Smashing the State: Thoughts On Anarchist Strategy

For nearly two centuries, anarchist thinkers have drawn from the fields of philosophy, economics, history, cultural studies, military science, political science and many other disciplines to produce a voluminous amount of empirical evidence that destroys the very notion of the legitimacy of the state. Yet the state continues to exist, and in a more potent and destructive form than ever before. Of all of the prevalent myths of the modern age, none are so false and so deadly as the idea that the state is somehow a positive expression of human social evolution capable of benevolence and the fostering of progress. Belief in the state is simply the flat-earth theory or the geocentric model of the solar system of the present era. The question that remains is the matter of how the idea of the state could be so wrong intellectually yet enjoy near universal acceptance.

Past states of the Ancien Regime variety were typically justified in the name of religion. The emperor was regarded as a descendent of the sun-god. The king ruled by divine right as the Creator’s appointed earthly steward. Ideas of this type were demolished by the political, scientific and intellectual revolutions that emerged from the Enlightenment. With all due respect to my religious friends, most intellectuals in the advanced countries, including myself, no longer believe in God or the divine sanctioning of human institutions. Similarly, most variations of the state-fascism, communism, monarchy, theocracy, aristocracy, military states-are considered illegitimate as well. Only democratic states, ostensibly justified in the name of popular sovereignty, social contract and the general will, retain their legitimacy in the eyes of contemporary intellectual elites. For this reason, democracy is the primary enemy of anarchism. The deadliest battles we anarchists will fight in the future will be not with communists and fascists but with democrats. In our fight against the state, we should begin by heaping ridicule and scorn upon the very notion of democracy. (1)

Anarchist thinkers as diverse as Murray Rothbard and Noam Chomsky have recognized that a new class of “court intellectuals” has emerged as apologists for the modern state. These elements, drawn primarily from the realms of media and academia, collectively formulate a type of “secular priesthood” whose political function is the use of their positions of perceived authority and expertise to inculcate in the masses the idea of the benevolence, wisdom and virtue of the state and those who control it. (2) Consequently, it is a grave strategic error for anarchists to appeal to the intellectual classes as a means of advancing their ideas. Intellectual elites have a vested interest in the preservation the state, the primary source of their affluence and prestige. For every Noam Chomsky or Gore Vidal, there are a thousand Henry Kissingers, James Carvilles or David Horowitzes willing to act as a mouthpiece for state power. Instead, anarchists should take their message directly to those most victimized by the state.

Anarchist ideas on strategy for the abolition of the state are thus far grossly underdeveloped. Most of what we have seen in the realm of anarchist or free market strategy so far provides us with little more than some examples of what not to do. For instance, the Cato Institute began as a think tank set up to promote the ideas of Murray Rothbard and subsequently succumbed to the lure of corporate money and Beltway access and somewhere along the way developed the idea that kissing Republican ass is the way to advance liberty. (3) The principal strategic contribution of the Ayn “nuke ‘dem towelheads” Randroids has been to set up a fanatical cult primarily oriented towards the excommunication of heretics. The “conservative libertarian” Foundation for Economic Education featured arch-police statist Rudy Giuliani as the keynote speaker at one of its events. The paleolibertarians, admittedly a much better group than the others, apparently seek to appeal to the remnants of the old WASP culture that has been slowly dying since the 1960s. Last and perhaps least, the leftist-anarchist movement has taken up every crackpot left-reactionary cause yet to be invented and postulated nothing quite so much as an incoherent brand of “anarcho-social democracy”. Clearly, the anarchist and libertarian milieus are desperately in need of new ideas on strategy.

One mistake many anarchists make is to employ what I call an “evangelical” approach to the dissemination of their ideas. What I mean is that these anarchists attempt to “convert” others to the anarchist position by means of intellectual argument or moral suasion. Very few people are interested in ideology. Fewer still have much in the way of moral substance beyond that of personal interests and cues taken from peers and leaders. (4) I suspect this is the main reason why the Libertarian Party and other groups heavy on ideological content have not gotten very far. Intellectual or moral arguments may sway a handful of people but my experience has been that most people simply do not care enough about these matters for this approach to work on any large-scale basis. It seems that a better approach would be to simply appeal to the immediate self-interest of as many different groups and individuals with a grievance against the state as possible with the broader goal of forming a large enough coalition of disparate interest groups to effectively weaken and destroy the state.

