the past decade or so have come true during the course of recent events. In particular, the current U.S. presidential election represents the fulfillment of some of these predictions. Hillary Clinton is an almost perfect manifestation of the totalitarian humanist convergence I predicted nearly a decade ago, i.e. the combination of militarism, plutocracy, and police statism with ostensibly liberal and progressive values as an ideological cover (with these enforced by means of an ever more intrusive nanny state). Bill Lind describes the implications of this ideological framework very thoroughly. Jack Ross explains the present day political alignments that have emerged because of the rise of totalitarian humanism. And Vanity Fair describes how a new left-wing of the ruling class has emerged that comes from outside the ranks of the traditional WASP elites and is rooted in newer high-tech industries. I’ve been saying all of these things for years.
Six years ago, I wrote about the ten core demographics that a radical or revolutionary movement in North America would likely need to organize in order to achieve the popular base needed for effective political action. Current events represent the stirring of many of these demographics and in a way that signifies that these cleavages are developing at a much more rapid pace than I thought they would when I wrote that original piece.
The Donald Trump phenomena represents a stirring of the populist right and the sinking middle. The antiwar, civil libertarian, and labor-oriented sections of the Left have become increasingly alienated from both the Democratic Party and the liberal establishment even to the point that some on the antiwar left now favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
The Black Lives Matter movement represents a movement of black Americans that often demonstrates as much hostility to the liberal and Left establishments as they do to anything on the Right. The Bernie Sanders movement represents the disdain of the progressive Left and the far Left for the centrist-liberalism of the Clintons, and young people in particular seem to be looking for a new political paradigm. A sharp backlash against political correctness has also emerged, and the cleavages among the various constituent groups of liberalism or the Left has likewise become increasingly evident.
Donald Trump’s campaign strategy is an interesting variation of the strategy that I outlined in “Liberty and Populism” ten years ago. This involves a strategy of appealing to the populist Right with anti-PC issues, appealing to the radical Center with economic and general anti-establishment issues, appealing to Left with issues that the left establishment ignores or sweeps under the rug, and likewise playing to socioeconomic and demographic cleavages on the Left. Trump is essentially doing this albeit for radically different purposes (getting himself elected President) than those of ARV/ATS (overthrowing the government).
However, it is ironic that during the time that all of this seeming political discontent has emerged, the various movements with an orientation towards anarchism, libertarianism, anti-statism, decentralism or anti-authoritarianism are nowhere to be found. In recent years, there has been some talk about the possibility of secession by various regions of the United States. The left-anarchist writer Kirkpatrick Sale hosted three successive pan-secessionist conventions during the tail end of the George W. Bush years, and yet nothing ever came of these efforts. There was likewise talk of secession by some on the Right following the re-election of President Obama in 2012, and polls over the last decade have repeatedly indicated that approximately 25% of Americans would be sympathetic to the idea of secession by their own region or locality. And yet no leader or movement has come along that has had the effect of awakening this sleeping giant. Even recent efforts towards the development of a secessionist tendency in Texas have proven to be fruitless. Now that the Brexit movement has achieved success, there are once again secessionist rumblings in Texas. But such efforts have not yet proved to be promising anywhere in the United States to date.
Even the libertarian movement that once seemed to be promising during the Ron Paul moment has largely fizzled. Ron Paul’s hybrid of Rothbardian libertarianism and right-wing populism had the effect of developing a wide popular interest in libertarianism, particularly among younger people. However, his heir Rand Paul completely blew it presenting himself as a bland Republican, and attempting to pander to conventional conservatives. If anything, it has been Donald Trump that has been the true heir to Ron Paul’s legacy of dissent from the Right. And it is Bernie Sanders that has been the beneficiary of the taste for dissent among younger people that originally emerged during the Ron Paul period.
However, it is also true that the present Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson is polling as high as 10% according to some estimates, and the Libertarian ticket may be strengthened by its potential appeal to “Never Trump” voters. The moderate libertarian blogger Scott Alexander has speculated about the possible emergence of a libertarian-oriented “Grey Tribe” in opposition to both the Republicans’ “Red Tribe” and the Democrats’ “Blue Tribe.” Yet it is also true that libertarians have had a very difficult time establishing an independent identity for themselves. This is evidenced by the fact that the libertarian movement that experienced growth during the Ron Paul period has subsequently splintered into a variety of warring camps. Some former Ron Paul supporters have even left libertarianism altogether and joined the neo-reactionary movement.
