My general approach to politics is modeled on what Lawrence Dennis called “operational thinking” which essentially means an empirical, evidence-based approach as opposed to an approach driven by pre-conceived ideological presumptions that require bending the corners of reality into some kind of ideological box. I try to approach political analysis the same way I would approach being a sportscaster (“this is what is actually happening”). When discussing different political groups, I am unusually writing as an ethnographer (“this is what they are”) rather than as an advocate, although I certainly ridicule their illness in many instances (the same way I might ridicule snake handlers if I were writing about religion rather than politics). When it comes to possible future outcomes, I generally prefer a predictive rather than prescriptive approach (“this is what is likely to happen” rather than “this is what I want to happen” or “this is what some ideological principle says should happen”).
As to how this relates to my anarchist viewpoint, I generally agree with the evidence-based examination of the origins of the state and critique of concentrated power developed by a wide range of anarchist, libertarian, decentralist, classical liberal, and even some socialist or conservative scholars. James Scott’s work in anthropology is currently the state of the field on these questions, IMO. I generally agree with the narrative concerning the history of anti-authoritarian thought outlined by Peter Marshall (although I could expand upon Marshall and offer additional branches or depth to this trajectory).
The concept of pan-secession is based on an effort to answer the question of “If you really want to abolish the state, centralize power, overreaching hierarchy or authority, etc., what is the most viable route that is likely to yield at least some degree of probable success?’ The concept of pan-anarchism (anarcho-pluralism, anarcho-ecumenicalism, etc) is based on an effort to answer the question of “If all governments everywhere in the world stepped aside and told the people they were on their own, what would happen?” with the outcome containing the greatest amount of combined probability and optimality being a world of a million Lichtensteins reflecting an infinite array of microcultures, some of which might not even look like the same species when compared with others.
A reader writes:
I wonder if Chomsky, Carson, and Gillis would approve of the Waco assault by federal government forces? The ATF was probably doing it for “women’s rights” or “to get the kids in public education.” After all, they are probably on the pipeline to becoming fashes anyway so get it done early with a preemptive strike.
I have to wonder about this myself. Chomsky probably influenced my thinking on international relations more than anyone else. Carson probably influenced my thinking on economics more than anyone else. And whatever I think of Gillis personally (i.e. that he’s a retarded goofball), Center for a Stateless Society is actually a great resource. But still, I have to wonder…
By Lucien van der Walt
This article responds to criticisms of the broad anarchist tradition in International Socialism, an International Socialist Tendency (IST) journal. I will discuss topics such as the use of sources, defending revolutions and freedom, the Spanish anarchists, anarchism and democracy, the historical role of Marxism, and the Russian Revolution. The articles I am engaging with are marked by commendable goodwill; I strive for the same. Paul Blackledge’s article rejects “caricatured non-debate”. Ian Birchall stresses that “lines between anarchism and Marxism are often blurred”. Leo Zeilig praises Michael Schmidt’sand my book, Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, as “a fascinating account”.
It is important to note where we converge. The IST states it is for socialism from below through revolution. If Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky are invoked here, it is because the “essence” of their works is taken to be“working-class self-emancipation”. The term “dictatorship of the proletariat”, Leo insists, means merely “the democratic defense of working-class power” through “organs of self-organization; councils, trade unions, communes, etc”.
Kevin Carson is an American social theorist, self-proclaimed economist and anarchist-without-adjectives. In this episode we discuss his book The Desktop Regulatory State, alongside discussions on capitalism, post-capitalism, anarchism, hierarchy and organization.
By Nathan Goodman, Center for a Stateless
Many libertarians favor constraining the State to a limited set of powers, typically to the maintenance of police, courts, prisons, and security services designed to protect individual rights. This “protective state” or “Night-watchman” state is seen as the minarchist ideal. However, I think some libertarians forget that even a state only devoted to these protective functions runs the risk of violating individual rights. Public choice economist James M. Buchanan writes, “If politics could be restricted to the exercise of these minimal or protective state functions (the Night-watchman state), little or no concern need be expressed about coercive political intrusions on the liberties of citizens.”Yet, there are many examples of the State violating rights by carrying out its “protective” function. The Innocence Project has documented many cases where innocent people (the Project’s specialty is exonerating prisoners through DNA testing) are convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
A problem with Pinker’s argument is that it is not in the interest of any state or ruling class anywhere to adopt libertarian values of any kind, except rhetorically for purposes of self-legitimation, or as something that can be co-opted and bent toward other purposes. Of course, measuring “libertarianism” merely in terms of the level of social spending is a rather limited framework.
Why libertarianism is a marginal idea and not a universal value.