The classical anarchist Bakunin envisioned a cadre of “principled militants” serving as the intellectual and activist leadership corps of a mass movement for the overthrow of the state. The function of such militants would be to inspire the masses by example and simultaneously articulate the political desires of the masses of those exploited by the state. (5) This classical Bakuninist approach, adapted to the modern world and modified to fit the framework imposed by the modern state, may show some promise yet. It is doubtful that anarchists will ever be more than a relatively small number of people. I tend to concur with Emma Goldman that anarchists are born rather than made. At the risk of hubris, we might say that anarchists are the natural aristocracy, a type of natural vanguard, in the historic struggle against the state.

The abolition of the state would, of course, be an event of profound historical significance akin to the Protestant Reformation or the American Revolution. I suspect that the anarchist “movement” is currently in the same stage of its evolution as the classical liberalism that overthrew the Ancien Regime was in the early days of seventeenth century rationalism. The classical anarchism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provides us with a flawed but inspiring prototype that we can use as a foundation on which to build a more perfect body of anarchist thought. Latter anarchist thinkers, such as Rothbard and Hoppe, have helped to point us in the right direction. It is up to us to take it from there. Liberal democracy, once a radical and revolutionary doctrine feared by the ruling classes, has now become all but universal. It has taken root even in much of the Third World. (6) The realization of anarchism necessarily involves the overthrow of liberal democracy in the same manner as the gradual elimination of traditional monarchies in earlier times.

It should go without saying that anyone attempting foment revolution against the existing political order ought to, when considering questions of strategy, attempt to appeal to the indigenous culture of the common people and the cultural history of the country in question. This is one of the reasons why the contemporary leftist-anarchist movement, with its fanatical hostility to all things “American”, hatred of authentic working class culture and adoption of a Euro-leftist cultural stance, is doomed to failure. Fortunately, we Americans enjoy cultural traditions of rebellion against tyrannical government as expansive as those of any nation. These traditions, symbolized by such historical phenomena as the Boston Tea Party, Whiskey Rebellion, Underground Railroad, the Southern War of Independence, the Haymarket martyrs, labor uprisings, the civil rights movement, etc. provide us with a broad cultural history that we can play to and build upon.

Much can be said for the philosophy of “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. When attempting to communicate with the broader public, anarchists should avoid arcane ideological abstractions and remain focused on a handful of issues that are the most serious and most immediate. At present, such issues would be the coming war with Iraq, and its role as a component in a larger program of globalist imperialism, and the ongoing assaults on civil liberties under the guise of the wars on terrorism, drugs, crime, etc. and the role of these as means to the consolidation of state power into a totalitarian state apparatus. Already, a number of local communities have issued resolutions opposing both the Iraq war and the Orwellian USA PATRIOT Act. This phenomenon of grassroots, popular-based local revolt against central tyranny provides us with some clues as to how we might proceed in our efforts to advance the broader anarchist cause.

Local rebellion against the state has its roots in the best elements of American political and cultural history, whether we are considering the original secession of the thirteen colonies from the Crown or the Confederate secession from the Lincoln regime. More recently, the “county rights” movement in the West has resulted in formal refusal by localities to comply with directives issued by federal bureaucracies. Similarly, during the Persian Gulf War the city of Madison, Wisconsin declared that it would grant safe haven to draft resisters in the event of imposition of military conscription. The proliferation of localized resistance movements of this type seems to be the best bet for effectively engaging Leviathan. Towards this end, anarchists should seek to become influential in grassroots opposition activities of the type previously described.

