VIDEO: Karl Hess and Robert Anton Wilson, “Subversion for Fun and Profit”

In this video from the 1987 Libertarian Party Nominating Convention, left-libertarians Karl Hess and Robert Anton Wilson take questions from the audience and discuss such topics as being the subjects of government monitoring, gun running, and even their favorite films. It was uploaded to YouTube by the good folks at

“A Decentralist Manifesto” by Ralph Borsodi

A new world is being born.

If this new world is to be a better world than the one now dying and to make possible a fuller fruition of the human spirit, then it will be very different from the Capitalist world of today, and different from the world which the dictators of Russia and China are providing, and different from the Socialist world into which most of the world is now drifting.

Concerned and thoughtful men and women are challenged to arrest the present drift and drive into a mechanized barbarism, and to contribute to the birth of a world in which persons will be free to realize their potentialities as creative beings. Such leaders must have the courage to assert themselves, and must discipline themselves to think about all the institutions essential to such a world.

The time has come to recognize that good intentions are not enough, to part with sentimental follies and to expose power-seeking politicians who call the demagoguery of the Welfare State democracy. It should be clear that there is no one panacea for the problems of society. No fanatic — no one who would transform the world by hate and revolution — has anything but misery and frustration to offer mankind.

This manifesto is submitted to the thoughtful and concerned men and women of the world urging them to assume the intellectual and moral leadership of mankind in order to replace those who have demonstrated incompetence, lack of vision, greed, bigotry and brutality.


Human beings must be humanized.

A good society cannot be created unless a determining number of the thoughtful and concerned men and women in each country exercise influence, and see that power is properly utilized. The process of humanizing individuals and society calls first for re-education, not for political and economic action. To depend only on new institutions is a mistake. If this mistake is made, the best set of institutions will be perverted. The letter of the new institutions will be honored but the spirit disregarded, and the ultimate end will be a repetition of those repeated declines in civilization which dot the tragic pages of history.

For this reason, some such program of educational reform as is here presented is absolutely essential.

1. A New Leadership. The leadership which the priests lost to the warriors, the warriors to the kings, the kings to the business men, the business men to the financiers, and which the financiers are now losing to the politicians, must be assumed by a group which sharply distinguishes between the exercise of influence and the exercise of power. The minority of concerned and thoughtful teachers and .writers, of poets and preachers, of artists and scientists, of physicians and lawyers, who constitute the real leadership of any society, must be. reborn. They should consecrate themselves to the search and realization of what is true, what is good, what is beautiful.

They must go even further.

They must not only seek and create, they must also teach. They must equip those whom they influence with the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of both the East and West, and of the ancient and modern world. They must furnish inspiration, not only instruction; they must motivate those whom they influence to live on a high moral, intellectual and cultural level. Without such a leadership, no good society and no good life can either be created or maintained.

2. Academic Autonomy. Universities above all other institutions should be staffed by men and women of quality. But to enable them to furnish unbiased and impartial leadership to individuals and society, the universities must be autonomous — they must be completely free and independent. They must cease being dependent upon government; they must be freed from the necessity of catering to public officials. They must be freed from the dictation of partisan ideologies, of the evangelists of religion; of commercial, industrial and financial leaders Academic autonomy is not real unless universities are completely free to seek the truth. Without this freedom, they will omit teaching what is offensive to those who control them; they will warp what they teach so as to please them; they will teach what those upon whom they depend, demand of them.

3. Basic Instruction. Every child must be taught all that is essential to their humanization — a useful craft and the cultivation of the Earth; the practice of domestic arts; to read, write and use numbers. All must be imbued with the basic virtues — the love of nature, of beauty, and of mankind without regard to race, religion or nationality Basic instruction in these matters should begin in the home and continue in the school. No good society can be created without this basic instruction.

4. Professional Instruction. Instruction to the limit of the interest and the capacities of every individual, calls for some professional instruction for the more gifted and diligent, in one of the various fields essential to maintaining a genuinely civilized society. Yet specialization should not exclude the general education essential to developing each person’s whole personality. General education must not merely furnish information, but must imbue them with high purposes and values so that professionals and managers do not use their special skills only for their own aggrandizement.

5. Academic Education. Education is clearly distinguished from instruction. Higher education in liberal arts and the humanities is the right of all exceptionally gifted men and women Every family and every community should consider it both a privilege and an obligation to enable their gifted sons and daughters to cultivate their talents. Higher education, however, must not produce only scholars and intellectuals, but a class of selfless, inspired and creative thinkers, scientists, writers, artists and professional men and women, completely dedicated to cultivating the good, the true and the beautiful. They must also be imbued with fortitude and courage along with such deep love of humanity as to live, and if necessary sacrifice their lives, for preserving the rights of free persons and the values essential to a good society. Higher education should equip the exceptionally endowed men and women to teach, to influence, to furnish the wisdom and knowledge, the vision and the direction, for social renaissance and -for the progressive humanization of human kind.

6. Moral Re-education. A moral revival is essential at this crisis in history. Education at every level must therefore deal with values and purpose. Fallacies in this area must be exposed: moral relativism and modern amoralism; the doctrine that positive law is the only binding law; the theory that all statutory and even constitutional law must be obeyed even in disregard of absolute moral law. The moral law is the natural law, universal and perpetual. Like all natural laws, it must be discovered and constantly and more explicitly formulated. Moral law should, under no circumstance, be confused with mere legislative fiat. The moral law is binding, upon all faiths, all nations, all races, all statutes. Legislative acts which disregard it [no matter how enacted nor how powerfully enforced] are null and void.

Teaching of moral law, begun in the home, should continue in school. Humanization of education in school and college is essential for the moral re-education called for here. For milleniums moral education has been warped by priesthoods. As a result moral education today is full of inappropriate theological injunctions. Moral re-education calls for separation between metaphysical creed and ethical obligation.

The true first commandment is “Harmony, not discord.” This prohibits all dogmatism, fanaticism, persecution; it is binding on all humankind. It enjoins upon every religion, nation, race and every political, social and economic doctrine, to be tolerant of every person except only the intolerant. “Harmony, not Discord” calls for the tolerance of dissent and difference which is essential if the world is to be really free. Discord, with disregard of the rights of others, is the inevitable result of intolerance. Discord is involved when violence is done to individuals by private persons or groups engaged in imposing their intolerance upon them Mass-discord is involved when mass-violence and mass-killing is indulged in by political or governmental promotion of intolerance Such intolerance calls for disciplining those who practice it, with essential force, until completely ended. Ostracising intolerants is recommended.

Discord should not be confused with disturbance. It disturbs mistaken people to learn the truth about (heir mistaken beliefs, values, activities and education. But to learn the truth* is essential to the humanization of everybody, including those whom it disturbs. Discovering truth is a kind of discipline, and mav be uncomfortable as are most other kinds of discipline. But truth creates a foundation upon which harmony replaces the static acceptance of discordant mistakes. Ralph W. Emerson said, “Choose between truth and repose. You can never have both.”

7. Humanization of the Family System. The family system should be normalized. Archaic patriarchal family systems must be modernized; the disintegrated and atomized modern family must become an organic entity again. For it is the family, not the individual, which is the primary unit of society, and the family’s responsibility for its members must be recognized if there is to be any social renaissance The evidence which establishes the family as the essential nursery of human virtues, is overwhelming. This all-important activity, now usurped by the school and the state, must once again be reestablished as the principal function of family life.

8. Revival of the Small Community. Social and cultural revival of the small community is just as essential as are economic prosperity and political autonomy. Small communities are primarily agricultural for the most part. But if life in them is to be humanized they must be centers of arts and education, as well as of trade, craft, manufacture and entertainment Small communities tend to decay if they do not provide all the institutions and enterprises to supply the basic needs and humane desires of the people who live in them.

The gifted young who have been given the privilege of higher education, perhaps in distant colleges and universities, should be inspired to bring back to the families which have nurtured them, and to the communities in which they have been reared, the skills and good taste they have been privileged to cultivate. (Too often the case today is that youth have their appetites and their ambitions stimulated for greater financial rewards which practising their professions enable them to earn in metropolitan centers. )

9. Regionalism. Not the nation, but the region is the true unit of the world. (Cultural nationalism is not to be confused with political nationalism.) The nation-state today is almost always an artificial aggregation of regional cultures. Regional arts should be developed — regional poetry and literature, music and dancing, regional festivals, costumes, architecture and the genius of each region encouraged. The present insistence upon standardization of culture, and the creation of one uniform national or world culture, should be arrested.

10. Pan-Humanism. All human beings, while members in smaller units, are members of humanity. Membership is concurrent in groups of differing area and levels. Real social renaissance for all humankind will not come until every vestige of unilateral and exclusive citizenship in nations is abolished, and people everywhere recognize that their obligations to humanity are above those of nation-states. Not the nation “right or wrong”, but the world, the region, the community and the family are entitled to claim peoples’ allegiance.

Between the region and the whole world, every social, cultural, economic and political entity is an arbitrary construct, which should be used only to develop regions more freely on the one hand, and the whole world on the other. To whatever extent nation-states now usurp the normal functions (and prevent normal development) of the whole world, they should be abolished.


Creating a New Leadership and re-organizing educational institutions so that humankind may be humanized is the first step in the birth of the sort of world for which human beings are hungering But more is necessary. Good intentions and rigorous thinking must be followed by action. The social, economic and political institutions which inflict economic injustices, interfere with political liberty, and prevent the realization of the good, the true and the beautiful, must be abolished. Those which are imperfect must be reformed, and those which are missing must be created by the voluntary activities of individuals and groups, corporations and cooperatives, and where necessary by political action, statutory changes or constitutional reform.

Human beings are not mere animals. They have, it is true, in common with all other animals an inherited, instinctual drive for self-survival (an economic drive). Also in common with animals, a sexual drive for self-production. But much higher than these two is the last instinctual drive with which evolution has endowed humankind — the drive for self-expression.

It is for this reason that no political institution can be considered human and properly adapted to the nature of humankind if it in any way infringes upon liberty; if it even in the slightest, interferes with the conditions necessary to individual self-expression and to the free development of the highest potentialities of being human. Six fundamental political reforms are needed if the new world, now being born, is to provide better for human liberty than the “free” world (even at its best) is providing.

1. The Obligations and Rights of Human Beings. Every human being confronts natural obligations — the obligation to respect the person, the possessions, the premises, and the rights of other human beings; the obligation to utter no libels or slanders, not to interfere in any way with the peaceful religious, political, economic or social activities of others. Each person has the obligation to protect basic rights and enforce these obligations by the payment of just taxes and by answering every just call of any properly constituted local, regional or world authority to defend them even at the cost of life and property.

Every human being has certain inalienable rights — to life, to liberty and to property; the right to defense of his person and property; to sue others, including public officials for compensation for damages inflicted and for the redress of grievances; the right to travel anywhere in the world; to free speech and publication; to peacefully assemble and seek correction of injustices; the right to freedom from search and seizure of himself, his possessions and his premises except after a due proceeding at law — a proceeding in which he is represented by counsel, in which the judges are impartial, in which the same facilities are furnished for securing witnesses as those enjoyed by the State, and in which he is presumed to be innocent until the charges against him are proved beyond reasonable doubt. Every regulation, ordinance, statute, or constitutional provision which violates any of these natural rights — being morally null and void — must be repealed forthwith. The violation of any of these natural rights by any public official constitutes malfeasance, and such public official should be removed for usurpation.

The multiplicity of encroachments on these rights by so-called democratic governments and Welfare States must be ended and every encroachment repealed. All dictatorial governments, including those ostensibly set up to promote socialism called peoples’ democracies, are by their very nature violators of these rights.

2. Limited Government. The functions and authority of all government bodies shall be limited to those which are necessary to the preservation of these rights and to enforce the fulfillment of these obligations. The exercise of power by a government for any other purpose whatsoever is invalid. Assumption by a government of anv function which can be fulfilled by private persons and private enterprises, shall constitute usurpation; and any regulation, ordinance, statute or constitutional provision which legalizes such usurpation shall be treated by all persons as null and void.

3. Local Autonomy. No free society (in which people truly participate and so give continuing consent to what government does) can long endure unless the primary political unit (the village, borough, township, commune, canton) is autonomous. The present system by which a centralized State exercises power over local communities or “grants” limited power to them, must be ended. Ultimate power is in the people, and they grant specific powers upward to their local community; communities delegate certain powers to county or district; the counties or districts to regional federation; and so on until regional federations in the whole world finally grant specific powers to a world federation. It is usurpation for power to descend from a centralized State to the people. Today local autonomy calls for political and power-decentralization.

4. Federation. Long human history has demonstrated that democracy (real participation of the people in government) is possible only in relatively small local communities. In all larger units of government, participation by the people becomes a form only. All such larger units of government become representative or ‘republican” in form.

Representation calls for federation (not union) of all units of government larger than the local community. Federation must therefore be substituted for the present oligarchical or autocratic organisation of all larger units of government, beginning with the county or district, and ending with the world. Not national union, but regional federation — not world union but world federation — is called for. Federation calls for a multiplicity of government units, each with specific functions delegated to it by the smaller units which constitute it, until at the base, ultimate, residuary powers are exercised by the people in their own autonomous communities.