By Duncan Whitemore, Mises UK
Although I have written on the topic of how libertarian property rights can be applied to the situation of viruses in two, previous essays, it is useful to summarise this again for a clearer picture. Such an endeavor seems necessary now more than ever, for, in spite of increased opposition compared to the first round of lockdowns earlier this year, the various nations of the UK are again heading into some form of lockdown mode as the winter draws near.
Most skeptics of lockdown and restrictive policies designed to “curb” the onset of COVID-19 approach the matter from a utilitarian or technocratic angle – i.e. whether the measures that states are pursuing are an effective and/or proportionate response to the spread of the virus. While this is an invaluable exercise, it does not challenge the principle that the state has the prerogative to obliterate rights and freedoms in the manner that it has. In other words, the notion that, ultimately, our rights could be infringed on a future occasion when someone deems that it is “effective” and “proportionate” to do so is left untouched. Equally intact, therefore, is the notion that our rights are not immovably tied to our status as individual human beings, but are little more than privileges enjoyed at the sufferance of the state. This is not to imply that the principle of liberty has been ignored – former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption has been a notable high profile critic of the government in this regard.
By Kevin Carson, Center for a Stateless Society
Written by anarchist scholar Ruth Kinna (professor of Political Theory at Loughborough University and editor of Anarchist Studies) and illustrated by Ralph Harper (most famous for the illustrations in Radical Technology), this book is a collection of essays on ten anarchists that were originally published as stand-alone pamphlets.
The essays — not presented in chronological order, or any apparent topical order — are all, despite being comparatively short, substantive introductions to the life and work of their respective subjects, to their involvement in the major issues of their day, and to their subsequent influence and significance for anarchism.
The first essay — appropriately enough in my view, considering he’s my favorite of the ten — is on Kropotkin. It can be taken as typical of the general approach of all the essays in the book. It presents Kropotkin very much in the context of his time, rather than (the title notwithstanding) as one of a pantheon of “Great Anarchists.” For example, it mentions that, although he’s misleadingly referred to as the “father of anarchist communism,” communism already existed as an anarchist tendency in his day. He did, however, contribute to its visibility; he motivated a significant number of Bakuninist collectivists to convert to communism, and arguably played the leading role in communism becoming the dominant anarchist tendency for the next few decades.
By Benjamin Franks
Anarchism was not a major concern for political theory/philosophy from the 1930s to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was only with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the corresponding decline in the hegemonic primacy of orthodox Marxism, that other radical socialist movements, including anarchism, were (re-)discovered by academia.
Alongside this renewed interest in anarchism, there has also been a small, but significant departure, with the development of an identifiable ‘postanarchist’ movement, which includes most prominently Lewis Call, Todd May and Saul Newman, polemicists such as Bob Black and Hakim Bey, and many of the post-millennial contributors to the Institute for Anarchist Studies, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory and journals such as Anarchist Studies.
Articles informed by postanarchism can be found in Jonathan Purkis and James Bowen’s recent collection Changing Anarchism and defenders of postanarchism appear on bulletin-boards and discussion groups. This ‘cottage industry in “Post-Anarchism”’ is the product of artisans working individually, and collectively, through associations like the Anarchist Academic Network and the newly established Special Group for the Study of Anarchism under the auspices of the Political Studies Association. There is also a useful collation of key authors on the ‘what is postanarchism?’ website.
Like most anarchists, I am very interested in historic examples of anarchist, quasi-anarchist, or otherwise stateless communities and territories, including the usual examples like Catalonia, Ukraine, Shimnin, Strandzha, Iceland, Baja, Chiapas, Rojava, Slab City, etc. But a problem with these kinds of examples is that most of them were very limited in scale and lasted for relatively short, or very short, periods of time.
It is necessary to look for examples of societies and civilizations that were able to endure for centuries or even millennia while largely keeping the state under control and preventing external invasion and conquest. Ancient Greece appears to be the best model of such a civilization. Greece endured for centuries against a collection of thousands of cities with many different internal systems, with the cities fiercely safeguarding their independence, even when they occasionally clashed with each other.
The Holy Roman Empire, a collection of principalities and free cities that lasted for 1000 years between Charlemagne and Napoleon, is another example, along with the medieval leagues that existed during part of the same period.
Another issue involves the means through which some degree of autonomy can be achieved even within overarching state systems. The millet system that provided some autonomy to religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire is an interesting example.
By Benjamin Franks
This paper examines the development of the schism between Marxism and anarchism, which characterized the relationship between the two ideologies during the ‘short twentieth century’ (to borrow Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase for the period 1914-1991). In addition, it looks at the development of collaborative interactions between anarchism and Marxism in the subsequent 20 years, which parallel a more mutually productive and fluid interaction prior to the Russian revolution.