Anarchists should seek to become leaders within their own communities. This might involve joining local community organizations, neighborhood associations, pressure groups involved with local issues and other intermediary institutions an using one’s influence to advance the anarchist agenda. A similar tactic might be employed on a national level. Anarchists should join single-issue pressure groups and seek leadership positions. Clusters of anarchists on the boards of directors of the National Rifle Association or the American Civil Liberties Union would probably be much more useful than a motley crew of tofu-munching ne’er-do-wells carrying tacky hand-lettered signs outside the latest convention of the International Monetary Fund or some other globalist entity. Furthermore, anarchist involvement in local and regional secessionist activities could expand our influence enormously. Anarchists should make common cause with groups like the Free State Project, League of the South and Republic of Texas. Think of the advantages of a large regional secession movement whose leaders and hard-core activists included a substantial minority of anarchists.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of anti-state coalition building. If we look at the mainstream political system, we see that all effective political coalitions involve seemingly incongruous alignments of divergent groups. What do country club Republicans have in common with the “religious right”? What do labor unions have in common with the gay lobby? Yet these types of coalitions provide the major voting blocks for the Republicans and Democrats alike. A similar strategy employed by the anti-state movement might yield significant dividends, particularly if it had the effect of successfully disrupting and neutralizing the grassroots coalitions maintained by the ruling class. For example, if gun rights supporters or ethnic minorities were to defect en masse from the Republican and Democratic parties respectively, the “big tents” relied upon by these interests might begin to implode. Once anarchists began to establish themselves as effective and influential community leaders and grassroots activists, they could begin to draw others to them by means of coalitions organized around common issues. For example, opposition to zoning ordinances could draw support from poor people victimed by such intrusions along with conservative defenders of property rights. Opposition to the public schools could draw support from both religious fundamentalists and countercultural youth. It would then be the responsibility of leaders within various movements to combine their forces into a broader popular front against the state in its entirety.

Secessionist efforts could be a central rallying point for many single-issue groups. Imagine, for instance, a California independence movement with anarchists heavily represented among its leadership and including among its grassroots support base elements as diverse as advocates of medical marijuana, homeschoolers, property rights advocates, AIDS activists, proponents of alternative medicine, unions opposed to NAFTA, antiwar activists, Hispanic separatists and immigration opponents alike, gun rights defenders, pro-lifers alongside gay militants in San Francisco, leftist radicals in Berkeley and far-right tax resisters. Each of these elements could have their own reasons for desiring secession with each disagreeing with all on many, perhaps even most, issues. Some of these differences might be dealt with pragmatically through the decentralization of state politics to the local and then to the community or neighborhood level. A movement like this in California could then align itself with a similar movements in the South, or Alaska, or New England or wherever. Black militants in the inner cities might even become the inadvertent allies of white separatists in Idaho and vice versa. Anarchists, as keepers of the anti-state faith, might serve as facilitators of dialogue between disparate antigovernment groups, mediators during the course of negotiations occurring during the process of coalition building and coordinators of joint activities and actions around common issues and purposes.

There exists throughout the United States a huge variety of groups and movements who are hostile to the state in many ways, particularly the federal government. Most of these would not qualify as anarchists or even libertarians in any consistent or pure sense. Yet they are collectively a potential source of support for a radical populism with an explicitly anti-state bent and a potential goldmine of activist manpower. Revolutions are typically made not by majorities but by impassioned minorities. The government’s Vietnam War effort was effectively stalled by an antiwar movement involving no more than five percent of the US population. Only five percent of the population of the thirteen colonies favored independence from Britain when it was initially declared. Only two percent participated in the military efforts of the revolutionaries. By the time independence had been won only a third had come to favor it. Anti-statists have not even begun to consider the possible strategic alliances that might come into being through greater outreach efforts. Those whom with we might make common cause include Muslim and Arab-American groups opposed to the US government’s use of funds looted from American taxpayers to subsidize the tyrannical state of Israel (7), religious cults harassed and persecuted by government agencies, “hate” groups attacked through trumped up lawsuits and hate crimes laws, poor inner-city minorities whose family members are being herded into the state’s massive prison industry via the drug war (8), advocates of minority self-help and self-determination like the Nation of Islam, American Indian groups fighting for their land rights, small farmers plowed under by state-subsidized agribusiness cartels and federal lending programs (9), citizens militia groups and common law advocates. These are just a few examples.