My strong condemnation of Nationalism is accompanied by a proposal for a World Authority federally organized and strong enough to maintain international peace. (Until such a world authority is a reality, it could not be expected that nations surrender their sovereignty. ) The United Nations as now organized violate basic principles of federation. In spite of the passionate devotion of those who believe in it, the United Nations is a fraud perpetrated by the great powers, upon a peace-hungry world. As now organized, the United Nations pretends to, but cannot, maintain world peace.

5. Concurrent Jurisdiction. Implicit in the two great principles of autonomy and federation, is the principle of concurrent jurisdiction. Since every unit of government (from the local community to the world federation) should have specific and limited powers only, and since those powers entrusted to larger units of government must be exercised within the areas (and over the people in) the smaller units, jurisdiction must be concurrent — not exclusive or absolute.

This principle of concurrent jurisdiction applies to all levels of government because no federated unit of government can fulfill its specific functions if its jurisdiction is limited by the government of any region in which it has to operate. Concurrent jurisdiction is essential if effective federal action is not to be frustrated and conditions result in further centralization of power rather than limiting government.

6. Consent of the Governed by Self-Determination. People of every region have a basic political right to live under a government which governs with their consent. Yet hundreds of millions of people today are governed in violation of this essential human right. Liberty and democracy are mocked by this tragic fact. Millions of people are governed by “people’s democracies” which in reality are Communist dictatorships. Other millions are ruled by combined native and foreign oligarchies under the military power of great nations. Millions of colonies are governed despotically by governments which operate more “democratically” at home. Millions more in Asia and Latin America are governed by military or political dictators and oligarchies. Tragically, dissenting minorities in these despotisms are accorded inhuman treatment.

World-wide autonomy and federation are ultimately the answers to these problems. Democracy breaks down and falls into the hands of political oligarchies, in large units of government. In such cases, nations feel justified in intervening. An adequate world federation is needed as an impartial trustee to assist formation of stable and free governments for the millions now enslaved, or subject to foreign and dictatorial rule not of their own choosing.


If the whole world is to be made free, and the peoples of the so-called free world made completely free, justice and not equality, must be the aim of the economic order. It is not true that economic equality must be imposed by government upon human kind, in order to abolish poverty. Prosperity is highest where political tyranny and economic injustice is lowest. Poverty, on the other hand, continues in proportion as equality is imposed.

Justice is in accord with nature’s laws, and should be the aim of all effort, including legal effort. Legalized equality is an attempt to abrogate nature’s laws. Justice provides economic incentives; enforced equality destroys them.

Is it justice for the slack and shiftless laborer to receive the same wage as the one who works diligently and efficiently? Is it justice to pay the person who has devoted years of life to training, the same as the person who has cultivated no skill and has been indifferent to training and education? Is it justice to reward the person who has been thrifty, invested savings productively, taken risks and responsibilities in conducting an enterprise, the same as the person who spends all his earnings, saves and invests nothing, risks nothing and takes on no responsibility of any kind?

Justice is the expression of the moral law; enforced equality is a form of compulsory charity. Charity to the victims of unavoidable misfortune is a human obligation. But this is a voluntary, individual, (and not a political) obligation.

A principle to govern a just and moral economic order is: “to each contributor in proportion to his contribution” — to labor, capital, industry, agriculture, and management — to each what each contributes to the production of wealth. To establish this principle in the new world aborning, seven fundamental reforms of the present economic order are essential.

1. Free Enterprise. No truly just social system is possible if freedom to embark upon enterprise is denied or curtailed. Freedom is not possible if special privileges are granted to one enterprise which handicap others, or if freedom to work (or employ any individual) is infringed by laws of any kind. Political freedom is mocked when economic freedom is curtailed. Equality of opportunity is essential to insure full use of capital and labor, to furnish incentive and encourage initiative, and to assure justice in the division of wealth between capital and labor, and between industry and agriculture. We must abolish all special privileges, differential tariffs, subsidies, quotas, licenses, limited liability corporations and all cartels or monopolies (particularly in banking) in the private sector of the economy.

“Liberty, justice, Humanity”

Predatory competition is permitted and encouraged by the granting of special privileges to particular persons, companies and classes. Until this is ended there can be no real free market, no fraternal competition in establishing wages and prices, no just return to agriculture and other producers of basic raw materials.

The cure for what is wrong in the so-called free world today is not to confer off-setting special privileges (which was begun during the Thirties under The Franklin Roosevelt administration). The cure is to repeal existing special privileges, instead of wholesale granting of special privileges, subjecting the whole economy to the whims, fancies and corruption of politicians and bureaucrats.

One of the most crucial and least understood special privileges are those granted to corporations. Three of these are outstandingly unjust: (1) limited liability, (2) non-assessibility of stockholders of corporations, and (3) exemption of directors and officers for liability for mis-feasance, non-feasance and mal-feasance. Such special privileges to corporations have inhibited the growth of cooperative enterprises. One responsibility of the New Leadership is to fire the imagination, stimulate the organization, and train management of cooperatives so that cooperatives develop where the nature of the enterprise calls for cooperation.

This is particularly true in banking, in the operation of public utilities, and “natural” monopolies. This occurred in Denmark and in other countries where cooperation flourishes. Leaders inspired by the Danish folk schools, transformed the economic order of Denmark. A veritable revolution took place slowly under the initiative of men and women whom I regard as consecrated members of the New Leadership.

The terrible handicaps under which proprietary enterprise in America operates, can be corrected. The existing land tenure can be changed to one which is genuinely just; the dishonest money system can become stable; the present imperfect market system can be free — and competition can work so that prices, wages, rent, interest and profits are fair and just. This calls for new leadership and re-education.

Free enterprise in a free economic order is not of one kind — (private) only. It is three totally different kinds: (1) proprietory, (2) corporate and (3) cooperative. With genuine freedom all three of these spontaneously arise and progress unless they are interfered with by the granting of special privileges to one, and handicaps imposed upon others.

2. Prices in A Complex Industrial System. Only through a free market can prices be justly established and economic activities effectively regulated. This calls for each producer producing his best, but in such a market, competition must be fraternal. In effect, in a free market cooperation between buyers and sellers establishes prices which are just. Fraternal competition must replace all the forms of predatory competition which we mistakenly accept or excuse in the present capitalistic order. To create a truly free market, all regulation and interference by government of prices, wages, rent, interest and profits must be abolished, and the market given the opportunity to regulate them in accord with the law of supply and demand.

3. Mutualization. No just society is possible unless it is recognized that not two but three distinct sectors exist in every economy: (1) the naturally private, (2) the naturally monopolistic and (3) the naturally public. All natural monopolies — railroads, power companies, water services, gas companies, pipelines, telegraph and telephone systems, irrigation districts, banks of issue — must be mutualized (owned and operated in the interests of those who use them) and by rebating all surplus earnings pro rata to users, insure that their services are furnished at cost, and no profits are appropriated by private interests nor exploited by the government.

4. Free Trade. All differential and so-called protective tariffs must be abolished, and national boundaries in essence abolished. National boundaries must cease being economic barriers; they should be reduced to administrative conveniences. Basically all peoples, all creeds, all races have the human right to trade freely with one another. If free trade is a good within a country, free trade is good between countries. Customs guards must be ended, and recognition given to the fact that all mankind belongs to one human race, if a free and just economic order is to replace the capitalistic and socialistic economies of today.

5. Free Banking: Honest Currency; Stable Money. Government control and regulation of banks — private, commercial and mutual — must be ended. Banks should be free to provide credit as needed by all legitimate borrowers. The natural monopoly of issue of legal tender currency should be restricted to cooperatively-organized reserve banks. Banking is a profession, not a business; banks which create credit and issue money should be cooperative, and not commercial enterprises.

Nothing has done more to discredit capitalism or to destroy faith in a free economy than the use of a banking system for private aggrandisement along with using the money system for meeting the deficits of government. The gross immorality of debauching the currency must be ended. The business cycle with its boom and bust is a monetary phenomenon. There are no unsolved technical difficulties in creating a stable and honest unit of currency. Capitalism’s exploitation of the banking system and the debasement of money must stop.

6. Free Access to The Possession of Land. A just system of land tenure is essential to ending employment, wage-slavery and landowners’ exploitation of farmers. By arranging equality of access to land for everyone, laborers and tenants will have the alternative of going to the land and producing on their own. This adds to their bargaining power in dealing with employers and landowners. It is their alternative to accepting unjust wages, or payment of excessive rent to landowners.

All the natural resources of the earth — the land, the forests, the oil, the minerals and the waters — are the gift of nature, or Nature’s God to nil humankind. No title to absolute ownership of any part of the Earth can be traced back to a deed issued by the creator of the Earth. All natural resources are by their nature trusterty, not property. Land should be privately possessed (not owned to buy and sell) to be used for incentive to its fullest and most efficient use. But the unearned increment (the ground rent and the mineral royalties) instead of being privately appropriated, should be used instead of taxes to pay for the necessary services provided by the community.

Apologists for capitalism defend private property in land; they defend speculation in land. Such insistence has hopelessly identified Capitalism with the injustices of the present land-tenure system in the “free” world Communist alternatives — nationalization and collectivization of land — can be avoided. A new system of land tenure can be based on the ethical principles oi Mencius in China and Henry George in America.

7. Freedom of Possession. Title to property can originate legitimately only in one way — by its production. Once created in this way, title to it can be transferred, devised, or exchanged for other property, the ownership of which has come into existence the same way. The law of property in a free world must be revised so as to distinguish not only between what is mine, and what is yours, but also what is ours. Both property and trusterty exist. Community collection of what is “ours” — the ground rent of natural resources would be in the direction of justice. Other taxes could be eliminated as limited government replaces unlimited government and as world federation replaces national efforts for defense. Reduction in costs of government would follow, and be met by the collection of community value in, or the economic rent of, land.


An ideological vacuum exists in the free world, and in the military and communist dictatorships of the world. The world has lost its bearings People are disillusioned with mass poverty, government support, exploitation, rural decay and urban blight, imperialism and militarism, and above all languish for the denial of liberty. Many people are sick even of prosperity in which the human spirit is alienated. Because of the scientific revolution, many are ready to abandon the dogmatisms of religion. They are ready to turn from demagogues and nationalism They are looking for something fresh and new, something to give purpose and meaning worthy of the human spirit.

Promises are made to abolish all existing evils with the panacea of the State — organized force and compulsion. Masses have been, and are being, dazzled by these golden promises. What do the active leaders of the free world have to offer? In sum, they offer continuance of what we now have in the so-called democratic world But this is what most of mankind has already subconsciously rejected. This is the ideological vacuum which gives to the Statists their opportunity. But this rejection is what also affords opportunity to a New Leadership to provide truly human solutions.

A New Leadership faces a real difficulty — one they do not welcome and confront courageously. Our difficulty is that we cannot create a good world quickly.

But if the program presented is adequate; if it deals with the roots of our social and human weakness — not expedients dealing superficially with grave problems — then every year there will be improvements — which accumulate geometrically. But to reach the hard-tore common sense of people, to enlist the enthusiastic support of intelligent men and women, the program must be explicit It must be comprehensive and persuasively presented. And it must be promoted by selfless leaders who do not discredit themselves by apologizing for the evils of the present order.

Neither capitalism as it exists in the so-called free nations nor Socialism in the so-called Welfare States, nor Communism in the so-called “people’s democracies” are adequate social orders. Social renaissance calls for abandonment of Socialism and Communism and transforming Capitalism into a free and just economic order Is the Pan-Humanism with its drastic changes here called for, ready to come into its own?

No such changes in economic institutions of both democratic and dictatorial countries are possible without re-education and humanization of at least a determining number of men and women in the world. Political and economic drastic changes are not enough. In the final analysis, if human kind is to be saved from a mechanical and materialistic barbarism, if people are to be taught to live rationally, lovingly and humanely, the educators of mankind must furnish the leadership which the crisis calls for. Then men and women in every race and country can create liberty and justice for all humanity.

Originally published in 1958 by Libertarian Institute, Bombay, India; edited by Mildred Loomis and republished in 1978 by The School of Living, York, Pennsylvania

“Four Worlds In Economics” by Mildred J. Loomis

Many people commonly identify nations by their geographical location, along with their degree of industrial development. In this naming, the Western “advanced” industrial nations (U.S. Canada and Europe) are the first world; Russia and her satellites are the second world; and the third world includes the relatively undeveloped countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Organizers of the Fourth World conference refer to nations small in size or which hopefully can be made small, if they are now large. In this paper I use another method for numbering worlds 1, 2, 3 or 4.

I propose a nation be identified by the essence and nature of the economic structure under which differing peoples live. Economics is the science of survival–SOS an old distress signal. Economics almost everywhere today is in distress, facing sink or swim; life or death. A more explicit definition is “Economics is the science of the production and distribution of wealth”; it deals with land, the surface of the earth; with labor, i.e., the physical-mental energy which produces and distributes goods; and with capital, or the tools and equipment which assist that production and distribution. From my lifelong studying, observing and experimenting in economic practices, it1s clear that there are at least four distinguishable ways of dealing with land, labor and capital. One of them is capitalism.


