“An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy” by Brian A. Dominick

The great task of grassroots dual power is to seek out and create social spaces and fill them with liberatory institutions and relationships. Where there is room for us to act for ourselves, we form institutions conducive not only to catalyzing revolution, but also to the present conditions of a fulfilling life, including economic and political self-management to the greatest degree achievable. We seek not to seize power, but to seize opportunity vis a vis the exercise of our power.

“The proletariat needs state power, a centralized organization of force, an organization of violence … to lead the enormous mass of the population … in the work of organizing a socialist society.”
–V.I. Lenin
Bolshevik Party

“We wish not to seize power, but to exercise it.”
–Subcommandante Marcos
Zapatista Army of National Liberation

There are two dualities at work in the modern strategic concept known as dual power. First, there is the classical notion of the relationship between (1) the current establishment and (2) the second social infrastructure pitted in opposition to it.

Here the status quo consists of a market capitalist economy, an authoritarian republic, patriarchy, adultarchy, judeo-christian eurocentricity, white supremacy, etc. These are the ideologies and institutions which make up the oppressive system according to which our society operates. By necessity, then, our oppositional dual power, our alternative infrastructure, must be based on decentralized socialist economics, a participatory democratic polity, feminist and youthist kinship, and a secular yet spiritual, intercommunal culture. Those will be the building blocks of our new society, and the masonry has already begun.

The second duality is between (1) the creative force of forming new social institutions and transforming oppressive ones into liberatory, and (2) resisting or destroying what is useless and oppressive to us in the current establishment. In other words, we need to approach revolutionary social change with constructive and a destructive tactics in our toolbox. We cannot build until we make space, but our alternative social infrastructure will not make itself, so we must establish it on the ruins of the old order, in the shadow of that order.

Dual power is a relatively generic strategy, as we have seen. Not only is there great contention between the leninist version of the strategy and the contemporary, grassroots approach, but there are also a number of tendencies within the latter framework. Essentially, the most popular alternative to the strategic outlook detailed in this book is known as libertarian municipalism. To differentiate, without coming up with a snazzy name like that, we’ll call this version holistic dual power because a main tenet of the approach is that we need to form alternative and resistance infrastructure in all spheres of social life (where libertarian municipalism only focuses on political dual power).

Revolutionary Conditions

Contemporary marxists insist that the objective conditions necessary for social revolution exist today in North American societies, and throughout the industrialized world. These conditions, they assert, are the technologically advanced forms of production which place the ability, just not the authority, to meet all people’s material needs in the hands of the workers. In other words, if only the workers were to rise up and seize control of the means of production, revolution would be at hand, as they could reorganize allocation and finally do away with a contrived scarcity of material goods and services. The missing element today, marxists assert, is the subjective condition of revolutionary consciousness. That is, the people need to become revolutionary in mind.

Marxist ideology, as disseminated by modern “communist” parties (self-proclaimed vanguards in a premature state), is the vehicle allegedly capable of instilling this revolutionary consciousness among “the masses.” Such belief is why contemporary marxists tend to organize ideologically, spreading propaganda, instead of practically, as in establishing the grassroots organizations necessary for fulfilling the immediate and future needs of the people, including popularized political and economic self-management. For them, dual power comes about when their party establishes the strength and wherewithall to reorganize and run society from the top down.

Marxists generally deny the necessity of popular, grassroots organization, precisely because they believe the vanguard method is the path to follow, despite its historical record. At least, they claim, vanguardism has accomplished something, whereas the spontaneous methods attributed to anarchism have gotten us nowhere. Regardless of this claim’s in/accuracy, it can be easily exposed as a product of marxists’ basic fear of empowering “the masses” with more than ideological allegiance to marxism and the vanguard party of their choosing. The party will “provide the necessary leadership” to guide the revolution and rebuild society in the wake of insurrection. It is not imperative, then, to build grassroots institutions and form a democratic framework in the pre-insurrectionary period. Nor is it important that the people, seen as “masses,” develop the skills required to self-manage even one’s own life, much less an entire society. For marxists, dual power structures are limited to the Party itself. Everyone else should go about their normal business, while supporting the party and awaiting further orders.*

Also, we should recognize that present day projects intended to disseminate information, popularize social critiques or raise consciousness are limited. This is especially true when their thrust is biased towards offering the oversimplified (not to mention dangerous) solution of mass alignment with political parties or vanguards. Revolutionary media and propaganda must be intrinsically tied to struggle. Without the practical, day-to-day projects which build toward revolution, in the meantime providing essential living space and protection from the effects of oppression, our propaganda is baseless. It is simply false to claim the solution to our collective woes can be found in turning to elites and leaders as our “activism,” whatever their ideological persuasion or their power.

The essence of a grassroots dual power strategy is captured in the above quotation from EZLN leader Marcos. It illustrates the very different concept of revolution professed by the Zapatistas, and beginning to be understood by radicals in various movements throughout the world.

As we discussed in the last chapter, the social power of “the masses” is currently on loan — rented by elites. We forfeit our prerogative to manage our own political and economic lives, defaulting to the role of passively accepting the established manner of social functioning. The limited access to politics afforded by the status quo, such as voting and petitioning, amount to nothing more than reaffirmations of our consent to be ruled, to have our political power handled by elites in our steads.

Nothing short of refusal to participate, in any way, in the dominant society, by everyone from workers to bureaucrats to police officers, will result in the overturning of the status quo. Indeed, even passive acceptance of the status quo, when coupled with participation in everyday social functions as defined by that same status quo, is still active support of it. Even in the case when a new, alternative political force seizes power at the top, the relationship of authority and subordination persists. Only when people actually participate in an alternative social arrangement does the old paradigm become dissolved.

This essay is about basic democracy. I am not introducing a radical new ideology, I am talking about building a social framework, or infrastructure, which is responsive to the actual will of the people. I will say nothing herein about morality, nor will I share my opinions on the issues of the day. What I am proposing is a system whereby decisions of social policy and economic relations are made by those affected by them: citizens and workers. This strategic idea is still a threat, of course. It does take a stance against the inordinate amounts of authority presently reserved for politicians and their private backers. It does call to task the hierarchical arrangements of the workplace, the family, the school, the church, and so forth, which directly contradict and resist the exercise of power by common people. But it makes no claims as to how those people ought to use their power, once acquired. I make few specific suggestions regarding what issues need to be decided, much less which conclusions should be favored, in a democratic society, or a society aspiring toward real democracy.

Such is the essence of grassroots dual power. It is foremost a revolutionary strategy, the procedure by which we can sustain radical social change during and after insurrectionary upheavals — even to manage those upheavals; but dual power is also a situation we create for ourselves as communities. Whether the insurrection happens in the next decade or takes 3 more generations to occur, we can create revolutionary circumstances now, and we can exercise power to the greatest possible extent. Dual power recognizes that waiting until after the insurrection to participate in liberatory political and economic relationships means postponing our liberation; it is as senseless as waiting until after the insurrection to begin reorganizing society. We do not require that the state and capitalism collapse before we can begin living relatively free lives.

The great task of grassroots dual power is to seek out and create social spaces and fill them with liberatory institutions and relationships. Where there is room for us to act for ourselves, we form institutions conducive not only to catalyzing revolution, but also to the present conditions of a fulfilling life, including economic and political self-management to the greatest degree achievable. We seek not to seize power, but to seize opportunity vis a vis the exercise of our power.

Thus, grassroots dual power is a situation wherein a self-defined community has created for itself a political/economic system which is an operating alternative to the dominant state/capitalist establishment. The dual power consists of alternative institutions which provide for the needs of the community, both material and social, including food, clothing, housing, health care, communication, energy, transportation, educational opportunities and political organization. The dual power is necessarily autonomous from, and competitive with, the dominant system, seeking to encroach upon the latter’s domain, and, eventually, to replace it.

The creation and implementation of this second power marks the first stage of revolution, that during which there exist two social systems struggling for the support of the people; one for their blind, uncritical allegiance; the second for their active, conscious participation.

Aside from revolutionary upheaval, the very formation of a dual power system in the present is in fact one of the aims of the dual power strategy — we seek to create a situation of dual power by building alternative political, economic and other social institutions, to fulfill the needs of our communities in an essentially self-sufficient manner. Autonomy and relative independence from the state and capital are primary goals of dual power, as is interdependence among community members.

And, again, while a post-insurrectionary society which has generally surpassed the contradictions indicated by the term “dual power” is the eventual goal of this strategy, the creation of alternative social infrastructure is a desirable end in itself. Since we have no way of predicting the insurrection, it is important for our own peace of mind and empowerment as activists that we create situations in the present which reflect the principles of our eventual visions. We must make for ourselves now the kinds of institutions and relationships, to the greatest extent possible, on which we’ll base further activism. We should liberate space, for us and future generations, in the shadow of the dominant system, not only from which to build a new society, but within which to live freer and more peaceful lives today.

But where does the role of resistance fall among all this construction? During the dual power phase, it is not only important to build the foundation of the new society, but also to diminish the strength and capacity of the old system. We must first make space within the still-dominant system in order to have room in which to build society anew. Therefore, not only must we form alternative institutions, but also counter institutions (XIs) to resist and assault the status quo. Counter activity includes everything from protest to direct action, but is defined as activity which actively opposes the status quo. The intricacy of analysis demanded by the kinds of activity counter institutions engage in forces us to deeply reassess what have become common, almost default, practices among radical activist groups. Successfully melding the counter activity of XIs with the proactivity of AIs requires a new level of strategic and tactical comprehension and coordination.


For our purposes, community refers to a self-defined group of consciously active individuals located in local or regional proximity (that too self-defined). The main tasks of community development are (1) the internal development of alternative and counter institutional structures within the community; (2) the expansion and diversification of the community itself (popularly, not geographically); (3) the subjective (personal) enhancement and education of community members; (4) constitution of a sovereign municipality (having reached a “critical mass” of stable, participatory support); (5) the identification of the community within the context of a world-wide revolution.