The elimination of the state will occur when enough anti-state causes triumph that the state can no longer maintain its aura of legitimacy. The convergence of a myriad of single-issue movements into a broader coalition organized around the common demand for the decentralization of power, with anarchist militants serving as its intellectual and activist vanguard, would seem to be the proper means of tying together the various threads of independently emerging anti-state sentiments into a unified quilt capable of smothering and extinguishing the monster of Leviathan altogether. In the years and decades leading up to the final assault on the state, four essential concerns might become the primary focus of the leadership corps of the revolutionary forces. The first of these would be the creation of alternative infrastructure that would be in place and ready to take over those social functions abandoned by the state including the issuance of units of exchange backed by a precious metal standard, provision for dispute resolution through an arbitration or common law system, an independent educational system, associations formed for the care of the elderly, the disabled and the otherwise infirm, entrepreneurial endeavors serving as a model of an alternative to state-created and subsidized corporate systems, popular organizations for the handling of consumer interests, cooperative health clinics and other similar institutions. Second, an alternative media would be necessary for the dissemination of propaganda favorable to the anti-state movement in order to counter the pro-state propaganda generated by the establishment media. Shortwave and pirate radio broadcasts, public access television programs, web sites and independent publishing services are no doubt the embryo of such a phenomenon. Ultimately, anti-statists should aspire to obtain a network of independent television and radio stations of their own, perhaps emulating the numerous forms of religious media currently in existence.

The last two concerns are also the most controversial. One involves the relationship of the anti-state movement(s) to local political institutions. Most contemporary anarchists favor a position of total non-involvement with state institutions, even local ones, and consequently shun voting, lobbying and other forms of “working within the system”. (10) While the enthusiasm for this position is understandable, I am not sure that it is practical. Certainly, the efforts of groups like the Libertarian Party to field candidates for President are absurd. Yet grassroots local governments are far more accessible to the average person and far more responsive to public pressure. The seizure of local political institutions by secessionist oriented forces, constantly under pressure by a grassroots anti-state movements, might serve to create antagonisms between localities and the central state resulting in a loss of perceived legitimacy and the emergence of a situation where an alliance of seceding communities and regions could “pull the rug out from under” the federal empire. Note that I am not claiming that local secessionist politicians could be trusted as custodians of the liberty of the people. Such a scenario would only be feasible if such politicians were under enormous pressure from intermediary institutions and popular organizations existing independently of government at any level.

Finally, there is the question of what to do when the state attempts to maintain power by means of direct armed force. This is a question many anarchists shy away from but it is an immensely important one. Bloodless political change is always preferable but not always possible. On this question, the patriot militia movement of the 1990s had it right. During the time leading up to the final confrontation with the state, the formation of locally-based citizen militias, guerrilla forces, paramilitary outfits, contracted mercenary organizations, established on a decentralized model and combined with underground cells and lone wolf fighters, will no doubt be indispensable. (11) On this matter, I am a hawk. It will also be necessary to obtain the sympathy of a substantial number of international forces capable of providing economic, diplomatic and, if necessary, military support to the anti-government forces a la French and Spanish support for the first generation of American revolutionaries. (12) Fidelity to Patrick Henry’s famed proclamation “Give me liberty or give me death!” is likely to be not only a moving sentiment but a practical necessity in the battle against the state.


1) Democratic ideology has been thoroughly destroyed by Hans Hermann Hoppe in “Democracy: The God That Failed”. Read my review of Hoppe here. Similarly, the “social contract” theory behind constitutionalist justifications for the state was demolished by Lysander Spooner’s individualist anarchist classic “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority”.

2) For a general discussion of this, see Kevin Carson’s “The New Class’ Will to Power: Liberalism and Social Control”.

3) The origins of the Cato Institute are described in “Enemy of the State”, Justin Raimondo’s biography of Murray Rothbard.