Much of the world is influenced by the Western world’s capitalism. They welcome the remarkable technology and affluence it has produced. Many nations in the rest of the world envy it, and want to copy it. Other people criticize and deplore it.

Any serious student of economic affairs knows that freely choosing one’s life is needed, and should result from economic arrangements. Any serious student of Western capitalism recognizes that (while independence and liberty are said to attend Capitalism) fundamental freedom is in shambles. Most of the Western world — assuredly the United States — has become increasingly governmental. More laws, more regulations, more bureaus, more federal control coming from Washington DC at the loss of local and direct-community action. Why?

Why did this trend appear (circa l800s) and why has it proliferated since the 1900s and 1930s? Largely because the capital-individual approach to economics and survival did not extend its comfort and affluence to everyone. Involuntary unemployment appeared; bank failures, economic depressions and failure to find jobs were part of every decade. Too many families were without a pay check or lived in fear of being without a paycheck.

What can a person do who is unemployed; — who has no regular source of work or survival? Most people prefer to work and earn — but when this is not available in an “economic collapse”, what then? Such victims have three options — l) turn to stealing and crime, personal violence;) 2) he can be assisted by charity, 3) but if charity-benevolence is not adequate, then government support is turned to. This, a perceptive reader will point out, is legal violence. A legal agency, government, taxes and takes by force from those who have, and turns it over to those who haven’t a means of survival.

Some people approve this third system, noting that recipients of charity or government pensions and social security welcome it. Is this true? Many – most — Americans resisted early social security. Their pride and integrity were threatened. Dependence was an insult; they wanted survival of course, but they wanted it by their own efforts.

But necessity made it a habit. Necessity and repetition can even change self-confidence. So in America, government-help has to a notable degree, become the accepted, even the desired, the sought-after, along with its drop in integrity. A whole school of thought now supports the governmental answer. In many parts of the world, people think it is a good and proper answer to “How shall people survive?” They say, “In a complex world, government help is necessary. Justice can and should be attained by laws, regulating the distribution of wealth.”

Some countries have moved full-scale into that pattern. The Russians did it by fiat, government edict and violence. They call it Communism. In my list, I name it the “second world in economics”. Most of Russia’s people accept, praise, promote and presumably enjoy it. They feel that its resulting guaranteed livelihood is better than the enforced poverty and riches under the Czars. Books and journals the world around explain, extol and criticize it. Enforced, collective ownership of land and capital, i.e. Communism, is a second answer to the universal problem of “How shall a human being’ survive?”

A Third Economic World

Another alternative moves in a similar direction. It would do this by vote of the electorate and first teaching the people the means and methods of public ownership of survival goods and services. They avoid armies, violence and government edict. This more gradual and temperate approach to the governmental answer to survival, many call Socialism. A dozen kinds of third-world Socialism exist: Domestic Socialism, Workers’ Socialism, Peoples’ Socialism, etc. Many countries have organized their economic and political systems socialistically — in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and some in the Western continent, including some provinces in Canada.

Let’s return to the first world, Capitalism. From its beginning Western capitalism was geared to avoid governmental action. America’s founders fled the tyranny of a monarchial system where rulers and parliaments controlled and owned the land and goods. Western capitalism stressed idividualism, attained through private property, i.e, one’s own title to land and earnings; to business and factories title to capital and wages. They had come to the land of the free; they wanted both independence and security; and essentially they had it until about 1800.

What went wrong? Why the bank panics and economic depressions? Why the Great Depression of the Thirties, followed by wholesale turning to government to bail out banks, businesses, farms and home-owners from debt? Why the failure of the American Dream? Why has capitalism changed to a predominantly government-oriented “socialistic” system? Why the welcome to this system, by so many people? Why is a strong opposition developing to it? What are ethical alternatives?

Analysis of Ethical Alternatives

A fourth way is available, long espoused and championed by a few great American economists and philosophers. Let’s carefully note the root aspects of the economy by underlying a fourth and more ethical handling of land, labor and capital,. For this let’s agree on definitions of these terms.

Every person in the world is affected by the way his society handles land, labor and capital. Most people see but two ways — to treat everything individually (including cooperative), or to treat everything governmentally.

Factor No. 1 Land, of course, is the natural world — the earth, water, air; plains, valleys, seashores, mountains from which all food and shelter are attained by labor. Labor is No. 2 — the mental and physical energy people use with No. 3, the tools or capital, on the land. Who should own (have title to) these things?

We can quickly agree that humans own our own Life, our energy. It belongs to us; we say we have ‘rights’ (title) to our own energy — that is, to our own labor. Then it follows that what we produce from and by our own labor is also ours. Do not the products of labor belong, by ethical right, to those who produce them? Would it therefore be wrong – unethical — for one person to claim what another produced? O.K. Labor (human energy) and capital (tools) belong to the individual. No wonder American forebearers had such strong devotion to private property. It was their base for getting out from under tyrants, rulers and government to their own independence and security.

Rights to Land?

But what about land? What about rights and title to natural resources? Did any humans produce them? Think carefully here. Sure, people produce from and on the land, in both urban and rural settings. But the land itself? Who has natural title to that? Here’s where promoters of a fourth alternative economic system make obvious and ethical conclusions. They emphasize that all natural resources are Nature- (or God-) created. By their differing fertilities, natural resources yield differing amounts to the same labor on differing sites. Non-manmade fertility makes a difference. Land and its value responds, too, to community factors. The value and yield of land goes up when it is near good streets, sewers, schools, fire and police protection. Did the holder-owner create this value in his land? Obviously, no. Should he then pocket this value in sale or rent of that land? Watch your answer. For centuries the Old World said “Yes”.

The Old World, especially Merrie England, has been the historic scene for struggle around this problem. Before the Roman conquest, in the early days, English land was free. Sheep could graze anywhere. But lords and nobles changed that. Especially after the invention of the spinning wheel and loom, were their changes crucial. They passed the Enclosure Acts, giving possession and title to any person of all land which he could claim, fence or “enclose” with boundaries. Then a sheep-owner must pay rent for its use to a land-lord. Many of them were forced to move into cities to become weavers and wage-workers in factories. Rack rents increased; wages fell. After payment for access to the land, how much production is left to pay for labor and capital? It was this economic oppression, not primarily religious domination, that early dissidents were fleeing in coming to America.

In America, for the most part in the early days, they found a new freedom. Why? They had all the land they could use and more. Some tried to practice “common land” — witness Boston Commons. But the old habit of profit and property in land asserted itself. Individuals “bought up” land (more than they needed) to hold and sell to newcomers. Private property in, and sale of, land became an American ideology.

As land values soared in Eastern cities people could “escape” to cheap or free land farther west. Cheap and free land were the root of liberty. For how long? For so long as any free land remained. But land is a limited resource. More people need and demand it than the supply can meet. That time is now. All American land is held — much of it, sad to say — held idle, awaiting a higher price.

The sorry land holding statistics in America show, to the informed, an exploitative situation. Here in the U.S, a handful of corporations own a land area larger than Spain and Japan. About 5% of the population own 55% of all American land. The top 1% owns more land than the rest of the population together. During the past 50 years, 40% of the farm population has been squeezed out of their livelihood by land prices, mortgages, taxes and insurance. Today small and medium-sized farmers are leaving their land at the rate of 2,000 per week. 25 landowners hold over 16% of California’s private land. All this because land is considered property, subject to private title, buying and selling.

A Fourth, Property-Trusterty System

Perceiving the crucial difference between land and products of labor, promoters of a fourth solution to economic survival arrange treating land as a common heritage. They separate land and land-value from the value in the products from the land. These persons suggest that the unearned value from natural fertility and the land value due to the community-services available to the land, be turned to the use of the community. Leave the value of the products of labor — crops, trade, wages, etc. — to the producers and workers. The community-land-value would then pay for the community’s common needs — the streets, schools, protection, sewers, etc, The value of the buildings, equipment, wages, income — would be private, subject not even to taking by taxation.

With good results, citizens and voters in many places have implemented this system — in Alberta, Canada; in New Zealand, Australian cities, partially in Denmark. in Scranton, Pittsburgh and other Pennsylvanian cities. Their salubrious effects are widely discussed; articulate promoters urge its wider use.

Observers note that a confirmed American pattern of separating land from improvement in assessment and taxation is in this fourth dimension. Agreed; this partial approach accounts for much of the existing democracy and independence in American history. Its extension and increase would be a welcome, ethical and crucial step.

The Community Land Trust

A group of American decentralists implement the common heritage of land in another fourth-approach via the Community Land Trust. The Community Land Trust is a cooperative association of persons who are convinced that the land should be held as a trust for future, as well as present, generations, free of buying and selling. They join in a non-profit corporation, procure an urban or rural land-site, and in charter and by-laws, dedicate it to trust-use. Contracting parties use the land for an agreed-on annual rental (to the trust) rather than a sale price. A group of American decentralists implement the common heritage of land in another fourth-approach via the Community Land Trust.’ The Community Land Trust is a cooperative association of persons who are convinced that the land should be held as a trust for future, as well as present, generations,- free of buying and selling. They join in a non-profit corporation, procure an urban dr rural land-site, and in charter and by-laws, dedicate it to trust-use9 Contracting parties use the land for an agreed-on annual rental (to the trust) rather than a sale price.

Ralph Borsodi, founder of the School of Living, in a life-time (1886-1977) of work initiated the community land trust as early as 1932; repeated it in 1935-45 at the Suffern, N.Y. School of Living and several intentional communities. In 1968, the concept was internationalized and registered at Luxembourg. Borsodi recognized the validity of private property in lab-or products; similarly he recognized the trust-nature of land. He named trust-holding of land, “trusterty”. The fourth economic-political system of property-trusterty is welcome, and is being implemented. Hundreds of groups are studying and working toward it; some thirty community land trusts are guided by The Institute of Community Economics, 120 Boylston St., Boston, Mass.

“Ralph Borsodi’s Principles for Homesteaders” by Mildred J. Loomis

RALPH BORSODI (1886-1977) was the author of 13 books and 10 research studies. He was also physically active, a productive homesteader and a real doer who practised what he preached. He experimented and implemented on many levels-from good nutrition, through building his own home and garden; weaving his clothes and furnishings; organizing experimental small communities, a School of Living for a new adult education, and developing new social institutions-the Community Land Trust and a non-inflationary currency, which he called Constants.

No one of today’s specialty-labels encompass Ralph Borsodi. I am pushed to use more general and abstract terms-decentralist, liberator and human benefactor. This article will concentrate on his efforts to implement the community-use of socially-created values in land as part of his plan to encourage people to leave cities for more rural living. .

Ralph Borsodi was never in public school, infrequently in private schools, and did not attend college. (Yet St. Johns College of Annapolis later conferred on him a Masters, and the University of New Hampshire, a Doctorate.) He was educated mostly by wide readings in libraries, and by his father, a publisher in New York City. Borsodi Sr. wrote the introduction to Bolton Hall’s A Little Land and Living, which encouraged living on, and intensive production on, small plots of land, and the public collection of site-values.

Ralph Borsodi, Jr. joined the Single Tax Party which grew out of popular enthusiasm for Henry George and his two campaigns for the mayoralty in New York in the 1880s. Borsodi mounted his soap box in Union Square to exhort people to vote for the land-value tax. The Party named Borsodi editor of The Single Taxer. In it he discussed the need for a school to teach economics as George presented it, placing land in a category separate from capital, showing how the law of rent determined the law of wages, and how private use of land values resulted in the disparity of wealth-poverty on the one hand and riches on the other.

When still a young man, in 1910, Borsodi was sent by his father to dispose of some Texas land holdings. What to do with several hundred acres of land in the Houston area? He knew that this land was part of a “great Savannah” — in the path of progress. His errand brought him both conflict and guilt. As people would come to this area, the value of the Borsodi land would rise. What price should he ask for it? Should be accept money which he had not earned? “Don’t be foolish, man,” a local hotel-keeper advised him. “Hang on to that land and who knows you might become a millioriaire!”

Troubled, Borsodi bought a small-town paper, The Rice City Banner, wrote editorials, printed news, and discussed the land problem. After a year, he made a decision. He would sell the land at a modest price to a realtor. But Borsodi would go on to find ways to “solve” the land problem. The realtor would not worry about unearned increment from the land, and doubtless went on to pocket a large sum.

Borsodi returned to the East with a mission. Now, 1911, he saw Megalopolis with new eyes. More than ever he was conscious of ground space. On Manhattan’s 22 square miles, two million people were rushing to and fro, on, above and beneath its surface, needing space and giving to land its fabulous value.

At that time New York City represented 20 billions of dollars worth of wealth. Half of it was in land, most of the value concentrated in a small core at the centre. A few blocks away was an ocean of squalor, filth and poverty. Who had title to that land? Certainly not the two million people working there. Probably a few large holders with familiar names — Rockefeller, Astor, Vanderbilt. Land bought and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars a front foot! Millions of tenants paid rent each month with barely enough left over to keep body and soul together. To Borsodi, New York was a devouring ugly monster.