We’ll handle the last directive first. Once we have generally identified and defined our community (and this is an ongoing, unending process), we must recognize it, and have it recognized from without, as part of a larger, essentially global revolutionary struggle. Communities revolting in isolation will fail. And while dual power will develop at different rates in different societies, regions and localities, all dual power projects must be autonomously affiliated.

We are trying to revolutionize society, but to do so on a scale with which we can grapple. Direct democracy, at this stage, lends itself best to the community or smaller unit. A single city may have to be divided into several dual power municipalities, depending on its size and the wishes of its residential members. It’s generally inconceivable that a unit larger than a city (ie, state, region, etc) could function as a directly democratic dual power community, where face-to-face interaction and the potency of an individual’s impact on pertinent decisions is imperative — at least at any early stage.

The problem of scale is a simple one, but one without easy solutions: we want to radically reorganize all of society, but in a decentralized manner. This means there can be no central committee on the national or continental or global level which dictates or directs the development of individual communities. The revolution must come about from the bottom up, from the outside in. If there are to be institutions and associations which extend beyond the neighborhood and community, they must be put together after the autonomous units (ie, neighborhoods, municipalities, etc) are defined.

Should we decide to set up an elaborate system of strata (eg, neighborhood, municipality, county, state, region, nation, etc), each unit must come about, from smallest and most intimate, first. And then we can affiliate with other so-developed units to form networks. For example, we organize our neighborhood into a dual power network, and that neighborhood association seeks out nearby neighborhoods and develops another network to form a municipal network, which networks with other local municipalities to form a city or county dual power, and on up the list.

Realistically, we have to expect that dual power networks will first form at the community/municipal level, at least in most urban zones, and will then break up into neighborhoods, or however the strata will be defined by those involved. This approach still lends itself to direct democracy. However, we cannot form a Continental Dual Power Network, for instance, and then divide it down. We would be spending too much time traveling to meetings to develop our own communities!

In any case, scales will be experimented with, and communities will define themselves variously. This will cause a lack of uniformity between various communities, even among communities which “border” each other as defined; it will even cause confusion and conflict, or so it can be assumed. But if the alternative is centralization and loss of democratic control, we will have to go it the hard way, which is after all the grassroots way.

The question when it comes to scale and association is not whether the revolution should be world-wide vs. community-wide. Of course it must be global, as critics of most grassroots organizing projects constantly insist. The real question is how we are going to develop the elaborate social system(s) necessary for ground-up, popular self-management of revolutionary struggle. Therefore, without precluding — indeed recognizing! — the need for over-arching, inter-networking organization of the revolution, we insist on an organic, grassroots process by which “umbrella” structures can come about, forming holarchies in place of hierarchies.

Here we run into an unusual but very simple concept. A holarchy is a model of organizational structure which provides various levels of social strata for administrative purposes, but not various levels of authority. Abstractly speaking, it is a hierarchy without differentials in the amount of decision-making power the various levels of the “pyramid” have at their disposal. In the current, republican model of federal government used by the United States, there are several levels of authority. The president, at the top of the pyramidal hierarchy, obviously has inordinant amount of power compared to everyday citizens. And there are various levels of power in between.

In a holarchy, which is still shaped as a pyramid with fewer “officers” manning the top “ranks,” as you go up model from citizen to the higher levels, decision-making power (ie, authority) decreases as administrative function increases. That is, those at the “top” are charged with merely implementing, not choosing, the desired course on any given issue. Voters at the bottom (in their neighborhoods or workplaces, for instance) make the decisions, and at some levels (eg, regional, industry-wide, etc) “representatives” are mandated to vote again, proportionately representative of their “constituents'” wishes.

We will see more examples of holarchical organization when we discuss the specifics of economic and political dual power. For now, the abstract concept is important to introduce a fresh way of looking at large scale democratic action.

The most obvious reason to network local dual power institutions and define our dual power communities (thus forming a second power) is so they can form community-wide institutions, the second stage of internal development (the first being the formation of alternative institutions and counter institutions). Community-wide institutions such as an alternative economy and political forums, and programs like policing and sanitation, are an enormous step, but a vital one if our communities are to become anything more than loose amalgamations of collectives and co-ops.

The dual power community must grow. It must accumulate more and more members and form more institutions to serve the expansion. The community can only grow, however, as a result of individuals and organizations willingly deciding to participate in the community. We cannot, like traditional union organizers, approach an organization and ask it to vote on whether to join us or not. We must use a far more organic approach, and participation must be based on consensus. Unenthusiastic members are valuable only as numbers, at best as means to an end, and this is simply not how to go about making revolution.

Furthermore, the openness of the community must be limited. There should be a clearly-defined mission, and structures which ensure the community’s consistency with the mission. The mission should be explicit about it’s desire to change society structurally, and not just to provide a comfortable alternative to the dominant system. This will certainly limit the number of people enthusiastic about joining. Most of the yuppie types now affiliating with food co-ops will shy away or even be opposed. This is where class divisions will become more obvious, and those content with leftist lip-service will duck out. Those less interested in rhetoric but eager for practical change and action will take their places, hopefully several-to-one.

This obviously implies that existing AIs and XIs which consider becoming official member institutions of the new dual power community will often undergo internal strife themselves. But this is a necessary stage in the development of revolutionary organization. Those members which would opt not to become members of the new community, or would not have their organization become part of it, are choosing either a different revolution, or no revolution at all. Unfortunately, not every alternative or counter institution will be at the appropriate point in its development to embrace the dual power and become an integral aspect of it. Some institutions will split, certain factions opting to move on to the dual power, others maintaining the current direction.

When we talk about forming dual power institutions, we don’t simply mean organizing them from scratch, or radicalizing existing AIs. Especially where economic institutions are concerned, we are talking in many cases about transforming existing firms and entire industries. Labor organizations are good, general examples of XIs. Their job, when they carry it out properly, is to represent labor in opposition to management/ownership. A radical union seeks not only cosmetic and quality-of-life gains for workers, but also more power structurally. As bosses’ control of the workplace decreases, workers’ power increase. And when this can be done structurally, such as through the formation of various kinds of workers’ councils, a radical change has occured. A firm undergoing such structural alteration may be well on its way to becoming a workers’ cooperative, collectively managed and thus eligible for membership in the dual power community.

Finally, as has been suggested, the implementation of dual power is not merely a method of arranging objective social conditions such as institutions and the political/economic system in general, but also serves to facilitate the subjective, or personal, growth of the very individuals who will make the revolution. This is handled not only by economic and political institutions, but also by new conceptions and relationships of kinship and culture as well. A hybrid kind of institution, both political and economic in its nature, is required for this type of activism.

Outreach and Education

The cure for vanguardism is strengthened individuality. Grassroots strategy must provide education and skills development via several methods. The more formal forms of instruction and booklearning will probably not be done away with anytime soon, but we now have at our disposal a plethora of tactics more applicable to liberatory education. And, as has been mentioned repeatedly here, practice and the application of skills is the best course for their development. Activist skills can be applied in activism, in the family setting, in radical workplaces, even in cultural and leisure activities. Most truly radical activism itself is empowering and enlightening, but managerial and leadership roles are even more so.

Another major aspect of developing subjective change among people involves reaching out to the population existing outside the dual power, in the throes of the dominant system. For this reason, any dual power community must maintain its own media. Propaganda involves public critique and ideological dismantlement of the dominant social notions and institutions, as well as promotion of revolutionary alternatives. That is, the propagandist’s twofold goal includes destroying the perceived legitimacy of mainstream thought and structure, plus advertisement of the benefits of membership in the dual power community. Propaganda must reintroduce the idea of revolution, this time as a desirable possibility, not a frightening, ominous ideal or a commodified buzzword.

One of the most important kinds of dual power institution is the alternative media. Parts counter institution and alternative institution, the radical media is more than just propaganda. It operates as another form of education. Dual power media must be explicit about it’s bias, its intentions to foster new forms of community, etc. It must facilitate communication and help those who’ve become accustomed to silence find new voices. The alternative media is not about negating the status quo, but about decyphering it and demystifying the alternatives.

The Structure of Revolution

In the spirit of participatory democracy, the dual power strategy places a strong emphasis on collectivism, the application of non-authoritarian principles and practices in everyday social situations, from home and family to workplace and economy. Collectivism demands, beyond the distribution of power equally among individuals, an emphasis on participation and diversity of ideas. Therefore, not only are actors given equal weight in the making of decisions, but the options themselves are given attention. The greatest defining factors of well-organized collective institutions are: (1) the valuing (not merely tolerance) of dissent; (2) emphasis on democratic process; (3) elicitation of maximum participation from all members; (4) sense of unity and common purpose; (5) encouragement of interpersonal familiarity among members; and (6) the development and sharing of skills among members.

So the individual is the primary unit of social change, and the collective is the secondary unit. But just as the individual cannot self-actualize in a void, the collective must recognize the larger movement context and its place therein. It is for this reason that individual institutions, collectively organized if revolutionary, must affiliate with other like institutions. Toward this end, networks connect alternative institutions for purposes of communication, planning and mutual aid. At the same time, federations unite counter institutions around common tactics and objectives. Coalitions are essentially temporary federations which focus on a given issue or goal. Unlike collectives, which typically rely on limited scale for face-to-face encounters, networks and federations, while always emphasizing communication and relativity, can be based on a range of scales, from neighborhood to intercontinental — as long as their purpose is to connect collectives which share similar intents. In the interest of remaining consistent with the principles of collectivism (and therefor of individual member collectives), networks and federations must value decentralized, democratic processes, encourage participation and dissent, and so forth.