An additional concern is that, whatever his polling numbers, Gary Johnson and his running mate William Weld are arguably the most milquetoast candidates the Libertarian Party has ever placed on their ticket, as the recent appearance of these gentlemen on CNN indicates.
Clearly, Johnson and Weld are liberal Republicans of the kind that used to be a dime a dozen before the Buckleyite-Neocon-Religious Right takeover of the GOP during the Reagan era. Johnson managed to fumble even on standard libertarian issues like drug legalization during this CNN appearance and Weld, a former federal prosecutor, even denies that he wishes to abolish the IRS. However well these guys end up doing in the polls, their impact will simply be to reestablish a place for old-fashioned liberal Republicanism, and not the development of a revolutionary anti-state movement.
Equally interesting when compared with Johnson’s polling numbers is the unusually high polling numbers that the Green Party’s Jill Stein is currently receiving. The split that has emerged among Democrats as a result of the Sanders/Clinton contest may drive some Sanders supporters to the Greens. Some polls have placed Stein’s numbers as high as seven percent. Both Sanders and Stein represent American liberalism as it was before the rise of Clintonism in the 1990s. Sanders ran as a recycled New Deal Democrat during his campaign, and the Greens are essentially a representation of left-liberalism as it was in the 1970s and 1980s plus some Social Justice Warrior add-ons.
As I have previously written, the most significant aspect of this present presidential election is that the state of American politics is to a large degree returning to what it was in the 1970s, prior to the rise of the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” and the subsequent rise of Clintonism as a force which eclipsed both left-liberalism and traditional New Deal Democrats. All of the same factions that were present in American politics during the 1970s now appear to be reclaiming a place for themselves on the national political stage. The principal cause of this seems to be that widening class divisions and demographic change, combined with cultural and generational change, have rendered the Reagan coalition increasingly non-viable, and Clintonian neo-liberalism increasingly unpopular.
Meanwhile, as mentioned above, it seems that a problematic issue faced by anarchists, and others with similar philosophies, is the need to establish an independent identity for ourselves. At present, most people with some kind of anti-state philosophy continue to be largely affiliated with either the Red Tribe or the Blue Tribe, depending on their personal predilections. This need for an independent identity is readily apparent. We should not be merely an appendage to the radical Left (which most people identify with Communism) or the radical Right (which most people identify with fascists and Nazis). Instead, I’m increasingly leaning towards the view that anarchists should position ourselves as the “revolutionary Center” (the people vs the elite). Right now, radical center ideas seem to be growing in dissident circles.
A good way to frame the issue might be like this: Liberals are the center-left, socialists are the radical Left, and Marxist revolutionaries (like Maoists, radical Trotskyists, some anarcho-Marxists) are the revolutionary Left. Mainstream conservatives are the center-right, while the alt-right and paleoconservatives are the radical right, and fascists, neo-Nazis, radical survivalists, Tim McVeigh types, etc. are the revolutionary Right. The mainstream center would be so-called “moderates,” i.e. centrist politicians with milquetoast versions of some liberal and some conservative ideas. The radical center would be the reformist center with a more populist outlook, and anarchists would be the “revolutionary center.,” i.e. the centrist alternative for revolutionaries that reject both Fascism and Communism.
It is also interesting to speculate on how the upcoming presidential election might impact the future of radical movements.
I’m inclined to think a Hillary presidency will do more to facilitate the growth of authentic anti-system sentiment than a Trump presidency. If Trump loses, more and more people from the Right will think “Well, we tried doing it the system’s way, and we lost. Time for more radical efforts.” Meanwhile, a Hillary presidency would inflame the entire spectrum of the right-wing (except the neocons who would probably love her), while simultaneously alienating honest and serious liberals and leftists who would recognize what a vile bitch she actually is, and who would be appalled by the spectacle of PCers and SJWers ignoring her misdeeds as she panders to them. Consequently, many on the Left and Right would start looking for more radical solutions. A Trump presidency would probably motivate the right-wing to rally behind the state under the banner of “Give The Donald a Chance!” and ignore his more negative tendencies. Meanwhile, the Left would be reassured that it’s those god-awful “straight white males” who are the real enemy. So strategically, it’s probably in our best interests that Hillary win, though that might not be the case from the point of view of actual human interests given the thirst of Hillary and her likely neocon supporters for imperialist war.