His friendship deepened with Myrtle Mae Simpson, a Kansas farm girl. They married in 1912, and Borsodi’s father assigned them to a job in Chicago. Chicago’s Loop was even more concentrated, though with more over-all sprawl, destitution, slums and ugliness than in New York.

Borsodi contacted Louis Post, editor of The Public, a journal devoted to Henry George’s principles. Borsodi used its columns to challenge Socialist and Marxist ideas.

The Borsodis took other radical steps. Myrtle Mae’s anemia, the children’s coughs, and Borsodi’s rheumatism led them to investigate natural therapies. They turned to whole foods. Explaining it as best they could to the two boys, Ralph and Myrtle Mae gathered up the loaves of white bread and boxes of white sugar and packaged cereals and chucked it all into the garbage pail. In 1920 they left the city and moved to 16 wooded acres in Rockland county. They built temporary shelters and settled down to modern “homesteading”.

They used rock to build shelters for chickens, rabbits, goats and a pig; and for the first of a three-sectioned home for themselves. They added a craft section for looms and weaving; a breeze-way for pool and billiards. They planted, tilled, harvested and processed vegetables, and in a few years berries and fruit. They were 80% self-maintaining in food. They felled trees and cut wood for fireplaces and furnace. They built a swimming pool and tennis court, and installed a linotype in their basement — Borsodi had things to say about the modern crisis and what to do about it.

In 1928 Borsodi startled the world by publishing This Ugly Civilization, America’s first documented critique of over-centralized industrialism. which was widely read during the ensuing Great Depression. Because of it Borsodi was invited to Dayton, Ohio, in 1932, to deal with their overwhelming unemployment. Borsodi saw this as a way to extend “homesteading” as a social movement, and a way to implement a trustee-ship, rental-form of land-tenure.

He proposed that families should return to the land: “Ring Dayton with many small communities of from 30 to 50 families, each producing their food and shelter on 2 to 5 acre plots. Let a Homestead Association of families hold title to the land; let each family pay an annual rental fee to their association rather than pay an outright purchase price.”

Persons involved agreed. Social agencies advanced money to buy 80 acres. Independence bonds were issued to provide loans to families for buildings and equipment. Families applied, plots were assigned, individuals instructed in gardening and building: construction was begun. Suddenly the funds were exhausted.

To obtain more financial support, the only alternative seemed to he: “Borrow from the Federal Government.” Borsodi advised against it. “Government money usually means government supervision and control. Government is to protect persons and property from harm-not to build homes. Keep Government out of business'” Borsodi concluded that if the homesteaders chose government aid, he would withdraw and return to his homestead.

The homesteaders chose government funds. Borsodi withdrew, saying: “If we in the U.S. are to get a proper balance between city and country, and learn the proper function of government, we will need a new education.” Family and friends helped him plan and establish the School of Living in 1936, near Suffern, New York. On its four-acre homestead, the school was at the centre of 16 family homesteads, on a 40 acre plot called Bayard Lane Community. Here, too, Borsodi initiated the group-title to land, with member-families paying an annual rental rather than a fee for outright private ownership.

Affairs went well; sixteen lovely homesteads surrounding the School of Living, where gardening, home-production and workshops in adult education were continuous. Educators, authors, homesteaders, and social-changers attended, from 1936 to 1945. After college degrees and social work in Chicago’s slums, I studied with, and assisted, the Borsodis for the year 1939-1940.

One Bayard Lane homesteader, H.M., had good results with his homestead flock of chickens. He envisioned a thriving business of 1,000 laying hens in a 3-storey chicken house. But his contract under group-title to land prevented this. He would change the land-tenure back to private ownership. He was determined and energetic. By a narrow margin of votes, these homesteaders rejected group-tenure and reverted to fee-simple.

Borsodi resorted to writing and travel. In 1939 he analyzed predatory economics in Prosperity and Security. He described and advocated modern homesteading in Agriculture in Modern Life. Reluctantly he sold the School of Living building to a homesteader, and in 1945 moved its library and activities to the Loomis homestead in Ohio. He travelled to Mexico and India, studying and lecturing at a Gandhian University in Ambala. There he examined the village-title to land, wrote A Decentralist Manifesto, and began his magnum opus, a curriculum for adult education –the definition and analysis of Seventeen Major Problems of Living, along with alternative (including decentralist) solutions.

Returned to the United States, now past 80 years, Borsodi had a new opportunity to achieve his two most cherished ideas of land and money reform. A younger friend, Robert Swann, was in Georgia — hoping to prevent the racial tension from erupting into violence. Swann was appalled by the poverty, the helplessness and the illiteracy of both blacks and whites. “What these people need is an economic base,” he decided, and turned to Borsodi for guidance.

“What shall we do?” he asked.

“Get the families on the land!” Borsodi replied.

“But how?”

For weeks Borsodi and Swann worked on what in 1966 was registered in Luxembourg as The International Independence Institute (I.I.I.) — to teach and help establish the trusteeship of land. I.I.I. is a quasi-public cooperative corporation, in which individuals become members and in which they may invest funds. The I.I.I. secures land, by purchase or gift, and then declares the land in trust, never to be sold again. The I.I.I. is taking land, now, and making it available to users for an annual rental to the Trust. It does not wait until voters in a country, state or nation are persuaded to use the socially-created value of land for the community in lieu of taxes. It proceeds to secure land and turn it as a “gift to mankind” for users who contract to use it ecologically.

The history and goals of this effort are described in a book, The Community Land Trust, A New Land Tenure for America. Some 100 community land trusts, with impartial, non-land-holding trustees from the communities in which they exist, are now operating. The first Community Land Trust, New Communities, Inc. (Atlanta, Ga.), took 5,000 acres out of the speculative market into a community trust.

In almost every region of the U.S. — in Maine, in the mid-Atlantic, in the Great Lakes Region, Oregon, California, and even in Washington, D.C. — urban trusts are assisting people to learn and practise the concept that land is the common heritage of all people, that freedom and security require that land be not a commodity for buying, selling and profit-making.

Originally appeared in Land & Liberty, November-December 1978.

“A Practice in Social Change” by Mildred J. Loomis

THE term “land trust” is a new phenomenon in social change. Young people in great numbers are discussing and forming “communes.” In December 1969 I took part in two conferences attended largely by the “new generation.” Discussion and planning sessions were long and earnest. The Peacemakers, an action group for peace, now see the relevance of free land to a peaceful world. They determined to constitute an incorporated Peacemaker Land Trust which would act as a receiver of donated land – the land to be placed in trust would not be reconvertible into property, but would remain in trust in perpetuity. Owners of other land would not be eligible as trustees (users) and no trust land would be leased or subleased when it was no longer in use. Under no circumstances would legal coercion be brought to bear – only moral suasion was to be the guiding influence.

Ralph Borsodi was one of the first to declare, in This Ugly Civilization (1928), that “land is a trust.” In 1936 he founded the School of Living in Suffern, New York, in which I participated. Hundreds of families who wanted “a little land and a living” were encouraged to incorporate as nonprofit, land-holding, homesteading associations. An Independence Foundation provided loans at low interest rates. Families were to build and own their individual homes and homesteading buildings. Each was to possess and occupy its acre or two on a 999 year lease from the Association on terms indicated in a legal document called Indenture for the Possession of Land.

The indenture spelled out the new concept of land as a trust rather than as private property. It transferred to each homesteader possession of a certified plot, subject to “productive and creative work in the home, shop and on the land, primarily for family use,” on monthly payment of a small annual assessment to the Homestead Association.

In Israel a similar move has been widely implemented. The Jewish National Fund has been buying and holding title to land since 1948, making it available to groups of settlers on long term leases. Instead of selling the land or giving title to individuals and groups, the land remains the property of the Fund in the name of “all the people,” free from speculative landlordism. Thus land users get a start without the prohibitive cost of buying land. A wide variety of Israeli communities and specific holding agreements have developed, but in recent years the trend is toward group trust-holding of land and individual- and family-holding of buildings and produced goods. This gives a balance of individual and communal interests so necessary to a healthy growth of both individual persons and community interaction.

Gramdan (village trust-holding of land) was begun in India in 1949 by Vinoba Bhave, Gandhi’s successor. It is a massive application of the land-trust idea. Gramdan means village trusteeship of land, allotted to users in town meeting. The movement now includes more than half of all the land in Bihar previously held by private landlords. Bihar is one of India’s poorest states. Expectation is that Gramdan will take over three to six more of the remaining fifteen Indian states by 1975.

In 1967 the land-trust ideas and practices in the early School of Living communities were revived. Robert Swann, after working with evicted share croppers – feeding them, finding jobs and helping them find homes — decided that “free land” or land as a trust, was a primary need. With Ralph Borsodi’s help a new International Foundation for Independence was instituted for the purpose of securing funds and making loans at low rates to groups of families who would hold title in common, on long term leases, and pledge never to turn the land back into speculative private ownership. To date the Foundation’s small capital has assisted groups in Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Mexico.

Related to this Foundation is an International Independence Institute for teaching the Foundation’s concepts and practices to communities, colleges and government agencies. It has been instrumental in initiating an independent action group – New Communities, Inc. One of its first projects in Southern Georgia will be to assist some 500 families to resettle a 5000 acre tract on a lease-hold, trust holding, common possession pattern. Thus one large plantation will become a self-maintaining, diversified, homesteading, non-speculative community of families. The anticipation of course is that this will become an on-going, dynamic method with enduring benefits, both to participants and to non-participants, in reduced land values. It aims to help rural people maintain and develop successful communities on the land and thus eliminate some of the rural roots of the urban crisis. This work is directed by Robert Swann assisted by Erick Hansch. Information is available from them at RFD 1, Voluntown, Connecticut.

The Indenture for the Possession of Land has been termed a remarkable document in legalizing trust or common title to land. If that had become a much more widely-used pattern of land development, important social results could have been realized. Hundreds of thousands of families moving into such communities when it was introduced thirty years ago would have benefited from lower costs and indenture holding, and land values would have dropped in surrounding areas. But instead government and regular real estate development continued to be the pattern, and the general impact of this ethical trust holding was not felt.

Originally appeared in the Henry George News, February 1970. 

“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.

“The Anarchist Sociology of Federalism” by Colin Ward

The background

That minority of children in any European country who were given the opportunity of studying the history of Europe as well as that of their own nations, learned that there were two great events in the last century: the unification of Germany, achieved by Bismarck and Emperor Wilhelm I, and the unification of Italy, achieved by Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuale II.

The whole world, which in those days meant the European world, welcomed these triumphs. Germany and Italy had left behind all those little principalities, republics and city states and papal provinces, to become nation states and empires and conquerors. They had become like France, whose little local despots were finally unified by force first by Louis XIV with his majestic slogan `L’Etat c’est moi’, and then by Napoleon, heir to the Grande Revolution, just like Stalin in the twentieth century who build the administrative machinery to ensure that it was true. Or they had become like England, whose kings (and its one republican ruler Oliver Cromwell) had successfully conquered the Welsh, Scots and Irish, and went on to dominate the rest of the world outside Europe. The same thing was happening at the other end of Europe. Ivan IV, correctly named `The Terrible’, conquered central Asia as far as the Pacific, and Peter I, known as `The Great’, using the techniques he learned in France and Britain, took over the Baltic, most of Poland and the west Ukraine.

Advanced opinion throughout Europe welcomed the fact that Germany and Italy had joined the gentlemen’s club of national and imperialist powers. The eventual results in the present century were appalling adventures in conquest, the devastating loss of life among young men from the villages of Europe in the two world wars, and the rise of populist demagogues like Hitler and Mussolini, as well as their imitators, to this day, who claim that `L’Etat c’est moi’.

Consequently every nation has had a harvest of politicians of every persuasion who have argued for European unity, from every point of view: economic, social, administrative and, of course, political.

Needless to say, in efforts for unification promoted by politicians we have a multitude of administrators in Bruxelles issuing edicts about which varieties of vegetable seeds or what constituents of beefburgers or ice cream may be sold in the shops of the member-nations. The newspapers joyfully report all this trivia. The press gives far less attention to another undercurrent of pan-European opinion, evolving from the views expressed in Strasbourg from people with every kind of opinion on the political spectrum, claiming the existence of a Europe of the Regions, and daring to argue that the Nation State was a phenomenon of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, which will not have any useful future in the twenty-first century. The forthcoming history of administration in the federated Europe they are struggling to discover is a link between, let us say, Calabria, Wales, Andalusia, Aquitaine, Galicia or Saxony, as regions rather than as nations, seeking their regional identity, economically and culturally, which had been lost in their incorporation in nation states, where the centre of gravity is elsewhere.