Developing alternative social infrastructure is the ultimate goal of networking alternative institutions. When political organizations such as community forums, mediation councils and municipal structures, themselves based on collectivist principles, are joined with interconnected economic institutions such as worker and community cooperatives, alternative social infrastructure is on its way to fruition, at least at the community level.

There is considerable argument with regard to just how explicitly “revolutionary” the dual power project should be. First, we recognize it as a community-based program. However, it is not expected that any community will adopt a formal dual power structure, as such. For instance, there will probably never be a Syracuse Dual Power Association, or anything of that nature. And this is likely best. Dual power is not an ideology, and as a theory or strategy, it is not even a program. It may become a program if it is popularized within a given community. But by the very notion of dual power as an idea, or a set of suggestions, or a context for smaller programs, etc, instead of a blueprint or dogma, we see dual power as informal and relatively amorphous, always yielding to the demands and pressures of actual circumstance. As a general guiding idea, dual power has been relevant, in various forms, for some time now. In order for it to stay relevant, it must remain non-specific.

So far I have defined dual power generally, as I see it to be most relevant in North America at this time. Others from other societies or other points in history may find it necessary to radically alter even these basic assumptions, and in the interest of human liberation I offer my fondest wishes.

In the following chapters we will finally get down to the nitty-gritty of organizing dual power institutions, including workplaces, families, neighborhoods, media, and so forth. We will also deal with networks such as municipalities and beyond, as well as economic systems, federations of counter-institutions, and the like. Just as should be the case in real life, we will start with the smallest in each category and move outward to increasing scales. Hopefully, in the coming chapters, we will develop a more concrete, stable vision of the kind of society we are trying to achieve, at a much more intimate level.

Conflict and Insurrection

Twisting the words of Alexander Berkman, who said “revolution is the boiling point of evolution,” it can be said that insurrection is the boiling point of revolution. It is a period more likely to be brought about by the state, its agents acting on behalf of all manner of oppressive ideologies, trying once and for all to reassert the old order which the dual power has wrested from its grasp. Putting the violent aspects of the insurrectionary ordeal into perspective, Berkman also wrote, “the fighting phase of [revolution] is the smallest and least significant part.” Which is to say, even where the object is destruction, most of what is to be destroyed is ideological — it is our understandings, our intentions, and so forth. Eliminating prisons and garrisons, while necessary targets of insurrectionary acts, are not what insurrection is about. Instead, the primary destruction will be that of outlived ideas and oppressive ways.

In order for any proposal for a revolutionary strategy to be convincing, it must contain a component detailing how revolutionary movements will handle conflict and, if they are sustainable, insurrection. I intend to deal with these issues much later in far more detail. For now, so that the strategy I’ve just described will be more believable, I am offering a cursory discussion of how a holistic dual power movement can hope to deal with conflict and insurrection.

The establishment of dual power is offensive in a very subversive sense: it seeks to encroach slowly yet fully the domain of those in authority, the status quo. And thus assaults on dual power institutions can be seen as defensive manuevers on the part of the state and its cohorts. Typically in any struggle, if defenders are well established, they have a decided advantage over their attackers. So obviously the key is to become well established.

Part of that preparation for the insurrectionary moment is weakening the enemy well in advance. This means agitating and organizing among the ranks of the agents of the old order. It means demoralizing the police and the military, encouraging them to make changes in their institutions as we are in various others. Indeed, it means encouraging them to become us. More often than not, because of the rigidity of hierarchy in such institutions, transformation will mean abandonment more than conversion. But make no mistake about it, when the violence heats up because the once-comfortable authorities recognize the threat to their status, and to the very social framework which gives rise to that status, we will not be able to beat an army that is at full strength, or police forces which are functioning smoothly. Resistance, refusal, sabotage, desertion — these will all need to be commonplace within the armed forces, or we will have no hope of success in the insurrection.

Another major element of insurrectionary victory will be stealth. That is, since the insurrection will begin around the time elites discover they are about to lose the rug from beneath their feet, we must dispose of as much of that rug as possible, and replace it with our new foundation, the dual power, before they recognize a significant threat. Yes, I am saying we must actually postpone the insurrection until we are most prepared to fight, and most prepared to fill those voids left behind by our toppling of society’s oppressive apparatuses. This doesn’t mean pretending our new institutions are not in competition with their oppressive counterparts. No, we can make no secret of our intentions lest we forget them ourselves! Instead, we need to be careful to attack only those targets which are ready to fall, which we can replace without petitioning for permission or relying on state and capitalist hand-outs.

Reappropriation, of both wealth and political power, must be done carefully, without exposing our weaknesses. A simple example: rather than having 15% of community fully dependent upon politicized, cooperative grocery providers for all its food and such needs; it is better to have a vast majority rely on dual power institutions for a smaller fraction of its needs. Because then we could start taking more drastic steps to shut down commercial grocers, or force them to yield ownership and management to workers and the community. We will have bided our strength well, and staged a mini-insurrection in the local grocery industry. If we cause too much of a fuss by attacking an institution while we are still weak, we will be crushed.

Another key to insurrectionary success is the ability to use the attacker’s strength against itself. This happens on the small scale of actual physical confrontation, and also on the larger range of the ideological battlefield. When a better-armed attacker advances on a weak opponent, the latter must somehow make use of the former’s power, to turn the tide of advantage. On the ground, in street confrontations, we will use Aikido and other martial arts which rely on this concept. We will also sabotage the machinery on which the agents of order depend. When their computers and their helicopters do not function, they lose their edge over us, and in fact they begin to decay from within. When those not yet aroused to rise up see others resist nonviolently as the latter are brutally attacked by their fabled “protectors,” victory for us is snatched from the jaws of defeat.

I don’t know how many times I have been asked that dreadful question: “Can we win?” It’s a useless thing to ponder. Most people, activists and authorities alike, think they know the answer. Most think No, a few optimists say Yes. I insist the question is without value. As Noam Chomsky always implores, “by doing nothing, we only guarantee that we will lose.” The real question, then, is by what methods do we stand the best chance of winning?

That’s really what we should be looking for, what we should be trying to accomplish: and the answer is in strategic and tactical outlook. If we are struggling against a weakened, demoralized enemy; if our movement size, strength and discipline are at peak levels; if our goals our clear; if we are unified in our resistance efforts; if we are massive and foreboding; then I say we stand a chance. So we ask how to achieve these conditions as our preparation for the main event. We will not win without violence, but neither will we win with violence. We will be attacked, brutally and viciously, and we will have no choice but to withstand, recover and fight back. But fighting cannot be our primary tactic in achieving any of the strategic goals discussed in this chapter. Without preparation, the fight is lost before it begins.

If you need to know you’re going to win before you get involved, we won’t be seeing you around anyway. However, it does make sense to know how you’re going to try to win. Insurrection is the greatest wildcard. More can be said of it when we have a better idea of what it will look like. It is not coming tomorrow, but perhaps in a decade or a generation. Let us only hope we will have warning, and some reasonably better prediction of how it can be dealt with. Later on in this book we will discuss at some length the more applied elements of resistance and conflict, including how to organize for (mostly nonviolent) offensive and defensive manuevers without resorting to traditional military methods of organization or combat.

*There are several problems with these notions and the projects they breed. First of all, they repeat the obvious flaws of classical revolutionary theory. Marxists refuse to learn the primary lesson of historical revolutionary failures, instead blaming the downfall of leninist communism (and other formalized brands) on outside intervention and counterrevolution. The fact is that a population must be not only intellectually but organizationally prepared for revolution. Not only must the capacity for economic stability be in existence (not a tall order for a species which once hunted and gathered to provide for its survival needs!), but also necessary is political and economic organization capable of managing the complexities of mass scale social relations, including the allocation of resources and products equitably among entire populations.

“Anarchism and Neighborhood Associations” by Larry Gambone


My neighborhood has a working class tradition, dating back to the coal miners who settled here 120 years ago. The mines are long gone, and the work has changed from blue collar to white collar, yet the area is still inhabited by working people and proud to be so. Most people live in small to moderate size single family dwellings that were built before the First World War.


We face three major inter-linked problems. There has been an influx of drug addicts from the down town core. The development of shopping malls on the outskirts killed the old city, which was then taken over by the destitute and troubled. Real estate speculation and the refusal to build affordable housing, drove up the cost of rent, which created homelessness. After wrecking the city, the business interests decided to revitalize the down town as a tourist attraction. The drug addicts and homeless were then driven out, ending up in our neighborhood, the one nearest the old city centre. Conflict arose between the addicts and families with small children who feared an increasingly seedy, petty crime and needle-laden environment.

The second problem is the potential for greedy developers to take advantage of our lower priced real estate, move in and turn our neighborhood into yuppie heaven. The third problem is a noisy, invasive glass recycling plant which threatens to drive out the people unfortunate enough to live near it. The city does nothing about this problem, yet they are quick as thieves to react to other situations. Ultimately, the three problems stem from being a working class neighborhood, if this was upper class area, none of these problems would be allowed to exist, but as workers, both at work and in our homes, we are expendable.

Our Neighborhood Association

Attempting to deal with these problems is our neighborhood association, a group that has been around for close to thirty years and had its ups and downs in terms of support and influence. We are not the only group in the neighborhood, but are the best organized and most respected. A vocal minority demand a vindictive, confrontational approach to the addiction problem. We do not, favoring a positive approach, one that emphasizes an active, clean neighborhood with public art and public activities. We have gotten absentee landlords to clean out their crack houses, favor support for the addicts and public housing for the homeless.

As to real estate development, we have made it clear the kind of multi-family dwellings we want – affordable ones – and with one exception, potential construction has been kept within our guidelines. We will also be working on a Neighborhood (development) Plan which will specify exactly the direction we wish our neighborhood to take. We keep up the pressure on the city about the glass plant, but so far not much progress.