Survey courses are peculiar things, particularly when they address subjects of more than just passing interest. The construction of a survey always seems to involve at least some claim regarding the exemplary nature of the materials chosen. And if we were more certain about the character and extent of the anarchist tradition, we would expect a historical survey to take us, rather neatly, from milepost to milepost along the path of growing ideological clarity. But it’s hard to spend any time discussing history and theory with other anarchists—and I spend hours nearly every day—without recognizing that anarchy, anarchism and the anarchist tradition are all things that we struggle with, constantly, without necessarily making much headway in the process.
It is likely that anarchism—as a general, shareable project, not built from the elevation of certain consistently anarchistic concerns above others—still eludes all of us, to one extent or another. It is even possible that it always will, that anarchy is, as William Batchelder Greene put it, a blazing star that constantly retreats as we pursue it. In “The Anarchist Tension,” Alfred Bonanno argued something similar about “being an anarchist:”
Infoshop was the longest-running left-anarchist site on the web. It had been around almost as long as the Internet has been available for public use. However, its archives remain available. The following article by the recently deceased left-anarchist David Graeber on “The Twilight of Vanguardism” is interesting.
“The Twilight of Vanguardism”
By David Graeber, Infoshop
This essay was delivered as a keynote address during the “History Matters: Social Movements Past, Present, and Future” conference at the New School for Social Research (www.newschool.edu/gf/historymatters for more information).
Revolutionary thinkers have been saying that the age of vanguardism is over for most of a century now. Outside of a handful of tiny sectarian groups, it’s almost impossible to find a radical intellectuals seriously believe that their role should be to determine the correct historical analysis of the world situation, so as to lead the masses along in the one true revolutionary direction. But (rather like the idea of progress itself, to which it’s obviously connected), it seems much easier to renounce the principle than to shake the accompanying habits of thought. Vanguardist, even, sectarian attitudes have become deeply ingrained in academic radicalism it’s hard to say what it would mean to think outside them.
The depth of the problem first really struck me when I first became acquainted with the consensus modes of decision-making employed in North American anarchist and anarchist-inspired political movements, which, in turn, bore a lot of similarities to the style of political decision-making current where I had done my anthropological fieldwork in rural Madagascar.
It’s good to see that Crimethinc recognizes that opposition to medical martial law is not just some crazy right-wing idea. It’s happening in countries that are much further “left” than the USA. Many left-wing anarchists have seriously dropped the ball on this question, just as many right-wing anarchists dropped the ball in response to the lumpenproletarian insurrection over the summer.
In the United States, liberal opposition to Donald Trump’s bid for reelection crystalized around his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions charging that his government has not done enough to contain the spread of the virus. Yet in Europe, where governments have taken a more hands-on approach, their efforts have also provoked popular unrest, as the vast majority of their interventions have focused on expanding the power of the police, not extending resources to those struggling to survive the virus and the economic crisis. On the eve of a Biden presidency, we should revisit the question of whether we can trust any government to prioritize human life over capitalism and how we can respond when the government uses the pretext of protecting our lives to intensify social control.
By Matthew Adams
While the study of anarchism has undergone a renaissance in recent years, historical scholarship has been a relatively minor aspect of this renewed focus. Presenting an historiographical examination of the main forms of writing on anarchist ideas, this article argues that the predominance of ‘canonistic’ approaches to anarchism is in part a consequence of the disciplinary dominance of political theory in the study of anarchism.
By Lucien van der Walt
Examining the theory and practice of ‘mass’ anarchism and syndicalism, this paper argues against Daryl Glaser’s views that workers’ council democracy fails basic democratic benchmarks and that, envisaged as a simple instrument of a revolution imagined in utopian ‘year zero’ terms, it will probably collapse or end in ‘Stalinist’ authoritarianism—Glaser also argues instead for parliaments, supplemented by participatory experiments.
By Ersel Aydinli
With the wave of violent jihadist activities in recent years, the world’s attention hasshifted away from a traditional prioritizing of state forms of formal violence toward one focusing on an apparently “new” phenomenon of transnational violence. Yet transnational violence itself is not a new phenomenon; it in fact precedes international,state-centric violence. For reasons related to gaps or defects within the state systemor to surges in the capacities of individuals and societies, transnational violence has periodically made attempts to regain its primary position. Prior to the violent jihadists,the last of these efforts was that of the late-nineteenth-century Anarchists. This articlelooks at the dynamics of the Anarchists’s failure as part of a transnational violencecontinuum, using a framework based on their autonomy, representation, and inﬂuence.The results provide an historical example against which future studies about the current episode of transnational violence may be compared.