In the great tide of nationalism in the nineteenth century, there was a handful of prophetic and dissenting voices, urging a different style of federalism. It is interesting, at the least, that the ones whose names survive were the three best known anarchist thinkers of that century: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. The actual evolution of the political left in the twentieth century has dismissed their legacy as irrelevant. So much the worse for the left, since the road has been emptied in favour of the political right, which has been able to set out its own agenda for both federalism and regionalism. Let us listen, just for a few minutes, to these anarchist precursors.


First there was Proudhon, who devoted two of his voluminous works to the idea of federation in opposition to that of the nation state. They were La Federation et l’Unite en Italie of 1862, and in the following year, his book Du Principe Federatif.

Proudhon was a citizen of a unified, centralised nation state, with the result that he was obliged to escape to Belgium. And he feared the unification of Italy on several different levels. In his book De la Justice of 1858, he claimed that the creation of the German Empire would bring only trouble to the Germans and to the rest of Europe, and he pursued this argument into the politics of Italy.

On the bottom level was history, where natural factors like geology and climate had shaped local customs and attitudes. “Italy” he claimed, “is federal by the constitution of her territory; by the diversity of her inhabitants; in the nature of her genius; in her mores; in her history. She is federal in all her being and has been since all eternity … And by federation you will make her as many times free as you give her independent states”. Now it is not for me to defend the hyperbole of Proudhon’s language, but he had other objections. He understood how Cavour and Napoleon III had agreed to turn Italy into a federation of states, but he also understood that, per esempio, the House of Savoy would settle for nothing less than a centralised constitutional monarchy. And beyond this, he profoundly mistrusted the liberal anti-clericalism of Mazzini, not through any love of the Papacy but because he recognised that Mazzini’s slogan, `Dio e popolo’, could be exploited by any demagogue who could seize the machinery of a centralised state. He claimed that the existence of this administrative machinery was an absolute threat to personal and local liberty. Proudhon was almost alone among nineteenth century political theorists to perceive this:

“Liberal today under a liberal govermnent, it will tomorrow become the formidable engine of a usurping despoL It is a perpetual temptation to the executive power, a perpetual threat to the people’s liberties. No rights, individual or collective, can be sure of a future. Centralisation might, then, be called the disarming of a nation for the profit of its governrnent …”

Everything we now know about the twentieth century history of Europe, Asia, Latin America or Africa supports this perception. Nor does the North American style of federalism, so lovingly conceived by Thomas Jefferson, guarantee the removal of this threat. One of Proudhon’s English biographers, Edward Hyams, comments that: “It has become apparent since the Second World War that United States Presidents can and do make use of the Federal administrative machine in a way which makes a mockery of democracy”. And his Canadian translator paraphrases Proudhon’s conclusion thus:

“Solicit men’s view in the mass, and they will return stupid, fickle and violent answers; solicit their views as members of definite groups with real solidarity and a distinctive character, and their answers will be responsible and wise. Expose them to the political `language’ of mass democracy, which represents `the people’ as unitary and undivided and minorities as traitors, and they will give birth to tyranny; expose them to the political language of federalism, in which the people figures as a diversified aggregate of real associations, and they will resist tyranny to the end.”

This observation reveals a profound understanding of the psychology of politics. Proudhon was extrapolating from the evolution of the Swiss Confederation, but Europe has other examples in a whole series of specialist fields. The Netherlands has a reputation for its mild or lenient penal policy. The official explanation of this is the replacement in 1886 of the Code Napoleon by “a genuinc Dutch criminal code” based upon cultural traditions like “the well-known Dutch `tolerance’ and tendency to accept deviant minorities”. I am quoting the Netherlands criminologist Dr Willem de Haan, who cites the explanation that Dutch society `has traditionally been based upon religious, political and ideological rather than class lines. The important denominational groupings created their own social institutions in all major public spheres. This process … is responsible for transporting a pragmatic, tolerant general attitude into an absolute social must”.

In other words, it is diversity and not unity, which creates the kind of society in which you and I can most comfortably live. And modern Dutch attitudes are rooted in the diversity of the medieval city states of Holland and Zeeland, which explained, as much as Proudhon’s regionalism, that a desirable future for all Europe is in accommodation of local differences.

Proudhon listened, in the 1860s, to the talk of a European confederation or a United States of Europe. His comment was that:

“By this they seem to understand nothing but an alliance of all the states which presently exist in Europe, great and small, presided over by a permanent congress. It is taken for granted that each state will retain the form of government that suits it best. Now, since each state will have votes in the congress in proportion to its population and territory, the small states in this so-called confederation will soon be incorporated into the large ones …”


The second of my nineteenth century mentors, Michael Bakunin, claims our attention for a variety of reasons. He was almost alone among that century’s political thinkers in foreseeing the horrors of the clash of modern twentieth century nation-states in the First and Second World Wars, as well as predicting the fate of centralising Marxism in the Russian Empire. In 1867 Prussia and France seemed to be poised for a war about which empire should control Luxemburg and this, through the network of interests and alliances, “threatened to engulf all Europe”. A League for Peace and Freedom held its congress in Geneva, sponsored by prominent people from various countries like Giuseppe Garibaldi, Victor Hugo and John Stuart Mill. Bakunin seized the opportunity to address this audience, and published his opinions under the title Federalisme, Socialisme et Anti-Theologisme. This document set out thirteen points on which, according to Bakunin, the Geneva Congress was unanimous.

The first of these proclaimed: “That in order to achieve the triumph of liberty, justice and peace in the international relations of Europe, and to render civil war impossible among the various peoples which make up the European family, only a single course lies open: to constitute the United States of Europe”. His second point argued that this aim implied that states must be replaced by regions, for it observed: “That the formation of these States of Europe can never come about between the States as constituted at present, in view of the monstrous disparity which exists between their various powers.” His fourth point claimed: “That not even if it called itself a republic could an centralised bureaucratic and by the same token militarist States enter seriously and genuinely into an intemational federation. By virtue of its constitution, which will always be an explicit or implicit denial of domestic liberty, it would necessarily imply a declaration of permanent war and a threat to the existence of neighbouring countries”. Consequently his fifth point demanded: “That all the supporters of the League should therefore bend all their energies towards the reconstruction of their various countries in order to replace the old organisation founded throughout upon violence and the principle of authority by a new organisation based solely upon the interests needs and inclinations of the populace, and owning no principle other than that of the free federation of individuals into communes communes into provinces, provinces into nations, and the latter into the United States, first of Europe, then of the whole world.

The vision thus became bigger and bigger, but Bakunin was careful to include the acceptance of secession. His eighth point declared that: “Just because a region has formed part of a State, even by voluntary accession, it by no means follows that it incurs any obligation to remain tied to it forever. No obligation in perpetuity is acceptable to human justice … The right of free union and equally free secession comes first and foremost among all political rights; without it, confederation would be nothing but centralisation in disguise.

Bakunin refers admiringly to the Swiss Confederation “practising federation so successfully today”, as he puts it and Proudhon, too, explicitly took as a model the Swiss supremacy of the commune as the unit of social organisation, linked by the canton, with a purely administrative federal council. But both remembered the events of 1848, when the Sonderbund of secessionist cantons were compelled by war to accept the new constitution of the majority. So Proudhon and Bakunin were agreed in condemning the subversion of federalism by the unitary principle. In other words, there must be a right of secession.


Switzerland, precisely because of its decentralised constitution, was a refuge for endless political refugees from the Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian empires. One Russian anarchist was even expelled from Switzerland. He was too much, even for the Swiss Federal Council. He was Peter Kropotkin, who connects nineteenth century federalism with twentieth century regional geography.

His youth was spent as an army officer in geological expeditions in the Far Eastern provinces of the Russian Empire, and his autobiography tells of the outrage he felt at seeing how central administration and funding destroyed any improvement of local conditions, through ignorance, incompetence and universal corruption, and through the destruction of ancient communal institutions which might have enabled people to change their own lives. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the administrative machinery was suffocated by boredom and embezzlement.

There is a similar literature from any empire or nation-state: the British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and you can read identical conclusions in the writings of Carlo Levi or Danilo Dolci. In 1872, Kropotkin made his first visit to Westem Europe and in Switzerland was intoxicatedby the air of a democracy, even a bourgeois one. In the Jura hills he stayed with the watch-case makers. His biographer Martin Miller explains how this was the turning point in his life:

“Kropotkin’s meetings and talks with the workers on their jobs revealed the kind of spontaneous freedom without authority or direction from above that he had dreamed about. Isolated and self-sufficient, the Jura watchmakers impressed Kropotkin as an example that could transform society if such a community were allowed to develop on a large scale. There was no doubt in his mind that this community would work because it was not a matter of imposing an artificial `system’ such as Muraviev had attempted in Siberia but of permitting the natural activity of the workers to function according to their own interests.”

It was the turning point of his life. The rest of his life was, in a sense, devoted to gathering the evidence for anarchism, federalism and regionalism.

It would be a mistake to think that the approach he developed is simply a matter of academic history. To prove this, I need only refer you to the study that Camillo Berneri published in 1922 on `Un federaliste Russo, Pietro Kropotkine’. Berneri quotes the `Letter to the Workers of Westem Europe’ that Kropotkin handed to the British Labour Party politician Margaret Bondfield in June 1920. In the course of it he declared:

“Imperial Russia is dead and will never be revived. The future of the various provinces which composed the Empire will be directed towards a large federation. The natural territories of the different sections of this federation are in no way distinct from those with which we are familiar in the history of Russia, of its ethnography and economic life. All the attempts to bring together the constituent parts of the Russian Empire, such as Finland, the Baltic provinces, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Siberia and others’ under a central authority are doomed to certain failure. The future of what was the Russian Empire is directed towards a federalism of independent units.”

You and I today can see the relevance of this opinion, even though it was ignored as totally irrelevant for seventy years. As an exile in Westem Europe, he had instant contact with a range of pioneers of regional thinking. The relationship between regionalism and anarchism has been handsomely, even extravagantly, delineated by Peter Hall, the geographer who is director of the Inslitute of Urban and Regional Development at Berkeley, Califomia, in his book Cities of Tomorrow (1988). There was Kropotkin’s fellow-anarchist geographer, Elisee Reclus, arguing for small-scale human societies based on the ecology of their regions. There was Paul Vidal de la Blache, another founder of French geography, who argued that “the region was more than an object of survey; it was to provide the basis for the total reconstruction of social and political life.” For Vidal, as Professor Hall explains, the region, not the nation, which “as the motor force of human development: the almost sensual reciprocity between men and women and their surroundings, was the seat of comprehensible liberty and the mainspring of cultural evolution, which were being attacked and eroded by the centralised nation-state and by large-scale machine industry.”

Patrick Geddes

Finally there was the extraordinary Scottish biologist Patrick Geddes, who tried to encapsulate all these regionalist ideas, whether geographical, social, historical, political or economic, into an ideology of reasons for regions, known to most of us through the work of his disciple Lewis Mumford. Professor Hall argued that:

“Many, though by no means all, of the early visions of the planning movement stemmed from the anarchist movement, which flourished in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth … The vision of these anarchist pioneers was not merely of an alternative built form, but of an altemative society, neither capitalist nor bureaucratic-socialistic: a society based on voluntary co-operation among men and women, working and living in small self-governing communities.”


Now in the last years of the twentieth century, I share this vision. Those nineteenth century anarchist thinkers were a century in advance of their contemporaries in warning the peoples of Europe of the consequences of not adopting a regionalist and federalist approach. Among survivors of every kind of disastrous experience in the twentieth century the rulers of the nation states of Europe have directed policy towards several types of supranational existence. The crucial issue that faces them is the question of whether to conceive of a Europe of States or a Europe of Regions.

Proudhon, 130 years ago, related the issue to the idea of a European balance of power, the aim of statesmen and politician theorists, and argued that this was “impossible to realise among great powers with unitary constitutions”. He had argued in La Federation et l’Unite’ en Italie that “the first step towards the reform of public law in Europe” was “the restoration of the confederations of Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the Danube, as a prelude to the decentralisation of the large states and hence to general disarmament”. And in Du Principe Federatif he noted that “Among French democrats there has been much talk of, European confederation, or a United States of Europe. By this they seem to understand nothing but an alliance of all the states which presently exist in Europe, great and small, presided over by a permanent congress.” He claimed that such a federation would either be a trap or would have no meaning, for the obvious reason that the big states would dominate the small ones.

A century later, the economist Leopold Kohr (Austrian by birth, British by nationality, Welsh by choice), who also describes himself as an anarchist, published his book The Breakdown of Nations, glorifying the virtues of small-scale societies and arguing, once again, that Europe’s problems arise from the existence of the nation state. Praising, once again, the Swiss Confederation, he claimed, with the use of maps, that “Europe’s problem — as that of any federation — is one of division, not of union.”

Now to do them justice, the advocates of a United Europe have developed a doctrine of `subsidiarity’, arguing that governmental decisions should not be taken by the supra-nation institutions of the European Community, but preferably by regional or local levels of administration, rather than by national governments. This particular principle has been adopted by the Council of Europe, calling for national governments to adopt its Charter for Local Self-Government “to formalise commitment to the principle that government functions should be carried out at the lowest level possible and only transferred to higher government by consent.”