This is not all we do. Part of the neighborhood is a river delta. The Association worked and encouraged the development of an Estuary Park to preserve this area for the wildlife. Each June we put on Miners Heritage Day, to remember and celebrate the coal miners who built this town. About 600 people usually attend and enjoy a large number of activities such as live music, barbeque, pancake breakfast, speeches, photo displays, rides for the children and a neighborhood heritage walk. We also do tree planting and annual neighborhood clean-ups. Several of our members are artists, so we have public art displayed on the chain link fence surrounding our neighborhood park. Since the city refuses to install street trash bins, we have provided our own, and painted them in bright colors and designs, under the guidence of our artist members.

Our association has about 25 core members, but many other people help at events. From 100- 450 people, depending on the issue at hand, attend our public meetings. The association newsletter goes out to at least 200 families. Most core members are supporters/members of the social democratic New Democratic Party or the Green Party, but there are also Liberals and Communist Party people. Among those 25 people is a wealth of trade union, community and environmental activism, not to mention local history and culture. I am the only anarchist in the “core group”, though several other anarchists are there to help out. Here is something interesting and important. Regardless of ideology, when dealing with neighborhood, or even city issues, we all tend to see eye-to eye. The real division is between the Association and the reactionary/developer crowd. This is something I have also seen in trade union work, practical, local issues unite people. No matter what our other beliefs, we all desire more control of the neighborhood by the people living there. We all want a humane and democratic process. We all want the protection/restoration of the environment. We all oppose NIMBYism and welcome social housing and social services in our neighborhood.

The Potential of Neighborhood Associations

City government, like all levels of government is centralized, hierarchical and in the hands of capitalists and their friends. At best, it poorly expresses the wishes of the working class majority. Neighborhood associations in working class areas are, on the other hand, grass roots expressions of that class. Furthermore, such associations attract the most advanced militants – the natural leadership of the neighborhood. We are not the only association in the city and a Neighborhood Association Network exists, but to date, not much is happening with it. We do, however, work very closely with the association of the neighborhood next to ours. The idea of a network (or federation) is a good one and has great potential. But here is where the real future lies: Should dissatisfaction continue to grow against authoritarian forms of governance, the possibility exists that these associations form the nucleus of Neighborhood Assemblies which could then supplant city council.

Anarchists ought to consider joining their neighborhood association, and if one does not exist, forming one. These associations are an excellent way of getting involved in the community, meeting other militants and laying the groundwork for genuine self-government through a federation of neigborhood assemblies.

“A “Political” Program for Anarchists” by Kevin Carson


In On Community, a recent pamphlet on Gustav Landauer, Larry Gambone suggested the need for an “antipolitical movement” to dismantle the state, in order to eliminate obstacles to non-statist alternatives. It was no longer possible, he argued, merely to act outside the state framework while treating it as irrelevant. To do so entailed the risk that “you might end up like the folks at Waco.” In an earlier work, Sane Anarchy, he suggested a few items for the agenda of such a movement. I now submit a list of my own (after a few pages of preferatory comment), as a basis for discussion.

Many anarchists oppose in principle such use of the political process for anarchist ends. It is unethical, they say, for anarchists to participate in the political process. Voting entails selecting a representative to exercise coercive force in our name; and appealing to such representatives for action is in effect a recognition of their legitimacy. This is a view shared by many varieties of anarchists. At the left end of the spectrum, anarcho-syndicalists prefer to ignore the state; hence the Wobblies’ split with De Leon and the elimination of the “political clause” from the IWW Preamble. Many individualist anarchists, voluntaryists, and right-libertarians (Wendy McElroy, for instance) also take this position. The only acceptable course is to withdraw all consent and legitimacy from the state, until “the last one out turns off the lights.”

The problem with this line of argument is that the state is an instrument of exploitation by a ruling class. And exploiters cannot, as a group, be ethically “educated” into abandoning exploitation, because they have a very rational self-interest in continuing it. If most ordinary people simply withdraw consent and abandon the political process altogether, the ruling class will just drop the pretense of popular control and resort to open repression. So long as they control the state apparatus, a small minority of dupes from the producing classes, along with well-paid police and military jackboots, will enable them to control the populace through terror. A majority of Italian workers may have supported the factory occupations of 1920, but that didn’t stop the black shirts, paid with capitalist money, from restoring the bosses’ control.

But I’m not calling for “anarchist politicians” to run for office and exercise political power, like those who served the Generalitat in Catalonia. Our involvement in politics should take the form of pressure groups and lobbying, to subject the state to as much pressure as possible from the outside.

The answer, then, is active engagement to dismantle the interventionist state, without which exploitation would be impossible. This can be done only by broad-based, ad hoc coalitions, formed on an issue-by-issue basis. A good example is the ACLU-NRA alliance against Janet Reno’s police state. The congressional opposition to the Reichstag Enabling Act (oops–USA Patriot Act) of 2001 includes elements as disparate as Paul Wellstone and Bob Barr. Keith Preston argues that a viable anti-state movement will have to get beyond obsession with right and left:

An entirely new ideological paradigm needs to be developed. One that rejects the traditionalism and economic elitism of the Right and the statism of the Left. One that draws on the best and most enduring elements of classical liberalism, libertarian socialism and classical anarchism but adapts these to contemporary circumstances within a uniquely American cultural framework that appeals to the best within our libertarian and revolutionary traditions. Political and economic decentralization should be our revolutionary battle cry….

The original principles of classical anarchism–elimination of the authoritarian state, control of economies of scale by cooperative partnerships of producers, individualism, genuine liberation of outcast groups, resistance to war and imperialism, decentralization, voluntary association, intellectual and cultural freedom, mutual aid and voluntary cooperation–remain as relevant as ever in today’s world.

Karl Hess argued a long time ago that the flower of liberty should not be disregarded because its petals are red and black, instead of red white and blue. That, in turn, brings to mind David De Leon’s remark in The American as Anarchist that an anarchist movement genuinely native to the United States might prefer the Gadsden flag over the Red-and-Black.

We must also remember that “solidarity” is not something we reserve for our ideological clones. Recently a reader poll at Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed asked, “which of the following should we give solidarity to?” and then listed a number of groups–as if solidarity were some kind of special favor, and not something we were ethically bound to. We must show solidarity for any victim of injustice, when they are in the right, regardless of their overall position. If more of the left had expressed outrage over Ruby Ridge and Waco, it might have been the beginning of a coalition of right and left libertarians against the police state.

But there is a whole cottage industry of obsessive anti-rightists devoted to preventing such cooperation. I recently forwarded, to a Marxist discussion list, an article about a 15-year-old kid who beat a drug rap because of the prosecution’s ignorance of the law. I posted it because I thought the story was inspiring, not because I agreed with (or was even aware of) the right-wing ideological background of the source. An immediate response came from an associate of Chip Berlet, who seized on the opportunity for another “Right Woos Left” screed, without even commenting on the subject of the post. The attitude of such people toward the libertarian and populist right, it seems, is “I agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death to stop you from saying it.”

The Internet has opened up exhilirating possibilities for forms of opposition based on large, decentralized associations of affinity groups. The potential for such organization is alarming to those in power. A 1998 Rand study by David Ronfeldt (The Zapatists “Social Netwar” in Mexico, MR-994-A) warned that internet-based coalitions like the pro-Zapatista support network could overwhelm the government with popular demands and render society “ungovernable.” This study was written before the anti-WTO demonstrations, so the post-Seattle movement doubtless has our overlords in a panic. Such forms of organization make it possible to throw together ad hoc coalitions of thousands of affinity groups in a very short time; they can organize mass demonstrations, issue press releases in thousands of venues, and “swarm” the government and press with mass mailings, phone calls and emails. This resembles the “excess of democracy” and “crisis of governability” that Samuel Huntington warned of in the 1970s–but an order of magnitude beyond anything he could have imagined then. In the case of dismantling corporate state capitalism, our allies include not only anarchists and the libertarian left, but populists, constitution- alists, and libertarians on the right.

One important feature of this decentralized form of organization is its resilience in the face of state attempts at repression or decapitation. We should strengthen this feature by organizing redundant telephone, email and Ham radio trees within each radical organization, with similar redundant communications links between organizations, to warn the entire resistance movement as quickly as possible in the event of mass arrests.

And when the state attempts piecemeal arrests of a few leaders, one organization at a time, we should spread the news not only to “radical” groups and alternative press outlets as quickly as possible, but to the mainstream press. If you belong to an organization whose activists have been targeted in this way, spread the news far and wide on the net and in print, with contact information for the officials involved. If you find such a message in your in-box, take the time to call or email the jackboots with your complaints, and pass the news on to others. I recently called a local police force to protest the illegal arrest of some demonstrators after I saw an article in a newsgroup, and was told by a harried operator that they were so overwhelmed that they had to refer callers to the state police. Every crackdown on an organization should result in the state being swarmed with phone calls, and the press being saturated wth letters and press releases.

This is especially urgent in the present atmosphere. As of this writing (February 2002), the state is taking advantage of the 9-11 hysteria to see how much repression the public will tolerate. For example the jackboots forced the shutdown of IRARadio.com by threat-ening their ISP with seizure of assets for “supporting terrorism” (without need of a trial, of course). Since then, left-wing political activists have been subjected to all kinds of harassment. Nancy Oden, a national Green Party organizer, was subjected to humiliating treatment in an airport and denied passage. A group of SOA Watch activists were arrested by the US Border Patrol when they tried to enter Canada for a peaceful demonstration. The FBI has hinted in its literature that right-wing groups too “obsessed” with the constitution, or with monitoring the actions of federal law enforcement, may be added to the list of “terrorists.” As Morris Dees and Chuck Schumer have said, it’s dangerous when people don’t trust their government. Every time the state puts in its toe to test the water, it needs to be badly scalded by public opinion. How long will it be before the gestapo try to resurrect “criminal syndicalism” as a form of terrorism, and shut down the IWW?