Only on ATS will you find a “let’s destroy business” article right next to a “let’s bring back the gold standard” article.
By Benjamin Franks
‘Anarcho’-capitalism has for decades occupied a small but significant position within ‘business ethics’, while the anarchism associated with the larger traditions of workers and social movements has only had a spectral presence. Social anarchisms’ forms of opposition and proposed alternatives to standard liberal business practices, identities and presuppositions have appeared only fleetingly in mainstream business ethics. In the light of these anarchist hauntings, this paper identifies and explores social anarchism’s critique of dominant forms of business ethics, and business practice. It applies anarchism’s critical insights to market-based ethics, of which Milton Friedman’s influential essay, ‘The Social Responsibility of the Businessman is to Increase Profits,’ is used as an exemplar. This paper differentiates the anarchist critique from the criticisms of corporocentric, economic-liberalism emanating from social democrats and advocates of corporate social responsibility. It demonstrates the pertinence of social anarchist approaches to re-thinking the co-ordination of the production and distribution of goods, highlighting inadequacies in state-centred managerial responses to the harms and deficiencies of Friedman’s free-market.
This looks interesting. Shawn Wilbur is very knowledgeable of classical anarchism.
By Shawn Wilbur, Libertarian Labyrinth
’ve been contemplating hosting some sort of introductory course on anarchist history and theory for a long time now—and have put it off for a variety of reasons, not least of which is my own feelings of unpreparedness. It is no small thing to try to talk about the basics among anarchists, who often have very strong feelings about what they are not, even if they are not all that clear about what they are—or have strong feelings that perhaps that’s just not the sort of thing that real anarchists talk about.
I posted “An Anarchist Survey” in 2018, in part as a way of focusing on potential audiences for a basic introduction, I was struck by how much opposition there was to the very idea, despite the historical precedents I was working from. The most substantive general response seemed to treat the whole affair as a symptom of some large problem in the milieu.
So I let things sit for a while longer.
But the last couple of years have delivered a combination of greater confidence in the state of my own thinking and greater distance from most the anarchist milieu, as well as a general impatience. I’m not getting any younger and the opportunities to pass on what I’ve learned to those who are indeed interested aren’t getting any more promising or plentiful.
By Sureyyya Evren
Although anarchists have a central interest in problems of domination and oppression, concepts of race and ethnicity have not been subject to sustained analysis in anarchist literature. This failure can be explained with reference to the priority that has been given to the great ideas of a few dead white men in the historical analysis of anarchism. Recent shifts within anarchist movements provide a new impetus to challenge this approach and to draw on traditions of thinking about racism, ethnicism, internationalism, and colonialism to explore the possibility of developing an alternative. Looking ﬁrst at the eurocentrism of standard histories and then at the eurocentric assumptions that underpin them, I explore the limitations of dominant anarchist historiography and suggest the possibility of an alternative.
By Sureyyya Evren
Dominant histories of anarchism rely on a historical framework that ill fits anarchism. Mainstream anarchist historiography is not only blind to non-Western elements of historical anarchism, it also misses the very nature of fin de siècle world radicalism and the contexts in which activists and movements flourished. Instead of being interested in the network of (anarchist) radicalism (worldwide), political historiography has built a linear narrative which begins from a particular geographical and cultural framework, driven by the great ideas of a few father figures and marked by decisive moments that subsequently frame the historical compart-mentalization of the past. Today, colonialism/anti-colonialism and imperialism/anti-imperialism both hold a secondary place in contemporary anarchist studies. This is strange considering the importance of these issues in world political history. And the neglect allows us to speculate on the ways in which the priorities might change if Eurocentric anarchist histories were challenged. This piece aims to discuss Eurocentrism imposed upon the anarchist past in the form of histories of anarchism. What would be the consequences of one such attempt, and how can we reimagine the anarchist past after such a critique?
Driving to the Canadian border in January 2011, headed for Toronto and NAASN-II with my friends Daniel and Susan, I was asked the purpose of our visit. “To attend an academic conference,” I said, perhaps a little too briskly, because the guard in the booth pressed us: “On what subject?” “On anarchism,” I said, affecting a casual tone. We were asked to pull over, and while the car was searched, a customs agent started grilling us: how did we know each other? Where were we staying? What were we going to be doing? Finally, I pulled out the conference program and showed him: “Look, I want to go to this guy’s presentation—he’s going to be talking about his dissertation…” It was like a magic spell, that word: dissertation. The agent relaxed visibly. “Oh, I see— you’re just studying anarchism! You’re not talking about being anarchists.” “No,” I lied, smiling, as if at a small, private joke. We were let through.