This principle is an extraordinary tribute to Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin, and the opinions which they were alone in voicing (apart from some absorbing Spanish thinkers like Pi y Margall or Joaquin Costa), but of course it is one of the first aspects of pan-European ideology which national governments will choose to ignore. There are obvious differences between various nation states in this respect. In many of them — for example Germany, Italy, Spain and even France — the machinery of government is infinitely more devolved than it was fifty years ago. The same may soon be true of the Soviet Union. This devolution may not have proceeded at the pace that you or I would want, and I will happily agree than the founders of the European Community have succeeded in their original aim of ending old national antagonisms and have made future wars in Western Europe inconceivable. But we are still very far from a Europe of the Regions.

I live in what is now the most centralised state in Western Europe, and the dominance of central govemment there has immeasurably increased, not diminished, during the last ten years. Some people here will remember the rhetoric of the then British Prime Minister in 1988:

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the State in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”.

This is the language of delusion. It does not relate to reality. And you do not have to be a supporter of the European Commission to perceive this. But it does illustrate how far some of us are from conceiving the truth of Proudhon’s comment that: “Even Europe would be too large to form a single confederation; it could form only a confederation of confederations.”

The anarchist warning is precisely that the obstacle to a Europe of the Regions is the nation state. If you and I have any influence on political thinking in the next century, we should be promoting the reasons for regions. `Think globally — act locally “ is one of the useful slogans of the international Green movement. The nation state occupied a small segment of European history. We have to free ourselves from national ideologies in order to act locally and think regionally. Both will enable us to become citizens of the whole world, not of nations nor of trans-national super-states.


Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Selected Writings, edited by Stewart Edwards (London, Macmillan, 1970)

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, The Principle of Federation, translated by Richard Vernon (University of Toronto Press, 1979)

Edward Hyams, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (London, John Murray, 1979)

Michael Bakunin, Selected Writings, edited by Arthur Lehning (London, Jonathan Cape, 1973)

Willem de Haan, The Politics of Redress (London, Unwin Hyman, 1990)

Martin Miller, Kropotkin, (University of Chicago Press, 1976)

Camillo Berneri, Peter Kropotkin: His Federalist Ideas (1922) (London, Freedom Press, 1942)

Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow: an intellectual history of urban planning and design in the twentieth century (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1988)

Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations (London, Routledge, 1957)

Ernest Wistnch, After 1982: The United States of Europe (London, Routledge, 1989)

Council of Europe, The Impact of the Completion of the Internal Market on Local and Regional Autonomy (Council of Europe Studies and Texts, Series no. 12, 1990)

Margaret Thatcher, address to the College of Europe, Bruges, 20th September 1988.

Originally appeared in Freedom, June-July 1992

“Anarchism as a Theory of Organization” by Colin Ward

You may think in describing anarchism as a theory of organisation I am propounding a deliberate paradox: “anarchy” you may consider to be, by definition, the opposite of organisation. In fact, however, “anarchy” means the absence of government, the absence of authority. Can there be social organisation without authority, without government? The anarchists claim that there can be, and they also claim that it is desirable that there should be. They claim that, at the basis of our social problems is the principle of government. It is, after all, governments which prepare for war and wage war, even though you are obliged to fight in them and pay for them; the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense. It is, after all, governments which make and enforce the laws which enable the ‘haves’ to retain control over social assets rather than share them with the ‘have-nots’. It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood.

I said that it is governments which make wars and prepare for wars, but obviously it is not governments alone – the power of a government, even the most absolute dictatorship, depends on the tacit assent of the governed. Why do people consent to be governed? It isn’t only fear: what have millions of people to fear from a small group of politicians? It is because they subscribe to the same values as their governors. Rulers and ruled alike believe in the principle of authority, of hierarchy, of power. These are the characteristics of the political principle. The anarchists, who have always distinguished between the state and society, adhere to the social principle, which can be seen where-ever men link themselves in an association based on a common need or a common interest. “The State” said the German anarchist Gustav Landauer, “is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.”

Anyone can see that there are at least two kinds of organisation. There is the kind which is forced on you, the kind which is run from above, and there is the kind which is run from below, which can’t force you to do anything, and which you are free to join or free to leave alone. We could say that the anarchists are people who want to transform all kinds of human organisation into the kind of purely voluntary association where people can pull out and start one of their own if they don’t like it. I once, in reviewing that frivolous but useful little book Parkinson’s Law, attempted to enunciate four principles behind an anarchist theory of organisation: that they should be
(1) voluntary, (2) functional, (3) temporary, and (4) small.
They should be voluntary for obvious reasons. There is no point in our advocating individual freedom and responsibility if we are going to advocate organisations for which membership is mandatory.
They should be functional and temporary precisely because permanence is one of those factors which harden the arteries of an organisation, giving it a vested interest in its own survival, in serving the interests of office-holders rather than its function.
They should be small precisely because in small face-to-face groups, the bureaucratising and hierarchical tendencies inherent in organisations have least opportunity to develop.

But it is from this final point that our difficulties arise. If we take it for granted that a small group can function anarchically, we are still faced with the problem of all those social functions for which organisation is necessary, but which require it on a much bigger scale. “Well,” we might reply, as some anarchists have, “if big organisations are necessary, count us out. We will get by as well as we can without them.” We can say this all right, but if we are propagating anarchism as a social philosophy we must take into account, and not evade, social facts. Better to say “Let us find ways in which the large-scale functions can be broken down into functions capable of being organised by small functional groups and then link these groups in a federal manner.” The classical anarchist thinkers, envisaging the future organisation of society, thought in terms of two kinds of social institution: as the territorial unit, the commune, a French word which you might consider as the equivalent of the word ‘parish’ or the Russian word ‘soviet’ in its original meaning, but which also has overtones of the ancient village institutions for cultivating the land in common; and the syndicate, another French word from trade union terminology, the syndicate or workers’ council as the unit of industrial organisation. Both were envisaged as small local units which would federate with each other for the larger affairs of life, while retaining their own autonomy, the one federating territorially and the other industrially.

The nearest thing in ordinary political experience, to the federative principle propounded by Proudhon and Kropotkin would be the Swiss, rather than the American, federal system. And without wishing to sing a song of praise for the Swiss political system, we can see that the 22 [currently 26] independent cantons of Switzerland are a successful federation. It is a federation of like units, of small cells, and the cantonal boundaries cut across linguistic and ethnic boundaries so that, unlike the many unsuccessful federations, the confederation is not dominated by one or a few powerful units. For the problem of federation, as Leopold Kohr puts it in The Breakdown of Nations, is one of division, not of union. Herbert Luethy writes of his country’s political system:

“Every Sunday, the inhabitants of scores of communes go to the polling booths to elect their civil servants, ratify such and such an item of expenditure, or decide whether a road or a school should be built; after settling the business of the commune, they deal with cantonal elections and voting on cantonal issues; lastly. . . come the decisions on federal issues. In some cantons, the sovereign people still meet in Rousseau-like fashion to discuss questions of common interest. It may be thought that this ancient form of assembly is no more than a pious tradition with a certain value as a tourist attraction. If so, it is worth looking at the results of local democracy.
The simplest example is the Swiss railway system, which is the densest network in the world. At great cost and with great trouble, it has been made to serve the needs of the smallest localities and most remote valleys, not as a paying proposition but because such was the will of the people. It is the outcome of fierce political struggles. In the 19th century, the “democratic railway movement” brought the small Swiss communities into conflict with the big towns, which had plans for centralisation . . .
And if we compare the Swiss system with the French which, with admirable geometrical regularity, is entirely centred on Paris so that the prosperity or the decline, the life or death of whole regions has depended on the quality of the link with the capital, we see the difference between a centralised state and a federal alliance. The railway map is the easiest to read at a glance, but let us now superimpose on it another showing economic activity and the movement of population. The distribution of industrial activity all over Switzerland, even in the outlying areas, accounts for the strength and stability of the social structure of the country and prevented those horrible 19th century concentrations of industry, with their slums and rootless proletariat.”

I quote all this, as I said, not to praise Swiss democracy, but to indicate that the federal principle which is at the heart of anarchist social theory, is worth much more attention than it is given in the textbooks on political science. Even in the context of ordinary political institutions its adoption has a far-reaching effect.

Another anarchist theory of organisation is what we might call the theory of spontaneous order: that given a common need, a collection of people will, by trial and error, by improvisation and experiment, evolve order out of chaos – this order being more durable and more closely related to their needs than any kind of externally imposed order.
Kropotkin derived this theory from the observations of the history of human society and of social biology which led to his book Mutual Aid, and it has been observed in most revolutionary situations, in the ad hoc organisations which spring up after natural catastrophes, or in any activity where there is no existing organisational form or hierarchical authority. This concept was given the name Social Control in the book of that title by Edward Allsworth Ross, who cited instances of “frontier” societies where, through unorganised or informal measures, order is effectively maintained without benefit of constituted authority: “Sympathy, sociability, the sense of justice and resentment are competent, under favourable circumstances, to work out by themselves a true, natural order, that is to say, an order without design or art.”

An interesting example of the working-out of this theory was the Pioneer Health Centre at Peckham, London, started in the decade before the war by a group of physicians and biologists who wanted to study the nature of health and healthy behaviour instead of studying ill-health like the rest of their profession. They decided that the way to do this was to start a social club whose members joined as families and could use a variety of facilities including a swimming bath, theatre, nursery and cafeteria, in return for a family membership subscription and for agreeing to periodic medical examinations. Advice, but not treatment, was given. In order to be able to draw valid conclusions the Peckham biologists thought it necessary that they should be able to observe human beings who were free – free to act as they wished and to give expression to their desires. So there were no rules and no leaders. “I was the only person with authority,” said Dr. Scott Williamson, the founder, “and I used it to stop anyone exerting any authority.” For the first eight months there was chaos. “With the first member-families”, says one observer, “there arrived a horde of undisciplined children who used the whole building as they might have used one vast London street. Screaming and running like hooligans through all the rooms, breaking equipment and furniture,” they made life intolerable for everyone. Scott Williamson, however, “insisted that peace should be restored only by the response of the children to the variety of stimuli that was placed in their way,” and, “in less than a year the chaos was reduced to an order in which groups of children could daily be seen swimming, skating, riding bicycles, using the gymnasium or playing some game, occasionally reading a book in the library … the running and screaming were things of the past.”

More dramatic examples of the same kind of phenomenon are reported by those people who have been brave enough, or confident enough to institute self-governing non-punitive communities of delinquents or maladjusted children: August Aichhorn and Homer Lane are examples. Aichhorn ran that famous institution in Vienna, described in his book Wayward Youth. Homer Lane was the man who, after experiments in America started in Britain a community of juvenile delinquents, boys and girls, called The Little Commonwealth. Lane used to declare that “Freedom cannot be given. It is taken by the child in discovery and invention.” True to this principle, remarks Howard Jones, “he refused to impose upon the children a system of government copied from the institutions of the adult world. The self-governing structure of the Little Commonwealth was evolved by the children themselves, slowly and painfully to satisfy their own needs.”

Anarchists believe in leaderless groups, and if this phrase is familiar to you it is because of the paradox that what was known as the leaderless group technique was adopted in the British and American armies during the war – as a means of selecting leaders. The military psychiatrists learned that leader or follower traits are not exhibited in isolation. They are, as one of them wrote, “relative to a specific social situation – leadership varied from situation to situation and from group to group.” Or as the anarchist Michael Bakunin put it a hundred years ago, “I receive and I give – such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.”
This point about leadership was well put in John Comerford’s book, Health the Unknown, about the Peckham experiment:

“Accustomed as is this age to artificial leadership. . . it is difficult for it to realise the truth that leaders require no training or appointing, but emerge spontaneously when conditions require them. Studying their members in the free-for-all of the Peckham Centre, the observing scientists saw over and over again how one member instinctively became, and was instinctively but not officially recognised as, leader to meet the needs of one particular moment. Such leaders appeared and disappeared as the flux of the Centre required. Because they were not consciously appointed, neither (when they had fulfilled their purpose) were they consciously overthrown. Nor was any particular gratitude shown by members to a leader either at the time of his services or after for services rendered. They followed his guidance just as long as his guidance was helpful and what they wanted. They melted away from him without regrets when some widening of experience beckoned them on to some fresh adventure, which would in turn throw up its spontaneous leader, or when their self-confidence was such that any form of constrained leadership would have been a restraint to them. A society, therefore, if left to itself in suitable circumstances to express itself spontaneously works out its own salvation and achieves a harmony of action which superimposed leadership cannot emulate.”

