“A million little dictatorships”: Reply to an Anarchist Critic

One of the most controversial pieces I ever wrote was an essay from 2005 called Why I Choose to Collaborate with Racialists and Theocrats.” You can imagine the reaction to that in some anarchist circles, particularly the hard-left ones. A reader recently offered a response to that essay, which is reposted in full below, along with my response.

What a silly, campist argument. Essentially, you advocate overcoming systems of exponential centralisation by blindly appealing to and cooperating with faux ‘Anti-establishment’-isms. It is true that Communists, Ethnic nationalists, Theocrats, Fascists and other ‘marginalised’ groups superficially oppose Government – or as you put it, ‘Democratist’ – authority. However, none, I repeat, none of these movements does so out of a genuine interest in full Human autonomy and happiness.

Prior to and during the Bolshevik revolution, Leninists portrayed themselves as the most virtuous victims of oppression, as warriors in the cause of genuinely oppressed Economic and Ethnic groups. Yet how did these ‘Liberators’ realise their grand vision of ending State Oppression? As soon as their revolution had been consolidated, they cracked down on freedoms, redoubled genocidal campaigns against minorities and drove the cause of totalitarianism further than ever before.

An analysis of many so-called ‘revolutionary’ movements reveals similar patterns: a superficial anti-authoritarianism is often buttressed by an undercurrent of even more oppressive ideology. The goal of these movements is not to decentralise the state, but simply to usurp control over centralisation, inevitably at the expense of other Human Beings’ freedom. Consider: within the USA, white supremacists are broadly the enemies of the Fed. Yet their opposition does not spring from any Anarchist impulse to replace it with a more free system. Rather, such extremists want the opposite: they want the USA to be MORE authoritarian, to restrict civil rights for blacks and women, to restrict religious freedom, even to pursue imperialist expansion abroad. This cannot, is not, will never be an acceptable outcome if our goal truly is liberation. Replacing one power dynamic with another is entirely idiotic, because it will simply be a switch to another form of government which seeks to suppress all others.

Achieving a ‘confederacy’ of fascist, socialist or nationalist ‘communes’ is not, nor has it ever been the aim of the Aryan Nations, the Communist Party of America or the Black Panthers: each sought or seeks complete Domination within a certain sphere. Even if such groupings represented the interests of a significant group of people – which none of them do, even put together – then they would still fundamentally be imposing oppressive and statist values directly on everyone else. As much as these groups oppose the current regimes, they do this simply because they are not the ones holding the stick. If they were, most of these ‘Alternatives’ would pursue statism and totalitarianism passionately.

So, your solution to state oppression seems, interestingly enough, to replace one big dictatorship with a million little dictatorships. I’m reminded of proslavery ‘States Rights’ advocates, who opposed federal intervention in the South. In theory, they could claim that empowering local governments was a Libertarian initiative – except when the local government was controlled by an Authoritarian aristocracy, hellbent on maintaining tyrannical institutions such as slavery. Perhaps a White Supremacist can magically disavow his inherent ideological imperialism and happily rule his little fascist dictatorship next to the Jewish and Black statelets. Even so, his rule would be fundamentally Authoritarian, therefore fundamentally statist. No Anarchist can honestly abide or even assist such a venture, because it contradicts Anarchism. And that is assuming we trust the guy who idolises the greatest warmongers and imperialists of the last hundred years to be pacifist.

Finally, the most repugnant aspect of your ‘proposals’ is that of segregated ‘homelands’. The idea that we can or should practically force people to move to the one or the other designated territory ignores the fact that a lot of people prefer keeping their homes. If I, as a white man, do not want to move across the country to the middle of nowhere because that’s where I ‘belong’, what am I to do with Black Supremacist overlords? Fact is, there is no real guarantee that I will be better off in the new land, and even if there was, I prefer my home where I am now. Should I wait patiently for the Cadres to shoot me? Is it ‘Anarchist’ to coercively displace people with the implication of retaliation by the ruling majority? Factually, we can just put on more and more pressure until people are forced to leave. But in doing this, we are abandoning any principle and any moral high ground we possess over the statists.

To your closing statement, I can only say that ‘Minding one’s own Business’ implies a system which upholds the freedom to do so. If we, as Anarchists, seek to provide that framework, then we shouldn’t be elevating fundamentally anti-freedom ideas. Anyone who upholds forcible subjugation of any kind has no place within our movement.

All very valid points. Here is the other side of the question:

The above essay, “Why I Choose to Collaborate with Racialists and Theocrats,”  was written in the mid-2000s when the USA was going around attacking country after country: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were at their height, and the USA and its allies would eventually go on to destroy Libya, Syria, Yemen, escalate the drone wars against a range of countries, to cite only a few examples. At the time, the “campist” position made a great deal of sense given the geopolitical circumstances. The purpose of the ideas outlined in the essay was to weaken the imperialist epicenter through fragmentation and dissolution, not “Human autonomy and happiness” in some cosmic sense.