At the same time, we must remember that our “political” strategy is only secondary. We are forced to pursue it only because the state actively interferes with our primary activity–what the Wobblies call “building the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.” This means self-organization at the grassroots level to build “alternative social infrastructure”–things like producers’ and consumers’ co-ops, LETS systems and mutual banks, syndicalist industrial unions, tenant associations and rent strikes, neighborhood associations, (non-police affiliated) crime-watch and cop-watch programs, voluntary courts for civil arbitration, community-supported agriculture, etc. The “libertarian municipalist” project of devolving local government functions to the neighborhood level and mutualizing social services also falls under this heading–but with services being mutualized rather than municipalized. (See also Brian A. Dominick, An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy).

Peter Staudenmeier, in a workshop on cooperatives at Ann Arbor, referred to such alternative forms of organization as “social counter-power.” Social counterpower takes the concrete forms of “prefigurative politics” and “counterinstitutions.”

Prefigurative politics is a fancy term that just means living your values today, instead of waiting until “after the revolution”–in fact it means beginning the revolution here and now to the extent possible. This might be called the everyday aspect of social counterpower. And counterinstitutions, of which co-ops are often an example, are the structural aspects of social counter-power.

Jonathan Simcock, on the Total Liberty homepage, described a vision of Evolutionary Anarchism that included

…Worker Co-operatives, Housing Co-operatives, self-employment, LETS schemes, Alternative Currencies, Mutual Banking, Credit Unions, tenants committees, Food Co-operatives, Allotments, voluntary organizations, peaceful protest and non-violent direct action and a host of similar activities are the means by which people begin to “behave differently”, to go beyond Anarchist theory, and begin to build the elements of a new society.

Our emphasis should be on building this society as much as possible without seeking direct confrontation with the authority of the state. But I am not a political pacifist in the sense of ruling out such confrontation in principle. No matter how industriously we work “within the shell of the old” society, at some point we will have to break out of the shell. At that point either the state will initiate force in order to abort the new society, or it will be so demoralized as to collapse quickly under its own weight, like the Leninist regimes in 1989-91. But either way, the final transition will probably be abrupt and dramatic, rather messy, and will almost certainly involve at least some violence.

On the revolutionary question, I think we should have two guiding principles. The first was formulated by Ed Stamm in his statement on the anti-WTO protests of December 1999: “any revolutionary activity must have massive popular support.” This will occur of itself if our educational and organizing efforts are successful. It will never be accomplished by vanguardism or “propaganda of the deed.” Second, it should not be attempted until we have built as much as we can within the existing structure. The birth pangs do not take place until the gestation is completed. There are some aspects of a stateless society–for example complete workers’ control of industry, or land ownership based only on occupancy and use–which cannot be fully accomplished short of final destruction of the present system of power. But we should achieve everything we can short of this before we begin the final push.

Anyway, there’s a lot we can do short of revolution. In attemp-ting to roll back the state, we should remember that our progress doesn’t depend on converting a majority of people to anarchism. We just have to appeal to the values we share with them on particular issues. And we don’t have to segregate ourselves into an ideologiclly pure, separatist movement of “real” anarchists and wait for the other 99 44/100% of society to come around. Progress isn’t all or nothing. As Larry Gambone argued in “An Anarchist Strategy Discussion,”

…a mass (populist) orientation requires that one search for all the various beliefs and activities that are of a general liber-tarian and social nature found among ordinary people. These would consist of any form of decentralism, direct democracy, region-alism, opposition to government and regulation, all forms of vol-untary association, free exchange and mutual aid.

In other words, we must approach people where they are, and make our agenda relevant to the things that concern them (see also Gambone, Sane Anarchy).

Anarchists belong to countless social and political organizations in which they are a decided minority. We can act within these groups to promote a libertarian agenda. That means making common cause with movements that are not anarchist per se, but aim nonetheless at pushing society in a freer and less exploitative direction. Some may be nominally on the right, like home-schoolers and gun rights people. But the divide between populism and elitism, or between libertarianism and authoritarianism, is a lot more important than the fetishism of left and right. To quote Gambone again, in What is Anarchism?

The future of anarchism, if there is one, will at best, involve a few thousand people, as individuals or small groups, in larger libertarian-decentralist organizations. (Some will choose to work alone, spreading the anarchist message through writings and publications.) It is imperative that such people, so few in number, yet with potential influence, should know what they are talking and writing about.

People who call themselves “anarchists” are probably not even one in a thousand, and may never be. But names aren’t important; substance is. Huey Long said that if fascism ever came to America, it would be in the name of “100% Americanism.” If anarchy ever comes, it will probably be in the name of “decentralism,” “participatory democracy,” or “economic justice.”

But why would the ruling classes allow even a piecemeal rollback of the state apparatus? Why would they not prefer repression to even a partial loss of privilege? The answer is that they will use open, large-scale repression only as a last resort. (Even if we are in the opening phase of such a repression in the aftermath of 9-11, the state will likely keep it low-key and sporadic as long as possible). Such repression is unlikely to succeed beyond the short-term, and could well result in a total loss of power under extremely bloody circumstances. Ruling classes are often willing to make short-term bargains to preserve their long-term power. Even though the ruling elites took the initiative in creating the New Deal welfare state, for example, they did so only as a necessary evil, to prevent the far greater evil of public insurrection. And of course, we cannot underestimate the human failings of denial and shortsightedness, the desire to postpone the inevitable a long as possible. Ruling classes are as prone as anyone else to the “boiled frog syndrome.”

Whenever it is strategically appropriate, we should coordinate the political program with the non-political program of alternative institution-building. The social movement can be used to mobilize support for the political agenda and to put pressure on the state to retreat strategically. The political movement can provide political cover for the social movement and make mass repression less feasible.

Even when it is imprudent for the social movement to resort to large-scale illegality, it can act as a “shadow government” to publicly challenge every action taken by the state (much like the shadow system of soviets and workers’ committees before the October Revolution). Even though such “shadow institutions” may be unable to implement their policies in the face of official opposition, that fact in itself is an opportunity to demand, “Why are you using government coercion to stop us from controlling our own schools, community, etc.?” (This can be especially effective in pointing out the hypocrisy of the Republicans’ bogus “populism,” with their appeals to decentralism and local control). The objective is to keep the state constantly off-balance, and force it to defend its every move in the court of public opinion.

Not all reductions in state power are equally important, and it could be disastrous to dismantle state functions in the wrong order. The main purpose of every state activity, directly or indirectly, is to benefit the ruling class. The central or structural functions of the state are the subsidies and privileges by which the concentration of wealth and the power to exploit are maintained. The so-called “progressive” functions of the state (despite Arthur Schlesinger’s fantasies to the contrary) are created by the ruling class, acting through the government as their executive committee, to stabilize capitalism and clean up their own mess.

Therefore it is essential that the state should be dismantled in sequence, starting with the structural foundations of corporate power and privilege; after a genuine market is allowed to destroy the concentration of power and polarization of wealth, and remove the boot of exploitation from the neck of labor, the superfluous welfare state can next be dismantled. This should not be confused with the social-democratic “anarchism” of Noam Chomsky. I do not advocate strengthening the state to break up “private concentrations of power.” Capitalist power could not survive without the state. The only issue is what state functions to dismantle first.

Since I approach this largely (although not entirely) from Benjamin Tucker’s version of mutualism, I begin with the big three forms of statist privilege according to Tucker–the money, patent and land monopolies.


BANKING. As a minimal first step, repeal all market entry bar-riers to credit unions which are more restrictive than regulations for ordinary commercial banks. The ultimate goal is an end to all restrictions on the formation of mutual banks and the private issuance of banknotes, and all state-mandated backing for currency. The banking industry would no doubt heartily oppose this. Its stooges, like Phil Gramm (who normally waxes eloquent on the glories of the “free market”), would shamelessly invoke the public’s right to a government guarantee of “sound money.” As in most cases, the solution is exposure: of the hypocrisy of the New Right according to their own avowed “free market” principles, of the inequity of the privileges they support, and of the extent to which the average person is forced to labor for their benefit. Gary Elkin argued in “Mutual Banking” that the reform might be accomplished throught the back door with LETS or barter clubs, using the pretext that they were only facilitating exchange rather than creating money.

PATENTS. The minimal first steps here are to end patent protections for any product or technology developed with government money, to eliminate the R&D tax credit, and to scale back patent law (including GATT IP protections) to something resembling traditional Anglo-American patent law. The latter means, among other things, significantly reducing the term of protection, and requiring the holder of a patent to work it in every country where privileges are claimed. The ultimate goal is to eliminate all patent laws.

As in the case of banking, the pseudo-“free market” hypocrites will noisily appeal to the need to reward innovation and protect every fledgling Thomas Edison from theft of his hard work. The solution, again, is to proclaim the facts and the opposition’s hypocrisy as loudly as possible. For example, in response to the alleged need to recoup research costs, we point out the high percentage of R&D that is underwritten by government spending. Or the fact that, according to business surveys, 86% of new technology would be developed without patents merely for the sake of maintaining competitiveness. Or that much of the concentration of industry results from buying up patents (for example the U.S. chemical industry being virtually created from scratch when Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer gave away seized German chemical patents to a handful of U.S. companies).

LANDLORDISM. Our ultimate goal here is an end to legal guarantees for absentee land ownership, and their replacement with property rights based on occupation and use. This is a case where the new society cannot be built until the shell of the old has been cracked open. There is only a limited amount that can be done in intermediate steps, short of a decisive and final dismantling of state power. Like the right of absentee ownership of industrial means of production, the plutocrats will not surrender the legal principle of absentee land ownership without a political Armageddon.