Don’t be deceived by the sweet reasonableness of all this. This anarchist concept of leadership is quite revolutionary in its implications as you can see if you look around, for you see everywhere in operation the opposite concept: that of hierarchical, authoritarian, privileged and permanent leadership. There are very few comparative studies available of the effects of these two opposite approaches to the organisation of work. Two of them I will mention later; another, about the organisation of architects’ offices was produced in 1962 for the Institute of British Architects under the title The Architect and His Office. The team which prepared this report found two different approaches to the design process, which gave rise to different ways of working and methods of organisation. One they categorised as centralised, which was characterised by autocratic forms of control, and the other they called dispersed, which promoted what they called “an informal atmosphere of free-flowing ideas.” This is a very live issue among architects. Mr. W. D. Pile, who in an official capacity helped to sponsor the outstanding success of postwar British architecture, the school-building programme, specifies among the things he looks for in a member of the building team that: “He must have a belief in what I call the non-hierarchical organisation of the work. The work has got to be organised not on the star system, but on the repertory system. The team leader may often be junior to a team member. That will only be accepted if it is commonly accepted that primacy lies with the best idea and not with the senior man.”
And one of our greatest architects, Walter Gropius, proclaims what he calls the technique of “collaboration among men, which would release the creative instincts of the individual instead of smothering them. The essence of such technique should be to emphasise individual freedom of initiative, instead of authoritarian direction by a boss. . . synchronizing individual effort by a continuous give and take of its members …”

“This leads us to another corner-stone of anarchist theory, the idea of workers’ control of industry. A great many people think that workers’ control is an attractive idea, but one which is incapable of realisation (and consequently not worth fighting for) because of the scale and complexity of modern industry. How can we convince them otherwise? Apart from pointing out how changing sources of motive power make the geographical concentration of industry obsolete, and how changing methods of production make the concentration of vast numbers of people unnecessary, perhaps the best method of persuading people that workers’ control is a feasible proposition in large-scale industry is through pointing to successful examples of what the guild socialists called “encroaching control.” They are partial and limited in effect, as they are bound to be, since they operate within the conventional industrial structure, but they do indicate that workers have an organisational capacity on the shop floor, which most people deny that they possess.

Let me illustrate this from two recent instances in modern large-scale industry . The first, the gang system worked in Coventry, was described by an American professor of industrial and management engineering, Seymour Melman, in his book Decision-Making and Productivity. He sought, by a detailed comparison of the manufacture of a similar product, the Ferguson tractor, in Detroit and in Coventry, England, “to demonstrate that there are realistic alternatives to managerial rule over production.” His account of the operation of the gang system was confirmed by a Coventry engineering worker, Reg Wright, in two articles in Anarchy.

Of Standard’s tractor factory in the period up to 1956 when it was sold, Melman writes: “In this firm we will show that at the same time: thousands of workers operated virtually without supervision as conventionally understood, and at high productivity; the highest wage in British industry was paid; high quality products were produced at acceptable prices in extensively mechanised plants; the management conducted its affairs at unusually low costs; also, organised workers had a substantial role in production decision-making.”
From the standpoint of the production workers, “the gang system leads to keeping track of goods instead of keeping track of people.” Melman contrasts the “predatory competition” which characterises the managerial decision-making system with the workers’ decision-making system in which “The most characteristic feature of the decision-formulating process is that of mutuality in decision-making with final authority residing in the hands of the grouped workers themselves.” The gang system as he described it is very like the collective contract system advocated by G. D. H. Cole, who claimed that “The effect would be to link the members of the working group together in a common enterprise under their joint auspices and control, and to emancipate them from an externally imposed discipline in respect of their method of getting the work done.”

My second example again derives from a comparative study of different methods of work organisation, made by the Tavistock Institute in the late 1950s, reported in E. L. Trist’s Organisational Choice, and P. Herbst’s Autonomous Group Functioning. Its importance can be seen from the opening words of the first of these: “This study concerns a group of miners who came together to evolve a new way of working together, planning the type of change they wanted to put through, and testing it in practice. The new type of work organisation which has come to be known in the industry as composite working, has in recent years emerged spontaneously in a number of different pits in the north-west Durham coal field. Its roots go back to an earlier tradition which had been almost completely displaced in the course of the last century by the introduction of work techniques based on task segmentation, differential status and payment, and extrinsic hierarchical control.” The other report notes how the study showed “the ability of quite large primary work groups of 40-50 members to act as self-regulating, self-developing social organisms able to maintain themselves in a steady state of high productivity.” The authors describe the system in a way which shows its relation to anarchists thought:

“The composite work organisation may be described as one in which the group takes over complete responsibility for the total cycle of operations involved in mining the coal-face. No member of the group has a fixed workrole. Instead, the men deploy themselves, depending on the requirements of the on-going group task. Within the limits of technological and safety requirements they are free to evolve their own way of organising and carrying out their task. They are not subject to any external authority in this respect, nor is there within the group itself any member who takes over a formal directive leadership function. Whereas in conventional long-wall working the coal-getting task is split into four to eight separate work roles, carried out by different teams, each paid at a different rate, in the composite group members are no longer paid directly for any of the tasks carried out. The all-in wage agreement is, instead, based on the negotiated price per ton of coal produced by the team. The income obtained is divided equally among team members.”

The works I have been quoting were written for specialists in productivity and industrial organisation, but their lessons are clear for people who are interested in the idea of workers’ control. Faced with the objection that even though it can be shown that autonomous groups can organise themselves on a large scale and for complex tasks, it has not been shown that they can successfully co-ordinate, we resort once again to the federative principle. There is nothing outlandish about the idea that large numbers of autonomous industrial units can federate and co-ordinate their activities. If you travel across Europe you go over the lines of a dozen railway systems – capitalist and communist – co-ordinated by freely arrived at agreement between the various undertakings, with no central authority. You can post a letter to anywhere in the world, but there is no world postal authority, – representatives of different postal authorities simply have a congress every five years or so.

There are trends, observable in these occasional experiments in industrial organisation, in new approaches to problems of delinquency and addiction, in education and community organisation, and in the “de-institutionalisation” of hospitals, asylums, childrens’ homes and so on, which have much in common with each other, and which run counter to the generally accepted ideas about organisation, authority and government. Cybernetic theory with its emphasis on self-organising systems, and speculation about the ultimate social effects of automation, leads in a similar revolutionary direction. George and Louise Crowley, for example, in their comments on the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution, (Monthly Review, Nov. 1964) remark that, “We find it no less reasonable to postulate a functioning society without authority than to postulate an orderly universe without a god. Therefore the word anarchy is not for us freighted with connotations of disorder, chaos, or confusion. For humane men, living in non-competitive conditions of freedom from toil and of universal affluence, anarchy is simply the appropriate state of society.”

In Britain, Professor Richard Titmuss remarks that social ideas may well be as important in the next half-century as technical innovation. I believe that the social ideas of anarchism: autonomous groups, spontaneous order, workers’ control, the federative principle, add up to a coherent theory of social organisation which is a valid and realistic alternative to the authoritarian, hierarchical and institutional social philosophy which we see in application all around us. Man will be compelled, Kropotkin declared, “to find new forms of organisation for the social functions which the State fulfils through the bureaucracy” and he insisted that ”as long as this is not done nothing will be done.” I think we have discovered what these new forms of organisation should be. We have now to make the opportunities for putting them into practice.

Originally appeared in “Patterns of Anarchy” 1966

“Let the Free Market Eat the Rich” by Jeremy Weiland

Anarchy and Distribution

On the LeftLibertarian2 Yahoo! group, we’ve been experiencing some disagreements about the likely consequences of an anarchist society. There are so many aspects of our current culture, economy, infrastructure, etc. that have been distorted by privilege. Civil society has become so confused with the institution of the State that it’s hard to extricate one from the other. That’s why distinguishing the competing visions of different anarchists usually comes down to predictions of what the likely ends of anarchy are, not the broad means.

A long running debate among the anarchists, especially between individualist and more communist type, centers around the justice of wealth disparities. Certainly the existence of the State serves to enrich particular interests at the expense of others, but in anarchy would the rich dominate society – just as they do with the State? Even if we could immediately switch off the institutions that forcibly manipulate society, there is danger that the legacy of privilege and accumulated wealth could persist for some time, distorting markets and continuing the frustrate the balance of power between individuals.

Individualist anarchists have had a variety of responses to the problems of historical property and wealth distribution. Even anarcho-capitalists who see large scale social coordination as the natural direction of society have different views, such as Hans Hermann Hoppe’s theory of a natural elite and Murray Rothbard’s support of syndicalist takeover of State-supported corporations. On the other side of the coin, left-leaning individualists also entertain a variety of approaches: from the agorist trust of entrepreneurship as a leveling force to mutualists such as Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson speculating about the possible need for short term State sponsored redistribution and reform.

The key question for anarchists is always and ever what will the the stateless society look like? Our constant search for the answer continually motivates and refines our strategies for getting there. But sometimes I think anarchists focus on details too much and get bogged down in achieving their vision of this society (I’ve written about this before). It’s easy to forget that anarchy is – anarchy becomes defined by – however humans naturally interact, not how we wish they would interact. In other words, this is an empirical matter, about which we waste time arguing over. At the risk of posing yet another prescription for anarchists, however, I’ll simply suggest that it is in human nature we find the kernel of proportionality and balance that could inform this matter.

The Modern Corporation

There are two basic entities among which wealth can be aggregated: corporations and personal estates. Both of these entities rely first and foremost on the stability and security of the social order, making politics necessary. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how large scale aggregations of wealth require an outside stabilizing force and defensive agency to maintain, and how in a free, dynamic market there are entropies that move imbalances back to equilibrium. There is also a proposed basis for a relative equilibrium among people once privileges are abolished. This investigation will identify two main beneficiaries of state intervention: large modern corporations and large personal estates.

The modern corporation is a legal entity chartered by the State. Corporations benefit from an arsenal of privileges, such as personhood and limited liability, which serve to set the rules of the market on terms favorable to corporate investors and managers. The trend has always been to correct any perceived problems with big business by large, top-down regulation, rather than to reexamine the quite blatant decisions made long ago about how to treat these entities.

For instance, it is conceivable that a firm could argue effectively in front of a judge for certain of the rights of being a human citizen on a case by case basis, but current established law mandates a clumsy legal equivalence between living human beings and abstract organizations of people and assets (which is historically dubious). The benefit to big business, of course, is to regularize and simply business legal proceedings, setting aside the legal advantages this gives corporations over individual humans. The ability to exercise first and fourth amendment rights as if the firm were a human being results in corporate campaign contributions and protection from random inspections, for instance – very different from the way those rights were intended to be invoked by the founders.

Obviously, limited liability is a fiat subsidy to corporate investors, the value of which is vast when one calculates the total capitalized value of the stock market, for instance. But the utility of the subsidy goes even further, because it allows investors to hire managers who have a legal mandate to pursue profits while maintaining a distance from the way profits are pursued. Highly capitalized firms, who by their sheer size wield far more potential for harm than any single individual, essentially obfuscate the way decisions are made so that if third parties to the stockholder-manager relationship are harmed, stockholders cannot lose more than their investment.

The imbalance of responsibility this enables cannot be underestimated, for it goes to the very heart of corporate economic behavior. What would be different about business, socioeconomics, and politics if stockholders knew that their managers’ activities would leave them fully liable for the actions of the corporation and could lose their savings, their car, their house? Limited liability and corporate personhood make possible a way of doing business in a far riskier way than normal people would.

In a free market, corporations would not be able to rely on the State for their very existence. Any ability they’d have to do business as an entity would come from the consent and cooperation of the market – customers, suppliers, contractors, service providers, banks, but most importantly management. Without an SEC and intrusive reporting requirements, oversight, and regulatory enforcement, it would be very hard to prevent the larger and more complex firms from being subjected to outright fraud in a variety of ways. The legal relationships that govern so much capital finance and business activity would become much more ad hoc and less predictable. Risk would skyrocket, which is a much more favorable environment for the small-time entrepreneur than the big, clumsy, bureaucratic corporation.

Think about the huge stabilizing effect of the federal government for making big business anything less than a total ripoff for investors right from the start. Think about the ways government regulation rationalizes markets to make them safe for large industries to exploit and oligopolize. Think about how much leeway the modern CEO is afforded to run the business in pursuit of short term gain, with stockholders often supporting them even as they engage in questionable activities. Enron’s reckless destruction of shareholder value is hardly remarkable, when you think about the level of complexity in which they schemed and strategized – the fact that it doesn’t happen more often is (until you check your tax bill and realize you’re subsidizing the stability and security of others’ investments!).

The Personal Estate

Obviously the most direct way in which people benefit from the institutional character of our statist society is through direct ownership. While there are few (if any) rich people who aren’t heavily and diversely invested in corporate capitalism and share in its redistribution of wealth and special favors from the government, there are additional State provisions to benefit individuals. Unlike corporate privileges, those which govern the stability of personal estates arguably serve the interests of more modest individuals, especially the middle class. However, I intend to show that the rich benefit far more from fiat stability and socialized security than the rest of us.

The biggest subsidy enjoyed by the wealthy lies in government regulation of finance. By regulating banking through inspections, audits, and the centralized monetary maintenance practiced by the Federal Reserve System, depositors enjoy a level of stability in the system that is quite unrivaled in history. Of course, regular joes like you and I prefer our current experience to frequent crashes and bank runs, but there’s a catch: we don’t pay for this “service” in proportion to our deposits (or the interest we earn!). Instead, we help subsidize the regulation and maintenance of the financial system from which the elite depositors benefit disproportionately.