Craig Fitzgerald offers an interesting counterpoint on this question:
I disagree, I see a Hillary presidency as infinitely worse. I actually feel Hillary hates humanity, while Trump does not. I also feel that as long as good populist nationalists, paleocons, constitutionalists & Libertarians don’t let their guards down & attempt to influence the Trump camp we may be able to keep him in line. Hillary on the other hand is totally a homicidal maniac.
Gabriel Brown expresses a similar viewpoint:
I may be missing something but it would appear to me that Trump being elected president may actually be the catalyst to accelerate the growth of anti-system politics opposed to Hillary Clinton becoming elected.
Trump is making tall promises that are most likely not promises he can keep 100%. If Trump does not achieve that which his voter base has been promised this could ultimately further crush faith in the system with those on the right who have become fairly moderate in terms of their anti-system position.
This may cause them to move in further direction of radical political positions which will be perfect for our efforts in encouraging them to move beyond the system and beyond the State with alternatives that generally speaking they may not have considered originally.
I say this because I examine Hillary Clinton and suspect that if Hillary Clinton is elected, because she has a manner of neutralizing the population by creating the appearance and perception that business as usual is the way of the system you will continue to see the left lock-step supporting the system and the right ultimately neutralized in actually doing anything radical the way the right is currently not as radical in terms of their efforts with the way the Obama administration has done things.
In other words i think that mainstream establishment candidates in power tend to have a neutralizing effect opposed to those who are viewed as non-establishment candidates.
I think people would hold Trump to a higher degree of expectations because he has made claims and promises that do challenge the system whereas with Clinton it is expected she will lie to the public and the public will be neutralized by knowing she will lie to the public.
I could be wrong but it seems to me that Trump may cause people to drive further away from the system showing the public that the system is flawed and even he isn’t able to do the job he has promised the people.
Maybe I’m just a closet Leninist but I’m often inclined to make “worse is better” arguments. It is interesting that a lot of the neocons seem to be leaning towards Hillary, and a lot of people from the genuinely anti-imperialist Left are leaning towards Trump (like some of the writers at Counterpunch, Denis Rancourt, Jim Petras, John Pilger, Susan Sarandon, etc). Even Jill Stein seems to view Trump almost favorably when compared to Hillary.
It would seem that what is needed at this point is for a maverick political leader to emerge that is trying to do at the national level what Norman Mailer was trying to do in New York in 1969: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City:_the_51st_State
Indeed, Adam Kokesh is actually talking about doing something similar to that during the 2020 election: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvqQg-uLn-Y
And ideas of the kind that Attack the System has been talking about for years are increasingly starting to enter the mainstream if only at a snail’s pace at present.
While discontent is starting to emerge in various corners, there is at presence no revolutionary presence in North America of any immediately identifiable or significantly influential sort. This is one of the first things that needs to change. In particular, those of use who identity ourselves as anarchists of some particular type need to begin making our presence known and developing common points of unity along with a coherent strategy.
For example, one such ambition might be for genuine revolutionaries to take over these minor parties and turn them into a federation of revolutionary anarchists. The Greens could become the eco-anarchist organization. The Libertarian Party could be the voluntaryist/anarcho-capitalist organization. The Pirate Party could be the crypto-anarchist organization. The Constitution Party could be the right-wing Christian anarchist organization. And the Party of Socialism and Liberation could become the anarcho-communist organization.
The eventual ambition should be to create a national federation of revolutionary anarchist organizations. A principal obstacle to such an effort would be the possible lack of even enough agreement among anarchists about core ideas at this point to hold national conferences or to create a federation of this kind. One problem is that all of these different groups of anarchists (along with scattered individuals) want to abolish the state for entirely different reasons. Some claim the existing state is too capitalist, and others claim it is not capitalist enough. And for some who claim the anarchist label, it’s less about the state specifically and more about abolishing capitalism, abolishing violence, abolishing technology, abolishing large-scale production, abolishing patriarchy, abolishing racism, abolishing religion, abolishing transphobia, abolishing globalization or abolishing any number of other things. For all of the hyphenated forms of anarchism, the hyphens usually come before the anarchism. An-caps are capitalists first, an-coms are communists first, anarcho-syndicalists are syndicalists first, anarcha-feminists are feminists first, etc.