So long as the state is bound in legal prinicple to enforce property rights of landlords, any victory won by squatters will be only short-term and local, without permanent results of any significance. But the other side of the coin is that squatters are indigent and homeless people with very little to lose–after all, some people reportedly commit some minor crime around first frost every year just to get three hots and a cot until spring. If every vacant or abandoned housing unit in a city is occupied by the homeless, they will at least have shelter in the short term until they are forcibly evacuated. And the political constraints against large-scale brutality (if the squatters restrict themselves to non-violent tactics and know how to use the press to advantage) are likely to be insurmountable. In the meantime, the squatters’ movement performs a major educative and propaganda service, develops political consciousness among urban residents, draws public attention and sympathy against the predatory character of landlordism, and–most importantly–keeps the state and landlords perpetually on the defensive.

Even within the existing legal framework, tenant unions strengthen the hand of occupiers against absentee owners and reduce landlords’ ability to exact rent by monopolizing property. Karl Hess, in Neighborhood Power, referred to tenant strikes which led to the legal expropriation of the landlords. In some cities, the laws regulating collective bargaining between tenants and landlords required tenants to put their rent into an escrow account during a strike. Some slumlords were eventually forced into bankruptcy by rent strikes, and were then bought out with their tenants’ escrow money! The legal branches of the movement, like tenant unions and neighborhood assemblies, can also be used to apply pressure and political cover for squatters. The squatters’ and tenants’ movements can escalate and mutually reinforce pressure on the state.

Some states grant homestead exemptions for average-sized residential properties or family farms. Others provide bankruptcy protections for a principal residence. Both practices should be expanded as widely as possible, perhaps through referenda and initiated acts. As in the case of all other taxation, tax relief should occur from the bottom up, by removing as many ordinary people as possible from the tax rolls.

Government ownership of land should be eliminated as quickly as possible, through a new homesteading policy. This is one case in which property rights based solely on occupation and use can be established without displacing existing prorietors. Parcels of land big enough for subsistence could be provided at no cost, but with perpetual covenants attached to the deed by which absentee ownership would be unenforceable in court, and likewise even possessory rights would be unjusticiable for more than one such parcel in the same hands. This policy may be partially qualified in a couple of instances mentioned below.

IMPERIALISM AND MILITARISM. The national security state, military Keynesianism, foreign imperialism, and state-promoted globalization, all interact massively not only to bolster corporate capitalism at home, but to bring the people and resources of the entire world under the control of transnational corporations. Our ultimate goal, not realizable until the final liquidation of the U.S. government, is to dismantle the armed forces and devolve their functions and resources to decentralized federations of local militias. In the meantime we must press to eliminate all foreign military obligations and limit the mission of the armed forces to defending the territory of the United States.

A military budget commensurate with this mission would be far less than $100 billion, effectively eliminating the military-industrial and military-scientific complexes, and the system of state-planned capitalism at the commanding heights of the corporate economy. Along with it would go the imperial presidency and the whole extra-constitutional structure created by the National Security Act. Also eliminated would be the School of the Americas, the CIA’s Operations Directorate, and the rest of the rabbit warren of agencies which support military dictators, secret police and death squads around the world.

The best way to promote this is to take advantage of every opportunity to expose their evil deeds. We should do everything possible to disseminate the kinds of information available, for instance, in William Blum’s Killing Hope or the Virtual Truth Commission website, and show solidarity with organizations like SOA Watch. Every public statement by someone like Jean Kirkpatrick or Maudlin Albright, about how much the U.S. has done to promote freedom and peace in the world, needs to be challenged. The public needs to see facts–facts by the ream and by the truckload–to see for themselves the hundreds of thousands, the millions of atrocities committed on a global scale since 1945 with active or passive U.S. complicity.

Larry Gambone’s scenario in Sane Anarchy, of mass protests in the capital providing political cover for local libertarian movements, is quite relevant on an international scale. When the U.S. government prepares to crush an uncooperative regime like Guatemala or Nicaragua, the movement here at home needs to undertake mass demonstrations and general strikes in support of the target country’s independence.

Finally under this heading, the U.S. should with all deliberate speed disengage from global agencies of economic governance like the World Bank, IMF, and WTO. Third World debt should be forgiven or eliminated, as quickly as can be done without a total collapse of the banking system. International patent law accords should be abrogated, and the U.S. should scale back its recognition of international patent rights commensurate with the scaleback at home–ideally to the point of eliminating them altogether. In the absence of the U.S. role in bolstering landlord-general oligarchies and encouraging IMF pressure toward corporation-friendly laws, the ordinary people of Third World countries could take their societies in the direction of cooperative or mutualist forms of economic organization.

This is another area in which a mass movement can be used to pressure the state in the proper direction, build solidarity with foreign resistance movements, and educate the American public. The role of anti-globalization demonstrations, in drawing public attention to secret meetings and contesting the authority and expertise of the oligarchy’s pet suits there is priceless. But two caveats are in order. First, the demonstrators should refrain from smashing windows and blocking streets; such tactics only reinforce the public perception that “radicalism” is at odds with the mores of the average person, and needs to be contained in the interest of “public safety.”

Second, we should contest the perception of right-wing anti-globalists (think Perot and Buchanan) and AFL-CIO bureacrats who see globalization as a benefit to the Third World at the expense of the American people. We should draw attention to the fact that globali-zation benefits only corporate elites, at the expense of ordinary people in both the West and the Third World. The best way to fight the “race to the bottom” is through strategic alliances between American labor and workers’ movements in the developing world.

Anarchists should also cooperate with the efforts of people in other countries to organize grass-roots, mutualist alternatives to the state and to capitalism. The collapse of communism left a political vacuum in the former Soviet bloc. The vacuum was filled by an alliance between, on the one hand, transnational corporations and the IMF, and on the other a new authoritarian state dominated by the mafia of former Party apparatchiks. The civil society of Russia had atrophied under seventy years of totalitarian brutality, and there was no tradition of grass-roots organization to replace the authoritarian system.

In society after society, from the Soviet bloc to South Africa and Indonesia, the old authoritarian system of power crumbles only to be replaced by a new form of authoritarianism. The reason is that there is no alternative libertarian system capable of challenging the state. In Argentina right now, the left is calling for the creation of workers’ councils, for a federation of such councils with delegates recallable at will, and for a workers’ militia to defend the councils. But that is the kind of thing you organize the nucleus of in the twenty years before the central government collapses, not afterward. Once a conventional nation-state government is established, no matter how “progressive,” the nation has a new spokesman on whom the transnational corporate order can exert pressure. We can be sure that representa-tives of the IMF and the U.S. State Department have already met behind closed doors in Buenos Aires, and threatened (as they did Allende thirty years earlier) to “squeeze the Argentine economy until it screams” if it repudiates the neoliberal agenda.

The anti-globalization movement here must aid those in the Third World trying to organize unions, peasant cooperatives, and other grass-roots organs of empowerment. Americans today, as in Tocqueville’s day, are an unusually ingenious people when it comes to spontaneous, voluntary forms of social organization. One vitally important aspect of such activity is to encourage the development of intermediate, human-scale technology that can increase the economic productivity and self-sufficiency of peasant communities. A shared set of Appropriate Technology Sourcebook–an indexed collection of 150,000 pages available on fiche or CD-ROM for $495–is probably the best single thing that a cluster of Third World villages could have. (Except for sending all the landlords and generals to Boot Hill–but one thing at a time).

POLICE STATE. We must fight to restore an absolutist understanding of the due process guarantees of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and to dismantle the police state that has grown up in the name of fighting drugs, terrorism, gangs, and other crime. Fighting for an absolutist interpretation of the Bill of Rights is much more important than repealing the substance of drug prohibition, because procedure is generally more important to liberty than substance. I’d much rather live under the substantive drug laws of Turkey or Singapore, enforced according to the ACLU’s standard of due process, than the reverse.

At the highest level, this means eliminating Operation Garden Plot and the entire infrastructure of executive orders providing for martial law and domestic surveillance of “subversives.” It means overturning Jackboot Schumer’s unconstitutional “counter-terrorism” legislation and the USA PATRIOT Act.

It means cutting off the head of civil forfeiture (a doctrine borrowed from the prerogative law of bodies like the admiralty courts that so offended the Revolutionaries) and cauterizing the stump. No one should ever forfeit property to the state without being convicted of a crime, period. This should apply not only to drug law, but to all other forms of regulatory enforcement by “administrative bodies” like the IRS, EPA, etc.

Under the heading of the Fourth Amendment, this means prohibiting “no-knock warrants” merely to prevent destruction of drug evidence; no “sneak-and-peek” searches in which suspects are unable to prevent the planting of evidence; no snooping of bank accounts, email or internet usage without a warrant from a local judge. It means the citizen must be guaranteed a “reasonable expectation of privacy” against warrantless searches by flyovers, infrared or other high-tech means, etc. It means an end to public surveillance cameras mated to biometric technology, along with all attempts to make writing checks and other daily activities dependent on some form of biometric identification system. Court rulings must be overturned that make it unlawful to resist even an unlawful invasion or arrest.

An absolutist reading of the Bill of Rights also means restoring the principle of posse comitatus against domestic police action by the National Guard, and prohibiting cooperation between local police and Delta Force, military intelligence, or other regular military assets. It also means restoring the power of free juries to decide questions of law as well as fact, and to refuse to enforce unjust laws. The erosion of jury rights, like that of much of the rest of our civil liberty, reflects the loss of the Eighteenth Century Commonwealth, or Anglo-republican, understanding of common law due process, and its replacement by a Blackstonian/Mansfieldian/prerogative law framework.

