Anarchism/Anti-State

Department of Homeland Security Anarchists

During the Vietnam War, there were some self-described “socialists,” primarily the followers of Max Shachtman associated with tendencies like Social Democrats USA,  that took pro-war positions, ostensibly on anti-Stalinist grounds, having been influenced by Trotskyism and anti-Communist social democrats like Shachtman. These right-wing social democrats were commonly derided by anti-imperialist leftists as “State Department socialists.” And it was from within the ranks of the pro-war Left that the neoconservative movement eventually emerged.  Neoconservatism was founded by former Marxists like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz who came to favor American international power as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and as a protector of Israel as most neocons were hardline Zionists. In standard Old Left form, the neoconservatives also opposed what they considered to be the excesses of the New Left (e.g. Black Power, the sexual revolution, the drug culture, terrorist tendencies like the Weather Underground, etc.) along with the New Left’s anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism, Third Worldism, and pro-Palestinian positions. The backstory of the neocons’ trajectory from the far-left to the uber-imperialist right is well-known and can be examined by anyone who bothers to look it up. Many writers have written about it, including me.

Fifty years later, it would appear that we are now moving into an era of “Department of Homeland Security anarchists.” For several years, I have been warning anarchists about a fellow by the name of Alexander Reid-Ross, most notably in a review of his 2017 book “Against the Fascist Creep.” Reid-Ross is an influential figure in “antifascist” and left-anarchist circles, and a former writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a private intelligence organization known for its collaboration with law enforcement and the FBI, which was founded decades ago by now-disgraced lawyer Morris Dees, an all-purposes opportunist and creep. Apparently, Reid-Ross proved to be too much even for the SPLC and his archive was eventually removed from their site due to his shoddy journalism and tendency to play fast and loose with facts.  Recently, Reid-Ross published a lengthy piece in The Daily Beast attacking “The Dirtbag Left” as some sort of presumed collection of crypto-fascists.  This proved to be too much for many on the far left, and Reid-Ross has been rebuked by figures such as The Gray Zone’s Max Blumenthal, The Jacobin’s Ben Burgis, and the Gods and Radicals website.

At the heart of the controversy is Reid-Ross’ association with the Network Contagion Research Institute. The NCRI has been described by Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal as “a network of former cops, spies, right-wing Republicans, and Department of Homeland Security agents at a militaristic think tank funded in part by billionaire Charles Koch.”  Other sources of funding for the NCRI, according to the organization’s website include George Soros’ Open Society Foundation (which will no doubt fuel right-wing conspiracy theories about the Antifa being funded by Soros), and the Anti-Defamation League, also known for its law enforcement connections and which, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, presents itself as a civil rights organization while functioning as a private intelligence agency. It should also be noted that the NCRI specifically targets Reid-Ross’ own Antifa and left-anarchist communities in its activities.

Almost unbelievably, Reid-Ross’s response to these charges has been to simply issue a single Tweet saying, “I work for a nonpartisan group that’s a lot like the ADL in that it works with both sides of the spectrum to confront hate and disinformation. I’m being cyber-stalked on the internet right now though, so can’t really speak out w/o safety issues.”

As if this is some kind of defense. Yes, it is certainly true that many private intelligence organizations who collaborate with law enforcement or the national security apparatus are “nonpartisan” such as the ADL, SPLC, or, for that matter, Erik Prince’s Blackwater/Academi. In fact, the entire apparatus of law enforcement, homeland security, and national security is “nonpartisan” as is the US military and the US state itself. Department of Homeland Security anarchism, anyone?

The Reid-Ross incident is only the latest episode in “fed-friendly ‘anti-fascist’ anarchism.” Spencer Sunshine has been associated with the Ford Foundation-funded Political Research Associates.  For 30 years, the PRA’s leading figure was one-time Hoxhaist Chip Berlet. During the Bundy Ranch incident, Sunshine sided with the feds against the Bundy clan, and even issued a Tweet lambasting the Socialist Workers Party (a US Trotskyist group) for calling for the US Department of Justice to drop the charges against the Bundy defendants. Justice Department anarchism, anyone? 

Reid-Ross is based in Portland. One of his friends and political allies is William Gillis, also Portland-based, and the director of the Center for a Stateless Society, a supposed “left-wing market anarchist” think tank that functions in a manner similar to a traditional Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. According to former insiders in the organization, Director Gillis issues a party line to which other members are expected to conform and subsequently expels those who fail to do so. One of the leading figures associated with the Center for a Stateless Society is the economist and writer Kevin Carson. Following the January 6 riot at the US capital, former CIA director John Brennan made a statement to the media classifying libertarians as potential terrorists.  Kevin Carson issued a Facebook post expressing sympathy Brennan’s classification on “libertarian-to-alt right pipeline” grounds as if any of this is the main thing anti-statists need to be worried about. CIA anarchism, anyone?

As I have long predicted, the ongoing leftist fetish of many anarchists had led to a situation where anarchists are being co-opted by the state and the ruling class as the power elite continues to adopt totalitarian humanism as a component of its self-legitimating ideological superstructure.  A failure of anarchists to critique authoritarian leftism in its present form and the nature of contemporary states and capitalism have led to this situation. Anarchists have been caught off-guard and fallen into a trap. It is time for anarchists to up their game.