I think that the only way around this would be for anarchists and others with libertarian, decentralist, anti-statist, or anti-authoritarian values to develop a common meta-ethic of decentralized pluralism on the macro-level and infinite diversity on the micro-level. Historically, the ideas that comes closet to this are anarchism without adjectives (Voltairine de Cleyre), anarchism without hyphens (Karl Hess), synthesist anarchism (Voline, Sebastian Faure), and panarchism (John Zube). However, this is the main idea I have pushed in anarchist circles for many years and it’s primary effect has been to make me unpopular with everyone.
Ian Mayes suggests that I am perhaps too pessimistic:
You seem to have a very sectarian tribalistic view of anarchists, whereas I think that a lot of anarchists are actually not that way. I have met and known a lot of anarchists who are very easy-going as far as ideology is concerned, they claim to belong to no particular anarchist school of thought, or if they do it is a very tepid affiliation with a particular school of thought. A lot of these kinds of people do not even necessarily call themselves “anarchist”, they just show up at events that have that label and only call themselves “anarchist” if you really press them on the question. These kinds of people are usually pretty soft-spoken, so you might not know that they are even out there since they tend to keep their opinions to themselves.
Perhaps there is greater reason for optimism than what often appears on the surface. There is also the question of offering a positive vision of what we are for as anarchists as opposed to merely stating what we are against.
While I can only speak for myself, on a general level I am for developing anarchist movements that reclaim the position that anarchists held in the early 20th century as the world’s largest revolutionary force before it was eclipsed by Communism. However, I would also like for anarchism to do in the 21st century what Communism did in the 20th century (i.e. overthrow so many governments that they control about 1/3 of the world’s nations or more). In particular, I want to see the American empire and its allies taken down, and the next target after that would the other major nation-states like China, Russia, India, etc. I also wish to overturn the international institutions towards which power is being ceded such as the those that facilitate the international financial and trade systems, along with the UN and other similar things. The anti-capitalist struggle (or at least the struggle against corporate capitalism) has to be a core part of this because about 150 corporations control about 40-50% of the world’s wealth. All of the various international organizations that have been incorporated into this system need to be overturned (the EU, for example).
There is also the need for self-determination for all regional, national, cultural, ethnic, religious or other groups that are currently under the boot of some external power (Tibet and Palestine are among the most obvious examples). There is a need to attack state repression across the board in all countries and societies. The priorities in this area should obviously vary according to place. Women’s rights and religious persecution are the issues in Saudi Arabia, while the wars on drugs, crime, terrorism, etc, and the related police state and prison industry are the priorities in the US. Maybe the excesses of PC would be the priorities in many European nations. There is also the need to develop alternatives to state-capitalism in the economic realm. Ideas of that type have been around for centuries in some instances. I generally think some ideas of that kind would work better than others, though there should be lots of experimentation along regional, national, local, and institutional lines. A big issue in the US is figuring out how to dismantle the military industrial complex. Another thing is to revise law codes along more libertarian lines, along with working to abolish formalized legal systems to the greatest degree possible.
These are just few ideas related to the bigger issues. Many different ideas about alternative social systems are presently in circulation. For example, Wayne Price talks about what a post-capitalist society might look like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqiT-OSIvQE
Nexus H. Humectress discusses the need for competing social system:
Personally, I’d kind of like to see New Hampshire secede and become Ancapistan, bordered by its friendly neighbor, the People’s Republic of Vermont, and then we would have a controlled experiment to see which system works better, a libertarian freed market, or democratic state socialism. My guess is that each of those countries would have its own virtues and drawbacks, perhaps with no clear winner.
Patri Friedman discusses these ideas as well:
Since the EU is basically the opposite of competitive governance (imposing a large, bureaucratic, non-local-adaptive, non-multiple experiments governance structure on a diverse region), I am delighted about Brexit, and hopeful that it demonstrates a first-world trend towards local autonomy and governance diversity. The answers to difficult questions like immigration, security, and foreign policy should not come from a central organization that imposes a uniform solution on all; they should be both locally adaptive and answered in diverse ways so we can all learn from the multiple parallel experiments.
The diversity we need is of the things that matter: rules, ideas, institutions and culture. There should be a country with Germany’s immigration policy; and a country with Hungary’s immigration policy. There need to be different interest and exchange rates for Greece and Germany. One size fits none. Glad that democracy can occasionally get something right; and psyched for Scottish (scexit? ukexit?) as well as the continuing failure of the Eurozone/ECB to handle widely varied regional economic situations.
There are many single issues that are in need of being addressed. For example, in the past I have expressed what might be considered very far left-wing views on many issues.