Rich depositors are more likely to invest in instruments and accounts which yield higher interests rates. Plus, they’re more likely to earn a greater amount of their income directly from the interest on their deposits. The barriers to entry in banking prevent individuals from forming their own mutual banks and force them to rely on the aggregated wealth of big depositors at some level of the hierarchical finance establishement. And because the rich can afford to pay for maintenance of their wealth by managers, accountants, and brokers, they are more likely to anticipate and capitalize upon market shifts than us.

Keep in mind that central regulation and maintenance of markets, groomed and rationalized by the Fed, the FDIC, and other departments, encourages the sort of investment patterns that count on steady profits and interest – phenomena much more likely to benefit the wealthy than those of us investing in 401-Ks and IRAs. By lowering risks, any entrepreneurial profit opportunities regulation kills are made up for in the stability of markets and the steadiness of investment income. Of course, that benefits those who’ve already accumulated capital much more than those of us who’ve yet to achieve our fortune.

However, the extent of State intervention to benefit the rich extends beyond finance into the very real area of asset security. The rich depend on the stability and predictability of systems that ensure and protect their title to their property, but again their benefit from these phenomena dwarfs ours. For example, they count on the government keeping a central repository of property titles to justify excluding others. This takes property off the market and thus raises the value of their property. Sure, middle class homeowners are likely to enjoy these phenomena, but the system they pay for doesn’t benefit them to nearly the degree it does the rich. Socializing the costs of kicking people off one’s land necessarily favors those who have more land to guard.

Police patrols of moneyed neighborhoods provide an example of socialized security, where defense and sentry costs are not paid directly by the beneficiaries. Sure, many wealthy types hire security guards, but they’d have to hire many more – and pay much higher insurance premiums – if it were not for public law enforcement defending their property, nor the extensive, expensive, and centralized hierarchy that makes it less likely property will stay stolen and criminals remain at large.

The Entropy of Aggregated Wealth

As I stated earlier, we may find the answer to the problem of persistent wealth imbalances in human nature. Two aspects of that nature are greed and envy. Just as stockholders are always in danger of management and employees siphoning off profits and imperiling the long term viability of the business, rich individuals face similar uncertainties of theft and fraud. Because the lack of a State would force these costs to be internalized within the entity rather than externalized onto the public, it is highly likely that the costs of maintaining these outsized aggregations of wealth would begin to deplete it.

The balance of power between the rich and non-rich is key here. Direct plundering of wealth, though fraud or theft, threatens the rich in a crippling way. It raises their costs directly in proportion to their wealth, either through insurance costs, defense costs, or losses. They have to worry not just about outside threats, but also the threats posed by their servants, employees, and even their family members. Because the wealth is centralized around one individual or one management team, it is near impossible to find any fair way to distribute the responsibilities of stewardship without distributing the wealth itself. Having a lot of stuff becomes more trouble than it’s worth.

Meanwhile, less rich people economize on these costs by banding together with other modest individuals to either hire outside defense (socializing protection on their own, voluntary terms) or by personally organizing to defend property (via institutions such as militias). Because the ratio of person to wealth is relatively greater, there are more interested individuals wiling to play a role in defense and maintenance of property. It’s the distribution of the wealth over more people that necessarily makes that wealth easier to defend. And since everybody has basically the same amount of stuff, nobody has an interest in taking advantage of, nor stealing from, others.

In fact, normal human greed suggests that there will always be an element of society that wishes to steal and cheat others. What the wealthy offer criminals like this in an anarchy is easy targets, because big estates are harder to defend and so invite more opportunities for plunder. Not only that, but its far more likely that wealthy estates will be targeted because its easier to steal a million dollars from the bank, or a vault, than to rob a thousand or so common people. The larger the disparity in wealth, the more intensively the wealthy will be targeted by criminals.

On the other hand, normal people would necessarily be less likely to be targeted by the criminal, for a few reasons. First, since the ratio of human bodies to wealth in a modest community would be much greater, the deterrent effect would be insurmountable to all but the most stupid crooks. Second, the criminal elements in a modest community are more likely to share in the legitimate wealth of the economy, preventing them from preying on their neighbors. Since the economy is completely free, current mentalities about the reasons for criminal behavior are minimized because people see that by working hard they can actually get ahead.

The Free Market as Egalitarian Equalizer

This phenomenon of disadvantaged rich and advantaged poor, brought about by the costs of estate and business management, suggests an interesting dynamic. It may be that in a free market there will exist a natural, mean personal wealth value, beyond which diminishing returns enter quickly, and below which one is extremely disposed towards profit and enrichment. If this is true, then that means that normal, productive, and non-privileged people will tend to have similar estate values. This wide distribution of wealth will tend to reinforce bottom-up society and a balance of power unrivaled in history (except maybe in frontier experiences).

In a stateless society, institutions for business and personal organization must derive their permanence from their usefulness not just to an elite few, but from the respect of the entire community – customers, suppliers, neighbors, etc. An entity that can operate efficiently and deliver a steady stream of income, whether an estate or a corporate business, becomes less viable the larger it grows because internal transaction and maintenance costs start to skyrocket. This is a function not of wealth itself, but rather of the difficulty wealthy individuals experience in convincing others to honor and defend their estate. The more people benefit from a body of wealth, the more people will support it.

Indeed, the State can be seen as a mechanism for acquiring the consent of the governed to sign onto a program of stabilization that is inherently artificial, precisely due to its disproportionate dividends to established elites. Through institutional identity, the State co-opts authentic community support or opposition and channels it into modes that are predictable and stable. But authentic community stability is no harder to realize in a genuine, stateless society where people participate only in voluntary organizations. Similarly, inauthentic, imposed stability usually benefits those who cannot maintain their position without outside help. Wealthy interests use the State as a way to marshal public support without yielding control or spreading the wealth, as it were. It’s a con job.

A truly free market without subsidized security, regulation, and arbitrarion imposes costs on large scale aggregations of assets that quickly deplete them. I do not think they would be able to survive for very long without the State, even if “natural elites” exist or some form of social darwinism is proven correct, because natural hierarchies such as those would not need State intervention to maintain. One can chalk this up to the fickle and often dark side of human nature, but it’s a phenomenon that we cannot just wish away – indeed, we should see a place for these dynamics in the legitimate, bottom up society. It may be that libertarianism, taken to its logical conclusion, is far more egalitarian and redistributionist than we ever dreamed – not as a function of any central State, but rather due to its lack.

A final note: I’d appreciate any feedback on this thesis. I find it difficult to call it my own, as it seems so straight forward that some anarchist or economist should have brought it up before. However, in my (admittedly less than extensive) reading I’ve not encountered the full argument in this form. Also, many thanks to the Attack the System Yahoo! Group for their help in refining these ideas.

“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.

“What is Anarchism?” by Larry Gambone

Right now I’d like to strengthen the federal government. Statement by the alleged anarchist, Noam Chomsky, in The Progressive, March I996.

A most incredible confusion exists as to what exactly anarchism is. Some of this is due to the media images of chaos, terrorism and mad bombers. A pseudo-anarchism also grew up out of the remains of the New Left, a subject that I have dealt with elsewhere. Of late we have Chomsky’s seeming betrayal of anarchism and the bizarre spectacle of anarchists marching in defence of the Welfare State. The word “anarchist” practically screams out for clarification.

Anarchism is the ideal of a society without coercion, a society where membership in all organisations is voluntary. Such a society may never come into existence, yet the anarchist considers it something worth working toward. Whilst we certainly don’t need ideologies, we still need ideals to push us forward. When robbed of ideals we can easily descend into the vulgar consumerism or false ideals like Communism and Nationalism. Admittedly, ideals are not for everyone, and neither is anarchism, especially in its demanding the maximum of responsibility and self-reliance.


What about the people who go part way – those who accept most, but not all of the message? What are they? I suggest that people who want less coercion in society, yet who do not accept the “final goal”, should be called libertarians and not anarchists. Those who accept only a portion of the anarchist message, say mutualism, federalism, or decentralism, should be called mutualists, federalists and decentralists, not anarchists. Generally such people lump themselves in, or get lumped in, with anarchists and this is a cause of a great deal of confusion.

What I am talking about is the problem of the difference between the “final goal” and the actual process or movement. This is a problem which haunted the authoritarian and revolutionary radicalisms, but does not have to be a problem for anarchism. Anarchism is the goal and libertarianism, decentralism, etc is the process. No shame nor sectarianism need be implied in not being considered being an anarchist. There is nothing wrong with being “merely” a libertarian or decentralist. I just want to clear up a problem of definition and minimize confusion, for if “anarchism” means any old thing, then we have lost an important idea – the anarchist ideal.

One outcome of this attempt at definition is the realisation that most, if not all, supposed anarchist movements were not really anarchist, but at best, libertarian. How else to describe a movement like syndicalism, led by anarchists, but made up overwhelmingly of workers who accepted only part of the anarchist program? Does it not then make sense that members hived-off into Communism, fascism or Social Democracy when the syndicalist movement fell on hard times?

(Another problem is people, like Chomsky, who claim to be anarchists, yet, when pushcomes-to-shove, are not even good decentralists! )


For the past 30 years I have been making an error one might awkwardly describe as movementism. I have been searching for practical ways to build an anarchist movement, not realising my search ws futile – a kind of modern day quest for El Dorado. An anarchist movement is most unlikely to ever occur, and what I’ve always described under the heading of “practical anarchism”, would be more correctly described as “practical libertarianism”.

Anarchism was not born as a mass movement. Pierre Joseph Proudhon, the first person to call himself an anarchist, was not the leader of an anarchist movement, but of a broad-based worker’s movement called Mutualism. Neither was Bakunin in a specifically anarchist movement, but was a militant within the First International, and his group were known as Collectivists. Only after 1876 do we find a large group categorized “anarchist”, and then only used pejoratively by Marx and his friends to attack the libertarian movement.

In the 1890s during the “classical” French Anarchist movement, contrary to what one might think, there were few anarchists. The two largest anarchist publications, La Revolte and Pere Peinard combined had only 1500 subscribers. Two decades later, at a time when the anarcho-syndicalist CGT had hundreds of thousands of members, the two largest anarchist papers had the same small number of subscribers. From 1890 to 1940, at any one time, there were probably no more than 3000 active anarchists out of a population of 4O million. (Jean Maitron, Le Movement Anarchiste en France) However, several million people supported at least some anarchist goals, ie., in mass movements such as in the syndicats, mutual aid societies and regionalist-decentralist organisations.

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 organisations. (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. Anarchism has already been distorted and dragged through the mud enough times in it’s history. Please let’s try to get it right this time! One cannot emphasise enough, though few in number, anarchists do not form a “vanguard” or an elite of know-it-alls to lead these movements. We are people who chose anarchism as our ideal and act upon it.


Another source of confusion is class-reductionism. Older forms of anarchism had a populist concept of class, (the People vs. the Elite) but modern “left” anarchists borrowed marxist class analysis. Thus we have an emphasis upon the “working class” and the supposed need for “Class Struggle Anarchism”. This creates a situation where rationalization of support for the State can easily occur, for example, the welfare system is considered a “victory” of 1930’s class struggle. Cut-backs are supposedly the result of the “capitalists”, who want to “beat back the working class”. Q.E.D., anarchists must support the welfare state – a clear perversion of anarchism.

This scenario is the product of an archaic and Manichean world view which ignores the fact that the welfare system was a co-option of the workers movement by the corporate elite, and that most contemporary workers support the cuts, as they are sick of paying high taxes. Class reductionism does not take into account today’s economic realities, at least in the developed world, where workers are no longer the poverty stricken, beaten-down wretches of the past, but are consumers, tax-payers and investors.


A clear and unambiguous statement of anarchist principles is needed in order to separate the muddled authoritarian sheep from the anti-statist goats. Such as the statement below.

* Anarchism is not terrorism or violence and anarchists do not support, aid, or sympathize with terrorists and so-called national liberation movements.

* Anarchism does not mean irresponsibility, parasitism, criminality, nihilism or immoralism, but entails the highest level of ethics and personal responsibility. Anarchism does not mean

hostility toward organization. Anarchists only desire that all organisations be voluntary and declare that a peaceful social order will exist only when this is true.

* Anarchists are resolute antistatists and do not defend either “limited states” or Welfare States.

* Anarchists are opposed to all coercion. Poverty, bigotry, sexism and environmental degradation cannot be successfully overcome through the State. Anarchists are therefore opposed to taxation, censorship, so-called affirmative action and governmental regulation in general.

* Anarchists do not need scapegoats. Poverty and environmental are not ultimately caused by transnationals, the IMF, the USA, the developed world, “imperialism”, technology, or any other devil figure, but are rooted in the power to coerce. Only the abolition of coercion will overcome these problems. * Anarchism does not posit any particular economic system, but only desires a non-coercive economy composed of voluntary organisations.

* Anarchists are not utopians or sectarians, but are sympathetic to any effort to decrease statism and coercion and to replace authoritarian relations with voluntary ones.

Originally appeared in Total Liberty Volume 1, Number 3, Autumn 1998