On a meta-paradigmatic level, I think the anarchist achievement of cultural and intellectual hegemony would rival the emergence of the Axial Age, the transition from polytheism to monotheism among world religions, or the Enlightenment in terms of world-historical significance. On a more intermediate or micro-level, we have prototypes like separation of church and state and the diversity of religion that resulted, the variations that are found in food customs, the diversity among indigenous cultures that are native to every region of every continent, music and fashion-oriented youth cultures, etc. And if anarchism achieved the hegemony Catholicism held in the middle ages or liberalism in the modern era, it would still have to share space with other philosophies (liberalism, conservatism, socialism, nationalism, etc.) the same way that Christianity, while the world’s largest religion, has to share space with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. My viewpoint on this is as much predictive and speculative as it is normative or prescriptive.

Problems anarchists would face in such a world include the potential emergence of new oligarchies (Pareto, Mosca, Michels), new bureaucracies (Weber), authoritarian opportunism (“anarcho-Bolshevism”), the problem of the “worst getting to the top” (Hayek), the moral panics for authoritarian ends,  the issue of anarchist Pharisees, problems of economic efficiency, potential military conquest and state repression by still existing states, remnants of former states, and aspiring states, localized violence, insurgencies by authoritarian tendencies, localized authoritarianism, crime, social conflict, and normal human problems generally. However, hopefully, states would continue to be phased out in favor of non-state transnational federations (similar to the World Council of Churches), systems where anarchist at least share space with other philosophies in decentralized polities (like the Greek cities, the Holy Roman Empire, or Ottoman millet system), micronations, free cities, eco-villages, communes, anarcho-syndicalist labor federations, peer-to-peer networks, temporary autonomous zones, seasteads, autonomous territories, mutual aid societies, etc. etc. etc.

Another issue is that anti-statism is not the primary value for some, or even many, anarchists. For others, it’s more about anti-capitalism, anti-technology, anti-pollution, anti-patriarchy, anti-social conservatism, anti-racism, anti-religion, anti-violence, anti-industrialization, anti-civilization, etc. Nor is there an agreement among anarchists as to what “government” actually is, why it is a problem, why it should be abolished, what the most objectionable features of government are, what it should be replaced with, etc. I don’t really have a theoretical problem with that kind of open-ended “anarchism as an eco-system of philosophies” idea except in many of their cases the hyphens become more important than the anarchy part, so they end up siding with whatever ruling class factions they find most unobjectionable (e.g. “at least Democrats believe in climate change,” etc.).

Yes, some anarchists  will say that “anarchism is not just anti-statism, it’s anti-all forms of oppression, domination, hierarchy, etc.” Maybe so, but the state (and its adjacent institutions) is the nexus in which all of that intersects. And voluntaryism, decentralism, free association, mutual aid, “mere anti-statism,” etc. are certainly prerequisites for anarchism. I also think there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the attitudes of the anarcho-left. For example, many of them despise an-caps, N-As, or decentralist palecons, but seem to have no problem collaborating with liberal Democrats, statist progressives, or even outright totalitarians like Stalinists and Maoists. So which are they, anarchists or commies?

Whenever I encounter any political, cultural, or religious group, my question is always how voluntary is this project/proposal? How decentralized is their proposed system? Is it localized enough to make exit costs low enough to make voluntarism meaningful? How peaceful is this group? If they have unsavory or objectionable ideas, how well can they be contained? As Kirk Sale pointed out, the matter of scale is extremely important.
And when it comes to political alliances, I tend to look at it from a cost-benefit analysis perspective. Some of the Marxist-Leninist groups in the US are the best, and often only, antiwar organizers there are. I have no problem collaborating with them as long as they are not in a position to take over the state. A lot of “anti-American” international media like RT, CGTN, Press TV, and Telesur provide a platform for a lot of foreign views you’re obviously not going to get from mainstream US media, even if they represent other authoritarian states. Some of the “far-right” and even ordinary conservatives are pretty good on at least a handful of issues. For instance, I generally have a favorable view of the sovereign citizens, who strike me as right-wing anarchists even if they don’t know when to quit. They know who the real enemy is. These 2nd Amendment people are good on the “right to bear arms” which all anarchists ought to be defending rather than worrying about whether a lot of 2A people are “culturally reactionary” or not.
Over the past 35 years, I’ve tried working with the Left, Right, Third Position, and Alt-Right, and each time the problem is that the anarchist message gets diluted by the surrounding milieu. That’s why I eventually came to the viewpoint that the pan-anarchist umbrella and the 0 to 100 scale are the only way to go.

As Isidro Rodriquez has said, “Bob Black was right.  Anarchism must move past leftism. It should be its own thing and an actual anti-state ideology.”

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2 replies »

  1. I find your “New Axial Age” prediction very compelling. Similarly, the breaking of the statist paradigm feels similar to a “New Reformation”: that a relationship with the statist God need not be centralized, but personal. A sort of toothpaste sqirting out the tube, which jives very closingly to my own experience.

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