There are several grass-roots movements that could cooperate fruitfully with anarchists. One is the anti-drug war movement, including state level movements to decriminalize cannabis entirely or only for medical purposes. The cannabis front is especially smart tactically, because the feds depend on states and localities (through “joint task forces”) for the overwhelming bulkj of enforcement. Since most drug arrests and seizures are for pot, these state initiatives can throw a monkey-wrency into the gears of the drug war even if pot remains illegal at the federal level. Another tactic is to pressure local police forces not to participate in federal jackboot thuggery–for example, the Portland PD’s recent decision not to cooperate with Ashcroft in racial profiling of Middle Easterners and South Asians. Finally, cop-watch programs of all sorts are a way to serve notice to the police that the public eye is on them, and to expose issues of abuse of power to a wide audience. In all these projects, we can find much common ground with organizations like the Fully Informed Jury Association, the ACLU, and the National Lawyers Guild.

TRANSPORTATION. Our goal is to end all state subsidies to highways, trucking, airlines, railroads, and merchant marines. All infrastructure spending should be funded by user fees, assessed pro rata according to the cost imposed on the system. The state power of eminent domain should be abolished. These policies underwrite the cost of shipping freight, and thus subsidize the centralization of the economy.

This centralization leads to great inefficiency, and could not occur unless it were subsidized. Most factories operate at several times maximum economy of scale. Even when they operate at peak efficiency in terms of unit cost, this is offset (according to Borsodi’s Law) by increased distribution costs. Specialists in economy of scale like Walter Adams estimate that peak efficiency for most firms of manufacturing are reached by plants serving about one percent of the U.S. market. According to Barry Stein, this scale could be reduced by two-thirds with only about a 5% increase in unit cost of production, more than offset by reduced shipping costs. Kirkpatrick Sale believes that most kinds of light consumer goods could be produced by factories of fewer than fifty workers, and that communities of a few thousand could be self-sufficient in everything but the most capital-intensive items. Eliminating the transportation subsidy alone would take us a long way in this direction.

SYNDICALISM. Full-scale worker control of production, like land ownership based on possession, cannot be achieved until the state is finally dismantled by some dramatic and revolutionary process. These are the last bastions of privilege, which the ruling class will never surrender until the final extremity. But much can be done to reduce exploitation, even under formal capitalist ownership. Exploitation of labor–i.e., the extraction of surplus value–is impossible without state intervention. Every system of exploitation has involved a ruling class that controlled access to the means of production, in order to exact a tribute in the form of unpaid labor. In the case of American capitalism, banking laws enforce an artificial scarcity of credit and keep workers in debt slavery–both powerful forms of labor discipline. As a result, workers are forced to sell their labor in a buyer’s market. But without such restrictions on access to cheap capital, and without other forms of exploitation like patents, taxes, etc., the availability of abundant cheap credit would drastically alter the balance of power between capital and labor, and wages would approach value-added.

In such an improved bargaining position, unions can likewise achieve a measure of de facto veto power over decisions affecting the production process. One impediment to such control, however, is federal labor law. All restrictive labor legislation, but most particularly Taft-Hartley, should be dismantled, leaving in effect only Norris-LaGuardia, which removed federal troops and court injunctions from labor disputes altogether. This would mean an end to the federal role in supervising certification votes and guaranteeing the right to organize, true enough. But it would also mean an end to restrictions on secondary sympathy and boycott strikes, general strikes, sit-downs, and other forms of direct action. All these tactics, by which the labor victories of the 1930s were won, are now illegal–a loss for which the paper guarantee of a right to organize is pretty sorry compensation. It was probably easier to organize a union in the 1930s by entering a plant in a flying squadron, and telling workers to “shut her down,” than it is today to persuade people in cold blood to risk their jobs and spend years jumping through all the NLRB’s hoops.

For labor to wage a successful class war, it must think in terms of war, not “rights” or “the law.” The mainstream unions are psychologically addicted to the legacy of the New Deal “social compact.” Their inability to think outside the limits of the NLRB process is a severe handicap. Labor must think in terms of war, using all the means at their disposal, limited only by srategy and by their own sense of justice, without regard to “established procedures.” One of the most effective things we could do would be to send a copy of the Wobbly pamphlet “How to Fire Your Boss” to every union that has just lost a strike. It’s at that point, when they’ve been kicked in the teeth for playing by the bosses’ rules, that they might be interested in learning how to play by their own rules. Instead of organizing and striking according to the bosses’ labor laws (and giving the bosses a chance to break the union and replace them with scabs), workers need to do what works–unannounced one-day strikes at random intervals, “good work” strikes, “open mouth sabotage,” working to rule, etc.

All legislative barriers to union-controlled pension funds, and to investment of pension funds in company stock, should be repealed. Corruption and fiscal accountability are indeed issues; and some union rank-and-file may understandably be afraid to put all their eggs in one basket (Enron, obviously). But control of a major voting bloc of shares is one way for workers to exert control over corporate policy, if they can effectively control the union officers. In some cases, such a bloc of shares might make an employee buyout more feasible.

Most existing “employee-owned” companies don’t go nearly far enough. The shares aren’t equal, managers have more voting power, and shares can be marketed so that the cooperative nature of the enterprise decays. Such enterprises are often organized along the same centralized, top-down lines as capitalist enterprises, only with the board elected by employees. But any step in the right direction is better than what we have now, and we can encourage new forms of cooperative organization with department self-management, election of managers, non-marketable shares, etc. And a union local is a lot more amenable to genuine, grass-roots democratic control than the state. Apologists for capitalism like to crow that we already live under “pension fund socialism,” because workers own so much of the means of production through pension fund stock. Let’s make them crow out the other side of their mouths.

ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY. J.K. Galbraith moralized on the theme of “private opulence and public squalor,” but failed to recognize it as resulting from the very nature of “public” property. State property inevitably becomes squalid because it is administered by bureaucrats; in the absence of private or small group proprietary interests, nobody has any personal reason to take care of it. Most environmental damage takes place on government property. All the despoilation of “public” land by the oil, mining, timber and cattle industries is done by businesses that use their political influence to get access rights or leases far below market value. If the land is auctioned off instead of just leased at sweetheart prices, the bidding is open only to companies in the industry that wants the resources. Just another form of crony capitalism.

But imagine, for example, if the lumber companies actually had to buy the land where the giant redwoods grow. The government would sell the land in publicly advertised auctions, accepting bids over several months by mail and over the Internet. Bidding would be open to all interested parties, including environmental groups, not just a handful of lumber companies. It would hardly be profitable in these circumstances to destroy the trees for lumber at their market price. A similary policy regarding oil industry access to ANWR would make the issue of pollution a moot point.

The status of government land with such resources complicates the issue of homesteading policy. Until large timber or mining companies completely disintegrate under the effect of dismantling subsidies and privileges, such valuable land can hardly be open to ownership based on possession; it would amount to giving it away free to the present despoilers. (Of course, ownership could be awarded to the actual human occupiers working the land, rather than to the fictitious corporate entity; but this would probably be politcally impossible so long as the corporate elite retained any sizable amount of power.) Such land might instead be auctioned off to industry at market prices before any general homestead policy was implemented. Covenants could be attached providing that ownership would be based only on immediate possession and use after the property changed hands for the first time. When workers finally established labor self-management, these resources would become the cooperative property of those working them.

This would still leave the problem of economic rent, with producers cooperatives which controlled valuable land being in a position to extract excessive prices. But I imagine that, in a system of property ownership based on possession, local associations for mutual defense would develop some way to regulate ownership of especially productive land in an equitable way.

FEDERAL DEBT. Although I would prefer to repudiate the federal debt, this would probably be politically impossible in the short run. By the time a majority was convinced of the justice of such a policy, the state would be on the verge of collapse anyway–and that’s a lot of interest to pay in the meantime. So the immediate policy should simply be to retire the debt as fast as possible with budget savings. Short of renouncing the debt enirely, it might be possible to take some intermediate steps along lines advocated by populist and antifederalist groups in the 1780s. For example, some restrictions might be placed on honoring bonds at face value if they were sold to third parties. A distinction might also be made between small-scale bond holders and large scale holdings by the wealthy and by banks and corporations.

TAXES. Military spending, police state spending related to consensual crimes, corporate tax loopholes, and interest on the national debt, probably amount to half of federal revenue. All such savings should be translated into tax reductions. Since the wealth of the plutocracy results from state policies that allow them to live off the labor of producers, the producers should be the first to benefit from tax cuts, and the plutocrats should be the last. All targeted corporate tax exemptions and credits should be eliminated, and the corporate tax rate then lowered to be revenue neutral. All personal income tax cuts should take the form of increases in the personal exemption. This would eliminate the income tax for the overwhelming majority of the population, and let the coupon-clippers pay the full price of their “executive committee.” As the market effects of eliminating state capitalist subsidies are fully felt, the ranks of the plutocrats will quickly thin out. And the differential effects of applying tax cuts from the bottom up, in improving the relative competitive position of those on the bottom, will act as a partial remedy for past wrongs.

DECENTRALIZATION AND MUTUALIZATION OF “PUBLIC” SERVICES. Police, utilities, health and welfare services should all be devolved to the community or neighborhood level, and run whenever possible on a cooperative basis with control by the “customer.” At the same time every population unit of a few thousand people–small towns and urban neighborhoods–should organize government on the pattern of direct democracy, with public meetings and boards of selectmen, to exercise control of such government functions.

City-wide school boards should be eliminated, and each school turned into a consumers co-op, with the principal and staff becoming “selectmen” responsible to the parents. I tried to figure out the minimal tuition for a quality education, on the assumption that the parents of twenty or thirty kids pooled their own money to form a cooperative school. Taking into account things like renting a house for class space, and hiring teacher(s), the annual expense wouldn’t be over $1500 per pupil. Existing “public” schools, on the other hand, spend upwards of $6000. Most of the difference lies in the proliferation of parasitic bureaucrats with prestige salaries, and the fact that the state’s aura of majesty requires specially designed Stalinist architecture on the most expensive real estate in town.