On many social questions, I would share ground with..many of the conventionally “left-wing” or left-libertarian positions… I am pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, anti-death penalty.., pro-drug legalization, pro-gay rights and pro- sex worker rights…, and pro-prison abolition. I’m also pro-homeless, pro-disabled people, and pro-mentally ill, in the sense of favoring abolition of state policies…(such as) loitering and vagrancy laws, zoning and other laws restricting the supply of low-income housing, involuntary civil commitment, regulations restricting the activities of shelters and relief organizations and others too numerous to mention). I am also anti-drinking age, anti-compulsory schooling, anti-censorship and I would put more strident limits on the powers of the police than the ACLU would. I am also interested in anarcho-syndicalist, mutualist, distributist or “libertarian socialist” economics. These positions are well to the left of the Democratic Party, far more left than most liberals and even many hard leftists.
I have also discussed the need for the development of alternative infrastructure and social service organizations.
In terms of offering positive alternatives to the welfare state, I am very much for the development of non-state charities, relief agencies, orphanages, youth hostels, squats, shelters for battered women, the homeless or the mentally ill, self-improvement programs for drug addicts and alcoholics, assistance services for the disabled or the elderly, wildlife and environmental preserves, means of food and drug testing independent of the state bureaucracy, home schools, neighborhood schools, private schools, tenants organizations, mutual banks, credit unions, consumers unions, anarcho-syndicalist labor unions and other worker organizations, cooperatives, communes, collectives, kibbutzim and other alternative models of organizing production. I am in favor of free clinics, alternative medicine, self-diagnostic services, midwifery, the abolition of medical licensure, the repeal of prescription laws and anything else that could potentially reduce the cost of health care for the average person and diminish dependency on the medical-industrial complex and the white coat priesthood. Indeed, I would argue that the eventual success of libertarianism depends to a large degree on the ability of libertarians to develop workable alternatives to both the corporation-dominated economy and the state-dominated welfare and social service system.
However, I am also known for taking a much more accommodating stance towards the right-wing than many anarchists. I’ve found that, whatever their other views, many from the right-wing are open to decentralization or secession or “situational anarchism” as a practical consideration. I generally lean towards what I call the “Orania solution” for the reactionary right-wing in all its different forms: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orania,_Northern_Cape
I imagine that with pan-anarchism, pan-secession, or pan-decentralization there might be Oranias for white separatists, Christian fundamentalists, Islamists, Catholic traditionalists, Mormons, Zionists, nationalists, social conservatives, black supremacists, La Raza (“The Race”), drug prohibitionists, pro-lifers, homophobes, and all of the other types who reject the central features of liberal modernity. Just like there might be “Feminazi Towns” with no hookers and porn allowed, or “Trans Towns” and “TERF Towns” or “Vegan Towns” where animals have the right to vote or whatever and “Carnivore Towns.” It’s just a model for a practical way of accommodating yet containing reactionaries of different kinds as opposed to the totalitarian humanist model of compulsory progressivism or the Stalinist-Maoist-Pol Potist model of massacres.
I also think that it’s necessary to have some means of accommodating people who simply reject many of society’s prevalent taboos. At present, racism is regarded by many people as the ultimate evil. It may be a backlash against the obvious excesses and atrocities in the past. However, “the racists ye shall always have among you.” That may change in the future and something else may come to be regarded as the greatest of all sins. I have seen some evidence that there may be movements to legalize and/or normalize polygamy or incestuous couplings at some point in the future. If so, that will be yet another fight like the gay/trans issues have been, and it will probably cross conventional ideological lines. Of course, let’s not forget about the sex offenders, who in many ways are the modern lepers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_Village_(community)
The development of something like Federation of Egalitarian Communities or Mondragon or Marinaleda into mass movements is still something else I would like to see happen. I would like to see the international Pirate Parties actually becoming competitive like they are now in Iceland, and I also like micro-national movements like Liberland. “Two, three many Liberlands.” We also need more armed insurgent groups like the PKK/YPG or EZLN. It’s hard for me to list everything that I’m for because the list is almost endless.
I also suspect these kinds of unconventional political parties like the Pirate Parties or the Five Star Movement in Italy might be the beginning of another trend as the traditional left and right have largely become a spent force and yet certain problems are mounting with no real solutions in sight. Of course, there is a lot that anarchists can learn from various guerrilla movements from the past: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_of_Ayacucho_prison
The ideas are already out there. It’s just a matter of putting them into practice on a large scale.