To some degree, much of what I described in the essay had already happened in the sense that a revitalized Russia and more assertive China, along with a more economically powerful BRICS axis and a regionally influential Resistance Axis in the Middle East, has challenged Atlanticist hegemony to a much more significant degree. Other states have become increasingly significant as autonomous actors as well. Europe now has economic parity with the USA and has become assertive. Turkey is charting its own course. India is a rising power. The Latin American countries are going their own way. US imperialism has largely been discredited through overreach and perpetual military failure. This is not to say that US imperialism has gone away. It’s just that we are moving toward a multipolar world of rivalries between regional powers, more like the world order of the pre-World War One era. We now see challenges to US unipolar hegemony in the form of Russian and Chinese imperialism and the rising regional power of other states like Iran, Turkey, India, and Saudi Arabia, the rising influence of the “Pink Tide” in Latin America, and the rising economic power of Southeast Asia.

Domestically, the USA has fragmented into warring factions (politically and culturally, not militarily, at least not yet). I actually share your criticisms of most of the fringe Left and Right cultural and political factions that were described in the original essay. However, none of that validates the existence of the imperialist, “democratist” Center. We anarchists are surrounded by enemies. The Left, Right, and Center all of which are divided into internal tribes of their own.  The Left is subdivided into traditional communists, democratic socialists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Greens, the various New Left splinter factions, anarcho-communists, syndicalists, Third Worldists, radical feminists, black nationalists, and others. The Right is subdivided into throne and altar traditionalists, racialists, theocrats, nationalists, imperialists, national socialists, fascists, the alt-right, New Right, third positionists, conspiracy theorists, sovereign citizens, anarcho-capitalists, right-wing libertarians, and others. The Center is subdivided into faith and flag conservatives, committed conservatives, the populist center-right, the ambivalent center-right, independents, moderates, the Democratic mainstays, the liberal establishment, the outsider center-left, progressives, and others. Even the supposed “anarchist” contingents within these are really just reactionaries and monarchists (in the case of anarcho-capitalists) or liberals and social democrats (in the case of the left-anarchists). Clearly, very little in anything described above has anything to do with anarchism.

The best we can hope for is for all these factions to act as constraints on each other in a way that collectively restricts their maneuverability. The purpose of decentralization is not merely “to replace one big dictatorship with a million little dictatorships.” The objective is to create zones of autonomy that force authorities to compete with each other for influence in a way that offers greater maneuverability to individuals and groups. See Stephen Carson’s discussion of “medieval anarchism” on this: We already see this happening today in the form of the “Big Sort” (Bill Bishop) and the various “sanctuaries” that have developed in various places for all kinds of things.

We also have to recognize an inherent tension between “decentralist anarchy,” “word domination anarchism,” and “worldwide wokeness,” as Bellamy Fitzpatrick has pointed out. “Decentralist anarchy” merely implies a dispersal of power (for example, a world of micronations, city-states, or eco-villages) and not any political or cultural system. “World domination anarchism” is a contradiction in terms if it means “anarchism imperialism” or “compulsory anarchism.” However, it could be possible for anarchist movements and philosophies to reach a level of influence to the point of being the world’s largest collection of political tendencies, just as the monotheists are the world’s largest collection of religions. But even then, anarchists would be divided into many different hyphenated sub-tendencies (in the same way they are now) and, like the world’s major religions,, divided into major traditions, minor traditions, splinters, sectarians, heretics, etc. And anarchists would still have to share space to some degree with other philosophies.

Nor does either “decentralist anarchy” or “world domination anarchism” imply that “worldwide wokeness” will be the world’s largest moral paradigm. The core values of “wokeness” appear to be the view that racism and sexism are the ultimate evils (the equivalent of Satan in fundamentalist Christianity and Islam), that LGBT liberation is among the apexes of human civilizational achievement, that animals and plants have the same moral and social status as humans, and that “health” is an overriding value (like moral purity in ascetic religions). Some anarchists adhere to this view, and some don’t, but most “woke” people are not anarchists, don’t claim to be, and don’t want to be. Therefore, privileging “woke” values over others is not inherently relevant to the anarchist political paradigm.

It is theoretically possible that someday there could be a world where “decentralist anarchy” (e.g. villages, tribes, and free cities) is the largest model of political organization (like nation-states and liberal democracy today), “world domination anarchism” is the largest collection of political philosophies (like liberals and conservatives today), and that “worldwide wokeness” is the largest moral paradigm (like the Abrahamic religions today or Buddhism and Confucianism in East Asia). But these would have an uneasy co-existence with each other.

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