This is a common pattern. When you try to figure out how much it would cost to organize a service for yourself, from the bottom up, and compare it to what you’re paying now, it’s stunning. Where does all the money go? It goes to support parasitic centralized bureaucracies with no incentive to economize. It’s amazing how creative and thrifty ordinary people can be when they’re spending their own money, instead of stolen loot.

“Public” and municipal hospitals should be made public in fact and organized on a cooperative basis, with the trustees directly responsible to those who use them. I’d like to see the reaction of white-collar bureaucrats, who ooze smarmy platitudes about “public service,” when they find out the public really is the boss.

But the issue of control is only a first step. Ultimately, we have to get away from our blind worship of authority in a white coat, and our belief that the “experts” reside in a big glass and steel building. As with schools, decentralization to the neighborhood level would result in massive savings in overhead. And taking responsibility for our own health would reduce the demand on hospitals significantly. I envision a clinic in each neighborhood, owned by its clients, with a minimal staff of MDs and a lot more primary care done house to house by nurses and paramedics. Sort of a cross between the Berkeley Cooperative Clinic and the Chinese “barefoot doctors.” As much as possible, emphasis would be shifted to prevention, and integration of allopathic with naturopathic and nutritional medicine. When such methods were not enough, members of local clinics would have access to more specialized, high-tech equipment owned jointly by all the neighborhood co-ops in a region. The medical school curriculum would resemble something set by Andrew Weil, instead of by the drug companies.

The ultimate goal in every case is to organize these services on a voluntary, cost basis, funded by user fees and dues rather than taxes, and thus eliminate the distinction between state and society. But the feasibility of doing this in the short term varies from case to case, and in some cases must await the final liquidation of the state. Some things, like education, cannot be done on a voluntary, cost basis until the liquidation of privilege results in a more egalitarian distribution of wealth. One candidate for immediate reorganization on a cost basis is utilities. Much of the incentive to urban sprawl lies in the fact that inhabitants of older, central areas are forced to pay higher rates to subsidize those in new developments (along with zoning codes against neighborhood grocers and other mixed-use development, which should also be abolished). The elimination of subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power, and to utility companies, along with control by rate-payers in small decision-making units, will be a powerful incentive to conservation and the use of alternative energy. Many will choose to leave the grid in part or altogether, and dig their own wells, generate their own power, or compost waste.

In the case of police and fire service, the trend should be toward incorporating citizen-volunteers in the regular organizations. In a way, this resembles the practice in some co-ops of requiring members to perform services themselves to avoid the creation of a separate caste of wage-workers. The encouragement of widespread firearm ownership as a deterrent is a way to reduce as much as possible the need for an organized police force. The encouragement of armed neighborhood watch organizations, at the expense of “official” police forces, is another step in the right direction. At some point such voluntary organizations should be merged into the “public” organizations, with the posse comitatus entirely supplanting professional law enforcement. Combined with free local juries empowered to judge both law and fact, and with popular militias, this would be in many ways a return to the anglo-republican libertarian ideal of the Eighteenth Century.

Local government and social services are an area in which grass-roots “counterinstitutions” can be especially effective in coordination with the political movement. Neighborhood assemblies, cop watch/ neighborhood watch organizations, tenant unions, etc., are an excellent way to form the nucleus of a future non-statist form of local community organization. Such organizations can coordinate their activities with neighborhood co-ops, mutual banks, and LETS; they can undertake projects in energy and self-sufficiency. Earlier experiments like the Berkeley co-ops, the Black Panther school milk program, or the Adams-Morgan Organization (detailed in Karl Hess’ Community Technology) are excellent models to build on. There is a very broad area in which the decentralist, populist politics of Karl hess overlaps with that of Lorenzo Komboa Ervin; it is far too broad a front for the state to suppress, if the community strongly supports it.

AN END TO PROFESSIONAL LICENSING AND OTHER FORMS OF REGULATORY CARTELIZATION. This means no more use of medical licensing boards to enforce the drug industry’s “standards of practice” and stamp out alternative medicine. That means no more artificial inflation of doctors’ and lawyers’ fees through market entry barriers. That means an end to cartelization of the broadcast industry, and the replacement of the FCC licensing system with something resembling the common law of riparian rights. Such a system would allocate the broadcast spectrum on the basis of “first come, first serve.” The burden of proof would be on the offended party, rather than the accused.


Ken Darrow and Mike Saxenian. Appropriate Technology Sourcebook. Volunteers in Asia/Appropriate Technology Project (Stanford, 1993).
Brian A. Dominick. “An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy,”


Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. Anarchism and the Black Revolution. Anarchist People of Color website,


Larry Gambone. “An Anarchist Strategy Discussion,” unpublished.

Gambone. On Community (Red Lion Press, 2001).

Gambone. Sane Anarchy (Red Lion Press, 1995).

Gambone. “What is Anarchism?” Total Liberty vol. 1 no. 3 Autumn 1998.

Karl Hess. Community Technology (Breakout Productions reissue, 1995).

Hess, and David Morris. Neighborhood Power: The New Localism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975).

Keith Preston. “Conservatism is Not Enough: Reclaiming the Legacy of the Anti-State Left” American Revolutionary Vanguard website,


Jonathan Simcock. “Editorial for Current Edition, TL Homepage,


Ed Stamm. “Anarchists Condemn Anti-WTO Riots” The Match! Spring 2000.

Peter Staudenmaier. “Anarchism and the Cooperative Ideal,” The Communitarian Anarchist vol. 1 no. 1.

February 2002; last updated August 2002

Contact author at kevin_carson@hotmail.com

“U.S. Crisis Springs From Structural, Not Personal Failure” by Karl Hess

The general malaise which seems to grip America these days is often characterized as a “crisis of leadership.”

The implication is that our problem lies in the personalities of our leaders; that if only the right person could be elevated to the Presidency, our problems would be solved, our days brightened and our loads lightened.

Prudence, however, suggests an alternative view of our crisis, for even a cursory look at recent history appears to undercut conventional wisdom. Over the last two generations, surely, the American Presidency has been occupied by remarkably disparate personalities.

Obviously, the problem with America does not derive from personality at all. We’ve had experience with too many different types to seriously believe that. Our trouble is more basic.

The American crisis is one of structure and scale. Our great leaders have not failed, but our great – and huge – institutions are failing, at this very moment. New characters in the same old roles will not solve our problem, for the roles themselves, not the players, are at fault.

Whether one approved or abhorred the war in Indochina, it is clear that the federal establishment, manned by “the best and the brightest” miserably misled the citizenry in conducting that war.

Everybody knows that the federal government promises a lot and delivers damn little, and pays for most of what it does deliver out of the earnings of individuals rather than the profits of great corporations.

Scale is not just a problem of the federal government. Indeed, a classic example of structural failure with which we are all familiar is the contemporary American city. In fact there is no major U.S. city which can point to an increase in governmental scale as ushering in a better life for its citizens.

If big is indeed better, it follows that New York or Los Angeles should be as problem-free as any city in the world. Theoretically, the citizens of both cities should choose to live in the largest, most densely populated areas, rather than in the smaller scale environs of ethnic neighborhoods, as in New York, and the suburban cities-within-the-city, as in Los Angeles.

People do not choose such environments, however, because ordinary common sense provides an intuitive understanding that scale is crucial in social organization; that at every level of enterprise and government in America the advantages of increase sale have long since been passed.

What, then, should be the new focus of social scale? In my view, the tightest and best unit is the neighborhood, the place where people know one another – or at least have the geographical opportunity to know one another – and where most of one’s life is spent.

My own neighborhood, in a so-called ghetto area of Washington, D.C., exemplifies the benefits to be gained by redirecting attention from the largest to the smallest of social organizational units.

For approximately 3,500 of the 31,000 people in the Morgan Adams neighborhood, the most appropriate formal organization for making decisions has turned out to be an unofficial town meeting. This voluntary government by assembly requires each person to participate. No one can dodge responsibility by electing someone to do the job.

Without legal status, this town meeting has organized neighborhoodwide street cleaning; established forums to deal with tenant-landlord disputes; started work on a neighborhood health clinic; taken over the maintenance of some public spaces, and even now is addressing the crucial problem of street crime (with first efforts focused on establishing a shared anticrime culture rather than calls for more police). Indeed, Spanish-speaking residents of our triracial neighborhood have already instituted volunteer escort service and street patrols.

The worker-managed grocery stores we have established not only provide good, cheap food but also show how we can move toward industrial democracy, just as the town meeting points toward real political democracy. Worker-managed bookshops, record stores, alternative schools (including one at high school level), construction “collectives” and even an institute of science, with which I am closely involved – all these have emerged as well in our neighborhood. (Our science institute has successfully developed a way to produce significant crops of vegetables on urban rooftops, and to utilize a network of basement water tanks to produce tons of rainbow trout.)

So with government, which can be treated in much the same way. It too can operate on a human scale, with local interests represented in regional and national federations or forums called for particular purpose.

To do this, Americans might have to sacrifice the office and institution of “The Great Leader.” But since “Great Leaders” seem to be as much a part of the problem as the solution, that would be a small price to pay.

Americans are misguided in their continuing search for new leaders. Rather, they should seek rewarding social institutions to ensure a better life.

In this quest, the first thing to throw out is the old yardstick that measured quality by size and growth.

From the Tri-City Herald May 25, 1975(Originally appeared in the Washington Post)
Original: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=v4U1AAAAIBAJ&sjid=g4kFAAAAIBAJ&dq=karl-hess&pg=930%2C5789569