4) “Obedience to Authority” by Stanley Milgram is a classic study of the human psyche’s natural relationship to authority. “They Thought They Were Free” by Milton Mayer describes how ordinary Germans during the Hitler era perceived their society.

5) It is of course necessary to differentiate between the classical Bakuninist concept of a revolutionary vanguard, based on the concept of natural leadership, and the Marxist-Leninist idea of the “vanguard party”, utilizing coercion and treachery as a means of obtaining state power.

6) For example, all of the nations of Latin America, save Cuba, now have elected civilian governments. This exportation of democracy to the Third World has produced even sorrier results than those to be found in the wealthy, technologically advanced nations. “Democratic” Mexico is so economically depressed that its southern region wants out of the country and millions of its citizens pour across its northern border annually in search of economic refuge. Likewise, “democratic” Argentina is in the midst of a depression after a succession of elected governments ran its economy into the ground. “Democratic” Columbia is a death-squad regime that has lost forty percent of its territory to Marxist insurgents. “Democratic” India elected a fascist government that sanctions mob violence against its Muslim and Christian minorities. South African “democracy” has resulted in little more than the replacement of a tyrannical white fascist regime with a tyrannical black communist one. As for “democratic” Israel, the less said the better.

7) Particularly disgusting has been the support of some Objectivists and “libertarians” for the state of Israel. It seems inconceivable that a racist, theocratic, imperialist, national socialist military dictatorship could be defended by ostensible champions of free market economics and the intellectual ideals of the Enlightenment. Do Palestinians or Lebanese have any “natural rights”?

8) The “prison-industrial complex” is no myth. See “The Perpetual Prisoner Machine” by Joel Dyer.

9) See “Harvest of Rage” by Joel Dyer and “The Farm Fiasco” by James Bovard.

10) I am not sure this total rejection of political action is consistent with anarchist history. Both P.J. Proudhon and Johann Most served in the French and German Parliaments respectively. One of Proudhon’s fellow deputies was the proto-libertarian and free-market economist Frederic Bastiat, whose book “The Law” remains an anti-statist classic. During the era of classic Spanish anarchism, anarchists were regularly elected to mayoral positions in local towns and villages. During the Republican era, anarchists participated in Spanish national elections when it was strategically advantageous, although they never fielded candidates of their own. During his 45-year career as an anarchist, Murray N. Rothbard paid careful attention to both national and local elections, ran for governor of California on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in 1968, endorsed Norman Mailer’s New York Mayoral campaign in 1969, initially supported the Libertarian Party and wrote much of its platform and even endorsed major party candidates with antiwar leanings including statists like Adlai Stevenson and nationalists like Patrick Buchanan.

11) For excellent commentary on military matters, see “Armed Revolution Possible and Not So Difficult”. See also “Leaderless Resistance” by Louis Beam. See also my “Armed Struggle Against the State: Justifications, Limitations and Practical Concerns”.

12) Reactionary, theocratic, monarchical France declared war on behalf of the colonies hoping to see its rival England undermined. Similarly reactionary Spain provided enormous assistance to the American revolutionaries for the same reasons although formal support was not declared for fear of inspiring similar revolutions among Spain’s colonies in the New World. Holland also declared war on England during this time. Probably the best sources of international support for an antigovernment movement in the US would be nationalist, separatist, anti-imperialist and anti-globalist tendencies in all nations, whatever their ideology, and rival states to the US regime, particulary China. Britain’s “National-Anarchist” movement has developed the best ideas thus far on the question of international alliances against US imperialism and globalism.

Copyright 2002. American Revolutionary Vanguard. All rights reserved.


1 reply »

  1. There is something fundamentally wrong about using American taxpayer dollars to fund religious wars even by sanctioning faith based initiative subsidies that are used to fund religious wars. With America’s freedom of religion (and by implication, freedom from religion) laws, violations even by government to achieve the nefarious ends of religious preference offends the Constitutional spirit of America. The U.S. needs no God-squad and is prohibited from using government in that manner by its own Constitution. National defense was never meant to be about religion but may include freedom from religious dangers like that of 9/11 in an effort to make America vulnerable to religious domination.

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